What's Cooking With Kim O'Donnel

Kim O'Donnel
Special to washingtonpost.com
Tuesday, August 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.


Kim O'Donnel: Ahoy! It's official -- I'm now in Seattle. We arrived late Sunday afternoon, and slowly but surely my road trip legs are steadying up on solid ground. It's been a truly gratifying experience to trek across the country, a spectacular mosaic of farms, farm markets, truckstops, small town cafes and some of the nicest people. For now, I'll be getting up early to chat with many of you (it's only 9 a.m. here), but otherwise you shouldn't find a difference. As summer officially draws to a close, I'm eager to hear your thoughts, your discoveries, the highs and lows of this growing season. Tell me all about it! This Thursday, I am headed to San Francisco (nope, can't seem to sit still for too long) for Slow Food Nation, the first mega-, multi-day event for Slow Food in this country. Things get kicking on Friday, but I plan to offer a recap for the blog space next Tuesday, day after Labor Day (and in next week's chat). For now, let's hear from you...


Centre of Nowhere: Hola Kim!

So, what's in your coffee cup this morning (at the wee hour of 9 a.m.)? Is your nest properly appointed, or are you still sifting through boxes? Thank you for your lovely travel blog! I know that you've only been in Seattle for a few days, but are you settling in?

Kim O'Donnel: Hola Centre! Although happy to be here, honestly, I am a bit disoriented. I have no idea where things are. Mister MA dutifully unpacked all the boxes, but now it's my turn the kitchen around and organize things that make sense to a cook. We did a fried rice last night and it felt really good to cook, which is also grounding. The sun is popping out to say hello, and after two days of rain, that's great news.


Roasted kale: Hi Kim, wanted to thank you for the suggestion about roasting kale. It was really, really good and it was only 99 cents a pound so a delicious source of inexpensive nutrition. A question though -- I feel like I used a lot of salt. I know that the fiber in kale is good to alleviate some of the effects of the salt, but still, how much salt should I aim for with about a pound of kale? Also, I used about five cloves of garlic -- can I get away with less? I was so worried it wouldn't taste good, but I guess I'm wondering how far off target I was. Thanks Kim!

Kim O'Donnel: Hey there: For one pound of kale, you can def. get away with less garlic -- even two cloves would be fine. As for salt, I would do about 1/2 teaspoon -- and try a coarse variety. A little olive oil helps increase the salinity as well. After kale is cooked, squeeze a little lemon and chances are you won't need any more salt.


Berkeley, Calif.: Welcome to the West Coast and enjoy your visit down in our neck of the woods! The Slow Food convention is in lots of conversation down here...do you have plans to visit the Alice Waters restaurants while you're here? What other culinary field trips will you take in San Francisco?

Kim O'Donnel: Hey Berkeley! I know it's all the buzz in these parts. My plan is to be an observer -- sit in on some of the great lectures that have been organized, get a sense of the scene, who's coming, what people are saying and thinking. I'm not planning to do any high-profile restaurants, actually. I already know that so many of them are completely sold out and so I'm opting for the smaller places, some a little more out of the way, more obscure. I promised Mister MA I'd take him to the Wok Shop in Chinatown so he can meet owner Tane Chan, and surely there will be some farm market action, but otherwise, I'm going to flow with the vibe once there.


Curious Reader: Hi Kim! Thanks for sharing your road trip with us. Did you end up buying the pink cowboy boots?

Kim O'Donnel: I did! My only question is, why did I wait so long to buy real cowboy boots? They fit your foot like nothing else.


Seattle, WA: Hooray, you're almost here! It's been a pleasure reading about your travels in the meanwhile. Quick question, our tomatillo harvest is finally in full swing (yum). Over the weekend I made a raw tomatillo salsa that was fantastic. The first step was to process the tomatillos and then drain them since they are so watery. I collected the juice and now have a mason jar of bright green liquid in my fridge. It is tangy and sour and I can't figure out if there's anything I can do to use it. Thoughts? Thanks a million!

Kim O'Donnel: Hey neighbor! I love tomatillo sauce on eggs, over rice, as a dipper for grilled fish or chicken, with corn tortillas. Add some garlic and lime, even a little chile and/or cilantro, and the sauce will really come to life.


Omaha, Neb.: Hey Kim. I have an embarrassingly simple question for you...I need a fairly straightforward, classic, meat and cheese lasagna recipe. My bf's birthday is tomorrow, and I confess, I haven't made a lasagna in a really long time. Any suggestions?

Kim O'Donnel: Hey Omaha, I really liked your town and wish there had been more time to sniff around. No need to be embarrassed. I like using the no-boil noodles. The thing about lasagna is that each component needs to be seasoned and cooked separately. For example, cook the meat before you do the sauce -- season with onion, garlic and herbs of your choosing. Make sure it's got plenty of salt and pepper before you add your marinara -- which I think is great seasoned with a little carrot and more onion. As for ricotta filling, season well with salt, pepper and herbs. I might even add some greens to that mix. Don't forget to line pan with sauce before you lay down the noodles. More lasagna tips?


Tomatillos again: Thanks for the suggestions (they all sound tasty), but what I'm actually looking for is what to do with the left over juice I collected before making the salsa. It's liquid, like water, but bright green and has a tomatillo taste to it (sour and tangy). I should probably just throw it out, but it was so cool looking and certainly full of vitamins. Any ideas for that? I wonder how rice would be if we used that as part of the water.

Kim O'Donnel: Hmmm, okay. You could pour that juice over cooked rice -- don't think I would use it as cooking water. All those vitamins will likely evaporate. You could also make yourself a smoothie with spinach and beets and the rest of that water and give yourself one helluva pick-me-up!


Asheville, N.C.: Hi Kim! I just wanted to share the results of a dish I prepared. When I realized I didn't have all the ingredients for a mozzarella and tomato salad, I improvised and made an open-face sandwich instead. I toasted some french bread and drizzled olive oil on top. Next I placed swiss cheese on the bread, adding chopped red onion and fresh basil. I finished it off with slices of fresh heirloom tomatoes. It was delicious and my husband said he is now open to trying some vegetarian dishes.

Kim O'Donnel: Good for you, Asheville. There's little you can do to ruin a fresh vine tomatoes. The flavor of those heirlooms is unparalleled! Maybe next up is a veggie pasta?


Your trip: As you make your way west and south to the Bay area, consider an overnight stop on the Long Beach peninsula of Washington -- some great dining and a charming inn in Nahcotta (the Moby Dick), which is owned by the people who own the Tabard Inn in D.C. and Route 11 Chips (the proprietor of which placed second in the Slow Food film festival a couple of years ago) -- and, no, I have no business relationship with them.

Also -- while in Berkeley, check out Cesar, next door to Chez Panisse -- great tapas, vibe, and drinks/wine list!

Kim O'Donnel: Thanks! Great tips.


Roasted kale help: Hi, Kim --

I've tried to make roasted kale a couple of times, but I end up with burnt, flavorless leaves with pockets of salt. Clearly, I'm doing something wrong here -- do you have a good recipe for roasting kale?

Kim O'Donnel: Did you lather your kale with some oil? That helps. Oven should be no hotter than 400 degrees -- and keep an eye on it after 10 minutes. It cooks pretty quickly.


Leftover tomentilla juice: I was going to suggest making a veggie juice. Yesterday I made a yummy "gazpecho" juice by juicing a cucumber, tomatoes, carrot, apple (basically cleaning out the garden and the fridge) -- and adding some shakes of Crystal sauce (preferred over Tabasco by the authentic creole cook I know). yum!

Kim O'Donnel: Yes, an ad hoc gazpacho is a marvelous idea. Good call.


Richmond, Va.: Isa it me, or is there a shortage of spinach this year? Or is it more available as the weather gets chillier? I keep looking for it...

Kim O'Donnel: Spinach is a cool weather crop, so you'll start to see it show its pretty leaves later in September and into the fall. Hang in there, my dear.


Bethesda, Md.: Kim, quick question. I remember a while back a discussion about a shop in San Francisco that sells woks. What is the name of it?

I will have remodeled kitchen in a couple of months and will be able to do some wok cooking.

Also, do you have good resources for wok recipes, etc.


Kim O'Donnel: Yes, it's simply called The Wok Shop -- and owner Tane Chan has a Web site. Grace Young's "The Breath of the Wok" is one of the best books out on the subject of wok cookery. Have a looksee.


Alexandria, Va.: Hi Kim; Through the course of a couple of visits to Jamaica I became a fan of saltfish and ackee for breakfast. Salted cod is easy, but I've never been able to find Ackee around these parts -- do you or the gallery have any suggestions? I'm guessing fresh is a fantasy but canned at least?

Kim O'Donnel: There's a big West Indian market on New Hampshire Ave out in Langley Park, I believe. That would be my first stop.


Lasagna: I do add one box frozen spinach to the ricotta mix for more flavor and up the veggie ratio.

I sorta think of it as a "pounda/pounda/pound" recipe like you old aunt used to say about pound cake.

One pound noodles, one pound groud beef, one pound ricotta, one pound mozzarella, on jar spagetti sauce, one pack frozen spinach, one egg. It's a lot of food and work, but then, glorious leftovers and lunch for days!

Kim O'Donnel: Lasagna tips are coming in...


Lasagna: Just made it myself for the first time last weekend! I used the recipe from the old Craig Claiborn NYT cookbook and it worked well. I boiled my noodles, but made an easy marinara and browned ground beef and turkey sausage to add and also used ricotta mixed with egg and parsley. Sprinkled mozzarella every few layers on top too. I second the addition of finely chopped carrots to the red sauce -- it added some oomph to the sauce. The finished product got rave reviews from my dad so I was quite pleased.

Kim O'Donnel: And more....


Roasted kale, again: I tossed mine in a bowl with olive oil, salt, and garlic. You could probably also just toss with your hands on the baking sheet.

Kim O'Donnel: Yep, you got it!


Tomatillo Juice: Can the reader freeze the juice in small quantities (like an ice cube tray)? You can then use the tomatillo juice cubes as seasoning, much like you would use lemon juice or tamarind. I'm Indian so we use a lot of sour elements in our dishes, so I see the tomatillo juice being a great alternative to tamarind paste, nom pla or lemon/lime juice.

also, i make a killer tomatillo curry...so yummy!!!

Kim O'Donnel: I want to know more about this curry!!


Rockville, Md.: Suggestions, please, for a Sun brunch that will include two vegans who do not eat wheat or dairy products and four omnivores! I want to accomodate the vegans as best as I can; I'm having a hard time coming up with a menu. Suggestions please!

Kim O'Donnel: I would do Lebanese mezze -- hummus, baba ghanouj, tabbouleh without the bulgur, cold zucchini salad with pine nuts and mint, and offer flat bread for the wheat eaters. A bowl of peaches and berries for dessert.


Nix the no-boil noodles!: Just an opinion, of course . . . I really dislike the texture of lasagna made with no-boil noodles. You shouldn't pre-cook the regular kind though -- you'll end up with mushy lasagna, not to mention it's a total pain to pre-cook them.

I just line the pan with sauce, layer in regular lasagna noodles, uncooked, add ricotta cheese then ground beef (cooked till just barely browned beforehand with onions and garlic) then sauce, layer more noodles and repeat. If you use uncooked regular noodles, the bath of sauce over them in an oven for 45-55 minutes is plenty of time to get them cooked to perfection. Not mushy, not hard -- just right.

I totally agree with Kim's suggestion to add greens to the ricotta - so easy to mix some finely chopped spinach in there!

Kim O'Donnel: And yet another take on lasagna...


Slaw.: A couple of weeks ago a poster asked for a cole slaw recipe based on mustard and vinegar. Here is one from my great-great grandmother we serve this every holiday.


1 Small Head Cabbage chopped

½ cup vinegar ¾ cup sugar 3 table spoons flour 1 egg ½ cup yellow mustard

Mix Flour and sugar together. Add vinegar and bring to a boil. Stir constantly for 2 minutes or until thickened. Take off fire. Add mustard and egg that had been beaten together, pour over chopped cabbage and mix well. Sprinkle with celery seed.

Kim O'Donnel: Interesting. I've never seen a cole slaw recipe with a cooked sauce. Thanks for sharing.


Boston, Mass.: Kim, I'm loving the cross-country trip blog! Hope you enjoy Seattle once you are settled.

I am going to a weekly Project Runway viewing party and I need to bring an appetizer for 5 girls, one who is a vegetarian. I really don't want to go shopping as I am heading out of town this weekend so I need a little help. In the pantry I've got white beans, black beans, red curry paste, coconut milk, red potatoes, garlic, onions, pastas, rice, wasabi powder, tortillas and fresh tarragon, oregano, rosemary and basil. I'm thinking of a bean dip of some sort, but I can't quite figure out the components.

I'm low on fresh veggies because I'm going away, but I don't mind running to the local market for one or two things. Any insight you can provide will help. Thanks so much as always!!

washingtonpost.com: A Mighty Appetite On the Road

Kim O'Donnel: For white bean dip: Use the garlic, season with cayenne (or paprika), olive oil, salt, pepper, and if you've got some handy, rosemary (I think this really helps). A roasted red pepper here is lovely. Puree and taste along the way. A little squeeze of lemon perks things up as well.


Gaithersburg, Md.: For Lasagna, I add a little nutmeg to the ricotta.

Kim O'Donnel: Yes, I like this idea. Also, a little lemon zest to the ricotta is a goodie...


Arlington, Va. S: I'm jealous of your wonderful road trip. One thing I am curious about, is if you ever tried cooking on the road. Campfire, one of those lunchbox ovens that plug into the cigarette lighter (available at truck stops), etc. Seems you had ample opportunity to buy fresh local food on the way.

I'm also jealous of your attendance at the food festival. I keep meaning to go to the slow food festival in Italy or the cheese festival on alternating years (since my parents live a couple of hours away) or even the Cheese Days festival in Monroe, Wisc. One of these days...

Kim O'Donnel: I did not do a campfire, alas. Thought about it many times, but it was not on the program. I cooked two nights on the entire trip, when I was with my friend Jo out in southwestern Wisconsin. We each brought vittles from different farm markets in the Madison and Milwaukee areas and collaborated. We ate under the stars and looked out into the horizon -- that's as close to campfiring as I got. One of these days...


For a vegan gluten-free brunch: To add to your Lebanese idea, you could also do a Chick pea pilaf- sautee 1 can chick peas with one clove chopped garlic, 1 tsp cumin, 1 tsp paprika, 1 chopped onion, some golden raisins and pine nuts, salt to taste, and stir in cooked rice. It's yummy and filling.

Kim O'Donnel: Oh, I like this idea! And grape leaves stuffed with chickpeas and rice, pine nuts, would be lovely...


Manassas, Va.: Lasagne tips: make a meatball mixture, fry them then use that for the beef, also add Italian sausage and parsley to the riccota. No bake noodles suck by the way...

Kim O'Donnel: And other vote against the no-bake noodling....


Lasagna noodles: I take regular dried lasagna noodles and soak them in warmish hot water from the tap while I'm gathering up the ingredients for the rest of the lasagna -- approx. 5 minutes. This softens and sort of "par-boils" them. It works really well.

Kim O'Donnel: Good tip -- I hope our lasagna maker is taking note!


Washington, D.C.: I have been reading recipes about cooking salmon or other fish on a cedar plank either on a grill or in the oven. My questions: where does one find the wooden plank? Do specialty stores carry them? If so, which? Many thanks ...

Kim O'Donnel: Party on the Plank is a piece I did a few summers ago about grilling fish on a cedar plank. You can find them at Whole Foods, for sure, possibly Harris Teeter, Trader Joe's...It's a lot of fun -- do try it before summer leaves town.


Bethesda, Md..: Does anyone have a good recipe for Pate or a great brand they like to buy?

Kim O'Donnel: What kind? I have a killer chicken liver pate recipe, if you're interested.


Richmond, Va.: When I hurt my back my neighbor made me veggie lasagna with layers of sauted zuchinni and roasted red peppers! It was incredible, still in my memory years later.

Kim O'Donnel: Roasted red peppers in lasagna sounds pretty lovely --- and you're all getting me in the mood for lasagna. Hmmm. Dinner tonight?


Chicago, Ill.: Kim,

I have some green tomatoes from the farmers' market but after a weekend of unhealthy eating I'm totally off anything battered and fried in a lot of oil (the only way I know to make them). Is there another way to prepare them? Could they be broiled? Or added to a stir-fry? What do you suggest?

Kim O'Donnel: Yes, you can broil green tomatoes -- you can still coat them in corn meal like you would for the skillet version. I know there are folks out there who love to do green tomato jam, which I've been keen to try...


Kim O'Donnel: It's already time to run. Thanks so much for stopping by. Thanks to you, I think a lasagna might be in order! Stay tuned in the blog space: A Mighty Appetite. All best.


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