I think it may be impossible for me to follow a recipe without making alterations of some kind. Strangely, however, I always need a base as a jumping off point. If I can at least visualize a final result, I can see all my tweaking to be done along the way. If there was ever anything that a culinary school could do for me, it would be to school me on the science of cooking. In lieu of that, I guess I'll always have Alton.

This past week, I've been altering lots of things. First, a soup that began as Thai-Style Chicken and Rice Soup at Epicurious.

adaptation #1: Thai-Style Soup.

My secret ingredient came by accident when my Husband (who, incidentally, is really incapable of eating any Asian/Latin/Egg dishes without a hot sauce addition of some kind) added the sweet chili sauce before eating.

The original recipe, at the link above, had you straining out the ginger and garlic. This is too much work for me, and I hate to think of the flavors I'd be missing out on, so I'll recant my Thai-Style Soup recipe for you here:

adapted Thai-Style Soup

1 onion, chopped
2-4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced (the larger you leave the pieces, the milder the final result: Thanks for telling all the secrets of garlic, Alton Brown...)
1 T. Thai Curry Powder (or Thai Red Curry Paste)
1 t. ground coriander
2 inch piece of ginger, grated on the microplane (or chopped finely)
8 c. (2 quarts) chicken stock, or equivelent substitution
4 c. water
1 can coconut milk (I used to buy "Lite Coconut Milk" from Trader Joe's, since there are no crazy chemicals, and it's really cheap. Then R1 told me, why not just buy the real deal since they just add water to "Lite" coconut milk - not that I'm eating coconut milk Morning, Noon and Night mind you - you can freeze a partial can, not in the can of course, if you only want to use half. The Thai Kitchens brand is seriously delicious, and also crazy chemical-free. One whole can of silky, thick, full-fat coconut milk in this soup was perfect.)
2 c. cilantro, coarsely chopped
1 c. basmati rice
1/2 lb. (or more to your liking) boneless, skinless chicken breast, thinly sliced crosswise OR 3/4 lb. medium shrimp 31-35 count, peeled and deveined or (I'm wagering) one block extra firm tofu
2 c. or so frozen peas, if you are out of season
2 T. or more fish sauce
salt, 1 1/2 t. or to taste
Mae Ploy Sweet Chili Sauce to serve (buy this from an Asian food store, and it's less than $3...)

In a dutch oven, heat a bit of olive oil (or any oil you cook with) and saute the onion, garlic and ginger until translucent, about 5 minutes or so. I actually like to heat the oil up with the garlic, since I think it makes it milder - a trick I plucked from Marcella Hazan. When the onions are appropriately sauteed, add the curry powder (or paste) and coriander and stir for 1 minute.

Next, add the stock and water. If you are holding this to make later - this is a good place to put the lid on and turn off the heat. If you are continuing: bring to a simmer and add the rice. Start checking for the doneness of the rice at about 12 minutes. You really only need to cook the chicken in simmering water for 3 minutes (so make sure you do slice it thinly), so I like to add it when the rice in just about to be done. I will say, that normally rice in soup seems to grow. The basmati rice, however, seemed to stay about the same. Even after it rested in the fridge for a day or two.

When the rice is near cooked, add the chicken, and simmer until just cooked, about 3 minutes. Stir in coconut milk, cilantro, peas and fish sauce, and cook until the peas are tender, about 2 minutes. Adjust seasoning with salt.

Serve with sweet chili sauce. After our initial dinner, I froze 2 quarts of the leftover soup in jars and saved 1 quart for my lunches (I finished the last bowl today). I like having frozen soup on hand, since I don't really buy canned soup. After my initial impression with the longevity of the rice in the icebox, I'm looking forward to delicious thawed frozen leftovers sometime in the future.

adaptation #2: Susan Purdy's bread pudding.

In Have Your Cake and Eat it Too, Susan Purdy massively adapts higher fat recipes into relatively guilt free pleasures. Late last week, I had a half a loaf of bread to use up so I made a variation of her bread pudding, as I have several times in the past. My Mom gave me a copy of this book, and I confess that while it does have a few things that I like, it does tend to be a little to lean for me. If you want a low-fat alternative that you want to eat up in one day, this is the book for you. I've found I liked most of the recipes, but they are too low in fat to taste good for the 7 days that I want and need a recipe to endure - and also cake that is so lean seems to mold fast at room temperature, and I like my cake out on the counter where it can stare at me.

She also seems to have a phobia of egg yolks, which I know was all the rage a few years back. Instead of using her approach of fewer egg yolks and more egg whites for this bread pudding, I like to just throw in 2 eggs and be done with it.

A poor pictorial rendition, as it came out of the oven in the evening...

adapted Bread Pudding:

Combine 4 cups of bread cubes (I love to use artisan style bread here since it really holds up), 2 T. of dark brown sugar and a pinch of salt in 2 c. of milk (originally 1%, but I use skim) for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, mix 2 eggs 1/4 cup granulated sugar (recipe calls for 1/2 cup if you like it sweeter), 3/4 c. milk, 1/4 c. whisky or rum, 1/2 t. cinnamon, 1/2 t. nutmeg, 1 t. vanilla extract and 1/2 c. raisins. Pour mixture over the bread cubes, and transfer to a 9x9 glass baking dish.

I like to poke any visible raisins under the surface so they plump up nicely. Bake at 350 degrees for about an hour, checking at the 45 minute mark. I never bother, but you can bake in a bain marie (hot water bath) as well. It may take slightly longer. Bake until the custard sets. Since it isn't an egg heavy custard, it is a looser interpretation of custard. But rest assured the results are adequate, politely boozy, and rapidly devoured by bread pudding fanatics (a.k.a. me in my household...). It also keeps quite well in the fridge for nearly a week.

adaptation #3: Insanely Healthy Pumpkin Bread

I got it in my head that I desperately needed Pumpkin Bread. Partially because we read the Runaway Pumpkin, on Lindy's advice, and Boy-O was talking about it. A quick Googling unearthed this recipe with so much room for adaptation that I knew I had to make it.

I really did mostly follow the recipe, and was taking it up on adding whatever I had to laying around to use up. Below you can see the leftover almonds mixed with powdered sugar from the last Daring Baker Challenge. I guess it pays not to ever throw anything away...

I also used up several other tablespoons here and there of chopped up nuts. My only mistake was adding additional chopped nuts to the tops before baking. Usually they toast and sink perfectly into the bread, resulting in my favorite way to enjoy nuts in quick breads. But due to the stiffness of the batter, I think I've eaten most of them as they have fallen off during slicing...but I'm not complaining.

I've wrapped it in foil, and parked it in the fridge since it is very dense and English-puddinglike. Today I discovered that it is incredible spread with grape jelly, and somehow it really enhances the pumpkin flavor. I opted for the very low sugar content, and even abstained from adding my new favorite baking ingredient, brown rice syrup. It's Insanely Healthy, and the Boy-O loves it. Into the keeper file...

I think the hardest thing about this whole food-blogging thing is determining when a recipe becomes "Mine". I'm wondering if there is a legal department somewhere defending the intellectual properties of cooks around the country, and if some mad recipe writer somewhere is going to sue me for what little I have. Fortunately, I feel that food folk are some of the nicest people out there, and that sharing really is in the best interest of all of us- adaptations and all.

I hope if I've made your recipes, I've done you justice. I really do set out to start each recipe by making it once in its written form. I will continue to include links to original recipes, and the sources of my original inspirations. Meanwhile, I'll continue the adaptations until I find my next photo-worthy post.