What's Cooking With Kim O'Donnel

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Kim O'Donnel
Special to washingtonpost.com
Tuesday, April 17, 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.

For daily dispatches from Kim's kitchen, check out her blog, A Mighty Appetite. You may catch up on previous transcripts with the What's Cooking archive page.

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Kim O'Donnel: Good afternoon all. There are a lot of heavy hearts in our midst today, in the wake of the mass shooting at Virginia Tech yesterday. In today's blog, I speak to the power of cooking in times of loss, and welcome you to add thoughts as they occur. The kitchen can be a place of comfort and healing, as I've shared with you in the past. If only the weather would be more kind; I was on a southbound Amtrak train Sunday afternoon/evening that putputted through the drenched state of Connecticut. From my window, I could see cars submerged in water and streets that had become lakes. Yikes. I really think I may need a pot of tea, given all the chaos. Perhaps you've got an idea of what should be the accompaniment? Biscuits, perhaps...or scones? How comforting that sounds. M.F.K. Fisher, in "An Alphabet for Gourmets" wrote that "S is for sadness....and for the mysterious appetite that often surges n us when our hearts seem about to break and our lives seem too bleakly empty." Tell me, does your appetite get mighty or weak in the wake of emotional distress? Do tell.

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Centreville, Va.: I'm buying a new wok for my girlfriend's birthday, but she's going to flip if I don't "get a great deal." Can I satisfy my frugal lady and still enjoy szechuan a couple years down the road?

Kim O'Donnel: You sure can! Go to www.wokshop.com or better yet, give owner Tane "Call me Octane" Chan a ringy dingy; she is delightfully hilarious and will sell you a wok and lid for less than 30 bucks. She'll ask you a few questions and make suggestions. You won't break the bank and you won't lose your lady, either.

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Woodley Park, Washington, D.C.: Hi, Kim. They didn't answer this question on Free Range, maybe I'll have better luck with you. When a recipe calls for Spanish paprika, is it asking for smoked paprika? I could only find Hungarian sweet or hot paprika in my search of several stores. Would you know of a Metro-accessible source for the Spanish/smoked spice?

Thanks, Kim!

Kim O'Donnel: Pimenton is the Spanish word for smoked paprika that is native to Spain. Have you looked at latienda.com? it's an online source based in Williamsburg for all things Iberian. Check it out.

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Lactose hates me in Washington, D.C.: Is there a non-dairy substitute that for buttermilk that I could use in cooking and baking? How about for cream? Thanks so much, Kim!

Kim O'Donnel: Soy milk does work in some cases when cream is called for in recipes, but not always. It's a good idea to start leafing through vegan cookbooks for suggestions. A non-dairy sub for buttermilk? Hmm...I don't know. Let's ask the others.

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Depression lifter: When I am feeling down or sad I always fall back to chicken soup. If, I am in a hurry I use Lipton's package and extra noodles. If I have time just the mudane task of chopping vegetables and cooking the chicken and rice make me feel better.

Kim O'Donnel: Yes. The mundane task of chopping veggies and cooking is indeed a therapy in and of itself. It is purposeful without feeling so.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Kim, what an appropriate blog post this morning. I've had a hankering for soup lately. Any ideas for nutritious vegetarian soups that would not be too wintery? Thanks

washingtonpost.com: A Recipe for Loss ( A Mighty Appetite, washingtonpost.com, April 17)

Kim O'Donnel: Thanks. I only had time to grab one link, but for this time of year, I might go for a potato-parsley-leek puree. The green flecks are a reminder of spring. I also am partial to bean soup, unless the weather is tropical. I love the clean heartiness that comes from a bowl of beans. See last week's blog notes on my new favorite source for dried beans!

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Culinary Student in Honolulu: I would just like to extend my heart felt sympothies to those affected by the shooting at Va Tech. As for the comfort of food (which I personally believe in whole-heartedly), I would suggest a blueberry muffin or maybe a warm caramel pecan roll to go with the tea. Hmm, maybe I'll have to make a batch this afternoon in honor of friends in Virginia (I used to live in NoVA) affected either directly or in directly by this tragedy.

Kim O'Donnel: Thanks for reaching out, Honolulu. Let us know what you whip up to pay tribute.

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Smoked Paprika: I wanted Smoked Paprika about a year ago and couldn't find it anywhere. Since then, McCormick's started offering it as part of their gourmet collection, so you can get it everywhere now, Safeway, Giant, etc.

Kim O'Donnel: Thanks for following up!

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Alexandria, Va.: I generally lose my appetite in times of stress. The one and only food that provides a comfort are Cheetos! Cheetos have seen me through some dark times.

Kim O'Donnel: During the month-long sniper attacks in 2002, I took comfort in a can of Pringles. Yes, ladies and gents, that's right. And I remember the very first time I had scotch. It was Johnny Walker Red. It was April 1993. A very dear friend of our family, my age, had been killed.

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Adams Morgan: After the gloomy past couple of days, a pot of tea does sound wonderful. I really like eating those english muffins of yours hot out of the toaster with butter and honey to go with the tea. There's something about making bread that is very comforting when you're not feeling happy (maybe it's that delicious smell).

Since you've already made English muffins, what about crumpets? I love those spongy holes at the top that let butter melt and soak in. Do you have any good recipes?

Kim O'Donnel: Believe you me, I'm already plotting my afternoon activity at the oven...

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Washington, D.C.: Metro accessible source for smoked paprika: I bought some a few weeks ago at the World Market store on Pentagon Row (metro stop: Pentagon City).

Kim O'Donnel: Another source for pimenton. Gracias.

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Glover Park, Washington, D.C.: Madhur Jaffrey's Lemony Chicken Curry -- Do you think I could make this with tofu? My mother is coming for a visit this weekend, and is a vegan, and this is my favorite recipe! I was thinking of grilling or roasting the tofu while the sauce simmers, then adding the tofu in the last 5 or 10 minutes to soak up the sauce. Do you think this would work, or do you have any other suggestions? Thank you!

Kim O'Donnel: I DO think this would work. I also have wondered about potatoes and eggplant. Do keep me posted on this, and if it works out, I'll be sure to give you a nod in the blog.

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Penzeys: I hear Penzeys in Rockville is supposed to open on Friday!

Kim O'Donnel: Hmm...maybe it's time for a mini road trip...

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Florida: Kim, What made you decide to go to cooking school? Just wondering. I have been toying with the idea of going to baking/pastry school for awhile now. Thanks for any insight you can offer.

Kim O'Donnel: If I had to pinpoint it down to one thing, I'd say it was my job at Firehook Bakery in Dupont Circle. I was part of the opening crew in 1995. I loved learning about product, tasting it and educating the customers. It was one of three (or was it four?) part-time jobs I had at the time. I started to explore programs as well as scholarship opportunities. Within a year, I had a part-time job plating desserts at Afterwords Cafe and was working the salad station at Cashion's Eat Place. I desperately wanted to be part of the food world. I got accepted to Peter Kump's (now Institute of Culinary Education) and received a scholarship, so it was easy to say yes to the career switch. It also felt like a sign. Eleven years later, I still look at the decision as life changing and invaluable to what I do now.

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Centre of Nowhere: Hi Kim,

I think what is so theraputic about cooking is that we, The Cook, can exercise some control over an immediate event in light of the chaos around us. The extra silver lining is that the cooking often nurtures ourselves and our loved ones at the same time. Even just reading recipes in a time of stress, for me, is calming.

Hope that everyone out there is taking a little extra time today to appreciate the ones that they hold dear.

Kim O'Donnel: Thank you for your thoughtful words. I have some phone calls to make today (and some fences to mend as well).

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So you can get it everywhere now, Safeway, Giant, etc.: If only we had a Safeway, Giant or Trader Joe's in Richmond! Expansion staff, heads up, we are a good solid market!

Kim O'Donnel: Is Harris Teeter there? Yeah, that's uncool.

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San Francisco, Calif.: I often lose my appetite when sad or stressed, but the very act of cooking can be an extraordinarily comforting one. I love your idea of giving soup to your neighbors -- especially today, when everyone is so busy, it is important to remember that we are all in this big messy world together and need to take care of each other. Hope you had your pot of tea!

Kim O'Donnel: And speaking of busy -- drive-by soup deliveries are also an option! I love the idea of soup, too, because it forces one ot pause between sips, to inhale nourishment, to exhale pain and suffering. I'll boil some water just after this chat, thanks.

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Tea Time, Washington, D.C.: I just had a piece of Torta Sbrisolona that a friend of mine brought back from his trip to Verona, Italy. I'm looking for a recipe close to what the ingredients were that were listed on the package (namely, corn meal only -- no wheat flour.) I can share once I dig something up and test it out.

Anyway, the crisp cookie dipped in warm tea was a very comforting snack.

Kim O'Donnel: I'll do some digging for you. Stay tuned.

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Woodley Park, Washington, D.C.: Muchos gracias for the pimenton sightings. I'll be heading to World Market soon.

Re: tofu lemon curry. I've found that a technique used in a Post recipe last year works wonderfully for all kinds of dishes using tofu. Simply cube and simmer the tofu in salted water. The process firms up the curds and lightly seasons it. Add the blanched cubes near the end of the cooking time and they soak up the flavors of the dish beautifully without falling to pieces (and no added fat!). I think you'll like it.

Kim O'Donnel: Yes indeed! That's a great solution.

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More on lactose: I should note that I can eat yogurt, as long as it has live and active cultures. It is true that yogurt is a sub for buttermilk? Thanks!

Kim O'Donnel: Ok, then yogurt is a viable option for you. I wouldn't automatically assume a one-to-one substitution, depending on what you want to make. What did you have in mind, by chance?

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Freezer Queen: Hi, I made some lentil salad a couple of days ago that is super tasty. The only problem is it's a lot and I don't feel like eating it all week. Would it freeze well? There is no dairy in it.

Kim O'Donnel: Yes, it should be okay in the freezer. You'll need to thaw in the fridge. Airtight container, please.

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Chevy Chase, Md.: I am having a very hard time finding ground oregano in the spice section of the grocery store. I have tried Giant, Safeway, Super Fresh, Rodmans, and Whole Foods which are nearby, but am coming up empty. I can readily find oregano leaves, but ground oregano has all but disappeared. Can you shed any light on what may be happening? It appears that a trip to Penzey's may be in my future.

Kim O'Donnel: Ground oregano. Hmm. You got me. Have you looked at the Penzey's site as well?

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Is Harris Teeter there? (Richmond): Nope.

People, we are not yokels! Give me Trader Joes'! I KNOW we have the demographics and growth to support it!

Kim O'Donnel: It's all about Food Lion down there, right? Yeah, that's doesn't make sense. Have you sent any letters?

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N.Y., N.Y.: Soup seems perfect comfort food in light of recent events ...

Could you please post your recipe for potato parsley leek puree -- sounds great.

Thanks!

Kim O'Donnel: One potato per person. Quarter and peel them. One leek, scrubbed thoroughly, root removed, and white and light green part chopped. A few cloves of garlic, peeled. An onion peeled and quartered. Put all that into a pot. Add water or stock of your choice, just enough to cover veggies. Add fresh thyme if you have, if not, don't worry. Bring up to a boil, then reduce heat, cover and let simmer, until potatoes are fork tender. Pour entire content into a blender, or better yet, use an immersion stick blender and puree directly into pot. Puree until nice and smooth. Add a handful of chopped fresh parsley, puree. Season with salt and pepper. Add squeeze of lemon if you wish. Done.

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Richmond, Va.: Try Ukrops. They're usually pretty good. Or ethnic grocery stores that are in the West End.

Kim O'Donnel: Thanks for chiming in, Richmond!

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Northern Virginia: In case anyone wants to send a card or goodies to students at Tech; here's the address:

Virginia Tech

Attn: Any Student

210 Burrus Hall

Blacksburg, VA 24061

Kim O'Donnel: Lovely. Thank you so much for passing this along.

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Re: Penzeys: Kim --

If you make a roadtrip to Penzeys, can you inquire if they will sell grains of paradise? Have you ever used? I've read about them in one of Amanda Hesser's books and also Alton Brown says that they're the next big thing in spices, to be used in lieu of fresh cracked black pepper. Love the chat!

Kim O'Donnel: Duly noted.

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Columbia, Mo.: Transplanted Virginian here --

The past two weeks, the ladies in my office have been sharing Amish Cinnamon Bread starter.

Last night I added my last inserts -- white whole wheat pastry flour, sugar and honey, apple sauce and oil, chopped frozen dark cherries and sliced almonds.

Today at work, I shared my bread and we shared our grief.

Columbia is a college town with all the joys and excitement of Blacksburg. Our hearts go out to all affected and we are in spirit with you all.

Kim O'Donnel: Ah. Beautiful. I've got goosebumps. Thank you, Columbia.

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Silver Spring, Md.: I was living in Italy when I got the news that a close friend had died of cancer at 32, three months after giving birth to her daughter. In addition to the immense sense of loss, I also felt helpless for being so far away. It was a great comfort to me to have my friends in the kitchen with me (we ate in our kitchen) and I made risotto while we talked about our lives. The motion of stirring the risotto was soothing and the warm, creamy mush was great comfort food.

Kim O'Donnel: Beautiful story, Silver Spring. I can relate to this, as I cooked and "talked" to my brother Tim, who was fighting for his life last fall. The act of stirring a pot brought such solace to me at that time, and Tim, now doing so well, appreciates all the culinary vibrations.

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Thoughts and Vegan Buttermilk: Thank you for the post today Kim. Yesterday, crying at my desk at work, I calmed myself down by thinking about what comfort food I could make. Last night, roasted potatoes, glazed ham, cranberry chutney, and asparagus along with a glass of wine and ice cream for dessert graced the table. The making was therapeutic. The ham bone will go into soup tonight to warm the rest of the week.

For the vegan baker, I often "clabber" soy milk to mimic buttermilk by adding a teaspoon of cider vinegar or lemon juice to unsweet soy or rice milk and let it sit for 5-10 minutes. I do this with regular milk as well when I cook with dairy and don't have buttermilk on hand. If you have plain soy yogurt, you can use that in place of the buttermilk as well.

Kim O'Donnel: And thank you for opening your the heart of your kitchen, and the vegan buttermilk tip. This is most useful.

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For Richmond: I am from the Charlottesville area ... we have two Harris Teeters (yea!) and a Whole Foods (yea!) but would also love to have a Trader Joe's. I can't imagine that Ukrops wouldn't handle what you are looking for. The store at Short Pump seems to have quite a large selection. Good luck ... we are all pulling for both Charlottesville and Richmond to get a Trader Joe's ...

Kim O'Donnel: Wow, you all should be sending letters! Today, today! They will be inundated and bow to the pressure!

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Richmond, Va.: We have Krogers.

And Ukrops, which isn't open on Sundays and won't sell wine.

I wanted to email TJ's, but their Web site doesn't list an e-mail.

I won't say what I think of Food Lion since they DO sue people who dis them in public.

Kim O'Donnel: I may have an email to person who handles TJ publicity. Let me see what I can find out for you this week.

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Arlington, Va.: Spring soup ... a good variant that I learned from my mom, which I'm presuming is a Milan variant on the potato and leek soup, is rice with leeks.

Chop (or slice) up some leeks very fine, then sweat the leeks until soft. Add water or broth and arborio rice (add more water than you think you'll need). When the rice is done, adjust the salt, add pepper to your liking and serve. Parmegianne is typically sprinkled on top.

Enjoy!

Kim O'Donnel: Oh I love rice with leeks! Thank you for the reminder!

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Shaw, Washington, D.C.: The process of cooking is itself comforting. Last night was my occasion to use the ramps I'd bought on Sunday at the Dupont Farmers Market to make one of my favorite chicken and roasted potato dishes. I hadn't made the recipe since last spring, but I enjoyed reacquainting myself with this seasonal ingredient. I took my time preparing this oven baked dish (from Epicurious.com) while listening to NPR and trying to absorb this latest, senseless tragedy.

Kim O'Donnel: More cooking for comfort stories...I love it.

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Southern Maryland: Great blog, great chat comments today, such a terrible tragedy. I, along with your chatters, send prayers out to the families affected.

Cooking is one of the best stress-relievers I have, actually baking. I think I'll go home and make some chocolate chip cookies and send a batch to any P.O. Box in Blacksburg, Va. Maybe it will brighten the recipients day.

Kim O'Donnel: Check out the address info posted by another reader earlier in the hour. Now you've got a place to send your luv.

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Whole Foods: Is it true there will be a new Whole Foods in Friendship Heights? Seems like a glut up there -- one on River Road and one at Tenley.

Kim O'Donnel: Haven't heard anything. But if it is true, I certainly hope they're taking aisle width and parking space into account. So many of the older locations in this area are plagued by awful parking conditions and super narrow aisles.

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NYC: For the lemon curry -- I imagine seitan would be a nice fit.

Tofu would work, but i'd be sure to drain, and then maybe sear it in a bit of peanut or mustard oil before adding it.

Kim O'Donnel: Thanks for adding to this thread, NYC. See some of the notes posted earlier as well. I agree about the draining. Seitan, or what about TVP?

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Ground Oregano: Here in NYC almost any bodega or Korean veggie stand has ground oregano -- so maybe a good bet may be some place like El Chapperal?

Kim O'Donnel: Oh, that's a good tip. Thanks!

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Kim O'Donnel: Alright kind people, time to go. I'm off to research crumpets or scones. What happened yesterday is not only a huge tragedy; it's a huge story, and the media will be covering it for weeks. Take care in information overload, and do your part to celebrate life. See you in blog space and next week at the same time. All best.

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