Dateline: February 2, 2006

Here it is February again. Only six weeks until spring springs on us. We have a waiting room full of interesting people with questions, so let's get started.

From Mike: Why does popcorn pop, while regular corn does not? Also, how are corn nuts made?

Hi Mike: Popcorn is different from regular corn in that it has a harder shell and is more compact. It may be the original strain of corn from ancient times. There is a bit of moisture in the center of the kernel that is there to nourish the baby corn plant when it hatches. When the corn is heated to the boiling point of water, the moisture changes to steam. When water changes to steam, its volume increases twelve times. All this volume has to have a place to go so the shell holds it as long as it can, then lets go with a "pop". In this popping process the starch inside the kernel forms small bubbles that stick together just like a slice of bread. If this didn't happen, you would just have a pop and no corn. Popcorn can get too dry so that there is no moisture left in the kernel, and then it will not pop. Moisture can be put back into the kernels, but it's a long process and it's cheaper and easier to just buy some new popcorn.

Corn nuts are related closely to parched corn, which is one of man's oldest cooked foods. Parched corn is made by heating regular corn until it gets brown and swells slightly. This makes the kernel tender enough to chew. It's a Flintstone version of grits.

Corn nuts are fried corn. You soak a cup of dried corn in two cups of water in the icebox for three days. Then you dry it off as best you can and fry it in hot oil. The oil is going to spatter and pop, so be careful it you try this. The kernels will sink to the bottom when you first put them in. When they float back to the top they should be done. You can fish one out and cool it enough to chew on it. If it's chewy, it needs to cook a little longer. The kernels will be crisp when they are done.

If you want to try making parched corn or corn nuts, get your corn from a health food store or some like establishment. Don't use the "deer" corn. I don't know what they might put on that. Or if you have a place to dry your own corn, get some nice roasting ears and dry them.

Don't ask me how corn flakes are made.
Dr. John

From Susan: How are you doing? I smoked that lobster and it came out pretty good. Now I am looking for a recipe for smothered quail. I remember eating it growing up when my dad would go hunting. But the cooks at our restaurant made them, and it has been closed for a few years now. Have a great Christmas and New Year. Keep up the great work. It is such a great source for those of us that are not back home.

Hi Susan: For your regular smothered quail: First off, you wash the quail real good and pat them dry with clean cloth or paper toweling. Season inside and out with salt and pepper. Melt some butter or shortening in a heavy skillet and brown the birds on all sides. Put them in a baking dish.

When you have them all brown, use the pan drippings to make the sauce. You need about three tablespoons of the drippings. Add some butter if there is not enough. Whisk in three tablespoons of all-purpose flour. Whisk it until it just starts to brown. Add two cups of chicken broth. Season with salt and pepper. Easy on the salt as the broth is salty. Whisk it good so lumps don't form. When it starts to bubble real good and gets thick, pour it over the birds in the baking dish. Put them in a 350F degree oven for 30 to 45 minutes. That should do it.

To perk up the sauce, sauté in about three or four tablespoons of minced onion with the flour when you are browning it. Then proceed as above.

You might want to try a cream sauce sometime. Instead of the broth, use milk in the recipe. And you have to try one batch made with your favorite barbecue sauce rather than the regular sauce. Good eating.
Dr. John

From Marvin: We are looking for a recipe for the brine for corned beef. Thanks.

Hi Marvin: Give this one a try.

Boil the water. Dissolve the salt and saltpeter in it. Let it cool; add the rest of the stuff. Steep the brisket three weeks in the brine.

Thanks for writing.
Dr. John

From Madelyn: Do you have a recipe for brick chili?

Hi Madelyn: Brick chili is just plain chili cooked with less liquid. You have to be careful not to scorch it when making it thick. You can mold it in any suitable container. For a big batch, a bread pan works fine. It has to be kept in the icebox or freezer. Thanks for writing.
Dr. John

From Thomas: Is it wrong to use oak that is a year old on my smoker? And is it wrong to use a flavor injector on a brisket.

Hi Thomas: Age is good for smoking wood. The wood needs to be properly dried before use. A year would be about right for a starter. The only thing you would want to avoid is wood that has turned pulpy (soft) due to dry rot.

You can use the injector on brisket. There may be some discoloration where it is applied, but that will not hurt anything. Thanks for writing.
Dr. John