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

Friday, 31 August 2007

Some lovely summer pansies!

Wednesday, 29 August 2007

Damson and wild plum season is upon us and I am busy using them for my next Country Kitchen article. A lot of people in our village have damson trees in their gardens and as they know I am writing the article, I have received lots! Charlotte from the www.greatbigvegchallenge.blogspot.com asked yesterday for a recipe for damson jam as she had some to use. The problem I find with damson jam is removing all the stones and I have yet to find a method of doing this quickly! Any hints and tips let me know.

Damson and cinnamon jam
2 1/2lb damsons, washed
preserving sugar (according to quantity of fruit pulp)
1 1/2 pints of water
2 cinnamon sticks
1/2 tbsp butter

Place the damsons, water and cinnamon in a jam pan (or a large saucepan if you do not have a jam pan). Bring to the boil and then simmer for about half an hour until the damsons are soft. This is the fiddly bit - place the fruit in a sieve or strainer, a ladle full at a time and push the fruit through the sieve. Once you have removed all the stones and the cinnamon sticks, measure the fruit pulp and return it to the pan with 1kilo of preserving sugar for every 800ml of pulp. Simmer gently to dissolve the sugar and then rapidly boil for 15 - 20 minutes, testing for set using a saucer which has been chilled in the freezer. Drop a small amount of the jam on the cold saucer. If it wrinkles and a skin forms when you push it with your finger the jam is set. When the set has been reached add the butter and stir until melted. Pour into sterilised jars and seal.

Tuesday, 28 August 2007

Well I know you will all be as proud of us as we were when I announce that the 8 of us from sewing circle who entered won 18 (!!!) prizes between us. We were so excited. My lemon drizzle cake was sadly disqualified as it was in a 6 1/2 inch tin rather than a 7 inch tin (note to self: pay more attention to the instructions next time)! I won first prize for my fruit scones, fruit cake, victoria sponge and my embroidery with a third for my shortbread and raspberry jam (although the jam had a note saying that it would have done better had I filled the jar up to the top - must not be so stingy next time!) Everyone else did brilliantly - particularly in the photo competition where there were so many entries - Alison, Jess and Pauline all won prizes, Ella's gingerbread men and her collage both got first prize, Joshy got a highly commended for his vegetable animals (slightly unfairly in my view as all the other entrants were at least 8 and he is only 2), Pauline and Ros both got awards for their flowers and Susan and Cathie took first and second in the lemon drizzle cake competition. Barbara got third place for her courgettes and fruit cake. We have never laughed as much as we did yesterday. Will we be back next year defending our titles? Most definitely!

Monday, 27 August 2007

So the day has finally arrived and we have all just been to take our produce to the village show in the church hall in the next village. 7 members of our village sewing circle went in convey, tooting our horns as we left the village (the rest of the village must have wondered what on earth was going on!) I don't think we realised quite how seriously these competitions are taken and the fruit and vegetables looked amazing. So here are a few of our entries - my shortbread, Jess, Alison and Pauline's photographs, Joshua's vegetable crocodile and panda, Ella's decorated gingerbread men, Pauline's flower arrangement, Barbara's courgettes and my jam! We are all going back at 3pm to see how we did and to have a cream tea in the village hall! Even if we don't win, we had so much fun today and I am sure we will all be entering again next year!

Friday, 24 August 2007

We are at the height of jam season in our house and I have two pans of jam simmering on the Aga as I type - Raspberry and Lavender Jam and Peach and Vanilla Jam. The house smells lovely!
Both are to be entries in this weekend's produce show.

I have been on a bit of a lavender ban since the three course lavender extravaganza when Ben Axford came to supper. My husband has had enough! However when I was getting the raspberries ready last night I just couldn't help myself and added a large spoonful of lavender sugar to the jam. Now this is an experiment, and it may not work, but from the spoonful I have just had, I think it is going to be good! Let's hope the judges like it!

Raspberry and Lavender Jam
To make 4 small jars

500g fresh or frozen raspberries
500g preserving sugar
1 tbsp lavender sugar, ground in a pestle and mortar
juice of half a lemon.

Place the raspberries, preserving sugar and lavender sugar in a bowl. Give it a good stir, cover and leave over night.

The following day, place the raspberry mixture in a jam pan (or other heavy based saucepan) with the lemon and simmer gently for 20 minutes until the sugar has all dissolved. Bring to a rolling boil for a further 20/25 minutes. Keep checking it so that it doesn't stick to the bottom of the pan and burn. Test for set using a saucer that you have chilled in the freezer. Drop a small amount of jam on the saucer and leave for a minute. A skin should form and wrinkle when you push you finger against the drop of jam. Pour into sterilised jars and seal.

Thursday, 23 August 2007

A morning visitor at my office window!

Wednesday, 22 August 2007

Last night was our monthly sewing circle and we were all busy planning our entries for our local produce show this weekend - I am (with a bit of arm twisting) entering 7 categories! The show is actually held in the next village so we are all travelling in convoy to turn out in force and represent our village - there is a fair amount of rivalry between the two villages and we are hoping to do well! Anyway, will post more of the show later and possibly the results depending on how bad they are! Alison had bought some cookbooks to sewing last night and one included an 1877 recipe which I loved and thought I would share with you!
Mixed Preserve for Children
Take raspberries, redcurrants and whitecurrants in any quantities which are left, or gooseberries and blackcurrants in equal quantities; boil them together for 20 minutes or half and hour, according to their weight, then common moist sugar, dried and heated before the fire, must be added in the proportion of three-quarters of a pound to each pound of fruit and boiled five minutes longer - JH Walsh Domestic Economy (c1877)
We wondered why this would only be for children and what common moist sugar was - noone had any ideas! Suggestions gratefully received!

Tuesday, 21 August 2007

One of the best things about summer is the glut of fresh herbs in the garden that are just waiting to be picked! It is so lovely to be able to pop out of the kitchen door and return with a handful of herbs that will elevate a dish. This is a risotto I made the other day when I was trying to use up things in my cupboard

Sweetcorn and summer herb risotto
Serves 4, cooking and preparation 40 minutes
1tbsp olive oil
1 red onion, finely chopped
salt and pepper for seasoning
12oz arborio or other risotto rice
150ml sherry or Marsala wine
1 litre chicken stock (or vegetable stock if you prefer)
1 small tin of sweetcorn (drained)
50g butter
75g grated cheese (gruyere is what I normally use but as this is a store cupboard dish, just use any hard cheese you have in your fridge - cheddar is fine)
1 handful of fresh herbs (chives, parsley, tarragon, chervil are what I used)

In a large pan, heat the oil and gently fry the onions. I add a tsp of salt to my onion as this helps them to cook (a tip passed on by MC winner Steven, so it must be good!). Take care that the onions do not burn or go dark brown as this will taint the flavour of the risotto. When the onions are cooked, add the rice to the pan and stir for a few minutes until the rice starts to become translucent. Pour in the sherry or wine and cook for a few minutes until the alcohol has evaporated. Then add the chicken stock a ladle at a time, each time cooking so that all the liquid has been absorbed, before adding the next ladle. You are meant to add salt with each ladle when making risotto but I have to admit that I never really do this - I just add some salt at the beginning and then test and adjust the seasoning at the end. You may not need all the stock (or you may need a little more) - towards the end test the rice - it shouldn't have any crunch to it and if it does just add a little more stock or water and cook further. When the rice is cooked, stir in the sweetcorn and cook for a further 5 minutes. Season with salt if needed and add some pepper. Add the herbs, butter and cheese to the pan and stir until melted. Serve straight away. Although the butter and cheese add flavour and give a glossy finish, this dish is fine with both of these omitted (more like a summer herb paella) which would be suitable for anyone allergic to dairy products.

Monday, 20 August 2007

Joshua (my MC food taster) enjoying some bubbles in our garden! I wanted to pop some too! His parents and we took him to a Chinese restaurant for Dim Sum lunch this weekend and we were all really impressed by how much he enjoyed it. He didn't quite manage the chopsticks, but liked the smoked shredded chicken with chillies, which for a two and a half year old is pretty impressive! Another 16 years or so and he will be appearing on MC, I'm sure.

Friday, 17 August 2007

I have been tagged in the Fabulous Four Me Me by lovely Joanna of www.joannasfood.blogspot.com - five areas of my life, four points each so here you go...

4 jobs I have had in my life

1. I used to work in my Grandma's Hat Shop on Saturdays selling snoods (remember those?) and fingerless lace gloves. Oh the 80's - what were we thinking??? This was at the height of Princess Diana's hat era and I loved trying all the hats on.

2. I worked for a German law firm in Hamburg and London and was a German Maritime Arbitrator.

3. I worked at Clifford Chance - the world largest law firm - where I would sometimes work through the night or sleep in the office in beds with paper sheets - this is a chapter of my life best forgotten.

4. I now work at home as a lawyer - this is my nicest job so far (other than foodie things but I don't see them as work, just pleasure)!

Places I have lived:

1. I was born in Harpenden.

2. I grew up in South Bedfordshire (about 30 minutes from where I live now) - my parents moved house to be within the catchment area of my school.

3. We lived in Hackney, East London in a lovely square that is famed for being the model for the Eastender's set - they took plaster cast models of the front of our houses to build the set. I get glimpses of our old house when I watch the programme. It had a great community spirit with a communal garden and regular street parties, for which I baked the odd cake or two!

4. My cottage now which I hope never to leave

Four places I have been on holiday:

1. Chole Mjini, Tanzania - the best holiday we have ever had, no running water, no electricity, no phones - sheer isolation from the outside work, staying in a two storey tree house, drinking ginger beer at sunset and eating fried plantains (and I don't even like bananas). It is the one place I would go back to if I had a choice of anywhere in the world to go on holiday - www.intotanzania.com

2. Paxtons Tower Lodge, Wales - a wonderful stone cottage we visited for our honeymoon. It was just after Sept 11th so we decided not to go to India as planned - I was too scared to fly (silly in retrospect) we had a really wonderful time walking on the beach at Tenby in the winter sun - www.landmarktrust.org.uk

3. The Tower in Puglia - a real foodie heaven that we found by chance which has a lovely stone walled vegetable garden where all the produce in the restaurant came from and great cookery lessons - www.cognoscentiworld.com/hotels/tower.asp

4. L'enclume, Cartmel, Lake District - the best restaurant I have ever eaten in - we stayed for three nights which in retrospect was ridiculous (one night would have been a treat) - amazing food, particularly the chocolate orange doughnuts that were served as a petite fours which tasted of Christmas morning and brought tears to my eyes. Lovely Simon Rogan gave me the recipe which is now treasured in my recipe book - www.lenclume.co.uk

Four of my favourite foods:

1. Frys Cream bars - we used to have them when we were ill to make us feel better - they still work today

2. Rib of Beef for a Sunday roast

3. Lamb Pasanda and Peswiri Naan

4. Skye Gyngells Lamb and Prune Casserole with spiced sweet potato puree

I am wondering what the above says about me.....!

Four places I would rather be right now:

Nowhere - I am in my cottage and there is nowhere I would rather be!

I tag

Charlotte and Freddie at the www.greatbigvegchallenge.blogspot.com

Julia at www.asliceofcherrypie.blogspot.com

Steven at www.theurbanfoodie.blogspot.com (in an attempt to get him back to blogging)

William at www.theboydonefood.blogspot.com

Thursday, 16 August 2007

I don't know how many of you watched the amazing meteor shower on Sunday night - we did and couldn't believe how good it was. We lay out in the orchard on a blanket under a patchwork quilt with some cocoa - for the first few minutes we didn't see anything and I was beginning to wonder whether we were looking in the wrong place, but with that a shining flash went across the sky! We spent an hour watching the light show until we were too cold and were getting a bit scared by the rustling noises in the hedgerows (we were visited by a hedgehog and muffy our cat, both of which arrived unannounced in the darkness and scared the life out of us!)

Given the meteor shower, a space theme was the obvious choice for the fondant fancies I made at the weekend for our nephews who I didn't think would appreciate the girlie maypole cake! Somehow black fondant fancies don't look quite as appealing as pale purple/pink ones !

Tuesday, 14 August 2007

The weeks seem to be flying by - it only seems like yesterday that my cake recipes were in Country Kitchen and now my smoked salmon recipes are out. Masala Salmon fillets, potted smoked salmon with clarified tarragon butter, caramalized onion and smoked salmon pizza (this one is very yummy!) and salmon and prawn salad. Here is one of the recipes for you to try when you have time!

Masala salmon fillets
Preparation and cooking time 20 minutes
Serves 2
2 skinless salmon fillets
sea salt flakes and freshly ground black pepper
Olive oil for brushing
10 asparagus spears
100grams smoked salmon, roughly chopped
3 tbsp Masala wine
1 tbsp butter
zest and juice of 1 lemon
100ml double cream

Brush the salmon fillets with the olive oil and season well with the salt flakes and cracked black pepper. Heat a griddle pan until it is very hot and then place the salmon fillets in the pan. Leave them to cook (without moving) until the bottom half of the fillets have become pale pink – depending on how hot your pan is this will take approximately 5 minutes. Turn the salmon fillets over and cook for three minutes until the salmon is a light golden brown and is still soft when you press with your finger.

As soon as you have put the salmon in the pan, begin making the sauce. Bend the asparagus spears so that they break at their natural point. Place in a frying pan with the Masala wine and bring to a gentle simmer for 4 minutes. Add the salmon pieces, lemon juice and simmer for a further 2 minutes. Add the cream and butter and stir until the sauce thickens and season with salt and pepper. To serve, pour the sauce over each salmon fillet and serve with salad and warm new potatoes.

My new brownie pan has arrived from the lovely people at http://www.bakersedge.com/ and this weekend I tried it for the first time. The brownies came out of the pan so easily and were perfectly cooked. I adapted a recipe from the leaflet that came with the pan to make chocolate orange cheesecake brownies which were delicious! We ate them after a BBQ lunch with a glass of sweet dessert wine and then again in the evening with a cup of tea!
For the Brownie base
12 oz plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp bicarb of soda
1/2 tsp salt
200g salted butter
10 oz orange dark chocolate - I used Cote D'or Orange Intense which is the chocolate bar equivalent of a jaffa cake (yummy!)
9oz caster sugar
3 large eggs
zest of 2 oranges
For the cheesecake layer
6oz cream cheese
75g salted butter
3oz caster sugar
3 egg yolks
1oz plain flour
2 tbsp marmalade
1 tbsp chopped preserved oranges (if you have any)
First make the base, melt the chocolate and butter in the microwave for 1 minute and stir. Microwave for a further 20 seconds if necessary until all the chocolate lumps are gone. Leave to cool for a few minutes. Stir in the sugar, then the eggs one at a time, followed by the orange rind and the flour. Mix gently to ensure that all the flour is incorporated. Pour this mixture in to the based of your greased tin (if you don't have a brownie pan a small rectangular roasting pan will be fine).
For the topping, whisk together the cheese and butter until they are light and fluffy. Stir in the sugar and then add the yolk one at a time. Stir in the flour, marmalade and the preserved oranges. Pour the cheesecake mixture on top of the brownie base and swirl them together with a fork - you do not want the two layers to be completely mixed. Bake for approximately 40 - 50 minutes, gas mark 5, 190C, 375F
Serve with strawberries and cream!

Saturday, 11 August 2007

Today was our niece's birthday and this is her birthday cake. When I start out decorating a cake I am never quite sure how it is going to end up as, although I have a rough idea in mind, it evolves depending on what sweets are in my cake decorating box and what colour icing I find first. I have to say then when I finished making this cake, I stood back and was pleased with the result! A summer maypole! It couldn't possibly have been a more "sugar and spice and all things nice" cake if I had tried.

Decorated with strawberry bon bons and marshmallows, jelly beans, sugar roses and some fresh roses, lavender and freesias. It was transported for nearly 3 hours on my lap to the party and smelt heavenly all the way!

It looked lovely lit up with the candles and sadly a few minutes later was devoured!

Friday, 10 August 2007

Calming lavender is what I need after the stress of today! I have been moving offices as our main office has relocated and, as I am not prepared to commute, they are kindly letting me work from home! 24 hours without a proper working phone and Internet has been chaotic but all is now calm and everything is working again, just in time for the weekend!! Although I know there can be downsides to working from home, I am really looking forward to it - I can pop things in the oven when I need to and I can have my lunch in the garden - definite plus points! For once I can say that I am actually looking forward to Monday morning and to starting work properly in my new office! Hope you all have a lovely weekend and recipe posting will resume next week!

Thursday, 9 August 2007

My mum makes the best pavlova's ever. No matter how hard I try, mine are never quite as good! This is her most recent creation with raspberries, apricots and pistachios. The apricots were fresh but we thought that it would be even nicer if they were poached in some vin santo and honey or vanilla and cooled before putting on the pavlova. Either way, this is a perfect summer pudding!

Wednesday, 8 August 2007

With summer having arrived, we finally got our BBQ out at the weekend! This is a good thing as it is getting too hot to have the Aga on and I will have to turn it off soon. Just one more birthday cake this weekend and then I can manage without the oven for a week or so. As we have no other means of cooking (other than the microwave) we use the BBQ for everything when the Aga is off - although not ideal, it is quite fun and feels like we are on a camping holiday, particularly when you are cooking scrambled egg and bacon for breakfast in the garden!

Corn on the cob is really delicious cooked on the BBQ. These cobs were made with harissa butter. Peel back the leaves of the sweetcorn leaving them intact. For two cobs, mix 1 heaped tbsp softened butter with 1 level tbsp harissa paste (Belazu Rose Harissa is the best - I am not on commission honest - as it has large pieces of chilli and rose petals in it) and some salt and pepper. Rub a good coating of the butter paste over the corn and then fold down the leaves and tie up with string. Grill on the BBQ for approximately 20 minutes, turning during the cooking so that the corn is cooked on all sides. Perfect with a summer salad and some sausages!
ps - Congratulations Colin H for getting second prize with your lemon curd! A great achievement and I just hope I can do as well in our village show later this month!

Tuesday, 7 August 2007

When we were growing up, my Dad was not a great cook. I'm sure he won't mind me mentioning this (will you Dad?) and to give him his dues he is a lot better at cooking now and even made toblerone tiramisu the other week! The one culinary skill I did learn from my Dad was jam making. My dad was a prolific jam maker and the jam pan was often bubbling on the stove. Now we regularly exchange jars to see who makes the best! By some miracle, I managed to beat the wasps to our yellow plums and picked them all at the weekend. So Dad, this recipe is for you to try!

Yellow Plum and Vanilla Jam

2 kgs yellow plums (or any plum will do), stones removed and chopped

1 kg preserving sugar

450ml water

1 vanilla pod, split in half

Place the plums and the water in the jam pan, bring to the boil and simmer until the fruit is soft (approximately 30 minutes). I left the fruit and water in the pan on top of my aga overnight and it was ready by morning, although I added a bit more water. Add the sugar and vanilla pod, bring to the boil and then keep at a gentle rolling boil for approximately 20 minutes. I use a jam thermometer to test when the setting temperature is reached. Place a saucer in the freezer. When the jam is thick and syrupy, remove the saucer from the freezer and drop a small amount of jam onto it. Leave it for a minute to cool. The jam is set if, when you push the jam with your finger, the top wrinkles and a light skin has formed. Pour into sterilised jam jars and seal. Makes 3 jars.

Friday, 3 August 2007

I have a foodie confession to make. Until a few weeks ago I had never seen a globe artichoke growing. Although I cook with them and know what they look like, I had no idea of how they grew, imagining that they probably grew like cabbages at ground level. In retrospect, given that they are a member of the thistle family, this was a little daft. They actually grow on really tall plants about 6ft high! On my way home yesterday I spotted a sign for home grown artichokes and stopped to buy their last two.
I was shown on a cookery course in Puglia how to prepare them and since then I have enjoyed using them in fresh pasta sauces. They are not half as difficult to prepare as they look. You simply peel off the bottom dark green leaves with a sharp knife, cutting with the knife behind each leaf, which will leave the bulb intact and when you get to the paler yellow leaves you cut across the top of the artichoke. I have to say that it is not the easiest of things to explain in words and it was only when someone showed me that I finally understood. There are some lovely recipes on http://thestonesoup.com/blog/2006/10/artichokes-overcoming-the-fear/ and I am looking forward to trying one of the recipes with the two I bought yesterday!

Thursday, 2 August 2007

Well I just had to show you all my latest violet gift! These are violet sweets from Madrid that Sarah Brown bought me! They are really far too pretty to eat but will look perfect on top of some cupcakes or a birthday cake with pale pink or purple icing!

Wednesday, 1 August 2007

I often find that nothing does the job of cheering people better than a batch of cupcakes. They are so quick to make and always appreciated. Everyone is feeling a bit low at work at the moment so today I have made some black and white cupcakes for them all.

For 30 chocolate cupcakes, cream 10oz margarine and 10oz caster sugar. When light and fluffy mix in 5 eggs. If the mixture curdles, add a tablespoon of self raising flour. Gently fold in 8 oz self raising flour and 2 oz cocoa - which you should probably sift but I never do when I am in a hurry (perhaps that's not something I should be confessing!!!) Place spoonfuls of the cake mixture into cup cases in a bun tin and bake in a moderate oven (Gas Mark 5, 190oC, Aga roasting oven below a cold shelf) for 15 - 20 minutes until the top of the cake bounces back when pressed and a knife comes out clean.

For the white topping (15 cupcakes), melt 300grams white chocolate for 1 minute on full power in the microwave. Dip each cupcake into the white chocolate so that the top of the cake is covered. Mix the remaining white chocolate with approximately 100 grams desiccated (or shredded if you can get it) coconut. Depending on how much chocolate is left, you may need to add more coconut - you need the coconut mixture to be quite stiff so that it sits on top of the cakes. Place a small spoon of the coconut on each cake and top with red candy hearts.

For the dark topping (15 cupcakes), melt 200grams dark chocolate, 2 tablespoons double cream and 1 level tablespoon butter in the microwave for 1 minute and then stir to make a smooth icing. Cover the tops of the cakes with the icing. For decoration, cut Ferraro Roche chocolates in half and place one half on each cake!

Go on....make some for your work!