Should I prick my sausages before cooking them? L. Ho
Never, ever prick a sausage. There is a theory that pricking a sausage lets the fat out, making them healthier. That's like wanting to visit the Berlin Wall but being afraid of Germans. Sausages are, by definition, fatty. By Australian law they can be up to 50 per cent fat. But fat is the flavour, and if you want to avoid fat you should avoid sausages. Low-fat sausages are about as pointless as dehydrated water. Cook sausages slowly over low heat on a greased grill, turning several times. High heat will simply cause them to split their skins and expunge their precious bodily fluids. Sausages also like a little rest after cooking.
I never seem to be able to make good icing. What is the secret? C. Dawson
Back in the postwar years domestic duties had a competitive edge. Women were expected to keep a tidy house and make fluffy sponges. It was a very judgmental time, with women being derided behind their backs as ''loose knitters'' if they didn't keep their needlework tight. Public displays of cookery were judged and one of the most influential judges was Mrs Dorothy Floate, a Benalla housewife born in the 1880s and at her peak in the 1950s. In her cookery book Secrets of Success she suggests that ''one of the general faults when icing cakes is that there has been too much moisture used''. She suggests adding boiling milk to the icing sugar a little at a time, mixing it in properly, until the desired texture is achieved, which should be like ''thick cream''. She also suggests not adding butter to cakes that will be stored for any length of time otherwise the butter will taste rancid.
Why are cucumbers wrapped in plastic? Should I remove all the plastic as soon as I get it home or remove bits as needed? L. Boyle
Every time I see those plastic-wrapped cucumbers - usually the Continental variety - I am reminded of the scene in the seminal 1980s rock mockumentary Spinal Tap in which bassist Derek Smalls, played by The Simpsons actor Harry Shearer, sets off an airport metal detector. Further investigation by a (female) security guard reveals Smalls is packing an aluminium-wrapped cucumber down his trousers. Continental cucumbers are thin-skinned and dressed to protect, not to impress. Without that shrink-wrap covering they would be fondled beyond recognition on supermarket shelves, covered with marks and scratches. The plastic wrap also helps keeps moisture in the cucumber, keeping it fresh. The plastic film, however, can also collect around the stem end of the cucumber, setting off rot. Cucumber growers suggest leaving the plastic wrap on and storing cucumbers in the refrigerator. Peel away as much of the wrap as you need then rewrap the cucumber after cutting. Try dressing chopped cucumbers with a little salt, sour cream and chopped dill. Serve chilled.
Do I add salt to dried beans when I soak them? J. Collins
You can add about two teaspoons of salt to one litre of water and it will make beans soften faster. The sodium in the salt displaces the magnesium and calcium in the pectin of the cell walls, making them dissolve faster and cutting the cooking time in half. The downside is salt inhibits the gelatinisation of the starch inside the beans. (Gelatinisation is when the starch takes on water and turns into a gel - think slippery tapioca and creamy custard.) The result will be beans that cook quickly but have a grainy interior instead of a creamy inside. Important to note that red kidney beans should only be eaten when properly cooked. They contain a toxic agent, phytohaemagglutinin, which can cause abdominal pain, vomiting and diarrhoea. Cooking for a minimum of 30 minutes renders this harmless. Bean-induced wind, however, is another matter altogether.
In regards to advice given about storing food, L. Buchtman writes, ''Always store perishable leftovers in the fridge running below 5C and use them up within two to three days. When reheating food ensure that it is hot all the way through (use a meat thermometer to ensure it is at least 75C in the centre).''
Send your queries to email@example.com