What's Cooking With Kim O'Donnel

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Kim O'Donnel
Special to washingtonpost.com
Tuesday, May 1, 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: Happy May to you. I'd be remiss if I didn't mention yesterday's fire that destroyed Eastern Market, the beloved historic landmark in the SE part of Capitol Hill. Strange, I was thinking just on Sunday if there was time to head over in the afternoon, as I like to make a visit every few months and take in the neighborhood spirit that is so very warm. I hope the recovery is swift. A huge loss for the city. In other news, I made granola and slurped on luscious stalks of grilled local asparagus last night. Wonderful! What's got you fluttering about the kitchen lately? Do tell.

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Bethesda, Md. : Hi Kim,

I was happy to see some signs of spring at the Dupont Farmers Market this week, especially the fresh asparagus (bought green and purple).

I have been craving soft shell crabs. Have you seen any at area markets? When can we expect to see them? Last year, they showed up in stores around the end of April, but I know this year has been very cold.

Kim O'Donnel: Me too! And guess what -- Buster's, the seafood vendor at Dupont's market, was selling softies this Sunday. They're located in the parking lot portion of the market, closer to the Metro entrance.

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At the office: Hi Kim, I have a sort of general question for you (and maybe a silly one): what, exactly, do you learn in cooking school? I've heard of knife skills classes, I can imagine learning about particular cuisines, but I'm just curious about what a typical year at the CIA or something would be like. (I'm not headed to cooking school or anything, just curious.)

Kim O'Donnel: I didn't study at CIA, which is more like going to college (they've got 2 and 4 year programs), but to a school in Manhattan that ran the course of 4 months or so, 40 hours a week. Every school is different in terms of length of program and focus, but all professional cooking programs teach much more than knife skills. They teach how to work in a commercial kitchen, multitasking, various classic techniques (braising, saute, sweating, etc) that are the fundamentals of cooking, no matter the cuisine. You learn timing, working with others, chemistry, patience, plating, butchering meat, how to make humble pie, among many other things. It's an incredibly intense experience that took up all of my time, during which I stunk like a kitchen, but it was also one of the most life transforming experiences. I am forever grateful for my time in cooking school.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Kim, I can hardly wait to make my own granola from your recipe this weekend. It sounds delicious and I have all the ingredients on hand except for the groats.

On another note, why do I have such problems getting into the What's Cooking every Tuesday? It takes until about 15 to 20 minutes every week to get into the Web site and to be able to see the chat -- wonder if anyone else is having this problem?

Kim O'Donnel: Groats are optional, but I really like the texture and crunch they give, in a similar way to wheat germ. Re: accessibility to the chats: I haven't heard this. I'll let the LOL folks know.

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Chocolate: Hi Kim,

I was in the SF/Bay Area recently and found a small store (Bittersweet) dedicated to dark chocolate with bars from all over the world. Do you or any of the peanuts know of a similar store in the DC area that might have an extensive selection of chocolate bars?

Kim O'Donnel: I've been there! Wrote about it in blog last summer. It's a fun little spot, no? I don't know of anything similar in DC but suspect there's something along these lines in NYC. Anyone know?

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Philadelpia, Pa.: Kim: I went to the store to buy some cashew and almond butters to try and was shocked at how expensive they are -- so shocked that I didn't buy them. It occurred to me to wonder if I could just make them at home? I assume I grind up some nuts in the food processor but should I use roasted or raw nuts, add oil, salt, sugar? Thanks.

Kim O'Donnel: Yeah, those nut butters ARE pricey. I agree. Not sure if a home food processor will do the trick or whether you'll need something more powerful to yield the texture you wish, but hey, it's worth a try. I would definitely roast the nuts first.

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Columbus, Ohio: Hi Kim,

I discovered a new way to eat beets -- the Indian way. Dice the beets into tiny cubes. Chop the stems and leaves. In a wok at a tablespoon of oil and fry cumin seeds till cracked. Add the beets and its leaves. Add salt, cayenne, turmeric and garam masala. Cover nad cook till the beets are tender. Add lots of lime juice at the end. This is a nice combination of sweet/sour/salty/spiciness.

Kim O'Donnel: Nice going. I may like this, partic. since the beets are diced. Thanks for sharing, Columbus.

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Takoma Park, Md.: Hi Kim,

Tried something that is so good I have to share. Unsweetened chocolate milk. Yes, completely unsweetened. Start like you are making cocoa, mixing a little hot water into a tablespoon of unsweetened cocoa, in a Mason jar. Add a bunch of ice cubes and some milk, and shake the jar until the milk gets really cold and frothy.

If you expect a sweet chocolate taste it will taste unusual. But if you ready your taste buds for a spicy cold drink instead, it is incredibly refreshing. It doesn't leave that "thirsty" taste in your throat that sweet cocoa does.

I love getting the chocolate buzz without that sugar knockout, too. It is a real mood lifter ...

Kim O'Donnel: Nice. I can see the appeal. Ever thought to add a pinch of cayenne for a kick?

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Coconut Milk and ???: Kim -- I have some coconut milk to use up, and was thinking about using it in a risotto with green onions. Would this complement a main dish of stir-fried beef with ginger carrots? If not, what would you suggest to go with the risotto?

Kim O'Donnel: Since you're doing a stir-fried beef w/ carrots, why not make it easier on yourself and boil rice and use half of that can as part of your liquid? The other half will be water, as usual. You can really taste the coco notes, trust me. Finish it off with some lime zest. Wonderful.

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Re: Almond Butter: Takoma Park food coop sell freshly ground almond butter for a reasonable price. You can take your own container and have it weighed.

I like the taste of unroasted (raw) cashewnut butter.

Kim O'Donnel: Wonderful. I love this.

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Nut butter: For cashews you do not need to add oil. Just leave the processor running for quite a while. Like, a few minutes straight. It will turn into smooth cashew butter on its own, you just have to give it its own sweet time to get there.

(Peanuts, too.)

Add salt at the end, if the roasted nuts weren't already salty enough. Probably don't need sugar.

Haven't tried with almonds. They may need a little oil since they are less fatty, but give it a chance on their own first.

Kim O'Donnel: More good tips on making your own nut butter...thank you!

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Beans: Wanted to let you know that I bought some of the Rancho Gordo heirloom beans you blogged about a couple of weeks ago, and am looking forward to cooking them this weekend!

Kim O'Donnel: good for you. Can't wait to hear what you think. I need to place a new order myself.

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Catskill Woman: Hi Kim,

I am wondering if other folks have had my experience. About a year and a half ago I bought Kyocera ceramic santoku chef's knife. I loved it for it's lightness and sharpness. Within six months the tip chipped off and last nite when I accidently banged it on some wood, the knife broke completely in half. Are they really that delicate? This was an expensive knife and am wondering what to get to replace it. Don't think I want to go the ceramic route again but do want the lightness.

Catskill Woman

Kim O'Donnel: Wow, that stinks. Let's ask other Kyocera owners if they've had similar experiences...

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Alexandria, Va.: The residents of the condo building where I live have been invited to bring a a snack to a Cinco de Mayo party on Saturday evening. I am hoping you could give me a recipe link for a contribution I could take.

Thank you so much, Kim.

Kim O'Donnel: Follow these breadcrumbs to a Mayan dip (scroll down a little on page) that will knock your socks off. Made with roasted pumpkin seeds. Got this goodie from Heidi Swanson's "Super Natural Cooking." Really easy, and you can make a day ahead.

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Adams Morgan in Spring, D.C.: Hi Kim!

Quick question for you. I'm having about six people over for dinner on Friday and my menu is Spring Pea Soup, Flank Steak with a soy-honey marinade, asparagus and something with rhubarb for dessert. Maybe a cobbler, maybe just over vanilla ice cream. Two things, I'm missing a starch but I don't really want to do mashed potatoes, any suggestions? And has anyone seen rhubarb in any stores yet?

Thank you!

Kim O'Donnel: Coconut rice, mentioned earlier in the hour, would be lovely here. And if you want to fancy it up a bit, add toasted cashews. As for rhubarb, check out the details for the rhurbarb-strawberry fool I wrote about recently. sublime.

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Choc milk: Unsweetened cocoa is great in hot milk, too. Once you try it, you realize the sugar really gets in the way of the chocolate taste. Just make hot cocoa the regular way, but with milk (skim is fine), not water. And I agree, a pinch of cayenne would be a great addition.

Kim O'Donnel: Thanks for chiming in. The ancient Aztecs liked it this way, too.

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Nut butters ...: I made cashew nut butter this past weekend to use in a cookie recipe. Made it in my mini-prep processor; first process until the nuts are finely chopped, then add in some canola oil and continue processing until smooth. Worked great.

Kim O'Donnel: Wonderful. I love all the first-hand reports.

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Columbia, Md.: I was wondering if you had a recommendation for a cookbook of Mexican or Tex/Mex recipes. My mother-in-law loves Mexican and spicy food. We're hoping to get her a cookbook and some pepper plants for Mother's Day. Thanks for your help and all of your wonderful recipes!

Kim O'Donnel: Rick Bayless has a lot of great titles, particularly for those just learning about Mexican cooking. For someone with more cooking prowess, consider titles by Diana Kennedy.

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Mt. Pleasant, Washington, D.C.: Hey Kim. Long time reader, first time poster. Thank you for these chats ... you are so nice and interactive! My question: I got a buddy here at work that doesn't like (but yet has never tried) shrimp! The easiest and most agreeable seafood out there. What dish could I get him to eat that he wouldn't know had shrimp in it!?

Kim O'Donnel: I agree that it's difficult to really know if you don't like something until you try it, but have you asked him why? Maybe it's for environmental or religious reasons...maybe he's turned off by seafood in general. Talk to him first before cooking.

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Arlington, Va.: I have two small zucchinis and two small yellow squash that I need to eat pronto. I typically broil them or sautee them with a little spice. I found a recipe online today that is for zucchini pancakes. You shred them, and add bread crumbs, eggs, and spice and then sautee them. Think I could use the yellow squash for this too?

Kim O'Donnel: Yes, you most definitely could. They're all in the same family and should shred similarly.

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Rockville, Md.: Hi Kim,

I'm looking for a spicy, not-boring chicken marinade to go with typical picnic sides: baked beans, cole slaw, potato salad. Any recommendations? On the flip side, what should I use on the grilled chicken for the picky little kids who don't like flecks of anything on their food?

Thanks so much!

Kim O'Donnel: I don't know how spicy you want things, but let me share with you an old recipe that has translated really well on the grill. I marinate chicken, skin removed, in a combination of buttermilk, cayenne, garlic salt and celery seed. For every pound of minute, I use 1 teaspoon of garlic salt. Cayenne is to taste; for 1 pound of chix, maybe 1/2 teaspoon. Same for celery seed. As for buttermilk, just enough to coat. Let it marinate for a few hours, but if you only have a 45 minutes, that's fine too.

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Light dessert to complement taco bar: Hi, Kim --

Love the blog, love the chats. Always great reading and new ideas, and you are wonderfully encouraging to cooks of all levels. Thanks.

Any thoughts from you or the chatters about a light, easy dessert to go with a taco spread? I have a lot of family coming into town next week (getting married, lots of family on both sides, lots of doings).

On Wednesday night, when the first crew arrives, we're planning to have a sort of taco buffet for dinner. Beef and fish options, usual trimmings, plus vegetarian beans, some corn, maybe some Spanish rice as sides. Maybe just a simple salad. It's the Midwest, so we're a bit behind you on the farm-fresh veggies.

What do you recommend as a light finish? Doesn't have to be a dessert in the strict sense, as we'll have plenty of food, and the rest of the weekend will ramp up with food and desserts as we celebrate the too-rare time to be together as a family.

We're all pretty comfortable in the kitchen, and pretty comfortable with a crowd (22 people in the immediate family. Only 10 for this gig). So, I'm fine with setting someone else to work on the dessert-y-thing while I put the final touches on dinner. Alternatively, I could do something ahead.

I am thinking something as simple as sherbert and cookies might be fine (and would hold for later if few indulge) but I figured you and the crowd might have some more clever ideas.

Thanks!

Kim O'Donnel: What about fruit? I think pineapple wedges are very festive and would pack a juicy punch. You can even grill it, on skewers.

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NoLo, D.C.: For the person seeking a huge selection of fancy chocolate bars, I'd head to Biagio Fine Chocolate, which is on 18th just above T Street in the original Sticky Fingers location.

The guy who runs it has a great selection of chocolates from all over the world.

Kim O'Donnel: Nice one. I'll have to check this out. Thanks for the sleuth.

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Goat cheese pasta: I made the following dish the other night:

I made rigatoni. I sauteed onions and garlic in olive oil, and then added tomatoes and mushrooms to the onions and garlic. I mixed this with the rigatoni, along with uncooked spinach and goat cheese, then I sprinkled some pine nuts on top. It was very good, but i was hoping that the goat cheese would have melted and created more of a sauce. Any suggestions? Thank you! Love the chats!

Kim O'Donnel: If a sauce is what you want, combine a little of that hot pasta water with your goat cheese and a sauce is what you'll get.

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Chicken marinade: I know a lot of people like recipes, but some of the best chicken I've had was marinated in whatever we pulled out of the fridge -- grape jelly was the best, I think, mixed with hot sauce, coriander, cumin, and some other random stuff. From what I've found, you can never really go wrong as long as you don't overdo any one ingredient.

Kim O'Donnel: Good rule of thumb. I like it. Another one is to have a little acid, a little fat, a little spice, a little sweet.

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Boston, Mass.: So I tried something new and wanted to report back. I had posted about rose water on the blog, and you responded saying it would be good in granita.

I took a pineapple, pureed, added a little rose water (1 tsp), a squeeze of lemon, a little sugar. I think the granita came out very well. (I chose pineapple because I thought I had heard that rose and pineapple are related, but I checked into it, and they aren't.)

Kim O'Donnel: I like your spunk, Boston. Actually, pineapple is more closely related to the agave, from which tequila is made! Keep me posted on your adventures.

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Hyattsville, Md.: Where can I find unflavored gelatin? My toddler likes jello but all the Jello packets are artificially flavored, etc., so I thought I'd make my own. Any tips?

Kim O'Donnel: I've seen it in regular supermarkets such as Safeway and Giant.

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Light dessert with tacos: or sherberts in fiesta flavors like lime and rasberry

Kim O'Donnel: And granita, which was just mentioned would be really nice here, too. Thanks for chiming in.

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Kim O'Donnel: Okay, time to run. Thanks for all the good cheer and great ideas. Next week, we'll be thinking of Mother's Day brunch and he can sweeten up the old lady. More on that in a bit. Til next!

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