Alan's Cookbooks

May article 2011 - Vale and Cotswold Magazine   
We kick off this month with a Bank Holiday, much to the delight of many I`m sure, It is also the historic Birth date of the Duke of Wellington, one of Britain`s greatest military commanders, and possibly one of the worst British Prime ministers ! ( although I could think of one or two more in past recent years !). Very few people actually realise the Duke was in fact born in Ireland, Dublin to be precise , but always denied this when asked, saying that “being born in a barn does not make you a horse “!. Initially educated at Eaton before being moved to Brussels, and then on to the military academy in Anjou, France . His military history and success on the battle field is unsurpassed, and with such successes and achievements to his credit, a dish was named in his honour, it is of course the 1970`s favourite “Beef Wellington” . Volumes have been written about Wellington the soldier, but the dish that bears his name is surprisingly elusive. Almost certainly the pastry covering the beef was initially a mere paste of flour and water, wrapped around an uncooked tenderloin of beef, so that it would roast without browning, a culinary fad of that era, and not forgetting that ovens as we know them today had not been invented back then !. In time the covering became puff pastry and an integral part of the dish. Then the chefs on the continent, with their noted penchant for lily-gilding, inserted a layer of truffles and pate de foie gras over the top of the fillet. The modern British version of this  recipe is  simplified using mushrooms and chicken livers whilst In Ireland, Beef Wellington, sometimes called Wellington Steak, remains a simple combination of rare beef and flaky pastry.The dish is also known in France, where, not surprisingly, it is simply called filet de boeuf en croute." The Beef Wellington is still debated across the country as some food historians believe that it had nothing to do with the Duke, and merely named because the dish looked like a wellington boot. Another theory claims that it was invented for a civic reception in Wellington, New Zealand, although I am a little skeptical about this, from a country with more sheep than humans and even less beef !!The “Wellington” has however linked my news for this month, for I recently took a trip to Brussels to judge the 2011 iTQi food awards, cogitating alongside an array of Michelin star chefs from France.Last year I was the sole British culinary representative to judge ( amidst 59 Other Chefs from across Europe), so this year I led a small army of three and took along TV Celebrity Chef Phil Vickery and Executive Chef Richard Cubbin to help fly the flag !.Fortunately the “entent cordial” remained in perfect tact and none of us needed to lay the boot in ! I leave you with of course Beef Wellington ! Beef Wellington
  • 1.2 kg fillet of beef, cut from the central section of fillet
  • 1 pinches black pepper
  • 40 g unsalted butter
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 225 g fresh shiitake mushrooms, or button, sliced
  • 175 g liver, pate, smooth
  • 370 g puff pastry
  • 1 egg yolks, for wash
For the herb pancakes
  • 115 g plain flour
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 pinches black pepper
  • 2 tsp chopped parsley
  • 1 tsp chopped thyme
  • 1 tsp chopped celery
  • 300 ml full-fat milk
  • 15 g butter, clarified
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1. First, make the herb pancakes. Sift the flour into a bowl, then add in the egg, salt and freshly ground pepper, parsley, thyme, celery leaves and milk.

2. Whisk together to make a smooth batter, then stir in the melted butter.

3. Heat a little butter in a heavy-based frying pan. Add in a ladleful of batter, tilting the pan to spread the batter evenly around the pan.

4. Fry the pancake until set and golden underneath, then turn and fry briefly.

5. Remove the pancake from the pan and repeat the process until all the batter has been used up.

6. Season the beef with salt and freshly ground pepper.

7. Heat the butter and vegetable in a large frying pan. Add in the beef and fry over a high heat until browned on all sides.

8. Remove the beef and set aside.

9. Add the shiitake mushrooms to the pan and fry gently until just cooked.

10. Mix together the fried mushrooms and the pate, forming a paste.

11. Spread a little of the mushroom mixture evenly over each pancake. Chill the pancakes until needed.

12. Roll out the puff pastry into a large rectangle (large enough to wrap around the beef), reserving any trimmings for decoration

13. Rest the puff pastry in the refrigerator for 15 minutes.

14. Preheat the oven to 220ºC/gas 7.

15. Egg wash the edges of the puff pastry rectangle.

16. Layer the pancakes across the centre of the puff pastry rectangle, pate side-up.

17. Place the beef in the centre of the pancakes, wrapping the pancakes up over the meat.

18. Roll the pastry around the meat, sealing the edges well and using more egg wash where required.

19. Decorate the top of the Beef Wellington with any pastry trimmings and place on a greased baking sheet.

20. Bake the Beef Wellington in the over, allowing 30-35 minutes for medium rare meat and 40-45 minutes for medium well done meat.

21. Allow to stand and rest for 10 minutes before serving.
April : A Right Royal Feast ! -    
Tom foolery abound for the start of this month, and whilst I have seen some clever tricks pulled over the years, such as the spaghetti tree ,(you must remember that one  back in the days of black and white TV), I have also seen some daft ones, but one that takes the Oscars possibly entitled “ what was going through the chefs head award ?!, has to date back to 1626, when Jeffrey Hudson the famous 17th century dwarf, was served up in a cold pie !.
Apparently King Charles 1st  and the 15-year old Queen Henrietta Maria passed through Rutland and were being entertained at a banquet , given in their honour by the Duke and Duchess of Buckingham ,at which an enormous crust-covered pie was brought before the royal couple. Before the Queen could cut into the pie, the crust began to rise, and from the pie a tiny boy, only 18 inches tall named Jeffrey Hudson emerged.
Hudson, seven years old and the smallest human being that anyone had ever seen, was dressed in a suit of miniature armour, climbed out of the gilded pastry pie and stood shyly on the table in front of the Queen , he then proceeded to bow low.

Hudson was later dubbed Lord Minimus and remained with the queen for the next 18 years, serving as the Queen's Dwarf, where he became a trusted companion and court favourite, I kid you not !.Whilst researching this I must admit it did make me laugh, and it has possibly answered my own question on what I could possibly get for her Majesty`s Birthday gift this year on 21st April ! or even for the Royal wedding breakfast on the 29th ! now that`s one gift they won`t have on their Debenhams wedding list !!.  Whilst I am not expecting to receive any applications from local vertically challenged individuals for this position, I may have to travel South to Cornwall and wrap up a passer- by  in some jus roll short crust for my own version of a Cornish pastie !. April is looking very patriotic as we also fly the flag for St George,( the patron saint of England), despite St George being a Roman Soldier who never actually served in England, took on the might of the Roman empire ( the dragon) in his crusade to stop the Romans torturing the Christians. St Georges emblem was a red cross on a white background and was adopted by King Richard the lion heart who bought it back to England in the 12th century , kitting out all his soldiers in a tunic of these colours to avoid confusion in battle.   Keeping with this month`s Royal theme, I have to tell you about a TV show in which I will be appearing on the 6th April entitled “The boat that Guy Built”, BBC1, 7.30 pm,  and whilst this is not a cooking show, my contribution will  be showing the lads on  how to make a Victorian sponge cake. Whilst I cannot reveal any information about the filming, I can leave you with the recipe “as soon to be seen on TV“ and once favoured by her majesty herself !Have a great month Alan
Ingredients serves 6
  • 225g (8oz) unsalted butter or margarine
  • 225g (8oz) castor sugar or vanilla sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 225g (8oz) self-raising flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tblsp of milk or water to add if necessary

  • For the filling:
  • 425ml (3/4 pint) whipped cream
  • Sugar
  • Strawberry jam

  • You will also need: 2 x 20cm (8 inch) sandwich tins
  1. Before you do anything else, pre-heat the oven to 182 degrees C/360 degrees F/Gas mark 4¼. Prepare two 20cm (8inch) sandwich tins by greasing them thoroughly and lining the base with non-stick parchment. Make sure that all the ingredients are at room temperature.
  2. Place the butter in a mixing bowl and beat it until it is pale and light.
  3. Add the sugar and continue beating until its light and fluffy.
  4. Break the eggs into a separate bowl and beat them lightly. Add the eggs a spoon at a time to the batter mix, beating in each addition thoroughly before adding the next.
  5. Sift the flour and baking powder together. Use a large metal spoon; fold in the sieved flour to the egg and butter mixture.
  6. The mix should now be ready.
  7. Divide the mixture equally between the two prepared tins. Tap the tins down gently to expel any large air pockets and level the cakes. Place into the pre-heated oven for 25-30 minutes.
  8. When ready, cool on a cooling wire rack and remove the baking parchment. When completely cool, prepare the filling with the strawberry jam and cream and sandwich the two sponges together.
  9. Dust the cake with rose petal scented icing sugar and decorate the cake with crystallised rose petals. The beauty about a simple cake like this is that you can decorate it any way you like. 
Alan`s  Top Tips. 
If the mix is soft enough to drop easily off a spoon tapped gently at the side of the bowl it is ready to bake. If it is too dry add a little milk.Try using some vanilla sugar. Put a vanilla pod in some castor sugar about three weeks before using. The castor sugar will take in all that lovely flavour and give a nice flavour to your sponge. You can add other flavoured sugars instead of vanilla. Lemon sugar, cinnamon sugar, cardamom sugar, rose petal sugar is good examples.If your mixture curdles don’t worry, a little bit too much egg is in there fighting against the fat so stick a spoonful of flour in and mix it together, this should absorb all that excess liquid that’s separated it in the first place and that will bring it all together into a nice mixture. Be very careful not to open the oven or to bang it while the cakes are baking, as it won’t help your sponges at all. You know the sponges are cooked when they feel firm and springy in the centre. A good way of testing is to give it a gentle poke in the middle and if it springs back then it’s ready. The other one is to place a skewer or a knife into the centre and if it comes out clean then you know that it’s done.    
March Feature 2011 - Vale and Cotswold Magazine   
March Article

It`s great, I think we are in Spring!, one day its winter and the next it`s temptingly promising, for through the windows  I can see the positive bright colours of the daffodils amidst a green grassy backdrop, the bulbs raise their  golden trumpet shaped heads as if to announce and declare a new season, but then again  I can`t help thinking that it`s going to snow!. 

March is a month full of contradiction and a month with  two “Saintly days”, the 1st and in the yellow corner, we have  St David, whilst on the 17th representing  green, its St Patricks day!.

In terms of culinary festivities this month we retain the theme of colour and in this case we have  squeezed in “Lemon”, as it makes an increased appearance as the citrus fruit of choice joining the more usual apples and bananas in the fruit bowl!, and kids if you are reading this, don`t worry it`s not mummy preparing to increase her gin and tonic intake, but instead stocking up in readiness for pancake day !.

If looking for an interesting event to attend, then one worth considering on  Shrove Tuesday will be held in the town of Olney, Bucks, an event  that has been ongoing for over 500 years and  consists of local woman ( only ) running 415 yards through the town streets  wearing  traditional housewife costumes ( whatever they maybe !) tossing pancakes.
I think it`s  nice to see that we still have an event that has been able to dodge sexism, as well as health and safety, all at the same time ! but then again, who wants to tackle and tell a woman wearing housewife costumes wielding a frying pan that her annual fun is over ?!.

Whilst I appreciate that this event appears to be for woman folk, leaving the poor male species to simply  stand by and watch only, alas, fear not my male friends, for on the 9th we see the start of the beer and cider festival in London, and a chance to strengthen the arm mussels by  raising a jar or two, (all part of our keep fit regime of course! ).
This  fine event is perfect to take the wife too, allowing her to watch and admire her man work out!, and to also drive him home afterwards, as I know how much they enjoy doing such activities!, thus ensuring two days of his and her fun ! .
Only joking ladies !.

Two other events taking part this month also have a slight ring of irony attached, as they include “National Butchers week “ 14th -19 th March, a nationwide attempt  to raise the profile of the butchery trade among consumers and promote local butchers as the best place to buy meat, meanwhile we also see “ National meat-free month” featuring  activities and promotions to support not eating meat !.

Who organisers these campaigns ?.

Whilst Brighton is holding a “Vegfest UK ” celebrating all things Vegan on the 19th it`s also the month in which they hold “British Pie week” as from the 13 th ! With an award for the Pub Pie Champion of the Year, recipes and promotions, a week full of  opportunity to celebrate the humble pie, Indulge in comfort food cravings and get inspiration for all sorts of pastry-based treats.

Meanwhile back to the saints , St David lived a monastic lifestyle, teaching his followers to drink only water and eat nothing but bread with salt and herbs ( I am sure he would be happy in Brighton this month! )whilst st Patrick had different things on his mind with a public holiday given over for Ireland’s patron saint that will see people celebrating around the world with pubs decorated with green ribbons and shamrocks, and the colour green  seen everywhere.Traditional Irish fair served everywhere and drinking a drop of the black stuff "Guinness" is of course obligatory!.
I am sure you will agree , a colourful month for all . Enjoy.

February Vale and Cotswolds magazine - Vale Magazine   
February 2011  Well, as it is unfashionably too late to wish everyone a happy new year, ( unless you are Chinese of course, of which I would be bang on time !),  I am going to skip over such an offering  and dive straight into February, one of the most contradictory months of the year.This month,half of the population are about to buy more chocolate to show their affection for Valentine’s day, having only just emptied the giant Christmas family size tin of Roses !( a family tin may be, but only if you name is Von Trapp !)whilst the other half are dragging themselves to the gym to lose a few festive pounds possibly caused by the festive tin of Roses!On a positive note we finally, (thank goodness), lose the nonstop TV commercials telling me that I`ve needed a new sofa since Christmas,offering me the “bestest” of ”best” offers ever made since the word “best” was ever invented !, knowingly, if my memory serves me correctly on past years, there will be a new advertising campaign thrust upon us  before we can even wash out that lost chocolate caramel found down the back of the cushion in  the old one, or was that the new one ?,only to find DFS ,FDS, SFD whoever and co adding insult to injury with even better offers than the “bestest” a few weeks earlier.There that`s off my chest ! Keeping in line with contradiction, our friends in  Scotland are doing their bit, for whilst they are  famed for “deep fried mars bars”, apparently last year the  Scots consumed over 200 kilo of oysters on Valentine’s day alone! Casanova, incidentally (the legendary Latino lover), reputedly ate up to 50 oysters a day, relying on their famous aphrodisiac qualities to maintain his reputation!  but then he didn`t have to wear a kilt ! With chocolate, oysters and love in the air then it must be  time for wedding and gift fairs across the region, of which brings me nicely to inform you of an event taking place down the road at the Cheltenham race course  on the 12th and 13th February. The race course is hosting a VIP event in the form of a Bridal and fashion show, with over 100 stalls and a Champagne bar to get future partners off to a racing start! ( see what I did there !) During the evening of the Saturday 12th the Red Carpet Treatment’ turns PINK for  a Celebrity VIP Valentine’s Ball, with Pink being the colour theme , From Pink lighting, styling and ambience, complete with Pink Valentine!, (although I doubt that Pink will be singing ). Needless to say I was in the Pink when I was invited to open the event and cut the ribbon, providing I don`t have to give advice on marriage then all should be safe!For more information about this event then take a look at the website, .
January New Year, New Start ,A taste of the past for a healthier future ! -    
The wonders of Vinegar !
Not just a condiment but a health product that has been used for thousands of years .

The history of "Vinaigre" starts around 5000 BC, when the Babylonians were using the fruit of the date palm to make wine and vinegar.
They used it as a food and as a preserving or pickling agent.

Vinegar residues have been found in ancient Egyptian urns traced to 3000 BC. As well, recorded vinegar history in China starts from texts that date back to 1200 BC.

During biblical times, vinegar was used to flavour foods, the Romans used it as an energizing drink, and as a medicine, Roman soldiers called this refreshing drink "posca", and used it regularly as did the Japanese samurai.
Hippocrates' new the importance and effects of Vinegar and was used as a medicine and antiseptic. Here are some areas that can help you by using vinegar in your health.

 If you drink a teaspoon or so of Roman or Ancient Greek vinaigre in a small glass of warm water it may to help with digestion, bowel function, cholesterol, and even preventing ulcers.
With the latter you might have to help a little with the stress of course. 

Vinegar has been used to cure ailments for centuries, as a powerful cleansing agent of toxins and a healing elixir. Roman and Greek Vinaigre may be helpful for metabolism, reducing cholesterol, reducing water retention, regulating blood pressure and may help with blood circulation.
Historically Vinegar has been a successful remedy for many ailments including, allergies, sinus infections, acne, flu, chronic fatigue, acid reflux, sore throats, arthritis, and gout. In addition to these possible natural remedies
A teaspoon or two of Roman or Ancient Greek vinegar may help cure hiccups. 
Two teaspoons of Roman or Greek Vinaigre may help with headaches .
Roman or Ancient Greek Vinaigre may help with skin conditions from eczema to aging brown spots.

Research by nutritionist Carol S. Johnston of Arizona State University East in Mesa suggests that vinegar packs a punch in more than just salad dressings. Now, instead of merely being touted as a stout cleanser of the body when taken internally, it also has been shown to have beneficial effects towards weight loss and stabilizing blood sugar in non-diabetics.

Johnston’s study showed it had a stabilizing effect on blood sugar on people who were not diabetic. The stabilizing effect was most pronounced on pre-diabetics whose blood glucose-levels were almost cut in half. In fact, the effectiveness was comparable to that of the diabetic medication Metformin.

A Swedish research team, led by Elin M. Östman, discovered that the benefits of vinegar can be reaped by other methods as well. Participants in a study ate pickles after a high-carb breakfast and the other participants did not. It was shown that even pickles had a beneficial effect on the blood glucose levels.Other studies soon followed and it was shown that people who take two tablespoons of vinegar before two meals each day lost an average of a half pound each week. 

In addition to potentially aiding weight loss It may also give your complexion a healthy, rosy glow when you drink it regularly.

Usual Dosage: 2 TBLS of Roman Vinegar  2 x day. 

If the above was not good reason enough to try some, they make stunning dressings and dips for bread ! 

Other interesting Vinegar Facts  Vinegar was well known to the European alchemists of the Middle Ages. By pouring it over lead, they made a sweet tasting substance they called "sugar of lead", which was used well into the nineteenth century to smooth and sweeten a harsh cider. Unfortunately lead acetate is also very poisonous and it caused the early death of many a European cider drinker. (Vinegar should never be stored in metallic containers made from lead, copper, or iron nor in crystal glass, which contains a high level of lead.)
From 1347 to 1771 many European cities were repeatedly hit by the bubonic plague. It is estimated that about 50 million people died in all from this disease which was spread from rats to man by infected fleas.

In 1721, the Bubonic Plague hit many French cities so hard that all the dead could not be decently buried. To cope with this situation, the French authorities released condemned convicts from prison to help bury the highly infectious corpses.
According to legend, while most died, one team of four convicted thieves managed to survive by drinking daily large amounts of vinegar infused with garlic. As a result vinegar steeped in garlic is still sold today as four thieves vinegar.

By holding vinegar soaked sponges to their noses, European aristocrats of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were able to ward off the noxious odours of outdoor garbage and raw sewage.
Small silver boxes called vinaigrettes were used to carry these sponges and they were also stored in special compartments in the heads of walking canes. Around 40 BC legend has it that Cleopatra, queen of Egypt, won a wager with the roman general Mark Anthony, when after a lavish meal, she dissolved a priceless pearl in vinegar and then drank the resulting solution. By doing this she proved that she could provide a feast for the two of them that would cost a fortune!

Louis XIII of France (1601-1643) is reported to have paid 1.3 million francs for the vinegar used to cool the cannons of his army during just one of his many battles. Vinegar, when applied to the hot iron cannons not only cooled them but helped clean the surface metal while inhibiting rust formation.During the Middle Ages vinegar, along with an abrasive material such as sand, was used to clean and polish flexible mail armour.
For more information please visit the following links 
Product of the month Christmas Pudding .December ! -    
The Christmas pudding Is the traditional dessert with over 25 million of them being consumed in the UK each year.

The forerunner of this pudding dates back to the mediaeval times and it was then known as “Frumenty”.

Frumenty was a spiced porridge that was enjoyed by the rich and poor alike.Its’ origins in a Celtic legend was of the harvest God, “Dogda” who stirred a porridge made of all good things on the earth.
This pudding was usually used to describe a type of sausage hence, black pudding, but gradually came to mean anything cooked in cloth or casing. 

As time moved on and recipes developed, the fruit pudding became associated with Christmas when it was introduced and enjoyed by Prince Albert around the Royal Christmas table.
Not wishing to show my age, but can you remember finding a coin or a trinket in the pudding? a practice that stopped many years ago in fear of choking upon the hidden surprise (Elf and safety !!). 

This hidden surprise derived from Rome, where the concealing of a particular object in food during the Roman festival of Saturnalia was often in the form of a dried bean. The finder of the bean would be perceived as being lucky (unless they choked and died of course).

Whilst on this slightly morbid side of festivities, it leads me to drag in a few sprigs of holly that today is so often used in decorating the Christmas pudding. This tradition has no culinary representation whatsoever, but the holly is believed to hold magical powers that can drive demons away. 

In medieval times, people would tie the holly to their beds to help guard them against ghosts or devils.The general population at that time was immensely afraid of the supernatural, especially at Christmas when the powers of the underworld were more active than usual.

 Whilst the list of festive ingredients is great, I will finish with the traditional mince pies. Mince Pies descended from a huge pie from the medieval period that was baked on Christmas Eve, and contained chopped beef suet, fat, nuts, spiced and dried fruits, whole dried plums were also an important part of the pie.
The pie was originally baked open but as time wore on, a crust was added on top on which a pastry effigy of the infant baby Jesus was laid to represent him laying in his cradle.
It was this lid that nearly buried the mince pie forever as Oliver Cromwell banned them in the 17th century.

In 1647 the English Parliament passed a law that made Christmas illegal and all holidays and festivities banned.
The ban was eventually lifted when Cromwell lost power in 1660; the humble mince pie was reborn !.  


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