### Leap Year Vittles: Is There Such a Thing?

This year, February has 29 days. That means -- you got it -- Leap Year is here! Leap year is a by-product of the Gregorian calendar in its efforts to synchronize with the solar calendar, i.e. the amount of time it takes for the earth to complete its orbit around the sun, which is 365.25 days. After all the mathematical whizbanging, this is why it's necessary to add an an extra day to the Gregorian calendar every four years, except of course during century years (but that's for another blog and algorithm). I don't know anyone born on Feb. 29, but I've always wondered what it feels like to have an off-the-books birthday 75 percent of the time. I've read that the chances of being born on Leap Day is 1 in 1,500, but that's an unconfirmed statistic. If you've got good numbers (or are a member of the Leap...

By Kim ODonnel | February 28, 2008; 9:03 AM ET | Comments (0)

### Chat Leftovers: Andouille Redux, Lollipop Molds, Naked Chicken

The What's Cooking queue was still full after this week's gabfest; below, a handful of questions that caught my eye and whetted my whistle. As per usual, I invite you to weigh in and add salt when necessary. What to douille?: I have half a pound of andouille leftover (frozen at the moment) from jambalaya a few weeks ago. I'm thinking of using it in an empanada-style stuffing... cutting it up to blend with some onions, peppers... AND what? What goes well with andouille? What complements it nicely and will hold up to a little baking? Or am I on completely a wrong track here? Open to suggestions to make good use of the andouille and break a bit of a dinner rut. I've had chorizo-stuffed empanadas, sure. But I think ground meat generally performs better as a savory pastry filling (I'm drooling over the idea of Jamaican meat patties...

By Kim ODonnel | February 27, 2008; 9:38 AM ET | Comments (0)

### Popovers: A Kitchen Experiment

In response to a reader request, the popover is the subject of today's little ditty. The popover, ladies and gents, is a culinary relic, a descendant of Yorkshire pudding, the 18th-century English batter pudding seasoned with meat drippings and originally eaten with gravy (before the meat course) to help curb the appetite. Popovers, just out of the oven: Quick, before they deflate! (Kim O'Donnel) By the next century, the popover made its way into kitchens on this side of the Atlantic, albeit smaller and more of a handheld treat that could be eaten for breakfast. In fact, the first documented popover recipe in this country appeared in Mary Newton Foote Henderson's 1876 cookbook, "Practical Cooking and Dinner Giving, " in which she refers to them as "breakfast puffs or pop-overs." Simple and straightforward, the batter is primarily composed of milk, flour and at least two eggs, which act as the...

By Kim ODonnel | February 26, 2008; 10:30 AM ET | Comments (36)

### Easter Crack, I Mean Candy

So I'm in Target over the weekend, on a research mission (that's how I rationalize my frequent visits). On my way to the toothpaste, I'm suddenly blinded by an intense burst of color, a swath of uber-pastels that lock my vision and bring me into a state of altered consciousness. I walk toward the light, slowly and methodically, as if in a trance (along the lines of "Scooby Doo"), unaware of everything around me but the end of the rainbow, an entire aisle of Easter candy, filled to the gills with bags of eggs, row after row seamlessly stacked as if it were one big sea inviting me to dive in and swim with the dolphins. Robin's Eggs: You need a sharp knife to cut these candy-coated malted milk balls in half. (Kim O'Donnel) I inch closer, in hopes of getting a good whiff, and all I really smell is...

By Kim ODonnel | February 25, 2008; 11:54 AM ET | Comments (20)

### Veggie Chat Leftovers: Teen Carbotarian, Mashed Mates, Provencal Veggie Feast

As promised in yesterday's What's Cooking Vegetarian chat, I've answered a handful of leftover questions worth chewing on for further discussion. Please weigh in as you see fit in the comments area below, and have a safe, delicious weekend! Virginia:A friend of mine's teenaged daughter has become vegetarian. But she doesn't like vegetables (and neither does he really -- just vegetable soup). So far, they eat a lot of cheese sandwiches and cheese pizza when she visits. Any suggestions for a non-cook for his teenaged daughter on weekends? I've suggested omelets and using fake eggs but that's about it. So you've got a noncook and a young, impressionable carbotarian. The cheese marathon has got to stop! This is actually a great opportunity, not a dilemma. Both Dad and daughter could use some kitchen time together in form of a few cooking lessons, using her new diet as a springboard for...

By Kim ODonnel | February 22, 2008; 11:03 AM ET | Comments (0)

### Who's Cooking What Online

The big wide world of the Web is in constant motion, which means you practically need running shoes to keep up with the latest greatest sites, blogs and multimedia extravaganzas. Who would have thought just a few years ago we'd need "bookmarking" tools like del.icio.us to keep us Web-organized? The online food universe is no exception; in spite of my Web-surfing vigilance, I often find myself up to my eyeballs with new designs, site navigation, whiz-bang databases and embedded videos. Below, a short list of Web kitchen destinations that have caught my roving eye over the past few months. It takes a village to stay hip and Web-groovy, so please share your online food faves in the comments area below. Today is chat day; join me at 1 ET for What's Cooking Vegetarian. You can use the Web to find a date, a dog sitter or a plumber. Why not...

By Kim ODonnel | February 21, 2008; 10:58 AM ET | Comments (6)

### Spice Rack: Cumin and Coriander, the Ancient, Dynamic Duo

Coriander and cumin. They go together like... peanut butter and jelly? Well, sort of. While cumin lends a musky perfume, coriander is more citrus-like, even a little dusty. They complement in each other in cuisines around the world -- Cuban, Mexican, Indian, Turkish, Lebanese -- and they've been pals for ages. These spice girls have been hanging together a really long time. Spice power: Coriander (left) and cumin (right) seeds. (Kim O'Donnel) In fact, there are biblical references to both plants in the book of Exodus (16:31): And the house of Israel called the name thereof Manna: and it was like coriander seed, white; and the taste of it was like wafers made with honey. And in the book of Isaiah (28:25): When he hath made plain the face thereof, doth he not cast abroad the fitches, and scatter the cummin, and cast in the principal wheat and the appointed...

By Kim ODonnel | February 20, 2008; 10:45 AM ET | Comments (15)

### A Buffet of Food Memoirs

Even for a junkie like me, it's hard keeping up with the constant flow of new food memoirs that are cropping up on bookstore shelves like weeds. It's a literary all-you-can-eat buffet, a smorgasbord of titles covering all aspects (and perspectives) of the food world, from a former eavesdropping server at Per Se (Phoebe Damrosch's "Service Included") to a celiac girl-meets-chef love story (Shauna James Ahearn's "Gluten-Free Girl") -- and that's just a sliver of what's been published since September. While on vacation earlier this month, I had time to make a dent in the tower of books by my bed, and devour a brand new memoir hybrid (part love letter to New Orleans) I'm dying to tell you about. And just as soon as I finished all four books, I've come to learn about yet another newly launched title ("Fair Shares for All" by John Haney) that has me...

By Kim ODonnel | February 19, 2008; 11:44 AM ET | Comments (1)

### Neighborhood Crumb Cake

There's a place near Casa Appetite, a place where the Mister and I like to go if nobody feels like cooking. It's become our neighborhood joint, even though it's too far to walk and it's not really a joint at all. I grew up just outside of Philadelphia, where diners and delis were (and still are) an integral part of the cultural landscape. This kind of localized, community eating is harder to come by in a cosmo city like Washington, so when you do find a neighborhood spot, you latch on real quick and don't let go. Crumb cake, a reminder of the good ole days. (Kim O'Donnel) The place in question is The Liberty Tavern, a renovated historic building (a Masonic lodge in a former life) on a corner in Clarendon, Va. The cool kids probably know it more as the 'in' place for a drink, but we've managed...

By Kim ODonnel | February 15, 2008; 10:32 AM ET | Comments (8)

### The Best Meal I Never Did Cook

The back door was propped open, but the wind just didn't want to push through the screen and offer relief on this warmer-than-average day in mid-June. Wait, hold that thought. It wasn't warm, it was hot and downright sticky like high noon in August, a classic summer day in D.C., and my jangled nerves only contributed to the sweat trickling down the small of my back. There was a man coming for dinner, and I liked him. Shucks, just a few days earlier, I gave him a piece of my fried chicken, so I knew I wasn't imagining this thing I was feeling. But girl, it was all wrong. The boxes in the front part of the house, stacked on top of one another to the ceiling and waiting for their overseas shipping labels, told a different story. I was about to leave the country. And get married. He wasn't...

By Kim ODonnel | February 14, 2008; 10:51 AM ET | Comments (14)

### 14 Things to Know About Cooking Beans

It's taken a long time, but a few years ago, I finally got to a place where cooking a pot of dried beans didn't make me run for the hills. Much of my education is based on trial and error, with a little help from bean experts such as Rancho Gordo's Steve Sando. During my schooling, I've noticed a dramatic increase in bean interest not only because they're a cheap form of protein but because they're good for you. (Hello, fiber, amino acids and calcium!) Below, the 411 on cookin' beans based on the lessons I've learned and secrets whispered to me along the way. Soaking 1. The general rule of thumb is to soak beans for at least four hours. Scoff all you like, but those beans will take forever and a day to cook otherwise. 2. Types of beans that require no soaking whatsoever: Lentils, split peas and...

By Kim ODonnel | February 13, 2008; 10:35 AM ET | Comments (157)

### Irresistible Cake Love

I haven't been married for very long (it'll be one year in just a few weeks), but if there's one thing I've learned about keeping the love alive, it's the element of surprise. Right now, as I type, Mister MA, who's still under the covers, has no idea what is in store when he ambles downstairs for his morning coffee. Red velvet valentine: Who could resist? (Kim O'Donnel) Because he knows I'm always testing recipes, he paid little attention last night to the unfrosted red velvet sheet cake cooling in the dining room. My plan: To transform this cake rectangle into an edible love note, a sweet message he could read, digest and savor. As of last weekend, I had no clue what I might do to surprise my main squeeze for this year's love-a-thon, but then Cupid showed up and pointed me in the direction of cookie cutters that...

By Kim ODonnel | February 12, 2008; 10:35 AM ET | Comments (0)

### Cooking: The Next Happy Pill?

In a recent New York Times Magazine interview, U.S. Poet Laureate Charles Simic was asked what advice he'd give to people who are looking to be happy. His response: "For starters, learn how to cook." The question was asked in the context of the slew of self-help books on the pursuit of happiness -- a state of being guaranteed by the Declaration of Independence no less -- and once there, how to keep the good vibrations going. So, if we heed Simic's advice and get back into the kitchen, could it be possible to one day throw the Zoloft down the drain? Could some time with the cutting board replace the need for time on the therapist's couch? Would the inexplicable, seemingly unsolvable mysteries of life still carry the same weight after making a pot of soup? And on a more universal level, here's what I've been chewing on for...

By Kim ODonnel | February 11, 2008; 9:56 AM ET | Comments (20)

### Friday Night Fishcakes With a Thai Twist

The story behind this story is one to which we all can relate: What should I cook for dinner tonight? I was pondering that very question yesterday afternoon, but was coming up empty, even with hundreds of books in my midst. To help fire up the synapses, I turned to my food-stained copy of "The Kitchen Diaries," an old reliable by Brit food writer Nigel Slater. In "The Kitchen Diaries," Slater chronicles a year in the life of his own home kitchen in London. Thai fish cakes: A sure-fire way to break out of a cooking rut. (Kim O'Donnel) I peeked at the Feb. 7 and Feb. 8 entries (with the idea of coinciding with the calendar) which dish up "lamb shanks to warm the soul" and "a smoked fish supper." The idea of fish appealed -- but without the smoke. So I kept thumbing through until I saw the...

By Kim ODonnel | February 8, 2008; 11:04 AM ET | Comments (11)

### Cook's Grab Bag: Year of the Rat, CSA Sign-Up, Spinach Salad

Gung Hay Fat Choy! Today is the beginning of the year 4706 on the Lunar Calendar. It is the year of the Rat - and if you were born in 1936, 1948, 1960, 1972, 1984 or 1996, this is your year, kid. The first sign of the Chinese zodiac (in the Western zodiac, it's Aries), the Rat is characterized as industrious and ambitious, a sing that is willing to take risks. It signifies new beginnings, so this would be a good year to put long-stewing plans into action. Over the past several years, I've consulted cookbook author Grace Young ("Breath of a Wok") for guidance on how to commemorate Lunar New Year at the stove. As she explained in an online chat with me a few years ago, the Chinese prepare foods that symbolize good health, prosperity and fortune and strength on the domestic/family front. I didn't get my act...

By Kim ODonnel | February 7, 2008; 10:44 AM ET | Comments (8)

### Chat Leftovers: Gearing Up for Valentine's Day

It's still a week away, but some What's Cooking lovebirds are already putting together their Valentine's Day menus. Below, a few unanswered questions from yesterday's chat, with next week's lovefest in mind. In the coming days, I promise more ideas for romance from the stove. Dupont Circle, Washington, D.C.: I'm thinking of doing a comforting mac and cheese at home for Valentine's Day next week. Any ideas what to pair with that? I'm assuming a salad, but what about a protein? I know people often put meat in mac and cheese but I also feel like it ends up being too much. Also, any ideas for dessert? With such a heavy entree it's hard coming up with suitable accompanying courses. Just a few weeks ago, I whipped up a batch of mac and cheese for a buffet-style dinner party, and paired it with stewed tomatoes (recipe guidelines below the mac...

By Kim ODonnel | February 6, 2008; 9:40 AM ET | Comments (0)

### Whole Foods to Bag Plastic: Whaddya Think?

Maybe you've heard: Late last month, Whole Foods Market announced its decision to phase out plastic shopping bags company wide -- 258 U.S. stores, plus six in Canada and six in the U.K. The plan, according to the press release, is to bag the plastic by April 22, which also happens to be Earth Day. Whole Foods will become the first plastic shopping bag-free retail grocery chain in the U.S. The past year has seen a stronger push against plastic bags in pockets around the country. Last summer, Whole Food's store in Annapolis, Md. phased out plastic bags, spurred on by proposed legislation to ban plastic bags throughout the city. (The measure failed to pass.) But the first city to go on the books with such a ban is San Francisco, now in its first year of plastic bag-free-dom. Plastic checkout bags are a relatively recent phenomenon; according to the...

By Kim ODonnel | February 5, 2008; 10:26 AM ET | Comments (0)

### When Food Connects Mind, Body and Soul

I wasn't planning to write about my vacation. The idea was to completely unplug all work-related circuitry and disallow story ideas from creeping into that overactive brain of mine and just chill. To that end, I left the laptop behind, turned off the cell phone and headed to Costa Rica with a few books and a camera. It was to be a solo retreat, an opportunity to catch up with 18 months of accumulated thoughts and inhale cleaner air. There would be yoga, lots of nature and maybe a good massage or two. Anything else would be gravy. One of the many awe-inspiring views from the restaurant at Pura Vida Spa in Costa Rica. (Kim O'Donnel) I had heard good things about the vegetarian-centric food at Pura Vida Spa, which offers an all-inclusive package with three meals a day, but in my exhausted state, food was closer to the bottom...

By Kim ODonnel | February 4, 2008; 9:20 AM ET | Comments (13)

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