What's Cooking With Kim O'Donnel

Kim O'Donnel
Special to washingtonpost.com
Tuesday, February 24, 2009; 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.


Kim O'Donnel: Happy Mardi Gras! Who has party plans lined up? If you're still looking for something to make, have a looksee at the green gumbo I dished up in yesterday's blog space. There's been a lot of interest in Eating Down the Fridge, the idea of taking a break from food shopping for a week and using up what's in the larder. I'm thinking the week of March 9. Who's game? Talk to me.


I took your advice...: Hi Kim,

Sara in Nebraska here. I took your advice and did some thematic cooking for the Oscars. Wanted to share my best recipe from that night.

In keeping with the "Milk" theme of California Cuisine, I made a totally delicious salad. Chopped up a bunch of hearts of romaine, and added supremes of four honey tangerines and a diced avodaco. Dressed with an amazing vinaigrette of: champagne vinegar, fresh tangerine juice, olive oil, a little stone ground mustard, a minced shallot, and S&P. Topped with toasted pinenuts.

Sooooooo delish. Thanks for the idea!

Kim O'Donnel: Sara! Salad sounds fab. I've been loving tangerines lately, too. Mister MA will give you a big smooch for this one.


Wheaton, MD: Hi Kim, is the mountain out today? I'm missing those heirloom tomatoes I got ($12/box) down in Yakima last summer. My question is -- I have some canned and jarred things, tomato sauce, beans, sauces, etc. How long are they good? I found some things in the basement that are a year, 18 months old. Are they still good?

Can't wait to come out next summer, maybe I'll see you at a farmer's market.

Kim O'Donnel: Hey Wheaton -- alas, no mountain today, but we've had simply awesome mountain views over the past two weeks with clear, dry days. I'm still very much a student of canning, but it's my understanding that 1 year is the time limit. Have you seen "Canning and Preserving for Dummies?" I just got my hands on a copy -- and it's incredibly useful.

Please let me know when you're out this way and I'll definitely meet you at market.


Boston: Hey Kim! I just wanted to tell you that I, a baking novice, made the red velvet cupcakes for my BF for Valentines Day. They came out great and were much appreciated. Thanks for the recipe!

Kim O'Donnel: Hey! Way to go, Boston. Isn't it a hoot when kitchen adventures go your way?


Odessa, Tex: Tomorrow my office is having a luncheon and dessert contest. Every vote is $1 and each contestant gets to keep however much money his or her dessert brings in. So...I need ideas for a delicious, easy, office-pleasin dessert!

Kim O'Donnel: Oh wow, what a fun idea. Should Odessa make the Guinness Chocolate cake, folks? Mary Todd Lincoln's white cake? Weigh in!


Washington, DC: Hi Kim, I made a spicy pinto bean soup and it is so watery. Where did I go wrong?

Spicy Pinto Beans

8 ounces dried pinto beans, rinsed and picked over, soaked overnight 1 cup chopped onion 1/2 cup chopped green bell pepper 4 medium cloves garlic, minced 6 cups water, or to cover 1 tablespoon chili powder 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin 1 1/2 teaspoons salt 1/2 teaspoon pepper 1 jalapeno pepper, minced 1 turkey leg, optional

Cover rinsed and sorted beans with water; cover bowl and let soak overnight. Drain beans; combine all ingredients in slow cooker.

Cover and cook on HIGH for 6 to 10 hours, or until beans are tender.

Kim O'Donnel: WAY too much water, my dear. You would have been okay with 4 cups. Good rule of thumb to remember: Barely cover the beans. You can always add more liquid if it gets dry, but it's really tough to take away liquid.


Shaw, D.C.: I wanted to get your thoughts on pizza stones. It seems to me that instead of forking over $50 for one, I could fashion one out of an unglazed quarry tile... would it work?

Kim O'Donnel: Hey Shaw, I've had pizza/baking stones on the brain as well. Yes, you can fashion one out of an unglazed quarry tile, but please make sure it's 100 percent untreated. Would love to hear recommendations for stones and/or Home Depot style tiles for hot ovens.


Greenbelt, Md.: Hi Kim-

In March I'm going to find myself with two days to spend in Napa/Healdsburg area. I've been to the area once before, but was hoping you and the chatters could recommend some places to visit. Rancho Gordo and Jimtown Store are already on my list. I heard COPIA went out of business. If anyone can recommend an olive oil tour, all the better!

Kim O'Donnel: Hey Greenbelt, are you going to do a mud bath in Calistoga? That's a blast. I'm assuming you'll do some wine tasting? Yes COPIA recently shuttered, a big shame.


sigh red velvet cake: Such a great memory from my childhood. REcently I decided to make some! But when I read a recipe that called for a full bottle of RED DYE, I just couldn't do it. I have a lot of room for improvement, don't eat perfect, but i had to pass on a full bottle of red dye number 62 and all the weird chemicals it must take to make it really really red.

Kim O'Donnel: I hear you. You might want to try using beet juice -- you could buy a can of beets and drain liquid, using a small amount.


Alexandria: Hi, Kim. Just wanted to say that for my fiance's birthday on Sunday, I made your Dark And Stormy Pear Crisp, since pear is his favorite fruit. I was skeptical because I don't really like pear in desserts (I think it cooks up to be something bland and mushy), but I LOVED your recipe. It had so much flavor! Great job, and thanks!

Kim O'Donnel: Woohoo! So nice of you to chime in, Alexandria. It is a goodie indeed. Blog recipe index


Arlington, VA: Kim, I'm not sure if this is an area of your expertise but I recently acquired a backyard smoker and now I'm looking for a good source for wood chips. I found some mesquite chips in my grocery store but the flavor was too strong for the chicken I smoked (otherwise the chicken was great though). I wonder if you or chatters can recommend an online or local source in Northern Virginia? Thanks!

Kim O'Donnel: Hmm. Have you thought of mixing the mesquite with another wood to mellow out the flavor a bit? Alderwood is nice. Folks have thoughts for the meat smoker in Arlington?


Bread: I'm a competent cook, and I enjoy making bread but don't have a lot of experience with it. I have the usual collection of kitchen utensils (no convection oven). Is there a good bread cookbook you could recommend for me that would match my skill level and suburban kitchen?

Kim O'Donnel: Stay tuned. I'm about to test a method from "Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day" by Zoe Francois and Jeff Hertzberg. If their method proves to be as magical as I've heard, this cold be the new holy grail of dough.


Oscars: Hi- I did end up doing a Slumdog themed party! I made fish curry and eggplant. A friend made samosas and we ended with ginger cupcakes. Thanks for all the suggestions. It was a blast and we had plenty of fuel to stay up past midnight for the show.

Kim O'Donnel: Awesome! Sounds like a delicious eve. Good for you, dear.


red velvet cake: What color would red velvet cake be if you just omitted the dye? If the poster doesn't want to eat the dye, but loves the cake...

Alternatively, perhaps a dab of gel/paste dye would do it. Those are much more intense colors that liquid food coloring. I also thought I saw natural food color in a co-op here, but honestly didn't pay enough attention to really vouch for it. Maybe someone else can help.

Kim O'Donnel: It would be red-brown, with more brown than red. If anyone knows of natural food colors, please chime in.


Mary Todd's cake: Kim, I wound up making this for a pre-inauguration celebration and thought it was awful! Soooooooo dry, and I was annoyed at all the work that went into something that wasn't any good. Luckily, I had made another dessert as well so it wasn't a total loss.

Kim O'Donnel: Sorry to hear that. It went over like great guns here. Usually when cake batters are dry, it means it's been overworked.


In the cold instead of Cali: I brought back a box of avocados from my vacation (how can you go wrong at 7/$2?) and am searching for some good uses. I have to go easy on the spicy and raw onions, but I suppose guac is a good place to start?

We'll do fajitas tonight (avocados in green, peppers in yellow... ? in purple?!) but I think it'll have to be something new every night this week. Any ideas you want to share?

Kim O'Donnel: Ooooh, what a nice problem to have. No need to add raw onions to guac, so yes, I'd start there. Take a look at lovely sounding salad Sara in Nebraska shared, which includes a diced avo. I'm a big fan of black beans, a fried egg and some avo, with a smidge of salsa on top.


Napa: There is a fabulous store in St. Helena called (appropriately enough) St. Helena Olive Oil Company (http://www.sholiveoil.com/store/pages/Store-Locations.html). We went there to kill some time before a dinner reservation, and ended up staying and tasting almost everything in the store! I've since ordered from them online, which I wouldn't do for a product I had never tasted. It's a cute friendly place with knowledgeable people working there. Bonus - a couple doors down is a FABULOUS chocolatier!

Kim O'Donnel: It's been so many years since i've been up that way. Thank you for sharing!


CT: Healdsburg: Try the Bear Republic brewpub--nice food and world-class microbrews.

Kim O'Donnel: More Napa trip ideas...


KOD: If anyone knows of natural food colors, please chime in. : I've never used these before, but thanks to the magic of Google...


You can get the red in size from 2 oz ($8.50) to 4 gals ($361)

Kim O'Donnel: Splendid! Will have to take a a look...thanks darlin'.


pizza dough: Kim, you are the new hero of the household. Last week in your blog you posted a link to your pizza dough recipe in a piece on marriage/relationships and food.(http://voices.washingtonpost.com/mighty-appetite/2009/02/the_ever-changing_recipe_for_m.html)

As it happened, I had planned to make pizza that very night for DH, who was down in the dumps from work pressures. Typically, we have pizza on Saturdays, but the work-schedule meanies were making that impossible for three weeks running. And, we're on a tight food budget. So homemade pizza seemed like a good morale booster.

EXCEPT that the dough-in-a-tube I had purchased had burst open in the fridge. I realized this at 5 p.m., with DH on his way home. Then I remembered your post from that morning, and decided I had nothing to lose.

Well, we LOVED it! (And I loved that I could make it round. I hate square pizza. It is immoral. And dough-in-a-tube does not reshape well to rounds.)

Thank you, thank you. My next attempt will be to use the dough to make empanada/calzone style sandwiches I can bake and freeze for lunches. Here's hoping!

Kim O'Donnel: You go, girl. I love that you got right down to business when Plan A went awry. Nice going. Making your own pizza dough is incredibly gratifying, incredibly cheap -- and a great way to blow off that work steam.


Collard Overload: My mother visited this morning and brought my husband and I THREE POUNDS of collard greens! I've never cooked them before and all the recipes I've found call for pork (a no-no in our house). Any ideas or suggestions? She already washed and stripped them if it helps.

Kim O'Donnel: Look at link at top of page for green gumbo! It's got nary a speck of pork in it.


For the office party: My supervisor (really his wife) makes a fantastic chocolate trifle which they put in a large glass trifle bowl (deep like a giant parfait glass) and it is always the most popular dessert. You can find assorted recipes on-line that are good. Just don't use too much cake. Brownies work very well in the trifle.

Kim O'Donnel: The office party desserty ideas are coming in....


Red Velvet Cake history: Red velvet cake originally got its redness from a chemical reaction between cocoa and buttermilk. Cocoa is no longer processed in a way that produces the red color in cake so the color is now achieved with food dye.

Does anyone have an old Red Velvet recipe that can tell us how to make the original version sans red food dye?

I have looked for the old, original version but I haven't had any success.

Kim O'Donnel: You have answered your question -- cocoa used to be processed without an alkali, and I believe the acid is what reacted to the buttermilk, a form of lactic acid. You'd have to track down cocoa without the "Dutch" processing.


avocados: For a simple salad, cut the avocado in half crosswise, remove the pit. put each half into a small bowl, small enough so that the avocado will stand up by itself. Put about a teaspoon of soy sauce into each cavity, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for a couple of hours. Serve in the same bowl, and just eat it with a spoon. The soy sauce permeates the avocado and makes for a heavenly pairing.

Kim O'Donnel: Ooh. Yes, I can see that happening. Nice one.


Dessert contest: Guinness cake all the way. I made one for a party, and took the leftovers several days later to my art class (because I just couldn't keep eating a big slab of it every day). Even my pastry chef friend LOVED it. I've been trying to think of a good excuse to make it again - next time I'll try cupcakes. I think they would freeze well.

Kim O'Donnel: a vote for the Guinness cake...


Napa winery: It's either in Napa or Sonoma (can't remember after a long day of tasting!), but Viansa Winery is fabulous. Delicious wines and lots of food samples in their tasting room. I still order from them online, especially the smoked cheese spread. So good!

Kim O'Donnel: Thank you for your first-hand report...keep'em coming!


For backyard smoker in Arlington: With regard to wood chips, mesquite is just about the strongest and tangiest there is. I think you'll find hickory to be preferable for the locally available wood chips. Personally, I prefer "chunks" to "chips" as they burn more slowly and don't need as much replenishment in your smoker. Don't forget to soak the chips or chunks in water for an hour or so before getting started. Hickory is available at Home Deport or Walmart. I typically buy a bunch of hickory chunks heavily discounted at Walmart after the grilling season as it galls me to pay a bunch of money for a small bag of wood.

Kim O'Donnel: Great advice. Thanks much.


CT: Hi Kim, Glad you've got some dry weather. More bean advice needed: I soaked a whole bag of a Bob's Red Mill mix of 13 different types of beans with a plan to make chili. Recipe on package calls for three hours (!)on the stove to cook beans--how look do you think it would take in a pressure cooker?

Kim O'Donnel: Three hours to cook beans? That sounds like a really long time. Shouldn't take more than two. HOw long in the pressure cooker, guys?


Cocoa without Dutch Processing: Isn't hard to find

Kim O'Donnel: Do tell.


manassas va: on the pizza stone question. Buy the 1 piece stones it is worth the money and you can get one for less that 50. Forget the unglazed tiles. when you dust the stone with cornmeal when it is at 450 degrees you wont be getting corn meal all over the oven since the quarry tiles dont fit together perfectly if you move a tile with your peel it is a disaster.

Kim O'Donnel: Here's a vote against the tiles in favor of one piece of stone...


Avocado!: Oh, yum. I love crab salad with avocado. It's a great lunch. Also, slices of avocado on sandwiches or burgers. Make a great Cobb salad. Now I need to find some avocado...

Kim O'Donnel: Crab, indeed...or shrimpies...


Ex-Seattleite: Organic red dye: I don't want to recommend any specific one because they're all pretty mediocre compared to the bright red version (at least for red velvet cupcakes, for which I have experimented thoroughly!, but if you do a search for "organic red food dye" or similar you'll find a list. You won't fool anyone into thinking you used red dye 40, but the cupcakes will be redder than otherwise (haven't tried this on a full size cake).

Kim O'Donnel: Excellent tidbits. Thank you ex-Seattle-ite! Where are you based these days?


Guiness cake recipe: Where do we find it?

Kim O'Donnel: Chocolate Guinness Cake


Dessert: Try the lemon-yogurt cake from Ina Garten (the Barefoot Contessa). It's a loaf-style cake that's extremely soft and moist. It's not overpowering in any way--not too sweet, not too lemony. Really great. So far I've only had it on its own, but it could also be good with pretty much any berry, since they all go well with lemon.

On the other end of the spectrum, how about a flourless chocolate cake? Rich and dense; a little goes a long way. You might also whip your own cream to take the edge off the chocolate.

Kim O'Donnel: Some more great ideas for the dessert contest...


Crumb Cakeland: Hi Kim. Just wanted to thank you for the recipe you ran about a year ago for Dutch Crumb Cake, adapted from the Liberty Tavern. It's excellent -- and even better with 6 ounces of fresh blueberries! I also add half a tablespoon of extra butter to the topping. Anyway, I made it for my mom on Sunday. She ate a forkful, sighed, and whispered, "Exquisite!"

Thanks again!

Kim O'Donnel: So glad, Cakeland! I'll pass this note on to Lib Tav owner Steve Fedorchak; he'll be thrilled.


collard overload: Oh what I wouldn't give for your problem. We love, love, love collards. Saute a little onion and maybe garlic in a bit of olive oil; add the collards (I like to cut in a large dice) add chicken broth or veggie broth and simmer till done. DELISH!

Kim O'Donnel: I like'em with a diced chipotle chile, too. Yes indeed!


for St. Helena: My friend moved there recently and I've gone to visit a few times (lucky me!). For great, cheap-ish food, try Taylor's Refresher. It's like a drive in, but without the driving - the food is DELISH, especially the fish tacos, ahi tuna burger, and shakes. Go Fish, down the street, has great sushi. And I agree with the previous poster - we loved St. Helena Olive Oil company too. We got some oils and vinegars there, as well as a candle holder made out of a wine barrel. Very cool! My friend works at Duckhorn - great merlots and cabs.

Kim O'Donnel: Wow, how nice of you to share such tasty tidbits...


Arlington, VA S: For the chatter going to the Healdsburg area, do not miss a couple of brewpubs: Russian River Brewing company in Santa Rosa and Bear Republic (in Healdsburg I think). If you can only make one, go to Russian River Brewing Co. Santa Rosa also has a market night on Wed, starting around 5pm or so. They close down several blocks and have farm fresh products (fruits, veggies, cheeses, meats), crafts, politicos, food vendors, etc. It's a great time.

Kim O'Donnel: More tips for the Napa traveler...


Bread in 5 minutes: Tasty but wear eye protection!: Just a quick warning from my mistake: If you use their recipe, do be sure to use a metal pan to put the water in for the steam burst. I totally should have thought of it, but didn't. Instead, I used a pyrex baking dish. It got all hot, I poured in the tap water and POW! 2nd time in less than 2 years that I've exploded glass in the kitchen, not fun but definitely a learning experience! And hey, when was the last time you vacuumed your oven? The bread from their book is super tasty though... comes highly recommended even for the non-yeast experienced like me.

Kim O'Donnel: Wow, what a story, and a great lesson. I'll be sure to share this with author Zoe Francois.


Cakey: Not that yours is not fabu, Kim, but the latest Vegetarian Times has an article on cooking with beer (great tempeh recipe in the article, too) and there is a WONDERFUL cake using dark beer. It has a ton of ginger in it, and is just really satisfying. I ate it for dinner last night!

Kim O'Donnel: Good to know, Cakey. Alas, I cannot take credit for the Guinness cake -- it's from Nigella Lawson -- I'm just the kitchen messenger.


for the dessert party: strawberry jam filled chocolate thumbprint cookies.... I only won office bragging rights instead of money!

Kim O'Donnel: There's a lot of sweet talk over at the water cooler...


Cube farm, DC: I think pizza stones are a great gift - keep it in mind when the parents/siblings/inlaws/whatever are looking for something to buy for you. It would be difficult to go wrong.

Also, I have found that several labels have way overestimated cooking time. I have a bag of polenta that requires 2 hours, when just under an hour was perfect. I have found the same with beans.

Kim O'Donnel: Cube farm, thanks for your input -- I agree with you on labels and cooking time -- it's always good to keep track yourself.


Washington DC: I took another poster's idea and did my own Oscar-themed menu. Was a little nervous about the veggie sloppy joes (first time doing Indian food!) but they turned out awesome! German chocolate cupcakes also went over really well. I had a lot of fun explaining how things were themed, too :)

Kim O'Donnel: Nice! Oh, so glad you enjoyed the Pav Bhaji -- it is a new staple here at the Casa. So gratifying to see how many readers did their own Oscars menu, nice going y'all.


For cooking collard greens....: I loooooove collard greens. My go to recipe is sautee some onions, add the greens and add a Tablespoon of cider vinegar. It makes a huge difference. I also like to add some red chili flakes or hot sauce for a bit of heat.

Kim O'Donnel: I agree, the smidge of cider vin is an excellent touch.


San Francisco, CA: I'm learning to cook for the first time (even though I'm now 32 years old) and am starting to learn about the different types of pots and pans. I'm confused about whether or not I need an iron-clad pan. I was told that it's good to cook food in an iron-clad pan because it instills some iron in the food. But it seems so heavy -- and I dont know how one bothers to clean it. Any advice on must-have pots and pans?

Kim O'Donnel: You, my dear, will be featured in tomorrow's chat leftovers. Stay tuned!!


wood chips for smoker: try apple wood chips if you can find them, great for the milder flavored meats

Kim O'Donnel: Yes, I second that emotion, good call...


Washington, DC: Bought too much brocoli that I need to use up. Suggestions for different preparations or some different recipes? Thanks and love the chats Kim!

Kim O'Donnel: Can't go wrong by roasting it, dear. 400 degree oven -- toss florets in a bowl with some olive oil, salt, chopped garlic and ginger, cayenne. You'll never look at broccoli the same way again.


cocoa: Penzeys has natural cocoa as well as Dutch process. In fact, a lot of places do. I'd bet you can find it at baking specialty stores, or even Whole Foods, Trader Joes, etc. Just read the labels.

Kim O'Donnel: Thank you. I bet I have some in the house and don't even realize it.


Smoker wood: I have found that chunks of cherry have a very pleasant flavor. I live near a carpentry shop that also sells hardwood. I just stop in and ask them for the small cherry scrap that is of no use to them. I've offered to pay, but they never charge me. I'm not in the DC area, but you could probably find something similar in your area.

Kim O'Donnel: Ah, cherry is lovely. Just make sure it's untreated, okay?


Washington, D.C.: I have been using a piece of 18" x 18" travertine unglazed tile from Home Depot as a pizza stone. It was $3 and works great. But, if you want assurance, by all means spend the money for a real pizza stone.

Kim O'Donnel: A vote for the unglazed tile from HD....


Pizza stones vs silicone mats?: I have heard keeping pizza stones in the oven all the time (not just for pizza) is great for both your energy consumption and cooking. I got a silicone mat to collect spills, drips, etc and it works great -- would I be able to place that on a pizza stone? Or would I have to swap the two out?

And in my electric oven, I would just place the stone under the burner?

Kim O'Donnel: I've heard, just recently, about placing silicone mats on a pizza stone. When I know more, will let you know.


Kim O'Donnel: Time to go! Thanks so much for stopping by. There's a ton of leftover questions, so I promise to oblige and do a heaping helping of chat leftovers in tomorrow's blog space: A Mighty Appetite. Oh! and if you can make it, stop by Thursday at 1ET for this month's meatless hour. Bye!


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