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, 28 November 2007

This week is busy as I have 37 recipes to write for various projects and articles. I am beginning to wonder whether this is ever going to be possible but I have made a good stab at it this evening. Some of the recipes are for a healthy eating project and so, taking inspiration from Ken Hom's wonderful cooking at the show yesterday, this was our healthy supper!

Spiced Chicken Noodle Soup

Serves 4, preparation time 10 minutes, cooking time 15 minutes

1 tbsp vegetable oil

4 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped

2 shallots, peeled and finely sliced

1 inch piece of ginger, peeled and finely chopped

1 skinless chicken breast fillet, chopped into small pieces

1 – 2 chillies, finely chopped (seeds removed if desired or omit the chillies if you wish)

1 stick lemon grass, trimmed and bashed with a rolling pin to release the flavours

1 carrot peeled and slices into small strips or grated

1 tbsp fish sauce

1 tbsp dark soy sauce

1 tbsp sweet soy sauce

Juice of 1 lime

1 litre chicken or vegetable stock

3 tbsp chopped fresh coriander

1 tbsp chopped thai basil (or regular basil if thai basil is not available)

3 chopped spring onions

1 small packet of thin Chinese noodles, soak in boiling water for 3 minutes or according to instructions

In a wok or a large frying pan, heat the oil and then add the garlic, shallots and ginger and cook for 2 minutes until soft, taking care that they do not burn. If the oil gets to hot, turn down the heat. Add the chicken, lemon grass and chillies and cook for a further 3 minutes. Add the carrot and cook for a further minutes. Pour in the fish sauce, both soy sauces and the lime juice and give a good stir. Add the stock and simmer on a low heat for 5 – 8 minutes until the chicken is cooked. Add the coriander, basil, spring onions and cooked noodles and heat for a further minute. Spoon into bowls and serve immediately.

Our autumn harvest!

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Today Steven and I are off to a channel 5 programme Cooking the Books. Masterchef David was on the programme a few weeks ago as well - you may have seen him! We have been asked to cook a dish from one of our favourite cook books so I have chosen Giancarlo and Katie Caldesi's Return to Tuscany - this is their fig and orange upside down cake and I am pleased that it doesn't look too far off the picture! It smells really yummy and to be honest I would quite like a slice now, but I can't imagine turning up with a half eaten cake would go down well. The cake does not contain any butter, margarine or milk so would be good for someone who is allergic to dairy products.

Giancarlo's Fig and Orange Cake
7oz granulated sugar
4 figs and 2 oranges
41/2 oz caster sugar
3 large eggs
4 1/2 oz plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 orange
3oz caster sugar
1 vanilla bean
1tsp ground cinnamon (this was my own addition - I hope GC doesn't mind but I am feeling so Christmassy at the moment that cinnamon is going in everything)
grated zest of the 2 oranges

Place the 7oz caster sugar in a saucepan with 2 tsp of water and heat until the sugar is melted and goes golden brown (it will take longer than you think!). Pour the caramel into the base of a flan or tart tatin dish (8inches). Thinly slice the figs and peel and slice the oranges and layer then in patterns on top of the caramel. Whisk the eggs until they are doubled in size and then gradually add the sugar. Whisk in the baking powder, zest and cinnamon and then gently fold in the flour. Pour the batter on top of the fruit and bake in a moderate oven for 20/25 minutes until a knife comes out clean. Allow to cool for a few minutes, then place a plate on top of the dish and invert - be careful as there is hot caramel which may spill.
I then made a syrup to go on top (as there looked to be a clear syrup drizzled over the cake in the photo and I wanted to make it look identical) - simmer the juice of an orange with the 3oz sugar and vanilla pod until all the sugar is dissolved and it is thick and syrupy. Drizzle over the cake and serve warm or cold.

Monday, 26 November 2007

My Dad has recently been over to New York to visit my brother - it was so noisy that he had to wear ear plugs at night! How different my brother's life is to mine where the only noises we get here at night are the occasional owl hooting and then the dawn chorus from the rooster and peacocks! These are the delicious treats I was bought back which I have used in my baking! See's candies are just the best ever and I hope that my brother reads this and remembers to bring some over for Christmas! He is coming to stay for two whole weeks and I am really looking forward to seeing him!

Thursday, 22 November 2007

I do love my Aga but, being over 80 years old, it can be temperamental and this week it has gone on strike. Sadly the result is no real cooking in our house as our only alternative means of cooking are the BBQ (not great in this weather) and a microwave. Luckily the engineer is here at the moment fixing it so hopefully by this evening it will be working again and boiling a kettle will take less than the 25 minutes it was taking earlier in the week! Hopefully you will allow me to use this as a valid excuse for not posting a recipe today!

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

There are few things more satisfying than making your own spice mix. The aroma released by the spices as you heat them in the pan is terrific. I remember waiting in the Masterchef studio when we were just about to start cooking at the start of the semis (this was my ginger chicken and prawn with spiced chips dish). My spices had been placed next to the oven and had warmed up - it felt as if they were speaking to me telling me to cook with them! If you have ever seen the film "Mistress of Spices" you will know what I mean - I love that film! There are no rules really about what you can and can't add to a spice mix - it is all about personal preference! This one contained coriander seeds, cinnamon, star anise, cardamom, fenugreek, cumin seeds and yellow mustard seeds. Once the spices are heated, simply blitz them in a spice grinder or crush them in a pestle and mortar and then seal them in a jar. Although they do last, some of the flavour is lost over time so it is best to make small quantities. For a delicious spiced omelet cook a finely chopped small onion in a tablespoon of ghee or olive olive in a large frying pan together with some finely chopped ginger, garlic and chilli (the chilli can be omitted if you want) with a pinch of salt until they are all soft - don't rush this stage! Add a few teaspoons of your spice mix (or shop brought garam marsala is fine if you don't have time to make your own spice mix) and cook for a further 2 minutes. If I have any in the fridge I also add a tsp of rose harissa paste for an extra chilli kick - again not essential! Whisk 4 eggs in a bowl and then pour into the frying pan and cook until the egg is set - if you have a grill you can place the pan under the grill once the omelet is almost cooked and it will rise slightly to give you a fluffier omelet. Serve with bread and coriander chutney.

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

It is not often that I have moments of finesse in my cooking as those of you who watched Masterchef will be well aware. I know that this is something that I really should aspire to as it was the constant criticism (albeit constructive) that I received from John and Gregg but I rarely have the time and for me taste is the most important thing. Occasionally I do make something bordering on elegant - this is a pudding I made for a supper party recently. A Sauternes's jelly with suspended gold leaf and a panne cotte with damson compote. The flavours went really well together and scored highly with the guests on presentation!

Monday, 19 November 2007

Freddie and Charlotte of The Great Big Veg Challenge have ask what my favourite jacket potato filling is as part of their "P is for Potatoes" project! I love jacket potatoes - particularly in this sort of weather - as they provide instant warmth and satisfaction. They are lovely just with butter and grated cheese - or with baked beans and cheese! My favourite filling at the moment (I had it twice last week!) is herb scented mushrooms! It is delicious and so quick to make. I microwave my potatoes for 7 minutes (per potato) on high power and then transfer them to the oven to crisp the skins.
Herb scented mushrooms
served two hungry people
2 large jacket potatoes (microwaved on full power for 14 minutes and then crisped in the oven or cooked for one hour in the oven until soft)
1 small punnet of mushrooms - I used chestnut but any mushrooms would be fine
A large knob of butter
1 sprig rosemary
1 sprig thyme
1 red onion finely chopped
1 clove garlic crushed
1 tbsp chopped chives
1 good slug of calvados or brandy (omit this if cooking for children)
100ml double cream
salt and pepper for seasoning

Add the butter to a large frying pan and add the onions, garlic and mushrooms, together with the rosemary and thyme. Season with salt and pepper. Cook for approximately 10 minutes until the onions and mushrooms are soft. The mushrooms should smell nice and earthy and remind you of walking in a forest (this is Giancarlo's test for when mushrooms are cooked!) Add the chives and the calvados and cook for a few minutes until the alcohol has burned off. Add the cream and cook for a few minutes further until the sauce is thickened. Divide the mushrooms between the two potatoes and serve immediately!

Amanda from Figs Olives Wine and David from Book the Cook are also providing potato filling recipes so drop by their sites to see their delicious recipes

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

David Hall, of Masterchef fame, was quite shocked when I admitted to him yesterday that I had never made a Christmas cake. Chocolate logs, chocolate truffle cakes decorated with chocolate holly leaves yes, but never a traditional fruit cake with icing and marzipan. We are not a household of fruit cake lovers but I have decided that this year is going to be the one where I attempt to convert everyone. I have scoured all my cook books for Christmas cake recipes trying to decide which one to make but ended up devising my own recipe. I am a huge fan of amaretto and so I wanted to use this in my cake. I soaked my fruits for 48 hours in the ameretto and they were juicy and plump when the time came to make the cake. We also really all love nuts so in an effort to make the cake appealing to non fruit cake lovers, I made it very nutty adding pistachios and cashews, together with the more traditional hazlenuts, almonds and brazil nuts.

So here is my first Christmas cake attempt. I cannot yet vouch for how it tastes as it is sealed in a tin and will be fed with more amaretto for the next month until Christmas, but if smell is anything to go by, it is going to be pretty tasty!

Christmas Cake
1 kilo mixed fruit (you can buy fruit ready mixed in bags in the supermarket or choose any combination you want from sultanas, currants, raisins, dried apricots, mixed peel, dried pinapple - David Hall has made his with dried figs and prunes)
1 large tub glace cherries, chopped in halves
100ml amaretto (or brandy if you are feeling more traditional)
225g/8oz butter, softened
170g/60z muscovado sugar
50g/2oz caster sugar
4 large eggs
170g/6oz plain flour, sifted
50g/2oz self raising flour, sifted
200g/7oz unsalted mixed nuts, roughly chopped
1tsp ground cinnamon
1tsp mixed spice
a good grate of nutmeg
zest of two lemons
1 tbsp treacle

Soak the mixed fruit and cherries in the amaretto overnight, or longer if you have time, stirring occasionally. Cream the butter and the sugars until light and fluffy and then beat in the eggs on at a time. You need to get as much air into the cake at this stage as the majority of the flour is plain and will not rise. Gently fold in the flours and spices followed by the treacle and zest. Fold the fruits into the cake mixture (you will need a large bowl for this). There will be much more fruit than cake batter so it is important to make sure it is well mixed. Grease and line the base and sides of a 10inch round spring form pan. Pour in the cake batter and bake for 4 hours at Gas Mark 2/150C/Aga roasting oven below a cold shelf for 30 minutes, then transfer to the cooling oven, covering the cake lightly with foil towards the end of it starts to brown too much. Once the cake has cooled, wrap it in greaseproof paper and cling film and store in a sealed tin. Open it once a week, prick the surface with a darning needle or a fork and pour over a spoon of Amaretto.

Last night Sacha and I were invited to have dinner with Giancarlo and Katie Caldesi at their new restaurant Caldesi in Campagna in Bray. All I can say is...yum yum yum yum yum! As you enter the restaurant you are met by a scent of delicious truffle and the decor is just beautiful - I love their new logo! The food was delicious! I started with roasted vegetables (aubergines, artichokes, baby carrots and peppers) with a delicious truffle cream, followed by "melt in your mouth" osso buco with a delicious tomato ragu and truffle polenta. To finish, we had doughnuts with sambuca sauce (with lovely overtones of blackcurrant and aniseed) and a vanilla cream. There was not a crumb left! All in all a super meal, lovely company (I am so lucky that Giancarlo has taken me under his culinary wing) and I definitely recommend a visit if you are near Bray. Giancarlo has asked me to teach at his cookery school - what an honour! I need to brush up on some Italian desserts as I am not quite sure that Toblerone tiramisu would be highly regarded in an Italian kitchen!!!

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

For an unusual gift, pack a basket full of onions and top with your favourite recipe for French Onion Soup. Tie with a bow - and hey presto - a thoughtful present that someone will love!

Monday, 12 November 2007

Yesterday we celebrated Diwali - the Hindu festival of light - with my husband's family. It was a perfect opportunity for a family party with lots of firework and some delicious food! Here are the sweets I made which went down well, all decorated with gold leaf as it was a special occasion - chocolate and pistachio fudge and rosewater and cardamom coconut ice.

Rosewater and Cardamon coconut ice
Preparation time 20 minutes plus 2 hours chilling

1 tin (398grams) condensed milk
100ml double cream
15 cardamom pods, crushed in a pestle and mortar
1 tbsp rosewater
400grams desiccated coconut
approx 400grams icing sugar, sifted

Begin by infusing the cream. Place the cream, cardamoms and rosewater in a saucepan and bring to the boil. Remove from the heat and leave to infuse for 15 minutes. Then add the cream to a large bowl, together with the condensed milk, coconut and 400grams icing sugar and mix well so that the mixture is incorporated. It should be quite stiff and you may need to add more icing sugar if the mixture seems too wet. If you wish to colour your coconut ice, divide the coconut mixture into two bowls and add a few drops of food colouring. Press the coconut ice (in layers if you have coloured it) into a 9 inch greased square cake tin using the back of a spoon and leave to set in the fridge for 2 hours. Cut in to small pieces and serve!

Friday, 9 November 2007

I always feel a sense of achievement when I manage to use left overs to make something yummy. This was a "baked apple" cake I made earlier in the week using 4 baked apples and their syrup which were left over from our bonfire party. It was so moist and yummy and it made me wonder why I had never made a cake like this before! So next time you make baked apples, add a few extra apples to your tin and use them to make this cake.

Baked Apple Cake

4 baked apples - mine were baked with a mincemeat filling and golden syrup
8oz caster sugar
8oz butter or marg
8oz self raising flour
4 large eggs
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tbsp sour cream

Line and grease a 10inch cake tin. Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time and then gently add the flour, cinnamon and sour cream. In a separate bowl, remove the apple skins and mix together the soft apple and any remaining syrup. Fold the apple mixture into the cake batter and pour into the tin. Bake at Gas Mark 5/190oC/Aga Roasting oven below a cold shelf for 40/50mins until the cake is firm to touch. If the cake starts to brown too much before the cake is cooked cover the top with foil.

Thursday, 8 November 2007

I think it must be down to the weather, but I seem to be cooking soup all the time at the moment. I guess because they are quick and easy and offer instant warmth - gone are the days of having sandwiches or salad for lunch!

Carrot and Sweet Potato Soup
Serves 4 - 6
Preparation time 10 minutes, cooking 20 minutes

3 large carrots, peeled and chopped
2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped
1 large red onion, peeled and chopped
1 tbsp olive oil
1 clove of garlic, peeled and chopped
1 red chilli, roughly chopped (optional)
1 tbsp maple syrup
1 tbsp soy sauce
salt and pepper for seasoning
1.5 litres chicken or vegetable stock
100ml double cream
a large bunch of coriander, roughly chopped

In a large saucepan, gently fry the onions with a pinch of salt in the oil until they are soft and translucent. Add the garlic and fry for another two minutes. Add the carrots, sweet potatoes, chilli (if using) and stock to the pan and simmer for 20 minutes until the potatoes and carrots are soft. Add the maple syrup, soy and coriander and blitz with a hand blender until smooth. Season to taste and stir in the cream (reserve a little for decoration if you wish). Serve with warm crusty bread.

Wednesday, 7 November 2007

December's edition of Country Kitchen contains my two festive articles - an edible Christmas tree for birds and squirrels and our Family Christmas Pudding recipe! Now is the perfect time to make Christmas puddings and I have to say our family Christmas pudding recipes is pretty good. I can say this without being modest as it is not my recipe but has been passed down through our family for as long as anyone can remember. We still have my great Grandma's crock pot to stir the puddings in and use silver thruppenny bits to hide in the pudding. There are some family traditions that should be kept and this is one of them! I know that many of you will have your own family pudding recipes, but if you are feeling like a change this year, here is ours!

Great Grandma’s Christmas Pudding Recipe

Preparation time 30 minutes, plus stirring and steaming

Makes 2 puddings

½ lb/225g suet (vegetarian suet for those who prefer it)

½ lb/225g currants

½ lb/225g granulated sugar

½ lb/225g sultanas

¾lb/340g raisins

3oz/85g breadcrumbs

5oz/140g self raising flour

1 large cooking apple, peeled, cored and grated

1 large carrot, peeled and grated

3 large eggs

Zest and juice of 1 large lemon

A good rub of grated nutmeg

½ tsp mixed spice

A pinch of salt

½ pint/300ml Guinness or other strong beer

2 tbsp brandy

Mixing the pudding is best done in a very large bowl. Something like a jam pan would be ideal as you need plenty of room to stir everything in. Place all the ingredients in the bowl and mix, making sure that everyone in the house has a stir and makes a wish. Cover with a tea towel and leave in a cool place for 24 hours to allow the flavours to develop.

Spoon the mixture into two pudding basins and cover the top with a double layer of greaseproof paper and foil, folded tightly to seal. Tie string round the top rim of the basin and over the top to make a handle so that the pudding can be lifted out of the pan easily.

The puddings will need to be boiled for at least 7 hours each but this can be done in stages, whenever you have time. Just keep the pudding in the fridge in between cooking sessions. Place the pudding in a saucepan quarter filled with water or in a sealed steamer above a pan of water. Remember to put your kitchen timer on to remind you to check the level of water in the pan every half hour so that the water doesn’t run out and the pudding burn as this would be a waste of all your hard work. The pudding should be a dark brown colour when cooked.

The puddings will keep for at least a year in a fridge so you can save one for next year. When you are ready to eat the pudding, heat in a pan of water (as above) for an hour to ensure that the pudding is warmed through. To serve, remove the greaseproof paper and foil cover and slide a knife around the edge of the bowl. Place a plate on top of the bowl and invert holding both the plate and the bowl tightly. Decorate the pudding with a sprig of holly. To flambé, heat 1 tbsp of brandy in an old spoon over a flame. It will ignite so be ready to quickly tip over the pudding when it does and rush to the table so that your guests will see. Serve with brandy butter and brandy sauce!

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

On arriving at my desk this morning, I had a larger than usual visitor at my window - the peahen had come to pay a visit! The peacocks and pheasants are regular visitors to our garden, even more so now that we have the hens. They are always pecking alongside the run - I think they know that the hens are being fed porridge and lots of tasty morsels inside and want some too!
The hens are doing really well - we have had 8 eggs so far (although I think only three hens are laying...its funny that you can tell just by the shape of the egg which hen has laid it!) Still waiting for my first elusive blue egg but I am sure it won't be long now!

Monday, 5 November 2007

Well it seems to be one festivity after another at the moment.

Like most of you I'm sure, we celebrated bonfire night this weekend and our neighbours had a lovely firework party with everyone bringing the biggest firework they could find!

Steve's 1000 shot firework won the prize for the longest display and Peter and Susan's had the best finale! I don't think I have ever seen such a spectacular display at a home event!

I made some bonfire sweets - chocolate and pistachio fudge and honeycomb, which we all munched on during the display.

Supper was deliciously simple - baked potatoes and cheese, hot dogs with onions and baked apples and apple cake, all washed down with mulled wine.

Honeycomb is easy to make - why not try some for tonight if you are watching fireworks!

200g caster sugar
5 tbsp golden syrup
1 level tbsp bicarb of soda

Heat the sugar and syrup in the pan until the sugar has dissolved and bring the mixture to the boil, stirring all the time. Tip in the bicarb of soda and give it a really good mix for a minute or two over the heat. Be careful that it does not go too dark as this will give a bitter taste. Pour the mixture on to a large oiled baking tray - the mixture will continue to expand once you have poured it out so make sure you use a large tray, or two separate trays. Leave to set in a cool place for approximately 2 hours.

Thursday, 1 November 2007

Our Halloween Party - A Rooster pumpkin lantern on our gatepost

A Halloween Feast

A Cat named Josh

A Bat Girl Princess named Lili slurping some delicious bat blood (aka ribenna!)

and a cute pumpkin named Rosie!

Hope you all enjoyed your Halloween's as much as we did!