Free Range on Food

The Food Section
of the Washington Post
Wednesday, May 21, 2008; 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.

____________________

Joe: Good afternoon, food lovers -- welcome to the chat. What's on your cooking and/or eating agenda these days? We're here at our keyboards, cookbooks and online archives at our fingertips, ready to tackle your queries.

Did my piece on foreigners at Memphis in May give you a hankering for pulled pork, ribs, brisket -- or maybe Norwegian salmon? Did David's Chef on Call get you itching to stuff some squid? We hope Bonnie's take on healthful snacks and meals for kids might inspire any of you with overweight children to try new strategies for managing it and getting them back to normal, especially in light of all the powerful stories the Post is telling this week about the implications of obesity among the young.

For our favorite posts, as always, we have giveaway books: "Complete Curry Cookbook" by Byron Ayanoglu and Jennifer MacKenzie (source of today's DinMin on pork vindaloo); "Food for Thought from Parents to Children" with recipes by Gale Gand; and "Everybody Eats Lunch," another kid-focused cookbook, with cool pull-outs of global food, by Cricket Azima. (Bonus book: If anyone out there can read Norwegian, I'll send you "Grillkongen Craig," the latest grilling book by the captain of the Norwegian team that I profiled at Memphis in May.)

Let's get to it.

_______________________

Vindaloo-lover: Thanks tons for the vindaloo recipe. I loooove vindaloooo.

But -- Where do you find the paste? And, even better if you know, where can I find canned vindaloo sauce? I bought it earlier this year for maybe three dollars, it was fabulous, seemingly endless, and I have been unable to find it again ever, anywhere (Giant, Safeway, Whole Foods, SuperFresh, Rodman's, Balducci's or several Asian stores). I think it was from the same manufacturer as other sauces - that is, Patak, but I'm not sure. Many, many thanks!

Walter: Your search has ended. Vindaloo paste is available at most Indian grocery stores. We found it at the three Patel Brothers stores for $2.99 for 10 ounces: 2074 University Blvd., Langley Park, 301-422-1555, 11116 Lee Highway, Arlington, 703-273-7400 and 15110 Fredrick Rd., Rockville, 301-340-8656. The Rockville store is about three blocks from a Metro station.

_______________________

Fairfax, Va.: I love Indian food, and want to try cooking it at home. I got a cookbook and many of the recipes call for the spice mixture garam marsala. The book has a recipe to make the spice mixture yourself, but do any stores sell it pre-made around here? (I know, I know, I feel bad even asking but still.) Is it worth the extra effort to make by hand? If it is, I'll do it! Just trying to see what's available out there. Thanks!

Jane Black: It's easy to find premixed garam masala and, in my opinion, it's fine to do so. You can find high quality ones at Penzeys.

_______________________

Washington, D.C.: Submitting early as this is my first time asking a question and I don't want to miss out on the answer!

I am really excited to see the recipe for Pork Vindaloo in today's food section. My roommate and I LOVE cooking Indian food and have made vindaloo with lamb and chicken many times but never with pork so I am looking forward to trying something a little different. (Though we often add potatoes and onions, which makes for more leftovers).

We have tried to make our own (which will significantly add time to this 30-minute recipe by the way). While I didn't mind the extra effort (we made extra spice mix for next time) it still didn't taste like the pre-made mix or like restaurant quality vindaloo. It wasn't red enough and it wasn't spicy enough, plus I couldn't find any recipes that agreed on proportion or even ingredients (the one I used called for paprika, for example, and the recipe you provided does not).

I am hopeful the Washington Post recipe you have provided will solve our homemade vindaloo recipe because I have been trying unsuccessfully to find vindaloo spice mix (paste would be okay too) in the D.C. metro area. I don't have a car and have scoured the spice racks and international sections of both Harris Teeter and Whole Foods, but to no avail. I have resorted to having my mom send me some from California, which isn't the most efficient practice. Do you have any suggestions where I can buy it that is Metro accessible?

Thanks so much and keep up the good work!

Bonnie: Vindaloo fans are out in full force today! This paste was milder than some I've had, which I thought makes this dinner family-friendly. But you could certainly adjust the amount of red chili peppers. Seems like the vinegar is key. Let us know how yours turns out.

See other vindaloo-ers' comments. Walter's checking for vindaloo paste that's Metro accessible...

_______________________

Arlington, Va.: Hi Free Rangers! I am about two weeks into being married and have embarked on a quest to actually cook for my new husband and me -- both to save money and to have time to spend together. The problem is that while I'm a pretty good cook, I have subsisted largely on cereal and pasta for dinner up until this whole living-together thing started. So far I've been trying to plan meals and shop on Sundays for the week and am cooking on weeknights. It's going well but is rather stressful to try to make something great each night after working all day. Any thoughts on great, quick, easy, did-I-mention-great meals for two? We're trying to stay away from red meat for health purposes, and he's not crazy about super spicy foods. But he has been open to trying whatever I come up with. Thanks!

Jane Black: That's the $64,000 question (or in today's terms, the $1 million one). The answer isn't a few recipes but being organized, creative and not afraid to try something new.

That said, here's one of my favorite quick weeknight recipes, adapted from Chocolate and Zucchini's Clothilde Dusolier. The recipe is for four so you'll have to halve it. Chatters -- what are yours?

Asparagus and Sea Bass Papillotes

Serves 4

4 4-ounce sea bass fillets, boneless and skinless

fine sea salt and fresh ground pepper

1/4 cup finely diced shallots, from two small shallots

2 tsp grated orange zest

16 slim asparagus, about 1-1/4 pounds

1/4 cup creme fraiche or sour cream

1/4 cup sliced almonds, toasted

Preheat oven to 400. Have a baking sheet ready and 4 sheets of parchment paper, 15-by-15 inches.

Pat dry the fillets and season with salt and pepper. In a small bowl, combine the shallots and zest and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Split the sticks in two (this will allow it to cook more quickly). Cut the asparagus in 2-inch sticks and discard the fibrous ends.

Put the parchment paper on a work surface and fold the sheet in two horizontally. Unfold. Line up one-quarter of the asparagus an inch below the crease to form a rectangular shape. Spinkle with salt and pepper and top with one fillet. Spread the fish with 1 tbsp of creme fraiche, then sprinkle with one-fourth the shallot mixture and one-fourth the toasted almonds.

Fold the top half of the parchment paper down over the fillet so the edges meet. Make a thin, tight fold all along the joined edges and repeat until the fold reaches the fillet. Close both open sides by folding them into pointy ends and tucking them underneath the package. Transfer to a baking sheet. Repeat.

Bake for 12 minutes or 14 if your fillets are thicker than 1 inch. Transfer the packages to serving plates. Snip open the packages and serve with rice or potatoes.

_______________________

Rhubarb Request: It's local rhubarb season and yet no new recipes in the paper for rhubarb. Any ideas what I can do with the two pounds I bought at the farmers market? Nothing that involves meat, please.

Joe: Hold on there, rhubarb lover. We were out there first, giving you gorgeous recipes two whole weeks ago to prepare you for the bounty ahead. Here's Stephanie Sedgwick's In Season column on rhubarb, and here are recipes for a fab cobbler, a barbecue sauce, and preserves. (Save this last one for apricot season, but i'll be worth it.)

Happy stalking.

_______________________

Bonnie: A mushroom update for Post readers who entered the Marx Foods contest to win two pounds of morels (mentioned in our section last week) --

You guys rock. The entries were so fab that 2 winners were chosen (1 of them a vegetarian recipe), and they were both from our area. Congrats to Stephanie, the blogger who pens Adventures in Shaw, for her Mushroom, Ramp and Spinach Tart. And to Albert Casciero of Silver Spring for his Morels With Scallops and Asparagus.

Their recipes have been posted at www.marxfoods.com.

_______________________

Sustainable?: Swordfish hyped on a sustainable seafood project? Depending on the location and catch method, it might not be awful, but still, it seems like the chef should have mentioned that less swordfish might be a good thing if they want to eat sustainably. Why not highlight something that's recognized as fully sustainable and less well known, like striped bass or rainbow trout? Seems like both chef and producers dropped the ball a bit in not discussing what makes seafood sustainable and/or mentioning more sustainable alternatives. The Monterey Bay Aquarium has a nice list of seafood to look for and avoid, based on region.

David Hagedorn: Thsnks for your input on this issue.

There are some varieties of swordfish that the Monterey Bay Aquarium warns against, but swordfish has basically been a success story, as the public affairs specialist Monica Allen of NOAA emphasized in an email thanking us for the piece today. Here is what she said:

"And you also mentioned that swordfish was a "reversal of misfortune," which too few people realize. They're still thinking about the campaign in the 1990s to 'give swordfish a break.' The swordfish industry in this country has worked hard over the last 10 years to rebuild these stocks. A much smaller fleet exists today and they are catching the fish in a sustainable manner. The stocks have been rebuilt to sustainable levels because swordfishermen accepted some of the most rigorous regulations and also pioneered gear and methods to prevent turtle and other bycatch. It's one of the unsung success stories of fishery management."

_______________________

Burke, Va.: Savor(the beer/food event this past weekend, as reviewed in today's Food section) was a BLAST! Your columnist correctly notes that the $85 price tag kept out the drunken frat boys. The quality of the beer was astounding, and the food choices were superb. Here's hoping they do it again, and that they do it HERE.

My personal award for Savor goes out to Russian River Brewing Company in California, for a great double IPA and a "sour ale" . . . Unfortunately, I don't think they distribute in the East.

Joe: Glad to hear it! I had to miss, unfortunately, because I was down in Memphis, but I heard raves.

_______________________

Fairfax, Va.: The Savor beer/foodfest was great, and it's wonderful to try beers from all over, but I sure would have liked to have seen some of our local breweries get some publicity and exposure. Some of the brewers at Savor don't even make their beers available on the East Coast -- I found some wonderful beers that I'm only going to try again if I fly cross-country!

Other than that small quibble, the event couldn't have been better -- sure hope it comes back next year!

Joe: Interesting. Savor organizers, are you reading?

_______________________

NIH: I recently developed a LOVE of chickpeas. Short on ideas, I end up usually eating them rinsed from a can with a little oil/vinegar/lemon juice. Any ideas on how to integrate them into an entree? I'm a young professional who cooks for one, so something with more than five or six ingredients is out. Thanks for your help!

Jane Black: Chickpeas are really versatile. Toss them into pasta, a tuna salad (with red onion, olive oil and herbs of your choice), or broil a piece of fish or chicken and serve with your simple salad.

For more a integrated main, this shrimp and chickpea curry from our database is great for a meal --and as leftovers.

_______________________

ISO advice: Oh wise food persons, I need some suggestions. I'm planning a graduation open house on a Saturday afternoon and need some ideas for room temperature finger foods that would look appetizing on a buffet. I want to have a mix of homemade and store-bought. Any recipes in your archive you'd suggest?

Bonnie: Congratulations on the graduation! Just watched my older son march off with his college degree on Monday, and at the very least, it's an effort that deserves good food!

Anything with shrimp is usually scarfed down at a finger food buffet; depending on the preparation, you can create a cold container by packing a large bowl or tray with ice and nesting the shrimp-filled bowl inside it.

You could also skewer fave fruits on short bamboo sticks, sprinkle lightly with chili powder and serve with a honey-yogurt sauce (same cold presentation could apply).

Ready for an electic array? From Recipe Finder:

Sesame Beef and Arugula Summer Rolls

Sweet Onion, Scallion and Chive Dip

Chicken Pate

Guacamole Eggs

_______________________

Whipped Cre, AM: Hi Food Rangers! Last Friday night I had some friends over for dinner. For dessert, I whipped some leftover whipping cream with a little powdered sugar to put on top of poundcake with strawberries. Very tasty, but now I have a ton of whipped cream left over! Can I freeze it? Will it still be the same fluffy consistency when I thaw it? Thanks for your help!

Jane Touzalin: Wow, I applaud your willpower. I would have scarfed down all the leftover whipped cream as soon as the last dinner guest was out the door.

Yes, you can freeze it, but you should first divide it into small individual portions -- say on a cookie sheet. (Re-whip first if it has been sitting around awhile.) Once the portions have frozen, put them in a sturdy container, keeping the pieces separated with wax paper or plastic wrap so they don't stick together. To reuse, just let them thaw on the top of whatever you're garnishing with the cream. They'll still look fluffy, but they won't be nearly as sturdy as they started out, so once you place them on their final destination, don't mess with them. (And don't try to re-whip.)

Jane Touzalin:....and don't let them hang around in the freezer for more than a few weeks.

_______________________

Ex Brussels now Md.: RE: Childhood obesity. All the coverage this week and the chats associated with the topic focus on what adults should do (Hax calls should the SH word). What this has done is made food a battleground between parents and children. It also makes food a battleground between parents and doctors. Mine were exposed to British and Belgian food and advertising after California farmer's markets as babies. While one started eating dill pickles, lemon slices and asparagus spears as a baby, and the other didn't get jars of baby food, both are finicky now. We eat as a family every evening. There is little junk in the house and no sodas. They still find ways to get what they want, which isn't what they need.

Bonnie: Good for you, and of course you're right. Our week's worth of teen snack options are things kids can do for themselves.

_______________________

Oooh, oooh...pick me!: Husband loves to grill AND he's been learning Norwegian!! (Home office of his company is in Norway.) He can read it pretty well and he goes a few times a year. The cookbook would be so cool...and it would help with his learning Norse!

Joe: You are DEFINITELY the one to beat.

_______________________

Chevy Chase, Md.: I have to say, I was a little disappointed in your "Meat Lovers" books article in last week's Food Section. While it's fine to eat meat, two things bothered me about the article, as a vegetarian. First, the unchallenged assertion that vegetarians are hurting small farmers -- this was just stated as a fact, without any question. Second, the attempt at "balance" by including only one quote, and that an outrageous PETA quote comparing eating meat to abusing children.

Why did you not at least present, if only in a sentence or two, the reasonable vegetarian perspective? Others can eat what they like, but it is perfectly reasonable for me to believe that, even if an animal lived a good life, it is not okay to kill it and eat it.

On the same subject, there was an excellent article at slate.com about the reasonable vegetarian -- one who does not judge others for eating meat, but would like to be considered "normal" even if we do not. I don't have the link, but you can find it on 101cookbooks.com.

Jane Black: Sorry to hear that you didn't think it was balanced. I loved the quote from Ingrid Newkirk because she's so outrageous but didn't intend it to represent all vegetarians. The goal of the piece was to explore how carnivores are trying to be more thoughtful and their way of thinking about the topic.

What's interesting is that almost all of the writers felt that they were the ones being mocked and dismissed, not vegetarians. Perhaps we all feel we're misunderstood.

Still, thanks for pointing it out. And...the article on Slate was good. Here's the link.

_______________________

Lunch: As my toddler is a few months past two years (two and a tantrum) lunch times are become more difficult. This is especially true in trying to keep him vegetarian. Somedays he only wants milk for lunch. He hates bread, so he will use his finger to take the PB off the bread, or eat the cheese off the pizza, but never eat the crust. He likes spaghetti, but won't eat it more than two times a week. Some days he only has grapes and crackers, and know that can't be very nutritionally sound. So, any chatters out there who can keep their toddler happy at lunch time?

Bonnie: He hates bread?? Try toasting cubes of whole wheat bread so they're crunchy. Or toast ww pita bread triangles. Do the toothpick/skewer (plastic, for safety, perhaps) routine that Gale Gand has great success with -- a grape, a small piece of cheese, a half-strawberry, something with crunch.

_______________________

Fiddle Dee Dee: It's fiddlehead season where I live in New England. I picked up some delicious looking fiddleheads at the farmer's market and am wondering about different ways to cook them. Initially, I was going to saute them with some olive oil, salt and pepper but figured I'd ask the Free Range crew (and chatters) if they have any other recipes.

Joe: In Japan, they simply steam them and toss with a little soy-wasabi dressing. I'll have to leave it to fiddlehead fans to answer; they're not my favorite thing, I have to admit. (And I've had more than my fair share.)

_______________________

Washington, D.C.: I am loving the Post articles on the obesity problem with children. I have one brother who has three overweight boys and he is letting them eat as they please which for them is lots and lots of unhealthy carbs and desserts. I am going to print out the recipes and ideas today for healthy snacks, etc. However, I have another brother with a son who is a bean pole. However his diet consists mainly of unhealthy carbs and for example his favorite breakfast is pancakes with a stack of toast. This brother is unconcerned because his son is so thin but I think otherwise. Am I right?

Jane Black: I'm not a doctor and I don't play one on TV but I think it's fair to say that eating healthily is important, no matter whether you're worried about your weight or not. We're such a nutrition obsessed culture but until someone gets sick, it's all related to weight. While we all know those people who smoked and ate donuts until they were 98 with no problem, for most of us, it's important to eat a well-rounded diet, no matter what your weight. It can only improve your health overall.

_______________________

Washington, D.C.: I liked the article about cooking fish in today's Food section...there was also a good one in the New Yorker recently about which fish are best to eat for the environment.

My unrelated question: Can you recommend an alcohol-free substitute for sherry in a bok choy stir fry dish? I'm cooking for a pregnant woman who is craving this dish, so the future of our planet depends on your answer;)

David Hagedorn: Glad you plan to flex those mussels, DC.

If the alcohol issue relates to the pregnancy, how much sherry could this recipe be calling for? If it is just a flavoring, as I suspect it is,perhaps you could cook off the alcohol by heating it and flaming it until the alchol burns off.

_______________________

Sea bass recipe:...looks great. Clarification, please, on this part: "Split the sticks in two (this will allow it to cook more quickly)." Do you mean to cut the filets in half?

Jane Black: Whoops no. It means cut the asparagus in half down the middle, then cut into 2-inch sticks. The fillets should remain whole.

_______________________

Re: chickpeas: I love them in a three-four-five bean salad and of course in hummus which I eat straight for a week if I make it on the weekends. An indian curry with tomatoes and chickpeas is killer and you can do it in a crockpot, which is super for busy cooks!

Jane Black: Good ideas. Thanks.

_______________________

Curryville, USA: Hi! I'm a second-generation Indian-american trying desperately to replicate my mother's food. While your suggestions of where to find garam masala (Penzey's) is good, I would suggest the chatter find an Indian store and buy it there -- it is MUCH more authentic and will give you the home cooked taste you are looking for.

That being said, I always manage to get the same garam masala taste by subbing a combination of ground cinnamon, ground cloves, cumin powder, turmeric and chili powder -- most of which the well-stocked cook already carries. Sautee some tomato, onion, garlic, and ginger, add a mixture of the above spices, and turn any vegetable or meat into a wonderful tasting curry.

(You can see I'm trying to win the curry cookbook, can't you:)

Thanks!

Joe: I can, I can!

_______________________

Dupont Circle: Happy Wednesday! I appreciated the piece on sustainable seafood. I have been working up my courage to try making mussels at home, and will use your recipe for my first attempt.

I am a fairly avid baker and have been using the $10 baking sheets/muffin tins that you can find at a local grocery store. I'd like to treat myself and upgrade to something of higher quality. What brand do you recommend? How much should a good baking sheet cost me? Thanks for your advice!

Joe: I'm a big fan of the sheets made by Doughmakers.

_______________________

Rochester, N.Y.: What would you recommend as the best way to cook a fillet of seabass? Do I need to take the skin off?

Thanks!

David Hagedorn: Hi, Rochester: I really can't think of a bad way to cook sea bass. You can leave the skin on (scaled, of course)if broiling or grilling; it really depends on how much you like the oiliness imparted by leaving the skin on. I personally do not care for it, so I remove the skin. Sea bass blackens very nicely and the herb crust keeps the fish moist, but this must be done in a VERY hot skillet and therefore under a professinal-grade exhaust fan or outside; there will be much smoke. Grilling is a great way to go, using a light brushing of olive oil, garlic, herbs, salt and pepper. After that, poaching in a court-bouillon is lovely, served with a light sauce verte or a thinned out pesto.

David Hagedorn: By the way, sea bass can refer to many different varieties of fish, so you'd want to make sure that what you are using is sustainable. You can do that by checking in at Monterey Bay Aquarium: www.mbayaq.org.

_______________________

New York: I love okra, and i m always looking for new ways to make it. Can you suggest any methods, or techniques other than the usual; fry, saute, steamed and saute with garlic/shallots and pickled.

Thanks

Bonnie: We'll always have gumbo. This one's Creole spicy.

_______________________

For Mom of Two and a Tantrum: If the kid hates bread,does bread cause gastric distress?

I didn't like bread, gravy,anything with wheat flour -- and now find that I'm wheat sensitive/intolerant.

Joe: Very interesting -- your body was telling you something. Mom, are you still reading?

_______________________

Chickpeas: One of my standby chickpea recipes is a throw-together. I put chickpeas and the ingredients for my favorite barbecue sauce in a casserole dish and bake covered for about 45 minutes. My sauce ingredients change every time, but I often use tomato puree, chopped onion, molasses or brown sugar, a bit of mustard, and a dash of vinegar. I suspect you could use bottled sauce and get a similar result.

I also like to cook chickpeas on the stove with a can of tomatoes, some oil and curry spices. It's not authentic, but it's another good standby for nights where I don't have the time or energy to cook much.

Bonnie: And here's a good one: Chunky Balila With Citrus Explosion

_______________________

Silver Spring, Md.: For the okra-lover, there are lots of African soup and stew recipes that use okra. Check an African cookbook for some ideas, then improvise.

Marcus Samuelson's cookbook has a few good ones.

Joe: Perfect. Thanks!

_______________________

Curry Spices: I have several of the curry mixes from Penzey's and my dishes still don't taste Indian enough. Even following recipes (found online), they never quite have that delicious mouth-watering aroma. I bloom the spices in oil/butter but it's still not the same. I have the rogan josh and vindaloo mixtures and usually add extra cumin and/or cayenne. What am I doing wrong? Dishes tried include chickpea and potato curries. Thanks!

Joe: A previous chatter says the fault is in the source. I've liked Penzey's spices generally, but I have really only experienced their single spices and not the mixes. Try going to an Indian market instead, and report back!

_______________________

For picky vegetarian toddler: Part of the problem is that there is not really an established, satisfying American vegetarian cuisine. People try to make do with pizza, pasta and the occasional tofu. Does your toddler like beans? If he likes PB, how about hummus or white bean spread (which can be made with silken tofu added)? If not on bread, maybe crackers or anything dippable? Or if he likes the pizza on cheese, perhaps vegetables with a creamy/cheesy sauce?

Joe: Good ideas -- although I'm sure there are some out there that will take issue with your opening statement...

_______________________

Boulder, Colo.: Forgot to thank you last week...I made the "Man-Catching Brownies" two weekends ago and let me tell you they were incredible! Chocolatey, gooey on the inside, nice crisp crust on the top, OH MY. Luckily I was taking them along with dinner I made for a friend who had just had a baby, so I didn't eat the whole pan. This is now my go-to brownie recipe -- THANKS!

Leigh: I'm thrilled that the Man-Catchers found their way all the way to Colorado (I went to school at Colorado College)! The gospel of chocolate.

_______________________

Arlington, Va.: For the person looking for curry pastes, try Mediterranean Bakery on S. Pickett in Alexandria. They have tons of different kinds (mainly Patak's) that I haven't seen in other markets. Grab a cheap but fantastic lunch at their counter in the back.

(Can I be in the run for the curry cookbook? I LOVE Indian food!)

Joe: Capital letters do not guarantee a book win. But thanks for the idea.

_______________________

Clifton, Va.: Lunch Why are you forcing a two-year-old to be a vegetarian? It's not healthy or wise!

Joe: Uh-oh.

_______________________

Silver Spring, Md.: You can get close with Penzey's or anybody else's ground spice mix, but for that last yard of authenticity you have to grind your own and cook the ones to use whole slowly, slowly in oil. It really does make a difference if you know the what the real taste is like. Alas, you may or may not want to spend all that extra time.

Joe: I agree that grinding your own makes a big difference, especially in potency. No contest about which form of spice stays fresher.

_______________________

Lentils: How do I cook lentils to put on a salad? I bought some already cooked ones in a package from Trader Joe's and really liked them which surprised me as I usually don't like lentil soup. As convenient as the TJ's pouch is, it must be cheaper to buy them dry and cook them myself.

Since I'm going to put them on a salad, I don't need a complete dish, just a quick how to on getting them from really hard little disks to softer and perhaps seasoned little disks.

Thank you so much.

David Hagedorn: Love those lentils. The easiet way to deal with them is to rinse them well, after having picked through them for stones and clumps of dirt, and boil them in a lot of unsalted water. (Adding salt before legumes are cooked can toughen them.) They should only take a ten minutes or so to cook; just letthem boil until they are how you want them. Then, add some slat to the water and let it infuse for a minute before draining and rinsing the lentils.

_______________________

Re: Mussels: I made my first pot of mussels about a month ago, and was kind of terrified. But it was surprisingly easy, and surprisingly affordable (about $5 for 2 pounds of mussels from Whole Foods). I made Thai style mussels courtesy of Ming Tsai - broth was spicy and flavorful, and perfect to dip bread in. Here's a link to the recipe: http://www.foodnetwork.com/food/recipes/recipe/0,,FOOD_9936_15073,00.html

Jane Black: Mussels are ridiculously easy to make. No need to be frightened. Glad you tried them.

_______________________

Baking Sheets (for Dupont Circle): I bought the Williams-Sonoma ones made exclusively for them by Chicago Metallic. Although I haven't used them yet, I absolutely LOVE them. #1 reason is because they are made in USA (the CM ones at Sur la Table are not) #2 is because they are so sturdy and heavy. What a difference from Ecko/Baker's Secret sheets! Maybe next time I will splurge on the gold (nonstick) ones. Those rated best by America's Test Kitchen (LOVE Adam Reid!)

Bonnie: Don't get me started on why/when home cooks ended up with inferior utensils, pots and pans.

Joe: Many chatters are in LOVE today.

_______________________

Two-year old picky eater: I posted the earlier comment about the lack of a satisfying American vegetarian cuisine. I understand all may not agree with that. But may I respond to the subsequent poster who said it is not healthy for a two-year-old to be vegetarian -- I grew up eating 99-percent vegetarian food (with dairy, no fish), but it was Indian food, and there was nothing unhealthy about it. The basic of home-cooked, daily Indian food is vegetables (usually at least two kinds), roti (whole wheat, not fried, bread), and daal. Not a lot of oil or ghee. This is probably the healthiest cuisine I can think of, but obviously not something most Americans can give their children every day!

Joe: Thanks -- You're right that Indian is one of the world glorious vegetarian cuisines.

_______________________

Re: Man Catcher Brownies: I also made the Man-Catcher Brownies last week (to take to Preakness) and they were WAY too chocolatey and dense, and not in the good way (and I am a BIG chocolate fan) I don't know what I did wrong, but I want to give fair warning to those who may nto want something so heavy or chocolatey

Leigh: They are that. Did you use Dutch process cocoa? If so, try them with natural (unprocessed) cocoa. But they may just not be your taste.

Joe: I don't think there's such a thing as "too chocolatey," myself.

_______________________

Chatter with curry problems: I haven't tried Penzey's curry powders, but you may be missing the flavor of fresh garlic/ginger paste in your dishes. When I put that in the pan after the other spices, it creates such a heady aroma that makes my mouth water badly! Fenugreek also adds that "Indian" flavor.

Bonnie: Thumb's up on fenugreek.

_______________________

Re: toddler lunch: My son really hates bread, so does my husband. No stomach issues, they just don't care for it (soft, toasted, white, whole wheat, pita). I do give him lots of lentils with Indian spices, but that gets boring after awhile. He ate fish sticks once, and I couldn't get him to eat it again another time. No one on giving toddlers toothpicks. They poke themselves and then gag on the things (wood or plastic).

Joe: Maybe toddler is imitating daddy on this bread issue?

_______________________

Ashburn, Va.: Hi food guys! I look forward to Wednesdays to see what you come up with for me to try!

Last week, I made Mark Furstenberg's white bread and it was a huge hit! My husband raved that it tasted like the breads from Spain. Is there any way to make these into several smaller, longer loaves? Can this be made with whole wheat at all?

By the way, I will definitely be trying the pork vindaloo in today's dinner in minutes! It looks yummy!

Bonnie: Mark F. suggests you start by adding 10 percent whole wheat flour, and try it the next time using 20 percent. Increase until the recipe doesn't work as well -- just depends on the density you like.

The problem with a long skinny loaf would be finding the right way to enclose it and provide the opportunity for steam to get that good crust. But David H. is going to try baking mini-boules in his individual-size, cast-iron, enamel-covered pots with lids. He'll report back.

_______________________

Atlanta, Ga.: Your Man-catcher Brownies have made it to Atlanta as well as Ann Arbor, Michigan, by the way. I am constantly asked to make them when I go home to visit. I don't dare make them when I am home alone. They are perfect -- from the name to the taste!

...drooling here at work...

Leigh: If I'm making a batch and it's just me, I put at least half of it in the freezer once baked. Of course, this may not stop you for those worst cravings, but it's a start.

_______________________

Boulder, CO: How do you solve the problem of "too-chocolatey" brownies? With vanilla ice cream of course!

Joe: Yippee!

_______________________

For the picky toddler's mom: I've studied child development, and one of the things that was emphasized in learning about the care and feeding of a young child is they need repeat exposure to new or different foods. You have to offer something to them up to 15 to 20 times before they are willing to try it. Just be sure you offer a variety and that he's eating something healthy. The bread refusal is probably a texture as well as flavor thing. Very young children have very sensitive taste buds as well, so don't be surprised if he won't eat broccoli until he's older.

Joe: Exactamundo.

_______________________

Cocoa: What is the difference between dutch processed cocoa and natural cocoa? When are each used? How are they used differently?

Leigh: Dutch process cocoa is put through a chemical process that changes its alkalinity. This gives it a milder taste and can have an effect on the baking chemistry when used as a dominant ingredient. As rule of thumb, use natural cocoa where not otherwise specified.

_______________________

Joe: We've rested for 5 to 10 minutes, loosely tented with aluminum foil, so you know what that means: We're done.

Thanks, all, for the great questions. Now for the book winners: The woman whose hubby is learning Norwegian gets, of course, "Grillkongen Craig." The ex-Brussels chatter gets "Food for Thought." The parent of the bread-hating toddler gets "Everybody Eats Lunch." And the chatter from Curryville, USA (please make sure we get the right zip code for that town) gets "Complete Curry Cookbook." Send your mailing info to food@washpost.com, and we'll get 'em to you.

Until next week, happy cooking, eating and reading.

_______________________

Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.


© 2008 The Washington Post Company