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, 30 May 2008

Welsh Rarebit Crumpets

I love crumpets – they are an ideal standby to have in the freezer. They are perfect as a base for Welsh Rarebit or egg bread as the holes soak up the egg mixture much better than a slice of bread. This is a very easy snack to prepare.

Serves 1, Preparation time 5 minutes and grilling 8 - 10 minutes
2 crumpets
40g cheddar cheese, grated
1 large egg
1 tsp whole grain mustard
Salt and pepper for seasoning
A good dash of Worcestershire sauce

In a bowl, whisk together the cheese, egg, mustard and Worcestershire sauce and season with salt and pepper. Place the crumpets under a hot grill and toast on both sides for a few minutes. Spoon half the cheese mixture on to each crumpet and grill until golden brown. If using an aga, this will take slightly longer. Serve immediately.

(Photo courtesy of www.aroundbritainwithapaunch.blogspot.com - thanks Jonathan)

Wednesday, 28 May 2008

This weekend we held a dinner party in our village and everyone was tasked with bringing a course each. Luckily I was given the dessert course - my favourite course! I started with a pre-dessert of margarita mousse with fleur de sel spoon cookies and lime pearls (not frozen peas as everyone thought!) with a good dose of edible glitter and a sprinkling of salt. The mousses contained tequila and cointreau and lots and lots of lime juice. We followed with rose and cardamom icecream with crystallized rose petals and baklava with cinnamon and walnuts (following on from a Greek themed main course) and a lovely lemon cheesecake made by Millie (who was hosting the dinner). Sharing out courses is such a good idea for a dinner party as it really shares the load and it is always fun to see what people come up with for their course.

Monday, 26 May 2008

I have baked so much cake this weekend that I am at risk of turning into a cupcake! It is a good job my hens are laying 9 eggs a day as I used 16 eggs in just one batch of cake batter! What would I do without them? This is the birthday cake I made for my sister in law Sejal who just turned 40. I had very little time to decorate it but was pleased with the result - it is amazing what you can do with a few fresh flowers and some pretty ribbon (I just fell in love with this Dragonfly ribbon the minute I saw it). I have also made a lot of cupcakes for children's parties this weekend - topped with flying saucers, dolly mixtures and jelly tots it was a real trip down memory lane of childhood sweets. When we were little my brother and I were given 10p every Friday to buy sweets - if we had been good! We used to plan all week what we were going to buy. Just thinking about this now makes me feel so old - I don't think you would get anything for 10p these days!

Friday, 23 May 2008

My mum is flying to America tomorrow to visit my brother for the first time since he moved there. My Mum is very, very scared of flying so this is a HUGE deal for her. I know that once she is there, she will have the best time ever and I have given her a long list of places to visit (mainly involving cake or cook shops - together with a list of things to buy for me!!!) Good luck Mum - you will love New York!

Mike recently sent through these photos of him and Mum working on their allotment setting potatoes - they even have a proper tractor! It is such a lot of work for them both but I think they enjoy it and we certainly benefit with lots of free vegetables! Roll on summer!

Wednesday, 21 May 2008

Lawyering has been getting in the way of the niceties of life this week! On Monday I attended a mediation in London to try to settle a case - we started at 9am on Monday and finally reached an agreement at 4.30am the following morning - no breaks and being in the same room for 19 1/2 hours non stop can't be good for you! As we left the building the dawn chorus had started and the sun was rising in the distance. It was a surreal experience, believe me! Yesterday was a write off - I finally made it back from London by lunchtime - trying desperately hard not to fall asleep on the train and miss my stop and then spent the rest of the day talking gibberish - definitely not fit for writing on a blog! I am still tired today even though I have had a good nights sleep. Who would be a lawyer eh?

Anyway, to nicer things...On Sunday we celebrated Mike's birthday at the Inn at Woburn. Woburn is one of my favourite places and definitely worth a visit if you are in Bedforshire. Aside from the Safari Park (we loved this as kids), it has some nice shops (if you are female!), a nice tea room and an antique centre. It has an annual Oyster Festival in September which is definitely worth a visit. My favourite place is the sewing shop although sadly I was banned from going in on Sunday. Having shown Susan my stash cupboard on Saturday I realised that I really, really don't need to buy any more sewing things for a LONG while.

These are the delicious puddings we had at the Inn at Woburn - an artists palette of ice cream, gooey chocolate brownie and a blackberry and apple pie with real custard. All were delicious, as were the Happy Birthday petite fours. Happy Birthday Mike!

Monday, 19 May 2008

I received a perfect gift at the weekend from my dear friend Susan who came to visit. Susan is a fellow avid sewer - she is the most immaculate stitcher I know and you could frame her work back to front and it would look just as stunning. Susan gave me the most wonderful knitted cake tape measure - it is so perfectly me (the pink and blue one in the picture). Together with my knitted cake teacosy, I think this means I have officially started a new collection of knitted cake items!

Friday, 16 May 2008

I don't think I have ever posted about my love of vegetable boxes. It is a real treat to get a box of mystery ingredients and then being able to decide what to cook (obviously not in a scary "Masterchef...lots of pressure/you have 40 minutes to create the dish of our dreams" way but in a more relaxed, browsing all my cook books for recipes kind of way). Being faced with a vegetable you don't usually cook, may take you out of your comfort zone but it means that we usually end up with a dish we have not tried before which is a good thing. There are lots of good vegetable delivery companies local to us and I support them as often as I can. We are also blessed with a good few farm shops that sell local produce. When I am looking for a treat and particularly when I am in need of lots of fresh herbs I order from none other than Gregg Wallace's vegetable company. They deliver to lots of the top British restaurants and I have to say (I am biased of course given the MC connections) that the vegetables are simply excellent - lovely micro leaves, peashoots, borage flowers and chive flowers and really fresh veg and fruit - lots of unusual things that I don't normally see in standard veg boxes. Each box comes with a large bag of fresh herbs - some of which I chop and freeze in ice cubes for a rainy day and the remainder of which I put in everything I cook until I have run out. There is something so decadent about having a large pile of herbs to use, rather than picking sparingly from the garden so that I don't use up my whole supply or buying the little packets from supermarkets. With my last delivery, I made oven dried tomatoes with some delicious yellow baby tomatoes that were in my box; simply cut your tomatoes in half and scoop out the seeds. Place on a baking sheet with baking paper or a silicon mat, drizzle with a good quality olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt, course ground black pepper and fresh herbs. Bake in the lowest possible setting of your oven for approximately 2 hours (Aga simmering oven is ideal for this) checking every half hour (and more often towards the end) until they are dried. Transfer to a sterilised jam jar and cover with olive oil to preserve. These are perfect in salads or with pasta.

Gregg's vegetable boxes are available from www.greggsveg.com
Still no camera - those fairies are really being very naughty and I think I am going to have to go and buy a new one... I now have clear evidence of their existing as a fairy ring of daisies has appeared in our garden (well a slightly wonky ring) - they have definitely moved in! Any recommendations for good digital cameras gratefully received!

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Several years ago I worked with a lawyer who was also a white witch (unlikely combination I know). He told me I would make a good witch as the alchemey of cookery is akin to creating spells. Whilst there may well be some merit in this theory, it was not a path I chose to investigate! He also told me about the naughty fairies that lived in his house who would hide his things - keys and such like. I completely dismissed this story as him just being forgetful about where he had left things. Alas I may have been wrong and fear that the naughty fairies have now moved into our cottage. My camera has disappeared - I know it is in the house somewhere but it has vanished. It is driving me mad as I can't take any photos for my blog!!! I am hoping that the naughty fairies will read this, take pity on me and return my camera to me immediately!

In the meantime, this is my mum's wisteria which has just come out. We are still waiting for ours to come out...I am beginning to worry that it might have died but am keeping my fingers crossed that it will soon bloom and make our cottage look lovely.

Monday, 12 May 2008

Muffy "helping" me work! She actually managed to send an e-mail the other day - sadly it was one to my boss and I had not finished typing it....she was trying to be helpful I'm sure! She has rather fallen for the little dog cupcakes on front of the Hello Cupcake book and spends a lot of her time sitting on it. She is a funny thing but good company when I am working in my home office!

My brother and I are fairly different types of people as I have mentioned before but we do have one major common interest - cooking. My brother and his girlfriend Amy are currently in the throws of "Operation Nightbrace" to pay off a rather large debt - here they are with their debtometer - they are making really good progress and I am so proud of them. You can read about their progress on their blog (apologies for the swearing - as I said we are different!!!)

In an attempt to save money, Gareth is cooking lots (not something he has done much of in New York given how easy it is to eat out). Here’s is his quick recipe for Squash soup…

Fry an onion and a clove of chopped garlic
Stir in a teaspoon of cumin and chilli flakes
Chuck in a chopped carrot
Chuck in a box of frozen squash (it is cheaper than fresh)
Tip in 750ml of vegetable stock
Blend in a food mixer
Return to heat
Serve with a drizzle of olive oil on top and a slice of toast

Good luck with the project guys - it is inspirational!

Wednesday, 7 May 2008

We have a lovely old church in our village - it has just had its windows cleaned for the first time that anyone in the village can remember (which means they hadn't been cleaned for at least 70 years and were very very grubby!) I can't begin to imagine what a difficult job it was for the window cleaner, patiently cleaning each tiny pane of glass on the stain glass windows. It took him a whole week to do but the church is now transform with so much light coming in! We have a flower rota in our village and everyone takes turns at decorating the church. This weekend was my yearly turn and these are my two arrangements!

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

Our May Day celebrations continued yesterday and we were blessed with a glorious sunny day here in Bedfordshire. We finally made it back to the Ickwell May Day celebrations (I had not been since I was a girl) and it was so special to see so many traditions that have long since been forgotten in other places. May Pole Dancing, the May Queen was crowned, Folk Dancing by Men in Smocks, decorated hoop competitions and some Morris Dancing - a short video for those of you who have not seen this traditional English dancing before! We took our picnic hampers and rugs and had a delicious picnic of lavender and fennel salad with roast chicken and a spicy chorizo pasta salad, followed by fresh
strawberries and ginger beer. A truly lovely afternoon.

Monday, 5 May 2008

They say good things come in threes! For me this week it is fours! Firstly lovely Amanda at Stressedoutmum seeksinspiration has been so kind in awarding me the "You Make My Day" award - I am honoured. Check out Amanda's lovely blog, particularly her luscious lemon meringue pie recipe. It now falls to me to bestow this award on a few of my favourite blogs who make my day:
Jonathan and Sarah at Around Britain With A Paunch
Sylvie at A Pot of Tea and a Biscuit
David at BooktheCook
Will at The Boy Done Food
Celia at Purple Podded Peas

Special mentions also go to Marie (who has already received the award from elsewhere otherwise would have received it from me) and also to Milhan who doesn't have a blog but regularly makes my day with posting lovely comments on my blog.

The second bit of excitement (well probably only exciting for us) is that our cottage has been featured in a Special Places article in BBC Good Homes Magazine - under the caption "Live it"! It is lovely to have someone else confirm that we live in a "special place"! You should be able to read the article by clicking on the photo.

Next month Delicious magazine are running my Wicked raspberry dessert feature. I have big shoes to fill as the article this month has been written by Marcus Wearing, who I adore and who has a michelin star or two. I was so excited when I reached the back of this months magazine to see that my raspberry and elderflower sundae with elderflower biscuits is the trailer for the July edition.

My final bit of good news - and really it should have come first above the other bits of news - is that I am publishing a cook book with Duncan Baird - A big book of cakes and cookies which will be released next year and will be translated and sold abroad!!! 365 recipes which is a fairly daunting task but definitely one that I am enjoying. Any requests or suggestions for cakes or cookies in the book, let me know!

Friday, 2 May 2008

Being someone who is an avid supporter of village traditions the first of May could not go by without a mention of May Day. There are so many wonderful traditions that surround this day - washing your face in May Day due will make you beautiful for the coming year, May garlands and May Lifting, the tradition of local boys carrying a girl in a floral decorated chair who would then find the boy of her dreams the following day. As children, May Day was celebrated in our household as my Mum was a Morris Dancer. Morris Dancing, Green Men and Maypole dancing are all key parts of a traditional May Day celebration. We usd to go to Ampthill Park in Bedfordshire, arriving at 5.30am. As the sun rose, people would dance accompanied by the green man next to Catherine of Arragon's Cross (as a complete aside the golden hare from the Masqerade book in the 1980s was buided in the park near the cross until it was found be a clever man who managed to unravel all the clues and codes - we tried and failed!). After sun rise we would go to a local pub which opened its doors early to serve breakfast before heading off to school. Sadly we live quite a way from Ampthill now and attending would require a very early start. My mum still goes and perhaps one of these years we will join her again! May Day celebrations continue this weekend and we are hoping to go to the May Queen pagent at Ickwell - with traditional May Pole Dancing and decorated hoop competitions and a real life May Queen with attendants and sceptre bearers. Happy May Day everyone - and don't forget to wash your faces in the dew this morning - I will be!