Dear Heloise: Winter seems to call for a HEARTY SOUP. I use orzo, quick barley or mini gnocchi to thicken soups. They are a nice change from adding instant potatoes. -- Mary in New Mexico

Mary, thanks for the hint! Your suggestions are perfect as a quick substitute rather than the old standbys! By adding any of the ingredients you listed, you can control the amount of liquid in the soup and make it heartier. Soups make such great economical meals, which is why I collected my favorite soup recipes and put them in my Heloise’s Spectacular Soups pamphlet. To receive one, you just need to send $5 and a long, self-addressed, stamped (66 cents) envelope to: Heloise/Soup, P.O. Box 795001, San Antonio, TX 78279-5001. To save money, instead of using meat (as a protein) in soup, replace with beans, dried peas or lentils. Open a can of beans, rinse well with water, drain and add to the pot. -- Heloise


Dear Heloise: I hear a lot about panko breadcrumbs and notice them more often in the stores. How are they used in cooking? -- Betty S., via e-mail

Panko breadcrumbs can be used just like ordinary breadcrumbs. Add to meatloaf, crab cakes or meatballs as a binding agent, or use as a topping on your favorite casseroles or soup. Finally, of course, use to coat foods like chicken or fish.

Panko (Japanese for “breadcrumbs”) is made from special bread that has no crust. Because of the delicate texture, they are very crisp, and are lighter than ordinary breadcrumbs. Most panko is unseasoned, so you can add your own spices and flavors to what you are cooking. Go ahead and give them a try! -- Heloise


Dear Heloise: There wasn’t enough space in my oven, and my slow cooker did not work when I was making turkey dressing.

Guests were arriving, and I came up with this hint: I took my frying pan out and sprayed it with oil. I placed the homemade dressing in the pan, turning it often while frying until it was nice and brown. Guests said the dressing was delicious, and nobody knew the difference. -- Patsy W. in Colorado


Dear Readers: No buttermilk in the refrigerator and you need it now? Before you run to the store, look in your kitchen for vinegar or lemon juice and whole milk. Place 1 tablespoon of vinegar or lemon juice in a liquid measuring cup, and add whole milk to the 1-cup line. Let this sit at least five minutes to “curdle,” then stir and ta-da — buttermilk. -- Heloise

P.S.: In a pinch, you can even use 1/2 cup milk with 1/2 cup yogurt.


Dear Heloise: Before I open a bag of chips or a snack, I put a strip of tape around the top of the bag. It keeps the bag from splitting down the side. -- Mike R. in Oregon

Send a hint to Heloise, P.O. Box 795000, San Antonio, Tex. 78279-5000, fax it to 210-HELOISE or e-mail it to Please include your city and state.

, King Features Syndicate