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, 25 November 2010

Yesterday I gave four demonstration/masterclasses at the Good Food Show in Birmingham - my last set of demos before Christmas - can you hear my whooping with joy that they are all done! Finally I can start to think about Christmas! The show was really good fun - I was on the British stage in between Rachael Allen and Gary Rhodes so felt very priviledged, demonstrating whoopie pies (the recipe for my pear and walnut whoopies is below if any of you want to have a try yourselves) and also demonstrated some christmas recipes and held two cook along masterclasses making pear galettes with calvados custard (which I am pleased to report didn't go lumpy!) Tim Kinnaird - who was a finalist on this years Masterchef - had a stand selling his delicious macarons - we ate far too many of these as they are seriously addictive and yesterday evening before leaving I took part in James Nathan (MC Winner 2008)'s scallop masterclass - I have never shucked a scallop before so it was good to learn a new skill - and the fried brioche bread (with a quails egg dropped into a hole in the bread and fried) was delicious, if a little naughty! All in all a really memorable day (highlight being that I managed to "acquire" a Masterchef mug!)

Toffee, Pear and Walnut Whoopie Pies
Makes 12 pies
Preparation time 30 minutes, cooking time 15 - 20 minutes

For the pies
125g butter or vegetable shortening, softened
200g caster sugar
1 large egg
1 tbsp maple syrup
320g self raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
250ml soured cream
1 ripe pear

For the toffee glaze
30g brown sugar
50ml maple syrup
1 tbsp butter

For the walnut cream
75g walnuts
100g caster sugar
300ml double cream

Equipment: Mixer or whisk, 2 Whoopie Pie pans greased with butter or two large baking trays greased and lined with silicon mats or greaseproof paper, piping bag with large round nozzle (optional)

Preheat the oven to Gas Mark 4/350F/180C. For the pies, cream together the butter and sugar in a mixing bowl for 2 – 3 minutes until light and creamy using an electric or hand whisk. Add the egg and maple syrup and mix again. Sift the flour and baking powder and add to the bowl together with the salt and soured cream. Whisk again until everything is incorporated. The mixture will be quite stiff and if you are mixing by hand you will need a strong arm. Add 100ml of hot, but not boiling water, and whisk into the mixture. If using Whoopie Pie pans, place a large spoonful of batter into each hole in the tin. If using a piping bag, spoon the batter into the bag fitted with a large round nozzle and pipe 12 rounds on each tray (about 6cm in diameter) leaving a gap between each pie as they will spread during cooking. Thinly slice the pear, removing the core and place two slices on top of 12 of the whoopie pie halves. Bake each tray for 10 – 12 minutes in the oven, turning the trays round half way through cooking to ensure even baking until the pies spring back when pressed lightly with your finger. When cooked, remove the pies from the oven, cool slightly then turn out to cool on a cooling rack.
Heat the ingredients for the toffee glaze in a saucepan over a gentle heat until the sugar has melted and then drizzle over the warm pear topped pies. This is best done on a cooling rack with foil or greaseproof paper underneath to catch any drips.
To prepare the walnut cream filling, sprinkle the walnut halves on a silicon mat or sheet of baking parchment. Heat the caster sugar in a pan over a gentle heat until it melts and goes a light golden colour. Do not stir the sugar whilst it is melting but watch very closely as it will burn easily if you are not careful. As the sugar starts to melt, swirl the pan to ensure even colouring. When the sugar has all melted, quickly use a spoon to drizzle the caramel over the walnuts, cool, then blitz to a fine dust in a food processor. Whip the cream to stiff peaks and fold through the walnut powder. Spoon the cream into a piping bag fitted with a large round and pipe circles of cream onto the bottom pie halves. Top with the toffee pear pie halves. As these pies contain fresh cream, they should be served immediately or stored in the fridge.

Monday, 22 November 2010

I wish to lodge a formal complaint on behalf of my poor hens. Our philandering rooster has packed his bags and moved next door. My poor hens just seem so sad. The reason behind the move is that my neighbour Pam has just got some new hens so the naughty rooster obviously decided he wanted a change of scene. Honestly! I am so cross with him. How could he leave my poor lovely girls (not to mention my home cooked porridge!!!) I imagine that he might come home in a few days or weeks - I have to say I hope so as I miss his quirky crow waking me up every morning.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Having done 8 cookery demos in the last 7 days, I am understandably feeling a little frazzled and am so glad it is Friday! Just Birmingham NEC next Wednesday (do come say Hi if you are at the Good Food Show) and then I will be able to relax! The third part of my gluten free book has had to take a back seat for the last week or so but baking resumed again before work this morning. I am now feeling all festive as there is a yummy warm spiced stollen loaf cooling in the kitchen. It gave me the perfect excuse to use the present my Mum gave me earlier in the week - a stollen pan - did you even know such things existed? I didn't! You fill the pan with dough and then invert it onto a baking sheet so that as the dough rises and bakes, the pan rises on top of the loaf giving the stolen its traditional shape. I wasn't expecting it to work too well with the gluten free dough (as it is very sticky and unkneadable) so imagine my delight when I took it out of the oven and it looked like a proper loaf. Thanks Mum for the lovely present and hurrah for being back on track with the book - only 17 more recipes to go - the end is in sight!

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

If you need a gift for a foodie who has everything, you may want to look at the delightful pinnies at http://www.poshpinnies.com/ - completely lovely with velvet bows on a variety of thick cotton prints. I bought the grey stripy one below with bright pink velvet trim at Olympia and love it (although within 30 minutes of the purchase I had managed to cover it in chocolate ganache during one of my demos - luckily it has washed out well). They have kids and mens aprons too!

Monday, 15 November 2010

Well I am just back from Masterchef Goes Live at Olympia. It has been the most exhausting but amazing two days! So lovely to see all the Masterchef peeps (especially Tim, Alex and Dhruv from this years series, John and Gregg and of course the lovely Andi Peters - pictured below with Alex, Andy and Chris eating one of my cupcakes from my cake decorating demonstration) and a big thank you to all from Haymarket and Shine for looking after us all so well. My "Talent" badge got us access to the VIP lounge which made us feel very special! My Mum and Aunt entered the pairs Live Invention Test cook off and beat 15 other pairs to take first prize. I was so proud of them and John and Gregg had nothing but praise for their trio of desserts. All in all a wonderful weekend and roll on the Good Food Show at Birmingham next week. I am there on the Wednesday so do pop and say Hi if you are there! (With many thanks to http://www.meemalee.com/ and @mastercheflive (twitter) for the borrowed pics as I didn't have a chance to take any)

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

My latest Hannah's kitchen article is out today - cute little gingerbread birdhouses to decorate your tree with. I am feeling all Christmassy already - only a few weeks until I can get the decorations down from the loft and plan buying our tree. I know it is only early November but you can't blame a girl who loves Christmas for getting a little excited (although of course I haven't even started to think about Christmas shopping yet - that will have to wait until my book is finished!)

Country and Town House - December 2010
I love Christmas with a passion and enjoy every minute of the run up to the big day, shopping for presents, wrapping, decorating the house, carol singing and enjoying warming mugs of mulled wine. Most of all I love all the Christmas baking - mince pies, stollen, indulgent champagne truffles and Christmas cake. There is no other time of the year when so much culinary indulgence can be justified and the scent of cinnamon and spices in the kitchen warms the heart. To get us in the Christmas spirit as early as possible, we always put up our Christmas tree on the first weekend of December. It is the perfect excuse to get baking and these spiced gingerbread cookies make delightful decorations with snowy icicles and a sprinkle of edible glitter. If you do not have a birdhouse cutter, make a template from cardboard, then cut out the cook dough using a sharp knife. I am sure these pretty cookies will delight any children you have visiting this Christmas, particularly if you make them together – I don’t know a single child who doesn’t love icing cookies!

Christmas Tree Birdhouse Cookies
Preparation time 30 minutes Cooking time 12 - 15 minutes
Makes 8 cookies
115g/4oz butter, softened plus extra for greasing
55g/2oz dark brown sugar
1 tbsp treacle
200g/7oz plain flour, sifted plus extra for dusting
1 tsp ground mixed spice
1 tsp ground cinnamon
300g royal icing sugar
Approx 50ml water
silver balls and edible glitter to decorate
white ribbon for hanging

Whisk together the butter, brown sugar and treacle. Mix in the flour, mixed spice and cinnamon to form a soft dough. Chill the dough in the fridge for an hour. Preheat the oven to Gas Mark 4/180C/350F and grease and line two baking trays. Roll out the dough to 1/2 cm thickness on a floured surface and cut out 8 birdhouse shapes using a birdhouse cutter or cardboard template. Using a 1 inch round cutter, cut out a hole in the centre of each birdhouse. Carefully transfer to the baking trays using a spatula. Bake for about 12 – 15 minutes until the cookies are firm. Allow the cookies to cool completely. Cut 30cm lengths of ribbon and tie into a loop. Poke one end of the loop through the hole in the centre of the cookie and secure by passing the other end of the loop through the first loop ensuring that the ribbons lie flat. Mix the royal icing sugar with the water and whisk for about 2 - 3 minute until the icing is stiff. Put the icing in a piping bag fitted with a small star nozzle and pipe icing along the top of the roof of the bird house so that it looks like icicles. Pipe a ring of icing stars around the hole of each bird house and allow the icing to set before hanging on your tree.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

These are my latest take on fairy cakes. Dainty cupcakes topped with whipped buttercream and decorated with edible paper wings. Simply cut out a pair of wings from two sheets rice paper and pipe thin icing lines around the edge in wing shapes to decorate. Top with a few sugar stars and hearts and lots of edible glitter and, once the icing has set and you are ready to serve (if the wings are left too long on the buttercream they will start to soften so it is best to assemble just before serving), press the wings gently into the buttercream. All very simple to prepare but effective looking and I have no doubt that these would delight any fairy princesses!

Monday, 8 November 2010

It is a while since I found any time to write on my blog. I have been very upagainst it with deadlines for the last few weeks. The good news is that "Mini Cakes and other sweet treats" has been submitted and I have almost finished 2/3rd of the gluten free baking book. I look forward to the day when it is finished and I can relax a little like peapod in this picture. Have you ever seen a more contented cat - lying upside down legs in the air and fast asleep. I now have to prepare for a cookery demonstration on Thursday and then the Good Food Show on Saturday and Sunday - trying not to get nervous.... I am going to be demonstrating pastry and cake decorating and also whoopie pies - hope I can remember how to make whoopie pies - it has been a while! Do come and say hello if you are at the show!