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, 31 January 2008

I am off to Fitzbillies and am very excited! So much to learn...so little time! Charlotte added this wonderful sepia effect to the photo from my last visit and it looks as if it could have been taken decades ago - it has changed so little. So I beg your leave for a few days and will be back again next week. Think of me up to my arms in flour and chelsea bun syrup! I can imagine no place I'd rather be.

Quite a few of you have asked for the poppy seed cake recipe so I will post that next week. I use a German poppy seed paste Mohn Back which I have not been able to buy in the UK so am just trying to perfect a home made version of the paste!

Wednesday, 30 January 2008

This morning before work, I finally finished a baby sampler I have been stitching for my friend's new baby Tom. It has taken a month to finish which is not as quick as I would have liked given that Tom was born at the end of November and my gift is now very late! Still hopefully it is worth the wait. I blame my slowness entirely on the little fish pond and squirrels which took ages to finish as the stitches are so small. If you click on the picture you will get a close up. I just love all the little bees and ladybirds!

Tuesday, 29 January 2008

The first signs of Spring!

Monday, 28 January 2008

As I have mentioned before on this blog, afternoon tea is my favourite of all meals! This weekend my lovely German friend Maren was visiting from Hamburg and yesterday we hosted afternoon tea for the Brown family including my favourite German cake! On the menu...Welsh rarebit crumpets, Chocolate peanut cookies, Plum roulade, Lemon and white chocolate cupcakes, Chocolate and Violet cupcakes and my all time favourite German cake - Mohn Kuchen - a baked poppy seed curd cheese cake (pictured above)! Thanks to Jonathan for the lovely photos!

Friday, 25 January 2008

Today is Burns Night and I imagine a few of you will be celebrating. Although I am not a huge fan of haggis, Burns night is the one exception when I will force myself to eat some! After a few glasses of whiskey, it improves no end! Last year we celebrated Burns Night in great "style" - I piped the haggis procession in with my recorder and we all took turns to make the appropriate toasts to the lassies and responses. Andrew dramatically stabbed the haggis with a sword (aka kitchen knife), breaking the plate in the process whilst reciting the Ode to a Haggis (below for anyone who needs it this evening). Whilst I may not be a fan of haggis and find the below ode from Rabbie Burns slightly hard to understand, Burns Night is a perfect excuse for a party, and for that I am very grateful!

Ode to the Haggis

Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o the puddin'-race!
Aboon them a' ye tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye wordy of a grace
As lang's my arm.

The groaning trencher there ye fill,
Your hurdies like a distant hill,
Your pin wad help to mend a mill
In time o need,
While thro your pores the dews distil
Like amber bead.

His knife see rustic Labour dight,
An cut you up wi ready slight,
Trenching your gushing entrails bright,
Like onie ditch;
And then, O what a glorious sight,
Warm-reekin, rich!

Then, horn for horn, they stretch an strive:
Deil tak the hindmost, on they drive,
Till a' their weel-swall'd kytes belyve
Are bent like drums;
The auld Guidman, maist like to rive,
'Bethankit' hums.

Is there that owre his French ragout,
Or olio that wad staw a sow,
Or fricassee wad mak her spew
Wi perfect sconner,
Looks down wi sneering, scornfu view
On sic a dinner?

Poor devil! see him owre his trash,
As feckless as a wither'd rash,
His spindle shank a guid whip-lash,
His nieve a nit:
Thro bloody flood or field to dash,
O how unfit!

But mark the Rustic, haggis-fed,
The trembling earth resounds his tread,
Clap in his walie nieve a blade,
He'll make it whissle;
An legs an arms, an heads will sned,
Like taps o thrissle.

Ye Pow'rs, wha mak mankind your care,
And dish them out their bill o fare,
Auld Scotland wants nae skinking ware
That jaups in luggies:
But, if ye wish her gratefu prayer,
Gie her a Haggis!

Thursday, 24 January 2008

Sometimes it is the little gifts you are given that are the most perfect for you. As someone who adores stitching and cooking, you will imagine my delight when I was recently given these vintage chocolate buttons. 18 different antique buttons, made from dark chocolate! They are all different and so beautiful that I now understand the expression "too good to eat!"

Wednesday, 23 January 2008

Last night was our monthly sewing circle - I failed miserably and managed three stitches before we all descended into giggles - it must have been the wine. We will have to try harder next time! It is so nice that women from all generations and walks of life in our village can get together and laugh so much! I took along some new cookies and they were given the seal of approval.

White Chocolate Praline Cookies
Makes 18, preparation time 10 minutes, cooking time 10 - 12 minutes
4oz butter
5oz caster sugar
1 heaped tbsp hazelnut butter
1 egg
5 1/2oz plain flour
1 tsp bicarb of soda
100g white chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to Gas Mark 5/180/375F. Cream the butter, hazelnut butter and sugar with a mixer until light and then beat in the egg. Add the flour, bicarb and chocolate chips and mix again. The dough should be light but not too sticky, add a little more flour if needs be. Divide into 18 balls and place on greased and lined baking trays, pressing each cookie down slightly. Leave room between each one as they will spread during cooking. Bake for 10 - 12 minutes until golden and still soft to touch - these cookies should be chewy not hard. For decoration, drizzle with a little icing or melted chocolate. Placed in a bag with a pretty bow these make a perfect gift.

Tuesday, 22 January 2008

A while ago when posting the recipe for rosewater and cardamom ice I was asked for the recipe the chocolate and pistachio fudge that was served with it! So here you are (finally)!

Chocolate and Pistachio Fudge

Makes 36 squares
Preparation time 10 minutes, plus cooling.

125grams/4 ½ oz butter
4 tbsp milk
300grams/10 ½ oz sifted icing sugar
100grams/3 ½ oz sifted cocoa
100grams/3 ½ oz pistachios, roughly chopped

In a large saucepan, melt the butter, taking care that it does not brown. Add the milk and heat for a further minute. Tip the icing sugar and cocoa into the pan and beat hard with a wooden spoon or a whisk over the heat until the fudge mixture bubbles slightly. The mixture should be quite thick but if it is too stiff add a little extra milk. Stir in the nuts and pour in to a greased 8 inch square cake tin. Leave to cool in the fridge until set and then cut in to squares and place in small cake cases. If you are feeling decadent, top each piece with some gold or silver leaf.

Monday, 21 January 2008

It has been what can only be described as a pleasant foodie weekend in our cottage. Saturday was my Dad's birthday - as it was only the two of us celebrating here he had a small cake!

We went for a lovely dinner to the Duke of Cambridge Organic Pub in our old stomping ground of Islington with our former neighbours Peter and Lorraine. The food was delicious - Sea Bass with Patatas Bravas, Chorizo and Cavalo Nero. Everything organic and naturally sourced and lovely seasonal food. I definitely recommend a visit.

Easter has arrived early and I have been formulating Easter Baking recipes for a new article all weekend. The air in our cottage has been scented with milk, white and dark chocolate. Needless to say, we have tasted and approved everything!

Finally, as my hens are now laying 7 eggs a day, I have painted a little sign to match their coup to start selling a few of the spare ones! Does this qualify us as a cottage industry I wonder?

Thursday, 17 January 2008

Ginger Treacle Tart with Stem Ginger Clotted Cream Ice Cream

For the tart

500grams shortcrust pastry
11oz golden syrup
1oz syrup from preserved stem ginger
1oz butter
zest and juice of 1 large lemon
4oz fine breadcrumbs
milk for glazing the pastry

Line a 10 inch flan dish with the pastry and chill in the fridge until required. Melt the golden and ginger syrups with the butter over a gentle heat until the butter has dissolved. Remove from the heat and stir in the lemon zest, lemon juice and breadcrumbs, ensuring that all the crumbs are coated in the syrup mixture. Pour into the pastry case and, if you wish, use any excess pastry to make leaves to decorate the top of the tart. Brush the pastry edges and any pastry decoration with milk. Bake at Gas Mark 5/180oC/Aga roasting oven below a cold shelf for 30/35 minutes until the syrup mixture has set and the pastry is golden brown. Serve warm with stem ginger ice cream.

For the Ice Cream

2 large eggs
227gram tub of clotted cream
150 grams caster sugar
250ml full fat milk
250ml double cream
4 stem gingers preserved syrup chopped finely

Whisk the eggs for 2 minutes until light and frothy. Whisk in the sugar a tablespoon at a time until completely blended. Pour in the cream, clotted cream and milk and whisk to blend. Pour into an ice cream machine and churn until almost set. Fold in the stem ginger and churn until set. Store in the freezer for up to one month.

Wednesday, 16 January 2008

Not that I am becoming weather obsessive but I woke up this morning so relieved that it was not raining. When I got back from a meeting last night, the stream in our garden had broken its banks and our bridge was partly under water. There was water up to the front door step and I went to bed really worried that the kitchen would be flooded in the morning. What a relief that the waters have receded. I really pity anyone who was flooded last night. Anyway, all this worry about flooding got me thinking about Noah's Ark and a patchwork quilt project of mine that has been on the go for several years and which I really should get round to finishing (the problem if your sewing basket is as overflowing as mine is that even if I stitched every day for the rest of my life I am sure I would never finish all my sewing stash)! Anyway this project has now moved to the top of my basket so might progress a bit quicker now. The book with patchwork pieces (you just add your own fabrics) is by Janet Bolton who has also written Mrs Noah's Garden. Somehow I have managed to resist the temptation to buy this second patchwork book - perhaps on the basis that I thought I would never finish the first! So these are the panels I have completed - cheetahs, crocodiles, giraffes and a lonesome elephant (not very two by two). If it gets to six months from now and I have not posted an update on more panels will someone please tell me off!

Monday, 14 January 2008

Yesterday two gorgeous munchkins Josh and Rosie came to visit for lunch. I am not sure how it is where you are but it has rained non stop here for what seems like days. The stream in our garden is at an all time high, a new (and unintentional) waterfall has appeared and the chickens are REALLY muddy. Anyway, when it is raining and cold there is nothing better for lunch than soup. Whilst us adults tucked into large bowls of dhal (a la Steven Wallis and a firm favourite in our house since he taught me how to make it) and naan, Josh and Rosie had mushroom soup.

Mushroom and spring onion soup
4 large portobello mushrooms (or any mushrooms will do), roughly chopped
4 spring onions, washed and finely chopped
1 sprig thyme and 1 sprig rosemary
25g salted butter
salt and pepper for seasoning
2 tbsp sherry (omit if serving for children)
800ml vegetable stock
100ml milk (any will do - I used skimmed but you could use soya milk for anyone vegan or dairy allergic)
Double cream and chopped chives to serve
Melt the butter in a pan and saute the mushrooms and spring onions with the herbs over a gentle heat until softened. This should take approximately 5 -6 minutes. Add the sherry and cook for 2 minutes to burn off the alcohol. Remove the herbs, then add the stock and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the milk and blitz with a hand blender until smooth. Serve warm with a swirl of cream and some chopped chives.

Friday, 11 January 2008

As fellow foodies, I know you will appreciate these foodie gifts that I received for Christmas as much as I did. This wonderful hot chocolate and hot chocolate whisk was from my brother's girlfriend Amy (incidentally Amy - we would have loved you just as much even if you hadn't bought the wonderful Dean & Deluca Hamper - but we were very grateful for it!) I have to say that this is the best hot chocolate I have EVER tasted and I don't know what I am going to do when the tin is empty - perhaps a trip to New York is called for!
I also received this wonderful book from Masterchef winner Steven Wallis - Lost Desserts, Delicious Indulgences of the Past. It is a real testament to how well Steven knows me as this book is my idea of heaven and I have read it cover to cover several times already. Recipes include Marbled Rose and Raspberry Fool, Lady Agnes Jekyll's Old Fashioned Orange Jelly, Caramalised Rice Pudding and Miss Grimble's Chocolate Angel Pie. They sound so heavenly and I can't wait to make them all!

Thursday, 10 January 2008

A baked cheesecake makes a perfect gift for a friend - nicer than a box of chocolates or a bottle of wine and it is easy to transport. Next time you have some spare time why not make one! I know this one was gratefully received by the recipient.

Praline Flapjack Cheesecake
For the base
175g porridge oats
3tbsp golden syrup
50g butter
For the cheesecake
250g cream cheese
3 eggs separated
100ml double cream
25g plain flour
2oz caster sugar
3 tbsp hazelnut butter
1 tsp vanilla essence
For the nut topping
200g mixed unsalted nuts
4 tbsp caramel sauce, warmed
For the Caramel nut shards
500g caster sugar
200g mixed unsalted nuts (brazils, hazelnuts, cashews, macadamia etc)

In a small saucepan heat the butter and golden syrup and then stir in the oats, mixing well to ensure that all the oats are coated. Press the oat mixture into the bottom of a greased and lined 10inch spring form tin. Place the cream cheese, cream, egg yolks, caster sugar, flour, hazelnut butter and vanilla in a food processor and blitz until smooth. Whisk the egg whites to stiff peak and then gently fold into the hazelnut mixture. Pour over the flapjack base. Place the tin on a baking sheet and bake in a low oven (160oC/325F/Gas Mark 3/Aga roasting oven below a cold shelf) for 1 1/2 hours until the cheesecake is firm to touch. To make the topping, warm the caramel sauce (you can make your own using brown sugar, cream, butter and golden syrup in roughly equal quantities) and stir in the nuts. When the nuts and cheesecake have cooled, pour the nuts into the centre of the cheesecake. If you wish, make caramel nut shards to decorate the cheesecake. Lightly grease a baking tray with a flavourless oil (sunflower or vegetable oil are ideal) and pour the nuts over. In a heavy based saucepan heat the sugar gently until it melts. Do not stir very much as this causes the sugar to crystallise and be very careful that the sugar doesn't burn. If you are worried, just take it off the heat for a few minutes. When the sugar has melted and is a light golden brown colour, pour over the nuts and leave to cool. Break into pieces and use to decorate.

Wednesday, 9 January 2008

It has been a busy few days. I was asked back to my old school to be the guest speaker at prize giving. Those of you who know me well will know that I really dread public speaking and this event was no exception! They did not want me to talk about Masterchef so instead I spoke about the importance of believing in yourself and taking every opportunity life throws at you! I survived and the speech was well received (apparently I am a "hollistic speaker" - not sure whether that is a compliment or not!)
I was presented with a lovely piece of art (pictured) created by one of the students - as a reminder of my shipping law days.

I have also just submitted my first article for my new monthly recipe column "Monthly Morsels" for Country House magazine which starts in February. The column was previously written by 2005 Masterchef winner Tomasina Myers so I have big shoes to fill! St Patricks Day has also arrived early as my next CK article is a St Patrick's Day feast and the photo shoot is tomorrow. Lots of guinness and some green and white cocktails!

Later this month, I am returning to the wonderful Fitzbillies for some more patisserie training and inspiration - I really can't wait to spend some more time with Gill, Penny and Tom - we are going to be doing Valentine's baking so I am hoping to learn lots more baking secrets from them!
I had a lovely new dish for Christmas from my mum and this weekend I decided to make something yummy in it to christen it.

White chocolate and cinnamon bread and butter pudding

1/2 panattone, sliced or 10 slices of cinnamon raisin bread
125g butter, softened
3 large eggs and 1 extra egg yolk
400ml double cream
300ml milk
2 tbsp caster sugar
2 tsp ground cinnamon
100g white chocolate chips
100g raisins or sultanas
1 tbsp muscavado sugar

Butter the panattone or bread with the butter, retaining a small amount of the butter to dot the top of the pudding before baking. Grease a large shallow ovenproof dish and cover the bottom with a layer of the buttered bread. Sprinkle over the raisins and the chocolate chips and top with the remaining bread. In a large jug mix together the eggs, cream, cinnamon, milk and caster sugar. Pour the cream mixture over the bread and leave for a few minutes to soak. Depending on the size of your dish, you may not need all of the cream mixture. Sprinkle over the muscavado sugar and dot with the remaining butter. Bake in a warm oven Gas Mark 5/190C/Aga roasting oven for 30/40 minutes until golden. Serve with custard or cream.

Monday, 7 January 2008

The latest edition of Country Kitchen is out and my strawberry lace biscuits have made the front cover! I am very proud! I have two articles this month - Valentine's treats and rhubarb recipes. I will save the Valentine recipes to share with you a bit nearer to Valentine's day but here is one of my rhubarb recipes.
Rhubarb and Custard Jelly
Who could forget the wonderful rhubarb and custard sweets that you sucked on as a child. Even as an adult, on the occasions that I see them I still buy and enjoy them! There is something so perfectly balanced about the sharp and tangy rhubarb against the creamy vanilla custard. In a modern twist, make this jelly for a perfect teatime treat which will be enjoyed by children and adults alike.

Serves 6
Preparation time 30 minutes plus chilling

400grams/14oz rhubarb, peeled and chopped
350 ml water
3 tbsp caster sugar
500ml milk
14 sheets of leaf gelatine
1 tbsp custard powder
A few drops of red food colouring (if your rhubarb is not very pink!)

You should make your jelly the day before you wish to use it to enable both layers to set. This recipe will fill an an 800ml jelly mould. If you have a larger mould simply increase the quantities for each layer. Begin by simmering the rhubarb with two tablespoons of caster sugar and the water until the rhubarb is very soft. When cooked, strain the rhubarb through a fine meshed colander. You should have approximately 250ml of liquid. Add a little water if you have less than 250ml. If you wish, add a few drops of red food colouring to the liquid. Return the rhubarb liquid to the pan. Soak six leaves of the gelatine in cold water for 10 minutes until softened, then squeeze out all the water. Add the gelatine to the rhubarb liquid and heat gently until the gelatine has melted. Pour the liquid into the jelly mould through a strainer to remove any gelatine that has not melted completely and leave to set in the fridge. When the rhubarb jelly has set, make the custard jelly. Soak the remaining eight leaves of gelatine in cold water for 10 minutes. Whilst the gelatine is soaking, mix the custard powder with the remaining tablespoon of sugar in a bowl. Heat the milk in a pan, bring to the boil and pour immediately over the custard mix. Whisk well and return to the pan. Squeeze out the gelatine, add to the pan and simmer until the gelatine has melted. Pour the custard jelly into the mould on top of the rhubarb jelly, again straining it as your pour. Leave aside to set. When you are ready to serve, dip your mould in hot water for 30 seconds and then invert the jelly mould on to a plate to release the jelly. Serve with ice cream!

Friday, 4 January 2008

Duck with Plum and Ginger Sauce

Serves 2 Preparation and cooking time 30 minutes

Duck with plum sauce is a common Chinese dish - there can't be many people who don't love crispy duck pancakes. I know I do. This is my English version of duck with plum sauce. The rich duck meat matches well with the robust sharpness of the plums

2 Duck breasts with skin on

1 tbsp olive oil

400grams red plums

2 oz caster sugar

1 heaped tsp grated fresh ginger

2 tbsp balsamic vinegar

150ml chicken stock

Salt and pepper to season

Remove the stones from the plums and place the fruit in a saucepan together with the sugar, ginger, balsamic vinegar and chicken stock. Simmer for 20 minutes until the sauce is thick and syrupy. Season with salt and pepper and keep warm until you wish to serve.

To prepare the duck, use a sharp knife to make incisions in the fat of each duck breast. Lightly coat each breast with the olive oil and season. Place a griddle or frying pan on the heat to warm and once hot, add the duck breasts, skin side down. Leave to cook for 5 minutes without moving them to ensure that the skin is crispy. Turn the breasts over and cook for a further 3 minutes. Remove the breasts from the pan and place in an oven proof roasting tin. Roast in a moderate oven Gas Mark 5/375 F/190oC/Aga Roasting oven for a further 8 – 10 minutes. Remove the duck from the oven and leave to stand for a few minutes before serving to allow the meat to relax. Serve the duck and warm plum sauce with salad for a light lunch or with mash potato for a winter supper.

Wednesday, 2 January 2008

Happy New Year everyone! I hope that you all had wonderful celebrations with family and friends. Lets hope that 2008 is a good year for us all. Our new years resolution started in earnest yesterday and we spent the whole day sorting out our house, clearing out 5 sacks of rubbish. Exhausting work but long overdue! Once we have finished the house we are moving on to clearing our woodland and building a tree/summer house. Having been so busy last year with Masterchef, all these things went on hold and we are looking forward to getting the garden project back on track. The hens decided to give us a new years treat and we had our first two blue eggs yesterday! I am so pleased!