January Culinary Book Club Event – Holiday Entertaining

Come spend your lunch hour at the January Culinary Book Club Event. Our January topic will be holiday entertaining. Share your stories of holiday entertaining and learn of new methods. A special time to gain knowledge of ethnic traditions for holiday entertaining.

Visit on Wednesday, January 7th, 2015, from noon until 1 p.m. in the Locust Street Atrium Book Club Room. All welcome! For more information please call (314) 539-0390 or email sfraser@slpl.org.

Looking forward to meeting new members!

Chicken curry to heat up your winter


Chicken curries have always been my favourite, especially during a cold winter evening. It is also popular for pot lucks and buffet dinners.

To make a good curry, you need to understand their origins. For example, a chicken vindaloo curry comes from the coastal regions of southern India. It was very popular with the old Portuguese enclave of Goa. Vindaloos use vinegar and mustard oil in their preparation, which is no so common in other curries.

A vindaloo curry marinade includes:

1 tsp cumin
2 tsp tumeric
1 red chili pepper, ground
1 tbsp coriander
1-inch of ginger root, ground
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
6 cloves
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 large onion, sliced thinly
1/2 cup wine vinegar
3-4 tbsp mustard oil (or ghee)

This mixture can be made beforehand, so that you can cut-up your chicken pieces, and marinade them overnight. I prefer using chicken thighs for my curries. The meat is tastier than white meat.

A chicken korma marinade includes:

1 tsp grated fresh ginger, or 1/2 teaspoon powdered ginger
1 tsp tumeric
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
4 larges clove garlic, minced
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp coriander
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp mustard powder
1/4 tsp cinnamon

Again, mix the above ingredients together with your chicken pieces. Try to cut your chicken into similar sized pieces so that their cooking time is the same. Otherwise, you might have overcooked pieces of chicken. The longer you leave your chicken resting in the marinade, the more flavourful your meat. I like to keep it in the marinade overnight, turning every few hours.

Before cooking, heat your ghee and cook your marinaded chicken pieces in a large cast iron frying pan. Add one peeled tomato, 1 cups yogurt, cover, and cook for 30 minutes on a low heat. Serve with plain basmati rice.

Another favourite chicken dish, which can also be cooked with lamb, is a murghi biryani. A girlfriend from South Africa taught me about biryanis. It is a very popular rice dish mixed with many different flavours.

Ingredients for murghi biryani:

12 threads of saffrom
2 cups plain yogurt
2 teaspoons grated ginger
2 teaspoons tumeric
1 clove garlic
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp ground mace
1/3 cup ghee
Salt to taste
1 onion, chopped
6 cloves, ground
1/4 tsp ground cardamon seeds
1 cup basmati rice
2 cups water

First, soak your saffron in 2 tbsp yogurt for 2 hours. Grind your spices together. Add this mixture to your yogurt. Pour over cut-up chicken pieces. Let sit overnight.

To cook, heat your ghee in a large cast iron frying pan. Brown the chicken for 20 minutes, until completely cooked, turning frequently. In a second skillet, use your remaining ghee and saute your onion until brown. Remove the onion, then in the same skillet, add your saffron, salt , closes, cardamom seeds, and rice. Stir continuously to coat each rice kernel for a minute or so, then pour in 2 cups of boiling water. Cook over medium to high heat for 8-10 minutes, or until the rice is half cooked.

Finally, in a casserole dish, spoon in half the rice, then add a layer of onions, almonds, and chicken pieces. Add the remaining rice, the pour over the remaining yogurt. Place the pot on a very low fire, cover and cook until the yogurt has been absorbed (about 10 minutes).

What is so nice about making this dish, is that you can serve this meal directly to your guests. This recipe will serve 4 to 6 people. It is the perfect pot luck item to prepare, as you have both your protein and starch in one container!

Plum Pudding Anyone?


Plum puddings were always a symbol in our family that either Christmas or New Year’s Eve was arriving. We were a family of short-cuts, where we would go in September to our local grocery store, pick up a cellophone wrapped pre-made plum pudding, then bring it home and soak it with brandy. My mother would flip it every few weeks and add a bit more brandy. After three or four months of repeating this procedure, by Christmas it was well soaked. To make it even more exciting, my mother would steam the plum pudding before serving. Of course, serving meant heating even more brandy and pouring in onto the freshly steamed plum pudding. Shutting off the dining room lights just as we were ready to serve it was the grand finale to lighting a match and lighting the plum pudding. There were ohhss and ahhhss as the heated brandy kept flaming for a few minutes. Now that was a Christmas tradition.

So…. this year I decided to make it from scratch. It takes time to find all the ingredients. As I learned, I had to visit several stores to find all of them. Candied cherries were not in the organic store that offered every colour of raisens that I needed. So it went. Store hopping and checking my ingredient list, until I was ready to put together the ingredients for my very first homemade plum pudding!

So, let’s get ready for holiday plum puddings in September. Some people might prefer twelve months of letting your plum pudding soak in brandy for twelve months. It will always have a stronger flavour the longer it sits with brandy.

Here is my recipe for plum pudding:

Fruit Mixture

1/2 pound white seedless raisins
1/2 pound dark seedless raisins
1/2 pound currants
1 cup chopped candied lemon peel
1 cup chopped green candied cherries
1 cup chopped red candied cherries
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup slivered blanched almonds
1/2 teaspoon mace
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1 1/2 cup brandy


1 1/4 pounds (approximately) fresh bread crumbs
1 cup scalded milk
6 eggs, well beaten
1 cup sugar

Hard Sauce
A hard sauce is considered “hard” because it includes alcohol. Although my mother used brandy for her hard sauce, I always preferred using dark rum to make my hard sauce.

Using equal parts of unsalted butter and granulated sugar, mix together adding enough rum to flavour. Put into fridge to solidify until using. Generously dallup a spoonful of hard sauce with each serving of your plum pudding. It should melt in your mouth.


Blend the fruits, citron, peel, spices together in a bowl. Add 1/4 cup brandy, cover tightly, then refrigerate.

Soak the bread crumbs in milk and sherry or port. Combine the well-beaten eggs and sugar. Blend with the fruit mixture. Put the pudding in buttered bowls or tins, filling them about 2/3 full. Cover with a damp dish towel. Steam for 6-7 hours. Uncover and place in a 250°F. oven for 30 minutes. Add a dash of brandy to each pudding, cover with foil and keep in a cool place.

Just before using, steam again for 2-3 hours and unmold. When you are ready to present and serve to your guests, who are patiently waiting for the lights to be turned off, heat a cup of brandy, then pour over your plum pudding when warm. Ignite and bring to the table. Serve with hard sauce.

If you have dinner guests who are not familiar with Commonwealth traditions, this will be a memorable dining experience. Enjoy!

December Monthly Culinary Book Club – December 3rd

December is fast approaching (next week!) and our final culinary book club of 2014 will be on casseroles. When your day becomes packed with the end of a school term, or too many holiday parties, it is time to consider baking a casserole. What is so nice about casseroles is that you can prepare them in advance and just reheat them before your dinner party.

A favorite for kids is a cheeseburger casserole. This is made with pasta , ground beef, chopped onion, minced garlic, shredded American cheese, chopped tomatoes, milk, dried basil, and  black pepper. Better Homes and Gardens Biggest Book of Casseroles (p. 139) has the following cheeseburger casserole recipe:


4   ounces dried penne pasta (2 cups)

1 pound ground beef or ground pork

1/2 cup chopped onion (1 medium)

1 clove garlic, minced

2 10 3/4-ounce cans cheddar cheese soup

1/2 cup milk

1 teaspoon dried basil, crushed

1/8 teaspoon black pepper

1 1/2 cups shredded Swiss or American cheese (6 ounces)

1 cup chopped tomatoes (2 medium)


1.  Cook pasta according to package directions;  drain.  Set aside.  Meanwhile, in a large skillet cook ground beef, onion, and garlic until meat is brown and onion is tender; drain. Stir in soup, milk, basil, and pepper. Stir in cooked pasta and 1 cup of the cheese. Transfer to an ungreased 2-quart rectangular baking dish.

2.  Bake, covered, in a 375 degree F oven for 30 to 35 minutes or until heated through.  Sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup cheese and the tomatoes. Let stand for 10 minutes before serving. Provides serving for 6.



Pumpkins are not just for Halloween

Pumpkins in a pumpkin patch in New York

Did you ever see the Charlie Brown show where they were talking of “the Great Pumpkin” and the pumpkin patch? Memories of childhood reflected by many the importance of one orange colored vegetable – the pumpkin. It is a plant that trails over the ground and produces many pumpkins.

Pumpkin festivals have kept this plant from being forgotten. Small-town pumpkin festivals keep the interest in this solid vegetable. The history of the pumpkin is a long one. However, it was never eaten by the Pilgrims’ famous 1621 feast. Instead, people have gotten a creative imagination.  They thought it was eaten then, and continued this dream. When in reality it was never present.

Volumes of pumpkins grown remind us how the pumpkin industry has grown. From 71,700 tons of pumpkin grown in the United States in 1949, to over 1 million tons in 2007, shows just how fascinated with pumpkins are Americans. Of course, if you enjoy celebrating Halloween, you no doubt have at least one carved pumpkin sitting outside on your doorstep, with either a candle burning inside or a flashlight left on. This shows very nicely the artistic abilities of the pumpkin carver.

Roadside stands of every shape and size of pumpkins adorn rural areas of the United States. Wholesale markets offer the buyer cheaper options than upscale grocery stores that might sell white or gigantic orange pumpkins. Pick-your-own pumpkin farms attract many families from suburban areas. Although they might not be cheaper than in a city store, providing the family experience of choosing the right pumpkin with your family is still very much done. I remember going on hayrides with other daycare parents and children as an annual daycare field trip. We would go bumping along, sitting tightly together in a wagon being pulled behind a farm tractor. It was exciting for our toddlers!

Check it out!

Ott, Cindy. 2012.  Pumpkin – The Curious History of an American Icon.

         Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press.

November 5, 2014 – Monthly Culinary Book Club – Chicken

Welcome to my monthly culinary book club! We will be meeting on Wednesday, November 5, 2014, at noon in the book club room located in the Locust Street Atrium of Central Library – 1301 Olive Street, Saint Louis, MO 63103. From noon to 1 p.m. come and enjoy the company of other foodies. I look forward to seeing you join our group…… recipes will be exchanged…. cooking secrets….. spices…..

Cluck, Cluck, Cluck……. Chicken for Dinner


Chicken is the most popular meat in America, where Americans buy about 83 pounds of chicken per person per year.  It is one of the most versatile ingredients you can find. A fresh chicken should have a plump breast and the skin should be creamy in color.  If you buy a frozen chicken remember to thaw it slowly. Thaw it slowly in the fridge. Do not let it sit out in room temperature, as it allows bacteria to multiply.

There are several types of chickens that you can buy in the store.  The most popular are roasters that are birds that are about six to twelve months old. They usually are  3 – 4 pounds and can feed nicely a family of four.   Boilers, the second most popular are about twelve months old. They weight between 4 – 6 pounds. To make these chickens tender, they require long, slow cooking, around 2 – 3 hours.

A more expensive bird is a corn-fed chicken. They usually weigh from 2 1/2 – 3 pounds. There are also spring chickens that you can buy. These birds are about three months old and weigh from 2 – 2 1/2 pounds. One will serve three to four people.

Another type of chicken are poussins. These are four to six weeks old and weigh 1 – 1 1/4 pounds. These only one person would be fed by a single bird.  Double poussins are eight to ten weeks old and weight 1 3/4 – 2 pounds. These birds are best roasted, grilled, or pot-roasted.

Roasting times are important to know when you are entertaining. How terrible it would be that you would serve a roast chicken dinner to find out there was blood on your chicken.

From: Fraser, Linda.  2010 .  Essential Chicken Cookbook. Anness Publishing Ltd.


Note:  Cooking times given here are for unstuffed birds. For stuffed birds, add 20 minutes to the total roasting time.

Poussin 1-1 1/2 pounds (1 -1 1/4 hrs at 350 degrees F.)

Chicken  2 1/2-3 pounds (1-1 1/4 hrs at 375 degrees F.)

Chicken 3 1/2-4 pounds (1 1/4 – 2 hrs at 375 degrees F.)

Chicken 4 1/2-5 pounds (1 1 /2-2 hrs at 375 degrees F.)

Chicken 5-6 pounds (1 3/4-2 1/2 hrs at 375 degrees F.)

Duck 3-5 pounds (1 3/4-2 1/2 hrs at 400 degrees F.)

Goose 8-10 pounds (2 1/3-3 hrs at 350 degrees F.)

Goose 10-12 pounds (3-3 1/2 hrs at 350 degrees F.)

Turkey (whole bird) 6-8 pounds (3-3 1/2 hrs at 325 degrees F.)

Turkey (whole bird) 8-12 pounds (3-4 hrs at 325 degrees F.)

Turkey (whole bird) 12-16 pounds (4-5 hrs at 325 degrees F.)

Turkey (whole breast) 4-6 pounds (1 1/2-2 1/4 hrs at 325 degrees F.)

Turkey (whole breast) 6-8 pounds (2 1/4-3 1/4 hrs at 325 degrees F.)

When you are getting ready to cook a chicken, there are several food safety tips to follow in order to stay healthy. Chicken can become contaminated by salmonella bacteria, which in turn can cause severe food poisoning.

First thing you need to do when buying a chicken, is to check the expiration date. Unless you will be defrosting a frozen chicken, place it directly into your freezer as soon as you return home.  If you are planning to cook it the same day, remove the packaging and place covered in a pan and keep refrigerated. Make sure you do not let the uncooked chicken drop any juices onto cooked food. This will contaminate your other foods and make them unacceptable for eating.

When preparing your raw chicken, use a non-wooden cutting board. This will help keep your food preparation area safe.  If any blood or raw chicken juices spill onto a cutting board, or another place, make sure you use a bleach to destroy any bacteria. It is always best to use a non-wooded cutting board if you can.

Finally, when you are roasting your chicken, use a meat thermometer to see that the flesh is thoroughly cooked. The temperature should reach at least 175 degrees F when cooked.  If your chicken juices do not run clear, but instead are bloody, return your bird to continue cooking.

If you are interested in patents, take a look at patent # 4,342,788 from the web site,

http://www.uspto.gov . This patent, approved on August 3, 1982, is for a method of cooking chicken parts. It is assigned to the Campbell Soup Company, Camden, NJ.

October 1 – Monthly Book Club

Drop by Central Library on Wednesday, October 1, 2014 to the Monthly Book Club Room, located in the Locust Street Atrium, between noon to 1 pm and enjoy an earthy discussion of pickling and preserves. Learn from experts how to make your own pickles and preserves. What can you use? How do you do it? Take home new recipes and techniques on the topic. Meet chefs, friends, and enjoy learning. If you have any questions, please call (314) 539-0390 or email sfraser@slpl.org.

Lobsters Ahoy!


Lobsters are meant to be eaten for special occasions, such as birthdays, anniversaries, or just because you enjoy lobsters. The best way I enjoy eating lobster is simply dropping them into a boiling pot of water, using chopsticks to hold them beneath the water for a few minutes until they turn red.  Let them cook for about twenty minutes. Then remove gently and use crackers to break open the claws and tail. Make sure you hold them over a sink or bowl so that the liquid inside does not pour down your clothes and all over your kitchen counter! This method has been scientifically proven to be a painless what for lobsters to die.

Another method to is to kill a lobster by inserting a sharp knife between the body and tail shells, cutting the spinal chord.  You may decide to place a heavy butcher knife along the lobster’s stomach, then hit it with a hammer or mallet.  If you choose to kill it this way, place on a flat baking tray, brushing melted butter over the meat. Add salt and pepper. Place the lobster shell side down on the baking tray so that the juices of the lobster remain in the lobster.  Broil for about 6 minutes, up to 15 minutes, depending upon the size of the lobster.  You will have tough and dry lobster meat if you overcook your lobster.

Either way of cooking your lobster, I always find that melted butter with lots of lemon juice, chopped garlic, salt, and pepper are a great addition to enjoying freshly cooked lobster! Just serve small new potatoes boiled, fresh artichokes, that also like to be dipped in the lemon/butter/garlic sauce, make a complete seaside meal.

Lobster Thermidor

(from: Marjorie Mosser”s “Good Maine Food: ancient and modern New England food & drink” cookbook)

Split cold boiled lobster lengthwise.  Remove meat and cut in small pieces. Make cream sauce as follows:  Melt 1 tablespoon of butter, add 1 tablepsoon flour and 3/4 cup light cream, stirring constantly until sauce reaches boiling point.  Boil 2 minutes, then add 1 teaspoon English mustard, 14 teaspoon salt, and dash of cayenne.  Add lobster meat and 1/2 cup chopped cooked mushrooms and mix well.  Fill empty shells with mixture, building it up above shell level.  Sprinkly with grated cheese and place on broiler to brown.

Lobster Croquettes

2 cups boiled lobster meat

1 cup Thick White Sauce

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon dry mustard

2 eggs

bread crumbs

Chop the lobster meat and add it to the white sauce with salt and mustard.  Heat in a double boiler.  Chill and shape into croquettes.  Dip into beaten eggs and then into bread crumbs.  Fry in deep hot fat, 390 degrees, and drain on brown paper.  Serve with a mushroom or tomato sauce.

Thin White Sauce

1 tablespoon butter

1 tablespoon flour

1 cup milk

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon pepper

Melt butter, add flour, and blend.  Gradually add milk, stirring constantly until mixture thickens.  Add seasonings.

Mushroom Sauce

1/2 pound sliced mushrooms

1/4 cup butter

3 tablespoons flour

1 cup thin cream

Saute mushrooms in butter, add flour slowly. Brown slightly;  then add the cream and cook till thick.  Serve on lobster.

Tomato Sauce

Bring to a boil in a saucepan 1 cup canned tomatoes, 1 cup water, 2 whole cloves, 2 allspice berries, 2 peppercorns, 1 teaspoon chopped parsley, and 1 teaspoon mixed herbs.  Saute 1 tablespoon chopped onion in 1 tablespoon butter, and stir in 1 heaping tablespoon cornstarch;  then add to tomato mixture. Simmer 10 minutes.  Season with 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and juice of 1 lemon.  Strain and serve.

Note that lobsters, that we call American or Maine lobsters, are Homarus americanus. They have large, powerful claws. These lobsters are what are sold in most fish markets across the United States. You can even have them ordered in the Mid West and shipped fresh from Maine. The smaller European lobsters, known as Homarus vulgaris, or Homaris gamarus, are found off the coast of Europe. They are smaller and not as plentiful as the American lobsters.

Mistakenly called lobsters, are a species of crustaceans that are clawless. They are found in the waters in the Caribbean, Mediterranean, Africa, Australia, and even Scandinavia.  However, they belong to another family (Palinurus vulgaris). They are called rock or spiny lobsters.   In Europe, these lobsters are called langouste.

Interestingly, the Maine Lobster Promotional Council has trademarked the slogan “Maine lobster, the ultimate white meat”.

Now here’s an interesting lobster story from Rhode Island. (p. 21 Dojn, Brooke. Lobster!  55 Fresh & Simple Recipes for Everyday Eating.North Adams, MA:  Storey Publishing, 2012.)


“Our family was at dinner at the Wharf Tavern in Warren, Rhode Island, a couple of years ago.  The waiter announced that they had a special that night…an eighteen-pound lobster that could fee our entire table for $125.  After a great deal of family discussion, my husband, Keith, called the waiter over and told him we’d like to order the lobster… but we wanted it live!  We dubbed him (or her?) Larry the Lobster.  A couple of people at tables around us heard the conersation and chipped in to help us save Larry. We returned the next day with a cooler, packed Larry up, and drove 50 miles to the Mystic Aquarium, where we’d arranged to donate Larry and where he lives on happily in one of their large tanks.  The story about our lobster rescue mission ran in our local newspaper, and months later I met a woman who told me that her young son was so moved by Larry’s plight that he insisted on being taken to Mystic to meet Larry in person.”

Susan Maloney, Bristol, Rhode Island