23 August 2010

Toad in a hole

For some reason, the British weather this year has been running like clockwork. When the calendar said winter, we got snow. Now that it is turning towards fall, the days are gradually getting cooler (well, like they are supposed to but have been skipping around for the past few years). There is a certain feeling and smell in the air of fresh nights, cool breezes, a turn in the weather. Over the years, I love fall more and more and the thought of getting out all my sweaters and coats and gloves and scarves, eating warm, comfort food every night and all the delicious bounty of fall foods makes me urge the seasons on, to get to fall more quickly.

This summer has been great with lots of nice sunny days and some warm ones at the beginning too. But I'm not a summer person and I long for cooler days and the first morning you can see your breath, the crunch of leaves under your shoes and as much tea as you can drink. Naturally, when the weather hinted at a slight drop in temperature, I tried out a favorite British comfort food- toad in a hole.

I have no idea where the name comes from or if it is toad in a hole or the hole- there's no consensus on the matter. It is basically sausages in a Yorkshire pudding batter, served with veggies and gravy. I even turned to Delia for the recipe for the batter, which makes this a thoroughly British dish.

The batter is a simple combination of egg, milk and flour.

You will need to cook some sausages, either under the broiler/grill or in a pan, and if you would like to have individual portions, cut the sausages in half to fit in a muffin pan.

That's right, I said muffin pan. Place half a sausage in each muffin cup with a little oil and pour the batter over it until about halfway full.

When they cook, the batter will puff up and become golden and crunchy on the outside.

Pop two or three onto a plate with some vegetables.

Oh, and pour on the gravy!

I'm so excited fall is coming back around.

10 August 2010

We're Jammin'

I made 213 small jars of blackberry jam this weekend.

That's 53 pounds of jam. Over 26 pounds of blackberries and sugar each. I'm guessing somewhere between 6-8,000 blackberries. Basically, a lot of jam.

My fiance and I made this ridiculous amount of jam for our wedding as favors to give to all guests. The great thing about it all is that the blackberries were free! A couple of years ago we took a walk near my fiance's house and found a big field with a public footpath alongside, which was covered with blackberry bushes. After making jam last year successfully we decided that it would be a great idea for the wedding and could tie in with our colours among other things. Plus, this way I actually get to make something for the guests and give them something that they might use and enjoy.

This weekend was a lot of hard work, almost an assembly line in the kitchen, but well worth it. And it might sound silly, but whenever I make a gift for someone, I think about them and the event and try to put my good thoughts into it. So I was filled with thoughts of the wedding and my friends and family and generally love. Oh, and after picking blackberries for over four hours I couldn't shut my eyes without seeing blackberries.

Different blackberries each time.

Making jam has been something my family has always done, though I hear it is making a comeback in the States due to financial difficulties. Really, there's no great secret, it's just about putting in the time and effort now to have beautiful jam all year round. (I still have some from last year.) I was used to different jars and having the sugar and pectin sold separately to make jam, but in the UK you can get jam sugar, which is already pre-mixed. Amazing!

The recipe I used for this blackberry jam is 3 pounds blackberries, 3 pounds jam sugar and a knob of butter.

Crush the blackberries well and maybe cook for a bit until broken down. I don't like lumpy jam, but if you do, then leave the berries mostly intact.

Add the jam sugar or sugar and pectin and knob of butter. Stir well.

Heat it all until just boiling and usually frothing and keep this going for 3 or so minutes. It should be ready to set now, but if you are unsure you can stick a spoon in and see if the jam sets into a jam-like consistency after it cools.

Scoop the jam into clean, sterilised jars (you can put them in the oven on a low heat for about 10-15 minutes to do this) of a size of your choice. I don't really recommend 200 tiny little jars, but they do look nice.

Carefully wipe the lids of any residual jam and close them tightly. As the jars cool, it should suck the air in and keep the jam for a long time.

Blackberry jam makes some of the prettiest jam out there. The colour is like a mahogany wine and in the right light it can take on a bright fuschia or a deep, velvety maroon.

So in seven months, hopefully everyone will like it!

PS- I still have 27 jars to go. Guess what I'm doing on Saturday?

4 August 2010

Sloppy Joes

Isn't sloppy joes the greatest name for a dish?

Whenever I think of sloppy joes, I think of my great-grandma. This is probably due to the fact that the only time we ever has sloppy joes was at great-grandma's house. (By the way, the more times you say it, the better it gets!)

What are sloppy joes? It is a dish of mince meat and a tomato/ketchup sauce served on buns or rolls. Simple and cheap to make, it can feed a lot of people and it's made with ingredients that most people will have in the house. In the US, there is even a brand of sauce called 'Manwich' to mix with the mince meat to make sloppy joes so all you have to do is have the one can in the cupboard, in keeping with the convenience-is-of-the-utmost-importance-in-American-kitchens theme.

My great-grandma (and great-grandpa) grew up during the Depression and particularly great-grandma had to stop school and start working at the age of 13 to help support her other twelve siblings. Those who had their formative years during the Depression carried many habits and mentalities of the age with them throughout their lives, which came through in great-grandma the most. She would save every rubber band, re-use glass jars from food, make her own clothes and make food container covers from thick plastic bags (ingenious!). After a childhood and many years of making everything from scratch and eeking the most out of the food they had, I can imagine that the conveniences of the 1970's onwards, like sloppy joes mix in a can, was a godsend.

Even with the convenience of sauce-in-a-can, it is not difficult to make. The sauce ingredients are straight from the cupboard:

Brown a pound of ground beef with some onions.

Add a can of chopped tomatoes and ketchup.

Add the mustard, Worcestershire sauce, vinegar and brown sugar (not pictured above for some reason).

Let all of that simmer together for a while so the sauce is tangy, sweet and tomato-y. It should still have lots of juice so that when you put it into a bun, it's sloppy.

I like to toast the bun first so the juices don't make the bun soggy, then pile the sloppy joes mixture on top. Mine wasn't quite as sloppy as it could have been, but I think I underestimated how much meat I had.

And because I felt like there should be something other than meat and bread in this meal, there are six singular green things on the plate too.

I don't have sloppy joes ever really but sometimes you have a craving that you must give in to. Plus, my fiance had never heard of this dish and I really couldn't let him go without sampling something that has such strong ties with my memories of visiting great-grandparents (this, and jello with cocktail fruit- but that's for another time). I made it from scratch as 'Manwich' mix is not available here. Still, this one is for great-grandma.