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

Friday, 26 February 2010

Leek and Gorgonzola Soufflés

Serves 6 as a starter Preparation time 30 minutes, cooking time 20 – 25 minutes

250g leeks, finely sliced

1 tbsp olive oil

1 tbsp and 45g/1½oz butter plus extra for greasing

100ml sweet sherry

28g/1oz plain flour

300ml full fat milk, warmed

100g/3 ½ oz gorgonzola dolce

1 tsp Dijon mustard

3 large eggs, separated

Freshly ground salt and pepper to season

In a large saucepan, sauté the leeks in the olive oil and a tablespoon of butter until they are soft and translucent. Add the sherry to the pan and simmer for 2 – 3 minutes. Blitz the leeks and sherry to a puree in a food processor and leave aside to cool. Melt the remaining butter in a saucepan, then add the flour and beat with a wooden spoon. Add the warm milk a little at a time beating all the time over a gentle heat until you have a smooth white sauce. Chop the cheese into small pieces and add to the white sauce with the mustard and leek puree and whisk until the cheese has melted. Allow to cool slightly then whisk in the egg yolks. Grease six small ramekins with a little butter and preheat the oven to Gas Mark 5/190C/375CF. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites to stiff peaks and then gently fold into the leek mixture. Place the dishes on a baking tray and fill almost to the top with the soufflé mixture. Transfer to the oven and bake for 20 – 25 minutes until the top of each soufflé is golden. Serve immediately.

Thursday, 25 February 2010

Is this the latest trend in modern art? Move over chimpanzee painting, can I introduce icing art! (can you see an almost globe, santa clause leg, a little fish?) More importantly can you guess what I was making!!!! Actually this is the left over drip catching foil from under my baking rack for a wonderful project I am working on at the moment which I hope to be able to tell you about soon - although can't quite yet as I don't want to tempt fate! I wonder what my icing art would retail for - any takers?!!!!

Monday, 22 February 2010

Baby It's Cold Outside

More snow this weekend and it is still snowing this morning. My poor old hens gather round the backdoor hoping to be let the house (only allowed when Sacha is not here!) - their claw prints look so cute in the snow! They even tried to get in through the cat flap yesterday having watched peapod go in. Two small deer were also looking for food in our garden. Luckily our thick thatch roof is keeping us warm!

Friday, 19 February 2010

I am not quite sure about how I feel about this photo - it was taken on a visit to a bakery in Suffolk earlier this week and takes playing with your food to a completely new level. The baker had constructed a beach hut from tin loaves and baguette for the roof sandwiched together with margarine and complete with miniature bunting. I wonder if it would have appealed more if made from cake rather than bread - a project for another day perhaps!

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Chicken Soup for the Soul

There is nothing worse than feeling poorly when you are away from home. Our poor house guest Maren has been poorly for the last two days and in bed and I have been trying my best to make her feel better. There is nothing nicer when you are feeling under the weather than chicken broth so this is what I made yesterday evening for Maren. Giancarlo Caldesi, when I spent time in his kitchen, taught me the importance of making a proper soffrito for the base of any soup. Although it takes a little extra time, it gives a delicious flavour. It seemed to work as by bedtime yesterday evening Maren was feeling a little better. Get well soon Maren xxx

Serves 4
Preparation time 35 minutes, cooking time 1.5 - 2 hours
3 tbsp olive oil
3 large carrots
2 small leeks
1 red onion
1 clove garlic, peeled
1 large sprig rosemary
3 bay leaves
salt and pepper to season
2 tbsp brandy
6 chicken thighs (skins removed)
2 litres chicken stock

Peel the carrots and onions and trim the leeks. Finely dice the carrots, onions and leeks by hand - as small as you can (Giancarlo says that chopping in a food processor just won't do - although if you are short of time you can of course use a food processor) Add the oil to a large saucepan and saute the vegetables, together with the sprig of rosemary (leave whole as you don't want the rosemary in the soup, just for flavour) and bay leaves. Crush the garlic clove under the flat blade of a large knife so that the flavour will be released but the clove stays whole and add to the pan. Simmer for 15 - 20 minutes over a gentle heat until the vegetables are very soft. Remove the rosemary, bay and garlic clove and discard. Add the brandy to the pan and cook for a further 5 minutes. Season the chicken and add to the pan (pushing the vegetables to the side of the pan so the chicken is in contact with the base of the pan) and brown gently. Once the chicken is browned, add the stock to the pan and simmer for 1 1/2 hours over a gentle heat. When the soup is ready, use a slotted spoon and remove the chicken from the pan. Chop into small pieces (allow to cool a few minutes before you do this as the chicken will be hot). Strain the vegetables from the soup so you are left with the clear soup base (but keep the vegetables as you will return them to the soup shortly). Skim the soup to remove the oil that will cover the surface using a large spoon or a gravy strainer. Return the chicken and vegetables to the pan and season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot with crusty bread and you are sure to feel better soon.

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Lovely Kathy Brown has just posted a feature on her blog about planting with my hen's blue eggs. I just knew there had to be a use for the leftover egg shells from all my baking and Kathy has the perfect idea. Displaying them in a cupcake cakestand is just genius and so me! Pop by and have a look at Kathy's lovely blog if you have time - she has some lovely stories about her garden and recipes too - www.kathybrowngarden.blogspot.com

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Is this not the coolest popcorn you have ever seen? I found it in a deli in Leamington Spa at the weekend. You put the whole cob in the microwave in the special bag provided and 2 minutes later the cob is almost empty and you are left with lots and lots of popcorn. It was delicious! I served mine with maple syrup butter (just melt butter with maple syrup and a pinch of salt) - naughty but definitely nice!

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

On Friday evening my friend Jess and I made 150 cupcakes for her sister in law's birthday. Jess wanted the cupcakes to look as mad and brightly coloured as possible and I think we managed to achieve that! Thank goodness for disposable icing bags as we made 8 different coloured icings. The whole kitchen was covered in a dusting of edible glitter when we had finished including Jess and myself! My favourite were the purple ones with glace cherries - so simple but they looked so pretty with a little dazzleberry glitter! Can you spot the mad Crusty the Clown cupcake that we made with all the leftover icing at the end of the evening!!!!

Friday, 5 February 2010

Sometimes I really believe in destiny! There was definitely destiny in play when we were in a large antique/junk shop in Bath last weekend and, up in the attic rooms, came across this tiny miniature dresser. I have no idea why anyone would have had such a small dresser made (apparently it came from Croatia so perhaps kitchens there are small?) but we both looked at it and said in unison "Shepherd's Hut" and bought it there and then - even thought it was a little damp and I am sure had lived outside for a while (this helped greatly with the price negotiations)! So we are now the proud owners of what I am sure must be one of the smallest dressers in the UK which is gently drying out in front of the Aga and patiently awaiting the arrival of our hut. I don't think I have ever purchased a more "me"/"Hannah's Country Kitchen" piece of furniture!

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Guinness and Irish Cheddar Easy Loaf

This is one of my recent recipes from Country Kitchen Magazine. A super quick bread with no yeast. You can substitute other fizzy beers or cider which will change the flavour of the bread if you prefer. Given the addition of sugar to the bread, it is a sweet loaf, but goes very well with soups and pates.

Preparation time 15 minutes, proving 30 minutes, baking 45 – 50 minutes
Makes one 8 inch round loaf

250ml Guinness
350g/12½oz self raising flour, sifted
60g/2oz caster sugar
100g/3½oz strong Irish cheddar cheese, grated
2 tbsp pumpkin seeds (optional)
2 tbsp butter, melted

Preheat the oven to Gas Mark 4/350F/180C and grease an 8inch round spring form tin. Place the Guinness, flour, sugar, grated cheese and seeds if using in a bowl and mix well with a wooden spoon until all the flour is combined. The dough will be sticky and not like a normal bread dough that you would kneed. Transfer the dough into the tin using a spatula and leave in a warm place for 30 minutes. Bake in the oven for 35 minutes then drizzle the melted butter over the top of the loaf and return to the oven for a further 10 – 15 minutes until the loaf is golden brown and sounds hollow when you tap it. Serve warm or cold. To freeze this bread, cut into slices and place in a zip lock bag in the freezer for up to 2 months.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Last week, the lovely people at Interflora asked if I would like to try their Valentine cupcakes - as you can imagine I had to think about this for all of a milli second before saying "YES PLEASE!" Now I am not a huge fan of store bought cakes and was not expecting much when the parcel arrived earlier this week. How wrong was I!!!! The cakes arrived in a lovely Emma Bridgewater tin (my favourite and I will definitely be using this to store all my cake decorations in as soon as all the cakes are gone). There were 18 cakes all carefully packaged with spacers between them so that the cakes were perfect despite being posted - 9 chocolate fudgy and 9 white, all prettily decorated with sugar hearts. They taste so good and I had to take them to our sewing circle last night before we ate them all ourselves (which would not have been a good idea). The overall verdict was a resounding delicious! Gentlemen reading this blog, let me let you into a little secret - your partner, wife, girlfriend, will love you for buying these - they make such a nice gift, particularly with the Emma Bridgewater tin! (Sacha if you are reading this - I wouldn't object to a second tin!!!!) So there you have it - my recommendation for this years Valentine's day (unless of course you are going to bake yourself) - click here Love Heart cupcakes for a link! It goes without saying that if anyone wants me to try any more things, I would be happy to oblige!!!!

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Longleat Gatehouse

I am just back from a wonderful weekend in Bath - seeing the History Boys play (the tickets were a very nice birthday present). We stayed in Longleat (can you tell I am a secret "Animal Park" fan - ahhh lovely Ben Fogle swoon, swoon) in the Gatehouse Lodge. When we booked it I thought the gate house would be somewhere on the edge of the Longleat Estate. I never imagined we would have the spectacular views of Longleat House that we had from our kitchen window! You can just see the house in the distance through the lodge archway. The decor inside was so crazy that I am convinced it was designed by Lord Bath himself (he being the great purveyor of very loud and bright waistcoats) including a snug room in the attic with billowing fabric covering the ceiling and a hallway painted in bright red, yellow and brown stripes. The Bath Arms food was delicious - our favourite being the sea salt caramel sticky toffee pudding (yum yum!) Sadly with the Safari Park closed, we didn't catch a glimpse of a single wild animal, nor of Ben Fogle! Next time!