How do I make poached eggs that look like mozzarella balls? P. Arcuri
Can't we just be happy with simple old-fashioned, flat poached eggs? You are, of course, referring to the spherical poached eggs seen at fashionable cafes. They're made by lining a small bowl with a sheet of plastic film, brushing it with oil, adding a knob of butter, cracking in an egg, seasoning with salt and pepper, then gathering up the edges and tying in a tight knot. Gently place this into a large saucepan of water, preheated to 85C, lined with a heatproof plate. Cook for 12 minutes.
How does canned Guinness get such a good head? K. Gooch
There is a formula that calculates the quality of Guinness around the world the closer one gets to St James's Gate Brewery in Dublin. It is in the minds of every person who has tried Guinness in the wild in the bars and pubs of Ireland. The best Guinness in the world is poured in a pub near Tipperary, where the clouds of peat smoke roll through the street and where the publican cuts fat wedges of leg ham off the bone to lay on thickly buttered slices of white bread as a bar snack. Slainthe! In the late 1980s Guinness developed technology to replicate those silky smooth pints poured in Irish pubs. Called "the widget", it's a spherical device that contains nitrogen. When the can is opened the gas is released through small holes and whips the gas through the beer. Foaming agents in the beer such as alginate – a seaweed derivative used in the food industry to make food set and feel smoother on the tongue – help the beer form and hold tiny bubbles. Cans are also pressurised with carbon dioxide and liquid nitrogen.
My fiance's family are religious. They say grace. I don't. We're having Christmas dinner at their place. What should I do? F. Mahony
Be polite. Be gracious. Don't snort derisively while grace is said. Instead, clasp your hands, close your eyes and bow your head and take time to breathe and clear your mind before you eat. You won't have offended anybody and will be surprised how much better food tastes when you have stilled your mind. Either that, or arrive late, after entree.
Recently we wrote that the Australian Food Safety Council recommend washing reusable shopping bags. Many of you wrote in saying this was a ridiculous waste of time stating that "my shopping is not dirty". It may well not be, K. Graham, but if you buy a raw supermarket chicken, it may be riddled with salmonella and any fluids leaking into your trendy PVC tote could pose a risk of cross-contamination. That's the word from the AFSC.
And last week, we mentioned a turkey brine but misstated the ratio of water to salt. It should have been five litres of water, 1¼ cups of grey sea salt and a cup of raw sugar with half a dozen bay leaves, a small handful of fresh thyme and six crushed juniper berries. Simmer for 15 minutes and allow to cool before adding the turkey and refrigerating overnight. Grey sea salt (also called sel gris or Celtic sea salt) contains trace amounts of minerals and is slightly lower in sodium than regular table salt.
I am baking my first Christmas cake. Do you have any tips for a beginner? K. Elliot
Sorry, no. I am a pudding man. So instead we are going to paraphrase the late, great Dorothy Floate's Secret of Success. Do not butter the tin but line it with three layers of lightweight paper. Do not use newspaper as the newsprint leaches into the batter. Butter must be cold and firm. Do not use very fresh eggs. You don't have to use brandy or other spirits; you can use the juice from stewed fruit such as apple or rhubarb.
To quote Mrs Floate, "I am repeatedly asked by worried housewives and many young girls ... why their fruit cakes go down in the centre." This is caused by the evil of overbeating the butter and sugar as the extra air trapped in the batter expands and rises.
Importantly, she suggests using the very best ingredients. Although there is no mention of immigrants in her book, I personally recommend buying dried fruit and nuts from busy Middle Eastern grocers who have a high turnover of stock, or buy from fruit growers at farmers markets.
Ed's note: this Christmas cake advice was first published on October 28, 2014.
Brain Food by Richard Cornish is out now from MUP (RRP $19.99, eBook $11.99).