Archive: July 2007

Weeknight Eggplant Curry

Last night was girls' night - just me and my pal Danielle. It would have been easy to pick a place and go out for margaritas, which we've done in the past, but instead we stayed in and cooked together. Lately, I've been keen to come up with new ways to prepare eggplant, particularly those slender violet Japanese varieties that are pretty enough for a centerpiece. I had purchased a bunch on Sunday, which meant using them pronto. Eggplant is less refrigerator-resilient than meets the eye, and I've learned the hard way to keep the procrastinating to a minimum. Japanese eggplants make wonderful curry.(Kim O'Donnel) My eggplant repertoire is reliable albeit limited - there was the smoky baba ghanouj, a grilled salad with roasted peppers and feta and a moron-proof roasted eggplant number with Chinese black bean-garlic sauce, all wonderful and worthy of repeat experiences. But for this occasion, I...

By Kim ODonnel | July 31, 2007; 9:16 AM ET | Comments (0)

Stale Bread Makeover

All last week, a stale baguette sat on the kitchen counter. Rather than feed it to the birds, I wrapped the hard-as-a-rock loaf in a plastic bag and channeled my culinary muse. What about bread crumbs? Nah, got plenty on hand. Bread pudding? Hmm, sounds tempting, I mean, who doesn't love bread pudding...but what about something a bit kinder to the waistline? Besides, I'd like something seasonal... Stale bread gets makeover with tomatoes, cukes and herbs.(Kim O'Donnel) And then it occurred to me -- there was all kinds of conversation in last week's vegetarian chat about bread salads -- panzanella, fattoush and the like -- and vine-ripe tomatoes just happen to be showing up at farmer's markets. Stale bread cubes and juicy tomatoes are a perfect match; the tomatoes gently coax the bread back to an edible toothiness and as the bread softens, it acts like a sponge, absorbing the...

By Kim ODonnel | July 30, 2007; 10:52 AM ET | Comments (0)

Ugly Food Fight In the House

Man, have I got a headache. This week's political drama called "The 2007 Farm Bill" is the culprit. Today, a final vote is expected on the House floor for the massive piece of legislation with an estimated price tag of $280 billion over the next five years. At the heart of the discussion has been the debate over caps on farm subsidies, which currently stands at $2.5 million. Over the course of the past 30 years, the subsidy system has morphed from a safety net for farms of all sizes to a commodity-crop slush fund for a small fraction of extremely wealthy farmers, some who also appear to be dead -- but that's another bale of hay altogether. As I mentioned in last week's blog space, some 66 percent of all farm benefits went to just 10 percent of all farmers during the years 2003-2005, according to Environmental Working Group,...

By Kim ODonnel | July 27, 2007; 10:55 AM ET | Comments (1)

Getting Fresh: A Sucker for Popsicles

Last year at this time, I broke in a set of popsicle molds. It was a big step beyond the age-old, homegrown method of pouring juice into Dixie cups, inserting a stick in the middle and patiently waiting for the stuff to freeze. This newfangled contraption had suction cups, a built-in tray and handy-dandy reusable sticks -- way cool. So I went to work and pureed a mango -- some of you may remember -- and then I never bothered to post the recipe. Here's why: Although thrilled with their stunningly good looks and freeze-ability, the 'sicles tasted kind of eh. Kind of rough on the tongue, kinda chalky. Hurry, eat me before I melt! (Kim O'Donnel) Maybe a kid hankering for a cool pop wouldn't notice the texture value, but this big kid did, which prompted further exploration on this frozen matter. Thing is, I winged it last year,...

By Kim ODonnel | July 26, 2007; 11:18 AM ET | Comments (11)

Gnocchi Odyssey

Over the past week, I've baked more potatoes than I have in several years. My sudden interest in baked spuds lies within the crackly skin rather than as a complete edible package to accompany sour cream and bacon bits; it's part of a mission to get something right, a dish that has eluded me for years. The dish in question is gnocchi (say nyoh-kee), the famed Italian dumplings that taste light and fluffy when done right -- and like a gum eraser the rest of the time. Potato gnocchi: third time's a charm? (Kim O'Donnel) With basil in season, my thoughts turned to pesto, which sparked a food memory from a trip to Monterosso, a small village in Italy's Cinque Terre. The five interlinking villages are located in Liguria, on the southeast handle of the northwest coast, which hugs the Ligurian sea. In addition to outrageously seductive foccacia and the...

By Kim ODonnel | July 25, 2007; 12:25 PM ET | Comments (12)

A Date With the Picnic Basket

Washington's weather over the past few days has been extraordinarily un-humid, a stunningly rare phenomenon in late July. Over the weekend, it occurred to me that it's high time for a picnic. For years, I've been in possession of a picnic basket passed down from my mother, who has a thing for American artifacts and antiques. She tells me that this wooden basket, dressed up with a nifty wicker-exterior and the original plastic dishware in Fiesta colors, dates to the late 1940s. Sadly, I've never taken the basket for an al fresco spin, but I started thinking about what I'd fill it with. All dolled up and no one to take her out: my picnic basket from the 1940s. (Kim O'Donnel) The notion of eating outdoors to celebrate life has been around since medieval times; according to "The Oxford Companion to Food," there's evidence of pre-hunt feasts in 14th-century England:...

By Kim ODonnel | July 24, 2007; 11:21 AM ET | Comments (10)

When Pantry Comes to the Rescue

Thursday, a week ago. I had known in advance the day would be long and arduous. In addition to all the regular chores associated with work, home, traffic and weather, there would be evening pickup duties connected to air travel and associated ground transport for one Mister Mighty Appetite. In anticipation of the day ahead, I begin to mull over possible venues for a quick supper, not even considering a meal at home. Frankly, there is just too much to do. As the day wears on, summer storms and resulting flight delays become part of the equation, and now it's anybody's guess when/if Mister MA would get home in time for dinner. It's 7:30, I'm in traffic and suddenly ravenous. What to do, what to do, I wonder. I can no longer be the dutifully waiting spouse. As I get closer to home, I mentally scan the contents of the...

By Kim ODonnel | July 23, 2007; 10:44 AM ET | Comments (0)

Never Enough Zucchini Recipes

In "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle," novelist Barbara Kingsolver's account of eating locally for a year, there's a chapter called "Zucchini Larceny." The summer squash in the family garden had lived up to its reputation as the vegetable that keeps on giving, and in one passage, Kingsolver suggests to her husband that they get a pig to help them with the surplus. Though she doesn't buy a pig, Kingsolver does discover that she's not the only one with a squashy problem: Garrison Keillor says July is the only time of year when country people lock our cars in the church parking lot, so people don't put squash on the front seat. I used to think that was a joke. "Crabcakes" made with grated zucchini. (Kim O'Donnel) I don't have a garden of my own -- something that I hope to change next year. But even as a farmer's market customer, I have...

By Kim ODonnel | July 20, 2007; 10:14 AM ET | Comments (22)

Has the Farm Bill Made Us Fat?

If it's called a Farm Bill, why should the average citizen care? I'm talking about the omnibus legislation currently under discussion in the House Agriculture committee. I posed this question to Daniel Imhoff, a California-based publisher and public speaker on environmental and food issues. The author of "Food Fight: The Citizens Guide to a Food and Farm Bill," which was published this spring, Imhoff touched on several issues including the environment, agribusiness and our health as a nation. He went so far as to call the Farm Bill the "fat bill." I couldn't help but think about this notion as I caught an episode of "Shaq's Big Challenge," the latest reality show in which basketball superstar Shaquille O'Neal rides herd on six Miami area middle schoolers to shed some major, life-threatening weight. Got me thinking when the last time these kids, who live in the citrus state, last had an...

By Kim ODonnel | July 19, 2007; 1:16 PM ET | Comments (7)

So What's This Farm Bill?

While the nation's attention turns to the Senate all nighter over troops in Iraq, there's another huge omnibus bill up for discussion this week that's worth a collective looksee: the 2007 Farm Bill. This piece of 5-7 year legislation, worth about $274 billion dollars in 2002 (when it was last passed) is about our food system. It's about what we eat, what grows on our land, how much food costs, and as some critics contend, how fat we've become. The bill is up for markup discussion in the House Agriculture Committee, chaired by Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), through tomorrow. In response to the Great Depression, President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Agriculture Secretary Henry A. Wallace created the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1933, which was originally created to help ailing farmers and strengthen rural communities. Over the years, in addition to farm subsidies, it's come to include food stamp, school lunch...

By Kim ODonnel | July 18, 2007; 12:33 PM ET | Comments (17)

Seafood: Another Reason To Think Local Over Global

Last month, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned the import of several kinds of Chinese farm-raised seafood, including catfish, shrimp, eel and dace (a kind of carp). It is a complicated story involving restricted antibiotics, unregulated (and unsanitary) overseas fish farms, a disproportionate ratio of FDA inspectors to imported seafood (85 to 6.6 million) and a whole lot of politicking. It is also another compelling reason to eat local. Remember last year's big food safety imbroglio, when E. coli-contaminated spinach killed three people and sickened at least 200 others around the country? Yeah, it's hard to forget -- and have you resumed buying those prewashed bags in the supermarket? It was early fall at the time of the nationwide scare, when spinach, a cool weather crop, was coming into season along the Northeast and in the Midwest. It was also an appropriate time to reflect on buying seasonally and...

By Kim ODonnel | July 17, 2007; 11:19 AM ET | Comments (0)

Sublime Viet-Grilled Chicken

Saturday night, I'm on the phone with my kid brother and he's at a loss on how to marinate a bunch of chicken thighs for a party of three that evening. His go-to combos have lost their luster and he's counting on big sis to pull him through. I give him some ideas, but in the course of doing so, I'm thinking: Maybe I need to overhaul my marinade repertoire as well. One can never have enough marinade tricks up the sleeve. A few blinks of the eye later, and it's Sunday afternoon, supper time time already within reach. The idea is to highlight much of the seasonal produce in the fridge, with grilled chicken as supporting cast. Grilled chicken finally gets its due with a simple Vietnamese marinade. (Kim O'Donnel) For a marinade, I want something simple, using relatively few pantry basics with enough kapow to justify a short...

By Kim ODonnel | July 16, 2007; 8:18 AM ET | Comments (16)

What Is Food Writing?

It is a question that's been on my mind of late. Over the course of the past 10 years, I have been fortunate enough to get paid to play with food and write about it. There have been recipes, restaurant writeups, reported articles, essays, weekly columns, Web chats and this daily blog. When asked what I do for a living, I say I write about food, not that I'm a food writer. And the reason is this: I'm a writer first. I like to tell stories. Food is my passion, and it is the entryway for those stories. Food is the entryway. The door swung wide open when this spring I got my hands on a copy of "American Food Writing: An Anthology With Classic Recipes." The brains behind this collection of work that spans 250 years is Molly O'Neill, whose food columns in the New York Times Magazine planted...

By Kim ODonnel | July 13, 2007; 12:14 PM ET | Comments (2)

Getting Fresh: Apricot Angst

I want to like the apricot. I really do. She's so darned pretty, with her smooth skin, all dolled up in a shade of orange that's easy on the eyes. Every year at this time, when locally-grown apricots show up at market, I gaze longingly at these beauty queens like a star-crossed lover with a selective memory. Inevitably, I buy a handful and take home my precious cargo, for yet another tasting, hopeful that this time's a charm. Look how pretty they are! It's a shame they're tasteless. (Kim O'Donnel) I'm sorry to report that this year's tasting was just like all the previous years, revealing nothing more than what I already knew -- the apricot is nondescript on a good day and mealy on a bad one. Blech is about all that comes to mind. For counsel (and perhaps commiseration), I work my way through my cookbook collection, and...

By Kim ODonnel | July 12, 2007; 10:56 AM ET | Comments (21)

Grown-Up Ice Cream Sandwiches

The current weather: One bazillion degrees, with equal humidity and an excellent chance of thundercrackers. All across America. Looks like it's time for ice cream, boys and girls. It's the only way to forget the barometric pressure and lick our way into oblivion. Chocolate cookies bookend a heaping scoop of coffee frozen yogurt for an outrageous ice cream sandwich. (Kim O'Donnel) Just before the skies opened yesterday, I was paging through "The Perfect Scoop," a new title by pastry chef David Lebovitz, who also writes a lively food blog from Paris. In addition to all the weird and wonderful flavors of ice cream, sorbet and frozen yogurt, Lebovitz has included a chapter on "vessels," because as he writes, "Everything in the world deserves a proper, final nesting place." My eyes locked on the page for ice cream sandwich cookies. Now there's something I haven't tried at home. I closed my...

By Kim ODonnel | July 11, 2007; 11:40 AM ET | Comments (22)

Can One Marriage Sustain Two Diets?

Once upon a time, two people meet and get sweet on each other. They both like movies, books and many other items on the dating checklist which gets longer as one inches closer to middle age. But aside from politics, manners and clean fingernails, she needs to ascertain one important criterion before plunging deeper into this relationship: Is he a good eater? In this case, "good" means adventurous, open-minded and willing to try everything on the plate at least once. She shakes her head, thinking of the guy who added ketchup to all his food and then there was the ungrateful punk who had the nerve to critique the get-well soup she lovingly prepared and traveled across town to deliver. Harrumph. Many meals and relationship hurdles later, the two lovebirds decide to get married. She cooks; he eats and cleans up -- and starts to pack on the pounds. One...

By Kim ODonnel | July 10, 2007; 11:11 AM ET | Comments (22)

Real Iced Coffee

My friend Nan is from New Orleans. When I met her nearly 20 years ago in Philadelphia, she talked endlessly about the iced coffee of her hometown, that it was simply the best and that we dopey Yanks had no clue. I tried turning her on to iced Americanos at our favorite coffee shop, but it never quite did the trick for my pal. Could it be "clouds in my coffee"? (Kim O'Donnel) When Nan and her beau, Mig, got hitched a few years later at the The New Orleans Botanical Garden, I had a chance to taste what she had been talking about all this time -- creamy, chocolate-y iced coffee that held up even over ice. She was right; we dopes had been drinking lame-o brown crayon water disguised as iced coffee. Flash forward to June 2007, when I'm back in the Crescent City, volunteering as a chef...

By Kim ODonnel | July 9, 2007; 10:49 AM ET | Comments (55)

Recipe Treats From My Travels

Many of you know that over the past month, I've been on the road, getting to know the foodways of Charleston, S.C. and volunteering in a still struggling, post-Katrina New Orleans. Tucked in my goodie bag of souvenirs and trinkets were a few recipes from the road, the best kind of souvenir because the experience isn't just remembered, it's recreated. Creole tomatoes for sale in New Orleans. (Jessica Su) While I was in New Orleans, Creole tomatoes were at their peak, and their praises sung at the 21st annual Creole Tomato Festival. The start of June is a tad early for East coast tomatoes, but now that July has come 'round the bend, their beams of red light should be making an appearance any day now. (I've heard reports that south Jersey, where I cut my teeth on real-deal tomatoes, began harvesting last week.) The recipe in the goodie bag...

By Kim ODonnel | July 6, 2007; 11:58 AM ET | Comments (5)

Still Blowing Out the Fireworks

I'm in day-after Fourth hoopla mode. Hope you don't mind, but I need a reprieve today. Just getting off the highway and feeling a tad peaked. That's me, brother John and my cute Mom on one July 4th maaaaany moons ago. (O'Donnel family photo) Wondering, though, what you ate and drank yesterday, and if you've got any recipes to share that knocked the red, white and blue off your socks. Any tasty treats to share or juicy stories to tell? Do so in the comments area below, and I'll be back in working order tomorrow, just in time for the weekend....

By Kim ODonnel | July 5, 2007; 12:48 PM ET | Comments (0)

Red, White and Blue Cheat Sheet

This year's Fourth of July is a real bugger, falling in the middle of the week. It's a tall order being red, white and blue while whipping up a fabulous outdoor feast without the cushion of a long weekend. We're literally running out of time before the rockets' red glare gets going, so chop-chop. To help, I've compiled a cheat sheet with lots of links to recipes for various components of a classic summertime shindig. Let's go! Got marinade? There's still time to rub it in and lather up dem ribs, roasts and birds. Consider a dry jerk, curried rub or a bath of yogurt-based tandoori seasonings. Homemade burger buns are the bomb diggety. (Kim O'Donnel) No time for marinade? Do the plank instead. A piece of salmon grilled on a untreated wooden plank does most of the seasoning work, imparting the flavor of the wood into the fish. It's...

By Kim ODonnel | July 3, 2007; 11:33 AM ET | Comments (0)

Tasting 'Ratatouille'

It's rare that I'm champing at the bit to see a movie on opening weekend, but for "Ratatouille," the Pixar feature-length cartoon about a culinarily-inclined rat, I gladly queued up Saturday night. My love for the cartoon and the art of make-believe has continued well into adulthood (Anyone love "The Triplets of Belleville" as much as I did?) but a cartoon about cooking -- well, that's about as good as life gets. The trailer practically had me licking my chops. Remy the Rat makes omelettes the proper way for his pal Linguini. (Walt Disney Pictures) A tale of Remy the Parisian rat who's got a passion for cooking, the film delivers lifelike culinary detail that equals (or maybe surpasses) that of real-life food-centric movies such as "Big Night," "Eat Drink Man Woman" and "Like Water for Chocolate." If you like watching cooking shows, you'll love the attention to technique in...

By Kim ODonnel | July 2, 2007; 11:42 AM ET | Comments (0)

 

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