The weekend was better food-wise as I had my mother staying for the weekend and we had some serious treats lined up. On Friday night, we went to the theatre to see The Importance of Being Earnest with Penelope Keith playing the role of Lady Bracknell. She was just made for that part. We had a great pre-theatre meal at Sofra which is a small chain of Turkish restaurants in London serving up great mezze platters of fresh salads, grilled meats, wonderful dips, falafel etc. Perfect grazing food. The highlight though came on Saturday night when I took my mother to Chez Bruce for her birthday. This is my second visit to this fantastic Michelin starred restaurant in London's Wandsworth and it was even better the second time around. My starter of smoked eel on a potato pancake with beetroot remoulade and herbs was so delicious that I could hardly bear to eat the last mouthful for fear of the dish being finished! The service was first class - attentive without being obtrusive and the wine was excellent too. I would recommend this place to anyone who has something special to celebrate and wants to splash out on a truly wonderful meal in great surroundings.
Last night, I felt I really should get back into the kitchen. First though, I decided to pack up my parcel for my 'blogging by mail' partner, Pam from Cave Cibum. This great event is organised by Stephanie at The Happy Sorceress and pairs food bloggers up around the world to exchange packages of foodie gifts. This time around, the theme is 'little things' (though my things don't look all that little from the picture). I hope that Pam will enjoy this package - I'l be sending it later this week...
I've been sticking to comfort food in a big way recently and last night was no exception - I decided to make the classic British dish of 'toad in the hole'. For those who are unfamiliar with this dish, it does not involve a single toad. Or frog. It is a dish which combines two British classics - the good old pork banger and the wonder that is Yorkshire pudding. Not selling it to you? I think you just need to try it and then you will see. It is really very delicious (...if not altogether slimming...). I'm not sure where the name comes from. Even the usually very reliable wikipedia fails to give a truly satisfactory answer on this one.
The basic idea is that you brown your sausages first, then pour Yorkshire pudding batter into the hot pan with the sausages and bake in a hot oven until the batter is risen and gorgeously fluffy. I like to tamper with this just a little. Firstly, I like a little mustard in my batter. Sometimes English for true authenticity and sometimes wholegrain for a milder flavour. I also like to add a few onions to the pan and the odd sprig of rosemary for extra flavour. I'd also like to stress that you should use good sausages for this - nice plump, really flavoursome British bangers with herbs and good-quality pork meat.
You may well have a favourite Yorkshire pudding batter that works well, in which case, stick with that. I made a mistake last night and veered away from my usual. For toad in the hole I usually base my batter on a Jamie Oliver recipe from 'Happy Days with the Naked Chef' which works a treat. But I was cooking for one last night and his version for four uses three eggs. Hmmm. Kind of hard to halve the recipe (dividing by four, even harder!) so I decided to use another. I wasn't so impressed with the results as the batter didn't rise much. Several reasons for this (not just the recipe). Firstly, I didn't add any fat to the pan after I'd browned the sausages - Yorkshire puddings like to be poured into a pan with a thin layer of very hot oil. They really do. I did say this wasn't a recipe for dieters! Secondly, my pan was rather too large for just one so the batter had to spread itself quite thin. Nonetheless, next time I'm reverting to my usual batter and it is that recipe that I give here (with thanks to Jamie Oliver). I'm also suggesting you serve this with some kind of onion gravy - delicious!
Toad in the Hole
8-12 sausages (depending on their size and how hungry you are)
1 large (or 2 small) onions, sliced
sprigs of rosemary
For the batter:
1/2 pint of milk
4oz plain flour
1 tablespoon wholegrain mustard
salt and pepper
1. Pre-heat the oven to 220C. Mix together the batter ingredients with a balloon whisk and set to one side.
2. Take a baking tin or deep-sided roasting tin (or whatever dish you wish to cook the toad in, remembering that the oil will need to get nice and hot). Pour in a reasonably generous amount of sunflower oil so that the entire tin is covered in oil. Place in the oven to heat up.
3. Once the oil is hot, add the sausages and sliced onion and brown in the oven for around 10-15 minutes (they should be lightly brown all over so do give them the odd shake, or turn).
4. Remove the tray from the oven and check that there is still a little hot oil in the bottom. If not, you'll need to add a touch more and heat up again. Then pour over the batter (it should sizzle and spit a little).
5. Throw in the sprigs of rosemary and return immediately to the oven for around half an hour, when the batter should be golden brown and nicely risen. Do not open the oven for at least 2o minutes as this could halt the puffing up of the batter.
6. Remove from oven and serve with vegetables and onion gravy. I made a quick sticky red onion gravy by sweating red onions and a little garlic, then adding redcurrant jelly and some red wine and allowing to reduce and bubble. I served the toad in the hole with mashed swede and carrot and peas.