What's Cooking With Kim O'Donnel

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Kim O'Donnel
Special to washingtonpost.com
Tuesday, July 15, 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: Greetings on this BEAUTIFUL summer late morn in Washington. You've got one hour left to sign up for the Eat Local Challenge! I'd love to hear from you so I can include you on the Eat Local Challenge Honor Roll. The ELC, by the way, kicks off this Saturday, July 26, for one week. During the week, five guest bloggers from around the country will file dispatches from their respective kitchens sharing their experiences with their local food sheds. Stay tuned!

I had my first peach over the weekend, and I'd say so far, so good. A little early in these parts for freestone, but the flavor is spot on. Must be all the rain we had in the spring. In fact, I'd say the produce overall has been much fuller in flavor than last year, when we were going through such a tough drought. What's happening in your worlds? Do tell.

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Hoboken, N.J.: Hi Kim, I just got engaged and we're making up a list of possible things to register for. Since we live in an apartment building one thing that we really both miss is having a grill. Any suggestions for a grill pan that might make the summer even more enjoyable? Nothing too fancy, just something we can throw some vegetables or shrimp on when the mercury's rising. Thanks!

Kim O'Donnel: Congratulations! Just a few weeks ago, there was a chat thread about grill pans -- and the vote is mixed. But let's ask this: for those who love their grill pans, what brands do you recommend?

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Bethesda, Md.: Hi Kim -- I'm in search of a recipe to cook for my non-adventurous eating family at a vacation cabin. Based on the number of people (10) and the equipment, I think baking/roasting chicken breasts or parts would be easiest. They are not at all adventurous eaters. Would you have a recipe for oven-fried chicken? Do you or the chatters have other suggestions? Thanks!

Kim O'Donnel: Do you have a wok? Fried chicken loves the wok -- and it'd be easy to tote in the car. Here's the recipe how-to for fried chicken, which I always finish off in the oven anyway. Have a look, see what you think.

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Midwest: Do you have any guidance/recipes for yogurt-based popsicles? My daughter fell in love with store-bought ones (prepackaged tubes of yogurt that can be frozen), but there's hardly any yogurt in them, so I'm sure I can save money via a homemade version.

They seem to be on the liquid-y side, so I'm thinking of adding fruit and milk (and maybe sugar or honey) to plain, nonfat yogurt in a blender/processor, then pouring into popsicle molds.

Kim O'Donnel: I would def. add fruit, use a thicker, plain yogurt, your choice of sweetener. Might even add a wee bit of banana for bulk, as secondary flavoring. But before you pour into molds, allow puree to get nice and cold, about 1 hour. THEN pour into molds. Will help a lot when setting up in the molds.

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Rockville, Md.: Help. I tried to cook lentils by boiling them. It worked, but they were kind of mushy and there were loose "skins" all over the place. Not at all like the steamed vacuum packed ones I got at Trader Joe's. So I found a pot (I think it was my grandmother's) with a steamer insert, and tried that. It boiled dry, burned the lentils on the bottom and none of the lentils got softer -- not even a little bit.

How do I cook them? Try boiling again? If so, is it like rice where I measure the amount of water and cook until absorbed? Like pasta where I boil in lots of water and drain them? I've looked at recipes and they all seem to start with "cook the lentils" like the process should be obvious. I admit it. I am pathetic. It isn't obvious to me.

And I read that you should add the salt at the end to keep them from being tough, but if anyone wants to guess what other spices TJ's is adding to the steamed ones they sell, I'd love to hear it. The box says they are made in France if that helps, but the ingredient list is "lentils, salt, natural flavor."

Kim O'Donnel: First thing's first: You're not pathetic. Just dust off that notion right off those shoulders, and into the ether. Excellent. Okay, here's what you do: Put your lentils into a medium/large sauce pan. Add water -- so that lentils are barely covered. Bring the mixture up to a boil. THEN reduce the heat to a simmer and cover the pot. Check every 10 minutes to see how the water is doing. If it's almost gone, add a wee bit more. Lenitls only take about 35ish minutes to cook, sometimes less. As for spices, once the lentils are cooked, you can add some cumin, coriander, salt, pepper, a little cayenne, whatever you like. In a separate skillet, you can cook up some garlic and onions in oil and add that the lentils. Even some chopped carrot or celery. Get back me to next week and let me know what's happening.

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Anonymous: I'd like to thank the person who suggested cracking just-boiled eggs in cold water to help the shell peeling process. It works really well with fresh eggs.

And I'd like to thank the blog poster who butterflies and roasts a chicken every weekend. It's a little effort up front but so easy (and tasty!).

And of course I need to thank you, Kim. You teach and challenge, and your recipes are wonderful (as evidence: heart-healthy chocolate cake and blueberry sorbet - to DIE for!!).

There! I am feeling the love!

Kim O'Donnel: WOOHOO! Gratitude is in the house!

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Baltimore local produce: Hi Kim, I work in East Baltimore and it turns out that one of the stands are our local market gets produce in from Baltimore County! It's less expensive than many other farmer markets (I live between Dupont and U St. markets) and has local and non-local produce with the local items highlighted on a big chalkboard. Hurray! A question though -- what should I do with the pale green circular/disc-shape zucchini (squash?) that's just come in? It looks great, but I need some help with how to prepare. Thanks Kim!

Kim O'Donnel: Hey there: Those disc/flying saucer-shaped squash, known as pattypan, can be cut into chunks and quickly sauteed in a skillet with a little onion and tossed with fresh mint, basil or parsley. Lovely quickie summertime dish.

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Rockville, Md.: Just bought my first grill (gas), and I'm trying vegetarian grilling. I wasn't a big fan of the portabello, but the tofu was great. Any other great grilling ideas for vegetarians? For you: I placed two peaches peeled and pitted, in an aluminum foil packet. Put on a little brown sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, and dot of butter. Threw it on indirect heat on the grill for 15 minutes. Tasted just like a peach cobbler without the fatty cobbler part. Yum!

Kim O'Donnel: Nice! I love grilled beaches. I put a few on my pizza last night. Giddy up. Did you put tofu on a skewer? That's my favorite way to do tofu, methinks. Grilled corn, zukes, onions, pineapple are all right up your alley...and don't forget the red peppers!

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Arlington, Va.: Kim, do you have any suggestions for savory uses for cherries? I've done a lot of baking and ice-cream making with them this year, but would like to try something different. I have a pork tenderloin I'll be cooking for dinner tonight so something that could go with that would be great. Thanks!

Kim O'Donnel: Ooh, you can make a sauce for that pork loin. Pit some cherries, add a wee bit of cornstarch, some chopped shallot, a little orange zest, if possible, a little sugar, a little salt...and some kind of pepper. I might even add a wee bit of balsamic, if you've got it -- or a splash of brandy. Bring up to a boil, then cook at a simmer and let reduce. You'll have the rockingest sauce in the land.

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Re pattypan: Do I need to peel the pattypan before the sautee? Thanks so much for this -- I'm going to buy some after the chat. Also, for Rockville, if you made red lentil (kinda orange-y in the bag) then sometimes they just do get mushy when they cook and there's not much to do about them. As for the TJ ones, I think maybe they're beluga lentil or french lentils... much firmer when cooked than red or brown lentils. Hope that helps.

Kim O'Donnel: Nope, no peeling necessary. The skin is as thin as those green and yellow oblong squash you're seeing right now at market.

RE: lentils: good point on the mushy/pureed quality of red lentils.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Kim, I had the BEST red lentil soup at a Turkish restaurant last week in London. It was homey, kind of light, with a hint of lemon. It tasted really simple, but was just perfect. Any idea how to make something like this? Thanks!

Kim O'Donnel: Red lentils are a cinch to work with. As we just mentioned, they practically puree themselves. The lemon can be added at the end, as they're cooked. You can also add lemon zest. In a separate skillet, I'd cook thinly sliced onions with cumin seeds and add to the lentils. See if this gets you closer to London.

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Dupont Circle, D.C.: This blog post is so timely! My boyfriend took me out to dinner (he paid) and as we were walking from the table I thanked him for the meal. Later at home, he said it meant so much that I always thanked him when he paid for things. I thought it was just good manners, but apparently a simple thank you can go a long way. P.S. I am SUPER excited about the ELC. It's gonna be a blast.

Kim O'Donnel: Reader is referring to today's post: Thanks, This Dinner's For You.

I think we all could use a little more thanks in our lives, n'est-ce pas?

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Winston-Salem, N.C.: My favorite thing to grill is sweet potatoes. Peel them, cut them in chunks, wrap them in foil (oil or spray the foil first), and let 'er rip. We just add some salt, pepper, and butter before we wrap up the foil. About 10 minutes per side. Absolutely wonderful stuff, especially if you can get local produce.

Kim O'Donnel: Grilled sweets are marvelous -- as are regular old spuds. Thanks for adding to the veggie grill list.

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Loudoun Countyk, Va.: Got some peaches a couple weeks ago at a farmer's market out here. Made some vanilla-peach ice cream, which made a great dessert paired with almond flavored blondies.

No question, but you mentioned peaches in the intro so I thought I'd share that idea.

Kim O'Donnel: And I thank you for your contribution! Peaches are wonderful when they're good,no?

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Cinci: Hi Kim, I have about 2/3 block of extra firm silken tofu in my refrigerator waiting to be used. What could I do with it? P.S. I am a vegetarian and cook only for one. Thanks.

Kim O'Donnel: You got an ice cream maker? You can make soy "cream." If not, silken tofu is great in cakes. You can also puree it, season with herbs, scallions, garlic and make a killer snacky/sandwich spread.

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Any other great grilling ideas for vegetarians?: I just ate a grilled mango for the first time and thought it was terrific. It had a vinagrette on it, but I'm not sure what was in that.

Kim O'Donnel: A lime vinaigrette would be luscious on a grilled mango. Nice idea.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Kim, now that Tilapia with it's omega-6's has been compared to eating a doughnut I would like to know if you can recommend another mild fish like this one that would not be so detrimental to my health. Thanks

Kim O'Donnel: Say what? Talk to me -- where did you read this?

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Vegetarian Grilling: I love tofu on the grill too! I also like small whole potatoes, kohlrabi, turnips (not exactly summer veggies but we got some early in our CSA season). Eggplant, green and yellow squash, and baby bella mushrooms all taste great grilled. Don't forget about veggie burgers. Boca Grillers taste gross (imo) except when grilled (hence 'Grillers' perhaps?)

Kim O'Donnel: Nice ideas. Oh-- and I've been promising to get on the grilled cabbage wagon.

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Oak Hill, Va.: To the person looking for pattypan squash recipe:

Julia Child has a wonderful stuffed pattypan squash recipe, and here's a link to a very nice sqush gratin casserole

A Cooking Life

Kim O'Donnel: Thanks, dear!

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Grilling pans: I have a Le Cruset that I love. But at risk of beating a dead horse you have to have a really good fan -- no matter what I do it smokes! In fact, I still broil quite a bit -- you might want to start with that method before investing. Good luck!

Kim O'Donnel: Okay, here's one grill pan rec...

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Ashburn, Va.: I can never seem to get banana bread to bake evenly, no matter which recipe or pan I use. Any suggestions?

Kim O'Donnel: let me ask you something -- how's that oven holding up? You might want to insert a thermometer and keep an eye on internal temp accuracy. Do you bake anything else with regularity?

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Washington, DC: I have been shredding my pattypan squash with a box grater and sauteeing with salt and lots of pepper. Yum! A sprinkle of parmesan would be a nice touch.

Kim O'Donnel: Very nice! I love simple stuff like this. s

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Veg grilling: My fave: tofu on the grill:

Press a block of firm or extra firm water-packed tofu to drain off water (put on a cutting board on a slant, place a nonbreakable plate on top, weight with a can of tomatoes or beans. Allow to sit for 30 minutes). While draining, combine hoisin, soy sauce, minced ginger and garlic, a splash of rice vinegar, a bit of sesame oil and a squirt of sriracha. This should be a slightly thick marinade, what with the hoisin. Slice the tofu in 8-10 even slices, not too thin. Place in a baking dish and marinate for at least 10 minutes, can be a few hours. Grill over med-high heat until crisp on edges. This makes amazing sandwiches or just snacky tofu. Mmmm.

Kim O'Donnel: Love it! Thanks for sharing your tricks...

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Alexandria, Va.: Hi Kim,

Have you ever tried making your own cheese? I'm going to try this week with a mozzarella starter kit and i'm very excited! Any tips for the first time at-home cheesemaker?

Kim O'Donnel: I haven't tried making my own cheese, but I've been thinking about getting my friend Erin, who has, to share her experiences in the blog space. I'll keep you apprised. Will work on that this week.

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Navy Yard, Washington, D.C.: Hi Kim -- I have a bag of shredded carrots in my fridge that is not going to last much longer. Was thinking about making a carrot cake/bread and I have a recipe, but it calls for a lot of white and brown sugar. As I have a young child, I'd prefer to make it with less sugar...any ideas on what the minimum amount of sugar I could add to still have a tasty cake albeit a healthier one? Alternatively, if any of your readers have a low sugar recipe, I'd be open to trying a new one!

Kim O'Donnel: I often reduce the amount of sugar that's typically called for in cake recipes. I think you can get away with 1/2 --2/3 cup of sugar for a cake and still have lovely results.

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Grilled Baked Potatoes: I love to make baked potatoes on the grill. Brush with a little olive oil, wrap them in tin foil and throw right in the fire. I use tongs to test for doneness -- squeeze them to see if they are getting soft. When they are ready, cut each one in half, scrape out the inside and mix with sour cream, cheddar cheese and a little salt and pepper. Spoon mixture back into skins. Put a little extra cheddar on top, place back on grill for a few minutes until top cheese melts. Throw on some chives or chopped green onions.

I also sometimes just chop up some potatoes, onions and carrots into large chunks, slather with olive oil, salt and pepper, wrap up in tin foil and grill that. I also do that right in the fire. It is yummy.

Kim O'Donnel: More good veggie vittles for the grill...

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Loving those cherries....: Can you recommend a good cherry pitter that you like? I have to admit I usually just sit and eat a quart of cherries by myself before I can ever cook with them, but I would like to use cherries on a pork loin. I see lots of pitters on the market -- does anyone have one they love and can recommend? Thanks!

Kim O'Donnel: I was just talking about cherry pitters with a friend of mine over the weekend -- she swears by the one she bought at Williams-Sonoma, says it has changed her life. I didn't get the brand name though. But yeah, let's hear about those cherry pitters!

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East Coast : Will you be blogging and doing online chat sessions, while you are moving in the month of August?

Kim O'Donnel: On Aug. 4, I officially hit the road for my cross-country eating blog-stravaganza. I am working out the logistical kinks with my editor this week and I hope to file dispatches nearly every day, depending on internet access. I have yet to figure out my chat schedule, but i expect to host at least one chat from the road in early August.

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Washington, DC: The story about Tilapia was all over the news so I did a quick search and found this (especially see the last sentence):

United Press International -- News. Analysis. Insight. - 100 Years of Journalistic Excellence

Farm-raised tilapia has low omega-3 levels Published: July 9, 2008 at 1:43 p.m.

Farm-raised tilapia has very low levels of beneficial omega-3 fatty acids and, perhaps worse, very high levels of omega-6 fatty acids, U.S. researchers say. Researchers at Wake Forest University School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, N.C., say the combination of could be a potentially dangerous food source for some patients with heart disease, arthritis, asthma and other allergic and auto-immune diseases that are particularly vulnerable to an "exaggerated inflammatory response." Inflammation is known to cause damage to blood vessels, the heart, lung and joint tissues, skin and the digestive tract, the researchers say. "In the United States, tilapia has shown the biggest gains in popularity among seafood and this trend is expected to continue as consumption is projected to increase from 1.5 million tons in 2003 to 2.5 million tons by 2010," the researchers say in a statement. Farm-raised tilapia, as well as farmed catfish, "have several fatty acid characteristics that would generally be considered by the scientific community as detrimental," the researchers sat. The article, published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, says tilapia has higher levels of potentially detrimental long-chain omega-6 fatty acids than 80-percent-lean hamburger, doughnuts and pork bacon.

Kim O'Donnel: Thanks. Would rather talk to my seafood sources before commenting. Let me get back to you.

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Washington, D.C.: Someone in last week's Wednesday food chat posted a link to an MSNBC story about tilapia. It just made me want to give up and go to Five Guys. Although I noticed sustainably raised tilapia is up to $9.99/lb at Whole Foods.

Kim O'Donnel: Yeah, I'll be following up on this pronto. My gut says this has to do with the feed that's being used by some fisheries. More to come, promise.

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Alexandria, V.: Hi Kim: Do you know of any software that would allow me to create my own cookbook by pasting in recipes from, for instance, epicurious.com or the Post's recipe files? Epicurious allows users to create their own recipe boxes, but it has poor search tools. For instance, one can't search on ingredients to find ways to use up things purchased for but not consumed in making other recipes. One can do that in the full epicurious database, but that returns too many possibilities.

Would appreciate any guidance you can provide.

Kim O'Donnel: Would you want this be an online cookbook that you can keep adding to or a hard-bound book for the shelves? holler.

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washingtonpost.com: Cherry Pitter ( Williams-Sonoma)

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About Saturdays at Courthouse:: Kim, thanks for the chats, looking forward to the Challenge.

I've been wondering about the Farmer's Market on Saturday's at Courthouse. It seems like the number of food-type booths in the antiques portion of the market has been increasing. I am not sure why they are all the way over there and not with the rest of the food booths. Do you know why they are over there? There seems to still be plenty of room in the regular section. What am I missing?

Kim O'Donnel: Hey there: the antiques part is a totally separate operation, run by a different group. The Farm Market is run by Arl County. But I have seen food booths and have wondered if anyone at the farm market is aware of this.

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Roasted veggies: At a campfire a few weeks ago I cut up potatoes and onions and put them in a foil packet with cumin, coriander, salt, and chili powder and just threw it into the coals. Getting it out was an adventure, but it was delicious!

Kim O'Donnel: that's the spirit! keep up the adventures.

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Custom cookbook: For the chatter looking for software to collect recipes, I use my g-mail for this purpose. I paste the recipe title into the subject, and the recipe into the body of the e-mail, send it to myself, and then label it "recipe." I love being able to search by any word in the recipe, and I can also choose to see all the e-mails labeled "recipe" to browse through them.

Kim O'Donnel: And then of course, there's del.icio.us which allows you to tag things and organize....

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Maryland: I'm excited about the eat local challenge. I've got some wonderful farm markets close and have found some great sources of dairy and meat. Are there any places to look for local grains (other than corn meal)? What are your best suggestions for local seafood for a gal who's not too crazy about crab?

Kim O'Donnel: Excellent question on the grains -- I too have been wondering the same thing. There are operating mills in Virginia, but I have yet to do the research the accessibility and cost. Anyone out there have insight? Re: Cheseapeake area (including Shenandoah) fish options: I'd consider trout and bluefish, but I haven't done my homework on species status vis a vis sustainability. I'll follow up this week.

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Clarksburg, MD: For anybody in upper Montgomery County doing the eat local challenge, there's a new farmers' market in Clarksburg on Sundays (10-1). A few of the farms are organic, and Green Earth Goods (the organic grocery store in Clarksburg) has incredible granola and fresh breads there, too.

Kim O'Donnel: Great news! Thanks for chiming in. Well, this is my cue to sign off. Thanks for stopping by, y'all. Stay tuned for Eat Local Challenge dispatches in coming days: A Mighty Appetite. All best.

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