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

Thursday, 30 October 2008

Halloween tomorrow - is it me or does every shop seem full of halloween goodies this year - far more than I can ever remember. We are having our Halloween party for Josh Rosie Lily and Zara tomorrow evening. Lili's Mum says that she is looking forward to it as much as Christmas given the number of cakes there were last year. I hope she isn't disappointed! I have found some wonderful halloween finger puppets for parcel the parcel and curly halloween straws for supping on bats blood.
This is the table from our Halloween party - the invitations were whole pumpkins, with a green leaf attached to the top with green raffatia and a note saying please carve me and bring me to the party. There were some wonderful creations. We had great fun decorating the table with lots of orange berries, cobwebs, halloween crackers, streamers and flying pumpkin place names one of Martha Stewart's wonderful ideas.

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Treacle Roast Pork with Spiced Red Cabbage

Preparation time 30 minutes, Cooking time 4 – 4 ½ hours

Serves 4 - 6

1 red cabbage, shredded

2 peeled red onions, one quartered, one sliced

2 cooking apples, cored, one cut into rings, the other grated

1 cinnamon stick

50ml sherry vinegar

2 tbsp caster sugar

1 red chilli, chopped

1 star anise

60g/2oz butter, cubed

1 tbsp treacle

1 tbsp brown sugar

1 tbsp wholegrain mustard

2.25kg/5lb loin of pork, skin on

2 tbsp olive oil

450ml port

Preheat the oven to Gas Mark2/150C/300F. Place the cabbage, sliced onion, grated apple, cinnamon, vinegar, caster sugar, chilli and star anise in a large casserole dish. Add the butter to the dish with 200ml of port. Season with salt and pepper. Cover and cook in the oven for 2 hours stirring occasionally until the cabbage is soft. To cook the pork, preheat the oven to Gas Mark 7/425C/220F. Mix together the treacle, brown sugar and mustard, score the fat of the pork and cover with the treacle glaze. Place the quartered onion and apple rings in a large roasting pan and drizzle over the olive oil. Sit the pork on top of the apples and roast in the hot oven for 30 minutes. Pour over 250ml of port, reduce the oven temperature to Gas Mark 5/375F/190C and roast for a further 1 ½ hours until crisp and golden.

Friday, 24 October 2008

The feathered friends in my life have been giving me cause to smile this week. Whilst every chicken I have ever had has enjoyed dust bathing, I have not have hens before who sunbathe. When I went into the garden the other day they we all lying under the apple tree basking in the sun, some even lying on their side with their legs streched out. Now there must be a reason for this 1) they suffer from S.A.D. and were making the most of the last summer days of autumn 2) they have all eaten too much porridge to be able to wander round the garden and now just lie around all day 3) they were trying to make the pheasants jealous by demonstrating what a lovely and relaxing life they have. This is Cerys (the name sake of David Hall from Masterchef's little Cerys) basking in the sun. Perhaps this is just normal chicken behaviour and I have just not spotted them doing it before!

The peahen is also becoming very tame and now sits at my office window all day, occasionally tapping on the glass for something to eat. With the window open, she looked ready to come right in!

Thursday, 23 October 2008

Spot the difference!!!

Our new woodland lawn!

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

One of the nicest things about living in a village is that you know everyone and everyone knows you. Now, I can imagine that if you liked a lot of privacy or had secrets you wished to keep, a village wouldn't be the place for you. Luckily, I don't fall into either of these categories. I have often borrowed a cup of flour or sugar or other baking ingredient from one of my neighbours and there is a very nice community feel. In true village spirit, this morning the postman knocked on my door (he has recently been having a few samples from the book so knows I like to bake) to ask whether I could help him with cup conversations in a recipe he had. Having just "cup and stick" converted 365 recipes, I proudly knew the answers without even looking it up! In return I asked for the recipe and was so intrigued by the limited list of ingredients (no flour or butter?) that I made them in my lunch break today and can happily report that they are yummy, although very sweet! I added chocolate to the recipe in the hope that they would taste like my favourite Reeses peanut buttercups. Not quite...but they were nice all the same

Postman Howard's Peanut Butter Cookies

200g/7oz caster sugar
340g/12oz crunchy peanut butter
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla essence
200g/7oz milk or plain chocolate, chopped into chunks.

Preheat the oven to Gas Mark 5/190C/375F and grease a large baking tray. Cream together the sugar and peanut butter until light and fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla and mix again. Stir through the chocolate. Place small balls of the dough on the tray and press down. The cookies do not spread very much. Bake for 7 - 8 minutes until golden brown.

Thursday, 16 October 2008

As you have all lived through the last three months of me writing the book, with many of you testing recipes and proof reading, I wanted to share my celebration with you that yesterday I submitted the final part of my book (on time!!!). What a huge relief! I am one happy bunny today - although I imagine by 5pm I will be twiddling my thumbs and wondering what to do with all the free time I now have on my hands!

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Last weekend Mum and Mike attended the World Conker Championships at Ashton - you have heard it all now, I hear you cry. I just love these really "English" traditions! Lots of teams in fancy Dress - Little Britain, Gladiators, French Maids. I remember going to this when we were little and my brother taking part. As kids we would try everything to make our conkers harder - baking, pickling in vinegar, polishing - I am not convinced that any of these tricks made a difference. There are so many shiny conkers underfoot now when we walk up the lane to the fields - I like them best when they have just fallen and are still pristine in their prickly shells.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Rather belatedly, a short report on my trip to BBC Radio Northampton last week. I have to say that I loved being on the radio and surprisingly I wasn't nervous at all!!! Bernie and Anna were lovely and made me feel so welcome, as did Bernie's dog Riley who came and sat with his head on my lap whilst I was being interviewed. After over 10 minutes of interview, we had covered Masterchef, the book, magazine writing, how best to roast potatoes, cooking with an Aga, Jamie Oliver and the poor state of the Nations culinary skills and cooking with lavender. These are the cakes and cookies I took for them to try whilst we were on air - although I am not sure Bernie was convinced by cooking with lavender, he was definitely a fan of the edible glitter!!

Monday, 13 October 2008

Although I have spent the whole weekend trying to finish the book for my Wednesday deadline (nearly there!!!), I managed to fit in a little baking this weekend as it was Joshua's birthday. Panda Bear cupcakes (from Hello Cupcake) which Josh had seen and fallen in love with (Panda's are his favourite thing) and a Power Ranger cake as this was the theme of his party. Here are Wonder Woman and Supergirl in full party spirit and Birthday boy Joshua with his mum Jess playing pin the cupcake on the panda - Jess' creative game inspired by the panda cupcakes!

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Monday evening was our village Harvest supper. This year I had to bake 50 potatoes and two apple pies! Luckily not the casserole!!! Rather than adding sugar in with the apples I made a toffee sauce with 2 tbsp of golden syrup, 2 tbsp of muscavado sugar and 1 tbsp of butter, simmered until the sugar dissolved and then 2 tbsp of cream added - Sticky Toffee Apple Pie! I will definitely be making this again! The auction was frenetic and I ended up paying £7 for 2 pork chops (orchard fed and locally reared - I felt as if I was buying part of someones pet!) - luckily it was for charity so I didn't feel too bad at my extravagant purchase. Wonderful marrows and baskets filled with home made bread and jam. Here are Lucy, Andrew Millie and David all enjoying the evening!

Monday, 6 October 2008

One thing about keeping a blog is that it makes you realise how quickly the months go by. This weekend was Kimbolton School Junior Masterchef and I was asked to judge again. It feels like only yesterday that Steven and I were there judging last year. The standard this year was even higher and it amazes me that their cooking skills are so far advanced even though some of them were only 11. Here are the winning dishes - A raspberry cheesecake with white chocolate icecream and raspberry coulis, walnut crusted cod with parsnip puree and roasted tomatoes, chicken in red sauce and buckwheat belinis with salmon and lamb with red cabbage and red currants with apple crumble and creme anglais (made from scratch!) Yet again, it was such a special occasion and thanks to their lovely teacher Clare for the invite.

Tomorrow morning I am going on BBC Radio Northampton to talk about cooking with lavender (a busy week when I really should be finishing writing up the book) - you can listen in here should you wish at 9am ish

Friday, 3 October 2008

The last few days have been testing. I managed to double book myself for two meetings and my work decided that I would have to fly between the two as I couldn't miss either. Now if you like flying this could be seen of as jet setting. I hate flying and it was my worst nightmare! Flying in a cessner in a rain storm was the most frightening thing I have EVER done. Had I not been so scared, the irony of taking off from Birmingham International in our tiny plane between two easyjet planes would have been quite funny. I will not be double booking meetings again and will certainly not be getting in a cessner again as long as I live - it was like flying in a car with wings.

Anyway, to cheer myself up I went berry picking yesterday evening with my friend Susan. We were worried that there wouldn't be any berries left but they hedgerows were laden down. If you haven't been out picking yet, grab a basket or box and go this weekend. We picked a lovely selection of blackberries, rosehips, crabapples and sloes for gin. Natures free harvest! Having frozen most of the berries to use up over the long winter months, I saved a few to make blackberry and apple muffins for our breakfast this morning.

Harvest Muffins
Preparation time 15 minutes Cooking time 15 – 20 minutes
Makes 10 muffins

250g/9oz self raising flour, sifted
2tsp baking powder
1tsp bicarbonate of soda
100g/3½oz light brown sugar
1 small eating apple, peeled, cored and grated
1 large handful of blackberries
2tsp ground cinnamon
55g/2oz flaked almonds
150ml/5floz milk
2 heaped tbsp natural yogurt
100g/3½oz butter, melted
2 large eggs

Preheat the oven to Gas Mark 4/180°C/350°F and place muffin cases in a 12 hole muffin pan. Place the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and sugar in a large mixing bowl and stir well with a large spoon. Stir in the grated apple, cinnamon and flaked almonds. In a separate bowl whisk together the melted butter, milk and yoghurt. Add the eggs and whisk again. Pour the liquid into the bowl containing the dry ingredients and fold in with a large spoon or spatula. Stir through the blackberries. The batter should be thick and slightly lumpy. Divide the mixture between the muffin cases and bake for 15 – 20 minutes until the muffins are golden brown and firm to touch. Leave to cool before serving.