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number 3

Mr. Toad-in-a-Hole’s Wild Ride

by Ivan Lerner

Saturday, January 18, 2003, was one of the first days (of many) to be pegged “The Coldest Day of the Year” by several weather people on the news. So it’s fitting that on that day I came up with a reinvention of a recipe for one of the ultimate comfort foods, something perfect for a cold and windy day.

The meal known as the Toad-in-a-Hole is essentially sausage bread: dough with precooked sausage baked into the batter, with some optional spices. I figure it comes from the UK somewhere. Probably because I had it for the first time in a Scottish restaurant in Los Angeles (Look! There’s Mike Myers!), and both of the recipes I studied were written by Brits: one by Nigella Lawson and one from Jamie Oliver, TV’s Naked Chef. These recipes gave me a leaping off point, but I believe I’ve strayed far enough from the original texts so as to not be accused of plagiarism. To claim it as mine, I have renamed the dish Mr. Toad-in-a-Hole’s Wild Ride in tribute to the Disneyland ride (one of my favorites) and to The Wind in the Willows, one of my favorite books when I was a child.

The way I make it is not kosher and certainly not for vegetarians. But do I as do: if a recipe interests you, take it and experiment. But unless you absolutely know what you’re doing, don’t mess too much with the size set forth in the original recipe – because in doing that, you may also be messing with the time and the temperature.

To cook Mr. Toad-in-a-Hole’s Wild Ride, you’ll need a medium-sized casserole dish with a lid, a frying pan, a mixing bowl and the usual cooking stuff.

(At least, I think it’s a medium casserole dish – I’ve seen smaller and I’ve seen bigger, so I’m assuming it could be a medium. Rather than checking to make sure – and knowing full well that in assuming, I’m making an ass out of you and me—in the fantastically irresponsible spirit of Mr. Toad, I’m declaring my dish to be a medium.)

1 pound sausage (spicy)
3/4 cup of cooked chopped spinach (I used the frozen kind), not too wet
1/4 cup of finely chopped onions
Olive oil or (if you must, although I wish you wouldn’t) vegetable oil

For the batter:
3 eggs
1 1/4 cup milk
1 1/2 cup flour
Salt, pepper, garlic powder, curry powder, poppy seeds

(All my spices are in those little plastic containers that you shake, so that’s why I use “shakes” of this and “shakes” of that instead of “teaspoons” or “tablespoons.”)

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Peel and shred sausage into healthy chunks. (Peels can be used or thrown away. I use ’em, but it’s dealer’s choice.) Fry sausages in pan at medium heat. Fry well, stirring and flipping often. When the sausage is done, turn off heat and let the meat sit in the grease.

While the sausage is frying, mix eggs, milk and flour together well. Add about 4 or 5 pinches of salt (I used the heavy Kosher kind), a healthy shaking of pepper, about 4 shakes of garlic powder, curry to taste (at least two shakes, but I used about 6 shakes), and a heavy shaking of poppy seeds. I used lots! Mix all these well into the batter. Let the batter stand.

Thinly coat the bottom and sides of the medium-sized casserole dish with a little bit of olive oil. Pour in just enough batter to cover the bottom (the olive oil will bunch up around the edges of the batter—don’t worry). Cover and put into the center of the oven for about 6 to 7 minutes.

To the rest of the batter, add the finely chopped onions and the spinach. Stir in very well to make sure spinach and onions are distributed evenly throughout the batter.

After the 6 or 7 minutes, remove the dish from the oven. Don’t worry if the batter doesn’t look like it’s done anything, or if it looks like it’s cooked too much.

Add some of the shredded cooked sausages to the batter in the dish. Use tongs or two spoons to drop them in. Feel free to shake off some excess grease back into the frying pan, but don’t worry about some of the red juice getting into the batter: it adds flavor and color.

Pour on some more batter. Add some more sausages, then some more batter, creating layers. Repeat until you’re out of sausages and batter. Do not stir or mix once they’re in the dish, just pour on batter and add sausages. Try to time it so some batter is the last element to be added to the dish, but without completely covering the last of the sausages.

Cover the dish and return to center of oven. Cook for about 25 to 30 minutes depending on how hot your oven can get. Do not lift the cover of the casserole dish to Mr. Toad-in-a-Hole’s Wild Ride while it’s cooking! You may peek into the oven around 20-25 minutes just to make sure it’s not doing anything wrong, but otherwise let it alone!

Mr. Toad-in-a-Hole’s Wild Ride will rise. If you’re worried about the batter spilling over, put a cookie tray on the oven rack underneath the rack the casserole dish is on.

By around 25 to 30 minutes, Mr. Toad-in-a-Hole’s Wild Ride should be golden brown. around the edges. The sausage on the top should look like the sausage on top of a slice of sausage pizza. The dough should be a little soft and moist.

Take it out of the oven and let cool with the lid on for a few minutes. Then serve out of the dish (Watch out! It’s still hot!), eat and enjoy!

If you have some gravy, you can pour it over your servings, but it isn’t necessary. Mr. Toad-in-a-Hole’s Wild Ride can serve up to six people or just one hungry dude with the munchies and a huge appetite.

Ivan Lerner learned to cook because he was a latch-key child.

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