What's Cooking With Kim O'Donnel

Kim O'Donnel
Special to washingtonpost.com
Tuesday, July 1, 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: Hey folks, and Happy July! Last week's blog post about taking an Eat Local Challenge got lots people talking and pondering the notion, and many of you have expressed interest. So here's what I'd like you to do: Flood my inbox. Send me an e-mail to: kim.odonnelATwashingtonpost.com with the subject line: ELC

In your note, include your city and state and size of household.

I will be compiling a list of anyone who signs up for the challenge by Monday, July 14, and you'll be part of the Eat Local Challenge honor roll. From that list, I'll pick five people from around the country to share their experiences during the week of July 19-26, the week of the challenge. This Friday, as we all know, is Fourth of July -- and I'd love to hear from you on what you'd like to get from me this Thursday to help you prepare. Now, let's go...


Seattle, Wash.: Here's a question you probably have answered a million times: (one more time)what can I substitute for salt that does not have salt's health concerns? Thanks.

Kim O'Donnel: My friend Pop Rocks, who was featured in today's blog space, is now on a low-salt diet, and we've been talking about tasty alternatives. Gremolata -- a mix of chopped lemon zest, garlic and parsley -- is a terrific no-salt stand-in, particularly on top of rice, grilled veg, chicken and fish. In fact, lemon and herbs (with a smidge of olive oil, which increases salinity of food) is a useful duo for the salt-free nation. Anyone else care to share?


One Egg Boiler to Another: For the hard-boiled egg lover who was having trubs with the shells: Jacques Pepin (insert his delightful accent here) says to drain the water once the eggs are done, then swirl the eggs in the pan with slight force so that the shells crack. Then fill the pot with cold water. The water seeps underneath the shells and makes them easier to remove. This method has always worked for me!

Kim O'Donnel: Merci! This is a leftover thread from last week's chat -- much obliged...


Kalorama, Washington, D.C.: Hi Kim,

Just wanted to let you know I'm obsessed with your recipe for Viet-grilled chicken. I've even done shrimp and beef with the marinade and it's fantastic. The shrimp go great inside summer rolls, too. Thanks and keep 'em comin!

Kim O'Donnel: Hey Kalorama -- I'm glad you're having fun with that marinade; it's a goodie. Try it over grilled zucchini next time -- it's sublime.


San Francisco, Calif.: Just received a $150 gift card for Williams-Sonoma and am considering using it for a grill pan since I'm a bbq-less apartment dweller. I could choose the one that would use the whole card (I forget the brand, sorry) or a Calphalon for $50, leaving me plenty leftover to play with.

First, am I correct that a grill pan is intended to approximate outdoor grilling or is that too much to hope for?

Second, do I need to spend $150 on one?

Third, out of curiosity, how would YOU or the other chatters use $150 at Williams-Sonoma?


Kim O'Donnel: San Francisco, darling: A grill pan is a good idea for an apartment dweller. I don't own one myself, but I'm eager to hear what other folks think, but my first thought is that $150 is too much coin for a grill pan. It will not approximate outdoor grilling, but I think you'd be happy with it.

Third: if I had $150 of free money for the kitchen today, I'd buy a cake stand, a tube pan and dual-sided griddle. Or...I might apply money towards a juicer, which I'm keen to get...What about you folks?


McLean, Va.: My father-in-law was recently diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. He has a big birthday coming up and we want to celebrate. I'm the family dessert maker, but I'm known for decadent cheesecakes, key lime pie and other bad-for-diabetic creations.

Any suggestions or resources for a type 2 diabetic-friendly and delicious dessert?

Kim O'Donnel: A while back, I experimented with agave nectar, a natural sweetener that purportedly has a lower GI, but please first check with the doc to get the all-clear. The book, by the way, is called "Baking With Agave Nectar" by Ania Catalano. Really useful and interesting variety of sweets.


Reston, Va.: Probably a stupid question, but can I put frozen meat into my slow cooker, or do I need to defrost it first? I've got boneless country ribs awaiting a beer-BBQ sauce bath. Thanks!

Kim O'Donnel: I am of the school of thought that meat should be thawed before cooking. Thaw in fridge while you're at work, and they'll be ready for crock time that eve...


Agave Nectar Success : Hi Kim!

I just wanted to let you know I made a wonderful dish substituting agave nectar for the honey. It was a spicy honey chicken recipe that had a dry rub of cumin, garlic powder, chili powder, paprika, salt and red pepper. At the end I brushed on the agave nectar with some cider vinegar. It was a huge success! I loved the taste and I found the agave nectar's consistency was easier to work with than honey. Thanks for the suggestion to use it!

Kim O'Donnel: So glad you're having fun with agave. I agree, agave is easy to work with; I used it with those flapjack oat-y cookies from yesterday's blog space.


Grill pan: Make sure you have a decent exhaust fan before using one in an apartment ...

As for $150, it totally depends on what you already have. There's no right answer . . . but W-S does have pretty good prices on pans and knives, so you're not likely to save much by buying online. Other items there? can be overpriced.

Kim O'Donnel: good point on the exhaust fan -- the fun part about the free money part is that you can stroll through the store and take your time deciding.


Centreville, Va.: I have a new olive wood mortar and pedestal. Is there anything I need to do before using it, such as sealing, etc. Is there anything I shouldn't do to it?


Kim O'Donnel: Centreville, the only thing I wouldn't do is put it in the dishwasher. You might need to occasionally oil the bowl to keep it moist.


$150 gift card: I was in the same boat as our WS gift card holder. Instead of getting a grill pan, my hubby and I got a Cuisinart Griddler, which is just okay (but along the same lines). The problem that we didn't anticipate for apartment grilling was the smoke and smells. I would advise getting a grill pan only if you have good circulation in your place. Since ours is tiny, we're constantly setting off the smoke alarm and turning on fans and the grilled food smell, although delicious at first, tends to linger for a day or two.

A better bet for the gift card? I suggest a good knife... it's hard to shell out "real" money for a qualify knife but it's a great gift card splurge.

Kim O'Donnel: More thoughts on grill pans and gift cards...


Ohio: If I had $150 to spend at W-S! (my kitchen is pretty well equiped, it is my passion) If I did not have and was looking, I would get a cast iron French/Dutch oven. Then, I would but gadgets to make cooking more fun (and I love to do that), i.e., slicer, etc.

Kim O'Donnel: Yes, Dutch ovens are lovely...and you can get a Le Creuset beauty for about $150, and it'll last forever...


Grill pan: I have a wonderful calphalon grill pan which I purchased off amazon for $40. I also have the griddle version, which was only $20. If I had $150 to spend at WS, I'd probably buy an appliance (put it toward a stand mixer or hand mixer or buy some kitchenaid attachments). They also have lovely glassware and linens.

Kim O'Donnel: More on gift card purchases...


Hartford, Conn.: There was an article in today's paper about the cancer dangers in grilling and things to do to minimize the danger. One suggestion was using an acidic marinade.

Can you give some ideas on what is and what isn't acidic? Also, does it have to be all acidic ingredients to qualify?

(Unfortunately, I think citrus is acidic, and I'm not crazy about citrus -- except for lemon and lime.)


washingtonpost.com: Cancer Group Gives Barbecue a Grilling (Post, July 1)

Kim O'Donnel: Haven't yet read the story, so I won't be able to comment just yet.

Acid means: Citrus (as you mention), vinegar, wine -- plus less obvious dairy items, which include lactic acid -- buttermilk and yogurt.

A marinade should have an acidic component for balance of flavor.


Greenville, N.C.: A Corn on Cob strategy!

Well we had a water ban recently and I'd just bought some corn on the cob and had to use it. What I did with it brought stellar results...

I cut the corn from the cob with a knife, directly into a fry pan and proceeded to sautee it with garlic and ginger, salt and pepper.

I added fresh-frozen shrimp and let cook awhile

Then I added baby spinach and let it wilt.

Fresh mozzerella topped off a stellar summer meal. The starch from the raw corn seemed to absorb the flavors of the garlic/ginger and made for a surprising and luscious dinner. I used the remaining ears of corn in this way, even when the water ban was lifted...

My two cents on the topic of fresh corn!

Kim O'Donnel: I LOVE corn cut right off the cob, more so than chomping it directly from cob. Your improv meal sounds mighty tasty, Greenville. Thanks for sharing.


Probably a stupid question, but can I put frozen meat into my slow cooker: I have a recent food safety book that says not to. You have to keep the food from the danger temps. The transition from cold to hot should go as quickly as possible so it's in the danger zone as little as possible. I always put slow cooker on high for an hour to speed the process out of the danger zone and then put it on slow once it's reached a safer temp.

Kim O'Donnel: Yep, the danger zone is 40-140 degrees, fyi. Thanks for adding your thoughts.


Washington, D.C.: I bought two large eggplants at the farmers' market on Sat, forgetting that I was going away this weekend. Any ideas on how to use these up quickly? I was thinking baba ganoush, but I'm not sure I can eat it all before I leave.

Kim O'Donnel: Eggplant curry would make a lovely supper. Don't worry if you haven't got all the spices; it will still come out great and you'll have yourself a satisfying meal that can be lunch the next day.


Williams Sonoma: Hello Kim. It feels like Tuesdays with friends. I own the Calphalon grill pan and live in a house. Way too smokey. Does leave marks like a grill though. Do you know if the George Foreman grill (which I am not sure they carry at Williams Sonoma) is less smokey? Williams Sonoma has some beautiful stainless steel crock pots. Also lots of fun gourmet spices and sauces.

Kim O'Donnel: Tuesdays With Friends -- I love it!! Okay, so the consensus is that the grill pan has issues. I don't know much 'bout Foreman grill -- anyone care to share?


Arlington, Va.: Hi Kim,

I am writing because I just got a KitchenAid ice cream maker attachment that I am excited to try out. I also picked blueberries on Sunday at Butler's Orchard (about 16 pounds worth!) So needless to say, I am planning to try out the blueberry sorbet recipe you posted a while back. Do you think it is okay to leave out the creme de cassis? I don't have any, and I don't want to buy a whole bottle for one-time use. Should I substitute anything?

Also, any other blueberry suggestions would be welcome, but I tend to like them as close to their original form as possible!

Kim O'Donnel: Okay: First thing's first: Where's Butler's? I wanna go! I think it's fine to leave out the creme de cassis, but use vodka instead. You need a smidge of alcohol to help keep the sorbet from getting too icey. If you are game, I'll give you some of my creme de cassis at the farmer's market this Saturday. Happy to share.

Have you tried blueberry buckle? Heavenly -- and one of the best FOJ desserts.


Diabetes-friendly dessert: A lot depends on your father's strategy for treating his diabetes. Fruit is often a good dessert. Pears poached in wine. Fruit crumble with very ripe fruit doesn't need any additional sugar. Strawberry shortcake. If it's just not a celebration without cake, you can just go with small portion sizes. A small piece of cake for everyone with an artful fruit garnish.

Kim O'Donnel: Great ideas. Thanks much.


Alexandria, Va.: Having folks over for dinner (one can't eat wheat) and I need a good side dish to go with a lovely Sicilian preparation of tuna that includes mint, coriander and onions. Thanks for the help!

Kim O'Donnel: Ooh. What about a salad of arugula, blueberries and a lemony vinaigrette...or a cold quinoa salad with lotsa herbs, young garlic and diced zucchini? Or...sauteed zucchini...


Athens, Ga.: Hi, Kim. Got any hints for cooking up squash blossoms?

Kim O'Donnel: Gently, oh so gently. I love them stuffed with goat cheese seasoned with herbs. You'll need to do an egg batter dip, plus a dredging in seasoned flour (cornmeal is also nice), then pan fry very carefully so cheese doesn't explode.


Foreman grill: My parents got us one several years ago. I've used it once. It left me saying, "meh." I think you have to be careful how you cook things on it -- it seemed to dry everything out.

Kim O'Donnel: Some thoughts on the Foreman grill...


Gift card holder again: My kitchen does get lots of ventilation and I keep windows open all the time (lucky me in S.F., no a/c needed), but I appreciate hearing about the smoke problem with a grill pan. Actually I already own a George Foreman grill, which I always forget about (until someone else brought it up here), so maybe the pan is a non-issue. I'm also thinking of a food processor since I've been squeaking by with a tiny one that isn't adequate. Thanks for all these great suggestions!

Kim O'Donnel: Please keep us posted on what you decide! Cheers.


Framingham, Mass.: I have a pretty fantastic two-sided grill pan. It's flat on one side and grilled on the other. I rarely use the flat side, as I have a smaller griddle, but it's great for making a bunch of pancakes. The chatter should check out a sale at Macy's or even Kohl's and get one there. Much cheaper, but they are super for getting nice grill marks on your steaks or chicken when cooking indoors is your only option. (Fish is tougher, but it can be done!) Smoke can be a problem (and believe me, I have a tiny apartment), just open windows and get the vent going, you'll be fine. I would definitely splurge on the Dutch oven. The BF and I were in there this weekend coveting espresso machines, smokers, fancy sauces and marinades, knives, barware, etc. But for me, no question, hands down, go with the Dutch/French oven. (What I wouldn't give for a giant WS gift card right about now...)

Kim O'Donnel: More useful ideas on equipping one's baterie de cuisine...


Almost Seattle ... In Seattle!: Kim, I recently moved from Raleigh, N.C. to Seattle Wash. I don't regret it! Love your chats -- been a reader for almost two years now.

About the blueberry sorbet..

"Heavenly -- and one of the best FOJ desserts."

What does FOJ mean?

Kim O'Donnel: FOJ: Fourth of July. I was trying to be snappy.

Glad you are enjoying your new city, dear. I am looking forward to the change of scenery, but you'll all still be able to find me in this space.


Follow up on blueberries: Butler's Orchard is in Germantown, Md., not far off 270 from the Beltway. They have pick-your-own blueberries from late June to early August. You can bring a container or buy a bucket there, then just pick as many berries as you want (or for as long as you can stand the heat!) and pay about $2/pound.

I think I will try the sorbet with something I have -- maybe vodka or how about Chambord (left over from another project, since I rarely mix drinks)?


Kim O'Donnel: Bueno. I'm there.

Vodka over chambord, which will be too intense, methinks.


Re: Foreman Grill -- Smokey?: My little one doesn't smoke, I use it for panni's. I'm not sure about the big one, it shouldn't though, since it's just a direct contact cooking surface lined with non-stick.

Also for the creme de cassis, you should be able to find a little bottle of it at the liquor store. I've had one for a while and it didn't go bad or taste off after about a year.

Kim O'Donnel: More followup on Foreman...and yes, I do recall seeing those mini bottles of cassis...


Blueberry: This blueberry crisp is amazing -- very simple to let the berries shine too:

Blueberry Crisp ( Safecount.com)

(sorry, no time to tiny url--it's Martha)

I heart my kitchenaid ice cream attachment -- that's another recommendation for the gift card holder.

Kim O'Donnel: Excellent -- we can always use another blueberry treat for the list...


Mortar and Pestle: The previous poster's mortar-and-pestle question reminds me to ask something that has bothered me for a while. I have a marble mortar and pestle -- probably a little shy of one-cup capacity, with a pestle (that's the stick-part, right?) that is about 5 inches long, maybe 1 inch in diameter, just a slightly tapered, rounded stick.

I seem unable to use it correctly. All it seems to do is sort of stir the stuff in the bowl and make a tiny bit of powder that doesn't really come out well.

What is the proper M-and-P technique? Why am I so dopey about this?


Kim O'Donnel: You're not dopey. Your bowl might just be too small for the amount of stuff you're trying to pulverize. I have m&ps in various sizes -- b/c that's the kind of geek that I am -- and I use the one-cup version for pounding spices or garlic not much more than that.

Try the up-and-down pounding method -- and get some of that frustration out into the ether!!


Chapel Hill, N.C.: I was planning on making a pretty basic (easy) Roast Pork for dinner tonight, but I wanted to make sure to have a sauce to with it (especially helpful if I accidentally leave it in the oven too long and it turns out a little dry). Any suggestions?

Kim O'Donnel: Hey Chapel Hill: How are you seasoning the pork?

At this time of year, I love making a sauce from fresh cherries or blueberries. Interested?


Columbia, Md.: What is the best way to prevent shrimp from drying out on the grill? I have heard of brining shrimp but have not yet done it.


Kim O'Donnel: Don't overcook it. I know that sounds trite -- but it's true. Shrimp needs very little time -- as in five or six minutes total for both sides. I think a quickie citrus soak (about 10 minutes) of lime, garlic chilies is really nice for flavor, too.


S. Rockville, Md.: Seeing that Greenville, N.C. has corn on the cob just whets my appetite even more, knowing that we're mere weeks away from the local stuff!

Now for a question, I make a homemade barbecue sauce that calls for lemon and pineapple juices. I have a friend who is allergic to citrus and citric acids. Any ideas on what I can substitute to mimic those flavors? Thanks, Kim. You rock!

Kim O'Donnel: Mango and papaya, and some carrot, all pureed and mixed in with some brown sugar or honey, heat of peppers, onions, garlic, and whatever else you love...


Grill pan: Okay, yes, it does generate smoke with fatty meats.

BUT, I still use mine 2-3 times a week! It does shrimp fabulously, and I do several kinds of chicken, even beef tenderloin and salmon/char/sea bass on it.

It's also fabulous when you don't want to turn on the oven.

Oh, and I do bread rubbed w/olive oil on it to toast, then rub with garlic glove. Delish!

Kim O'Donnel: And here's a vote for the grill pan, for the road...it's my cue to sign off, time to run. Thanks for stopping by; I wish you a most delicious FOJ weekend; be safe while you're being merry. I'll be filing dispatches through Thursday in the blog space: A Mighty Appetite. All best.


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