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

Tuesday, 30 June 2009

On Sunday we celebrated my Mum's birthday and had a lovely lunch at Flitwick Manor. My brother was visiting from New York which made the day perfect (I am biased as he bought me a giant parcel of cake decorations from Fancy Flours and Alice in Wonderland Hats for our tea party). My Mum has recently been diagnosed with diabetes and therefore told me that she absolutely didn't want a cake. Of course I completely disregarded this, but was cunning and made her a flower "cake" on oasis! Not an ounce of sugar, butter or flour in sight but just as much fun as a real cake. I think it took me longer to decorate this that it would have to ice a cake and the cake ended up being far bigger than I expected. I love the picture of Gareth carrying it over to my Mum - it looks ENORMOUS!!!!! My little birthday candles had to be replaced with dinner table candles so that they looked in proportion. Happy Birthday Mum xxx

Monday, 29 June 2009

Friday's trip to the Manoir Aux Quat' Saisons was a delectable affair. Such an amazing setting - the lovely manor house nestled in amongst abundant lavender and a walled vegetable garden that supplied the restaurant. We feasted on seared tuna with melon and vodka soup, roasted pork with crackling, summer vegetable risotto and the most heavenly chocolate and raspberry dessert - quite the nicest thing I have eaten in a long time and imagine my excitement when the dish arrived at the table and there was a gilded raspberry as decoration - just like the ones I made at the photoshoot for my book! Either Raymond Blanc is a follower of this blog (unlikely) or great minds think alike!!!! Anyway if it is good enough for "Le Manoir" it is definitely good enough for me! Thank you Paula for a wonderful day out xxx

Friday, 26 June 2009

I have been invited today by my friend Paula for lunch at the Manoir aux Quat' Saisons to celebrate her birthday - we are off shortly to meet a Champagne filled limosine to take us there. What a treat! As it is a special birthday - I wanted to take Paula a nice present. I always prefer to give a homemade gift on the basis that they require love and time being put into them, so this is the sampler I have made for Paula. I have charted a new poem for the sampler "In friendship's freagrant garden, there are flowers of every hue, each with its own fair beauty, bringing love and joy to you" as I thought these words fitted well with the garden and Paula is a garden designer! I also recorded our special lunch venue at the bottom of the sampler! I hope she likes it. I am working on another sampler at the moment and thought that I would show it to you in this stitching post - a red barn garden sampler from Just Nan. Although it is a long way from finished - I just love the colours and little birds and butterflies. It is progressing well as I am stitching it whilst watching Wimbledon - come on Andy Murray!

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

I was not expecting anything in the post yesterday. A large brown envelope arrived from London and I opened thinking it was the proof reading for the Sundae book. However inside lay an even nicer surprise - the advanced copy of my cake book! Seeing all the recipes together in an actual book brought memories of all the hard work flooding back and I shed a few tears of happiness at the achievement in my hands! You will have to wait a few months yet before it goes on sale but I thought you might like a sneak preview of Gregg Wallace's lovely foreword and my acknowledgments as you readers get a mention! Click on the photos to enlarge! There are a few more pages of the book on Duncan Baird's website - click here for a link.
You will recall the birdcage cake that travelled the monumental journey from Bedfordshire to Carslile in May. A few of you asked whether it made it there in one piece and I am pleased to report it did. Here is the lovely message I received from Lucy's Mum...

"I jennifer, was the recipient of the delicate expression of art displayed in the creation of my 60th birthday cake which traveled to Carlisle held by my daughter Lucy. The cake itself was delightful and melted in the mouth.The decoration of white and delicate pink lovebirds displayed a serene beauty ,which motivated compliments to flow in abundance,as it sat at a focal point during the celebrations. The birdcage,in the centre of the cake, which contained two birds appearing relaxed and peaceful which I hope is a symbol of what my future holds. Thankyou Hannah for the love,patience and care you created it with.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Nectarine and Vanilla Jam

Makes 2 small jars

400g/14oz ripe nectarines, chopped and stones removed

400g/14oz preserving sugar

1 vanilla pod, split lengthways

Juice of 1 lemon

2 tsp butter

Place the chopped nectarines, sugar, vanilla pod and lemon juice in a saucepan with 200ml of water and simmer until the fruit is soft. Pulp the fruit using a metal hand blender or a masher and then bring to the boil. Boil the jam until setting point is reached and the jam is thick and syrupy, stirring to ensure it does not burn. To test for set, either use a jam thermometer or place a saucer in the freezer to chill and then drop a little jam onto it and leave to cool for a few minutes. If a film forms forms and the jam wrinkles when you press with your finger, the setting point has been reached. Add the butter to the pan and stir until melted, then decant the jam into sterilised jars, seal and store in a cool dark place. The jam will keep for about one year but once opened, must be store in the refrigerator and used within a month.
The lovely people at Abel and Cole (website here) have sent me one of their organic fruit and veg boxes to try. It arrived yesterday morning and was perfectly timed as I needed to write an article and hadn't been to the supermarket. The joys of home delivery shopping is definitely something I could get used to this. Gem lettuce, lovely cabbage, apples, fresh broad beans in the pods, a tiny melon, nectarines - so what to cook....I settled on some nectarine and vanilla jam and if I say so myself, it is rather yummy. We had it for supper last night with soda bread. Thank you Abel and Cole for the wonderful treat.

Friday, 19 June 2009

Last night I was searching through the files of photos on my computer with a friend as she wanted a picture of her children for a father's day card. We stumbled across the sample pictures of the cakes and cookies from the book and boy there were soooo many of them - 365 to be precise! It is easy to forget how much work went into that book. We then found this photo and it made us both laugh out loud so I thought I would share it with you. This was a weekend when I had made so many cakes that we ran out of homes for them and so the chickens had the biggest treat of their lives! I promise they do not eat like this all the time!

Thursday, 18 June 2009

At the risk of demonstrating that I am a "one trick pony" this is the cake I made yesterday for friend's little girl Rosie who was three. The garden cake made a second appearance but this time as a round rather than ring cake, topped with a unicorn, transforming it into a magical meadow cake! I am sure that this shows the versitility of the cake, rather than demonstrating that I was being lazy and using up the sweets from the last garden cake!!!! Anyway Rosie loved it and it looked perfect for a whole 5 minutes while she blew out the candles and then almost all of the sweets and most of the icing were gobbled! Happy Birthday Rosie-Pea xxxx

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

An early morning (6.30am) visitor to our garden this morning. How I wish I had been more awake and focussed the camera properly but I thought I would share with you anyway! It was a lovely start to the day!

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

A nice little article appeared in Woman magazine last week about female Masterchef finalists - Emily, Caroline and myself as part of the lead up to Celebrity Masterchef (are you watching?) If you click on the photo you will be able to read the article. I am not convinced that I said Tony Blair wasn't "too fussed" but hey ho!

Monday, 15 June 2009

You will have to forgive the lack of posts at the end of last week - lawyering got in the way of nice cooking things. I finished work at 11pm on Friday and then had to ice three cakes ready for Saturday. Needless to say, they were very rushed as I was tired but everyone seemed happy with them - a christening cake for George, a tractor cake for Niall (the tractor is a bit small for the field and the enormous carrots in my view but Niall is 4 and didn't mind and at midnight I really didn't have anywhere to magic a larger tractor up from!) and a chocolate extravaganza cake for our nephew who was 13. The idea for the chocolate cake came from Rachel Lucas who reads this blog - thank you so much Rachel for the inspiration! The bottom layer was a ring cake so there was a hidden cavity of sweets and lollipops when the cake was cut and the kids were very excited about that (although you would have thought that with the huge number of sweets on the cake they wouldn't have needed any more)!

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Kathy Brown came to visit last week to plan our Alice in Wonderland Afternoon Tea (we have sold 46 tickets already which means lots of baking!!!!) and given our shared passion for cooking with flowers, I tried some new floral recipes on her! Lavender lemonade and lavender and lemon curd cookies. Both were yummy and got a seal of approval.

Lavender Lemonade
1 - 2 tsp culinary lavender (pesticide free)
6 lemons
3 heaped tbsp caster sugar

Peel thick strips of zest from three of the lemons, ensuring that there is no white pith as this will make the lemonade bitter. Place in a heatproof jug with the juice from all of the lemons, the caster sugar and lavender. Pour over 500ml boiling water, stir and leave to cool. Taste for sweetness and add a little more sugar if needed. When cooled, top up with ice and cold water (or sparkling or soda water if you prefer) to serve. The lavender gives the lemonade a really delicate floral flavour and is a pretty pale pink colour - perfect for a summers day (although where summer has gone this week, I have no idea!)

Monday, 8 June 2009

In contrast to the wedding cake which took a few hours to decorate, this was a very quick birthday cake and cupcakes that I decorated in 15 minutes yesterday (the fact that I had overslept had something to do with the speed!) With some green butter cream rapidly piped over the top and the left over decorations from the wedding cake, my ordinary toffee sponge was transformed into a garden! It goes to show that even if you don't have much time, you can still create something quite pretty! With the cupcakes baked in my new American pink cake wrappers and the little ladybirds from a shop in Vienna - these cupcakes are very "International!"

Saturday, 6 June 2009

This is a wedding cake I made today for Paul and Jenny. It was a little traumatic to say the least transporting it on my lap in the car but we made there with the cake in one piece! I didn't even need the emergency decoration icing kit I took with me. You can click on the picture to see the cake in more detail. Congratulations Jenny and Paul - hope your day was extra special xxx

Thursday, 4 June 2009

I am not a horsey person - I find large horses quite intimidating - but even I was won over by the wonderful Lipizzaner Stallions at the Spanish riding school. They were so beautiful and elegant. The riders rode without stirrups during the jumps - I honestly don't know how they were able to hold on! Their stables were the ultimate in luxury - an elegant arched courtyard - and the indoor area was worthy of being the grandest of ballrooms! Lucky horses!

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

I am just back from a wonderful long weekend in Vienna. My lovely German friend Maren had organised the trip and we rendezvous'd at Vienna airport. With a visit to the ballet Romeo and Juliet at the Royal Opera House, a performance by the Spanish Riding School, a ride in a pony and trap around the town and a Mozart concert, it was certainly a whirlwind packed weekend. However the main purpose of the trip with was sample all the wonderful Austrian cakes. My favourite bakery (and there are literally hundreds to choose from) was Demel - the confectionners for the Royal household - founded in 1786. The shop and cafe was steeped in baking history, with vintage cake tins and moulds. We loved it so much that we managed 4 visits in 48 hours - impressive even by my standards!! If you go, take a seat in the cafe at the back of the shop as you can sit and watch the bakers working through the large glass windows. These are some of their wonderful cakes - my favourite was the GIANT pistachio macaroon. How yummy would that be to eat! Their sugar decorations were impressive too and we loved the sugar Eiffel Tower with tennis ball made to celebrate this weeks tournament at Roland Garros.