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What's Cooking
Valentine Special
Hosted by Kim O'Donnel
washingtonpost.com Staff

Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2001; Noon EST

Every day can be Valentine's Day when cooking for your sweetie. Join us Tuesday, Feb. 13 at noon for a Special Valentine What's Cooking with Kim O'Donnel. We'll share tips, tidbits and recipe ideas for making this year's V-Day deliciously romantic.

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.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.

Kim O'Donnel: I've been looking for something pithy, something appropriately romantic to share with you in celebration (or lack thereof) of Valentine's Day. I consulted my two favorite culinary romans à clef, La Cucina by Lily Prior and Reckless Appetites, by Jacqueline Deval, and I found something in "Reckless." You see, Pomme, the main character, aspiring chef, romantic and reader of Colette, is trying to plan a seductive meal for Jeremy, her flavor of the month. "With a gentle tug, Colette leads Pomme home where the food is simple, the meals assembled from honest flavors. Those who partake give themselves over to indulging the most fundamental of all appetites, making the experience seem exotic even as the food they are eating is not...As for her meals of love, they too are simple and good. They too demand surrender."
So what does eager Pomme decide to do? "Pomme and her lover will sit by the fire, carefully melting thick slabs of dark chocolate meady heady by a splash of cognac. They will dip black cherries into the dark chocolate, astonished by the burst of the fruit's complicated sweetness behind the warm chocolate shell." (I'll leave the rest to your imagination.)
How sweet simple can be, and I hope maybe some of Pomme's sensibilities will rub off. By the way, she does get the guy -- well, sort of. You know how love can be.
And if Pomme doesn't do anything for you, check out the list of last-minute ideas for a stay-at-home Valentine's Day that I've whipped up for your pleasure.
Time for another book giveaway: Tell us your most romantic culinary endeavor to date and a copy of "Instant Gratification," a collection of dessert recipes by Lauren Chattman will be yours. Now, let's hear about your hearts, your appetites and your cravings.

Rockville, Md.: Okay, I'm from New England, so I'm familiar with how to handle Maine lobsters. But for V-day I'm making my sweetie a sumptuous surf-and-turf meal, and the market has these frozen lobster tails. They don't look like Maine lobster tails (rock lobster, maybe?) and, at any rate, I've never cooked frozen lobster before, only fresh. So -- am I supposed to defrost it first? How should I cook it?

Kim O'Donnel: Anytime you buy frozen fish or seafood, you need to thaw it, Rockville. Put in fridge to thaw, should take less than a few hours. Now, what were you thinking for the final dish? Paella would be fun...and very romantic, great dish for sharing. But you'll need to buy a bit more shellfish.

Falls Church, Va.: Hi Kim: Hubby is cooking me lobsters for dinner tomorrow night. I am in charge of providing side dishes. Any ideas to accompany boiled lobster meat dipped in melted butter (I guess we need some veggies....)

Kim O'Donnel: More lobster couples...dear, how about some wilted spinach in garlic and olive oil...or some cherry tomatoes with garlic and parsley....or some arugula with orange vinaigrette and a touch of gorgonzola. I think gorgonzola is one of the sexiest foods on the planet.

Farragut street: Another early submission. Severe Valentine fudge failure. Attempt number one - recipe from Joy - milk curdled and burned. Still trying to rescue the pot. Attempt two - recipe from James Beard American Cookery- gelatinous and tooooo sweet.

Any thoughts or better yet, a fool proof recipe because I'm sure feeling like one!


Kim O'Donnel: Okay, whatever recipe you decide to use, do you have a candy thermometer? That's the first order of business. Tomorrow's food section has a piece on fudge, by the way, plus I'm intrigued by a recipe I found in Bruce Weinstein's "The Ultimate Candy Book." Let me know if you want a peek at the recipe. Cheers.

Reston, 20190: Darn, I want that book, but don't have ANY romantic culinary experiences. Heck, no GF right now. Last v-day dinner I did was beef stew, rice, green beans, and cake. All from scratch, of course.

Kim O'Donnel: What about the most selfless act of cooking, the one experience that truly said to someone, I love you, no matter if it's romantic love or filial love or love of mother, of neighbor, of friend.

20005: Hi, Kim. I wanted to share an incredibly delicious pasta sauce I made last night - so good, so easy, so cheap. Knocked my husband's socks off. Perfect for V-Day. Or any day. I got the recipe from Marcella Hazan's Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking and I was stunned by the tastiness.

You'll want a can of whole, peeled tomatoes. Squish them between your fingers and put them in a saucepan. Add an onion that's been cut in half, some salt, and five tablespoons of butter. Let it simmer for 45 minutes, discard the onion, and toss with a pound of cooked pasta. Delicious beyond my ability to express myself, and I can only imagine that it will be even better in the summer, when fresh tomatoes are available.

Kim O'Donnel: Thanks 20005 for sharing your tidbit o love. Again, the simple things are usually the ones that blow our minds.

RockGirl: Kim, this doesn't come under "romance food" question, but it does have something to do with romance: my awesome fiancée prepared a feast for me on Sunday while I was traveling home from a trip down south. I was overwhelmed, really touched (he'd probably cook more often if I'd let him near the kitchen, but I haven't been willing to give up ground there)...it was a perfect lasagna, with a salad and wonderful wine.... the only thing is that he used my new cast iron skillet to simmer tomato sauce (he does know the rules for cleaning and storing the pan. whew!) I know that you aren't supposed to cook acidic food (like tomatoes) in cast iron. My question is: will there be damage to the pan (it looked blackish, but perhaps that is just the seasoning process?) or was there damage to the sauce? It tasted just fine to me.

Kim O'Donnel: More like damage to the sauce, of the aesthetic kind...and don't fret. Just gently alert him of the reactionary nature of cast iron with acids...and steer him to another pan in your baterie de cuisine. Have a wonderful Valentine's Day.

D.C.: Good afternoon. I'm making my girlfriend a wonderful home cooked dinner for valentine's day. I'm going to serve a mushroom soup as a starter, then braised halibut steak and garlic mashed potatoes with truffle oil. I'm not really sure how much truffle oil to use, or if the garlic and truffle oil together will be an overkill...

Thanks for your help. Happy Valentines Day!

Kim O'Donnel: Va va voom! This is what I like to hear. DC, if you want to taste the truffle oil, nix the garlic, and remember to use the oil at the end, just before serving. Truffle oil should not be heated. Enjoy!

Fairfax, Va.: This is not Valentine's Day-related, but I will be making a road-trip across the country next week (all the way to CA!) and I really don't want to rely on fast food to nourish me along the way. My car will be loaded down with my stuff, my dog, and my dog's stuff, and I'm sure I'll have room for a cooler. Other than things like health-food bars and fruit that does not need to be refridgerated, are there any substantial snack sort of things that you can recommend? I'd love to take some hummus to snack on, but does hummus need to stay cool? I'm planning to be on the road 4-5 days.


Kim O'Donnel: I'd go for the peanut butter and banana sandwich theory of living for this adventure. Hummus will be fine in a cooler for a day or so, not much after that. Carrot sticks, yogurt, and yes, plenty of fruit. Popcorn, soy nuts, lots of water. Have fun.

Getting Lucky: Dear Kim,

Two years ago today, the day before Valentine's day was me and my boyfriend's first date. For the date, I went over to his apartment and cooked him dinner: flank steak, roasted potatoes, broccoli and spinach salad, (except that I always serve salad after the meal, and that night, well, let's just say we never got around to eating the salad). Tonight, two years later I am making the same meal with a few updates, like I'm roasting carrots and shallots with the potatoes and throwing in some fresh rosemary and I made some yummy heart-shaped brownies for dessert, (though, with any luck, we'll have to save those for tomorrow!). It just goes to show you how meaningful a special meal can be.

Happy Valentine's Day everybody!

Kim O'Donnel: I love this story. Keep groovin', my dear.

Falls Church's V-day endeavor: Kim: Here's one Valentine's day dinner I distinctly remember, as it was the first time I prepared a whole meal by myself. I was 10 years old, and I decided I would cook my parents a Valentine's dinner, as I hadn't saved up my allowance to get them a gift or a card. So I took some pork chops from the freezer, and using one of my mom's cookbooks (Joy, I think) I baked the pork chops with some apple slices. I also made some pop-can crescent rolls (the hard part was figuring out how to make them into the crescent shape!) I took some peas from the freezer, and on a flash of 10-year old inspiration, decided I needed some red color in the meal, so I diced up some red bell pepper and added them to the peas as they simmered. My parents were so impressed, and I was pretty happy, too!

Kim O'Donnel: Very sweet. Now, my question back to you is: what as an adult have you cooked with such endearing enthusiasm and passion?

WDC: My most romantic culinary experience went SO wrong, so maybe I need the cookbook! I decided to do my grandmothers ragu and meatballs which is a rather long process. I did the labor part of the meal and had to let everything cook together for a while. My S.O. arrived and we started to have some wine while we waited. Too bad I forgot to turn down the stove after I added the meatballs to the sauce. When I went to check on things there was an inch of burnt sauce stuck to the bottom of the pan and everything was ruined, including my Le Cruset pot!

Kim O'Donnel: So, did you guys scrape off the pot or forget about dinner altogether? Hmmm???

fancy toast: Romantic food story? Here is the best I have. It is about my wife: I do much of the cooking in the house b/c I like it and b/c she tends to not be a very good cook, but back when we were dating she wanted to impress me with her culinary skills. She insisted she was in charge of dinner one night, and that I was to butt out. (not an easy thing for me to do, as I have a habit of back seat cooking). She made an amazing meal seafood kabobs, couscous, etc... dessert.. everything super romantic. To date it is the best meal she has ever made. What I came to learn a year or so later was that she had called her grandmother, mom, and sister on advice on cooking the meal, and had in fact tried and failed and recooked a number of the items. I know now she does not like to cook that much (and is not great at it anyway), so that meal means more now, than it did at the time. Thats all I have.

Kim O'Donnel: Fancy toast, when did you tie the knot? I knew you were engaged, but it seeems like only last week that you announced your engagment. Wow. Congrats. I love your story. Thank you, and long live the power that food has over our emotions.

Fairfax Road Trip: When my husband and I drove cross-country a few years ago, we found that local grocery stores were our best friends. Every so often we'd pull off at a grocery store and stock up. Granted, we were cooking on a camp stove most evenings, but you can also find all kinds of non-perishables to perk up your trip. Food varies more than you realize as you travel. We found the most interesting snacks and, OK, beers -- but also sodas -- from region to region. Enjoy!

Kim O'Donnel: Tips for the road tripper..

Janet from another planet: For the road tripper:

Kim, don't forget your good old standby... cans of tuna! Is the no-mayo tuna recipe simple enough to make on the road?

Kim O'Donnel: and anotherr...sure, the mayo-free, mustardful tuna could work in this instance.

Alexandria: Here's my attempt at winning the book. My then-boyfriend (now husband) baked me an apple pie from scrach one Thanksgiving. (I'd never had any kind except store bought.) With the leftover crust, he "wrote" our names on top of the pie. It baked beautifully! Most romantic thing I've ever cooked for him would have to be bananas flambe.

Kim O'Donnel: Awww....

Arlington, Va.: I have a simple fudge recipe that doesn't involve candy thermometers. It's made in the microwave, and of course you can argue that it's really not fudge, but everyone who's tried it has loved it. Take a bag of semisweet chocolate chips and a can of sweetened condensed milk. Empy them both in a microwaveable bowl. Microwave on high for about three minutes. Take the bowl out of the oven. Add vanilla and/or a dash of liqueur like rum, Kahlua, or Grand Marnier for some zip, and stir till the chocolate has melted and all the ingredients are blended. You can add nuts, marshmallows or whatever else you like and stir some more. Then pour the mixture into a greased pan and refrigerate. It's quick, easy, rich and virtually foolproof, so you can adapt to your fancy. For Valentine's day, maybe lightly sprinkle some heart shaped red hots over the top and press in slightly before refrigerating?

Kim O'Donnel: Thanks for adding to this thread, Arlington.

WDC: Here is a philsophical food question for you. I am a very accomplished cook, but lately when I get home from work and feel as if I HAVE to get some dinner on the table, or when we entertain and I have to get dinner made for 8 people, I have been doing stupid things. I can't even cook rice lately because I burn it. Everything I touch is a disaster. I think that because cooking has become an obligation I have lost the love for it. For this reason we are going out to dinner tomorrow night, which I know you think is kinda sad, but it is nice to have the day off. How do you think I get the joy I once had for cooking to come back?

Kim O'Donnel: Whoa. My dear, we need to put you into immersion therapy. Pronto. Okay. Sounds like you have way too much on your plate, so to speak. Work crazy? What else is going on in your life? Lots of stress? If you feel like cooking is more an obligation than a release from your daily stresses, then yes, you will screw up. But getting upset is only going to make it worse. Go out and treat yourself to one or all of the following: a copy of The Mindful Cook by Isaac Cronin, which I repeatedly recommend to those who love the idea of cooking but can't quite get it together for one reason or another; a copy of La Cucina by Lily Prior, which is a wonderful journey with a woman named Rosa, who cooks when she's sad, who cooks when she's mourning, who cooks when she's in complete bliss; and finally, get yourself a facial or massage. Taking care of yourself is one sure way to getting that fire back on track in the kitchen. Don't give up, just step back a few feet, take a deep breath and start cooking again. Best to you.

Va.: While in Rome a few years ago, I had a wonderful pasta with an orange cream sauce. It was amazing. I would love to be able to reproduce the sauce for my Valentine's dinner. Does this sound like anything you've had previously? Any ideas on how to reproduce? I know this is not a lot of info to go on, but thanks anyway!

Kim O'Donnel: Sounds like vodka tomato cream sauce, but that's more like pink...orange? maybe with saffron?

Arlington, Va.: My most romantic culinary experience was making tacos... at midnight. It was the first thing my then-SO and I ever cooked together and it was perfect because all the copping of the vegetables and stirring of the meat (the shells were from a box... c'mon it was midnight) kept us both involved and working together. I don't even remember if they were any good, the point was making them together.

Kim O'Donnel: You're right, the togetherness part is absolutely key. Cheers.

Cook in D.C.: Hmmm... most romantic culinary meal:
My (now)hubby and I ended up going out b/c of a bet. He lost and had to take me out to dinner, which was around his b-day. As he came to my apt to pick me up, I surprised him w/a complete candlelight Italian dinner: salad, stuffed shells, bread, and strawberries dipped in choc for dessert. He has never let me forget how surprised and touched he was... the rest is history!

Kim O'Donnel: Fantastic. Surprises, especially of a culinary nature, are the kinds of things you always remember, whether two people stay together or move on. Thanks for sharing this delightful yarn.

LVie: Love these chats. Another lobster V-day dinner here with lots of asparagus spears -- any ideas for low or no-cal sauces for either or both? Splurging calories on champagne...Thanks!

Kim O'Donnel: For the asparagus, blanch and then dip into a rice vinegar/soy sauce/sesame oil vinaigrette. For the lobster, olive oil, orange zest, salt and fresh sage leaves. Enjoy.

Reston, 20190: For the road tripper: If you're going via I70 and I15, beware the passes over the rockies, they can be rough this time of year. On my trips I've had success asking the locals, while refueling, where a good local non-chain restaurant was. Also, in Cedar City, Utah, if you're on I15, Lupita's is decent (very inexpensive) Mexican, and Rusty's or Milt's up the cedar canyon are good, though more mid-range $ wise.

Kim O'Donnel: We've got a real road tripper in the house. Thanks, Reston.

Arlington, Va.: I make a more "traditional" microwave fudge -- also sans candy thermometer -- involving most of a bag of powdered sugar, a couple tablespoons of baking cocoa, a stick of butter, and a touch of vanilla. Don't have the proportions in my head, unfortunately, but it's ridiculously easy to make given how close it tastes to fudge made the hard way. Actually, that would be a good thing to make for my wife tomorrow, wouldn't it...

Kim O'Donnel: Another vote for microwave fudge....and yes! Glad to see your gears are turning for wifey...

Sticks, Mt. Airy: May you all have a great Valentines days with your loved ones and family.

Well this dish is now hubby's favorite. We had it on a pre-baby weekend trip (happened to be valentine's day). And I recreated it when we got home, and it's one of his very favorite dishes. He get's it every valentine's day. It's just baked brie encroute (in puff pastry shells) with a raspberry coulis sauce that has touch of sugar and lemon and cornstarch. What else are we having? Well, if I can find... fresh oysters and caviar, filet migon and caesar salad.

Kim O'Donnel: Sticks, I'm sure you'll whip up something fab...

Umbria, Italy: No Valentine hearts here except a great big love affair with Italy, unchanged by the difficulties of moving here. I recall your dilemma with salting practices as I experience saltlessness (bread) and way too much salt (sausages.) You just have to eat them together, I guess. I have had risotto all over the salt map, so it must be an individual thing with your teacher on the salty side. With Mucca Pazza a new huge issue, those primi and contorni are ever so much more important, so we need to get the salt thing solved. Come on back and work on it, Kim.

Kim O'Donnel: Ciao, Umbria! Cosa fa lei in Italia? I would love nothing more than to return and resolve the salt thing...but please, in the meantime, keep us posted on your culinary adventures while there. Saluti!

Terrible Week: Here's the state I'm in: found out the day before my birthday that my mother has cancer all over . . . husband in is Florida for Valentine's week . . . mother starts radiation today . . . so I'm feeling about as opposite of romantic as it is possible to feel.

Deep breath. I am heading down to visit her, and she will be beginning to feel the effects of the radiation treatments: nausea, weakness, hair loss. What kinds of foods can I suggest and/or make for her to entice her to eat and keep her strength up?

Maybe that's the kind of Valentine's love that means something real, after all--not cupids and bows, but the kind of love that hangs on tight through the worst of life!

Thanks for your help, Kim dear.

Kim O'Donnel: Oh dear. I'm so sorry. I've had similar queries in the past, and what I always suggest is a banana/vanilla yogurt/soy protein powder smoothie that you can blend up for her...easy to go down the hatch, very nutritious, very easy on the tummy. Also if you want to use a mango in that equation, fine as well. Ginger tea, made with fresh gingeroot and quartered oranges and honey, is wonderful on the tummy.
Yes, love comes in so many varieties. I usually send my mother a valentine of some sort. I have made it, haven't sent it yet, but she always comes to mind on this day. Why? She's got a beau. Doesn't matter. I love her. That's all. And i know if she were in your mother's place, I'd be trying with all my might what to do to make her feel better. Soup with roasted garlic and some shrimps would be nice too. Email me if you want details.

Bethesda, Md.: My (unfortunately now ex) boyfriend and I have a culinary V-day love story... we started out the day with a stupid but major fight that fortunately ended with my saying "I love you" for the first time, and he responded in kind... I thought I'd leave and give him some space, but he'd been planning to cook dinner for me so he insisted that I stay. I hung out upstairs while he cooked so that I wouldn't be tempted to tell him what to do. He came up with vegetarian enchiladas with green tomatillo sauce, sauteed herbed zucchini, and something with avocado, and chocolate for dessert. At that point, all anger was forgotten!

Kim O'Donnel: I love this! Food as the medium. Works everytime. Now, this year, make something for yourself or for friends that shreds some light on the other kinds of love.

Washington, D.C. ... help please!!: You have inspired me! I will get up early in the morning and cook my sweetie some crepes before he leaves... what is a good thing to put in them? I'd like to keep it to what's in the kitchen, and since I just went to the grocery... I'm pretty stocked...any thoughts for sweet or savory filling?

Kim O'Donnel: Ooooh. Ricotta, cinnamon and banana? Chocolate and berries? Who's got ideas for crepe girl?

Alexandria: My most romantic cooking experience had to be two years ago... my then-bf (now fiancee)and I were on our second date. He was planning to bring supper over to my house (I don't cook for a man until much later in the relationship. Hey, I'm not EASY!)... well, it was that March snowfall and he wasn't going to be able to drive home from work and get the food he'd prepared... instead, he metroed over to my house from his office and we scrounged around in my kitchen. We somehow made bruschetta and pasta (with jarred sauce. Ha!)... and I did have a lovely loaf of olive bread from the bread line. It was the start of something big. -sigh-

Kim O'Donnel: I feel the love burnin. Thanks for sharin, Alex.

D.C.: This is more of a silly story than a romantic story. About a year ago I was trying to make a sweet treat for a new-ish boy, so I decided on my fave dessert of the moment, creme brulee (great recipe from Mark Bittman's cook, plus some ginger for a little kick). Everything was going well until I had to do the brulee of the creme brulee. I sprinkled the sugar and popped it under the gas broiler, but since I was using his stove, I wasn't quite used it to and the custards lit on fire! I got them out of there as fast as I could and put the flames out. Well, he ate it anyway, sans the burnt crust, and still says it was the best he's ever had.

Kim O'Donnel: It's silly AND romantic, DC. And cheers to him for being a good sport. What does he make for you these days?

Alexandria: Kim,
Thanks for all the great responses on how to make my rice sticky. Now I have another question, although it's not necessarily Valentines' related: (I'm in meetings all morning, so I'm submitting this early)

In winter, when good produce is harder to find, I often resort to frozen veggies to help me get my five a day. The problem is that they always seem soggy, especially when I put them into stir-fry. Any ideas on ways to get them to be a little more palatable?

My V-day dish: seafood paella risotto, with shrimp, scallops, saffron, homemade sausage, chopped red peppers, and peas. The yellow saffron rice is beautiful with the red pepper and the green peas. I don't use much butter or oil so it's even relatively healthy! And tastes wonderful!!!

Kim O'Donnel: I understand your frustration, Alexandria. That's why I tend to stay away from the froze...but in a pinch, lima beans, corn, okra are good bets. I find boiling frozen veg is more desirable than stirfrying, but that's my opinion...and cheers to you and yours for your planned feast.

Crepe man: Nutella!!!!!!!

Kim O'Donnel: Mais oui!

Copenhagen, Denmark:: By the way, Kim, Happy Valentine from this part of the world. Your show makes us love it even more. Now, would you suggest having a bottle of fine champagne with your love for breakfast tomorrow morning. Of course, some prefer tea, or coffee, but doesnt champagne go best with love?

Kim O'Donnel: Champagne, is of course, fab, Copenhagen, but I'm also partial to freshly squeezed or blended juices, mango, for instance. Fresh juice of a pineapple or a guava! I'm getting all lathered up just thinking about it.

Joy Back in Cooking - for WDC: for WDC - I have struggled through losing my love for cooking now and again. The trick for me is to step back and ask myself why. More often than not, the reason is because I have gotten too caught up in what OTHER people would like to eat and how they react to my cooking. I find that if I return to cooking what I want to eat, my meals just turn out better. I also try to challenge myself by picking an ingredient that fascinates me that I haven't had much exposure to (like fennel) and finding interesting ways to cook with it. Just my two cents.

Kim O'Donnel: Your two cents are worth millions, dear. Thank you so much for adding your thoughts.

Fairfax, Va.: RE: Crepe girl, for sweet filling: lemon curd (hubby's favorite), fruit jams, sautee sliced apples in some butter and cinnamon, or just powder sugar on top; for savory: diced prosciutto, grated cheese or a combo.

Kim O'Donnel: More crepe ideas from the crew...

Woodbridge, Va.: My most romantic story: This is more of an example of my boyfriends love than my own... I am a pretty good cook and decided I wanted to try something a little more difficult in the kitchen. I found a recipe for rigatoni stuffed with a mixture of gound beef, veal, lamb, cheese, and onion, smothered in a homemade tomato sauce. I had not counted on the prep time taking so long but everything went fairly well until I had to stuff the shells and realized I did not have a pastry bag. I ended up breaking the shells trying to stuff them with a spoon and after a mild nervous breakdown on my part my cutie went to the store for replacement shells while I started the water again. At this point it was 9:30 pm. The second batch was just as unsuccessful as the first and without batting an eye my man made a second trip for shells. While he was gone I called my Aunt to ask her what I should do and she suggested cutting the corner of a zip lock bag (duh). Well it worked perfectly and my boyfriend and I had a wonderful romantic meal in front of the fireplace at midnight that night. I will never forget how patient he was with me!!!

Kim O'Donnel: Keep him, Woodbridge. Or else hand him over to me. Have a wonderful Valentine's Day!

Washington, D.C.: Kim, this isn't exactly a valentine's day question, but here goes. I'm donating blood on Thursday (giving a valentine to someone in need might be a good way of thinking about it) and I'd like some suggestions on what to eat beforehand (and how far in advance to eat it) so that I don't feel very faint and lightheaded afterwards. That's usually what happens when I donate, no matter what I eat or when I eat it...but I'm a young, healthy person with universal donor type, so I feel like I should suffer through it despite my faintness of heart....Any suggestions would be very very welcome...Thanks!

Kim O'Donnel: Clif bar, oranges, bananas, some juice if you like...a yogurt. A peanut butter and banana sandwich sounds divine about now..and could be your secret weapon. Cheers.

Boston, Mass.: I'm hoping to do a little something special for dinner with my fiance tomorrow night... Here's my thought: I'd like to bake a chicken, with rosemary, garlic and proscuitto under the skin of breasts and thighs; roasted red potatoes with olive oil, red wine, rosemary and thyme; green beans with toasted pignolis (pine nuts). Cannoli (From the bakery down the street -- i can only do so much!) for desert. My question is: do you think the proscuitto chicken combo will work? My gut says yes, but I need a reality check. And, any suggestions from fellow chowhounds who are also grapehounds on the right kind of wine? I was thinking a tuscan red....

Kim O'Donnel: Yes, the prosciutto will work, Boston, but if it doesn't, don't fret. YOu still have a good combo of ingredients going. Enjoy the fruits of your labor, and enjoy the process as well. To me, just as much -- or more -- fun. And yes, a Tuscan red!

Arlington, Va.: Our planned V-day menu-- pizza! I'm making a crust from the Joy recipe, we're grating fresh mozzarella and parmesan, and finishing with beef sausage, garlic, and whatever else we decide needs to go on there. Food is a fun bonding thing for us, even though our kitchen is too small for more than one person to cook in!

Kim, do you have any ideas on how to make the pizza sauce? We want to do it ourselves rather than buying sauce in a can -- it's all about freshness tomorrow.

Romantic V-day story: the BF and I had a long-distance relationship for several years. One year we met in a city halfway in between us and stayed in a beautiful hotel suite (with kitchen!) for Valentines. Neither of us cooked much at the time, but we thought it'd be romantic to cook something together. So we took off, found a grocery store, and spent two hours giggling up and down the aisles, trying to find a recipe, ingredients, and a good dessert! Eventual meal: flank steak simmered in balsamic vinegar with rosemary, garlic mashed potatoes, baby carrots, and ice cream with hot fudge sauce. We finished with champagne in the bathtub. Aaaah...

Kim O'Donnel: I love your story so much that you're in the running, Arlington. As for your sauce, can of whole tomatoes, cooked in some olive oil with some sliced garlic and a touch of piquante - fresh or dried chiles.. Cook til tomatoes are soft. REmember to season with salt and pepper. If you don't like sauce so juicy, drain a bit. Enjoy.

San Rafael, Calif.: Last Saturday night I made Moroccan chicken with preserved meyer lemons (I had a dozen of them) & green olives. My husband doesn't like couscous, so I made wild rice, baked asparagus, and heart shaped parmesan crisp bread. For dessert I made a chocolate souffle - and we drank a Saintsbury Pinot. He's my sweetie every day, not just on Valentine's Day! BTW, the meal was great and I had a lot of fun making it, isn't that what cooking's all about? Love your chats (even though I should be working!)

Kim O'Donnel: All these wonderful ideas...I hope the chowhounds are taking notes.

Lincoln, Neb.: Most romantic culinary experience? When in college, I got into a discussion/argument with this incredibly attractive gentleman as to which one of us was the better cook. The discussion ended with him saying "Okay, be at my house at 7 pm, and bring dessert. We'll settle this once and for all!" So, I went over with fixings for a chocolate raspberry napoleon, and he had prepared game hens in a honey-balsamic sauce, wild rice, and some lightly sauteed spinach with slivered almonds. AND he had a table with fresh flowers, candles, the whole nine yards. I gave in, he was the better cook, but we dated for about 2 more years, and had many, many more wonderful dinners we cooked together!

Kim O'Donnel: Yowza! I think you better run out and buy a copy of La Cucina. This is right up your culinary alley and will give you a sense of deja vu, Lincoln.

Northwest D.C.: Hi Kim -

Help! Cooking for Valentine's Day tomorrow night and need to know where I can find edible flowers.

I would just buy the flowers on their own, but I have to be wary of pesticides.

Thanks so much!

Kim O'Donnel: Oh dear...where can you buy? Have you called Dean & Deluca?

WDC, Again: To Joy Back in Cooking, Thanks for your thoughts. I think I am just S-T-R-E-S-S-E-D. A million things going on in my life, like everyone else I am sure. Thank goodness my fiance and friends are all great about my mishaps, they say they love things no matter what. My fiance also has taken over many of the duties in the kitchen. Maybe some time off from the kitchen and Kim's recommended reading are what will put me back to rights. Thanks for your kind thoughts.

Kim O'Donnel: Just take of yourself, ya hear?

Arlington, Va.: My sweetie cooked an amazing Valentine dinner for me this weekend- cheese fondue, chocolate fondue, and champagne. Was wonderful. But the best part was that he also brought me breakfast in bed the next morning (using the leftover cheese fondue as an omelet filling) and garnishing it with leftover strawberries and cream from the chocolate fondue. Couldn't have been sweeter-extra points for carrying the romance into the a.m.! (and for using leftovers so cleverly...)

Kim O'Donnel: Breakfast in bed, too? Wow. Luckie thing you. Don't let him go.

Washington, D.C.: Romantic food story: It was my freshman year in college and my boyfriend was knocked out by mononucleosis. He wasn't eating much so I decided to fix him a romantic dinner (or as romantic as it could be) to get his strength back. Only problem was, the dorm didn't have a kitchen and we weren't allowed to have any sort of open burners. Nevertheless, I managed to make him a meal of what I call tuna a la king (basically a can of tuna mixed with a bechamel sauce - cooked in a hot pot!) over some rice. That turned out okay, but the dessert was a disaster. I made him some strawberry jello - his favorite but because the fridge was so small and I guess I did something wrong - the jello refused to set and was a liquidy mess. Nevertheless, he ate a couple of bites, was touched by my effort, and managed to stay awake for a few hours. The meal must have worked some magic though, since nine years later we're engaged.

Kim O'Donnel: I love this one. You win the prize, Washington. Please email me your mailing address. Just hope you have graduated beyond tuna bechamel a la king!

Edible Flowers: .... can be found at the Fresh Fields on P street in the District (in the fresh herb section).

Kim O'Donnel: Excellent. Thanks for this!

Beautiful Downtown Dulles, Va.: Per your recommendation, I have been making lunches at home and bringing them to work. It is definitly an improvement over the fare we are offered here. One thing I am having a persistent problem with is my soups coming out salty. I have often noticed when I go out that soups from restaurants are salty, so it must be an epidemic. I am not adding any extra salt or soy sauce, any idea what this could be? It has happened now in a tortilla soup and a tomato soup.

Kim O'Donnel: If you are using canned tomatoes, they've got salt to start with. Careful how you salt. Also, tortillas have salt to begin with as well. Salt only at the end but taste first!

Detour, Md.: To Washington, D.C., the blood donor: Make sure you drink lots of water before and after donating. That took care of my dizziness.

Kim O'Donnel: Geez, you guys cover the gamut, road trip snacks to blood donation snacks. Gotta love the luv.

Wash ington, D.C.: Kim --

Sparks started between my wife and me when, as casual acquaintances in grad school, we bumped into each other on the street 18+ years ago. After talking and laughing for a while, she invited me to her apartment for pork chops and rice. Although this is now one of my favorite dishes, I really didn't go for it at the time so I offered to take her to a cheap "sizzler" - type restaurant known as Buddy's Pit. We had a great time and I remember thinking that the food was the best I'd ever tasted. On our first "official" date, we went to a bar, where she proceeded to put ice in her beer and eat carrots and celery that she had in her backpack. I thought that these were the most bizarre culinary habits I had ever seen. Needlesss to say, we got married a little over a year later.

Kim O'Donnel: The variety of culinary romances in this group is overwhelming and inspiring.

Arlington, Va.: For WDC, I occasionally experience burn out in the kitchen. The hardest part for me is to think up a menu when I get home late from work, which results in going out or grabbing some fast food. Some weekend planning and good pantry stocking help a lot. Another thing that helps getting me out of the rut is watching cooking show (finally got the food network on cable). Lots of good idea that just inspire me to cook something outside my repertoire.

Kim O'Donnel: More therapy for our pobrecita...

D.C.: Just a thought to share as people work up Valentine's Day menus....

When planning special meals, folks default to high fat goodies like steak. I'm all for letting yourself eat a treat like that once in a while, but there are also choices that are healthier. Last night I made flounder stuffed with onions, celery, and apple. It was definitely appropriate for a special meal, and it's a good choice for someone who is on a diet or has other health reasons. Don't want to leave those folks out...

Kim O'Donnel: Yes, and the other night I poached a piece of turbot in some veg stock, with leeks, garlic, fresh parsley and cherry tomatoes. It was delish, could have been romantic and quite nutritious.

yum...: Do not need the book, but I wanted to share.

A few years ago had my wisdom teeth taken out. It was a horrible experience. I was out for five days. My girlfriend drove from college to surprise me with a milkshake.

Best thing eva'

Kim O'Donnel: Always love to hear the stories; thanks yum.

Arlington, Va.: Hi Kim,

I got some good caviar in the frig. What is your suggestion for eating them eggs: just put on toast for starter or should I use it in some sort of main dish. Plus, how long will it last refrigerated ? (I don't think we are going to finish the whole box if going the appetizer way).

Kim O'Donnel: on a spoon. on toast points. with champagne. c'est tout. won't last more than a few days, once opened. have a ball.

Nanita: Heya Kim,

I'm sending this Monday since I won't be in Tuesday. Well here goes...

This isn't exactly a V-day related question, but it is love-related! My sister is getting married in August and has asked me to ask you (or any fellow Chowhounds) for recommendations for good Caribbean and Ecuadorian cookbooks. (We're of Ecuadorian descent, he's of Puerto Rican descent).

She and her fiance want to have some Latin foods served at the wedding reception and are on the hunt for good books with good recipes.

Thanks a lot and Happy Valentine's Day!

P.S. I highly recommend a fairly new book called "Intercourses." It's an aphrodisiac cookbook, (not to worry, it's tastefully done). I tried the "Strawberry Empanadas" yesterday and they were wonderful!! Wednesday I'll try one of the chocolate desserts!

Kim O'Donnel: My fave Caribbean book is Culinaria: The Caribbean by Rosemary Parkinson, a friend of mine who lives in Barbados. Altho it's more of a reference, more coffee table liek, less for kitchen use, it's chockful of photos, recipes and is the most comprehensive thing I've seen to date. More latino: look at Bistro Latino, for a Colombian edge, by Rafael Palomino...and yes, I love intercourses. Darn it, don't know where my copy is. Some love bird must have copped it.

Washington, D.C.: My husband and I come from the same small, rural town in New England... met randomly here in D.C., if you can believe it.

When we were dating, I surprised him with a strawberry-rhubarb pie (his favorite). Unfortunately, I covered the pie with foil and let it set in the fridge overnight. The crust was completely soggy the next day when I brought it to him, but my husband was so touched at the gesture... he spooned the whole mess over ice cream, and raved on and on about how tasty it was.

Even now that I can make a proper dessert, he requests soggy pie occasionally for his ice cream.

Kim O'Donnel: Your stories, all of you, are inspiring and unbelievably romantic.

Washington: Dear Kim,

How far in advance can I buy fish before cooking? I tend to be a little paranoid, so I would prefer to buy the same day. But due to work, I have to buy my salmon tonight for dinner tomorrow night. Just curious what you recommend.


Kim O'Donnel: If you buy tonight, it will be fine tomorrow night. But no more than that, ya hear?

male cook: to Rockgirl: don't say anything to him. Just thank him for a great dinner and leave it at that. If you say something about the acid he may never step in the kitchen again.

Kim O'Donnel: Interesting. Alwasy good to get a dude perspective.

Washington, D.C.: Hi, Kim. I submitted this last week and you asked me to re-submit today.

I'd like to make lamb for my 5th anniversary, and I've never made it before, though I'm a fairly adept cook. I really like it in restaurants when there is kind of a crust on the outside and it's med-rare inside. How to do? I need details! And what do I buy? Rack of lamb?

Also, if you suggest using rosemary in the lamb, could you suggest a side? I had planned red potatoes in olive oil w/rosemary, so I don't want to overdo it.

Thanks SO much!

Kim O'Donnel: You can do rack of lamb or you can do lamb stew or lamb shanks...email me, let's tawk, since it's past the hour.

east coast: Hi kim - making a sweet frittata for v-day "dinner" but I don't have a skillet that can go in the oven to finish it off. Any suggestions, or will I have to go buy one? If so, where can I get one without spending an arm and a leg?

Kim O'Donnel: Yeah, you'll need a skillet. Try Target, for bargains and a decent selection.

Adams-Morgan: Hey Kim --

Don't want the book, but I thought I'd share my romantic food bit. On our first real date (when I cooked for him), I made a peach pie out of frozen homemade filling from juicy sweet summer peaches a few months before (the date was in the dreariness of March). Now that he's my husband, he still waxes on about that pie...

Happy day to all.

Kim O'Donnel: More good lovin from this crew...can't get enough.

Arlington, Va.: One year, my husband made V-day dinner using red ingredients as the theme. Red snapper in blood orange sauce and homemade strawberry ice cream. It was amazing and a bit hard for him to top it now.

Kim O'Donnel: Cute!

Washington, D.C.: Hello Kim, I am cooking for my hubby tomorrow, I have the menu I just need help on the marinade/flavor combination. A pork tenderlion (can't decide to bbq it or bake) with risotto and asparagus. what sort of risotto would mesh well with a pork marinade. Thanks and happy V-day!

Kim O'Donnel: Mushroom risotto would be nice. And don't bbq the pork, just roast with some garlic and rosemary. Simple, think simple!

Dupont Circle: Romantic dinner- For my bf's birthday, right before xmas, and my trip home to CT, I had limited $$ and even more limited time. So, rather than a complicated restaurant dinner, I made a nice, romantic dinner at home. Recipie for success? Talented Mr. Ripley soundtrack (great jazz), pear and walnut mesclun salad, great Chianti, porcini risotto made with the best parmasean I could find, and homemade mini carrot cakes with cream cheese frosting. He hung out in the kitchen with me as I stirred and stirred, the smells were AMAZING, and the conversation even better. It's just so great to have someone in the kitchen with you sharing the food love. With the tree lit, the candles on, and the great food and company it was a great night. Plus, noone had ever cooked dinner for him like that before. It was quiet, peaceful, romantic, and a nice breather before the madness of the holidays.

Kim O'Donnel: Sharing the food love, yes, that's what it's all about, Dupont. Sounds like you two are on the way to culinary bliss. Have a wonderful day tomorrow.

Va.: Hi Kim,

I am headed to SF soon. Could you recommend any farmer's markets worth visiting, or any other foodie destinations?

I know this doesn't fit into the chat, but please?

Kim O'Donnel: let's discuss this next week, okay? i'm all ears.

Janet from another planet: I made linzer cookies (sandwich cookies with a cutout, jam in the middle, powdered sugar on top) this weekend for V-day. I haven't put them together yet because I was afraid the jam might go bad. Did I need to worry about that? Also, how should I store them once they're put together (I'm doing them tonight to give away tomorrow)? Right now I have them in tupperware at room temp.


Kim O'Donnel: wax paper or parchment paper-lined airtight container. no, the jam won't go bad. just have fun, janet.

Kim O'Donnel: Well, you certainly have inspired me today. Your stories are fan-bloody-tastic. Reminds me-- blood oranges are a wonderfully romantic item, as well as ugli fruit! And of course, the trusted mango. Whatever you do, with whomever you spend the day, enjoy yourselves tomorrow. But more importantly, spread the love of food and cooking 24/7, 365, not just on this measly greeting card day of the year. Who says expression of love is reserved only for 24 hours out of the year? Mangia bene, spread some joy, eat some jam, peel an orange and smell it. And I'll see you next week, love hangovers and all. Ciao.

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