Archive: January 2007

Mom, Can I Be a Vegetarian?

Imagine the following scenario: You are a proud, loving parent. One day, your sprouting young adult announces the decision to become a vegetarian, just like that. Although this throws a wrench into your omnivorous family equation, you want to honor your child's dietary curiosity and allow space for exploration. So you scrape the chicken cutlet off your budding vegetarian's plate and double up the helpings of starch and veg. And for the next six, eight years, that's the way dinner works -- meat for most, side dishes for one. Simple, right? Your kid gets to be a vegetarian and the rest of the family is virtually unaffected by the dietary shift. In the midst of your gallant efforts to keep the family boat from rocking, however, stuff begins to fall through the vegetarian cracks. Lo and behold, it appears that someone is playing with his vegetables and instead eating mashed...

By Kim ODonnel | January 31, 2007; 10:38 AM ET | Comments (0)

Southern Comfort: Mac and Cheese

January is a tough month for Susie. With each passing day, as the calendar numbers get higher, my winter-resistant mother is slowly unraveling at the seams. Although seasonal changes are already in place by December, Susie the sun goddess is adequately distracted by her uniquely decorated Christmas tree and a mailbox full of holiday greeting cards. Until. January 1. Mac and cheese, please, with a side of stewed tomatoes. (Kim O'Donnel) Almost like clockwork, my mother's tolerance of winter rapidly diminishes, and her mood takes a turn for the Arctic worst. It starts out as simple annoyance, but as soon as that first layer of ice covers the streets, my mother's emotional state turns into one of disgust and ultimately, inconsolable despair. Right about now, as January comes to a close, Susie typically is boarding a plane headed for southwest Florida, but this year, she's delaying her escape due to...

By Kim ODonnel | January 30, 2007; 10:15 AM ET | Comments (0)

Coconut Cake Diary, Part 2

Friday, 12:15 p.m.: The cake is completely cooled, which is key to successful icing application. In a makeshift double boiler, I heat egg whites, sugar, water and vanilla, until the mixture is 140 degrees and the sugar is dissolved. With an electric mixer, I beat the warm mixture until it transforms into a fluffy meringue, holding soft peaks. I spread a light layer of the white stuff on top of the cooled cake to create an adhesive, and then I mix in 1 cup of shredded coconut, which seems to be ineffective. I learn just a few minutes later that sprinkling the coconut on top of the finished cake has a more dramatic effect. The result is stunning, like newly fallen snow. At last, chocolate coconut uni-layer success. (Kim O'Donnel) I cut into my creation and the color contrast -- dark choc against snowy coconut -- is just as I...

By Kim ODonnel | January 26, 2007; 5:13 PM ET | Comments (0)

Diary of a Coconut Cake

Friday, 9:27 a.m.: A cake is in the oven as I type. It's my second attempt in less than 12 hours, and I'm crossing my fingers. A long night it has been in the KOD bakery, and I've got some humble pie crumbs on my face. My mangled chocolate cake. (Kim O'Donnel) Thursday evening: After dinner and a glass of red wine, I think I'm clever. The plan: A chocolate layer cake without the layers. The reason: a What's Cooking reader request for a uni-layer coconut cake. The reader wants to know if he can avoid the fussiness of two layers, which, as a clumsy cake baker, I can appreciate. For ideas and inspiration, I pour through a bunch of trusted cookbooks, and I reject any recipes that seem too fussy. Mr. Coconut Cake never specified a preference for yellow or chocolate cake, so I choose for him and go...

By Kim ODonnel | January 26, 2007; 11:47 AM ET | Comments (0)

Here Comes the Bride's Menu

Some of you may know that I'm a bride-to-be, in nitty-gritty countdown mode. Five weeks from tomorrow, this previously engaged girl is finally gettin' hitched, and she's officially a nervous bride. The nuptials will take place far away from the nation's capital, on Vieques, a small island just off the east coast of Puerto Rico. Green Beach, Vieques. (Kim O'Donnel) Mister Groom and I, we fell in love with the low-key vibe and natural beauty of the place during a vacation last year, plus we wanted a warm, beach destination for vow exchange rather than urban pavement. Nearly everyone I talked to assumed that the reception menu would be my biggest priority. The tricky thing about a destination wedding is the distance; with 1,500 miles between me and the island, the opportunities for sampling caterer menus went out the airplane window. Our original catering choice was the chef/owner of a...

By Kim ODonnel | January 25, 2007; 11:59 AM ET | Comments (42)

Kim's Key West

As promised yesterday, I've compiled a list of culinary pit stops worth making in Key West. Consistency may be the hobgoblin of little minds, but it sure helps keep a restaurant open, particularly on an island where businesses tend to change with the wind. From Tim's tropical garden: A Tahitian gardenia. (Kim O'Donnel) The list below includes reliable favorites that have earned return visit points from me, the occasional out-of-town visitor, as well as my brother, the local who likes good food. For the most part, the venues below have been road-tested several times. I also included a few new businesses that seem promising and worthy contributors to Key West's eats and drinks community. One last note: This list is far from comprehensive. Think of it as a page torn from my little black book, with room for comments and additional suggestions. Coffee For a sit-down java experience in a...

By Kim ODonnel | January 24, 2007; 10:19 AM ET | Comments (6)

Taste Tests in Key West

On a tourist-driven island such as Key West, there are certain advantages to doing things the local way. Although most folks who live here are transplants (my brother included), just a few years in this southernmost village instills a sense of community and ownership that is hard to find in Washington, also known for its transience. For locals, Key West quickly becomes home. I was stunned to learn that Tim's housemate, Ron, has lived here for less than two years; he speaks of this place on such intimate terms, like a real "Conch." One of the highlights of my visit has been Tim's impromptu botanical tours of the island as we pile into Ron's little truck, three squeezed in the cab, and Tim, who's a human encyclopedia of tropical plants, is our guide. Putt-putting through the streets, Tim stops whenever he sees trees of interest and shares his botanical tidbits,...

By Kim ODonnel | January 23, 2007; 10:22 AM ET | Comments (23)

Key West Kitchen

The sun is out, the skies are a brilliant blue and the wind is doing a dance with the palm trees here in Key West, Fla. It is a glorious morning, almost a wee bit chilly. Just another day at the office. (Kim O'Donnel) Like a savvy bird, I flew south just hours before the snow arrived in Washington. I hate to rub it in, but I drank my coffee this morning out on the porch as the sun gently said hello. Winter escapism aside, I am here primarily to visit my kid brother, Tim, who spent most of last fall in a Miami hospital. He's been home since mid-December, convalescing at an amazing pace, and already he's back to work part time. The last time I saw Tim, he was heavily sedated and hooked up to a ventilator. We didn't know if he was going to survive. Once he...

By Kim ODonnel | January 22, 2007; 11:13 AM ET | Comments (18)

Get Your Soup Groove On

Hey! It really might be time for soup. The weather here in Washington actually feels like January, and from the looks of the forecasts, the weekend is promising plenty of winter, with the chance of flakes from the sky. In fact, let's go full throttle and make it a two-soup weekend, one for each day. Don't worry; soup is far from an all-day affair at the stove. Start to finish, you need just one hour to make a pot of soup. Seriously. Sure, there are exceptions to this rule. Bean soups and more elaborate meat-noodle-y numbers take a few hours or more. However, for the quickest route to a bowl of soup, I suggest going the way of the puree. In puree land, there are few rules and lots of room for creativity and improvisation. But a flavorful puree only comes with commitment to a few key ground rules: Use...

By Kim ODonnel | January 19, 2007; 10:55 AM ET | Comments (18)

It Takes a Village to Cook Dinner

In this week's chat, a reader shared the following dilemma: I like to cook, but after working all day, then starting a load of laundry, putting dishes away, etc. I just don't have the energy. And I'm taking college classes which start next week ... my family (hubby and 5 kids) pretty much fend for themselves off of leftovers from the weekend or frozen pizza my teenagers make. I feel so guilty! I was proud of myself last week because we had a sit-down meal of MACARONI AND CHEESE AND HOT DOGS. Mac and cheese from a box. This from the woman who used to make pad Thai and chicken alla diavola. I don't know what advice you can give but anything is appreciated. Sound familiar? I'm betting we all can relate, whether or not kids and spouses are in the picture. In this Blackberry-paced universe, we mere mortals are...

By Kim ODonnel | January 18, 2007; 10:11 AM ET | Comments (43)

Winter Sorbet

Those who eat with the seasons (a concept which I maintain is worth preserving and practicing and one I urge you to try on for size) know that winter presents interesting challenges in the produce department, particularly in distinctly four-season climes. Tangelos make the most marvelous sorbet. (Kim O'Donnel) In theory (the crazy flipside weather notwithstanding), the veggie lineup is hearty, earthy and often still has roots attached and the choices include beets, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, chard, collards, kale, mustard, parsnips, potatoes, rutabagas, squash, sweet potatoes and turnips (add to the list if I've forgotten something). As for the fruit, the regional pickins are usually limited to apples and pears, which are kept in storage from the fall harvest. At some point (and maybe you're already there), the choices lose their luster and you, the obedient seasonal cook, develop a hankering for a spritz of spring greenery. Sigh. The silver...

By Kim ODonnel | January 17, 2007; 10:29 AM ET | Comments (6)

Clammering for Clams

It had been months since I last supped on clams, probably when I was vacationing in the Pacific Northwest last summer. Thing is, there are plenty of clams right in my own back yard -- and I've been long ignoring them. Littlenecks swimming in a pungent briny broth. (Kim O'Donnel) Here, on the Atlantic side of North America, there are softshells as well as hardshells to choose from. For the purposes of my supper this weekend, I went the hardshell route. Also known as quahogs (pronounced KO-hogs), hard clams were important to Native American tribes, such as the Algonquins, who also used the shell's beads for wampum, a system of negotiations and contracts. Littlenecks are the smallest of the lot, averaging about two inches in diameter. They are known to be tender and sweeter in flavor. Next in size are the cherrystones, followed by large or chowder clams. I was...

By Kim ODonnel | January 16, 2007; 10:26 AM ET | Comments (0)

The Real Faux Burger

As I wrote yesterday, we are a burger nation, and as such, all palates and dietary preferences are invited to the patty party. When I worked as a reporter in Philadelphia in the late 1980s, my roommate Kat lived off veggie burgers from a box found in the frozen aisle of the supermarket. We were part of a group of underpaid twentysomethings who would gather often for dinner and, at that time, Kat was the only vegetarian. Every Fourth of July, Kat hosted a "Jamly" (pronounced jam-lye) on East River Drive, down by the Schuylkill River, where we'd cook out and drink her "Jamly" punch. I distinctly remember her grilling her veggie burgers while the rest of us ate beef patties. In nearly 20 years, those lonely days of vegetarian eating have long gone. In the late '80s, her only option was a Gardenburger. Now Kat can take her pick...

By Kim ODonnel | January 12, 2007; 11:07 AM ET | Comments (0)

Burger Nation

We are a burger nation. It doesn't matter if you shun beef; the concept of a hot patty bookended by a bun is ingrained in our collective consciousness. The burger is who we are. It is part of the daily fabric of being an American. Bison burger. (Kim O'Donnel) We commune over charcoal fires for burgers. We scream our orders through drive-thru windows and eat them in our cars. We know how we like them, down to the nitty-gritty specifics, such as doneness, cheese, condiments and fries. "Burgers 'R' Us." Beef aside, the choices are all over the map in burger world. Pescatarians, you too can have a burger from the sea, be it salmon, tuna or shrimp. Come to think of it, I think I've had a grouper burger. Vegheads, your patty offerings aren't just crumbly and legume-based anymore; a miracle called texturized soy protein has allowed vegetarians to...

By Kim ODonnel | January 11, 2007; 10:49 AM ET | Comments (0)

Breakfast Breadcrumbs

After a revelatory experience with a batch of buttermilk-infused white bread, I decided to keep going. I was on a roll, a loaf run, a trail of bread crumbs. (Okay, okay, I'll stop.) Aside from my excitement level that was running on a bread-adrenalin high, I wanted to see what it would be like to bake bread two consecutive days in a row. Breakfast of champions: Raisin-walnut bread. (Kim O'Donnel) With a soft crumb that made me nostalgic for Pepperidge Farm's "Very Thin White Bread" (white paper lining wrapped inside plastic bag), the buttermilk white was a bit tangy by its lonesome, but I loved it with jam, and saw promise in its toastability. Yesterday's lunch was one slice folded over, bookending a piece of leftover roast chicken -- a pairing that was reminiscent of a steamed Chinese bun -- sweet, soft and well, maybe too soft for everyday use....

By Kim ODonnel | January 10, 2007; 10:15 AM ET | Comments (10)

The Bread Life

"Give us our daily bread." "Bread is the staff of life." "Man shall not eat by bread alone." "I know on which side my bread is buttered." We've all heard the above quotes throughout our lifetimes, and they are a just a sliver of what's been said about bread for centuries. The good life: Buttermilk honey bread. (Kim O'Donnel) As a kid, I grew up on bagged white bread, or as Julia Child wrote in 1974, "the cellophaned Kleenex sold at the supermarket." I was a stranger to the stuff of a "homemade loaf, crusty, crumbly and a succor for the eater." So were my schoolmates. Bread was from a bag at the store. I remember my brothers taking those bendable, Gumby-like slices out of the bag and rolling them into balls -- and then pelleting them at their sister. Ouch. Like many of my generation, I tasted homemade bread...

By Kim ODonnel | January 9, 2007; 11:00 AM ET | Comments (29)

A Mighty Appetite Recipe Index

You asked for it. After many requests for a one-stop page listing all the recipes tested for this blog, we've compiled everything that's appeared in the blog since May 2006. For now, the list is alphabetical, but as the list grows (updated every time I post a new recipe), you can expect categories and cross-referencing. This is a work in progress, so please don't be shy in the comments section about letting me know how this list can be improved and expanded. Arab Flatbread Arab flatbread. (Kim O'Donnel) Arugula and Fava Bean Crostini Arugula Pesto Asian Greens With Garlic Sauce Aunt Rita's Marble Cake Baba Ghanouj Baguette Baklava Baked Beans Baked Pears Banana Bread Banana Cake With Savory Coconut Sauce BBQ Tempeh Barbecued Tofu Basil Pesto Beer Cheese Beet Quesadilla Bill Addison's Blueberry Sorbet Bill Addison's Vanilla-Bourbon Ice Cream Black Bean Burgers Blackened Tilapia Blueberry Buckle Blue Corn Blueberry Pancakes...

By Kim ODonnel | January 8, 2007; 11:36 AM ET | Comments (11)

Tropical Winter Wonder

Yeah, the calendar says it's January. But if you live in the northeastern part of the country, Saturday was like a day in early June. People were sunbathing poolside, for crying out loud. Pineapple salad: Just what the meteorologist ordered. (Kim O'Donnel) On this El Niño kind of day, my thoughts turned tropical when it was time for dinner. All I could think about was pineapple, its juicy bursts of brightness tickling my tongue. I could eat fresh pineapple every day and be the happiest girl in town. When I was finishing up cooking school 10 years ago, the chef instructor, who had done cooking stints in Hawaii and in parts of southeast Asia, passed on a recipe for Thai pineapple salad. I remember the excitement of my first experience tasting sweet with salty, spicy and pungent all in one bite. This one salad set the course for my exploration...

By Kim ODonnel | January 8, 2007; 10:31 AM ET | Comments (6)

Showing Lentils Some Love

Here, in the land of presto-magico food out of a box, there's a good chance you know someone who has never tried a hearty bowl of lentils (and like my mother, refuses a spoonful). This is something I do not understand. Meanwhile in cultures around the globe, the lentil is the culinary humanitarian. It provides. It nourishes. It keeps us regular. It keeps heart attacks at bay. The lentil is lovely, not lowly. (Kim O'Donnel) In fact, one cup of cooked lentils contains about 18 grams of protein, second in the protein-award line to the soybean. It's loaded with fiber -- 15 grams, more than half of your daily requirement -- and is a folate boon for pregnant women. If you plan to hit me with a "But I don't have time to cook lentils during the week; they require planning," I'm afraid you will lose this argument. Of all...

By Kim ODonnel | January 5, 2007; 10:29 AM ET | Comments (38)

Japanese Beer Here!

Kim walks into a bar and orders a beer, sucks back a frosty mug and says, "Ah, that's good. Gimme another." Yeah, drinking beer for beer's sake is something I'm not likely to do. Occasionally, I'll get a hankering for a cold brewski on a hot day, but otherwise, I stick to wine for everyday quaffing. Beer inevitably makes me feel sleepy and bloated. A Hitachino Nest hat trick. (Kim O'Donnel) However, when food is added to the equation -- particularly spicy fare -- beer takes on new meaning. Last June, while traipsing around New York, I had a palate-changing, food-beer pairing experience. We were at Momofuku noodle bar slurping up lunch and at the server's suggestion, washed it down with a bottle of Hitachino Nest red rice ale, from Japan. The handiwork of Kiuchi Brewery, a company that's been making sake since 1823, the unique red grapefruit-colored brew is...

By Kim ODonnel | January 4, 2007; 10:24 AM ET | Comments (3)

Rice Bowl Basics

One of my favorite things about a new year is the return to simplicity. After several weeks of a seemingly endless trough of holiday sweets and roast beasts, I'm relieved to let go of the lavish feasting and get back to basics. A bowl of wok-fried, veggie-studded rice makes everything nice. (Kim O'Donnel) For me, the shift in attitude is more about lightening things up than about counting calories, and in particular, incorporating more vegetables (and less meat) into my diet. A big bowl of clementines is in full view when I'm eager for a snack, and I've said bye-bye to those cookie gift bags. Typically at this time of year, I yearn for soup, but as one reader pointed out in my chat yesterday, the weather has been just too darn balmy for steaming bowls of broth. Instead, I turned to a different kind of bowl, studded with a...

By Kim ODonnel | January 3, 2007; 8:55 AM ET | Comments (11)

Cooking Up a New Year

The dawn of a year is like a swift -- and often much-needed -- kick in the pants. There's nothing like a crisp new wall calendar to help set life in motion, encouraging the notion of possibility. It's also a great opportunity to shed stuff, be it pounds, bad attitudes or gone-to-the-dogs rusty cast-iron skillets. Change is good! The opportunity for change couldn't be riper than in the kitchen. Whether a committed cook or a card-carrying member of the carry-out club, the kitchen is a major thoroughfare of the home. Some would argue it is home. After all, even burnt toast requires tools and utensils to get the job done. With that in mind, what's the state of your kitchen these days? Have you got the baterie de cuisine all lined up? What's the state of the fridge or the pantry? And what about the floor? Is it clean enough...

By Kim ODonnel | January 2, 2007; 11:13 AM ET | Comments (14)

 

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