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

Wednesday, 30 April 2008

If you are ever looking for a nice day out, I would definitely recommend Lille in France. Amazingly it is now only 1 hour 15 minutes from Kings Cross so is quicker to reach for us than going to Brighton for a day out. Tina and I had such a nice day - lovely shopping and delicious food. It is a true foodie mecca with lots of chocolatieres (our favourite was Guillaume Vincent which had a kitchen behind the counter making the most amazing chocolates - the salt caramel chocolates were our favourites together with the honey chocolate with popping candy in it - genius!), lots of bakers and wonderful food shops. A definite must visit is the tea room at Patissiere Meert founded in 1761 . Not cheap but definitely worth a visit and they sell violet tea (which is impossible to find in the UK so I bought lots!!!), macaroons and home made marshmallows. This is Tina enjoying a very rich chocolate fondant pudding - our fourth course of our lunch and a bit of a struggle - we managed it though!

Friday, 25 April 2008

It has been a busy old week and I am heading into a busy weekend! I have made 12 puddings for a charity dinner (three rose summer berry puddings, three lemon merignue pies, a toffee apple cream pie (which was the favourite) 2 chocolate truffle cakes, 2 cheesecakes and the good old favourite toblerone tiramisu). I gave Henry in our village a cookery lesson in baking cupcakes - white chocolate and lemon drizzle - this is him with his vivid yellow cakes decorated with blue glitter (note for future lessons: do not hand over the bottle of food colouring to a child - the icing was positively luminous!!!!) Henry is already planning what our next cake baking lesson will be! Yesterday, a visit to Newark and then today I am going to London as tomorrow we are off to Lille in France for a girlie day trip on the Eurostar (a very kind birthday present from my friend Tina). I am really looking forward to some delicious French food and a trip to the lovely delis there! On arrival back at London, I am meeting my German friend Maren who is coming to stay and then a university friend Sonya is coming to visit on Sunday! Some weeks are just a whirlwind but a lovely whirlwind! I hope you all have a lovely weekend xxx

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

As someone who cooks a lot and eats out quite a bit too, it is unusual for me to come across an ingredient I have not seen or heard of before. These Fiddlehead Ferms that we found in Dean and Deluca were unlike anything I had seen before. Apparently they taste like a blend of asparagus, green bean and artichoke. They are the only edible fern, other types of fern can apparently cause cancer so I am not planning going out into the woodland and foraging for these any time soon! They look positively prehistoric and I am wondering when or if they will make it to the UK! If you have ever tried them, let me know!

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

The lovely people at BBC Countryfile Magazine are asking for your help again. They are launching a new regular feature in the magazine - 'Farmers Market of the Month'. Now I am a big fan of Farmers Markets and they really do deserve all the free publicity they can get. What Countryfile need from you are nominations of your favourite farmers markets together with a hundred word description of why your market is the best and a photo of you at the market by your favourite stall. They will pick one each month to feature in their magazine. So get snapping now and you never know, you could end up in print! Any pictures and nominations should be sent by email to editor@bbccountryfile.com.

Have fun!
Lovely flowers for sale at the Union Square market in NY

Monday, 21 April 2008

I have always been a true lover of dumplings - fluffy clouds on top of a casserole. This is probably the reason I love Germany so much as dumplings are a specialty. On my recent trip to Germany, we had dumplings - but served on their own and not in a casserole. What a great idea for a dumpling lover! I was hooked. With certain types of food, I think it is an advantage to have been brought up making them - somethings definitely require natural instinct. I came back with a German bread dumpling recipe, eager to try it out, alas not being German, I clearly did something wrong. Far from being light and fluffy, my bread and egg dumplings were like lead! So I went back to the drawing board and decided to try making good old English dumplings instead. Much easier! Poached in chicken stock in place of the casserole, they were perfectly light and we devoured them on a rainy day last week! 2 or 3 dumplings per person are enough unless you are REALLY hungry! My German friend Maren is coming to visit this weekend, so if I am feeling really brave I might serve her my English/German dumplings!

Dumplings with Brandy and Bacon Sauce
Preparation time 10 minutes plus 20 minutes cooking
Serves 2

For the dumplings
4oz self raising flour
2oz suet
salt and pepper
water to mix
1.5 litres chicken or vegetable stock

For the sauce
3 rashers of bacon, finely chopped
1 small red onion, finely chopped
3 tbsp brandy
250ml creme fraiche
salt and pepper to season
1 tbsp gravy granules
Parsley, finely chopped for garnish

Place the flour, suet and seasoning in a bowl and mix to a soft dough with cold water. Add the water a little at a time so the dough does not become too sticky. If it does add a little more flour. Form the dough into small dumplings, heat the stock in a large pan and once simmering add the dumplings. Poach the dumplings for 20 minutes. They will increase in size so use a large saucepan for cooking.

Whilst the dumplings are cooking, pan fry the bacon and onions until the are soft (approx 5 minutes). Add the brandy and cook gently until it has almost evaporated. Add the creme fraiche, granules and heat gently until the sauce is thick and creamy. Place the dumplings in a bowl, top with the sauce and sprinkle with parsley to garnish.

If making this recipe for vegetarians, use vegetarian suet and replace the bacon with mushrooms.

Friday, 18 April 2008

My most recent article for Country Kitchen was flowerpot baking. I just loved writing this article and experimenting with little cakes in tiny pots. This was our favourite cake!

Rose and lavender drizzle cake

Everyone loves lemon drizzle cake – it is always a teatime favourite. The rose and lavender petals add a delicate floral fragrance to the lemon drizzle. This is a perfect “garden” cake served in its flowerpot.

Preparation time 15 minutes, plus 25 – 30 minutes baking.
Makes one 8 inch cake

225g/8oz margarine
225g/8oz caster sugar
4 large eggs
225g/8oz self raising flour
Zest and juice of 3 lemons
1 tbsp of dried culinary lavender and rose petals
2 tbsp icing sugar

Preheat your oven to Gas Mark 5/375F/190oC. Line an 8 inch flower pot with grease proof paper, cutting a circle slightly larger than the base and a long rectangle curled round the sides of the flowerpot. Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time and then gently add the flour and lemon zest. Bake at Gas Mark 5/190oC/Aga Roasting oven below a cold shelf for 40/50mins until the cake is firm to touch. If the cake starts to brown too much before the cake is cooked cover the top with foil. Just before you remove the cake from the oven, heat the lemon juice with the icing sugar and lavender and rose petals in a saucepan until the sugar has dissolved and you have a light syrup. Pour the syrup and petals over cake as soon as it comes out of the oven and leave to cool.

Thursday, 17 April 2008

My favourite (and perfectly me) purchase in New York was this new cupcake book - Hello Cupcake! The ideas in it are fantastic and if you are going to buy one cake book this year, it just has to be this one! The fish bowl cake is my favourite - it had never occurred to me to decorate cakes on their side to use as a flat upright surface - very clever indeed. My other purchase in New York was a set of 100 icing nozzles so I can't wait to get over my jet lag and try them out on some of these new cupcakes!

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

Thank you all for your wonderful suggestions for New York - we managed a fair few but definitely need another trip back again soon to experience all the rest! The highlight of our trip was a birthday lunch for my brother at Jean George. With its 3 Michelin stars and $28 price tag for a two course lunch, this has to be the most exceptional value meal I have ever had. We definitely recommend it (and thanks to the blog reader who recommended it to us). Their Fois Gras Brulee made it to dish number 3 of last years Time Out "100 best things we ate in New York" and is definitely worth trying. Among the other dishes we tried were parmesan confit chicken with lemon butter and basil and delicious confit duck with white asparagus. The dessert plates (chocolate, citrus, apple and winter) at $8 (£4!!!!!) were such a bargain that we could have had all four! My favourite was the jar of home made marshmallows that they cut at your table - heavenly! This is a definite thumbs up recommendation and a must visit place in New York.

Sunday, 13 April 2008

Of course, the main attraction so far has been searching for New York's finest cakes and we have tried many! I found a beautifully crysanthamum cupcake at Dean and Deluca which looked so pretty but sadly the shop assistance put it in a box that was too small and squashed the flower completely. Being polite and British, I did not complain but handed over my $5.50 (!!!) and took the squashed cupcake away. This afternoon I made it to the Magnolia Bakery - OK so I had to queue for 20 minutes but the wait was worth it and the air outside whilst you are in the queue smells of cinnamon and chocolate so all in all it was a very pleasant experience. I have to say that the cupcakes were not as spectacular as I was expecting but the large cakes were AMAZING! I have never seem cakes the size of their German chocolate cake and Coconut cloud cake. Defintinely inspirational. We also paid a visit to BabyCakes - which produces cupcakes and brownies which are all wheat and gluten free, made with spelt and other wholesome ingredients. I just loved their shop window (top photo)!
Well I have been in New York less than 48 hours and feel as if my feet have not touched the ground. We have done so much (thanks to my brother acting as an excellent tour guide) and yet I know we have only scratched the tip of the iceberg! This truly is a city where you can get anything that your heart desires. It has reminded me at times of the lands at the top of the Faraway Tree (I was an avid Enid Blyton fan as a girl) with shops that just sell different types of rice pudding (Rice to Riches) and a restaurant which only serves macoroni cheese! I feel as if we have not stopped eating since we got here - we are no longer hungry but are just having to try everything. Delicious breakfast burritos, fluffly pancake stacks with maple syrup, slow cooked pork buns in China town. Today we ate at a wonderful Mexian restaurant where guacamole was made in front of you at the table - I am wondering when this will hit the UK as it is a great idea - followed by delicious beef fillet tacos and sweet potato chips. We have sipped cocktails at a rooftop bar in the meat district (ubercool) over looking the Hudson River, drank Techinis (hard to describe but a tea equivalent of a cappucino that tastes of autumn... nuts, cinnamon, apple and caramel - truely delicious and unique) at Teany (a wonderful teashop owned by muscian Moby) and eaten pumpkin pancakes, not to mention a trip to Dean and Deluca!

Thursday, 10 April 2008

A cheap bunch of roses from the supermarket can be transformed into a lovely table arrangement for a dinner party in just a few minutes. Place some soaked green oasis into a dish or a terracotta flowerpot and insert a candle into the centre. Cover the oasis with greenery from your garden, ivy and rosemary are ideal. You don't need any wire and can just insert the ends of the stems into the oasis. Cut the rose stems to 2 inches below the flower and insert into the oasis. A perfect center piece for a dinner party, costing only a few pounds!

Tuesday, 8 April 2008

Later this week I am heading State side to New York to visit my brother for his birthday. It is my first ever trip to America and I am really looking forward to it. I am taking an empty suitcake to fill with cake decorations, fudge frosting and other wonderful goodies for my store cupboard. I am really looking forward to visiting the Magnolia Bakery - who's cook book I have drooled over for hours. They must be the true home of American frosting and I am hoping to pick up some good ideas! Any suggestions of must see foodie places to visit in New York much appreciated!!!!
I have been given such a perfectly "me" present from my mum - this dear little cupcake teacosy! It will take pride of place in my kitchen and is perfect for my ever growing tea pot collection.

Sunday, 6 April 2008

I have been working for most of the weekend (horrible law work rather than cooking sadly) but I have managed to sneak time to try out a few new pudding ideas. A peach melba clotted cream cheesecake, which I will post later this week - an idea I had during Masterchef that never made it to the plate and this pineapple and cinnamon tatin - a little splash of tropical sunshine to counterbalance today's snow!

Pineapple and cinnamon tatin
Serves 6, preparation time 10 minutes, cooking time 25 minutes
1 fresh pineapple, peeled, cored and cut into rings (you can substitute tinned pineapple if you are short on time but fresh is better)
250g puff pastry
100g butter
2 tbsp golden syrup
100g caster sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon

Heat the syrup, butter, sugar and cinnamon in a saucepan until the sugar has dissolved, bring to the boil and then remove from the heat. Pour into the base of a flan or tatin dish and set aside to cool slightly. Place the pineapple on top of the caramel in a decorative pattern, roll out the pastry and cover the pineapple. Bake in a hot oven (Gas Mark 6/Aga roasting oven/400F/200C) for approximately 25 minutes until the pastry has risen and is golden. Remove from the oven and leave to stand for 5 minutes. Invert the tart onto a plate and serve warm. We loved the smell of this pudding - bringing memories of holidays abroad and warm sunny days!

Friday, 4 April 2008

Cheese and Chive loaf

Cheese and onion are a classic combination – the chives in this recipe give a delicate onion flavour. This bread is hearty and goes well with soup.

Preparation time 20 minutes plus 45 - 60 minutes proving and 20-25 minutes

Makes one loaf

500g/1lb 2oz strong white bread flour
1 tsp salt
2 tsp sugar
1 sachet of easy blend yeast (7g)
350ml warm water
100g strong cheddar cheese, grated
10g chives, finely snipped
1 egg, beaten

Preheat the oven to 200C/390F/Gas 6. Place all the dry ingredients in a large bowl and slowly add the warm water, mixing to form a soft dough. If the dough is too sticky, add a little more flour. Turn the dough out on to a flat surface and knead for 7 - 8 minutes until the dough is smooth and pliable. If you have a dough hook on your mixer, the kneading time can be reduced to 5 minutes. Leave the dough to rest for 5 minutes and then reknead for a further 5 minutes, adding the chives and 75g of the grated cheese. Form the dough into a round ball and place on a greased baking tray. Cover with a damp tea towel and leave in a warm place (a warm airing cupboard or on top of the Aga is ideal) until the dough has doubled in size. When the dough has risen, brush the top of the loaf with the beaten egg and sprinkle over the remaining cheese. Bake in the oven for 20 – 25 minutes until the loaf is golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped.

Wednesday, 2 April 2008

I am away from my lovely Aga and cooking for a few days as I am over in Suffolk on business. Although its work I am staying at one of our Company hotels - The Bildeston Crown - which (without wanting to promote our company too much) is a very special place to stay and consequently it does not feel like work really! The chef, Chris Lee, creates the most wonderful food, and with 3 AA rosettes he must surely be on his way to his first Michelin Star. Last night we ate delicious pork - from Head to Tail, with 8 different cuts of pork, turbot with oxtail filled with salsify, and a chocolate tasting plate with warm chocolate fondant, white chocolate zabaglione and mocha ice cream. All delicious! The hotel magazine has a nice article about my time on Masterchef which you might like to read if you have a few minutes spare.