What's Cooking With Kim O'Donnel

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Kim O'Donnel
Special to washingtonpost.com
Tuesday, February 26, 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.

You may submit a question before or during the show.

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: Aloha! There is much to discuss, so I'll make my opening notes brief. A few things: Next week is chat-free, as I'll be celebrating my first wedding anniversary with my main man Mister MA. I will, however, be logging on throughout the week, offering blog spritzs and updates, so keep your eyes peeled. I am very excited to report I've purchased a new camera, my first digital SLR, an Olympus Evolt E-510, so that my pics on the blog can be even better. Can't wait to start playing with it -- and thanks to my pal Dan, who knows more about cameras than most. Stay tuned later this week for a tribute to Leap Year -- Feb. 29 is this Friday -- and I'll offer up some edible and drinkable suggestions for throwing a once-in-four-year shindig. And now, let's do this thing...

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Cajun Spices: I just spent the weekend in New Orleans and I'd love to recreate some of the dishes I had down there. I can figure out the basic ingredients, but the spices are a mystery. What stores in the DC/MD area sell Cajun spices? And how do I know which ones I want? (I'm thinking jambalaya or blackened seafood.)

Kim O'Donnel: Did you have a ball? Love that town. I would head for Penzey's which has an extensive offering of spice blends which will fit the bill.

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Washington, D.C.: Hey, Kim! I made couscous last night, and the recipe called for the addition of chopped spinach and black beans, plus lemon juice, salt, and pepper. (The couscous itself was cooked in chicken broth.) I followed the recipe and it turned out . . . bleh. And of course it made a lot, so I don't want to throw it out if there's a chance I can somehow revive it, as it didn't have much flavor and was somewhat dry. Any suggestions for rescue would be appreciated!

Kim O'Donnel: I'm having a hard time envisioning the black beans with the couscous. Sounds like there's too much going on. Rescue, rescue, what could you do to rescue...I might add some tomato puree...Next time, I'd leave out the black beans and focus on the couscous...I like the idea of spinach, and I might add some chopped garlic and minced red onion next time as well. Keep a little stock on the side if you find things dry again.

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Popovers: I actually made some this past weekend for guests. But couldn't get the timing right and they were done before the guests were ready to eat. So they fell. Even though they were shrunken and a bit tough, they were still tasty. Is there any way to keep the puffy?

Kim O'Donnel: Reader is responding to today's blog post on popovers, fyi.

I wonder if the addition of baking powder would slow down the sagging process -- any one know based on experience?

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Please Help, Gingered OUT!: So as a broke, just outta college, trying to make it in NYC girl... I decided that soup is a great way to stretch my budget. I made carrot ginger soup but accidentally put in 2x the amount of ginger!!! Needless to say my soup is soooo overly gingery... if that's even a word (and granted i love spicy). It's just bitter. Is there anything i can do to salvage my soup? I was depending on this for 5 nights' worth of meals. (The soup is basically just carrots, chicken broth, an onion, garlic and ginger all whizzed up with my immersion blender).

Kim O'Donnel: Spend a few bucks and buy some red lentils. Cook them separately, with a cinnamon stick, then add to your carroty stuff. This will help absorb your ginger overlaod.

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Oklahoma: Thanks for the tip on the Rancho Gordo beans. I ordered some that day. I made some yellow eyes seasoned with onion, bacon, and chicken broth last weekend. They were wonderful. I also ordered their crimson popcorn which is also really tasty.

Kim O'Donnel: Hey Oklahoma, glad you are enjoying the beans. I think they are worlds apart from the old bags in the supermarket. You really can taste the characteristics of the beans. I have some of that popcorn too!

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Rescue the couscous: Bake in stuffed peppers and top with cheese or turkey sausage or salsa (or all of the above)

Kim O'Donnel: Thank you! Nice idea.

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Anonymous: It was your chats that turned me on to roasted broccoli, a favor for which I am forever indebted to you. Tonight, I'd like to roast some small (red) tatoes to go with the brocc and some leftover roast beast (made WONDERFUL a couple weeks ago using the low-and-slow method recommended by both WaPo and America's Test Kitchen).

Can I do the potatoes at the same temp as the brocc? How much longer will they take? I presume they'd go faster if I cut them in halves or quarters.

Thanks muchly.

Kim O'Donnel: Hey, I made a bunch of that brocc last night to go with the popovers! The brocc goes in at 400, which is just fine for the spuds, and yes, they'll go faster if halved. Enjoy.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Kim,

Motivated by your blog on grilled cheese sandwiches, I decided to try making one for myself. I went to Whole Foods to buy some cheese, but had no idea what to buy that would melt well. Some of their cheeses are so expensive, and I'm on a limited budget, so I ended up going back to Giant and buying (gulp) Kraft singles. It made a nice, but bland sandwich. I'm ready to bite the bullet and spend a bit on some good cheese, but I need some help on where to start. Nothing too exotic, or too spicy, or with weird stuff in it. Thanks!

Kim O'Donnel: I'm a cheddar girl myself. Good, sharp cheddar. Or havarti -- although they can be a bit oily. Check the gazillion comments posted, which included more suggestions and pairings than you could ever wish for.

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Alexandria, Va.: Hey Kim!

Thanks so much for that crumb cake recipe! I made it this weekend and my family cannot get enough. I've made 2 more cakes to satisfy the masses. Cheers!

Kim O'Donnel: Fantastic. So glad you are enjoying. If you're curious, here are the recipe details for crumb cake.

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Saffron conundrum: I bought saffron over the holidays to make these chicken skewers. They came out okay, but kind of bland. What am I doing wrong, and/or is there something else saffron is great in that will punch up the flavor? I don't cook often, and when I do it's usually not too fancy, hence the chicken skewers/kabobs. Thanks!

Kim O'Donnel: Saffron is a tricky spice. Too much and your food tastes like soapy metal. Too little and you feel like you're missing something. It tends to do well and open up when added to liquid. Tell me more -- where did you get it, how is it packaged?

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gingered out: I sympathize, ginger is one of those I think needs to be used sparingly, a little goes a long way (along with cilantro). Serve the soup over rice. BTW, how long can I store ginger (since I use it so sparingly) and how should I store it (fridge?)

Kim O'Donnel: over rice is nice...and with potatoes, which will absorb some of that heat...

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Alexandria, Va.: Could you put up a link to the grilled cheese article you did? I would love to liven up my blah grilled cheeses.

Thank you!

Kim O'Donnel: But of course! The Tao of Grilled Chese

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Cheeses: There's plenty of options between presliced singles and expensive imports. Even the cracker barrel in the blocks is well above the plastic slices, but inexpensive enough you can experiment and decide if you like sharp, extra sharp, etc. Go to a nice cheese shop and they'll let you try a few. Try Vermont cheddar for a start.

Kim O'Donnel: Good advice. I agree you don't need to spend big bucks for the grilled cheese. I was appalled at my $11 grilled cheese at a local restaurant -- thought the cheese would be out of sight -- and it was just eh.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Kim

I had some roasted root veggies left over (sweet pots, parsnip, etc.) that were sweet and salty and delicious the first go around, but when I pureed for soup (with some stock) they lost a lot of flavor - what herbs would be good here? Thanks!

Kim O'Donnel: I like thyme with roasted roots...and I might add some roasted garlic, too.

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Millersville, Pa.: What's your favorite coleslaw recipe? I have two recipes that I love, one made with cream, one with mayonnaise, but those are not good for the new me. Do you know of something good enough and healthy enough to eat nearly every day?

Kim O'Donnel: Vinegar slaw is something you could eat every day, Millersville. Follow this link for vin slaw details -- be sure to scroll down, and you'll be happy and still the new you.

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California:1st - HAPPY ANNIVERSARY! Are you going to make some cupcakes to eat or actually try to eat year-old cake? (I advise the former!)

Also, my popovers don't fade - I don't use baking soda, but think that you aren't cooking them long enough - the softer inside probably contributed to your deflating - that's my guess at least!

Kim O'Donnel: Thanks, Cali. I did not observe the tradition of freezing wedding cake, so we'll just have to eat a pineapple in Puerto Rico instead. Thanks for your tips on popovers -- this is def. a work in progress.

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For the Bleh Couscous: Hi Kim! Happy anniversary in advance. For the poster with the dry couscous, I think he/she wanted to try to salvage the leftovers. I think it would be good to transform it into a couscous salad. Adding some olive oil might help remedy the dryness. Maybe add some red onion, red/green peppers, corn, cucumber, cayenne pepper, cumin, chili powder and make it into a black bean couscous salad kind of thing.

Kim O'Donnel: Oh, I like the couscous salad idea. Well done.

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Vinegar slaw: in Virginia we'd add red pepper flakes

Kim O'Donnel: Sounds like a plan. I'm all about red pepper, darlin'.

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Christmas in February: Hi Kim,

As a Christmas gift to her grandmother, my daughter suggested a day of cooking where she would supply the food items and my mom, the knowledge. Well it happened this past Wednesday and I would like to share how well it went. My mom is of Lebanese descent and she cooks by feel instead of measuring. My daughter and I lack that skill and would like more quantitative methods. We both took the day off work and went to my mom's. We wore her mother's aprons, my grandmothers, and wrapped grape leaves and cabbage rolls, and made kibbee and tabouli. We wrote down recipes and measurements, took pictures, and sat down and had a great early supper. My mom spends a lot of her time not feeling well but you would have not known that last Wednesday. It was just a really good day with three generations. As a side note, I gave my daughter your cookbook for Christmas; you had autographed it at the farmer's market. She loved it. I hope you know how much your chat and blog contributes to the quality of our lives. Thanks.

Kim O'Donnel: You just made me cry. You know, recipes are the one thing that lives on in a culture. If a country loses its buildings, its government, its currency to war or destruction, it will survive and it will rebound if people like you gather together, learn from their elders and document the recipes that brought your ancestors together in the first place. I would love to do a book on the recipes of conflict zones and how they've been instrumental in keeping hope alive. Thank you so much for sharing this tale. Bravo,and please say hello to your mother.

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D.C.: Hi Kim,

I am having a small group of friends over for dinner on Saturday. I want it to be casual, no fuss, but I also want it to be good. One of the friends loves food, all food. The other... is picky (no seafood, no pork). I am a pretty good cook, but I am struggling to cook something that will be interesting and delicious to someone with an adventurous palate, but something the picky eater will eat!

Thanks!

Kim O'Donnel: What about a chicken curry? I love making cilantro curry for friends -- it's easy, takes about an hour and my omnivore pals lap it up. Are you planning to do dessert? Talk to me.

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Mashed cauliflower: Would you have a fairly easy recipe for mashed cauliflower? I had it as a side dish at a restaurant and loved it.

Thanks.

Kim O'Donnel: I like doing cauli with a one or two potatoes -- they add a creaminess to the mix. You can boil in water or simmer in milk with grated nutmeg and a bay leaf. Your choice. Cook til fork tender. Puree, season with salt and pepper. I like chopped garlic here as well.

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Happy Anniversary!!!!: That year sure flew by for me! Are you making a special meal for the big day?

Kim O'Donnel: We will be back in Vieques, where we tied the knot. We've got a little kitchen, so maybe breakfast will be in order. I'm hoping for some late afternoon wine on the beach, and the rest doesn't much matter except to be with my special pal.

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Washington, D.C.: Where can I find Thai basil in DC? I'm trying to avoid the need to go up to a specialty shop... would Whole Foods or somewhere like that carry it?

Kim O'Donnel: Must it absolutely be in the District? You need an Asian grocery for this goodie, and there are many just across the river in Virginny and a whole slew over in Md.

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thanks: I too got interested in the food of Lebanon and the fact that it's such a conflict zone. My reading club read a book by a Lebanese woman, and as is our habit, the food matched the theme of the book. So, I spent a few days searching online for recipes, and ended up learning so much about Lebanon in the process. Beirut sounds like such a beautiful place...

I made fatoosh (bread salad with vinegar and tomatoes), lentils with onions, chicken scharma and vegetarian hummus. Everyone loved it and even the author said it was good.

Kim O'Donnel: Food is the one way we can appreciate a culture even if we've never been there. Through your mouth, you are learning. How cool is that?! I have been making notes of places where there have been conflicts over the past 20 years, and the list just keeps getting longer. More on this soon, I hope.

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RE: mashed cauliflower: I like mine sans potatoes but with some parmesan cheese and goat cheese, too.

Love the chats, Kim!

Kim O'Donnel: Very nice add-ons, dear, for the cauli. Thank you!

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Small dinner party: I should have mentioned... no curry. (I love it, don't get me wrong...)

Kim O'Donnel: Sure. What about a roast chicken -- with or without the skin? I've often talked about my naked chicken -- which takes about a fraction of the time without the skin. Would that be of interest?

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Washington, D.C.: Is it possible to freeze bread dough? I may be baking several loaves of bread for a friend and am thinking of how I can reduce my stress level. Would it have to rise again after defrosting? If freezing unbaked dough is not advised I will probably freeze the baked loaves.

Kim O'Donnel: Well, you can certainly freeze pizza dough, which I've done many times, but I've never done it with other longer-rise doughs. Anyone with experience in this department?

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Flatbread Conundrum: Hi Kim, I tried your Arab Flatbread recipe over the weekend... and I was sorely disappointed. When I think of flatbread, I think of pita and naan... is Arab flatbread SUPPOSED to be different? My flatbread ended up coming out like flat bread, as in bread that just happens to be flat but tastes and has the texture of any other regular bread. Did I do something wrong? Or do you have a recipe that's more like a chewy naan?

Kim O'Donnel: The recipe for khubz-- which comes from Mary Bsisu's cookbook, "The Arab Table," does not produce a chewy naan. It is def. flat, more like a pita. I have naan on my to-do list. You just wait, my friend; I may surprise you in March.

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Baltimore, Md.: Hi, Kim,

In your vegetarian chat last week you had a question about isinglass. Isinglass is a form of gelatin made from the air bladders of fish. It yields a very pure, very dense gelatin. It is used in beer making because the dense mass formed by the isinglass collects the particulates in beer and makes for a clearer, better tasting product.

Kim O'Donnel: Thanks for following up, Balto. I learned this little tidbit myself. Good to know if you're vegan in particular.

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Washington, D.C. : Hi, Kim,

Do you have a recipe for vegetarian faux-chicken broth that tastes (almost) like the real thing? Or a brand recommendation? This is for a tortilla soup that I am making for a large gathering that includes vegetarians. I had bad results over Thanksgiving with a commercial brand of non-chicken chicken broth and hope to do better this time. Thanks!

Kim O'Donnel: I say, scrap the faux and make your own fully-flavored veggie stock. Leeks, garlic, some celery, black peppercorns, a bay leaf will all yield a tasty veggie stock.

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Kim O'Donnel: It's time to go. Thanks for showing up, and thanks for making me cry -- and smile. Let's all toast to preserving our family lineage with recipes! By the way, you will be able to find more of my work in a new space, RealSimple.com, which is launching six new online columns next week. If you're interested in details, please send me an e-mail at: writingfood@gmail.com and in subject line, type "mailing list" and I'll add you to the list for updates. In meantime, stop by and say hello here: A Mighty Appetite. All best.

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