Reaching the final of Masterchef 2007 was a rollercoaster of emotion, with huge highs and lows, but I loved every minute and learnt a huge amount. I owe a great deal to John and Gregg who had faith in my ability when I did not believe in myself. Since competing on the programme my life has changed considerably. I now write cookery columns for two magazines, give cookery demonstrations and am just working on my 13th cook book - unlucky number for some but not for me!!! I love all forms of country cooking, using seasonal and locally sourced produce. This blog is to enable me to share with you a few of my recipes and baking ideas. Enjoy Hannah xxxx

Tuesday, 31 July 2007

Strawberry lemonade was something I discovered by chance. I was making traditional lemonade at the same time as a strawberry cheesecake and I just threw a handful of the strawberries into the jug to see what would happen. The result was a really pretty colour drink. I wouldn't say that the taste of strawberries is very strong but they do soften the sharpness of the lemon. The quantities always vary depending on how juicy and sharp the lemons are and how many strawberries I have in the fridge. You can substitute the strawberries with some fresh ginger for ginger lemonade, some lavender syrup for lavender lemonade or raspberries! So many possibilities! Hopefully now that the summer has returned, a few of you might like to try this - after all there are few more traditional summer drinks than home made lemonade.
Strawberry lemonade
4 lemons
2 heaps tbsp caster sugar
8 - 10 strawberries, tops removed and cut in half
Peel about 4 large pieces of peel from one of the lemons. I do this using my potato peeler. You need to be careful to have as little of the white on the rind as possible as this makes the lemonade bitter. Place the rind in a heatproof jug with the sugar, the juice of the lemons (make sure there are no pips as I think these can make the lemonade bitter too) and the strawberries. Boil the kettle and pour over approximately 300ml of boiling water - enough to cover the strawberries and sugar and stir to dissolve. Leave to cool. Taste the syrup to see whether the syrup needs any more sugar - I love the sharpness of lemons so don't usually put any more in, but this is just my personal taste. When cold, top the jug up with water and ice and serve in tall glasses. To make traditional lemonade, simply omit the strawberries (you may find you need a bit more sugar).

Monday, 30 July 2007

Afternoon tea is my favourite of all meals - primarily as it's an excuse to eat nothing but delicious cakes and biscuits! This weekend, I hosted a tea party for Kathy Brown and her lovely family and for Paula who is also a garden designer. Given the number of weeds in our garden, I decided there was nothing for it but to distract them with cake.

Now, as you know baking is my passion but even I accept that I probably got a bit carried away! 9 different cakes is slightly excessive for 7 people!

So alongside the smoked salmon and cucumber sandwiches, we feasted on white chocolate and coconut cupcakes, rosewater meringues with raspberries and pistachios, gooey chocolate cake, strawberry scones with clotted
Rose and violet fondant fancies, praline and coffee fondant fancies, chocolate cupcakes, nut and chocolate flapjacks,
and lemon drizzle cake!

A few pretty flowers decorated the table and we drank violet tea, homemade strawberry lemonade and violet prosecco!

Friday, 27 July 2007

Do you ever have days when you wish you had said "no" when someone asked you to do something. This lunchtime I am speaking to the Rotary Club about my Masterchef experience - how I wish that a little voice had reminded me that I really don't like public speaking when I said yes! Doing cookery demonstrations is a lot easier as you have something to talk about and people are distracted by what you are cooking! So how to fill 30 minutes with anecdotes about the programme....the tasks that were filmed but not shown (Ritz Paris, Classic recipe tests for profiteroles and also chicken liver pate and fruit chutney - I was in my element making chutney)....the fact that there was no running water in the studio...the camera and sound guys having forks in their pockets so that they could dive into the food as soon as filming had stopped....meeting Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern! Keep your fingers crossed for me that I don't run out of things to say after 5 minutes!

Thursday, 26 July 2007

These are a few apples in our orchard photographed by my friend Tina a few weeks ago in a rare moment of blue sky and sun. There is no comparison with the grey colour of the sky outside today - seriously, someone must have stolen our summer! It is our local Annual Produce Show at the end of next month so I am hoping to enter a few of our apples and pears!

I will also be entering the sampler I have just finished in the needlework category - it has to be unframed so that they can look at how neat it is on the back so I have tried to be more tidy than usual! Click on the photo for a close up image. I am contemplating entering a few of the baking categories but I don't think I could stand the humiliation of doing badly! I would never live it down so it is perhaps best not to even try!!!

Wednesday, 25 July 2007

I have never been a big fan of apricots. I think it must be something subliminal about the association of marzipan and apricot jam on cakes which is something I have never really liked. When we were doing our shopping just before midnight on Friday, waiting for Harry Potter to come on sale, I was clearly not thinking straight and when I got home I found I had put a punnet of apricots in my trolley. Perhaps I was hit by a "buy apricots" spell from the lovely shop assistant!

Anyway, rather half heartedly I used them to make a tart tatin. There is lots of debate about whether a tart tatin should be made with puff or shortcrust pastry. Personally I use either depending if I have any pastry in the fridge, but have a slight preference for short. The apricots were far nicer than I imagined and were really quite sour which went very well with the sweetness of the caramel. Not saying that I have overnight become an apricot fan but it was quite a nice dessert, served with a dollop of clotted cream.

Apricot Tart Tatin
500grams short or puff pastry
1 punnet of apricots
1 tbsp soft dark brown sugar
1 tbsp golden syrup
1 tbsp salted butter
1 tbsp Dulce de leche (toffee sauce)
(If you don't have any toffee sauce just add a bit more golden syrup)
In a saucepan, simmer the syrup, sugar, butter and toffee sauce until the sugar has dissolved. Wash and cut the apricots in half. Roll out the pastry to the size of the dish you are using. I usually use a 10inch round pie dish but have recently invested in a cast iron tart tatin dish. Pour the caramel mixture over the bottom of the dish, uncut site into the caramel and cover with the pastry. Press the pastry down of the apricots and bake in a hot oven Gas Mark 5/190C/375F/Aga roasting oven bottom shelf for 20 minutes until the pastry is golden brown. Leave the tart to cool for five minutes - place a plate on top and a hand under the dish and flip it over. You need to be really careful not to cover your kitchen in the caramel sauce so I usually do it over the sink.

Tuesday, 24 July 2007

They say people are either cat people or dog people and I think that must be true. We are cat people in our house which means that we are bordering on "outcasts" in our village of dog owners! As our cat, muffy, is getting older (she is practically an OAP) she has taken to lounging just about everywhere in our house - gone are the days of agile hunting in the garden. She is now more likely to be found on top of my sewing basket, curled up next to the aga, on any clean washing she can find....yesterday I found her hiding behind my harp - she gave me quite a fright!

Monday, 23 July 2007

Arrrhhhh - the trauma of this weekend. I read Harry Potter all day Saturday (fantastic) and finished at 9pm. The problem then was that no one I knew had finished reading it (they still haven't) and I wasn't able to discuss it with anyone - I can't begin to imagine how JK Rowling managed to keep it all a secret for 10 years. Anyway a big thumbs up from me for the whole series and particularly the last book which I loved!

Yesterday, we painted our chicken coup red and white so it looks like an american barn. Progress is being made on the run so it should only be a few weeks now until the new hens arrive.

With spare time yesterday that I wasn't expecting, I cooked a nice Sunday lunch of Roast chicken stuffed with mushrooms:

Wild Mushroom Roast Chicken

1 whole chicken

200grams cream or mascapone cheese

150grams grated mushrooms

1 tbsp butter

2 tbsp dried porchini mushrooms soaked in boiling water and Marsala wine.

Salt and Pepper for seasoning

400ml Marsala wine

2 tbsp cream fraiche

Begin by making the mushroom stuffing. Cook the grated mushrooms in a frying pan in the butter. Season well. Finely chop the porchini mushrooms and add them to the pan (reserve the soaking liquor for the sauce). Cook until the mushrooms have gone dark and smell woody and earthy. Leave aside to cool. When the mushrooms are cool mix them into the cream cheese and season. You could add other flavourings at this stage (chopped chives, lemon rind etc if you wished). Using a flat hand ease your hand between the skin and the body of the chicken so that you have a pocket across the top of the bird. Fill this pocket with the stuffing (the easiest way is to use a piping bag but a spoon works OK too). Brush the chicken with olive oil and place in a hot oven for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, pour over 200ml of the Marsala wine. Cook the chicken following the directions on the pack that came with the chicken. The chicken is cooked when you pierce the flesh with a knife and the juices run out clean. When the chicken is cooked, remove from the oven and set aside. Place the roasting tray with the juices from cooking over the heat, add the remaining Marsala and some of the mushroom soaking liquor and allow to simmer. Season to taste. Stir in the cream fraiche and continue to heat gently until the sauce thickens. Serve with new potatoes and roasted vegetables with the sauce poured over.

Friday, 20 July 2007

Well today couldn't go by without a mention of Harry Potter (apologies to anyone who isn't a fan) - I am seriously excited and will be going to get my copy at midnight. Last year, we queued for an hour and a half at midnight to get our copies! Rather gallingly a friend phoned whilst we were queuing to say that she had already got her copy from a supermarket and there was no queue so we will be trying that route tonight and hopefully get to bed at a more reasonable time! All weekend plans have been cancelled, food is ready in the freezer and we will both be reading all weekend! Don't worry I won't be posting any spoilers on Monday! If you are a fan, have a great weekend reading the book - I know I will!

Thursday, 19 July 2007

There are probably very few people in the world this morning who had violet for breakfast - I did, thanks to my lovely neighbour Susan who gave me a jar of violet honey yesterday that she had found on holiday in Sweden. Is this violet obsession becoming too much I wonder? Will I ever tire of violet? Definitely not! The honey is seriously violetty and bright purple - there are definitely too few purple foods and it seemed slightly strange to see my toast spread with a purple topping. It was however absolutely delicious and although my brain was whirring with ideas for what to bake with it, I think I am going to save this and have it in it's pure form on toast and crumpets as it would be a travesty to dilute the taste! Thanks Susan and Peter for the perfect "me" present.

Wednesday, 18 July 2007

The latest edition of Country Kitchen is now out and contains my four cake recipes! It is funny seeing your own recipes in print and I couldn't quite believe they were my cakes that had been photographed in our house! This is the gingerbread man cake that I usually make if I don't have much time and need to russle up a children's cake quickly. The cake is covered in a simple chocolate ganache (200grams dark chocolate, 50grams salted butter 3 tbsp double cream melted in the microwave for 1 minute, stir and leave to cool slightly) and then decorated with gingerbread men and smarties. The gingerbread men for this cake were bought from the supermarket - if you had time you could make your own. You could add another tier or two for a larger party. So quick and easy but I think the end result is quite respectable!

Tuesday, 17 July 2007

Last weekend I attended a lovely country wedding (Congratulations Sean and Christine) in Ledbury, Herefordshire. The wedding was held at Canon Frome Court which had beautiful gardens (see photos) and a lake. The theme of the wedding - "Daisy Daisy, give me your answer do" - with the bride and groom arriving on a tandem, the bride kitted out with lacy knickerbockers! I made a large amount of chocolate sauce to have with the strawberries and ice cream for the dessert - yum!
As if that wasn't enough fun for one weekend we were then visited by Masterchef David Hall on Sunday evening on his way back from the Children's Food Festival. I haven't seen either Ben or David since filming so it was funny to see them both in the space of a week - what is it that they say about it never rains but pours. It was lovely to catch up and have supper together. I served Skye Gyngell's Lamb Casserole with sweet potato coriander puree and the chocolate cake from the MC final with clotted cream and fresh raspberries - http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/database/gooeychocolatecakewi_85760.shtml.

Monday, 16 July 2007

As much as I like baking pretty cakes, having a few nephews necessitates occasional "boys" cakes. Sadly they are not into flowers and edible glitter - but rather football, monsters, space travel etc. Here are a few of their recent cakes!

Thursday, 12 July 2007

A cup of tea is a British institution - it solves all manner of problems and I for one always feel better after having a freshly brewed cuppa!
At the moment, the tea of choice in our house is violet tea. It has a strong flowery perfume and I am hatching up plans of making violet tea sorbet and violet tea bread (soaking the raisins and sultanas in violet tea) when I next have a spare few minutes.
I also use tea as the base of my smoking liquor when smoking fish and duck.
We had the teas in the photo at my mums last weekend - they were her birthday present from my brother and were almost too pretty to use. The tea is in silk pyramid bags with a little leaf at the top! I'm not sure that the silk bag does much to improve the flavour but it certainly makes the tea drinking feel more decadent that usual!

Wednesday, 11 July 2007

Lovely photos taken by Tina of the roses in our garden last weekend! If you look closely there is a bee in one of them!

Tuesday, 10 July 2007

Cooking for unexpected visitors can be challenging - trying to russle up something quick with not much in the cupboard! Imagine if the person you were russling up food for was none other than Masterchef finalist Ben Axford! No pressure there then!!! Ben came to stay last night on his way to a meeting - it was so lovely to see him and to catch up on all he has been doing! We had not seen each other since watching the final programme at the edit together a few weeks before it was aired.

So what to serve a foodie extraordinaire....the meal ended up being very lavendery! Spiced monkfish, fennel salad with lavender dressing, new potatoes and home made sun dried tomato bread, lavender pavlova with fresh cherries and cherry sauce. To finish the meal Ben had brought us some delicious cheeses from his shop with some...you've guessed it....lavender crackers! The crackers were yummy - really crumbly and salty with a strong lavender aftertaste. All washed down with some nice wine and port. A perfect way to spend a Monday evening.

Fennel and Avocado salad with Lavender dressing

Green salad leaves
1 bulb of fennel finely sliced
1 avocado chopped
1 tsp culinary lavender, ground in a pestle and mortar
1 tbsp white balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp caster sugar
freshly ground salt and pepper
Whisk the lavender, vinegar and oil well and season with salt and pepper. Toss the avocado, fennel and leaves in a bowl and pour over the dressing just before serving. The dressing works well on any salad, but matches with fennel perfectly.

Monday, 9 July 2007

Well I have to confess that for the first time in a very long while I had a weekend off from catering and demos. My friend Tina from Law School came to stay for the weekend and we had a lovely time shopping, eating and relaxing.
On Friday I cooked a mint pavlova - 200grams egg whites (approx 6 or 7 eggs depending on how large they are), 400grams caster sugar and a tbsp of finely chopped mint - whisk the egg whites to stiff peak, continue whisking adding the caster sugar gradually until it is all incorporated - stir in the mint and spoon the meringue onto baking parchment in a circle. Bake in a cool oven for an hour, then turn the oven off and leave the pavlova in until the oven is cold. If you have an aga as I do this is slightly more difficult as you can't turn it off - I cook mine for an hour in the simmering oven and then remove it and place it on top of the simmering plate on a cake rack or the aga toaster and leave it overnight to continue cooking slowly - this gives a lovely "crispy on the outside, chewy on the inside" meringue. This was topped with double cream, sweetened with mint syrup and fresh raspberries and blueberries.

We spent yesterday at my mums having lunch and visiting Woburn (more shopping!). This little hedgehog (named Horace) has moved into my mum's garden. So cute!

Friday, 6 July 2007

I am getting quite excited as this weekend work is starting on our new chicken pen. Those of you who know me, will know of the sad demise of my 20H flock last year, taken by the nasty fox. I loved them so much and don't think I have ever been so traumatised by anything!!!! The flock were my leaving present from Clifford Chance when I left the city - a perfect daily reminder of my old life.
Before we had chickens, I would never had imagined them making very good pets. I was so wrong. They all have such individual personalities and were so tame and friendly. They were forever trying to get into the kitchen for extra food - getting in through open windows and doors. Their eggs were delicious - particularly Dora's who was a legbar/dorking cross and laid perfect blue eggs. There was a noticeable difference in quality compared to what I buy in the supermarket and I am so looking forward to taking delivery of my new hens as soon as the pen is built!
In addition to corn and wheat, our chickens were fed with warm porridge every day in the winter. I would like to think that this enhanced the flavour of the eggs (clearly unlikely but I can dream!)
Chicken porridge
1 handful porridge oats
200ml water
1 grated apple
Simmer the porridge oats in a saucepan until all the water has been absorbed. Stir in the apple and raisins. Leave to cool slightly before serving to your hens!
Postscript - I just had a call from Masterchef Ben to say he eats this type of porridge himself so clearly this is not just a dish for chickens! Ben has posted lots of news on what he has been upto and some lovely new recipes at http://www.thecheeseworks.co.uk/masterchefdiaries.php

Wednesday, 4 July 2007

What is it with this weather? Our garden looks positively luminous green at the moment - one minute it pouring and the next it is glorious sunshine. I know that as soon as Wimbledon finishes, summer will start although given Nadal's 5 day match which still hasn't finished, this may be some time off!
Last night I experimented with a carrot, courgette, coconut and walnut cake with mascapone frosting! I could hear Gregg's "madness on a plate" echoing round the kitchen. My mum is visiting tonight with her friend and I wanted to try to make something nice for them. Do you ever get the feeling that you should just have kept it simple and made a lemon drizzle cake??? I haven't tried the cake yet and have to confess it smells rather unusual but if it is edible, I will post the recipe!!

Tuesday, 3 July 2007

Another weekend...a little bit more cooking! On Saturday, I had the privilege of doing a cookery demonstration at Ridgeway School in Bedfordshire www.ridgeway.ik.org - the school defines itself as a school for "Very Special Children" and provides an amazing facility for both kids and parents. I was so impressed by the warmth of the school and saw some wonderful music and dance performances. The school was filled with amazing art work and my favourite was this swan which the children had made to celebrate the millenium.
On Saturday evening we attended a concert by Kimbolton School Chamber Choir. I made a few canapes for the interval (watermelon, mint, olive and feta (posh cheese on sticks) and smoked salmon tarts) . The classical music was wonderful but I think our favourite pieces were Surfing USA - chamber music style - and a wonderful rendition of Tears in Heaven - which gave me goosebumps!
Sunday was spent preparing for the next photo shoot with Country Kitchen Magazine which took place last night - 4 smoked salmon and 4 quince recipes. I think that my husband will be quite glad that this is now over as we have eaten nothing but smoked salmon and quinces all week!!!! We manage to photograph the quince sorbet in the garden and it looked positively summery - despite the constant rain! Quince cake, pork and quince casserole and quince brandy were also on the menu, together with a smoked salmon and caramelised onion slice, potted smoked salmon, a summer (!) salad and salon fillets with a smoked salmon and asparagus sauce! We had a feast last night after the photo shoot eating all 7 dishes and drinking the quince brandy!