We are planning a big family Christmas with everyone bringing a plate. Some of my in-laws are a bit "cowboy" when it comes to food handling. What can I do? – K. Lloyd
Grab the reins and guide your filthy extended family to a gastro-free yuletide with these tips courtesy of the Food Safety Information Council. Plan ahead – guests travelling more than an hour should bring low-risk foods such as pudding, mince pies and brandy. Or VB. Cook the chook and turkey on site – don't let it travel for hours on the Chrysler's parcel rack in the sun while they're stuck in traffic. Keep hot items hot (perhaps in the oven turned to just below 100C). Keep cold items cold – below 4C. Save the fridge for the seafood, meat and sauces and so on and put the grog on ice in an attractive bucket, sink, bath or the bucket of a front-end loader, depending on the number of guests and your social status. For more and slightly more sensible advice, head to the Food Safety Information Council website. foodsafety.asn.au
Can you please clarify what exactly is smashed avocado? – R. Gibbs
When our girls were very small and moving on to solids, we fed them mashed avocado. As they grew and their language developed, they changed the infantile "mashed" to the more aggressive word "smashed". The consistency of a smashed avocado is not as smooth as a mashed avocado but still manageable for juvenile fine motor skills and developing palates. The same goes for the smashed avocados served in cafes.
What is the secret to a perfect stuffed mushroom? – A. Zelman
British author Shirley Conran famously wrote that, "Life is too short to stuff a mushroom". She was also a notorious over-achiever and, I suspect, had staff. A good stuffed mushroom is a joy and an excellent excuse to drink pinot noir. Take good-sized white mushrooms, remove and reserve the stems. Make a cooked filling such as duxelles – very finely chopped mushrooms cooked in butter with finely diced onion until the liquid has evaporated, seasoned and finished with a little lemon juice and parsley. Wash and brush the mushroom cups with good quality olive oil. Lightly season with salt. Place a small pat of butter in each cup, place on a tray and roast for 10 minutes in an oven preheated to 200C. Fill cup with hot duxelles, sprinkle with breadcrumbs and bake for a further five minutes or grill for two. Serve with lashings of pinot.
Letters, corrections and apologies
In regards to storing fish fillets, this came in from one reader, "Brain, have you tried to cryovac fillets and freeze? Good quality white fish will remain excellent quality for at least six months. That includes pink snapper, whiting, bream etc." In a subsequent email they corrected my name to Richard. We had a lot of response to the "onions make me cry" piece. C. O'Connor wrote in to let us know about special tear-resistant "onion goggles". Thanks. They look so Heston.