What's Cooking With Kim O'Donnel

Kim O'Donnel
Special to washingtonpost.com
Tuesday, November 6, 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: Today is a hat day -- and maybe a scarf. The breeze'll go right through ya! That means soup, stew or anything with steam coming out of a bowl is priority fixins. Howzit going? Well, Mister Mighty Appetite who just fixed himself a sandwich on the remaining baguette half that I left for him to sample, just asked, "Can we have baguettes every week?" I told him we could if he'd learn how and share the load, but that didn't go over too well. Methinks it's a case of being served in a princely matter. Oh well. This Thursday, Nov. 8, at 1ET, I'm hosting the Veggie Thanksgiving special, so do join us for the beginning of holiday madness. I've enlisted the help of Fairfax, Va. vegan cooking instructor Mimi Clark as well. Should be good. Now, let's hear what's on your minds...


Gaithersburg, Md.: Stupid Question? I made your zucchini "crab" cakes on Sunday. When I went to the supermarket to get all of the ingredients, I didn't see any zucchinis, just "green squash." They looked the same, so I bought them and used them. The recipe turned out fine, but I was wondering if they are indeed one and the same. Thanks!

Kim O'Donnel: Interesting. I've heard the term "yellow squash" but never green squash. But yes, it's one and the same. I can't believe you were able to get them at this time of year. Were they from Florida?


Bread baking: Kim, the recipe in your blog today is a bit intimidating! Have you tried Mark Bittman's no-knead bread? I made it for the first time this weekend (my first non-bread machine bread baking) and it turned out pretty well. I think I may spend some time playing with that recipe before moving on to more difficult recipes.

Kim O'Donnel: I'm telling you, it's more time consuming than it is difficult. REALLY. I was skeptical, but delighted at how straightforward it is. No, haven't done the no-knead bread. That's actually one of the things I love about making bread -- the meditative repetitive rhythm of working the dough.


Silver Spring, Md.: Kim,

A question for you and/or the chatters: I want to buy shears for poultry (I usually buy whole chickens but want to serve them in pieces to our guests). What brand is the best? I found poultry shears from Henckels, but the reviews on Amazon said that the spring rusts, so I went and bought regular shears from Wusthof. Will these cut chickens well, or should I try to find poultry shears?

Thanks, I love your chats!

Kim O'Donnel: I had a pair of shears years ago, and I think they were Henckels...Now what I do is use a pair of regular scissors that are exclusively for food...those regular shears will be fine. Just keep'em clean and sanitized with a bleach solution.


Biscotti girl -- but not a chemist.....: Every year I give my loved ones huge batches of biscotti. This year they've caught on and actually requested pumpkin-flavored biscotti. After two failed experiments, I'm stumped how to incorporate the pumpkin puree. I know I can't just add it to an existing recipe, but do I reduce the butter? eggs? Do you or the chatters have any ideas? Thanks for the help. I love experimentation!

Kim O'Donnel: Interesting question. You could def. add green pumpkin seeds, but I just don't know if pumpkin puree is going to yield a decent cookie. Lemme think on that. Anyone ever do this?


Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C.: Hi Kim,

I just got back from a very tasty trip to China. Do you have any recommendations of cookbooks for Chinese food? I'm especially interested in a good recipe for dumplings. Thanks.

Kim O'Donnel: I am a big fan of my friend Grace Young's books -- "Breath of a Wok" and "Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen" -- partic. "Wok" as it really teaches you how to purchase, season and incorporate a wok into your daily life. I have made Grace's jiao-zi. Let me see if I can find blog post for that.


Kim O'Donnel: Jiao-zi details


Ashburn, Va.: How in the world do I make mashed potatoes for 26 people for Thanksgiving? I'm afraid that if I do it in one batch they'll become gluey, can I make them in the morning and re-heat them? Any suggestions?

Kim O'Donnel: Yeah, unless you've got a Hobart mixer, doing a batch of 26 servings of mashed will be a nightmare. Do two batches, even three, and yes, you can reheat, covered.


Nervous beginner: The baguette post made bread making seem doable and I'm ready to try my first loaf. Any suggestions on how to revise the recipe to use some/all whole wheat flour instead?

washingtonpost.com: A Baguette Breakthrough ( A Mighty Appetite, Nov. 6)

Kim O'Donnel: Good question. I didn't get that far with the recipe, just wanted to see how it would turn out as spelled out in book. I'm sure if you adjusted flour ratios, water amounts would differ. Let's ask others who have made similiar substitutions.


Turkey Novice, Pa.: Hello Kim,

I am hosting my first T-day this year, and I would like to go for a fool-proof turkey. I am thinking that it is going to involve brining the bird (fresh, 20-pound plus) and I wanted to know if you could point me in a direction for directions, supplies, brine recipes (savory, not sweet), etc.

Would you brine a fresh bird?

And, congratulations on publishing a book!

Kim O'Donnel: Hi there, I am a big fan of brining the bird. It has served me well for at least five years in a row. Here's a link to a how-to video from 2003.


Washington, D.C.: For the chatter in need of a pumpkin biscotti recipe: try adding some pumpkin pie spice to the recipe, and try making a sort of pumpkin custard to serve as a dip for the biscotti, in order to incorporate the flavor.

Kim O'Donnel: that's an interesting idea...


Pumpkin biscotti...: I just got my new food and family magazine (The free one from Kraft Foods) and they have a recipe for banana biscotti -- basically you mush up a small banana and add it and I think they also upped the flour. Unfortunately I don't have the recipe here but I know you can look on their Web site to find the recipe and then just sub pumpkin in it's place -- also may add some pumpkin pie spice? just a thought -- if you try it, please let us know!

Kim O'Donnel: Hmmm....


Re Mashed Potatoes: Better yet -- make 3 batches with different flavors or textures! I've done garlic, lumpy, smooth, cheddar, chives, etc. Makes the buffet that much more fun.

Kim O'Donnel: That's a fun idea!


Dupont Circle, Washington, D.C.: I'm making a homemade red pepper soup, grilled cheese sandwiches with gouda and fresh radishes with french butter for dinner tonight. I also bought four practically overripe pears that I'm not sure what to do with. Can I stick them in the grilled cheese sandwich or is gouda going to clash with the pear? I'd like to keep it really simple.

Kim O'Donnel: Pear or apple stuck inside a grilled cheese is wonderful! It will work, yes indeed. But four may be too many -- you could probably get away with half a pear per sandwich.


Black Beans: Hi Kim,

I have a pretty simple question. What's your favorite seasoning to throw in with a pot of black beans? Last time I made some, I was in a big rush to get the slow cooker started before I left the house, and my quick garlic and onion addition just didn't do it. For a traditional pot, what do you use? Cumin? Bay leaves? Brown sugar?

Kim O'Donnel: I like adding cumin, coriander and cayenne with oil and onions, even some garlic, plus I'll add dried oregano as well.


Takoma Park, Md.: At the Farmer's Market this Sunday, they had persimmons; I had never seen a persimmon before and, honestly, could not have told you they are fruits. So of course I grabbed some and used them in the variation on Applesauce Spice Bread in Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. It came out a little bland (surprising given how great it smelled)and dry.

In the variations, they discuss using less spice, but I thought that was for a different variation. Should I have reduced the spice? Also, it seems to me in retrospect that one cup of pureed persimmon is drier than one cup of applesauce -- should I have added a little liquid? I also substituted all-purpose flour and corn starch (7:1) for the cake flour. I also thought another sweet flavor might help -- persimmon is fairly mild. Any thoughts?

Finally, why do you mix the baking soda with the puree (or applesauce)? What does that do?

Thanks for the chats!

Kim O'Donnel: I have a few persimmons ripening on my dining room table at the moment, but yes, I'm betting that the persimmon is much drier than a cup of applesauce. Anyone out there experience baking with persimmons?


Poultry Shears: The good folks at America's Test Kitchen JUST this week posted an evaluation of poultry shears. It is available free on the Cook's Illustrated Web site.

Kim O'Donnel: Yay. Thanks for this, dear.


Vienna, Va.: Hi Kim -- for a variety of reasons, I typically roast turkey breasts with bacon on them for Thanksgiving. I make gravy by roasting turkey legs and wings and veggies separately, then using the fond to make gravy in the dark meat's roasting pan. The fond from the bacon/breast pan is too salty to use that way, not to mention greasy. Anyhow, do you see any problem if I do the dark meat roast and gravy making on Wednesday night(the night before Thanksgiving, not tomorrow)? Nobody really eats the dark meat anyhow (except my lucky pets), so I'm not worried about reheating it, and it seems like caterers must pre-make the gravy (and adjust for consistency, etc., upon reheating) all the time. Thoughts?

Kim O'Donnel: You should be fine making gravy night before, yes indeed.


St. Louis, Mo.: Hi, Kim.

I'd like to make biscuits today and freeze them for breakfast on Sunday. At what point in the process should I do this?


Kim O'Donnel: You can bake them off, let them cool completely, then freeze. Bring out out of the freeze on Saturday night, and let thaw in fridge.


Arlington, Va.: Hi Kim! What does blind bake mean? Thanks!

Kim O'Donnel: Hey, it means to par-bake a pie crust, but with a liner of parchment paper weighed down with either dried beans or rice. It helps give the pie dough a jump start before filling is added.


Portland, Ore.: Hi Kim-

I am trolling for suggestions from you and readers for winter salads. I don't like to eat much for my evening meal, so a bowl of soup (or some risotto) and a plate of greens appeals. However, cooler weather means I want food with more depth than a mess of lettuce. My favorites include a roasted green bean and beet salad, a Santorini salad with lots of feta and olives, and a medley of broiled eggplant and tomatoes. Any thoughts? Thanks!

Kim O'Donnel: Pomegranates, which are in season now, are wonderful garnish for green salads, fyi. Let's see...What about a roasted squash and kale combo? Spinach, mushrooms, goat cheeese, with a side of lentils? I love legumes as part of a salad during winter.


Wok Cooking: I just received the wok I ordered from the fabulous Tane at the Wok Shop in San Francisco and am wondering what you like to cook in your wok, other than the normal stir-fries.

Kim O'Donnel: Fried chicken! Eggs. Anything frittery. Back in August, I did okra fritters in the wok. Fried rice.


Chicago, Ill.: Hi Kim,

I bought a big honkin' banana squash at the farmer's market last weekend. When I was growing up on the farm, my mom used to keep them through the winter in the root cellar. Since I have no such luxury in the city, what do you suggest? Baking it all up and freezing the pulp? Or cutting it up into chunks and freezing them (without cooking them)?

Kim O'Donnel: I haven't seen a banana squash 'round these parts. How big are they? Or they that big you need to come up with a meal plan? Tell me more.


Pumpkin biscotti: LOVE the idea. Quick Google just now yielded several recipes. I'll be looking through one to find what I want to try...would recommend your poster do the same. (There is even one with a URL related to dog treats... not sure I am going to go there.) I'll look for one from a reputable Web site.

Kim O'Donnel: Excellent. That's a wonderful tip.


Takoma Park, Md.: I am planning on making the chive dumplings from Breath of a Wok tomorrow night. I'll report back.

Kim O'Donnel: Please do!


Chicken stew: I made a tasty chicken stew in my slow cooker this weekend. One whole chicken, 2 cans of cream of mushroom soup, 1/2 cup chicken stock, handful of baby carrots, a chopped onion, bay leaves. The problem is, I didn't set out to make stew. Maybe I used too much liquid? The recipe called for one can (supposed to be more of a sauce), but I added another for extra sauce... The entire chicken fell off the bone, so I picked as many of the bones out as I could (many remained, which we found while eating). I stirred it up and most of the chicken shredded, so I added some rice and called it a chicken and rice stew.

It was delicious, so I'd like to try it again without having to pick all those bones out. Will it be just as tasty if I start with boneless breasts or thighs?


Kim O'Donnel: Don't use breasts. They will disappoint, getting tougher rather than tender. Breasts need high heat, fairly quick cook versus the thigh and more muscle-y part of the bird.


Washington, D.C.: I just ordered a 20-pound free range turkey from the Springfield Butcher. For the past five years, I have used your brine recipe (36 hours) on a 20-pounder from the supermarket with excellent results. Should I change the brining process because this bird is free range?

Kim O'Donnel: Nope. Don't need to change a thing. Have you found that you need to make more brine for 20-pounder?


Vietnamese cooking: Kim, I just got back this weekend from three weeks in Vietnam and Cambodia and I miss the food! I had a meal called a Hot Pot that was a soup with a very tasty spicy broth (chilis I think) and vegies and chicken. Any ideas what goes into a broth like that? Any good vietnamese cookbooks? Thanks!

Kim O'Donnel: Corinne Trang is a reliable resource. A new book that came out this year is from Andrea Nguyen -- beautiful book called "Into the Vietnamese Kitchen." Worth a look. I am envious. Hoping to get to that part of the world one of these days.


D.C. bread lover: Kim,

Thanks for your blog on bread! I make delicious challah every week (thanks to some help from my breadmaker) but rarely am inspired to make anything else. I was salivating reading the post.

Kim O'Donnel: Oh good. Wow, you make challah every week? I think you'll enjoy this recipe. It was incredibly gratifying to see the baguettes emerge from the oven, I must say.


Arlington, Va.: I enjoyed the bread blog this morning. Do you have a sourdough bread recipe you can share from the Leader's book? I've got my sourdough starter in the refrigerator and am about due to use some of it up and feed the remainder. Thanks!

Kim O'Donnel: There is more than one. Send me an email and we'll tawk. (kim.odonnel@wpni.com)


Sticks, Md.: Yeah, I'm back! Hiya Kim and congrats on marriage (old news I know). I'm still able to get zuchs at my farm market, since we've not had freeze...Anyway...How about a stew with butternut squash (not vegan) that's not a curry? I'm looking for something different!

Hugs, Sticks

Kim O'Donnel: Holy smokes! Where have you been, m'dear? Last week, I shared my love for winter squash, stewed with black or white beans...how's that sound?


Alexandria, Va.: Is there any way to make a pie crust without using butter or lard? IOW, a vegan pie crust? What about a pie filling that doesn't require eggs, butter or cream?

Kim O'Donnel: I have been enchanted by Earth Balance shortening, but have yet to try it in pie dough. Please come online Thursday at 1pm and ask Mimi Clark that question. She's the expert.


For Vienna: I can't believe no one takes the dark meat turkey off your hands! I even have a dilemma because I'm roasting one fresh, local turkey for Thanksgiving, and I know I have at least 2 dark-meat preferers. If you still have it left over, keep it -- I use leftover turkey to make turkey enchiladas, turkey crepe filling, quick turkey noodle soup, among other things. I'll roast a small turkey for a non-holiday, just so I get those gobs of leftover meat, and the dark meat has so much more flavor.

Kim O'Donnel: I know, I was thinking the same thing. The dark meat is my fave. It also, apparently, has more iron.


Yummy!: Hi Kim,

Thanks for your support as I tried to find alternatives to the usual sugar-loaded birthday cake.

I adapted an applesauce cake recipe and made a terrific pumpkin spice loaf. With only 2/3 c light brown sugar, it wasn't too sweet, and with plenty of Penzey's pumpkin pie spice, it had lots of flavor.

For anyone interested:

1 1/2 c flour

3/4 t baking soda

2 t Penzey's pumpkin pie spice

1/2 t salt

(combine in bowl)

1 stick butter creamed with 2/3 c light brown sugar until lightens in color

1 large egg beaten into butter/sugar

1 c fresh pumpkin puree (I used butternut squash because it is what I had)

Alternate adding flour mixture and pumpkin, starting and ending with flour, with pumpkin in 2 installments.

Bake at 350 until done. (Loaf pan gave best result, but other pans work too.)

Kim O'Donnel: Thanks. This will come in handy for a number of readers who have been looking for cake tweaks. Good one.


Pumpkin pie: Hi Kim,

I'd like to make pumpkin pie from scratch. I know that the big 'jack-o'-lantern' style pumkins are not what is used for baking, but how can I tell which pumkin to choose? They all look similar.

Thank you!

Kim O'Donnel: You can most certainly use a butternut squash if things get too confusing. But you can also look for a sugar pie pumpkin.


Baltimore, Md.: Kim,

I would like to invest in a good quality chef's knife (around $100). I believe I have heard somewhere that high carbon stainless steel provides a good compromise between the ability to sharpen the blade (not so with regular stainless) and no discoloration like carbon steel will. As I am a knife newbie, I am concerned with sharpening my new knife, as I know I will have to do every once in a while. I know that you can do it yourself with a wetstone, but I am afraid I would ruin the knife. Is this something I should be concerned about? Alternatively, I have seen sharpeners that you just pull the knife through. In your experience, are these worth the money? Barring either of those two, what are my options for professional sharpening, and how much should I expect to pay? What types of places should I look for that could do it locally rather than having to ship it in? If it makes a difference, I am leaning towards getting a Whustof.

Please help! I can't stand my $3 serrated knife much longer!

Kim O'Donnel:45 degree angle. That's what you need to think of when you sharpen your knife. Heel to tip, on 45-degree angle, on both sides of the knife. It will be your mantra. Don't know where you're buying your knife, but it's worth asking staff to show you how, partic. if it's a cookware shop. If that doesn't happen, check in with your local hardware store. Keep me posted on your progress.


Kim O'Donnel: Shucks, it's time to go. Will serve up a few chat leftovers in tomorrow's blog space. Washington readers, come say hello Friday night, 6-8 p.m. at Tabletop in Dupont Circle, where I'll be signing books and giving out samples. And don't forget, Thursday at 1, Veggie Thanksgiving. Thanks, all best.


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