Our first question comes from parts unknown. (It really helps if I know the area where you live when you ask questions. It gives me an idea of what resources may be available to you). The writer says:

Hi. My son is doing a very large project on Texas. One part is to prepare a food popular in that state. While Chili is the state food, it isn't ranking high on the list of interested items (we will make some, but most of the kids don't like it). Any suggestions? Thanks.

Dear Thanks: The first thing that comes to mind is pinto beans and cornbread. I've never met a Texan who didn't profess to like pinto beans and cornbread. Considering the age of the children, I would also vote for the Tex-Mex connection. Let them make tacos and/or chulapas. Chulapas are close relatives of tacos, the difference being the chulapas are served on a soft flour tortilla instead of in a crisp, folded corn tortilla. The chulapas also get a coating of refried beans for a foundation.

You need ground beef, tortillas, shredded Cheddar cheese, diced tomatoes and shredded lettuce, refried beans and some taco sauce. All should be available in your local supermarket. Just follow package directions. Be sure an adult supervises the browning of the meat. The kids can assemble their tacos or chulapas any way they choose. I guarantee they will like them.

Don in New England wants to know why his grilled ribs always come out tough and stringy.

Don: Two things might be the cause of the tough, stringy ribs. First you may be getting ribs that are too large. You want to ask for ribs that are "three and down". That means the rack of ribs will weigh three pounds or less. The larger the rib, the tougher.

Secondly, you may be using too much heat. To be tender, ribs need exposure to low heat, 200 to 250 degrees F. At this temperature it will take 4 hours or more to get them really tender. They are done when the meat starts coming loose from the bone. Don't forget to use a mop sauce on them during the cooking process.

Mary in Ohio writes: What are mountain oysters?

Mary: Mountain oysters are the testicles of animals. Most commonly they are obtained from cattle, hogs and turkeys. The most popular way to prepare them is to soak them in cold salted water and then remove the membrane covering them. They are then sliced, battered and deep-fried. They are a very popular dish with certain segments of the population.

Often we get requests for "something a little different" in the Texas line of foods. Here are a couple of recipes that use corn, a historic Texas staple. My friend George Pearce makes his cornbread in a Dutch oven, and it's always the most popular treat at our camp meetings.

George's Jalapeño Cornbread

Preheat a 10-inch Dutch oven with a few coals on the top and bottom, liberally greased of course. If you are homebound, preheat the oven to 400 degrees F, and grease a 10-inch cast iron skillet and preheat it in the oven.

In one bowl, combine the corn meal, flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. In another bowl combine the onion, jalapeños, cheese and pimentos. Add the two together and mix until combined. In the bowl you just emptied, mix the eggs, milk and oil. Add the liquid ingredients to the dry and stir until just moistened. Pour into preheated Dutch oven or skillet. Bake in the oven for 20 to 25 minutes, until it's done.

Here's one that doesn't have a Texas name but is a very popular one-dish meal in the Lone Star State.

Louisiana Cornbread

  • 1- cup Cornbread mix (the 8 oz. Jiffy Mix preferred)
  • teaspoon Baking soda
  • 2 Eggs
  • 1cup Milk
  • cup Oil
  • 1-16 oz. can Creamed corn
  • 1 pound Hamburger or sausage, browned with onion and garlic
  • 1 pound grated cheddar cheese (or less)
Mix the first six ingredients and pour half into a greased 9"x13" pan. Add meat and half the cheese, spreading evenly on the cornbread mix. Top with remaining batter and cheese. Bake at 350 degrees F about 45 minutes. This, along with a green salad, makes a fine meal.

The good Doctor really enjoys answering your questions. If you would like to make things a little easier for the old chap, he would like for you to be as specific as possible when requesting information on a product. If for instance, you are looking for source of a certain brand of hot sauce, include in your note where you found the item and any information on it such as where manufactured and by whom. As mentioned earlier, let the doctor know where you live so he will have another clue in finding an answer to your request.

In closing this month, the Doctor would like to recommend two books for you barbecue fanatics: Paul Kirk's Championship Barbecue Sauces" by Paul Kirk, and "The Great American Barbecue & Grilling Manual" by Smoky Hale. (This one may not be in the stores yet -- it's brand new.) Thank you all for writing.