Free Range on Food: Staffers Solve Your Cooking Conundrums

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The Food Section
of the Washington Post
Wednesday, May 20, 2009; 1:00 PM

Free Range on Food is a forum for discussion of all things culinary. You can share your thoughts on the latest Washington Post Food section, get suggestions from fellow cooks and food lovers, or swap old-fashioned recipes the new-fashioned way. They were online Wednesday, May 20 at 1 p.m. ET.

Archive of past discussions

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Joe Yonan: Greetings, Rangers, and welcome to today's chat. Do you smell smoke? That's because we're got our (metaphorical) grills fired up, and we're ready to roll with advice for all your cookout challenges. Tell us what's on your mind, and we'll do our best to help.

We have a multiplicity of guests today: David Hagedorn, Real Entertaining columnist, who wrote about kebab partying; Tony Rosenfeld, author of the affordable-beef-cuts piece; and Greg Kitsock, beer columnist who took on the question of Sam Adams and the definition of "craft beer."

We have giveaway books for our favorite posts: "Hot Dog: A Global History" by Bruce Kraig; "Morton's the Cookbook" by Klaus Fritsch; and "Mastering the Grill Deck" by Andrew Schloss and David Joachim (this one consists of 50 recipe cards, not a book per se).

But for the granddaddy of all prizes, we have TWO tickets to the sold-out Savor event (May 30 at the National Building Museum). They're $95 each, so that's a good pop, and should get some good beer-oriented conversation going.

What do you say?

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Sam Adams: Greg: One of the concerns I've always had with calling Sam Adams a craft brewery is that most, if not all, of their commercially-available beer is contract-brewed, and not made at their own brewery. I know that part of the reason that they bought (or built) the test brewery in Boston was so they could say they were a "real" brewery, but that struck me as creating only the appearance of being a brewery without actually being one.

And with the overwhelming majority of their beer being contract brewed, I view them as being a marketing construct, not a craft brewery. A highly successful marketing construct, to be sure, but still not a real craft brewery.

So I guess my question is: The breweries in Cincinnati and Fogelsville, Pa., that you mentioned as being the source of Sam Adams' beer -- are they owned by Sam Adams, or are they contract breweries?

Greg Kitsock: They are indeed owned by Boston Beer Co., maker of Sam Adams! Company founder Jim Koch bought the former Hudepohl-Schoenling brewery in Cincinnati back in the mid-1990s, and acquired the former Schaefer/Stroh/Pabst/Diageo plant near Allentown, Pa. (it's been through a lot of owners!) in a deal last year. I think Boston Beer still contract-brews a small amount of their beer at the High Falls Brewing Co. in Rochester, N.Y. (and maybe another location or two) but most of their production is now in-house ... and in the near future, I imagine 100% will be.

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Oakton, Va.: Question about the cornbread-berry cake recipe -- could I use a boxed cornbread mix (like Jiffy) if I really, really need to save some time?

David Hagedorn: Good question, Oakton, and the answer is no. I had the readers' interests in mind when I first tried this out using 2 boxes of Jiffy mix. The cornbread was like cardboard and did not even rise enough to get two layers out of a batch. The recipe on the box of Quaker cornmeal takes 5 minutes to throw together.

Bonnie Benwick blogged on her experience using store-bought cornbread for her version. Check it out. I particularly love the part where she says that I'm right. (At least that's how I read it.)

Bonnie Benwick: I knew you would, D.

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Washington, D.C.: A friend has a milestone birthday coming up. I would like to get her a gift certificate for a cooking class. The catch -- she lives in Boston. Do you know of any cooking classes (for vegetarians) in the Boston area (for good cooks, not newbies)? Do restaurants ever have special classes/meals (like some do here through the Smithsonian Residents Associate program)? And if I can work this out, I'd give it to her with a small kitchen gadget that she's unlikely to have. I was thinking of a mandolin, but any other ideas? Thanks very much!

Joe Yonan: My favorite vegetarian chef in Boston is Didi Emmons of Veggie Planet and Haley House Bakery Cafe fame. That's who I immediately thought of, and then I went to the Boston Vegetarian Society website and noticed that, lo and behold, she's teaching monthly classes there. As for the small kitchen gadget, we're going to feature some of our favorite low-tech and cheap things that do the job of high-tech expensive things in an upcoming issue. A mandoline is a great idea, especially one of the Japanese ones, like Benriner, but I'd also say that if she doesn't have a Microplane grater, that's a no-brainer, too.

Jane Black: I love Didi. That is terrific advice. I also recommend you check out the classes at Barbara Lynch's Stir. They're not always (or even usually) vegetarian but she gets some real star power up there: New York darling Andrew Carmellini, L.A. star Suzanne Goin. The list of summer classes is due out June 20th. Might be worth taking a look.

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Germantown, Md.: Affordable steaks. Who helped Mr. Rosenfeld write the article? Was a meat cutter for Giant for 30 years, retired 1995. From 1965 through 1995 no would buy most of these cuts.

The skirt steak is the diaphragm. Located from the back bone to the brisket area.

Hanger, called the hanging tender, is not next to the skirt steak. Located next to the kidney. It is the muscle that controls urine flow from the kidney.

Tri-tip, called the sirloin tip, is located above the rear leg joint and front of rear leg. Connects the round to the sirloin.

Chuck eye is cut next to the delmontico. Not tough at all.

Top sirloin is not a well-exercised muscle. Next to the porterhouse, very tender.

The steer has not changed for at least a hundred years. But they keep coming up with new names for the same piece of meat. Through 1995 you could not see hangers, flatiron, flap, skirt, in the meat case. No one would buy them. We could not sell them. And when a side of beef came in, you knew exactly where a hanger came from. They all smelled like the urine that passed through them. In 30 years, I NEVER saw anyone buy one.

Tony Rosenfeld: You certainly have a good perspective from which to see how the choices have changed at the meat case. Though it doesn't sound like the flap, skirt, or hanger steaks were very tasty back when you were cutting meat, I would urge you to try them today because they really are tasty.

Regarding your points on the origin of these cuts, I actually think we mostly agree: the hanger is next to the kidney, but it's also attached to the diaphragm (or skirt). As Bruce Aidells and Denis Kelly explain on p. 143 in "The Complete Meat Cookbook" (a great resource for all steak aficionados): "Hanger steak is a 1- to 2-pound strip of 1 1/2-to 2-inch thick muscle attached to and supporting the diaphragm (which is the skirt). It hangs off the kidney, just below the tenderloin on the left side of the steer."

One of the other points that you brought up was on the top sirloin and you are correct that it is not a very exercised muscle and thus is very tender; I mentioned as much in the article.

Among other resources for my research, I worked with the "Uniform Retail Meat Identity Standards" published by the National Livestock and Meat Board and used by most butchers to properly identify these different cuts.

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Falls Church, Va.: Two-parter:

Is there any way to get more frequent Viestad columns? I love the science of food.

Can you suggest a good sangria recipe for a Memorial Day party this weekend?

Jane Black: Glad you like the column. Once a month is probably all Andres has time for; he's a busy chef. But I'll let Joe answer the question about frequent science columns officially.

As for sangria, how about this recipe for Tuscan Sangria?

Joe Yonan: Andreas has many commitments, it's true: cookbook writing, his PBS series work, and more. And as much as I love his stuff, I also want to leave room for other topics week in and week out.

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Boulder, Colo.: A big thank you to David for this week's article on kabobs. Earlier this week I was telling my beau we need to get our of our grilling rut and I think this might be the cure!

David Hagedorn: A big your welcome to you, Boulder. Let us know how it goes.

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Baltimore, Md.: Is the following true?:

Salt is the policeman of taste: it keeps the various flavors of a dish in order and restrains the stronger from tyrannizing over the weaker.

Jane Black: Salt definitely enlivens flavors but I've never heard of it keeping others in line. I love the quote though. Where's it from?

Joe Yonan: Malcolm de Chazal.

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Downtown pretending to work: What a fabulous section today! Just love wakin' up to a close-up view of beef hot from the grill. Great marinades, too. About those: my wife is allergic to citrus, so could I make the lemon marinade with white wine vinegar or some other substitute?

David Hagedorn: It's no problem substituting vinegar, but I'd use half the amount called for and opt for a more subtle vinegar, like champagne vinegar and then make up the difference with white wine. I'm a big fan of dry vermouth in cooking; it would do well in this marinade.

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Arlington, Va.: I rarely follow live your discussion or Tom Sietsema's at 11 a.m. When I read the transcripts later in the day, I sometimes think of things -- restaurant recommendations or recipe ideas -- that could be helpful to the person who asked. Should I post them on the Food Section's Facebook page? Or just post them during the next week's discussion? If it's for a weekend brunch suggestion, however, it's a bit late to post the following week.

Joe Yonan: You should email us at food@washpost.com. We're always looking for possible chat-followups to write on our new blog or shoot over to the GOG blog, so something like this might be a candidate for that.

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Chinatown: Thank you for the mango chicken curry recipe. It looks delicious. One question: how spicy is yellow curry?

I ask because I also cook for a 3-year-old, and as much as possible I try not to make separate dishes. If not yellow curry, what would you recommend in terms of Indian cuisine that would be palatable for a toddler?

Thanks...

Bonnie Benwick: You've got good taste, obviously! The recipe calls for yellow curry powder, which in small amounts is not as spicy as curry pastes.

I think a toddler can handle a dish with yellow curry powder in it. For this recipe, try reducing the curry powder from 1 tablespoon to 1/4 teaspoon. That might not be enough for your palate, but what you could do is add more to taste once the coconut milk has been added, and after you've cooked/served the toddler portion.

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Madison, Wisc.: I follow all the best directions but why can't I get those hard boiled eggs to peel easily?

Jane Black: Are you using really fresh eggs? When it comes to hard boiled, older eggs are actually better (at least for peeling.) I'm not sure that this is always true but I've always found that it is easier to peel eggs soon after they cool, rather than storing them in their shells in the refrigerator.

Joe Yonan: Andreas Viestad tackled this subject recently in a sidebar to his column on eggs. Indeed, fresh eggs are harder to peel. The trick is to add some baking soda to the ice water; it raises the pH and makes the eggs much easier to peel. You also should use an egg pricker, which helps by creating a pocket of air on one side of the shell, before hard-cooking.

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Alexandria, Va.: Just bought a new house...and psyched to fire up the new grill this weekend! Was thinking about lamb kabobs, chicken kabobs, or both. What would be a good early-summer marinade?

David Hagedorn: Here is a link to a fantastic article all about kebabs and it includes two wonderful marinade recipes. The writer is very gifted; I hear this piece may be up for a Pulitzer.

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Affordable steaks: Good afternoon! I enjoyed today's article on affordable cuts of steaks and grilling tips. I was hoping someone could elaborate, though, on one point in the article. Tony Rosenfeld advocates creating "zones" on the grill for searing vs. regular cooking (hotter and less hot), but then doesn't really explain how to use those zones. What's the best way to use different temperatures to grill the steak?

Tony Rosenfeld: A two-zone fire offers options so things never get too hot at the grill. The hot zone (medium-high on your gas grill or a medium-hot charcoal fire) is the one you'll use primarily for cooking the steaks; you'll want to cook the steaks over this hot zone for 2 to 5 minutes per side. But the cooler zone is there if you need it. whether it's if you happen to have an extra thick cut or if your fire is just running too hot.

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Great steaks....: I cannot remember who gave me this tip, but it is SUCH a good one -- instead of salt on a steak, rub with a little anchovy paste (or even a few drops of fish sauce in a pinch!) It adds an extra depth of flavor to the meat. And I freely share this "secret", since people with allergies would hardly expect fish on their steak. For fish-allergic friends, I use a little soy sauce instead.

Bonnie Benwick: That has possibilities. I will try it. Some folks sprinkle a little sugar on the steak too, to promote a caramelized crust (is that cheating?)

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S.E. D.C.: Have smoked quite a few briskets and now want to try ribs. Any tips on smoking ribs? Any good pork ribs rub recipes? Can I smoke both beef and pork ribs together if I have the room? Thanks for doing the chats.

Joe Yonan: Welcome to my world, fellow rib lover! You can certainly smoke both beef and pork ribs together if you have the room. As for tips, I'd say you should buy Steve Raichlen's fantastic "Ribs, Ribs, Ribs," which gives many great recipes for various kinds, including beef, pork, even lamb. I wrote about a good basic pork rib recipe awhile back, and it's a great place to start.

Just remember this: If you didn't already know, forget the "fall-off-the-bone" standard for ribs. To a true low-and-slow aficionado, that's a recipe for braised or crock-pot (or overcooked) ribs, not real barbecue. As one pitmaster said to me once, "God gave us teeth for a reason."

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Burke, Va.: Aren't a lot of so-called craft brew being contract brewed by larger conglomerates anyway? I know that Red Hook is partially owned by A-B, but they maintain their own breweries in Redmond, Wash. and New Hampshire. However, some of the other smaller brewers use A-B, Molson/Coors, or Miller facilities to brew and distribute. Why don't we just rid of this vague craft brewer term, and just describe the beer based on the volume that is produced of that specific style of beer each year?

Greg Kitsock: I think you have a legitimate point. Maybe instead of talking so much about "craft brewers", we should think in terms of the beer: how it's made and how it tastes. From a business point of view, I wonder if it's wise to define craft beer and brewer too narrowly. The volume of fuller-bodied, fuller-flavored beer consumed in the U.S. is probably a lot bigger than the figure released by the Brewers Association. Why should the craft beer industry try to look smaller than it is?

One problem: should we keep that part of the definition about craft beer not being made with rice and corn adjuncts adjuncts? Some brands, like Yengling's Lord Chesterfield Ale, are made with corn, but have a hoppy, fuller-flavored taste commensurate with a craft beer.

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Picnicking: For a simple, easy picnic I was thinking of cookies, hummus, pita chips, blackberries and...something homemade, like a biscuit or scone? Nothing too fussy and will travel well. Got any ideas?

Joe Yonan: Well, I think you've got the carbs covered! Can I point you to the great picnic piece Bonnie coordinated last summer? We got great recipes from local caterers, including Carla Hall. My fave recipes from that spread: Black-Eyed Pea Hummus, Shrimp With Lime-Ginger Corn Salad, and Stone Fruit Salsa.

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Bethesda Mom: Submitting early -- so sorry to miss the live chat!

In both the balsamic vinegar and lemon marinade recipes, they call for a tbsp of sugar. Is there a chemical reason for this, or is it just to add sweetness? I've make marinades in the past and never added sugar.

David Hagedorn: Two reasons: a little sugar enhances the natural flavor of most foods, but in grilling, it also helps to caramelize the meat.

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Silver Spring: Love love these chats -- I learn so much every week. I need some help. I had scallop soft tacos a couple of weeks ago and really enjoyed them. I am trying to recreate the experience at home and have not been able to get it quite right. How do you sear the scallops so they are slightly crispy without over cooking them? And what kind of sauce would you make to accompany it? The one at the restaurant was a thin, white sauce. I used sour cream, mayo and dill. While it was good it was thick and lack something. Thanks for any suggestions you can throw my way.

Jane Black: There are two important things to know to sear scallops well. First, make sure they are dry. Pat them dry on paper towels before searing and try to buy fresh scallops (i.e., not previously frozen). They will release less liquid. Second, sear them in a hot pan. That will give you the crisp, golden outside. Two minutes per side will ensure you don't overcook them.

As for the sauce, sounds like you're on the right track. But I'd substitute chopped cilantro for the dill and use some lime juice to give it some brightness and thin it out a bit.

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Palisades: Are there other ways to help tenderize these less expensive cuts of meat besides a marinade? My husband does not want to "mess with the flavor." I remember from my much younger days buying a chuck steak and pounding on it for a while. Memory fades, but I thought it helped. Your opinion?

Tony Rosenfeld: There are natural meat tenderizers (protein-digesting enzymes from plants like pineapple, fig, or papaya) but these will "mess with the flavor" as your husband feared and also give these cuts a somewhat spongy texture. Not what you're looking for.

You can pound the steaks, but you'll have to do so considerably to tenderize (and that can result in meat that looks more like cutlets than steaks).

If tenderness is your thing, I would suggest gravitating towards some of the more tender cuts I've listed like top sirloin, chuck eye, or flatiron.

good luck!

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Arlington, Va.: I've been thinking about trying to make my own frozen yogurt using the yogurt I buy from the farmers market. Do you think blending yogurt and fresh strawberries together in the blender and then freezing in individual portions would work? I'm hoping for something similar to a Yoplait after being in the freezer for a few hours but without all the extra sugar and chemicals.

David Hagedorn: There's a little more to it than that. Just using a blender and freezing the smish will result in a grainy product. It's not bad to eat; it's just a coarser texture. You can at least try freezing it for thirty minutes, then returning it to the blender a second time; this will break down the ice crystals more and make them finer. The best result comes from using an ice cream freezer.

Pastry chef David Lebovitz tells you all about it right here.

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Curry and mango recipe from today: About how many mangoes would I need for the recipe? Thanks.

Bonnie Benwick: Yikes. I'm not sure what happened to the ingredient list of that recipe. I've updated it online but it'll take a while to post. I write Dinner in Minutes recipes to start with raw ingredients. You'll need 1 1/2-inch piece of ginger root, 2 medium cloves of garlic and 2 mangoes (about 1 1/2 pounds total).

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Washington, D.C.: Am loving the new food blog....supplements only getting your fabulous section once a week and I really dig the variety of stories (recipes, restaurants, CSAs, etc.). My question is, would you ever consider letting some local Washingtonians blog about their favorite recipes or food experiences? And if this is a possibility, how can I go about making this happen? Thanks!

Joe Yonan: So glad you're liking it -- are you commenting on the blog posts? I thought to myself today, "If a blogger posts in the forest, and nobody comments, did it make a sound?" Writing pithy comments to the blog posts is the best way to make yourself heard at this point. If you stand out as a master, we might indeed let you have more of a forum. You can stay in touch by emailing us at food@washpost.com.

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Warm weather comfort food!: My question for you is about comfort food -- summertime comfort food, that is. I have a friend going through a tough time and wanted to make dinner for her and her family. When I think about heart-warming dishes, though, my mind goes to hot soups, stews, braises -- not the most appealing options on a warm night.

Any suggestions for a lovely dinner menu (one that is relatively affordable, please) that can make a nice, stress-free meal for a family? Even better if it makes for good leftovers that can be taken as lunch the next day! My mind is stuck.

One small caveat is no pork and no heavy spicing because of the little ones, please.

Thanks so much!

David Hagedorn: I guess it's the southern boy in me, but summer comfort food is fried chicken, corn-on-the-cob, biscuits, and cobbler. Maybe supplement/replace corn with a three-bean salad or asparagus vinaigrette or a great mixed salad. Or chicken in a pot and rice instead of fried chicken (leftovers, if there are any, could easily be turned into pot pie, salad, soup, etc.).

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Anonymous: Thanks for promoting less expensive meat cuts. Lately, I've been buying from a local farmer, but it can be difficult to get some "special cuts". (E.g. can't get the hanger, skirt, or any chuck cuts besides a standard roast. A lot of this is turned into ground beef -- good, versatile ground beef, but ground beef all the same.)

To stretch out my relatively-pricier meat purchases, I've been: placing atop salads, tucking into sandwiches, putting into Asian lettuce wraps, making kabobs (yay for the article!), taking smaller, better savored bites. Really.

Other suggestions?

Hope this article doesn't raise prices on these less-popular cuts! Kidding. Sort of.

Tony Rosenfeld: I feel your pain on trying to source some of these cuts locally. Part of the problem is that these steaks are small and few in comparison with some of the larger cuts.

And your dinner preparations sound great. Perhaps the only thing you might be missing in your list are sautes and stir-fries, which are particularly good at this time of year as the farmers' markets heat up. In these preparations, follow the Asian method of using just a bit of meat to flavor the vegetables (and not vice versa).

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Chapel Hill: I'm replacing our old stove with a new gas one. Is all the hype about upscale stoves right? Will a Wolf or Thermador be so much better than a standard brand that it's worth the price differential? Or would I just be caving into peer pressure and keeping up with the Joneses?

Bonnie Benwick: This is a great question for our chatters (and for the Home section chat tomorrow?). Here's my two cents:

* They are good brands -- pretty standard these days. I've had Thermador wall ovens and a gas cooktop. I had no trouble with them and would buy them again.

* The smaller the kitchen the less happy with high-end, stainless-steel ranges you'll be, because they tend to generate a fair amount of heat.

* My pals who own big Wolf ranges say they are a bit of a challenge to keep clean.

* I'm thinking it'd be nice for us to get past the stainless-steel look, design-wise.

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Mango Chicken Curry: This recipe looks absolutely wonderful, and I'd like to try it tonight. One question: you say to remove the knob from the blender and cover with a towel before mixing the sauce. How important is that? I generally use a magic bullet for blending these days, although I'll pull out the big blender if I need to. Thanks!

Bonnie Benwick: It's pretty important for blending hot substances -- unless you want this stuff on your ceiling and kitchen cabinets. If you weren't doing this In Minutes, you could let the mixture cool down before pureeing. Plus, there's enough of it here that the blender's a better choice than the MB.

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Herndon, Va.: Hi guys, great section with lots of great recipes. We're not big beef eaters, but we do love lamb. Which of those marinades do you think would work on a butterflied leg o' lamb?

Bonnie Benwick: Either the Balsamic Marinade of David's or the Rosemary-Red Wine from Tony R. (I didn't want them to have to fight over this.)

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Silver Spring: Where could I possibly find tri-tip? I've asked at Giant and Whole Foods, but both have said they would have to special order it. Having lived in Tucson, Tri Tip Santa Maria style is amazing...why is it so much a regional cut?

Jane Black: Yeah, it's regional Whole Foods doesn't carry it either; they recommend substituting skirt steak. I always recommend Organic Butcher in McLean. They carry it regularly.

6712 Old Dominion Drive McLean, 703-790-8300.

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Washington, D.C.: I hope you are taking non-grilling questions! What would you recommend as an acceptable vegetarian substitute for Thai/Vietnamese fish sauce?

David Hagedorn: I just found this online. Apparently, vegetarian fish sauces do exist, but just in case you can't find any at one of our D.C.-area Asian markets, there is a recipe here, too.

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Washington, D.C.: Bean equation. Please tell me how much dried beans I should cook to equate to one 15-oz. can with liquid? To cut down on my sodium intake, I have decided to cook my own dried beans and store them in the freezer to use as needed.

Jane Black: This may not be perfect but about 1/2 cup of dried beans should yield 1-1/2 cups of beans after cooking. That's about what you get in a 15-oz can.

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Bonnie Benwick: Here's the recipe with the right ingredient amounts to start: Mango Chicken Curry.

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Reston, Va.: Thanks for the chat! I see that Price Club is now once again selling pistachios. I haven't heard anything on this for some time now -- is it safe to enjoy pistachios again? What about peanut butter? Thanks.

Bonnie Benwick: Hey Reston, it was always safe -- depending on which brands you bought. Check this site for the pistachio brands and this site for peanut recall info.

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Philadelphia: Personally, I've found that the "better" eggs (either organic or free-range) don't peel as well, either, as the factory farmed ones that were all that was available in the stores when I was growing up, even when I do let them age. Or maybe it's just I've never learned a hidden family secret on how to peel a hard-boiled egg.

Joe Yonan: Now you have one! You can call it your family secret, even if it's not. We won't tell.

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Alexandria, Va.: My husband and his best friend usually do their birthday gifts as going out to a surprise higher end restaurant for each celebration. This year she requested that we skip going out and instead cook together and make something really fancy. I have the French Laundry cookbook to look through for ideas. Do you have any other favorite cookbooks that would be a fancy, but doable as a home cook treat?

Jane Black: I adore Suzanne Goin's Sunday Suppers at Lucques. The food is not as "precious" as some recipes in the French Laundry but it is perfect.

Joe Yonan: I agree. The food requires cooking ability, but it's not out of reach, and the results are stellar.

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Annapolis, Md.: Grilled Kebab article --

While the kebabs described in the article today certainly sounded delicious, the preparation and whole approach was probably the most ridiculous recipe description I've read in a long time! Separate marinades, individually bagged items, different marinade times, three grill zones, different settling times -- you've got to be kidding! Who does this? More articles about delicious and realistic recipes please -- these don't have to mutually exclusive things. Otherwise I love the Food section and look forward to it every week! Thanks.

David Hagedorn: The people who do that are those who don't want to cross-contaminate vegetables with chicken, have their beef taste like fish, or eat mushy chicken that marinated too long.

As for the three zones, most people do this without even realizing it when they pile coals in the center of the grill. It just makes it easier to do it in linear, rather than circular, zones. That way you're not reaching over a 600-degree fire to move something off the heat.

Joe Yonan: And think about it this way: We put all those kebabs in one recipe for maximum flexibility, but if you wanted to make just shrimp ones, for instance, it would be be simpler: You'd just follow those instructions.

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Bethesda, Md.: Darn you Food section people, anyhow. Now the price of flatiron steaks we have been enjoying from Giant will soar!!

If you can't grill out, a great way to prepare these is simply to coat both sides liberally in soy sauce and fresh pepper for about an hour and cook in a preheated grill pan on the stove (if a non-stick pan you don't even need grease) for about 6 minutes per side over medium heat for a 1-1/4 steak for medium-rare.

And yes, let stand. As tender as some filets if done right.

Joe Yonan: Or broil them.

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Ithaca, N.Y.: re Ranges: I have had a Viking gas cooktop with 4 burners and a gas grill in the middle in my last two kitchens. I find it is much better to cook on -- the temperature control is excellent. The grill works very well (it gets too cold to grill up here in the winter). Good ventilation is required though. Most of the pieces go into the dishwasher so cleaning is pretty easy.

Bonnie Benwick: Thanks, Ithaca.

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Dupont Circle, D.C.: Boy would I love those tickets! I adore beer and if there is one thing I wish I knew more about, it was how to pair foods with beer. I tend to think of darks as reds and anything ale/lager/pilsner like whites but sometimes the flavor profiles can be startlingly different. For example, what's a good beer for Spaghetti Bolognese? What's the best thing to pair with Asian flavors? What about Indian? I'm surprised no one has started a blog on this yet.

Greg Kitsock: Color isn't always an accurate guide to how hoppy or full-bodied or alcoholic a beer is, and what foods it would pair with. Two excellent books on beer and food are Garrett Oliver's The Brewmaster's Table and The Best of American Beer and Food by Lucy Saunders.

For Indian or spicy Asian cuisine, I like something a little aggressive, like a hoppy pale ale or IPA. A Belgian style witbier also has a way of cutting through heat. A nice German Hefeweizen, with its clovey and fruity flavors, can pair well with the spices in Chinese or Thai cooking, as can a Belgian-style saison. For the spaghetti, a nice pale ale should work, or if you want something a little more adventurous, maybe a Belgian strong ale or triple.

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Barnesville, Md.: Your article on grilling could not have come at a better time. In an effort to buy more food locally, my family just purchased a quarter of a cow -- the front end, from a local farmer. I had to decide how to butcher the cow -- cuts, thickness, etc., and one of the cuts that I chose is the "flat iron", which I'm told is a popular new cut. What exactly is it and is it suitable for the grill? Oh, and by the way, what am I going to do with all this beef?!

Joe Yonan: The flatiron is on our "Grate Finds" chart today. Yes, worth tracking down for the grill. And as for what you'll do with the rest of the beef, maybe you'll find a kindred spirit in this piece Jane wrote last year about the trend. For recipe sources, of course, you'll come to this fantastic resource.

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Silver Spring: Where to find tri-tip? Giant said no, never has them. Whole Foods said special order. Any good butchers around Silver Spring?

Bonnie Benwick: Tony R. says when he was researching his article, he got tri-tip affirmatives from Balducci's on New Mexico Ave. (closing next month), Safeway, Wagshal's and Harris Teeter. Always call ahead.

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Alexandria, Va.: Loved the kabob article, and am very excited to be in front of the grill this weekend. We're having some friends over to entertain -- what might be a fun backyard cocktail to sip in front of the grill on such a beautiful (forecasted) weekend?

David Hagedorn: I say caparainhas (probably misspelled) made with cachaca (Brazilian firewater made from sugarcane), muddled lime and mint, and crushed ice. They are refreshing, easy to drink, and deadly.

Joe Yonan: So unbelievably misspelled. Also, try the Bossa Nova, also using cachaca. That way, no matter what happens, you can blame it on the ...

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Chinatown: The mention of summer comfort food reminds me of a lovely brunch I had recently at Le Pain Quotidien.

A bowl of gazpacho with warm bread and a plate of cheeses. Very filling and relaxing to enjoy. It forces you to take your time to enjoy the simple meal.

Bonnie Benwick: Warm bread at Le Pain Quotidien? I've never been able to get them to warm any for me.

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Silver Spring: Tri-Tip -- Trader Joe's, right on Rte 29!

Avoid the "Santa Maria" pre-seasoned (too salty and mushy), but they have unseasoned ones, too.

Bonnie Benwick: Yay.

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Arlington, VA S: Interesting article about Sam Adams. I hadn't realized they brewed some of their beer at High Falls (Genesee) and I grew up a couple of miles from there! I was underage during that time though, and have never found anything under the Genesee name I really liked except for the discontinued Twelve Horse Ale (and it's probable that my tastes have changed). Some of the contract brews that I'm aware of are decent though.

I found Mr. Koch's comment that the government shouldn't define craft brewing a little off. Certainly they shouldn't for the consumer, but we're talking about the tax code. Not sure why the Brewers Association decided to follow the tax code when creating their definition. Can you give us any insight on this?

One last question -- how will Sam Adams conversion to a macro brewer affect the statistics that are published yearly to show the growth/decline of craft beer in America? Will we see a statistical decline in craft beer drinking next year as a result?

Thank you for your interesting article.

Greg Kitsock: The Brewer Association a few years ago absorbed the Brewers Association of America (BAA), the old trade group representing small regional breweries. I believe the BAA had a 2 million bbl ceiling for membership in their bylaws.

What I fear might happen is that, if and when Boston Beer gets kicked out, the mainstream news might not pay attention to the asterisk in the figures and report a steep decline in craft beer sales.

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Sugar Buzz-22314: I was reading the blog entry about buzzing sugar in the blender which became my aha moment of the day. I have an Irish cookbook that often calls for caster sugar (I looked it up on the Internet and found it to mean fine sugar) which I tend to ignore and use regular sugar since that's what's on hand. But I'm thinking now I should try the sugar in the blender to get closer to the recommended caster sugar. What do you think? And thanks!

Jane Touzalin: Caster/castor (seems to be spelled both ways) sugar is the equivalent of what's sold in the U.S. as superfine sugar. You can usually find superfine at Giant supermarkets, but I haven't had good luck at other stores. Would not be a good idea to try making it in the blender, because it would turn to a gritty powder instead of to the fine granules you want.

Some people advocate making it in the food processor, but very finicky bakers say the result isn't really a good substitute. And if you can get the Domino version from a store close to you, that seems like the better bet.

Joe Yonan: You can order it from King Arthur, and you can often find it in liquor stores, where it's sold as bar sugar.

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Washington, D.C.: How long does clarified butter keep? It would seem difficult to clarify just a little bit of it, but I don't want to waste a whole stick either if I only need a couple of tablespoons.

Bonnie Benwick: D.C., that's why I keep a jar of store-bought ghee in the fridge. If you've done a good job of clarifying your own butter, it ought to keep for at least a month or two. Better to freeze it, where it can last up to 6 months.

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Alexandria, Va.: We had scallops the other night ... well, we didn't eat them, because I thought they tasted really metallic. My husband couldn't taste what I thought was overpowering, though. The scallops were from China, I think the counterperson told my husband, and they released a lot of liquid when he tried to sear them in our cast iron pan. We didn't eat them for fear they had gone bad. Were they spoiled, or was it the pan we cooked them in? It's a very well seasoned pan, no prior troubles... Thanks!

Bonnie Benwick: Most likely they were wet-packed in a solution, but I couldn't rightly say whether they'd gone bad or not. Another reason to eat local!

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Baltimore, Md.: Two tickets to Savor? Well, that's worth blowing off a half-day of work for! Well, maybe not, but the odds are certainly better than playing the lottery. Thank goodness for flex time.

If I can make a stark, naked, self-serving appeal, that date happens to be the 10th anniversary of my meeting the woman that would become my wife five years later, so Savor would be an excellent treat for my wife, since right now we'd be lucky to afford to just park the car for the event, and my wife is a beer snob/geek/connoisseur as well!

So, in hopes of increasing my odds, I'll be tossing Mr. Kitsock a few beer related queries.

First: From your column: "Two million barrels, explains Paul Gatza, director of the Brewers Association, is the ceiling for the small brewers tax differential, passed by Congress in 1976. Eligible brewers pay $7 a barrel on their first 60,000 barrels as opposed to the regular $18-a-barrel fee."

Okay, I can see how this is supposed to benefit the small brew-kettle-in-the-basement brewpub by giving them a tax break. But what, pray tell, is the rationale of that gap between 60,000 and two million? As near as I can tell, that difference amounts to $660,000 a year at Sam Adams' purported production levels. Furthermore, as I recall hearing, each of the Anheuser-Busch/Miller/Coors brewing facilities spread across the country cranked out somewhere on the order of 2-2.5 million barrels each. Somehow, this sounds like something as strange and insidious as the copyright laws purportedly being repeatedly adjusted strictly at the behest of Disney's lobbyists to protect the copyright/trademark on Mickey Mouse. What gives, or am I reading too much into this?

Greg Kitsock: I have no idea how our lawmakers and the beer lobby back in the 1970s came up with these particular figures, but as with all legislation, I imagine there was a lot of give-and-take and compromise involved.

But I do know the tax break has been very helpful to small brewers. Without it, we'd have a lot fewer than the nearly 1,500 independent brewers plying their trade in the United States today. What worries me is that right now both many states and the federal government are considering tax hikes on beer (some quite large) to deal with ballooning deficits. I hope the small brewers tax differential is preserved.

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Alexandria, Va.: The Dinner in 30 Minutes mango chicken curry recipe looks delicious. But I am at a loss to determine why we are asked to remove the center knob of the blender lid and cover the opening with a clean towel while blending the sauce. Also -- are the chicken cubes to be added raw to the sauce to be cooked?

Bonnie Benwick: As I mentioned in an earlier question, the recipe calls for hot stuff to be pureed in a blender. There's enough of this heated mixture to make it shoot out of the top, or even enough steam to maybe dislodge the center knob and make it pop off. The chicken cubes are added raw, yes. They cook through in that amount of time.

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Arlington, Va.: Your wine column today recommends 8 wines, all of which are too expensive for 95% of your readers, with prices ranging form $30 to $180. I understand, just like the car column has to review Rolls and Mercedes once in a while to keep things interesting, but when will your wine column review a selection of under $15 wines commonly available at Giant, Safeway or Trader Joe's? Isn't the Post's budget for buying wine for you to sample getting a little thin these days?

Joe Yonan: Those were wines available at a charitable event, so their pricing was higher than usual. I was waiting for this reaction, since people don't seem to be able to remember wine recommendations from one week to the next. Dave McIntyre has been recommending MANY wines under $20 and even $15, and will keep it up, don't worry.

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Downtown, D.C.: Thanks, as always, for a great chat and a great Food section. In one of this month's cooking magazines there is a piece on grilling and burgers and a chef is quoted as saying that he/she (I can't remember which) always dips a burger in water before putting it on the grill. Have you ever heard of this or tried it?

Bonnie Benwick: I saw that, recommended by chef Laurent Tourondel (BLT Steak), right? I've never tried it but he certainly knows what to do with beef. Chatters?

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Arlington, Va.: Wegman's and the Organic Butcher have tri tip.

Bonnie Benwick: Far for the Silver Spring crowd, but good to know!

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Baltimore, Md.: Re: the corn/rice argument: sorry, but if you're going to go all "Reinheitsgebot" on us, you not only "kill off" Lord Chesterfield Ale, but also such stuff as Troeg's Mad Elf (honey and cherries), Hitachino Red Rice Ale, a variety of rye-tinged ales, and even Dogfish Head's Liquor de Malt (made with red, white, and blue corns and bottled in 40-ounce bottles with paper bags). But then lies the problem of craft-versus-industrial beer being a matter of "I know it when I see it" just like art-versus-pornography.

Greg Kitsock: I respect brewers who attempt to eliminate adjuncts and preservatives and the like, but I agree: the Reinheitsgebot (German "purity law") is a double-edged sword. The lack of a Reinheitsgebot in America has resulted in much more creativity among our brewers.

One possible way of deciding whether it's craft or not: is the ingredient added to enhance the flavor or lighten the flavor?

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Normally a Fan, but...: The article on kebabs today made it seem WAY more complicated than it actually is. We make kebabs about once a week in the summer, and I think it is a very simple thing to make. Paired with some rice or couscous, it is an easy meal. I chop and skewer all my veggies and meat in the morning (usually red, yellow, orange peppers, zucchini, summer squash, mushrooms, onion, cherry tomatoes and meat) and let them sit in a 13x9 pan of marinade (meat goes in a separate pan) all day in the fridge, then throw them on the grill at night. Prep time of about 20 minutes and cook time of about the same.

David Hagedorn: That's okay for red meat, but chicken and fish cannot marinate all day long; they just can't. The recipe was comprehensive, explaining how to prepare many different items so people would have options.

My recipe doesn't differ so much from yours, by the way. When you have to explain everything scrupulously, that two sentence recipe you just gave all of a sudden becomes six paragraphs. Cherry tomatoes don't need as long to cook as onions in my book.

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North Potomac, Md.: I've got N.Y. Strip steaks on tap for tonight and no marinade ready. I want some good flavor, but won't have the time to let the steaks soak anything up. Any suggestions?

Tony Rosenfeld: I'd still drop the steaks in on one of these marinades. But instead of refrigerating the meat with the marinade, leave it out at room temperature for about 1 hour, flipping every so often. At warmer temps, the meat is more likely to take on the marinade's flavors and it's ok if the steaks are going right on the grill thereafter.

You could also coat the meat with a mild herb rub: minced garlic or chopped shallots, olive oil, and chopped fresh thyme or rosemary.

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Hummus/Tahini?: I'm confused by the recipe given in the article for what is labeled as "a jazzed-up version of tahini sauce, made simple by using store-bought hummus."

That is not a "jazzed-up" version of tahini, it's a "jazzed-up" version of hummus.

Tahini (more properly tahina) is sesame paste that can be served as a sauce when cut with water, salt and lemon juice. However, it is also a main component of "hummus bi-tahina," what we commonly call hummus.

Thus, the recipe given is just a hummus recipe with a bit of extra garlic and some parsley (a common hummus ingredient in the Levant). It is not a "tahini sauce."

Additionally, I'm not sure why anybody would want to use store-bought hummus when making your own is so quick and easy, at least as easy as this recipe is. Chickpeas + tahina + salt + olive oil + garlic + lemon juice, all in a food processor and you have hummus.

David Hagedorn: So according to your recipe, hummus is jazzed up tahini. Hmmm...

The reason someone would use store-bought hummus is because it is quickER and easiER than making your own hummus first.

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kebabs: in kebab article, you suggest one vegetable or protein per skewer. Do you mean, one skewer with just beef, one with just chicken, one with just onions... or do you mean mix only one type of veggie and one type of meat per skewer?

David Hagedorn: The former.

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ghee in the fridge?: Just a note to show how long clarified butter can keep: When I used to go on two-month-long canoe trips in the Canadian wilderness we'd clarify our own butter and then carry it with us the whole trip. No refrigeration and it doesn't go bad. You don't even need to refrigerate it. Especially if you pick up ghee in a jar from an Indian/Pakistani store, you can keep it in the cupboard.

Bonnie Benwick: Wasn't it nice and cool in the Canadian wilderness? You should refrigerate the ghee once it's been opened.

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NoLo, DC: The other night I used some farmer's market asparagus to make a vegetarian pasta sauce with goat cheese and lemon. Unfortunately, it was way too acidic, and though still tasty enough to eat for dinner, it would have been nice to cut that acidity.

Any thoughts on how you might have done that?

Tony Rosenfeld: Fat, whether in the form of the goat cheese, butter, oil, or some other cheese, is the best way to balance out acid. Most salad vinaigrettes work by a 3 to 1 ratio of fat (generally olive oil) to acid (vinegar or citrus). You can follow that rule of thumb to help you adjust your flavorings, and in this case, you'll probably want your pasta to be a good deal less acidic than a salad.

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Sirloin cuts of meat -- how to marinate and cook: What's the best way to marinate sirloin cuts of meat to get them to be tender? I tried the salad dressing (oil/vinegar based) with fresh garlic and onions in a Ziploc bag overnight, but the steak is just not getting tender enough. Could it be the way I'm cooking them (i.e. on a George grill)? Do I need to add butter and cook in a frying pan?

Help!

Tony Rosenfeld: Unfortunately, what we've been learning over the last couple of years is that marinades really don't do much in the way of tenderizing (though they do add plenty of flavor). The marinade is only able to penetrate about 1/8 inch into the meat leaving the majority of the cut still tough. See the link below for a more thorough explanation of the science behind this.

I'd suggest trying a different cut, like the chuck eye, to give you a more tender steak.

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Burke, Va.: Should the U.S. pass legislation similar to rheinheitsgebot to differentiate between mass produced and craft beers? That certainly would keep the large brewers out of the game if they could only use the four major ingredients and isolated facilities.

Greg Kitsock: No, I don't think the government should get into the business of telling brewers how to make beer, outside of making sure they don't use anything harmful. But maybe they should pass a law requiring complete disclosure of all ingredients. Some brewers, like Rogue Ales, are already very open in this regard.

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Joe Yonan: And here's that link we promised to Andreas's piece on marinades.

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Arlington, Va.: Mr. Kitsock: I hear a lot in beer circles about the increasing price of hops changing the way some hoppier beer is made or driving up the price of a six-pack. But I wonder exactly how much do hops cost, and how much is that relative to the retail price of beer? You're the only person I could think of who is also up at night wondering...

Greg Kitsock: I don't know the current prices, but I do know that they've come down somewhat since the hop shortage of last year, when some scarce varieties were briefly commanding prices of $20 or more a pound.

The trick now is to stabilize prices so we don't head in the opposite direction where there is a glut of hops and the farmer isn't being paid enough for his efforts.

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Joe Yonan: Well, you've let us rest for 5 to 10 minutes, and then cut us into thin slices against the grain, so you know what that means -- we're done!

Thanks for all the great questions today, everyone. We typed as fast as we could, but couldn't get to nearly all of them, even with such good help in the chatroom today. Thanks Tony, Greg and David for advice on beef, beer and kebabs, among other things. Now you can get your grill on this weekend.

All right, the moment we've been waiting for -- the giveaways. The chatter who is celebrating an anniversary with his fellow-beer-geek wife will get two tickets to Savor. Have a great time! As for the books, the Alexandria chatter who just bought a new house gets "Mastering the Grill Deck." The chatter who had the tip for rubbing anchovy paste on a steak gets "Morton's the Cookbook." And the chatter who wants to start blogging will get "Hot Dog: A Global History."

Send you mailing information to food@washpost.com, and we'll get you your books and tix.

Until next week, happy sipping, grilling, eating and reading.

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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.


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