What's Cooking With Kim O'Donnel

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Kim O'Donnel
Special to washingtonpost.com
Tuesday, December 19, 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.

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Kim O'Donnel: Seasoned greetings, y'all. How's everybody doing? Me, I just polished off a few slightly stale jelly doughnuts that I made yesterday and trying to keep exercise as part of the maddening routine. Today is my final chat for 2006, so I'll push out a few thoughts and queries: What's your own personal culinary highlight this year? Also,m I'll take any last-minute blog requests. Need something answered or tackled? Lemme know: (kim.odonnel@washingtonpost.com) and I'll try to dispatch something in the blog space before the long holiday weekend. And now, it's all about you...

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Travel meals: Kim, we are flying to family for Christmas, and need to take food on the flight. Can you suggest something that is not too messy, is easy to carry, and can go unrefrigerated for at least five hours?

Thanks.

Kim O'Donnel: With all the inflight liquid/gel restrictions these days, I'd stay away from yogurt and anything dip-like, for fear of having it confiscated. That said, I'd carry some apples, clementines, dried fruit, nuts, a favorite sandwich, and if you're feeling decadent, a little smoked fish and crackers.

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Warrenton, Va.: I have a number of receipes that call for "heavy cream." Can't find anything in Giant, Safeway or Whole Foods labeled "heavy cream"... I asked the dairy managers in each store and they didn't have a clue to what it is. Is that the same as heavy whipping cream? Help!!

Kim O'Donnel: Yes. In fact, I'm looking straight in the face of a pint container of Organic Valley heavy whipping cream that I picked up this weekend at Whole Foods. Now you can teach those dairy managers a thing or two...

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White Fruitcake: Hi Kim, I wrote in last week looking for candied citron for the white fruitcake recipe I was working on. I couldnt find it in any of the stores around here, but found an online source that came through BIG TIME -- so I wanted to give them a big thanks! The people at Barry Farm in Ohio were super helpful. When I explained that I needed the fruit ASAP, she said she would pull everything and get it out that afternoon, and it arrived right on time for my baking day. And everything was perfect. Check them out at: Barry Farm Foods

The cake ended up being a Tropical Fruitcake with the candied citron, plus orange, and pineapple, and dried mango, papaya, and golden raisins. I threw in a few handfuls of chopped almonds for a little crunch, but kept it pretty light and more cake-y than fruit-y.

Kim O'Donnel: Nice going. When do you plan to roll out this masterpiece? And are you feeding it with booze every so often? Curious minds want to know.

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Alexandria, Va.: For Christmas, my sister sent me nine pounds of "hot and spicy" sausage from Conecuh County, Ala. This is a LOT of sausage for a single girl that eats meat about once a week. I was thinking of making a spicy jambalaya for a Super Bowl party -- any ideas for the other seven pounds!

Kim O'Donnel: That's probably I'd end up doing myself, dear. What about a sausage-and-biscuits number? Mixing with beans and rice? Throwing into a tortilla, with a scrambled egg?

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Washington, D.C.: Re: your donut recipe

In the ingredients, you say:

1 1 /2 tablespoons unsalted butter (Margarine for Kosher; I may also try soy shortening here)

Butter can be kosher, and since the recipe also calls for milk, these are dairy donuts, so butter would just be another reason why these are dairy. If you were using margarine to make them parve (not dairy) then you'd have to replace the milk as well.

Kim O'Donnel: You are absolutely right. I was trying to make sure I had all my bases covered. Thanks for the sharp eye.

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Pecan pie: How long do you think a pecan pie would keep? Hoping I can make it Wednesday for a party on Saturday, but I don't want to make people sick or anything. I'm hoping the copious amounts of sugar help it keep for a little while (in the fridge, of course). Or should I freeze it and thaw it out on Saturday?

Kim O'Donnel: I've never frozen a pecan pie. Anyone care to weigh in on this nutty matter?

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Kalorama, Washington, D.C.: Hi Kim -- I need help on roasting chicken. I have tried everything (brining, butterflying, high heat, compound butter) and my chickens still end up being kinda bland. The brining definitely helps the texture but not the flavor as much as I'd like. In my most recent exploit, I brined a chicken, butterflied it, smeared a mix of mustard, olive oil, cracked pepper and coriander seeds under the skin and roasted at 450. It cooked beautifully and the skin was nice and crisp, but the chicken underneath was still blah.

Really, I want my roast chicken to taste like rotisserie chicken -- moist and chickeny! Any tips?

Kim O'Donnel: Brining a chicken, in my opinion, is not worth the work. I also am a advocate of "naked" whole chicken -- meaning no skin, which cuts down on fat and cooking time. Plus, it gives you an opportunity to make a spice rub (with at least 1 teaspoon salt) to rub into the nooks and crannies of the entire bird.

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Washington, D.C.: I am organizing a Burns Supper and I need to locate a butcher who could supply haggis in the D.C. area. Do you have any ideas?

Kim O'Donnel: Good question. Anyone with literary haggis thoughts?

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St. Paul, Minn.: I'd like to serve mimosas at our family's Christmas Eve brunch. What's the ratio of OJ to champagne? Will any champagne do? May I serve them in juice glasses (it will be a very casual brunch)?

Kim O'Donnel: St. Paul, if you don't have champagne flutes, don't stress it, but the taller the glass, the more room the bubbly has to bubble. If you want to do something domestic, consider Gruet, a sparkling wine from New Mexico that's relatively inexpensive. Earlier this year at a family brunch, the husband of a friend made mimosas in a pitcher, and then poured into glassees, which I think is a whole lot easier than doing them individually.

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Rockville, Md.: Thanks for the chats. They are so helpful. I've been baking like crazy. My oatmeal cookies always turn out flat, not puffy. I've made sure the butter is nice and cold but it didn't help. My recipe calls for baking soda, not baking powder. Could that be the culprit?

Also, I'm looking for a red velvet cake recipe for my friend's birthday on New Year's Eve. Any good ones out there?

Kim O'Donnel: Take a look at some of the commonly asked questions about baking cookies, from cookie queen Nancy Baggett, in last week's Food section. It's actually best to have butter at room temp, not rock-hard cold. But...how old is the baking soda? Always a good idea to test it before using.

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Arlington, Va.: Do you have any recipes for Christmas cookies or cakes that do not have eggs in it. I have a friend who is allergic and misses all the good holiday treats.

Kim O'Donnel: Have a look at this recipe for Vegan brownies, which are quite tasty and gift-worthy.

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Equipment query: Hello Kim and thanks for the great chats. My question this week is about kitchen equipment. Specifically, I'm trying to figure out whether to get a new blender, my old very inadequate one broke it's collar recently, or get a food processor. I've never owned or used a processor and don't really know alot about its functions versus a blender. I don't really even use my blender that often, and I have a small kitchen, so I don't want to clutter my cabinets with extraneous equipment. So..., what do you advise?

Kim O'Donnel: I have a small kitchen, too. Really. In fact, I don't own a toaster due to lack of space. I don't own a blender, and only want one when I'm hankering for a margarita. I use my food processor a few times a week, at a minimum. It's got a blade for chopping and pureeing and one for dough, too. It has become a staple in my kitchen.

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RE travel meals to take on-board: Please, please, NO fish on the plane (or train, or bus)! With my luck, you'll be sitting next to me, and there won't be a free seat to change to.

Kim O'Donnel: Sigh.

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Anonymous: Kalorama,

Try a better quality chicken. Most stupermarket stuff tastes like the packing it comes in no matter what. Look for an organic free range bird or at the very least a kosher bird. Even some of the major organic brands from Whole Foods are no better than Perdue. You get what you pay for a 99 cents a pound chicken taste like it. And Kim, let's stop the plugs for Whole Ripoff. They aren't that great and very overpriced!

Kim O'Donnel: Thanks for your feedback, anon. I'm not plugging WF, just telling folks when I know something is available b/c I've seen it or bought it myself.

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Washington, D.C.: Help! Any idea what to do with a whole quart of fresh cranberries, that doesn't require using sugar? Thanks!

Kim O'Donnel: Without some kind of sweetener, cranberries are way tart, dear. If you don't want to use sugar, you could try honey, maple syrup, agave nectar. Even when you add juice to the berries,you still need further sweetening.

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Roasted Chicken ...: I, too, have experimented with countless birds, and from experience, I cannot overemphasize the importance of getting a good quality chicken. Even if you roast a poor one perfectly, it's still going to taste blah, to use your words. Also, I'm a big fan of using an instant-read thermometer to make sure you don't overcook the bird -- simply place it in the thickest part of the thigh and walk away until the desired temp is met. If you haven't already, give Judy Rodger's recipe for roasted chicken a try -- she's an advocate of "salting" birds instead of brining (rub about 3/4 tsp of kosher salt for every lb of bird into chicken -- let rest in fridge for 2 to 3 days) and the results are just as good or better, and it's less mess, too.

Kim O'Donnel: Thanks for your first-hand report.

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Arlington, Va.: This year I conquered my culinary fear of lamb. Actually, I'd never eaten much lamb and just thought I'd give it a go. Now, I'm addicted. I was always concerned about overcooking or undercooking. Now, a couple of chops, a quick sit in balsamic vinegar, olive oil, garlic and rosemary, into a screaming hot pan to brown on one side, flip and into a 400 oven to finish it off. It really makes me happy.

Kim O'Donnel: It's a great feeling, isn't it, when you get beyond your fears? Congratulations!

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A Taste of Summer: Thanks to you, Kim, I made pesto with basil from my garden and stuck it in the freezer. Last night's warm temperature made the beef dinner I was planning seem a bit too heavy. I found some shrimp and the pesto in my freezer, had grape tomatoes and fettucine on hand and voila -- instant dinner served with white wine and the sliding glass door wide open (would've eaten on the deck, but put the furniutre away Thanksgiving week).

Kim O'Donnel: So glad for your summer flashback. I too was craving for an al fresco dinner last eve...

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South Riding, Va.: I need a delicious but fast and easy salad recipe for the holidays! I prefer to make something with spinaches and/or arugula. I'll be serving stuffed (with olives, sun-dried tomatoes and feta cheese) roast lamb following the salad. Thanks!

Kim O'Donnel: Add fruit -- sliced pears, pomegranate seeds, tangerine or blood orange segments. Nuts are nice, too -- pecans or walnuts.

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Washington, D.C.: Kim,

My significant other was diagnosed with cancer last week. I'm looking for ideas of comfort food that is also healthy and nurturing.

Also, any ideas of where to look to find info on what types of food one should try to eat (or avoid) during chemo or radiation? Ditto w/ looking for info on foods that are said to have anti-cancer properties?

Thanks for any help or direction you can provide!

Kim O'Donnel: Whoa. So sorry to hear this. Re: resources for what to deat during chemo and radiation, I'd probably go first to the American Cancer Society Web site; in fact, a quick search got me to this page: http://www.cancer.org/docroot/MBC/MBC_6.asp

Anti-cancer properties means antioxidants, which mean lots of leafy greens, citrus fruits, and deeply pigmented fruits and veg, such as sweet potatoes, winter squash, blueberries, raspberries, cherries, pomegranates, for starters.

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Vegan Cookies --: Kim- the choc-spice cookies in your blog can be made vegan with a butter substitute. and are really good! They went like a flash at my house, and made really good ice cream sandwiches with vanilla ice cream between cookies!

Kim O'Donnel: That is GREAT to know. Thanks for chiming in. For those interested in original recipe, go here: http://blog.washingtonpost.com/mighty-appetite/2006/12/santa_wants_a_lowfat_cookie.html

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Arlington, Va.: I don't have much of a sweet tooth, but it looks like everyone else does!

What are your favorite savory holiday foods?

I'm very partial to the many appetizers and cheeses (taleggio, gorgonzola, castelmagno, yum!) my family eats, but it wouldn't be the holidays for me without a good risotto (thanksgiving is dried porcini, Christmas is variable). Love the traditional (to us northern Italians anyway, I think the very southern ones eat fish) lentil soup for New Year's. Made with pigs feet for those of you who don't know ... (as a veggie, I skip this, but used to really enjoy them).

Kim O'Donnel: This time of year brings out my sweet tooth, unlike other times of the year. However, my favorite holiday savories include Hoppin' John for New Years, potato or sweet potato latkes, homemade cheddar crackers, chicken liver pate...

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Culinary Highlight: Hard to pick one: my resolution was to try (at least) one new recipe a week so I learned a ton of new things. But braising new potatoes and making tomato tarts in teh summer will are the two things that are definitely in the standard repertoire!

Kim O'Donnel: Good for you, dear. Your resolution is in keeping with a desk calendar that i've been working on, with a recipe for each week. Keep up the good work!

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Roasting chickens: Jamie Oliver has a great roasted chicken recipe (check Food Network Web site for it). Involves mizing butter, garlic, lemon zest, some fresh thyme and putting it under skin before roasting. Very yummy

Kim O'Donnel: More on the roasting chix scenario...

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Fairfax, Va.: I was frying latkes with my kids this weekend and it was a big old mess because I discovered too late that I didn't have anything to turn them with. I still have all my old plastic college-era utensils, none of which looked like they were ready stand up to hot oil. I ended up using the biggest metal thing I had, a large salad fork. The results weren't so great. So now I'm going to give myself the gift of a new utensils but I'm not sure what I really need. If you were going to start from scratch, what are the essentials you would get? I have mostly nonstick cookware, if that helps.

Kim O'Donnel: There are great heat-resistant tools on the market these days, Fairfax. I'd get a pair of tongs, for starters. A slotted spoon. A heat-resistant rubber spatula and turner. A few wooden spoons. A zester. A paring knife. A meat thermometer.

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Fairfax, Va.: I was given two bottles of homemade limoncello as a holiday gift. The thing is, I'm not much of a drinker so I was wondering if it's possible to cook with it. Any ideas?

Kim O'Donnel: Limoncello is sweet, so unless it was part of a dessert, the answer is no. Has anyone out there ever used limoncello in their cooking?

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Arlington, Va.: What's Hoppin John?

Kim O'Donnel: Black-eyed peas and rice, darlin'. New Year's good luck charm as far as southerners are concerned.

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Takoma Park, Md.: Many organizations provide nutritional information and/or food for patients with cancer and other illnesses. Food and Friends is one and they are amazing, see Food and Friends for eligibility.

Kim O'Donnel: F&F is indeed a great resource. Thanks for the reminder!

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Candied citron: Hello,

For others looking for candied citron, I just found mine at Safeway, in the baking aisle. An essential ingredient for my lebkuchen!

Kim O'Donnel: Excellent. Thanks for the sleuth.

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Fairfax, Va.: Hi, Kim. Thanks for all the great info on this chat over the years. Any chance you have a great eggnog recipe you could share?

Kim O'Donnel: At your crackling fire service, Fairfax: Egg nog recipe

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Van Ness, Washington, D.C.: Kim, please tell me about bread and salt. I want to try making some bread without salt. Is salt needed for the process of rising and proofing, or is it only for the taste? Thanks for your advice!

Kim O'Donnel: Yes, Van Ness, there are a couple good reasons to add salt to your bread dough. For starters, it strengthens your gluten structure and makes it more elastic, which in the end, will help with texture. It also keeps yeast growth in check and controls fermentation of the dough, which actually impacts sugars, which impact browning on the outside. So, I say, a little salt goes a long way.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Limoncello lasts forever (make sure to keep it in the freezer). It's also strong, so you only have it in tiny digestivo glasses. Even if you're not much of a drinker (and I wouldn't suggest you DRINK limoncello -- sip in small amounts. It's not to get drunk on!), it's a great thing to have around. Everytime we have a dinner party or house guests, we always have tiny glasses of limoncello to top off the evening. A little goes a long way.

Kim O'Donnel: Thanks for your limon-y thoughts, Silver!

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Limoncello: Pour over vanilla ice cream or fruit sorbets. You'll use it faster than you think!

Kim O'Donnel: More on the limon....

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Washington, D.C.: Single girl throwing dinner party for new years eve -- want to do something gorgeous like a roast, but having trouble figuring out a full menu that's do-able with one oven.

Kim O'Donnel: Don't know how many people you're having, which ultimately could impact the menu....but one showstopper is paella, which is a completely stovetop option...talk to me!

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Cranberries: Cook them for about five minutes, until they start to open up. Put them, and some orange rinds in a big glass containter, and pour some vodka over them. In a week, you have delicious, festive, orange/cranberry infused vodka. Tasty

Kim O'Donnel: Excellent. Thanks for getting this in under the cran-wire...

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Kim. I got a stand mixer as an early Christmas present, and it has motivated me to take up baking. So far, I've made two cakes -- a spice cake and a German chocolate cake. Both have been good, but dry. I know this is a bit like asking a doctor to diagnose a disease without seeing the patient, but is there a general mistake that a beginner like me is likely making that would result in dry cake? I have tried not to deviate from the recipes at all. Thanks!

Kim O'Donnel: Perhaps, my dear, you are so enthralled by your new toy that you're not carefully watching the time while your batters get mixed together in zero time. That's the catch with fab kitchen toys; they do lots of the work, and we become less attentive.

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Arlington, Va.: I use Lemoncello to flavor a wonderful very light lemon mousse that I make. It is fantastic.

Kim O'Donnel: Aha! That sounds lovely.

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Confused in Md.: Hi Kim,

Looking at the yummy Iced Cranberry-White Chocolate Drop Cookies recipe in last week's food section, it calls for dried cranberries and then 1/2 cup chopped cranberries. Is the latter the stuff you get in the produce section? Haven't baked them yet, but that seems awfully tart, dontcha think?

Kim O'Donnel: I know the Food section folks would be happy to sort out the confusion during their chat tomorrow, at 1pm.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Kim,

I was at the Giant in McLean last night, and lo and behold, I saw two frozen PHEASANTS mixed in with the turkeys. I didn't purchase one, but now I want to run back and pick one up to try! Any clues on best way to prepare? I heard they can be dry due to not having much fat.

Thanks!

Kim O'Donnel: Hmm. Interesting. I can do some homework for you, if you'd like. You'll need a marinade, I'm thinking.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Kim! I'm making truffles for the holidays this evening, and was thinking of trying something new with coconut. My thought was to substitute the cream in the ganache with coconut milk and stir in some shredded unsweetened coconut, before rolling the truffles in sweetened coconut. Think it'll work?

Kim O'Donnel: You know, the thing you need to be concerned with re: coconut milk is if it will integrate seamlessly with the chocolate, and I'm not sure. Rollingit in coconut will defintely work. perhaps a coconut liqueur at the end -- ie coconut rum -- instead of the coco milk?

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Washington, D.C.: If anyone can help me out, it's you. My family does not eat meat on Christmas Eve for religious reasons. The dinner menu is all set -- fish, perogies, veggies.

It's lunch I'm struggling with. We're having pasta the night before, so that's out. I was thinking of a hearty soup -- can you recommnd an easy one to feed six? I have a crock pot and am not afraid to use it.

Thanks and a nice holiday to everyone out there in cyberland.

Kim O'Donnel: What about steamed mussels with some crusty bread and a salad? they take no time to cook and are great for a crowd. Holler if you need details.

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Silver Spring: I'm from Texas (home of the pecan pie) I wouldn't freeze it because it make the consistency weird, even after thawing. I think it should be fine if you keep it refrigerated, but the closer to the date you can make it the better. It doesn't take that much time, so if you could swing it later in the week, that's what I'd recommend. And anyway, fresher is always better!

Kim O'Donnel: Here's one take on the freezing pecan pie matter...

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Washington, D.C.: Re freezing a pecan pie...It works great! The pie filling actually does not "freeze" and I prefer eating it directly from the freezer. You can, however, allow it to warm to room temperature and it is absolutely fine. It would be best to put the entire pie in a large tupperware container rather than trying to wrap with saran and/or foil.

Kim O'Donnel: And another...

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Judiciary Square: A co-worker is looking walking around with a recipe for lemon squares right now -- it calls for limoncello.

Kim O'Donnel: Well, whaddya know! Tell coworker to share with the class, pleez...

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Washington, D.C.: Here is the best pheasant recipe I've ever had:

ROASTED SCOTTISH PHEASANTS WITH APRICOTS AND DATES '21' CLUB

At '21' wild Scottish pheasant is served in season (November through January). The rest of the year, free-range farm-raised pheasant is offered.

1/2 cup dried apricots

1/2 cup dry white wine

1/4 cup Grand Marnier or other orange liqueur

1/4 cup fresh lime juice (from about 2 large limes)

2 tablespoons sugar

two 2 1/2- to 3-pound pheasants (preferably wild Scottish)-

freshly ground black pepper to taste

2 teaspoons dried thyme, crumbled

2 bay leaves

vegetable oil for brushing pheasants

1/2 cup pitted dates, chopped

Garnish: fresh thyme sprigs

-available at some butcher shops and by mail order from D'Artagnan, tel.(800)327-8246 or (201) 792-0748

In a small heatproof bowl cover apricots with boiling water and soak 10 minutes. Drain apricots and cut into quarters. In a small saucepan simmer wine, liqueur, lime juice, and sugar 5 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375 F.

Cut off legs of pheasants and reserve for another use. Sprinkle pheasants inside and out with pepper and salt to taste. Put 1 teaspoon thyme and 1 bay leaf in cavity of each pheasant and close cavities with skewers or toothpicks so that pheasants hold their shape.

Brush pheasants with oil and in a roasting pan arrange, breast side down. Roast pheasants 20 minutes and discard any fat in roasting pan. Turn pheasants over and to pan add apricots, wine mixture, and dates. Roast pheasants, adding about 1/2 cup water if all liquid evaporates, 25 minutes more, or until thermometer inserted in thickest part of breast registers 160 F. Let pheasants stand 10 minutes.

Transfer pheasants to a cutting board and cut each in half. Serve pheasants with apricot date sauce and garnish with thyme.

Kim O'Donnel: Excellent. Thanks for sharing in the nick of time!

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Frederick, MD: Culinary highlight: I learned how to make chicken and dumplings.

Kim O'Donnel: Congratulations to you, Frederick! I plan to share some of these milestones in the blog before the year is out.

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Arl Culinary Highlight of 2006: Cooking food so well for my very picky fiance (now husband)-- is now eating and more importantly LIKING:

- sweet potatoes

- green beans

- balsamic salad dressing

- carrots

- onions

- mushooms

- plantains

- mangos and bananas

- asian foods

- pie

- and my favorite accomplishment, he'll drink a glass of wine

His family is speechless and amazed!

Kim O'Donnel: Wow, you've been busy, dear.

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Silver Spring: This is to the person asking about what she could take on a plane. My grandmother baked me one of her award-winning french apple pies for thanksgiving to take home with me. the airport security would not let me take it on the plane and I was not about to leave the pie with security. I ended up eating it all in the airport before boarding. It was great but I didn't really get the chance to enjoy it.

Kim O'Donnel: Thanks for weighing in, silver spring.

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Washington, D.C.: Kim, I have become a big fan of the pumpkin bread recipe you shared a few years ago, and tend to make a fair number of loaves around this time of year. This weekend I tried making it with the white whole wheat flour that is now available (King Arthur brand) and it came out great. This looks like it will be an easy way to add some whole grains into a tasty treat.

Kim O'Donnel: I love it when you guys improvise at home and then share your kitchen reports. Well done.

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Kim O'Donnel: It is time to go. Thanks for all the holiday cheer! Although this is the final chat of the year, the blog will keep going and going and going...so feel free to send me notes and I'll try to oblige in that space in these final weeks of 2006. May all your days be merry, bright, delicious and safe. Stay well. Peace to all.

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