Mock duck
Mock duck ... It's all about the gluten and spices. Photo: Flickr/pfctdayelise

Richard Cornish

I recently ate some mock duck. It was just like the real thing. How on earth do they make it? M. Roberts

For me, mock meat is like Michael Buble singing any song. Faintly recognisable as the real thing but wrong on so many levels. It's made with wheat gluten. You'll understand what wheat gluten is if you have ever tried to clean utensils after making bread. If you soak a mixing bowl with a little leftover dough in it, the water will wash away the starch leaving the more tenacious gluten, which are wheat proteins that have come together to form long strands as you have kneaded the dough. Try to scrub them off and they do their best to form more elastic and more rubbery shapes and forms. When thin sheets of the gluten are laid one on top of each other they not only cling together but do a reasonable job of looking like layers of muscle found in flesh. To make duck for example, the mock meat is seasoned with Chinese five-spice, ginger and ''vegetarian seasoning''. Marinate the stuff in soy sauce and its dark amino acids take it from pallid beige to pleasing deep brown with a lovely rich flavour. Give it some time on hot metal with a little oil and, in a certain light, it could be braised duck. The same process is used to make mock chicken, abalone, beef and lamb.

I am a 90-year-old bloke with a passion for carrot cake. My late wife used to make them for me as long as I grated all the carrots. Any suggestions where to buy a really good one? B. Balding

The carrot cake quest ... Help Mr Balding find a good one.
Help Mr Balding ... The carrot cake quest. Photo: iStock

Mr Balding, I am sorry to say that there will never be a carrot cake like the one your late wife made. Sure, you will find similar cakes and perhaps more luxurious cakes but never the same. But visit goodfood.com.au over the next few days and go to the Brain Food section and follow the comments. Fellow carrot cake lovers of Australia, can you please talk directly to Mr Balding and suggest to him the best places to get carrot cake? Don't worry, Mr Balding, we'll find you a cake.

We bought a ham hock to make soup. However, when we got home we realised it hadn't been smoked. What should we do with it? A. Lynch

The hock with no smoke. Sounds like a Slim Dusty song. Skeletally speaking, if trotters are the pig's toes and fingers, then the hocks are its palms and feet. They are mostly bone, skin and cartilage. When you boil a hock, the collagen in the skin and connective tissue breaks down forming gelatin that you sense as lip-smacking stickiness on your lips. A good smoked hock will have seen a few hours in a smoker, the particles of smoke that stick to and penetrate the skin leach into your food giving the smoky flavour. A cheap smoked hock will have been dipped in or sprayed with liquid smoke. I'd cook with it as normal and if you like smoky flavour in your soup add some sweet smoked Spanish paprika, for example. You could soak the hock to remove excess saltiness and confit in olive oil with some orange rind, garlic and oregano until the flesh is falling from the bone. Then pull the meat apart and put this into warm tortillas with some salsa for really yummy Mexican carnitas.

What is the best technique for roasting sweet potato without it becoming mushy? I. Emery

Try slicing peeled sweet potato into one-centimetre-thick discs, tossing in a little olive oil, sprinkling with salt and placing in a single layer on a baking tray and roasting at about 190 degrees for 10 to 15 minutes, turning and roasting for 10 minutes more. Crisp on the outside and soft and sweet on the inside. Watch them though because the heat causes enzymes to turn the starch to sugar that can caramelise and burn quickly.

Letters

Thanks to all those who suggested ways of treating Jerusalem artichoke-induced flatulence such as L. Whitford who cooks her JAs with asafoetida to stop the bloats. M. Kohout eats hers raw with no windy side effects while P. Robinson soaks hers for several days to avoid tuber-induced tuba. And to Mr De Boel, no, there is not yet the technology to connect yourself up to the gas grid. Thanks also to Patrick, who suggested keeping fresh ginger wrapped in tin foil in the fridge.

Do you have a question for Richard Cornish? Leave it, plus your carrot cake suggestions, in the comments below.

Photo credit (mock duck): pfctdayelise / Foter / CC BY-SA