Here it is, the best season of the year, although you could not guess the date from the weather here in Texas. Mother Nature is getting even with us for complaining so much about the hot, dry summer last year. No matter, we have charcoal to light and recipes to find. Onward through the rain and cold.

We start off with a short query from Shirley:

Velveeta, is there an alternative cheese?

Shirley: I'm sure you can find a suitable alternative for Velveeta at your local supermarket. Our local chain has a house brand that compares well with the original Velveeta.

From Norman:

I would like a recipe for Crumpets. Can you help?

Norman: We haven't had a lot of crumpets around Texas since the days of the XIT Ranch. Here's a recipe from the royal recipe file.

English Crumpets (Bakestone Recipes) Servings: 4

Sift the flours and salt into a warm bowl. Cream the yeast with the sugar. Add the warmed milk and water, then the oil. Stir into the flour to make a batter, and beat vigorously until smooth. Cover the bowl, put in a warm place and leave it until the mixture rises and the surface is full of bubbles (about 1-1/2 hours). Break it down by beating with a wooden spoon. Cover and leave in a warm place to rise for another 30 minutes.

To cook the crumpets, heat and grease the bakestone lightly. Grease 5 or 6 crumpet rings (3 to 3-1/2 inches) (or scone cutters) and put them on the bakestone to heat. Cook as many crumpets as possible at a time, as the batter will not stay bubbly for long. Put 1/2 inch of batter into each ring. Cook gently for 7 - 10 minutes, or until the surface sets and is full of tiny bubbles. Using an oven glove for protection, lift off the ring, and if the base of the crumpet is pale gold, flip it over and cook for another 3 minutes until the other side is just colored. If the crumpet batter is set but sticks slightly in the ring, push it out gently with the back of a wooden spoon. Wipe, grease and heat the rings for each batch of crumpets. If serving immediately, wrap the crumpets in a cloth and keep warm between batches. Butter generously and serve at once. If reheating, toast the crumpets under the grill, cooking the smooth surface first and then the top so that the butter will melt into the holes.

Ken writes:

Dear Dr. John: I have been smoking and barbecuing for many years and have always used Kingsford charcoal as a base for the fire. Now, however, I live in Hong Kong and the only charcoal I can find is what appears to be the "real stuff." In other words, large pieces of real wood charcoal. This is made in China, so I have no idea what type of wood they use. Anyway, I have a couple of issues:

(1) It is a bitch to get this charcoal started. I have used a liquid charcoal starter with minimal success, combined with another paraffin type starter that is sold locally. Typically, I will spend an hour just getting the stuff going. Is this typical with real wood charcoal? If so, any thoughts on how I can cut the time spent messing with the fire?

(2) The real wood charcoal burns different from the Kingsford I used to use. Mainly, it seems to burn a lot hotter and perhaps even longer. Is this perception correct in your opinion?

Thanks, and good cooking to you. Ken

Hey Ken: We have a faction that says Kingsford and other commercial bricks are pure poison. I've heard that the things are made from anything from old shipping pallets to bed slats. I couldn't say for sure. Getting that real charcoal lit should not be that tough. What is the humidity there? It may be picking up moisture from the air. You might try drying some in the oven at low temperature for a while and see if that helps. You also might try heating it up in the oven before you try to light it. Say about 300 degrees for twenty or thirty minutes. Another thing you might try, if you can find one there, is the electric charcoal starting device. That would put some heat in the stuff before it ignites. My feeling is that the charcoal is getting damp from some source. If you have a warm, dry place to store it, give that a try. Thanks for writing.

Dr. John

Del T. writes: Do you have a recipe for making barbecue ribs in the pressure cooker?

Del: I don't see any problem. I'd season the ribs with barbecue seasoning and cook them until tender. I don't know how long, your cooker should have instructions. When they are done, slip them onto a hot grill and put some sauce on them just long enough to glaze them. Everyone will think you are the best griller in town. Thanks for writing.

Dr. John

Rick writes: Do you have any recipes for meat (roasts, steak, etc.) that I could cook in my 30-quart frying pot? I've done a whole turkey and it's wonderful. Any other suggestions or places where I might find deep-frying recipes?

Hey Rick: Outside of the regular fried things, I haven't run across any special recipes for the big fryer. I don't see why you couldn't cook just about anything you could think of in there. It would be a matter of trial and error until you got the cooking times down. I'll bet a suckling pig would work real good. Probably take a little less cooking time than an equal size turkey since pork doesn't need to get as hot inside to be done. I would just season the meat in the usual fashion and have a go at it. If you try anything unusual, let me know how it works. Thanks for writing.

Dr. John