Let’s Play 20 (Kitchen) Questions

I’ve got nothing to show today, but plenty to tell, if you’ll let me.

KOD sipping on a date shake just outside of Palm Springs, Calif. (R. Walker)

Today -- all day -- I’m all yours. Here’s your chance to get some answers to those nagging cooking/kitchen questions that have been keeping you up late at night. Ask away, and I’ll do my best to fix you up. From 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. PT, I’ll be your on-call gal. Fire away.

By Kim ODonnel |  May 20, 2009; 7:40 AM ET Ask Kim
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An all day chat! Is there anything better?!

Are there really cookie recipes out there that are not completely bad for you? I love to bake, love to nibble, but we're both trying to lose weight. I tried the skinny chocolate chip cookies recipe, but had to double the recipe (baking for a sailboat crew) and in doing so realized that once doubled, it's got more of just about everything than the Toll House recipe! And wasn't quite as yummy...

Will baking with a gluten free flour do the job? I already reduce the sugar a little bit, with no problems. Or should I just run extra laps because there's no way I can cut the fats?

Posted by: capecodner424 | May 20, 2009 8:23 AM

OK, something I keep forgetting to ask. Do you have a low sodium alternative to standard meat tenderizer? In these economic times, I tend to buy cheaper cuts but need to cut the salt...

Posted by: ArlingtonGay | May 20, 2009 8:24 AM

Good Morning, Kim!

Lately, I feel as if I've lost my kitchen zen. Nothing is working. My baking is flat (quite literally), inspiration is lost out in the long grass of the backyard, and mealtimes are long trials of begging battles and power-plays.


But the baking... I recently punted my cheap, panty-waist bread machine to the curb because it was rusting and failing. It was my source for doughs (bread and pizza), and now I'm lost. Yesterday I tried the no-knead artisinal bread and found it to be a sticky, soupy goopy mess to work with. The kicker was that the boule didn't thoroughly bake in the middle. The edges were great (niiice crust!); migrating towards the middle of my 2"h. x 8" round, however, yielded dense and under-baked dough inside. I followed directions, did the resting, steam in the oven, 30 minutes, hollow sounding, etc. etc.

Lady, words of wisdom if you've got 'em, please. Help shake me outta this funk. (I'll be getting to the summer farmer's markets next weekend, which always helps.)

(Mwah!) from back East,

Posted by: CentreofNowhere | May 20, 2009 8:43 AM

i totally share your excitement over the babycakes cookbook, but deep down i am wondering: what are the real benefits of exploring this type of cooking when you are not a vegan, a celiac, or allergic to eggs? i'm excited about it mostly out of curiosity-which is always a benefit--but what benefits can someone like me look for in alternative styles of cooking?

bonus question: growing medicinal herbs this summer and looking for exciting ways to use lemon balm/verbana and tusli basil.

Posted by: devra1 | May 20, 2009 8:59 AM

Ok, my question isn't cooking related, but are you still going to have a live chat over at that other cooking website? The URL is escaping me right now, but I definitely miss your Mighty Appetite chats and while this is a good substitute, it's not quite the same!

Posted by: cf07 | May 20, 2009 9:04 AM

What's a good resource for learning about all the type of cuts of beef? I'm always confused when I go to the store because they never call the cuts what they call them in the recipes. Plus I have no idea what each cut is like. I'm looking for something easy to understand and interesting. Thanks!

Posted by: shauch | May 20, 2009 9:46 AM

I've recently found that I am extremely lactose intolerant. I'm working around that, but I would love to have a creamy cupcake frosting that isn't dairy based. I figure I could use margarine or shortening. Do you have any tasty suggestions?

Posted by: shen606 | May 20, 2009 10:05 AM

Good morning from Seattle! I'm working on my first cup of coffee -- Route 66 beans from Misha's in Old Town, to be exact. We had thunder here last night, a rare occurence, which made a tad homesick. Cf07, I am hosting a weekly chat on Culinate (www.culinate.com) these days; Table Talk is every Thursday, 1ET, which means the next one up is tomorrow. Stop by here: http://www.culinate.com/columns/table_talk/tt_20090521

Posted by: Kim ODonnel | May 20, 2009 10:26 AM

Beer, wine and spirits are excellent meat tenderizers. Choose your poison. Rum and tequila also work well as a marinade for chicken and seafood. Lime, orange and lemon juice also tenderize. Try rum or tequila with lime, lemon and orange juice, some fresh chiles, freshly ground white and black peppper. Beer works great for stew and chile.

Posted by: sheepherder | May 20, 2009 10:29 AM

GAFF, great question. Honestly, those tenderizers don't really tenderize the meat, they season it, and it really comes down to cooking method rather than the stuff you put on it. Instead of a bottled marinade, I'd recommend making your own so that you can control the salt. Do you have a specific cut of meat/animal/dish in mind?

Posted by: Kim ODonnel | May 20, 2009 10:34 AM

Sheepherder, you beat me to the punch. Yes, acid is good overall, although you wanna be careful with citrus, so that it doesn't "cook" the meat, but as part of a marinade, a good idea. I am a big fan of cooking with spirits too.

Posted by: Kim ODonnel | May 20, 2009 10:36 AM

Anybody have advice on mustard oil? I have cookbooks that call for it, but when I see it in markets, the bottle always says it's not for cooking. Some sources say to heat it to a high temperature before using. And I read someplace that it contains a compound that isn't approved in the US -- but all those people who cook with it can't be wrong, can they? Grateful for any wisdom out there...

Posted by: Judy10 | May 20, 2009 10:45 AM

Hey Devra1, my excitement also stems from curiosity, particularly as it relates to a possible additional option for readers who really need this info. Thing is, 1 in 100 or so Americans have celiac, and within next generation, that number will increase to 1 in 50, which means eventually we'll all have a celiac in our midst, and who doesn't love a birthday cake? And as you know, those not eating dairy or eggs for whatever reason are growing in numbers, with more "mixed" relationships/families, so I think it's good to become familiar with different ways of doing things. Gluten-free baking has come a LONG Way and meatless fare has literally transformed. These routes are no longer the alternative. They're part of the mainstream.

Posted by: Kim ODonnel | May 20, 2009 10:45 AM

Do you know of anyplace in the DC area that has good cooking classes for fish?

Posted by: chiquita2 | May 20, 2009 10:48 AM

Capecodner424, for many basic drop cookies -- oatmeal, choc chip, etc -- you can substitute Earth Balance spread which will help cut down on the dairy fat, but I suppose I'd want to know what you're after -- reduced calories, sat. fats, or something more wholesome/nutritious? Personally, I think a cookie every once in a while is not a crime, but most would argue, I can't eat just one...

Posted by: Kim ODonnel | May 20, 2009 10:53 AM

That's a question perhaps better suited for the Food section, which keeps its ear close to the ground on all things local (I'm in Seattle). Anyone had a crack at the classes offered at Culin Aerie, the newish cooking school in DC.?

Posted by: Kim ODonnel | May 20, 2009 10:57 AM

Shauch, I really like "How to Cook Meat" by Chris Schlesinger and John Willoughby -- great explanation and top-shelf recipes, lots of tips. If you want something hand held that you can carry around with you, check out "Field Guide to Meat" by Aliza Green.

Posted by: Kim ODonnel | May 20, 2009 11:00 AM

I have some good news: I finally overcame my fear of phyllo and made a slammin vegan "spanakopita" --with tofu and kale instead of feta and spinach. The only thing I'd do differently is make mini-pies next time, so that I can have a freshly-baked pie each night. How would you do it? Freeze? Par-bake? Any other (vegetarian friendly) filling suggestions?

Posted by: mee3c | May 20, 2009 11:04 AM

Shen606, this is not the time for improv. I'd consult books by Isa Chandra Moskowitz, author of several books, including "Vegan Cupcakes Rule the World" or the "Babycakes" book I mentioned recently by Erin McKenna. I've not done it myself but I understand you can make a pretty good "cream cheese" frosting with soy cream cheese. OH, wait. Fran Costigan. She's got great resources too on vegan baking. Let me message her, get the lowdown.

Posted by: Kim ODonnel | May 20, 2009 11:06 AM

Mee3c, nice going! Doesn't it feel great to overcome fears in the kitchen? Mushrooms are great inside phyllo, plenty of herbs, caramelized onions. You could definitely freeze, thaw and reheat in oven. Wrap really well in the deep freeze.

Posted by: Kim ODonnel | May 20, 2009 11:11 AM

Hi Kim! Thanks so much for taking questions. I was recently given a bottle of good quality (expensive and fancy!) olive oil and another of wine vinegar. I've never used wine vinegar - where would be a good place to use it? I use balsamic vinegar in salad dressing sometimes but not that much. I'm not sure what the difference is, either.

If you have any suggestions for something to do with the olive oil, especially a place where the good quality would be most appreciated, I'd love to hear those too! (I use olive oil in almost all of my cooking and in baking bread, but I've never really noticed a difference in types...)

Posted by: Alythea | May 20, 2009 11:17 AM

Centre, like anything else in life, kitchen funk-a-ramas do happen -- and probably more than we'd like. Cut yourself some slack -- you're a busy mom running a household and based on what I know through the blog and chat that you work really hard to feed your fam food from the kitchen, not the drive-thru. Bear in mind that Mercury is in retrograde until May 30 -- I know some of you are rolling your eyes right now -- but I can't tell you how many people I know who are feeling frustrated and stymied this month! Sometimes it's all about getting out of your head, so that trip to the farm market is a great idea. Maybe a visit to the library or the book store is in order, for some quality time with a new cookbook? I might also make your very favorite thing in the world this week, whatever that may be, and celebrate it. Maybe it's a pot of soup? A grilled cheese? A bowl of buttery noodles? think what brings you great gustatory (and spiritual) pleasure.

Posted by: Kim ODonnel | May 20, 2009 11:25 AM

HELP! I am going camping this weekend with my boyfriend and 4 kids (ages 6-13). I need help coming up with some menu ideas outside of hamburgers and hotdogs on the grill! Snack ideas also welcome, I'm worried about keeping things cold over 3 days!

Posted by: kippi22 | May 20, 2009 11:28 AM

Kippi22, Make your own granola for breakfast and snacks.

Lulu's Cookies for in the car and for hikes in the woods. Also great with coffee:

I am so NOT a camping expert, so I'm going to defer to those more in the know. I'm assuming you'll be taking not one, but 2 coolers? Holler.

Posted by: Kim ODonnel | May 20, 2009 11:36 AM

Hi shen606: As the Diva of Dairy Free, vegan baking instructor and author of More Great Good Dairy Free Desserts Naturally, I can assure you that lactose intolerance does not mean you can’t eat your cakes and frosted too. In fact, I hear all the time that my dairy free (DF) versions taste better than traditional versions. I don’t accept ‘good for what it is’ -- great is where it’s at. I choose to use organic ingredients that are as unrefined as possible in my recipes, so my instructions specify organic sweeteners, but regular sugar works too. (I am not is the food police.) Still, without the taste of milk, butter, cream, the subtle flavor of natural sweeteners is a bonus. Now to some ideas for you--straight from tomorrow night's Vegan Cupcake Extravaganza at Natural Gourmet Institute. You can always make a standard buttercream DF by subbing vegan shortening and/or vegan margarine spread (aka vegan butter, plus organic 10x sugar and soymilk, soy creamer. Note that vegan butter-- spreads like Earth Balance, are salty so cut out or reduce the salt. Add pure vanilla extract and if nut allergy a non-issue, a little almond extract too. Chocolate, mocha, citrus flavorings are easily made. My favorite icings are made with more natural ingredients because, health matters aside, in my opinion, they make better tasting icings than shortening buttercreams, DF or not. In fact I guarantee spoon licking. Some examples to get your started: Chill a can of full fat coconut milk. Use the solid approximately 2/3 portion of the thick, very solid milk. (save the water cake batters, smoothies etc) Whip in a stand mixer, using the whisk attachment with 10x or finely ground org. sugar until peaks form. This lasts a few days in refrigerator and can be flavored. Coconut Milk is DF heavy cream. Chocolate: Make a Vegan Ganache and dip your cupcakes or chill and whip the ganache until creamy in a mixer. Chocolate Tofu Frostings are amazing--easy to put together in food processor. They’re creamy and can be piped or spread. I have a recipe for Chocolate Tofu Cream in my book. Or use my Chocolate Peanut Butter Mousse, made a little softer to spread on a chocolate cupcake and you’ll have the best version of that candy store treat. Even chocolate pudding (mine can be made w, soy or water for a very lean icing) works very well.
You can see DF buttercream covered wedding cake (Chocolate Ganache is under the buttercream) on my website (www.francostigan.com). Follow links to photos of frosted cupcakes and other cakes on my site, all made DF. Feel free to email me at francostigan@mac.com with any questions you have. Now. I’m hungry for a cupcake or icing shot and luckily, there’s some in my refrigerator.

Posted by: francostigan | May 20, 2009 11:58 AM

Its me again, weighing in-no pun here intended.
Perhaps this is shameless self promotion but honestly, I’m just trying to help out a cookie lover who is watching her weight. All the recipes in my book, More Great Good Dairy Free Desserts Naturally are lower in fats--naturally. Just doing vegan or alternative baking, as I prefer to label my work, does not a fat or sugar reduced recipe make. And 100% fat free baked goods (a lie really and they need far more sugar) taste bad. Have a look at my Chocolate Chip Cookies. They are extremely low fat and taste really good –or what’s the point. And if you like brownies, the Amazing Low Fat Brownies are the just that.

Posted by: francostigan | May 20, 2009 12:20 PM

chiquita2 (and Kim):

I took the fish class at Culin Aerie in February, taught by Gerard Pangaud. It was fantastic. He taught us all kinds of useful tidbits about cooking fish and general cooking/food knowledge. He showed us how to make about four dishes, and then just set us loose to cook whatever we wanted, although he was wandering around offering help. It was pricy, but totally worth it!

Posted by: Agfras | May 20, 2009 12:28 PM

Thanks, Fran. I appreciate all of the tips! After a lifetime of baking whatever I want (and doing it well) it's shocking and confusing to figure out how to replace all of my favorites - but it's also kind of fun.

Posted by: shen606 | May 20, 2009 12:36 PM

Kim, thanks for doing this, it is such a great idea--b/c I sure do miss your weekly chats!
Here's a question for you, since you make coffee in a french press (which I recently bought), and since I am SO bad at making coffee: how much coffee do you use per water? I have yet to figure this out--but maybe changing the type of coffee makes a difference? Thanks for any input!

Posted by: chrishpl | May 20, 2009 12:50 PM

Hi Kim,

Just wanted to send a hello and a hug from a long-time follower and beneficiary of you wisdom. :) I'm a long ways from home and feel those blue twinges every now and again, but the sunnier weather on the horizon keeps me hopeful. :)Wanted to share with you some happy moments lately from upstate NY:

-Some potted herbs from last season have re-sprouted! A welcome surprise (and mystery- I have no idea what they are- they could be fragrant weeds for all I know- but they smell great!)

-Rhubarb is back, and more puckery than ever....have a bag chopped, frozen, and waiting for strawberries. :)

-I'm going to help a friend build an herb garden this summer- any suggestions for friendly raised-bedfellows? Keeping the mint quarantined in a separate pot, but open to any other suggestions for a relatively shaded spot.....

Oh, and speaking of shade, one more question.....Assuming I might get my hands on some expertly-foraged morels, what would you suggest doing with these precious babies?

Thanks lady- sending you good kitchen karma!

Posted by: sunnaii | May 20, 2009 12:54 PM

Chrishpl, congrats on the French press! Here's a link to a piece on brewing your own joe, w/ tips from Peets:

General rule of thumb -- 2 tablespoons coffee for every 6-8 ounces water.

fyi, I am now hosting a weekly chat every Thursday (1ET) on Culinate (www.culinate.com), so please stop by.

Posted by: Kim ODonnel | May 20, 2009 1:00 PM

Hi Kim- This is almst like you wonderful old chats! How terrific.
I am trying to make "sprouted bread' from a recipe in the Boston Globe recently. My grains are currently soaking and will be sprouted and ready, according to the recipe, to become dough and bread on Saturday. The recipe says that if you use a food processor not to allow them to get warm. I was wondering why and what evil would befall the bread if the mixture did warm up. The recipe also includes yeaat, gluten and little honey. My hope is that it will be like the Ezekiel Bread, but homemade.

Posted by: NewtonMom | May 20, 2009 1:13 PM

Sunnaii, thanks for your kind words from NY State. For that rhubarb, check out the rhubarb buckle I did recently -- hot diggety.

Re: your raised beds: unfortunately, I'm unqualified to answer this one! Maybe someone more experieced can lend a hand?

Re: morels: Asparagus is a great partner. You can slice thin, saute in butter. When I could eat 'shrooms, they were pretty spectacular in a risotto. Cheers.

Posted by: Kim ODonnel | May 20, 2009 1:14 PM


I'm so glad you're doing this chat. I've got two unrelated questions.

1) Are there any tricks for helping plantains to ripen faster (ie, paper bag, etc)? My local store only sells the green ones, but I like them black so they cook up really sweet.

2) I made your cherry clafouti last summer and loved it, but taking the pits out of all those cherries was a huge job. I used a cherry pitter from Sur la Table, but it didn't work that well. What am I missing? And are there other fruits that work? I vaguely remember having a grape clafouti several years ago -- seems like it would be much less work, but maybe not as tasty. What do you think? Thanks!

Posted by: jwolzie | May 20, 2009 1:21 PM

Hi Kim,

I often want to replace a thickener called for in a recipe with a different thickener. For example, I like to use arrowroot instead of cornstarch. Have you ever seen a table that shows you equivalency amounts for the most common thickeners (potato starch, potato flour, tapioca, tapioca flour, corn starch, corn flour, arrowroot, etc.)? I tend to do a guessing game, which works well in cooking and not-so-well in baking.


Posted by: leahstan | May 20, 2009 1:24 PM

NewtonMom, I'm looking at a recipe for sprouted wheat bread from Beth Hensperger as I type to you. There is no warning about getting the dough too warm, and her method is flexible -- by hand and with whisk or with a stand mixer. Let me know if you need more info.

Posted by: Kim ODonnel | May 20, 2009 1:34 PM

Leahstan, check out foodsubs.com:

great little referece.

Posted by: Kim ODonnel | May 20, 2009 1:40 PM

Jwolzie, the paper bag trick does help to ripen up plantains. go for it.
2) I have a friend who adores her cherry pitter and know many like you just don't get it. Me, I roll up the sleeves and prepare to get messy. But, there are other fruit choices, yes indeed: Plum, fresh fig, apricot...

Posted by: Kim ODonnel | May 20, 2009 1:42 PM

A cooler for things that have to stay cold, to be cooled by a large block of ice, rather than cubes (which break down faster). Eggs can get room temperature, but I wouldn't leave them in the sun.

Breakfast: pancakes on a frying pan (get the mix that doesn't require milk); older kids can help with this, younger kids can pretend to help. Instant oatmeal.

Lunch: sandwiches -- PB&J or PB&banana; solid fruit like apples, oranges

Dinner: Silver Turtles: square of foil, little spray of oil, and add hamburger, spices, potatoes, onions, carrots -- or whatever! Fold up foil, put into the camp fire, turn periodically. It's done when the potatoes are soft. Contents can be transferred to hot dog roll, hamburger bun, or plates. Everyone gets to make their own, but adults get to pull it out of the fire. Camping = cooking with fire!

Spaghetti also worked really well the last time I went -- we did an all day hike and it was perfect.

And with 4 kids, this is the PERFECT time to teach dishwashing...

Posted by: capecodner424 | May 20, 2009 2:16 PM

re Camping: I found chili worked well (if the meat is lean, no real reason to brown. bring vegies chopped in zip lock). kids also like fajitas - boneless chicken breasts can be cooked whole and then sliced (and again, bring vegies pre sliced). I found spaghetti to be a little cumbersome (hard to keep water at a boil, having to drain, etc). have fun....

Posted by: daconrad | May 20, 2009 2:33 PM

Kim- thanks for the help. Don't know whether I need more info. I will report back with my results.

Posted by: NewtonMom | May 20, 2009 3:06 PM

Hey, Kim, we don't eat red meat often but any cheaper cuts of beef. Last night was cube steak (a favorite comfort food of mine). I used the tenderizer sparingly then braised at 325 for about an hour with some potatoes. Added mushrooms for the last 20 minutes or so. Turned out great.

Posted by: ArlingtonGay | May 20, 2009 3:35 PM

Camp food! Try tacos in a bag. Get one small bag of Fritos for each person. In advance, brown some burger with taco seasoning. Take along sour cream and salsa. Chop up and bag romaine, tomatoes, onions, sharp cheddar. Toss everything in the bag of Fritos, eat with a spoon, throw away bag -- no cleanup!
We love to bake some potatoes in the ashes of our campfire, well-wrapped in several layers of foil. The taco fixings taste great over the potato for breakfast. Gotta watch that the crows or squirrels don't get the cooked potatoes, though.
Don't forget 'smores -- gotta have those. And hot dogs are great over the campfire, on long green twigs.
I try to plan ahead by making our favorite one-dish meals and freezing enough for the family. The frozen dinners help the fridge stay cold. They're easy to warm up on a camp stove.
Have a great time! And, Kimgirl, thanks for a fab blog today!

Posted by: sbuck | May 20, 2009 4:03 PM

As a single gal, I like to make chicken fajitas (chix breast pieces, peppers, onions, etc.) on Sunday, then heat individual servings throughout the week. My problem is that nuking the food in the microwave makes the chicken rubbery and peppers mushy. I've tried reheating in a saute pan with a little extra water and this helps a little. Other ideas?

Posted by: daisymack | May 20, 2009 4:09 PM

Camp food: We often make beef stew or chili in advance and freeze in a big, pot size lump to act as the ice in our cooler. When it starts to thaw it makes it onto the menu. We're pretty casual about the slow thawing process; if this is a food safety concern for you it may not be the best choice. In that case, I recommend freezing your ice in large chunks (we use milk cartons) as they stay cold much longer than cubes.

Posted by: esleigh | May 20, 2009 4:15 PM

I need recipes for peaches. I froze some whole peaches last year when I ran out of canning jars and while their flavor is great the texture is mushy. I've made peach-banana bread and peach juice cocktails, but I want something more. I thought about trying to make a sauce for serving with meat, but I'm stumped as to sauce and meat (pork came to mind but I can't eat it). Any suggestions? This year's crop is ripening as we speak and I want last year's crop to be gone by then.

Posted by: esleigh | May 20, 2009 4:18 PM

Daisymack, you got a toaster oven? That would work like a champ. Otherwise, place in a baking dish, cover with foil, reheat at 350.

Posted by: Kim ODonnel | May 20, 2009 4:42 PM

esleigh, have you ever grilled peaches? Cut in half, remove pit, brush with a smidge of oil, heat on the grate, open wide. Life does't get much better. I'm also a big fan of peach salsa -- with herbs, red onion, chile. Luscious.

Posted by: Kim ODonnel | May 20, 2009 5:05 PM

esleigh/Kim: speaking from experience, frozen peaches do not grill well at all. Freezing has broken the cell structure, so as esleigh said, the texture is all changed. They need to be cooked. Ideas that I use with my frozen peaches (which I freeze by the bushel - and like you, I can too):
Sauce for yogurt or ice cream
Cooked peach ice-cream
SMOOTHIES (and you don't even have to thaw) - that's big favorite
See here: http://www.laughingduckgardens.com/ldblog.php/2008/12/31/s-is-for-super-easy-smoothie/

As far as meat pairing - besides pork - I like peaches with chicken and lamb.

Good luck

Posted by: rowandk | May 20, 2009 9:32 PM

Sylvie - Thanks for the additional ideas. Smoothies and ice cream will go down particulary well around here. And I've got a freezer full of lamb, too, so there will be some experimentation.

Kim - I'll try grilling this year's peaches - it sounds delicious. Thanks much.

Posted by: esleigh | May 21, 2009 10:14 AM

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