Archive: December 2006

A Toast to Toast

New Year's Eve is Sunday night. Perhaps you're like me and still have no idea how you'll ring in 2007. Unlike years past, I'm going to pass on hosting a dinner party and cooking a bunch of food, as I'm too tired, still full from Christmas and a perhaps a wee bit cash poor. Fancy toast made from your everyday larder. (Kim O'Donnel) If you're feeling my vibe, join me on the toast trail. Yeah, that's right, I'm thinking of toasting the new year with toast. Before you dismiss my proposal as no better than a bowl of Chex Mix, hear me out. Toast need not be breakfasty slabs of bread from the toaster, spread with butter and jam. It can get all spiffed up for nighttime revelry, taking on the flavors and nuances of elegant party fare. All it takes is a little creativity and some rummaging through your...

By Kim ODonnel | December 29, 2006; 10:50 AM ET | Comments (0)

The White Chili That Wasn't

It was supposed to be a white chili supper. I had visions of white beans seasoned with rosemary and garlic whispering sweet nothings to ground turkey and pearl barley. It would be lighter (i.e. lower in fat) than a classic red chili yet hearty enough to satisfy an urban cowboy and with plenty of fiber to feel virtuous. The inspiration originally came from a recipe that appeared in Bon Appetit magazine about 10 years ago, with the barley catching my eye. I asked myself out loud why I rarely use barley, one of the easiest, no-fuss grains to work with in one-pot dishes. Ground turkey and barley make for a compelling chili. (Kim O'Donnel) The original plan was to share the work with my beloved domestic co-pilot, who considers himself a chili expert. "Okay, meet you after yoga," I said, "and you can pick up the ingredients at the store."...

By Kim ODonnel | December 28, 2006; 9:13 AM ET | Comments (0)

Bites of 2006

Controversy. That's what we've been chewing on in the food world in 2006. This year's nuggets of culinary discourse have been as plentiful and juicy as an all-you-can-eat buffet. Below, a year-end smorgasbord in review, with some lingering crumbs for the whetting of next year's appetites. Fueling the "trans-fat fire" In June, the notion of trans fat as outlaw made headlines, when a Chicago city council member introduced legislation to ban the use of trans fat in restaurants there. (As a reminder, trans fat is a man-made phenomenon, the marriage of liquid vegetable oil with hydrogen, resulting in a solid, shelf-stable fat. It's found in shortening, hard margarine, snack foods and all those goodies from your favorite drive-thru window.) Although the original bill was watered down and remains in that city's legislative pipeline, the debate over trans fat has spread like a grease fire in other cities and states around...

By Kim ODonnel | December 27, 2006; 12:45 PM ET | Comments (0)

A Hot Pot of 'Sippy-Poo'

When she drank alcohol, my Aunt Ginny was fond of her afternoon "sippy-poo." Usually, this meant a Pink Squirrel, a sickly sweet concoction of white creme de cacao mixed with creme de noyaux, an almond-flavored red liqueur that gives the drink its signature Pepto-pink hue. Spiced hot chocolate: Exactly what Santa ordered. (Kim O'Donnel) In spite of my aunt's affinity for psychedelic-colored beverages, I always like her turn of phrases, and as an adult, adopted her "sippy-poo" expression as my own. And at this time of year, when drinking and eating turn into sport, a light-hearted Aunt Ginny-ism is particularly fitting. More than any other time of year, December holidays bring out the "sippy-poo" in all of us -- whether or not we drink alcohol. For the most part, I drink wine, but over the next few weeks, I'll cave to a glass of eggnog or something spritzy and sparkly....

By Kim ODonnel | December 22, 2006; 8:13 AM ET | Comments (0)

Citrus for the Solstice

Today is the darkest day of the year, aka winter solstice. Yeah, it's the first day of winter, beginning this evening at 7:22 ET. A ray of culinary sunshine. (Kim O'Donnel) The sun rose at a very tardy 7:23 a.m. and will set before today's episode of Oprah is over, at 4:49 p.m. ET, according to the U.S. Naval Observatory. Translation: We get a mere nine hours and 26 minutes of daylight. I know -- complain, complain. In Copenhagen, where I've got a few friends, the daylight quotient shrinks to seven hours, with sunset taking place around 3:30. And let's not forget Anchorage, Alaska, which is essentially a city working in the dark, clocking in with a whopping five hours, 26 minutes of light. But while we mope around in the dark, the one consolation about the solstice is the return of the sun, ever so slightly, beginning tomorrow. In...

By Kim ODonnel | December 21, 2006; 10:53 AM ET | Comments (0)

Confessions of a Diehard Santa Believer

For me, this time of year is less about the "now" and more about the "then." I'm not a card-carrying member of any one religious group at this point in my life, but as a kid, I was raised Episcopalian. Christmas figured prominently throughout my childhood, which spanned the 1970s. It held meaning for this diehard believer in Santa and all things make-believe, and for that I'm grateful. Below, snapshots from the memory vault, which inevitably resurface every year in the days leading up to Christmas. That's me on the left, Tim in the middle, and John, dressed in plaid finery, with Santa. (Family photo) I remember...waiting in anticipation to decorate the tree, an event that followed my father's cursing out on the front porch while trying to jam the tree into the stand. My parents would play Nat King Cole and Johnny Mathis records on the stereo while we...

By Kim ODonnel | December 20, 2006; 10:21 AM ET | Comments (0)

Jelly (Doughnuts) in My Belly

Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights, which is well underway, continues through Saturday, Dec. 23. A commemoration of the Maccabees' victory over the Syrians back in 165 B.C., Hanukkah also honors the miracle of the oil that burned for eight days in the temple that the Maccabean priests had reclaimed. Come fry with me. (Kim O'Donnel) For cooks, this means carte blanche for fried food. As Nigella Lawson writes in her book, "Feast": "The one important thing you need to know [about Hanukkah] is that it provides a divine ordination to eat deep-fried foods." To be fair, I'd venture to say that hightailing it to the nearest drive-thru window for an order of fries would not be in keeping with the spirit of Hanukkah (not to mention the trans fat factor). But done at home, a little bit of fried tenderness every once in a while sounds positively festive and...

By Kim ODonnel | December 19, 2006; 9:55 AM ET | Comments (0)

Do the Yule Log Roll

A friend who's more like a younger sister celebrated her 30th birthday over the weekend, so a group of older folks decided to help her around the bend into a new decade. A bunch of calls were made, as were potluck assignments, and I set out to make a birthday dessert fit for a December babe in the woods. Meringue yule log with chocolate mascarpone. The first thing that came to mind was a traditional buche de Noel, aka a yule log. Essentially, a yule log is a roulade, a fancy word for a cake layer that gets rolled up and filled with something yummy. Traditionally, the "log" is made from a genoise (sponge) cake, and the filling is made from buttercream or a flavored whipped cream. The idea is to make the cake look like a wood in the middle of an enchanted forest on a wintry day. As...

By Kim ODonnel | December 18, 2006; 10:14 AM ET | Comments (11)

Holiday A-Z, Part 2

Yesterday, I sang to you my ABCs, holiday style. We got through the first half of the alphabet; today, I tackle the rest and some of the peskier letters. (Go on; you try and come up with a food association that begins with an "X."). Now, let's recite... N Nuts that are sugar and spice and everything nice, navels of the orange variety, nutmeg from Grenada O Oysters overnighted from Washington's Olympic peninsula, olive oil P Penzey's spice gift boxes, pomegranate, pate Q Quince, and now I'm stuck. (All of a sudden, this feels like a Scrabble game.) R Rosemary plant, rugelach, recipe organizing binders S Salt of a coarse variety, Silpat baking mat, Sufganiyot T Tangerines, tea service and sandwiches in the afternoon, tawny port U Upside down cake, Ugli fruit V Vegetarian cooking class with Fairfax, Va.- based instructor Mimi Clark, a bottle of really good vanilla extract...

By Kim ODonnel | December 13, 2006; 9:47 AM ET | Comments (10)

Holiday Food Alphabet

Think for a moment. What would the holiday season be without food and drink? Regardless of whether or what you celebrate, this time of year is "Eat, drink and be merry" to the max. It's the way of life, the rule of the thumb, the modus operandi of the Western world. In fact, I would argue that comestibles are THE glue that keeps us together as a civilization for the entire month of December. WHAT we eat and drink: Special treats that we tend to stay away from the rest of the year. Symbols of the good life, such as chocolate truffles, caviar, sparkling wine, eggnog, roast beast. Special treats tied to culture, history and holiday-specific traditions -- gingerbread houses, candy canes, Hanukkah gelt, buche de noel, glogg, wassail, fruitcake. HOW we eat and drink: In addition to the lineup of nosh-driven cocktail parties, open houses and holiday galas, there...

By Kim ODonnel | December 12, 2006; 11:29 AM ET | Comments (2)

Cafreal for a Cold

Over the weekend, my body felt a bit achy and I sensed the familiar signs of an impending cold. I resisted with an "Oh no, you don't," and made a beeline for the kitchen. I didn't crave soup as much as I did the healing powers of garlic, ginger and spices. I leafed through a copy of "One Spice, Two Spice," a newly released title for inspiration. The new book, penned by India-born chef Floyd Cardoz (of Tabla in New York) and Gourmet magazine's Jane Daniels Lear, is an effort to deconstruct Indian flavors for the American home cook. I bookmarked the page for "Chicken Cafreal," a traditional dish from Goa, the Portuguese-influenced coastal town in the southwestern part of the country. What drew me in was the spice paste -- garlic, ginger, chile, cumin, cinnamon, cloves -- pureed with a mountain of cilantro, known for its purported antibacterial qualities....

By Kim ODonnel | December 11, 2006; 12:03 PM ET | Comments (1)

Chocolate Bark With Bite

I can't predict what you want or need to be the best gift-giver, mostest-hostess or big honking holiday Pollyanna. But I can predict that if you make chocolate bark, everyone will love you, praise your culinary genius and spread the kudos all the way to the North Pole. Bark on bark. (Kim O'Donnel) Here's why making chocolate bark will make you fabulous and the mistle in everyone's toe: * It looks ultra glam but requires very few elementary steps, like chopping stuff and melting chocolate, * It looks like a difficult and complicated kitchen project, but most of the work is at the store, sourcing the ingredients and * The bark begs questions such as "Oooh, what's that little zip on my tongue?" or "What fruit is in there?" When you offer up your secret ingredients, you can also mention the antioxidant boost not only from the dark chocolate but...

By Kim ODonnel | December 8, 2006; 11:18 AM ET | Comments (13)

Sweets Clinic Office Hours

Tuesday's chat ended with a bunch of lingering questions over some pressing issues in the holiday sweets department. Below, a few are included to whet your whistles. And as always, chime in when you deem necessary or if you've got a sweet question that needs attention. Truffles Arlington, Va.: Do you have a good truffles recipe? A friend of mine told me that she loves the things I bake and wanted know if I knew how to make truffles. She has been through a bad year and I would like to surprise her with something special but have never made truffles. If your pal has requested truffles, it might be really fun to make them together. Truffle-making is a team activity and in fact, I highly recommend it, particularly for first-timers. A few years back, I taught a friend who was gearing up for a massive batch of 300 for...

By Kim ODonnel | December 7, 2006; 11:22 AM ET | Comments (10)

Chocolate Vision

It was the summer of 1980. I was an exchange student in St. Gallen, Switzerland. It was my first trip to Europe, and I was 14 with a mouthful of braces, earnestly trying to like being away from home. Whenever a bout of homesickness would set in, I'd board a bus and go into the center of town, where I'd roam and study faces and houses that were so different from those at home. I always ended up at the train station, a center of activity, and an important pit stop. It was at the station newsstand where I'd buy a copy of the International Herald Tribune to catch up on anything familiar, and to wash down the news with a bar of chocolate. A small sampler of the choc-choices on the market. (Kim O'Donnel) Even at the newsstand, the chocolate choices were far more varied than at the pharmacy...

By Kim ODonnel | December 6, 2006; 9:39 AM ET | Comments (36)

Ruby the Grapefruit Is Back in Town

December has arrived in windy, wintry fashion and I'm happy to be snug indoors, yes indeed. But with the cozy comfort from the cold comes the inevitable drying effects of indoor heating. Parched doesn't even describe the feeling. (Is this what it's like to be a porcini mushroom?) Thankfully, hydration relief has arrived in area produce aisles. Her name is Ruby and she's from Texas. I'm talking big mama, softball-sized grapefruits with a deep red-velvet flesh that practically sparkles and quenches like nobody's business. Say hello to Miz Ruby from Texas.(Kim O'Donnel) The Rio Grande Valley in southern Texas is prime red grapefruit country, and I say, welcome y'all Texas gals. In stores, you'll meet Rio Star, a sweet red head, and her sister, Ruby-Sweet, whose interior is more pink and a bit more tart. I love starting my winter days by sinking my teeth into a few Ruby grapefruit...

By Kim ODonnel | December 4, 2006; 12:49 PM ET | Comments (0)

Santa Wants a Low-Fat Cookie

It's December 1, people. I guess that means we can start yanking out the garland and hanging the mistletoe. With the first holiday-season weekend about to kick off, many of you, I'm guessing, are making those lists. I'm notoriously slow to acquiring a holiday spirit, but my goal each year is to c'mon and get happy a little earlier in the season. Holiday cookies with lower-fat bonus points.(Kim O'Donnel) One activity that does a good job of removing my cynical mask is cookie baking. It's kind of hard to be a grouch when you're up to your elbows in sugary dough that transforms into little love nuggets that make the whole house smell like a fairy tale. I can't resist. And who doesn't love receiving a gift box of homemade cookies? Really, there should be a cookie holiday at some other time of the year, when we really need it,...

By Kim ODonnel | December 1, 2006; 10:56 AM ET | Comments (0)

 

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