What's Cooking With Kim O'Donnel

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Kim O'Donnel
Special to washingtonpost.com
Tuesday, October 28, 2008; 1:00 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, October 28 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: Hello, hello. Do you want to help save the Nancys? Check today's blog space: Save the Nancys With Your 30-Minute Specials and see what you can do to help! The comments are coming in like crazy -- love it! So, Halloween. So, the fate of our country decided in just 7 days. So, daylight saving time coming to a close this weekend. Lots going on folks. Oh, and there's this month's veggie chat, Thursday, Oct. 30 at 1ET. Let's roll with this...

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Manassas, VA: I made cookies recently from a tried-and-true, no fail recipe but they came out awful. It's a gingersnap cookie and not really sweet when done right, but this time they're too salty and not sweet enough. I realized afterward that I used self-rising flour. Could that be the difference? Just the little bit of extra salt and baking soda in the flour?

Kim O'Donnel: Yes! Particularly since you prob. added salt in addition to what's in the self-rising, right? Hindsight is always 20-20.

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D.C.-area: Hi, Kim. Are you on Facebook? If so, would love to connect with you on there. Also, how can I purchase your book, "A Mighty Appetite for the Holidays?"

Kim O'Donnel: Funny you should ask -- I just created a Facebook Fan page. Join the merriment if you so please. Locally, book is available at Tabletop in Dupont Circle (Conn. Ave); online, you can order it through blurb.com. Thanks for your interest!

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Baltimore, Md.: Hey, Baltimore here. I was the one who posted the recipe for the apple/sausage/brown rice dish a few weeks back. I missed last week's chat live so I couldn't respond, but I am glad to see that everyone enjoyed the recipe.

To San Francisco who had the problem of crunchy rice, the best guess I can give you is to follow the water/rice ratio suggested by whatever package of rice you are using. That said though, these things can be off too. I, myself, have still not perfected the cooking of brown rice just yet. When I made this dish, the package called for 5 cups liquid to 2 cups of rice. This ended up very mushy because I had to cook it forever to get all the liquid to boil off. In the end though, the mushy rice kind of worked, though it was a little more like porridge. Subsequent tries with 4 cups water to 2 cups rice worked a little better, though there is still room for improvement. I don't think you need to make any changes to the quantities when using juice versus water.

Any tips from brown rice masters here?

Kim O'Donnel: Thanks for checking in, Balto. Better late than never -- and yes, it seems your recipe was quite the hit w/folks.

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Arlington, Va.: I need your help. I have a pound cake recipe that is not working for me. The recipe says to bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes. I did and at 40 minutes it was obvious that it was not done so I baked it 5 minutes more and so forth until it looked done and the pick came out fairly clean. (65 minutes) Well it was wasn't done inside. I did it again thinking I did something wrong. Same results only burned on the outside and totally not done on the inside. What should I do. Lower temp? Higher temp? The part that was done tasted fantastic and I would like to try one that is totally done. Any suggestions?

Kim O'Donnel: Just curious: is your oven working accurately otherwise? I wonder if it'd be useful to stick a thermometer inside to make sure it's heating properly. Good thing to rule out. 350 is not too hot for a cake, but I'm wondering if anyone out there has insight...

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Midwest: Kim and chatters, I thought there had been some talk of posting ideas for election-watching meals. One suggestion was stuffed pork, a cynical (honest?) but funny take on government. Did any other ideas come in? My husband and I will be watching avidly in a week, as some people watch football. It is likely we'll have dinner first, given the timing, but we're all for good ideas. We batted around the thought of chili dogs, but if I can figure out something fun that doesn't involve dogs, that would be great. Thanks!

Kim O'Donnel: Tomorrow's Food section, by the way, includes menus from DC area chefs, so watch for that. Over the course of the next few days, I'll be sharing some snacky ideas, particularly with the long-night theme in mind. Will we be needing midnight snacks, for example?

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Omaha, Neb.: Hey Kim! With the cold weather coming on, I'm looking to make some soups and stews. But I'm working on lowering my blood-pressure and am trying to keep salt/sodium out of my diet. Any suggestions for keeping my soups and stews low in sodium? I typically use canned vegetables (easier on time and my budget) but I guess I may have to give that up. Eight cans of "low sodium" vegetables probably adds up to NOT-"low sodium", yes? Thanks!

Kim O'Donnel: Hey Omaha, you're right -- all that "low sodium" eventually adds up. What if you were to use a bag of frozen veg instead - and look at labels for sodium. Only thing is to watch the water content of frozen. Buying fresh veg is the most sure-fire way of controlling the sodium, but you prob. already know that. A nice seasoning you can make to zip things up is gremolata, a mix of chopped parsley, lemon rind and garlic. Really boots flavor.

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Logan Circle, Washington, D.C.: I cook with brown rice a lot and find that a 4/2 water/rice ratio generally works well. However, I always say it's better to underestimate and be more conservative with the water because you can always taste as it cooks and add more water if necessary during the cooking process. This is much easier than trying to boil or strain away water.

Also, most important, remember to wash your rice 2-3 times first to get rid of the stale, dusty taste and always put a few dashes of salt in the water.

When I cook rice with stocks I find the ratio generally holds the same, but with something thicker like coconut milk, more water is necessary.

Kim O'Donnel: Thanks, Logan. Great tips here.

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Arlington, Va.: Hi Kim! When adding greens to something like the quesadillas you suggested in your blog, do I saute them first or just throw them in there raw? It seems if raw they would make things a little watery, but maybe not? Thanks!

Kim O'Donnel: No need to saute, Arlington. Last weekend, I used a bunch of dino kale for my quesadilla and it worked beautifully.

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'saving dinner': Part of FLYlady is Leanne's 'Saving Dinner'. She has a sample week and it's cheap to buy the recipes. Her thing is she gives you a whole week of recipes, using up things, and even gives you a shopping list. You can buy different ones -- veggie, lowfat etc. I love to spend time cooking so I don't get them. They seems very good and can be a great resource for people who are trying to cook more but not spend time in the kitchen in order to eat healthily and to save money.

Kim O'Donnel: Who/what is flylady? Do tell.

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Alexandria, Va.: Hi Kim: I've just been diagnosed with celiac sprue. I love baked goods and pasta that now have to be replaced gluten free. Can anyone recommend a favorite place to shop for these gluten free items or maybe have some favorite things to suggest? I'm especially in need of a flour I can bake with. Thanks so much - I would truly appreciate any suggestions.

washingtonpost.com: This blog, Karina's Kitchen: Recipes from a Gluten-Free Goddess, is an invaluable resource for gluten-free cooking. She has recipes for gluten-free flour mixes (including a self-rising one!) and her picks for the best gluten-free products. - Michele

Kim O'Donnel: Hey there, check what producer Michele has found useful, and I highly recommend going to nearlynormalkitchen.com. Maryland GF baker Jules Shepard has a GF flour mix for sale as well -- and it's extremely versatile, reliable.

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SLO California: As an Obama supporter, I recommend that your snacks include arugula, since Obama has been cast as "elitist" for eating and liking it...

Kim O'Donnel: Duly noted. We'll need all kinds of snacks for all kinds of supporters, edibles that cut 'cross party lines, too!

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Anonymous: I am the baker with the pound cake problem. I have a relatively new Maytag range with the double oven. I used different ovens each time. Never had this problems with other pound cakes and with pound cakes I baked this week. I am not sure that a thermometer would do the trick since is burned on the outside and was raw on the inside. Seems like I would have the same problem.

Kim O'Donnel: Hmm. So you've baked other cakes in the new oven and had no problem? How deep is the pan you're using for the pound cake?

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Woodbridge, Va.: Do you have any recommendations for a cook book that caters to two young working professionals... in other words, a couple who leaves early and gets home late, both are too tired to spend an hour cooking dinner, and always end up making a 15-minute frozen meal-in-a-bag.

Kim O'Donnel: Do check out today's blog space for 30-minute specials to get you started. I like Sam Gugino's "Cooking to Beat the Clock" series. But first, look at what your fellow readers are doing to avoid dinner in a bag!

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Baltimore, Md.: Now I'm feeling like a dope. It never even occurred to me to DRAIN the rice rather than keep boiling it to let the excess liquid cook off.

Kim O'Donnel: Aw, no worries, Balto. Now, you know! This is good learning, for next time.

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for low sodium soup: Definitely frozen vegetables! They work really well in soups for me. Also, my mom makes a wonderful pea soup using chicken stock, onions, carrots, dried green split peas, and tons of dill. Really, a whole whole lot of dill. It's delicious and growing up I never even knew pea soup was supposed to have ham in it. I can never order pea soup out because hers is different and just so much better.

Kim O'Donnel: Another vote for frozies...

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rack of lamb: Kim, we're having a few couples over for dinner in a few weeks. One woman who will be at the dinner party believes she's the greatest cook this side of the Mississippi River. I plan on serving rack of lamb for the main, but I'm undecided on a veggie and a starch. I was thinking potatoes au gratin, made with a lobster stock & cream base with gruyere and a lemon risotto. Any suggestion for sides would be great! Thanks.

I plan to grill the racks (weather permitting) after a bath in some mustard (da fancy french kind), soy and rosemary as the main components.

Kim O'Donnel: Hey there, don't worry about her. You just do your thing and be present with the food. I'm thinking risotto AND a potato gratin is a bit too much in the starch department. What about a soup instead of risotto? A lovely puree, which we can help you out with -- plus even bette,r you can make in advance, reheat. You like brussels sprouts? That'd be great here -- you could roast'em.

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Regarding raw pound cake: My suggestion is to consider the pan and the cake batter ratio. I just baked a pound cake in a loaf pan -- the pan was a little full and it took longer for the inside to finish cooking even though the outside was crisper than I'd like. The recipe called for a loaf pan, but next time, I will try a Bundt pan or tube pan for more even cooking. Another thing to consider is whether the temperature is too high for the pan (reduce heat by 25 degrees for either glass or dark metal pans). It may still take longer, but at least the cake would be less likely to cook unevenly.

Kim O'Donnel: yeah, that's what I'm thinking too. Good points you make!

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Expat now repatriated: for the pound cake baker: I have a 4" deep cake tin from the UK, to use for Christmas cake. Mine is 12" x 12" with moveable walls for smaller cakes. For deep cakes, the temperature needs to be lower and the cooking time longer. (This is the same advice to prevent domed cake layers).

Kim O'Donnel: Excellent tidbit -- for deeper cakes, temp needs to be lower. Makes sense.

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Hemsptead, NY: Hi Kim -

Can you freeze pomegranate seeds? Here's why I ask: I've got a great salad that I like to make for Christmastime - it's got blood orange segments and red onions in a pomegranate vinaigrette with pomegranate seeds tossed over romaine. Last year, however, I couldn't find any more pomegranates in the stores after November. So, I'm wondering if should just buy some now and take out the seeds and freeze them. What do you think?

Thanks!

Kim O'Donnel: I've never frozen pom seeds. Anyone have luck doing this?

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Dallas, Texas: Hey! Red state, blue girl here. I'm having a party Tuesday with other like-minded blues. I thought I'd use a melon-baller and make "holes" in those tiny potatoes & stuff them with the potato flesh, butter, cheese, etc. Am I heading for danger here? The small potatoes I've seen are roughly an inch and a half long and about an inch in diameter.

Kim O'Donnel: Okay, so you'll melon ball the cooked taters, add butter, cheese. Then bake'em again? I'm thinking some bread crumbs would be nice. Talk to me, Dallas girl in blue.

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For new celiac: I have allergies to wheat and gluten and it was a rough adjustment, but here are some of my favorite things: Bob's (Red Mill?) Gluten Free baking mix (I use it as a substitute for flour in just about every recipe), Quinoa pasta (it's half quinoa and half corn, in a greenish box in the Whole Foods pasta aisle and the Wegmans allergy section), www.glutenfreemall.com (you can order a bunch of stuff there including pastas, baking mixes, wafer cookies, etc.). Lemon wafer cookies from Wegmans and Whole Foods are really really good. Whole Foods has a frozen pizza crust (if you can do yeast) that's pretty good. Crushed cornflakes, potato chips, rice crackers etc are good for dredging meat or fish to give it a crispy outside. Rice noodles are great in things like Kim's noodle bowls

Eliminating wheat and gluten is tough, but after a few months you'll get use to it. Good luck!

Kim O'Donnel: Thanks for your first-hand reports. There is a Gluten-Free archive over at in the blog space as well.

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Rockville, Md.: Kim, can you do a "Save the Nancys" vegetarian blog for your Thursday chat? I would love to make a variety of 30 minutes meals that have no meat/fish/poultry, but a quick veggie meal for me usually means pasta or a quesadilla, and I'm looking for more variety.

Kim O'Donnel: Hey Rockville: I think at least half of the ideas are meatless in my list! Check the Meatless Monday feature -- many of those recipes are quickies as well.

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Gluten-Free Food: Another suggestion for the gluten-free baker is: Gluten-Free Girl. She has great recipes and connects to a lot of other sites about gluten-free cooking.

Kim O'Donnel: Yes indeed. Just met Shauna Ahearn for first time, as she and her hub live here in Seattle. They're working away on a GF cookbook.

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HdG, Md.: My bumper okra crop of this year (okra pizza anyone?) has been replaced by spaghetti squash. Do you have a blog entry or anything with 101 ways to use a spaghetti squash?

For next year, I need to seriously rethink how many of each veggie two people can eat.

Kim O'Donnel: Hey there, a spaghetti squash primer I do not have, but I highly recommend that you head over to culinate.com today, which just published a terrific squash glossary, and one of the 8 featured is your bumper spaghetti. Have a looksee.

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Graaff Reinet, South Africa: Can the skinless chicken recipe you had some years ago work on a barbecue?

Kim O'Donnel: You mean the naked chicken? Yes, that works on a grill, but you gotta keep your eye on the temp, and I'd do some indirect heat. You could also start on the grill for flavor, then finish in oven.

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quick meal ideas: Cooking Light has a book titled 5-Ingredient, 15-minute meals. (Or they used to -- my copy is a few years old -- but you can ask your (locally owned) bookseller or look at a reseller.) I've found it helpful both for specifics and for ideas about composing meals that are healthy and quick.

Since it is just the two of us for dinners, I often plan for leftovers -- either from "Sunday dinner" fare or from regular meals. These make quick reheats on busy nights. In the freezer now I have roast pork with its gravy, ham steaks already seasoned, vegetarian minestrone, and roasted chicken breast. Also a bag of frozen shrimp, as another poster suggested. We have only an above-the-fridge freezer and this works for us. It does require that I spend about 15 minutes on Saturday planning the week's meals before going to the grocery: what will we have, what do we need, what do we already have on hand that needs to be cycled into the meals. We don't necessarily decide on Saturday what we'll eat on Wednesday, but we do have a list of options. Saves a lot of time and stress in the morning to just look at the list and know whether I am taking something from the freezer to thaw before evening, or if we are doing something fresh, or whatever.

Just my two cents.

Kim O'Donnel: We love two cents here. Your tips are terrific, thanks.

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FLYlady: This is a website with a lot fans. It was started to help people with making their home a peaceful haven -- tackling cleaning/chores/decluttering/cooking. She goes into the philosophy of why we feel overwhelmed and part of the process is changing our viewpoint (e.g.: don't be a perfectionist; the state of the house should be 'good enough' or you'll feel like a failure/crash and burn).

That's how the cooking comes into it. Leanne is a tool to help spend small time in the kitchen but create nice family dinners that are healthy and don't cost a lot. It's blessing the family and creating peace in the home.

Kim O'Donnel: I shall check it out. Thanks much.

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Anonymous: I have a comment for budding cooks and hopefully my wife will see it too. If a recipe other than soup contains the ingredient "boiled chicken" do not follow it. Get online and keep searching.

Kim O'Donnel: hahahah! If you want, we can do a chicken soup primer in blog space. Think the wife would like?

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South Dakota: For the 'Dallas Blue' - use bleu cheese in the potato. For those hosting a more independent event, stuff the other half of the potatoes with cheddar and top with a bit of red salsa, or pimento, or perhaps a bit of chili paste. The new Gourmet (I think) has a recipe for chipotle meatballs that sound perfect for the event. Dessert ... one cherry and one blueberry pie - don't care who you vote for, most people really, really, like pie.

Kim O'Donnel: South Dakota -- I love the idea of blue cheese in the potato -- well done! American as pie, yes, a grand idea. Keep these ideas coming!

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tacos: Hi Kim, any suggestions for what to serve with tacos tonight? I realized I never really eat anything with them, but I have some time and would like to prepare some sides.

Kim O'Donnel: I love a vinegar slaw with tacos -- chopped cabbage, red bell pepper, carrot slivers, chiles, topped with a vinaigrette. I know I got something around here to link to. Hang on.

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Yes for frozen pomegranate seeds: Good information on this topic.

I tried freezing a whole one and that didn't work so well. Make sure you separate the arils before freezing.

Kim O'Donnel: Excellent. Thank you!

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Oxford, UK: Do you have any recommendations for apple desserts? Besides my usual fallback of the baked apple or apple pie...

Kim O'Donnel: One of my favorites is apple coffee cake...and I love to top gingerbread with homemade apple sauce...

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Blue/Dallas Girl: BREAD CRUMBS -- you're a genius. I was a bit worried about handing folks a morsel of hot fat. You know, my friends might be VERY excited next Tuesday, and we don't want anybody getting burned. The bread crumbs will make it pretty and will soak up whatever fat might run out.

Kim O'Donnel: And if you have time, consider panko bread crumbs -- Japanese style and they're a bit chunkier, better coverage. You can get them at the supermarket.

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Anonymous: Once a month I buy a big bunch of celery, carrots, and a few onions and dice them all. I keep them in a freezer bag in the freezer and each week when I make my soups for lunches I just toss a cup or two of the precut frozen veggies in. So easy and it feels healthier than canned.

Kim O'Donnel: Here's a tip on keeping sodium down for quickie soups...

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California: This summer I pureed and froze some zucchini and onion (one batch had basil, too) when my garden was exploding. I've been thinking about using it as a soup base, but I'm stumped as to what to add to it. Any suggestions?

Kim O'Donnel: Would be great with tomatoes...See how it looks when it thaws, what it needs for bulking, etc. I'm seeing white beans, too.

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young professionals: Hey! I'm a busy young-professional myself. Between work, training for a long-distance run, and trying to see friends, it gets tough to make a delicious meal quickly. I've sold this problem with homemade soups! I use a basic recipe and alter it each week (making a big batch on Sundays and eating as a main or side dish each night). Here you go: saute onions (plus any of the following - shallots, leeks, a hot pepper, garlic) in butter. Add your spices (I like a mixture of cumin/curry/chilli/salt/pepper OR rosemary/thyme/sage/salt/pepper). Then add large chunks of your veggies, anything like: turnips (yum), carrots, butternut squash, acorn squash, ANY squash, celery, potatoes, sweet potatoes, apples (go well with squashy soups). Cover with water or stock. Simmer for 30 min to an hour until all veggies are tender. Blend with an immersion blender. You're done! Soups can also be frozen for future use.

Kim O'Donnel: Yes indeed! good work here. Soups are a terrific solution for busy folks.

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Kim O'Donnel: Rats, it's already time to go. Thanks for stopping by! I'll be posting some chat leftovers tomorrow in the blog space, fyi. Don't forget -- Thursday at 1 ET, this month's veggie chat-a-rama. Bye!

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