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July 3, 2010

Happy July, boys and girls. It's time for the picnic in the park by the bandstand where the local high school orchestra society will play patriotic tunes for your listening pleasure.

For years, in my home town of Taylor, Texas, the Fourth of July meant a big community party in Murphy Park. The park had lots of picnic tables and big shade trees. There was barbecue on sale. For the kids there were snow cones. Each family usually brought a picnic basket along for emergency use. There were a lot of emergencies.

Depending on your age, the big event of the day was either the Bathing Beauty Contest or the fireworks show that ended the day. The bathing suits worn by the contestants were a lot more modest than what you see today. Most of the contestants were of high school age and were sponsored by some business in town, which paid for the suits and the "hair set". If I remember correctly, the contest was for Miss Williamson County. It was not limited to Taylor beauties. The big lake in the park had a small island where the fireworks were launched.

Good times. But let's get to work.

Stuart writes: Dr. John, we have been toying with corn tortillas at the fire station, and the guys think they are great. We have been using Maseca corn masa flour and have put a tortilla press on our want list.

The tortillas are good but overall the guys think (and I agree) that they taste more like flour that corn. My question for you is how could we get more of a corn flavor into our corn tortillas. We have had suggestions to use more corn meal but thought we would run it by you for an expert opinion. Thanks!

Hi Stuart and the firehouse gang: The masa mix is made from corn that has been soaked in a lime solution to get the husks off. The same as your grits. The liming process changes the taste of the corn. The way they come out is pretty much the way they are supposed to taste.

Experimentation is the word here. You can get corn flour, which is whole corn ground into flour. It is my observation that just about all of today's cornmeal is corn flour rather than meal. I asked the millers about it, and they said the customers prefer corn flour. Try designing your own tortillas. I would think about a three-to-one ratio of cornmeal and regular flour. Put in about a tablespoon of lard or shortening for every two cups of mix. To get dough that will stick together, you need to form it into a ball and wrap it and put it in the icebox about an hour. Give it a try. Thanks for writing.
Dr. John

[Editor's Note: See How to Make Corn Tortillas. And look for Masa Harina made by the Quaker Oats Company. It's pretty easy to find.]

Virginia needs help: Help, Dr. John! Everything I cook sticks to my grill. How can I cure that problem?

Virginia: This happens to everyone. You should have seen the mess I had the first time I tried to grill fish.

The grill needs to be clean and oiled before every use. Heat the grill to the smoking stage and give it a good scrubbing with grill brush or steel wool. Be careful. It's hot! Wipe the grill with cloth or paper towels, and then give it a coating of oil. The best to use is Crisco. For some reason, it has better non-stick qualities. You can use the standard non-stick spray, but you have to be very careful about spraying it on live coals. It can flash up.

This should take the sticky out of your wicket. Thanks for writing.
Dr. John

Eric needs basic advice: Dear Doc: How do you peel a tomato?

Eric: You need a large pot of boiling water. You also need a large container of cold water. (I clean the sink and fill it with cool water). A slotted spoon or one of the oriental dipper baskets is a great help.

Gently drop a tomato into the boiling water. Dunk it with the spoon to make all of it is exposed to the boiling water. After about ten seconds, dip the tomato out and put it in the cold water. When the tomato is cool enough to handle, you should be able to slip the skin off with a paring knife. If does not come off easily, do the next tomato for fifteen seconds. After you determine the boiling time, you can go to multiple tomatoes. It's always worked for me. Thanks for writing.
Dr. John

The doctor's patients like recipes. Being no one asked for a recipe this month, I will post one that works for me as a summer treat.

Jello Salsa

  • 1/2 medium onion, fine chop
  • 1 medium cucumber, peeled, seeds removed and fine chop
  • 1/2 yellow bell pepper, fine chop
  • 1/2 green bell pepper, fine chop
  • 1 clove garlic, minced OR sprinkle of garlic powder
  • 1 4-ounce can mild chopped green chiles
  • 12 marble-size tomatoes sliced in half
  • 1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
  • 1 box lime, lemon or orange Jell-O
Mix all the vegetables and put them in the fridge.

Prepare the Jello according to package directions, except use ONLY ONE CUP of boiling water. Put the Jell-O in the fridge and, when the Jell-O has cooled to room temperature, pour it over the vegetables and mix. Cover and put back in refrigerator until the Jell-O has set.

This is great with anything off the grill or even a baloney sandwich.

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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