Free Range on Food

The Food Section
of the Washington Post
Wednesday, July 5, 2006; 1:00 PM

A chat with the Food section staff is a chance for you to ask questions, offer suggestions and share information with other cooks and food lovers. It is a forum for discussion of food trends, ingredients, menus, gadgets and anything else food-related.

Each chat, we will focus on topics from the day's Food section . You can also read the transcripts of past chats . Do you have a question about a particular recipe or a food-related anecdote to share? The Food section staff goes Free Range on Food every Wednesday at 1 p.m. ET. Read about the staff of the Food section .

The transcript follows.

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Walter: The Food staff is ready to take on any topic this afternoon.

What's on your mind: shopping, dining out, recipes?

As usual, for the best questions of the day two chatters will receive prizes. With the barbecue season heating up, we have The Big Book of Outdoor Cooking & Entertaning by Cheryl and Bill Jamison as well a Big Sky Cooking by Meredith Brokaw.

Let's get started.

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Frederick, Md.: Why do Chinese restaurants put salt and pepper shakers on their tables? Does anyone actually salt and pepper their Chinese food? I've never done this and can't imagine anyone doing it.

Marcia: ...and while we're at it, those of us who are chopstick-challenged would much rather have a knife on the table than salt & pepper shakers!

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NoVa.: Hi,

I was given a bottle of Chateau Langoa Barton (Saint Julien) 1989 and will be serving it this weekend. What do I serve? I've read beef or lamb, but am not a fan of lamb. Could you recommend any beef recipes, but nothing on the grill? Is there a meat other than beef that would stand up to the wine? Finally, how long before I serve it do I open it and what wine would you serve just before this one? Many, many thanks!!

Candy: Our wine expert Ben Giliberti says this is a magnificent bottle of wine--one of the great vintages of Langoa Barton and he's so glad you joined the chat today. As to your questions, he has a couple of answers for you. First, the pompous answer: When Ben was served the 1947 Langoa Barton at the Chateau for lunch, the owner, Anthony Barton, served it with roast guinea fowl in a chestnut sauce. Guinea fowl is sort of like free-range chicken. So that's one beef alternative. For the non-pompous answer: Try serving chicken with a rich brown sauce--something with an intense flavor. Rabbit would also be another option. For the wine to serve before it, you definitely would want to go with a white Graves, and Ben recommends Chateau La Louviere or something similar, which will cost about $20. Finally, the wine needs to be carefully decanted approximately an hour before serving and it should be at cool room temperature, about 65 degrees.

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Arlington, Va.: I lost power last night. How long can I go before I need to throw out the food in the fridge and freezer?

Bonnie: So sorry, Arl. Pepco advises that a full freezer will keep food at a safe temperature -- at or below 40 degrees -- for only about 2 days. A half-filled freezer keeps food at a safe temperature for only 1 day.

Perishables in a refrigerator -- such as meat, eggs and dairy products -- should be tossed if they have been above 40 degrees for more than two hours. Smell is a good guide.

If you're in a neighborhood that tends to lose power in summer storms, you could stock up on bags of ice, a big block or dry ice and pack your biggest cooler as a backup when threatening clouds gather on the weather page.

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Clarksburg, Md.: Good morning, food section, and might I say you're in fine font this find day.

I've been experimenting with lamb kebobs, but the yogurt based marinade doesn't seem to be right. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks. Go Italy!!

Candy: Hey Clarksburg--so who do you think Italy will end up playing, Portugal or France? While you ponder that, here's a recipe for a yogurt marinade that I tested a few years back that I just love. It's for serving a largish group of people a choice of sausage, lamb and chicken, but you can just use it for lamb. It's great.

Mixed Grill

With Tandoori Flavorings

8 servings

This highly flavorful mixed grill offers something for everyone -- lamb chops, chicken and pork sausages. You make one basic spice rub and smear half on the lamb chops, then mix the other half with yogurt to make a marinade for the chicken. To flavor the sausages, simply roll them in the lamb chop-spicing bowl after they've been steamed. If you want the chicken, lamb and sausage to come off the grill at the same time, stagger their cooking time as we do below, starting with the chicken and adding the lamb and finally browning the steamed sausages so all three are done at the same time.

Adapted from "Perfect Recipes for Having People Over," by Pam Anderson (Houghton Mifflin, 2005).

2 pounds spicy or mild Italian sausages, cut into 8 pieces

1/4 cup olive oil

3 tablespoons ground cumin

1 tablespoon curry powder

11/2 teaspoons garlic powder

3/4 teaspoon ground ginger

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

8 lamb loin chops, about 6 ounces each

1/2 cup plain low-fat yogurt

3 tablespoons red wine vinegar

12 skinless chicken drumsticks*

Place the sausages in a large skillet over medium-low heat and add 1/2 cup water. Cover the skillet and cook until the sausage loses its raw color throughout, about 8 minutes (the sausages will not be fully cooked). Drain and set aside.

In a medium bowl, mix the oil, cumin, curry powder, garlic powder, ground ginger, salt and cayenne pepper.

Using another medium bowl, scrape half of the spice mixture into it. Add lamb chops to one bowl and toss to coat well. In the second bowl, add the yogurt and vinegar to the spice mixture and stir. Add chicken to the second bowl and turn to coat well. The meats can sit in the marinade at room temperature for up to 2 hours or can be refrigerated overnight. Take a little of the mixture for the lamb seasoning and rub it onto the sausages.

When ready to cook, prepare the grill. If using a gas grill, preheat the grill to high, then turn it to medium or medium-low, depending on your grill. If using a charcoal grill, start the charcoal or wood briquettes. When the briquettes are ready, distribute them evenly under the cooking area for direct heat. Oil the grate with nonstick spray oil.

For all three components of the mixed grill to be done at the same time, allow 20 minutes. The chicken will be on the grill the whole while; the lamb chops for 8 minutes; and the sausages for 4 minutes.

Place the chicken on grill rack, close lid and grill for 8 minutes on one side, then turn and grill 4 minutes on the second side.

Leaving the chicken on the second side, add the lamb chops to the grill. Grill the lamb chops and the chicken together for 4 minutes. Turn both over.

Now add the sausages to the grill. Grill the sausages for 4 minutes total, turning once. You might want to turn the chicken at the same time you turn the sausages to ensure that the drumsticks are evenly cooked.

Serve hot or warm.

*NOTE: Boneless, skinless chicken breasts or skinless thighs can be substituted for the drumsticks. If using breasts, reduce the cooking time to 8 minutes, which would mean starting to grill the chicken breasts and the lamb at the same time, and adding the sausages after 4 minutes.

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Arlington, Va.: Do you know where in the area (preferably Northern Virginia) I could buy edible flowers, suitable for cake decoration? I've already struck out with Whole Foods and Harris Teeter. Thanks!

Walter: Arlington, get back out there and try again. We have found edible flowers at most supermarkets, and that includes Whole Foods.

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Summer Desserts...: Hello,

I've been asked to cook for a friend's dessert party in two weeks. I've been given carte blanche. I haven't cooked much the past few years but mentioned a fab lemon cake made two years ago for a birthday.

So what are good, simple recipes, other than the above mentioned lemon cake, for a summer dessert party? I'm guessing 30-40 people.

Lemon cake

Fruit salad

and?

(And if anyone needs a great lemon cake recipe, check out Moosewood Celebrates/Celebrations? cookbook. Light lemon cake with lemon curd filling and a whipped cream frosting. Amazing!)

Thank you.

Candy: Our dessert diva Leigh, a former pastry chef, suggests a pretty platter of cookies to go along with the fruit salad and lemon cake. If you run out of steam, you can just go to your favorite bakery and buy an assortment. Or you could try these recipes for lemon-glazed shortbread and pecan crescents we ran in 2004 from baking expert Elinor Klivans:

Lemon-Glazed Shortbread Wedges

Makes 12 cookies

White rice flour results in an especially tender shortbread; cornstarch can be substituted with good results.

Adapted from "125 Cookies to Bake, Nibble, and Savor" (Broadway Books, 1998):

For the shortbread:

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup white rice flour* or cornstarch

6 ounces (11/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus additional for the pie plate

1/3 cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoon grated lemon zest

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon almond extract

For the glaze:

1/2 cup confectioners' sugar

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

3/4 teaspoon grated lemon zest

For the shortbread: Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Butter a 9- or 10-inch pie plate or a 9-inch tart pan.

In a medium bowl, combine the all-purpose flour and rice flour or cornstarch. Set aside.

In a large bowl using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat the butter, granulated sugar and lemon zest until lightened and fluffy, 3 minutes. Add the vanilla and almond extracts and mix until combined. Reduce the speed to low and add the flour mixture, mixing until the dough becomes smooth and comes away from the sides of the bowl, about 1 minute.

Press the dough evenly into the prepared pan. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until the top becomes a very pale golden. Glaze and cut the shortbread while it is warm.

For the glaze: Meanwhile, in a small bowl, stir together the confectioners' sugar, lemon juice and zest until smooth. The glaze should be syrupy.

Pour the glaze over the warm shortbread when it comes out of the oven and, using the back of a spoon, spread it evenly. Use a sharp knife to cut the warm shortbread into 12 wedges. Cool the shortbread in the pan to room temperature. The shortbread can be stored between layers of wax paper in a tightly covered container at room temperature for up to 4 days.

*NOTE: White rice flour is available at some supermarkets and most health food stores.

Per wedge: 200 calories, 2 gm protein, 22 gm carbohydrates, 12 gm fat, 31 mg cholesterol, 7 gm saturated fat, 2 mg sodium, 1 gm dietary fiber

Pecan Crescents

Makes about 48 cookies

These are my mother's version of the popular confectioners' sugar-coated cookies known by several names: Russian tea cakes, Mexican wedding cookies and pecan meltaways, to name a few.

The recipe relies on a combination of butter and margarine to make the cookies especially crisp. Adapted from "125 Cookies to Bake, Nibble, and Savor" (Broadway, 1998):

2 cups flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

8 tablespoons (1 stick) margarine (do not use reduced-fat margarine), chilled

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1/2 cup confectioners' sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon almond extract (may substitute 1 teaspoon vanilla extract)

1 cup (4 ounces) pecans, coarsely chopped

1 cup confectioners' sugar, sifted, for dusting the cookies

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour and salt. Set aside.

Cut the margarine into pieces. In a large bowl using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat the margarine, butter and 1/2 cup of sugar until smooth, 1 minute. Add the vanilla and almond extracts and mix until combined. Reduce the speed to low, add the flour mixture and mix just until it is incorporated and the dough looks smooth and shiny. Using a wooden spoon, add the pecans.

Take a rounded teaspoon of dough and roll it between the palms of your hands until it forms a cylinder that is thick in the middle with tapered ends. Place on the prepared baking sheet and repeat with the remaining dough, spacing the cookies about 1 inch apart. (The cookies do not spread a lot during baking.) Curve each cookie into a crescent.

Bake the cookies until the edges and pointed ends are light brown, about 25 minutes. Cool the cookies on the baking sheet for 5 minutes then transfer them to a wire rack to cool for about 10 minutes.

Place the remaining 1 cup of sugar in a shallow dish or pie plate. Add several still-warm cookies to the sugar and roll each cookie in it to coat evenly. Return them to the wire rack to cool completely. Repeat with the remaining cookies. The cookies can be stored between layers of wax paper in a tightly covered container at room temperature for up to 4 days.

Per cookie: 92 calories, 1 gm protein, 10 gm carbohydrates, 6 gm fat, 5 mg cholesterol, 2 gm saturated fat, 43 mg sodium, trace dietary fiber

Elinor Klivans' most recent book is "Big Fat Cookies" (Chronicle Books). She last wrote for Food about chocolate.

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Wesminster, Md.: When my husband and I were on vacation in CT, we had lunch at a great Deli that also made 2 flavors of ice cream, one was fresh ginger ice cream. It was hot, tangy and wonderful it may have also have had a little molasses in it for great color and sweetness. I made it successfully twice. The other 5+ times the heated milk cream mixture has curdled on me after adding the ginger to allow it to steep for several minutes before straining. Is there something about the properties of ginger that makes this a more sensitive process then steeping vanilla beans or other spice flavors? Do you have any advice for me on the proper proportion of fresh grated ginger to avoid this problem but still get a zesty outcome?

Thank you! You should try this, it is great when it turns out.

Walter: We spoke with Pancita Brydson, owner of Island Style Ice Cream in Mount Rainier who was featured in Foraging today, she suggests using crystallized rather than fresh ginger. If there are other issues write her at pbrydson@aol.com.

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Chantilly, Va.: I'm looking for a good, simple marinade for chicken--something I can assemble in the morning, then grill that evening. I'm tired of the salad dressing-based ones and want to branch out to other flavors. Any ideas?

Bonnie: Three choices for you, Chantilly:

1) Sometimes I combine thinly sliced red onion, a blend of Mexican spices/herbs such as cumin, cilantro, chili powder, mix with chopped garlic, S & P, and throw it in a resealable plastic bag along with enough orange juice to cover the meat (usually skinless, bone-on chix thighs--and don't worry about exact amounts; add what seems right to you). Takes a minimum of 2 hours marinating' time, but can go up to 6. The chicken can be baked but is really good grilled. I serve it with a corn and black bean salad.

2) How about Asian Barbecue Chicken? This recipe's from Cooking Light a few years back. Good for a summertime meal. You'll need 4 hours' marinating time.

4 servings

1/4 cup packed brown sugar

1/4 cup low-sodium soy sauce

1 tablespoon lime juice

1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

1/4 teaspoon curry powder

3 garlic cloves, minced

8 (6-ounce) chicken thighs, skinned

Cooking spray

Lime wedges (optional)

Green onion tops (optional)

Combine first 6 ingredients in a large zip-top plastic bag; add chicken. Seal and marinate in refrigerator 4 hours, turning occasionally.

Prepare grill.

Remove chicken from bag, reserving marinade. Place marinade in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil; cook 1 minute.

Place chicken on grill rack coated with cooking spray; grill 20 minutes or until done, turning and basting frequently with the marinade.

Garnish with lime wedges and green onion tops, if desired.

3) If you're up for the taste of honey mustard, try:

Honey-Mustard Chicken Thighs

4 servings

The quantities here are approximate, so adjust them for your own taste. Add more or less wine, depending on the thickness of the brand of honey mustard you buy. Try another herb or maybe some curry powder. Whatever. The mixture works well on chicken and pork. Use honey mustard alone as a glaze for grilled salmon.

1 cup honey mustard

1/4 cup dry white wine

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or more to taste

2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken thighs or skinless bone-in thighs

In a resealable plastic food storage bag, combine honey mustard, wine, thyme and pepper. Mix well. Add the thighs, seal bag, and massage well to evenly coat chicken. Marinate for at least 30 minutes at room temperature, or in the refrigerator for several hours.

If using a gas grill, preheat to medium-low, depending on your grill. If using a charcoal grill, distribute the hot charcoal or wood briquettes evenly under the cooking area for direct heat. Oil the grate so the chicken doesn't stick.

When ready to cook, place the thighs on the grill (discarding the marinade). Grill for 5 to 7 minutes per side, or until a meat thermometer registers 165 degrees. Serve hot or at room temperature.

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Anonymous: Can the ingestion of too much chili cause any harm healthwise?

Candy: The revenge of bad chili--I'm so sorry. Prolonged indigestion can irritate and eventually damage the tissue of the esophagus from the stomach acid that's rising up and causing that heartburn feel. All kidding aside, it's important to get that under control. If that chili has been talking back to you for more than a day--especially if you've already taken OTC antacids--you probably should talk to a doc.

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Gaithersburg, Md.: I went to the Folklife Festival on Sunday and around 11:30am, I tried to order an Indian Taco. The food vendor told me that the meat wasn't ready yet. I got a greasy turkey leg instead. Have you folks been to this year's festival yet? The food isn't very impressive.

Bonnie: Perhaps not quite the draw/focus it's been in years past, agreed. Folks were talking up the Alberta bison burgers.

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Boca Raton, FL: Hi foodies. I love-love-love litchi (sp?). I can eat them by the crate. But after peeling about five or six, my poor fingertips feel like they're getting abraded away....any tips on peeling em?

Walter: Boca, other than hiring a peeler you mean? But really, lychees are so easy to peel ...try rolling them lightly on a counter to first crack the skin.

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Washington, D.C.: I'm throwing a birthday party and the birthday boy has requested a cheesecake. I think I would rather leave this dessert up to experts to make. Any suggestions on where to buy a good cheesecake in DC or Virginia?

Marcia: The most obvious place that comes to mind is the Cheesecake Factory, which has numerous restaurants in the area that would be more than happy to sell you a cheesecake. They come in about 20 varieties ($23.95 to $28.95 for a 7-inch cheesecake and $35.95 to $43.95 for a 10-incher).

Chatters, do you have any favorite bakeries for cheesecake that could make this birthday boy's day?

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Fairfax, Va.: Please can you tell me where to find raw peanuts - for the fig & peanut salad in the Food section. I would prefer raw peanuts in the shell (they would be fresher). Thank you!

Marcia: Hi, Fairfax -- Try an Asian market (we called Super-H in Fairfax, which carries them) or a health food store (we tried Takoma Park Silver Spring Co-op, which also has them). Whole Foods has raw Spanish peanuts, but we can't imagine a true Virginian wanting peanuts that aren't from Virginia!

For all of you non-Virginia readers wondering what recipe we're talking about: Due to advertisements, there was a little extra space in the zone that goes to Virginia readers. Here's the recipe (it's really good):

Fig and Peanut Salad

With Arugula and Mint

4 to 6 servings

With mellow figs in season and crunchy peanuts never out of season, this salad, created by Frank Stitt, the chef-owner of three restaurants in Birmingham, Ala., combines the two with an equally adventurous mix of tender, sweet and peppery greens. The variety of textures and flavors is rounded out by a fruity vinaigrette and fresh mint.

For best results, use a neutral-tasting peanut oil, rather than one made with toasted or roasted nuts.

Adapted from "Frank Stitt's Southern Table" (Artisan, 2004, $40).

1 shallot, minced

1 scallion, white and tender green parts, finely chopped

8 sprigs mint (4 finely chopped, 4 left whole)

1 tablespoon raspberry vinegar

1/4 cup peanut oil or mild extra-virgin olive oil

Kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

1 bunch arugula, torn into bite-size pieces

1 head Bibb lettuce, torn into bite-size pieces

12 ripe black, brown or green figs, stemmed and sliced crosswise into 4 or 5 slices each

3/4 cup raw peanuts, toasted*

In a small bowl, combine the shallot, scallion, chopped mint and vinegar and mix well. Whisk in the oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Set the vinaigrette aside.

In a large bowl, combine the arugula and Bibb lettuce. Add the vinaigrette and toss to coat. Arrange the salad on individual plates and top with the figs and peanuts. Garnish with the whole mint sprigs. Serve immediately.

*NOTE: To toast the peanuts, spread them on a baking sheet and place them in a 350-degree oven, shaking the pan occasionally, for 8 to 10 minutes. Watch carefully because they will burn quickly.

[+10pts] Per serving (based on 6): 267 calories, 6.g protein, 24.g carbohydrates, 19.g fat, 0.mg cholesterol, 3.g saturated fat, 48.mg sodium, 5.g dietary fiber

Recipe tested by Marcia Kramer; e-mail questions to food@washpost.com.

- Marcia Kramer

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Alexandria, Va.: Hi - I had a question about buying seafood at a fish market. I bought some shrimp at Slavin and Sons in Arlington about a month ago, and they peeled/deveined the shrimp for me (free of charge, I left a big tip). Last week, I went back for more shrimp, and the staff said they couldn't/wouldn't peel/devein/remove heads from the shrimp (they directed me to the frozen shrimp imported from India).

Is peeling/deveining a service that a fish market would normally provide? I'd be willing to pay more to have this yucky task taken care of for me. Do you know of stores that would do this?

Nancy McKeon: My experience is that fish markets (supermarkets as well) offer shrimp in different stages of preparation--at prices that go up depending on how much work has been done for the customer. Cannon's Seafood in Georgetown, for instance, sells jumbo shrimp already cooked and ready for cocktail sauce, but you will pay a lot extra for this. Other shrimp is sold with heads off, but you have to cleaned and peel and cook. Some places will also offer cleaned but not cooked (also at an extra charge). As for M. Slavin & Sons, we talked with the manager, Bennet Helfgott, who explained that normally (like other places)he charges $1 per pound extra for cleaning and deveining, so your initial purchase, Arlington, was a coup (maybe the place wasn't busy that day?)! When you returned, the place was probably busier and they didn't have time to clean on the spot. It takes 10 to 15 minutes, Helfgott says, to clean 5 pounds of shrimp (takes me a lot more!), so if you really need this service you would do well to call in an order in advance (Cannon's and others say the same thing). And just as a point of interest, Cannon's no longer sells heads-on shrimp, but Slavin does (it's big with Hispanic customers and others wanting more complex flavors in their dishes, such as paella). Lastly, there are those of us (ahem) who believe that shrimp should not be cleaned until after they have been cooked--for a brinier, fuller flavor.

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Washington, D.C.: I have four out-of-town friends coming in next weekend and we're looking for an affordable place with good food and good drinks that takes reservations.

Any suggestions?

Walter: I'm always happy to take out-of-towners to Zaytinya in Penn Quarter. Anyone else have a favorite?

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Woodbridge, Va.: I was wondering where the best Fishmonger is in Northern Virginia?

Walter: For fresh fish, we like Wegmans in Sterling and Fairfax followed by Whole Foods.

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organic food at Wal-Mart: A friend recently told me that Wal-Mart will begin selling organic food. Seeing that organic food isn't meant to be mass produced, could you discuss what this will do to the organic markets. I'm afraid this will lower the bar terribly for organic farmers and the end result will be a non-organic "organic" product...

Candy: Many people share your concern that Wal-Mart will use its market power to drive down organic prices, push down standards, and force small organic producers out of business. Wal-Mart argues that people want organics, but don't want to pay the higher prices for it. The chain also want to attract more affluent buyers and they think organic is the way to do it. With the organic business booming, this is bound to continue to be a hot-button issue.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Help! My husband's best friend and his wife are coming to town for a visit tomorrow. We had originally planned to go out for dinner, but decided to eat in instead, now I'm stuck - what should I make that's quick and doesn't require a lot of ingredients. I have some frozen shrimp in the freezer, but it's the first time I've bought it frozen, so I don't really know how to use it. Any ideas? Or should I stick with something I already know works, like baked ziti?

Candy: Baked ziti in the summertime? Sounds too hot and heavy. How about a nice marinated flank steak grilled on the barbie? Toss the steak in a big zip-lok bag with olive oil, tamari (less salty than soy sauce), garlic, little red wine vinegar. Let sit in the fridge til the guests arrive. Toss a big salad. Shuck some corn. Cut up some watermelon. While everyone is munching on some cheese, nuts and olives, you'll warm up the grill for the flank steak and start the corn. Put some diagonal slashes across the grain on one side of the meat so it'll stay flat on the grill. Grill about 4 minutes a side for medium-rare. Let sit 10 minutes before slicing on the diagonal. Serve and enjoy. (And ice cream for dessert!)

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Impromptu Entertaining: Here's my question for you and the chatters: what recipes do you have in your arsenal for those times when you're entertaining last minute? I do OK when I have several days to a week to plan ahead, but I often find myself in a frenzy when I learn the day of that we're having guests for dinner and I must hit the grocery store on the way home before putting together a meal. Some tried and true ideas would be most appreciated! Thanks!

Candy: Chatters? Any last-minute tips? I'd also advise you take a look at the advice I gave (with Walter's help) to the Silver Spring reader expecting guests tomorrow.

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Washington, D.C.: Just wanted to say I tried the date, almond spread from last week's food section and it is absolutely delicious and I could hardly stop eating it; and I shared it with a couple of my friends.

Bonnie: Way to go, DC. It has been added to my snicky-snack repertoire.

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Chevy Chase, Md.: I'm looking for a recipe I thought I just saw recently for the black lentil salad served at Breadline on Penn. avenue. Do you have access to it? Also can you suggest a good brand of balsamic vinegar? I frequently se recipes calling for the "best brand you can afford". What does that help when you're faced with a variety of brands? This chat is a great resource for me, thanks. I made the farro salad in the Post this am- it is delicious. A cook in Chevy Chase

Walter: Chevy, for the Breadline recipe see: So Many Questions on our site or check page 3 in Food today. At Dean & DeLuca in Georgetown, or other stores, look for Romantica Gran Riserva balsamic vinegar. It goes for $35 for 8.8 ounces.

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Fort Washington, Md.: Summer Desserts: I usually cut small slices of cantaloupe, honeydew, and watermelon, arrange on a platter and garnish. The slices are small enough for a toddler to handle. After a meal usually heavy on meats and other strong flavors a light touch goes a long way. If people come earlier than expected Voila!!! Appetizer!!

Walter: And with local berries coming into the farmers markets, they go nicely with melon.

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Maryland: not exactly food related, but definitely entertainment related. when, exactly, did people lose the ability to RSVP? I regularly give large parties. I am happy to spend whatever ( this isn't chips and dip stuff), but I'm horrified at the prospect of having too little food (because people who don't respond show up) or too much (wasted money b/c people never respond or decline and then show up anyway). It drives me NUTS. Last year I sent an email to those who hadn't responded telling the guilty parties (only halfway in jest) that while I still hoped they would come, anyone who didn't respond but still showed wasn't allowed to eat.

What's a girl to do?

Candy: Oh, Maryland, we feel your pain. In fact, our Home staff writer buddy Annie Groer has written about this recently--as has just about every etiquette guru across the land. Basically, stop expecting people to RSVP. They just don't. Yes, they're lazy ill-mannered slobs, but what can you do? Only one solution: Call and ask them if they're coming. And remember-even if they say yes, they still may not show. And vice versa. Chatters--anyone have a better solution?

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Cheesecake: Parkway Deli in Silver Spring has good cheesecake - that's where we go when it's called for.

Walter: Thanks, I've heard lots of good tings about Parkway's cheesecake for years.

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Herndon, Va.: I was hoping you could help me out. I am really anal about not using vanilla extract as an ingredient because it contains alcohol. Do you know of a substitute? Thanks for the help.

Bonnie: Make no excuses! You can cook with ingredients you choose. You can find Frontier brand alcohol-free vanilla at M.O.M (My Organic Markets), or order it online through amazon.com.

Depending on the recipe, maybe you could use vanilla powder or vanilla bean that infuses what you've got going?

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MD: sigh. Why do you CARE whether a chinese restaurant puts out S&P shakers. If someone wants them, they are there. Some of us don't like soy sauce - but we want the salty taste. Better to have it and not use it than want it and not have it. My pet peeve is places that don't put them out and (sometimes) won't even give them to you if you ASK. I appreciate the chef's skills, but if I want to salt my dinner, I'll salt it, as I've PAID for the darn thing.

Walter: Rough week MD? You can always bring those little packets of salt and pepper with you to the restaurant that doesn't offer it.

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excellent chicken marinade for summer: juice of 2 oranges

juice of 2 lemons

chopped garlic (I used 3 or 4 cloves for 4 pieces of chicken -- go with your taste)

S&P

sprigs of fresh rosemary (about the length of your thumb)

Place skin-on, bone-in chicken pieces in a dish (13x9 is ideal for me). Place 1 sprig of fresh rosemary under each piece of chicken. Pour the juice-garlic mixture over it all. Sprinkle with some S&P. Marinate up to 24 hours. Roast at 500 (not a misprint) for 45 minutes, or grill.

This recipe is my memory of one that was in a marvelous gardening book. Title is something similar to Gardening by Heart. Great garden tips, reminisces and recipes all tucked together.

I also have done this with a ton of chopped other herbs -- whatever I pick fresh.

It is marvelously juicy. The roasting at high heat seals the outside and keeps the flavors in.

LOVE it!

Bonnie: Sounds simply citrusy.

Candy: Sounds great. Only caveat: You wouldn't want to marinate skinless boneless chicken for that long in citrus juices--they'd begin to break down the meat and give it a mushy texture.

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Reston, Va. Birthday Dinner: I am relatively new to the cooking world, and decided to surprise my wife with a romantic home cooked meal for her birthday.

I purchased a little over a pound of fresh shrimp, and a half a pound of Digby scallops.

Before peeling and deveining the shrimp, I chopped a couple of peaches and a Vidalia onion and added to a skillet with an eighth of a stick of butter. I took a fresh jalapeno pepper from our patio garden and chopped it thin to add to the chutney. After about fifteen minutes, I added the shrimp and cooked for the four or five minutes until ready.

With the scallops I divided evenly between two ramekins and added salt and fresh ground pepper to both, but in one container seasoned with bread crumbs and parmesan cheese. In the other I added Old Bay seasoning and cooked both in a 350 degree oven for twelve minutes.

The veggie was steamed broccoli.

I apologize about the long description, and happy to report that my wife was impressed and loved each bite. Can you offer any suggestions for the next time I try this out?

Marcia: Yes: make some extra and invite us over!

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re: chicken marinade: a tandoori marinade is also easy and yummy. Just marinade the chicken in plain yogurt, garam masala, ginger and garlic paste, red chili pepper, cumin, coriander, and salt, all to your own taste.

Or even easier, if you go to the Indian grocer or the international aisle in the grocery store, you can find tandoori spice mixes (I like the Shan brand). Mix that with yogurt and marinade the chicken in that again with garlic and ginger paste.

Walter: And Shan brand is fairly easy to find. Thanks.

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Le Creuset Update: Last week I inquired on alternatives to le creuset and was told I should go for the real thing, regardless of expense. Happy to report that I bought a new in box 4.5 QT dutch oven on ebay for $80 (after shipping), which is far cheaper than their outlet prices. Just wanted to pass along the info.

Thanks for the space in last week's blog.

Bonnie: LOVE reports of successful shopping. Happy cooking.

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Washington, D.C.: Ginger is highly acidic; adding it to milk can have the same effect as adding vinegar would. A solution: grate the ginger, squeeze out the juice and add the juice to ice cream after it has been churned.

Candy: Longtime French cookbook author and teacher Anne Willan uses a combination of ground ginger and candied ginger to get that gingery punch in her ice cream. She also advises to be careful not to boil the custard or it will curdle.

GINGER ICE CREAM (Makes 1 quart to serve 4)

The combination of ground and candied ginger gives this ice cream its distinctive flavor.

2 ounces candied ginger

6 egg yolks

1 cup sugar

2 teaspoons powdered ginger

3 cups milk

3/4 cup light cream

Pour boiling water over the candied ginger and leave until soft -- 10 to 15 minutes. Drain, dry and chop it.

Whisk together egg yolks, sugar and powdered ginger. Bring milk to a boil in a saucepan and whisk into egg yolk mixture. Return custard to the pan and cook it over low heat, stirring constantly, just until your finger leaves a clear trail when drawn across the back of the spoon. Note: Do not boil or the custard will curdle. Pour it into a bowl, add candied ginger and leave to cool. Stir in cream and chill in refrigerator until very cold.

Freeze the mixture in a churn freezer until stiff. The ice cream can be stored in the freezer up to 2 months. Let it soften an hour in the refrigerator before serving.

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Woodley Park: I have a falling-apart old Indian cookbook with a recipe for Mutton curry. I used lamb -- the sauce completely overwhelmed the poor little lamb. I'd like to try again with real Mutton! Where can I find it, and how do I judge its quality??!

Walter: Mutton is available at halal butcher shops. I'd head to Lebanese Butcher in Falls Church.

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Re: Balsamic Vinegar: It wasn't "top quality," but the America's Test Kitchen show on PBS once did a taste test of balsamic vinegars and the winner was the Whole Foods brand.

Walter: Well, there you go.

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Taco triage:: Hi. I made fish tacos last night and had a minor

disaster. The beer batter I had dipped cod fingers

into fell off into the oil while frying the second

batch. Was the oil too hot or too cool? And next

time do you think it would work with oven fried

panko coated cod instead?

Bonnie: Hmm. Oil temp might not have been your problem. Can you come back with a description of your setup, as in, did you dip the fish in anything first to help the batter stay on? Sometimes beer batter gets thin.

Maybe skip the battering altogether -- plenty of fish taco recipes in the sea that flavor the fish a different way.

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Fort Washington, Md.: Cheesecake Winner: Desserts by Gerard

He prepares the cheesecake with a cake layer rather than graham cracker crust and then a layer of raspberry wonderful separates the cheesecake from the cake. His store is located in Oxon Hill MD

Walter: And he is a super pastry chef.

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Chopsticks....: Never understood why people choose to fumble with chopsticks. Knives and forks, and to a lesser extent spoons, represent a technological advancement rendering chopsticks obsolete. Unless they're calculating the tip with an abacus, people that use chopsticks are just being pretentious.

Nancy McKeon: Oh, I don't know. To some of us, it just doesn't "feel" like Asian food if it's not eaten with chopsticks.

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wine and cheese party: I'm having a small gathering at my apartment this weekend. I want to do a wine and cheese theme. Any ideas on what cheeses to buy? And what other appetizers/desserts should I make? Should I buy beer too, for non wine drinkers?

Candy: Are you in D.C.? You might want to visit Cowgirl Creamery, which just opened in Penn Quarter and has the most fab selection of cheeses (plus cheese experts to guide you). Otherwise, how about a Spanish Manchego, aged Gouda, and a creamy goat cheese, as well as a domestic blue. A nice selection of olives, crackers or flatbreads would be nice to go along. Cheesecake would be overkill, but a light fruit tart or--if you want everything to be finger food--go with a cookie selection. You could serve beer, if you want. Or maybe something sparkling.

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really rally attempt the cheesecake: there is a recipe for NY cheesecake on the cook's illustrated site (it might be members only, but the site is totally worth a $20 annual subscription as a general rule!)

Cheese cake is EASY - people only think it is hard to make. As long as you start out with the cheese at room temperature (the only way to get the silky texture with no lumps) you will be fine. it is a skill worth learning.

Walter: And a little of this rich stuff goes a long way.

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Silver Spring, Md.: really curious about places that make gluten free cakes or pastries and is there such a thing as gluten free vanilla?

Bonnie: Gluten-free vanilla FLAVORING. Apparently so. Check out www.allergygrocer.com. And see earlier chatter about alcohol-free vanilla, which might cover this base as well.

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Le Creuset: Also, Tuesday Morning sometimes has great deals on Le Creuset.

Walter: Yes, if you beat the crowds.

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Pittsburgh, Penn.: GO, PORTUGAL!!! And how about some Portuguese recipes in WaPo?

Candy: Mon dieu! You aren't rotting for zee French? In that case, about this very traditional dish we published in 2004.

Portuguese Fish Stew

With Shellfish

(Caldeirada com Mariscos)

6 servings

This stew uses a simple yet ingenious technique: The vegetables, aromatics, seafood and spices are layered in a heavy pot, starting with onions and potatoes on the bottom, closest to the heat, and ending with the most delicate item, the shrimp, on top. Once assembled, the stew is never stirred. Instead, the pot is shaken once or twice during cooking to keep things from sticking to the bottom.

Adapted from Ana Patuleia Ortins's "Portuguese Homestyle Cooking" (Interlink, 2002):

1 round loaf crusty, country-style bread

1 generous pinch saffron, crushed

1 tablespoon warm water

1 cup dry white wine

1/2 cup olive oil

3 medium onions, thinly sliced

3 large Red Bliss potatoes (or other red potato), scrubbed but skins intact, thinly sliced

21/2 cups diced tomatoes with juice (about 20 ounces)

6 cloves garlic, finely chopped

3 bay leaves, torn in half

11/2 green bell peppers, cored, seeded and thinly sliced

1/2 cup coarsely chopped cilantro

1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

2 tablespoons sweet paprika

Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

24 small littleneck clams

2 pounds non-oily white fish cut into 1-inch chunks (I use a variety of fish, such as halibut, monkfish, red snapper and cod)

1/2 pound medium shrimp, shelled and deveined

Cut loaf into thick slices. Grill or broil the bread, turning once, until browned on both sides. Set aside.

In a small bowl, dissolve the saffron in the warm water. Set aside for 15 minutes. Add the wine to the saffron mixture and set aside.

Meanwhile, pour the oil into a large heavy pot or Dutch oven. Spread the onion slices evenly over the oil. Cover the onions with the the potatoes, overlapping the slices slightly to form a single layer.

In a large bowl, combine the tomatoes and their juices, garlic, bay leaves, bell peppers, cilantro and crushed red pepper flakes. Spoon 1/3 of the tomato mixture over the potatoes and season with paprika, salt and pepper to taste.

Place the clams in a single layer over the tomato mixture. Spoon 1/2 of the remaining tomato mixture over the clams and season with paprika, salt and pepper to taste.

Spread the fish evenly over the tomato mixture in a single layer and top with the shrimp. Spoon the remaining tomato mixture over the shrimp and season with paprika, salt and pepper to taste. Pour the reserved saffron mixture over the top. Cover the pot tightly and place over medium-high heat for about 5 minutes, or until you hear the wine bubbling. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 30 minutes, shaking the pot occasionally. Check for doneness; the fish and vegetables should be cooked through and the clams fully opened. Discard any unopened clams.

Place the toasted bread in the bottom of large, shallow bowls. Using a ladle, reach deep into the bottom of the pot and ladle some of the stew over the bread, making sure to get part of each layer into every bowl. Try to remove and discard the bay leaves as you go or warn diners if any go missing.

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Arlington, Va.: I must have missed last week's recipe for the date and almond spread mentioned a few posts up. Can you please provide a link to that recipe? It sounds delicious!

Bonnie: Coming right up.

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No RSVPs: My suggestion: Yes, call and ask the Non-RSVPers if they are coming. If they respond yes, and don't show, don't invite them again. I had friends that did that to me a few times. I figured that I was not a priority for them. When I stopped inviting them, they became offended. I decided that rude people weren't worth having as friends.

Candy: Good for you. Rudeness should not be rewarded.

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No more than five ingredients?: I was a little confused by the Marion Nestle interview that appeared in the Food Section today. What does she mean by "don't buy anything with more than five ingredients"? Does this apply to packaged food only? What about pre prepared food that you can find in say Whole Foods, etc?

Nancy McKeon: Marion was referring to manufactured, processed food--you know, where you need a chemical-engineering degree to even understand the list of ingredients. Chances are, no matter how many ingredients the dishes in the prepared-food cases at Whole Foods contain, they are fresh ingredients, not "natural and artificial flavors" or preservatives.

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Re: Ginger in ice cream: Fresh ginger contains an enzyme that will break down gelatin, and I am guessing this is the reason the ice cream didn't work. Maybe try candied ginger (cheap at Trader Joe's) which is crewy and smooth, unlike crystallized ginger.

Walter: Another take on ginger.

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washingtonpost.com: Roasted Almonds and Date Spread

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Re: Chopsticks: Try eating pho with a spoon. It ain't happening. My own pretension kept me from asking for help in learning to use chopsticks. This entertained my friend who watched me try to slurp pho as all those super long noodles splashed in my face.

Different foods call for different utensils.

Walter: You are so right.

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Impromptu: I keep jarred basics on hand: artichokes, olives, garbanzos, roasted peppers, etc.

Walter: It's nice to have cupboard space. I sure don't.

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Alexandria, Va.: Organics--From the comment about Wal-Mart and organics it is obvious many consumers don't know what organic grown produce means. Yes organics can and are mass produced. You can have two fields of rice, one grown organically, one not--they both use the same equipment the organic one does not use the chemical pesticides. However it doesn't mean the organic field is free of pesticides. If a farm uses pesticides up stream some of the pesticides will become part of the organic field. What is needed is clear definitions of organic. If the popularity or organics grows more will growers will grow organically and fewer pesticides will be in the ground water. Potentially a very good thing. But is is vital there are strict guidelines to what is organic.

Nancy McKeon: Yes, and . . . as Michael Pollan, author of "The Omnivore's Dilemma," mentioned in our pages a few weeks ago, as the organic movement gets bigger and more industrialized, organic produce is being trucked clear across the country, perhaps satisfying the no-pesticides criterion but far from the spirit of what organic is. Given a choice between organic and locally grown, Pollan told our readers, he would choose local. And in today's section, nutritionist Marion Nestle, given a choice between organic and less expensive produce, would tell those who can't afford the former to eat fruits and vegetables, no matter how they're produced because people who eat them are healthier, pure and simple.

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A Simple Chicken Marinade: I make a marinade based on a recipe that I found in the Food Section a few years ago. Just mix together olive oil, soy sauce, sesame oil and chopped garlic. Makes for a tasty and easy marinade for grilling.

Walter: You can't beat simple and I'll take something thrown together over bottled stuff any day.

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Harpers Ferry, WV: Greetings Food staff!

Always enjoy the features on affordable overlooked wines. On that topic, I would like to highly recommend 2 Brothers - Big Tattoo Red. A Chilean Cab/Syrah blend w/red to dark fruit that is fairly easy drinking and full of character usually found for between $7-9! To boot, the winemakers donate a percentage of sales to cancer research and hospice care in honor of their late mother.

Thanks!

Candy: Wine columnist Ben Giliberti sez he'll check it out--he knows the family well, including their late mom, and they're great people. Thanks for the recommendation.

Ben says here's another overlooked wine for you to try: From the same family, the latest Cabernet Sauvignon from Cousino-Macul is a favorite bargain at around $12-13. It's got a Graves personality and a Chilean price.

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Out of town guests: The throwing things on the grill idea sounds great, but we live in an apartment and don't have a grill. Would the same work in the broiler?

Candy: Flank steak definitely works under the broiler. You could even cook it in the morning, before the day heats up, then slice and serve cold for dinner with a fresh fruit salsa, if you want.

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Maryland Style Crabs: Help! I'm entertaining some big crab aficionados from Maryland this weekend and need some advice on how to make an authentic Maryland style crab cake. I'm using fresh crab meat, of course, and I've got the Old Bay on hand, but what else should I be sure to do/buy?

Marcia: Well, you've got the two biggies. Other than that, you want to be sure not to use a lot of filler. Here's a recipe from Tom Douglas's new book, "I Love Crab Cakes!" We've made another recipe from this book that was fabulous, but it didn't use Old Bay.

Chesapeake Bay Classic Crab Cakes

8 large crab cakes

1 egg yolk

1 tablespoon Old Bay Seasoning

1 tablespoon Dijon-style mustard

1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest

1 1/2 teaspoons lemon juice

1 1/2 teaspoons cider vinegar

1/2 cup peanut or canola oil

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon minced scallions, white and green parts

1 pound lump crabmeat, drained and picked clean of shell

4 cups fresh bread crumbs (process white sandwich bread, including crust, to fine crumbs in a food processor)

1/4 cup chopped parsley

About 4 tablespoons unsalted butter

4 lemon wedges

In a blender or a medium or small food processor, add the egg yolk, Old Bay, lemon zest and juice and vinegar and process until smooth. With the motor running, gradually pour in the oil to form a mayonnaise. Season with the salt and pepper.

Transfer the mayonnaise to a large bowl and fold in the scallions and crab meat until well combined. Form the mixture into 8 patties about 3 inches wide and 3/4 inch thick.

In a shallow container, combine the bread crumbs and parsley. Dredge the crab cakes (both sides)in the bread crumb-parsley mixture. If you have time, chill the crab cakes in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour (they'll hold together better when you fry them). You can even leave the crab cakes in the bread crumb container; just cover and refrigerate.

When ready to cook, melt 2 tablespoons butter in each of 2 large nonstick skillets over medium heat. Pat off any excess crumbs from the crab cakes and 4 crab cakes to each pan. Fry slowly, until brown on both sides and hot through, about 4 minutes per side.

Serve 2 per person, with your choice of cocktail or tartar sauce and the lemon wedges.

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Washington, D.C.: Another delicious summer dessert -- learned this one at Mourayo, a Greek restaurant in Dupont Circle:

In a nice dish, place a small scoop of lemon sorbet. Top it with fresh mint leaves and cubes or balls of honeydew melon. Splash the whole thing with a capful of ouzo.

YUM! So refreshing.

Nancy McKeon: Wow!

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Chopsicks: The Saga Continues....: But, how do you eat rice with chopsticks? Three grains at a time? Or do you hold the bowl/plate up to your mouth and use the chopsticks to push the rice over to your mouth? Or maybe a combination of holding the bowl up half way while bending down half way. Too many calculations!!!

Nancy McKeon: Sticky rice is very easy to eat with chopsticks (sticky, get it?). It's certainly possible that American Chinese restaurants have made their rice fluffier and fluffier over the years to the point where it doesn't hold together at all. But from what I've learned and what I've seen, the Chinese do indeed hold their rice bowls close to their mouths. They also put a little bit at a time of the meat/fish/veg on top of the rice, and scoop it together with the rice toward their mouth, which, as I say, is a lot closer. It's a totally different style of eating.

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summer desserts:: lemon cake, fruits and where's the chocolate?

how about brownies or a light chocolate cake trimmed with berries?

if it ain't chocolate, it ain't dessert!!

Marcia: Amen!

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taco triage follow: nope. no pre-batter coatingg. I just dipped fish in

a batter made with beer, flour and salt. then into

the hot oil. sigh. perhaps some of us are just not

meant to fry.

Bonnie: Fry and fry again. Try plopping the cod fingers in a wide shallow dish of cornstarch to lightly coat it before you batter up.

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opinions, please: Delighted to be planning our May 2007 wedding. Even more delighted that it looks as if we can swing a reception at a lovely restaurant here in the Milwaukee area. Morning ceremony, reception at 12:30. Given the time of day, we are going with passed hors d'ouerves and crudite table (This place does them very well, and there is not a good luncheon option; I also think this allows people to mingle much better). Question for the Rangers and the Peanuts: Do we need to serve alcohol? We are expecting about 100 people, of whom about 25 to 30 are children, young adults (under 21) or do not drink alcohol. We want people to feel welcome, and to show our gratitude that they are sharing in our happiness. We don't want to be cheap. But we also are keeping things small and relatively simple, in keeping with our own values and personalities.

Does an early afternoon reception require alcohol? Suggestions? Thoughts? I'll talk wiht the catering director, but don't want ot go in "unarmed" as it were.

Thanks!

Candy: There's no law requiring alcohol, obviously, but a little champagne or lower-cost sparkler (like proseco) is always festive and celebratory. You can hold down costs by holding the choice to just one kind of alcohol, and offering lots of wine, fruit juice, soft drinks, lemonade, etc. for the teetotalers. Good luck!

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Frederick, Md.: Walter, you're helping me to lose weight. I'm laughing my a-- off at your "Rough week MD?" response. Thanks!!

Candy: We always aim to please, says Walter.

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Baltimore, Md.: I have some sour cherries from the farmer's market and was intending to make a dessert for July 4th (homemade shortcakes, white ice cream, blueberries and then sour cherry sauce on top), but didn't get to it yesterday. Any suggestions for something more portable for a party this weekend? I was thinking about slicing a pound cake and layering prepared lemon curd with sour cherry sauce, with a little extra sauce on top. What do you think?

BTW, I just cook the cherries with some sugar and water to make the sauce, no recipe involved. Thanks.

Bonnie: I like sour cherries with the taste of an almond cake.

Different treatment, from the Food recipe vault:

SOUR-CHERRY BROWNIES

Makes 24 large brownies

Butter and flour for the pan

2 cups stemmed and pitted sourcherries

1/2 cup confectioners' sugar

3 ounces unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped

3 ounces semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped

10 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

4 eggs, large or extra-large

2 cups sugar

1 cup sifted flour

1/4 cup cocoa powder

Grease a 10-by-15-by-1-inch jelly-roll pan. Line the bottom with parchment or waxed paper. Grease the paper and dust the interior of the pan with flour. Set aside.

In a heavy saucepan, mix the cherries with the confectioners' sugar. Bring to boil and then remove from the heat to cool.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

Combine both the unsweetened and semisweet chocolates with the butter in the top of a small double boiler. Warm over simmering water until the mixture is half melted. Remove from the heat and stir with a small whisk until the mixture is smooth. Stir in the vanilla and 2 tablespoons of the liquid from the cooked cherries. Set aside to cool.

In an electric mixer, beat the eggs at high speed until frothy. Add the sugar and continue to beat at high speed for 5 minutes, until very thick and fluffy.

While the eggs are beating, sift the flour with the cocoa.

On low speed, beat the chocolate mixture into the eggs, then add the flour-and-cocoa mixture, beating just until incorporated.

Drain any excess juices from the cherries and fold the cherries into the batter.

Turn into the prepared pan and spread the top evenly with a rubber spatula. Place in the preheated oven and reduce the temperature to 400 degrees. Bake for 20 minutes, or until a tester inserted in the center comes out with a moist crumb or two clinging to it.

Loosen the sides of the brownies with a small knife and invert onto a rack. Remove the paper from the bottom of the brownies and invert back into the jelly-roll pan. Cool on a rack for 20 minutes. Invert onto a rack again and then back onto another rack to finish cooling.

When completely cool, chill for 30 minutes or freeze for 15 minutes.

Transfer to a cutting board. Trim the edges with a long serrated knife and mark 6 equal divisions along the length of the cake and 4 equal divisions along the width. With a sawing motion, cut along the divisions into 24 brownies. Per serving: 190 calories, 3 gm protein, 28 gm carbohydrates, 9 gm fat, 48 mg cholesterol, 5 gm saturated fat, 13 mg sodium

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Walter: So many questions this week, thanks, but we couldn't keep up.

And the winner is Arlington who lost power and MD salt and pepper...send your address to us at food@washpost.com and the books are on their way. And we are out-to-lunch. Bye.

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