Dateline: November 1, 2003

Lots of interesting things going on this month, so let's hop to them.

rmylar writes: Do you have the secret way of cooking pinto beans that helps to relieve the gassy tummy?

Hey there: South Texans and Mexicans use an herb called epazote in the beans to cut down the gas. You can find it where Mexican foodstuff is sold or order it from a spice vendor. It only takes a tiny amount, and it does have a flavor that most folk find nice. I always soak the pintos overnight before slow simmering them. This seems to help too. As last resort, there's always "Beano". Thanks for writing.
Dr. John

Joel writes: I was hoping you could answer a question for me about fajitas. Do you know how they were invented? I want to know who is known for this great invention.

Hey Joel: Fajitas are a peasant dish that has been around for many, many years. I don't think any one person can claim inventing them. Fajita is a Spanish word meaning something like "little belt". It refers to the skirt steak from the belly of a beef. I first became aware of them in the early 70's. I'm sure they were available in Mexican restaurants before then. The original fajita was simply skirt steak, usually grilled, along with pico de gallo in a flour tortilla. All the other garnishes came later. Thanks for writing.
Dr. John

Kay writes: I would like to make at home a traditional Texas-diner style patty melt. Sounds simple enough, but I can't seem to get it right. Suggestions?

Hi, Kay: Again we get into the issue of personal taste. Everyone likes something different. Just to cover the bases:

  • Use good bread. If you can find some sourdough about the right size. Butter and toast it on one side.
  • Grill the onions in butter with little salt and pepper.
  • Cheese of choice. I like Velveeta. Swiss would be good, too.
  • Use a good-sized meat patty seasoned with salt and pepper.
    Whatever else you use is up to you. Thanks for writing.
    Dr. John

    John writes: I always enjoy reading your website articles. Keep up the excellent work. I have a question regarding turkey sausage. On occasion, especially during the Thanksgiving and Xmas holidays, I am treated to turkey sausage. It is usually served cold on a meat tray and is normally a larger diameter sausage (3-4"). Are you familiar with this type, and would you have a recipe? Thanks.

    Hi, John: I think turkey sausage was invented up the road from me at Inman's BBQ in Llano, Texas. At least that's the first place I encountered it. Go back over to and under my Traditional Texas Fare column, find my article titled "The Wurst of Times". A lot of sausage-making information there.

    From what I gather, you will want to use two-thirds dark meat from the turkey and one-third white meat. I prefer a rather coarse grind. You can season it to your liking. Probably salt, black pepper and poultry seasoning. Or whatever you prefer. The ground turkey you find in the supermarkets is pure garbage. Grind your own; you can use a food processor. Be sure it's cooked done before you consume it. Good luck, and thanks for writing.
    Dr. John

    Jen writes: How do I make a really good chili that has a lot of flavor, but that's not too spicy and really filing? But there is a catch: I have to be able to make it spicy afterwards without ruining it. What can I do for a dessert afterwards?

    Hi, Jen: Sorry to be so long in getting back to you but things get to hopping around here when the holidays get near. For the chili: Use completely lean meat. You can cut your heavy spices, chili powder, cumin and garlic back by about one-third. When you want to spice up the leftovers, just add the rest of the spices and be sure to simmer them for at least thirty minutes.

    Best dessert for any Tex-Mex meal is pineapple sherbet. It tastes lovely and is not filling or real high calorie. I got on to that at the Old El Matamoros Restaurant in Austin years ago. Thanks for writing.
    Dr. John

    Pam writes: How do you cure a cast iron skillet after it was used for cooking? The pan was from Lodge Cookware. Can't get the burnt food out of the pan, and it has been sitting in water for two days, and I still can't get the burnt food off. Please help me. Thanks for your help, my friend

    Hi, Pam: What the heck did you burn in there? First thing to try is this: Turn on the vent-a-hood. Empty the water out, and heat that skillet until it is smoking hot. Stick it under the water tap and run cool water in it. It will hiss and pop a lot, but should break loose all the charcoal. You may have to scrape with a metal spatula (like an egg flipper) if some is extra stubborn. If that don't do it, you'll have to burn it out. If you have a gas grill, turn it on full blast. Put the skillet upside down over the burner and let it cook about an hour. Then turn the thing off and let it cool down. That should turn all the residue to ash that you can brush out with a wad of foil or stiff bristle brush.

    If you don't have gas grill, you might get one of them little propane torches and burn it out with that. Best would be to put it in the coals of a hot campfire until it turns red hot and then just let the fire die and things cool.

    When you get it clean, put in about a quarter cup of Crisco or hog lard. Put it on the burner and heat it until the oil smokes. Turn it off and pour out excess oil. When it gets cool enough, take a wad of paper towels and rub the remaining oil all over the skillet inside and out. Then repeat the process. That should fix you up.

    Also, see Texas Cooking Online article "How to Love Your Cast Iron Skillet". Thanks for writing.
    Dr. John

  • If you would like to direct a question to Ask Doctor John, e-mail it to John Raven, Ph.B.