Dateline: May 2, 2004

The doctor has good news for some of his patients this morning. For those needing Gebhardt's Chili Powder, we have located a source where you can order your medication. Drop the doctor an email and he'll hook you up. For the rest of the patients, the jovial old sawbones is now Open.

Herb says: Sir I need some help. I want some tips on cooking with a Dutch oven and some pretty easy recipes for this. I know that you need to have coals on top and bottom. I just cannot get the right amount of coals in the right place. Thanks in advance from a fellow Texan living in Kansas.

Hi Herb: Getting the right amount of coals is something really hard to explain in writing. It's something you're gonna have to learn by trial and error. It may help to use charcoal briquettes to start with. They are more uniform, and you will get about the same amount of heat out of each of them. Start off with about six on the bottom and nine on top if you are baking or roasting. Check regularly, and the only way to check is to take the top off and look and poke if you need to. You can always wait a while for it to cook, but once you burn it, it's burned. Thanks for reading and writing.
Dr. John

Vivian writes: I just found your site, trying to do some home-based ice-cream making. I need to know the difference between the following:

  • Double/heavy cream and single/light cream
  • Molasses and sugar
  • Milk and whole milk.
  • Can I substitute evaporated milk with condensed milk? I can't get fresh milk, so what is the best substitute?

    Hi Vivian:

  • Heavy cream vs. light cream: The light cream is half pure cream and half whole milk (sold as half-and-half). Heavy cream (or double cream) is pure cream.
  • Molasses is the juice of sugar cane that has been boiled to condense the sugar in it. Regular white sugar is refined from the molasses. Brown sugar is white sugar with molasses added to it.
  • Whole milk is milk like it comes from the cow. None of the cream is removed. Condensed milk is milk reduced by evaporation with sugar added. One 14-ounce can equals one quart whole milk plus 7 ounces (just under 1 cup) of sugar. On the other hand, evaporated milk is fresh homogenized milk with approximately half of its water removed. Mix it with an equal amount of water to get good drinking milk. Thanks for reading and writing.
    Dr. John

    Mike writes: I have to be on a gluten-free diet. The pain of it is that gluten is often put in packaged seasoning mixes. Do you have any recipes for a taco seasoning or some guidance on the spices that could be used for it? I am a bit illiterate on spices. Thanks for the great articles and advice.

    Hi Mike: They put flour/gluten in the mixes as a thickener. You can make your own spice mix and, if you need thickener, you can use a non-wheat product such as arrowroot.

    Taco seasoning would contain chili powder, cumin, garlic, black pepper and maybe a little cayenne. If you want to try to make your own, start with two parts cumin, one part chili powder (get pure powder, not chili blend), one part onion powder or flakes, one-half part or less garlic powder. Salt as needed. You can experiment with some small batches and work up a good one.

    Read the list of ingredients on a packaged mix that you like, and it will give you an idea of what's in it. The list starts with the spice that is used in the largest amount. If the mix is mostly chili powder, it will be first on the list. The spice used in the least amount will be last on the list. Hope that's not too confusing. Thanks for reading and writing.
    Dr. John

    Debbie writes: My husband and I have differences in the way we feel cast iron skillets and pots should be seasoned when they have never been used. Could you suggest the best method? Also, what is the best way to remove grease buildup on an old cast iron skillet without ruining it? I have heard that it can be removed with a blowtorch, but if it is done improperly, the skillet will be rendered unusable.

    Hi Debbie: New cast iron should come with seasoning instructions. If not, you want to wash the pot or whatever in hot soapy water to get all the preservative off it. Dry it well. Put in about two tablespoons shortening (Crisco is best), heat it until the Crisco melts. Take a paper towel and rub the melted Crisco all over the item, inside and out. Put it in a 350F degree oven for about an hour. Cut the oven off and let it cool off until you can handle it. Wipe out any excess Crisco and recoat the outside and inside. Run it through another oven cycle and it's ready to use. Just don't wash cast iron with soap. Best is to just wipe clean with paper towel or scrub with a brush and make sure all surfaces are dried and lightly greased before storing.

    The best way to clean out crusty old iron is to burn it out. If you have a gas grill, put the pot or whatever on the grill upside down and turn the heat on full blast for about an hour. Let it cool down normally. The residue should come off with ease and maybe a little steel wool. If you have a bad crusty spot you can use the blowtorch on it -- judiciously. After burning it out, you have to reseason it just like new stuff. Thanks for reading and writing.
    Dr. John