Archive: March 2008

At-Home Mussels -- And a Case for DIY Curry Paste

We were hankering for mussels at Casa Appetite over the weekend, a craving that also met our objective of eating more sustainable seafood. Mussels get a unanimous green light from the environmental community, getting high marks for aqua-farm management practices and their low position on the food chain. Mussels with a red curry take off the chill. (Kim O'Donnel) If you've never dared to make mussels at home, it's time to get busy. They are so easy to prepare you'll be wondering what took you so long to wake up to this marvelous dinner secret. Once rinsed and inspected, mussels require less than 10 minutes of cooking time. Dinner can literally be on the table in a half hour. For Sunday night's supper, I wanted a bowlful of ka-pow, a little heat in my mussel broth on this stubbornly chilly spring eve. A coconut curry sounded just right. But I...

By Kim ODonnel | March 31, 2008; 10:51 AM ET | Comments (0)

Vegan Cupcakes That Can Fool April

I'll make this snappy because I don't want to keep you from what I predict will be a life-changing experience. Vegan chocolate-peanut butter cupcakes. (Kim O'Donnel) What if I told you it was possible to bake the most outrageous chocolate-peanut butter cupcakes cloaked in a chocolate ganache frosting -- but without a drop of dairy, a smidge of eggs or a spoonful of sugar. That means that the most outrageous chocolate-peanut butter cupcakes in the world are also: a) cholesterol-free and b) diabetic friendly (the sweetener on duty is the low-glycemic agave nectar). If you're feeling a disconnect, I feel you. It is bizarre that rich, chocolate and tender crumb can be uttered in the same sentence as virtuous -- and vegan-undetectable. In fact, I daresay that these cupcakes would make the ultimate April Fool's Day (next Tuesday, April 1) treat -- you literally could fool the pants off all...

By Kim ODonnel | March 27, 2008; 11:44 AM ET | Comments (57)

Sustainable Catch of the Day on Your Phone

The wireless gadgetry that I love to hate (I refer to Mister MA's BlackBerry as his "girlfriend.") has just earned its way back into my good graces. Remember when I was lamenting just a few weeks ago about what a pain it's become to be a seafood shopper? You practically need a degree in marine biology to decipher (and remember) the constantly changing health and eco advisories for all of your favorite fish, a daunting task when all you want to do is grill up some salmon steaks and call it a day. Friend of the Sea's eco-update on cod, via SMS. (Kim O'Donnel) But if you own a cell phone (I think most of us do) or a PDA "girlfriend," your seafood counter confusion may soon be a thing of the past. For basic cell phone users, getting the 411 on tonight's shrimp can be easy as sending a...

By Kim ODonnel | March 27, 2008; 7:55 AM ET | Comments (9)

Chat Leftovers: Powdered Vanilla, Ham Surplus and Food Blogs

As promised, I'm following up with a batch of questions left in this week's What's Cooking queue. Your contributions are vital to the mix, so please don't be bashful in the comments area below. Alexandria, Va.: Where in the D.C. area can one buy powdered vanilla? For those who don't know, powdered vanilla is the ground-up version of a dried vanilla bean. It contains no alcohol, but likely would include the addition of some kind of sugar or dextrose base. Alexandria, you need not go out of your neighborhood for your powdery pursuit; head straight for independent cookware oasis La Cuisine. The powder is available via its Web site, so I'm betting if you give them a call, you'll have the stuff pronto. My second choice would be Sur La Table's Pentagon City store, which carries a well-stocked selection of cake and candy supplies. Web sites/blogs: Kim -- what are...

By Kim ODonnel | March 26, 2008; 8:05 AM ET | Comments (20)

Rocket (Arugula) in My Pockets

For the brunch-y spinach-chickpea pie I made over the weekend, I needed three bunches of spinach. (When cooked, the shrinkage is amazing.) Boy was I surprised while prepping my pie on Sunday to discover that I had purchased three bunches of arugula instead. Don't get me wrong; I'm a lover of the peppery green with a name for every day of the week (eruca, jirjir, rocket, roqueta, roquette, ruchetta, rucola) -- but three bunches? That's a lot of perishable greens on my hands. You know the rule: Use it or lose it -- and fast. An embarrassment of arugula riches. (Kim O'Donnel) To get the arugula party started, I used about half of one bunch in a salad of mixed greens and smoked trout, and that turned out great. But I could hardly rest, with those 2.5 bunches staring right at me. What to do, I ask you? Should I...

By Kim ODonnel | March 25, 2008; 7:56 AM ET | Comments (9)

Spinach Pie, Take 3

I'm a sucker for spinach pie. I like it as a hand-held snack or portable lunch, along the lines of a Middle East fetayer and I like it as a larger entity, baked in a pie plate, kinda Greek-style with greens, onions and feta cheese, but without the greasy phyllo. Spinach and chickpea pie. (Kim O'Donnel) While working on an Easter Sunday brunch menu last week, I dreamed about spinach pie, but also wanted to try something a tad bit different, a little tweak to the routine, if you will. An intriguing variation on the theme emerged as I thumbed through Molly O'Neill's "A Well-Seasoned Appetite." In her version, the dough is made primarily from chickpea flour, which got me thinking about socca, a popular chickpea crepe sold on the street in the south of France (In Italy, it's called farinata.) This I gotta see, I decided. In addition to...

By Kim ODonnel | March 24, 2008; 10:42 AM ET | Comments (23)

The Hamantaschen Project

The Jewish holiday of Purim is in progress as I type these words, and last night, after sunset, when festivities kicked off, I was making dough for hamantaschen, the quintessential Purim sweet. As an O'Donnel growing up in a largely Jewish community outside of Philadelphia, hamantaschen (hah-mahn-tash-en) became part of my cultural vernacular like corned beef and egg creams. One of the best parts about my weekly ballet class was a visit to the adjoining Jewish bakery on Haverford Avenue, where I'd pick out the best-looking cherry-filled hamantaschen on display, leaving the traditional poppy seed or prune varieties for the old folks. Sour cherry jam-filled hamantaschen.(Kim O'Donnel) If you've never had the pleasure, hamantaschen are triangular-shaped cookies, made from a sweet soft dough, and filled with fruit, poppy seeds, cheese or chocolate (which is considered untraditional). But what I love most of all about these hand-held treats is the story....

By Kim ODonnel | March 21, 2008; 11:36 AM ET | Comments (14)

Make Room for Spring

It's official: As of 1:48 a.m. ET, spring is here -- but more importantly, winter has been ushered out the door! In star-gazing circles, that very moment is called the vernal equinox, when the center of the sun's disc stands directly over the equator. The result: nearly equal division of light and darkness and the thaw that so many snowed-under folks in New England and the Midwest have been patiently waiting for. One of the best things about spring. (flickr.com -- Tsaiware) Today is also the first day of Aries, the first sign in the zodiac, symbolizing birth and renewal. "When spring is in the air, appetite, like other basic human urges, responds," writes Molly O'Neill in "A Well-Seasoned Appetite." "There is a renewed taste for the naïve and unembellished." Even with a mild winter like we've had here in Washington, I've got ants in my pants with excitement and...

By Kim ODonnel | March 20, 2008; 7:37 AM ET | Comments (10)

Chat Leftovers: Easter Feasting

This week's What's Cooking prompted several questions about serving suggestions for Easter supper, which takes place this Sunday, March 23. Whether or not you observe Easter, the ideas below should get you in the spring swing of things. As always, your contributions are vital to the mix. And check out today's Food section for Easter mushroom lasagna and holiday hams. Easter egg radishes, Mother Nature's eye candy. (Kim O'Donnel) Easter dinner: I only do three big meals a year, and I like to make it season-specific (unlike MIL, who makes pumpkin pie for the 4th of July) and I like to try something new. But everything on my menu is traditional (except cabrito for the main dish). Any ideas, especially for sides that would be pseudo-traditional (scalloped potatoes) but with a twist to go along with the cabrito? First off, for those who don't know, cabrito is roasted kid (aka...

By Kim ODonnel | March 19, 2008; 10:06 AM ET | Comments (0)

Baking Good Luck Charms for St. Joseph

As St. Patrick's Day revelers dry out and recover from yesterday's merriment, Italians scattered around the U.S. and abroad are gearing up for tomorrow, March 19, a celebration of a patron saint of their very own. The saint in question is San Guiseppe, aka St. Joseph (as in Jesus, Mary and Joseph), and he's been known to protect the common worker from a host of calamities, including illness, bad weather, poverty and all-around bad luck. A ring of St. Joseph's bread for some good luck at Casa Appetite. I don't know from experience what it's like to be part of a St. Joseph's shindig, but based on how Sara Roahen describes in her "Gumbo Tales," it's a combination feast and homage and thanks to Guiseppe via offerings of decorative breads, cookies and other sweets. New Orleans is one of the many Italian communities where St. Joseph's Day is a big...

By Kim ODonnel | March 18, 2008; 11:01 AM ET | Comments (8)

Eating in the Eye of the Atlanta Tornado

It was to be a momentous weekend, a reunion of three college roommates who hadn't been in the same room together for 20 years. The plan was to meet Friday afternoon at Paula's home base in Atlanta; Sarah would fly from Santa Fe, N.M., and I would jet down from D.C. Rain was falling steadily upon my arrival at Hartsfield-Jackson airport sometime around two in the afternoon, but it would stop and start and the sun continued to peek its head out from the cloud cover, giving me reason to believe that we'd have a warm spring weekend ahead of us. After all, the dogwoods were in full bloom. What could possibly go wrong? The Powerpuff girls on break between storms, outside Star Provisions in Atlanta. When the three of us were finally together, zipping around town in Paula's cream-colored Mini Cooper, it was as if, as Paula had observed,...

By Kim ODonnel | March 17, 2008; 11:23 AM ET | Comments (8)

Brilliant (and Vegan) Banana Bread

Have you heard the word about agave nectar? It's a plant-based sweetener from the same plant that's used to produce tequila. Cookbook writer and food blogger Heidi Swanson raves about it in her "Super Natural Cooking" and offers Webby recipe ideas here. I've been tempted to take the agave plunge, but with a surplus of local honey, I've waited until the pantry could afford the space. A nice wholesome twist on an old classic: banana bread sweetened with agave nectar and dates. (Kim O'Donnel) Equipped with a copy of "Baking With Agave Nectar," a fresh new title by natural foods chef Ania Catalano, I can no longer procrastinate; her collection of 100 recipes using agave as the primary sweetener is too tempting to ignore. What I like is that she's taken on baked good classics -- brownies, morning muffins, fruit pies, cake frosting -- and reduces their glycemic load with...

By Kim ODonnel | March 14, 2008; 7:41 AM ET | Comments (13)

This Little Piggy Tastes Like Chocolate...

Remember the days when a chocolate bar would be plain or with nuts? If you were raised on Cadbury, you'd get raisins thrown into the mix for fun, but the choices were simple and few. The 21st century has big things in mind for chocolate; in just a few years, brown bars have morphed from plain to "infused," with everything from bread crumbs to wasabi powder making an appearance on the ingredient list. To wit: Dagoba (now owned by Hershey) does bars filled with raspberries and rosehips, goji berries and currants and the calming duo of lavender and blueberries. Now Dasher and Dancer and Piggy Von Blixen... (Kim O'Donnel) But by far the most esoteric I've seen and sampled come from Vosges Haut-Chocolat, the Chicago-based company owned by Katrina Markoff, for whom a primary inspiration is the music of the late Bob Marley. Markoff's line of 14 bars, which launched...

By Kim ODonnel | March 13, 2008; 7:27 AM ET | Comments (0)

Sardines: Love Those Little Fishes

As mentioned last week, I'm on an eat more fish at home kick, and so far, so good. In addition to tilapia, I've added fresh sardines to the lineup. I don't know what it is about me and the advent of spring, but I gotta have some fresh sardines at this time of year. I'll take a pass on the canned stuff, thank you very much, when the fresh six-inchers are so light, quick cooking and play nicely with other ingredients. Sardines in waiting. (Kim O'Donnel) Plus--and it's a big plus -- sardines rule when it comes to heart-healthy Omega-3 fatty acids and as a non-predatory fish low on the food chain there's no worry of mercury contamination. (For more info on other species, check out the chart of the most contaminated fish and recommended monthly servings from Environmental Defense.) Oh, and there's more good word from the nutrition department:...

By Kim ODonnel | March 12, 2008; 7:32 AM ET | Comments (0)

Cook's Grab Bag: A Call for Clean Water and Emeril Co-Stars

Offer to pay for your tap water next week so that others may drink out of harm's way. That's the focus of Tap Project, UNICEF's week-long fund drive at restaurants nationwide, including more than 90 in Washington. Beginning this Sunday, March 16, here's how you can get involved: Dine out at a Tap Project participating restaurant (you will need to type in your zip code to get a search return for D.C. area eateries) and pay for your tap water. Your minimum $1-donation will help UNICEF's efforts to provide access to clean drinking water and sanitation facilities in the developing world. One dollar buys 40 liters of clean drinking water. Water-related disease (diarrhea, dehydration) is the number two killer of children under five in the developing world, according to UNICEF. Tap Project launched last year in New York, where $100,000 was raised from tap-water-funneled funds at 300 participating restaurants. This...

By Kim ODonnel | March 11, 2008; 7:46 AM ET | Comments (0)

Women's Kitchen Honor Roll

Not until the middle of Saturday afternoon did it occur to me that it was International Women's Day. I kinda kicked myself for being remiss but quickly realized it's never too late to pay tribute to and honor the women who have made the world more delicious. A complete list of the women who have made a mark as chefs, cookbook writers, food journalists, television personalities, restaurateurs, winemakers, farmers, cooking teachers, historians, scientists, cheesemakers, patissiers and chocolatiers would go on for days. And that's not even counting all the home cooks, the abuelas, nonnas and grannies, who, with all kinds of tricks up their sleeves, would fry chicken and bake cookies, teach you not to talk with your mouth full, let you lick the batter and teach you, when you were good and ready, the recipes that preceded both of you, from another time and faraway place. They transported seeds...

By Kim ODonnel | March 10, 2008; 11:08 AM ET | Comments (0)

Rediscovering Tilapia

I'll admit it: I love seafood, but prepare it at home with relative infrequency. Buying seafood in the 21st century has become a major hassle -- if it's not mercury and PCB contamination, it's the environmental impact you have to worry about. The research involved in cooking a fish dinner, in all honesty, gives me a headache that I'd rather avoid. But this is short-sighted on my part. Fish, as we know, is lean heart-healthy protein, brain food that does the body a lot of good. As a woman of child-bearing age, I regularly mull over the mercury debate and cringe with worry when I make my monthly tuna sandwich -- and the sushi bar - well, I've pretty much given up that pastime until further notice. I'm not saying I'm being rational, folks. But what I do need to do is focus less on the "avoid" fish and more...

By Kim ODonnel | March 5, 2008; 8:22 AM ET | Comments (0)

Greetings From Paradise

The sky is baby blue, even as I type in this pre-dusk hour (sun sets at approximately 6:42 p.m. local time, which is one hour ahead of eastern standard time). I can hear the crashing of the waves from the beach just a few hundred yards away, and the palms are doing their dance, a gentle swishing of their fronds that bears likeness to a dancer luring her partner onto the dance floor. The view from my cottage at Evamer, in Vieques. (Kim O'Donnel) Greetings from Vieques, aka Isla Nena, one of Puerto Rico's smaller siblings, just seven miles east of the "big island." Mister MA and I are back at the scene of the crime, where we got hitched one year ago, celebrating our milestone and some quiet time away from the urban jungle. Believe it or not, I really am working this week, but shucks, how bad could...

By Kim ODonnel | March 4, 2008; 7:20 AM ET | Comments (0)

March Mag Roundup

If I held onto every food magazine that arrived through my mail slot every month, the house would probably begin to look like Miss Havisham's and you might have to come and dig me out from the epi-literary rubble. This exercise of assessing the state of monthly food glossies is just as much for your benefit as it is for mine -- the fine combing forces me to weed out the tossers from the keepers and helps me from becoming a pack rat! (well, sort of.) So instead of asking whether a magazine is worth the newsstand price (a moot point when you're a reduced-rate subscriber), I'll focus more on its "keeper" value, whether it deserves to take up a few more inches of space on your already crowded shelves, a relevant question for both committed subscribers and one-time newsstand flirts. Below, in alphabetical order, this month's lineup of glossy...

By Kim ODonnel | March 3, 2008; 7:35 AM ET | Comments (0)

 

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