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Toad in the Hole 

And other British food enigmas

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Photo by Amy Barnes

My English husband has a love of sausages that I will never fully understand. Same with potatoes: roast potatoes, mashed potatoes, jacket potatoes, potatoes au gratin, new potatoes, potato cakes. Pretty sure Jon would divorce me and marry a potato, given half a chance.

Raised in Arcata on a steady diet of tofu, brown rice and mung bean sprouts, I had no clue what I was up against when I married into the delights and oleaginous horrors of British cuisine. It has not been without its challenges. Black pudding? Just no.

Our pantry is filled with quirky UK staples like PG Tips, Weetabix, Marmite, Golden Syrup, HP Sauce and pickled onions. We routinely feast upon kippers, toast soldiers, parsnips roasted to within an inch of their lives and peas — lots of frozen peas.

The Christmas pudding situation is particularly worrisome. Every December, my mother-in-law dispatches across the globe a dense, prepared-a-year-ago-and-left-to-sit Christmas pudding via FedEx. Following the holiday meal, with paper hat cocked on his head and cracker wrappings all over the floor, Jon joyously douses the festive pudding in brandy and sets it on fire. It gives him gas. The children and I don't eat it.

Back to the sausages. Those of which I speak are not the glistening, wispy American breakfast sausage. We're talking bangers — big, fat, bready British bangers. Nary a week goes by without a banger showing up on our plates.

Jon wraps them in bread with lashings of mayonnaise for a quick meal, or slices them and slings them into a creamy pasta sauce with bacon and leeks. He'll nestle them alongside lamb chops, or include them in a classic English breakfast with fried bread, fried egg, fried bacon, fried mushrooms and fried tomatoes.

Toad in the Hole is a favorite banger incarnation. Only when bathed in Yorkshire pudding batter and stuffed in a gloriously hot oven does a banger become a toad. The meal is completed with a generous pile of frozen peas awash in cheese sauce. Ideally, the cheese sauce should be unleashed on the toad batter as well, but not enough to ruin its crispy exterior.

I dare you to tuck into this classic British meal. It is not gluten free. Nor is it low fat. It's probably not organic, and it definitely isn't light on carbs. But I have to admit, it's really very good.

Toad in the Hole

Ingredients and method:

2 large or 3 medium eggs

2 cups plain flour

2 cups whole milk

8-12 Saag's British Bangers (found locally at Wildberries and the Co-op)

3 tablespoons vegetable oil

Salt and pepper to taste

Prepare the batter by putting eggs, flour, milk, pepper and a pinch or two of salt into a medium bowl. Using your electric mixer, blend until all dry ingredients are incorporated and the mixture is nicely aerated. Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 375 F. Smear the vegetable oil onto a 9-by-11-inch baking dish. Distribute the bangers evenly in the dish and place on the upper shelf of the oven, leaving at least 3 inches of clearance for the batter to rise. Bake it for 10 to 15 minutes, turning once so the bangers brown evenly. Increase the heat to 450 F. Leave the bangers in for an additional 5 to 7 minutes.

At this point, get ready to move fast and try to keep the oven as hot as possible throughout these next steps. A hot oven is the key to a successful toad.

Quickly remove the oven dish and close the oven door. Immediately pour the batter over the bangers and return them to the oven. Cook the batter 10 to 15 minutes more, then reduce the heat to 400 F and bake for another 10 minutes. At this point, take a very quick peek into the oven to determine readiness. For a gooier batter, cook for less time; for a crispy batter, cook for longer. The toad is done when risen all over and golden brown on top. When ready, remove it from the oven and serve immediately, as the batter will begin to deflate as soon as it leaves the oven. Feeds four.

Peas in Cheese Sauce

Ingredients and method:

1 pound bag frozen petite peas

4 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese

1 ½ cups whole milk

Salt and pepper to taste

Corn starch to thicken

Pour boiling water over the peas in a saucepan and return to a boil. The peas are fully cooked when they float to the surface, which should take about 2 minutes.

In another saucepan, pour the milk over the grated cheese. Add salt and pepper to taste. Stir over medium heat until the cheese melts. Make a slurry with a few teaspoons of corn starch in a couple of tablespoons of cold water. When the cheese is melted and piping hot, add the slurry a little at a time, stirring constantly to thicken. Add the cooked peas and serve immediately alongside the toad.

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About The Author

Amy Barnes

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