Answering your vexing culinary questions

Acid test: Whole fresh fruit is preferable to juice.
Acid test: Whole fresh fruit is preferable to juice. Photo: Jennifer Soo

A few months ago, the manufacturer of our favourite grapefruit juice announced it would no longer be supplying the product. Can you suggest a substitute? A. Litchfield

I think, perhaps, the manufacturer may have done you a small favour. Next time you're at the dentist, ask what he or she thinks about fruit juices. Be prepared for a diatribe on the effect the sugar and acid have on your teeth. And next time you go to your doctor, ask about fruit juice - be prepared for an earnest discussion on sugar intake. Whole fresh fruit, with all its fibre, metabolises differently to the fruit of the juice, which is mostly water and naturally occurring fructose - fruit sugar. You can hand-juice the grapefruit, remove the pips and return the pulp to the juice. Serve chilled. Another good way of serving grapefruit is to slice the fruit in half crossways, then take the knife and cut around between the edge of the flesh and the pith, liberating the flesh from the skin. Take the knife and cut between the segments from the centre of the grapefruit towards the skin. Serve the entire eviscerated grapefruit in a bowl just large enough to hold it. You could go all Margaret Fulton and serve it with a glace cherry.

What is a pearled grain and, if a recipe calls for pearled grain, such as barley, can I substitute it with unpearled grain? M. Kohout

As the national food discussion matures and we are made more aware of the need to eat more nutritious whole foods, cooking with whole grains, such as faro, spelt and barley, will soon be de rigueur and no longer the realm of communist hippie types. Sorry. Pearling is a process by which the adhesive hull is abraded away from the outside of the grain along with the bran and the germ - the good nutritious stuff. Pearled grains cook faster because the hot water in which they are boiled has fewer layers to penetrate. Cooking with unpearled grains can take about an hour longer. So, if cooking in a soup, it would be advisable to rinse, then soak unpearled grains and cook them in light stock, then add the other vegetables. There is an ancient form of barley that sheds its hull naturally during harvesting, leaving its nutritious bran intact, and is grown by and available from Bio-Dynamic Marketing on 5966 7370.

I have been invited out to a 12-course degustation at a restaurant with matching wines. What is the best way to tackle so much food and wine? B. Carruithers

Do not eat and drink everything that is put in front of you. I learnt this while working on a guide book in Barcelona, where, every day for a month and a half, I had to eat two lunches, have tapas at night, followed by a late dinner. The only way I could survive was by holding fast to the rule of only sampling the food and sipping the wine - with some notable, and one regrettable, exceptions. Our sense of taste and appreciation of aroma is at its best when we are hungry. The term ''sharp appetite'' describes this beautifully. The more we eat, the less we are able to taste and smell without really concentrating. Degustation is a showcase of the skill and finesse of a chef and his or her team. If you really want to appreciate the food and wine, and feel daunted by the prospect of all that intake, don't feel obliged to eat and drink everything. Another little thing I have learnt is to order the vegetarian degustation, which is often lighter than the meaty one.

You wrote recently not to freeze ham. Can I freeze bacon and pancetta? A. Bailey

Just for you, A. Bailey, I have been madly doing tests freezing different types of bacon and defrosting it. Guess what? The cheaper bacons, when defrosted, release a lot more liquid than do the more expensive artisan bacons. The exudate from the cheaper bacon was less than pleasant, viscous and smelling slightly off. It made up 6 per cent of the total weight, while one artisan bacon didn't give up a drop of water. That's a considerable amount of water that has been pumped into the cheap bacon. It seems quite a lot of effort, but if you roll single rashers up and wrap them tightly in plastic wrap, they will defrost quickly and can be used as you need them. When cooking defrosted bacon, dry off any liquid to help it crisp. Freezing pancetta is fine. Place a layer of coated deli paper or baking paper between each slice, wrap tightly in plastic film and freeze straight away.