What's Cooking With Kim O'Donnel

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Kim O'Donnel
Special to washingtonpost.com
Tuesday, October 16, 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: Hello, hello! What are you eating today? It's a busy time of year on many fronts in the food world. Markup on the 2007 Farm (I mean, food) Bill is expected in the Senate. I hope to have news on that front in the coming days; every day there seems to be a new wrinkle. A new food movie is opening this Friday in Washington; KING CORN is a documentary about two guys who lease an acre of land in Iowa and grow their own corn. Stay tuned for Friday's blog space, which will feature notes from my conversation with the filmmakers, a trailer and all the trimmings. What else? There's another movie coming to town, next week, I think, called COOKING UP YOUR LIFE, about a Zen Buddhist who teaches cooking classes. I'm trying to get more info on where movie will air, will let you know as soon as I do. Cookbooks are surfacing every minute it seems, and today in a  cookbook alert I feature two titles that just arrived on my desk. What else? OH! The Dalai Lama is coming to town tomorrow! What shall be prepared in his honor, do you think? Let me hear all ideas, great and small.

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It's not easy being green...: Kim,

I'm trying to get into eating greens (kale, etc.), but I'd like to avoid the bitter greens to start. Which "easy" greens would you recommend?

Kim O'Donnel: Try chard for starters. Easy, mild, kind of spinach-y and quick cooking to boot. Tatsoi is another quick-wilting green that's fairly mild.

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If it's Tuesday....: ...it must be "What's Cooking" time. Hi Kim, loved the cooler weather last weekend, made some awesome pumpkin pancakes and a stew, love this time of year!

Kim O'Donnel: Tell us more about those pumpkin pancakes dear! I've been thinking it would be fun, based on a reader's suggestion, to do a pumpkin-exclusive menu in the coming days. Whaddya think?

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Fairfax, Va.: Hi, Kim --

I just got back from vacation and was catching up on the archives. A couple of weeks ago someone wrote in regarding corn syrup (as used in pecan pie) and went on about the problems with high fructose corn syrup, as if they were the same thing. (The former being glucose syrup, the latter converted to fructose.) Several commenters seemed to confuse the two. When you have the chance, it might be helpful to others to correct this misconception.

I've enjoyed your chat from the first one and trust that everything is going well for you.

Thanks.

Kim O'Donnel: Hi Fairfax; you're right to chime in. That Karo in the bottle is corn syrup (avail in light and dark) and is also known as glucose. HCFS on the other hand is a highly processed product of enzymes and wingbats and other things in the lab...and something that no one but scientists and the soda makers have access to.

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Washington, D.C.: I'm curious to make Heidi Swanson's chocolate chip cookies with mesquite flour. Can you think of any stores in the area that might carry mesquite flour?

Kim O'Donnel: Good question. Have you looked in her book for online sources? I don't have book handy, but I do recall a useful list of purveyors for these specialty items.

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Gnochi FRUSTRATION!: Hard as a rock again. This time I even BAKED the potatoes rather than boiled them to eliminate more moisture. It's killing me!

I don't think I'm over kneading them. Help.

Kim O'Donnel: Rats. I feel your pain. Now where was it that I saw cookbook author Paul Wolfert's technique being featured? It's in one of the food mags. Anyone else know what I'm talking about?

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Kim. I enjoyed your recent blog about fruitcakes. I noticed brandy was one of the ingredients in the accompanying recipe. What kind of brandy is appropriate for use in such recipes? I'm assuming NOT the most expensive kind, but, knowing nothing about brandy, I'm stumped. Could you give me a brand name or a type of brandy that is good for use in baking so I know what to ask for at the liquor store? Many Thanks!

Kim O'Donnel: I went to the liquor store and bought a very generic bottle of brandy, about 5 bucks. I can't even remember the name. Don't worry, be fruitcake-y. By the way, any other readers making fruitcakes? I bought my fruit, my booze and today I'll throw everything into a jar. I've decided not to used candied fruit, dried fruit only.

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Gaithersburg, Md.: In searching for easy one-dish meals for the fall, I have come across several recipes that include thawed, drained packaged frozen spinach. I can't tell you the childhood memories this conjures up ... Anyway, is there any real reason not to use fresh spinach in these recipes for caseroles and soups. Thanks

Kim O'Donnel: No, there isn't any real reason, unless the recipe likes the extra water from the frozen stuff. But you say it's gotta be drained anyway. Use the real stuff! It's in season now.

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Celery Root: Kim,

I have been undertaking a project to cook a new fruit or vegetable from the farmers' market every week for the past few months. My latest purchase was celery root. I have a couple of interesting receipes for purees and remoulade. Any other suggestions?

Kim O'Donnel: Kudos! I like your style. I too have a celery root at home. How do you feel about gratin? Celery root is great layered in a cast-iron skillet, with cheese, baked in the oven. It's also terrific roasted with other roots.

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De-bittering the greens: And put a little salt on, right when they hit the table. Don't salt during cooking, or in the broth, but one dash just before fork hits leaves.

Kim O'Donnel: And for extra bitter greens like rapini and mustard greens, I recommend a quick blanch before proceeding with your recipe.

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Pumpkin menu: My cooking club did a meal last year where every dish was pumpkin- based and it was a HUGE hit. We had Thai-style pumpkin soup, roasted squash salad with bacon and pumpkin seeds, pumpkin-walnut focaccia, squash-stuffed chicken breast, brown rice risotto with pumpkin, marinated roasted vegetables (don't worry -- there are pumpkin seeds!)and pumpkin-maple trifle.

Kim O'Donnel: Nice! Thanks for all the good ideas. I'm working on my menu today and tomorrow...

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Freising, Germany: Speaking of Jamaican beef patties and Spinach Pies from a couple of weeks ago, do you know of any good books on Savory Pies?

Also, which type of form is best for these type of savory dishes? I've got a ceramic dish, but I've heard that they're difficult to look after.

Kim O'Donnel: Hmmm....I like Martha Rose Shulman for savory pie ideas, in fact I think she's got a whole chapter on the subject in her "Ready When You Are." Deborah Madison has some great ideas on the theme, and I might like at "Meat and Potatoes Vegetarian Cookbook" by Robin Robertson.

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Using brandy : Kim,

I have to disagree -- like with everything else in cooking, better ingredients generate better results. Higher quality brandy that you soak the fruit in, as well as soak the cake in if you use recipes like mine, will impart a much smoother and softer taste without the harshness and "booziness" that some cheap brands can impart. You don't have to break the bank, but don't get the rotgut either.

Kim O'Donnel: I'm not suggesting rotgut...and there is another place in the recipe to use better quality booze, when you're steeping the finished cake.

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Attleboro, Mass.: Paula Wolfert's method to cook gnocchi was in the latest issue of Food and Wine.

Kim O'Donnel: Ah, bueno. Thanks for helping my addled brain.

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Richmond, Va.: Hi Kim, thanks for maybe taking my question. What percentage of the receipes in your book are vegetarian? I'll probably buy it regardless because you've given me a lot of recipes I can actually follow and my range of foods has expanded. If I could just get biscuits to stop burning on the bottom I'd be a happy boy.

Kim O'Donnel: Hey Richmond, thanks for asking. There are a total of 30 recipes in A MIGHTY APPETITE FOR THE HOLIDAYS, and only 4 of them are expressly for omnivores. A handful of recipes include the option to add or subtract meat, and another handful are vegan-friendly. For more info: visit my shamelessly self-promoting Web site or e-mail me: writingfood@gmail.com.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Hi Kim --

Although I'll soon be missing the wonderful fruits and veggies of summmer, I'm lovin this change of the seasons. Went apple pickin' over the weekend and also picked broccoli, spinach and beets! Had a KOD cooking weekend and made a batch of wonderful broccoli soup and meatloaf as well as a batch of Syrian style lentils and of course some baked apples.

Thanks so much for all you do, these chats and your blogs have really encouraged me to have fun in the kitchen.

Kim O'Donnel: sounds like a delicious weekend, Silver Spring! Check out the fun sweet potato dinner we had on Sunday night -- using both the root and the green!

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Talkin' Turkey: Hi Kim!

I know that this is early, but I'm starting to panic about first-time hosting T-day dinner. The bird is ordered (from the farm just down the road), but I am at a loss about dressing. Is it too early to start this conversation? I'm just trying to plan out, way ahead, so I have plenty of leeway!

Other things on the menu will be a sweet/savory sweet potato dish, probably the stand-by green bean mushroom soup casserole, some relishes, cranberries, etc. But the dressing...I don't know what would be "da bomb" for this meal.

Thanks!

Kim O'Donnel: It's not too early; after all, the holiday is just 5.5 weeks away. But -- it's too early to start stressing! Give yourself a break, darlin'. Decide what you want to do about dressing -- cornbread, country bread, oysters, mushrooms, meat -- you decide -- and then come up with a game plan. I have a fun stuffing fixin's bar in my handy new cookbook, by the way.

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Cooking with Wine: The brandy question got me wondering. I went to Whole Foods in search of a bottle of "cooking sherry" because that's what my recipe called for. The wine guy proceeded to stick up his nose at me as he explained they "do not sell cooking sherry, because if you can't drink it you can't cook with it." I asked him for a suggestion and he handed me a cheap bottle of white wine, as he rolled his eyes at me. Now, I do like wine, I just haven't cooked with it before. I tried this wine he gave me, and it was most definitely NOT drinkable.

What should I be looking for when a recipe calls for wine? Often the recipe will just say "sherry" or "white wine." I guess I should just use a bit of whatever I'd drink with that meal?

Kim O'Donnel: I don't like that the guy rolled his eyes at you. Sheesh. How counterproductive to make you feel like an idiot. That said, a bottle of regular, dry sherry keeps for a long time, so there's not really a reason to have cooking sherry on hand. As for white wine, use what you like to drink, within reason. A reasonably priced wine that you can keep in the fridge, even if it loses its oomph over time.

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More on savory pies...: When you had this discussion in the blog/on the chat a few weeks ago, someone posted a tip to use packaged corn biscuits as a dough, roll them out, and fill with taco meat or other filling, seal, bake and freeze for quick lunches. My husband would LOVE these, but I am at a loss to find corn biscuits. Are they a Pillsbury-type tube thing? I usually avoid those and make my own, but I have looked and can't find them. Is there an easy dough I could make for this? Cornbread batter would be too thin, of course. Ideas from Kim or the original poster (or others?) Many thanks.

Kim O'Donnel: My brain is like a sieve at the moment, so let's ask if anyone remembers this reference.

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Frustration: Potatoes for gnocchi should be baked with the skins on, which are then rubbed off. Spread the potatoes out as you rice them, which helps them dry further.

Kim O'Donnel: Yep, which I did. My mistake on one of my tries was to use a food mill rather than a ricer, which made the puree too heavy.

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Arlington, Va.: Hi Kim! I made a pumpkin-themed dinner for friends last year and plan to do it again. All my selections were recipes from epicurious and included a warm pumpkin salad with polenta and candied pumpkin seeds, fettuccine with pumpkin, shitakes and mascarpone, and for dessert maple pumpkin pots de creme. YUM.

Kim O'Donnel: More good pumpkin-y ideas...

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Healthy Cake: So, I'm looking for yummy cake recipes that use fruit or veggie puree instead of sugar as sweetener. Do you have any suggestions on where I should turn? I was going to look at the new Jessica Seinfeld book, but it is out of stock just about everywhere, and I need to make the cake over the weekend.

Thanks for any help.

Kim O'Donnel: I'd take a look at Heidi Swanson's "Super Natural Cooking" for starters. She offers lots of natural sweeteners as options. Also, check out Dana Jacobi, who uses natural stuff. What kind of cake are you fixin to make?

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Arlington, Va.: Tell me where to find the blog on fruitcakes. I looked at recipes all weekend to see if I could find one I like but didn't. Maybe there is one there that I can use.

Kim O'Donnel: What I did is offer the fruit marinating part only. Plan to offer up part 2 in next few weeks, after my fruit has marinated. And as I mentioned, I've decided to let go of the candied fruit and diversify my dried fruit quotient. I'm also planning to use real citrus peel rather than the jarred stuff.

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Washington, D.C.: Kim,

Good afternoon. I'd like to marinate some pork chops in tabasco to give them a little zing, but I don't want to overdo it. How much should I use and what would you suggest for the other marinade ingredients, apple cider vinegar and olive oil?

Kim O'Donnel: Apple cider, which is in season, would be really nice, and instead of tabasco, what about a chipotle chile that's been pureed? They're sold in cans in adobo sauce; they offer a smoky flavor with some of that heat you want.

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Indianapolis, Ind.: Submitting early on account of work...

I've started boozily macerating fruit per your fruitcake blog recipe. How big a recipe is this going to turn into? I'm guessing two 8x4 loaves?

Thanks!

Kim O'Donnel: I believe it's enough fruit for a nine or ten-inch pan. Perhaps if you want to do loaves, you should up your fruit quotient, dear. Keep me posted! I may solicit fruitcake reports over the course of the season.

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Springfield, Va.: As far as gnocchi...we lived in Italy for three years. Our neighbor taught us to only use old potatoes, as they would give the best result. Her gnocchi was always superb. Maybe frustrated needs older, mealy potatoes.

Kim O'Donnel: Ah, the old potato trick. But really the trick is to book a ticket to Italia and find out first hand, no?? Andiamo!

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Washington DC: Hi Kim,

I love the chats!

And you know what I like best about your blog? Not only the yummy recipes, but the way in which you tie food to our lives--whether it be blogging from the Katrina Zone, or the story about "Joe's Special" in Zambia.

Thank you, so much!

Kim O'Donnel: Hey, thanks. Food just happens to be the medium for everything in our lives, no matter where we live, how we earn a living, our age, religion, politics, wallet size and so much more. It is the entry way to the stories of our lives, our relationships and our communities, and it shapes the way we see the world and each other. So that's why I look for meaning inbetween the sidewalk cracks and those not so obvious places because even there, you'll always find a crumb, somebody's crumb. On that note, I must say so long, but thanks for stopping by. I'll be back tomorrow and the rest of the days in the blog space: A Mighty Appetite. All best.

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