Karen Martini's roasted pears with verjuice, saffron, rosemary and bay leaves.
Karen Martini's roasted pears with verjuice, saffron, rosemary and bay leaves. Photo: Marina Oliphant

Recently someone gave me a bottle of verjuice and I would appreciate some suggestions on how to use it. J. Sparkes

I love looking at people's collections, going through their libraries of books and admiring their art. I used to finger through their CD collections, judgmentally assessing their taste in listening pleasure. I also sneak a look in their pantries, making some pathetic excuse about looking for salt.

From this experience I can tell you a lot of people hoard gifts of condiments, never breaking the seal of the bottles and jars as if this would break the bonds of friendship with the giver.

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Slice or dice: How you chop depends on the desired result. Photo: from Simon Bryant's Vegies

They amass walls of Keating-era sun-dried tomatoes and Howard-era olive oil infused with kaffir lime leaves. Verjuice fits in this mould. People are given it and don't know what to do with it, so store it for years and then sneak it slyly into the recycling bin.

Use it! It's great stuff!

I use Attica chef Ben Shewry's favourite from Box Grove Vineyard (boxgrovevineyard.com .au). Verjuice is the juice of unripe grapes and is acidic enough not to ferment.

Treat it as a seasoning. Use it to deglaze a pan of meat or onions to increase the sharpness of a dish. We don't think enough about acid balance. It brings other flavours into relief. Also add a splash to mineral water on ice for a refreshing drink. Don't hide it.

Use it and invite your friend to share your cooking.

I am interested to know if it really makes a difference if I chop or slice onions when preparing them for a recipe. I. Winter

As I am so often told, size does matter. Particularly with vegetables.

It is all about surface area and mouth feel. Imagine your mouth full of cooked brown rice and then vermicelli. Brown rice is a little crunchy and vermicelli is slippery.

Chopped onion, even in a medium braise, will still retain a little mouth feel; finely sliced onions become soft and slippery.

When you finely slice onions you break open more of the cells compared with a dice, so slices will give up their sugar-filled juices faster, making them easier to caramelise - perfect for an onion confit or caramelised onions.

Finely sliced raw onions are also desirable in salads when you want a nice sharp hit but not to start a choking fit.

Chopped onions have less surface area so take longer to cook, and can handle longer and hotter cooking, making them the likely starters when making the base for a braise, soup or stew.

As a great chef once said: ''A good dish starts with the decisions made on the chopping board.''

I had always kept eggs in the fridge as they are refrigerated in supermarkets. However, I have started keeping them in the pantry. Which is the best location? C. Jenkins

The Australian Egg Board recommends one keeps one's eggs in the refrigerator in the cardboard box. Eggs have pervious shells and membranes, which mean they take on the aroma of nearby foods - lovely if you store your eggs next to truffles, but not so appealing if you store them next to fish. Before baking, bring eggs out of the fridge to reach room temperature.

Letters

The recent piece on mock chicken, based on my mother Robyn Eythl Cornish's recipe, drew many comments. My family were Methodists so the optional addition of bacon to a recipe of onion, tomato, breadcrumbs and cheese didn't stand up to the many Catholics writing in, who saw bacon as heresy, as for them mock chicken was a Friday night dish instead of fish.

Further to this, Val Duff wrote: ''I was delighted to read about mock chicken. It brought back so many memories. My mum (if she was still with us she would have been 104 this year) used crushed-up Clix biscuits instead of breadcrumbs. I haven't thought about mock chicken in years. I must make some this weekend.''

Send your queries to brainfood@richard cornish.com.au