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, 29 July 2009

This is one of the wonderful hats we have for our teaparty that my brother brought over from America. Kathy has organised some local actors to put on a short Alice in Wonderland play - apparently I have a role as the cook complaining that there is not enough pepper in the tarts - although I have a feeling that I will be too busy cooking to appear in a play!!!!!
I am now in full swing preparing for our Alice in Wonderland Tea at the weekend - 60 guests - what a lot of baking to do! These are the little golden sugar pocket watch cake decorations I have made this evening - now I know that they pale into insignificance compared to Heston Blumenthal's real gold watch soups he made on his Feast programme - but I am proud of these all the same. They are coloured by my edible golden lustre spray from America - soooo cool! I have also made 60 "Eat Me" boxes to contain the mushroom and popping candy cupcakes that will be on each guests plate as they arrive. It is all getting very exciting! The menu is as follows:

Alice in Wonderland Mad Hatter's Tea Party

Dodo egg delights
Eat Me Stuffed Mushrooms
Old Father Williams Relish toasts
Fish footman “Dear Little Crab” tarts
Not enough pepper beau-ootiful soo-ouup
Mustard Mine Ham Sandwiches and Cucumber Sandwiches

Down the Rabbit Hole Cupcakes
Pocket Watch cupcakes
Eat Me Cakes
Looking glass biscuits
Treacle Well Biscuits
The Duchess' Melba Scones (with clotted cream home made peach preserves and raspberries)
Queen of Hearts garden fancies
Playing Card Millefuilles
Mouse in the pool of tears cupcakes
Stolen Jam Tarts – Off with their heads if anyone eats them
Cheshire Cat Cakes
Garden seedling and gravel cakes
Mock Turtle cakes
Flamingo biscuits – Anyone for croquet?
Maids of Honour Tarts
Flower Meringues from the Queens Garden of Live Flowers

Drink Me Lemonade
Sorry No Wine Available – but Pimms
“Twinkling Tea” (dormouse excluded)

I think the tickets are all sold but if anyone is interested in coming you could check with Kathy whether she has had any cancellations

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Sometimes coming in through the window just requires too much effort for Peapod - she literally stopped half way through for a rest!

Monday, 27 July 2009

Rather than buying any new sewing stash (I literally have drawers full of sewing things), I have been "persuaded" (ordered!) by my stitching friend Susan to complete some of my Works in Progress before I buy anything new. My list of Works In Progress is very long!! But I am pleased to report that last night I finished one of my WIP list - this lovely antique effect "Home is where my heart blooms" sampler. The fabric is dyed to make it look old and I think it works really well. I really love this little sampler and although the 2008 date is a stark reminder of when I started this project rather than when I finished it, I can't wait to get it framed and hung on the wall. Susan does this mean I can buy something new now??!!!!

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

There is something about the heady fragrance of almonds and frangipane that I love. The smell as these came out of the oven did not disappoint!

Cherry, Almond and Pistachio Muffins

Preparation time 15 minutes Cooking time 15 – 20 minutes
Makes 12 muffins

250g/9oz self raising flour, sifted

1tsp baking powder

100g/3½oz caster sugar

150g/5½oz butter, melted

3tbsp buttermilk

150ml/5floz/scant 2/3 cup milk

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

100g/3 1/2oz preserved or fresh cherries, chopped and stones removed

60g/2 oz pistachios, coarsely ground

60g/2oz ground almonds

1 tsp almond essence

Preheat the oven to Gas Mark 4/180°C/350°F and place muffin cases in a 12 hole muffin pan. Place the flour, baking powder, sugar, pistachios and ground almonds in a large mixing bowl and stir well with a large spoon. Whisk together the 100g/3½oz of the melted butter, milk, buttermilk, almond essence and eggs in a separate bowl. Pour the liquids into the dry ingredients and fold in with a large spoon. Stir in the cherries. Divide the mixture between the muffin cases and bake for 15 – 20 minutes until the muffins are golden brown and firm to touch. Leave to cool.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Having finished my ice cream book I have had a fair few people suggesting that I should get an ice cream van to peddle my home made ice creams. It was on the news this morning that, although people buying ice cream from vans in the street is declining in the UK (due to the rise in freezers at home!), the rise of music festivals and events has seen an increase in ice cream vans and it therefore seems the industry has a stable future. Perhaps it is something I should consider after all!!!! My brother sent me these pictures of a New York ice cream van to inspire me - it looks so lovely and is exactly the sort of van I would love to have! The menu is just beautiful with its pretty drawings of the plants the ingredients come from and I love the fact that they have Michel Cluizel hot chocolate sauce and also serve banana splits! On the Sundae book front, I have now received a copy of the draft book jacket and I can safely say it is looking LOVELY! Steve has done a better job than I could ever have imagined - very pink and blue with a stripey neopolitan sundae on the front cover and a banoffee split on the back. The book has a new title "Sundaes and Splits" and I have added a new hot rum and raisin banana split recipe which we liked a lot - and I don't even like bananas! One of the recipes is printed on a polka dot pink page - I love this effect!!! Sadly the pictures are still under wraps at the moment but I will share with you as soon as I am allowed to!

Monday, 20 July 2009

Tuna Niçoise with Truffled Duck Eggs

Serves 4 Preparation time 20 minutes, cooking time 20 minutes

500g charlotte or baby potatoes
180g green beans
600g tuna fillets
1 tbsp chives, finely chopped
1 large spring onion, finely chopped
6 duck eggs
2 tsp truffle salt
Juice and zest of 4 limes
2 tsp Dijon mustard
3 tsp clear honey
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to season

Marinade the tuna in the juice of 1 lime, 1 tablespoon of olive oil and freshly ground salt and pepper whilst you prepare the vegetables and eggs for the salad. Place the duck eggs in a pan of boiling water and simmer for 10 minutes for soft boiled eggs. Immediately place the eggs in a bowl of cold water and when cool enough to handle tap the shells with the back of a spoon and unpeel. Cut the eggs in half and sprinkle each egg with a little truffle salt. Simmer the potatoes in boiling water for about 20 minutes until cooked – a knife will come out easily when inserted into a potato when cooked. Chill in cold water. Blanche the green beans in boiling water for 3 – 5 minutes, drain and chill in cold water. Whisk together the juice of the remaining two limes with the lime zest, mustard, honey, remaining olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Arrange the salad leaves in a large bowl with the beans, potatoes, chives, spring onion and duck eggs. Heat a griddle pan until it is very hot, then sear the tuna fillets for 1 – 2 minutes on each side. The tuna should still be pink in the middle. Slice the tuna into thick slices and add to the salad, drizzle with the lime and honey dressing and serve immediately with crusty bread.

Friday, 17 July 2009

I have been in Bavaria for the last few days on a work trip. Now although not quite as nice as being on a holiday - it was lovely to be in Germany and see the wonderful countryside. I have never seen hops growing before and the area we were in was the main hop growing area of Germany. They looked almost like something from Day of the Triffieds - enormously tall and covering huge areas of the countryside. Hops meant delicious local beer and it was the Pfifferlinger (Chanterelle) Mushroom season so we feasted on delicious mushrooms with schnitzel, mushrooms with dumplings - so many mushrooms that I could almost be turning into one - washed down with Radler (Shandy!!!)! We had been booked into a very strange hotel - so strange that our rooms we in the attic of the next door hospital so we had to climb three flights of stairs past the wards to our rooms. I opened my bedroom door to be greeted by a long corridor with several rooms of beds off - there were even two beds in the little kitchen room and one made up in the corridor - it was VERY strange, but made us laugh a lot - I am sure it was a hospital ward!!! The only downside to the trip was that my tickets for Harry Potter on Wednesday had to go to waste as I was away and so I am very much looking forward to seeing it this weekend! Have a good weekend everyone xxx

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

I had a request for another garden cake last weekend but this time I made it with two tiers and I did like the result - I love the terrace effect and had found some very pretty sugar daisies which set the garden off nicely, together with my new twisted pastel candles that my brother bought over from America. The cake was for Kate who likes Ladybirds so there were lots of sugar ladybirds dotted throughout the garden! With some little gluten free garden cupcakes as well for Lucy, Kate "almost" sister in law and my friend - they looked very pretty together. Happy Birthday Kate xxx

Monday, 13 July 2009

This morning I awoke to the loudest Hallabollu coming from the chicken pen. A nasty fox snaffled one of our hens from outside our back door in broad daylight last week in our full view and since then the hens have been kept in their pen so that they are safe. With the very loud clucking this morning, I went out with some trepidation convinced the fox had returned. Imagine my surprise at the intruder bothering the hens - a Grey Heron (thanks Celia for the correct identification!) sitting quietly on the lawn. Not quite sure what the hens were fussing about as the heron didn't seem interested in them at all and I was very glad to catch a glimpse before he flew away!

Saturday, 11 July 2009

When we go on holiday to France, there are always so many beautiful fields filled with poppies and wild flowers, nestled in amongst the vineyards. Imagine our delight that similar fields of poppies are now appearing close to our village. They just take your breath away with their sea of red bobbing heads swaying in the wind.

Thursday, 9 July 2009

On my recent trip to Austria, I discovered pumpkin seed oil. It has a delicious nutty flavour and is perfect drizzled on pumpkin soup topped with a few toasted pumpkin seeds. It is also lovely as a base for pesto, replacing traditional olive oil, blended together with basil, parsley, lemon juice and zest, some pumpkin seeds for crunch, a garlic clove and of course a good few spoonfuls of parmesan. So if you see some pumpkin seed oil, why not give it a try!

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

The weekend saw our village fete! As we are a fairly small village it was held jointly with two other adjoining villages. Perfect weather, lots of lovely stalls and a candy floss machine - yum yum! I was put in charge of manning the cake stall (what a surprise) with lovely Jane where we dutifully sold cupcakes, cakes, flapjacks and punnets of fresh redcurrants for two hours until everything was gone - allowing us to pack up our stall early - what a result! My new enormous cake stand made its first appearance and I thought it looked lovely adorned with pretty cupcakes! The cherry cupcakes were my favourite - with their fizzy cherry decorations - closely followed by the yellow bee cupcakes! We left exhausted but happy and had raised lots of money for a good cause.

PS - sorry for the lack of posts - my internet has decided not to work properly this week : o ( and just won't upload photos...

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

I was busy clearing out one of our bedrooms last night (finally putting the Christmas decorations in the loft - shocking I know as it is now July!) and I spotted some unusual birds on the river bank in our garden. This is the latest area we are working on in the garden and it has been stripped and cleared ready for us to decide what to put there. I quickly got my camera and discovered that it was a family of 3 owls. They were all hopping round a hole that had cheeping coming from it so I think they might have some babies - although I wonder whether owls actually nest in the ground (hopefully one of you is an avid birdwatcher and will know the answer) or perhaps the fluffy owl is actually the chick. Anyway - it was a very special treat to see three of them together and I thought I would share it with you. If anyone knows what sort of Owls these are I would love to know - they look a little like a Barred Owl when I search on Google.