Monday, 15 September 2014

Fictional Food Adventure: Making Danny's Marvellous Father's Marvellous Toad-in-the-hole.

Toad-in-the-Hole. What an adventure. Despite loving this dish, we have avoided cooking it since our one and only failed attempt several years ago. We had used a recipe by a certain lady-cook whose name rhymes with Celia, and we were so bitterly disappointed with the result. It came out as a flat biscuit and we didn't really understand why.

The lovely thing about this Fictional Food Adventure is that it's challenging me to try things I may have otherwise avoided. I'm already thinking more about what we cook, and relishing the time in the kitchen more. I'm excited about attempting new things and playing around with recipes.

So, after a busy week, Andy and I went out on a Saturday afternoon to buy some sausages for our second-ever Toad-in-the-Hole. Despite being my own challenge, it's lovely having Andy's support, and it was really nice to share the preparations, with the cats swirling round our feet like little reef sharks.

Andy fried the sausages gently on the stove to brown, and chopped the onions for our Onion Gravy (another first) while I mixed the batter. Halfway through adding the milk I heard a little trimphant cry fro Andy as he unwrapped the sausages and found that they were still strung together. I held my phone up to snap my happy man, and just after the photo blipped onto my screen my phone started ringing. It was our very dearest of friends, a friend who fits into our life in the snuggest and easiest way. Even if we're tired, we don't have to feel sociable to see Ally. She is a part of our home now, and she knows there's always a cup of tea waiting, and two cats to stroke. So when I picked up the phone and found out she was just coming to the end of some shopping in a nearby town, my immediate question was "Are you coming our way?" We had a very tricky conversation where I couldn't really hear anything she was saying and her phone turned off halfway through but managed to yell at her to grab some veggie sausages and extra milk as we were running out and she is not a meat-eater. A little while later, some extra batter was being stirred, and Ally arrived with her sausages and milk and we got the dinner well on its way. We followed the advice of our neighbour who stressed that we must use a metal pan, and it must be hot as hot.

Once it was all shut safely in the oven, we sprawled around the kitchen, mostly talking about shoes. I'd got a pair of exceedingly comfy size 9s in our favourite charity shop that afternoon, as well as an unlikely pair of brand new high heels, egged on by Andy who said I should buy them 'just in case!' And Ally was contemplating some new shoes to go with a new dress for a friends wedding.  While the onion gravy bubbled along on the hob we chatted and laughed and took turns in the two armchairs while pootling about with spoons and jugs.

We had a bit of trouble gauging whether the batter was cooked as we weren't allowed to open the oven during the cooking, and the high sides of the dishes made it hard to see through the glass but Andy had a good go shining his phone-torch in on it. We gave it the time our recipe advised and eventually decided to take them out.

This was the rather sorry sight that met our eyes. We'd been worried it wouldn't be cooked through, but the over-browned, brittle, husk of a surface hid a dense and stodgy layer of batter that, despite not being light and fluffy, was cooked and tasty! The onion gravy was thick and delicious and actually perfect, but we could have done with more of it! We served it all with a pile of steaming bright green peas and settled down to stuff our faces with our far from dream-come-true Toad in the Hole dinner.

Ally was very kind and told us that hers usually ends up flat and stodgy and we had a good laugh about it. We worked out that our main mistake seemed to have been that we poured the batter in too deep. We determined to try again soon and not be put off so easily as last time. I could have waited til a day when we have perfected the fine art of Toad-in-the-Hole and then share my results, but I thought you'd rather see this. This was an experience. A joyful one, with the unexpected bonus of a vegetarian alternative and a spontaneous shared evening with a friend. I wouldn't have swapped it for anything.  I only admire Danny's "Marvellous Father" even more for being able to cook a good Toad-in-the-Hole.

As Danny says at the end of the book, "Because what I am trying to tell you ... What I have been trying so hard to tell you all along is simply that my father, without the slightest doubt, was the most marvellous and exciting father any boy ever had."

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