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 April 2009

It is peacock mating season which means Wilfred the Peacock starts his early morning calling at about 5am and wakes us up! The only upside of this early morning wake up call is getting to see him displaying his beautiful tail for the peahen who I have to say doesn't seem at all interested in him! Perhaps like us she is just wanting a bit of peace and quiet!!!!

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

My lovely brother recently had his birthday. As he loves cooking almost as much as I do and as he is in New York with a limited supply of UK products - we sent him a gift hamper filled with all things English - Walnut whips, PG tips, Treacle and Golden Syrup, Love Hearts, Cadbury's finger biscuits, Tunnock's tea cakes, Baked Beans, Heinz Tomato Soup, Custard Powder, Garibaldi biscuits (yuk but my brother likes them!) and lots of other goodies! He looks a little overwhelmed in the picture but I know he liked it!

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

I love this time of year with wonderful fresh garden produce available, sweet broad beans and lovely herbs such as mint and rosemary coming into their own. New potatoes are in season too and it is such a treat to used these deliciously flavoured potatoes in salads or roasted whole in their skins seasoned with salt and pepper. On warm days, we sneak our first summer picnics, a rug underarm and a few baked goodies in our hamper, happily whiling away a few hours in the fields. Evening suppers in the garden are something to look forward to after work – why not try this light summer salad using the best of May's ingredients, served with succulent lamb in a rich sauce.

Rosemary Lamb Cutlets with Summer Mint and Bean Salad

Preparation time 20 minutes Cooking time 30 - 35 minutes

Serves 4
For the lamb

2 racks of lamb, French trimmed weighing 300g each
salt and pepper to season
2 tbsp olive oil
2 shallots, peels and quartered
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
1 large sprig of fresh rosemary
250ml Madeira wine
3 tbsp redcurrant jelly
100ml water

For the salad
600g/21oz new potatoes
200g/7oz feta cheese
4 spring onions, finely chopped
150g/5 ¼ oz mange toute
200g/7oz broad beans
200g/7oz fresh or frozen peas
2 tbsp olive oil
juice and grated zest of 1 large lemon
salt and pepper to season
15g/½oz fresh mint, finely chopped

Preheat the oven to Gas Mark 5/190C/375F and season the lamb with salt and pepper. Heat the olive oil in an oven proof stove top pan with the shallots, garlic and rosemary. Add the lamb and lightly brown for about 5 minutes, then add the Madeira. Transfer the pan to the oven and roast for 20 – 25 minutes. Whilst the lamb is cooking simmer the new potatoes in boiling water for 20 – 25 minutes until soft. Simmer the peas, beans and mange toute in salted boiling water for 5 minutes. Drain both the potatoes and beans and blanch them in ice cold water. Whisk together 2 tablespoons of olive oil, lemon juice and zest with the fresh mint and season with salt and pepper. Toss the cold potatoes and green beans together in a bowl and spoon over the dressing. When the lamb is cooked, remove from the pan and leave to rest for a few minutes. Return the pan to the heat, add the redcurrant jelly and water to the juices in the pan and whisk over a gentle heat until the jelly has dissolved. Cut the lamb into individual cutlets and serve with the rich Madeira sauce and fresh bean salad.

Monday, 27 April 2009

What a lovely and relaxing break we had - sadly after a morning back at work the holiday to Port Logan feels like a distant memory! We stayed in a perfect cottage that I would recommend wholeheartedly to anyone wanting to visit this part of Scotland. The view from every window in the house was amazing and with hares running through the garden and surrounding fields, I don't think we could have picked a more perfect spot. A rugged coastline with empty beautiful beaches, wonderful birds and wildlife. Our trip to the smokery was a great success - we ate the best fish and chips ever - salmon fillets smoked and battered - delicious and left with bags of smoked kippers, goats cheese and chicken! Whilst we had lots of lovely food, I had trouble understanding what must be a local delicacy "cheesy chips" that were on offer everywhere we went - chips with grated cheese on - not something I was keen to try! Port Logan was every bit as lovely as it was on the TV programme and we enjoyed spotting all the film locations. We will definitely go back some time soon

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

By the time this post is published, I will be in the West of Scotland in Port Logan. A much needed holiday and rest is in order - although the laptop is coming so that I can spend just a little time editing the book! I just hope that it doesn't rain all week but the cherry blossom is mean to be out in Scotland now so I am sure it will look pretty even if it rains! The reason for Port Logan? It is where they filmed 2000 Acres of Skye - one of my favourite TV series and I am looking forward to taking a boat out past the light house like they did in the series. I am stopping at a Smokery on the way to Port Logan so smoked kippers, smoked salmon and trout will definitely be on the menu!

Monday, 20 April 2009

I often use Amazon for pre ordering things that I can't wait to get hold of - the Twilight DVD for example (I am a complete Twilight fan although am not sure this is something I should admit to!) I never imagined that my own book would be available to Pre Order SIX MONTHS in advance!!!! But there you have it - my little book - on Amazon in both the American and UK versions with release dates of 5th and 6th October! It made me smile to see it and I think for the first time I realised I had actually written a book - afterall - if Amazon calls me an author it must be true!

Friday, 17 April 2009

I love to make fresh pesto. If you have a pot of fresh basil growing on the window sill in your kitchen, a few nuts in the store cupboard and parmesan cheese in your fridge, then it is a very easy stand-by dish when you need to rustle something up for lunch. I had not been shopping at the weekend (too much ice cream testing got in the way) and my husband was looking disappointingly in the fridge that there was nothing for lunch. So as not to fail in my wifely duties, I rustled up this pesto, served with simple spaghetti - he said the dish transported him back to our holiday in Puglia a few years ago (which I take a compliment as the food in Puglia was so good) and all was forgiven for not having made it to the supermarket!

Pistachio and Truffle Pesto
2 handfuls of fresh basil leaves
3 tbsp of pistachios
1 tsp truffle salt or a few drops of truffle oil (the more the better in my view but I like truffle)
1 clove garlic, peeled
3 tbsp olive oil
fresh ground pepper (and salt if you are using truffle oil rather than truffle salt)
3 tbsp freshly grated parmesan

Place the salt basil and pistachios in a large pestle and morter with the garlic clove and bash everything to a smooth paste, add the oil gradually together with the parmesan and pepper and grind together. This pesto is best used on the day it is made but will store in the fridge for a few days covered with a little olive oil.

Thursday, 16 April 2009

Belated Happy Easter wishes to you all - I hope that you all had a good break. Over the weekend I finished testing all the recipes for the Sundae book and spent several days writing it up so that now the whole book is drafted, just a fair amount of editing needed but at least the end is very clearly in sight. It has been such a nice project to work on and I am really looking forward to the photoshoots in May as I know they will transform my recipes! Last Thursday my friend Susan and I decided to make hot cross buns using Susan's "prove in the fridge overnight" method. I have to say I was fairly skeptical that it would work (although she assured me it would) as I had always thought that bread needed to be in a warm place to rise. I was of course proved completely wrong! When we had made our dough, and this would work for any form of yeast bread I think, we left it to rise in the fridge overnight. The next morning, the dough was beaten down and kneaded and then shaped into buns and left to rise again and then baked. As you will see from the bowl of dough in the fridge the rising was fairly impressive even at such a cool temperature. The dough was light and had a rich taste - presumably from the rising taking place so slowly. So next time you are making bread, why not give this overnight method a try. It makes for a delicious fresh bread breakfast without having to get up super early to make and prove your dough!

Thursday, 9 April 2009

I have made so many cakes this week - it almost feels like I am testing for a cook book again! Golden cupcakes for a golden wedding - a couple in our village were married 50 years ago in the village church and still live in the village, Easter Cupcakes for our village sewing circle More Easter cupcakes for a Danish chap who came over for a meeting yesterday at Birmingham airport (I always find meetings go better with cupcakes!) - these looked very stylish packaged in a proper cake box (I have plenty left from the RHS show) and a red ribbon, an Easter cake for the Mum of a friend of mine who is unwell - swushed up with clear cellophane and a ribbon that matched the cake it looks very pretty, and another lot of cupcakes for a meeting this morning! For the cakes this morning, I added lemon curd to the butter cream which went so well with the lemon drizzle cupcakes - so lemony and tangy. I will definitely be doing this again!

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

With pretty spring flowers in abundance now, I love to fill the house with flowers. Using jam jars and small glass bottles you only need a few blooms and a little greenery to create a lovely display - for window sills in the bathroom or as a simple table centre piece. If you are entertaining in the garden you can wrap thin garden wire around the neck of a jam jar creating a handle and hang small jars of flowers from trees near your table.

Friday, 3 April 2009

In the course of writing the sundae book, I have discovered many interesting ice cream facts. My favourite by far so far is that the record for the Worlds Most Expensive Sundae according to the Guinness Book of World Records is made by Serendipity 3 in New York and costs the princely sum of $1,000! My brother kindly promised me yesterday that if he ever gets rich he will take me for one!!! For your $1,000 you have 5 scopps of Tahitian vanilla bean ice cream made with Madagascar vanilla, decorated with gold leaf, the most expensive chocolate known to man, Amedei Porceleana, rare Chuao chocolate, candied fruits from Paris, gold sugar almonds, truffles, marzipan cherries, grand passion caviar (I am so not sure about this bit..fish and ice cream - yuk!), all served in a crystal goblet with an 18k golden spoon. My immediate thought was whether for the $1,000 you got to take the glass and spoon home with you. Sadly nothing in this league will be appearing in my book, although gold leaf does make a brief appearance! Serendipity 3 also do other nice and affordable Sundaes so I will definitely be visiting on my next trip to New York!

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Flowers at Petersham Nurseries

I have long been a fan of Skye Gyngell who runs the restaurant at the Petersham Nurseries near Richmond. I dip into her two cook books more often than any other of my cookbooks and her natural and balancing way of cooking is just a delight both to cook and eat. I met Skye at the 50 Best Awards a few years ago and was so completely star struck that I could hardly speak! She must have thought that I was insane! Anyway, yesterday I was lucky enough to meet Syke again yesterday as Kathy Brown (pictured above), her daughter Suzanne and I all went to Petersham for lunch to celebrate (rather belatedly) our RHS Show success last September! Not the best day to visit London with all the G20 security and our round trip took 6 hours (about 3 hours longer than normal) but it was worth it for the lovely lunch we had. The restaurant is extrodinary - in a green house with a sandy floor - but it was a perfect setting for a relaxed lunch. We feasted on lemon marinated mozerella with Agretti, capaccio of beef with tardivo and salt cod croquettes, followed by lamb with mint salsa and borlotti beans and Sea Bass with preserved lemons. For desert, chocolate cake with devonshire cream and poached Nespole - a sharp plum like fruit. So many new tastes and flavours - we were in heaven! Just looking at the pictures is making me hungry!