Alan's Cookbooks


April magazine article - Vale and Cotswold Magazine   (AVAILABLE NOW)
April Vale Mag 2012  

 As we all know the 1st day of April  is famed and associated for its pranks ! but it`s not just the residence of England that tries to bring some devilish humour against a gullible victim, for strangely enough this roguish behaviour and activity is taking place across many  parts of the world. 

It`s hard to imagine that many of the countries I am about to list have very little in common, certainly in terms of the  annual festivities that we  share above and beyond those associated with religion such as Easter or Christmas, so a near global celebration of playing pranks on the same day is really quite odd. 
For example Iranians play jokes on each other on the 13th day of the Persian New Year which falls on or around April 1st, this date has apparently been celebrated as far back as 536 BC  and is the oldest prank tradition in the world still alive today, so we could very well have adopted such a practice from them. 
Many of the countries that celebrate the pranks also for some other strange reason include an animal or vertebrate such as France where April 1st is known as ” Poisson D`Avril ” or “April fish”   where the aim is for a paper fish to be stuck to a victims back without them realising, why a fish, then maybe only the French know ! ( maybe they are only coding sorry kidding !)   

The Swedish also take a similar line by calling their victims “Stupid Herrings !” ( in Swedish of course this may even sound funny !)  and no doubt their natural affinity towards this oily marinated  specimen could find the word “Herring”  in most of their sentences anyway.

Our Scottish neighbours lay off the haggis pranks for the day and turn towards the cuckoo for a laugh on April 1st ( after all a Haggis is real isn’t it !?) and a cuckoo is far more funny ! so April 1st was called “Hunt- the- Gowk day” ( “gowk” is Scots for a cuckoo or foolish person !). The traditional prank was to ask someone to deliver a sealed message of which read “ Dinna Laugh, Dinna smile hunt the gawk another mile “ ho how they would fall around the heather in hysterics !.   In the hospitality industry we would send one of the commis chefs to another section of the hotel kitchen  to ask for a long weight ( or wait as it is pronounced !) many would be gone for hours !. 
The Spanish are a little more serious about their April pranks and after a joke has been played would shout out to the victim “you innocent little dove that let yourself be fooled !” ho those Spanish tom foolery ! they crack  me up, and why a dove ?. 
Meanwhile the first fully recorded English prank that also included animals as part of the humour was recorded in 1698 when an official invite and ticket was sent out for the “Annual ceremony of Washing the Lions “, held  at the tower of London.
 Now I would have gone to that one !!! . 

Whilst these pranks are needless to say supposed to be for the young ones, the Flemish kids take it far more seriously as part of their jolly jeepers by  locking out teachers from their schools and only letting them in if they promise to bring sweets and treats the following day, at my school this would have been met with 6 of the best ( once I let them in and once they had caught me that is !). 

  Talking of schools and on a more serious note, I recently had the pleasure of officially opening a new kitchen at  Bretforton First school, a positive initiative to bring food preparation and cooking back into the educational arena. Having cut the ribbon, I then had the pleasure of putting this new kitchen and its equipment through its paces by cooking throughout the day with the entire school. 
The children`s  interest and enthusiasm for cooking and food in general is undeniable and clearly highlights that this important area in terms of education and life in general is clearly where more effort and support needs to be. The head, its teachers, support staff and governor’s of Bretforton first school clearly sees the importance of these factors and the impact that such a resource can have on young lives. 
They now have an area where food and nutrition can be discussed and practically implemented, helping generate nutritional awareness and at the same time develop team work and practical skills that will remain with them for the rest of their lives. I had a great day with them and I hope that the children had fun to. 

Have a fun month 
Alan x   
February Article - Vale and Cotswolds magazine   (COMING SOON)
February the month of Love ! (apparently), as many young pulsating hearts celebrate with cards and roses on St Valentine`s day, for me, I find it too cold for a start as there is nothing pleasurable about kissing with a running nose !.
Apart from that roses are out of season despite the red rose being the favourite flower of Venus, the Roman goddess of love.

Personally, having not long be rid of the annoying Christmas cards, I will no doubt be besieged once again with masses of valentines !, yes my poor postman Darren is exhausted dragging around his laden chariot to chateau Coxon every year around the 14th
 as I will no doubt once again receive a barrage of mail from my loving admirers,
such as British gas, Barclaycard, BT, ho they all love me, and always send me something through the post around this date !
 aren’t they nice  !.

With BT and co not included, approximately 1 billion Valentine's Day cards are sent each year around the world and apparently in order of popularity are given to: teachers, children, mothers, wives, sweethearts, and Koko the gorilla, who would have guessed, teachers ?!.

So with an abundance of negativity stacked up against an imposed day of romance, I decided to investigate which love struck fool kicked it all off and why ?.
Like so many things, we can once again blame the Romans and  Roman mythology and a guy called  Cupid who was the son of Venus, the goddess of love and beauty.Cupid was known to cause people to fall in love by shooting them with his magical arrows. But Cupid didn't just cause others to fall in love - he himself fell deeply in love.
As legend has it, Cupid fell in love with a mortal maiden named Psyche ( not sure if it was Mss Psyche or if this was her Christian name !!). Cupid married Psyche, but Venus, jealous of Psyche's beauty, forbade her daughter-in-law to look at Cupid. Psyche, of course, couldn't resist temptation and sneaked a peek at her handsome husband. As punishment, Venus demanded that she perform three hard tasks, the last of which caused Psyche's death. Task master or what !?.
Cupid brought Psyche back to life and the gods, moved by their love, granted Psyche immortality. Cupid thus represents the heart and Psyche the (struggles of the) human soul.

Other fascinating facts include the  'X' symbol for a kiss , developed during the mediaeval period when people who couldn't write their names signed in front of a witness with an 'X.' The 'X' was then kissed to show their sincerity.

Girls of the day  also ate bizarre foods on St. Valentine's Day to make them dream of their future spouse and in 1537, King Henry VII officially declared February 14th an English holiday , so not only has this day been created out of love but out of extreme superstition.

Other strange and interesting activities include Casanova, well known as "The World's Greatest Lover," who ate chocolate to make him virile. Whilst contrary to this, Physicians of the 1800's commonly advised their patients to eat chocolate to calm their pining for lost love.

On that note may I wish you all a wonderfully superstitious 14th and I leave you with a recipe for Passion fruit Fool !!

 serves 4
5 passion fruits
1 mango ( halved and stone removed)300 ml Natural Yoghurt
( A healthy Low fat yoghurt can be used for this recipe)Juice and grated zest of 1 lime 

    

Peel the mango then slice and cut the flesh into small dice. Set aside. 2.     Cut the passion fruits in half and squeeze out the seeds from 3 of the passion fruits and mix with the lime juice before gently folding in the natural yogurt .
 3.     Divide the yoghurt between 4 glasses and top with the diced mango and the seeds from the remaining passion fruits .
4.      Cover and chill for 30 mins before eating.     
December Article 2011 - Vale and Cotswold Magazine   
 These past few weeks I have been doing a few live TV shows,where surrounded by the festive tinsel and bauble laden trees, the innovative culinary offerings with mince meat have been coming thick and fast !
In addition to this I have been  flaunting my historic food ranges at a variety of Christmas gift fairs across the land, from the stately splendour of Blenheim Palace to the wonderful  Waddesdon Manor.

These locations do go to town with their festive trimmings and make for a perfect picture postcard feel. 
You can just imagine Mrs Miggins in the basement kitchen bulging from her starched cotton apron, basting the masters goose !!! or have I been watching too much Downton Abbey ?

Despite working at the show I do often get lured into buying my Christmas gifts and festive knick knacks, so now another string of dried scented oranges and cinnamon bundles waft their festive fragrance around the house.

These two food items have such an association with  Christmas and as a child I was always given an orange as part of my Christmas presents, a custom that has remained and one that I have passed on to my own kids ( who look at me as though I have gone mad or playing a practical joke of sorts !). 

The whole custom of gift giving all started during Queen  Victoria's reign, children's toys tended to be handmade and hence expensive, generally restricting availability to those that lived in places like Blenheim and Waddesdon !. 

With the industrial revolution new factories bought mass production, which brought with it games, dolls, books and clockwork toys all at a more affordable price.
Affordable that is to "middle class" children. In a "poor child's" Christmas stocking, which first became popular from around 1870, only an apple, orange and a few nuts could be found !

While there are no written records of the origin of the Christmas Stocking, there are popular legends that attempt to tell the history of this Christmas tradition.

One such legend  tells the story that very long ago, there lived a poor man and his three very beautiful daughters, the man had no money to get his daughters married, and was worried what would happen to them after his death.
Saint Nicholas was passing the village when he heard the villagers talking about the old man`s concerns, so St. Nicholas wanted to help, but knew that the old man wouldn't accept charity.

With this in mind st Nicholas decided to help in secret, so he waited until it was night and crept down the chimney.He had three bags of
gold coins with him, one for each girl and as he was looking for a place to keep those three bags, he noticed stockings of the three girls that were hung over the mantelpiece drying, so he placed one bag in each stockings and left.

when the girls and their father woke up the next morning, they found the bags of gold coins, and were of course, overjoyed, it meant that the girls were able to get married and live happily ever after.

This led to the custom of children hanging stockings or putting out shoes, eagerly awaiting gifts from Saint Nicholas.Sometimes the story is told with gold balls instead of bags of gold and is why three gold balls, (represented as oranges), are one of the symbols for St. Nicholas, and also one of the reasons why every so often you could find a shiny wrapped orange mixed in with the masses at the shops !.

On that note, I hope your stockings bulge with all your hearts desires and wish you all a very healthy, happy and peaceful Christmas.

Alan  x
November article 2011 - Vale and Cotswold magazine   

With an Indian summer at the start of last month, and ironicly my feature on Indian food that tied in nicely, I thought I would risk a link with a Chinese theme for the month of November !, after all it is our celebrated Bonfire night celebrations as well as the Tsingtao “Legacy of Taste” Chinese restaurants awards !

Both of these events will, I am sure go off with a bang! for having been a judge at this years  awards where over 1,000 Chinese restaurants across the length and breadth of the UK were entered, commanding 7,798 votes from the public , the competiton was explosive !.

As this goes to press the winner cannot be announced but the finalist battling it out are “Yang Sing” restaurant  located in Manchester`s China Town district, the “Grand Imperial” next to Victoria station London, and “Kai” restaurant in the celoubrious Mayfair area of London.

Whilst like most competitions there can but be one ultimate winner, and any restaurant arriving within the top three out of a 1,000 entrants has to be given full credit !

Dishes served to us included the likes of Stir Fried Abalone with mushrooms, Poached sea bass with pak choy, soy and honey marinated lamb with carrot chip cake & achar pickles, dived scallops with XO sauce and lotus root and the list of wonderful dishes and flavours goes on and on, as did my waisteline by the end of the judging process ! 

But what has China got to do with our Bonfire night I hear you cry?

Well everything actually as fireworks originated in China, and date as far back as the 7th century.

The Chinese developed many different kinds of fireworks with a variety of effects and colours. The art and science of firework making developed into an independent profession and pyrotechnicians were respected for their knowledge of complex techniques in mounting firework displays.

During the Song Dynasty (960-1279), many of the common people could purchase various kinds of fireworks from market vendors, and grand displays of fireworks were also known to be held. Rocket propulsion was also common in warfare and in 1240 the Arabs acquired knowledge of gunpowder and its uses from China.

From the Arab traders it eventualy found its way to our shores and has been used to both destroy and entertain over the centuries with November the 5th in the UK being one of those celebrated dates in history.

Whilst “The legacy of Taste “ has become one of the largest Chinese Restaurant awards in the UK  the largest firework display ever recorded consisted of 66,326 fireworks and took to the skies on 31 December 2006

Whilst the legacy of taste reached a record number of restaurant entrants in 2011, the most firework rockets launched in 30 seconds currently stands at 125,801 on 8 May 2010

So , this November 5th, whilst celebrating bonfire night and looking towards the dark black velvet skies, awaiting the first rocket attack on the scenses, maybe instead of clutching a hot dog why not try a taste of the orient in full and complete celebration !.

I leave you with a warming bowl of Oriental style Chicken soup .

 
 

 Serves 4

Ingredients:

  175g chicken breast skins removed
 450g fresh baby spinach stalks removed and leaves washed
 6 slices of pickled pink ginger
 4 spring onions finely shredded lengthways
 2 cloves garlic finely crushed
 1.2 litre chicken stock
 1 tblsp lemon juice
 1 tsp castor sugar
 1 small Thai chilli, seeded and chopped fine
 3-talbsp Nam pla (fish sauce)
 2-talbsp Alan Coxon`s Ancient Greek vinegar
 2-talbsp-soy sauce
 16 leaves of purple sprouting basil, roughly torn
 1-tblsp peanuts
 30g bean sprouts   

 

Method:

1.   Combine the chicken, garlic, onion, 1 table spoon of soy sauce, and one table spoon of Nam pla and set aside
 
 2. In a wok, bring the chicken stock to the simmer and add the chilli, sugar and lemon juice
 
 3. When simmering, gently lower in the chicken breast into the stock along with any of its marinade.
 
 4. Cook for 4 – 5 minutes gently
 
 5. Add the spinach and cook for a further 2 minutes or until the chicken has cooked. At the last few seconds, add the purple basil leaves.
 
 6. Remove from the heat and add the remaining Ancient Greek vinegar, soy sauce and Nam pla  7. Carefully remove the chicken and slice thinly
 
 8. Pour the stock into bowls, with a good amount of the spinach and top with some fresh bean sprouts.
 
 9. Add the slices of chicken and sprinkle with the peanuts
 
 10. Scatter over fresh leaves of basil and serve immediately

September Article - Vale and Cotswolds magazine   
I always remember as a small child that at some point during the month of September I would be given a decorated box to carry to my Sunday school. 
The box , roughly the same height and dimensions of myself was laden with fruit and vegetables, however the only part of me being visible above the box was  my little  head that would appear through the carrot tops.Below the box, my knees and scrawny legs ( as I was always made to wear shorts, with long grey socks, that were held up with elastic !).

My box of vegetables would be given to the vicar who would place it at the halter with other boxes containing anything from tins of mandarin oranges to spam !, I would then take my seat in the choir ( Ho yes I started out a good boy !!!). 
The boxes were part of the harvest festival  and I naturally  thought they were offerings to the gods !, after all we were in church !, and as a typical boy that would fail to listen fully, I would often get a  little mixed up between my “history” and “Religious education”  classes  at school !!! .

I would  sit on my wooden Pugh looking around at the foodie gifts awaiting for a  “half horse half man” type of creature to enter the chapel, followed by other god like creatures that I had seen on Jason and the Argonauts !
I would worry if my grandfathers carrots and cabbages would make the gods happy and hoped that they would chose my box, and would even worry that the gods would  go for the posher goods on offer such as the tin of mandarin oranges, Spam, or other last minute thoughts that were thrown into a box to fill it up !!
(I always thought that “Zeus”  would favour a tin of Princess peach slices personally !!!).

 Alas much to my disappointment I was informed that the boxes were to be distributed to old age pensioners, and that I had dragged this heavy box all the way down the road just so someone could have a free lunch ! with no summoning of the gods, a crack of thunder or parting of the waves involved whatsoever, sorry pensioners but I`m sure you can understand my young age and trauma at the time! . 

I must admit that the highlight of the day was getting back home to roll down my socks, give my legs a good scratch and to  allow new blood circulation  that had been cut off by that damn elastic ! Alas , time, age and maturity has moved on, but the month of September appears to have remained the same ! full of opportunities to share the seasons bountiful harvest, despite  my Sunday school days being long gone.

My new place of worship  where thousands of people flock to share and enjoy comes in the form of food festivals ! and this month we celebrate all things local and regional in Food and Drink at the Stratford upon Avon Food Festival ( 24th and 25th September ).

This year I have been kindly invited to be the Festivals Food  Ambassador, and I am looking forward to not only offering up tastings of my own historic food range to all the visitors attending , but to doing a few cookery demonstrations in the theatre, where we can enjoy the celebration of what we have around us and come together to share this seasons harvest old and young alike ! .

For more information about  the Stratford Upon Avon Food Festival , please log onto  
http://www.stratfordfoodfestival.co.uk/ 
  1. Hope to see you there.   
June : Strawberries and Wimbledon -    
I just love the good summer weather and all the wonderful seasonal produce that we grow in the UK The soft fruits are a personal favourite, for no one in the world can match our delicious strawberries, sun kissed plump and juicy with the right balance of sweetness and acidy.

These bulbous fruits are actually trailing plants from the rose family and for me, mean that summer is truly here !  Fruits not too dissimilar were known to the Romans and found in gardens of both England and France during the mediaeval period ,however during the 17th century a new species was bought in from North America where it  was joined with another new type in the 18th century to give us the ancestor of some 500 different varieties we have today .

Historically this fruit was used as a medicine, and Culpeper was said to have recommended it to help cure cataracts by squeezing strawberry juice into the eye !

please do not try this one at home should you suffer with this complaint !!!

In the Victorian period where skin needed to be fashionably whiter than the bed linen, ladies of that time, exposed to a flash of the sun`s rays, would  rub a little cut strawberry over the skin to remove any sun burn or redness , the local fruit seller of the day I suppose was the  fashion equivalent and  opposite of today’s Piz Bruin ! 

 I like them simply served with a little thick cream  as to enjoy the fruit to the full,but then again I use them in so many recipes from slicing and splashing with a little orange liquor such as grand marnier, mashing them lightly and folding into some lightly whipped cream, also known as Romanov, or mashing them lightly, mixing with cream and some broken Meringue for a classic Eaton Mess.

I add them to my morning smoothy and slice over my cereal, they even appear on the BBQ, lightly dusted with icing sugar, skewered and flashed on a hot grill to quickly caramelise the outer surface, I  even macerate them with my Old English Ale-Gar to add a serious point of difference and use them in a little smoked duck salad !.

 As this month also heats up with my summer cookery demonstrations and food festivals around the country , I will be flying the local flag by using Vale grown  strawberries in one of my  demonstration dishes, making a 5 min strawberry trifle, !  Yes a trifle made from fresh raw ingredients without the use of packets or readymade custard to be completed and set  in 5 mins ! Wow, gasp, shock, horror I hear you cry,  as I use the power of science to work its magic and set this classic dessert in 5 mins max, a dish that is hard to be beaten when served on a grassy bank in full sun, preferably washed down with a glass of chilled Champagne !.

Ok we can but dream about the perfect set up and with all this talk of strawberries, Champagne , service, grass and being beaten, it must be my cue to link in Wimbledon!, yes folks, its bat and ball time ! Strawberries and Wimbledon go hand in hand, and on tournament days,  they serve a staggering 8,615 punnets per day ( with an average of 10 strawberries per punnet ) ! this equates to around  28,000 Kg of the fruit consumed over the tournament itself all topped with  7,000 litres of fresh cream and washed down with 17,000 bottles of Champers and 190,000 glasses of pimm`s just in case you need more fruit to counter act the conscience !!!. 

In between all that enjoyment you might even catch a game of tennis , ensuring a balance of Juice and deuce all at the same time !! ( ok I couldn`t resist that last one !!)Have a great month and I leave you with a summer Strawberry Yoghurt Ice cream  to enjoy .   

Nutritional notes !! 

Six average sized strawberries contain as much Vitamin C as an orange with 100g portion containing only 27 calories. 

Strawberry Yoghurt Ice Cream

Serves 4

Ingredients 

100g (4oz) icing sugar
350ml (12 fl oz) natural yoghurt
4tblsp lemon juice
300g (11oz) fresh pureed strawberries
2tblsp Grand Marnier
150ml (1/4pt) cream 


Method


1.
Whisk the cream until light
2 Mix together all the ingredients
3 Place into an ice-cream machine and freeze ( alternatively place into a freezer proof container and place in the freezer, remove and beat the cream mix every 15 mins until set...)  


Optional serving suggestion for a dinner party  !

 

Deep Fried Basil

Serves 4 
Ingredients:Basil Leaves
Icing sugar
Veg oil for deep frying 

Method:
Place the basil leaves in hot, pre-heated oil and deep fry for 5-10 seconds.
 Drain onto kitchen paper to absorb excess oil using a perforated spoon.
Scatter the crispy basil leaves over the top of the ice cream just before serving 


 









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