What's Cooking With Kim O'Donnel

Kim O'Donnel
Special to washingtonpost.com
Tuesday, September 16, 2008; 12:00 PM

Calling all foodies! Join us for another edition of What's Cooking, our live online culinary hour with Kim O'Donnel.

A graduate of 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. She was online Tuesday, September 16 to answer your cooking questions.

The transcript follows.

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: Hello there! It's a beautiful morning here in Seattle, mild and plenty of sunshine . A bird family has set up shop just outside the window leading to the patio, singing like crazy. Life is good. As many of you already know, I went on a last-minute adventure to southwestern Alaska, on the Yukon River Delta, for the final days of Yukon salmon season. The experience was nothing short of extraordinary. Today's blog space is all about my wild berry picking extravaganza in the tundra. I've got 25 or so pounds of tomatoes in the basement in preparation for Thursday's canning party here at Casa Appetite. We haven't been together for two weeks, so let me know what's on your minds. fyi: there WILL definitely be a vegetarian hour this month -- Thursday the 25th, to be exact. Mark those calendars. And now, we're off...


Silver Spring, Md.: Hi Kim! I hope you are having a great time in Seattle. I was out there for a week last month, and enjoyed my base of operations, West Seattle. If anyone traveling out there has enough of downtown, take the #55 bus or better yet, the water taxi, over to West Seattle and enjoy a neighborhood of small shops and great eateries - Circa and Blackbird are both at Admiral and California, Alki Bakery and Cafe along the beach and lots of great places in the Junction - intersection of Alaska and California. I love the small town atmosphere and hip culture - used bookstore, coffee places that are NOT Starbucks, cupcake cafes, the Sunday Farmer's market. Seattle is a lot more than Pike Place Market, although you can't beat the flowers there. The fruits and veggies are SO good, I went to Yakima and bought more than I could eat - I was giving them away to my cousin's neighbors, the gas man, everyone.

Kim O'Donnel: We've got a friend in Alki, whose backyard is the Puget Sound, so yes we get over to W. Seattle with regularity. Am looking forward to Blackbird, which I've yet to try. Seattle is loaded with neighborhood eateries, another reason for y'all to come on down!!


fresh figs: Last night at the farmers market, I bought fresh figs, pears, apples, and eggplant. I'm having eggplant parma for dinner. What should I make for dessert? Any other ideas for yummy fresh fig dishes?

Kim O'Donnel: Ah, fresh figs. One of life's greatest gifts. I love'em with just a little bit of honey and some basil -- they're also divine with a smidge of vanilla yogurt. Since you're going to be involved in assembling the eggplant parm, I'd suggest something very simple w/those figs.


McLean, Va.: Kim, thanks so much for the chicken tikka recipe. I'm going to try it out for my Sunday night dinner. Can't wait!

I have a question about one of my favorite Thai dishes, Larb Gai. Last Saturday, while eating at a Thai restaurant, I realized that this would be a great dish to make for lunches, since it is served cold. But when I googled recipes, every single one calls for a unique ingredient: Roasted Rice Powder. Do you know what this is, and do you think it is absolutely essential to the dish? And if it is, (as I suspect), where can I get some? Do you know if it is essential to most Thai dishes, or is it a one-recipe wonder? Thanks again!

Kim O'Donnel: Hey McLean: Great question. Roasted rice powder (kao kua) is exactly what it says it is -- rice that's been roasted (or toasted), then ground into powder form. It adds terrific depth -- and yes, I think it's essential to something like Larb Gai (also a favorite of mine! I just polished off a takeout container of the stuff last night) You can make your own, by the way -- simply toast uncooked rice in a skillet, making sure heat is fairly low to prevent burning. Allow rice to completely cool before grinding. Keep in airtight container and you'll have for months. By the way, I'm told the short glutinous rice yields a less gritty result.


Alexandria, Va.: Hi, Kim. In the past when a recipe called for 2 tablespoons of chopped onion, I'd find the smallest onion I could find, use 2 Tbsp and toss the rest in the woods for the deer and squirrels to fight over. With the cost of food these days, I'm wondering is there any way to keep onion a few days after it has been cut into without it turning all wet and the fridge smelling? Thanks.

Kim O'Donnel: so true about using up all of our food, Alexandria. Usually I place an onion remainder cut side down in a bowl, uncovered, and put in fridge. It might dry out a bit, but it will definitely not turn goopy or smell up the fridge. See what you think.


merluvs2cook: Hi Kim! The orange-cranberry tea bread in the blog today sounds delicious! Can that recipe be doubled to make two loaves, or would you suggest making two separate batches?

Kim O'Donnel: Hey there: Yesterday was my virgin voyage with this recipe, so I haven't experimented with doubling. My gut usually tells me not to double cake or quick bread batters, so I'd probably say make 2 separate batches. Fyi: this cake rises with enthusiasm, so be mindful to fill pan about 3/4 way rather than to tippy top.


Washington, D.C.: Hi Kim, what with all this hard to digest economic news I wanted to make something this past weekend that was soul satisfying and economic. So, soul satisfying to me equals chocolate and economical equates to beans - vegetarian dish. I made a tasty bean dish that uses chocolate powder, one ounce of semi sweet chocolate and canned kidney beans - DELICIOUS and oh so soul satisfying. Thanks for all of your tips and recipes; I look forward to you on Tuesdays.

Kim O'Donnel: You are preaching to the choir, dear. I'm a big bean eater, too. I love that you improvised with chocolate in your beans -- next time add a smidge of chopped chipotle chile and you'll be in heaven! Will add a nice smokiness.


Glover Park: What's the best way to preserve cilantro? Each week I buy a bushel and place it in my crisper, but after a day or so, it becomes limp and discolored. Is my fridge too cold? Should I wrap the cilantro in a paper towel?

Kim O'Donnel: Cilantro is oh so sensitive -- it's the Goldilocks of herbs. Yes, completely wrap both leaves and stems in a damp paper towel and use within three days.


Full of Rasberries in Seattle, WA: So, for the 4th week in a row I bought a half flat of raspberries at the farmers market on Saturday. Yum. I decided to make a raspberry clafoutis last night and it was very tasty, but came out a little wrong I think. I did it kind of off the cuff (and not from your recipe), but I'm wondering if you know what my problem was. The end result sort of separated, with a very firm custard-y bottom and a softer mushy top, along with the berries. My ingredients: 4 eggs, 2 c. skim milk, 2/3 reg. flour, 1/3 c. rice flour, a splash of vanilla and about 1/3 c. sugar. Mixed together, plopped in the berries, and in the oven for about 45 min. Thoughts? Loved reading your AK adventures!

Kim O'Donnel: Hey neighbor: I bought half a flat of mixed berries at University Market on Saturday myself! Re: clafoutis: It seems like too much milk -- I might reduce to 1 1/2 cups next time, and you might need at least one more egg (I know, I know) but this thing needs eggs to rise. What did you think of the rice flour? Did it give a gritty mouthfeel? Holler if you can.


Re: onion: I wrap my leftover onion in some tin foil and it will easily last for weeks. Traps in the smell too!

Kim O'Donnel: Here's another option for leftover onion....


Fava Beans?/DC: I was at Eastern Market on Sunday and I brought what I thought were fava beans. I got home and realized that we are in the wrong season, no? What do you think they are? They are pale green, kidney shaped, somewhat bitter beans. They have a clear outer membrane they easily slip out of. I'm not one to be stumped so please help me.

Kim O'Donnel: Sounds like lima beans, darlin'. Or butter beans. You can cook those up in a pan tonight, in a little stock, with onion and garlic and herbs, a little white wine, and life will be grand. Need about 30ish minutes to get tender.


DC: Yet another article about plastics:

Study: Exposure to Plastics Chemical Elevates Health Risks (Washington Post, September 16, 2008)

again makes me want to find a brand of canned tomatoes that does not have Bisphenol A in the can linings. Do you know if there are any? Thanks!

Kim O'Donnel: I just got a press release yesterday from Consumer Union about this very thing. CU is suggesting to check out greenerchoices.org, for options on lowering your intake of BPA. At the moment, I'm in the dark with you and need to do some of my own homework. I'll keep you posted.


Onions: You can freeze chopped onions then use them in soups and stews. The texture isn't quite the same, but it sure beats feeding them to the squirrels!

Chop your onions. Line an empty ice cube try with plastic wrap. Scoop a tablespoon of chopped onion into each section of the ice cube tray. Cover tightly with plastic wrap. Freeze. Once they're frozen, take the cubes of frozen, chopped onion, and store them in a zippered bag.

Kim O'Donnel: And yet another idea for using up those onions...


Berkeley, Calif.: Hi Kim, I need a flourless dessert to share in celebration of a recent wedding tonight. One of the grooms has a no-gluten thingy going on, which knocks out cakes, cookies, etc. Ideas?

Kim O'Donnel: Hey Berkeley: Check out my archive of gluten-free goodies, most of which have been inspired by Maryland baker and GF baking queen Jules Shepard. Her website: www.nearlynormalcooking.com


Alexandria, Va.: As a previous poster inquired, I too have some leftovers from recipes. I generally keep them in the fridge and somehow try to incorporate it into a dish (corn gets tossed in salads as does fruit, etc). Right now I have a little bit of tomato sauce left, which I'd like to use creatively - any suggestions? I also began using an Aerogarden and am overwhelmed with the herbs! I've frozen my basil and snipped some herbs that are sitting in a covered cup with water for now, but am lost as to how to use up all this mint! Besides in beverages and lamb chops, how else could I best utilize this herb? I also have chives and thyme that don't get enough love from me either.

washingtonpost.com: I use fresh mint in garden salads. Dress with olive oil and lemon juice and add freshly torn mind. Delish. - Michele (today's producer)

Kim O'Donnel: I am a big fan of mint in salads, myself. I also love to eat with melon, peaches, berries. If that tomato sauce is in airtight container, it will last up to a week in fridge. It's always nice to have a little tomato sauce for bean cookery, even just to season'em at the end...


Chicken tikka: Hi Kim, hope you're having a good time in Seattle! A question for you: does it explain, why, in the chicken tikka recipe, it calls for chinese five spice powder instead of garam masala? I'm Indian and garam masala works just great (and to me probably better than a Chinese spice). Just curious... Thanks!

Kim O'Donnel: great question: I didn't have any five-spice myself, so I added the components of my own masala, which included a ground-up star anise pod -- and I must say the star anise (of which five-spice is a part) added a wonderful extra dimension to the dish. I would say, do what works for you, but if you're feeling inspired to try something a little different, the combination of these spices is delightful.


Mint: I chop up mint and add it to chopped strawberries with some brown sugar and balsamic vinegar. Let it sit for about 20 minutes, and you have a delicious, fast, healthy dessert!

Kim O'Donnel: Now that's what I'm talking about!!


Austin, Tex.: Re: onions and cilantro. Years ago, I bought a tupperware container that is shaped like a half moon - and it's for storing half an onion. Works great.

As for cilantro, being in the land of Mexican food, we use it a lot. I use my mother's method of keeping cilantro, which works well. Cut the stems off the stalks, put the bunch, stems down, in a glass of water (like a bouquet of flowers!) and cover it with a plastic bag and stick it in the fridge. It takes up some space, but the cilantro will last a week or more, depending on the freshness of the herb when you buy it.

Kim O'Donnel: Excellent tips, Austin. Thanks so much for chiming in!


Washington, D.C.: Saving cilantro: I wash it right away, lay out on a towel, let it dry, then wrap in paper towel or even newspaper and store in the fridge in a sealed plastic bag. It might last longer, but I think it mainly depends on how long it has been sitting on a grocery store shelf. I wish stores didn't sprinkle their produce with water - it always keeps better dry.

Kim O'Donnel: More ideas on preserving that fragile cilantro...


Richmond, Va.: Talk about leftover onions (I wrap my in plastic wrap and pop in Tupperware) brings up my pet peeve: my local Krogers only sells yellow onions in a 5 lb bag! I really only need one at at time and refuse to throw away 4 lbs of onions.

Kim O'Donnel: Hey Richmond: Just curious, how's the farmer's market in Richmond?


New Orleans: Often a recipe (like for a soup, refried beans, and many others) will have you cook the onions, celery or whatever vegetables first and then add the spices for a minute before adding the rest of the ingredients. Why is important to add the seasonings to the cooked vegetables and not the entire dish?

Kim O'Donnel: Hey New Orleans: Glad to have you on board. The onions, celery, etc that you start out with in a pot -- that's called mirepoix or in your neck of the woods, the holy trinity. It's the foundation of flavor -- think of it as a building block. When you add spices to those cooked/softened aromatics, they intensify with flavor, which means the end result of your dish will have a better chance of being more flavorful. If you just scattered spices randomly into a big ole pot, chances are those spices won't know where to go or whom to team up with. They get lost in the sauce, literally, and the results are a lot less flavorful, despite all your efforts. Make sense?


Cilantro question: Have you ever heard of making cilantro into some type of pesto for freezing? Just curious if this might work to keep if you have large amounts through the winter.

Kim O'Donnel: Yes indeed. Have not done myself but know it would work.


Raspberries in Seattle: Ah, I wish I had seen you there - I would have said hi! I actually loved the rice flour. Not gritty at all, instead it made it a little more sticky, sort of like mochi, which is a texture I adore. I used asian rice flour from a Korean market, so maybe it's a different kind? It's particularly good in zucchini pancakes, a recipe from Eating Well magazine, again about 2/3 reg. floug and 1/3 rice, gives them squishy texture that's hard to describe. Makes sense about the milk - it was super liquidy when I poured it into the pan. Oh well, guess I'll just have to buy more berries and try again! Thanks for the help!

Kim O'Donnel: We can always meet at market one of these Saturdays -- let me know when you are going next. Those zucchini pancakes with rice flour sound lovely. I'll need to get on that pronto.


K Street: I love curries but am a bit intimidated by all of the spices. In an attempt to overcome this, I've talked some friends into joining me for a "curry day" and having a do-it-yourself cooking class. We want to get the relevant spices, toast and grind them - we are planning to make 3-4 dishes, if possible, and then we'll sit down and eat when all is over. My question is whether you can suggest a good source for recipes that will go over how to handle the spices, etc. I saw that you referenced a new curry cookbook in your blog recently, so thought that might be an option. Ideas?

Kim O'Donnel: I love this idea!! I wonder if we could do a curry party here in the blog, say, for one week. Let me go through my stack of books today and get back to you in the blog tomorrow. What a great spritz of inspiration you've just offered, K Street.


High cholesterol/Good Food Help!: Hi Kim, I'm hoping you can help me. I'm 28 with very high cholesterol and triglycerides. I thought I was eating healthy and I work out (no fried foods, watch calories, etc.) but a lot of this is genetic. What are some of the best foods or recipes that you have/recommend for people with high cholesterol. I'm working with a specialist to get the numbers lowered but what's your suggestions for good tasty recipes?

Also, I work in an office and have a hard time saying no to sweets. I love keeping snacks in my desk for my "slump" moods so what do you recommend for this?

Kim O'Donnel: I'm right in your boat, my dear. Been dealing with genetically-based cholesterol all my life. If you have a hard timem saying no to sweets, dried fruit can be a real life saver, by the way. As can a crispy fall apple -- seriously!

Sounds like you need to add cholesterol-lowering foods -- like cinnamon, oats, legumes and fruits high in pectin (apples, citrus, berries)....how often do you eat meat, by the way? Just reducing intake one day a week can make a big difference. More on this in the blog space soon, I promise.


Expat now repatriated: For New Orleans: oil is the solvent for many spices; add heat and the whole sensory promise of the spices is realized. It's the difference between bland and wonderful. (I let my son make a Boy Scout dish with curry powder without browning the onions or frying the spices; it was so boring!! I then showed him the difference in taste by using heat at the beginning. Lesson learned and passed on.)

Kim O'Donnel: Thanks for adding on to the flava thread, my dear. Good points.


Richmond again: Our main farmer's market down town is still evolving. I like that they have a different focus each day (Sunday is antique/flea market), but there aren't that many vendors. It's more cutsy boutique soap than organic veggies. And parking downtown is difficult. We're starting to see more smaller local markets pop up, one in Forest Hill park south of downtown, one in Lakeside north of downtown. Due to the storm, we had one at the Crossroads Art center last weekend west of downtown, so I'm hoping we can have one in that area more. So it's still a work in progress.

Kim O'Donnel: Think you'd find a few good onions there, by chance? Worth a shot...I'm keeping tabs on farmers' markets across the country, for what I hope will be a bigger project. Thanks for following up.


NoVa: Hi Kim, where can I buy arrowroot or arrowroot powder? I was looking online but I rather go to the store and buy. Thanks!

Kim O'Donnel: Have you checked the supermarket in spices or baking area? If I was back east, I'd probably check at My Organic Market, Harris Teeter or Whole Foods. Thoughts, anyone?


Detroit: Hi Kim! My mom just gave me an old Mexican mortar and pestle. It's huge and I'm excited to use it, but when I tried to mash up an avocado for guacamole, the paste was mixed with a fine sand that came from the stone of the mortar and pestle. My mom mentioned that she had washed it repeatedly, and I did as well, but I couldn't get the sand to go away. Have you ever experienced this before? What's the best way to get rid of the sand?

Kim O'Donnel: Hey Detroit: Wonder if the mortar bowl needs to be re-cured? Do you have a Latino grocery nearby? Could be worth a conversation with a local shopkeeper in the know. Is it made of clay?


flourless cake . . . :

Epicurious.com has this Flourless Chocolate Cake with Chocolate Glaze on its site, from the original Bon Appetit recipe in Jan 1999. No flour, no nuts, so good for many groups. It is fairly easy to make - just follow the recipe exactly. To die for, and even better if you make it the day before. It is one of my most requested desserts.

Kim O'Donnel: Another goodie for gluten-free!


New York, N.Y.: I know this is probably cooking 101,but can you give me a tip on how to buy garlic? Many times I buy garlic and it seems dry or there is a green circle in the center of the cloves. Thanks.

Kim O'Donnel: The best way of assuring yourself of great garlic is to buy it at the farmers' market during growing season. I agree, it can be dry or kinda moldy in the supermarket, and it's hard to tell what's going on behind that garlic paper. If you have a chance, head to the farm market this weekend and stock up on garlic -- it's been harvested but still avail. for purchase. During the winter, I suggest squeezing heads of garlic to make sure they're not mushy. I would err on too dry over too soft.


Bethesda, Md.: My husband and I are participating in a CSA program. Now that fall is here, we have begun receiving turnips on a weekly basis. Although we try and use them quickly, they still tend to taste bitter. (We've made mashed turnips with seasonings and combined them in a curry dish with chic peas and other veggies.) Do you have any suggestions for recipes or techniques that minimize the bitterness? Thank you!

Kim O'Donnel: Have you tried roasting? I think you'll find a sweeter result. Try roasting with other roots as well -- carrots, beets, sweet potatoes -- with some quartered onion, olive oil and herbs.


Kim O'Donnel: Time to run, I'm afraid. Thanks so much for stopping by. Tomorrow's blog space will feature some of your leftover questions: A Mighty Appetite. Take care!


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