Ham
A properly prepared Christmas ham should keep for more than a week.

Richard Cornish

How long will a leg of ham last after it has been cut open? P. Harper

In the Paul Kelly song I Can't Believe We Were Married he writes: "We danced in the kitchen on Boxing Day/I held you swaying in my arms to Marvin Gaye/our Christmas ham turned green by News Year's Eve/we weren't hungry anyway." Large, smoked and salted, Christmas hams are expected to last for weeks after the big day. They would have in the days before refrigeration. Back then the preservation of ham involved a lot more salt, much heavier smoke and the use of saltpetre. To many of us those hams would be unpalatable - imagine a salty, smoky, sloppy prosciutto. The New South Wales health authorities suggest a ham will keep for several weeks in the fridge. Tony Rapone from Bertocchi Smallgoods says, "If the ham is wrapped in a tea towel moistened with water, a tablespoon of vinegar and lemon juice, then placed into a clean old pillowcase, and stored in the coolest part of the fridge, it will keep for over a week."

I'm going to use my mother's Christmas pudding recipe, but it calls for suet. Is there an alternative I can use without compromising the texture or flavour? K. Keane

You could try fresh unsalted butter that has been frozen then grated - but this leaves a slight greasiness that suet doesn't give. You could try vegetable suet, an ingredient that gained popularity with the British during the mad cow disease crisis, and is made from vegetable oil, wheat starch, sunflour oil and pectin. Buy it online at bestofbritish.com.au. Suet is the fat that surrounds a cow's kidneys. There is nothing that comes close to the rich succulence, ethereal lightness and delicate hint of renal aromas that suet gives to a dish. Remember that recipes such as your mother's evolved with suet, its particular melting point and the way its fat works with the starch and sugar. By substituting suet for another ingredient you are changing the character of the end product - a bit like watching Hamlet with the lead played by Kenneth Williams instead of Kenneth Branagh.

Where can I get a turducken? D. Thompson

The Russian doll of Christmas treats - the turducken - is a series of boned birds delicately shoved up one other, namely a chicken inside a duck inside a turkey. It is said to be based on a Yorkshire Christmas pie, which involved a turkey, a goose, a brace of young pheasants, four partridges, four woodcocks, a dozen snipes, four grouse, four widgeons, York ham and two tongues baked in a pie. A turducken can weigh five to eight kilograms, take about three to four hours to cook and cost about $100 to $150. In Melbourne, try Peter G. Bouchier in Hawksburn Village (petergbouchier.com.au). In Sydney, try Tender Value Meats in Hornsby and Warringah Mall (tendervalue.com.au).

What is the correct way of maintaining cake tins? D. Rose

I have a friend who owns a bakeware shop and she has an expression that goes: "In the kitchen there is only one appliance that one should put a cake tin in, and that is an oven. Dishwashers are for dishes." Good bakeware is both conductive of heat and has mass to retain it. Often good bakeware is made from a material with a high iron content, such as steel, and is tin-plated. Put iron and water together and you get rust. Put tin plating in a dishwasher and the chemicals can strip away the thin layer of tin. In fact, most cake tin hire companies - yes, they do actually exist - will not refund your deposit if you wash a hired cake tin in a dishwasher. So wash cake tins in hot water to which a little detergent has been added, scrub with a bristle brush - not an abrasive pad - dry and allow to sit in the oven as it cools down from your baking to dry out all the nooks and crannies. If you have aluminium bakeware, then ignore this, go crazy, and throw your tins into the dishwasher.

In response to last week's queries: I can't eat butter or margarine. What should I use instead on my barbecued corn? Nicole V.

Try salt, garlic and extra-virgin olive oil or be like the Mexicans and slather the corn in whole egg mayonnaise and grated sharp cheese, such as pecorino.

Bob Hart also makes an astonishingly good addition to barbecued corn by blending some pureed tinned smoked chipotle chillies through mayonnaise.

Send your queries to brainfood@richardcornish.com.au

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