What's Cooking With Kim O'Donnel

Kim O'Donnel
Special to washingtonpost.com
Tuesday, April 22, 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.


Kim O'Donnel: Howdy, folks, and Happy Earth Day. As I mentioned in today's blog space, I'm curious: Just how green are you? Take the How Green Is Thee poll and share your thoughts on how easy (or not) it is to be green. Tomorrow, look for a whole blogfest on stretching your food budget, with thrifty coverage from the Food section as well. I'm putting finishing touches on my piece this afternoon, but if you've got a thrifty cooking or food shopping tip setting your world on fire, please send it along to kim.odonnel@wpni.com with subject line: "Getting Thrifty." IN your note, please include your city and state, and size of household. And now, let's get cookin'...


Silver Spring, Md.: Hi, Kim. I'd love to hear if anyone has ideas about composting, especially keeping rats away from the compost pile. Our pile seems to attract them.

On another note, with some trepidation, I made the Matzoh Lasagna recipe you posted on your blog for Passover, and everyone loved it! Thanks so much.

Kim O'Donnel: Let's ask readers with compost experience (For the past 15 years, I've lived where this is not an option, sadly). Glad to hear your folks enjoyed the matzoh lasagna, thanks for checking in.


Portland, Ore.: Hi Kim,

In an effort to save money and also make sure I eat breakfast every morning, I've started preparing sandwiches on the weekend. I individually freeze them and re-heat during the week. This week's batch is egg, Tillamook cheddar and Canadian bacon on an English muffin.

I think egg and spinach may be next, but would love to hear other ideas, especially if it involves other types of bread.


Kim O'Donnel: I wonder if you'd enjoy making hand-held spinach pies. These are wonderful make-ahead meals, easily warmed and portable, too. Let's hear from the rest of ye...


Washington, D.C.: Hi Kim, I'm craving bok choy stir fried in canola oil with a sauce made of sherry, soy sauce and a little sugar. However, I need to lay off the hard liquor during my pregnancy...any suggestions of nonalcoholic sherry substitutes?

Kim O'Donnel: It won't be the same, but you could try equal amounts of apple juice. Have you ever used Shaoxing, a kind of Chinese rice wine? This is a cooking wine, not for drinking, just a thought.


Friendship Heights: Hi Kim,

Never been a big fan of breakfast, so the more I can make it taste like lunch or diner, the happier I am. I've also found that I need protein in the morning--just carbs makes me hungry by 9 AM.

Variation on the breakfast sandwich theme(obvious) is taking low calorie tortillas (110 calorie types),salsa, egg, low fat cheese, and, if you want, cooked meat like Canadian bacon. I also do this with leftover grilled chicken, etc. Almost anything I can make with a tortilla is something portable I can heat up for breakfast.


Kim O'Donnel: thanks for the friendly advice, Friendship...


Brightwood, D.C.: Does anyone have a great egg-less cake recipe? I'm looking for one so that I can make a birthday cake for a friend - her little boy has an egg allergy and this way he could share in her cake. I tried one with condensed milk over the weekend that worked ok - but was wondering if there was an easy substitute for an egg to some of my tried and true really good recipes. Thanks!

Kim O'Donnel: Just paged through "Baking With Agave Nectar" and author Ania Catalano has a few egg-free cakes, including a Peach Melba Cake, a Gingerbread Cake and Strawberry Shortcakes. Send me an email and let me know if you'd like me to send you details. Haven't tested any of these, so you'd be on your own.


Watercress: Hi Kim, I received a big bunch of watercress from a friend. We've eaten it in salads and sauteed it with spinach. Any other ideas for ways to enjoy this green that tastes like spring?

Kim O'Donnel: I'm a big fan of the cress. Have you tried it in an omelette yet? That's good eating. I'm also partial to a little smoked fish with my cress...


Arlington, Va.: Where do I get the recipe for those flourless cookies in your blog. I have a friend who is very ill and is on a no-fat, low-fat diet. I would like to make some of these to cheer him up.

Kim O'Donnel: I don't know if I'd call these cookies low-fat --- after all, they've got a few cups of nuts -- but they contain the good, unsaturated fats and walnuts contain Omega-3s to boot. But...but...they would surely make your friend very happy. These are delicious treats.


Eggless cake: What about all those diet/low-fat concoctions where you use a cake mix and applesauce or canned pumpkin puree as a sub for egg? of course you'd have to check the mix for egg ingredients, but I've pulled off a few that were ostensibly vegan. Or if the objective is to make a cake from scratch, couldn't the same strategy work?

Kim O'Donnel: Actually applesauce and pumpkin puree usually are the subs for oil or butter. Silken tofu is a great egg replacer.


Chicago, Ill.: I'm an athlete training for an endurance event -- and also someone who observes Passover quite strictly. I'm already feeling funky from the sudden decrease in complex carbs -- veggies and fruit just aren't cutting it! Any suggestions for kosher-for-Passover high carb meals?

Kim O'Donnel: You know quinoa is considered Kosher for Passover -- have you explored quinoa pasta? This is loaded with protein. What about a roasted sweet potato?


Shaw, D.C.: Hey Kim --

I went on a chickpea cooking frenzy this weekend. Made the garbanzos from dried beans from Whole Foods, about 3 cups. I soaked them all day on Saturday with a teaspoon of baking soda in the liquid (an idea from Paula Wolfert's Slow Meditterranean Kitchen). Then I cooked them in my crockpot for about eight hours on low in a combo of water and homemade chicken stock. What a delicious scent to wake up to! After cooking for eight hours, the beans were slightly overdone but still whole. I'm thinking 6 hours next time. I finished them off as a Morroccan carrot stew and made a Moroccan chicken dish with preserved lemons and green olives. A side of couscous and we feasted like we were in the Casbah! Can't wait to make more beans from scratch in the slow cooker!

Kim O'Donnel: Congratulations, dear! Don't you love when cooking projects give you a whole new lease on life? Kind of like moving around the furniture. Well done.


Bok Choy: I would suggest good quality chicken broth instead of the sherry. Particularly if you have some home made, but a good can works in a pinch. And add a little chopped ginger, it will work wonders. Apple juice sounds interesting but a bit too sweet for my tastes.

Kim O'Donnel: Thanks for chiming in. I know, apple juice would probably be too sweet for me as well.


Breakfast in Seattle: One of my favorite make-ahead breakfasts (when it's not Passover) is savory muffins. There was a recipe a few years back in eating well and essentially it involves making a whole wheat buttermilk muffin dough without sugar and adding cheese, scallions, red pepper, and canadian bacon (or not). Scrumptious, easy to freeze and pop in the microwave in the morning, and healthy.

Kim O'Donnel: Thanks Seattle!


Central Mass - To Brightwood: Brightwood, there's a great chocolate cake recipe in either the Fanny Farmer cookbook or the Fanny Farmer Baking Book (forget which one) which is eggless. It's quite good -- doesn't bill itself as eggless, but happens to be eggless and as a bonus is very easy to make. In fact, I made it in the food processor the last time and it worked perfectly. It uses oil and buttermilk, as I recall. It can be a little difficult to cut, as it is very moist, though... I usually up the ante by frosting it with Sour Cream Ganache from Rose Levy Beranbaum's The Cake Bible -- an easy frosting on an easy cake...

Kim O'Donnel: Thank you Central Mass. I love when things are just good without saying so. Nice going.


Alexandria, Va.: Hi Kim, I'm excited to try the chickpea recipe you posted last week. If I wanted to add chicken, how would I do it? Cook before and add later? Cook in with chickpeas?

Thanks for your help!

Kim O'Donnel: I would cook chicken separately, methinks, and add at the end. But I would try the chickpeas by their lonesome first. You may discover you don't need any chicken at all. You can always cook up some chick the next day and add it then. Cheers.


For the soon-to-be-mom: A neat idea that I got from America's Test Kitchen. Take the alcohol (sherry in this case), put it in a stainless or cast iron pan, and ignite it. Wait until the flames burn out and that means the alcohol has been consumed. Then pour into your stir fry. You'll have the flavor without the alcohol. Otherwise, go to the store and look for your favorite alcohol-free wines and substitute one of them. Remember the note that the wine should be something that you would drink. If you wouldn't drink it, don't cook with it because you'll taste what you didn't like in the wine in your food.

Kim O'Donnel: thanks for your tidbits. Not all of the alcohol would burn off, but it's an interesting idea to consider. Cooking with alcohol is very much a personal decision, so if you want to completely abstain, I say go with the chicken stock or juice idea instead.


Green in Cleveland Park, Washington, D.C.: Hi, Kim,

Here's a green and budget-minded query: I've always reused the plastic bags from the grocery/supermarket to throw trash down the chute in the condos/apt buildings where I've lived, and also to bag coffee grounds and other organic matter that otherwise would force me to run the garbage disposal -- Life in an apartment without a balcony does not allow for composting. Since the bags were free with the groceries, I've never had to buy them.

So how am I helping the environment or my wallet if now I'm obliged to buy new (or recycled) plastic bags because supermarkets stop giving out free ones? Or are apartment buildings now supposed to open huge compost rooms where all residents take their organic leftovers?


Kim O'Donnel: It's a really good question that you ask. How can urban apartment dwellers get in on the green equation? Have you considered a re-useable grocery bag, by chance?


Keeping Produce fresh: Hi Kim -- just a quick comment on being thrify -- I've recently purchased the 'Green Bags' that you see infocommercials for and they work really well. (I have no relation to the company, just a very satisfied customer). Because it's just two of us in the house, produce was thrown out quite a bit before we'd get the chance to use all of it. The green bags work great for veggies (haven't tried fruits). I highly recommend them for saving food and money for people who don't normally eat produce quick enough.

Kim O'Donnel: Tell me more about these bags. I've been curious. How well do they wash?


Bethesda, Md.: Kim,

Thanks for doing these chats. I really like the eco-bites you've been doing lately in your blog. It certainly gets you thinking about what your footprint is. Lately I've been noticing how much plastic is used in packaging and storing our food. For example the nature's promise eggs at giant are packaged in quite a bit of plastic.

My sweetie and I have tried to cut back on using sandwich bags and plastic wraps at home, but it is frustrating that even though we're trying to cut back on our own use, half of the stuff we buy at the grocery store is covered in plastic, that as far as I can tell we can't recycle.

Do you know if there is any sort of movement getting behind how supermarkets are packaging our food?


Kim O'Donnel: I too have been spending more time thinking about the way our food is packaged. One way to cut through this is to shop more frequently at your nearest farm market. Most farmers will take your empty egg cartons, too.

I have yet to hear about a packaging revolution, but it's an interesting idea. Buying in bulk would cut down on packaging, too.


egg-less cake recipes: There's an egg-free cake recipe at Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network

Allrecipes also has some, just remember you can't substitute mayonnaise for eggs.

Kim O'Donnel: Eggless ideas are rolling in...


Another eggless idea: I've heard that 2 T of mashed potato is a good egg substitute. Also, Moosewood cookbook has a wonderful mexican chocolate cake that doesn't call for eggs. I've made it for years (it also doesn't call for dairy).

Kim O'Donnel: And more...


Eggless Cake: One boxed CHOCOLATE cake mix

1 can of packed pumpkin (14 oz)

Mix the two together. it's REALLY thick when you're mixing it - like spackle-thick. Bake like the box says (350 for how-ever minutes).

My kids LOVE this cake, and I've taken it to several church functions and it's always a hit. Easy...too!

Kim O'Donnel: And yet another...


Almost Seattle -- Re: Eggless cake: I have used this recipe, for my mother-in-law's birthday (she does not eat egg). She loved it.

Eggless Chocolate Cake II

It is a bit on the moist side.

Kim O'Donnel: that's four! thanks all.


Arlington, VA Re: Composting: We also compost and would love to hear others' experiences.

So far, we avoid putting anything that smells great (i.e. no whole fruits) into the bin and have not seen rats. Also, we have squirrels and I think they get there first for the most edible stuff. I think you need to graduate to an enclosed box to avoid rats, but given the expense and being renters who may move to somewhere with no outside space, haven't done that yet. Wish more apartments offered communal composting!

Kim O'Donnel: thanks, Arlington. As a fellow Arlington, I'm surprised that there isn't that much talk countywide about composting. Have you noticed a dent in your weekly trash?


Reston, Va.: Hi Kim,

Now that the weather is warming up nicely I crave for something citrusy. Do you have any lemon cupcake recipes? Thanks!

Kim O'Donnel: Check out this link to a recipe for lemon cupcakes with buttermilk choc icing from Nick Malgieri and David Joachim. I made these last year after the Va Tech shootings and shared them with friends.


Adams Morgan, Washington, D.C.: For the poster looking for an egg-less cake recipe, I've got a great vegan chocolate cake for you.

We've got a little guy in our family with an egg allergy and this recipe is our go-to for all family gatherings. It's so moist and fluffy that I use it for groups even without allergy issues. The recipe calls for:

2 1/4 cup flour

1 1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup cocoa powder

1 1/2 tsp baking soda

3/4 tsp salt

1 1/2 cup warm water

1/2 cup vegetable oil

1 1/2 tsp vanilla

1 1/2 tsp white vinegar

Preheat oven 350. Grease cake pans (I think this should fill two standard cake rounds. It also makes 16-18 good-sized cupcakes.)

Put together dry ingredients. Stir in water, vanilla, oil, and vinegar. Mix until combined.

The batter will smell sort of strange because of the vinegar, which reacts with the baking soda to give the cake its lift.

Bake 30 minutes or until knife comes out dry.

It's so great that you're making it possible for the kid to be included! Best of luck. . .

Kim O'Donnel: Thanks Adams, much appreciated! I also did a vegan choc cupcake in a recent blog post as well...


Re compost piles: Rats will be attracted to a compost pile if there are any animal products in there -- be especially careful to avoid putting in any meat, fish, seafood, etc. You should only be putting in things that grow in the ground at some point (coffee grounds and the filter are okay, vegetable peelings obviously, etc.). We've had no vermin in our urban-ish open compost pile over the past 4 years.

Kim O'Donnel: Right. That is a most excellent point worth repeating over and again...


Apartment Composting: I know this doesn't help most of the readers, but it is at least food for thought. Here in Seattle we are allowed to put non-meat/cheese food waste in a yard waste bin. It all gets picked up by the city utility, brought to a composting facility, and re-sold throughout the region as garden compost. I live in a condo building where we don't have any actual yard waste, but we do have a bin and can compost the food waste. I've been amazed at how much it has cut down on our trash, by more than half! It's a great program and other cities should consider it. In the meanwhile, if you want to get hard core, there are always worm bins that you can keep in your kitchen.

Kim O'Donnel: Ah Seattle...


Apt dweller trying to be green: I have the same problem as the other person living in an apartment in the city! I use my plastic grocery bags in place of trash bags. I use cloth grocery bags unless I'm in need of trash bags -- then I get the plastic ones with my groceries. But I feel conflicted too. Is thre anything else I can do? I wish there was some way to compost as much of my garbage is fruit/veg peels, cores, etc.

Kim O'Donnel: Sounds like we need to start a composting revolution!


20008: So I trekked out to the Takoma Park farmers market this weekend despite the rain because I was so excited about the prospects -- but what a disappointment. Pretty much there were salad greens and persian cucumbers. I got some "young garlic" that looks like green onions and I'm hoping is ramps, so I can try your pesto. And I got some sorrel. Any ideas what to do with the sorrel? And how come there wasn't more variety? I thought this was one of the better farmer's markets, and I was hoping for some peas or asparagus. Thanks Kim!

Kim O'Donnel: Hey there, it's still WAY EARLY in the growing season, so hang tight. I saw local asparagus for the first time last weekend, but I also saw green garlic, kale, lots of lettuces, rhubarb, all kind of herbs, leeks. The season is young, my dear. Before you know, there will be strawberries and peas, trust me.


Rosslyn, Va.: You mentioned in one of your posts flourless chocolate cookies -- where can I find that recipe? Thanks!

Kim O'Donnel: The link was posted earlier in the hour, scroll a little bit up on this page. Cheers.


Food Packaging: Hi Kim,

I've heard that some corn-based materials are being used for food packaging, in lieu of styrofoam. They're biodegradeable, but usually are wrapped in plastic to keep the produce in the container. I think that this packaging is still in the experimental-phase as I have not seen it at our grocery store yet.

Also, what are the green bags that a previous poster was chatting about? I had the impression that it was a different kind of bag, one to lengthen the counter-life of produce rather than to replace the plastic bags at grocery stores.

FWIW, I have some of the nylon and polyester bags from reusablebags.com and they wash and wear very nicely!

Kim O'Donnel: The issue with some of the corn-based materials will be for folks living with a corn allergy. Could be a nightmare. Has anyone heard about this? In hindsight, maybe I misunderstood what the earlier poster mentioned about produce bags. I'm looking for re-useable produce bags that people like.


Apartment composting: This may or may not be practical depending on space, but a lidded plastic trashcan with a bunch of (inch or so) holes poked in it is a cheap and enclosed compost bin. Seems to keep out the rats in my hood.

Kim O'Donnel: Thank you kindly!


Chicago, Ill.: Kim,

I live in a condo with limited outdoor space where composting would be difficult, but not impossible. However, I have never even considered it, because I don't have a garden other than a few pots of herbs and tomatoes and therefore have no use for the compost. I put my food waste down the garbage disposal. Does this make me a bad person? I do lots of other things to stay green.

Kim O'Donnel: It doesn't make you a bad person, of course not. I think the key here is to do what you can and do it consistently. Maybe the composting project would be more feasible if some of your neighbors collaborated? Something to think about -- and maybe this is a question to ask your local horticulture group. What to do with compost you really don't have use for? Can anyone come and collect it? Great question.


Kim O'Donnel: Time's up. Thanks for stopping by! See you over at the blog: A Mighty Appetite. Bye!


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