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Dear Heloise: I prepared a pickling brine (equal parts water, vinegar and salt) in a large STAINLESS STEEL POT, and now the bottom of the pot seems to be permanently stained. I've tried repeatedly cleaning it with a scouring pad! -- Ellen, via email

Ellen, you might try pouring a small amount of vinegar into the pot (enough to cover the bottom), allowing it to sit in place for a few minutes. Next, pour in a little baking soda (about half a cup). It will bubble. Rub the mixture with a soft cloth in the direction of the steel's grain. If this doesn't affect the stain, you might try a stainless steel cleaner at your local store.

Here are some other hints for stainless steel:

• Never use an oven cleaner on stainless steel pots and pans.

• Don't use steel wool or any abrasive cleaners on stainless steel.

• Always clean stainless steel by rubbing in the direction of the steel's grain.

-- Heloise


Dear Heloise: I have seen store clerks cut the tops off cartons of canned foods, stack the cartons and stand on them, with their dirty shoes, to reach the top shelf. Yuck! -- Darlene V., via email

It's always a good idea to give canned goods a rinse after you get home to prevent dirt and germs from getting into your food when you open the can. -- Heloise


Dear Heloise: Occasionally I buy a rotisserie chicken, which has been kept under heat lamps at the grocery store. How long should I keep it on the counter before placing it in the refrigerator? -- Sally, via email

Sally, never leave chicken sitting on the counter. When you get home, put the chicken into the refrigerator immediately to prevent bacteria from growing on the warm surface. -- Heloise


Dear Heloise: What is meant by the term "moist-heat cooking"? I'm a bachelor, and cooking is a mystery to me. -- Dale R., Lewiston, Idaho

Dale, "moist-heat cooking" means braising, boiling, poaching, simmering, steaming and pressure-cooking foods. It's usually used on meats that need to be made more tender or that tend to be dry. -- Heloise


Dear Heloise: I love baked apples, but which kind is best for baking? -- Cory F., Pearsall, Texas

Cory, some of the best apples for baking are: Rome Beauties -- crisp and mildly tart; Granny Smith -- crisp and tart with green skin; Gala -- crisp and sweet; and Cortland -- juicy and tangy. All of these also are very tasty in pies. -- Heloise


Dear Heloise: You've mentioned, many times, the wonderful properties of vinegar. Here's another suggestion: I like to add one or more capfuls of vinegar to homemade navy bean soup. It takes away the bland flavor and adds a little zip to the soup. -- Martin K., Newberry, S.C.


Dear Heloise: How many calories are contained in an average candy cane? -- Annie C., Lee's Summit, Mo.

Annie, there are 50 to 60 calories per candy cane, depending on size. -- Heloise


Dear Readers: Spring is around the corner -- time to think about getting the EXTERIOR OF YOUR HOME in good shape. Here are some areas to focus on:

• The air conditioner compressor (the outdoor unit) should be swept and have no leaves or debris around it.

• Get your entire AC unit(s) serviced before the really hot weather hits.

• Your door screens should be clean and free of rips/tears.

• Power-washing the outside of your home, including the walkways and driveways, is not a bad idea. Go in with a neighbor to rent a unit in order to save money.

• Trees and shrubs should not be against the house; this is a perfect conduit for critters to get up on the roof. Trim all greenery.

Use these hints to get your home looking sharp for spring and summer! -- Heloise

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Dear Heloise: I like to save energy in the kitchen. Here are some hints I use:

The gasket on the refrigerator should fit snugly. If a dollar bill can slip through, the gasket needs to be replaced.

Foods in the freezer will stay colder if the freezer is full. I pack the items close together, too. Also, vacuuming the coils of the refrigerator is critical. I have a dog, so I really need to keep the coils clean -- he sheds!

Regarding the oven, it's really necessary to preheat the oven for only five minutes, and you can shut the oven off 10 minutes before the food is done.

I hope these hints can help! -- Randy B. in Los Angeles


Dear Heloise: I'm a teacher, and I remind my students to sneeze or cough into their elbow, not into their hands.

Sneezed-upon hands can then touch anything and anybody -- germs can spread. A sneeze caught in the elbow is cut off at the pass. -- Ericka W. in Pittsburgh


Dear Readers: It's been almost two months since New Year's -- how are you doing with your fitness resolutions? Here are some hints to keep you motivated:

Find a fitness activity that you like to do or would like to learn. How about a dance class, spin class or biking outside (if the weather allows)?

Find a buddy to keep you accountable. It's more fun with a friend; you can encourage each other.

Every week or so, treat yourself to a new piece of workout equipment, a new download of dance tunes or a cute workout outfit. There are some fun pieces out there; just remember not to blow the budget!

Enjoy your journey to fitness, and take the time to appreciate that you are getting stronger, fitter and healthier! -- Heloise


Dear Heloise: I slice an onion ring about an inch tall and place it in a skillet with some oil. Then I crack an egg inside the onion ring -- this makes a "guide" for the egg shape, and is perfect for making egg sandwiches. The onion also gives a nice flavor to the egg. -- Holly P. in Dallas