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Cook's Questions on Dairy and Eggs


Q: Double cream is very difficult to get hold of in Tanzania where I live. What could I use as an alternative please?
Double cream contains a fat content of at least 42% which makes it ideal for whipping. Depending on what you are using the cream for depends on the substitute used. You need to look for a dairy product that is similar in terms of fat content, something like crème fraîche or heavy cream (this has a butterfat content of at least 36%) could be suitable for whipping for desserts or even custard for pouring.

Q: I can't buy buttermilk in Spain and it appears very frequently in your recipes. Would yogurt and skimmed milk be a substitute?
You could try making your own buttermilk (left) by adding 1 tablespoon lemon juice to 8 fl oz (225ml) skimmed milk. Leave to sour for 10 minutes before using. Alternatively you could try the following:
• Use the equivalent amount of runny natural yoghurt
• Use ¼ skimmed milk to ¾ natural yoghurt, mixed
• Soured cream

Q: I really love Stilton cheese - can you give me some good, everyday recipes using it.
If you enter stilton into the search box on the home page you will find all my recipes that include this ingredient, including Stilton Souffle Omelette and Parsnip and Stilton Tart. Happy Cooking!

Q: I live in South Africa and cannot buy creme fraiche. Can you supply me with an alternative ingredient please?
Crème fraîche can be substituted by mixing equal quantities of lightly whipped double cream with Greek yoghurt (or a thick-style yoghurt) but if it's being heated you have to be careful not to let it boil. Alternatively add a drop or two of lemon juice to some lightly whipped cream, or you could try mixing equal quantities of lightly whipped cream with soured cream, then leave at room temperature for about 8 hours before refrigerating. Please bear in mind that we have not tried any of these substitutions in Delia's recipes but they hopefully should work.

Q: I like to cook in batches. How do I know which of your recipes are suitable for freezing?
Some foods do deteriorate or, should I say, are not at their best after a period in the freezer. Among the few foods that cannot be successfully frozen are all the egg-based sauces, such as mayonnaise. These tend to separate with thawing. Salad vegetables, including celery and dishes containing melons, avocados, bananas, and hard-boiled eggs – which become very rubbery – do not freeze well either. There are many good publications on deep-freezing which will give you an accurate guide to the different types of food suitable for freezing.

Q: How do I avoid the outer part of the yolk going black on boiled eggs? My husband says his mother's were always golden yellow.
Cooling the eggs rapidly stops the cooking process and prevents the eggs being overcooked, which causes the black ring around the yolk. So let the tap run over them for about one minute, then leave in cold water for about two minutes. Once peeled, return to cold water until completely cold.

Q: My mother has always told me not to keep eggs on the shelf provided in the fridge. Is she right?
It is best to buy eggs in small quantities and store in a cool room or larder. If you prefer to store eggs in the fridge, keep them in their own closed, lidded box so that the porous shells won't absorb other flavours or aromas of strong foods. Remember to remove them at least half an hour before using in order to warm them to room temperature. Don't ever boil eggs that have come straight from the refrigerator; very cold eggs plunged straight into hot water are likely to crack. If you keep eggs in the fridge, remember to take them out one hour before you start baking; they will blend more easily with the other ingredients if they're not too cold.

Q: I keep seeing references to clarified butter. What is it, how do I make it and when should I use it?
Clarified butter is normal butter that has been heated so that the milk solids separate, then it is briefly simmered to evaporate some of the water content. It is strained to remove the milk solids and can then be heated to higher temperatures than normal butter without burning. In Indian and Arabian cookery it is known as ghee and samna and is used frequently for frying. 

Q: Where can I buy lovely old-fashioned white eggs as seen on the front of How to Cook Book One?
The white eggs featured on the cover of my first How to Cook book were obtained from a local farmer. I do hope that you find a supplier of white eggs close to you. As I stated in the book, the colour of the eggshell is determined by the breed of hen that laid it.

Q: What can I use instead of curd cheese?
You need to look for a soft cheese, lighter than cream-type cheeses (such as Philadelphia), with a fat content of 30-40 per cent. Curd cheese has a slight acidity, light colour and flavour and is usually sold in 8 oz (225 g) tubs. I suggest you try the larger supermarket chains or small delis.

Q: My boiled eggs always crack, causing the whites to leak into the water. Please, please tell me, how do I achieve perfect boiled eggs?
Bring eggs to room temperature first, because very cold eggs plunged straight into hot water are likely to crack. Make a pinprick in the rounded end of the shell, which will allow built-up steam to escape. Also, if you use a small saucepan, the eggs won't crash into each other and crack. Gently simmering water is all they need; fast boiling is too harsh. See 'How to boil an egg' in this section of the site for step-by-step instructions.

Q: I seem to remember there's an easy way to test how fresh an egg really is. Will you remind me?
Egg boxes carry a 'best before' date, which corresponds to 21 days after laying (look for the lion mark on the box), so you can work out just how fresh your eggs are. You can also tell how fresh an egg is by placing it in a tumbler of cold water. Completely horizontal means it is very fresh; if it tilts up slightly or is semi-horizontal, it could be up to a week old; a vertical position means it is stale.

Q: Can you prepare a flour-based sauce in advance, but give it that 'just made' quality when you serve the meal?
Yes, you certainly can, but a few things to remember first. When the sauce is made, place some clingfilm directly over the surface to prevent a skin from forming, then either keep it warm by placing it over a pan of barely simmering water or, if you want to make it a long way ahead, re-heat it using the same method and don't remove the clingfilm until you're ready to serve. If you find it has thickened a little, add a little more liquid – milk, stock or cream – to bring it back to the right consistency.

Q: No matter how careful I am when peeling boiled eggs, I always seem to pull off some of the outer white. Is there a foolproof way to get the job done?
If you want to peel hard-boiled eggs, try using eggs that are at least five days old. When boiled, cool the eggs rapidly under cold running water. Let the tap run over them for about one minute, then leave them in cold water for about two minutes, and you should find them much easier to handle. If you tap the eggs all over to crack the shells, then hold each egg under a slow trickle of running water as you peel the shell off, starting at the wide end, you'll find that the shells will come off easily.

Q: We love hollandaise sauce in my family, so I would like to prepare large batches at a time, but it always curdles when I re-heat it. What am I doing wrong?
I wonder how you've been re-heating it? Re-heating is very simple – all that's needed is to place the remaining sauce in a bowl that will fit comfortably over a pan of barely simmering water, then gently re-heat, stirring occasionally as necessary.

Q: Why is it that when I scramble eggs they seem perfect in the pan, but when I get them to the plate they always seem to end up rubbery. What am I doing wrong?
The trick to softly scrambled eggs is to remove the pan from the heat while there's still some liquid egg left. This will then disappear into a creamy mass as you take the eggs to the table and serve them.

Q: I've been trying to get Sage Derby cheese for a recipe but none of the shops seem to stock it. Is there an alternative that I can use?
Although Sage Derby cheese is still produced, I suspect with the wide range of cheeses now available and in demand, it has been replaced on the shelves of many supermarkets. I suggest you use an alternative such as a good Lancashire or Cheshire cheese with your own chopped, fresh or dried sage leaves. I hope you still find it as enjoyable.

Q: I love making meringues, but I always feel guilty when I throw away the leftover yolks. What can I use them for?
I find that I often have leftover whites if I'm using only yolks and vice versa. You should be able to find a recipe on the website to use up the leftovers – just go to our recipe browser. If you don't want to use them straight away, the good news here is that eggs freeze very well, so pack them in small containers and label them with the amount – trying to guess how many egg whites you have is not a good idea.

Q: Our local village shop doesn't stock fresh soured cream and crème fraîche. Are there any effective alternatives I can use?
If you can't get soured cream , try adding 1 teaspoon of lemon juice to 5 fl oz (150 ml) of single or double cream, depending on how creamy you want it. Leave for half an hour or so and it will begin to thicken. Another, quicker, way is simply to combine equal quantities of cream (single or double) and natural yoghurt – this also cuts down the calories. If you can't get hold of crème fraîche, there are various ways to produce an approximate resemblance to it. The easiest is to combine equal parts of double cream (whipped to the floppy stage) and natural yoghurt (Greek yoghurt for a richer consistency or skimmed milk yoghurt for a lighter one).

Q: Please settle an argument between me and my sister. Is it better to wrap cheese in clingfilm or aluminium foil?
Neither. To store cheese, wrap carefully, with no cracks or bits showing, in either waxed paper, greaseproof or silicone paper (baking parchment), sealed with adhesive tape or an elastic band. I have heard of suitable cool places for storing cheese: a spare room (no heating on), garages, garden sheds and car boots, but it all depends on the weather. If in doubt, place it in the lowest part of the refrigerator.

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