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

Tuesday, April 17, 2001; Noon EDT

Calling all foodies! Join us today at noon for What's Cooking, our live online culinary hour with Kim O'Donnel.

A graduate of Peter Kump's New York Cooking School, Kim spends much of her time in front of the stove or with her nose in a cookbook.

If you couldn't make the live event, you can always send Kim O'Donnel an e-mail or drop in on the What's Cooking message boards.

The transcript follows.

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'm becoming a vegetarian," has become a common phrase in the office since last week's expose on the horrific conditions
in U.S. slaughterhouses. The stories of animals being skinned alive and remaining conscious after being stunned are enough to make one swear off meat for good. However, the conditions under which the animals are killed is only one snapshot of this situation. There are other issues to consider, including diet and conditions under which the animals live, from time of birth. Something like a vegetarian diet for the livestock could make all the difference in the world. It's been determined that mad-cow disease, also known as BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) in the cattle world, was caused by infected animal by-products in the feed for cattle in the UK.

But I'm not here to talk about the specifics of mad cow or further expose the horrors that the paper did so well. If last week's series spooked you, that's good. But don't let it make you feel powerless. There are alternatives to conventionally raised meat -- and it's not just veggies. I've spent the better part of the past week researching the landscape, talking to folks on the supply side, the policy and advocacy side and the retail side. Let's try and break it down.

Let's refer to the big meat suppliers and packers (and their products) as "conventional." They're also the same folks that tend to use antibiotics, growth hormones, pesticides, herbicides, preservatives and animal by-products. After mad-cow made everyone mad (and people died), a ban on animal products in cattle feed was passed in the States.

So, you see, it's not just about the slaughter, it's about the life and welfare of the the animal right up until that moment. Theo Weenning, Mid-Atlantic meat coordinator for Fresh Fields, related a story about Mel Coleman, owner of Coleman Natural Products (we'll get to them in a jiff), who said his goal is that the animals have only one bad day in their lives.

So what do you as a consumer need to know what's considered humane treatment of the animals? I got the lowdown from one of the chowhounds, who works for Organic Crop Improvement Association, International, in Lincoln, Nebraska. OCIA is the world's largest organic certification agency, which menans it's accredited to inspect facilities and make sure they're maintaining the standards established, in cooperation with USDA and IFOAM (International Federation of Organic Agricultural Movements). There are somewhere between 30 and 40 organic certification agenices in the States. The conditions you want to know are:
Access to outdoors and natural light; free movement up to 2 acres per animal; access to shelter, bedding, food and fresh water; no feed lots; no animal byproducts, manure or preservatives in the feed; no physical alteration (except dehorning, castration and feather clipping) -- and that's all before the slaughter.

All these conditions are met by folks who not only get the thumbs up by OCIA but for those who process and sell "naturally raised" meat. Now this is where things get murky. Although minute, there are even differences between Natural and Organic. Both categories are committed to the welfare of the animal. The big difference is that "organic" must be fed "certified organic" feed, be raised on certifed organic land and must be slaughtered by a certified organic butcher. It's a committment to the environment.

To complicate matters further, the term "organic" is in the midst of an identity crisis. On April 21, the National Organic Plan (NOP), which has been approved by the USDA, will go into effect. What that means is that there will be a national standard for everything called "certified organic." The NOP will be implemented within 18 months. As good as it is to have a standard, there are lots of holes in the legislation and still lots of gray areas. What if something is partially organic, for example?

The term "natural" is also vague and subject to interpretation. According to the USDA, "natural" meat means "minimally processed with no artificial ingredients." Well, duh. There's no reference to how an animal is raised or what it has been fed. In fact, Fresh Fields' Wassning tells me that he's try to coin a new phrase -- "pure" meat -- which means no antibiotics, no hormones, no animal byproducts in feed.

Lee Arst, the CEO/President of Coleman Natural Products, the country's largest producer of natural beef, told me about the label Coleman designed (with USDA approval) that states that their beef has "no antibiotics, growth hormones from the the time the animals are born."

Let's compare that with the practices of one of the major conventional producers: Tysons's Foods proudly states on its Web site that "dead birds make up only a small part of the nearly 30 million pounds of chicken and hog residual products a week, from farms and Tyson production facilities that are recylced into feed-grade products for poultry feed, cattle feed and pet food ingredients."

Today, I'm focusing only on beef. If poultry and pork are of interest, just say so and we'll continue this conversation next week. So, how's that for an intro? Questions, anyone?

Silver Spring, Md.: I want to try the rhubarb-strawberry cake recipe you gave out a while ago but I haven't been able to find rhubarb at the nearest Giant, Safeway or Superfresh. I've never used it before -- is it a low-demand item that stores don't often carry, or out of season, or a short shelf-life vegetable, or what? Should I be looking in a store that carries more 'specialty' stuff? Farmer's markets?

Kim O'Donnel: I would definitely check the farm markets this weekend -- and I'd check Fresh Fields as well. It does have a season, but I believe it's still around for a bit. Any rhubarb sightings, folks?

Saudi Arabia: Hi. I used to live in Malta and loved having caponata and bruschetta for lunch. Do you know any good caponata recipes, preferably one with lotsa capers (my favorite vegetable)? Thanks

Kim O'Donnel: Wow -- really are you writing from SA? For caponata, you've got to have these key ingredients, in additional to eggplant and capers -- tomatoes, onions, anchovies, olives, olive oil, and vinegar. I'm going to ask the kids if they've got any good recipes in their treasure troves...

Alexandria, Va.: Why, when baking cakes and pies, is one usually instructed to add the vanilla or other extract last? For the recipes I use, it's usually butter + sugar first, then eggs, then flour (alternated with milk if it's a pound cake), then extract. As a scientist, I find the science of cooking interesting.

Kim O'Donnel: I don't know the science of extract, Alexandria. But I will try to oblige and research for you this week.

Alexandria VA: Hi Kim - where's the warm spring weather?! Hope you're hanging in there with the dearth of sunshine lately.
Help - I have been thinking (for years now) about trying to recreate a recipe that my French host mother made when I was studying abroad. She called it "Poulet Dakar" (she had spent some time in North Africa) and as I remember she made it in a pressure cooker - basically I think it was a whole chicken cut up, 5 or so onions quartered and 5 or lemons halved. I think she just threw it all in the cooker and let it go. Served it with rice topped with a creme fraiche/lemon juice combo. It was wonderful. I've never been able to locate a recipe that seems to be close to hers.
I guess my question is about the pressure cooker - I don't have one and I'm a little afraid of the darn things. Could I do the same thing in a covered pot on the stove or baked in the oven? And do you have any good recommendations for African cookbooks.
Sorry for the long question - thanks for all the culinary 'luv' that comes from these Tuesday lunches!

Kim O'Donnel: The recipe sounds delish, Alexandria, and would be great for this kind of weather. Where else in the world can you go from 75 degrees to 40 in one day but Washington? If pressure cookers aren't your thing, you can use a heavy dutch oven or enamel coated pot on stove or in oven. Just make sure the pot is heavy, sturdy and oven-proof.

Laurel, MD: Hi Kim! Keep up the great advice! I must admit I had a paniced moment on Easter Sunday. I bought some beautiful strawberries on Friday for Easter dessert. By Sunday, they spoiled. I thought strawberries should be left out of hte refrigerator like tomatoes to keep their flavor. In hindsight, I think I know the answer but would like your insights.

Kim O'Donnel: Well, it's true that strawberries are best left out, but the reality is that they'll rot oh so quickly. It's okay to fridge them -- they mold up faster than you can blink, unlike tomatoes.

Lothian, Md.: Kim -- We have been using quite a lot of garlic lately, so I bought a 3 lb. bag at Sam's Club over the weekend. We use it raw and cook with it but LOVE it roasted. Question -- if I roast a lot of bulbs (so it's ready when we want it) can I store it in the fridge and, if so, for how long?

Kim O'Donnel: I've roasted a few heads of garlic at once and kept in a plastic container in fridge to hold me over for a few days. Sure, go for it.

Novice Cook, Va.: Hi, Kim. I have two questions today. First, I found a really great baked veggie recipe on allrecipes.com. It's really great b/c it's easy to make and it tastes yummy. Could you or anyone else recommend other ways to cook tasty veggies as a side?

Second, can you or anyone else recommend other good recipe websites?


Kim O'Donnel: What kinds of veg, dear? Need more info.

Annapolis, Md.: Good morning & thanks for taking my 2 part question. Do you (or any of the readers) know where I can get Dover sole in the Washington area? And, is it really from Dover, UK? Any preparation suggestions would be appreciated. Many thanks.

Kim O'Donnel: Yes, the real thing comes from Europe, but make sure to ask your fishmonger if it's sole or flounder. Who's got an idea on where to get sole, by the way? Being in Annapolis, you've probably got more options that we do, closer to the city.

Reston, 20190: As someone who has helped out at hog slaughtering and gone hunting I have always been aware of the details of slaughtering, at least on a small farm scale. I wonder how many people, in this increasingly suburbanized culture, have ever seen animals killed, blooded, and butchered. Much less participated in the same. I, personally, have been cooking ground meat to well done for years, because I know what it can be contaminated with. To tell the truth, I'm more concerned with the conditions that the workers are subjected to in slaughterhouses than that which the animals are subjected to. Improving one will, I think, improve the other. And please note that hunters are quite well aware of how much an animal suffers when it isn't cleanly killed. Many hunters have had to finish off an animal that was wounded.

Kim O'Donnel: You're right, Reston. We as a society are so far removed from the process that this crisis almost doesn't even touch the nerves. Absolutely, the labor conditions have been cited as disastrous -- but both need to be addressed, simultaneously.

Downtown D.C.: Thought-provoking intro today. It's interesting to learn what "natural" and "organic" actually mean when applied to meat. What about kosher and halal meat? I know that the animals are slaughtered more humanely, however, I've never read anything about how the animals are raised.

Kim O'Donnel: I haven't been able to dive into kosher and halal as yet. There's so much stuff to week through, but I promise, as long as you guys want to know, I'll keep plugging away. Dr. Temple Grandin, an animal science professor who was online last week, said that just because meat is called kosher or halal doesn't guarantee that it's been processed humanely, that we need to know if the process of restraining and holding the animal at slaughter time. Wagshal's Market in the Spring Valley section of the city, buys exclusively whole steer carcasses from two Baltimore-based kosher slaughterhouses, says head butcher Greg Prest. What we need to know now is how do these slaughterhouses do business...

New York: I'm not heartless, but I am a little concerned by the whole "organic" mvoement. It's a nice idea, but so-called "factory" farming of meats and veggies with chemicals and modern techniques is what allows us to feed everyone. Without such techniques, there simply wouldn't be enough food, and there's no proof that such stuff is, as a whole, necessarily safer.

I'm curious if the would-be Sinclair Lewis who wrote the slaughterhouse piece was a vegetarian when he wrote this Post series?

Kim O'Donnel: Actually, what most of don't realize is that we need to start talking about sustainable agriculture instead of "organic" this or that. Small farmers like Forrest Pritchard, who runs Smithfield Farm, a 7th-generation family farm in Berrville, Va, can't afford to be "organic" but he tells me that his beef and veal are raised right on the mother, pasture-fed and raised without pesticides, herbicides, commercial fertilizers or wormers. Wouldn't you rather see the industry go in this direction -- with folks who actually care about what you eat?

Organic Chowhound: Hi, Kim, it's me from OCIA in Lincoln NE. Just wanted you to know I made it today, and if any of the chowhounds have questions regarding organic, certification, and OCIA, I'm more than willing to answer!

Kim O'Donnel: Thanks ever so.

Washington, D.C.: Do we have any reason to believe that even if an animal has been raised with all the things you pointed out (light, 2 acres on which to roam, etc.) and fed organic food, that they will be killed in a more humane way than other animals?

Kim O'Donnel: Well, when Theo Weening gets back from his sem-annual tour of Coleman this week, I'll ask him what he saw firsthand. Inspections are done all the time, often unannounced. Pritchard at Smithfield tells me that the his animals go from pasture to butcher within 2 hours. One of OCIA's requirements is that animals can not be held in slaughter pens overnight, that the process must be swift.

Dupont: Whoa. Quite an intro. I, for one, would definitely be interested in learning more about the poultry industry as well. (If we dare...) I remember in 9th grade, I saw a TV program about the beef industry, & was so grossed out, I stopped eating beef. But since I haven't yet seen that sort of thing, I'm content to keep on with chicken. But I am curious...

Kim O'Donnel: It's worse with chicken. But of course, there are alternatives. By the way, the American Humane Association's Farm Services launched a Free Farm program last September. What that means is producers can apply and if they meet the requirements (also approved by USDA), they can label themselves as a "free farmed" product. Giant Foods carries Springer Mountain chicken, for example. Meyer natural beef in Montana is another -- carried by Fresh Fields. Other larger natural producers -- Coleman, as I mentioned, Bell & Evans and Eberly for chicken.

Washington, D.C.: Hi Kim,
How exactly would one be able to find out how animals are treated by the farms that provide meats to supermarkets, e.g. Safeway?
Beef doesn't really come in brand names v. generic, so how can one find out about the animal's treatment? Does meat obtained through more humane means always necessarily cost more? Is the only hope shopping at specialty stores or are there supermarkets that may carry it?

Kim O'Donnel: See my answer above about the free-farmed label and the names of producers to look for. I've also heard of Laura's lean meat, but I still need to explore -- I understand that Safeway carries this brand. Giant as I said, carries the Springer Mountain chicken. The situation will change as consumers demand change. I expect you'll see more conscientious producers in the mass market scene, at least that's what Adele Douglass, head of the Free Farmed program tells me. Fresh Fields carries only meat that's been treated humanely. Dean & Deluca and Sutton Place have not returned my calls. Wagshal's, as I mentioned, buys from Baltimore kosher slaughterhouses. I will keep digging.

Reston, 20190: I think someone mentioned this last week, but it bears repeating. People who are concerned with the slaughtering methods used in commercial slaughterhouses should visit their local kosher or halal markets. The Jewish and Islamic faiths have very strict rules concerning the slaughtering methods used.

Kim O'Donnel: Yes, but as I mentioned, it's important to know how the animals are being restrained just before butchering. Apparently, some kosher slaughterhouses have teamed up with non-Kosher slaughterhouses, and this is the piece you've got to know.

Washington, D.C.: Love the intro, Kim. The inhumane, unhealthy treatment of animals destined for slaughterhouses is exactly why I went veg 5 years ago. I didn't know there were so many humane choices, it is good to know. I'm pretty tofu-oriented now, so I don't see myself turning back, but I am glad that it is possible for meat-lovers to feel better about what they put in their bodies.

Here's why I'm actually writing: I've been interested in the slow food, eat locally movement, but I realized something this morning. If I followed that religiously, that means I would never eat a mango in my life. Or a pineapple, or a tangerine. Or, for that matter, rice. I'm originally from Northern New England, and the prospects of eating only locally in say, February, seems a little grim. Do you think this is what the proponents of this style of eating really intend?

Kim O'Donnel: You break open another whole box, DC. Slow food movement was founded in response to McDonald's opening a store on the Roman steps...and part of its mission is to preserve traditional food preparation, artisan food technique and the artisans and indigenous ingredients. I don't think that means we can't enjoy a mango from Mexico. But that is a conversation we can have at another time.

McLean, Va.: The Safeway on Harrison in Arlington has rhubarb.

Kim O'Donnel: Thanks, McLean.

Falls Church, Va.: Can anybody recommend a good halal or kosher market in the Arlington area? All this scary new information has made me swear off Giant and Safeway meat for good. Do you think it's pretty safe to assume that because the very definition of halal is about cleanliness, it's safe to go to any halal butcher without a recommendation? I'm trying to balance affordable meat with doing the right thing health - and environmentwise.

Kim O'Donnel: See my answer above. You need to develop a relationship with your butcher, once you find one. Ask him/her where they are getting their meat. If they have nothing to hide, then they shouldn't have a problem telling you about their source.

LVie, D.C.: Just a thought about the poor single working mother of three who read those articles but has to buy whatever is on special to manage her food budget. I can afford to shop at Fresh Fields, etc, and I would guess a lot of the other chowhounds can too -- but I know I'm really lucky to be able to do so. Any ideas on how to achieve both 'natural' and reasonable prices?

Kim O'Donnel: Well, I thought about that too, but I'm finding that the difference in price ranges from 20 cents to $3 per pound between conventional and natural meats. But I need to do more research. Also, the more consumers who want the stuff, the less "boutique" it becomes, you know what I'm saying? Those who can afford must be the pioneers.

Sticks for CAPONATA:
A good friend gave me this recipe for Caponata

1 medium eggplant, unpeeled, finely chopped
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup coarsely chopped mushrooms
1/3 cup chopped green pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 cup vegetable oil-
1/2 cup chopped stuffed green olives
1/4 cup chopped ripe olives
1/4 cup drained capers
3 tablespoons pine nuts
6 ounces tomato paste
1/3 cup water
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon oregano

-I use just enough oil to keep the vegetables from sticking to the pan. Because they have such a high water
content, they quickly provide moisture in the pan. I've tried it with the full 1/3 cup and with 2 tablespoons of oil,
and I can't taste the difference. Also, I prefer olive oil.

In large enamel saucepan combine eggplant, onion, mushrooms, green pepper, garlic and oil.
Simmer covered 10 minutes.

Add remaining ingredients; mix well and simmer covered 25 minutes, stirring occasionally. Eggplant should be
cooked but not overly soft.

Refrigerate overnight (may be frozen).

Serve at room temperature with crackers or cocktail pumpernickel.

An excellent first course served on lettuce-lined plates. May also be used as a stuffing for tomatoes to
accompany meat dishes.

Kim O'Donnel: Thanks Sticks, as always.

Washington, D.C.: There was an interesting article in the Post's Outlook section that explains the many tradeoffs in farming. For example, he writes "On my farm, I can't count the number of lambs and ewes that simply would have dropped dead -- and the many more that would have endured much needless suffering -- were it not for antibiotics, vaccinations and worming medications, all of which are taboo to organic producers." and "It is obviously better to reduce the use of chemicals. But on the other hand, the farmers in our area who practice no-till farming of their field crops -- which requires the use of chemical herbicides to control weeds -- have, for example, made a major contribution to the health of the Chesapeake Bay by reducing soil erosion. " The more you read, the more complicated it gets...

On a totally unrelated note, any hints on roasting a head of garlic? Other than olive oil, do you suggest adding any herbs or spices?

washingtonpost.com: "They're Serving Up a Pastoral Fantasy: But Small Farms Aren't the Answer to Every Agricultural Crisis" by Stephen Budiansky (April 15, 2001) http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A17442-2001Apr14.html

Kim O'Donnel: It is so complicated, I agree. Which is why I've only hit the tip of the iceberg. When it comes to roasting garlic, I just spritz it with a touch of olive oil and wrap it in foil til soft. That simple.

Arlington: The Giant near Va. Square had rhubarb last week.

One issue with the kosher beef is that some of it is imported from S. American countries without the same humane slaughter laws, leading to much suffering for the animals which are hung alive by their back legs for slaughter. So just because the label says kosher, absolutely does not mean it was slaughtered "humanely."

Kim O'Donnel: Thanks for rhubarb sighting. And yes, all the stuff coming out, kosher or not, means you must ask your butcher and become informed. Places to get info: ocia.org, organicconsumers.org, ota.com (organic trade association), freefarmed.org. Also, usda.gov, the Web site of the USDA, has background on the NOP.

Austin, Tex., re caponata:: Here's my favorite version:

2 lbs. eggplant, peeled and cubed
1 c. olive oil
2 onions, chopped
1 lb tomatoes, peeled, seeded and cubed
1/2 c. olives, sliced
3 Tbs. capers, drained
3 celery stalks, chopped
1/4 c. red wine vinegar
2 Tbs. sugar
8 basil leaves, chopped

Salt and drain eggplant cubes for 1 hour. Heat 1/4 c. oil and saute onions for 10 mins. Add tomatoes, olives and capers and simmer for 30 minutes. In separate ban, heat 1/4 c oil and saute eggplant, adding more oil as necessary. Drain excess oil after sauteing is completed. Add tomato mixutre, celery, vinegar, and sugar. Simmer for 3-4 minutes, then remove from heat and stir in basil.

Oh, and BTW, our temperature here dropped from 88 degrees yesterday afternoon to the mid-50s this morning... and it's going down, LOL!

Kim O'Donnel: Another caponata recipe for the road. Thanks, Austin!

For Falls Church: Halalco in Falls Church provides very good Halal meat

Kim O'Donnel: Thanks for this tidbit.

20815: I have purchased rhubarb at both Fresh Fields (Wisconsin Ave.) and Safeway (Bethesda off of Bradley Blvd.). I think the Fresh Fields rhubarb was of slightly higher quality, but both were expensive. At $5 per lb, it can get expensive when you use several stalks! But it is definitely worth it. I love the recipe of Strawberry-Rhubarb Cobbler topped with Cornmeal Biscuits off of the www.epicurious.com website. I have made it twice this week!!!!!!

Also, this rhubarb is hot-house. Any garden variety available in the area? (I remember that my Grandma's rhubarb has a stronger flavor).

Kim O'Donnel: Thanks for all the rhubarb tips, 20815. I would check farm markets for non-hot house variety.

Germantown, Md.: Like your Reston poster, I am far more concerned with the conditions of the workers than the animals. It really doesn't bother me too much. But I know it bothers other people. There is a Lancaster Market in Germantown, run by Mennonites. Would their process be considered organic/humane? This might be a good source, although an expensive source, of meat for those who were squeamish.

Kim O'Donnel: Next time you visit the Mennonites, ask them how they process their meat. I bet they will tell you the whole deal.

in response to "not heartless": Do you know how much food is wasted in this country every day? Do you know that in this country, we consume way more than the human body actually needs? That is one of the biggest problems - our consumption and wasteful tendencies are out of control. We buy more than we need, we order more than we need, and we either pack it in (hello weight problems) or throw it away. In addition to thinking about the labor conditions in slaughterhouses and the treatment of animals, we need to confront our role as consumers, and the impact of marketers (beef - it's what's for dinner; got milk? etc) on those roles.

Kim O'Donnel: Well, this also speaks to our population explosion.

Washington, D.C.: Hi Kim,

I recently read somewhere that meat producers are planning to try to instill brand name awareness, much as chicken suppliers have done. I'm sure their goal is to be able to charge more for brand names, but it may make it easier to identify suppliers that you want to deal with. Regarding kosher meats, my understanding is that the killing and butchering process is not any more humane, and may even be worse. Presumably, these are smaller operations, and may be somewhat better because of that.

Kim O'Donnel: See my earlier messages about freefarmed.org. This program involves a labelling system identifying humanely raised meat.

Washington, D.C.: Affording natural/organic meat:

First off, paying a bit more for the meat, but using less of it (and more veggies) would be a good idea for many of us anyhow. Meat budget would stay the same, meat eaten would be of higher quality, and diet would be more varied.

Second, yes, it is a premium product now. But prices have already started to drop, as more and more people demand it. If more of us make it plain that's what we want, it WILL become mainstream, and more affordable.

Kim O'Donnel: Yes and yes.

My Vegetable Days: Hello Kim- I just wanted to share a cooking success I had for Easter. I made a salad of asparagus spears alternating with orange sections in a sunburst pattern- then piled on a mixed green salad toppped with red onions. I tossed the greens with the best dressing I have ever made- white wine vinegar, lemon juice, orange juice, touch of garlic, salt, pepper, olive oil and fresh tarragon and basil. I'm still pumped about the results. Happy Spring!

Kim O'Donnel: A nice report from the kitchen. Glad to hear of your success and your smiles.

Washington, D.C.: OK, but production of meat isn't really the question for me. I long ago went to eating only organic free-range meat, and veggies when such meat was not available. What about slaughter?

As to rhubarb - saw some on Sunday at Fresh Fields on P St.

Kim O'Donnel: What about slaughter? What do you want to know? Thanks for the rhubarb tidbit. Rhubarb is out there, folks, in full regalia.

Falls Church, Va.: Kim, I really appreciate you doing all this legwork on what's organic and what's natural, etc. etc. My husband and I were both so disturbed by the series in the Post that we didn't eat meat for a few days. That said, I do like to eat beef. I worked in a butcher shop for a year, but we got our sides of beef from a Baltimore place, so I never was on the slaughtering side. Just the cut-a-flank-steak, cut-a-strip-steak side. However, I would be willing to eat less beef, but pay more once a week for a product I knew was more humanely raised and processed. I am looking forward to what you hear about Coleman.

Kim O'Donnel: Check out Coleman's Web site: colemannatural.com. It's quite informative. CEO Lee Arst has been very accessible. So just let me know what you want to know. He's expecting my call, actually.

20005: I bought rhubarb at the farmer's market in Old Town Alexandria on Saturday. Made the strawberry/rhubarb cake for Easter. Yummy!

Kim O'Donnel: More rhubarb!

"I'm Becoming a Vegetarian!": I really like meat but almost choked over the Post's articles last week. I've been looking into vegetarian diets since last summer and am even more compelled to try it now. Meat can be such an excellent source of protein and iron though. How do vegans keep these nutrients in their diets? (I'm also off dairy products, so no milk & yogurt protein sources either) Also, do you have a favorite tofu or vegan recipe to recommend? Thanks Kim!

Kim O'Donnel: We can have a meat-free hour one day soon, but for now I'll offer this question to the folks to help you through. May I remind you -- you have options. Eating more veg is always a good thing, but if you don't want to do it fulltime, there are ways to go about this situation.

Bethesda, Md.: Hi Kim:

Thanks for the excellent information today! In light of the discussion today, I thought that you and the chowhounds might be interested in a vegan dinner I made for friends who just adopted a baby. (I'm the person who posted the question about a vegan tea a few weeks ago--that's coming off in a couple of weeks). I made a wonderful soup with red lentils, wild rice, and apricots (sounds weird, but tastes great), accompanied by a composed salad made of canned grape leaves stuffed with rice, arranged like the spokes of a wheel on top of romaine lettuce, with garbanzos in the middle and alternating red and green peppers and grape tomatoes on the outside. I used a little oil from the dolmas along with squeezes of fresh lemon and ground pepper to season it. For dessert, I made a fruit salad with honeydew melon balls, kiwi fruit and strawberries (they were the best thing at the market that day) with wedges of lime and mint leaves.

You had suggested grilled fruit for the tea, but I haven't been able to find a good recipe and my previous attempts at grilling fruit were not successful. Do you oil the grill and the fruit; use a grill basket or aluminum foil on the grill? And what (if anything) do you season the fruit with, and do you season it before or after grilling?


Kim O'Donnel: This is a timely comment, Bethesda. Glad to hear your party went well. Hot grill. Or grill pan. I've had luck with pineapple, apples, bananas and starfruit.

Organic Chowhound: To the statement that we must use chemicals to adequately feed the world...I don't know if this should turn into a political discussion...but the use of factory farms and chemical production currently don't feed the world. But that isn't due to production techniques. Organic farming CAN feed the world, conventional farming CAN feed the world. The reason people do not have enough food is due to trade restrictions, poor distrubution systems, and ineffective ways of ensuring global distribution of food. Currently the amount of food thrown away in the US and Canada annually could feed the entire continent of Africa for a year. There's a lot more to feeding the world than the system used to grow the food.

Kim O'Donnel: Thanks for chiming in. This gives some need context to the conversation. All of it is very political. All of it is also very personal.

French Toast: Hi all,

I won't be able to make it to the chat but wanted to share an amazing but easy dish I had this weekend. My friend made creme brulee french toast for a group of us and it was phenomenal. You bake it and the bottom gets all caramelized, there's no need for extra syrup or butter on top. It's unbelievably rich but delicious.1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
1 cup packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons corn syrup
an 8- to 9-inch Challah
5 large eggs
1 1/2 cups half-and-half
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon Grand Marnier
1/4 teaspoon salt

Melt butter with brown sugar and corn syrup over moderate heat, stirring, until smooth and pour into a 13- by 9- by 2-inch baking dish. Cut six 1-inch thick slices from center portion of bread. Arrange bread slices in one layer in baking dish.
Whisk together eggs, half-and-half, vanilla, Grand Marnier, and salt until combined well and pour evenly over bread. Chill bread mixture, covered, at least 8 hours and up to 1 day.
Preheat oven to 350 F. and bring bread to room temperature.
Bake bread mixture, uncovered, until puffed and edges are pale golden, 35 to 40 minutes.


Kim O'Donnel: This is a nice diversion, dear. Thanks for adding a little levity to the hour.

Arlington, Va.: So...for someone who doesn't want to totally give up beef and chicken, where can I go to buy "organic" meat? Fresh Fields? I haven't seen organic or natural meat at Giant. Thanks.

Kim O'Donnel: Again, I want you guys to understand that it's not a world of "organic" versus not. It's natural and organic versus not. Chances are you'll find more natural meat than you will find organic because of the costs of being certified organic. And for retailers, see my earlier posts.

Washington, D.C.: Vegan recipes-

I like curries. Chickpea Curry, lentil curry, califlower curry. Soups too. Fried tofu with ginger sauce! Wilted spinach with toasted pine nuts and raisins.

Talk to the nice people at the Takoma Park Silver Spring co-op. Lots of vegans there, all of whom are very nice and very helpful.

Kim O'Donnel: Thanks for this tidbit. I have lots of meat-free ideas up my sleeve. I'll come up with a date to share them.

Fairfax, Va.: Kim you are awesome! This is the exact stuff that has bothered me since the article. I guess I was naive to think that living in the USA things are done right. I am interested in poultry and pork also. Maybe in this case, one person/family at a time we can make a difference. Naive again, maybe, but so what. Thanks for much for addressing this issue.

Kim O'Donnel: As a journalist and a trained cook, I suppose I've been somewhat naive as well. Those days are over, baby. We need to smarten up, arm ourselves with info to stay real.

Bethesda, Md.: I found your intro incredibly interesting -- I like eating meat and have no ethical qualms about it, but I've been seriously spooked by the recent reports. Whenever possible I buy organically-produced meat. But I've had a problem with that type of meat, specifically beef. Often when I try to saute or pan-fry it, it releases huge amounts of water/juices so that it ends up steaming/boiling rather than browning. It's happened with conventional beef too, but mostly with organic beef. Is this just a function of how the meat is raised? What can I do to prevent this from happening? Salting beforehand, maybe? Please, please help!

Kim O'Donnel: Organic and natural meat cooks faster because of the lack of additives, hormones and antibiotics. But as for searing on top of the stove, it sounds more like a method situation rather than the meat. The meat should taste better. Let's go over searing protein next week, okay? Please remind me.

Washington, D.C.: What about slaughter? Well, as I said, I buy only natural/organic/humane (no, NOT all at once) but that doesn't say that it was killed cleanly and humanely, does it? Or does it? Do the farmers control that part of the process, or once they hand over the meat to the processors is it out of their hands?

Kim O'Donnel: Based on the info I have right now, I feel comfortable saying that the farmers are part of the process, at least in monitoring and auditing. I would like to verify that, tho.

Reston, Va.: Grilling fruit:

Not much time, but a couple tips. Use firm fruit -- sometimes it's better to use fruit that is a little underripe -- strawberries, banana, mango, pineapple fall into this catagory. Also, grill at a medium temperature -- about 400F. Too hot and you can char the outside. I'm planning on making some fruit kabobs at a BBQ fest in a couple weeks. Roll the kabobs in a crepe with a little whipped cream.

Kim O'Donnel: Yes, dear. Thanks for adding on to this thread. Honey is my choice of sweet topping.

Baltimore: Kim,

Thank you so much for the information on safe and humane beef. I have insisted on buying meat and chicken only at Fresh Fields for years now (my fiance thinks I'm obsessive but who cares) and I am glad to know that I can continue to do so in good conscience. The vegetarians in the group will question this last statement, I guess. Sorry folks, not ready to go there!

I have a cooking equipment question for you. I am friends with a lovely couple who are getting married in two weeks. They are moving to Minnesota, bless their hearts, because he is going be a resident at the Mayo Clinic. I wanted to get them a "soup package" for a wedding present, you know 'cause it's cold in Minnesota, with a good stockpot, a cookbook, a ladle, and maybe some bowls. Can you recommend a good stockpot? How much will it cost? How about a soup cookbook? Thanks!

Kim O'Donnel: Well, this isn't an ethical conversation on veg versus nonveg. It's about alternatives to conventional meat. Do what feels comfortable -- all of you! James Peterson has a nice book called "Soups" and has one on chowders too. Good stuff -- he's terrific. A good stockpot? Make sure it's heavy, sturdy and durable. How much do you want to spend? By the way, I prefer stainless to anodized.

Grilling Fruit!: Soak it in Malibu rum pre grill....it is WONDERFUL!

Kim O'Donnel: Oh yeah. That sounds fabu.

Lorton: Any ideas on how to use anchovies? We have a jar of them. I lost my Food section from a few months ago discussing ways to use. Thanks!

Kim O'Donnel: Are they packed in olive oil? Fantastic in pasta with some herbs.

Grilling fruit...: Try watermelon slices, soaked in coconut rum. Yummy!

Kim O'Donnel: Ooh. But -- how to grill? So much water content?

Another baking question: Hi Kim-- made my mother-in-laws famous cinnamon chocolate cake this weekend. It was delicious, but didn't rise like it should have. I put the baking powder in before the recipe called for it... (I added it to the flour mixutre, and the recipe says to add it later, after buttermilk mixture has been added to flour mixture). What do you think about this? could adding baking powder in the wrong order have affected the rising power of the cake? Thanks!

Kim O'Donnel: How old is your baking powder? Could be expired. Check la date.

LVie, D.C.: There is a wonderful old Celtic tradition of gralloch -- the hunter offering thanks to the just killed animal for its sustance. Perhaps a custom to revive, regardless of heritage..

Kim O'Donnel: Thanks, LVie.

Copenhagen, Denmark:: Here, in Europe, specifically right here, in Denmark, lots of people are considering vegetarianism as an alternative eating style where one could be freed from the paranoia & complication of beef & all the scare stories making the rounds worldwide. I have been a vegetarian for over 30 years, and I recommend it for good health & vision
(of life) beyond easy paranoia. And, just remember, there is a larger variety of foods in the vegetable kingdom. Would anyone dare not eat beef for a year?

Kim O'Donnel: Moderation to me is more the key here. I think switching over for a period of time is always a good learning experience. But I don't think we should deprive ourselves of meat if we don't want to. The challenge is learning what;s out there -- meat, vegetables, grains -- and how it's being processed.

Grilled Fruit Favorite: Drizzle grilled pineapple with honey and lime juice.

Kim O'Donnel: Mine too. Mmm slurpy. I have a pineapple at home waiting for me.

20002: Hi Kim: I bought some fennel this weekend, but have no idea what to do with it. Can you please make some suggestions?

In addition, I recently got a fondue set as a gift. Can you please recommend a great sauce that I can have at a party with my veggie friends?

Kim O'Donnel: You can braise in stock with herbs in the oven and cook til tender, and it's just lovely. Slice thin and serve with orange segments and an orange vinaigrette. Ooh, it's good.

Kim O'Donnel: I've got to hit the road, gang. Thanks to all for your input on the meat matter. I have much more to share, if you want it. The key I want to leave you with is: learn who the players are. Get to know and recognize the product names and suppliers, get to know your retail resources, and get to know the organizations that are impacting policy. If you have any questions this week about any of this, just holler with an email. It's a motherlode of info, and I'm more than happy to break it down again and again. On that note, have a splendid week. Go forage for some rhubarb, take in the perfume of a pineapple and enjoy. See you next week. Ciao!

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