Monday, 25 October 2010

Toad in a bowl.

This was a perfect pudding - then The Chap snaffled a bit while I was reaching for the camera.
I'm not sure if it's one step on my journey to total infantilisation (which will eventually see me tucked up on the sofa in a slanket 24/7, slurping food which does not require any chewing), but I just love a bowl, me. Especially in the colder months. What is it that is so comforting about food in bowls? Soups, stews...yes, but it's not just the ingredients. It's eating a meal that you can basically curl yourself around.

The first time I was invited to the BBC Folk Awards, the invite read "bowl food will be served". Fantastic! Eating from a bowl had gone posh! Having no idea what bowl food could possibly be, I looked forward to the event, and my bowl, with anticipation. As it turns out, "bowl food" means very small portions of things that have to be eaten with a fork or spoon, and you eat them while standing and talking to people and walking around. The idea is to nosh and network simultaneously, and - crucially - to eat more than one bowlful. So it's bigger than a canape, but less than a meal. For a generously-proportioned guttersnipe such as myself, who is unused to such social complexities as bowl food, and events where bowl food might be served, my first experience was something of a disaster: I ate one  portion of duck cassoulet from a doll-sized bowl, and suppressed my disappointment (and hunger) as I didn't want to appear greedy - thin people always look disapproving when they see fat people eating, and I could just imagine what they'd be thinking if I'd tucked into seconds (or fourths). Later in the evening I went on to treat my virtually empty stomach to quite a lot of the free wine on our table. Let's just say that the next day, when a friend mentioned Phil Collins's appearance at the event, I thought she was making it up and actually had to check Youtube for the evidence (turned out I'd got loads of photos of him on my phone, which I still don't remember taking). Um...yeah. Happily, I've become better at bowl food since then (and also care a lot less whether thin people want to watch me eat or not). This year I will have a few bowls for ballast, trying different dishes and maybe even grabbing seconds from a passing waiter if something is really nice, before the wine course is served. It's better that way - trust me.

The problem with event-based bowl food is that it's the opposite of what it should be. It's small and fussy. Bowls should be big and roomy and comforting...even the word is like a hug. So what could be better in cold weather than a bowl actually made of food, and served - where else - inside another bowl? Yesterday I made that pub grub favourite, giant Yorkshire puddings. I tried this many years ago but they never came out the right shape, or rose as much as I wanted. But I've cracked it now: I used two 7" silicone cake tins. Success!

What I really fancied was Toad in the Hole, but I always find my Yorkshire pudding goes a bit dry in a big roasting tin. So instead we had Toad in a Bowl: sausage casserole, sweet potato & swede mash and leeks, served in a bowl made of Yorkshire pudding.

Next time you need double hugs,you might try making this:

Toad in a Bowl (serves two greedy people)

Ingredients for the casserole:

6 good-quality butcher's pork sausages (I used Irish-style sausages with spring onions)
1 - 2 red onions
2 cloves garlic
2 - 3 streaky bacon rashers or pancetta, chopped
A dollop of apple butter (optional - you could use sliced apples and a dash of cinnamon instead, or omit altogether, but apple and pork is always nice)
2 carrots, chopped
A glass of dry cider
Some fresh thyme
A teaspoon(ish) of Dijon mustard
4 oz mushrooms, sliced
Beef or pork stock
A dessert spoon of flour
Olive oil

For the Yorkshire pudding:

4 oz flour
2 eggs
salt & pepper
enough milk to make a thin batter
More olive oil

Measure flour into a mixing bowl. make a well in the middle and add the eggs and a pinch of salt and freshly ground pepper. Add a little milk, and using an electric mixer (actually, for this job I use my grandmother's old rotary whisk. I don't know why, but I always do), begin to blend. Gradually add enough milk (a quarter of a pint pint won't be far off) to make a smooth, thinnish batter. Whisk for a minute or so to get as much air as you can into the batter. Set aside to rest.

Now heat a bit of olive oil in a large frying pan. Brown  the sausages and remove them from the pan. Add the pancetta or bacon to the pan and fry for a minute or two. Add the onion and fry for a further couple of minutes, until it begins to soften. Now add the mushrooms, garlic, thyme and carrots (and apples if using), and fry for a further few minutes, till the mushrooms begin to sweat. Sprinkle the flour into the pan and cook for another minute, stirring. Gradually pour in the cider a little at a time, stirring all the while. Add a ladle or two of stock, the apple butter (if using), and bring to the boil. Take down to a simmer and reduce the liquid by about half, stirring regularly, until it is a rich brown and nicely thickened. Return the sausages to the pan and cook for a further 15 minutes. Check your seasoning. 

About half an hour before the casserole is finished, heat the oven to approx 220c (425f). Put enough olive oil in the bottom of your silicone tins to give a thin film, and put them in the oven. When the oil is smoking hot, ladle in the Yorkshire pudding batter - you probably won't need all of it, but you want to ensure that the bottoms of both tins are covered to about 1/8 of an inch (I always find less batter gives a better result). Put them in the oven and check after 15 minutes or so - remove from the oven when well risen and golden, and tip any residual oil out of the middle. Keep in a warm place until the casserole is ready. 

Serve the casserole in the puddings, with mash and veg. Not exactly fine dining - but if you find yourself at a do where they're serving bowl food, you'll wish you had this instead.

(Note: if you don't fancy bowls made of food, this recipe makes approx 14 - 18 standard-size Yorkshire puddings.)

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