Monday, December 03, 2007

Variations on a Theme

Time for me to stop living in the past and come back to the present. Today's topic being variations or alternatives. Different ways to give an ordinary dish a different flavour.
When it comes to texture - instead of using cream, try substituting thick yogurt, fromage frais, cream cheese (thinned down slightly with milk), or creme fraiche in savoury and also in some sweet dishes.
Instead of mashed potato to top a cottage pie, use mashed sweet potato, or ordinary mash blended with mashed parsnips, butternut squash, carrots, even mashed cauliflower.
To mashed potato add crushed crispy bacon, caramelised onion, grated cheese, herbs - not all at the same time but you get the idea.
Experiment with different spices - cinnamon, mixed spice, ginger (try this when making biscuits or plain cakes). Or for the savoury - turmeric, chilli powder, cumin, cardoman. Each having its own special flavour, as do different herbs, which is another way to make a subtle change to the taste of a dish.

When making custard, a spoon of cocoa can turn it into a chocolate blancmange, add a dash of orange liqueur and it then becomes the start of a more upmarket and adult dessert. Put into a bowl, topped with meringues (spoonfuls of meringue mixture cooked in a pan of hot water or milk) and it becomes the dessert called Floating Island.

Here is a basic recipe to make (American) muffins. Following that are several variations. Note - if using self-raising flour use only 1 tsp baking powder. Muffin recipes are useful in that the dry ingredients can go into one bowl, the wet into a jug, and combined the following day if you wish.
Basic Muffin Recipe: makes about a dozen
8 oz (250g) plain flour
3 tsp (15ml) baking powder
half tsp salt
3 0z (75g) gran sugar
1 egg, beaten
8 fl oz (240ml) milk
3 fl oz (90ml) sunflower oil (or melted butter)
Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt, the stir in the sugar. Set aside.
Into a jug put the egg and milk, mix together and add the oil (this will float on the top and needs to be stirred together when ready to mix into the dry ingredients). Pour all the wet ingredients into the dry and stir gently together until just combined. Do not overmix, it will appear lumpy.
Put paper cases into 12 muffin tins and fill at least three-quarters full. The amount of mixture should be enough for 11 or 12 cases. Bake at 200C, 400F, gas 6 for 20-25 minutes or until lightly browned and the tops spring back when lightly pressed. Best eaten warm (although the cooler they are the less the paper cases stick to the muffins). If possible eat the day of making, although they will freeze and can be thawed and refreshed for a few seconds in the microwave.
Poppy seed and Almond: add 1 - 2 tblsp poppy seeds to the dry mix and 1 tsp almond essence to the wet mixture.
Lemon: add 1 tsp grated lemon zest to the wet ingredients. Ice muffins as soon as baked with a mix of 3 oz (75g) icing sugar and 3 tsp lemon juice.
Choc-chip: add 3 oz (75g) chopped chocolate drops to the dry mix.
Coffee and Walnut: omit the milk and substitute 8 fl oz of cold coffee (made with 8 fl.oz hot milk into which has been stirred 2 - 3 tsp instant coffee). Add 2 oz (50g) chopped walnut pieces to the dry mix.
When ready to bake sprinkle the tops with 2 oz (50g) demerara sugar mixed with a good pinch of cinnamon.
Cranberry: halve the quantity of milk and add 6fl.oz of chunky cranberry sauce to the liquids. To add further flavour include half a tsp of orange zest.
Yogurt: omit the baking powder and milk. Substitute 8 fl.oz plain yogurt, 3 tblsp cold water (to the wet), and 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda to the dry - these are best made fresh, not ingredients kept separate overnight.
Unlike other muffins, these are wonderful eaten warm, spread with butter and jam. A variation of a scone.