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Dateline: December 1, 2005

Here it is December again already. I wasn't quite finished with November. The older you get, the faster time flies. I remember when it was a looooooooog time from Christmas to Christmas. Now you don't even get the credit cards paid off before it's time for another Tickle Me Elmo.

The patients have a variety of ailments so let's see if we can fix them up before we have a pandemic. I'm not sure what a pandemic is, but I remember the song, "Shoo fly pie and apple pandemic".

Princess Di is doing her cooking in the desert: In the winter our family spends about two weeks in the Arizona desert. Each year I try to come up with a different meal (we each take an evening.) This year I would like to go southwestern, keeping in mind it is over a campfire with grills and Dutch ovens. I really want to try tamales this year, and I am not sure what to serve with it. Do you have a foolproof recipe for tamales and some ideas to go with? I would also like to add appetizers with it.

Hi Di: To learn about tamales go to . Tamales are very labor intensive, so be prepared. For appetizers I'd go with cheese nachos, chili con queso and some fried tortilla chips. You may want to include a salsa for the dipping.

With the tamales, a chili con queso would be good, along with refried beans. Dessert would be praline candy. You can find all the recipes on in Grandma's Cookbook. Everything can be done Dutch oven style or on the grill. Have fun and thanks for writing.
Dr. John

Matt is looking for authentic Texas: I'm a Texan living in Washington State and currently going to the Seattle Culinary Academy. I am interested in using Texas ingredients with classical French cooking techniques for fine dining food. Do you know of any cookbooks that may help me? Also, do you know of any traditional Texan dishes that fit within "fine dining" specs? Thanks for you help.

Hi Matt: Good for you. We need something other than fry cooks in Texas. I deal strictly with peasant food. This is the base of all Tex-Mex cookery. But one fancy restaurant in Texas that I am aware of is the Mansion on Turtle Creek in Dallas. Their chef, Dean Fearing, has a good reputation and a couple of books out, Mansion on Turtle Creek Cookbook and Dean Fearing's Southwest Cuisine. I think you would find these a good place to start. Good luck and thanks for writing.
Dr. John

[Editor's Note: Also recommended are any of Grady Spears' books. See review of The Texas Cowboy Kitchen on Texana, which includes such recipes as Barbecued Quail Tamales with Avocado Cream, Beef Short Ribs Braised in Port, Dry-Aged Rib Eye with Bandera Butter, Plank-Roasted Red Snapper with Ancho-Citrus Glaze, Chicken Breasts Stuffed with Chorizo, Chicken-Fried Oysters with Pico Cream.]

Alan has a zesty question: Is orange peel and orange zest the same thing? I have a recipe that calls for one orange zest. I found a jar of orange peel at the grocery store. Can you tell me if it is the same and how many teaspoons equal one orange zest? I am a native Texan who got transferred to Virginia. Gotta stay here to get my retirement.

Hi Alan: The zest of citrus is the thin, colored, outer layer of peel. The white layer underneath is bitter and you don't want to use it. Zest is best fresh. You can get little "zesters" in the kitchen department of most stores. Or you can use an ordinary grater. These just take off the outer layer of peel that you want. I don't think the bottled peel is of much use. I find it nearly tasteless and somewhat bitter. Learn to get and use the fresh. I think that "one orange zest" means the zest from one orange. Thanks for writing.
Dr. John

Ed is still seeking the perfect bean: Well, Doc, here I am again. I asked about pintos once before, but I still can't achieve the taste I'm after. I like plain ole dried pintos, with little adornment. A little salt pork or lightly smoked bacon (prefer unsmoked but can't find it). A little sliced onion, salt and black pepper. For some reason, I can't get that go-back-for-seconds-then-thirds flavor. I usually have to cook them for 1-1/2 to 2 hours to make 'em tender. The juice gets too thick. When I add enough water to make it a little soupy, the flavor is compromised. I know the devil is in the details, but let me tell you, in this case he's hiding like a virus burrowed deeply into MS Outlook. This sounds so simple, since simple is how I prefer my pintos. Any ideas? Ed Bragg

Hi Ed: I certainly dislike seeing anyone deprived of the finer things of life. I think I make the finest pot of pinto beans ever brewed. I've been eating pinto beans for about 65 years and I think I have a handle on it. I'll tell you how I do it.

First of all, buy beans where they sell a lot of them. Old beans get real tough. Soak the beans overnight. Cover them with about three inches of water. They will swell up considerable. Put them on the stove early. When they come to a boil, cut the heat back to get a gentle simmer.

Depending on the weather, you may or may not have to add water. Keep the teakettle on another burner with the water right at the boiling point if you add water, add boiling water.

A smoked ham hock is the best flavoring. However, I have found some ham flavoring in a jar at HEB called "Orrington Farms Ham Flavored Soup Base and Food Seasoning". You need about a heaping tablespoon of this to a one-pound pot of beans. Then add about a teaspoon of Gebhardt's chili powder or whatever you have. Toward the end of the cooking, add a clove of crushed garlic. When the beans are just done, salt to your liking. The beans should cook at least three hours, longer if you have time. That's all it takes to make quality pinto beans. If you don't like this recipe, there is something wrong with you. Thanks for writing.
Dr. John

Reed has that bad build-up in the smoker: My 2-year old LyfeTyme smoker from Uvalde has turned out some very good "cue". The inside of the smoker section (48 inches long x 20 inches diameter) on the top half has a very thick shiny tar-like coating that usually gets softer and sometimes stringy once the heat comes up. It doesn't really cause any problem that I'm aware of. I assume it's just a build-up of tar from the smoke. My question is should I leave it alone or try to remove it?

Hi Reed: To answer your first question, yes, you can over-smoke the meat. With the mesquite and hickory, about two hours of smoke is all you need for anything. The pecan and oak are milder, but still you can overdo it. The deal is to let enough oxygen into the firebox to cut out the smoke.

Smoke comes from incomplete burning of the wood. It takes a while to learn how to adjust everything. A fire that does not smoke will be hotter than a smokey one. If things run too hot you have to cut back on the amount of wood.

It would be a good idea to get rid of the build-up in your smoker. A good rule would be to clean it before the start of each barbecue season, if you observe seasons. Otherwise clean it on your birthday every year. If you can get your smoker hot enough you will be able to take it off with a putty knife or stiff wire brush. I would not use any chemicals on it. Good cooking and thanks for writing.
Dr. John

If you have a question for Doctor John, send an email to moc.oohay@nevarkeerc
end article

Traditional Texas Food Articles
By Dr. John, Ph.B.

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