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

Saturday, 29 September 2007

Well I'm back...although you probably never noticed I had gone! First I must say a big thank you to Mike who has very kindly uploaded the posts I wrote before I went on holiday - I didn't want to leave you with nothing to entertain you whilst I was away! Thank you for all your lovely comments which I have just enjoyed reading.
For the last two weeks we have been in Bali on holiday where I have been attending a cookery course (as well as lying by the pool, drinking cocktails and eating watermelon sorbet). It has been amazing - Balinese cooking is so far removed from my style of cooking and I learned a lot! I was expecting it to be very similar to thai food and whilst there are similarities, the flavours are quite different. We were using lots of ingredients I have never come across before, kenchur, candlenuts, jackfruit, snake fruit and salam leaves.

The cookery school was run by Penny - pictured here who is originally from England (and trained at the Savoy) but who now lives and works in Bali at the lovely Alila Manggis Hotel - www.alilahotels.com/manggis (I definitely recommend it!) - what a dream job. She cooks such dreamy food and we have eaten like kings for the last two weeks! My favourite day of cooking took place in huts in the organic garden - set among the rice paddy fields (top picture) - you could not imagine a more perfect place for cooking with the farmers working alongside us in their fields. So if you will permit me, the Country Kitchen will take a trip East this week as I wanted to share with you a few of my new Balinese recipes!

Thursday, 27 September 2007

I have been lucky enough to have been given some fresh walnuts by our of our neighbours Ros. Picking them is good fun, although messy as you end up with black hands! They now have to dry out but will be ready in time for Christmas. The nut bowl is something that usually sits on the side untouched during Christmas but I know that this year we will all be wanting to try the hand picked walnuts. Walnuts are so versatile and can be used in so many different dishes - both sweet and savory.

Wednesday, 26 September 2007

Spiced Damson Chutney
Preparation time 20 minutes, cooking time 1 hour

Makes 4 jars

Chutney makes a delicious and cheap gift. Make this chutney now, and it will be ready to give as Christmas presents to your friends, neighbours and family. It is delicious with cheese and pate. Make sure that you have a jar set aside for your boxing day lunch! Stoning the damsons takes a fair amount of time but the end result is worth it.

2lb/900grams damsons, stones removed

2lb/900grams cooking apples, peeled, cored and roughly chopped

Juice of 1 lemon

3 cloves of garlic, peeled and roughly chopped

2 large onions, peeled and finely chopped

500ml white wine vinegar

1 tsp allspice

3 star anise

2 cinnamon sticks

1 tbsp salt

200grams raisins

7oz dark brown sugar

7oz caster sugar

Place all the ingredients in a large saucepan or a jam pan and simmer over a gentle heat for an hour until the mixture is thick and the apples have cooked down. Pour into sterilised jars and seal. Leave the chutney in a cool cupboard for at least a month. The flavours will develop with time and the chutney will keep for a year. Once opened, store the jar in the fridge.

Tuesday, 25 September 2007

Taking a break from cooking today...

I just love the majestic sunflowers and wanted to share these autumnal pictures with you as they will shortly be losing their glorious yellow colours.

Here is a cheeky finch sneaking a feast, a selection of sunflower varieties growing in my mum's allotment and a sunset shot after the birds have gone.

Monday, 24 September 2007

With our apples harvested in, we are having lots of lovely apply puddings. By far my most favourite apple pudding (if only because it reminds me of my childhood) is baked apples. They are so easy to make and yet so delicious!

I know that many of you will know how to make these already but simply core your cooking apples and slice a thin line around the centre of the apple (just enough to cut the skin) so that the skin does not split during cooking. Fill the apples with anything that takes your fancy, dried fruit, mincemeat, muesli, ginger cake etc. Pour a tbsp of golden syrup or honey over each apple and add a little water to the pan. Bake in a moderate oven for an hour until the apples are light and fluffy. Serve with lashings of custard.

Friday, 21 September 2007

If like me, you love winter cooking, then I just know you will adore Roast Figs, Sugar Snow, Food to Warm the Soul by Diana Henry. I am conscious that this probably seems like an advertising plug and that certainly isn't the intention but it is rare that I buy a cook book and immediately read it from cover to cover. This book has page after page of delicious winter recipes that just make you want to rush to the kitchen and start baking. It also has a recipe for making maple candies in the snow which - if like me - will give you flashbacks to Little House on the Prairie - I will definitely be making some if we have any snow this year!

Thursday, 20 September 2007

New violet alert! This is the most delicious violet chocolate we have ever tasted. It was given to my Grandma and she kindly shared it with me. The crystalised violets give the chocolate a really crunchie texture. It was given a 10/10 by us all! Far too nice for cooking so we are saving the rest for a rainy day when we need a treat!

Nasturtiums are lovely and very easy to grow - although do not attempt to do so if you have peacocks as they eat them all as I have learned from bitter experience. You can add them to salads or as Kathy Brown does in her book, stuff them with mackerel or salmon pate and serve as a canape - they look so delicious and guests always love them.

For a simple smoked salmon pate, blitz 300grams smoked salmon with the juice of a lemon and some freshly ground black pepper and sea salt in a blender. Slowly add 100ml of double cream whilst the blender is on. Taste and add more lemon or seasoning if necessary. Your pate is ready to serve. It really is that simple! If you are filling the nasturtium flowers, place the pate in a piping bag and pipe a small amount into each flower. Serve straight away otherwise the flowers will wilt.

Tuesday, 18 September 2007

Last Saturday was the first produce show to be held at my mum’s allotment since 1994 and was a great success. The weather was gorgeous and It was lovely to see all the fresh flowers and vegetables on display, I’ve a feeling it won’t be long before the pumpkins and squash start arriving on my doorstep to complement the runner beans, courgettes and marrows already appearing.

Don’t you just love the scarecrows ?

I am waiting every day now for our quince crop to be ready. There is quite a good crop this year and plenty enough for quince brandy and quincemeat. They are still covered in the furry coats and as soon as this is gone I will be out picking them!

Monday, 17 September 2007

The last of our summer roses - how this year has flown by. I can't believe that Autumn is here already although I must admit that this (and winter) are my favourite time of year. I love having a log fire on and snuggling up warm, winter walks on a frosty day with leaves crunching below your feet...and all the Christmas cooking preparations - stocking the larder with mincemeat, jams and chutneys ready for the weeks before Christmas.

Friday, 14 September 2007

Whilst I was working at Caffe Caldesi, Giancarlo taught me to make a really simple but delicious tomato sauce. When I make this, I do so in bulk and freeze half for another day. It is lovely stirred through a bowl of pasta, as a tomato topping for a pizza or added to casseroles. I would never have imagined that a tin of tomatoes could be made to taste so good!

Tomato Sauce

300ml olive oil
2 red onion, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
Course ground salt and pepper
3 tins of peeled plum tomatoes

Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan. When it is hot reduce the heat and tip in the onions. Fry gently until they soften, taking care that they do not burn. Add the garlic and fry for a further 2 minutes. Add a large spoon of salt and pepper and heat in the oil until you can smell the pepper cooking. The aroma is wonderful. Pour the tomatoes into a large bowl and gently squish them with your hands so that they are broken down. Pour the tomatoes into the oil and simmer for an hour (or longer if you have it) until the sauce is rich and thick.

Thursday, 13 September 2007

Where are the days going? I know I say this every month when CK arrives but I honestly have never known a year like it for months flying by. It is feeling really autumnal now, despite the warm weather. The nights are drawing in and the leaves have started to turn yellow in our garden. This month's article is on quinces and I am hoping to convert a few of the CK readers to liking my favourite fruit!

Quince Sorbet

55g/20oz caster sugar

150ml water

4 quinces, peeled, cored and chopped

Juice of 1 lemon

2 egg whites

Simmer the sugar and water in a heavy based saucepan, heating gently until the sugar has dissolved. Bring to the boil and simmer for 3 minutes. Leave to cool. At the same time as making the sugar syrup, in a separate pan, simmer the quinces with a little water and the lemon juice until they form a soft puree. Leave to cool. Both the sugar syrup and quince puree must be completely chilled before making the sorbet.

When you are ready to make the sorbet, mix the puree and the sugar syrup. If you have an ice cream machine, pour the quince mixture into the machine and freeze according to the manufacturer’s instructions. When the mixture is almost frozen, whisk the egg whites to stiff peaks and then pour into the ice cream machine and continue churning. When the mixture is ready, serve immediately or put in a tub and keep in the freezer until you need it. If you are making this without an ice cream machine, place the sugar syrup and puree mix in a tub in the freezer and freeze for approximately three hours until the mixture is slushy, then beat with a whisk to break up the ice crystals and fold in the whisked egg whites. Return to the freezer for a further 4 hours until the sorbet is frozen.

Wednesday, 12 September 2007

We have had a fantastic crop of pears this year in our garden - there are almost too many to use and I have been busy stewing them for the freezer so that I can use them over the winter. Poached pears are delicious and make a lovely pudding with a large spoon of clotted cream

Spiced Poached Pears
500ml water
500ml red wine
2 sticks of cinnamon
1 star anise
a good pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
100g caster sugar
juice of one lemon
4 ripe pears

Heat the water, wine, sugar, spices and lemon in a saucepan until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture begins to boil. Peel the pears leaving their stalks attached. Place the pears in the pan and simmer for 25 - 30 minutes until the pears are soft and have taken on the colour of the wine. Serve warm or cold with cream.

Tuesday, 11 September 2007

This weekend my husband's family came to visit - 18 people in total including all our nephews and nieces! In years gone by cooking for 18 would have seemed daunting but after surviving cooking for 500 school children, 18 seemed a positive breeze! Lots of home made pizzas which the children helped make, vegetarian lasagna and pasta with Giancarlo's tomato sauce (I must post that recipe soon as it is delicious), clotted cream strawberry cheesecake, chocolate toffee brownies (a work in progress which are becoming yummier each time) and baked peaches (Robbie Hudson - I am waiting for the report of you making these!!!!).

I love this time of year when there are plenty of flowers in the garden and you can dot bunches around the house when visitors come. These are the arrangements I did this weekend! The sweet peas are from my mums allotment and smell divine! All very simple and free and yet these jugs of flowers looked a picture on the tables in the garden!

Monday, 10 September 2007

This weekend saw another produce show, but this time I was judging. I arrived to be greeted by this enormous table covered in food and began to understand the enormity of the task of judging 17 food categories - jams, jellies, cakes, scones, quiches, cheese straws to name but a few. Two and a half hours later, I had tasted 79 dishes and was feeling rather queasy! It was definitely a mistake leaving the ten different chocolate brownies until last as they just about finished me off. It was however a wonderful experience, with some really delicious food, and it left me with a better understanding of what John and Gregg go through on Masterchef tasting so many dishes day after day and a realisation that taste is very subjective. I was told afterwards that I had awarded the first prize for raspberry jam to a 10 year old girl so hopefully a budding Masterchef in the making! On the rumblings of a complaint that I had awarded first prize to a chocolate brownie with a fudge topping when apparently Nigella Lawson says they have to have a hard crust, I decided it was time to make a swift exit!

Friday, 7 September 2007

Today is a non foodie post (sorry!) but I just wanted to share with you this picture of my brother as I love it! Although we are similar in a lot of ways, this picture sums up the differences between us. I am a country girl, I love being at home, I have hundreds of wicker baskets and am very settled. My brother on the other hand is a nomad and is always travelling. Rather than wicker baskets, this is him at the wicker festival in the Nevada desert last week - he looks like such a free spirit particularly with the rainbows in the background. There is no way I would be able to cope in the middle of a hot desert for a whole week as he did, with nothing to buy except ice cubes and coffee! He loved it...I on the other hand, loved looking at the photos!! Have a good weekend everyone xxx

Thursday, 6 September 2007

My good old Dad has bought me a very 'Hannah' present from France - lavender jam made by some nuns. Clearly women after my own heart! It is delicious and I have been thinking of how to make some myself. If I ever succeed, I will post the recipe. In the meantime I am going to make lavender scones and serve with the jam, clotted cream and a few raspberries which I am hoping will be quite tasty!

If you have any suggestions for the jam let me know. I was recently shown how to roast chicken covered in marmalade and was wondering whether this would work with lavender jam but even I think this would be a step too far in my floral trail!

Wednesday, 5 September 2007

A few more cute cupcakes! These ghosts were our favourite!

Tuesday, 4 September 2007

Christmas and Halloween have arrived early in our house this year (for today at least!) I have been up in the loft getting our decorations down. Today the photos are being taken for my next 4 articles for Country Kitchen. Thats a lot of cooking and baking and I am one exhausted cookie!! Halloween cupcakes, lots of lovely recipes with Damsons (including Damson Ripple Clotted Cream Ice Cream which was an experiment that worked!), Christmas puddings and an edible Christmas tree for the birds - I have been threading popcorn, peanuts, dried apple rings and making fat balls for the last two days!
Now must get back to finishing the duck with damson sauce and ironing table cloths so will leave you with a quick sneak preview of one of the cupcakes!

Monday, 3 September 2007

Oh my...what an honour....lovely Marie from www.ayearatoakcottage.blogspot.com has awarded me a droolworthy blogger award. I am totally flattered and honoured. If you haven't been to Marie's blog yet, you really must pay it a visit - she has my dream job working as a cook in a Manor House and writes lovely tales of her cooking adventures there with delicious recipes. Anyway...A big thank you for the award Marie - my heart is too full for words etc etc...!

Now it's my turn to bestow the honour on a fellow blogger...this is a hard choice as there are so many lovely blogs out there....but my blog of choice at the moment for lovely pictures and recipes is http://figsoliveswine.blogspot.com where Amanda conjures up heavenly creations using fresh market produce. This blog also has a special place in my heart as Amanda is in New York - as is my brother - and I often read her blog and imagine that my brother (fellow foodie and Masterchef contestant in series 1) might be visiting these markets too!