Does the alcohol burn off when cooking?

Will the red wine cook out of a spaghetti bolognese?
Will the red wine cook out of a spaghetti bolognese? Photo: iStock

I don't want my children to have alcohol. Does all the alcohol burn off during cooking? J. Patten

No. If you pour brandy into a pan and let the evaporating alcohol ignite from the gas burner you'd be surprised to find that up to 75 per cent of the alcohol can remain in the food. Add alcohol to the end of the cooking process and you're going to evaporate just 10-50 per cent of the wine off. Even the long, slow simmering of an alcohol-laced dish will leave you with about 5 per cent of the original amount of alcohol remaining in the dish.

Why do some recipes call for spinach to be blanched before sauteing? A. Glynne

Blanching helps keep the vegetable bright green.
Blanching helps keep the vegetable bright green. Photo: William Meppem

Blanching helps keep the veg bright green. Many vegetables contain an enzyme called chlorophyllase​ that breaks down chlorophyll, the green-looking compound that turns light, CO₂ and water into sugar and starch. Although this enzyme is denatured near boiling point it is most active between 66C and 77C. When you saute not all the veg is in contact with the hot pan so sometimes you end up discolouring the green. So briefly boiling your green vegetables helps keep them looking green. Also, cooking in acidic conditions also affects chlorophyll, so squeeze over the lemon when serving. 

Every month a group of us have a dinner featuring recipes from historic "new settlers". In November, we are cooking the dishes of the Puritans of Massachusetts. I want to cook Salem Rye Cake. One of our group has a gluten allergy? Is there an alternative? J. Doulton

You don't want to dig around the Puritans' past too deeply. You'll find their godly ways went out the window when they got real hungry. They were close to starvation in their early years and archaeological evidence showed they ate their horses and dogs – even a 14-year-old girl. An interesting aside is that infected rye was linked to an outbreak of ergotism which was a possible cause for people behaving oddly during the Salem witch crisis of the 1690s. 

Anyway, rye, like wheat, barley and oats, contains gluten. You could try rice flour but that won't give you the same colour, taste or texture. You could try an early settler recipe like Cape Cod Turkey – cod baked with pork and served with an egg sauce and boiled beets and potatoes. Or a pot of baked beans made with onions, pork, molasses or maple syrup served with a type of cornmeal, raisin and buttermilk bread. Early American cookery also includes lots of indigenous foods – like the clambake where clams, corn and lobster are steamed over hot stones in seaweed. Let us know how you go.  

Letters

Recently we tackled the question "What is the best way to remove bread dough from a bowl?" J. Corless wrote in to suggest taking a little flour and rubbing this over one's hands and bowl to remove sticky dough, which can then be put into the compost. We also looked at the etiquette surrounding the bread roll at the dinner table. P. Hogan wrote, "To judge a person by how they eat a roll just seems like petty snobbery. Is there a reason for breaking, not cutting, bread rolls? Surely it is a matter of personal preference." No. The sole role of the knife on the side plate is to transport the butter from the butter dish to the bread plate and therefore is without serrations. That said, don't feel ashamed or embarrassed if you use it to cut your roll. 

Send your vexing culinary conundrums to brainfood@richardcornish.com.au or tweet to @Foodcornish