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, 27 February 2009

Pick Me Up Cookies
These cookies do just as the name suggests - offer an instant "sugary lift" to those in need of some t.l.c. Next time someone you know is feeling a little down, why not bake them a batch of these cookies, wrap in a clear platic bag with a ribbon. Your friend will be thrilled to know you care enough to bake for them and is sure to feel much better.
Preparation time 10 minutes cooking time 10 -12 minutes
Makes 15
175g/6oz butter
200g/7oz cream cheese
115g/4oz dark muscavado sugar
225g/8oz self raising flour
55g/2oz cruched amaretti biscuits
55g/2oz shredded coconut
100g/3 1/2 oz plain chocolate chips
200g/7oz white chocolate toblerone, chopped into chunks (or white chocolate if you do not have white chocolate toblerone)
Preheat the oven to Gas Mark 5/190F/375C and grease and line two baking trays. In a mixing bowl cream together the butter, cream cheese, sugar and flour using a whisk until you have a light and creamy mixture. Stir through the amaretti biscuits, coconut and both chocolates. Place tablespoonfuls of the mixture into the trays and bake for 10 - 12 minutes until the cookies are golden brown. Allow to cool for a few minutes on the tray then transfer to a cooling rack using a spatula.
Well today could not go by without a mention of the Masterchef finale yesterday - my heart was pounding all the way through and it was as if I was transported back to all the stress again. The standard of the final this year is amazing and I would happily have eaten any of the dishes served. I particularly loved the lavender and bramble mousse and thought Mat was a worthy winner - although it was such a close run thing. Andy and Mat both have blogs if anyone is interested and I will be following them keenly to see where they go to work - www.thewildgarlicblog.co.uk and www.thecooksbroth.blogspot.com. I am sure over the next few weeks they will be posting interesting behind the scenes info on all their tasks. Well done all three of you!

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Just one more cute picture of peapod! It is so rare that she is lovely and cuddly like this - normally she is running up and down the curtails, leaping round the sofas and has taken a liking to breaking Christmas baubles (which really should be in the loft and not in the spare bedroom!!) The other day we caught her swinging from the curtain pole about 2.5m above the ground peeping over the pole - if she hadn't looked so cute we would have been cross with her but she was just having so much fun! She keeps attaching the radio when it is on as she thinks it is a person!

Monday, 23 February 2009

This weekend I was asked to make a 70th birthday cake. In my defence it was fairly short notice and I knew nothing about the chap's interests (and as he was a chap, flowers were out!) It was one of those cakes where I started with a white cake, having no idea how it would end up, and dipped into my trusty cake decoration box! This was the result!! Now, had this been a cake for a cheerleader or a pep rally or the fourth of July even it would have been spot on! Nevertheless they seemed pleased with it, despite the mad feathers!

Friday, 20 February 2009

I take no creative credit for these cute little cookies. I saw them in Germany with Maren when I was there a few weeks ago and thought that I just had to try and make them myself - and they worked!!! These cookies would be perfect for a children's party - threaded with red liquorish boot laces for extra decoration.

Cinnamon Buttons
Preparation time 10 minutes, baking 10 - 12 minutes
Makes 15
55g/2oz caster sugar
115g/4oz butter
250g/6oz plain flour
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tbsp milk
Preheat the oven to Gas Mark 4/350F/180C. Cream together the butter and caster sugar with a whisk until light and creamy. Add the flour, cinnamon and milk and bring together with your hands to form a soft dough. On a flour surface, roll out the dough to 1/2 cm thickness and cut out 15 round circles. Transfer to a lined baking sheet. Use a slightly smaller round cutter to make an indent inside each cookie - take care that you don't cut all the way through though. Make 4 holes - I used a 1cm round icing nozzle which worked well, but you could use a skewer if you don't have an icing nozzle. Bake for 10 - 12 minutes until the cookies are golden brown.

Thursday, 19 February 2009

Some weeks are just way too busy - this is one of those weeks. In addition to trying to proof read the book (I am so slow and it feels like I will never get to the end at the moment), I have two magazine deadlines today and rather than being organised and getting them done in advance, I have of course, Masterchef-style, left everything to the last minute. Yesterday evening saw some frantic apple and gingerbread muffins and potato and rosemary bread and this morning by 7.30 I had cooked rack of lamb with a spring bean salad. I had to drop the baskets of cloths, plates and the dish to Jess who very kindly does the photos for Country House before I started work at 8am. What a rush but at least I have got everything done and it feels a relief to be sitting at my desk. I have a meeting here at 9am and I am wondering whether my colleagues will think it strange that the house smells of roast lamb at 9am in the morning!!!

Monday, 16 February 2009

Steamed Ginger Pudding
Preparation time 25 minutes, cooking time 1 ½ - 2 hours
Serves 4
5 tbsp golden syrup
85g/3oz stem ginger preserved in syrup, chopped and syrup retained
170g/6oz self raising flour, sifted
85g/3oz vegetarian suet
100g/3½oz caster sugar
zest of 1 orange
55g/2oz dried cranberries or sultanas
125ml/4¼floz milk
1 tbsp lemon juice
Custard to serve

Grease a large pudding basin with butter and place the golden syrup in the bottom of the bowl together with 2 tbsp of the ginger syrup from the preserved ginger. Place the flour, suet, caster sugar, chopped ginger and cranberries or sultanas in a bowl and add the milk gradually stirring with a wooden spoon until you have a soft and slightly sticky dough. You may not need all of the milk. Spoon the mixture on top of the syrup, filing the basin three quarters full. Take a large sheet of baking parchment and one of silver foil and place one on top of each other. Fold a pleat down the centre of the sheets, to allow room for the pudding to expand. Cover the basin with the foil and fold tightly around the rim of the basin. Secure with string, adding extra string across the top of the basin to act as a handle. Half fill a large saucepan with water and place the pudding basin inside. Cover with a tight fitting lid and simmer for 1 ½ - 2 hours. You will need to check the pudding regularly to ensure that the water does not all evaporate. Top up the water as necessary. When cooked, the pudding should feel firm to touch and a knife should come out clean with no cake batter on when inserted into the centre of the pudding. Just before the pudding is cooked, simmer the remaining 3 tbsp of golden syrup with the lemon juice in a saucepan until the syrup has melted. Slide a knife around the edge of the basin and invert onto a serving plate. Serve straight away with the extra syrup poured over and custard.

I do apologise to anyone using internet explorer rather than firefox as it appears you haven't been able to see the above recipe as I posted in Linux rather than microsoft - hopefully this is resolved now!

Friday, 13 February 2009

Yesterday was a milestone day - I received the proof of my book in the post! It is the first time I have seen all the recipes and pictures together in one place and I was so excited to finally hold it in my hands. Allee my editor and Suzanne the designer have done such a wonderful job and have transformed my boring and rambling word document containing recipes into something that most definitely looks like a book! I am so pleased with it. With the release date now confirmed as October 09 for both the UK and the USA, the days have started counting down. My lovely publishers Duncan Baird (www.dbp.co.uk) have very kindly said that I can show you a sneak preview of some of the pages of the proof - Lemongrass loaf cakes, Attwood cookies (with white chocolate, sour cherries and almonds, named after the lovely Katie Attwood of Masterchef who called me to be a last minute stand in on the programme) and Key Lime Mousse cake!

Thursday, 12 February 2009

Last weekend was our friend David's birthday - his cake, a choca mocha meringue mousse cake! Although there are a lot of steps to this recipe, it is worth the effort!

Choca Mocha Meringue Cake
Serves 8 Preparation time 40 minutes, baking time 1 hour, setting time 1 hour

For the meringue cake
6oz butter, plus extra for greasing
6oz + 10 1/2 oz caster sugar
6 eggs, separated
6oz self raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
200ml milk
1 tbsp instant coffee granuales dissolved in 1 tbsp boiling water and cooled
1 tsp cream of tartar
For the mousse
14oz 70% cocoa solid plain chocolate
3 eggs, separated
1 tbsp instant coffee granules dissolved in 1 tbsp boiling water and cooled
For the cream topping
300ml double cream
1 tbsp instant coffee granules dissolved in 1 tbsp boiling water and cooled
3 1/2 oz white and milk chocolate, grated into curls and chocolate coffee beans for decoration (optional)

Begin by preparing the mousse filling. Melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water until the chocolate has melted. Ensure that the bottom of the bowl does not touch the water. Stand for 10 minutes to cool and then beat in the egg yolks and coffee. Whip the egg whites to stiff peaks and fold into the chocolate mixture with a spatula. Leave to chill in the fridge for one hour.
For the cake, grease two 20in spring form tins with a little butter and preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas Mark 6. Whisk together the butter and 6oz of caster sugar until light and creamy. Add the egg yolks and whisk again. Sift in the flour and baking powder, add the milk and coffee and gently fold in with a spatula. Divide the cake mixture between the two cake pans. Whisk the remaining egg whites to stiff peaks with the cream of tartar and then gradually add the remaining 10 1/2 oz of caster sugar until you have a glossy meringue. Spoon half the meringue mixture over each cake and spoon level with a spatula. Bake in the oven for 25 - 30 minutes and then reduce the oven temperature to 140C/275F/Gas Mark 1 and bake for a further 30 minutes until the meringue is crisp. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely in the tins. When you are ready to serve, invert one of the meringue cakes onto a serving plate and cover with spoonfuls of the set mousse. Place the second cake on top. Whip the double cream and coffee to stiff peaks and spread over the top of the cake. Sprinkle with the chocolate curls. If you are decorating with chocolate coffee beans, retain a little of the cream and pipe into swirls around the edge of the cake, topping each swirl with a coffee bean.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

It seems like a long time ago now but the weekend before last I visit my German friend Maren together with my friend Tina in Hamburg and we went on a trip to Berlin. This was the start of the snow and it was bitterly cold - we managed a trip to the Reichtstag and the Brandedburg Gate and then had a very long leisurely lunch with Schnitzle and Kaiserschmaren - Emporer Pancakes (fluffly butter pancakes) with poached plums - soooo delicious - for anyone wanting to try there is a recipe here. The new dome on the Reichtstag was made by none other than our own Gherkin designer, Norman Foster. The dome contains a spiral runway so that you can walk up to the top. It is free to go in and definitely worth queuing - even in the snow.

Monday, 9 February 2009

I love the snow - it is my favourite type of weather, but enough is enough! Last week I was stranded on a slip road off the M11 in the snow at 1.30am on my own - scared was not the word. By some miracle a gritter came along and I followed it - it took me to Stansted airport where I was luckily able to get a bed for the night. I then got stuck in Suffolk and now, having finally made it home, I have been unable to leave the house since Tuesday as we are snowed in. Our lane is completely impassable with 6 inches of ice covering the whole road. I thought that I had a well stocked larder cupboard and freezer but they are both becoming quite bare. I have to be very grateful to my hens who, despite the cold, are still laying 6 eggs a day. Whatever happens there will always be omlettes! Our cars got stuck in the snow and it took 6 neighbours to move them. It is a good job we live in such a lovely community and everyone has been helping each other out. Peter and Susan even walked three miles to the Co-op to collect provisions for everyone - using ski poles - thats how much snow we have! And the forecast for today .....snow storms in the Midlands - we are bracing ourselves for things to get worse! I hope that you are all surviving in the snow.