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Food: Summer recipes from Bury's MasterChef star

Fresh from this year’s MasterChef quarter final, Hannah Gregory from Bury St Edmunds tells Alice Ryan about her time on the TV talent show - and shares a pair of must-make recipes

MasterChef quarter finalist Hannah Gregory from Bury St Edmunds (36172289)
MasterChef quarter finalist Hannah Gregory from Bury St Edmunds (36172289)

Firstly: congratulations on making the MasterChef quarter final! What was the highlight of the experience? We're guessing Gregg describing your lamb stew as 'nothing short of genius' must be up there?

Thank you so much! Gosh, there were so many highlights. . . but I think the main one for me was realising that cooking is exactly what I want to do with my life. Just an overwhelming feeling of ‘Ohhhh, this is it, I get it now - this is what I am meant to do’. But the genius lamb moment was a very close second.

What inspired you to enter the competition? We know you watched it for a decade before taking the plunge.

At the beginning of the year I was feeling a little lost in my career; I’d sort of fallen out of love with it and I think life is so short, we owe it to ourselves to figure out what really makes us happy. I went travelling and couldn’t shake this feeling that I wanted a career in food. When I got home the applications opened and it just all seemed to fit.

What's been the impact of your success on the show? Your day job has been in music festival production till now, so are you planning a career change?

I would absolutely love a career in food, yes, but the music festival world has been very good to me. It’s allowed me to travel and meet the most incredible people - I won’t be turning my back on it just yet. I hope to be able to find a balance in doing both. As soon as we are safe and able I will be launching a private dining service and of course my supper clubs: I managed to get one club in pre-corona and it was amazing, so I cannot wait till we are able to do them again. I have also picked up a monthly food column for Bury Free Press so am feeling very grateful right now.

To rewind: when did you fall in love with cooking? Was yours a foodie childhood?

I have loved food and cooking from before I can remember. I had a children's cookbook and loved working my way through the recipes - I was a bit obsessive, that was all I wanted to do on my weekends. I discovered Jamie Oliver when I was about 13 and it was an absolute game changer. He just inspired me to cook at every opportunity.

Your travels have influenced your cooking too, haven't they? Tell us about a favourite dish and/or flavour, which you discovered abroad and is now a staple in your own kitchen.

Yes. WanderSups, my supper club, is all about bringing food from far flung countries back home and recreating it. I travel a lot and my main objective is to eat as much as humanly possible! Last year I went to Mexico for a month. I thought I knew what a taco was before that trip but I had no idea - I went to 28 taquerias in 21 days. It was glorious. I probably cook them once a week at home. They were my signature dish on MasterChef. I just wish I could recreate the beach and the sun as well. . .

In light of lockdown, everyone's cooking and baking more at the moment. It's not just a practical thing, ie needing to make a meal, is it? There's solace and satisfaction to be found in cooking from scratch, isn't there?

Absolutely - cooking is therapy, end of. I think cooking, and the kitchen for that matter, resembles so much more than just food. It signifies family, security, community, stability, nourishment - everything that we need and are craving during lockdown. I think that taking the time to cook and bake and spend time in the kitchen is so good for the soul and it grounds us, even if it's on a subconscious level.

Which five guests, living or dead, would you invite to your fantasy dinner party and why? And, most importantly, what would you cook?

Holy macaroni - I could write pages on this subject. Planning dinner parties is my obsession.

OK, the guest list: David Attenborough, Levison Wood, Ben Fogle, Karen Blixen, Bruce Springsteen. Can you see a theme? Travellers, explorers, adventurers - I could listen to them talk for hours and hours and these are some that I admire the most. And Bruce for the soundtrack - obvs.

The meal itself: I love moving my dining room outdoors on summer evenings. I take the dining table out - when I say I, my boyfriend has to dismantle it and put it back together on the lawn - and I have loads of lights fromfestivals so rig them around the garden. Basically, I create something that looks like Pinterest threw up on it.

As people arrive, we would have deep fried pickles on the table to pick at, and then start with super punchy gazpacho, then we would feast on real barbecue: I’m talking reverse-seared steaks, marinated chicken, hunks of lamb - everything cooked low and slow over fire with breads and salads. I love the joy of cooking outdoors, talking to guests and friends whilst tending to food.

The table would be heaving with platters of meat and sides and everyone would dig in and help themselves. A true feast. We would then finish with my infamous peanut butter diner-style pie, drinking and telling stories long into the night.

Want to try some of Hannah's cooking? Here's a pair of her favourite recipes. . .

Coconut Prawn Tacos With Mango Salsa

I couldn’t not give you guys a taco recipe. They were my signature dish on MC, they are one of my favourite foods and I genuinely believe they make the world a better place. There are a lot of sweet elements on this dish so we need to balance it out with the chilli in the salsa and a good hot sauce.

MasterChef contestant Hannah Gregory's famous tacos (36172288)
MasterChef contestant Hannah Gregory's famous tacos (36172288)

Makes: Three tacos

Spotify Playlist: Sups

Tipple of Choice: It has to be a Corona right?!

What you need :

For the tacos: Traditionally you would use masa flour to make your taco shells and if you can find it (available online and at specialist stores) I would defo urge you to do so, as it really adds to the authenticity of the dish and the flavour is unparalleled. If you do use it, follow the recipe as below but leave out the oil and baking powder. When it comes to press (roll) the shells, the masa makes them a lot more delicate so just be careful when working with it.

225g plain flour

½ tsp fine salt

½ tsp baking powder

40ml corn oil

125ml warm water

Greaseproof paper

For the salsa:

1 mango

½ red pepper

1 fresh jalapeno - just use as much as you like heat wise. I go whole hog but no judgement if you can’t take it. . . much.

1 lime

Bunch of fresh coriander

For the prawns:

9 raw king prawns

30g desiccated coconut

30g panko breadcrumbs

1 egg

1l corn oil for frying

125g plain flour

1tsp baking powder

1tsp fine salt

150ml ice water

To serve:

Fresh lime wedges

Coriander leaves

Hot sauce such as Cholula

How you do it:

1 First up: to make the tortilla dough you can use a stand mixer with a dough hook or skip arm day on your virtual HIIT class and do it by hand. Put your flour, salt and baking powder in the bowl of your stand mixer (or large bowl) and create a small well in the middle. Pour your oil and then slowly start to add in your warm water. Do this gradually so you can assess how the dough is coming, adding more water or flour if needed. Once everything is combined let the dough hook (or your arms) do the thing until the dough is smooth and elastic - 3 to 4 minutes with a machine, 7 to 10 without. If using masa flour then you do not need to knead for as long, just a minute will do the trick.

2 Portion out the dough by making golf ball size balls. Cut your greaseproof paper into squares, 2 squares per ball, each square about 15cm wide. Place a ball of dough in between 2 sheets of your squares of paper, lightly press down with your fingers to give him a little squidge. Either using a taco press or a rolling pin, roll your balls into discs about 12-15cm diameter. Keeping the tacos in the greaseproof sheets (this is important so they don’t stick together), stack them and place to the side till ready to cook.

3 Salsa time. Dice your mango, red pepper and jalapeno as small as possible. Pick your coriander leaves. Put it all into a bowl, with the salt and lime juice. Combine and taste, adjusting if needed - put to the side.

4 Put your corn oil in a pan and bring to 180. If you have a deep fryer, even better. We all know the drill here: make sure there is a good couple of inches clearance between the surface of the oil and the top of the pan. Do not leave unattended. Clear the kids out etc.

5 Whilst your oil is coming up to temp, combine your panko and coconut in a shallow bowl and mix well. In another bowl sift your flour, baking powder and salt. Make a well in the centre and crack in your egg, using a fork bring in your flour to combine. Whisk in your cold water.

6 Working quickly - you want to keep that batter as cool as possible - dip your prawns in the wet batter and then dredge in the panko, coconut mix.

Carefully lower your coated prawns into the hot oil and fry for 2 minutes.

Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper.

7 Whilst the prawns are cooling down get on with your tacos. Heat a frying pan over a medium heat; you cook these dry so no oil needed. Carefully remove the greaseproof paper and pop your taco into the pan. If using masa flour, be careful, they are very delicate. I find it easiest to remove one piece of paper, flip them into the pan and then when the heat ‘grabs’ the taco you can carefully peel off the other sheet. When the tacos start to puff and brown on the bottom, carefully flip and cook the other side. Repeat till all tacos are cooked.

8 To plate, spoon the mango salsa on the taco and top with 3 prawns. Serve with fresh coriander leaves, lime wedges and lashings of hot sauce.

Hunky B

Hunkar Begendi (lovingly referred to in my home as Hunky B) is a traditional Turkish dish of smoked aubergine puree traditionally topped with a lamb stew. However, the first time I ate this in Turkey they subbed the lamb stew with steak and I have had it in many a Turkish restaurant with a beef stew. Basically, if you aim for a smokey aubergine puree with delicious red meat on top you can’t go wrong.

When I was a student, two of my girlfriends and I decided we really wanted a holiday. We definitely couldn’t afford a holiday but we were drunk in our local and agreed, that was what student loans were for but we should set ourselves a budget. We were so smug when we found a deal that was too good to be true. We soon learnt our lesson:

The hotel had an onsite restaurant whose daily special was a chip butty (nothing wrong with a chip butty but it wasn’t really the Turkish culture we had been dreaming of)

We were terrorised daily by an 11-year-old with a nipple ring called Dan Rico - he kept throwing our books in the pool and shouting ‘reading is for losers’.

When we tried to escape Dan Rico, every street within a five-mile radius was lined with pubs called The Rovers Return and The Queen Victhat advertised specials of Fish & Chips or Pie & Mash.

The drinks were only served in fish bowls. I’m still not entirely sure why.

By the end of the week we were desperate for some authentic Turkish food. We knew we had struck gold when we found a small restaurant on the outskirts of town and saw the queue of stray cats outside. We sat down and asked for whatever they recommended and that was the night we all fell in love with Hunky B. Even now, 10 years later, my girlfriends always ask me to cook it when we meet up and it takes us straight back to that hilarious, awful yet wonderful holiday.

In the recipe below I have used ox cheeks which are delicious and cheap and pretty easy to come by nowadays, but you could also use diced lamb shoulder or stewing steak.

MasterChef contestant Hannah Gregory shares her recipe for 'Hunky B' (36172329)
MasterChef contestant Hannah Gregory shares her recipe for 'Hunky B' (36172329)

Serves: 4

Spotify Playlist: Sups

Tipple of Choice: A full bodied red. Or if you want to go all in, a glass of Raki

What you need:

2 ox cheeks or 500g diced lamb shoulder or stewing beef

150g plain flour (100g for seasoning the meat, 50g for your roux)

300ml milk

50g of grated hard cheese (I use parmesan but if you are able to find a traditional hard Turkish cheese then you’ve won)

4 large aubergines

50g butter

500ml of good quality beef stock

250ml port

1tbsp beef dripping

1 onion

1 large carrot

1 stick of celery

1 clove of garlic

2 tbsp tomato puree

Dash of brandy

Pinch of ground cinnamon

Sprinkling of fresh thyme

1 anchovy fillet (don’t worry if you don’t have one - not worth buying a whole jar)

1 bay leaf

Fresh parsley (to garnish)

How you do it :

1 This dish is about the long game and it is so worth it. Preheat oven to 150.

2 Trim off any excess fat from the cheeks (if using) then dice and toss the meat in the seasoned flour. Melt the beef dripping in a frying pan and brown the meat all over. Remove the meat from the pan and put to the side.

3 Finely dice your carrot and onion and slice your celery and garlic. Throw it into the frying and cook until soft and lightly caramelised.

4 Increase the heat and put your meat back in along with the tomato puree, give it a stir to make sure everything is coated and cook for a couple of minutes.

5 Deglaze the pan with the brandy making sure you scrape the bottom to get all the tasty bits off. Then add in your port, stock, herbs and anchovies and bring to the boil.

6 Cover pan with a lid and put into the oven for two hours. After the time is up, check the meat - it should be tender and beginning to fall apart. Once you have hit the sweet spot, turn the oven off but leave the pan in there for a further 30 minutes to let the flavours infuse.

7 Aubergine puree: you can cook this in advance and reheat it when it’s time to serve or, if bringing it all together at the same time, begin your puree once the meat has been in the oven for 90 minutes. First off you want to get your aubergines super charred and smokey. I do this by placing a metal cooling rack over a gas hob and laying the aubergines on top. Keep an eye on them and keep turning them. You are looking for them to blister and then sort of deflate as the flesh inside becomes really soft. Don’t be scared of the skin charring, it just adds to the flavour. If you don’t have a gas hob then place them on a baking tray in a hot oven for around 20-30 mins. It will work just the same but you won’t get that smokey flavour that is synonymous with the dish.

8 Once your aubergines are done, slice them open lengthways scooping out all the flesh into a ball. If you get flecks of burnt skin in there, don’t stress, it just adds to the flavour.

9 In a saucepan melt the butter and then slowly beat in your flour and allow it to cook out for around 2 minutes. Whisk in the milk gradually until smooth. After all the milk is incorporated stir in your aubergine and cook for around five minutes or until the mixture has thickened.

10 Finally stir in your grated cheese and allow to melt. Check the seasoning and if you are like me, add in another 50g of cheese because let’s face it, you can never have enough cheese.

11 Serve the stew on a bed of aubergine puree and garnish with freshly chopped parsley.

Hannah has recently competed in BBC’s MasterChef, finishing up in the Final 16, as a quarter finalist. She hosts WanderSups supper clubs serving meals created with love, inspired by journeys around the world, dished up on home turf.Her ethos is simple - have fun, enjoy it, make it an occasion. You can find specially curated playlists on Spotify to help create the full WanderSups experience. Find out about Hannah’s upcoming Supper Clubs and what she is currently cooking via Instagram @WanderSups

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