As one might guess from reading this site, I am the primary cook in our household. The Critic made me an interesting chicken breast, tarragon and grape stew on rice for our first date. And that was pretty much the only meal he cooked for the next three or four years. A few years ago he insisted that he wanted to cook the Christmas turkey so it would be "right", but unfortunately he got the flu on the big day and I ended up taking over. I didn't wake him to tell him I was going to do it, just went and got him when the meal was done. He was also the first one to cook in our new kitchen when we finally had it installed in the new apartment. (He likes to jump in for the historical moments.)
And then there is his pièce de résistance, which he makes about once a year to prove to his daughter that he can cook: Toad in the Hole. Poor little amphibian, I can hear you cry! How can these animal-loving Brits be so cruel? Well, just as Spotted Dick actually has nothing (so far as I know) with what you might think it is, Toad in the Hole does not involve amphibian cruelty. It's basically a Yorkshire pudding with a few sausages plumped in the middle.
It's actually pretty good comfort food: hot and crispy and savoury. With a nice onion sauce, it makes a quick and filling dinner.
I've been trying to reproduce Toad in the Hole correctly for a few years now. For a long time it was always "too dense" or "too greasy" or "just not quite right". But armed with the Critic's own recipe I have finally conquered this classic of English cuisine. The trick - as with good crèpes - lies in allowing the batter to rest for a good 20-30 minutes before you assemble the dish. Okay, I know I said it's a quick dinner, but what I really meant is that the time you actually spend preparing it is very quick. The resting and cooking bring the time up to a little over an hour.
One piece of wisdom I can pass on after many years of making Toad in the Hole (the Critic makes it, on average, once a year, and then only to impress his daughter) is that you don't want to try to make it healthy. Do not, as the Critic initially advised me to do, grill the sausages first so that the fat runs away. As so often in cooking, you'll find that the unhealthy method is the tastiest.
The Critic's Toad in the Hole
100g/4 oz plain flour
scant 300 ml/1/2 pint milk
2 Tbs oil or bacon grease (I use the latter)
Optional: 1 Tbs mustard
Sift flour and salt together (I never do this, but don't tell him), add egg and enough milk to make a sticky mixture, beat well. Then gradually whisk in the remaining liquid. (Note: Nigel Slater advises stirring in a Tbs of mustard. We tried it once and it was a nice touch but it was also Messing With Tradition, which is frowned upon. We haven't gone back to it.) Set batter aside in a cool place for 20-30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 220C. While it is heating, place a small baking pan (just large enough to fit your sausages in one layer) in the oven with the oil or grease in it. When the pan is nice and hot and the batter has rested, remove it from the oven. Carefully swish around the oil/grease to cover the bottom and part of the sides of the baking dish. Plop your uncooked sausages in a single layer and pour over them the batter. Put in the hot oven and cook for 35-40 minutes, until the batter is all poofy and cooked through.
Serve with Onion Sauce:
Sauté one large onion in a little butter. When they are soft and a little caramelaized, add a teaspoon of fresh thyme and a teaspoon of flour. Let it bubble a while and then deglaze with a little white wine. Pour in a glass or so of broth - pork gravy if you have it, or otherwise chicken broth. Let it bubble away and thicken as the toads are baking in their holes.
So there you have it: it's not cordon bleu but it's tasty and even including the sauce-making you only spend about 15 minutes actually prepping the dinner.