What's Cooking With Kim O'Donnel

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Kim O'Donnel
Special to washingtonpost.com
Tuesday, July 31, 2007; 12:00 PM

Calling all foodies! Join us Tuesdays at noon for 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: I can't believe tomorrow is the first day of August. How...oh never mind...I'm starting to sound old. Kids go back to school soon, no? I found outrageously gorgeous blackberries this weekend at market; their brambles were as tall as Marge Simpson's hairdo. And wow! What a mouthful. You'll hear more about that later this week in the blog space. What have you discovered at market lately? Got any good nibbles to share?

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Kim,

I posted last week suggesting you try the eye-opening organic apricots at the Dupont farmer's market. Did you get to try them? They were so yummy this week!

Kim O'Donnel: Sigh. No. I hit my own neighborhood market on Columbia Pike, and then the skies opened, so extra marketing did not factor in.

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Wolf Trap: Kim,

I'm going to Wolf Trap on Thursday and I want to pack a little picnic for dinner. Any suggestions? I could have a cooler and some ice packs, but everything would have to be made ahead of time. I'm thinking that I would start with a gazpacho (very cool, sealed in a thermos), but what else would you recommend, especially in the way of a main course? Thanks,

Kim O'Donnel: Wonderful thought. Talked a bit about packing the picnic basket last week. I'm a big fan of fried chicken for picnics, but you don't say if you do meat. Tell me more...I'm also thinking of a cold flank steak salad, lots of lime, garlic...

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Bethesda, Md.: Hi Kim

I spent an hour or so the other evening picking meat from about 10 crabs and now have a nice bowl of claw and backfin meat, but I'm not sure what to do with it. I was thinking of a soup; possibly a bisque or maybe a gazpacho-like cold soup from fresh veggies.

Do you or any of your readers have a tried and true crab soup recipe?

Many thanks.

Kim O'Donnel: cold crab is quite wonderful as a garnish for gazpacho...but i'm thinking maybe i'd do a salad, with a yogurt/mustardy dressing, served with some hunks of avocado and vine-ripe tomatoes. Other thoughts on crab meat?

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Alexandria, VA: Kim,

I am a potato person. Mashed potatoes, potato chips, au gratin, you name it, I love it. BUT, I'm trying to eat healthier. Do you have any great healthier recipes for potatoes or alternatives? I've tried the sweet potato thing, but I like my potatoes to be salty or creamy, not sweet. HELP!

Kim O'Donnel: Well, what about a potato salad that's lean and free of the fatty stuff? I'm a big fan of adding lots of lemon juice, Dijon mustard, olive oil, scallions and parsley to my potato salad...in fact, it's one of the few ways I'll eat it. If mashed potatoes is your thing, instead of the butter and cream, what about a smidge of buttermilk instead? Or olive oil and garlic?

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Washington, DC: I made a tasty little appetizer the other day in about five minutes. I took a pile of cherry tomatoes and sliced each in half. I then used a melon baller to cut circles of fresh mozzarella that were the same size as the tomatoes. Then, adding a tiny piece of basil, I made tiny sandwiches, with tomato halves as the "bread" and mozzarella and basil in the middle, held together with colorful toothpicks. The cherry tomatoes we've gotten have been unbelievably tasty too.

Kim O'Donnel: Well done, dear. That's the spirit!

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Panzanella in Atlanta: Following the discussion from last week, I decided to try making panzanella (I noticed it was in your blog today, too). I used some homemade croutons I had made earlier in the week as the bread base. Then I added halved sungold grape tomatoes (from the farmer's market), cucumber (from the farmer's market) and garlic. I dressed the whole thing with balsamic, olive oil, dried oregano, salt and pepper and fresh basil.

Not the most original take on panzanella, but it sure was delicious!

Kim O'Donnel: Thanks for checking in, Atlanta. I am glad you gave it a whirl -- the point is, you got inspired...you'll see in yesterday's blog post a comment from "Paolo" who had just hung up with his mother in Italy; in his family, the salad was very simple, without cukes or extra herbs. Do what works for you.

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crab: I'd hate to mix crab with tomato...the acidity overwhelms it.

Deviled crab wtih pasta salad is yummy.

And hate to admit it, but there's nothing like crab imperial. or stuff some rockfish

Kim O'Donnel: The crabby ideas are starting to roll in...

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Arlington, VA: I found the most gorgeous squash blossoms at the Arlington Farmer's Market last week and completely ruined. I stuffed them with a ricotta cheese mixture, dipped them in milk and flour batter I got from a recipe on the internet and fried them. The batter was way too liquid-y and didn't stick to them at all. They weren't the light, delicate treats that I've had in the past. I LOVE these little things when cooked properly. Any tried and true recipes?

Kim O'Donnel: Ack. Sorry to hear this. Next time, no milk in that batter. Egg and seasoned flour.

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Mango apricots: Found these at Whole Foods last week and bought a few, but don't know what to do with them. I'm guessing I don't eat the skin, as it feel like a mango, right?

Kim O'Donnel: I've not seen these. A newfangled hybrid, perhaps? Anyone else had a gander?

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Omaha, N.E.: I recently mastered a basic muffin recipe ... nothing fancy, just all-purpose flour, sugar, eggs, etc. etc (added fresh blueberry's last time ... WOW!) I would like to make the muffins a little more healthful, any suggestions as to where/how to start? Thanks and Happy Tuesday!

Kim O'Donnel: Instead of butter or oil, you can sub in equal amounts of applesauce. This will dramatically reduce fat quotient. Even if you replaced half of fat with applesauce. Use less sugar than you think you need. A little lemon zest goes a long way in the flavor department.

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love potatoes?: brush with olive oil and herbs, skewer, and grill!

Kim O'Donnel: Yes indeed; that would keep them out of the unhealthy range, absolutely.

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Washington, DC: I've got scads of leftover ham in my fridge right now. Any ideas of what I could do with it? I once read somewhere that ham shouldn't be frozen...

Kim O'Donnel: Cook a pot of beans and start things off with diced ham, onions and garlic...ham and cheese omelette...diced, sauteed and then thrown into a carbonara pasta...thinly sliced with a hunk of cantaloupe...what else, folks. Re: freezing: I'm again st the idea of something spending time in the fridge then being thrown into freezer. Doesn't bode well.

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More from wolf trap: We do do meat, but not fried chicken (we're trying to be healthier, so fried in general is out). The flank steak salad idea is interesting. I have lovely ripe peaches from the farmer's market as desert.

Kim O'Donnel: You could marinate steak in soy sauce, sesame oil, lime, a little sugar, a splash of rice wine, vermouth or sake, your choice of spicy element, even a little bit of ginger or garlic. Then grill or broil. Slice against the grain and take all sliced up, for sandwiches or with mixed greens.

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healthier muffins: the Dannon website has a muffin recipe using plain nonfat yogert. They also have a substitution function for your recipies.

Kim O'Donnel: Yes, plain yogurt is a dream in the baking department. Nice idea.

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for the healhty muffiner: up the fiber and healthy fat, too: toss in some ground flax seed and some oat bran. Maybe some nuts.

Kim O'Donnel: More good ideas on muffin makovers...

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leftover ham: Jambalaya! Rice, tomatote, chicken, sausage, and ham (I'm allergic to shrimp).

Kim O'Donnel: Yes! Wonderful idea.

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Squash blossoms: I prefer to use beer instead of egg in the batter--then you have a beer to finish!

A tip I read is that the batter should be approximately that of pancake batter, which seems about right.

Kim O'Donnel: Pancake batter is an excellent gauge. Good call...

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Brookline, MA: Potatoes: If you're grill-less like me, I would roast them. Especially if they're new potatoes. Keep the skin on, cut into wedges. Smash up some garlic cloves, and/or some onion. Get everything covered in olive oil, salt and pepper, and add some fresh rosemary. Stick them in the over for about 20 minutes or so, depending on how crispy you like them. Heaven.

Kim O'Donnel: Thanks Brookline. Here's hoping our potato lover is still online.

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Mint dilemma: Hi Kim,

I have about a 6x6-foot patch of mint in my backyard that I'd like to cut and use up before it TOTALLY takes over! I can only drink so many mojitos (and believe me, I have put that theory to the test in the last few weeks) so would like to make a few batches to freeze of mint walnut pesto.

Thing is, I have no recipe. I've just heard of this combo and always thought it sounds delish. So... mints, walnuts, then what? Should it be more savory or sweet? Olive oil or another kind? What other herbs/spices? Help!

Kim O'Donnel: Mint, walnuts, olive oil. You could add some cilantro or basil to the mix, even parsley. Salt.

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Omaha, NE: Thanks for the muffin suggestions,Kim. I'm also interested in playing around with the flour, subbing a little oatmeal or whole wheat with that all purpose white...do you have any rules to go by when changing flour in a recipe? (I know it can be a little more complicated than a basic replacement) Thanks again!

Kim O'Donnel: When it comes to fiddling with flours, I am back at square one with you. One alternative that works seamlessly is white whole-wheat flour, which is whole wheat flour but not as hearty. Made from lighter wheat plant than traditional red wheat.

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Meat balls:: So I'm craving meatballs today, I have ground pork defrosting in the fridge, but I was wondering if I can add a nice cheesy surprise in the middle. Would goat cheese work?

Kim O'Donnel: Yes, you could try...but I think parmigiano is a better way to get your cheese...were you thinking of something that oozes? By the way, have you ever doing an Asian-y take on meatballs -- soy sauce, chopped fresh ginger, sesame oil, cilantro. Veyr nice.

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wolftrap picnic: Stuffed grape leaves are elegant finger food.

I also make a saled with any combo of the following: fresh mozzarella balls, grape tomatoes, cubed avocadoes, a little red onion, maybe cucubmer and your favorite vinigarette (when I get in a hurry I use Paul Newman's Red Wine vinigarette or a Champange Vinigarette).

Kim O'Donnel: I love the idea of stuffed grape leaves! Good call.

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Arlington, VA: Ah, beer in the batter. That would make it a bit like a tempura, no? I think there's a recipe in one of the Yan Can cookbooks for fried vegetables that uses beer. It's quite nice but I haven't make it in awhile.

On the "beer to finish" them. Alton Brown had an episode once on making chili. It required one beer plus 1 teaspoon of beer. What do you think he did with the remainder?

Kim O'Donnel: what do YOU think he did with the remainder?

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Picnics: For Wolftrap, I always take things like potato salad, fresh fruit, cut up cheese, crackers, hummus, kalamata olives - things easily packed and also easily eaten with fingers. Some sliced cold cuts (salami, pepperoni) that can be put on crackers with cheese. It's fun to just lounge and graze.

Kim O'Donnel: More picknicky ideas...and yes, let's not forget to lounge and graze...

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Alexandria, VA: Hi Kim - I'm curious to hear what you think about something I've been pondering. I was debating between buying organic honey from Harris Teeter (their house brand) or local non-organic honey from the guy at the Del Ray farmers market. Generally, which do you think is going to be a better bet (safer, healthier, ethical, etc.)? Not just for this specific instance, but for produce/meats/dairy overall -- locally grown, small operation or larger producer organic? I'd love to hear your -- & the chatters' -- thoughts. (For what it's worth, I went with the farmers market honey!)

Kim O'Donnel: For me, I pick local over organic, hands down. Buying local means supporting local economy, and it means supporting people who are looking after the land. There are many cases in which farmers are withholding use of pesticides, etc. but can't afford the very costly expenses of becoming certified organic. Buying local means you can ask questions about the product directly from the person who grew it. A more intimate relationship with your food.

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Alexandria, Va.: For the muffin experimenter, if you introduce whole wheat flour to a regular white flour recipe, you will probably need a bit more liquid. Try starting with 1/4 to 1/2 whole wheat (whether white or brown) instead of a total switch. Maybe try the King Arthur website? Their whole wheat desserts book has been enormously informational to me (and has some pretty tasty recipes too).

Kim O'Donnel: Thanks for chiming in on this muffin-y matter...

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B'more: Blackberries! Yum. I'm heading on vacation so have been finishing up all the fruits and vegies. Had a big bowl of blackberries and nectarines in plain non-fat yogurt for breakfast. It was yummy. I love nectarines from the farmer's market.

Since I'm flying to Maine tonight, where the corn is not as good as Maryland's, I have twelve ears of good Eastern Shore sweet corn packed in my bag. We'll be grilling them tomorrow night along with some fish. I can't wait.

Kim O'Donnel: Ooh. Sounds wonderful. Please report back with your fish tales.

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Pesto: I'm allergic to walnuts, but I can eat pecans. Can I use pecans in a pesto recipe?

Kim O'Donnel: Pecans may be a wee bit rich. Can you eat pine nuts or almonds?

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Squash Blossoms: For the squash blossoms, I use a mixture of flour and very cold sparkling water/club soda. Makes a very light crisp batter that works well with the blossoms.

Kim O'Donnel: Yes, I like club soda for the batter. excellent idea.

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Fran: I discovered a problem with substituting applesauce for fat in

baking: I made the delicious oatmeal cookies in Nick

Malgieri's "Perfect Light Desserts" and left them on the

cooling racks. Before I put them in a tin, a front came in with

lots of humidity. Instead of just getting a little soggy, the

cookies almost dissolved. They were turning back into batter

right before our eyes! I put them back in the oven for a

couple of minutes; but when they cooled, they were as hard

as rocks.

Kim O'Donnel: Hmmm. That is a great point, partic. if you're baking without air conditioning. Humidity can really change the end result of a baked dish. Thanks for adding this tidbit.

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St. Paul, Minnesota: Just a quick note to say that we have been making the grilled chicken with the fish sauce marinade that you had on your blog a bit ago. We are loving it! We use chicken breasts, either bone-in or boneless. They are making a great entree. And we sometimes make extra to chop up for salads or for sandwiches. It's great to have one or two of those stocked away in the fridge. The marinade is so simple to put together and the flavor is great. This would be great for the picnic basket.

Kim O'Donnel: So glad that the viet grilled chicken (from Andrea Nguyen) is making a hit all the way in St. Paul! Wonderful. I agree, great for that picnic basket. Cheers.

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local honey: I hear local honey is also good for people with polen allergies.

Kim O'Donnel: Yes, that's another really salient point. Local honey is the product of local flora and is a natural way of protecting the body from local allergens. Thanks.

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Chicago: Kim,

I made a cherry clafouti last week and had a heck of a time pitting the cherries. Is there some trick I'm missing? I tried using a cherry pitter, but the pits didn't come through the other side. I ended up cutting the cherries in half and digging the pits out with a paring knife, but it wasn't pretty. I know some clafouti recipes say you can leave the pits in, but I wanted my three year old to be able to enjoy it without fear of him choking.

Kim O'Donnel: Nah, no real easy way to pit those babies, and it makes quite a mess, doesn't it? I have never been able to pit them without turning a shade of blood red. Anyone with a trick we're both missing?

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Fran: Our Representative helped include a provision in the farm bill

that will give aid to farmers during the long transition period

to organic.

I agree with you: local over shipped organic any day.

Kim O'Donnel: Fran, which rep. and which bill? I've been keeping tabs on farm bill developments thus far.

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Kensington, MD.: For Mint dilemma:

You can make a mint chutney, using the mint, half an onion, a quarter inch of ginger,seeded jalapeno, salt, sugar, lemon juice and a couple of tbsp of yogurt. A great dipping sauce, as well as delicious on toast.

Kim O'Donnel: Excellent. This brings to mind another variation on chutney, which I love to serve with pakoras: Mint, a plum tomato, hunk of ginger, just like you say, salt, lime and chile of choice. I agree, wonderful spread. Makes the mouth pop.

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Pennington NJ: I've been frying squash blossoms in olive oil and garlic, after stuffing them with soft goat cheese and dredging them in egg and then seasoned bread crumbs. Do you have ideas for other ways to cook them, other than frying?

Kim O'Donnel: Good question, dear. Anyone know of baked squash blossoms?

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Turkey burger help?: I'd love to add some punch and some variety to turkey burgers (or other uses of ground turkey -- on the grill now, in the skillet when the delicious summer fades).

Ideas? I am going to try feta and some chopped spinach in the mix tonight but I need additional inspiration in order to keep hubby happy. Anything that makes them "meatier" will be good for him. Though he is always good about TRYING other options, finding ones that really hit the spot is a bit challenging.

Thanks!

Kim O'Donnel: Mustard. soy sauce. sesame oil. cilantro. chopped onion and garlic or scallions.

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Fran: Rose Levy Beranbaum uses a hairpin to extract cherry pits. I

have an old pitter that works, so I haven't tried this.

Kim O'Donnel: Ah, yes! I have heard of this trick, yet to try it myself.

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for Wolf Trap picnic: I did a yummy chicken salad - poached chicken with Thai red curry sauce and yellow curry. Sauteed, cooled and then use greek yogurt instead of mayo. Add some chives for color. Had a basil, tomato, mozzarella salad. And asapargus with shaved parmesan. All can be eaten with a fork - husband and I just passed the containers back and forth. Neater than using our hands (but we shared cooties).

Kim O'Donnel: Very nice. All sounds good...and I like the yogurt replacement...

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Fayetteville, NC: Any ideas for cold soups besides gazpacho (which I'm currently noshing on as I type)? I have seen several recipes for mint and cucumber, I believe, however, I'm not a mint fan...thoughts?

Kim O'Donnel: Well...you could do a cucumber puree with yogurt, dill, paprika, lemon...you've got to thin out the yogurt a bit. Think raita-like soup. As for cold soups, I'm partial to sweet over savory --- cold berry or melon soups are lovely.

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Re: Finding Blogs: Kim, last week you mentioned we should email Jim Brady about our concerns with finding blogs on wp.com -- I did and here's his reply:

Thanks for the note. I agree that it's harder to find a full list of blogs than it should be, and we're working on a full index and some other ways to more easily find a full list of blogs. Finding Kim's blog, though, is pretty simple; all you have to do in search the site for "Kim O'Donnel" or "A Mighty Appetite," and the blog comes up right at the top of that

search return.

Thanks,

Jim Brady

Kim O'Donnel: Thanks for your tenacity, and thanks to Brady for getting back to you. He likes e-mail, by the way, at executiveeditor@wpni.com

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re Turkey Burgers: They tend to dry out so add some ricotta cheese to the mix. Worcestershire sauce will add some "meatiness" as will bbq sauce. Sauteed onions (not just raw) add a wonderful flavor too!

Kim O'Donnel: Oh, that's a good point about the Worcestershire...

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Ocean View: I grow mint in my garden for the sole purpose to have on hand to make tabouli.

Kim O'Donnel: Of course! Yes, please...and then there's mint choc chip ice cream to make...

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St. Paul: About the cherry pits. I sprang for a high quality cherry pitter. You can get ones that handle one cherry at a time or ones that have kind of a funnel that you load a bunch of cherries into. For me it was worth it. I use cherries a lot more now that I have it.

Kim O'Donnel: Thanks, St. Pual for following up!

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Arlington, VA: Squash blossoms made with my mom's recipe are pan fried, but uncoated. After cleaning, they get stuffed with a mixture including mashed potato, an egg, sliced green beans, salt/pepper, bread crumbs, and... garlic? other? you can be a little variable here.

Also good on foccacia if you bake your own. just pull into strips and lay on the bread before brushing with olive oil.

Kim O'Donnel: This is an interesting take. Where's mom from? I love the idea of mashed potatoes inside...

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new england: I saw a tip on (gasp) Rachel Ray's talk show, where they used an old percolator piece with a long stem and pitted cherries quite efficiently with it.

Kim O'Donnel: Hmm...does this mean we should all run to our nearest thrift shop???

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Charles Town WV: I found a new way to use squash last night! Grated a piece of leftover onion (about 1 TBS), put it in the pan with a pat of butter, grated the smallest of yesterday's garden squash and tossed that in, added lots of pepper and some garlic. When the squash got hot cracked three eggs on top, waited for the whites to start to set, added more pepper and hot sauce, and put them under the broiler to finish the yolks (heat resistant handle on the small pan). A variation on what I call a bachelor's omelet! Yum! I just wish I'd had some mushrooms to add.

Kim O'Donnel: Very nice, Charles Town. Yet another way to get something good from grated summer squash...

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Capitol Hill, Dc: Hello Kim. I have a gift certificate from Williams-Sonoma and am unsure how to spend it. Would investing in a high quality knife be a good idea? And if so, any recommendations? Thanks so much.

Kim O'Donnel: How much play money do you have to spend? Holler if you can.

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Ground turkey is so flexible: I substitute turkey for ground beef in most of my recipes now. The most successful, and meatiest, by far, is chili. Hands down. Lot's of yummy Mexican spices, onions, peppers, mushrooms, and, if you like smoky vs. spicy (which I do) try using baked beans isntead of black or brown beans (bacon and onion is the best). Mom tried this once when she was halfway through cooking chili and realized she was out of regular beans. Now we always use baked beans.

As for burger, add fresh herbs, maybe some worcestershire sauce, onion, garlic, whatever. Just more flavor.

Kim O'Donnel: I like ground turkey in white bean chili myself. I also had my first round with turkey bacon this weekend. Not half bad.

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Cukes in abundance: Came home from a short vacation and picked 17 cucumbers... ideas (other than sharing, which we plan to do).

Can't seem to get any squash to grow, but the cukes are happy! And we're glad to have them.

Kim O'Donnel: Make panzanella-- see yesterday's blog space...one of my most favorite things to do with a cuke is to slice it up, pour a bit of soy sauce on top, with rice wine, sugar and chili flakes...and pour that mixture over steamed rice. When I'm not in the mood to cook or too hot to be bothered, I'll make this for supper. It makes me very happy. Cukes love feta, as well...and I'm a sucker for cukes with hummus.

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Arlington, VA: Mom's stuffed squash blossoms? Mom was born and raised in Italy - about 10 minutes from the Malpensa airport that serves Milan. It's kind of in the middle Varese, Como, and Milan.

The neighborhood kids were always shocked that we were eating flowers for lunch when they had to wait for us to play when I was a kid.

Very good cuisine. I have a recipe book from my parents titled (my translation) "our grandparents ate like this". It's an interesting book (the squash blossom recipe isn't in it) sometimes written in dialect and frequently assumes that you're master of the kitchen.

Kim O'Donnel: I love it. I spent time in that part of Italy (between Milan and Turin) at a cooking school 7 years ago. I agree, the food is very soulful. Thank you so much for sharing this story.

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Corn and Sun gold Salad: Just wanted to let you know that I made the corn and tomato salad you mentioned last week and it was DELICIOUS! I have leftovers for lunch today and I can't wait until noon. Thanks!

Kim O'Donnel: Goodie gumdrops. I love to hear your kitchen reports. Please keep'em coming...and that is my queue to sign off. Thanks for all the good cheer and splendid ideas. Stay in touch, and come see me in the blog space during the week: A Mighty Appetite. All best.

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