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, 27 February 2008

Well it has been a good few days since my last post - I have a valid excuse as I am in the South West of France - enjoying a few days of warm sunshine - although rather sad at the lack of internet connection and am now struggling to use a French keyboard in an internet cafe - with the letters in the wrong places it is somewhat akin to trying to rub your head and pat your stomach at the same time. Tomorrow is a day I have been looking forward to as I am working with a local artisan baker and am really looking forward to learning some true French patisserie. Needless to say that since arriving we have consumed plenty of delicious wine, cheese and bread and I have managed to pursuade a few chefs to part with some recipes which I will gladly share when I am in possession of a proper keyboard. So think of me tomorrow trying to understand the French at the bakery - I am determined to learn the true art of baking baguette!

Wednesday, 20 February 2008

Earlier this week when I was making scones, I was joined by this regal pheasant came who sat and watched me from our front gate - perhaps he was hoping that I would throw him a few scraps to eat! Having covered my camera in flour, I managed to capture him perfectly!

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

This is definitely NOT the weather for ice cream! However with writing articles in advance, ice cream was on the menu yesterday. The violet passion is continuing - Bree who competed in Masterchef with me last year and who was a fantastic come back kid in this years programme (I know I am biased as she is a friend but I have never seen anyone have such an amazing professional kitchen round - Bree you are destined for great things!) is coming to visit soon and has found some violet lollipops. Violet tea is a permanent fixture in our house - even though it is so hard to find! And the latest addition to the range - Violet ice cream! I have also made this with rose water syrup with the crystallised violets to give the perfect Rose and Violet cream combination! Why not try both (although I will forgive you for waiting until warmer months to do so)

Violet Ice Cream
285ml double cream
285ml semi skimmed milk (or skimmed if you prefer)
150ml violet syrup (available from confisserie florian or by Morin syrups or if like me you find lots of violets you can make your own - a handful of violet petals, 200grams sugar and 200ml of water simmered over a gentle heat until syrupy and then strained)
50grams of crystallised violets

Simmer the cream and milk in a pan over a gentle heat until the mixture has thickened and gone a golden yellow colour. This should take approximately 30 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the violet syrup which will sweeten the cream. Leave to cool completely. Churn the ice cream in an ice cream maker (or place in a tupperware box in the freezer and whisk every 30 minutes to add air until the mixture is frozen). When the mixture is almost frozen add the crystalised violets which add a nice crunchy texture to the ice cream. I used small ramekins for my icecream, turning them out to serve, drizzled with some violet syrup and some home made crystallised violet flowers.

Monday, 18 February 2008

Today is cold! I got in my car to take Sacha to the station this morning and the temperature outside was -9 C - I don't think I ever remember it being -9 here! Luckily our heating is now fixed (we tragically ran out of oil on Valentine's Day which put an end to my romantic dinner and I was forced to have a hot water bottle in my office - it was THAT cold!) so I can now enjoy the frosty scenes outside from the warmth of my office. Today I have the photographer coming to take photos for 4 articles - a lot of baking happened yesterday! My favourites are these little flower pot cakes which I made by chance with a bit of left over cake batter, just to see if they would work. I think these would make a wonderful wedding cake for garden lovers, served in tiers with different coloured flowers!

Thursday, 14 February 2008

Happy Valentines Day to you all x x x

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

Last Rolo Cupcakes

Do you love anyone enough to give them your last Rolo? If the answer is yes, then these cupcakes are for you! Hurry - you still have time to make them before tomorrow!

Makes 12 cupcakes
Preparation time 15 minutes plus 15 minutes baking and cooling time
112g (4oz) marg or softened butter
112g(4oz) caster sugar
2 large eggs
85g (3oz) self raising flour, sifted
30g(1oz) cocoa, sifted
12 rolos
280g(10oz) icing sugar, sifted
125g(4 1/2 oz) butter, softened
2 tbsp milk
1 tsp vanilla essence
sugar hearts for decoration

Pre heat the oven to 180oC/350F/Gas Mark 4. Cream the butter and sugar together until light and floffy. Add the eggs, one at a time to the cream mixture, whisking after each addition. If the mixture begins to curdle, add a spoonful of flour. Add the remaining flour and cocoa to the mixture and fold in gently. Place 12 cupcake cases in a bun tray and place a spoonful of the cake mixture into each case. Add a rolo to the centre of each and cover with a little more cake mixture, ensuring that the rolo is covered. Bake in the oven for about 15 minutes until they spring back then touched. You may wish to turn the tray half way through cooking to ensure that they all cook evenly. Leave the cakes to cool completely before decorating. For the icing, add the icing sugar, butter, milk and vanilla essence to a bowl and mix until light and creamy. If the mixture is too soft add a little more icing sugar, If it is too stiff add a little more milk. Pipe the icing on to the cooled cupcakes in large swirls and decorate with the sugar hearts.

Tuesday, 12 February 2008

On a visit to Kathy Brown's garden at the weekend, I spotted one of my hen's blue egg shells that had been put to very good use! Kathy had cleverly planted sedums in the shells and they looked lovely. I have only ever grown cress in egg shells to make hair for egg shell people (a long time ago I hasten to add) and much prefer Kathy's grown up planting! Her garden was looking lovely, the winter garden especially with its seashore theme - lots of lovely shells and this cute crab sculpture climbing into barnacle covered pots. Kathy and I are hosting garden tours, cookery demonstrations and afternoon teas and evening garden walks with canapes one weekend this summer! Needless to say, we are loving coming up with ideas for floral afternoon teas - raspberry and rose petal scones and lemon and lavender cupcakes are our current favourites.

Monday, 11 February 2008

Friday saw the Chinese New Year celebration of the Year of the Rat. My Dad's birthday present from us was to attend the Chinese New Year Dragon Dance dinner at our favourite chinese restaurant - Taipan in Milton Keynes (definitely worth a visit for dim sum on Saturday or Sunday lunch if you are in the area). The dragon dance was spectacular with loud drumming that seemed to go on forever - it was quite hypnotic! We were also visited by the money God - I think all of us were secretly hoping that by giving our gift envelopes, we would be lucky and win the Euromillions lottery - sadly not! The food was of course delicious, with tempura and duck pancakes, dim sum, scallops and my all time favourite, crispy shredded chilli beef! Happy Chinese New Year!

Wednesday, 6 February 2008

This week's culinary project is herb breads for April's Country Kitchen, together with cooking with violets and baking in flower pots. They are such nice topics and I am loving coming up with ideas! These are some fresh violets that lovely Kathy Brown gave me from her garden to use for violet syrup - I need to pick lots more this weekend so will be off hunting them out in the countryside with my basket! My new column in Country House has also started this month - they have changed the column title from "Monthly Morsels" to "Hannah's Kitchen" without telling me and I was so pleased when I saw it yesterday!

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

As you will all I'm sure know, today is Shrove Tuesday and time to make pancakes! Pancake Day is celebrated a lot where we live. In Olney (our nearest market town, with lots of lovely shops and a potential tea room that I have been looking at closely!), a pancake race has been held on Shrove Tuesday since 1445. There are many stories about how the competition started; a woman hearing the church bell and being late, ran to church without realising that she was still holding her pancake pan or the pancakes being made as a gift for the bell ringer that he might ring the bell earlier, starting of the days holiday. Either way, the tradition is still strong today and at 11.55am this morning the women of Olney (who must be over 18, have lived in the town for 3 months and wearing traditional "housewife" costume) will race 415 yards tossing their pancakes in a pan. The winner receives a kiss from the vicar!

Whilst not quite as exciting as the Olney pancake race, in the village of Toddington where I grew up, our class would go to visit Conger Hill (pictured) on Shrove Tuesday arriving just before midday. We would put our ears to the hill and when the clock struck 12, you could apparently hear the witch inside frying her pancakes. I wonder whether they still have this as a school outing today - perhaps witches frying pancakes are not on the curriculum in this age of political correctness! We would then return to school and have pancakes for lunch!

My favourite type of pancake were those made by our dear Great Aunty Meg in Wales - sadly no longer with us - but I will never forget her apple pancakes. For the apple filling, peel, core and finely chop 3 large cooking apples and simmer in a pan with 200ml of water, 2 tbsp of brown sugar, 1 tsp cinnamon and a handful of raisins, until the apples have cooked down completely and are soft. Fill each pancake with the apple filling and serve with whipped cream. A nice alternative to lemon and sugar!

Monday, 4 February 2008

I am back from a wonderful few days at Fitzbillies having learnt so much! Tom, Jill, George and Pauline are amazing bakers - here they are busy at work! You know that you have done a good days hard work when it gets to 8am and you have already iced around 200 fondant fancies! It is a good job I am an early morning person - setting off at 5.15am must be classed as dedication to my baking career!! I have managed to inflict my violet passion on Fitzbillies. The unusual oval violet cake below was made by Tom as an experiment in my honour - it tasted delicious! On Saturday I was allowed to play and come up with some new ideas so I made violet ├ęclairs (picture above) - with violet liqueur in the cream and violet icing with small sugar violets as decoration. These were then sold in the shop! When I left there were only two left - a man standing next to me had just bought two and I had to bite my tongue to stop myself telling him how pleased I was that he had bought my eclairs. Anyway, these new eclairs will definitely be added to my baking repertoire - they would be perfect for an afternoon tea, made smaller and paired with rose ├ęclairs! My arms have never ached so much as they did yesterday - it must have been the kneading of dough, stirring large pots of hot fondant icing and lifting the large trays of cakes - thank goodness I didn't drop any of the trays. Thank you Penny, George and everyone at Fitzbillies for another wonderful visit - I will be back soon!