Luxury Toad In The Hole

fanny and brendas toad in the hole recipe

Let’s face it, each of us has their own idea about what “luxury” is – and perhaps few will see at this moment in time, the possibility of a fine-dining version of something which is basically sausage in batter.

However,  even if the starting point is just a few simple ingredients, by “making it the best you can” you’ll hopefully see how something quite everyday can be transformed into something rather stunning!. The Italians have a phrase for it which is  “bella figura” – something Brenda had never heard of (which I didn’t have the heart to tell her was self-evident…)

Hopefully you’ll see what I mean and enjoy this special edition toad.

fanny and brendas toad in the hole recipe

INGREDIENTS

140g self raising flour
4 large eggs
Eggs

300ml semi-skimmed milk

1 tbsp mustard – Dijon or wholegrain
handful of herbs – leaves picked and chopped. To enhance the leek and onion in the sausages I used thyme and chives, plus sage. Rosemary would have also been good.
4 tbsp vegetable oil plus some goose or duck fat if you have it. Or use a bit of extra oil.
6 sausages – any variety – we used nice herby Lincolnshire ones.
2 red onions – each cut into 6
sea salt
fresh cracked black pepper

METHOD

Tip the flour into a bowl and crack in the eggs, one at a time, whisking as you go. Pour in the milk and keep whisking until you have a smooth batter. Finally, whisk in the mustard, herbs and some seasoning and set aside for 1-2 hrs. I’m not 100% sure why this seems to work – and you will see plenty of debate about it – but in any case, making the batter in advance gets it out the way!
Heat oven to 200C. Put the oil (and goose fat or equivalent – I did say this was the luxury version!) in a roasting tin or baking dish, roughly 30 x 22cm, with reasonably high sides. After a few minutes heating up, add the onion wedges and sausages to the dish, place back in the oven and cook for around 20 mins until getting nice and brown. You can turn everything half way through this if you like. For the last few minutes of this stage, increase the heat to 220C.

Now you can add the batter – ideally by opening the oven door and pouring the batter round the sausages/onions, in situ, using a jug. But if you don’t want the extra washing up or just feel more confident doing it on a surface, the key thing is to ensure you work quickly so that when the batter hits the fat, there’s a good sizzle. If you’ve achieved this stage outside of the oven, get the dish back in ASAP, leaving enough room overhead for it to rise, closing the door nice and smartly to keep as much of the heat in as possible.

The main advice to getting a lovely rise, a crisp golden brown finish while retaining a soft, mallow-ey base, is don’t open the door before 25 minutes. Depending on your oven, it may need a few more – I deemed 27 minutes perfect.

The eggy, light crispness of the batter, puffed to perfection by the roiling goose fat – further enhanced with the herbs and mustard – is a masterwork. If you have some leftover gravy, serve that with it, along with some greens perhaps. You probably won’t need potato as the batter takes care of the carbs! I hope having tried this, you’ll be reluctant to return to the “standard” version any time soon….

 

Chinese Roast Pork with Stir Fry Vegetables

This is quite an undertaking planning-wise as the pork should ideally be left over night to marinate, so it would be good for an Easter celebration lunch. However, left for at least three hours should also give good results. You can also short-cut the mixing and roasting of the various spices by using a standard Chinese five spice blend but we’ve done the full home-made version here.
fanny and brenda's chinese pork stir fry at fannyandbrenda.com

INGREDIENTS
Pre-heat oven to 200°C
750g belly pork
5tsp sea salt
4tsp Szechuan peppercorns
3 star anise
1” cinnamon stick
1tsp fennel seeds
12 cloves
1 tsp sugar
1 tbsp cooking oil/veg oil

fanny and brenda's chinese pork stir fry at fannyandbrenda.com

INGREDIENTS for the stir-fry

500g bag of beansprouts
a carrot – sliced into batons
a red or orange pepper – sliced into approx 1cm batons
a few florets of tender stem broccoli
a small handful of sugarsnap or mange tout peas
a small handful of baby corn
a few asparagus spears
a handful of oyster mushrooms
a red chilli – finely sliced
a large clove of garlic (or two!) – minced
soy sauce
hoi sin sauce
oyster sauce
sesame oil
groundnut or vegetable oil

Pak choi – if using

fanny and brenda's chinese pork stir fry at fannyandbrenda.com

METHOD

The key is producing a tender and melting joint of meat with an intense and crunchy crackling – to this latter end, score the skin lightly (don’t go down to the flesh) with a Stanley knife unless you happen to have a particularly sharp carving knife. I keep a variety of weapons to hand as sometimes Brenda can be quite tense and occasionally needs fending off by force.

Next, boil the kettle and with the meat rind-side-up on a rack suspended over the sink, pour on the hot water. Leave to drain a moment and then pat dry.

Meanwhile, heat a small frying pan (you can use a wok but it’s probably over-large for this) over a medium heat and add the Szechuan peppercorns and the piece of cinnamon. Move these around regularly for one minute then add the star anise. Continue stirring to keep everything roasting evenly and after 30 seconds more, add the fennel seeds and cloves. Dry fry for another minute by which time all the ingredients should be turning one or two shades darker, the fennel and pepper may be beginning to crackle a little bit and just a haze of light smoke beginning to rise. Take off the heat immediately and continue moving around. The spices should be toasted and not burnt.

In a spice grinder or mortar and pestle, grind these altogether along with the salt, then mix in the sugar.

Lightly oil the meat all over and then massage in the salt/spice mix – but particularly into the skin (rind). Leave in a cool, well ventilated area, lightly covered, at least a few hours but better overnight.

fanny and brenda's chinese pork stir fry at fannyandbrenda.com

When it comes to roasting, start at 200°C. While the oven is heating up, pour away any liquid which has accumulated around the pork (which is mainly excess moisture and salt) and put the pork on a wire rack placed over a roasting tray with a few cm boiling water poured in the bottom. The water level should not be touching the pork joint. Roast like this for 15 mins then turn down to 140°C for a further two hours. For the final 15-20 mins, raise the temperature again to 220°C to give a final fierce burst of heat to ensure that crunchy crackling! Take out and rest in a warm place for a 20 mins

Meanwhile, you can get to work on your stir fry which, apart from a little chopping and prep work, is made in minutes – here’s how
fanny and brenda's chinese pork stir fry at fannyandbrenda.com

METHOD for the stir-fry

The idea is to get your veg into pieces approximately the same size. Clearly, matching broccoli florets with batons of carrot is not going to be an exact science, but the lovely pictures we helpfully provide, should help. As a further hint, I just broke down the broccoli into fairly small individual florets, split the baby corn once lengthways, cut the mushrooms once or twice and split the carrots lengthways into either four or six and the peppers into slices approx half to 1cm width.. Sugarsnap peas I left whole.

If you also want to serve some pak choi, this can either be separated into its individual leaves, left whole or cut in halves or quarters lengthways. Just lightly steam just before starting the stir fry.

Get the wok nice and hot and follow with a couple of tablespoons (about 30ml) oil. When starting to smoke, throw in the minced garlic and stir fry for ten seconds or so – don’t burn it which will happen very quickly – then add in the veg and toss and coat quickly and continue to stir fry for about 1-2 mins.

Add the beansprouts and stir through, mingling and coating with the other veg for about 30 seconds and then add a few tbsp soy and the same of oyster and hoi sin sauces. Stir/toss a final time and switch off.

Just before serving, drizzle a few tsp of sesame oil, ditto on the steamed pak choi if using.

fanny and brenda's chinese pork stir fry at fannyandbrenda.com

Fanny and Brenda’s quick Beef Curry

fanny and brendas quick beef curry

Now I know “we don’t do slumming it” and are “the most gorgeous party ladies”. But even belles of the ball like us need to have some slightly simpler, set pieces which can be put together simply. Brenda likes simple things, which explains a lot really.

Again, it may surprise you to learn that we do have occasional days off from our whirl of social engagements although most of the time I am trying to find ways of having Brenda permanently sectioned. To date I have failed, largely because Brenda invites herself on my jaunts as she did recently when there was fun to be had at Mrs Davida Clam’s, – Brighton’s ghastliest landlady (who some of you may remember from our recent visit there making seaside-appropriate fish pie), who on learning of Brenda’s self-invitation then had to cancel her “ladies macramé gathering” at her high class brothel, otherwise more widely understood to be a boutique premium AirBnB-listed luxury apartment. Brenda’s face simply wouldn’t have been acceptable at Mrs Clam’s that night, and I completely agree.

Meanwhile, with my evening at the macramé now ruined, all I can think about is a taste-bud twanging curry even though I’ll be far too resentful to stand there peeling and micro-dicing fresh ginger and roasting off and grinding individual spices to create  a home-made garam masala. And yet we’ll still want something which will be quick to prepare and cook which will be a step up from virtually all other “Curry in XYZ minutes” recipes you may have seen elsewhere. Anyway this is a recipe that is great for a cold spring night after work.

The secret is using a tenderer cut of beef which won’t need a lot of cooking, although you can use cheaper cuts if you’re prepared to simmer it longer – which achieves at least as good results but obviously nibbles away the time-saving. Here’s what you need and how to make it

INGREDIENTS

600g top rump – cut to 1” cubes. ‘Ready cubed’ saves time, although I cut up a joint.
2 medium onions – sliced or cut medium
4 cloves garlic – bashed, peeled and chopped medium. You could also use 4 tsp garlic puree but fresh is better and only takes 1 min
3 good tbsp ghee
1 heaped tsp ground cumin
1 heaped tsp ground coriander
1 heaped tsp ground turmeric
1 heaped tsp ground black pepper
1 heaped tsp hot chilli powder
1 level tsp ground ginger
5 cloves
3 cardamom pods – lightly bashed
1 level tsp ground cinnamon
1 regular can chopped tomatoes
3 or 4 dstspn  natural yoghurt
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
salt
chopped fresh coriander to serve

METHOD

Heat a medium size deep frying pan which has a lid – or a medium casserole dish, add the ghee and once melted, fry off the beef cubes. Don’t worry about doing them in batches, just try to get some light browning – about 7 mins. Remove the cubes and set aside for now.

Into the same pan, but with the heat turn down to medium low add in the onions and garlic. Fry fairly gently for a good ten, but nearer 15 mins is better – so that you end up with lovely intense golden brown onions. At the point where the onions are nearly done, add in all your spices, turn the heat back up to medium high, to continue cooking out the onion/garlic/spice mix, about a further min or so.

Now add the can of tomatoes plus a bit of water if you don’t like your curries too rib-sticking – although careful with this as some yoghurt is about to get mixed in, plus it will in any case thicken naturally as the sauce cooks down.

When the mixture comes up to the boil, add the yoghurt and vinegar, test for seasoning and add salt as required, turn the heat to low and simmer for half an hour with the lid on.

Once the curry is tucked away, wash and set going your rice and chop up the coriander. Serve a bed of lightly buttered fluffy rice with good dollop of curry and a handful of the chopped coriander. Apart from perhaps a blob of your fave chutney or pickle and maybe a crisply fried poppadom, this really is a complete meal, easy to scale up for larger gatherings and will stand being made ready in advance to allow you to shine at your function – rather than developing one toiling in the kitchen while others enjoy.