Sam of Becks n' Posh is hosting a one-time food blogging event called Fish & Quips. The goal of this event is to prove that English food is not a joke. Since I am a bit of an anglophile and like all sorts of English food, and since my top two favourite cookbooks are written by Englishpeople (Nigel and Nigella), I want to help the cause.
So, back in August 2005, I was riding on a tourist train in Leicestershire with my spouse and daughter, and a friend. The baby was also along for the ride, in utero.
It was a very cool train, with little compartments like they have on the Hogwarts Express, and a fancy dining car and everything. We had tea in the dining car, but we weren't hungry or wealthy enough for a full meal. That was a shame, because the smells coming from the other tables were quite tantalizing. When I took a peek to see what everyone else was having, it looked like medium-sized Yorkshire puddings, filled with mashed potatoes and two big sausages, then covered with onion gravy. Mmmmmm.
That dish was so interesting to me that I tried to convince everyone that we should order one and share it, just so we could try something we'd never had before. But the others managed to convince me that we shouldn't bother, and that we would just order the same thing in a pub sometime later. Since I never knew what the dish was called, however, I never was able to order it in the pub.
Fast forward 20 months. I'm sitting outside chatting with Alan, a friend of my mother's who hails from Yorkshire. We came around to the subject of these crazy mashed potato, sausage and gravy stuffed puddings and I mentioned how I'd been meaning to make them for ages (every since the train ride) but it seemed like a lot of work and a lot of starch. Finally, for the first time, someone had an inkling of what I was talking about. According to Alan, the dish I was describing (minus the potatoes, which perhaps I imagined) was none other than toad-in-the-hole, something I remember Adrian Mole eating at his school lunch. But I never knew what it was.
That very evening, I went to work to make toad-in-the-hole for our dinner. It's always good to have something boozy to keep you company while you cook. My preference is for red wine. But surely that wouldn't do for Fish & Quips! Instead, I opened a bottle of something more appropriate:
I started dinner a bit late, and wanted to find a quick and easy method for the dish. Wikibooks had one that looked almost too easy. I was a little skeptical about how it would turn out. I wasn't sure about the shape of the pan I used; I wasn't sure about the Yorkshire batter recipe (Nigella's from How to Eat, which I'd never used before); I wasn't sure if Galloping Goose Boerewors were the right sausage for the dish -- actually I knew they weren't, but used them anyway; and most of all, I wasn't sure if a gravy made with Better than Bouillon and no drippings from a roast was going to taste any good.
I needn't have worried.
Okay, I'll admit, to Canadian eyes, that dish looks a bit bizarre. But if you could have smelled it, you would have eaten it, no matter how strange-looking. Even my picky seven-year-old grinned greedily when I handed her her plate (though she did pick out all the onions out of the gravy). The pudding was not as light as the individual-sized ones that my mother-in-law makes whenever she serves roast beef, but it did rise nicely and took on some of the flavour of the sausages, making it perhaps the most tasty bit of Yorkshire pudding I've had.
So there you have it. After all these months, I finally reproduced that dish that I always regretted not ordering on the train. And it was as good as I expected, even with those unauthentic clove and coriander-spiced sausages and fake-ish gravy. The second bottle of Newcastle didn't hurt either.
Thank you to Sam for hosting this event and a happy St. George's Day to all.