What's Cooking With Kim O'Donnel

Kim O'Donnel
Special to washingtonpost.com
Tuesday, August 14, 2007; 11:00 AM

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.


Kim O'Donnel: It's a beautiful day in Washington, warm yet breezy, and the light is stunning as it makes transition towards fall. Yes, fall. Thanks for joining me a wee bit earlier today; I've got a train to catch but wanted to squeeze some time with y'all nonetheless. Today in the blog space, I declare my love and support for okra, the vegetable that gets a bad rap more often than not. If you're in love with okra too, I encourage you to share your favorite ways of preparing the oft-maligned pod. Gimme some okra sugar, why doncha? Next week, I hope you'll help me figure out how to celebrate my birthday, and then I'll be offline that final week of August so Mister MA and I can enjoy Seattle. Let's hear what you got cookin'.


Topping for blueberry buckle: Hi Kim,

I made your delicious blueberry buckle on Saturday with some wild blueberries brought back from Maine. I had the same problem I had last time I made the buckle, which was getting a crumb topping. It look like the topping just melted and combined the cake layer.

I cut the butter into pieces and made sure it was cold (in the freezer), then did the topping step. I also tried pressing the topping bits into big size crumbs to see if that would do anything, but that didn't work. Do you know what I'm doing wrong? Otherwise, this recipe seriously rocks.

Kim O'Donnel: Many folks have shared the same complaint, and so I experimented a bit in the kitchen. Unfortunately, I don't have my notes handy. I believe I used brown sugar rather than white granulated, and I decreased the amount of butter by 2 tablespoons, and might have added a bit more flour. In the meantime, anyone care to share expertise on yielding a crumb-y topping?


Washington, D.C.: Hi Kim, sorry this is so long. I'm getting married in October. My fiance's family will be coming, as will mine. I'd like to cook a big dinner for everyone a few days before. As this will be his family's first trip to the U.S., I'd like to make a traditional American meal that involves a minimum of fuss and preparation, and can mostly cook itself. I'm thinking either wild rice soup or corn chowder to start, followed by pot roast with carrots and potatoes. For dessert: buttermilk panna cotta with balsemic strawberries. (I know, not American, but I love the recipe.) My questions: Does this sound practical? Any recommendations? And can the soups be made ahead, frozen, then thawed and reheated if both contain cream? Thanks!

Kim O'Donnel: First of all: Congratulations. Second of all: go easy on yourself. I remember when I thought I'd be able to make the cupcakes for my wedding this spring -- in Puerto Rico, no less -- and eventually I came to my senses and let someone else handle the work. Don't know how many people you're planning to feed, or when you're planning to host this dinner, but whatever you do, don't do it by yourself and don't do it too close to wedding day. You'll have a stroke. I just had this very conversation with a girlfriend who's getting married next month and she finally realized she couldn't cook the night before wedding, as tempting as it may have been at the outset. Tell me first the parameters, then we can proceed.


Arlington Farmer's MArket: Hey Kim -- any idea why there are so few vendors at the market? I have been the past couple of weeks and there are only about half as many as usual.

Kim O'Donnel: Which Arlington are you referring to? Courthouse is nothing but bustling, and that's larger than Clarendon or Columbia Pike. Send me more info if you can.


Midwest: Your zucchini "crabcakes" are passing through larger and larger circles out here -- to rave reviews -- as the squash harvest burgeons. This is the time of year, says Garrison Keillor, when midwesterners lock their cars lest they find fresh vegetables in them when they return.

Last night's dinner: crabcakes", sun-ripened sliced tomatoes with fresh mozzarella and basil in EVOO and balsamic vinegar, and a cucumber salad made of thinly-sliced (on my madeleine) salt, pepper, white wine vinegar and evoo, a little sugar, and dill. Yum! I love this time of year.

Kim O'Donnel: The credit needs to go to John Shields, chef at Gertrude's in Baltimore and PBS cooking show host. it was his recipe, which I culled from "Cooking Fresh From the Midatlantic," a cookbook with regional/seasonal recipes. But so glad you're enjoying them, and I love how they pair up with all kinds of flavors, as you're discovering.


Okra: Kim, the okra pancake recipe sounds really cool. but what do you serve it with? Any condiments you think would be a good combo? I have okra in the fridge, but always just fry it up southern style.

Kim O'Donnel: I'm thinking something spicy, a good chutney or your favorite hot sauce...and I had some at the ready last night. But much to my surprise, I didn't need any condiment at all. I almost sliced up a vine tomato, which I think would be great...and I was saying to Mister MA how great these would go as part of a brunch...or as cocktail teasers.


Okra: My brother's Jamaican nanny taught me this.

Get some whole fish -- trout or something similar. Stuff them with a mixture of okra, slivered onion, and chopped spinach, and top the fillets with a generous dusting of a grill spice blend. Put into parchment and foil packets and grill or bake.

Great texture -- the moisture from the okra helps steam the fish.

Kim O'Donnel: Nice! This is a new one for me. Cheers.


Washington, D.C.: Hi Kim,

Last week you so graciously pointed me to your blog for a recipe on fried green tomatoes. I was so excited to make them over the weekend, but hit an unfortunate snag: I couldn't find any green tomatoes! No luck at Giant, Whole Foods or Magruder's. Do I have to sneak onto a farm at night to get them?

Kim O'Donnel: I'm not surprised you couldn't find in the store. Try your neighborhood farm market this week -- and no sneaking in the middle of the night is necessary. Where do you live or work? We'll point you to the closest market.


Arlington, Va.: LOVE OKRA. Good morning. We love eating okra at our house. My husband and I love it fried, and I also like it in a vegetable stew that my mom makes with tomatoes, corn and a small bit of sugar. She has canned it in the past, except for the time that all the jars exploded in the dining room from (correct me if I'm wrong) the acid buildup from the tomatoes when she should have added the tomatoes last and gradually sealed the lids. Otherwise okra is great, and a super source of iron.

Kim O'Donnel: Thanks, Arlington. Okra is also a pretty decent source of Vitamin C, B6, and as I mention in blog today, a fab source of soluble fiber, the kind that we're all looking to get to help reduce our cholesterol levels.


Columbia, Md.: My mom uses a lot of okra in Indian vegetarian cooking. If you're looking for a great okra dish with a little bit of kick, try looking for an Indian vegetarian recipe which has "Bhinda" (Gujarati for "okra"). Bhinda khadi, a yogurt-based soup is fantastic.

Kim O'Donnel: Thanks, Columbia. Maybe your mom will wnat to share one of her okra recipes?


Arlington, Va.: Ooh, an earlier time. I just wanted to say thanks for the I can't believe it's not crabcakes recipe. So good. But here's a question. Do you think I could bake them? Throw a little oil on a baking sheet and put them in the oven? Besides the non-frying thing, I think the leftovers may last a little better. Any ideas?

Kim O'Donnel: I'm sure it can be done, but I think you need to be prepared for a very different texture. If fat is an issue, why not trying oil spray as an alternative? You want a little bit of crust/browning on outside, which I don't think you're going to get simply by bakng.


Philadelphia, Pa.: Kim:

I've got some zucchini and eggplant and red peppers to use up and would like to stuff them but with something more interesting than white rice. Any suggestions?


Kim O'Donnel: Cous cous is great as a stuffing -- and you can zip it up with nuts, dried fruit, raisins, herbs, feta. I might also try pearl barley. Other thoughts on stuffing veggies?


Dinner Help: Hi Kim -- I need some mighty appetite wisdom! My husband and I are aspiring to be better hosts by making dinner for friends more often. The key is we are trying to learn how to have casual weeknight dinners with friends, because generally when we cook for people we go WAY overboard and it becomes impossible to on any type of regular basis. So, tonight we are having a friend over. We know we are making pasta with pesto, but that's as far as we've gotten. Any idea what we can add to turn this into a simple summer meal with minimal fuss? We have time to stop at the grocery store for supplies.

Kim O'Donnel: I'd add chopped fresh tomato...maybe pick up a melon, make a salad with feta, cukes, red onion...or instead, get a little prosciutto and serve with melon....dessert could be sorbet or grilled peaches. You're right; no need to go crazy during the week, and it's so much better to just do it rather than worry about how extensive the meal is.


Alexandria, Va.: I really want to try those zucchini cakes, but I hate, hate, hate Dijon mustard. Can I replace it with honey mustard in the recipe? I know it's only a teaspoon, but Dijon mustard ruins pretty much anything for me.

Kim O'Donnel: I say, do what works for you. I'm one of those people who can't stand honey mustard, so you see what I mean...


Washington, D.C.: Have you ever made peach sorbet? I find ice cream such a pain to make, and sorbet seems slightly less bad for you, but I am only finding a very few recipes for peach sorbet online. I'm wondering if it just doesn't work as well in sorbet as other fruits? A bowlful of peaches are at stake here!

Kim O'Donnel: I've made peach frozen yogurt, last year in fact, and it was wonderful, thanks to my ice cream guru Bill Addison. See if you like the sound of the recipe. As for sorbet, I'll need to get back to you w/ details, perhaps next week.


Cleveland, Ohio: How do I go about pressing tofu to extract the liquid? I recall doing this for a recipe once, but now I'm winging it. I seem to recall slicing it, then placing it on paper towels or a clean kitchen towel under a weighted baking sheet. How long does it need to sit like this? I'm adding it to a saucy, curry-type dish.

Kim O'Donnel: Actually, try pressing it while it's still one big piece. Place a plate on top, then weigh it down with a frying pan or can of beans, something that can stay still. And just let it drain, about 20 minutes or so.


Searching for Green Tomatoes: I live a little ways north of the Van Ness Metro Station. I think there's a farmer's market in Chevy Chase near the Maryland border, but I've never been.

Kim O'Donnel: There's a Chevy Chase market on Saturdays, dear. On Sunday, there's Dupont Circle market, right by Metro as well.


"Oil" comment: Kim, do you think people are going a bit off the deep end with no fat, no oil no frying? I get a little peeved with that in these chats. Animals (and yes, humans are animals) need a bit of vegetable fat / oil for many things. Bodily processes use fat to work correctly, and your hair and skin need fat to be smooth and shiny. You don't have to drench foods in fat, but trying to save a calorie or three is silly after a while!

Kim O'Donnel: I hear you. Everything in moderation, and I'd much rather fry at home minding the oil than get my fried quotient at a fast-food joint. Still, it's really okay to eat something fried once in a while; the key is to be mindful. I guess some folks think if they start up with the fry, they'll never be able to stop.


Help: I am searching throuh the recipe finder and cannot seem to locate the zucchini "crabcakes". Please link there is zucchini from the farmers market that needs to be used and this sounds delicious.

Kim O'Donnel: The blog recipes, unfortunately, are not yet available in recipe database, so I've created a recipe index page with all recipes from A Mighty Appetite. I've gotten behind on updating it, which is a kick in the pants for me to do so, but in the meantime, here's what you need: Never Enough Zucchini Recipes


Alexadria, Va.: My husband used to only like okra dipped in corn meal and then fried. But now his (and mine, too) favorite way is simple grilled okra -- much better for you and much easier to make!

Question -- I need to bring a finger food for a casual evening meeting. I have some eggplant at home - any good recipes for eggplant dip? This group consists of avid eaters, so hummus would be old hat for them. Or other suggestions? This is inside, so food sitting out in the heat won't be a problem.


Kim O'Donnel: Check out this recipe for Baba ghanouj, which is smoky and velvety on the tongue. Love it.


Washington, D.C.: I'm thinking about buying myself an ice cream maker. Any suggestions on brand/type?

Kim O'Donnel: I've been really happy with my ICE-20, the $50 machine from Cuisinart. It's pretty basic but does the job well. The only caveat: you need to keep bowl in freezer at all times.


Frying Phobia: I think people also don't know how to fry. It is hard to know what temp. to heat the oil to make sure it doesn't soak into the food as much.

Kim O'Donnel: Really good point. If you heat oil to 340 degrees, it's super hot and veggies take hardly any time to cook, and less oil is absorbed. It just takes a few minutes of waiting for that oil to get there.


Atlanta, Ga.: My aunt makes the best okra. Instead of breading and frying it, she stirfries it with some tomatoes and onions. She says the acid in the tomotoes prevents the okra from becoming slimy. She's also careful to not cook it too long so it doesn't get too soft. I haven't tried her technique, since I've always heard okra is tricky. I suspect there may be more to her method than meets the eye, since she's an expert cook who can make great food out of surprising ingredients.

Kim O'Donnel: Other folks like to use white vinegar as an anti-slimer, but honestly, I'm all about the slime. I love it, particularly now that I know it's good for me.


Arlington, Va.: I was the one asking about baking the zuke cakes. When I do eggplant parm, I bake the breaded eggplant on a lightly oiled sheet pan. I think it comes out better than frying, much crispier and stays that way. I just don't know if it would work with the not-crab crabcakes.

Kim O'Donnel: Give it a whirl, and let us know how it comes out!


Washington, D.C.: I am cooking dinner for friends, some of whom do not eat meat, but do eat fish. I was thinking of doing a fish/oyster chowder of some sort, but most recipes call for browning some bacon before adding other ingredients. Is there any non-meat ingredient I could use that would approximate the taste of bacon? Or should I scrap this idea?

Kim O'Donnel: I would just let it go. Plenty of onions, garlic, celery, etc will translate just fine.


The other white meat: I have a big hunk of pork thawing in the fridge, and I'm looking for a good, flavorful way to cook it that's more interesting than a plain old oven roast or BBQ. Any suggestions?

Kim O'Donnel: is it a tenderloin? tell me the cut.


Bethesda, Md.: Kim,

The orzo entry in your blog came at good time.

We love orzo. Our preparations have evolved from parsley and olive oil to all elements for pesto ( toasted pine nuts, fresh basil, garlic and parmigiano reggiano) thrown in separately to a new one version which didn't come out the way we would have liked.

It was missing something. We used kalamata olives, sundried tomatoes, pine nuts, peppadews (sp) lemon zest and juice, and olive oil, red wine vinegar salt and pepper. It was just a little flat. Maybe not enough salt or could have used some parsley. Any suggestions?

Kim O'Donnel: Hmm...don't know. Did you add salt to your cooking water? You've got acid in there, which will help lift...maybe some garlic? onions?


Maryland: The FroYo recipe looks great! Can you make this without an ice cream maker? How would you go about doing that?

I'd love to try this at home, but am without an ice cream maker, and not sure I want to give up the space to something I may not use that much.


Kim O'Donnel: I don't think you can make this without the churning assistance of an ice cream maker, I'm afraid. Maybe you can go in on one with a friend, who might have extra storage space?


Baby Zucchini Trouble: Hi Kim,

Last week I saw something tempting at Whole Foods -- baby zucchini, about the size of okras, actually. Being a zucchini lover, this seemed like a fun way to enjoy zucchini. So I cut the zucchini in half, sauteed simply in olive oil, salt and pepper and was ready to enjoy the zucchini over a bed of couscous. Unfortunately, the zucchini just tasted BAD -- not like zucchini, but pungent, and almost foul. They didn't look like they were overripe or going bad. My roommate spit them out after trying them -- they were really bad. They were throughly cooked, just tasted bad.

So my question is, do you have any experience with baby zucchini? And what do you think I could have done wrong? I'm inclined to think it's just the taste of the baby zucchini I don't like, as I've enjoyed normal zucchini cooked this way many times.

Kim O'Donnel: Ack. Sorry. No, I don't have much experience with baby zucchini, but technically as a 'baby' veg, it should be even sweeter. Did you notice where they were grown and shipped from? My suggestion is to chalk it up to experience and get to the farm market this week, where zucchini in all shapes and sizes are up for grabs, sweet, fresh and very far from foul.


Kim, do you think people are going a bit off the deep end with no fat, no oil no frying?: We all choose our own diets. I choose not to deep fry because of the fat, calories AND hassle. Beleive me, I have other diet indulgences (cheese!), but deep frying simply isn't one of them. I'm not obsessive, mostly lazy.

Kim O'Donnel: And here's another take on the oil/frying matter. Food is so very personal.


Storing all that wonderful local produce: Hi, all...

Thinking ahead a bit. As much as it pains me to consider, fall is coming, and winter after that. I'd love to 'stock up' as much as possible on locally grown produce to see us through at least part of the nastiness that is a Midwestern winter (I'm not from around here... as they say...). But I am not sure how long I can store things like potatoes, winter squash, onions, beets and the like. I know I can't keep greens or beans or broccoli or summer squash (pout) but I'd like to think ahead about how much local stuff we could stash for the winter. And ideas on where to find good information on buying and storing for the cold months. Our market stays open until just before Thanksgiving, so I have some time to consider, but want to think ahead a bit. Thanks for any tips you can provide. Love the chats and the blogs, both of which are always good for getting the synapses firing.

Kim O'Donnel: For those roots and cruciferous veg, a cool/dark place is best. People used to have root cellars for this very purpose. As for prolonging the goods from summer, ever consider canning? I am going to embark on a canning adventure while in Seattle later this month and will share all field notes.


For person making orzo with "missing ingredient"...: I make pasta with almost identical ingredients to those you listed ... kalamatas, sun dried tomatoes, pine nuts, herbs.

The key is to sprinkle plain or herbed feta liberally over each serving. Binds things together, adds a nice creamy saltiness... YUM! I'm making this tonight, in fact!

Kim O'Donnel: Just in the nick of time...


Thank You: I am so excited to try the zucchini recipes. Vegetables in my kids' cookies, really this makes me so happy. They are good about eating vegetables but any additonal places I can add them makes me feel good.

Kim O'Donnel: And these cookies are delicious, a double bonus.


Washington, D.C.: Hello! I bought a nice big bunch of basil at the farmer's market on Sunday. The guy said to put it in a cup of water on the counter, not in the fridge. Within a couple of hours of putting it in the cup on my table it was completely wilted. Is this normal? Should I be storing it differently? My basil has always maintained a little life, but not this time around. It has no snap now when I eat it. Thanks for any ideas you might have!

Kim O'Donnel: I had same problem this week -- you gotta clip stems a bit and change water every day. That will keep your babies nice and crisp.


Inundated with Tomatos: Hi Kim, and thanks for your help.

I planted 3 San Marzano's, all 3 of which are laden with fruit and they're ripening all at once. I'd like to make both Sunday Gravy (the kind that cooks all day long) and pizza sauce, but I can't find any recipes that appeal to me.

Here's the catch...I've already publicized my intentions and I'm hosting a large family dinner on Sunday. Any help you can provide, or chatters for that matter, would be appreciated. I realize it's late...hook me up and I'll donate $25 to the charity of yours (or said chatters).

Thanks Kim. Love ya!

Kim O'Donnel: You're on. Do you want plain gravy or bolognese? I'll share in blog this week, if you let me know.


Chocolicious!: Hi Kim!

I tried out the chocolate sauce recipe you posted up from "The Perfect Scoop", and it was FANTASTIC! Super easy, even when I've never made chocolate sauce.

Of course, I changed the recipe to suit my tastes -- cut the corn syrup in half (because I was using semi-sweet chocolate and I don't like sticky sweet sauces) and I added a pinch of salt and a little vanilla extract. It was probably a little runnier than usual because of the reduced corn syrup, so next time I'll cook the syrup a tiny bit more before adding the chocolate. (which I stirred in off the heat).

Anyway, just wanted to say thanks for inspiring a new cooking adventure!

Kim O'Donnel: So glad you tried -- and improvised. Thanks for sharing your first-hand report.


Peach Sorbet: I made an impromptu peach sorbet with fine results at the beginning of the summer. I think I used a food processor to liquify the peaches (pitted, cut into slices, left skins on). Then I added some boiled sugar water syrup (cooled) and some corn syrup (to make slightly smoother), to taste. A dash of lemon juice. Stuck the whole thing in my ice cream maker. Would have been better if I had pre-refrigerated the mixture for a few hours before placing in ice crean maker.

Hope that helps -- love the chats, Kim!

Kim O'Donnel: That helps a lot, dear. In lieu of corn syrup, you could add an ounce of booze to help w/ smoothing/ freezing issues. Cheers.


THE BAD BABY ZUCHINNI: I know baby veggies are supposed to be sweeter, but my experience from my own garden is that smaller squash sometimes have a greater skin to flesh ratio (the squash hasn't grown into it's skin?) and the thicker skin makes the squash bitter. I now wait til the squash reaches a certain size before picking. this is just my theory.

Also, even if bought at Whole Foods, did you wash the veggies sufficiently?

Kim O'Donnel: Sharing some useful baby zukey notes...


Steubenville, Ohio: Homemade Ice Cream:

When I was a child, my mom made ice cream and froze it in a metal ice cube tray with cube insert removed. She would take it out and beat it one or two times during the freezing process with her egg beater (yes, before she even got an electric mixer). It was very good as I remember. (Of course I was a child) This might be a method of trying a recipe before one buys the new-fangled ice cream maker. (I caved and bought a Cuisinart a couple of years ago).

Kim O'Donnel: Ah. You're always chockfull of goodies, Steubenville. Nice one.


Kim O'Donnel: The train whistle beckons. Thanks for checking in today. Enjoy this beautiful day, and I'll type to you tomorrow from New England in my blog, A Mighty Appetite. All best.


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