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, 26 April 2007

I love this time of year when the wisteria comes out and our house is covered in a purple swathe of flowers. It makes sitting on the bench in front of our house perfect as the air is heavily scented with the perfume of the flowers. This is a far cry from the snowy picture of our cottage that I posted a few weeks ago and it amazes me that so much can change in such a short space of time.

Wednesday, 25 April 2007

Ginger and rhubarb are an excellent combination and really compliment each other well. I love to make rhubarb and ginger creme brulee and rhubarb and ginger cake. Here is a recipe for the rhubarb and ginger crumble that was served as one of the desserts on Friday night. I know that crumble is really simple, but you just can't beat it served with custard or cream. The topping on this one is really scrummy!

Rhubarb and ginger crumble

100 grams plain flour

100 grams butter

100 grams caster sugar

100 grams ginger biscuits, crumbed

800grams stewed rhubarb

2 tsp ground ginger

3 tbsp brown sugar

Rub the butter into the flour to form a breadcrumb texture. Mix in the sugar and the ginger biscuit crumbs. Place the stewed rhubarb (you could substitute for stewed apples, plums or cherries) in an oven proof dish, stir in the brown sugar and the ginger and cover with the crumble topping. Bake in a moderate oven 180oC/Gas Mark 5/Aga top oven bottom shelf with approx 25 minutes until the top is golden brown.

Tuesday, 24 April 2007

Peacocks to me are very magical. When my mum was ill a few years ago, a peacock suddenly appeared in her garden and stayed there until she got well again when it promptly left. Since then I have had a natural affinity with them. Sadly this is not an affinity which my husband shares! Our neighbours have peacocks and they regularly roost in the tree in our garden at night - it is quite spectacular to watch a peacock fly with its large tail trailing behind it and I have no idea how they manage to take off the ground! It is mating season at the moment and wilfred (pictured sitting on our garden fence) is being particularly noisy, normally waking us around 5am every morning with his eery mating call! There are some disadvantages to living in the countryside but I wouldn't swap it for the world!

I was lucky enough to have a ticket last night to the World's 50 Best Restaurant awards at the Science Museum in London. This is probably the food world equivalent of the Oscars and I have never been in a room with so many amazing chefs from all around the world - people who have completely inspired me over the years and whose cook books I drool over. Top spot went to El Bulli, Ferran Adria's amazing restaurant in Spain, closely followed by Heston Blumenthal (who said he had been watching Masterchef!) and Pierre Gagnaire in third spot. The highlight for me was seeing Michel Roux Jr again who suggested that I come and spend some time cooking at La Gavroche and also meeting Skye Gyngell of Petersham Nurseries (whose cookbook "A year in my garden" is my all time favourite - if you haven't got it go and buy it now!!!) who also invited me down to spend some time cooking at the nurseries. The full 50 list can be found here http://www.theworlds50best.com/2007_list.html

Monday, 23 April 2007

I was completely shocked last week when I discovered that Tescos had started to sell fresh horseradish root. I was so pleased that I went and thanked customer services in the hope that this would mean that they wouldn't suddendly discontinue it! It is so much nicer than shop bought horseradish and is delicious simply grated over a steak or salmon. Last night I used it to make my own creamed horseradish by mixing 2 tbsp of creme fraiche, 2 tablespoons of finely grated horseradish root, 1 spring onion finely chopped and a small squeeze of lemon juice. Mix everything together and season well with salt and pepper. We both agreed that this was absolutely delicious and far better than any shop bought horseradish we had ever had!

Hinwick House was a stunning backdrop for Friday evening and really set the mood for the dinner which, I am pleased to say, went really well! No panics, everything on time, empty plates returned to the kitchen! It made me realise that a lot of the pressure on Masterchef was the cameras and not being in control of the situations we were in. Although it was completely exhausting, I really enjoyed the buzz of cooking for lots of people again and am proud that I didn't even panic once! Thank you all for your kind wishes of support - very much appreciated!

Friday, 20 April 2007

Catering for 85 people whilst still in a full time job is probably a bit insane! I worked really hard last night and am just about under control but still have a morning's work to do before I can head off to Hinwick House to start cooking.

Having made 130 bread rolls (cheese, caraway, tomato, wholegrain and ciabatta) last night, I never want to see another bread roll again! I also made 10 puddings (2 gooey chocolate cakes, toblerone tiramisu, ginger rhubard crumble, 2 blueberry and lemon cheesecakes, a ginger lime and chocolate cheesecake, lavender and cherry pie and 2 treacle tarts). It was just like a Masterchef task except I didn't have Ben Steven and David there to help out! Five hours very hard work but it was good to be cooking on a large scale again and to have actually managed to get everything done! One more day to go and then I can relax on Saturday!

Wednesday, 18 April 2007

This week is getting busy as I am cooking dinner for 85 people on Friday night and must admit to being a little bit worried! Expectations are high, the budget is minimal but I am really looking forward to cooking for large numbers again (although am sure it will bring back some haunting Masterchef memories).

Thought that, as I have no time to post a recipe today, I would introduce our cat Muffy, who is very fluffy, likes to sleep a lot and chase rabbits (usually unsuccesfully). She was a rescue cat and lived with us in London where she was completely manic and lots of trouble. Her previously owners had called her Buffy (as in vampire slayer) and looking back, this really should have started alarm bells ringing! On the day we moved to the country however she had a complete personality transformation and became really docile and affectionate! She clearly takes after me and is a country girl at heart!

Monday, 16 April 2007

Here's a very simple recipe for a lovely summer cocktail (although I can drink it at any time of the year!) In a large jug, simply mix amaretto (how much depends on how strong you want the drink to be - I normally use about half a bottle) with a carton of cranberry juice and a carton of orange juice. Top up with ice and slices of lemon and lime. Perfect for a sunny day in the garden!

My fab brother Gareth with his cake! He was a contestant on Masterchef two years ago (after intensive training from me!!!) and got through to the second round of the heats (making chickpea fritters)! He then sadly got eliminated by someone whole boiled an aubergine!!!!
This weekend, I made him my blueberry duck (with some saffron roasted new potatoes - much better than the mash!) and the chocolate and plum cake so he finally got to experience a bit of this years Masterchef, having missed the whole series by being in America!
He's single girls so let me know if you're interested!!!

Friday, 13 April 2007

Spring is definitely here and everything is coming to life in our garden. I really must do some gardening soon although no time this weekend as my lovely brother Gareth is coming to visit from America for his birthday. Busy planning lots of nice things to cook him and I guess I might make him a birthday cake if he is good! He missed the whole of Masterchef so looking forward to watching a few of the programmes with him!

I went to a great cheese and wine evening last night and discovered a new cheese that I had not tried before - Petit Basque. It is really rather good and bizarrely tastes of caramel - well Caramac chocolate to be precise (haven't seen that in ages and wonder if they still sell it anywhere?) Washed down with a glass of full bodied red wine or port this cheese would make a perfect end to a dinner party! Definitely worth trying....must ask Ben his view on it!

Thursday, 12 April 2007

Just wanted to post the link to an online photo album that Steven has set up with some behind the scenes masterchef photos - just in case anyone is still interested....!


This recipe is for Robbie Hudson, an old friend from University and a self confessed "non pudding" person who has promised to try out one of my pudding recipes. So Robbie this is for you and as I now know that you are reading this blog (and posting replies) I fully expect an update when you have made this in due course (you have the excuse that peaches are not yet in season so I will give you until the summer to try it)!!

Baked Ameretto Peaches

100ml Disaronno Amaretto

6 peaches cut in half and stones removed

100grams butter, melted

200grams amaretti biscuits (I use Arden Doria), crushed and broken into small pieces

150grams golden marzipan, course grated

This is really simple to prepare. Mix the crushed amaretti biscuits and grated marzipan in a bowl. Pour over the hot melted butter and mix with your hands. The mixture should combine into a sticky dough. Take a small handful of the mixture and shape it over the cut side of one of the peach halves, so that you have a sphere (half peach, half amaretti mixture). Place in an oven proof baking dish and continue with the remaining peach halves. It is best to use a dish that fits the peaches quite tightly so that they don't move around too much when baking. Pour over the Amaretti and bake in a moderate oven (180oC/Gas Mark 4/Aga Roasting oven below the cold shelf) for approximately 25 minutes until the peaches are soft and the topping is golden brown. Toward the end of the cooking time, check that the peaches are not browning too much and if they are cover with silver foil to prevent them burning. Serve with creme fraiche or clotted cream with the amaretto cooking liquid spooned over the peaches. This is one of my favourite summer desserts and is equally good with nectarines.

Tuesday, 10 April 2007

This was our Easter cake this year. It was a lemon drizzle cake (my Grandma's favourite) - the recipe is set out on the strawberry butterfly cake below.

Having soaked the cake with the lemon drizzle, I then topped it with rosewater fondant icing (1500grams fondant icing sugar, juice of 1/2 lemon, 2 tbsp rosewater, 1 tsp pink food colouring). Spoon the icing over the cake and then decorate with eggs - I used sugar and chocolate ones. Top with fresh flowers if you wish!

I've had a busy cake baking weekend! This is the 40th birthday cake I made for my brother in law's birthday on Saturday. Very large and very chocolatey!
For the cake
28oz margarine
28oz caster sugar
14 eggs
24oz self raising flour
4oz cocoa
100grams chocolate chips
In a very large mixing bowl, cream the margarine and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time adding a small amount of flour if the mixture starts to curdle. When all of the eggs have been mixed in, sift in the flour and cocoa and fold in gentle. Fold in the chocolate chips. This mixture is enough for 5 sandwich tins of cake - I use two 10 inch tins, two 8 inch tins and one 6 inch tin for the top layer. Bake the cakes in a moderate oven (Gas Mark 6, 180oC, Aga Roasting oven below the cold shelf) for approximately 20 minutes until the cake springs back when you press it and a knife comes out clean.
Now for the icing (you need a lot of this!) I use both buttercream and ganache for this cake, although you could cover the whole cake in buttercream if you prefer.
600 grams plain chocolate
75ml double cream
50 grams butter
Place all the ganache ingredients in a bowl and microwave for 2 minutes on full power until the chocolate has melted. Take the bowl out half way through and stir. Leave the icing aside to cool slightly.
1 tub betty crockers choclate fudge icing
300grams icing sugar, sieved
50 grams butter
approx. 2 tbsp milk (this will depend on how runny your icing is - you may not need any milk at all)
Put all the ingredient in a bowl and mix until smooth.
You will also need lots of chocolates for decoration!
Sandwich the two large cakes together with some of the buttercream. Place the cake on a cooling rack (best idea is to put some foil below to catch any icing which makes cleaning up a lot quicker!) Pour some of the chocolate ganache icing over the centre of the cake and using a knife spread over the sides of the cake. Place this cake on a cake stand or plate. Repeat with the remaining cakes (cutting the small cake in half to fill with buttercream) and once coated with the ganache place on top of the first layer on the cake stand. This should give your cake three tiered layers. Secure the cake with a wooden skewer through the centre, which can be removed once the cake has set.
Place the remaining buttercream in a piping bag and use this to secure the chocolates on each layer. It is best to make this cake the night before you need it as this allows the icing to set overnight and makes it easy to transport (this cake make a 2 1/2 journey and survived!) Decorated the base and top of the cake with fresh flowers in oasis!

Thursday, 5 April 2007

Happy Easter Everyone!

Hope that you all have a lovely few days holiday and that the Easter Bunny brings you lots of yummy eggs!

Wednesday, 4 April 2007

There is something about Prosecco with its string tied top that really appeals to me. I like it much more than Champagne as the bubbles are gentle and it is just so easy to drink. It is also very versitile and can be flavoured easily, elevating a fairly cheap bottle of sparkling wine to something very special.

When I was in Germany last year I was introduced to "Elderflower Champagne" which was actually prosecco topped up with elderflower cordial. I was amazed that something so simple could make a drink taste so good. A perfect Easter drink and I definitely recommend you try it.

Nigella Lawson also recommends serving prosecco with gingerbread syrup - I can testify that this is absolutely delicious and a perfect drink for Christmas (although that's a few months off yet)!

Monday, 2 April 2007

You can't beat a good hot cross bun and if you have a spare few hours this weekend perhaps you might like to make some as homemade are far nicer than shop bought ones. Hot Cross Buns are really about personal choice. Although I have set out my recipe for them below, it is completely adaptable. For example if you don't like peel or nutmeg, just leave them out. If you like apple, then put a handful of grated apple in at the second proving stage. If you don't like the idea of rosewater or don't have any, just substitute water for the glaze...so many choices, the possibilities are endless. You could even add chocolate chips in place of the fruit for a spiced chocolate hot cross bun....now there's an idea!

Rosewater glazed hot cross buns
1 lb strong plain bread flour
2oz caster sugar
7g sachet of dried yeast
150ml warm milk
60ml warm water
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp mixed spice
1tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp grated nutmeg
6oz mixed dried fruit (any combination you like - I used sultanas, raisins, candied peel and cherries)
2oz melted butter, cooled
1 egg, beaten
3 tbsp flour
50grams caster sugar
50ml rose water

In a cup dissolve the yeast in 2 tbsp of the warm milk and 1 tsp sugar and leave for 10 minutes in a warm place until it is foamy. In the meantime, sift 4oz of the flour with 1 tsp sugar in a bowl. When the yeast mixture is foamy, pour it into the flour with the remaining warm milk and the water, and leave to stand in a warm place for a further 30 minutes until the mixture is very frothy (the whole mixture should be a fairly solid foam). Whilst you are waiting for this mixture to be ready, sift the remaining flour, sugar, spices, salt and mixed fruit in a bowl. When the yeast mixture is ready pour into the flour mixture with the egg and butter and kneed until the dough is light and elastic for approximately 10 minutes (less if you have a dough hook attachment on your food processor). Place the dough back in the bowl and cover with a damp teacloth. Leave in a warm place until doubled in size - approximately 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Knock the dough back again by rekneeding it for a further five minutes. Shape into small balls, approximately 3 inches (or smaller if you want more buns), and place slightly apart on a greased baking tray. Cover the buns with greased cling film and leave for a further 30 minutes until the buns have doubled in size. In the meantime, mix the 3 tbsp of plain flour with a small amount of water to make a runny paste that can be piped for the crosses. You can pipe this using an icing bag, but I prefer to use a plastic sandwich bag, pushing the mixture into one corner. When the buns have doubled in size, snip a small corner away from the plastic bag and pipe a cross on each bun. Bake in a hot oven (220oC/Gas Mark 7/Aga Roasting oven bottom shelf) for 20/25 minutes until the buns are golden. Whilst the buns are cooking, heat the sugar and rose water to prepare the glaze until the sugar has all dissolved and the glaze is syrupy. Remove the hot cross buns from the oven and place on a cooking rack. Brush the tops with the rose water glaze using a pastry brush (I usually do two coats allowing the first to set slightly before applying the second) and leave to cool (or eat straight away!)

Lamb is my favourite roast meat - with beef a close second. Although I love to have it the traditional way with yorkshire and mint sauce, my favourite way to serve lamb is with harrisa, chilli and lemon grass. This is perfect for a Sunday roast served with traditional roast veg but is equally good for a picnic. Wrapped in foil straight from the oven and put in the picnic basket, it is usually still warm when we reach our destination and is perfect served with a salad (OK I know it's not quite picnic weather yet, but I can dream!)
Harissa Roast Lamb
I leg of lamb
1 small bunch of fresh corriander
2 lemongrass stork, one whole the other cut into small pieces
1 jar belazu rose harissa paste (I have tried it with other harissas but it is never as nice and it really has to be this one. It is available in most supermarkets though)
2 red chillis, deseeded and chopped into pieces
4 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped into pieces
500ml red wine
salt and pepper
500ml vegetable stock
1 tbsp gravy granuales
Begin by seasoning the lamb with salt and pepper all over. Take a sharp knife and piece a pocket along the bone almost the whole length of the leg, starting at the large end. Push the corriander and lemongrass into the pocket you have made. Then using the knife, make small slits in the top of lamb, pushing through the fat and the meat, I usually make about 20 slits. Push a piece of chilli, lemongrass and garlic into each slit.
Smear the harissa paste over the top of the lamb and place in a roasting tin. Roast in a hot oven(220oC/Gas Mark 7/Aga Roasting Oven) for 15 minutes, then pour over the red wine and continue roasting for a further 30 minutes. Turn the temperature down to 180oC/Gas Mark 4/ or move to the Simmering Oven if you have an Aga and cook gently for another hour. The actual length of time will depend on the size of your meat and also how well done you like your lamb. I usually leave mine in until the top of the lamb is nicely crusted and most of the wine has evaporated. If you are using an Aga, I normally leave the leg cooking for about 3 hours in the simmering oven as this enhances the flavour and makes the lamb really tender. Remove the lamb from the tin and place the roasting tin over a gentle heat to make the sauce. Add a dash more red wine if there is not much left in the tin and cook to evaporate the alcohol. Add the stock and the gravy granuales and simmer until thickened. This sauce is nice and spicy as it will contain some of the harissa. Serve thick slices of the lamb with the sauce, accompanied by roast veg or salad.

I decorated my "Easter tree" yesterday - I love Easter almost as much as I love Christmas. I have an Easter wreath on our front door (I'm sure our neighbours must think that I am mad!) and the garden is finally beginning to come to life again.
It is a good time for me as there are so many delicious things to bake and I am looking forward to baking each evening this week - Hot Cross Buns, Simnel Cake, Easter nests and biscuits. Lovely!
I am also busy making Easter bags filled with Easter eggs for everyone we know. I do these every year and if people return the little fabric bag they get it refilled the following year!

Following a great dinner at college on Friday, I spent Saturday morning at the Fudge Kitchen in Cambridge where Nigel taught me to make fudge. A very useful skill! It was really hard work but the end result very pretty good - that's my fudge in the photo!!! I was also taught how to make a very easy fudge icing but microwaving a slice of their fudge with 2 tablespoons of double cream for a minute to produce an instant fudge topping! I will be trying this very soon and will post the results! All in all a very yummy morning!

I love Easter and all the wonderful traditions that come with it. Friday was the Easter bonnet parade for the children in our village and this is lovely Ella in her wonderful daffodil creation!