4/12/2018

Toad in the Hole, with Perils of the Night

Toad in the Hole - don't you just love the name?  I have long wanted an excuse to make this dish, without even knowing what it was or having tasted it.  Why, you might say?  Who needs an excuse?  However, be that as it may, whilst reading Sidney Chambers and The Perils of the Night, by James Runcie, Toad in the Hole was mentioned.  That was the trigger, or excuse for making it. Canon Sidney and his friend, Inspector Geordie Keating were frequently having a pint and a pub meal before one of their weekly backgammon games, often discussing the latest murder.

This book is 356 pages, similar to his other four Grantchester books, and consisting of six longish short stories, connected by the place, the characters and approximate, sequential time.  They follow the adventures of full-time priest, and part-time detective Canon Sidney Chambers, in late 1950s Cambridge.

I love Runcie's thoughtful, intelligent writing as the occasionally absent minded priest goes about his parish business, unable to resist helping out his detective friend with solving various mysteries.


From the Publishers:

"Accompanied by his faithful Labrador Dickens, and working in tandem with the increasingly exasperated Inspector Geordie Keating, Sidney is called on to investigate the unexpected fall of a Cambridge don from the roof of King's College Chapel; a case of arson at a glamour photographer's studio; and the poisoning of Zafar Ali, Grantchester's finest spin bowler, in the middle of a crucial game of cricket. As he pursues his quietly probing inquiries, Sidney also has to decide on the vexed question of marriage. Can he choose between the rich, glamorous socialite Amanda Kendall and Hildegard Staunton, a beguiling German widow three years his junior? To help him make up his mind Sidney takes a trip abroad, only to find himself trapped in a complex web of international espionage just as the Berlin Wall is going up.  Here are six interlocking adventures that combine mystery with morality, and criminality with charm."




There were a modest number of food mentions in the book, among the more interesting were "a few thin pork knuckles and some sauerkraut" Sidney was given in an East Berlin prison cell, all the food at the Cricket match fete, including his housekeeper, Mrs. Maguire's Victoria Sponge, her shortbread, and of course what she served up for Hildegard, Toad in the Hole, or what Mrs. Maguire announced as "Sausages in batter."

Onion Gravy on the way

Thus my discovery that the "Toads" of the recipe are the bits of meat or sausages and the hole is provided by a Yorkshire Pudding batter. This was very similar to doing Clafouti or Dutch Baby. According to Wikipedia: 
"Toad in the hole or Sausage Toad is a traditional English dish consisting of sausages in Yorkshire pudding batter, usually served with onion gravy and vegetables. Historically, the dish has also been prepared using other meats, such as rump steak and lamb's kidney.

Batter puddings only began to be popular in the early 18th century. Jennifer Stead has drawn attention to a description of a recipe identical to 'toad in the hole' from the middle of the century. In 1747, Hannah Glasse's The Art of Cookery gave a recipe for 'pigeon in a hole', calling for pigeon rather than the contemporary sausages. The dish appears in print as early as 1762, where toad in a hole is referred to as a 'vulgar' name for a 'small piece of beef baked in a large pudding'.  Isabella Beeton in 1861 gives a recipe calling for rump steak and lamb's kidney.  The origin of the name 'toad in the hole' is unclear. It is often thought to refer to the sausages peeking out through the gaps in the batter."



                                          Toad in the Hole

  •  1 cup milk
  • 1 cup flour 
  • 1/2 tsp salt 
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon fresh sage, minced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  •  4-6 sausages (good quality Bangers or other)
  • 1/3 cup duck, bacon fat or butter or ...(I used part bacon fat and part butter)
  • Red onion or nice mushroom gravy for serving on the side
Put the eggs in a blender and whirl at high speed for 1 minute. With blender running add the milk gradually, then slowly add the flour and continue whirling for 30 seconds more.
AND most important: Cover with wrap and place in fridge for a minimum of 1 hour or overnight.  While it's chilling you might make your gravy, a good recipe for which is here.  I wasn't all that crazy about Jamie's.



Preheat oven to 425F when you are ready to begin cooking, and your batter has been chilled.  Get out a cast iron skillet (preferably) and heat to medium high.  Brown the sausages nicely on all sides.  Pop the garlic and sage into the blender, and whirl a bit. Now pour your chilled batter directly into the hot pan and transfer to oven.  Bake 30-35 minutes or until puffy and lightly browned.


Just lovely comfort food, and will serve four easily. Unless one is a hungry teenage boy. We had a chunky red onion "gravy", so called by Jamie Oliver, on the side, with a small salad. This will be served up over at Beth Fish Reads for her Weekend Cooking event, and at the April edition of Foodies Read.. Stop by and join in for some excellent reading suggestions and lots of good food.

4/07/2018

Tuna Veggie Pancit


My current house guest and friend doesn't consider herself in any way a cook. She is single, travels a lot on missions all over the world, and has no real permanent kitchen.  I pressed her into making a traditional dish from her home - the Philippines - just because I knew she could do it and I wanted something from there.  And guess what? - It was totally excellent, so flavorful and authentic!  Here is Olga at work:

3/30/2018

Lamingtons for The Pearl Sister

 The Pearl Sister by Lucinda Riley, and fourth in her Seven Sisters series, is one of the best she's written yet.  But, of course, I thought that after each one.  I've absolutely loved them all.  She has a way of telling a truly mesmerizing story, that draws you into a place you don't really want to leave.  What a fantastic writer!

This being one of a series, I would suggest you start with her first novel in the progression, if you haven't already,  The Seven Sisters, which is a totally excellent read.

The Pearl Sister story follows CeCe, the artist of her family, struggling with dyslexia, and with fitting into the London art world.  Unsuccessfully trying find her personal metier, she finally drops out, feeling a like a failure.

3/20/2018

The Discovery of Chocolate, Taste of Mexico Stew

Our current Cook the Books Club selection, hosted by Simona of Briciole, is The Discovery of Chocolate, by James Runcie.

In this fantastical tale, chocolate is indeed discovered, by Europeans anyway. Based on historical events, this is the very inventive, and frequently implausibly fleshed-out, tale of one, Diego de Godoy, a young Spaniard who joins up with a ship bound from Spain for the exploration and plunder of the New World with Hernan Cortes. Diego embarks on the journey, to impress and hopefully, win the right to marry his young and rather superficial Spanish sweetheart, despite his low class. She will wait for him to return with a treasure from the New World, something fabulous and worthy of her beauty and love.

Though Diego’s treasure turns out to be chocolate, he also finds true love when he meets Ignacia, a native woman in Mexico. This meeting leads him on an incredible, five hundred year journey, due to an "elixir of life" she mixes into his cocoa drink.



3/16/2018

Lavender Scones In The Apple Orchard

I've just finished another terrific Susan Wiggs novel, The Apple Orchard.  It is like many of her books, setting permeated throughout.  And, happily for me, recipes sprinkled here and there as well.

Tess Delaney, in this book is  is a driven, ambitious, and stressed out provenance authenticator for a major auction house.  She loves her job, travels frequently and has no personal or home life to speak of.  Tess gets some dramatic news while dashing to a meeting, and basically flips out with a full-blown nervous breakdown.  From the Publisher:

"Tess Delaney loves illuminating history; returning stolen treasures to their rightful owners and filling the spaces in people's hearts with stories of their family legacies. But Tess's own history is filled with gaps: a father she never met, and a mother who spent more time traveling than with her daughter.  
Then the enigmatic Dominic Rossi arrives on her San Francisco doorstep with the news that the grandfather she's never met is in a coma and that she's destined to inherit half of a hundred-acre apple orchard estate called Bella Vista. The rest is willed to Isabel Johansen, the half sister she never knew she had. Isabel is everything Tess isn't, but against the rich landscape of Bella Vista, with Isabel and Dominic by her side, Tess begins to discover a world where family comes first and the roots of history run deep."
A lovely book with nuance and meaning, plus family reconciliation and love.  Highly recommended.

3/01/2018

Roast Stuffed Pumpkin and The Art of Mending

I just finished The Art of Mending, by Elizabeth Berg.  A novel and fine allegory on mending things rather than throwing them out.  Family members and friends particularly.  The woman makes quilts, and uses both new and old materials for her commissions.  She discovers the idea might also be transferred to seemingly hopeless people.  Berg delivers a well done bit of personal character growth, along with her story of a family coming together for an annual event, where tragedy faces them.  From the Publishers:

"It begins with the sudden revelation of astonishing secrets—secrets that have shaped the personalities and fates of three siblings, and now threaten to tear them apart. In renowned author Elizabeth Berg’s moving new novel, unearthed truths force one seemingly ordinary family to reexamine their disparate lives and to ask themselves: Is it too late to mend the hurts of the past?
Laura Bartone anticipates her annual family reunion in Minnesota with a mixture of excitement and wariness. Yet this year’s gathering will prove to be much more trying than either she or her siblings imagined. As soon as she arrives, Laura realizes that something is not right with her sister. Forever wrapped up in events of long ago, Caroline is the family’s restless black sheep. When Caroline confronts Laura and their brother, Steve, with devastating allegations about their mother, the three have a difficult time reconciling their varying experiences in the same house. But a sudden misfortune will lead them all to face the past, their own culpability, and their common need for love and forgiveness."

What all this has to do with pumpkins is your guess.  Well, the big family get together was at the State Fair, where of course, pumpkins are displayed, usually monstrous prize-winners .  And then I ran into this beautiful, though wee specimen.  Couldn't resist taking him home.  And finding a good recipe to stuff the little prize with.

2/15/2018

Family Tree and A Sweetheart Dinner

An engrossing, romantic novel, packed full of good food ideas.  What more could you ask for a Valentine's Day read? Family Tree, by Susan Wiggs is all of that and more.  It's about Annie, an independent minded cook, with vision and ambition.  However the career push takes her away from her home, her roots and from the love of her life.  I loved this book.

From the Publishers:

"Sometimes the greatest dream starts with the smallest element. A single cell, joining with another. And then dividing. And just like that, the world changes. Annie Harlow knows how lucky she is. The producer of a popular television cooking show, she loves her handsome husband and the beautiful Los Angeles home they share. And now, she’s pregnant with their first child. But in an instant, her life is shattered. And when Annie awakes from a yearlong coma, she discovers that time isn’t the only thing she’s lost.Grieving and wounded, Annie retreats to her old family home in Switchback, Vermont, a maple farm generations old. There, surrounded by her free-spirited brother, their divorced mother, and four young nieces and nephews, Annie slowly emerges into a world she left behind years ago: the town where she grew up, the people she knew before, the high-school boyfriend turned judge....Family Tree is the story of one woman’s triumph over betrayal, and how she eventually comes to terms with her past."

2/08/2018

Chocolate Liqueur via Sous-Vide or Not


Happy Valentine's Day!  At the back of Lisa Q. Fetterman's Sous-Vide at Home book, I noticed she was making her own bitters and liqueurs and it occurred to me that my cacao nibs would make a lovely home-crafted Creme de Cacao. Some research pulled up a number of articles on the subject: Supercall has a good recipe, for which you don't need a sous-vide appliance.  Then there's Making cacao nib infused liquor, and a great lesson on video for using sous vide to infuse cocktails.

1/29/2018

Polenta with Garlicky Greens and Poached Egg for SPQR


 This has been a TRULY Roman season for me.  First there was Feast of Sorrows, for our Cook the Books Club, then I read Pompeii by Robert Harris, a very interesting and enjoyable book, which I didn't review however, and now The Year of Confusion by John Maddox Roberts. All accompanied by my various ancient Roman cooking experiments, with some help from the excellent little handbook on that subject, Cooking Apicius, Roman recipes for Today by Sally Grainger.

 This novel (which stands alone fine) is in Roberts' series of mysteries, entitled SPQR*, in which the investigator, is a Senator in the years 45-46 BC.  The reason for it being the year of confusion, is partly due to Julius Caesar's decision to change the old calendar out for a new one.  Yes, the Julian calendar.  General unrest as a result, political scheming and various murders, connected with Cleopatra who is present in Rome with her own complications and agenda.  A well developed tale, entertaining characters, and fascinating history, with a helpful glossary of relevant terms at the back. Can't wait to read more in this series.