What's Cooking With Kim O'Donnel

Kim O'Donnel
Special to washingtonpost.com
Tuesday, September 30, 2008; 1:00 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, we're trying out this time slot to see if it works. Do you have a preference? (It would be either noon, as usual, or 1 ET.) Kat from Baltimore wants to know if I'm going to continue the theme of debate-viewing snacks to time with the much-anticipated VP debate on Thursday night. I'll be featured in this Thursday's Politics podcast about the very subject, but I'm taking your pulse here: should I explore an on-the-fly baked Alaska? Should we start swapping recipe ideas for Palin punch? What about Biden-esque tributes? Weigh in, if you so please.
Speaking of snacks, check out today's blog space for recipe details on Hey folks, we're trying out this time slot to see if it works. Do you have a preference? (It would be either noon, as usual, or 1 ET.) Kat from Baltimore wants to know if I'm going to continue the theme of debate-viewing snacks to time with the much-anticipated VP debate on Thursday night. I'll be featured in this Thursday's Politics podcast about the very subject, but I'm taking your pulse here: should I explore an on-the-fly baked Alaska? Should we start swapping recipe ideas for Palin punch? What about Biden-esque tributes? Weigh in, if you so please.
Speaking of snacks, check out today's blog space for recipe details on fig tapenade. Man, is this stuff good.
Let's tawk.


M.E.E.: Kim, I have a comment about your Meatless Mondays -- I think you need to feature more high protein main course recipes. The squash recipe sounds good to me (I'm a vegetarian, so I'm an easy sell), but for people just starting to try meatless cooking I suspect that this just isn't a convincing meal option.

I am really excited about this new weekly feature, and I just want to see it succeed. I know you've featured some great meat substitutes in the past (like those black bean burgers) -- and I hope you'll focus on finding more.

Kim O'Donnel: Thanks for your feedback, M.E.E. Couple of thoughts in response: I mention serving the squash with rice, couscous or quinoa, all of which would make this a complete high-protein meal. One cup of baked winter squash actually has some protein -- about 1.82 grams, but is loaded with fiber, antioxidants, Vitamin A and potassium, to name a few. The Institute of Medicine recommends .8 grams of protein per kilogram per day -- which translates into 64 grams for a 160-pound adult. But remember, we as a culture on average get more protein than we really need -- often to the tune of 75 grams of protein a day. When I offer less obvious protein-rich recipes, I'll be suggesting high-protein grains and grasses as accompaniments, because even a bowl of black beans need a grain to become a complete protein. My hope with the Meatless Monday feature is to offer ideas and inspiration, to get people thinking out of their usual boxes, and to share their own tips and tricks learned along the way. Some weeks, it will feel like a ready-set meal and other weeks may require more meal planning, for those like yourself who are well on their meatless way. Keep the comments coming; this is a work in progress.


Fig lover: Kim,

For today's blog recipe, I assume you could substitute fresh figs, since they are in season right now? How would it change the cooking time?

washingtonpost.com: Figs and Olives: A Delightful Surprise (A Mighty Appetite, Sept. 30)

Kim O'Donnel: Good question. I'm a big fan of fresh figs, but I'm wondering how they would handle being pulverized in the food processor. You might want to try roasting them a little bit to help release sugars -- I think that's what is so nice about the dried figs, a little more intense in flavor. Thoughts anyone?


Thanksgiving: Could you suggest where I might be able to find a fresh turkey for Thanksgiving at this late date? We usually go out of town, but might be staying now...Thanks!

Kim O'Donnel: You've still got time. My first suggestion is to go to your nearest farm market and talk to the folks raising turkeys. They usually have a sign-up sheet with a deposit requirement.


Thawing?: No doubt you've answered this question before, so if you wish to simply point me towards a resource I'd be grateful. My question is about thawing meat. Let's say I have a frozen package of boneless chicken breasts or pork chops that I want to make for dinner. How do I thaw them? Remove them from the freezer and put them in the fridge before I got to work? (Will they be thawed in 8 hours?) Leave them to thaw in the sink? (How long is safe to leave meat unrefrigerated?) Try the microwave when I get home? (I'm never very successful there -- I seem to always cook the meat a little and that grosses me out.) Please help! I'm trying to eat healthier but don't want to make myself sick in the process!

Kim O'Donnel: Hey there: Remove from the freezer and put in fridge -- either night before or in morning before you go to work. Don't leave them to thaw in sink. If your meat is still frozie when you get home, I'd do a quick thaw in the microwave, but really very quick because the meat is likely very close to being thawed through. But please, don't leave the meat in the sink to thaw.


Arlington, Va.: I've got a whole chicken that I want to roast tonight. My husband mentioned maybe doing a beer-can thing (in the oven, not the grill). I was thinking of doing something more traditional. Any suggestions on fool-proof roasting methods? Also, any interesting ideas for leftovers other than soup?

Kim O'Donnel: Arlington, I'm a big fan of spatchcocking chicken -- which means cutting out the back bone and flattening it on a roasting pan. Without the back bone, which you use for stock at another time, the chicken cooks in about a fraction of the time. I think one of the most common mistakes with roast chicken is lack of seasoning. For every 1.25 pounds, use a teaspoon of salt. If this seems excessive, use a teaspoon of salt for every 2 pounds. Bird has got to be seasoned or it kinda tastes meh. After the salt, there are endless ways to flava up the bird -- fresh herbs, whole cloves of garlic, citrus, soy sauce. What's your pleasure?


Pie crust question: Hi Kim,

Love the chats! I've already got Thanksgiving on the brain and needed help with a pie crust question.

I buy those ready made frozen pie crusts that come in the pan because they taste good and are a lot easier when I'm trying to cook a bunch of other things. The only thing is -- while they taste great, they always break apart when I cut them and so the presentation of my pies dosn't tend to be too great. Am I doing something wrong, or is this a common problem with these type of crusts? Please help!

Kim O'Donnel: The problem is, you don't know how long ago those crusts were made. They could sit around in a frozen warehouse a long time before they get to you. It could also be that the oven is too high for the crust but not too high for the filling. Would you be interested in pie dough 101?


Reston, Va.: Hi Kim, In an effort to try out new vegetables I've bought a butternut squash. I'ld like to use it in a pasta dish since the family would be more inclined to try it. Could you give me a recipe that would use the squash with pasta? Thanks.

Kim O'Donnel: Butternut squash is lovely as part of a lasagna. Check out the recipe details. Does anyone ever dice winter squash and add to short pasta, like penne?


Roasted chicken seasoning: Here's how I usually do it -- salt, black pepper, garlic powder, paprika, a little olive oil and/or a little butter, and white wine -- I do it sort of as a rub, make sure it's all over the chicken and some on the bottom of the pan. I usually add a little white wine and olive oil to the pan, too. Then I cut up an onion and put that in the pan too with a bay leaf or two. As it's roasting, I usually baste it 2 or 3 times with the pan jus. It leaves the bird tasting flavorful, but without any one flavor dominating. Good stuff.

Kim O'Donnel: Thanks pal. Here's one way!


Chicago, Ill.: Kim,

A few weeks ago the Times published a recipe for a cherry tomato tart that looked really good. (Here's the recipe Caramelized Tomato Tarte Tatin (The New York Times, Sept. 12).) I would love to make this with my 4-year-old son, who is a cherry tomato fanatic and is just getting into cooking, but I'm worried he'll be turned off by the carmelized onions and won't even be willing to try it. He has it in his head that he doesn't like onions and refuses to eat anything that he knows has onions in it. Can you think of anything I could substitute for this other layer? I was thinking maybe artichoke hearts, which he does like. I'm assuming it would be boring with just the tomatoes and the pastry, but maybe not. What do you think?


Kim O'Donnel: What about leeks? They aren't even the same color as onions and so much milder, but you'd still get your onion-y thing going on.


Anonymous: Be careful of your seasonings...if you use soy sauce, then you need to reduce the salt because soy sauce has salt in it. Many people forget this and wonder why they followed instructions and ended up with way too salty meat.

Kim O'Donnel: Absolutely! Very good point.


Arlington, Va.: I'm trying to expand the number of vegetables that I eat. I'd like to try eggplant next. Could you suggest a good recipe to introduce us?

Kim O'Donnel: Good for you, dear. Here's what I recently suggested to my mom and her beau, who recently had a heart attack. They were looking for meatless recipes, kinda sorta, but didn't know how to get started. I suggested eggplant stacks: Slice a globe eggplant into rounds, about 1 inch thick. Brush with a smidge of oil and season lightly with salt. Grill or roast at very high heat, until fork tender. Meanwhile, slice tomatoes about same thickness. Slice up a red onion thinly. Get basil or your favorite fresh herb - parsley holds up at this time of year. A little feta here is nice, as is a lemon.
Then you assemble: Eggplant on bottom, followed by tomato, then onion, then feta. Herbs can go inbetween layers and on top. Lemon squeeze, then a drizzle of olive oil. Dinner is ready.


Different roast chicken tonight: Hi Kim, Like Arlington, I too want to do a different roast chicken tonight (though am fine with roasting on grill too). Can I combine limes, lemons and garlic some way to make something tasty? Proportions? Methods? Our toddler loves raw garlic, so I'm not afraid I'll go too far for his tastes!

Kim O'Donnel: You sure can. For about five pounds of chicken, you need only 1 lime, maybe 1 1/2 limes. Squeeze into a bowl, add a smidge of sugar, your salt, plenty of black pepper or paprika, and 1 tablespoon of oil. Pour over the bird and let it sit for about 30 minutes. Garlic cloves (unpeeled) can get stuck in crevices. Roast at 400, for first 30 minutes, reduce to 375 until done.


Dor the onion hater: Try subbing fennel for the onion. Sure it will be different but still good.

Kim O'Donnel: Fennel is a terrific idea! Thaks.


Washington, D.C.: If I'm defrosting meat in the fridge, I need at least 24 hours -- sometimes even 36 if it's a big pack of chicken breasts. Every time I put a smaller, 1 or 2-pound package of chicken breasts in the fridge in the morning, it's still mostly frozen when I come home... I end up running them under warm water to finish defrosting.

Kim O'Donnel: Here's one defrosted report...


Butternut Squash: Try this risotto, it is so yummy fantastic:

2 cups arborio rice 6 cups stock (chicken or veggie) 1 medium onion, diced 1 lb butternut squash puree (boil or bake to cook, then run through food processor or even a strainer to puree) 1/4 cup butter 1/2 cup grated parmesean

Sautee onion in a little olive oil or butter. Add squash puree and 1 ladle of warm broth. Cook 10 min on medium heat. Add rice and some more broth. Stir and continue adding broth as it dries out until rice is cooked. When done, stir in butter and parmesean. Yum. If there are any leftovers, they are good reheated too.

Kim O'Donnel: Oh yes, butternut risotto. What a grand idea. Thanks for the inspiration.


Land of Rosemary!: I have some rosemary growning out of control. I'm looking for lots and lots of ways to make the most of it. I saw your recipe for apple pie with rosemary and pinenuts that looked terrific. Any other ideas you can throw my way?

Kim O'Donnel: I have rosemary growing out of control, too! What a wonderful problem to have. Yes, do make that apple pie -- it's killer. Rosemary is great with roasted potatoes, with white beans, tucked into a whole chicken. Oh, yes, spiced nuts. Have you ever made?


Butternut: Cubed butternut is great with olive oil, dried cranberries and pepitas over short pasta. I also like to cube it and mix in with macaroni and cheese (best with a less-sharp cheese).

Kim O'Donnel: Oh, what great ideas. I LOVE the ideas of pepitas with the pasta.


Central Mass.: Hi Kim,

I credit you with turning me on to roasted vegetables!

I was trying to be efficient this weekend, so I located a recipe for simultaneously roasting potatoes, onions, and kale from my CSA box. The recipe I used called for a 450 onion, with the potato/onions cooking for 30-40 minutes and the kale going in for 15 minutes.

The potatoes and onions came out beautifully. The kale, however, was crispy and charred. I'm guessing it needed a lower temperature? Can you please remind me what oven temp and cooking time you use for kale?

I'd try the recipe again, since it also called for a roasted garlic/vinagrette dressing, but I think I need to make an adjustment.


Kim O'Donnel: 450 is a little high for the kale, Central Mass. I would do 400 max for those leaves -- and check after 10 minutes. It cooks fast.


Alexandria, Va.: Kim,

The discussion the last few chats about meatless lasagna reminded me of something I used to make. I called them Lasagna Rollups. I used duxelles to replace the meat. Cook two or three noodles per person, lay them out and cover with alternating stripes of the mushroom and ricotta mixtures (about two each per noodle). Roll up and place in a baking pan with a layer of your favorite red sauce on the bottom. Top the rolls with more red sauce and parmesan, and bake for about 45 min.

Kim O'Donnel: Nice. Duxelles, by the way, are finely minced mushrooms, usually cooked with shallots, and cooked all the way down to intensify their flavor. This is a nice idea rolling up those noodles.


Roast chicken: To get a crispy, delicious skin, rub lemon juice on the skin, then sprinkle salt and pepper (and I add some Old Bay) before roasting. Everyone fights over the skin when I cook it like this.

Kim O'Donnel: More excellent roasted chicken thoughts...


Fairfax, Va.: Hi! I made a veggie soup using leeks for the very first time last night, and have just found out this morning that the green leaves of the leek are inedible! What does this mean, as I ate plenty of them last night..? Should I fish them out of my leftover soup, or just accept them as fiber? Thanks!

Kim O'Donnel: Aw, Fairfax. Don't worry -- you won't get sick. They're often just too tough to eat, but they're great for making stock, so I bet your stock is really flavorful, no?


Roasted chicken: Kim, for the persons wanting to do a roasted chicken on the grill, I made one this past weekend using the Weber freestanding chicken roaster (aka beer can chicken roaster). It was done in less than one hour and was very flavorful. All that for less than $30 for the equipment. Beats having to buy a rotisserie attachment.

Kim O'Donnel: Hear that, folks?


Frederick, Md.: Kim, using only five ingredients, how do I make spaghetti squash exciting? It has to still be decent tasting as a leftover. Thanks!

Kim O'Donnel: Hard sell for me that spaghetti squash, but here goes: Garlic, fresh parsley, parmigiano, dried oregano, chili flakes. (plus salt). Some folks would probably argue for sund-dried tomatoes.


College Park, Md.: I'm volunteering to lead a cooking unit in my 4-year-old's Pre-K class where the kids cook (12 kids). Challenge: some kids have dairy and egg allergies, and we have two hours to make whatever we're making. Besides rice crispy treats and fruit salad, any suggestions? They can use plastic knives, and have access to a kitchen. Thanks!

Kim O'Donnel: What about their own pizza? You could make the dough and portion it in advance. Each kid gets to pound out their own dough and top with how they wish -- tomato sauce, cheese and maybe one or two other toppings. What think? Too much prep work? You could have kids working in teams as well.


Fall food idea: This is a great side dish or appetizer for a group of friends that I'm making this week. The easy way out is to buy a crescent roll pack from the supermarket (use the big rectangle one that comes without the seams)... or you can make a simple cream cheese-based dough. Roast butternut squash. While it's roasting, saute onions until they're caramelized. Take it off heat and add a finely diced tart apple and a couple ounces of blue cheese. Cut up the roasted butternut squash into half-inch cubes. Toss the cubes with the onion mixture. Unroll the dough, pile the butternut/onion/cheese mixture in the center (alternatively, create little pastries). Fold up the dough and press/cinch it. Bake at 3:50 until the dough is golden.

Kim O'Donnel: This is along the theme of a winter squash empanada I've been thinking about. Thanks for the idea.


re: Butternut squash: I think this came from (sorry) the New York Times... I'm not sure of the exact source.

Butternut penne Put the pasta water on to boil. Then take 1 small butternut squash, peeled and seeded, and run it across a coarse grater. Heat a few tablespoons of butter in a saucepan, add about 1 cup of chicken or vegetable stock and the squash, throw in a few teaspoons of chopped fresh or dried sage, and cook until the squash is tender, stirring occasionally, about 15 minutes.

When the pasta is al dente, drain and toss with the squash. The pieces of squash work their way into the middle of the penne, offering a twist on squash-stuffed ravioli.

Kim O'Donnel: Another squashy idea. Very nice!


Dupont, Washington, D.C.: Hi Kim, Happy Tuesday. I bought some wonderful pears from the farmers market this weekend, and want to turn them into a dessert. I was thinking of either sauteeing or broiling with brown sugar, then topping with caramel ice cream. Any suggestions? Will the pears take to this type of treatment?

Kim O'Donnel: I'm a big fan of poaching pears, but I think you could easily roast pears standing straight up just like apples. Cut off the buttoms to make them flat. You'll need some kind of liquid in bottom of dish to keep them moist.


Slowly converting to meatless: When trying out meatless meals for the first time, you should try to make familiar entrees with a meatless twist. E.g. meatless lasagne which can be made with several meat substitutes (like the mushrooms mentioned above, eggplant, squash/zucchini, etc) or a stir-fry made meatless. Meatless pockets where you make a dough and fill with a filling works with chopped up mushrooms (I love shitakes), eggs, veggies, small grain like couscous, or rice vermicelli, chopped greens (spinach, nappa cabbage or bok choy work well), etc. I've made these with boxed pie crust for the shell, use a bowl to cut out larger circles, fill, pinch edges together and bake according to the box insructions (pre-cook the filling) and they feel like hearty sandwiches. Serve with vegetarian soup for a great meal. (last time I made a french onion soup using a shitake/crimini mushroom stock instead of beef stock and came out great)

Kim O'Donnel: Slow and gradual, I agree. Key to such a big transition. Great ideas, and thanks for sharing.


Boston, Mass.: Hi Kim, It was a very rainy weekend here in Beantown so I hunkered down and did a lot of cooking! Primarily I made a big batch of squash soup and a big pot of lentils. I have separated all into individual tupperware so I can bring to work for lunch or pop into the microwave for dinner. My question is that I'm having a hard time deciding how much to freeze and how much to keep fresh. How long will each of these be okay in the fridge?


Kim O'Donnel: Hey Boston, the lentils will probably hold up better in the fridge than than the squash, which will probably break down after three days. That said, both will freeze well. Lentils should last you for up to a week.


Dupont Circle, D.C.: Kim, Have you read the new Fat cookbook? I find it relieving to hear someone say that some animal fat is necessary for a complete diet. On that note, what are some good sources for really good pork fat in the D.C. area?

Kim O'Donnel: Hey Dupont, I was just looking at "Fat" yesterday. I like her spirit -- she did another interesting book called "Bones." Pork fat sources -- have you hit the farm market? That's where I'd go first. Talk to your farmers.


Washington, D.C.: I've got about 100 recipes printed out from the Internet or written on paper from family, etc. Do you know of the best way to get them all printed up? I was thinking there must be some Web site or something where you can go in, enter recipes, save them, and then print them or have them sent to you bound....

Kim O'Donnel: Have you heard about Tastebook? It's a pretty cool concept. I've got it on my list of things to do. You do exactly what you describe -- enter or download your favorites and get them bound into one book.


Greenbelt, Md.: Hi Kim, p.m. works so much better for me. Can we keep this chat time?


Kim O'Donnel: If my producer Rocci doesn't mind, 1 p.m. might be the new time, as many of you have voted for that option. I'll keep you posted after I consult my compadre.


Kim O'Donnel: Ack, already time to go. Great variety of questions today. Thanks for stopping by. Meanwhile, back at the blog ranch: A Mighty Appetite. Ciao!


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