What's Cooking, Valentine?

Kim O'Donnel
Special to washingtonpost.com
Thursday, February 8, 2007; 1:00 PM

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

A graduate of the Institute of Culinary Education (formerly Peter Kump's New York Cooking School), O'Donnel 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: You're the apple of my eye, you're a peach, lamb chop, hey sugar, cream puff, cupcake, precious pie... How in the world did we get to this place of using food to refer to our loved ones? The link between food and affection is inextricable, with its origins at birth. We all love to be on the receiving end of food, and some of us, as you well know, derive great pleasure from sharing it. No matter which role you play, food is a shared experience, one not to be underestimated. And so the one time of year when the expression of love is given center stage -- Valentine's Day -- many of us scramble to find just the thing to whet the appetite of another. For the next hour, we'll talk about ways to share culinary expressions of love. Anyone can join -- after all, self-love and love for a neighbor are equally important. Valentine's Day can take many forms -- so let's explore our options! And now, let's open our hearts -- and our kitchen cabinets -- and see what's waiting to be created.


Arlington, Va.: Dear Kim,

Thanks for your great chats!

My long-distance Valentine is coming for a visit the weekend after Valentine's Day. We love brunching and I want to make him a special brunch -- something nice, creative, and not requiring a lot of ingredients. Any ideas on a main course and dessert/special cocktail for my sweetie?


Kim O'Donnel: Here's one idea that was the subject of a video a few years back: Waffles with Cherry Sauce. If you've got a waffle iron, this one is a goodie. I might also suggest a frittata, which you can make within 45 minutes..serve with a mixed green salad and your favorite bread...and you've got a lovely savory brunch...


Raleigh, N.C.: My wife has asked me to make a spinach and mushroom pizza for Valentine's Day dinner (it's her birthday, too ... double whammy). I'm really good at making pizza (everything from scratch, and we have a great pizza stone), so this wouldn't be like putting a DiGiorno in the oven. But what could I pair with it to give it a more Valentine's feel?

Kim O'Donnel: A kick-in-the-pants bottle of wine, Raleigh, be it still or sparkling. A Champagne-style wine certainly would make things festive, but if you want your vino to go well with the pizza, I might opt for a red that broadens your horizons. I am a big fan of Shiraz from Australia and South Africa, Malbec from Argentina, 100 percent Tempranillo from Spain and Aglianico from Italy. Have you got a wine shop near by? Dessert of some sort seems key, as well. Is wife partial to chocolate, by chance? Check today's blog for chocolate-cherry brownies guaranteed to make her swoon.


Springfield, Va.: Is a truffle that grows underground, a mushroom?

Kim O'Donnel: There are two kinds of truffles -- one is a mushroom that grows in the ground and considered a delicacy -- the other is a equally decadent treat, made of chocolate. What's your fancy?


Hyattsville, Md.: Hi, Kim,

I'm going to make the Man-Catcher brownies that were in Wednesday's paper. Do you have to line the brownie pan with parchment paper or alumnium foil? Can I just bake them in a greased glass or metal pan? I have parchment paper at home, but it's always awkward to fit it up the sides of a pan.


washingtonpost.com: Recipe: Man-Catcher Brownies ( Post, Feb. 7)

Kim O'Donnel: I might ask the Food section's Leigh Lambert, wrote that piece. Her email: lambertl@washpost.com


Alexandria, Va.: And now, I need to have you resurrect your beautiful feature on step by step lollipop making. I envision making red and white (or clear) ones for Valentines Day and later red, white and blue ones for Presidents Day and other patriotic occasions. Thank you so much.

Kim O'Donnel: Your Val wish, my command...you'll see that recipe is linked at top of page as you go through the audio gallery.


Post Office: I want to make a home-cooked Valentine's meal for my loved one, but we're in different states. What could I make and ship overnight? Would soup, if frozen solid, have a chance? and any suggestions for a main dish that wouldn't give him food poisoning the next day?

Kim O'Donnel: I might try frozen solid stew or curry rather than soup, but if you promised to overnight the package, send it frozen solid and pack it among those dry ice packs, yes, I'll let you do it. Send that with some homemade bread or cookies. He'll be on a plane in no time, promise.


Silver Spring, Md.: A special dinner isn't complete to me without dessert but my guy doesn't like chocolate and isn't really into sweets; I, however, love any reason break out the sugar. I was thinking fruit -- maybe pears poached in red wine. Any other suggestions for a Valentine's dinner?

Kim O'Donnel: Pears poached in red wine are nice; you could also serve with a wee bit of sweetened mascarpone cheese for a treat...For something with a bit of drama which remains savory, what about a cheese souffle? Have a look at the video I did...it is most certainy special, without the sugary component.


Vegan brownie recipe query: I dowloaded the vegan, wheat free brownie recipe from your blog. I then went looking for the flour -- and found Bob's Red Mill Gluten free all purpose flour has fava bean flour -- and fava beans are a no no for me. (They are different from legumes native to the Americas). Is there a subsitute for Bob's Red Mill flour?

Kim O'Donnel: Hmm. Okay. Would you be willing to make your own mix? I have one from a new book that I'm trying out. I can get you the details later today: e-mail me at kim.odonnel@washingtonpost.com


For Raleigh, N.C.: Why not combine the sparkling and red and serve a sparkling shiraz?

By the way, I would love for a guy to make me pizza. Do you have a brother?

Kim O'Donnel: very nice idea indeed. I know, this guy is a keeper....


Baltimore, Md.: Know of anywhere I could find heart-shaped pasta? Do they make such a thing? My boyfriend and I refuse to spend too much money on V-Day so I will be making him mac and cheese. Just thought I'd try to make it a -little- special.

Kim O'Donnel: Hmmm...this is a tough one. Anyone know of Cupid pasta???


Chocaholic in Virginia: I'm doing a pre-Valentine's Day girls night next Tuesday and wanted to make them a special chocolate treat. Leigh's Man-Catcher Brownies recipe looks fantastic but I wanted to make something a little more decadent and elegant -- truffles! Do you have any tried and true truffle recipes for a complete beginner? Thanks!

Kim O'Donnel: Truffles are great fun to make, but I need to preface by saying if you're skittish, it may be a good idea to work with a partner. Maybe you can convince one your pals to join in the pre-girls bash? Here's link to video/recipe


Boston, Mass.: I decided to celebrate the big day late, on Friday. My boyfriend, our housemate, and I have invited about 20 people over for a little party. I want to have substantial snacks and drinks. I'm thinking punch and beer, and then some nibblies (homemade cheese spread, baba gannouj, teriyaki chicken, roasted peppers ... maybe chocolate fondue, even though I'm sans fondue pot)... but it just doesn't feel quite ... Valentiney. Do you have any appetizer suggestions that'd be quick, or prepped in advance, with a romantic theme? We're all grad students here, so we can't spend too much -- no oyster-aphrodisiacs for us!

Kim O'Donnel: The mango is one of the most romantic things on earth. You can make mango margaritas or make a chutney for chips...or a sticky rice dessert. I find them the best while slurping over the sink --- or in the bath.


Brooklyn, N.Y.: Hello Kim!

I have a heart-shaped cast iron casserole dish. My husband and I decided to start a tradition of cooking something in it every Valentine's Day. Can you recommend a (dinner) recipe I could easily cook in it this year? Thanks so much!

Kim O'Donnel: If you want it to be molded, I might consider the frittata idea that I mentioned earlier. Eggs, diced potatoes, onions, garlic, herbs, bell pepper, whatever you like. This would take no more than 45 minutes. You could probably also do some kind of baked ziti thing...who else has ideas for BKNY?


Dupont Circle, Washington, D.C.: What I want for Valentine's Day is a home-cooked 3-course meal from my husband. He does not cook (except the occasional hot dog or grilled cheese sandwhich). What's an easy meal (or cooking resource) I can suggest to him. Thank you!

Kim O'Donnel: Men, I am discovering as my wedding day gets closer and closer, need to be told what to do. It needs to be very clear. No themes or suggestions. Directions. For dessert, give him the name of your favorite bakery and tell him to order something that you love. If you have a favorite bottle of wine, tell what that is so he can pick it up. If grilled cheese sandwiches are what he does, tell him what kind of cheese will light your fire (as well as bread), and that you'd like a mixed green salad, and get specific on veg, greens, dressing. That's a 3-course meal, and both of you will feel like a million bucks.


Minnesota: I have seen naughty-shaped pasta on Web sites. Try Google?

Kim O'Donnel: Okay...I think. do I dare ask what the shapes are?


Cream Cheese Conundrum: Kim -- Well meaning parents visited last weekend and purchased cream cheese for bagels. I'm not a big cream cheese person. Any thoughts on adding this to a Valentine's Day treat? Bonus points if it's savory and not sweet. Waste not, want not! And -- what will you be noshing on next Wednesday?

Kim O'Donnel: Cream cheese icing for cupcakes, darling. And if you can wait til Monday, I'm gonna have a cupcake treat for you in the blog. Oh. you just said savory. Rats. My brother is a huge fan of a cream cheese and bacon omelette. A bit too much fat for me, but hey, maybe that will inspire...As for next week's Val nosh -- not sure yet. .Maybe I'll know by next week's chat on Tuesday.


Arlington, Va.: If you have a pasta maker you can make your own heart-shaped pasta. Roll out your pasta as usual but don't put it through the cutting process. Simply lay it out on the counter and cut in in heart shapes with a cookie cutter. Let it dry a bit, then cook as usual.

Kim O'Donnel: Splendid idea. I love it.


Lining pans: You do not typically line a pan's sides with parchment. You just put it on the bottom. You can run a knife around a pan's edge after baking to loosen an item -- tough to do on the bottom.

Once you start baking with parchment for cakes and stuff you will never go back.

Kim O'Donnel: Actually, it depends on the dish. I've lined both bottom and sides in the past, just depends on what you're making.


Ely, Minn.: I gotta agree with your pronouncement of greatness for mangoes, but as it turns out, I am allergic!

Any other suggestions for her party?

Kim O'Donnel: Pineapple also inspires great feelings of love and jigginess for me. Tropical fruit has a way of making me feel like there's a palm tree near by, and that is about all you need to do to get me in the mood. You could do pineapple kebabs -- with a little grilled action -- and squeeze with lime and smear with a wee bit of brown sugar.


Arlington, Va.: Hi, I'm making cookies for my sweetheart for Valentine's Day. I was going to make the dough Friday and freeze it since I won't have much time on Wed. Would it be possible to roll out the dough and cut out my cookies and freeze them like that? How should I thaw them when it comes time to bake? Thank you.

Kim O'Donnel: I would freeze the dough in one piece, unless you've got the space and container to keep cut cookies. When time to thaw, do so in the fridge, about 24 hours in advance.


Washington, D.C.: Instead of going out, my roommate and I are teaming up to make dinner for our boyfriends. We each have a fondue pot (don't ask), so we decided do to a cheese and chocolate fondue dinner. I'm in charge of the cheese portion -- do you have any great recipes (and maybe suggestions or tips too?)

Kim O'Donnel: I knew fondue would come up at some point in this hour. I am kicking myself because I can't for the life of me find this very handy fondue book in my stack at home. The author is Fred Kerner. Let's also ask the group for some trusty advice...


Fairfax, Va.: Grad students in Boston -- that menu is going all over the map (of the world) -- fusion is great -- but only if the tastes harmonize and those items so far don't really complement each other. How about sticking to some basic type -- Asian, or Italian, or Greek for examples? Lots of goodies within each cuisine that don't have to be expensive -- and since ethnic shops abound where you are you can easily get ingredients or prepared items. Also if you want mangos --buy ahead of time so you have nicely ripened ones to serve.

Kim O'Donnel: Great tips. Thanks for your list, Fairfax.


Ely, Minn.: I finally get to be here live! Cool!

What would you suggest as a menu for the person that will be alone on Valentine's by choice.

I have a freezer with steak, chops, chicken breast, nice shrimp and loads of stir-fry veggies.

Kim O'Donnel: I say regardless of what you pull out of the freezer that you make dessert. Something that you love. Shrimp to me always feels festive. Have a look at the details for Chile Shrimp (recipe is linked in body of text), a favorite from Mark Bittman's most recent cookbook.


Alexandria, Va.: On the calling people by food thing, my husband calls me "Honey Bunches of Oats" once in awhile. I'm still not sure what that means.

Kim O'Donnel: Hmm. Are you good dipped in milk,by chance?


Heart-Shaped Pasta: I saw heart shaped pasta at Crate & Barrel a couple of weekends ago.

Kim O'Donnel: Bravo. Thanks for chiming in!


Cupcake toppers -- whaddaya know?: Kim-

All this heart-y talk reminded me -- did you ever settle on a solution for your cupcake pics for you wedding? Is it Ma and Pa Kettle with a laugh? Or did you find something more suitable? (I have a bunch of Tazmanian devil pics left from a little tyke's b-day party, but I guess those won't help you, huh?)

Kim O'Donnel: Yes, the cupcake topper dilemma has been resolved -- and I'll be sharing all my discoveries in Monday's blog. Stay tuned for the pre-wedding madness...


Cast Iron Heart: Deborah Madison has a great skillet cake with fruit in her book Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone -- you make a brown sugar/butter sauce in the pan, arrange some fruit (peaches, pears, or apples work well) ground, then pour over a rich batter with nuts mixed in. After baking, you unmold. It's pretty and delicious. Serve it with whipped cream or buttery bourbon sauce ... wish I had the recipe to share with you right now!

Kim O'Donnel: Splendid idea. I love this. That book never ceases to do good.


Accompaniment suggestion please: I'm making sesame-crusted salmon on a bed of leeks/lentils for my sweetie. What do I serve on the side as an accompaniment. I've got dessert covered - S'mores brownies (a graham cracker crust, brownie baked on top, and broiled mini-marshmallows to top it off). Thanks!

Kim O'Donnel: A rice-y thing, with herbs which will love the lentils.. or cous cous...or a pillowy batch of quinoa...


Pittsburgh, Pa.: Here's a very easy recipe for White Chocolate Truffles that one person can manage alone. I basically made an amalgam of several recipes I found online, and these are delicious, if perhaps a bit too sweet for some folks. BTW, the real secret of truffle success is to use the best chocolate you can obtain.

8 oz high-quality white chocolate -- (see comment below)

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter (preferably unsalted)

3/4 cup powdered (10X) sugar, sifted

1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

Additional powdered sugar, sifted


Melt the white chocolate in the top pan of a double boiler; remove pan from flame. Cut butter into small pieces and stir into the chocolate until melted. Then stir the 3/4 cup sifted powdered sugar into the chocolate-butter mixture. Stir the vanilla extract into the chocolate.

NOTE: If making a double batch, at this point pour half the mixture into another bowl.

Refrigerate the mixture for 5 minutes; remove and beat the mixture. Repeat till the chocolate is firm (20-30 minutes).


Roll tablespoonfuls of the chilled, firm chocolate mixture in your hands, then set each on wax paper so as not to touch one another; chill till firm. Roll each truffle in the additional powdered sugar.

Kim O'Donnel: Thanks for sharing your luv, Pittsburgh. Always can use more...


Fondue advice: IMHO, the key to great cheese fondue is in the quality of the cheese. Don't skimp and buy pre-shredded cheese in a bag. I love a combination of gruyere and emmenthaler. Rub pot with garlic cloves, add white wine, grated cheese, black pepper, nutmeg, kirsch, and lemon juice. Dip in bread (sourdough, rye), granny smith apples, carrots, mmmmmm.

Kim O'Donnel: Completely agree on the cheese...and I like the idea of rubbing the pot with garlic. Nice.


Washington, D.C.: For V-Day, I'm thinking lamb chops with a red wine/shallot pan sauce, roasted asparagus with parmesean and rice (chocolates for dessery). My question: after searing the chops in a hot pan, how long do I stick them in the oven for, and at what temp?

Kim O'Donnel: Depends on how well done you want your chops. I like mine somewhere between medium rare and medium, which is about 140 or so. Finish them in a 400 oven. Keep a close eye; it won't take long for them to cook, less than 10 minutes.


V-Day with friends: I was going to make dinner for a couple of girlfriends so we could avoid restaurant crowds and still get together. I wanted to make an eggplant and mushroom lasagna and then a spinach salad. Any thoughts for another side or appetizer besides the standard bruschetta? Extra points for something whole grain and healthy. I have decadent cookies for dessert.

Kim O'Donnel: what about a soup? you could make a puree of broccoli, or squash or carrots the day before and just reheat it. these don't even need cream, particularly if you've got an immersion blender.


Bethesda, Md.: Rose champagne is a great Valentine's treat!

Piper Heidsieck's Sauvage or Nicholas Feuillatte Rose are both terrific, but not as an aperitif. These are better served with food.

Kim O'Donnel: Lovely sips, Bethesda. You're a good Cupid.


Meal in Advance ...: Hey Kim! I don't get home from work until late every week night but I don't want that to stop me from making a special Valentine's dinner for my husband. He has requested lamb ... any suggestions on a dish that I may be able to prepare in advance (or parts in advance) and cook it when I get home. Side dishes and dessert suggestions are also appreciated -- he has a HUGE sweet tooth but I'm an awful baker! THANKS!

Kim O'Donnel: I'm thinking braised lamb shanks -- this could be done completely in advance (90 minutes -2 hours) and could be reheated for supper. YOu can serve with noodles, rice, polenta, cous cous. Here's link to lamb shank video/recipe


Mmm ... fondue: I love one of the recipes from my fondue book (I don't remember the name of the book). The fondue is beer, cheddar cheese, black pepper, garlic, dry mustard powder and flour. It's great with cubed baguette. It's not stinky like some cheese fondues and it has great flavor.

Kim O'Donnel: More melted cheese ideas...


Lasagne Love: Hi, Kim -- Great chat, great blog -- Thanks for being so generous with ideas and expertise.

I'd like to find a way to make a good lasagne for a weeknight. My fiance's b'day is the 15th. He loves lasagne (and there is a running joke in our relationship about this).

Is there a way to make ahead and freeze a good lasagne? Maybe make it this weekend? Or, I could make it Wednesday, as I will be working from home and he works Wednesday night. Just need to cut the Thursday-night prep time as I have to be at the office ...

Any ideas on an appropriate wine (love reds) or dessert would be great too. He is not a big chocolate guy. Faves are PB cookies and blueberry pie ... but I am working on alternatives!


Kim O'Donnel: Yes, there is a club of freeze-ahead lasagna folks, I'm convinced. People do this all the time. I'm not the best person to ask, but let's throw it out to those in the know...


Alexandria, Va.: Help!

My wife is having surgery late next week and is on a low-residue/low-fiber diet until then and for a few days after. I would still like to make her a special Valentine's Day meal -- especially as she could use some cheering up.

Any special ideas? No real limitations as long as it isn't spicy or full of fat and fiber.

Kim O'Donnel: Gee, this is a tough one. Does she like fish? It's lean and can be simply sauteed or grilled. The fiber part is what's getting me. Have you talked to the doctor? I'm assuming that means that fruit is out...holler back if you can.


Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C.: Hi Kim,

I'm planning to splurge on V-Day and purchase filet mignon for dinner for my boyfriend. Any suggestions on how to prepare it? We have an outdoor grill or could do it on the stove. Thanks for all the great chats!

Kim O'Donnel: Plenty of salt and pepper and a lathering of olive oil is how I like my steak. You can sear on top of the stove, then finish in a hot oven, around 475, until desired doneness. That's how simple a tender cut of steak can be. Some bitter greens -- arugular or watercress -- makes for a great side...and you can some winter citrus for color and sweetness. Enjoy.


Minn. brrr: Hope I'm not too late.

If the 'heat' measurement is too high on the chili shrimp, what kind of peppers would you suggest? Ancho or poblano?


Kim O'Donnel: Poblano. Or do half a jalapeno. also, remove those seeds, which make a big difference in heat quotient.


Fast Lamb: Sounds fancy, I know, but you can roast a small boned leg of lamb in under an hour. I'm in love with Julia Child's marinade for it -- mustard, soy sauce, ginger, gralic, olive oil, rosemary. You could truss and paint the lamb the night before, then roast it speedily when you get home in a moderate oven. Comes out juicy and potatoes/green beans would be an easy side.

Kim O'Donnel: Love the fast and juicy idea, dear. Thanks. Julia always comes through in a pinch when you need her.


Divine Ms. K, Arlington: For the person who has trouble fitting parchment into the pan... just trim the long sides off so it fits cleanly into the bottom of your pan, extending up two opposite sides instead of all four. Leave enough of a "tail" on each end so that when your brownies are cool, you can grab ahold of each tail and lift the entire thing out, and cut it on a cutting board for very easy and neat slices.

If you wanted to be really cute, you could cut them out with a heart-shaped cookie cutter (and use the scraps in a faux-trifle). Or frost them with red frosting.

Kim O'Donnel: And Miss K with a word on the parchment debacle...


I'm fonda you, too!: We just made this simple Swiss Cheese fondue for Super Bowl Sunday (diff'rent stroke for diff'rent folks, dontcha know?).

1. Heat 1 1/2 cups white wine with several smashed cloves of garlic (we like lots) and a bit of pepper (I use white, so it won't look like bugs are in the fondue) in a medium-size saucepan.

2 Meanwhile, cut a loaf of French bread of your choice (we used multi-grain) into 1" cubes, set them in a ginle layer on a cookie sheet to heat in a low (200F) oven. Remove from oven when semi-dry (you don't want them so brittle the break apart when you try to spear one with a fondue-fork).

3. Cut 1 lb. of your favorite Swiss or Emmental Cheese (mixing with Gruyere, if you like) into 1/2" cubes.

4. In a cup, thoroughly stir 1 Tablespoon cornstarch into 2 Tablespoons Kirschwasser (cherry brandy). Set aside.

5. Remove the garlic from the wine (if you prefer). Add the pound of cubed cheese, and stir, stir, stir.

6. When the cheese is melted, stir in the cornstarch-Kirsch slurry slowly, stirring all the while. This will make the fondue thick and un-lumpy.

7. At the last moment, stir in a pinch of baking soda, to make the fondue foam a bit (and less like a lead-weight in your tummy).

Bon appetit!

Kim O'Donnel: Thanks much for this first-hand fondue report. Your fellow readers will be ever grateful.


Kim O'Donnel: Well, it's time to sign off, but that don't mean the love stops. Today through next Wednesday, I'll be offering in my blog a different way to share the culinary luv. Today's treat: chocolate cherry brownies. Tomorrow: a taste test of Valentine heart samplers...and so on. Thanks for the many decadent ideas and for your open hearted selves. Please, be mine, all of you. Type to you next Tuesday, at noon.


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