Monday, December 16, 2013

A quick and easy meal for when it’s cold and blustery

Here in Toronto this past weekend we got our first big dump of snow. Of course, due to the poor winter driving skills of the residents of our fair burg, traffic came to a near standstill. My son Karel and I went for our usual Saturday food shopping excursion to the St. Lawrence Market with a stop or two along the way (Patachou for Sunday croissants and Gasparro’s for a brace of ducks I’d ordered). Usually, this would take us about two and a half hours. Saturday it took over four.

By the time I arrived home, the hours were short for cooking a rather involved meal for an early family Christmas dinner, even though we’ll all be in New York this year to present the newest addition in the Blechta family to our relatives. Actually, there are two being presented: Jackson, our first grandson, and his mum Rena, who very few in the family have met.

Dinner consisted of the two quackers roasted, Czech bread dumplings with gravy and buttered breadcrumbs, braised red cabbage and creme brulée for dessert. It was a race to the finish line because of those two lost hours. I had every intention of taking photos for AMFAS and some later recipe-sharing, but that got lost in the rush. Sorry ’bout that!

While I was speeding around dinner prep, what also struck me was that, even though I enjoy cooking complicated meals, it’s also nice – especially on a cold and snowy winter day – to just do up something quick, warm, and flavorful, sit down with a good book (or spend time writing a good book), and enjoy the wonderful aromas drifting out of the kitchen while dinner cooks. A few times during Saturday’s cooking sprint to the finish line, I did consider how nice it would have been to be preparing something simpler.

I’m sure you’re thinking I’m talking about stews or hearty soups. As comfort food, no doubt they are worth considering, and we often make them. But also on Saturday while we were down at The Market, I stopped in at the Sausage King and purchased four of their wonderful lamb sausages. My plan was to freeze them for use later on when I’m short something to make for dinner or pressed for time. Probably two of them will go for bangers and mash, and that is a worthy inclusion to the list of comfort foods – at least in our house. With a few of Bob Taylor’s fantastic heritage potatoes (I also scored some Irish Cobblers on Saturday – the greatest mashing potato of all times), sautéed onions, and a pint of ale, we will have a worthy meal some cold night sometime in early January. Someday I will do a post on that fantastic British-style combination.

No, what I was thinking about on Saturday whilst slaving over a hot stove was a Blechta family favorite, also from the British Isles: Toad in the Hole. I knew the name long before the dish since its name is so quintessentially English. I can easily imagine a small hamlet in Staffordshire called Toad-in-the-Hole. I mean, that county already has a place called Hamstall Ridware, for pity’s sake. Why not Toad-in-the-Hole?

Anyway, in case you don’t know, this dish is a fantastic combination of sausage and Yorkshire Pudding. It’s quick to make, utterly delicious and will warm you down to your toes when the weather outside is howlingly cold. Give it a go and you’ll see what I mean.

[Sidebar: Our Yorkie recipe comes courtesy of The Galloping Gourmet. It was back in my university days that I used to occasionally watch his quite-funny cooking show (long before he went on the wagon and got all preachy). Around that time, he put out his excellent eponymous cookbook The Graham Kerr Cookbook which has excellent recipes as well as a number of very handy tips on how to do things in the kitchen. You can get used copies for a song, and it’s well worth having on your kitchen shelf. As for his Yorkshire Pudding recipe, it’s hands-down the best one we’ve tried.]

Toad in the Hole
Serves 4

4 sausages (makes no difference what they are as long as they’re of good quality and well-made)
2 cups flour
1 tsp salt
4 eggs
2 1/2 cups whole milk
2 Tbs butter or meat drippings
3 Tbs water (our addition but well worth adding)


  1. Sift flour with salt. Beat the eggs into the milk.
  2. Whisk everything together until blended. Cover with a towel and allow to stand at room temperature for 2 hours in a warmish place to let the starch cells develop.
  3. Broil sausages until about half cooked: maybe three minutes on one side, then flip over and broil for 3 minutes more. Basically, you want to render out some of the fat, but also not cook the sausages so much that, cooking in the batter, becoming they dry out and become mealy. Drain on paper towels. Separate out some of the melted fat from the sausages if you can.
  4. Heat your oven to 400°. Slip a pan with tall sides in the the oven to melt the butter or heat the drippings (rendered bacon fat is also a good substitute). You want the pan and fat to be nice and hot.
  5. Whisk the water into the pudding batter until just blended in (helps it rise).
  6. Take the pan out of the oven, place the sausages onto the bottom like the spokes of a wheel, then pour the batter gently over them. It should sizzle on contacting the hot fat. If the sausages move a bit, place them back into position.
  7. Bake the pudding for 40-45 minutes on a rack at the top of the oven, but leave enough space in case the pudding rises past the pan edges – a good thing you should hope happens. Don’t open the oven to peek for at least the first 30 minutes!
  8. The pudding is done when the top turns a nice golden brown and is firm.
  9. Cut the Yorkie into quarters and serve on a heated plate. We like mustard on the side for the sausages, and a salad or a hot veg with this. We also enjoy a little butter to spread on each pudding mouthful.
Note: We like to cook this in a 12" cast iron skillet. The thick iron really spreads the heat uniformly and gives the pudding a delightfully crispy crust. If you do the same, check your pudding after 35 minutes. It might well be done.

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