Canning and Preserving for the Cold Winter Months


Fall is here and the weather is getting cooler each day. It is that time of year where you want to start picking your last crops of vegetables and fruits. Autumn reminds me of digging the mason jars from the basement and starting to boil them to make sure they are clean. After going to a restaurant recently and drinking water out of a mason jar, I vividly was reminded how when living at home, the only use we had for mason jars was for pickling and preserving food. My how times have changed!

The first vegetable I remember pickling are those fat, over ripe cucumbers. We would let them ripen on purpose. As a little girl, I was over joyed when I finally was allowed to start picking these fat, yellow, over ripe cucumbers. I would use a wooden basket to place my chosen cucumbers.

Once I had my cucumbers picked, the next step was to peel off the skin and remove the seeds with a paring knife. I would also slice the cucumbers into long and narrow pieces.  The specific type of pickle that my mother would make is called, “selfgerken”.


These peeled pickles were kept in brine a few months before eating. It was an old recipe my mother had that we used. Because they were salty, we often rinsed them off before serving. Still I remember them as being very delicious!

To can vegetables, as with fruit, always select perfect, completely ripe, sorted by size and degree of ripeness, so that you can handle similar pieces together.  Make sure you set out all your equipment first. That includes: boiling water bath canner, standard glass canning jars and lids, preserving kettle, teakettle, strainer, knives, measuring cups and spoons, wooden and slotted spoons, wide-mouth funnel, ladle, jar lifter or tongs, timers, hot pads, rubber spatula and wire cooling racks. Make sure your equipment and work surfaces are clean. A trick to keep the natural colours of your fruits  is to use a salt-vinegar solution to keep fruit from discolouring.

Once you have discovered how easy it is to make pickles with cucumbers, you can be adventurous and try pickling peppers, cauliflower, mushrooms, eggplant, artichokes, baby corn, okra, and mixed vegetables. Remember to date your canned goods. They make great homemade holiday gifts for family and friends.

Greek Festival Weekend…



A traditional Labor Day festival in many cities throughout North America, is the annual Greek Festival. Greek foods that are often sold at these festivals include:  roast lamb, moussaka, dolmathes yalantzi, pitta, melitzanes yemistes,  trighona me spanaki, souzoukakia, and horiatiki.

Yogurt is frequently used in Greek cookery. It is usually made at home, though nowadays you can go to a grocery store and buy it ready made. I prefer to buy mine, and then to add thinly sliced cucumber, freshly chopped mint leaves and garlic, and a touch of salt. Mix these ingredients together and you have made tzatziki. It is a great compliment to a roast lamb shank dinner.

Another Greek specialty is taramasalata. I first made this recipe when I lived in Montreal and had a girlfriend from Athens. It is a very simple to make. First take 3 slices of white bread. Remove their crusts and soak them in water. Finely chop half a small onion. Take about 3 oz (100 g) of smooked cod’s roe, or tarama, and 7 fl oz (225 ml) extra virgin olive oil. Do not forget to add the juice of 1 lemon. First put the soaked bread, onion and lemon juice into a blender and process into a smooth paste. Next you add the fish roe and process a bit further. Finally, with the blender still turned on, add slowly your olive oil. Once mixture is fully blended, put into a covered container and place inside your fridge until chilled. I enjoy taramasalata spread on toasted garlic bread. MMmmmmm yummy!

Come and learn about breadmaking

 Bread group


Let’s all gather on the first Wednesday of August, which is August 6th this year, and learn all about breads. From noon to 1 p.m., you will learn various facts and recipes about breads.  We meet in the Saint Louis Public Library, Central Library, book club room, located in the Locust Street Atrium. Here you will be able to read bread books, learn new facts about bread, and share your favorite bread recipe.

Breads have been around for many years. Here is a list of several types of bread.

anadama bread
artisan breads
banana nut bread
bishop’s bread
Boston brown bread
bread pudding
cheese straws
cinnamon rolls
cinnamon toast
cloverleaf rolls
coffee cake
corn bread
cranberry bread
diet bread
Easter breads
English muffins
flower pot bread
French toast
fry bread
garlic bread
garlic knots
Hollywood bread
hot cross buns
Irish soda bread
Jewish rye
monkey bread
National Loaf (UK)
pain de campagne
pain de mie
parbaked bread
Parker House rolls
Parthian bread
potato bread
pretzel bread
Pullman loaves
pumpkin bread
Indian bread
rye bread
sandwich bread
Sally Lunn
Ship’s biscuit
stuffing & dressing
tea cakes
thirded bread
white bread
whole wheat bread
zucchini bread

I recall when I was a child, my mother baking bread “from scratch”.  What that means, is that she would bake hand-kneaded breads.  As with all hand-kneaded breads, first she mixed the dry ingredients together with a wire whisk, then set it aside.  Separately, she would mix the wet ingredients together, with a wire whisk, if necessary.  After heating the wet ingredients to 120F, put the flour into a bowl, then make a big hole in the middle of the flour.   Slowly pour the warmed ingredients inside this big hole, also known as a well.

By using your clean hands, begin kneading the dough, incorporating the wet and dry ingredients together. Continue this procedure until all the dry and wet ingredients are smoothly mixed together.   If the mixture is too moist, add a bit more flour. If the mixture is too dry, add more liquid.

If you have a KitchenAid machine, be sure to use a dough hook for mixing the dough thoroughly.  After your dough is mixed together, pour a bit of oil in the bottom of a mixing bowl. Next, place the dough into the bowl. Move around in the bowl the dough until all sides are completely covered with oil.  You should cover the bowl with a large dish towel. Place it onto top of a warm stove. This warm temperature will help the yeast to grow.

After your dough has doubled in size, approximately 1 to 2 hours for the first rise, you then “punch” it down. Repeating the above procedure, after punching your dough down. Knead your dough about 25 to 30 times. Finally, place the dough back inside the bowl and recover with your large dish towel. Depending upon the bread recipe, you may not have to let your dough rise more than once.

The third step in baking bread, is to shape your dough into a loaf, and let it rise a third time.  Make sure your bread pan is oiled, or has a coating that you don’t have to oil.   Let your dough rise just until it reaches over the top of your bread pan.  It usually takes about 30 to 40 minutes for your last rise.



Your fourth and final step, is to bake your loaf of bread, test for doneness (we used a piece of straw), and let it cool. When you test for doneness, you do not want to have any dough stick to your piece of straw. Remember, when you remove the bread from your bread pan, place it on its side on a wire rack to cool. Make sure you cool completely before storing your bread inside a plastic bag.  If you don’t wait for it to cool down, your bread will sweat and then become soggy.

I recall smelling freshly baked Irish soda bread in our kitchen when my mother was baking bread. She used to time it so that it would be ready in time to serve for dinner. A slice of cold butter was always served with our bread, so that we would always cream it over our hot bread and watch it melt completely. MMmmmmm good!!!!

Check these books out:

Kalanty, Michael.  2011.  How to Bake Bread – The Five Families of Bread.

                   San Francisco, CA:  Red Seal Books.

Oppenneer, Betsy.  1994.  The Bread Book.

                   New York, NY:  Harper Collins Publishers.

Sharper,  Jennie. 2001.  Bread Machine Basics.

                   New York, NY:  Anness Publishing Inc.

Thomson, Jan.  2000.  Breadmaker’s Guide Savory & Sweet Recipes from Around the World.

                   Santa Fe, NM:  Clear Light Publishers.

Mint, Mint, Mint……oils, teas, aromas…


It’s summertime and the living is easy…. and your mint plants are taking over the glorious garden! What we all know about mint is that is loves to “walk”. What we mean, is that their roots, which are called “runners” are incredibly invasive and grow quickly, sprouting leaves as they grow. Thus, in a short period of weeks, your mint plant will take over your garden.

Mint is an aromatic herb plant in the Mentha genus. Mentha, the Latin word for mint, has about 20 to 30 species that are mainly found in temperate regions of the world. You can research and learn that there are hundreds of varieties of mint plants. Actually, there are in the mint family, Lamiaceae, about 250 genera and 6,700 species.   One characteristic of a mint plant, which makes them easily identifiable, is that their stems are always square. The way all grasses have round stems and sedges have triangular stems, mints will be all having square stems. I remember being taught that at a very young age by my botanist mother. Afterall, it’s such an easy character used in keying a plant. Keying a plant means that you identify the plant characteristics and by using a key, such as Gray’s Manual of Botany, you can determine the Latin names for each plant.

Mint plants love full sun and lots of water. They are hardy to Plant Zone 5. However, they can grow in almost every soil type. If you have young children, you can cut off a few sprigs of mint, put them in a clear glass of water, then see them, over a few weeks, sprout roots. Eventually, they will be long enough to plant them in soil within your outdoor garden.

Last year I was surprised to find my favorite mint, “Apple Mint” being sold a local garden nursery. It is a mint plant that has soft velvety leaves and smells delicious. Other “fuzzy” mints include Egyptian, Habek, and Pineapple mints.  It has white flowers and grows to a height of two feet. However, I soon discovered that although it grew well outdoors in the summer, in my plastic black caldron, when I brought it inside for the winter months, it died on me. I never thought you could kill a mint plant, but I did. Not enough light, not enough nourishment, and too cold. Bottom line, mint plants outdoors will take over your garden. Kept in a container, they will not!

Thus, even though you want to contain your mint plant so it does not take over your garden, be aware that you have to provide it ample sun, water, fertilizer, and warmth when you take it indoors for the winter. If you do not place inside a container, a mint plant can winter outdoors with no problem.

Mentha spicata crispa, commonly known as Curly Mint, is a curly spearmint that is excellent to be used as a garnish, or swizzle stick,  for a cool, refreshing, summer drink.


Mint contains Vitamin A and C, and has long been known to be an herbal remedy to many cultures for many generations. I recently was reminded at a Middle Eastern restaurant that mints make a deliciousand refreshing tea. I had grown up drying fresh mint leaves and using them to make tea.

How to use mint to make a tea:

Pour 1 cup of boiling water over 1 teaspoon of dried peppermint leaves, or 6 to 8 fresh leaves.  Steep for 10 minutes. Strain and cool. Enjoy 2 to 3 times per day after meals.


Peppermint, Mentha x piperita, was discovered in 1696 growing in an English field. It was subsequently cultivated. In 1721, Peppermint was officially included in the London Pharmacopoeia. It was not until the 1790’s that mint was grown commercially for the first time in the United States in western Massachusetts. By 1812, commercial production began on a small scale in Ashfield, Massachusetts. Propagation is by cuttings, division, or most easily by a cutting of the runners. It is not by seed.

Peppermint leaves, as shown below, are harvested for their oil just as it begins flowering.   Peppermint is also defined by the high percentage of menthol in its essential oil. Most people have tasted or seen red and white candy canes at Christmas time.


As with all mints, butterflies are attracted to these plants. The peppermint plant has pink or lilac flowers that bloom form mid- to late summer. They are arranged in a head or oblong spike and are almost all completely sterile.

Christmas FAN2009796 Candy canes

NOTE:  Never apply peppermint oil to the face of an infant or small child under the age of 5, as it may cause spasms that inhibit breathing. Also, do not give peppermint lozenges, that contain any menthol, to children under the age of 2.

Summertime BBQing is here!


As it is already June, you probably have been using your bbq for several weeks already this summer. Whether you have a gas bbq, or a charcoal burning bbq, this method of cooking can produce a delicious dinner.  We have a small black bbq that I have on my patio. It sits waiting for a sunny day to be used.

To start my bbq, I use a kettle filled with old crinkled newspaper, plus several pieces of charcoal. Once I light the paper, the charcoal gets about ten minutes of heat, where the flames start the charcoal to kindle.  I enjoy starting my bbq this way, as I will be guaranteed to have a nice smokey flavored dinner. You see, I often put mesquite wood on top of my charcoal to add extra flavor.

The night before I want to have bbqed foods for dinner the next day, I take my fresh meat, such as chicken or lamb, and start a marinade. The trick to a great marinade are the contents, plus the amount of time you let your meat sit in it. Overnight, turning your meat in the marinade a few times, I find works best. A delicious chicken marinade that I enjoy using has the following ingredients: Olive oil;  Soy sauce;  Worcestershire sauce;  Red wine vinegar;  Lemon juice;  Dijon mustard; and  Salt and Pepper to taste.  Lemon juice can be replaced with lime juice if you choose to have a different flavor. I found the best way to have your meat tenderized is by gently rubbing your marinade over all sides of your meat, then placing it inside a clear plastic bag. This way, your marinade can penetrate directly into your meat. Thus, enhancing your bbq dinner the next day. Another trick to a great marinade is to use kiwi as your tenderizer. Peel, then cut up your kiwi fruit and place next to your meat. The longer you leave it this way, the more tender your meat will be.

If you decide to use lamb for your bbq, a delicious marinade with lemon juice, olive oil, thyme, oregano, salt, and pepper will make you wait impatiently for your bbq to be done. Even friends who do not like the taste of lamb will enjoy this marinade. You will be surprised!

For those who prefer to eat vegetables, a bbq can still be an enjoyable meal. Slice up eggplants and marinade them with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt, and pepper for a few hours. You then will cook them for a few minutes on each side over a medium heat bbq.  Grilled red and orange peppers marinaded with the same marinade will also complement your dinner, besides adding a beautiful bright color to your dinner.

Mushrooms placed on skewers also add another great texture and flavor to your bbq dinner. Try them! No calories to the wasteline.

Let’s plan a menu!


Wow! What is the first thing you see when you sit down at the table in a restaurant? Besides the chair you sit on, the condiments set on the table, cutlery, and a napkin, you will probably be handed a menu by the wait staff. If you entered a fine dining restaurant, you might get a drink menu first. However, it’s still a menu!  Thus, THE MENU IS PERHAPS THE MOST critical factor in the overall success of a restaurant.

Only too often is the menu design left to the last minute when a new restaurant is being opened. Little or no money is budgeted adequately. Instead, a super expensive restaurant’s image might be tarnished when a flimsy paper, poorly designed, menu is offered.

The menu is the starting point for all planning and design of a restaurant. According to Pavesic, the author of the Restaurant Manager’s Pocket Handbook Menu Design, a well-designed menu:

(1) Serves as an effective communication, marketing, and cost-control tool.

(2) Emphasizes what the customer wants and what the restaurant prepares and serves best.

(3) Obtains the check average required to realize sales goals and bottom-line return.

(4) Utilizes staff and equipment in an efficient manner, and

(5)  Leads to more accurate forecasting of the menu sales mix.

Menu psychology is something everyone starting a restaurant needs to know. If you provide a customer with a menu that that has too many items to choose from, your customer may be unable to decide what to order. As well, you need to consider how your kitchen staff will handle  the number of items offered on your menu. If too many, the chef may run short of various menu items because they could not keep enough fresh stock on-hand.  Then your wait staff will be unable to fill customer orders. Then, your restaurant will have fewer repeat customers. Overall, if you have too many items on your menu, eventually you might not have fresh produce or products to serve.

Colorful menu designs can be a great asset to have. Graphic artists can work with the restaurant owners, often includes the chef, to create an enticing menu. So, having fewer items logically printed in order of eating, such as appetizer printed before the entrees and deserts, can help achieve success!

Food cost, quality control, and menu design all help to make a restaurant successful. The placement of items that can generate your desired check average is of great importance too.

After spending a few years working in marketing, I gained an appreciation of what is important to make your business a success. Where marketing has the “”four P’s”, consisting of Promotion, Place, Price, and Product. Pavisic created the “Seven P’s” of menu design. These are as follows:

(1)  Purchase price

(2) Portioning/packaging

(3) Positioning

(4) Promotion

(5) Product

(6) Price

(7) Place

Just remember, if you want to attract more children consider having a separate children’s menu. All the same “P’s” apply!  Enjoy….

Come listen to our June monthly culinary book club – Wed. June 4th, noon to 1 p.m.


Let’s get excited about herbs! Come down the the Central Library monthly book club room, located in the Locust Street Atrium, next Wednesday, June 4th, from noon to 1 p.m.  You will not be disappointed :-).    We will learn, firsthand, what herbs can be used for. How specific herbs are often grown in your garden, or on a patio garden, will also be discussed. Sometimes we do not realize that herbs do not require a large space to be thriving. I have a seen a thirty year old rosemary plant, that has always grown in a pot, sitting on the kitchen floor of my girlfriends’ home take over a huge spot.  She has had it placed in front of a huge floor to ceiling window in her apartment. Thus, the sunlight has helped it thrive over the yars.

Bring your friends and family. Come over your lunch hour. You will learn how herbs can take a simple dinner to a whole other level!