Don't wash: If necessary, wipe or brush away compost on mushrooms. Photo: Eddie Jim
Is it necessary to peel mushrooms, field or button, prior to cooking? If so, why? R. Becket
As a kid I made a small fortune selling field mushrooms on the side of the road outside our old dairy farm. A mate and I would collect the mushrooms in the morning, make little rectangular containers out of folded newspaper, then place a layer of older, less desirable mushrooms on the bottoms and the younger, more delicious-looking ones on top. I will apologise now if you bought mushrooms from me 35 years ago. Back then I would have recommended peeling the skin off the older ones as it was tough and dirty. The younger field mushrooms I would have told you to simply brush the dirt off the top. These days most of us buy our mushrooms from the grocer or supermarket. If necessary wipe the top of these with a damp cloth or brush for any of the compost in which they were grown. Never wash or soak these mushrooms and keep them in a paper bag in the fridge.
I like beetroot but don't like preparing it as it stains my hands. What should I do? F. Willett
Glove-up: Try preparing beetroot with hand protection.
There are things called gloves. Rubber gloves. They act as a barrier between the skin on your hands and fingers and the object you are touching. They are available from supermarkets and hospitals, although orderlies when visiting family in hospital have told me that pocketing rubber gloves is effectively theft. Look for smaller beetroot and cut off the leaves. The smaller, tender leaves can be washed and used in salads. Cover the beetroot well with cold water, bring to the boil then simmer until soft. Remove from heat and allow to cool in the liquid until cold enough to handle. The skin should slide off the beetroot. In the cooler months roast whole beetroot in the oven. Try grating peeled raw beetroot and mixing with the same amount of grated carrot and a handful of currants and dress with citrus, extra virgin olive oil, a little salt and maple syrup. A small word of warning: the deep purple colour is caused by anthocyans - very beneficial to the health but they stain not only your hands and fingers but everything that passes through you as well.
I had to buy my suet for my Christmas pudding in a 1 kilogram lot. I now have 750g left over. What can I do with it? S. Christoe
You are a very lucky person. There are people who dream of having so much animal fat in their possession. In our brave new, risk and fat-averse world, however, having that much fat in the home could render you a pariah in some nicer suburbs. Suet - the fat surrounding beef kidneys - creates a lovely texture in baked goods and puddings. Firstly, don't eat it all at once. Secondly, if you're not going to use it soon, cut it into three, wrap in plastic film and freeze. Grate chilled suet and use as one would butter in shortcrust pastry. You will need to add a little water, as suet does not contain water like butter does. Or perhaps chop the suet into rough cubes, place in a saucepan with a little water over a low heat and slowly melt the fat out of the suet to make the most pure dripping in which to fry potatoes. Consider, however, making a Sussex Pond, in which a lemon and sugar are encased in a suet pastry and steamed in a bowl for several hours. During this time the lemon peel candies and the sugar caramelises, creating a rich, sweet sauce that oozes from the pudding to form a pond in the bowl when opened. A few currants inside the pudding before steaming will transform it into a Kentish Puddle Pudding.
Mrs J. Stanbury writes regarding the handling of rock lobsters, ''My husband was a WA cray fisherman and your story late last year was spot on - I can only add one thing that he taught me which you may find useful. When tackling the spiny feelers cover them with a few thick paper napkins (or tea towels) and press down with the heel of the hand and the shell can then be peeled off easily.''
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