Dateline: May 2, 2005

The good doctor gets several emergency calls each month from nice folk who have put too much "spice" in their chili. They tell the doctor it's just too hot for them and ask if there is anything they can do to cool the chili off a little.

There are two tried and true methods that will cool down chili. These violate some of the rules of chili cooking, but throwing away food is a sin anyway you look at it.

The way you cool down chili is to dilute it. Two things that absorb a lot of flavor and don't really become offensive in the chili are (1) dehydrated potato flakes, and (2) oatmeal. The dehydrated potato flakes are sold as "instant mashed potatoes" and the oatmeal is just plain old breakfast rolled oats - not the instant kind.

To dilute the chili, bring it to a boil and add some of the potatoes or oatmeal. If things start getting too thick -- and they will -- add water. Boiling water works best -- just be careful with it. The doctor can't tell you how much to use, since he has no way of knowing how much chili you have to smooth out. You'll just have to guess or bring in an expert.

The potatoes will cook in just a couple of minutes. The oatmeal will take a little longer. Just be patient and keep tasting until the desired results are achieved.

Recently an old professional chili-cooking friend of the doctor told me fresh lime juice would take heat out of chili. The doctor has not seen results of tests in this area, but you can give it a try.

The best thing, of course, is to avoid too much heat in the beginning. You can always add more, but taking it out is rather difficult.

Now let's get to some of the great questions the doctor's patients have sent in for answering.

Here's a question from Jon all the way from South America: I am a native Houstonian, and I have been living in Manaus, Brazil, for the last three years. If you look on the map it is way up in northwest Brazil at the headwaters of the Amazon. Manaus and the State of Amazonas are considered to be in the sticks. In Rio or Sao Paulo, there are good selections of Mexican food, but nothing here. I have perfected flour tortillas, but am dying for some corn tortillas. I cannot get Masa Harina, only cornmeal. Can you give me any hints, ideas or suggestions as to how to make corn tortillas with cornmeal? Thanks.

Hi Jon: My first email from Brazil. Last week I got one from Saudi Arabia. We have displaced Texans all over the world.

As you know, masa is dried corn treated with lime to get the husk off. Grits and hominy are made the same way. If you can get grits or hominy, you can grind them to flour. (You'll have to dry the hominy). If cornmeal is all you can get, try grinding it to flour (or pulverizing it in a blender).

A starting mix for tortillas would be 1-1/2 cups masa, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 2 tablespoons shortening or lard. Mix the same as for flour tortillas. The cornmeal will be missing the slight lime taste, but I don't think you will miss it that much. Good luck and thanks for writing.
Dr. John

Forest has company coming: I am going to smoke 10 pounds of Boston butt this weekend and am wondering if you have any ideals about how to make it real tasty. I'm out to impress, so I figured who better to ask that a pit master like you! Thank you.

Hi Forest: You might try "larding" that butt with some garlic. Peel several garlic cloves, and cut them in half lengthwise. Poke a hole in the butt with boning knife and insert half of a garlic clove as deep as possible. Put about a dozen in the butt. Then just cook in your regular manner. That will put flavor all the way through. Thanks for writing.
Dr. John

Marie is looking for a recipe: We were in Kingsville/Riviera, Texas this winter, and had a wonderful tartar sauce at the Kings Inn Restaurant there. I would love to have the recipe or a similar one. Thank you so much for letting me know if you have heard of it.

Hi Marie: I'm sorry I don't have that particular recipe, but the classic tartar sauce is a mix of mayonnaise, minced onion and sweet pickle relish. Try putting some together and maybe you can hit one you really like. You can add anything you think might go good. A good cook is always experimenting. Thanks for writing.
Dr. John

[Editor's note: See Homemade Tartar Sauce in Grandma's Cookbook.]

Phil is going to fry some wings: How long do you deep-fry wings on an outdoor cooker?

Hi Phil: Rough rule of thumb when deep-frying anything like wings is, when they float they are done. For a dozen or so wings, it should take five to ten minutes depending on how brown you want them. Make sure the oil is no less than 350 degrees. If you are doing large batches it will cool the oil, so you want the temperature up around 375 when you start. Hope this makes sense. Thanks for writing.
Dr. John