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

Monday, 31 March 2008

This weekend I catered a 70th birthday lunch for 16 people - when will I ever learn to say no!!!!! Actually it was good fun. Getting 16 plates of food out hot at the same time is always a challenge but we just about managed it!
This is the birthday cake that I made for Mike whose birthday it was. He likes sailing so this seaside cake went down a treat! My favourite is the shoal of little green fish at the front swimming up the side of the cake.

Thursday, 27 March 2008

Freddie from GreatBigVegChallenge is soon moving on to squashes and has asked for a favourite squash recipe - so here you are Freddy! The squash is one of my favourite vegetables - they keep well so I usually have one in my vegetable basket that is always handy for stand by meals. This week, I used it to make a risotto - such a therapeutic dish to make with all that stirring - just perfect to unwind after a hard days work.

Roasted Garlic and Squash Risotto
Serves 3-4, preparation and cooking time 45 minutes
8 - 10 cloves of garlic in their skins
1 small butternut squash
3 tbsp olive oil
1 red onion chopped
100g mushrooms, sliced
300g risotto rice
100ml sherry or brandy
1 litre chicken or vegetable stock
50g butter
100g grated cheddar
salt and pepper to season
parsley to garnish (optional)

Peel, de-seed and roughly chop the squash. Place in a roasting pan with the garlic cloves and 2 tbsp of the olive oil and roast in a hot oven for 25 - 30 minutes until golden brown. Remove the skin and finely chop the soft garlic You can do this the day before if you are organised!
Finely chop the onion and fry gentle in the remaining tbsp of olive oil in a large pan with the mushrooms until they are soft. This will take a good 5 minutes. Add the rice and cook gently for 3 - 5 minutes until the rice become translucent. Add the sherry or brandy and cook for a further 3 minutes. Add the stock a ladle full at a time, cooking out all the stock before you add the next ladle, otherwise the outside of the rice will cook too quickly and you will be left with a crunchy inside. When all the stock has evaporated test that the rice is cooked (it should not be crunchy at all - if it is cook a little longer with some more stock or water) and then add the squash and garlic to the pan and stir well. Stir in the cheese and butter and heat gently for a few minutes. Season and garnish with parsley if using and serve straight away.

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Yesterday my hens laid 9 eggs - one each! It is the first time I have been able to identify each of their different eggs and see the full range of colours!

Monday, 24 March 2008

This weekends cake baking project was a 1st birthday cake for a Tigger fan! As my husband pointed it, it was VERY orange. My response.... "Tiggers like orange...and honey...and haycorns and thistles..."! At University (and I am not quite sure I should be admitting this...), I was president of the Winnie the Pooh society. We held early morning pooh stick competitions, returning to college for breakfast at the same time as the rowers and woozle hunts around the city. We had a lovely red and yellow scalf that had been used by the Uni Winnie the Pooh society for years. Eeyore was always my favourite character as he was such a grump - somewhere in the loft I have an eeyore with a detachable tail and a "Pooh goes home to bed" game - I really should dig them out! If I am out in the garden and noone is watching, I sometimes play pooh sticks from our bridge over the stream in our garden!

Sunday, 23 March 2008

Happy Easter everyone - I hope that the Easter bunny managed to hide your eggs somewhere safe and snow free. I have to say that it feels more like Christmas here today than Easter with a lovely deep coating of snow. Our nieces Alena, Devina and Priyna came to visit yesterday and did a wonderful job of decorating the Easter tree - it is amazing how a few twigs with blossom on can be transformed into something so spectacular. You might just be able to spy the little bird on a nest in the centre above the pink anemone! In exchange, they were rewarded with a few Easter cupcakes and some bags of Easter goodies. Hope that you all have a lovely, relaxing and peaceful weekend.

Thursday, 20 March 2008

Our Easter wreath and egg decorations on the rose arch and a visit from the Easter Bunnies Josh and Rosie!

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

If you are baking this week, why not use any egg shells to make decorated eggs. These are two I decorated yesterday. To blow out your egg pierce a small hole at the top of the egg and a slightly larger one at the bottom - place a cup below and blow into the small hole at the top of the egg. The contents will pour out into the cup. You need quite a bit of puff to get it started. Rinse the eggs and dry thoroughly. Now for the clever bit. I have long admired the German craft of "Serviettentechnik" - I am sure that this probably exists in England already but I have never come across it - perhaps I have not spent enough time in Hobbycraft. Take a paper serviette with small designs and cut out motifs of your choice. The serviette is in three layers and you need to remove the bottom two layers, leaving you with just the design on a very thin piece of tissue. Paint your eggs (two coats - light colours work best) and leave to dry. Then place your tissue picture onto the egg and brush over pva (clear drying) glue - this acts as a varnish and will seal your picture on to the egg. Hey presto - a "hand painted" egg in no time at all! You can use this process on other items - I have a rather nice large stone as a doorstop decorated with pink and green roses.

Friday, 14 March 2008

Tomorrow I am seeing my friend Tina. It was her birthday whilst we were in France so this evening I have baked her a birthday cake - rose, violet and lavender drizzle cake. I found this little bird in a birdcage a while ago and I knew straight away that she would look lovely on top of a cake - it was just a question of finding the right person to bake it for - Happy Birthday Tina xxx Now the only question that remains is how to transport it to London...!

Thursday, 13 March 2008

You will have to forgive the absence of a recipe today - sorry! I have just met my deadline for 4 articles (6 wicked summer berry recipes for the June edition of Delicious and Afternoon tea, Flowerpot baking and violet recipes for Country Kitchen) which have been taking up a lot of time this week. Yesterday I went to the Gala Evening of the Country Living Spring Fair in London - so many lovely things but I was having to be good as I am going back again on Saturday with my Mum and friends Jess and Tina. I did however find two items that I just couldn't resist - firstly, this lovely "Chick, Chick, Chick, Chick, Chicken, lay a little egg for me cushion" which I fell in love with. Secondly, this Easter Bunny Pocket Compass for deciding where to hide eggs. The later is of no use whatsoever, but it was so cute (and in my favourite duck egg blue colour) that I just had to have it. I am sure that our nephews and nieces will make good use of it in their Easter Egg hunt in our garden when they next visit.

Tuesday, 11 March 2008

They say good things come in threes. Yesterday I received my three latest articles all in one go which was lovely and made me feel almost like a genuine cookery writer. This month's Country Kitchen article is 4 breads made with herbs - Cheese and chive, Chorizo and Tarragon, Basil barleycorn twist and Rosemary olive oil bread. Country House has Mussels with Guinness and Poppy Seed Soda bread and finally I have two recipes in this month's Delicious Magazine ( you are going to have to take my word for it as they are part of the 20 recipe Chocolate Heaven feature - but I wrote them honest!) - Chocolate Praline Fondant Fancies and Chocolate Peanut Crumble Cookies.

Monday, 10 March 2008

Although it is nice to know plans so you have something to look forward to, sometimes it is wonderful to be suprised. I spent this weekend in Germany with my dear friend Maren. I knew that we were planning to travel to the North Coast of Germany - little did I know that we were going to one of the most beautiful hotels I have ever stayed in. Heiligendamm has nothing but a spa hotel and a clear stretch of sandy beach. Its location is perfect and I am sure we had the best rooms in the whole hotel as we could see the full stretch of the beach from the bay window in each room. The G8 summit was held there in 2007 so it must be good! We had lovely long walks along the beach and wonderful food - including this delicious raspberry mascapone torte, some amazing hazelnut ice cream and German dumplings. Our favourite was this cocktail - the balsamic might sound strange but it was delicious!

Heiligendamm Fizz

Place 1 tbsp cherry puree and 1 tsp balsamic vinegar in the bottom of a champagne glass and top up with prosecco or champagne and serve. You could replace the cherries with strawberry puree and it would be equally yummy.

Thursday, 6 March 2008

With the snow gone and lots of flowers in the garden, it feels as if spring has arrived. You can crystallize primroses in the same way as violet and rose petals. Whisk an egg white until fluffy and then using a small paint brush, brush the egg white on to the primrose petals and place in a bowl of caster sugar, covering the flower completely. Gently remove the flower and place on baking parchment on a tray. Leave to dry overnight in a warm place (airing cupboard, on top of an aga, or in a low oven that you have just turned off) . Use them to decorate spring time cupcakes or a lemon syllabub.

Wednesday, 5 March 2008

The lovely people at BBC Countryfile have awarded Hannah's Country Kitchen their first ever "Blog of the month" award - I am honoured! They have summed my blog up rather nicely - "Hannah often shares the experience surrounding her food, the friends that come around to tuck into her food, visits to local restaurants and events in her village. The blog remembers that food isn't just about the dish itself, but the entire experience of preparing and enjoying the food, of sharing and savoring together." Thank you Countryfile! You can nominate your favourite blogs to receive the award next month by following this link.

Tuesday, 4 March 2008

There is a light icing sugar dusting of snow in the garden this morning, the hens are tucking in to a large pan of apricot porridge (I swear they get better fed than we do) and it is a perfect day for making some indulgent cookies for elevenses! I am of the firm opinion that the more chocolate and nuts you put in a cookie, the better they become - a scientific project for the future perhaps!

Chocolate Peanut Walnut Cookies
Makes 15 (depending on how much of the cookie dough you eat before baking)

125g butter, softened
70g light brown sugar
70g caster sugar
1 large egg
2 tbsp peanut butter (either smooth or crunchie)
200g plain flour
1 tsp bicarb of soda
100g chocolate chips
100g chopped walnuts
50g milk or dark chocolate for decoration

Cream the butter, sugar and egg in a mixing bowl until light and fluffy. Add the peanut butter, flour and bicarb and mix to a smooth dough with your hands. Add the walnuts and chocolate chips and mix to ensure they are evenly distributed. The dough should be soft and fairly sticky. Pull off small balls of the dough and place a few inches apart on a greased or lined baking tray. Bake for 10 - 12 minutes Gas Mark 5/375F/190/Aga Roasting oven. Turn the tray half way through cooking to ensure even baking. Leave to cool in a wire rack. Melt the chocolate for 1 minutes in a microwave (or in a bain marie if you do not have a microwave) and drizzle over the cookies using a fork.

Monday, 3 March 2008

Soda bread is one of the easiest breads to make as it does not need to be proved. It is one of my favourite breads to serve with soups.

Poppy Seed Soda Bread

350g/12oz strong wholemeal flour
200g/9oz strong plain flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
500g/17½oz buttermilk
3 tbsp poppy seeds
Wholemeal flour for dusting

Preheat your oven to 200 C/400 F/Gas Mark 6. Lightly brush a baking tray with olive oil. Place the flours in a large bowl, together with the bicarbonate of soda and the salt. Add the buttermilk and poppy seeds and mix to form a soft dough – if it is too sticky add a little more flour but don’t over work the dough – as there is no yeast you need to keep it as light as possible. Form the dough into a ball and place on the tray. Cut a cross in the top of the loaf with a sharp knife, dust with a little flour and bake in the oven (Aga Roasting oven) for 25 minutes until the bread is golden brown and makes a hollow sound when tapped. The bread is best eaten on the day you make it but can be reheated in the oven the following day for 5 minutes.

ps - French recipes will follow soon, I have been in bed with the flu since my last post and am finally feeling a bit better today!