What's Cooking With Kim O'Donnel

Kim O'Donnel
Special to washingtonpost.com
Tuesday, December 4, 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.


Kim O'Donnel: Happy winter, y'all. And happy Hanukkah to those who start celebrating this eve! If you're looking for ideas on burning the kitchen oil, have a looksee at yesterday's blog post. And today, I share my favorite tongue ticklers for December and would love to hear yours, from the past or present. A few programming notes: I am headed south over the weekend for an early holiday time-out and so next week (Dec. 11) there will be no chat. However, I'll keep the blog space watered like a holiday poinsettia, so check in as per usual. I'll keep you posted on how my holiday tan is doing...Question: Would you like an extra chat the week of the 17th for holiday stuff? Proposed date is Thursday Dec. 20. Lemme know. And now let's roll out this cookie dough...


Pumpkin biscotti update: Kim -- I am long overdue to give you a baking update. I'm the girl who talked to you at Tabletop several weeks back about biscotti. After several test batches, I finally am happy with the results.

Using your biscotti recipe, here are the modifications I made:

--1 c. of the 3.5 c total flour I used whole wheat pastry (to help absorb extra moisture)

--when adding the eggs, add about 0.5 cup drained pumpkin (thanks to the chatter who suggested spreading it on paper towels... gives it a thick yogurt-consistency)

--0.5 c. of the total 1.5 c sugar, I used brown sugar

--add 2 tsp pumpkin pie spice or to taste

--bake a bit longer for both bakings

Now, I'm working on a cappuccino hazelnut version. Added 1.5 Tbl of ground espresso, but the final result wasn't very coffee flavored. Any ideas?

Kim O'Donnel: You are one ambitious gal! Thanks for this very useful update. I would probably add a bit of almond extract to the batter. Did you use espresso powder in your batter? This is equivalent of instant coffee. Try this instead of the real ground stuff.


Washington, D.C.: Does anyone know where I can buy green peanuts for boiling?


Kim O'Donnel: Go to the Lee Brothers' online store of all edibles southern, including raw peanuts, plus a boiling kit, if you like. check it out, this is a goodie.


Knife Question: Hi Kim -- I received a set of nice Wusthof knives (the Classic style with the full tang blade) about a year and a half ago as a wedding gift. I just noticed that most of them now have hairline cracks in the handles. Nothing that would cause them to fall apart, but my husband and I thought this seemed odd. We always handwash them and keep them in the knife block, so I feel like we've kept good care of them. Is this normal?

Kim O'Donnel: I would contact Wusthof, take photos and let them know of the situation. This should not be happening, particularly if you are taking good care of your knives.


Winder Wonderland, Va.: Kim, I am having a small cocktail party Sunday night with baked goodies and themed cocktails. Two questions that would really help this party planner out! One, have any yummy drink ideas? I am going to do a spiked cider but was also trying to think of something with peppermint. Second, and more inportantly, I have made your blueberry buckle before and its a huge hit. Wondering if I could substitute cranberries for a more holiday feel or another winter fruit. Any tips/suggestions on the buckle front? Thanks so much and happy holidays!

Kim O'Donnel: Hmmm...like a peppermint hot cocoa? Are you a fan of egg nog? Yes, I think you could sub cranberries in buckle, but you'll probably need a wee bit more sugar since those crans will be tart, just keep that in mind. I'm also partial to pear crisp of the dark and stormy variety.


St. Paul, Minn.: For holiday presents I'm thinking of making a spiced nut mixture that also has sugared spiced bacon in it. You bake the bacon with some brown sugar and spices and then cut it into small pieces. I thought this would be different and pretty easy and decadent. We were thinking of pairing that with something healthy like clementines in a basket. But then I got wondering: will this keep? I could make the nuts ahead but what about the bacon? How should it be stored? And would recipients have to use it up pretty quickly or can they store it. Thanks!

Kim O'Donnel: Yeah, this is a tricky one. You'd have to keep the bacon-y nuts in the fridge -- and even so, I'm not so sure how long they will keep. Why don't you do a dress rehearsal this week and see if it's worth all the extra work. Cheers.


Glover Park, D.C.: Hi Kim! I need Chanukah advice...I want to make latkes tonight, but I don't love white potatoes. In fact, my mom used to make me special zucchini ones. My husband is more traditional, but I was hoping to mix it up and bought half russet and half sweet potato. Could I make a blend? Or somehow make half with white potato and half with sweet potato? How would that work? Thanks for the advice!!

Kim O'Donnel: you can make a blend, absolutely. Don't worry, be happy.


Washington, D.C.: Hello! Love your chats and suggestions. After last week's chat I bought pumpkin tortellini at Eastern Market this weekend but am at a loss as to what sauce to use. I think tomato will detract from the pumpkin flavor and a cream sauce is too rich for me today. I also have brussel sprouts and spinach...any thoughts? Thanks again!

Kim O'Donnel: Butter and sage sounds pretty good to me right now...brown butter, add chopped fresh sage, add a little olive oil...or do a sage pesto..or any herby pesto, for that matter.


Fairfax, Va.: Greetings Kim! I always enjoy your chats! This is not exactly a cooking question, but I have been very curious for a while now. Is the Post your only job, or do you also have a job where you cook, and not just talk about cooking? This is not meant in a disrespectful way, I am truly just curious! Thanks!

Kim O'Donnel: In 2005, I went from being a full-time employee to a contractor for washingtonpost.com, which means I work from home, often in my pajamas, and am a free agent. I also write a weekly recipe column for Creative Loafing, a newsweekly in Atlanta. The blog keeps me pretty darned busy, as I test every recipe and must constantly think ahead of what next to write. And then writing and promoting this cookbook has been a second full-time job...


More biscotti: I used the ground espresso I make my cappuccinos with, not instant espresso. What's the difference? What's an appropriate amount to add?

P.S. The pumpkin biscotti, they were delicious with mixed-in dried cranberries and pecans, and a white chocolate drizzle on top.

Kim O'Donnel: It's more like a powder, more concentrated and will yield more flavor. I would add 1 teaspoon.


Washington, D.C.: A friend was recently diagnosed with celiac and a dairy allergy. We are all getting together to bake cookies in a week and I'd love to find a recipe for some yummy cookies for her. I know there are some decent gluten-free flours on the market these days. Any ideas?

Kim O'Donnel: Jules Shepard, who's based in Catonsville, Md. has developed a gluten-free flour mix that's quite versatile. You can find her at www.nearlynormalcooking.com. I wrote about her earlier this year in the Food section, but if you follow this link, you'll get link to that article (which includes details for chocolate chip cookies) plus details on making your own GF flour mix. Stay tuned in coming days for Jules' GF gingerbread cookies. Really tasty.


London, U.K.: Small dinner party, grilled lamb and a potato gratin with goat cheese. Any ideas for side dishes (salad or vegies) and a dessert within the mediteranean theme? Thanks!

Kim O'Donnel: An olive oil cake would be really nice, flavored with orange zest and juice of oranges, just in time for those oranges from Spain and Morocco. I'm a big fan of Brussels sprouts -- and love them especially when shaved, quickly cooked with apples and garnished with pomegranates.


Arlington, Va.: Any suggestions on where to buy paraffin wax for candy-making? I checked one Michael's, Sur la Table, and a couple of grocery stores with no luck.

I was so happy to see you included clementines on your list of December faves! I bought my first crate of the season recently and am enjoying my daily dose of vitamin C.

Kim O'Donnel: Looking at December issue of Saveur, which suggests New York Cake and Baking (800-942-2549 or www.nycake.com) for paraffin wax, dear. Yes, clems are my saving grace, and I've been esp. pleased with those coming from California over those from Spain.


Washington, D.C.: Glad to see you mention Lee Brothers. I've ordered boiled peanuts from them for several years and have been very happy with them.

I've got a question about almonds. I have a bunch of whole almonds and I don't know what to do with them. I've been eating them for snacks, but am getting a little tired of that. What else can I do with them? Have you ever ground them up and used to bread chicken?

Kim O'Donnel: Almonds are great ground up as flour! What else...in rice pilaf, in granola (see today's blog space for details), spiced up as a snack, served as part of a cheese plate...share your almondy ideas here!


Washington, D.C.: Now that it's December -- it's time for holiday cookies! Someone just gave me some replica springele (sic?) cookie molds. Any ideas on how to use them? I am a big fan of German-type, spiced ginger cookies.


Kim O'Donnel: No, but let's ask those who do...


Northern Virginia: One of my best latke tips is to take the potato shreds (or whatever vegetable you are using) and use a salad spinner to dry them. The result is a perfectly crisp latke.

Kim O'Donnel: Very nice...although a little water from potatoes is good (starch), it's the onion water that can be problematic...


Feelin' Nutty: I'd like to make some candied nuts as treats for Christmas time. The problem is that so many of my friends and family are diabetic, which is why I decided to go with nuts instead of cookies. Doing something savory is fine, but I'd like to make something sweet too. Will Splenda work?

Kim O'Donnel: Splenda now offers a "brown sugar" right? The recipe I use for spiced nuts calls for 2 teaspoons brown sugar for one pound of nuts, so it's very little. check today's blog space for link to recipe.


Washington, D.C.: Nigella Lawson sauteed parboiled brussel sprouts with pancetta and somewhat crumbled chestnuts on Sunday's show. They looked very tasty. I'm thinking of adding them to my Christmas menu.

Kim O'Donnel: As far as I'm concerned, you can't go wrong with Brussels...


Bay Area, Calif.: Hi Kim -- could you give a quick primer on oven rack placement? As in, what is recommended height for baking cookies vs. baking chicken -- if there is any difference. I always just keep it in the middle unless a recipe specifies, but I think I could be doing better... Thank you!

Kim O'Donnel: My oven is small, so I'm not the best person to ask this question. I tend to bake cookies in the middle, and when there are two trays, I switch bottom and top midway through baking to keep things even.


Falls Church, Va.: I have been buying various types of hams for a ham-loving friend for Xmas for the last few years. I've done Italian, German, Spanish, and country-style. Any other ideas and where would I buy it?

Kim O'Donnel: Good question. It seems like you've covered the gamut (except southern style), but the other thing you could do is explore various artisanal salumi, if that's of interest...


Almonds in Atlanta: For the reader with too many almonds: Bobby Flay recently did a baked Manchego coated in ground almonds and served with a hot sherry vinaigrette and slivered almonds. I made it over Thanksgiving, and it was FABULOUS. A quick search on foodtv.com ought to bring it up (I am not affiliated with the Food Network!).

Kim O'Donnel: sounds intrigiuing, Atlanta. Thanks for chiming in.


Apple butter?: Hi Kim,

I bought a huge jar of apple butter from a vendor at the U Street farmers market the last day it was open. I had tried it before and it was so good I couldn't not buy a jar, but it is so big, and I was told by the farmer it would last only 2 weeks once it is opened. I can't possibly use it just as a spread and finish it in this time. Are there any breads/cakes/pie recipes you can think of that would accommodate apple butter?

Oh and P.S. I will be enjoying a fab home made brisket and potato latkes for Hanukkah tonight!

Kim O'Donnel: Shucks. this is a tough one. I'd prob. add it to my morning oatmeal...and I think I'd use it in lieu of butter or oil in pumpkin bread or banana bread. Thoughts, folks?


Shaw, D.C.: Hi Kim --

Have you ever cooked pork ribs called "country ribs"? I made some on Sunday in a Chinese style with a hoisin glaze. They came out okay, but country ribs are much more meaty and far less fatty than regular ribs so cooking them low and slow in the oven at 300 dried them out too much. Still tasty overall but I'm thinking next time I'll wrap them in foil as they cook, then uncover for the final glazing. Any thoughts/experiences with this cut with you or the chatters?

Kim O'Donnel: How long did you cook them? here's one way of doing ribs, sorta Chinese-y style. I love this method.


Cleveland, Ohio: Can you give me a couple of great, non-lunchmeat sandwich ideas? I'm not a fan of the stuff, so I guess what I really need are veggie sandwich filling options. I'm thinking interesting combos that may include roasted peppers, tapenade, hummus, etc. My creativity is a little lacking...

Kim O'Donnel: Those are all good ideas...and I'd add avocado to the mix, as well as white bean puree, baba ghanouj...


Sweet Potato gnocchi: Hi Kim,

Similar to the pumpkin tort gal, I think tomato sauce wont go with the swet potato gnocchi I bought. Not too found of the brown butter sauce, do you have another recommendation? Many thanks.

Kim O'Donnel: I think an herb pesto would be right up your alley then. Instead of out-of-season basil, consider cilantro, parsley, mint and/or sage.


Sticks, Mt. Airy: Well I'm doing some December treats early, for Christmas day buffett. Spinakopita pin wheels, Stuffed grape leaves, I can freeze these and then just heat to serve. Day before probably a poached salmon in lobster aspic and cold asparagus with hollandaise on the side. And frico tacos (parmagianno crisps) can be done 3 days ahead and will stuff with Caesar salad the day of. Then there's the cookies to make and peppermint bark and pomegranate lollipops (still working on recipe).



Kim O'Donnel: Hey Sticks, your lineup sounds tasty, and I like you're pacing yourself. Keep me posted on those pom lollipops -- we can add it to the blog if it works out!


Atlanta: Hams -- I think the Danish are known for having a particular kind of ham.

Kim O'Donnel: Good idea...


Friendly Maryland Baking Powder Substitute?: Substitute for Baking powder.

Now that the sodium content of food is in the news, do you know an alternative for baking powder? I just read the side of my baking powder and an eighth of a teaspoon is 55 mg of sodium which turns out to be 440 mg per tsp. I added 1340 mg to one receipe not including regular table salt.

Thank you!

Kim O'Donnel: You can make your own. In fact, that's what Scott Peacock and Edna Lewis insist upon in their "Gift of Southern Cooking." the recipe: 1/4 cup cream of tartar with 2 tablespoons of baking soda. Sift three times and keep in an airtight jar, in a dark place, for up to six weeks.


Cocktail Gal:: Besides cider,A chocolate tini with peppermint sticks. Think Godiva liquor and peppermint schnapps.

Kim O'Donnel: Nice. Keep'em coming!


Clifton, VA: Poland offers some excellent hams and you can get hams from different regions of Italy, VA and Kentucky and see which one you prefer.

Almonds and green beans. Uses slivered almonds to cover flounder or sole filets and then lightly saute in butter. Not oil.

And dont forget in ice cream sundaes, cookies and brownies!

Kim O'Donnel: Great ideas, Clifton. Many thanks. We need to find a Kentucky ham online source. I'll start digging...


Country Ribs: Ideal for using in saurkraut. Very, very tender cut.

Kim O'Donnel: More on ribs...


Shaw, D.C.: Ribs question. I cooked them two hours and was supposed to do another half hour with the glaze, but I took them out and glazed them without putting back in the oven as they seemed to be drying out.

Kim O'Donnel: Two hours may be too long. Check the link I sent you -- this is a very reliable recipe.


apple butter: After you put your apples into your pie, put a thin layer of apple butter on top. DIVINE!

Kim O'Donnel: Ideas for apple butter rolling in...


Arlington Va.: Hey a great way to use the apple butter is in yogurt, especially Fega yogurt or some other thick greek yogurt. That is what I have been doing with mine lately and it is GREAT.

Kim O'Donnel: And more...


Apple butter: I think it would be great addition to muffins, and possibly an interesting ingredient for barbecue sauce. Also, what about mixing with some sauteed onions and using as a topping on butternut or acorn squash?

Kim O'Donnel: Hmm...good ones!


Rockville, MD: Regarding apple butter:

I just saw a recipe in Food and Wine last night for Sweet Potatoes with Apple Butter. You should be able to find the recipe by searching their website.

Kim O'Donnel: another interesting idea...


Follow up to Fairfax:: Do you see yourself working in a restaurant ever again? Or even opening one, for that matter?

Kim O'Donnel: I am tinkering with the idea of a small cafe with a limited menu. There is a space in mind, but I am trying to be Zen about it all, exploring the possibilities but staying detached. Otherwise, I'd love to be cooking in a non-profit situation again, along lines of a Food for Friends or with kids/teaching them about nutrition. We'll see.


Richmond, Va.: Can butter/egg substitutes like Earth Balance and Egg Beaters always be used? I saw you had used the former on one of your blog recipes and tried it with good results (although I was surprised that Earth Balance still had quite a bit of saturated fat in it which I am told I need to reduce).

Kim O'Donnel: Always? Don't know. But so far, I've been having really good luck with the EB spread. I'm not as well versed with egg substitutes. Re: saturated fat: Yes, it has but far lower than butter. Keep that in mind, it's all relative.


Washington, D.C.: I made a great fruitcake, and added extra brandy for good measure. It came out quite soft and I had to be very careful it didn't break in half when I transferred it to the tin. Do I still need to add extra brandy each week, or will this make it more breakable? I'm trying not to open the tin to check on it as I only made it two weeks ago and I'm having trouble not eating it.

Kim O'Donnel: No, don't add more. And go ahead, and try it. You've earned it.


Kim O'Donnel: Already time to run. If you're in DC on Thursday night, come see me at Tabletop, where I'll be signing copies of " A Mighty Appetite for the Holidays," 6-8p.m. Take good care, and we'll resume chatting in two weeks -- but blog will keep going while I'm out of town. All best.


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