What's Cooking With Kim O'Donnel

Kim O'Donnel
Special to washingtonpost.com
Tuesday, January 2, 2007; 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: Happy 2007! I'm very excited to embark upon a new year. In today's blog, I share my kitchen to-do list for this year. Perhaps you've got a few to add to the list? It's been two weeks since last we typed, so I guess holiday reports are in order. Me, I took the low-key route and cooked only occasionally. It was good to rest. Alas, I made cornbread yesterday and it was a total disaster. Golden on the outside but uncooked on the inside. Gotta work on this and get it right. Stay tuned. So, what's on tap for the new year? Tell me, tell me...


Washington, D.C.: Hi Kim,

Love the chat. My question may be kind of dumb, but I was wondering how you can make "fresh" bread, like baguettes I buy at Whole Foods, last longer? I buy one on Sat., and if I don't use it within a day or two, it's rock hard. Is there any way to "revive" it? Thanks!

Kim O'Donnel: Hardly a dumb question, dear. Among all types of fresh bread, the baguette tends to go most quickly. I learned this lesson firsthand when I worked at Firehook Bakery in 1994. If it lasts into Day 2, you're lucky. One way to "revive" it is to spray it with water, then wrap in foil and put in 325 oven to warm up. If you find that on Day 1 you've still got half a baguette, why not put in freezer and pull out when you're hankering for the other half?


Baltimore, Md.: Does anyone have a good chicken chili recipe? I made a roast chicken over the weekend and I'm already bored with it.

Kim O'Donnel: Hey Balto, Just last week, I blogged on turkey chili, and surely this could be adapted for leftover chicken. Don't worry that the recipe calls for ground poultry; it most definitely can take a combo or shredded chix instead. See what you think.


Silver Spring, Md.: Hi Kim,

Let's talk sweet potatoes. My one-year-old son LOVES them but I seem to be incapable of baking them well -- they either end up undercooked and hard or overcooked and rubbery. Please share some time and temp guidelines for baking (and for cooking in the microwave for a quicker method?) Thanks.

Kim O'Donnel: Silver, At 400 degrees, a medium sweet potato will take about an hour to roast thoroughly. If you split in half or quarter, it will cook more quickly, by at least 10 minutes. But really, they take a while. the quickest way is to boil'em, about 20ish minutes, quartered.


Philadelphia, Pa.: Kim, Thanks for doing these chats. Is there a general 'cure' for taking some of the sweetness out of a sauce? I know a potato will soak up salty flavors. Is there anything to use if you put too much sugar in. for example -- spaghetti sauce?

Kim O'Donnel: Good question, Philadelphia, an answer for which I don't have. You could give it some heat in form of chiles, which will minimize sweetness, but I don't think there's a surefire way to remove sweetness from said spaghetti sauce. Anyone with a saucy idea?


Land of misplaced recipes: Help Kim please!

I'm having a party Saturday and was planning on serving your roasted cauliflower. But I can't find the recipe. Can you please repost/put in a link?

Many thanks!

Kim O'Donnel: Try this cauli, dear. should fix you up in no time.


Landenberg, Pa.: A couple of weeks ago, someone asked about a recipe to use in a cookie press, other than a basic Spritz cookie. Our family has been making a cream cheese cookie in a press (the manual kind) for over 50 years. I can remember helping my mother make these when I could barely reach the table. She was VERY specific in her recipe. She also made the best cookies I have ever had.


1 cup butter, softened

1 cup margerine (not Imperial brand), softened

6 oz. cream cheese (not low-fat), softened

2 tsps. vanilla

1 cup sugar

4 cups flour

Cream butter and margerine for 5 minutes and then add the cream cheese and cream for another 5 minutes. This may sound like a lot of time, but my mother was insistent and pastry chefs I have talked to have confirmed this time. Add the sugar and cream again, for about 3 minutes.

Add vanilla and gradually add flour.

Put through cookie press and decorate as desired. We use the tree shape, the wreath, and the spritz, and usually sprinkle colored sugar on them.

Bake at 400 degrees for 8-10 minutes. Watch carefully as the bottoms can burn in a split second!

Makes a lot!

Cool on a rack and then store in tins.

My mother never put a cookie near a freezer, and kept them for 4-8 weeks in tins. I do the same thing. She made hundreds of dozens of cookies every year. She also never allowed one type of cookie to touch another when she gave them as gifts. Each type was packaged separately in plastic wrap, then put onto a plate with the other little plastic packages.

Wow, this turned out to be a trip down memory lane!

Kim O'Donnel: Thanks Landenberg. I wonder why a mix of butter AND marg? Perhaps giving it the desired "Crisco"ness?


Washington, D.C.: Kim,

You have earned these kudos ...

After a long time of reading your chat, and even taking a cooking class with you, I finally was called to task. When at my brother's for Thanksgiving, he was about to throw the turkey carcass away. I said -- emboldened by a couple of bottles of wine -- "What, are you going to throw that away?" He fairly responded -- after about three bottles of wine -- "What, are you going to make soup with it?"

My brother called me out. I couldn't say no.

I dug deep into the KO'D memory banks, and tossed celery, onion, carrot, garlic, water, S and P, and a little stock into the pot. Simmered overnight ... and that was the best stock ever. Strained it, picked off the extra chicken, and added fresh veggies and potatoes. At the end, tossed in some noodles.

It was the best damn turkey soup ever.

Thanks for the lessons, and the inspiration. It made my family happy ... as I'm sure it does others all the time.

(Fomerly) Diet Coke Guy.

Kim O'Donnel: You have been weaned of diet coke? Oh my gosh! congratulations! Please send me an e-mail so I can find out how you're doing.


Wheaton, Md.: Hi Kim,

I'm thinking of making a Maryland version of your Bar Nuts recipe by substituting Old Bay seasoning for the cayenne, rosemary and salt.

My question: should I leave out the brown sugar as well? I'm thinking that the sweetness would be a good contrast to the Old Bay and also will help the spice stick to the nuts.


Kim O'Donnel: Wheaton, you're right. Brown sugar will be a good foil for the spices. Go for it, and let me know how it all turns out.


Scottsdale Ariz.: How long should I cook a boneless top round roast to be done medium and what temp. It is 3 lbs.

Kim O'Donnel: Medium is about 135 degrees. I might sear this first, then braise it in a slow oven, about 325 degrees. At a simmer, it will take about 2 hours.


Washington, D.C.: Kim -- I made sweet potato latkes over the holidays and I find that I can't keep them together. They always taste good but they fall apart in the pan and are a mess. This happened last year but I still salvaged some, I tried adding one regular baking potato to the mix but that didn't help either. The recipe calls for 4 sweet potatoes, 2 eggs and 1/2 cup of flour along with a little onion and some spices. Any ideas about what I am doing wrong? The regular potato latke do fine.

Kim O'Donnel: There's less natural starch in sweet potatoes. Next time, form into patties and let them set up in the fridge for at least 15 minutes. This helps in a big way. Instead of all flour, mix with bread crumbs, so they don't come out too gummy.


Holiday Report: Kim,

I didn't cook a lot myself over the holidays, but I ate well- more good food than I can describe in Merida, the Yucatecan capital city, where I was fortunate to spend 5 days before Christmas. I'm planning to make some sopa de lima (a chicken broth based soup with chicken, tomatoes, tortilla strips, and lots of lime) to bring the tropics home to St. Louis.

Happy New Year!

Kim O'Donnel: Fantastic! How exciting. I love bringing the tropics home in the winter. Keep us posted.


Newton, Mass.: Happy New Year Kim. I am in the lucky position of having leftover cooked shrimp from party over the weekend.

How can I cook;/heat them so that they don't get rubbery? I also have left over strips of pepper from the crudite platter and had thought I would saute them together with wine and garlic.


Kim O'Donnel: You know, Newton, I'm thinking some grilling action would be the easiest way to keep them from turning into rubberbands. The other thing you could do is add them to broth... a gingery, garlicky broth, with bok choy and some noodles...


Counter-acting sweetness: A little vinegar is a good counter to sugar and vice-versa. Has worked every time for me. Just make sure to use a compatible vinegar for the recipe you are making.

Kim O'Donnel: Nice idea...although in the case of the tomato/spaghetti sauce, I'd be careful going crazy with vinegar.


Icing or Frosting: Kim, I need help. I'm making my son's first birthday cake this weekend and I need frosting help. I made a lovely yellow cake with a great flavor. I tried a brown sugar frosting recipe that went divine with it, but it has kind of a yellow/brown color to it. While pretty, it's kind of gross when smeared all over a kid's face (we did a trial run prior to the party). So the question is - can I use food coloring to hide the color (and if so, what color would I make this frosting), or should I just do a light buttercream or fluffy white frosting or something? Do you have a good recipe? I'm looking for something fluffy and lovely, but without shortening. I would do a corn syrup based frosting, though. Please help!!

Kim O'Donnel: What about a cream cheese frosting? Are you guys staying away from chocolate? Talk to me.


Montgomery Village, Md.: Happy New Year Kim! I'm looking for a recipe for lentil soup and guidance on cooking with lentils. To soak or not to soak?

Kim O'Donnel: Hey there, lentils need not soak prior to cooking, which makes them easy breezy, particularly for weeknight meals. A good rinse in a colander is all you need. They take fairly little time to cook as well; in about 45 minutes, your soup should be done. Keep tasting along the way to avoid lentil mush.


Richmond, Va.: leftover shrimp: make shrimp salad

Kim O'Donnel: Yes indeed! And now I'm thinking a shrimp omelette...


Colesville, Md.: Happy New Year!

I received a beautiful fish poacher over the holidays. Cool, but what do I do with it? I've read some recipies online and they say to boil the liquid in the poacher. Do I put it directly on the burner? It is so long that I would have to balance it on two burners.

Kim O'Donnel: You can poach right in the oven if stovetop makes you uncomfortable. Poaching is very simple. You don't even need to boil the liquid first. Throw everything in the poacher and let it go. The key is low, slow heat. A whole poached fish will probably take just under 30 minutes. You can season broth with fennel, herbs, leeks...


Washington, D.C.: Kim: I'm posting early so I don't forget during the wor kday. I made a classic beef stock between the holidays, and ended up with a bowl of fat rendered from the roasted beef bones. Besides inciting a stern lecture from the College of Cardiologists, is there anything one can do with beef fat? And if so, how long will it last either refrigerated or frozen? Thanks.

Kim O'Donnel: Well, the good thing about rendered beef fat is that a little will go a long way. If you're completely at a loss on how to use it in immediate future, freeze it in an airtight container. Will last for at least a month or longer. Beef fat is useful when making stews, stroganoff, stuff like that. Did you make stock from the bones, by chance?


Washington, D.C.: Love the chat, I missed my New Years lucky pea/bean and I am craving soup. I want to make pea soup, but was wondering what else I should throw in the pot besides peas, onion, carrots, ham, s & p, or is that it? Any herbs?

Kim O'Donnel: Thyme is nice here. Some lemon zest. Even some chopped garlic. I like cumin in my pea soup, even a little ground coriander. And mint! Chopped mint.


Nashville, Tenn.: What is the problem with Diet Coke?

Kim O'Donnel: I knew I'd get this question. When consumed in moderation, Diet Coke, like anything else, is not such a bad thing, in spite of its chemical makeup. But for most people, diet sodas are not consumed in moderation; they're consumed all the time. The reader who wrote in earlier was drinking several cans a day, maybe in the double digits. I'm really happy to hear that he's moved on and explored the world beyond DC.


Rich, Va.: My food New Year's resolution is to try to expose my husband to more different food.

He's VERY finicky and in our first two years of marriage I gingerly danced around his suspicians, repressing my food likes and catering to his narrow finicky tastes.

This year I'm going to try to encourage him to try new food. and I'm going to make a new dish without querying him first. That just gave him an excuse to say no. (I.e., if I asked if he thought he'd like a meatloaf with 1/2 hamburger, 1/2 bulger wheat, he'd say no. but if I made it first, he'd probably like it). This year I'm going to give him new dishes without advance warning and if he doesn't like it I won't make it again, but I'm going to ask him to at least try it once.

Kim O'Donnel: I like your spunk. Keep me posted on the progress!


Toronto, Canada: On N.Y. Eve a friend had lobsters flown in from Nova Scotia. They were superb, except that my hands broke out in a stinging rash while I worked to get at that yummy meat. I have no other symptoms of any allergy (mouth, etc., A-OK). Ever had this issue in the kitchen?

Kim O'Donnel: Toronto, this could be the beginnings of a food allergy. It may be time to go chat with an allergist. A few years back, I broke out in a rash just by handling certain kinds of mushrooms, only to find out that the allergy was indeed manifesting. Good to check out, particularly since shellfish allergies can be nasty.


Fish poaching: Happy New Year! A couple of weeks ago I asked for some advice on how to cook fish for a big group (Polish Christmas). You suggested that I poach it, so I found a recipe that called for poaching halibut in olive oil. It was a big hit! Everyone loved it. I had never even heard of poached fish before; thanks for the advice!

Kim O'Donnel: So glad you chimed in today, especially since we've got a reader with a brand spanking new fish poacher.


Chevy, Chase: Kim -- I'm in a quandry. Normally, I love the heavier, slow-cooked meals of winter but with all the warm weather we're having, the last thing I want is a bowl of chili! I need some inspiration for something seasonal which is light. Got any ideas? I like anything but curry - and beets.

Kim O'Donnel: Maybe a salad of pears, walnuts and arugula or spinach? Or throw in some segments of oranges or clementines? What about some shaved fennel and grapefruit and/or endive? Sear a few scallops to go with, add some rice.


London, U.K.: I am about to go on maternity leave and would like to stock my freezer in advance with some home cooked meals. Would love to get any ideas for healthy, vegetarian or vegetarian-adaptable dinners that I can make now and will freeze well.

Many thanks in advance, and Happy New Year!

Kim O'Donnel: Soups are great make-ahead, freezable dinners, London. Make a puree of sweet potatoes or squash, no cream necessary. Vegetarian chili with pearl barley would be lovely. If you've got the freezer space, a spinach or winter squash lasagna might be nice.


Unsweetness:1. Vinegar

2. Get it off the heat and in your tummy as soon as possible -- the longer it sits, the more the sauce is going to reduce and potentially carmelize.

Kim O'Donnel: I agree about point 2 -- sugar readily reduces, caramelizes and also gets more concentrated.


Woodbridge, Va.: Sweet taters -- I peeled and sliced them like steak fries, sprinkled w/olive oil, salt and pepper and baked for about 20 min at 350. Even my husband liked them!

Kim O'Donnel: Thanks for chiming in, Woodbridge. I agree, chopping up sweet potatoes definitely cuts cooking time.


Rockville, Md.: Kim,

What makes bread/baked goods cook perfectly on the outside but not in the middle like your cornbread? The same has happened to me the last two times I made banana bread.

Kim O'Donnel: I think it's my baking soda. Without proper leavening, the batter didn't get activated and rise and just sat there like a lump. I'm gonna try w/ new baking soda.


Rich, Va.: To Toronto: that is how it started for me -- all of a sudden, I could eat my beloved shellfish, but I felt a little itchy. From there, it escalated and after my breathing 'episode' tests indicated a serious allergy.

I'm saying this not to bet that'll happen to you, but to beg you to get tested so you don't go into anaphalectic shock.

Kim O'Donnel: Thanks for following up with your firsthand report. Much appreciated.


Sweet potatoes: I boiled my sweets for Christmas dinner. Then peeled them, it's soooo easy to peel them after they are boiled! Then I sliced them and heated them in butter/brown sugar just before serving.

Kim O'Donnel: More ideas on the sweets...


Germantown, Md.: For the poster that is interested in Pea Soup, please add smoked ham hocks! After simmering them in the soup for an hour or so, you can then remove the meat from them and put them back in the pot! YUMMM!

Kim O'Donnel: Another idea for pea soup...


Boston, Mass.: My baker-mother-in-law got me a sweet 6 qt dutch oven for Xmas! I love making soups and stews for my wife, son, and myself -- and I finally have THE perfect tool ( a nice upgrade from the Teflon-covered aluminum core soup pot I had.)

I was seriously going on and on about how this was the best gift EVER.

Happy New Year!

Kim O'Donnel: Boston, you will love it. A stew pot is your friend for life. I love my Creuset stew pot and use it regularly during the winter.


Indianapolis, Ind.: Hello! I got a gorgeous Dutch oven for Christmas, and would love any recipe ideas or suggestions you or the chatters might have. I have not made a lot of stews, soups, etc., in the past because I didn't have a good pot, but now that I do I am not sure where to start! Thanks.

Kim O'Donnel: You too, huh? Well, Indianapolis, I think you need to catch up with Boston! The choices are endless. Really, it's about deciding what you're hankering for. Then we can help you with some recipe ideas.


Lentils!: My favorite lentil dish is super easy, delicious and healthy.

Just caramelize some onions and garlic in a big pan. add chopped carrots, potatoes, spinach, peppers, eggplant (any veggies work well here). Cover with water and cook for about 20 minutes. then add the lentils, cover with some more water, add poultry seasoning and cumin, salt and pepper.

Add raisins at the end and cook til soft. serve with Worscheshire sauce and a dallop of sour cream. It's fantastic and a GREAT way to clean out the fridge or use produce before it turns!

Kim O'Donnel: Thanks for sharing. I have a fave lentil dish with chard, lots of garlic and pomegranate molasses, if anyone is interested.


Ocean View, Del.: Help! I received many fruit boxes for Christmas. Need ideas on how to use a dozen red grapefruits, dozen oranges, and 1/2 doz pears before they go bad. Oh, and I'm only cooking for one.

Kim O'Donnel: I love to squeeze juice from grapefruits. Wakes me up better than coffee. Those pears can go into salad, as I mentioned earlier in the hour, or become part of a pear crisp. Also nice on top of oatmeal or cold cereal.


Build a Cook: Our teenager loves to cook. Since college and moving out is in the future, what forever useful cooking tools should we start gifting her with? We have decided to start with a good chef's knife. Any other suggestions ... and these items would have to travel well.

Kim O'Donnel: What a neat idea. A good chef's knife is a great tool for home with you guys, but I'm wondering whether something so valuable would get lost or stolen in a college environment. That said, if she's going to live in an apartment, a pair of tongs, a heatproof rubber spatula, some wooden spoons are basic tools, plus a skillet, pot big enough for pasta (or soup), a few smaller sauce pans, and then something that students might love -- a panini press or even a wok.


D.C., What makes things crispy?: Hi Kim,

I made risotto cakes (little, dredged in matzo meal and s and p) from some leftovers last night, and while I started out with just a little oil in the pan, they definitely came out with a better crust when I added a lot more oil. I have to admit, they were my fav leftovers either way, but the better ones were mighty greasy which is kind of a bummer. On the other hand they were little ...


Kim O'Donnel: What I want to know is how hot your oil was. That in and of itself is what gives things a crispy edge. Tell me more about the steps you took to make those cakes...


Rich: My store has smoked turkey wings that do just as well as ham hocks in split pea soup and with less fat

Kim O'Donnel: Yes, smoked turkey wings add lots of flavor, as I discovered last year. Thanks for adding to this thread!


Annapolis, Md.: Oversweet/lentil recipe

Add more tomato sauce to the oversweet batch -- freeze the leftover sauce.

Incredible sweet and sour lentil recipe in Moosewood's low-fat cookbook.

Kim O'Donnel: Thanks, Annapolis, for your last-minute tippy-poo!


Kim O'Donnel: Hey, time to sign off already. Great to catch up with you and ring in the new year properly. Type to you next week, and of course, in between, in the blog space. Take good care!


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