What's Cooking With Kim O'Donnel

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Kim O'Donnel
Special to washingtonpost.com
Tuesday, January 8, 2008; 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: Hola! And Happy New Year! 2008 marks the 10th year of What's Cooking, which launched in January of 1999. In celebration of this online milestone, I'm planning to host an anniversary special sometime this month. It's been three weeks since we chatted, so there's much to catch up on. How were the holidays? Did you make any interesting New Year's culinary determinations? Spill it -- and let's do this thing.

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Clueless Bride: Hi Kim,

I'm getting married this summer and am in the process of registering for wedding gifts. I like to cook a lot and am pretty good at it (I think). I've been making do with the pots and pans I bought as a poor graduate student and it's turned out fine. Now that it's time for a cookware upgrade, I'm having trouble figuring out what to buy that is quality cookware, can easily be cleaned, and will last a long time. Do you have any suggestions? I know I'll need one stainless steel set and probably another nonstick set -- any suggestions would be great.

Thanks and I love your chats, hope you will answer my question!

Kim O'Donnel: I would recommend NOT registering for whole sets but rather picking pieces from different brands that speak to you. Since the world is your wedding registry oyster, I'd ask for some enamel-coated pieces from Le Creuset that will go with you to the grave. I'm not a fan of anodized cookware, but others are. Certainly they can weigh in -- and I'm sensing a blog post. But really, sets can be limiting even though they give you a feeling of completeness. You'll want a deep pot for soup, a medium saucepan, a cast-iron skillet, a nonstick skillet, a pot for pasta. What else folks?

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Green Curry Paste: Hi Kim,

Like you, was hankering for some Thai curry the other night and bought some green curry paste. Was wondering if there are other recipes I can use the paste in besides curry, keeping the heat level to a medium. Thanks!

Kim O'Donnel: Good question. Off the top of my head, no, but that doesn't mean it's impossible. You want something to mellow out the curry paste. Well, now that I think of it, you could use it in a marinade --mixed with oil, citrus, maybe some soy or fish sauce...would be great for marinating a big pork roast or beef tenderloin...

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Yay! You're back!: So for the holidays, my boss gave me a big basket of gourmet goodies, including white truffle oil. I LOVE truffle oil, but I'm not sure what to cook with it. I am perfectly happy simply drinking it, believe me, but I'd like to incorporate it into a recipe at least once. Can you help me?

Kim O'Donnel: Truffle oil should not be heated. Use it raw, spritzed over rice, risotto, on top of a salad, over sauteed mushrooms. And use sparingly. It's also interesting for dipping cheese.

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Boston, Mass.: Hi Kim,

I got a new cookbook for Christmas and it focuses on quick and healthy recipes. There was one I wanted to try -- a chicken in red wine sauce that sounds really yummy until I got to the cooking instructions. They want me to do the whole thing in the microwave! Is it safe to cook chicken that way? Basically they have me putting together a kind of casserole marrinade with all the ingredients in a microwave safe container covered with cling wrap with air holes.

Maybe not the most gourmet way to cook but I'm willing to try it unless you think this is a crazy idea.

Kim O'Donnel: Hey Boston, I appreciate the microwave for certain tasks -- mostly for defrosting -- so I'm less than enthused about cooking your chick this way. It might be fast, but it keeps you from actually cooking. You're not really connecting with the food this way. What would be so bad about taking the recipe and putting in a 350-degree oven?

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Takoma Park, Md.: Happy New Year! We tried to make Angel Food Cake last night but used whole wheat pastry flour instead of cake flour and the results were a little flat. Can pastry flour ever substitute for cake flour? Would the whole-wheatiness of the flour affect anything? Thanks!

Kim O'Donnel: Pastry flour can def. work as a sub for cake flour, yes. But what I want to know is how far you whipped your whites?? This may be the culprit.

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For cluess bride:: We just got married in August and I agree with your advice -- just register for what you need not entire sets. You likely don't want the whole set and it's more friendly to your guests to register for pieces. Go through your kitchen and identify any piece you might want to upgrade -- people want to give you presents so let them! When are you going to spring for a nice KitchenAid mixer yourself?

I personnally recommend registering with cooking.com through the I Do Foundation ( I Do Foundation). They have a huge selection and 8 percent of what guests spend will go to the charity of your choice.

Kim O'Donnel: Thanks. Great suggestions here.

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Kitchen Bride: I would ask for some really good-quality knives....

P.S. Kim, can you tell us again how to roast brussels sprouts?

Thanks!

Kim O'Donnel: Knives are an excellent idea if you try them on ahead of time and specify what you want.

P.S. Brussels like a 375 or 400 oven. You can make a little "x" incision on bottom, lather them with olive oil, season with salt, pepper, lemon zest (or alternatively, soy sauce and sesame oil), then let them do their thing. They should be ready in about 20-ish minutes.

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Oakland, Calif.: Hi Kim, and welcome back! Santa brought me a food mill (I'm a lucky girl!), and I know that you've had lots of fun with yours, any great ideas for what to do with it? I already made a delightful tomato soup on a very rainy day.

Kim O'Donnel: Good for you, Oakland. I like using food mill for apple sauce, too. Anything that needs a little smooth out -- would work nicely if you wanted a silkier broccoli puree, for example.

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Anodized cookware in Arlington: I LOVE my Calphalon! But don't buy it in a store. amazon.com has it at a fraction of the retail price.

Question on your brussel sprouts/apple recipe. How do you make yours? I've heard you talk about it, but couldn't find your recipe so I made up my own! I coarsely chop 7 or 8 sprouts and dice an apple. Then saute for a few minutes in olive oil with a dash of cinnamon and garlic powder. My partner, who is not a brussel sprouts fan, loves it.

Kim O'Donnel: I use a grater on that apple, or a mandoline. Sounds like you came up with a great alternative. I grate both sprouts and apple, then saute in olive oil. Salt, pepper, a splash of lemon. That's it.

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Truffle Oil: I was listening to a Splendid Table podcast yesterday on the bus. They suggested putting truffle oil on popped corn for a high-meets-low treat.

Kim O'Donnel: Oh yeah, that would work. Cheers.

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Advice for Bride-to-be: I also recommend registering for pieces rather than sets. My mother-in-law gave me a really nice set of pots and pans, but I probably will never use EVERY piece I received. Some pieces I recommend: a wok (especially if you like to do stir fry), a one quart sauce pan and a two quart sauce pan. If you like baking, don't forget to register for things like wire cooling racks, nice pie plates and cake pans, etc. Another piece of advice is to register for a NICE electric hand mixer. I had bought a cheap one a year before I got married so I didn't register for one. It died on me in the middle of mixing a cake. I had to go out and plop down $80 to replace it. Don't forget the small things like serving spoons, measuring cups and measuring spoons and the likes. Those ADD up when you have to buy them all at once.

Kim O'Donnel: A wok is a brilliant idea!

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For the registry: I've become a bit of an addict to the reviews in the America's Test Kitchen/Cook's illustrated website. There's a subscription fee, but I've been so pleased with their recommendations that I will always check them and rely on them before picking up a piece of equipment. So, to the poster preparing a wedding registry, I'd strongly suggest taking a look. While some of their reviews are a bit out of date, most are recent and all give you good criteria to use in assessing your own needs.

Kim O'Donnel: More ideas for the bride...

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Bay Area, Calif.: For clueless bride:

I signed up for Cooks Illustrated online when registering, and it was a nice investment. They test and review all kinds of cookware and gadgets, and there is an "equipment forum" with some opinionated informed members.

For my take, in addition to some fabulous Le Creuset (a large lasagna pan and a 5-6 Qt oven are most useful!), getting some All Clad sauce and fry pans has really changed the way we cook. No more trying to brown things on nonstick surfaces, and no more burning sauces in too-thin pans.

To truly spurge, perhaps our favorite wedding gift was a Demeyere fry pan from Sur La Table. There's no way we would have thought it was worth the price tag until we used it.

Kim O'Donnel: And more...

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Washington, D.C.: Happy New Year Kim!

I'm so happy you kept up with your blogging during the holidays.

I would love to make a vegetarian pot pie. Do you have any good recipes? I hope you include a roux and a dough recipe in your instructions. Thanks!!

Kim O'Donnel: Hey there, I need to dig this up, but yes, I do have a recipe in my files. Stay tuned for a blog post on the topic.

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New Market, Md.: Good Morning, Kim

I am in desperate need for the recipe for Dark and Stormy Pear Crisp. Vegan friends are coming to dinner Saturday and have requested this yummy dessert, but, alas, my copy of the recipe has gone missing.

Please let me know how to find it on the Web site as my searches only led to an alcoholic beverage by a similar name.

Thanks!

Kim O'Donnel: Dark n' Stormy Pear Crisp details. However, you will need to tweak it for vegans, using Earth Balance spread or something similar. Enjoy!

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Allison: My culinary resolution for the new year is to be less wasteful with food. I have a tendency to buy ingredients for a recipe, not use everything in the recipe and end up throwing out the remainder. So far, I'm doing well. I used up some cream from leftover holiday baking in a batch of ice cream and various ingredients from my New Year's black-eyed peas made it into a pot of soup last night.

Kim O'Donnel: Good idea, Allison, and an idea worth copying...

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South Dakota; Prime Rib: Making a prime rib for a few friends this weekend. The usual line-up the rib, baked potato, caesar salad (homemade dressing and croutons), roasted sprouts for some -- broccoli for others.

I am looking for a new sauce/garnish for the rib, I usually do a roasted red pepper/horseradish sauce or a pesto in sour cream, both are great but I want something new.

And dessert, after that heavy meal I want something light and very visually appealing.

Any suggestions?

Kim O'Donnel: Hmm. That roasted red pepper/horseradish sauce sounds pretty good to me! Let's see -- what about something shallot-y? With rosemary? You could caramelize shallots until they turn into jam, season with herbs. That would be lovely...Or what about a cherry-gingery type of compote?

As for dessert, any chance you got an ice cream maker? I'm thinking sorbet, made with blood oranges. Talk to me.

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Brides: Is it just me, or does it seem strange that brides can get along without all of these items until they are getting married and then it becomes imperative that someone buy all of this loot for them. Just seems weird that if you have lived until you are 30 plus without baking racks, why would you need them just because you got married?

Kim O'Donnel: I hear you. I really do. In fact, I was really on the fence about the bridal registry stuff last year and ultimately I caved. I suppose many brides feel like it's their one golden opportunity to stock up on the loot while they can.

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Washington, D.C.: For bride: We received the 10-piece set of Calphalon Contemporary and absolutely love them. We use every piece regularly, it's nonstick so cleaning up is easy. The only additional pieces we pull out regularly are a Le Creuset dutch oven, a two-burner flat griddle pan (LOVE it for Sunday morning pancakes and eggs!) and a crockpot.

Kim O'Donnel: Here's a vote for cooking sets over separates...

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Omaha, Neb.: Hey Kim. I've found several muffin recipes that call for buttermilk. What does buttermilk supply that whole milk or 2 percent doesn't? And are there any possible substitutions for buttermilk? (It's not something I typically have on hand). Thanks!

Kim O'Donnel: The one sure-fire way to understand the difference between milk and buttermilk is to take a swig. It's a whole lot tangier, Omaha. Buttermilk is cultured milk. Traditionally, it was made from the liquid leftover from churning cream into butter. Nowadays, a culture is added for same/similar effect. If you don't feel like buying buttermil, you can use 2/3 cup plain yogurt, plus 1/3 cup milk for 1 cup of buttermilk. Give it a whirl.

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Truffle oil: Just don't do what I did and use it so sparingly that half the bottle goes rancid before you've used it. The shelf life was comparable to that of walnut oil. (When, oh, when will I learn to just use stuff instead of saving it for a "special occasion" that never comes?)

Kim O'Donnel: Very good point. Oils do have a shelf life, people, some shorter than others! Keeping them in a dark place helps to prolong their lives.

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Christmas gifts: I received a Harris Teeter Steam-A-Wok for Christmas, and just don't have the first clue of what to do with it. Please please offer me some suggestions. I hate to leave a kitchen gadget in the box.

Kim O'Donnel: I've never seen one. I need a photo. Send me one, darlin: kim.odonnel@wpni.com

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Angel Food cake:: Our egg whites had stiff peaks before we added the sugar and vanilla. The recipe wasn't exactly clear on how stiff they should be after this so that may be where we messed up.

Kim O'Donnel: Another question -- did you use any other kind of leavener -- like baking powder or soda? And if you did, how old is it?

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Philadelphia, Pa.: Hi Kim. I just bought my first box of quinoa and am not sure what to do with it. I would like to make it tonight to have with a roast chicken: I've got carrots, celery, onions, herbs -- any suggestions? I'm hoping for something that will be appealing to my two kids who are somewhat picky but also seem to be in the mood to try new things.

Kim O'Donnel: Cook it like rice, and saute those veg, add them to quinoa when it's done. Quinoa needs seasoning. Herbs are great here, as are dried fruit, even orange slices. I'm posting a recipe offered by another reader. See next post.

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Raleigh, N.C.: Just wanted to pass along one of my recent creations (which I modified from another's recipe)... Apple Sausage Quinoa.

1 cup of quinoa (cook in veg. broth)

1/4 cup of pine nuts, toasted

2 large links of chicken/apple sausage, removed from casing

1 medium apple (I've been using gala apples), diced

Brown the sausage, then add toasted pine nuts and apple and cook until the apple pieces soften a bit. Then, dump the cooked quinoa on top and mix. It makes for a quick and easy dinner that's high in protein, pretty low in fat and has a good bit of fiber. And it has a nice, sweet taste to it.

Kim O'Donnel: Thanks, Raleigh!

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Microwave: There is one thing that a microwave cooks perfectly -- fish. My mother loved her own fried fish (being from the South, it was perfect and I loved it too) and so did I. However, she got used to eating "healthier" fish done in the microwave with a little butter, lemon and dill. Usually six minutes in a plate with a cover for something like cod or rockfish and it was perfectly moist and flaky.

Kim O'Donnel: Here's a vote for cooking in the mike...

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Buttermilk sub:: I was always taught to use a scant measurement of regular milk with a little bit of vinegar (to make up for the "scant") as a substitute for buttermilk.

I also just found powdered buttermilk which I am going to try. (We make waffles almost every weekend.)

Kim O'Donnel: Vinegar, yes, and lemon juice is an option as well...

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Chicago, Ill.: I have made the Dark and Stormy Pear Crisp vegan many times (with Earth Balance) and it turns out great. I also substituted the nut topping with oatmeal for my son who is allergic to nuts, and that worked as well.

Also a suggestion for those who like blood oranges: When I lived in NYC several years ago, my favorite Mexican restaurant, La Palapa, served a frozen blood orange margarita that was really fabulous.

Kim O'Donnel: Thanks for chiming in, Chicago!!! I LOVE the idea of a blood orange margarita. Wow, this could be fun later this week...

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Another bride: We are also registering for cooking tools, and I want to get a KitchenAid stand mixer. Cooks Illustrated swears by the KitchenAid Pro for it's tough engine to plough through bread dough. It's $400. With the artisan not cut it for bread doughs? What are your thoughts?

Kim O'Donnel: I don't own a stand mixer. I've not been able to justify it yet. I make most bread dough with my own two hands. Really, it depends on how much you think you'll use it.

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South Dakota: That's it! Thanks so much, the rosemary shallot idea sounds terrific, maybe some thyme in there too?

And the sorbet idea reminded me of one I did a few years back, a clementine sorbet with jellied champagne on top. Now to dig up that recipe...

Haven't been in the kitchen in a while, it's time to use my favorite room again. Thanks for waking up my inner cook.

Kim O'Donnel: Thyme would be equally lovely. Keep me posted on the dinner party progress!

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Steam a wok: Not the person who received this, but couldn't resist looking it up. Here's the HT Web site with pics, a commercial you can watch, plus recipes. Frankly, looks like kind of a useless piece of cookware to me.

Steam-A-Wok Giveaway

Kim O'Donnel: Thanks! What a helpful bunch. Maybe a real wok would be money well spent instead...y'all know how much I love my wok from The Wok Shop in San Francisco...

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Cookware sets: This is not really for the bride's question, but if you are buying cookware either in sets or singly, make sure you check Amazon's prices. I just bought a 12-piece set of Cuisinart classic for $90. I may use some of the pieces infrequently, but at that price, I would pay more for a couple of pieces, and it's good quality. And free shipping, no sales tax!!

Kim O'Donnel: Thanks for adding your thoughts to the thread...

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Buttermilk!: I use buttermilk in most of my muffin, scone and cake recipies. People are always so impressed with how moist these baked goods are (and generally attribute it to my baking ability!) I also love buttermilk for pancakes and waffles.

I have used yogurt in a pinch. I don't like it as much as buttermilk, but I do like it better than plain milk.

Kim O'Donnel: I like buttermilk in my pancakes and waffles, too...

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Angel Food cake again:: I should have asked -- how stiff should the whites be before they are folded in?

No baking powder or soda, but we did use cream of tartar, and I have absolutely no idea how old it is. Some number of years, I suspect.

Kim O'Donnel: They should be stiff, alright. Did you fold them in nicely into rest of your batter?

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Shaw, D.C.: Hi Kim --

We had a lively discussion over Christmas dinner over what is used as the base for marinara. I start mine with the typical mire poix of onions, carrots, and celery plus garlic. We had dinner guest who said her Italian-American grandmother would NEVER put celery into her sauce, or rather "gravy" as she calls it. How do you make yours? I have seen the gamut of recipes and suspect it's just one of those things that people like to argue about and defend their own way!

Kim O'Donnel: Celery (as well as bell pepper) is something you'd find in Louisiana recipes -- and there are plenty of Italians over there. There's no right or wrong, just what you like. I tend to keep celery out of my tomato sauce; usually, it's onion, garlic and carrot. And yes, you're right; people get quite passionate about the way things are made.

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BLOOD ORANGE QUESTION -- TOO LATE?: Kim,

I love blood oranges and have been looking for them. Where have you found them?

Kim O'Donnel: In the DC area, I've found them at Whole Foods, but I suspect you'd find them at My Organic Market, Wegmans and Harris Teeter. Dean & Deluca, too.

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Recipe Question: Hi, I made turkey soup yesterday but didn't put in any rice.

Can I cook rice by itself and then add to the soup? and/or barley too?

I put a few noodles in but the soup is less substantial than I prefer.

Kim O'Donnel: Sure thing.

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Virginia: Last year I posted a question asking if you knew of any Web sites that had reviews of local CSAs, and you said that you didn't, but that might make a good blog entry. I am thinking about signing up again this year, and I was wondering if you were still thinking about writing on this issue, or if you had become aware of any other Web sites that discuss this. Thanks!

Kim O'Donnel: I am still at work on this. It's getting close to that time. I'll try to get something up in next few weeks.

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Kim O'Donnel: Time to sign off, I'm afraid. Thanks for stopping by and kicking off the new year with me! In the meantime, you can always visit the blog space: A Mighty Appetite. All best.

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