Archive: February 2007

A Mighty Appetite Returns March 12

Editor's note: Kim O'Donnel is away. She will return to the blog on Monday, March 12. Until then, happy cooking....

By Maura McCarthy | February 27, 2007; 5:57 PM ET | Comments (5)

Kim's Top 10 Kitchen Basics

In the eight years I've been hosting What's Cooking, my weekly Web chat, one of the questions most frequently asked is this: What do I need to cook-ready my kitchen? In many respects, this is a vague question, as it fails to take into account factors such as budget, skill level and culinary area of interest. For purposes of this exercise, though, let's assume our cooking novice is tight on both money and physical space. Cook in question is keen to cook at least three nights a week and wean himself off dinner in a box. Which tools will make that all possible? I'm especially suited to answer this question -- and not just because I'm a trained cook and food writer. For years, I lived paycheck to paycheck. Small and cramped were the operative words to describe my apartment kitchens in my 20s and 30s. Still, I wanted to...

By Kim ODonnel | February 26, 2007; 6:52 AM ET | Comments (51)

Making Room for Another Cook

I am a bride in final countdown mode, and boy is it a peculiar place to be. On the one and (most obvious) hand, it's absolutely thrilling and exciting, to arrive at an emotional time and space that threads one's ever-evolving hopes and aspirations for long-haul partnership into a neat little package called a wedding day; on the other hand, it's positively terrifying for this long-time single gal who's run her own show into Year 40, to make room -- in her heart, her kitchen and her daily life - for another. Over the past few months, I've been processing many of these themes; some days, I get it -- the whole recipe of love and partnership -- like I understand a pie dough or a curry; other days, I get frantic, my vision gets blurry and I have no idea how to cook this thing called marriage. When it's...

By Kim ODonnel | February 23, 2007; 10:13 AM ET | Comments (0)

Rice Fritter-Fry

Good morning, sunshine! I've been a busy little fry-girl this morning -- my elbows deep in batter, a do-rag covering my head and "Jill Scott Collaborations" blaring from the iPod speaker. The project in question was a batch of calas (say KAH-LUHZ), a cousin of the beignet, but with an African-American rice connection. Here's lookin' at you, sugar. (RW) It's a two-part project; yesterday, I cooked a pot of rice, mashed it, mixed it with foamy yeast and allowed it to rest overnight to develop character and sour depth. And then I got up at o'dark thirty, long before the sun, and beat some eggs, mixed them with sugar, flour and lots of grated nutmeg. While the coffee was steeping in the French press, I added the egg mixture to the yeasty rice pulp and allowed the two parties to get to know each other for about 30 minutes (but...

By Kim ODonnel | February 22, 2007; 10:44 AM ET | Comments (2)

Calas and Black History

In the course of writing about beignets last week, I learned about another fritter with even deeper historical pockets. The cala, a yeasty variation made of rice, figured into the culinary repertoire of Creole cooks who were known to sell hot calas in the streets of the French Quarter in the 19th century. I've got a batter of cala dough rising, so I'll report back with the results in tomorrow's blog. In the meantime, let's talk about what got this calas party started in the first place: rice. The ubiquitous starch that we've all come to take for granted at suppertime, rice was a major contributing factor for a booming slave trade in South Carolina for more than 100 years and has played a pivotal role in African-American history, cuisine and culture. "From the 1720s to 1860, no other commodity was remotely as important to the region as rice," writes...

By Kim ODonnel | February 21, 2007; 12:42 PM ET | Comments (4)

A Cake for Hilton Felton

The weekend started out on an auspicious note. My mother blew into town Friday afternoon to be part of a pre-wedding shindig on Saturday. We lunched, we shopped and, as we always do when Mom is in town, we made a pit stop at Kinkead's, a well-known restaurant/bar in Foggy Bottom. Marble cake. (Kim O'Donnel) We bellied up to the bar for more than a drink and a nosh, a ritual that has been part of my life since 1997. We came to say hello to "H." That was my shorthand for Hilton Felton, a world-class jazz musician who preferred to play at home rather than on the road. Five nights a week since 1993, Hilton played the piano at Kinkead's, where barflies and jazz lovers like me would fall under his musical trance. When I walked into the bar on Friday night, I was oblivious to the absence of...

By Kim ODonnel | February 20, 2007; 10:14 AM ET | Comments (8)

Year of the Pig Dumplings

This weekend, the dog steps aside and makes way for the pig in the Chinese lunar calendar. Beginning Sunday, Feb. 18, it's Year 4705, or Year of the Pig. Gung hay fat choy! (That's Cantonese for Happy New Year, or literally, "May you become prosperous.") In celebration of Chinese New Year and continuation of the long weekend, extra-kitchen-time theme, I present Weekend Project Option Number Two -- jiao-zi. Say GEE OW ZE and you're not doing half bad pronouncing the word for the boiled dumplings eaten in northern China. In an online chat on washingtonpost.com a few years ago, Chinese cookbook author Grace Young mentioned that "jiao-zi are typically cooked between midnight and 2 am New Year's Eve, so it is believed that you bring your wealth from the previous year into the new year." Shaped like a coin or a gold or silver ingot to represent prosperity (or like...

By Kim ODonnel | February 16, 2007; 11:27 AM ET | Comments (0)

Make Way for Beignets

I know, it's been a tough week in weather land. If you're lucky, you've got a long holiday weekend just ahead, with some extra time to recover from the wintry mishegas. An extra day also means more time to play in the kitchen. It's a chance to dive into projects that are either too complicated or time consuming for the average worknight supper. The afternoon is all yours to get floured up, fried on and just plain curious. Beignets and coffee. (Kim O'Donnel) This weekend in particular coincides with two distinctly different, culinary-centric cultural events - Chinese New Year (Sunday, Feb. 18) and Mardi Gras (Tuesday, Feb. 20). Today, I present Weekend Project Option Number One - beignets (say BEN-YAY), that classic New Orleans fried-dough snack and quintessential breakfast treat. Until last week, I had never made beignets, a dish I supposed I'd leave to the experts. That assumption, it...

By Kim ODonnel | February 15, 2007; 10:49 AM ET | Comments (23)

Valentine's Plan B

Hey, Valentine, there's been a change in plans. Over the past 24 hours, much of the country has been walloped by dastardly weather -- a buffet of tornados, blizzard conditions, nonstop snow and the dreaded wintry mix, which means Valentine's Day could be a white-out, slippery ride or simply a big mess. Don't let Mother Nature take the fizzle out of your romantic plans, she says, putting on her boots; we've got a love parade to catch, and it's happening, snow or shine. Below, a variety of home-spun Valentine's menu options to match the possible scenarios that may now apply, given the weather conditions and change in plans. It's a Valentines' Plan B-a-rama. Come on, let's get busy, before the snow in upstate New York starts to fall again. Snow Day, minus kids, and you want a kitchen project: You've got all day to let yeast rise, so how about...

By Kim ODonnel | February 14, 2007; 11:55 AM ET | Comments (0)

Does Food Get You in the Mood?

In preparation for this Valentine's Eve, I e-mailed 20 people, a mix of colleagues and friends, and asked them point blank: "What turns you on?" More specifically, I wanted to know, is there a food that gets you in the mood? Of the 20 I questioned, only five responded with specific preferences, which fell into a few categories -- chocolate, seafood and booze. "Really good dark chocolate paired with a glass of red wine," is the magic potion for one local online journalist, a SF in her early 30s. "Cabernets tend to work best ... the right chocolate with the right wine is just pure heaven." Chocolate, and more specifically, "just out-of-the-oven chocolate chip cookies" is the ultimate turn-on for one Washington SM in his early 20s, who's hoping his Valentine will be baking tonight. One mom in her early 40s praised the sensual qualities of seafood -- and more...

By Kim ODonnel | February 13, 2007; 11:06 AM ET | Comments (0)

Red Velvet Cupcake Bride

Ever since I issued an all-points bulletin for bride and groom cupcake toppers that looked kitschy but not decrepit, brides from all across wedding land came out of the woodwork. The "senior" toppers, second from right; the younger replacements, left foreground. (Kim O'Donnel) Many of you encouraged me to get over my bridezilla self and make use of the geriatric toppers in question, arguing that they would be good for laughs and stories 10 years hence. You're probably right, but this persistent bride kept looking. Some of you scoured the Internet and sent me links to potential topper candidates. The collective spirit of kindness (and bridal empathy) has been touching, to say the least! My dear friend Leslie embarked on a topper search in her home town of Seattle and the home to Archie McPhee, an emporium for everything that is goofy and irreverent. She declared her mission a success...

By Kim ODonnel | February 12, 2007; 10:26 AM ET | Comments (22)

We Heart Chocolate

Yesterday, a small group of opinionated chocolate elves with resilient palates joined me in a blind taste test of eight Valentine's chocolate heart samplers. (Somebody's gotta do it.) The criteria: Assortments for the everyday lover - available nationally at the grocery store, the drug store or the mall. Nothing fancy, artisanal or homemade. The choc-off contestants.(Kim O'Donnel) The idea: To get a pulse on the state of mass-produced Valentine's samplers and to determine which, if any, of the contestants would be worth the money, even at the last procastinator's minute. The scene: A pile of half-eaten chocolates in a "spit cup" for those too harsh to go down the hatch. A lot of chocolate-induced fidgeting, including some teeth experiencing sugar jitters. The work we do is hard labor, I tell you. The chocolate contestants included: "Grand Assortment," by Lake Champlain Chocolates, of Burlington, Vt. What you get: 22 pieces, a...

By Kim ODonnel | February 9, 2007; 11:28 AM ET | Comments (14)

All Aboard the Culinary Love Train

Quick! According to the greeting card authorities, by next Wednesday, Feb. 14, we're all supposed to be blissfully and hopelessly in love. With only six days away to a life of eternal happiness, we had better get busy. I heart brownies.(Kim O'Donnel) To help you gear up for love and its many splendored ways, I've got a six-day plan that will guarantee some kind of love. Beginning today, I'll offer recipes, love potions and the many ways we can all board the culinary love train. I'll be your conductor, your cruise director, your witch doctor -- whatever you need me to be in time for Cupid's arrival. First thing's first. Chocolate. It is possibly one of (if not the most) important ingredient of a luscious Valentine's fete. It hardly matters in which form it materializes -- store-bought hearts, frou-frou truffles, a soufflé for two -- but chocolate should be part...

By Kim ODonnel | February 8, 2007; 9:16 AM ET | Comments (0)

Hostess 911

In this week's edition of What's Cooking, a reader from Lima, Ohio wanted some help with the following dilemma: I find I am hostessing parties that feature "buffet spreads" about six times a year. These are casual parties ... book clubs, Bunco groups, football games. However, while they are casual, I feel my serving ware isn't making the grade. I use a lot of mismatched platters, serving dishes, etc. While I don't care for "matchy matchy" items, I do like an overall feel of cohesiveness. I like pottery mixed with stoneware mixed with different tiered racks for height, etc. I'm ready to start upgrading. While I don't think these parties warrant silver and chaffing dishes, I do feel they need a classier feel. How would you suggest I start my collection? Do I start with a color scheme? A variety of shapes/sizes? If you advise that I just "buy what...

By Kim ODonnel | February 7, 2007; 10:40 AM ET | Comments (24)

Pot Pie: It Takes Two

The severely cold weather has given me a one-track mind -- getting warm. I pull out all my stops -- the thick woolen socks, an extra scarf, a hot breakfast and pot pie. A slice of pot-pie heaven. (Kim O'Donnel) In fact, pot pie was all I could think about while in savasana (final relaxation pose) in yoga class last night. I was doing a mental check list, scanning the contents of the crisper drawer in the fridge and by the time I walked back into the cold, I determined there enough in-house provisions to make an ad hoc pot pie. Visions of a hot savory pie bubbling through its crust were indeed swirling in my head as I boarded the Metro across the river into Arlington. By the time I got home, it was already 7:30, a tad late for a supper project this ambitious, I confess. By myself,...

By Kim ODonnel | February 6, 2007; 10:37 AM ET | Comments (10)

Five Ways to Forget the Cold

To say it's cold outside is inadequate. Cold is when you open your fridge. Today is more like walking into a meat locker. But even as I complain and walk around the house wearing a hat, the air is even frostier in the Midwest. I just hung up with my friend Nan, who reports that the forecast for Chicago is a high of 3 degrees. (Is that a meat locker or an igloo?) Unfortunately, it's a safe bet that the frigid air will stick around for several days, which means pulling out the secret bag of tricks to help deal with the Siberian conditions. Before he left this morning, Mister Groom asked, "Can you fix the weather, please, and make the cold go away?" (Sorry, but my wand is in the shop.) Short of witchcraft, what can we do to make the cold a little less so? Below, five culinary...

By Kim ODonnel | February 5, 2007; 12:00 PM ET | Comments (14)

The Great Chip-Off

Twelve chippers, seven chips, two dips. That was the scene yesterday morning at the offices of washingtonpost.com, where the "Mighty Appetite Chip-Off" took place. washingtonpost.com staffers Christian Pelusi (rear), Troy Witcher (near left) and Rocci Fisch (right) hard at work. (Kim O'Donnel) It was early for chips -- 10 a.m. -- but that didn't stop these connoisseurs. There was important business to cover, and as one chipper argued, a bagel-and-cream cheese breakfast is likely to be nutrionally comparable to this chip-n'-dip buffet. The objective: To identify the "best in show" supermarket brand of plain potato chip, just in time for Super Bowl Sunday. The methodology: A blind taste test, taking several criteria into consideration, including: salt quotient, crunch, mouth feel, dip-ability, freshness and authentic potato flavor. Chips were divided into two categories -- ridged and regular. Panelists evaluated each chip individually, then rated them, in numerical order -- #1 representing...

By Kim ODonnel | February 2, 2007; 10:46 AM ET | Comments (52)

Hold-The-Velveeta Queso

For the last few weeks, a What's Cooking reader has been in deep pursuit of a queso dip to make for Super Bowl Sunday. But not any queso - one made without the infamous Velveeta, the Halloween-orange block of the infamous "cheese food" that melts like a dream. In spite of my trepidation (it was a maiden queso voyage for this cook), I took on the challenge. After much deliberation over what to use as my base (milk, evaporated milk, cream), I decided on the very reliable, full-fat cream, and I have to say, I think I scored a touchdown. The common complaint I hear about queso recipes is that the end result is stringy and clumpy and difficult to reheat. With a roux (equal parts flour and fat) as my starter, this cream-based cheese sauce stays fluid and clump-free. Have a look and see what you think. While in...

By Kim ODonnel | February 1, 2007; 10:51 AM ET | Comments (0)

 

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