It all boils off anyways, right?

Several years ago my mom was having a problem with slugs. So she asked her friend for a can of beer to use to kill the slugs with.* That can of beer sat untouched in my mom’s kitchen for at least 3 years. The slug problem was apparently bad enough to ask for the beer, but not bad enough to actually use it. I don’t know exactly what happened to the beer, but it quietly disappeared. I suspect she gave it back to her friend, and I hope they both had a good laugh about it.

Cooking and baking is one area of at-home-parenthood that I really enjoy. It is one of the few chores that allows creativity, and artistry. It is also an acceptable way to ‘show-off’ especially when one belongs to a potluck happy church. I get more public recognition for the work I do with food, than for the work I do vacuuming and changing sheets.

There are lots of recipes I’ve seen and wanted to try that call for alcohol. The only problem is that I’m too much like my mom, I’m fine eating food cooked with alcohol, I’m even theoretically fine preparing food with alcohol. I’ve just never been able to get up the gumption to actually walk into a store and buy a bottle of wine.

I could, theoretically, use cooking alcohol. But I’ve been told that unless you’re going to use the same type of high quality alcohol the recipe calls for then you may as well just use high quality juice.

It is a source of private embarrassment for me. I can buy tampons, condoms, hemorrhoid cream- you name it- without blushing or averting my eyes, but I suspect that it will be years before I can bring myself to get some dry white wine for that mushroom pasta I make. And knowing me, once I buy it, it will sit untouched in my kitchen for another several years before I can bring myself to actually open it.

*You put the beer in a pie tin, and the slugs come to drink it and die. Or so I’ve heard.


Starfoxy is a fulltime caretaker for her two children.

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29 Responses

  1. Chelsea says:

    Actually, it doesn’t all cook off. Unless you’re boiling it for a long time – we’re talking hours to truly get rid of all the alcohol.
    My very orthodox Mormon mom has been cooking with wine for years thinking “it all cooks out” and I don’t have the heart to tell her the truth. 😀

    I cook with wine all the time. It adds something to a sauce that nothing else can duplicate. I don’t worry about the alcohol content, it’s such a small amount. And I have no qualms about buying it. It probably helps that I don’t live in Utah where you have to go to a liquor store for wine! I just pick it up at the grocery store.

  2. SilverRain says:

    I concur. I have alcohol intolerance and it does most definitely NOT cook out.

    On the other hand, there is no reason why we can’t cook with it (unless you have alcohol intolerance as well.)

  3. Ben S says:

    Yep 🙂 We’ve had both beer and wine in our fridge for about a year now… My wife makes fabulous stuff with it. We haven’t bought it though. Friends brought us the wine, and she got the beer from a leftover graduate student function to bake with.

  4. G says:

    heheh, the first time I went to the store to buy a bottle of wine I was PETRIFIED that I would run into a ward member, or better yet, a member of the bishopric in the check-out aisle. It took a LOT of nerve for me to overcome that little hitch and actually WALK down the liqueur aisle, and actually PUT a bottle of whatever into my cart.

    anyhow, that’s old hat now.

    Hey, can I come over for dinner? it sounds yummy 🙂

  5. Lisa says:

    i cook with wine all the time. i think i would have a harder time if i lived in utah and felt like there were people all around judging me. the other thing is, when i keep wine in the house for cooking, my husband tends to drink it…so i try to buy it in very small, screw-top, single serving bottles.

  6. EM says:

    Alcohol evaporates at 178 degrees F providing there are no other liquids in the mix, if so, then it will take longer, but at a higher temperature. Once the alcohol evaporates then the flavour of the wine intensifies. And who cares who sees you walking out of the liquor store with a bottle of wine in a paper bag! I especially love doing it in Utah where some self-righteous people dwell – quite comical.

  7. Craig says:

    “I could, theoretically, use cooking alcohol. But I’ve been told that unless you’re going to use the same type of high quality alcohol the recipe calls for then you may as well just use high quality juice. ”

    Juice is definitely NOT a replacement for alcohol in a dish. Wine especially.

    Secondly, it’s completely acceptable and tasty to substitute what alcohol you have on hand. Recipes are very malleable, and the highest quality alcohol isn’t necessary. However, I would advice against using what is labelled as ‘cooking wine’. It’s terrible stuff that has tons of salt in it, and even if it weren’t salted, wouldn’t be fit to drink. You don’t want to cook with something you wouldn’t otherwise consume.

    And yes, it doesn’t all evaporate out when you cook it. But you probably ingest alcohol whenever you eat home-made whipped cream, icings, (anything that has alcohol-based extracts), and cough syrup. You’re definitely never going to get even the least bit tipsy from whatever alcohol is left in the food, and alcohol, like salt, works as a flavour enhancer. There’s just no replacing a dry white wine in a good sauce. Nothing else does the trick, or a little cognac in your stewed chicken, or the beer in your battered fish.

    I couldn’t recommend cooking with alcohol more, though to be fair, I also drink and I do know how most alcohols taste and how they’ll fit with the dish I’m making. I make it a point to add alcohol of some type of another to almost any dish I can. It’s just such a wonderful ingredient.

  8. Craig says:

    Oh, and a good but cheap bottle of wine is often cheaper than juice. Just about any $3 bottle of wine they sell in your liquor store is good for cooking.

  9. Caroline says:

    Ha! I too have no problem with eating food cooked in alcohol, even knowing that the alcohol doesn’t burn off. But I have rejected several recipes that have called for dry white wine. I don’t think I’ve ever thought hard about why I do that. It’s just automatic.

    I’m inspired to get my buns into the alcohol isle of our grocery store to buy some wine for those recipes.

  10. Yeah, I read that about it not all cooking off on NPR this week.

  11. Olive says:

    Well, do you use cough syrup? Vanilla Extract? Those both have alcohol in them (vanilla extract is vanilla beans & vodka). Cooking with alcohol probably has about the same amount in it as those two things do.

    Its really not a big deal. Just one of those silly things Mormons are uptight about for no logical reason at all.

  12. Dee says:

    haha – I loved this! My one son-in-law and daughter are probably the most conservative Mormons in our family but often use wine in recipes that my son-in-law’s non-member father gives them.

  13. EmilyCC says:

    I love this post, Starfoxy. I think it’s fascinating to look Mormonism’s cultural constructs like this one. My sister and I grew up with a mom who regularly cooked with wine. I have no problem with it and probably use it in recipes 2-3 times a month, but my sister will not do it.

    Craig, thank you for some excellent advice on cooking with wine. I always have wondered if I was missing out by always buying the $3 bottle of wine. I’m glad to hear that I’m probably not 🙂

  14. Craig says:

    @Emily CC

    No problem. My rule is don’t cook with it if you wouldn’t drink it. Since I quite enjoy drinking a number of inexpensive ($3-10) wines, I’m completely fine cooking with them. The same goes with liquor, though unlike wine, the more expensive the liquor the better quality, whereas wines are more likely to be great and cheap and expensive and really bad than a liquor or liqueur is.

  15. I cook with alcohol fairly regularly, though my parents almost never ever did (more because they were afraid of people from the ward seeing my dad buying the stuff at the grocery store than because they thought eating the resulting dishes would be sinful).

    No matter what they say about it all not cooking off, I have a hard time believing there’s much alcohol left in a cup of vermouth that’s been reduced at a vigorous simmer to 2-3 tablespoons (which takes less than 10 minutes in a wide skillet). The rate of the simmer actually changes when the alcohol is mostly gone, since it boils at a lower temperature. Try it and you’ll see. I don’t have alcohol intolerance, but I don’t like the taste all that much, so I generally cook things until they no longer taste boozy if possible.

    I disagree that most alcohols are interchangeable, though–maybe if you’re talking about a dessert and changing an orange liqueur for an almond or coffee one. But you wouldn’t want to use a full-bodied red wine when your recipe calls for a sweet white wine like a gewurtztraminer or a dry white wine like chardonnay. You should stay in the same type if you want the recipe to turn out how it’s designed to.

  16. Jessawhy says:

    This is a great thread, Starfoxy.

    I bought my first bottle of alcohol to try a cake I read about in in the book, “Eat Cake!”

    It’s Sweet Potato Cake with Rum-soaked Raisins and a Spiked-Sugar Glaze.

    It’s amazing (I call it carrot cake’s hot cousin) and I’ve made it lots of times now.

    The best part is that included it in the ward cookbook with specific instructions (which they printed) to NOT substitute rum flavoring, to use real rum in the recipe. I wonder if anyone will actually do it. . .

  17. Stepheny says:

    This is a link to a site that has the results of testing done by the USDA. Just as a point of reference.

  18. Craig says:

    “I disagree that most alcohols are interchangeable, though–maybe if you’re talking about a dessert and changing an orange liqueur for an almond or coffee one. But you wouldn’t want to use a full-bodied red wine when your recipe calls for a sweet white wine like a gewurtztraminer or a dry white wine like chardonnay. You should stay in the same type if you want the recipe to turn out how it’s designed to.”

    Oh, I completely agree. I was actually meaning that you can substitute within the same type. In some few recipes you can use either red or dry white wine, (or brandy) but that’s just because some alcohols are just more versatile.

  19. Dora says:

    I have no problem cooking with alcohol, or eating foods where the alcohol is an integral part of the recipe. However, I do know that there are members of my family, and close friends, who do not partake. And so, when I have these specific individuals over for a small dinner party, I generally try to choose recipes that do not contain alcohol. Just like I don’t cook pork, when my brother’s longtime girlfriend (who eats a modified kosher diet) will be joining us. For me, it’s just a matter of fitting the dinner menu to the dinner party.

  20. G says:

    skimming comments and not sure if someone already said this: but one hang-up over cooking w/ WINE (if you are not also going to be drinking it) is that the unused wine will get old and yucky fairly shortly after opening the bottle (I try to not let mine get older than a week). So maybe those little single serving sized bottles? So you don’t have to feel like you waisted a whole bottle for one dish of risotto. (YUM)

    Your hard liquors however, are good for the long haul. (Have made SOO many good marinades from lingering bottles of Vodka and tequila. and Rum is EXCEPTIONAL in cakes etc)

    wow, this post is making me hungry.

  21. Emily U says:

    Thanks for the tip, G. I’ve always wondered what a reasonable refrigerator shelf-life is for wine. The most common reason I leave wine out of my recipes is that I know the bottle I’ve got in the fridge is probably too old to use. Mini-bottles it is, then, even if it means I’ll have to go to the liquor store (I’ve looked for them at the grocery, but haven’t seen them there).

  22. Azucar says:

    I buy vodka at the Utah State Liquor store for my pie crusts. Oh yes I do.

  23. Tom says:

    This post reminds me of a story told in the biography “David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism” that came out a couple of years ago.

    President McKay loved Rum Cake, according to the book. When asked how he reconciled that with the Word of Wisdom, he said, in short, that the WoW prohibits drinking alcohol, not eating it!

  24. While I don’t think I’d offer a bottle of wine that’s been opened for a while to anyone to drink, my experience is that it stays pretty good in the fridge, a few weeks at least. As long as it doesn’t smell off, and you’ve kept the bottle sealed, it should be fine.

    And yes, Dora, my father-in-law’s partner is a recovering alcoholic, and I do not use boozy recipes when he is eating with us.

  25. Debra says:

    Well, I have another point of view on this subject.

    I grew up in Utah, but not being a member of the church, and my parents and immediate adult family members were all appropriate responsible social drinkers. When my brother and I were sixteen we were allowed, in the European style, to join in having a glass of wine with dinner.

    So I grew up with alcohol in my home and saw it used responsibly all my childhood. This included cooking with wine, my father making homemade liquoers, etc.

    The only people I ever saw or heard about being drunk during those years were Mormons who did not have a socially-acceptable pattern of social drinking. I believe the tee-totalling abstinence expectation and social norm breeds excess when those within the church choose not to follow it.

    I share this to give a sense of my context and background with this subject, and with what I am about to say.

    When I joined the church, I also cooked with wine occasionally, and yes, it is difficult if not impossible to find a non-alcoholic substitute for what this adds to a recipe.

    One day, as a young mother when I was making a favorite soup that is superbly enhanced by the addition of white wine, I felt the Spirit say to me, in essence, “whether or not the alcohol all cooks out or not, do you want your children to develop a taste for alcohol?”

    To me, that is a deeper question that I needed some time to think about and consider. I came to the conclusion that no, I do not, and so I discontinued the practice.

    Today, I am very grateful that I was instructed by the Lord in that way. My girls are both grown now, and one of them developed a significant alcohol problem in her early 20’s.

    As part of her recovery, she remembered the example of no alcohol in our home, and the easy, natural matter-of-fact way we live this, in our larger family context, which still includes many non-Mormons. My husband and I simply don’t drink and don’t cook with alcohol. Our friends and family know this, and it is a non-issue. They don’t serve or cook with alcohol when we are in their homes. It has never been a subject of debate, conflict or controversy.

    This example was a source of strength and instruction for her, as she was re-claiming an alcohol-free lifestyle.

    Something to consider is the fact that those with alcohol intolerance or dependency issues, can be triggered into cravings by the alcohol used in cooking, or the alcohol in cough syrup, mouth wash, etc. It is not uncommon for those with this issue to use these products to get their “fix” when they can’t get access to other sources. This is why treatment facilities, etc, sell alcohol-free products in their stores, and why they are easy to find in local grocery stores, etc.

    The alcohol used in cooking can have an effect on those with these kinds of challenges, as well as other sensitive people. If you feel a “buzz’ after eating something with alcohol in it, or your head feels funny, or you feel dizzy, or lose your equilibrium or balance, or find you have a difficult time with hand-eye coordination, or your speech becomes difficult, this could be a result of the alcohol in the food.

    I once heard a sister in RS, whose father was a terrible drunk and abusive toward her, say essentially that using alcohol always leads to drunkenness and alcohol dependency. This is not true.

    What is true, is that alcohol is a brain-altering and experience-altering chemical. This is why people all over the world, through-out history have sought it out. We as humans like the altered-state experience.

    What alcohol does is what I described above. The state I described above begins with very little alcohol in your body. The result is an altering of a person’s thinking, reasoning, and decision-making ability. It impairs motors skills, and hand-eye coordination. It’s impact impairs impulse control – all reasons why alcohol use is such a frequent strong contributing factor in cases of car accidents, domestic violence, child abuse, date rape, unplanned, unwanted pregnancy, and the list goes on.

    The biggest negative for me, is the way alcohol impairs the ability to feel, hear and have the presence of the Spirit with a person.

    I have never personally been drunk. I have never been arrested for drunk driving, or been involved in a substance-related conflict, or one of the other significant problems I mentioned that is linked to substance abuse.

    I have experienced the mild “pleasant” effects of moderate social drinking, and I have noticed the withdrawal of the Spirit from this use. The last time, was several years ago, when I ate a dish prepared with wine, at a restaurant. I only began to experience the buzz, when I stopped eating it. I also felt the Spirit leave.

    To me, having the presence, guidance, strength and power of the Holy Ghost in my life is too important and crucial to sacrifice it for the sake of eating food prepared with alcohol.

    It is not a hard sacrifice for me to make. I am personally grateful for what I have been taught about this subject on a deeper level, and the blessings that have come to me and my family as a result.

  26. MSL says:

    Another alternative that’s worked for me when I’ve had this dilemma is to purchase de-alcoholized wine. I use Ariel, which they sell at Trader Joe’s (at least the white wine version of it; You have to order the red online). I don’t drink regular wine, so I have nothing to compare it too, but it’s won awards and held it’s own in some wine tasting contests I think. Cooking with this form of wine makes me feel like I’m using better quality wine than cooking wine, but I don’t really struggle with the alcohol dilemma.

  27. SilverRain says:

    “Something to consider is the fact that those with alcohol intolerance or dependency issues,”

    Just to set the record straight, alcohol intolerance is like an allergy, not an addiction. 😀

  28. Debra says:

    HI Silver Rain:

    Having worked in drug and alcohol treatment, I was aware of the distinction you bring up. Hope your point clarifies it for others.

  29. Starfoxy says:

    I know I’m late in responding to this, but all of the comments were really great to read. The practical, useful information I’ve gained from this is fantastic, thank you all for your input!

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