What's Cooking With Kim O'Donnel

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Kim O'Donnel
Special to washingtonpost.com
Tuesday, November 18, 2008; 1:00 PM

Calling all foodies! Join us Tuesdays at 1 p.m. ET 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.

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Kim O'Donnel: Howdy, folks! How are the Thanksgiving plans coming along? If you're just getting started, there's still plenty of time, and I'm hosting an extra chat this week (Thursday at 1ET) to help you on your way. Check the blog space tomorrow for Thanskgiving Chat Hotline and lots of T-Day-centric tidbits over the course of the next handful of days. So let's get started and tell me: what's on your mind? Your burners? Your shoppping list?

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Vienna, VA: Not really a question about the food itself. I'm serving Thanksgiving dinner buffet style (table is large enough for all people but not large enough for all the bowls, etc) and will allow one dinner plate per person. They will take their plate back to the food for a refill. My aunt tells me that's improper and that I should either use paper plates to be used one time only or have enough dinner plates so everyone can have a clean plate for each trip. I don't want to use paper plates and I'm not going to buy a ridiculous amount of dinner plates. Help!

Kim O'Donnel: You're the host, right? With all due respect to your aunt, whom I'm sure is a lovely person, you get to call the shots as host. At her house, she can have paper plates. And if she needs a clean plate, you can rinse hers if she wants second helpings. Thanksgiving meal planning is stressful enough; this is one battle you can snuff out in a snap and accommodate her if need be.

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U Street: Hi Kim, I'm the chatter who wrote in last Thursday about making your tofu pumpkin pie and got stern warnings from folks about telling other people about soy ingredients. There was such alarm that I just wanted to assure everyone that at our Thanksgiving table the only people with any allergies are my mom and me and we're baking the pie. If anyone asks we'll certainly tell them what's in the pie, just not something we'll volunteer if no one seems interested. Still excited to try your recipe!!

Kim O'Donnel: Thanks for chiming in, U Street. Planning a feast is so much more complicated than it used to be, no?

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St. Paul, MN: I want to serve a warm apple crisp for dessert on Thanksgiving, but I don't want to peel and slice apples after dinner (even with my handy quick peeler/slicer). Can I peel and slice several hours before, then store the apples (without sugar) in a container in the fridge? Can I also mix up the crumble ahead of time? I could then just quickly assemble and bake.

Kim O'Donnel: Hey St. Paul, you can make the crisp the day before and eliminate all this worrying. Reheat at 300 before serving and you'll be in business.

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Spinach Ideas: Hi Kim!

I have some fresh spinach left over that I didn't use in a pasta dish. Do you have any suggestions for what to do with it besides using it in a salad?

Kim O'Donnel: Throw into an omelette. Add it to grilled cheese. Wilt it in olive oil, with garlic and walnuts. Use as garnish atop tomato soup. Use it as a pizza topping with some feta. Other ideas, folks?

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Boulder, CO: Hi Kim. I received the latest Real Simple last week, was flipping through it, and made a little squeal when I saw your story. Yes, I am a dork. :) I've been a big fan of yours for years and felt so proud & happy to see you in print in such a great magazine. Keep up the good work! julie

Kim O'Donnel: Thanks Julie! I'm very proud, too. The title of my essay, 10 Life Lessons Learned in the Kitchen, is on page 179 of the December issue of Real Simple, in case you're interested. Doesn't appear to be an online link available, at least at this stage, however.

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Washington, DC: Are you entertaining non-Thanksgiving questions?? I'm having friends over for dinner next week. I saw ginger ice cream at the market so picked up a pint. Do you think pear compote would be a nice topping?

I read Pres.-elect Obama doesn't like beets. You need to make him those beet quesidillas for him.

Kim O'Donnel: I sure am! Pear compote would be lovely atop ginger ice cream, yes indeed. Also -- a homemade caramel sauce!

Our new prez doesn't like beets? Hmmm--- you're right; we need to make sure he gets a taste of the quesadillas...wonder how we can arrange...

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apple sauce: How long will homemade apple sauce keep in the fridge? I made it only with a little water and nothing else. It was delicious. Sadly I just found a small container lurking in the back of my fridge. It's four weeks old - smells fine and all. Is it too late!

Kim O'Donnel: Apple sauce molds when it's gone bad, so if you don't see mold, enjoy that apple sauce, dear. Just made some the other night -- Mister MA at the apple sauce helm!

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Making baby food - Silver Spring: Hi Kim - A question for the local chatters - where is the cheapest place to buy organic frozen vegetables? I've started making some of my own baby food and would like to expand the types of vegetables I'm using and find the least expensive option for buying them. Ideally, I would have hit the farmer's markets over the summer, got the veges, made a bunch of food and put it in the freezer but with a newborn and 2yr old it just didn't happen. Going to a bunch of stores and comparing prices with the little ones in tow is tough to schedule around naptimes so I was hoping to get some insight from your peeps. Thanks.

Kim O'Donnel: Gonna throw this one out to Beltway readers for their input...

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Thanks for teaching me to roast brussel sprouts!!: If you felt the earth shake last night it's because a 9 year old w/no real love for veggies asked for some brussel sprouts and then said they were really good. This is of course after serving them numerous times and forcing 2 bites - But - success! Thanks for suggesting roasting on a chat some time back - I'm a big brussel sprout fan now!

Kim O'Donnel: Hooray!! How wonderful. And give your nine-year-old a big high-five from me. Roasting the Brussels really brings out their sweetness -- I've got me a bag in the fridge and am eager to roast up a batch this week.

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Buffet Etiquette: I believe the "new plate every time" was developed by restaurants to avoid the risk of food-borne illnesses. Provided you are using serving utensils to serve your food and you are not hosting a dinner for, say 40-50 folks, I think everyone would be fine with the plate they have.

Of course, you could pile a few extra plates on the side for kids who don't want this food touching that food and your ever fastidious aunt. They don't have to be your nice ones.

Kim O'Donnel: More on what to do about the Tgiving plate issue...

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Leftover Spinach: Spinach and artichoke dip, creamed spinach, or steam it, sprinkle with hot sauce, and service it on a grilled chicken breast sandwich with melted swiss cheese.

Kim O'Donnel: Bueno! Good ideas...

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Alexandria, VA: Kim, I made your Delicata Squash recipe for the first time last night and it was amazing! I found though that it didn't need so much time in the oven. After 25 minutes on 400 and then only 10 at 375 it was way done. I think i sliced it too thin because it was very browned on all sides. This made it extra tasty though, like squash fries. we're making it again tonight. Thanks for turning me on to a brand new squash!!

Kim O'Donnel: Excellent! Yep, I bet if the doughnuts were less than 1/2 inch thick, they prob. cooked up in no time. I sliced mine about 1 inch which is why they took more like 40ish min. I just love the flavor -- and so easy, so nutritious, all that betacarotene.

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Organic Gal: Hi Kim! I'm planning my Thanksgiving and am cooking in an oven somewhere between apartment-tiny and normal oven. I will be getting a local free-range bird about 10-14 lbs, and will also need oven space for wild rice and sweet potato casserole. I'm wondering if I can bake the sweet potatoes the day before, then put them in the casserole dish with the other ingredients to heat after the bird comes out and is resting before carving. I'm doing a sort of sweet potato with pecans and a brown sugar orange juice glazy-thing. I'd toast the pecans and make the glaze right before pouring it on the potatoes for oven heating. At least, that's what I'm thinking. Will it work?

Kim O'Donnel: Hey OG: what if you baked, then mashed, put in casserole dish, then covered in fridge til you're ready to put in oven for final assembly? I think if you bake but don't mash, you'll encounter some road blocks. But go ahead, mash'em, season'em, set'em up in the dish and refrigerate until ready.

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Arlington, VA: Hi Kim, I seem to remember you spending a lot of time in Key West. Do you have an article you could point me to? And any suggestions for lodging and food? Thanks!

Kim O'Donnel: Here you go: Kim's Key West. From Jan 07. I'm hoping to get back early part of next year to see that beautiful brother of mine.

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Washington, DC: This is my holiday mission, should my mother choose to accept it: I have absolutely no relationship with beets, and I want to see if I could have one. I mean, I don't think I have ever eaten a beet in my 26 years on this planet, and that is wrong. There are lots of things I have disliked in the past and come to like in time; why can't I have a similar relationship arc with beets?

But I need help because frankly, I have no idea what to do with them. For instance, if I was going to try and prepare beets four ways that display the vegggie's versatility and tastiness, what would they be?

What would you recommend they be?

I think I've heard roasting is good. I love other roasted veggies. What goes on top of a roasted beet? Can you saute them? With what? With what on top after the saute? Fresh/uncooked? This one scares me the most to be honest...but what do I put on top of an uncooked beet? What is the best cooking methods if I want to actually taste the beet, and not only what it is cooked with or in?

Please help me with my mission. My gastronomic horizons thank you!!!

Kim O'Donnel: Hahahah. You know I have the same issue, right? Just wrote about it last week: Meet the Beet Quesadilla. For me, it's a texture thing, and with these quesadillas, they're sliced very thin, so I'm able to appreciate the flavor. I'll let beet lovers chime and share their favorite ways to eat the beloved beet.

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manassas va: Hey Spinach lady...

I just pulled 1/2 of the spinach from my fall garden...steam or boil for 2-3 minutes and drain water. fry galic, oregano, crushed red pepper flakes in oilive oil and add spinach. cook until desired tenderness. Add salt and pepper and maybe bacon. nice//

Kim O'Donnel: Yeah! Thanks for chiming in, Manassas!

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Don't Forget...: ...when you're buying your Thnksgiving day dinner fixins, buy a few extra cans for the local food bank. Thanks.

Kim O'Donnel: Couldn't agree more. Cheers.

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Dairy-free questions: Hi Kim, I'm trying make a couple favorite T-day recipes dairy-free. In our mashed potatoes, we usually use a can of evaporated milk and a couple sticks of cream cheese (huge pot). Do you think I can substitute in soy milk and tofutti cream cheese? The tofutti cream cheese, to me, tastes almost the same as regular cream cheese, but I'm worried about the melt factor.

Also, have any chatters spotted lactose-free American cheese slices anywhere in the District? Not soy or rice cheese or anything -- just lactose-free. I used to get these in Brooklyn but haven't found them here.

Thanks!

Kim O'Donnel: I'd do a practice run this week to make sure. I'd also explore using some Earth Balance, melted in. Has anyone had success using soy milk in mashed?

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Springfield, MA: Hello Kim. First of all, I've really been wanting to know if you have a bigger kitchen in your home in Seattle than in D.C.? I am also looking for ideas for what to serve my family to snack on before a late afternoon Thanksgiving dinner. How do I keep teenage hunger at bay but have them hungry for my special dinner? I don't want to have to cook a lunch but I would like to serve Thanksgiving dinner in the early evening. Thanks very much.

Kim O'Donnel: Kitchen is somewhat larger -- more counter space and two people can work at same time -- but snug on the cabinet space and dining area. Oh well. We make out just fine.

Re: the hungry teen: what about batch of pumpkin-y muffins that you make day before and he can grab one midday? I always like a grilled cheese while I'm cooking Tgiving dinner. It's simple, it's warm and it's fast.

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Fairfax, Va: The ginger ice cream an earlier post mentioned sounds yummy. What brand was it and where was it purchased. Thanks!

Kim O'Donnel: Here's hoping poster is available to follow up...

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Chantilly, VA: Kim, I know all ham contains salt, but I want to cook some fresh green beans and season them with ham. Which brand(s) of ham contains the least amount of salt but would provide a good flavor? Thank so much!

Kim O'Donnel: Gosh, off the top of my head, I really don't know. One option is to fry up a few strips of thick bacon, allow fat to render and use that cook those beans. And you could use crisped bacon as garnish.

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Organics: I heard an article on WTOP recently where some group (I think it was Health magazine) reviewed the healthiest major food chains. And we have 4 of the top 5 in the DC metro area. Surprisingly (to me) Safeway came up #2 because their O (Organics) line was the largest organic line of food in the world. So, the parent making their own baby food should try out the Safeway O line of frozen veggies.

Kim O'Donnel: Interesting. I'll have to check out this piece...

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Beets!: I too refused to eat beets for many years (for some reason, I thought they were dyed that color, like red pistachios). Now, the easiest way is to buy a bunch of beets, with the greens attached. Cut off the greens, leaving about an inch of the stem on the beet. Rinse the worst of the dirt off the roots, but don't peel. Put in a baking dish (pyrex or other)with some water (less than an inch), cover with foil, and stick in a 375 degree oven. Let them cook for about 45 minutes, then see if you can stick a fork in easily (same as test for potatoes). When they are done, pull them out, and let them cool down a bit. The skins can just be rubbed off at this point (your hands will turn pink, but it washes off pretty easily). Now rinse the greens really well (they get pretty sandy), and chop them up a bit. Heat some olive oil and garlic and saute the greens until they wilt. Now pair the greens with some sliced beets, add a little salt and pepper, and yum!

Kim O'Donnel: The beets ideas are rolling in...

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Re: Want to try beets--: I grew up in a household that didn't use beets. No particular dislike as far as I know, but it just wasn't part of our repertoire.

If you just want to taste the beet, buy one fresh and boil it until you can stick a fork into it. The peel you can just slide off with your fingers. Slice and eat. YUM. You don't need to really add anything, and if you just want to try beets for beets' sake (haha) then it might be a good way to go.

Kim O'Donnel: And more...

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Washington, DC: Brrrrrrrrrr, hello to all - it certainly is chilly outside as I sit at my desk reading your discussion and enjoying a big cup of my spicy flu chaser chicken soup with 20 cloves of garlic - yum

Kim O'Donnel: I had heard it got chilly over there! Here, it's in low 50s, drizzly. Tell us more about that soup -- did you whip this up last night?

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Washington, DC: I love Mark Bittman's beet roesti. Shredded beets tossed with a little flour and rosemary. Slowly fry it up like a giant potato pancake. Delish! I think a few dollops of goat cheese is nice too.

Kim O'Donnel: Now I might try this...

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Washington, D.C. - Dairy-free mashed potatoes: Check out the dairy-free mashed with garlic and greens on 101cookbooks.com. I have no dairy restrictions, but have made these several times. Really delicious, and you don't feel deprived without butter and cream. (And I am usually the kind of person that feels deprived without butter!)

Kim O'Donnel: Totally agree. When I worked at Cashion's in 96, I learned all about flavoring mashed with olive oil -- and it was done using a whisk, to make taters really fluffy. They were wonderful.

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Alexandria: Hello Kim, Can you connect me to the butternut squash lasagne recipe I saw on MA way back? It's the most delicous veg lasagne I've ever had, and makes for a speical meal to chase away the holiday blues.

Kim O'Donnel: Winter Squash Lasagna. I haven't made this in a while. Might be time...

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Washington, DC: The ginger ice cream brand is Moorenko. I bought it at Whole Foods. I know Moorenko has a shop in Silver Spring near Mayorga, but I have resisted going in. There were other great sounds flavors available aside from ginger.

Kim O'Donnel: Oh yes! She does great stuff.

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Soymilk in mashed potatoes: Works great! I started fooling my family with this -years- ago. They've never noticed a difference. I use the Silk Vanilla (in the blue container) but I think any flavor would work fine too.

Kim O'Donnel: Okay, here's an endorsement for soy mashed...

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Pentagon City: Random question. My Dad LOVES to cook, and I'm trying to think of a fun Christmas present to get him for this hobby. He's got all the basic stuff - and lots of cookbooks. I just can't think of anything else. Do you have any ideas? Thanks!

Kim O'Donnel: Does he own a mandoline slicer? A food mill? A mortar and pestle? A carbon steel wok? These are all fun tools for avid cooks. I'll keep thinking.

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Warning about beets: Yes, I am another that cannot stand beets. Don't like the smell or the texture. I have a friend with some Russian ancestry who makes her family's traditional method and everyone else loves/raves about them and I still can get past the smell (and taste).

However, a warning. If you are going to do beets, they stain A LOT. If you cut them raw, then they won't stain your hands. If you want to cook/roast them first, then use disposable rubber gloves to save yourself from pink hands for a week. And last, be careful what you use for cookware and serving ware. Do not use anything plastic as the color will stain and be impossible to get off. Use glass, ceramic, or metal to cook and serve. Good luck! I hope that you enjoy them more than I.

Kim O'Donnel: But you must try the beet quesadilla -- if I can get into them, I feel like anyone can!

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Washington DC: 10 Healthiest Grocery Stores:

http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/27573342/

Kim O'Donnel: Cool, thanks much. Will check this out.

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for reluctant beet newbies: To get over a beet aversion, start with the pretty yellow Chioggia type first. After getting comfortable with the golden beets, then work your way to the red beets.

After refusing to eat beets for many years, my husband discovered the joy of eating Chioggia beets, now no beets are safe in our house. I guess this is a good thing, I think, but now I have to share.

Kim O'Donnel: Aha! Good tip.

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Buy some canned goods this week: to donate to the NBC4 food drive, and please, please get the young boys involved in the clean up after dinner as well. After years of watching the adult males plop down in front of the tv to watch yet another football game while the women who made the dinner cleaned it up, I was finally able to get my brothers into the kitchen to scrub the pots, etc. Start them off at an early age, some young woman will thank you 20 years fromo now.

Kim O'Donnel: There are food drives all over the country, and ways to volunteer to make sure the needy get a hot holiday meal. Maybe we should do a nationwide food drive/volunteer list? And yes to the clean up for all able-bodied men, women and children!

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Dad Gift: I would get him a really good chef's knife. It is just one fo those things that seem too expensive to buy for yourself.

Kim O'Donnel: The only thing about buying someone a chef's knife is...the owner should really try it on first. Perhaps daughter and dad could go out and try some out for kicks, then she gets an idea on what he likes, what fits, etc.

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Chicken Soup: I made the chicken soup over the weekend and bought in a cup for a friend and one for myself today. We can feel the garlic, lemon, carrots, etc. working to keep us healthy.

Kim O'Donnel: Aren't you a doll. That's the kind of love I'm talkin' bout!

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Arlington, VA: RE: Dairy-free mashed potatoes. I am very lactose-intolerant, so I have to avoid dairy unless it's lactose-free. Plain soy milk in mashed potatoes does not cut it. It gives the mashed potatoes a strange nutty-soy behavior, and vanilla soy milk in potatoes - yuck. What I do is use a margarine and whole Lactaid milk. Or, I dispense with the whole idea of dairy and make an olive-oil based one. I mash the potatoes, put in olive oil and an herb seasoning (namely Penzey's mural of flavor). There are other olive oil-based mashed potato recipes out there, including ones that have roasted garlic in them.

Kim O'Donnel: First-hand report from a lactose-intolerant mashed lover...thanks so much!

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Soy milk in mashed potatoes: I am also dairy free. I use soy milk in mashed potatoes along with Willow Run Soy margarine (no whey or casein in it--unlike most other margarines). My family now prefers it. I also mash potatoes with a hand mixer on a burner on low. This was something I learned a very long time ago watching the BBC's Blue Peter--to mash/whip mealy white potatoes over heat to dry them out and make them fluffy. Also, don't try this with waxy potatoes (like red skins). It doesn't work nearly so well.

Kim O'Donnel: And another dairy-free mashed idea...

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Silver Spring, MD: Hi Kim! Loved your blog today. I have decided to incorporate all "local" ingredients into my Thanksgiving dinner this year as I will be preparing it for three of us. Turkey order has already been submitted through MOM from Maple Lawn Farm. I say "local" because I will be spending this weekend in NYC to visit a friend and was hoping to purchase several ingredients for our Thanksgiving meal from the Union Square farmer's market as I hear it is enormous compared to the DC farmer's market. Any suggestions on what to expect up there? Any suggestions on what I must get?

Kim O'Donnel: Hey Silver, Union Square market is great, and yes, it's big, big, big, particularly the Saturday market. You'll see much of the same stuff -- cool-weather crops, probably a terrific variety of apples, really great honey, maybe more chestnut sightings, concord grapes possibly...oh, you'll have fun. That's my old neighborhood.

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Does Dad have...: (including space for) an immersion blender? Some really nice, solid, heavy duty cast iron (Lodge often has specials around now) cookware? Is he the kind of cook who'd like a subscription thing - you know, those clubs where he can get different fruits, meats, cheese, etc., each month? Depending on his tastes and space/your budget, what about things like a smoker, a food dehydrator, a variety of good storage containers, etc?

Kim O'Donnel: Immersion blender, yes! And a cast-iron Dutch oven or skillet would be groovy.

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mini cupcakes: Hi Kim, I'm having a dinner party on Saturday, and a couple of little kids will be coming. I thought it would be fun to make mini cupcakes for dessert, as opposed to full-size ones. Can I just take a recipe for regular cupcakes and bake the cakes in the mini cupcake tins? How should I adjust the baking time? Thanks!

Kim O'Donnel: You sure can. You'll need to keep your eye on the oven -- keep temp the same, but I'd take a peek at the 10-minute mark.l

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Washington, D.C.: Hey Kim,

I'm a former vegetable-hater. Your urging to check out farmers market vegetables has completely changed my tune (and my diet). Wow!

Anyway, my favorite new fall vegetable is kale. I want to give tatsoi a chance too, but have a mustard-hater in my family so your wilted-with-vinaigrette-option might not work for us. Any other suggestions for cooking tatsoi?

Thanks!

Kim O'Donnel: Woo hoo! Congratulations. You could still do the wilted tatsoi with hot vinaigrette but leave out mustard. Instead do soy sauce, sesame oil, rice wine, some shallots instead of scallions. You'll love it.

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mashed pots: Yes, the variety of pots really does matter ... . Mum would always complain about American pots - what no King Edwards! - until a nice chap at a farmer's market suggested Kennebec for mashed.

They're brilliant.

Kim O'Donnel: Excellent point, as folks head out to buy taters for the holiday.

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Seattle, Wash: Hi Kim! I'm also a post-dc seattleite. I want to make bread pudding for thanksgiving and was expired by your eat local column to get the ingredients at ballard's farmers market. Do you have a tried and true recipe? We already have a pumpkin dessert, so I was thinking something with cranberries. Thanks!

Kim O'Donnel: Hey neighbor! I too have had bread pudding on the brain. I have a great one made with pumpkin bread, but alas you're all full up on the pumpkin. Dried cranberries could take place of raisins in a bourbon-style bread pudding...and I do have something like that up my sleeve, she says, trying to remember where it is...stay tuned!

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Dulce de Leche:: I bought a couple of cans for a rice pudding recipe, now I have 1 1/2 cans of Dulce de Leche- Any ideas how to use this? should I just use instead of sugar, use it in my tea? I was thinking of eating with a spoon but I don't think that is too healthy.

Kim O'Donnel: One of my colleagues made banana cupcakes earlier this year with a dulce de leche icing. Let me ask her, get back to you. ET, you there?

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Kim O'Donnel: Wow, what a great hour. Thank you so much for stopping by. There's a big pile of leftover questions, so keep your eyes peeled for tomorrow's blog space A Mighty Appetite for Thanksgiving Chat Hotline. And come back on Thursday at 1ET, ya hear? More Tgiving assists during the countdown. All best.

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