What's Cooking With Kim O'Donnel

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Kim O'Donnel
Special to washingtonpost.com
Tuesday, May 27, 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: Hi folks: Hope you had a delicious long holiday weekend. The weather here in DC was nothing short of spectacular. As mentioned in this morning's blog space, I whipped a pot of baked beans, which really hit the spot. What goodies did you rustle up in the kitchen? So I was supposed to do my vegetarian chat this Thursday, May 29, but as it turns out, I'll be travelling. Since I've missed a few months, I'm proposing we reschedule for next Thursday, June 5 at 1pm. Is that okay with everyone? Let's get to your questions...

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Takoma Park: What fresh fruit is the best value for money right now in the Washington area?

Kim O'Donnel: Such a tricky question at the moment, Takoma, because the cost of food is more in flux right now than it has been in decades. I always think that whatever is in season where you live is the best value for your money. In the DC area fruit world, that means strawberries. Stay tuned for local blueberries, which should be showing up at market within the next two weeks.

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Brooklyn NY: Made the naked chicken and it was DIVINE. Thank you :D

Is there any way to make the same concept (ie chicken minus skin) with more traditional roast chicken flavors .... or could I just take the skin off and rub with olive oil and do "naked naked chicken". With the prices of meat going up, a whole chicken seems more economical, but I don't want to do the same spices over and over.

P.S. Found Tatsoi on Saturday so the meal was completely Kim-inspired as we tried out the tatsoi wilted with the warm vinaigrette. YUM.

Kim O'Donnel: Hey Brooklyn! Glad you enjoyed. If you want to forego a spice rub, think of doing a seasoned salt -- salt, black pepper, dried thyme or oregano or chopped fresh parsely, mashed garlic, chopped lemon zest...rub that with your olive oil, then lather on.

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Washington Navy Yard: Hi Kim - not a real "homemade" cooking question but hoping you can help. I'm in a bind with a relative coming over for dinner tomorrow and no time to cook. I have some chicken thighs in my freezer and a jar of simmer sauce from trader joe's. Was thinking I could defrost the chicken overnight and throw in a crock pot with the simmer sauce tomorrow morning when I leave for work. These sauces aren't specified for the slow cooker - do you see any reason why it wouldn't work? It's a piccatta sauce, for what it's worth. I'll be tending to my one year old in addition to my relative so don't want to be in the kitchen cooking during the visit. Thoughts?

Kim O'Donnel: Personally I think eight hours is a really long time for chicken thighs, but I'm going to let the slow cookers in the house share their thoughts...

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Alexandria, Va.: Hi Kim! I've been looking for a place to find rare meats (not rare like illegal rare, but rare as in they're not available at your local grocer). Do you have any suggestions on where to look in the Arlington area?

Kim O'Donnel: You mean like goat, rabbit and bison? Head to a local farm market. Polyface does rabbits, I believe; Cibola Farms does bison; Smithfresh does goat, and of course, the availability is seasonal.

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Silver Spring, Md.: I made the grilled pizza this weekend (recipe on the Mighty Appetite blog). Recipe and instructions were spot on. Now, this is the only way I'm making homemade pizza.

I second the suggestion to make small mini pizzas. Mise en place is important as well. Once you have the dough and toppings together, it's 15 min start to finish. Just enough time for your guests to open and pour their beers while they pick a lawn chair in which to relax.

Kim O'Donnel: Hey Silver, I made pizza this weekend too -- but not grilled. But our houseguest, visiting from Seattle, asked about the how-tos, and I referred him to the blog. I made three pizzas -- one with potatoes, green garlic pesto and arugula; one with local ricotta, tomato sauce, bacon and basil and one with smoked mozzarella, tomatoes, basil and chili flakes.

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Washington, DC: I believe that a knife is the most important tool in the kitchen and am surprised when I go into friends' kitchens and find them working with dull blades. I find it very dangerous.

Over the weekend, The Splendid Table broadcast a segment with the owner of a mail-in knife sharpening service, but when I visited the website, the service was no longer being offered. The guest on the show did not recommend sending quality knives to a hardware store.

I'd like to get my knives professionally sharpened. Do you have any recommendations?

Kim O'Donnel: Give a call over to La Cuisine in Alexandria. They're one of the remaining few knife-sharpening resources in the area.

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Baltimore, Md.: My father-in-law brought over a huge bag of wonderful strawberries he picked yesterday. My usual M.O. is making jam and canning, but I am about to have a baby any day now and not up for that. Also I have to watch my blood sugar until baby arrives, so strawberry ice cream, which wouldn't taste as good in a couple of weeks, isn't a great idea. Aside from just freezing the berries, and making a puree to use here and there, do you have any ideas for me?

Kim O'Donnel: Check out this recent blog post on savory applications for strawberries. There are tons of ideas from readers, too.

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Rockville, Md.: A co-worker just gave me a gallon-sized bag full of fresh spinach from her garden. What should I do with it tonight, to go with a couple of grilled steaks, and leftover potato salad (made with a lovely vinaigrette) and cole slaw (also vinegar-based) from this weekend?

Kim O'Donnel: A quickie saute in a skillet, with olive oil, garlic, walnuts is pretty great with steak...it also likes sesame oil/canola oil with soy sauce and chili flakes. While steak is resting, you can make spinach.

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asparagus many ways: Hi Kim! I'm looking for different techniques for cooking asparagus. Most recipes I've seen call for boiling it. I've also seen some grill recipes, but I don't have one. Last night, I dumped some asparagus and portabellos in a pan with some vinaigrette and stuck them under the broiler and I think they tasted great. But I'm looking for some other ways that let the natural beauty shine through.

Kim O'Donnel: That's the great thing about asparagus -- you can do almost anything to it (except for boiling it to death) and it will inevitably turn out great. I'm a big fan of roasting at 400 degrees for eight minutes. But this is a great beginning to a a thread -- share your favorite ways of cooking asparagus, please!

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Philadelphia, PA: Hi Kim-that bbq recipe you posted the other day looks fantastic, but I can't make it because I don't have access to wood, a grill, or outdoor cooking space. Do you have any bbq recipes for us city & apartment dwellers? I've got an oven and a stove.

Kim O'Donnel: Here are the details for braised orange-y soy ribs, which may be up your alley, dear.

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Pizza and ricotta: Two comments. First, I also made grilled pizza, using Trader Joe's pizza dough. Quick and good. I think next time I will make sure I have a platter on which to put the pizza after the first side of the crust cooks, because it was a little hard to put all the toppings on while the pizza was on the grill. (Maybe this is obvious to everyone else!!)

Second, a tip for vegans and anyone who doesn't eat dairy. You can make a terrific dairy-free "ricotta" using tofu, olive oil, and a food processor. Place the tofu (firm or x-firm works best) in the processor and buzz so it crumbles. Drizzle olive oil in (very very slowly) while the processor is running, until the texture of ricotta. For a block of tofu, you'll need less than a tablespoon of oil. Add salt and pepper to taste. I made this over the weekend, added steamed and pureed carrots and asparagus, and used the "ricotta" to fill won ton wrappers for some impromptu ravioli (topped with home-made tomato sauce and chopped mushrooms cooked in a little chili oil). I have told friends who don't eat dairy about this fake ricotta, and they are so happy to be able to eat lasagne again -- it really is indistinguishable!

Kim O'Donnel: Oh, I love the "ricotta" idea! How fun! Great idea. Re: grilling pizza: it does require a little extra coordination, a lesson I also learned the hard way.

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Black Beans: I've been soaking black beans since last night.

What to do to them to make them 'Cuban'?

Kim O'Donnel: You'll need some garlic, onion, cumin and oregano. I like to mix in the cumin and oregano while the onion and garlic are cooking in oil. But really, you need to cook those beans on their own until tender, then in a separate skillet, do the seasonings, then add to the nearly cooked beans.

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somewhere, UK: ooh thanks for the baked beans recipe! It will be nice to make some American-style baked beans over here. I know the British like their beans on toast, but the "baked beans" they have in tins here are nothing like the ones back home. (and again, the ones back home are nothing like homemade, of course!)

It helps that it's currently cold and rainy, so this sort of recipe sounds very appealing right now. Thanks again!

Kim O'Donnel: My pleasure. Please report back with your kitchen adventures!

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Rockville, Md.: I take my knives to Sur la Table in Washington, they do a great job.

Kim O'Donnel: Fantastic. Great to know.

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Dull blades are dangerous? : Why is that? Seems like too sharp would be the danger. Like the Cutco knife my father was using when he almost sliced off his finger.

Kim O'Donnel: Yes indeed, dull blades are dangerous. One of the first lessons I learned in cooking school. The theory is, a sharp knife always tells you you're too close; a dull knife doesn't and can be the most unwelcome surprise.

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Chicken thighs in simmer sauce from Trader Joe's:: Instead of using a slow cooker, I would saute them in a little oil in a frying pan, then add the sauce, reduce the heat so it just simmers, and finish cooking them in the sauce. It would only take about 20-25 minutes (about 5-6 minutes of standing over the stove to brown, there rest of the time just stir a few times).

Kim O'Donnel: Thanks for your tidbits!

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washingtonpost.com: Microwave works well for asparagus - wrap in a damp paper towel and zap for 2 min or so - check and see if it needs more. I have been eating it with a dab of Ojai Lemonaise to dip it into - I know you are not a big mayo fan, though, Kim...

Kim O'Donnel: thanks ET for your thoughts!

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Washington, D.C.: Gas grill is on the fritz, so we dug out the old Weber, and decided to try using hardwood charcoal instead of the Kingsford. What a disaster -- fire burned hot and clean as promised, but it burned down and cooled off so quickly! Boneless chicken kebobs took nearly 30 minutes to cook. Tried it again with steak, got those cooked in time, but even with turning the vents down, the coals were cool enough to handle after dinner, so no marshmallow roasting! I'll stay with the Kingsford -- consistency has its pluses!

Kim O'Donnel: Hmm...I wonder if this is a case of being accustomed to the instant presto results with the gas? Did you use a chimney to fire up the coals?

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Re apartment bbqing: Hi Kim, I saw an America's Test Kitchen episode where they demosntrated a method of achieving a bbq flavor with slabs of ribs inside. The previous poster might want to look it up. I do have a grill but in the middle of next winter may very well give that a shot. One thing I remember is that they put the ribs onto a rack layed on a rimmed tray that had tea leaves spread out beneath it. They found that trying to use wood chips didn't work indoors, creating too much smoke, but that the tea from tea bags provided the smoky flavor that we are accustomed to in good bbq.

Kim O'Donnel: Nice! I like this idea. I will do some digging, see if I can find details.

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Asparagus: I'm not usually a fan, but I've only had store-bought asparagus until last week. (Yay to my CSA Olin-Fox!) I stir-fried it with the garlic scapes we got, seasoned with salt and pepper, and a smidge of sesame oil. Perfect flavor.

Kim O'Donnel: Oh! You've got garlic scapes already? I'm jealous. Where are you writing from?

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'sparagus pesto: I like to oven roast with salt and pepper, garlic and oil.

toss in food processor with walnuts or pecans and parmesano.

toss over artisanal bowties

soo good

Kim O'Donnel: Oh, now this sounds lovely...I have some asparagus I need to use up tonight...hmm.

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Dried Chipotle Powder: I can't find the Paul Prudhomme version anywhere in the stores and I've checked in other states.

the McCormick one is dull, not smokey, and not spicy.

Any idea where I can find pre ground chipotles or a place where I can get whole dried chipotles to grind myself?

thanks

Kim O'Donnel: Have you checked penzeys.com? Let me know what you think.

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speaking of being pregnant: Hi Kim,

I wish that I had the pregnant poster's strawberry problem. Me, I don't want to cook and can't figure out what I want to eat. #3 is due anyday and nothing is appealing or seems to be worth the effort. My only solace will be a fritatta tonight from the eggs and spinach purchased at the farmer's market last weekend. Any other suggestions? I'm hungry, bored with my palate, and tired...

Kim O'Donnel: Remember, everything is temporary and this too shall pass! How did the idea of baked beans sound to you? Wait----number three is due any day? Holy catfish. You should have a grilled cheese, and it should be served to you, while your feet up...

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Re Asparagus Preparations: I like them with the ends snapped off, tossed with olive oil, a dash of seasoned salt, ground coriander, a squeeze of lemon, and ground pepper. Grill 5-8 minutes on med. or until tendercrisp.

Kim O'Donnel: Nice. The 'gras ideas are comin' in...

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Arlington, Va. S.: I occasionally make a Middle Eastern dish (I forget the name) of rice, lentils, and pan-caramelized sliced onions. Anyhow, normally a spice mix is added to the lentils, and I improvise amounts with cinnamon, cumin, coriander, nutmeg, cloves, salt, pepper, and cardamom. I'm a little confused about cardamom - I bought a bottle that has pods, and the seeds are a pain to get out of them so I can put them in the grinder. Is there a technique to this? I got my pods at a Middle Eastern store in Alexandria, perhaps the seeds can be bought instead of the pods? Any thoughts?

Thanks!

Kim O'Donnel: Take a knife on its flat side and smash open those cardamom pods. They open up like a charm. Your dish sounds nice; please share.

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Dull Knives ARE Dangerous: Dull knives don't "bite" into the food the way that a sharp knife does. They can go glancing off a tomato or apple skin and right into your finger. I've got the scars to prove it. Sharper is definitely safer--you'll cut cleanly and quickly. Just pay attention to what you're doing.

Kim O'Donnel: Yes! Fait attention!

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Washington, D.C.: grilling again: We used a chimney 3 times, once with Kingsford, and twice with the Hardwood. Even though the Kingsford had been sitting in the garage for over 5 years, it lit up well and was still hot after dinner, unlike the hardwood.

Kim O'Donnel: Those chemicals are good for something, I suppose...Don't give up on the hardwood! By the way, I'm investigating a newfangled "carbon free" briquette made from eucalyptus. Stay tuned...

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Virginia: Dear Kim,

I am trying to incorporate more tuna into our diet at home. I'm not brave enough to attempt to cook a tuna steak, but I am willing to try some new stuff with the canned tuna. Do you have any suggestions?

Kim O'Donnel: Dear Virginia: Is it fish you're trying to incorporate more of or just tuna? Given the high mercury content in tuna, I would advise eating no more than once a month, maybe twice. Let's talk.

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Mango in a bathtub: Are you moving to Seattle? Say it ain't so

Kim O'Donnel: Guilty as charged, mango. Mister MA and I are moving this summer to the Emerald City! I will continue to chat with y'all just like usual and keep up with the blog...and plan to blog from the road as I drive across the country later this summer. Once we find a place to live (ergo, the travel later this week), I will be putting together a food-centric itinerary that will include your suggestions. More on that in June as logistics shape up...

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Garlic Scapes: I'm in Triangle--Prince William county. We got a decent-sized bunch of garlic scapes. It was our first exposure to scapes. It had a mild garlic scent but no garlicky flavor. Very neat to try new things!

Kim O'Donnel: Well done! You must buy another bunch next week and make pesto! I'm addicted to the stuff.

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Slow cooker chicken: Agree that 8 hrs. is WAY too long in the slow cooker. I usually find ours is far too hot to cook meat in at all (darn Rival!), even on "low," and even starting out with frozen meat.

Chicken thighs will turn to rubber if boneless or fall apart (and not in a good way) if they are on the bone. Why not lightly brown in some oil on both sides in a casserole/cast iron pan, then add the sauce, and finish either covered in the oven for 40 min, or on the stovetop? Grab some of those new Potato pancake-like patties from one of the frozen tater tot manufacturers (or Dr. Praeger's, for that matter), and add those on a tray in the oven for the last 15 min. of bake time. Presto!

Kim O'Donnel: Thanks for chiming in, dear. Good tips all around. I'm not familiar with the newfangled frozen tater patties, but I'll take your word for it...

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Boulder, Colo.: Hi Kim. For the Cuban black beans poster, my cuban friend in Miami also adds a little bit of sugar and some white vinegar, along with the garlic, cumin and oregano. Unfortunately she doesn't have a recipe, everything is done by taste & feel! A few years ago she had her mother come over and just cook all day while she watched her and made notes, so that she could learn how to cook all of her family's Cuban specialties. She is so grateful she took the time to do that because her mom died about a year later.

It pays to learn from your elders!

Kim O'Donnel: Thanks, Boulder. Great tips, and I wholeheartedly agree about learning from those who cooked before you...

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Slow Cooker:8 hours is incredibly long for thighs unless they're still frozen when you start. They should cook in closer to 5 hours. If they are still partially frozen and would finish thawing between the time you leave and the time you need them to start, you could try using a lamp timer to start it at the right time.

Kim O'Donnel: More on slowing cooking chix thights...

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re Tuna: I love a fresh salad of grape tomatoes and cucumber tossed with olive oil and a splash of vinegar (red wine works nicely, but this isn't too particular). Salt and pepper, a bit of fresh parsley and a nice chunk of OIL PACKED tuna on the side (oil packed is way more flavorful than water packed, which rinses away all the good stuff. doesn't have to be fancy expensive olive-oil packed, either). Heavenly.

Kim O'Donnel: Thanks, I too love such a salad...as long as it's in moderation.

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Boulder, Colo.: Kim, on your drive out west, you have a place to stay in Colorado! Just make sure it's a Wednesday night or Saturday morning so I can take you to our fab farmer's market!

Kim O'Donnel: I may take you up on that...more on the trip later!

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Kim O'Donnel: Ack, time to run. Thanks for stopping by. Remember: We'll do veggie chat next Thursday rather than this week -- and I'll remind y'all again next week. Enjoy those strawberries while they last! All best.

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