Is it safe to separate eggs using the shell? Why toast spices?

Is it safe to separate eggs using the shell?
Is it safe to separate eggs using the shell? Photo: Melanie Faith Dove

Why toast spices? V. Horne

Pretend you're watching a food program with the budget of House or CSI and zoom into a cumin seed at a cellular level. Imagine globules of aromatic oils trapped inside the cells. With heat, the oils escape the cell walls and some move to the skin of the seed. Some of the compounds in the oil mingle and mix with other compounds, creating new aromas. Zoom back out, you're back in the room. When you grind the spices, this complex blend of existing and newly created compounds gives your dish a broader band of complex aromas. Use spices soon after toasting as those aroma compounds are volatile and love nothing more than flying off into the air. For this same reason, don't toast ground spices. With nothing to hold them back when you heat the powder, the aroma compounds fly up your kitchen exhaust giving your neighbours an aromatic culinary treat but doing bugger all for your curry.

I was told by a friend not to separate eggs using the shell. She couldn't explain why but said it was dangerous. P. Taggerty

Toasting spices results in more complex flavours.
Toasting spices results in more complex flavours. Photo: Lisa Maree Williams

Eggshells can be dangerous. I remember muck-up day when one of the girls from the school down the road was hit in the face by an egg thrown at her and suffered a nasty cut. When the headmaster came to tell us off, saying we shouldn't throw hard objects, I suggested that perhaps next year the students opt for minced meat. That didn't go down too well. If you're separating eggs for making a raw egg dish such as mayonnaise, remember that eggshells can be contaminated by salmonella bacteria. By separating the yolk from the albumen using the shell, you're bringing a nutrient-rich food source in direct contact with the salmonella. Leave the mayonnaise above 5C for more than a few hours and you're going to be sending customers, friends or relatives to the emergency department. Food poisoning generally happens after a series of interconnected small problems. The Australian Food Safety Information Council recommends that cooks "invest in an egg separator".

We're going on a picnic with some coeliacs and want to make a quiche. Is there gluten-free pastry available? M. Miller

You can buy gluten-free pastry at the supermarket. The late great English food writer Elizabeth David gives us a recipe for la quiche aux pommes de terre in French Country Cooking. I have made it by exchanging wheat flour for rice flour and added an egg to bind. Cook four medium potatoes in their skins and cool. Peel and pass them through a sieve. Mix well with two tablespoons each of butter and rice flour, a pinch of salt and a lightly beaten egg to form a pastry. Roll out into a disc six millimetres thick and place into a greased and rice-floured flan tin. Press and prick all over with a fork. Chop two rashers of gluten-free bacon, sprinkle over the base and pour over 250 millilitres thick cream mixed with two eggs. Sprinkle with gruyere cheese and bake at 180C for 25 minutes. Allow to cool and transport to the picnic in the tin, as the pastry is brittle.

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