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Monday, June 23, 2008

Good adaptations

I, like many fellow cooks, have a bit of a penchant for adapting recipes to suit my mood, or, perhaps more often, what's in my pantry. In a way it's what cooking's all about - taking various ideas, methods and ingredients and combining them in your personal style to create your own recipes.

Having the confidence to cook this way is truly one of the great joys of the kitchen for me. I can remember just starting to cook as a child, and following every recipe with great concentration, and an emphasis on getting each ingredient and step exactly as its author described. Then, over time, I became a bit more confident and liberal with my food, such that I now know (most of the time, anyway!) what I can substitute or change about a recipe which will make it suit me better.

It's worth adding, however, that this doesn't always work, even if you are experienced - some things don't take kindly to being played with (bread and a lot of baked goods, for example, and confectionery), and others just don't quite turn out the way you'd hoped. I have, needless to say, had some spectacular failures as well as amazing successes!

The two recipes that follow today, though, are great examples of recipe adaptation: the first, a Nigel Slater-inspired meatballs dish; and the second a gorgeous yoghurt cake made a bit special with the use of leftover poached quinces and caramel sauce to turn in into a fabulously sticky upside-down cake.

As promised in a recent post, I've given Nigel Slater's Appetite a bit of a workout and thought I'd share my version of the meatballs recipe from the book. Mr Slater calls for pork mince as the basis for these little delights, and while I only had beef, I thought they were worth a try...good thinking me! Perhaps a little garlicky for my liking, but that could be easily rectified next time, and my scepticism about there not being any breadcrumbs in the mixture proved to be unfounded. The adapted recipe is below.

As for the cake, I've used this recipe for yoghurt cake a few times and it's worked like a dream in every incarnation, including just the plain version with lemon syrup (which is how it appears in Sweet Food, a little Murdoch Books creation from the Chunky Food series). This time, I had some wine-poached quinces in the fridge, along with a little dribble of caramel sauce, so used these to line the base of my tin and poured the cake batter over the top. Bake, turn out, and voila! A sticky Caramel-Quince Upside Down Cake. This kept Chris and I going for dessert (and, I admit, breakfast on a couple of occasions) for about 5 days. And happily it was almost as good on that last day as it was straight out of the oven. No small feat for a cake, and I suspect it had a lot to do with the moistness that the yoghurt adds.

Do try them, either as I've written, or add your own twist and see what you can come up with. As for me, I think my next yoghurt cake will be split and filled with lemon curd; and the meatballs will be made with pork mince and maybe a little ricotta cheese...happy cooking.

Midweek Meatballs
(adapted from the 'really juicy, spicy meatballs' in Appetite, by Nigel Slater)

I loosely based my recipe on the European version described in the book, using the following:

a decent handful of pancetta, sliced into lardons

500g beef mince

2 cloves garlic, crushed

zest of 1 lemon

2 small red chillies, finely chopped

a good pinch of freeze-dried oregano (MUCH better than normal dried herbs, try them if you can find them at your local gourmet store!)

salt and pepper

Mix all ingredients together, trying not to overmix. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes to firm the mixture slightly, then roll into small meatballs (about a tablespoon of mixture for each one is good).

Heat a little olive oil in a frypan over medium heat and brown the meatballs on all sides, then turn heat to low and finish cooking through.

Serve your meatballs hot, with any of the following:

  • dropped into a chilli-spiced chicken broth with a few soba noodles and some Asian greens
  • briefly tossed with a jar of tomato-based pasta sauce and perched atop a mound of spaghetti
  • with mash and steamed vegies
  • with tiny pasta shapes or rice (try deglazing your meatballs pan with a touch of white wine and throwing the pasta/rice around in this reduced mixture to coat & flavour), parmesan cheese and steamed broccolini - as per today's photo

Caramel-Quince Upside Down Cake

(adapted from the Yoghurt Cake with Syrup from Murdoch Books' Sweet Food)

8-10 pieces poached quince, drained of any syrup

200ml pre-bought caramel sauce, or you could make it yourself if you're feeling industrious (NOT that nasty fake caramel ice cream topping, please!)

185g softened unsalted butter

250g caster sugar

5 eggs, separated

250g plain Greek-style yoghurt

2tsp grated lemon zest

1/2tsp vanilla extract

280g plain flour

2tsp baking powder

1/2tsp bicarbonate soda

Preheat oven to 180C. Grease and line a 24cm round springform tin.

Spread the caramel over the base of your lined tin, then top with the quince pieces, arranging in neat circles so they present nicely when you turn out your finished cake. Set aside.

Beat butter and sugar until light and creamy. Add egg yolks gradually, beating well to incorporate. Stir in the yoghurt, zest and vanilla. Fold in the flour, baking powder and bicarb.

Whisk egg whites until stiff, then fold into the cake mixture. Spoon carefully into the prepared tin, being careful not to move the quinces too much, and bake for 50 minutes or until a skewer tests clean. Cool in the tin for 15-20 minutes, then turn out onto a serving plate so any sauce/juice runs down the sides of the cake.

Serve warm or at room temperature with double cream.