Toad in the hole

Toad in the hole needs no explanation to any British person, but this simple dish combines two of my all time favorite things: sausages and yorkshire pudding. Toad in the hole is really just one large yorkshire pudding with sausages sleeping peacefully within the crispy batter. My father in-law, Johnny, was a huge fan of yorkshire puddings and would go great lengths to have them served with every meal.

This is such a simple dish that does not need to fancied up in any way whatsoever, but I like the addition of mustard to the batter as it goes ever so well with the sausages. I also urge you to follow a few key tips when embarking on your own Toad. Let us begin with the sausages. Start with great, not good, sausages. Please, please, please find a good local butcher. Herby pork sausages are best, but find one that you like and play around with it.

For secrets of successful yorkshire puddings, I refer to Jane Fearnley-Whittingstall's The Good Granny Cookbook. (1) Use half milk and half water rather than all milk, (2) let the batter rest for half an hour, and (3) have the oil or fat really hot before you put the batter in. If you follow these rules, your pudding will always rise and it will be puffed and golden brown. I prefer a larger batter ratio to my sausages, so make this in a wide dish to give plenty of room for the batter to work its' magic around the pork.

Finally, make a great onion gravy to go with this and whoever you are serving this to will look at you with weepy eyes as they shovel forkful after forkful into their mouth. In England, instant gravy, such as Bisto, is rather popular. DO NOT even think about it. Remove it from your cupboard and never speak of it again.

If you're going to make this for two people, just use four sausages. For four people, you can add two more sausages and use the same amount of batter.

You can also remove the skin from the sausages and wrap them in a slice of prosciutto which is a delicious addition.

Toad in the Hole with Onion & Madeira Gravy
Adapted from Nigel Slater's Real Food

4-6 pork sausages
3 tablespoons of olive oil (you can also use dripping or lard)
2 free range eggs
1 cup of plain or all purpose flour
1 tbsp grain mustard
3/4 cup milk
3/4 cup water
salt and pepper

For the gravy:
2 large onions, peeled and thinly sliced
1 tbsp flour
1 cup stock
5 tbsp butter
1/3 cup Madeira, Marsala or red wine
worcestershire sauce

You may want to get your onions on the go before you start the sausages. See below.

Preheat your oven to 425F.

Start by mixing the batter. Mix the eggs, flour, milk, mustard and some salt and pepper together with a whisk. Beat the lumps out as you go. The consistency should be like thick cream and no thinner, so you may want to add the milk and water mixture together with the flour a little at a time.

Let it sit for at least 15 minutes.

Prepare your sausages, wrapping them in prosciutto or leaving them as they are. Put the olive oil in your baking pan or tin and pop it in the oven until it is smoking. When you're batter has finished resting, pour it into the hot fat and arrange the sausages in it. Bake for 25-30 minutes until puffed and golden.

To make the gravy, melt the butter in a heavy based pan and add the onions. Cook over low heat until golden and soft. Then cover with a lid and continue cooking until they are brown and soft enough to crush between your fingers.

Stir in the tablespoon of flour and cook for a few minutes until it's lightly browned, then pour in the liquids. Season with salt, pepper and Worcestershire sauce. Bring it to a boil and then turn the heat down, letting it bubble gently for about 15 minutes, stirring from time to time.

Serve with your Toad in the Hole!


Hibernation months

In an effort to kick start my Monday, I spent this afternoon baking a batch of bran muffins that I can feel good about devouring tomorrow morning. We're right in the middle of the worst month of the year, in my opinion. Sick and tired of donning layers of clothes and forecasts filled with snow, I'll do just about anything to add a ray of sunshine into February.

Quite rightly, I tend to spend the "hibernation months" (as we like to call them here in Chicago) with my nose to the grindstone so that as soon as it starts to thaw, I am ready to spend more time outdoors enjoying myself. As part of that workaholic ethos, I am happy to announce that as of today, Hunger Habit has a new look. Thanks to my super talented brother in-law to be, Anthony, I have a new logo. It's certainly not the end to my improvements here in my little blog world, but like anything else I try to accomplish, it's one step in the right direction.

As we count down the days to day light savings time, give these muffins a try. They definitely have a "good for you" value that you don't find in a lot of muffins. I used an Ina Garten recipe and left out the walnuts and kept the raisins and bananas. I have made them with other dried fruits and nuts, but the bananas tend to keep the muffin moist and delicious. You can try adding dried cranberries or apricots instead of the raisins and there are countless different variations worthy of pairing with bran.

I find that if I have a healthy breakfast ready to grab and eat at my desk, my day has an all together perkier beginning. Lately, I find myself staring at 11 am before I can even get to my to-do list. I just hope these muffins understand how much I am counting on them this week.

Chunky Banana Bran Muffins
Adapted from Barefoot Contessa At Home by Ina Garten
Makes about 20 muffins

2 cups unprocessed wheat bran
2 cups buttermilk, shaken
1/4 pound (1 stick) unsalted butter
1/2 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
4 extra-large, free range eggs, at room temperature
3/4 cup unsulfured molasses
2 tsp grated orange zest
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 tsp kosher salt
1 cups raisins
2 cups large diced bananas (2 bananas)
1 cup chopped walnuts (optional, and if used, I like the finely chopped nuts)

Preheat your oven to 350F. Line muffin tins with paper liners or use silicon liners as I have.

Combine the bran and buttermilk and set aside. Cream the butter and sugar together with an electric mixer on high speed for about 5 minutes until light and fluffy. With the mixer on low, add the eggs, one by one. Scrape the bowl and add the molasses, orange zest and vanilla.

Add the bran and buttermilk mixture and combine with a wooden spoon. In a separate bowl, sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt together. Making sure not to overmix, and with the mixer on low, slowly add the flour mix to the batter and only mix until just combined.

Finally, fold in the raisins, nuts and bananas with a rubber spatula.

Scoop the batter into the muffin cups using a large spoon and fill to the top. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until a tooth pick or cake tester comes out clean.

Leave to cool completely, unless someone steals a warm one from the muffin tin.


Best intentions

Sometimes, a sandwich made of ham and cheese just won't do. There's nothing worse than unwrapping a soggy sandwich, one that was made with best intentions at the beginning of the day only to find that it has seeped its juices into the bread and made inedible. Some sandwiches are made to be devoured immediately, and this is one of them.

Hot sandwiches are a bit of a specialty in my house. Whether it's as basic as grilled cheese or a top of the line steak sandwich, when you serve it hot off the griddle, it takes sandwiches to the next level. Cold sandwiches seem a sad excuse for a dinner, but hot ones seem perfectly acceptable.

I made this Nigel Slater sandwich Saturday night after a hangover had pursued me most of the day. The combination of a hard work week, a perfectly prepared Gimlet, and a bottle of wine with my husband over a Friday night dinner proved a little too intoxicating.

When it came to Saturday night, a sandwich was about all I could muster. Just because you don't have the energy for a full blown dinner doesn't mean you can't pull something deliciously tasty together.

Mr. Slater is somewhat of an expert when it comes to stuffing great ingredients between two lowly pieces of bread. This spiced Indian chicken baguette involves a few more moments than slapping a sorry bit of ham and cheese between bread, but I can't emphasize how gratifying it is. The combination of hot, spicy and crispy chicken with the mayo and toasted baguette is something to behold. A cold beer or a salted mint lassi are good to have within easy reach, especially if you decide not to de-seed the red chilli as I did.

Spiced Indian Chicken Baguette
Adapted from Nigel Slater's Real Food by Nigel Slater

Makes 2 large sandwiches

8 large free range chicken wings
groundnut or olive oil for frying
2 small, hot red chillies, seeded and finely chopped (or not- your choice!)
3 thin spring onions, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed to a paste
a knifepoint of ground turmeric
2 small crusty baguettes
a little sugar
juice of one lemon
mayonnaise, about 4 heaped tablespoons

Salt and pepper the chicken wings. Head enough oil to cover the bottom of a shallow pan and cook the wings on each side until they have colored a little, about a minute or so on each side. Turn down the heat and cover and cook for about thirty minutes until they are cooked through.

Remove the chicken wings from the pan onto a plate lined with paper towel. Let them cool and then remove the meat from the bones.

Meanwhile, crush the chopped chillies, garlic, spring onions and turmeric with a few drops of the oil in a pestle and mortar. Split the bread in half and toast on the cut sides in a grill pan or under your broiler or grill. Heat your pan back up and cook the spice paste for a minute or two, being careful not to burn it. Put the chicken back into the pan and stir it until it's coated in the spice paste. Season it with a little more salt and a pinch of sugar and then add the juice of the lemon.

When it's all ready to go, cover the toasted bread with the mayo and pile the hot chicken onto the baguette. Sandwich the bread together, serving it with a little wedge of lime if desired.

Enjoy immediately.


Today I eat cake

Milestone birthdays are one that should be celebrated with vigor and delight. My sweet sixteen pool party or finally turning twenty-one come to mind. I spent several fabulously days in London making my mark on thirty. First birthdays, though we may not remember them, require a large party of adults with alcohol and children running around on mad sugar highs.

My twin niece and nephew, Rosie and Davis, just turned one, and although I'm sure we could have bought them each a cupcake to wipe across their faces, I made them each a buttermilk cake with lots of pale pink and blue butter cream icing smeared on top.

It's straight from my baking bible, Nigella's How to Be A Domestic Goddess: Baking and the Art of Comfort Cooking. I am forever grateful that my sister had two adorable children or it would have been a few years before I found this cake. It was hiding smack in the middle of the Children's section. It's a perfectly simple vanilla cake, just how I like all of my birthday cakes, so it boggles my mind that this should reserved just for kiddies.

There is something in each of us that I believe divides us into the chocolate birthday cake or the vanilla birthday cake camp. Maybe there are those that could go either way, but I'm firmly in the vanilla camp. I can't recall a birthday that I have celebrated over chocolate, and I don't plan on ever changing. I also don't particularly adore icing, but let me just say that this butter icing will convert anyone who says they find it too sickly or sweet. I had to tear the spatula away from my Dad after we had finished icing the cakes before the party.

To my delight, both Rose and Davis ate the cake and I know that they appreciated how I stayed up until 1 am covered in flour and staining my hands with food color.

Davis approached the cake as he does all other food and shoveled an entire handful into his mouth.

Rose, who obviously has a more discerning palate, tasted the sweet icing and wasn't sure at first, but then decided to indulge herself in her birthday treat.

Needless to say, Aunt Lisa ripped the cakes away from the high chairs before their little grubby hands could ruin the entire thing.

As you can tell, I am not a cake decorator and my hat goes off to those with decorating skills. I attack a cake, determined to ice it as quickly as possible so eating can commence, therefore I don't normally have time for sprinkles or God forbid, Thomas the Tank Engine or Barbie.

Buttermilk Birthday Cake

For the cake:
1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup plus 2 tbsp buttermilk (or 1/3 cup plain yogurt mixed with 1/2 cup low-fat milk)
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup softened unsalted butter
3/4 cup sugar
3 large eggs

Keep in mind that the quantities above makes enough for one 9-inch square pan, 2 inches deep. You could quite easily make two 8 or 9 inch round cakes and sandwich them together to make an impressive birthday presentation.

For the icing:
1 1/3 cups softened unsalted butter
4 1/2 cups icing sugar or confectioner's sugar, sifted
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp milk

Prepare your pans by greasing them with butter and lining them with parchment or wax paper. Preheat the oven to 350F. Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt together into a bowl and set aside. Pour the buttermilk into a measuring cup and stir in the vanilla.

Cream the butter and sugar together in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed or by hand until light and fluffy. Reduce the speed and add the eggs one at a time, beating for 30 seconds between additions.

Add alternating increments of the flour mix and the buttermilk mix, blending well in between. This should take about 5 minutes.

Pour into your prepared pan or pans and bake for 40 minutes until it's beginning to shrink away from the edges and a cake tester or toothpick comes out clean.

Cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes and then un-mold and let it cool completely.

While the cake is cooling, mix the butter and icing sugar together in an electric mixer, by hand or with a hand-held electric mixer. Add the vanilla and the milk and continue mixing until the icing comes together in soft peaks.

Add food coloring to make the desired color. Make sure your cake is completely cooled before icing your cake.