Dateline: January 3, 2006

Here we are starting a whole new year. Funny how it always happens about the first of January every year. I think the Chinese have a New Year starting about three times a year.

The holiday season keeps the good Doctor hopping. Everyone is out in the kitchen rattling them pots and pans. It is music to my ears. The good Doctor is world wide with his practice. He's constantly amazed at the origin of some of the emails he gets. In the last week or so, email has come from the Isle of Man and Thailand. As memory serves, both questions were about Tex-Mex food. We all know what the favorite food in the world is after a plain bowl of rice -- it's anything Tex-Mex.

The Doctor was introduced to Tex-Mex at the old El Matamoros café on IH-35 in Austin. IH-35 was not there yet, but El Mat was. IH-35 has been under construction through Austin since 1955. There is no hope of ever finishing it.

The thing we all ordered at El Mat was the Special Dinner. You got a big plate with tacos and guacamole and another big plate with tamales, enchiladas, rice and beans, all smothered in a delicious sauce. I think it cost under two dollars in the 1950s. Everything Tex-Mex is judged by El Matamoros standards.

The Doctor's first barbecue experience was with meat prepared at Novisad's Café on South Main in Taylor. It was "on the other side of the tracks". The café was operated by Grandma and Grandpa Veselka. They were grandparents to cousins of mine. Grandma Veselka did all the work, while Grandpa drank beer and talked with the customers.

The café had a brick smoker built inside the building. It was about five feet wide and ten feet long. It had a brick chimney running up through the roof of the building. The fire was built in the end of the smoker away from the chimney and the meat went on a rack about thirty-six inches above the floor. There was a door on the chimney with a chamber where the "hot guts" were smoked. It all worked to perfection. I don't remember any brisket from there. We had chuck roast, ribs or mutton. The Doctor was only about five or six at the time and not very interested in any of the cooking details. Whenever we got about a dollar and a half ahead, Daddy would go to Novisad's on Sunday with an iron pot and come home with enough barbecue for the big Sunday dinner. It was about as good as it gets.

Enough of this walk down memory lane. It's time so solve some problems.

Jan wants to know: Why does my pecan pie always stick to the pie pan? I use glass pans, but I've also tried metal, and I am very careful not to overfill. I can't tell if the filling is seeping through the crust or running over the top.

Hi Jan: Don't you just hate it when that happens? If the problem is being caused by the filling seeping through the crust, brush the inside of the unfilled pie crust with egg white and then pop it in your preheated oven about five minutes before you put in the filling. This will seal it. If it still sticks, we are going to have to look elsewhere. If the crust has sugar in it, more than likely it will stick. Lemme know what happens. Thanks for writing.
Dr. John

Linda has a pie problem too: I know this is not your field, but perhaps you can help. The filling in my lemon meringue pie always runs. What am I doing wrong?

Hi Linda: Without knowing your recipe, I just have to guess at the problem. Are you cooking the filling long enough? Will it set up if it's not in the pie shell? Is your pie shell cool when you put the filling in? Some fillings will get runny if you stir them too much after they are cooked. I hope this puts you on the track. If not, write back and send me your recipe. Thanks for writing.
Dr. John

Gus has a jerky question: I read where when making jerky to cook it to at least 160 degrees for a certain amount of time to be sure to kill all the bacteria, etc. Then heat at normal drying temps. Do you know the proper way to do this? I see the above site said something about putting meat in boiling water for a couple minutes. Would that work? Would you put the strips or a whole chunk of meat in the water? If that's the correct thing to do. Thanks. Wanta be safe. Not DAID. Ha ha. Merry Christmas.

Hi Gus: If you keep the flies and other vermin off the jerky while it's drying, there is nothing to worry about. Real jerky is cured out on the back porch. The salt and the black pepper will take care of anything lingering in the meat. You want to make sure all the fat is off the meat. The fat will go rancid on you no matter what you do. Check back with Look under "Traditional Texas Fare" and find my article "Jerky, It's not just for breakfast anymore". That tells about all I know on the subject. Thanks for writing.
Dr. John

Steve says: I'm looking for a good recipe for a brisket rub using wet mustard as a base on the meat, then hot (spicy) dry rub ingredients as the coating. As well as a good mop sauce recipe. I'm gonna be smoking the brisket.

Hi Steve: You might try a half and half mix of regular mustard and mayonnaise. For the rub, try:

For a mop try:
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 to 3 teaspoons salt
  • 1 to 3 tablespoons of spices you select
  • 1 cup cooking oil
Use a non reactive pot and bring to a simmer and let it simmer for 20 to 30 minutes.

When you apply the mop, daub it on; don't scrub all the spice off the brisket. Good luck and thanks for writing.
Dr. John

Happy New Year to all from the old doctor in Texas.