This is an excerpt from Craig LaBan's online chat.

Craig: I did a fair bit of casserole-dish cooking these last couple of weeks, including one of my favorite dishes for leftover brisket: shepherd's pie. All I do is crumble about 1-2 pounds of leftover brisket into a sauté pan with carrots, parsnips, leeks, peas, and garlic. Add half a can of tomato paste, a cup of white wine (or more, just to moisten), then layer into a casserole pan below some fresh mashed potatoes (about 2 pounds worth), and broil. Isn't she gorgeous cooking in the oven?

Reader: I have a beef with Federal Donuts. I'm getting really tired of arriving at 11:03 a.m. and being denied hot doughnuts. If it's really a doughnut shop, offer hot doughnuts all day - even if it means getting another fryer. The fancy doughnuts really aren't anything that special. Chicken is great, though.

C.L.: Fed Nuts has taken some heat on this chat for not having enough in stock, running out of both doughnuts and chicken too quickly. But I just went there a couple weeks ago, and they had plenty in stock of both birds and "fancy" doughnuts. It's a good thing, 'cause I'd brought along an esteemed out-of-town guest, Ed Levine, the noted food author and head honcho of Serious Eats. We scarfed down pretty much every flavor of chicken and doughnuts, and the verdict was a serious endorsement from the Web's "Serious Eater." "Now that's great chicken," he said. "Book-worthy chicken." Ed, of course, was referring to the new Serious Eats book, which, naturally, didn't include Fed Nuts ... in this edition, at least.

As for the doughnuts, I happened to agree with Ed's summation: "They're cheffy, but not stupid." The flavors of virtually all of them were focused and true. The most interesting? The pomegranate glazed doughnuts filled with sweetened tahini and Nutella. "Better than Doughnut Vault," pronounced Levine, who has sampled the Chicago cult doughnut shop firsthand.

Reader: Is it just me or does every small restaurant in the city have either grouper or red snapper as their "whole fish of the day"? I swear I would fall off my chair if someone served something any different.

C.L.: That's odd. Red snapper is an old standby - and a good one - in the whole-fish department at local restaurants. But grouper - usually a huge fish - is most often served as a fillet. I haven't seen any whole groupers lately, but that could just be we're eating in different places. Most unusual whole fish I've been offered lately is a wonderful turbot (for two) at Roberto Cafe. If you see turbot - get it. It's like Dover sole's plumper, swaggering cousin.

Reader: I want to take my fiance out for his birthday, without our 1-year-old, but it seems like all the great restaurants are downtown. We live in West Oak Lane. Any suggestions so we can stay close to home?

C.L.: I don't know how adventurous you and your fiances are, but the best restaurants up there are Korean. And what could be more festive than a big table of marinated short ribs ready to throw on a tabletop charcoal grill? I'd suggest either Every Day Good House (at Front and Olney) or Kim's, the classic bbq-in-a-diner, at 5955 N. Fifth St.

Reader: Any plans to go back to Khyber Pass Pub for their new brunch service? I was there this weekend, and completely blown away by the offerings.

C.L.: That is a great idea for our next brunch. Haven't seen the menu, but few cities do brunch with as much class as New Orleans, so the Khyber is our next best thing.

I have a trip to Sonoma (for my annual wine-judging foray) following New Year's, so I won't be back in the chat bird's seat until Tuesday, Jan. 10. I hope to have many tasty things to relay.