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 January 2009

Peapod has been busy helping me "work" - yesterday she managed to send out quite a lot of unfinished e-mails. She loves to chase the curser on the screen and then just collapses asleep either on my arm as I am typing or just falling out of her basket

Every since watching "Come Dine With Me" last week where one of the contestants made volcanic meatballs (I know it is a sad confession that I watch this but the voiceover man is so rude about all the contestants that it makes me laugh) I have been craving meatballs! So here is our version!

Meatballs with Chorizo Sauce
Serves 3 - 4

400g good quality beef mince
1 egg, beaten
2 tbsp chopped fresh herbs (rosemary, parsley, thyme, chives etc)
salt and pepper
2 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 red chilli, chopped
150g chorizo picante, skin removed and finely chopped
150ml maderia wine
400g tinned plum tomatoes, chopped
grated cheese to serve

In a bowl, mix together the mince, egg, herbs and season well with salt and pepper. Roll the mixture into 8 - 10 small balls, cover and place in the fridge whilst you prepare your sauce. In a large frying pan, heat 1 tbsp of olive oil and gently fry the onion, garlic and chilli until soft. Add the chorizo and fry for a further 3 - 4 minutes until the spicy oil from the chorizo is released. Pour in the Maderia wine and simmer for a further 3 - 4 minutes. Add the tomatoes and leave to simmer for 20 minutes over a gentle heat until the sauce thickens. Season with salt and pepper. Heat the remaining oil in a saucepan and gently fry the meatballs until lightly browned. This should take about 10 minutes. Transfer to the tomato sauce and cook for a further 10 minutes. Serve with freshly cooked pasta topped with grated cheese

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Herb Struffed Chicken with Lemon Sauce
Preparation time 20 minutes, cooking time 2 hours
Serves 4

1 x 2 kilo/4 ½ lb whole chicken
200g/7oz cream cheese
1 tbsp chopped chives
1 tsp chopped rosemary
3 spring onions, finely chopped
salt and pepper
4 lemons
500ml/17floz white wine
Olive oil to drizzle
300ml/10floz double cream

Preheat the oven to Gas Mark 5/190C/375F. Starting at the neck, push your thumbs under the skin of the chicken to form a pocket. Mix together the cheese, chives, rosemary, spring onions and zest of two of the lemons and season with salt and pepper. Spoon the cheese under the skin of the chicken and smooth out evenly using your fingers. Cut two lemons in half and place in the chicken cavity. Season the chicken, place in a roasting tin and drizzle with olive oil.
Roast for 20 minutes and then add the wine to the tin. Cook the chicken for a further 1 ½ - 1 ¾ hours, basting regularly, until the juices of the chicken run clear, then remove from the oven.
Whilst the chicken is resting, pour the juices from the roasting pan into a saucepan and add the juice of the remaining two lemons. Simmer gently for 5 minutes, then add the cream and season with salt and pepper. Whisk over a gentle heat for a further minute to thicken. Serve the warm roast chicken with the lemon sauce and seasonal vegetables.

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Our new resident has made herself at home. I didn't realise what a full time job having a kitten was - we are both EXHAUSTED! But it is moments like this when, at the end of the day, she falls asleep on us, upside down, snoring loudly, that makes it all worthwhile! Thank you all for the lovely name suggestions - I definitely love cupcake but if I stood outside our backdoor shouting cupcake, our neighbours would think I was testing for the book again and that free samples were on offer! We have started to call her PeaPod and although not the most elegant of names, it seems to have stuck and suits her - this gets varied to Little Pea and Sweet Pea when she is being good (not often!!!!) and Pod is part of our village name so it seems to fit! Her personality has completely changed and far from the timid little kitten we took home a week ago, she is now leaping round my office, jumping on my keyboard and tipping everything over. It is chaos but we do love her.

Friday, 23 January 2009

Wonderful flowers from the Conservatory at Buxton

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Last weekend we had a wonderful trip to Buxton in the Peak District to see the Chinese State Circus - lots of amazing acrobatics and aerial ribbon performances - just brilliant! Buxton is an old spa town with a wonderful opera house (complete with painted ceiling) and enormous conservatory and I could just picture Victorian ladies in crinaline dresses drinking the waters (we tried them and they were delicious!), bathing in the spa and walking in the park. Buxton even had old fashioned post boxes that are still in use. It was so lovely to be up in the peak district - I had forgotton how breath taking the scenery is. The wonky church tower is genuine - we saw it in Chesterfield on our way home.

Monday, 19 January 2009

I wanted to introduce you to the newest member of our family - a kitten we adopted from the RSPCA yesterday. She is a dear little thing - although very timid having been abandoned when she was just a few weeks old. It amazes me that people can be so cruel as she is so pretty and has such a sweet nature. She is a complete ragbag of colours - tabby, tortie, ginger cross with white front paws and grey back paws and a stripy tail! We are working on a name - Jemima, Lyra, Matila, Ginger Maisy (this is Josh and Rosie's choice), Pixie, Petal are all in the running. Any suggestions gratefully received! She looks contented already, doesn't she!

Friday, 16 January 2009

Although not edible, I have completely fallen in love with these Italian soaps that I discovered on my trip to London last week - tomato, pumpkin, lettuce and cucumber. They smell good enough to eat and are almost too good to use - although that hasn't stopped us. I am wondering whether they could be persuaded to develop a dessert range with pecan pie and lemon meringue perhaps!

Thursday, 15 January 2009

Venison, Chorizo and Truffle Ragu

Serves 4

1 tbsp olive oil
1 red onion, peeled and thinely sliced
salt and pepper (I used truffle salt)
125g cubed pancetta
300g venison sausages
100g chorizo picante, skinned and chopped into small pieces
200g mini plum tomatoes, halved
1tbsp balsamic vinegar
250ml red wine
1 dessertspoon truffle paste or a drizzle of truffle oil
parmesan and tagliatelli pasta to serve

In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil and onion over a gentle heat until soft and translucent. Remove the sausages from their skins, cut into small pieces and add to the pan together with the pancetta and chopped chorizo. Stir and cook for about 5 minutes until the meat has cooked through and the chorizo has released its oil. Add the wine, vinegar and tomatoes and leave to simmer on a gentle heat for 30 minutes until the sauce has thickened. Remove from the heat and stir through the truffle paste or drizzle with a little truffle oil. Stir the ragu through cooked pasta and serve with freshly grated parmesan.
Also tagging Lynne of Whetlands in the photo meme as she asked to be tagged and judging by the photos on her blog and her interesting travels her fourth photo will be worth seeing I'm sure!

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

I have been tagged in a photo me-me by lovely Phillipa of The Genius Academy

These are the rules:

1. Take your fourth picture folder
2. Fourth picture--no exceptions!
3. Post it, and tell about it.
4. Tag four more people

So this is Snape Maltings in Suffolk - two and a half years ago - at a food festival where Rick Stein gave a demonstration. There was a lovely cook shop and I spent lots of money without telling Sacha!!! We stayed at the Swan Hotel in Southwold, walked through the reed beds and on the beach and had a lovely holiday. This was one week before I was called to ask if I would be a stand in on Masterchef, before the days of blogging and writing recipes, before my live was turned upside down! There is an old sail boat in the distance - thats about it for interest in this photo!

I tag: Gareth of Operation Night Brace - as no doubt his 4th photo will probably be interesting or dodgy!
Jonathan of AroundBritainWithAPaunch - as he takes good photos and I am sure his will be worth looking at
Celia of PurplePoddedPeas - as I am secretly hoping her fourth photo will be one of her chickens
Aileen of Wishful Thinking - as she posted on my blog as I was typing this post!

Over to you guys!

Monday, 12 January 2009

On Friday I was invited to the studio where they are taking the pictures for the book. As you can imagine I was sooo excited! Suzanne the designer, Bridget the home economist and her son who was sous cheffing, William the photographer and his assistant - I would never have imagined that so many people would be there and how long it would take to do each shot. I really will never look at cook books in the same way again. My favourite part was the long tables of crockery and cloths of all different colours - lots of floral fabrics and dainty tea cups that I wanted to bring home (sadly they are all rented!). Bridget has such a dream job - cooking recipes for photos all day long.

Friday, 9 January 2009

My Christmas stocking this year contained a lot of salt. This may sound slightly strange but they were very welcome gifts. Truffle scented salt from Amy - perfect for adding to scrambled eggs. Spiced welsh Halen Mon salt which adds a wonderful flavour rubbed onto roast beef or pork (I used this salt to flavour my tomato foccacia in the final of Masterchef) and chilli salt from Tina which is great for spiced roast potatoes or adding extra kick to curries. All packed with flavour so that only a little of each salt is needed. To make chilli salt yourself, place flaked sea salt in a clean jam jar with a level tablespoon of crushed dried red chillies. Seal with a lid, shake well and leave for a week or so for the flavours to infuse.

Thursday, 8 January 2009

Our lovely hen Cerys, who, despite the freezing temperatures this week has laid us a blue egg every day. It must be their diet of warm porridge, warm lentil soup and freshly baked bread that they have enjoyed this week as a special treat! My hens spoilt? Most definitely!

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

It is -8C outside today. My poor chickens are very cold and their water is frozen. What did I decide to do in this weather - make icecream!!!!! I know, I am completely mad. It came about because during out holiday in Suffolk we had snickers ice cream and since we returned, Sacha has been asking me to try and recreate it for him or to make peanut sorbet for him (which I think would be yukky). With our lovely German friend Maren staying for the last few days, we decided to give it a try. There was a debate about whether the chocolate chips were a step too far (I liked them but Sacha thought they were too crunchy) so these are optional!

Chocolate Peanut Caramel Ice Cream

2 large eggs
150g caster sugar
2 heaped tbsp crunchy peanut butter
225g clotted cream
250ml double cream
200ml ready made custard
3 tbsp caramel sauce
100g chocolate chips (optional)

Whisk together the eggs, caster sugar and peanut butter until light and creamy. Add the creams and custard and whisk again gently so that you have a smooth mixture. Do not overwhip. Freeze in an ice cream machine according to manufacturers instructions. When the ice cream is almost frozen stir in the chocolate chips and fold in the caramel sauce in swirls. As this contains raw eggs it is not suitable for pregnant women or young children.

There you are - completely inappropriate given the weather, but we ate it all just the same sitting in front of the log fire!!!

Friday, 2 January 2009

With Christmas festivities behind us, the long winter months until Spring lie ahead. January brings with it hope of the new year to come and bobbing snowdrops. The best cure for winter blues is indulging in scrumptious treats! If you are like me and have some smoked salmon left over after Christmas, this is a perfect way to use it up

Leek and Smoked Salmon Tarts
Preparation time 20 minutes Cooking time 25 – 30 minutes

Makes 6 tarts

500g/17½oz shortcrust pastry
3 large leeks, cleaned and finely sliced
85g/3oz salted butter, plus extra for greasing
100g/3½oz smoked salmon, plus extra for decoration
300ml sour cream
3 egg yolks
1 ½ tbsp finely chopped chives
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
Salt and pepper to season
Crème fraiche, to serve

Preheat the oven to Gas Mark 5/190C/375F and grease six 4inch tart tins. Roll out the pastry on a floured surface to ½ cm thickness. Cut out six circles of dough and press one circle of pastry into each tin. Trim the edge of the pastry with a sharp knife. Line each pastry case with greaseproof paper, fill with baking beans and bake blind for 12 – 15 minutes until the pastry is crisp and golden brown. Cook the leeks in the butter over a gentle heat until they are soft. Season with salt and pepper and then set aside to cool slightly. Whisk together the sour cream, egg yolks, chives, lemon zest and juice. Divide the leeks and smoked salmon between the pastry cases and pour over the lemon and chive cream. Bake for 12 – 15 minutes until the cream has set. Serve warm or cold, topped with a little crème fraiche, a small piece of smoked salmon and chopped chives.

Thursday, 1 January 2009

Happy New Year Everyone! Thank you for all your lovely Christmas and New Year wishes. I wish you all a very happy and prosperous 2009