What's Cooking With Kim O'Donnel

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Kim O'Donnel
Special to washingtonpost.com
Tuesday, October 7, 2008; 1:00 PM

p>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, October 7 at 1 p.m. 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.

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Kim O'Donnel: Good day from Seattle! It's fall-crispy here and a bit windy, but we'll take it as long as the sun keeps shining! I feel like a cat in the windowsill soaking up the rays. My bicycle gets out of the shop this week and I can't wait to tool around town on two wheels. Anyone watching tonight's prez debate? What's on your snack plate? Chime in and tell me how your Octobers are shaping up.

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McLean, Va.: I need to make several hundred finger-food dessert servings for a retirement reception. I have great recipes for tart fillings, but don't fancy making several hundred little tart shells. In N.C. (my home) I could buy them unbaked and frozen, but I can't find them here. Do you have any recommendations?

Kim O'Donnel: Good question, McLean. Would a Costco sell them? What about Trader Joe's? Anyone?

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Virginia: Kim, if you had to make a bare-bones kid's lunch (no refrigeration required) what would it contain? I am struggling to pack tasty and healthy lunches for my child who usually only eats the cheese sticks and crackers and leaves everything else untouched. None of us are big lunch-eaters, even at home, so I want to be sure he is getting what he needs at a minimum. Thanks!

Kim O'Donnel: What about the old standard PB&J? Or a cheese-apple sandwich? Getting an apple into the mix would give him some fiber and Vitamin C. A box of raisins was always one of my favorites. Oranges or clementines during winter. A little container of hummus would be okay unrefrigerated for a few hours...

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Breaking Fast Dessert: Hi Kim! I'm charged with making a dessert for the break fast for Thursday's Yom Kippor. I'd like to make an apple cake, but I'm worried it might get soggy if I make it tonight and serve it on Tuesday. Do you think it will be safe? Is there something else you might recommend?

Kim O'Donnel: Hey there: What if you did a coffee cake -- but with apples. Something about the Bundt shape that keeps in the moisture, delays the staling process. After it's completely cool, wrap really well in plastic and leave it alone. Alternatively, you could freeze it and take out of freezer Thursday am. A marble cake would be lovely, too.

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Tart Shells: What about Harris Teeter? They often have more southern items, and can special order things too.

Kim O'Donnel: Good idea.

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Alexandria, Va.: Hi Kim, I have a couple of pork tenderloins that I took out of the freezer to defrost in the fridge on Sunday morning - intending to make it for Sunday supper. Life got a little crazy and I didn't get a chance to cook it then or last night as planned. It was still a little frozen in the middle yesterday morning, but I checked it last night before going to bed and it was completely thawed. Will it be okay to cook it today? I don't want to waste it, but I also don't want to make anyone sick!

Kim O'Donnel: Yes, will be fine to cook today. You're in good shape.

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Turkey breast: Hi Kim: any suggestions for a really good baked or grilled turkey breast? Thinking in terms of seasonings as well as cooking time and temp. Thanks

Kim O'Donnel: Hi ya: Make sure you salt it well -- 1 teaspoon per 1.25 pounds. Mix that with some cayenne, black pepper, coriander and if you've got any, a ground star anise pod. (If not, don't worry.) I like that spice rub to get under the skin as well as on top. I'm also a big fan of seasoning turkey with fresh rosemary. Roast at 375-400 degrees and keep your eyes on it every 20 minutes.

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Washington, D.C.: I'm planning on cooking some fresh okra I picked up at the farmer's market. I was thinking of a base of onions and garlic with some 'curry' spices (garam masala, turmeric, coriander, ginger) then adding a can of diced tomatoes and then the sliced okra. Should I fry the okra first? Is there a particular set of spices to use with okra, or do you have any other suggestions for a curry-esque okra recipe? Thanks!

Kim O'Donnel: No need to fry the okra. Add it after the onion-garlic-spice thing, and before the tomatoes. It'll be delicious. Rice is a perfect complement here.

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Fairfax, Va.: Hi there. This morning I simmered some northern beans with an onion, a few cloves, allspice, and peppercorns. When I get home this evening, I'd like to incorporate with ground turkey to make a "white" chili. I don't want it too spicy, as we have a little one in the house, so heat will need to be added to individual bowls.Thoughts on best technique and seasonings for a quick and easy supper?

Kim O'Donnel: Hey Fairfax. Cook the ground turkey in a separate skillet, and season it as if you were going to eat by itself -- with salt, pepper, however you like to season ground meat. THEN add to the beans. You might want a smidge of tomatoes in there -- just for acidity. If you're got any fresh thyme, that'd be great. I like a chipotle chile in my chili, too.

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kiddy lunch: How about veggies and some dips for the kid. You could cut up some apple, carrot, celery etc and pack with peanut butter, hummous, yogurt, even a little tomato sauce etc. Kids love choices and finger food and you would begin to get an idea for what your child likes and expand horizons.

How old is your child -- old enough to help make lunch? Get your kid involved in cooking.

Kim O'Donnel: I like the dips idea. A piece of homemade cold pizza would be great here, too.

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Saucy ideas: We made a last-minute change to the lineup for this evening. (We were going with "all American" for the debates, i.e., meatloaf, baked potatoes and green beans, but we need to make change.) Now on deck is tortellini (on hand), chicken leftover from a rotisserie bird, and a veg TBD. I am thinking I'll simmer the tortellini in chicken broth then reduce that a bit/thicken it with a garlic-infused roux. But what else do I do to make a savory white sauce for the chicken and tortellini? I'd like a full flavor. Thanks!

Kim O'Donnel: Some herbs would be good here -- either sprigs of thyme or rosemary. So do you want to add the chicken to the tortellini broth? Talk to me.

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Reston, Va.: Hi Kim, I'm allergic to rosemary, and it's all I ever see as a seasoning in most lamb recipes. I've got a lovely piece of lamb to grill tomorrow. What else goes with it? Thanks!

Kim O'Donnel: Oregano is wonderful with lamb. Mint. Marjoram. I might even try sage.

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BPA free water bottles: I bought two BPA-free Camelbak water bottles and I like them but am concerned because they really smell like plastic (after using them for a few weeks). Is this something to worry about or just the way BPA-free plastic happens to smell? I've tried to find a good answer to this but come up short. I do want to avoid BPA for safety reasons (just my personal preference) and can't use glass because it is too heavy, so could use some guidance! I know this isn't exactly food related but you mentioned this subject before so I am hoping you can help!

Kim O'Donnel: I should ask Mister MA -- as he just bought one of these, and he works for an eco Web site. Maybe he's got a link to story on this aspect of the BPA-free products. Anyone have a similar story?

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Downtown D.C.: Kim! I love making your chocolate Guinness cake. However, whenever I mix up the batter, I get these lumps of flour that don't seem to go away during baking. I always sift my flour and mix my flour and baking soda/powder and salt before adding to the wet ingredients ... and inevitably, I get these unappealing bits of flour in my beautiful cake. Please help!

Kim O'Donnel: Hmmm. Are you really turning the batter when you stir -- as in lifting it up from the bottom to see what's lurking beneath?

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Cucumbers: For some reason I decided to buy a big bag of mini cucumbers from TJ. But now with the cooler weather here in D.C. I don't feel like eating them. Any ideas for a cooked cucumber dish?

Kim O'Donnel: Not so much a cooked dish, but kinda warm. Here goes: Make a pot of rice. Scoop rice into a bowl. Add soy sauce and chili flakes, a squirt of sesame oil, maybe a squeeze of lime. Add one or two of those cukes. Top with bonito flakes or cashews. Dinner is ready. That's one of my favorite all-time solo suppers.

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saucy ideas again: Yes, I thought I'd shred the chicken a bit and put it into the sauce. Not sure I should add it when the tortellini is simmering, as the chicken is already cooked. Not sure if that would make it stringy/tasteless.

Definitely will add herbs. Should have mentioned that. Have some fresh rosemary, basil, oregano and thyme in pots.

Just having a little trouble thinking of this comprehensively. How does it hang together? Maybe it is just a mental block?

Kim O'Donnel: Add chicken at end. You know, what I'd do is a quick cook of pasta in water. Remove, drain, even undercook it. Meanwhile, thicken and season your chicken stock to your liking. Add the pasta, add the chicken, simmer for a few. That might get it all talking to one another. A little squeeze of lemon would be good at end, too.

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Annapolis, Md.: Now that October is here, I am ready for saurkraut and have a great recipe that calls for juniper berries, but i can't find them anywhere! do you know of a local source?

Kim O'Donnel: Wow, great question. I'd probably look at penzeys.com, but let's ask: Anyone know where to buy juniper berries in the Annapolis area?

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Boulder, Colo.: Hi Kim, I received an error when posting earlier so I'll try again... for tonight's debate I'm making a stuffed pork tenderloin (with spinach, artichoke hearts and parm) to represent all of the pork that gets stuffed into legislative bills. Ha ha.

Kim O'Donnel: Excellent! I'm working on an Election Day piece that will help sustain us for a long night of waiting for returns, so keep those ideas a'coming...

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Kim O'Donnel: That reminds me: I wanted to get your take on something. I've been kicking around the idea of a "Curry Week" in the blog space. For five days, a diff. curried recipe from a diff. cuisine would be featured. But I'd e-mail in advance all of the recipes to readers who were interested in cooking ahead with their own "curry clubs" and sharing their first-hand kitchen experiences on the day the recipe is posted in the blog. If you're curious and interested, please send an e-mail to: writingfoodATgmail.com
In the subject line, type: Curry Club
If I get enough interest, we'll put this together before you start worrying about Thanksgiving.

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Juniper berries: Make a day of it and check out the spice hut-thing at the Renaissance Festival in Crownsville, Md.. They had juniper berries there a couple weeks ago.

Kim O'Donnel: Fantastic. What a find!

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Juniper berries: In that situation, when I couldn't find juniper berries, I used a tablespoon or two of gin. Added that flavor and I had it available -- worked great!

Kim O'Donnel: Ah yes.

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Portland, Ore.: I got some lovely winter squash from my farm cooperative and am going to tackle a butternut squash lasagna for dinner on Thursday. The recipe says to use oven-ready lasagna noodles but the reviewers all said it was better with regular lasagna noodles. I've never made lasagna before but remember my mother struggling with the noodles as a kid. What do I need to do to make lasagna noodles and not have them stick together and make a big mess? Thanks!

Kim O'Donnel: There are a few different camps among this group. When I made lasagna recently, I bought the regular kind and soaked them in hot (but not boilling) water to soften them up and they worked great. Any other tips for Portland?

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Avocado: Hi Kim, I brought home 3 avocados from my mom's tree in Florida. Do I just let them ripen on the counter? Also, ideas for using them to their best advantage (i.e. recipes that really need good ones rather than what I can get in the grocery in Virginia)? Thanks!

Kim O'Donnel: How lucky you are! Yes, ripen on the counter. Honestly, the simpler the preparation, the better. A little lime, a little salt and some chiles (maybe some garlic) is my favorite way to eat avos. They're also quite wonderful tucked into a corn tortilla.

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Washington, D.C.: I received green tomatoes in my CSA share last weekend. What do I do with them (keeping in mind I am not a huge tomato fan)? Thanks.

Kim O'Donnel: Do you fancy fried green tomatoes? They can be pretty spectacular. I know there are fans of green tomato chutney in this group as well.

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tortellini: Please don't cook the tortellini in water. I learned in Italy that even if you want to serve the tortellini in some other kind of sauce, cook them in broth so the flavor doesn't leach out. Try cooking them in the broth, then save the broth instead of draining and use that for your sauce...

Kim O'Donnel: Aha. Here's a useful tip.

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Berkeley, Calif.: Guinness Chocolate Cake?! Let's see that recipe!! Yummy...

Kim O'Donnel: Chocolate Guinness Cake. Credit goes to Nigella Lawson. This one is a keeper.

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Annapolis, Md.: Thanks for the juniper answers. Here's the recipe: Drain and rinse big bag of refrigerated kraut. Replace liquid with white wine, add about 3 T of brown sugar, half a small onion chopped and a couple of t of crushed juniper berries. Bake until heated. People that hate kraut still love this.

Kim O'Donnel: Maybe it's time to revisit the kraut. I can't seem to get past the smell of my youth, the whole house filling up with my mother's kraut.

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Boulder, Colo.: For Portland. I have actually made a butternut squash lasagna using the squash as "noodles". It had spinach and bechamel sauce and was quite tasty. I can't remember where I found the recipe but it was probably on Food Network or epicurious.com.

Kim O'Donnel: Oh yes, excellent idea. And a very kind reader in Italy suggests the following in an e-mail:
If you really, really, want to use zucchini in making lasagne, why not cook them first the Piedmontese way? Slice them very thin and cook in margarine ( or butter)in a covered fairly flat pan and with no water. You will need to keep an eye on them as they cook ¿ they will be reduced to a lot less than you put in the pan as this method "dries them out". It also makes them much tastier. Spread the cooked zucchini over the ready to use dried lasagne, crumble fresh goat cheese over ( or use grated parmesan) plus a couple of tablespoons of white sauce. End up the layers with white sauce and parmesan. You might use Marjoram with the zucchini as an herb. The French do lasagne with crumbled goat cheese and puréed spinach cooked in butter with a touch of garlic. You will need to provide some liquid to keep the lasagne moist ( maybe soy milk). Basically, you can make lasagne with almost anything.

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Lasagna noodles: This works best for me: I use regular lasagna noodles and don't cook them. The key is you have to make it with a watery sauce. I usually make quite a watery tomato sauce. The idea is that the noodles soak up the sauce, that's why it has to be watery. I just layer the uncooked lasagna noodles and it comes out great. It has a better texture than if I use the non-cook ones and I even think it tastes better because it soaked up more good sauce taste!

Kim O'Donnel: More noodling...

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Virginia: For the person with the green tomatoes: Use them to make a green tomato cake. I made one a couple weeks ago with the leftover tomatoes from my garden. I took it to work and everyone loved it. All were surprised that it had green tomatoes in it and have asked for another. My mother and grandmother used to make them and I loved them. Found that I still do, even though I am sure mine was not as good as theirs.

Kim O'Donnel: Cool! Tell me more.

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Rockville, Md.: I just got a new Bundt cake pan and I was wondering what recipe I can use to try this mold for first time, by the way it will be the first time that I use this type of pan. I was thinking in a simple pound cake with orange glaze (powder sugar and orange juice) but any other recommendation will be greatly appreciated.

Kim O'Donnel: Apple coffee cake is pretty rockem' sock'em. Aunt Rita's Marble Cake

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Alexandria, Va.: Hello! I have a bumper crop of mint ready to be picked, but I just don't know what to do with it. Any ideas, outside of mint juleps and mint tea? Thanks!

washingtonpost.com: Check out Kim's discussion from September 16 for a few ideas.

Kim O'Donnel: Thanks to my producer Michele digging up this link!

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Mini-cukes: Work great in a cucumber salad. I follow my mother's recipe: cut the cukes to expose the flesh (for the minis, I would just cut them in half length-wise), add salt, sit for an hour, squeeze out the extra water and then make a vinaigrette. Mom's calls for a small amount of sugar, vinegar, cooking minced/chopped garlic with two small dried chilis in oil, and then mixing. Topping off with a dash of sesame oil to sweeten and add that nutty flavor at the end.

Main difference with Mom's and mine: I use a touch less sugar and a touch more vinegar.

Kim O'Donnel: Thanks, pal.

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Lothian, Md.: Kim -- help -- your Guinness cake ingredients show up as A3/4 cocoa and 2A3/4 baking soda -- what is the A supposed to be?

Kim O'Donnel: Oh crap. This is the result of blog software migration. I will go in right after the chat and get rid of the characters and double check amounts.

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More on lasagne: And I like to use whole wheat lasagne noodles, but I've found that they don't do so well with the "uncooked" style, even with a watery sauce...they still come out way to tough. So, I cook them (no more than the minimum amount of time, e.g. 10 minutes if 10-12) then use them with a mid-to-watery sauce. They then come out more like normal noodles, but healthier!

Kim O'Donnel: and even more noodley thoughts....

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Re: Green Tomatoes: I have many and am always looking for ideas. Lynne Rossetto Kasper last week had a short segment on them towards the beginning of her show where she suggested adding them to apple pie in equal amounts to give a tart sweet taste, as well as grating them over salad and some other things I can't think of right now. Creative!

washingtonpost.com: The Splendid Table

Kim O'Donnel: That is a nifty idea. Thanks for sharing.

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In defense of cheese and crackers: Call me dumb, but what's wrong with eating cheese and crackers for lunch every day? Depending on the type of cheese and type of crackers, it could actually be a pretty nutritious lunch. So instead of looking for an alternative, why not try out some different whole grain crackers and different cheeses? Pack some cucumber slices, edamame, carrot sticks, or bell pepper to go along. Or if the kid won't eat them at lunch, make them the only option for an after school snack.

Kim O'Donnel: Cheese is high in fat and cholesterol. A little can go a long way, but that's impossible to tell a cheese lover. We always eat more cheese than we really should! If it's as part of a whole meal, then I agree, a little cheese is fine.

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Kim O'Donnel: Time to go! Thanks for stopping by. Many unanswered questions in the queue, so I hope to get to some of them in blog space this week. Come see me there when you have a moment: A Mighty Appetite. All best.


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