What's Cooking

Kim O'Donnel
Special to washingtonpost.com
Tuesday, April 18, 2006; 12:00 PM

Calling all foodies! Join us for another edition of What's Cooking , our live online culinary hour with Kim O'Donnel .

A graduate of the Institute of Culinary Education (formerly known as Peter Kump's New York Cooking School), Kim spends much of her time in front of the stove or with her nose in a cookbook.

Catch up on previous transcripts with the What's Cooking archive page.


Kim O'Donnel: I'm an avid reader, but lately I've been extra bookish. There's so much to devour, I can't help myself. I'm in the middle of "The Sex Life of Food" by Bunny Crumpacker, which explores our various relationships with food. The title doesn't really deliver, but it's interesting fodder. I was gifted this weekend with a copy of "My Life in France" by Julia Child with Alex Prud'homme, and I can't wait to dive into this piece of La Grande Dame's life that she worked on until her death in August 2004. There's extra reason to have Caribbean on the brain. Within the same week, I got my hands on "Lucinda's Authentic Jamaican Kitchen" by Lucinda Scala Quinn, a cute little new title that covers lots of the home-style basics of Jamaican cooking, then got wind of the May issue of Bon Appetit which is probably one of the magazine's best spreads in years, chockful of nibbles and sips from around the Caribbean. So much good books to eat, I'm telling you. Had a nice boost of inspiration and whipped up a meal that turned into a good working example of the beautiful marriage between acid and fat. First, a roast chicken, with skin removed (mostly). A few incisions made on both sides, with a healthy squeeze of lemon and a good rubdown of salt, pepper and paprika. Stuffed inside with thyme. Roasted her, then made a salad of frisee, with lardons of bacon and a vinaigrette of more lemon, shallot, olive oil, salt. Boiled fingerlings got some of that vinaigrette as well. Fat of bacon loved the acid of the lemon and the bitterness of the greens...Shmaltzy chicken loved dose of lemon and the crunch of the salad. Good stuff. Tell me what you've been up to....


El Paso, Tex.: Sup Kim ... Greetings from the Sun City! I'm a 24-year-old male that really enjoys to cook. I'm not just talking BBQ'ing or grilling. I bake and get my hands very dirty in the kitchen. My girlfriend's favorite dish is Spaghetti with Meatsauce, but it's the one thing I can't seem to master. She likes it but I've told her the flavor of the sauce isn't very robust. I use canned whole tomatoes, red pepper flakes, onions, garlic, carrots, Italian sausage, S and P, dry oregano, and dry basil. I usually let it cook for about an hour and 30 minutes. It still tastes bland to me. I would like the flavor of the sauce to be robust and smack my tongue around. Is it because I don't use wine? I don't use wine in the sauce, because I'm not sure what would work and I'm not a big wine drinker. Do you or anyone out there have any suggestions of have to give my sauce more flavor? Much love Kim ... I enjoy the chats.

Kim O'Donnel: Dude, we must talk. If you want to make the lady happy, hear me out. It sounds like you've got most of the fixins' for super sauce, but I think a few tweaks would be helpful here. Instead of sausage, try some ground meat -- a combo of beef and pork is nice. Brown it in a small amount of oil, season with salt and pepper, remove from the pot. And yes, use a little bit of red wine, it does add a lot of flavor. Buy yourself a 7 or 8-dollar bottle of Chianti and tell your pal at the wine store you want a husky bottle of Italian red under 10 bucks. Okay, so pour some of that husky red into your pot and start scraping with your wooden spoon like crazy to loosen up the bits of meat that are motherlodes of flavor. Now, add the onion, carrots, garlic, and stir. You may even need a little bit of oil, that's fine. Now add the tomatoes, oregano, etc. Add some more wine, about 8 ounces. Let it all come up to a boil, then reduce heat and let simmer. Return meat to pot. Before serving, taste for salt and pepper. You will have a very zesty sauce and a girl friend that loves you forever. Promise.


I want my baby back ... RIBS!: Hi Kim! I slathered up a rack of pork ribs w/BBQ sauce this morning so they could marinate all day in the fridge while I'm at work. But how do I cook 'em tonight when I get home? I don't have a grill, so the oven is it. Do I broil these bad boys? How far from the broiler? Or bake 'em? What temp? For how long? How will I know when they are done? This is my first time and I'm excited and don't want to make a mistake.

Kim O'Donnel: Okay baby, what you wanna do is cook these on fairly low heat -- no higher than 300. Ribs need to be coaxed into tenderness; if you cook them on broil or at high temp, you're basically electrocuting them. This will take about 1 1/2 or 2 hours. Keep yourself entertained in meantime or make your sides, like cornbread or potater salad. Ribs are done when they pull away from the bone nice and easy. You'll see. Enjoy!


Washington, D.C.: Like your chats, just wanted to tell the readers that like ethnic food that there are several new venues on 9th Street that not only have carryout food, but also deliver. I think it's the best new area for Ethiopian.

Kim O'Donnel: Thanks, I've got this 'hood on my list. There are so many places to uncover, so little time. Just this past week, I finally made my way over to Takoma where I had my maiden voyage at Caribbean Market (7505 New Hampshire Ave). What a treat; I felt like I was back in the West Indies. Great authentic selection of goodies and a fun carry-out counter of lunch vittles.


Upstate, N.Y.: Hiya, Kim. I just had to tell you about the turkey breast I made this weekend and how delicious it was. I used your adaptation of the Alice Waters brine with the veggies and whole spices in it. My own small variation was to use szechuan peppercorns instead of regular peppercorns in it. Then I cooked it with indirect heat on the grill for 2 hours and used smoking chips I got from the Jack Daniels distillery. They're made from the charcoal that the whiskey is put over for mellowing. It smelled absolutely wonderful while it was cooking, and tasted even better. Nice and juicy, too, because of the brine. Thanks for the inspiration!

Kim O'Donnel: Nice going, dear. Sounds great. I like how you improvised, that's the spirit. The smoking chips sound heavenly, too. Speaking of spirits of the whiskey order, I was reading a recipe for a bourbon milkshake that sounded intriguing.


Egg help, please!: Can you explain a good technique to make an omelette? I seem to be able to make only scrambled eggs or flat disks. Also, what goes into the "base"? Just beaten eggs? Milk? Thanks!

Kim O'Donnel: Have you got yourself a fairly shallow skillet, dear? That is key. You can even treat yourself to an 'omelet pan.' Temperature is also a factor; low heat is the key to tender texture and transformation from liquid to solid. A rubber spatula or turner, too. You need to let eggs settle in, over that low heat, and gradually start to coax the edges with your spatula. As liquid starts to dissapear, that's when you can add your filling. But don't load it up, as you'll never be able to flip it at all. Try one with herbs and cheese only for starters. That's an easy one to coax to half flip. A little wrist action plus the gentle prodding of the rubber spatula will help you get there.


Washington, D.C.: Hi Kim,

I would like to make cornbread from scratch. However it seems like every recipe calls for using milk. I don't want to use any kind of milk or cream. Would plain soy milk work in this? I'm not quite sure when, or if, soy milk is an appropriate substitute in cooking. Thanks.

Kim O'Donnel: Soy milk has proven to be a great sub in batters. I use it a lot when making pancakes. Many cornbread recipes call for buttermilk, though,and by subbing soy milk, you'll lose a bit of that tangy flavor. I need to look for you this week to see if I've got a recipe that is dairy free. Will keep you posted.


Indiana: My son will be graduating from college next month, and I want to buy him a good basic cookbook. Picture instructions, clear directions, that sort of thing. No, I didn't wait til now to teach him to cook, and yes, while he has been away he has been calling for favorite family recipes, that sort of thing, but I want his basic kitchen to include a resource where he doesn't 'have' to call mom to find out how to do something. (Wait, maybe that's 'not' such a good idea.) Anyway, what suggestions do you have?

Kim O'Donnel: Hey Mom, first I want to say you're tops in my book giving the kid the resources to try his hand in the kitchen. If we all could cook, even just a little bit, we'd be much happier, more open-hearted people. For pictures, I might go the Good Housekeeping route. They've got lots of basic books just as you describe. I also would suggest "Now You're Cooking" by Elaine Corn which reads more like a book yet still has some diagrams...focus on building blocks, which I like. I also think there's a fun book out there called "The Dude Cookbook" which would be a fun addition to your package...


Alexandria, Va.: Hi Kim.

I've been eating a lot of salmon lately -- everything from salmon cakes to filets, mostly Atlantic. Is there really a difference in health benefits between farm-raised and wild salmon and if so, what are the differences? Thanks!

Kim O'Donnel: Alexandria, there's been a lot written about farm-raised salmon, including the high level of PCBs due to the feed given to fish as well as the conditions of the salmon farms themselves. Farm-raised salmon are also dyed to mimic the pink of wild salmon, othewise you'd be eating gray-colored fish. They're also known to be 'fattier' than wild salmon and perhaps not of the good, HDL fat that is so abundant in wild salmon. That said, it doesn't mean you should give it up entirely, but perhaps limit your intake and consider the wild salmon more frequently. The problem is that wild salmon is much more costly. I hope to have an update for you on salmon and other sustainable fish issues after attending a conference next month in Monterey.


Re: Ribs in the oven: Bring those ribs to room temp before you start them.

300 deg. is higher than any pit master uses (granted the techniques are different).

I'd recommend 225 to 250 (checked with a thermometer) until they're 160 on the inside (It may take a while -- but that's the rib conundrum).

Kim O'Donnel: Yes, you're right, but during the week, it may be hard to roast up those ribs at such a low temp. I agree with you though; the lower the temp, the better the ribs.


Greenbelt, Md.: Any suggestions on how to use up lots of fresh oregano -- garden overload already! I really don't care for it in chimichurri (prefer cilantro and parsley) and I can't imagine liking it in a pesto either. Any other suggestions?

Kim O'Donnel: Whip up a batch of marinara sauce...black beans really like oregano, as does a whole roasted fish...


Herndon, Va.: To the mom who wants to give her son a cookbook, why not include one of your own? I have become the keeper of recipes in my family and I pass them out to loved ones by printing them on nice paper and either adding to a 3 ring binder or -- when I want to get really fancy -- attach to scrap book pages. Paper Direct ( Paper Direct ) has some great food-themed papers that are great for this. It's a great way to pass on family traditions and it sounds like her son loves these recipes.

Kim O'Donnel: Really nice idea, Herndon, and a great way to pass on the culinary love.


HoCo, Md.: Help please. I have a rice dish that calls for adding dried mushrooms that have soaked in 1 cup water. I'm making this for some peeps who are not friends of the mushroom. My question is ... how much more cooking liquid should I add to make up for not having the soaked 'shrooms and their juice?

Kim O'Donnel: Use 1 cup of stock, veggie or otherwise. No extra, the same amount to sub. You'll be fine...


New York, N.Y.: Speaking of chickens, over the weekend a local market had a sale on chickens. I bought four 3 1/2 pounders for $4.00.

Last night I took the backbone out of one, and mixed some olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper and the juice of one lemon and mixed 'em together, and poured over the chicken. I than cut up a potato very thin and placed it under the chicken, in a roasting pan.

I then roasted it for 55 minutes -- 500 degrees and it's great. Dark crispy skin, but the inside was moist and juice.

This experiment turned into a keeper.

Kim O'Donnel: Good for you, New York. It's really amazing how quickly chicken cooks without the extra layer of fat or the major bones. Nice going.


Soy "buttermilk": I have a recipe that says to just add a little lemon juice to the soy milk for a faux buttermilk taste.

Kim O'Donnel: Excellent idea and I'm sure this will give the twang that cornbread will need.


Chickens: Kim, I need your help!

If you had a freezer full of chickens (raised on our farm, free range) -- I'm talking like 50 of them, with new chicks this spring -- and still had sweet potatoes and butternut squash and potatoes from last year's harvest, with hubby wanting to plant all the same again, what would you cook for supper? I'm not very good at cutting up a chicken into discernable pieces, so fried chicken is out. My family is getting tired of chicken cooked in the pressure cooker and then shredded and made into casseroles.

Kim O'Donnel: Check out the idea I had earlier in the hour as well as the idea shared by another reader...both variations on the whole bird.


Washington, D.C.: Hi Kim -- I love steamed Chinese dumplings, and would really like to try cooking them. I have a very tasty filling recipe using ground pork, but the recipe uses premade wonton wrappers. My dumpling preference has a thick, doughy wrapper, not like skimpy wontons. Do you have any suggestions, or know of a good reference source to make this type of dumpling? Thanks!

Kim O'Donnel: First place I would check is "The Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen" by Grace Young, and lo and behold, she's got a doughy recipe for pot stickers. If you like cooking Chinese, this may be a reference you should have in your pantry; Young is a certifiable expert.


Re: Indiana: My mom gave me and my brother each a recipe book for Christmas a few yearrs ago. She put all our family recipes, treats and neighborhood favorites from close friends in there ... even stuff she knew we didn't like, jus so that it'd all be in one place. I'm a vegetarian and even with many of he recipes containing meat I still appreciated the thought -- and the fact that a bit of our family history was all in one spot ... it's even better than the best cookbook out there!

Kim O'Donnel: Thanks for adding to this thread...the more I think about it, the more I like this idea...


Fruit salsa: hi Kim,

I love mangos. Lately I've been making mango salsa to snack on with chips for a quick munchie. Champagne mangos work great!

Problem is, my sister hates mangos. She'll pick at the salsa as there are lots of other things in it, but steers clear of any mango chunks.

Any other fruits you can suggest to make a good salsa? I want to keep the sweet/savory flavor thing going. Would do peaches but it's still too early and they didn't look so great at the market.

Kim O'Donnel: I've never known anyone to hate a mango, amazing. Pineapple is a good second best for salsa, as is papaya.


Basic cookbooks: I have a few cookbooks that I think of as "go to" when I want to know how to make something the "right" way (then diverge at will!).

Mark Bittman's "How to cook everything"

The ever reliable Better Homes and Garden's Cookbook

The Thrill of the Grill (you name the meat or fish, and it tells you what to do besides char!)

Anything by Barefoot Contessa for high fat, high taste party food!

Kim O'Donnel: Thanks, most helpful for Mom's gift...


For Indiana Mom: My favorite basics cookbook is "The Way to Cook" by Julia Child. It has lots of pictures to illustrate clear instructions and covers a wide variety of foods. You could also include another book on his favorite type of foods -- pasta or grilling or whatever. And I love the idea of making a copy of some of your family favorite recipes.

Kim O'Donnel: Another goodies...


For Oregano: What about homemade Greek salad dressing. Or throw some chopped oregano in some orzo pasta with some feta, onions, and lemon juice.

Kim O'Donnel: Greek salad dressing...or yes, plain feta with oregano and lemon sounds fab...


Omelette Help: Kim, my mom makes super ones by putting a cookie sheet over the skillet to 'steam' the eggs into setting through a little more before flipping. But you don't want 'em too set because then they'll crack during the flip.

Kim O'Donnel: Very nice tidbit, and I can visualize it working like a charm.


Mt. Rainier, Md.: Does anyone know of restaurant supply or hardware store that does high quality knife sharpening by hand? I was appalled to discover that a certain high-end consumer kitchen store that advertises knife sharpening simply runs them through an electric knife sharpener.

Kim O'Donnel: Call La Cuisine in Alexandria. It's a small independently owned store, and they'll be straight with you. Other ideas for this reader?


Washington, D.C.: For the salmon inquiry, just fyi: canned salmon is wild salmon and is usually less expensive to purchase than the fresh salmon. I have purchased cans of wild salmon for less than a dollar per can. I have used this in salads and making salmon cakes.

Kim O'Donnel: Excellent point. Thanks for chiming in.


The Dude Cookbook: Sounds fun, but the closest I could come is "Dude Food : Recipes for the Modern Guy

by Reed Darmon, et al". Is that it? I looked at Google, Barns and Noble and Amazon.com.

Kim O'Donnel: Yes! I believe that's it.


Alexandria, Va.: Speaking of dairy free ... Kim, I discovered last year that cheese and milk don't agree with me. It's been okay cutting out the milk/cream from my diet but losing the cheese has been TOUGH. I've tried a few different soy cheeses but they tasted terrible. Any advice on a good substitute? Had to eat chicken parm last night without the parm ... it was sad.

Kim O'Donnel: I have a chef friend who developed a dairy intolerance in the past five years or so. Imagine not being able to taste cheese dishes offered on her menu. In dishes with pasta, I might try bread crumbs instead of sprinkled parm. Silken tofu can mimic ricotta in some instances, particularly in lasagna. But short of trying to make do, it might be time to explore cuisines in which cheese plays very little part, know what I'm saying?


Mango Salsa: Please -- Salsa eater, tell us what's in your yummy salsa! Sounds delish.

Kim O'Donnel: Please share. If reader doesn't get back in time, you can do red onion, cilantro, chiles, lime...


Falls Church, Va.: Hello Kim,

I'm hoping you can help me. Every time I try to make a batter with eggs, milk, and flour, I end up with pockets of flour that refuse to blend with the other ingredients. Suggestions?


Kim O'Donnel: Hmm. Are you using a whisk? How old is the flour? And you know that you shouldn't try to get rid of ALL the flour nibs, right? Most, but not all. Tell me what you're trying to make.


Re: basic cookbooks: My standard is Betty Crocker which may not be as comprehensive as something like Joy of Cooking, but does well in the way of illustrations and whatnot. Covers basics without getting fussy.

It's my mother's standard as well and I even hunted down the exact 1970s edition she uses. Gave copies to each of my sisters one year for Christmas so we can all mimic mom. So if that mom has a go-to-book she herself relies upon, she should give a copy of that book to her son.

Kim O'Donnel: Thanks. I'm glad it's still out there with all its pics. Another pic-oriented book is the compilations by Cook's Illustrated magazine.


Washington, D.C.: I thought that the egg was supposed to sizzle once it hit the pan, then you could reduce the heat to let the egg cook. I love making omelettes and always use my heat proof spatula to fold. Then tilt the pan so the uncooked egg comes to them seam and seals the omelette. Flipping in the air takes practice but it's a lot of fun.

Kim O'Donnel: Yep, you sure do need some heat when egg first hits the pan, then you should reduce heat pronto to allow proteins to relax.


Rockville, Md.: Easter dinner was a delicious boneless leg of lamb marinated and grilled. The family gets smaller but the leg of lamb doesn't. Do you have some suggestions for healthy dishes using the leftovers?

Kim O'Donnel: Make some yogurt sauce with dill and cuke and pop all of it into a pita...Whip up some herby green sauce in blender and serve all with some rice pilaf...other thoughts?


Maryland: We had Indian over the weekend. I made Tandoori Chicken breasts on the grill with Basmati Rice infused with tumeric, some cloves, 3 bay leaves and a stick of cinnamon. I also made my FaVORITE ... a sour chick pea salad, which starts off cooking onions, tomatoes, garam masala, coriander, cumin, red pepper and after it's done mixing with fresh lemon juice, hot chili pepper, fresh grated ginger. It was divine. Served it with frozen NAAN I found at Trader Joe's which was a wonderful discovery!

Kim O'Donnel: Nice going, dear. And frozen naan that's tasty? Interesting. I must have a looksee...


Knife sharpening: Pretty sure Sur La Table is doing free knife sharpening this month.

Kim O'Donnel: Yeah, but does SLT do it by hand? That's the challenge posed by the reader...thanks for chiming in.


Dairy free again ...: Thanks for the suggestions. You are correct in saying I should just learn to deal -- and I have! Just miss it so much. I may try that silken tofu idea out in a lasagna ...

Kim O'Donnel: Not trying to be a tough guy...and I would be sad too if I had to completely give up cheese. My cholesterol doesn't like it, so I really should eat less, and it's such a challenge. Does goat cheese affect you the same way as well?


Atlanta, Ga.: Hi Kim,

Absolutely love your column -- it's the only thing that's gotten me through the dull days of studying during my last semester of law school. On that topic, my sweet boyfriend and I are both about to finish up law school and I wanted to make him a celebratory "Wow, we're really graduating" meal. That said, I've got exam studying to do and therefore not a whole lot of time to coook or ingredient shop. Any ideas on a quick but yummy meal that would make for a memorable romantic date at home?

Kim O'Donnel: Thanks for kind words, Atlanta. See what you think of the meal I threw together in two hours that felt really special -- the one described at top of hour. I made it for my sweetie and he loved it. If you'd like to do dessert, holler. I've got a recipe for a rhubarb fool that takes about 1/2 hour to make.


Kim O'Donnel: Well, time to run. Enjoy the inspiring weather we're having and please eat those vegetables. By the way, farm markets opening one by one. Support your local farms! See ya.


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