Chestnuts Roasting…


“Chestnuts roasting on an open fire….” is a popular tune you will hear during the December holidays. If you head to a city like New York in the month of December, you will actually find vendors with their carts of roasting chestnuts along the city streets! I think it is great to be able to warm up your frozen fingers with freshly roasted chestnuts.

I remember roasting chestnuts in November and December, when you could buy fresh chestnuts in the grocery stores. My mother would use a big black griddle on our stove to cook them. After taking a paring knife and cutting a small half inch cut on each side of a chestnut, we then placed them onto a griddle that was on medium heat. Usually we calculated about eight chestnuts for each person. Once the chestnuts were placed on the hot griddle, we took a pot lid and covered them up. It was a big enough pot lid that completely covered all of our roasting chestnuts. After about seven or eight minutes, I would lift the lid and, using a small spoon, flipped the chestnuts with the unroasted side now facing down onto the hot griddle. Once both sides are roasted, usually known by the great aromas of roasted chestnuts and the blackening of the outer layer of the chestnuts turn off your stove and spoon out your completely roasted chestnuts. Let them cool a few minutes, then grasp them with both hands and “crunch” their shell apart. Inside you will find a treasure of a fully roasted chestnut.

Currently, chestnuts are known from where they are grown. There is the Malabar chestnut (Puchira aquatica Aubl. (Bombacaceae) that is native to southern Mexico to Guyana and Norths Brazil and the western Amazon on flooded riverbanks. It is very rich in Vitamin A and protein. An 8 year old tree will produce about 130 fruit, and at 25 years, about 250 fruit/tree. It is considered a tropical to subtropical species.

There are many species of chestnuts around the world: Australian, Guianan, Malabar, Polynesian, and Tahitian. However, they all need to be cooked before eating.  Cooking may be by roasting, grilling, boiling, baking, or even mashed.

In the Solomon Islands the chestnut tree has medicinal value as a treatment of urinary infections. Canoes are even made from the bark of a chestnut tree in this country.

If you are interested to learn more about chestnuts, go to read an encyclopedia book about nuts. You will be amazed by many new facts about this little known nut. You will not be disappointed. If you head to an Asian restaurant, you may be even pleasantly surprised when you dine on a hotpot dish and find chestnuts to eat!

Cast Iron Cooking


One of my favourite pans to cook with is my cast iron frying pan. It brings back memories of roasting chestnuts when I was a little girl. The smell of roasted chestnuts wafting throughout our home gets your mind, on a cold winter’s night, thinking that you will get toasty warm very soon. Snuggled up with a warm blanket, a good book to read, in front of a crackling fireplace with red embers glowing to keep you warm.

The first thing you need to do once you are a new owner of a cast iron frying pan, is to season it. What is seasoning you ask? Well, how often have you seen a black cast iron frying pan? Probably very often. However, you need to season your new frying pan before you begin cooking in it.

To season your new cast iron frying pan, you first need to preheat your oven to 125 degrees Fahrenheit. By preheating the oven, you will get rid of any moisture that could condense on a cold skillet, thus leaving a fine rusty colour on your cast iron pan. Once preheated, place your new cast iron frying pan into the oven. Note that all cast iron frying pans will come coated with wax or grease. This is done by the manufacturer to prevent rusting.

Once you have seasoned your new cast iron frying pan, let it sit for a few hours. Seasoning opens the pores of the cast iron to allow the vaporize oil to fill them, creating the season. You only need to season the inside of your cast iron frying pan.  Once cool, take a paper towel and wipe off any excess oil, then reapply a light coat of oil.  Once this step is completed, you are now ready to cook with it!

Cleaning your newly seasoned cast iron frying pan is a very simple process. Rinse your pan under hot running water, gently wiping off any food with a soft sponge – no detergent. Dish detergent is there to remove oils from your dishes, thus, it not something you want to do to your cast iron frying pan. Instead, just use plain hot water.

Make sure your dry your cast iron frying pan once cleaned. Otherwise, you will have an orange rusty coloured pan within a few hours. If your pan looks like it is drying out, take a paper towel, drop a few drops of vegetable oil into your cast iron frying pan, and wipe in circles. You should have a nice black coloured pan ready for your next cooking experience!

Celebrate the St. Louis Public Library’s 150th Anniversary with the Pi Pizza Bookmark

stlpl7032_discoveryWallPi is proud to feature a specialty pie for those who love good books. “The Bookmark” is a pizza made with carrots to keep the eyes sharp, a bounty of fall harvest vegetables, whole milk mozzarella cheese and ricotta on a vegan thin crust, topped after the bake with a drizzle of Mike’s Hot Honey for a touch of sweet heat.

This Pi Pizza is called “The Bookmark” and is available from October 1 through December 31 at all Pi St. Louis locations (dine in or carry out).  15% of the sales of this pizza will be donated to The Saint Louis Public Library.

Afghan Chef Qayum Mohammad Our November 4th Culinary Book Club Guest


I am excited to let everyone know that our next November 4th, Culinary Book Club, will be Executive Chef Qayum Mohammad, who works at the Afghan Restaurant Sameem, located at 4341 Manchester Avenue, St. Louis, MO 63110.

Chef Qayum Mohammad will be here from noon to 1 p.m., in our Locust Street Atrium monthly book club room, to share his vast knowledge of Afghani foods.  You may take a quick peak at Sameem’s web site at: to learn more about this delicious culinary treat to Afghani culture. Spices, fresh vegetables, and meats make these foods aromatic and delicious!

If you have any questions, please give me a call at (314) 539-0390, ask for Spruce. I work in the Science/Technology Room that holds a section of our huge culinary collection. When you come to our November culinary book club, drop by and visit our culinary collection. Looking forward to meeting new foodies! You won’t be disappointed!

Wild About Rice


Wild rice (Zizania palustris L. and Zizania aquatica L.), are semi-aquatic plants that grow in lakes, tidal rivers, and bays, where the water depth is between 2 and 4 feet deep. Wild rice has grown throughout North America since ancient times, going back as far as 12,000 years ago.

It has been an important staple food for our ancestors. Their grains are long, slender, and black. They have large, erect, branched inflorescence which produce edible grains. To harvest these grains a lot hard hand work is involved. Historians and botanists have portrayed Native Americans harvesting wild rice by canoe. That is still the method used today. The ripe grain heads are hit with wooden sticks called “knockers”, so that the seeds fall into the canoe and are then “harvested.”  It is interesting to learn that the size of these “knockers” are prescribed by state and tribal laws.

In the United States, wild rice that is produced for customers is mainly grown in California and Minnesota. It is the official state grain in Minnesota. In Canada, where wild rice is grown on natural bodies of water rather than in rice paddies, as in the United States, the largest producer is the province of Saskatchewan. Wild rice is also now grown in Hungary.

Besides being a good side dish to eat for Thanksgiving, along with duck and cranberries, wild rice is high in protein and dietary fiber.  It is second only to oats in protein content per 100 calories. Quinoa is third.  It is also great for a gluten-free diet, as there is no gluten in wild rice.

Wild rice is known for its nutty flavour. One of the basic uses of wild rice is as a simple rice dish to complement your wild game dinner. First wash the wild rice several times. I like to use a sieve for this and simply run it under the kitchen water tap. Remember that wild rice is a 1:2 ratio, meaning that for every cup of wild rice you will use two cups of water to cook it. Place your water into a pot and bring to a boil. Add your rinsed wild rice to this water, then cover with a pot lid and reduce your burner down to simmer. If you so desire, instead of using water, try using a fresh chicken stock. I do this by boiling a few chicken thighs in water until the meat falls off the bone. Remove the bones and meat, and use only the stock as you would water to cook the wild rice.  Many folks might add salt and/or butter to make their wild rice more flavourful. However, I find that watching my diet, just cooking the wild rice in plain water, or chicken stock is just fine. It is all a matter of taste.


Wild rice, when cooked, fluffs up and the hard black, uncooked rice opens up to show its white inside. If you ever ate mixed white and wild rice, you will notice that the wild rice grains have not opened up, they are still black and closed. That is because your wild rice is not completely cooked. Remember, wild rice needs a longer cooking time than white rice, plus double the amount of water. Enjoy your dinner with wild rice and you will be gaining a healthier dinner.

Culinary Book Club – Entertaining Tips – Wednesday, Oct. 7, – noon to 1 pm

Our next culinary book club will focus on entertaining tips. It will be held in the Central Library Book Club Room, located in the Locust Street Atrium. Learn how to set your dinning room table, where to place your cutlery at a place setting, and much more! You will gain the confidence and first-hand experience of setting a table and how to serve your guests!

Spanish Foods to Enjoy


Spanish foods brings back memories of sitting at a roadside cafe eating a delicious paella. This is a popular Spanish dish. Paella is named after the paellera, a shallow round iron pan used for cooking this classic rice dish. The word paella comes from the Catalan language and means “skillet” or “frying pan,” although this dish comes from Valencia not Catalonia!  There are many variations as to how to make your paella.

I enjoy cooking and eating the Valencia style paella, where chicken, mussels, clams, squid, and large shrimp (prawns) or scampi are used. You begin by cutting up your chicken, I prefer the dark meat of thighs, plus they are cheaper than breasts, into small bite-sized cubes. Brown your chicken in a paella or a large, deep-dish, pan with olive oil. After your chicken is browned, add to it one large, skinned, seeded, and chopped tomato and 2 1/2 cups of rice. You can cheat and use canned tomatoes. If you do, select the no salt added cans of tomatoes so you can regulate the amount of salt in your final product. Add to this mixture four cloves of peeled and chopped garlic, plus 1 teaspoon of paprika. Mix well and cook on medium heat for two minutes.

Add half a cup of freshly sliced green beans, plus a half a cup of freshly shelled peas. Add six cups of boiling water and cook until most of the water is absorbed by the rice. To make a lovely orange colour, add 8 to 10 threads of saffron. Season with salt and pepper. You may choose to use a chicken stock instead of just water to add more flavour to your paella.

Have precleaned your seafood that you will add on top of the rice.  I like to use a dozen clams, 6 mussels, 3 small squid, cleaned and cut into rings, and 6 prawns. To make an attractive presentation to your dinner guests, slices of lemon should be used around your serving plate.

If you are adventurous, you can make your paella with wild game. In that case, you can use wild duck or partridge and rabbit instead of chicken and seafood. Your guests will be just as “wowed” by your culinary skills!

Another typical Spanish food is “jamon serrano,” a well-flavoured brick-red ham. You will probably find it in specialty stores in North America, or imported for special Spanish days. It is a usually well cured and has a distinct flavour.  It is often thinly sliced and arranged slightly overlapping on a wooden chopping board or dinner plate. You might choose to serve them with fresh figs that are halved or quartered. They are also partnered with green honey dew melons that are scooped into tiny melon balls, served with cocktail toothpicks. Yummy in all ways!


A third delicious Spanish meal to prepare and devour is a braised Iberico pork with tomatoes, chorizo, thyme, and black olives.  These are all ingredients that are from the central area of Spain. They combine exceptionally well and create an earthy, flavoursome meal. The following recipe is simple to make. Start with 2 1/4 pounds of boned shoulder of pork, cut into 1 1/4 inch chunks. Season with salt and pepper. In a casserole dish, add 2 tablespoons of olive oil, and then sear your pork. Once cooked, place in a separate pan. Use red wine to deglaze your cooking dish. Add this liquid over your browned/seared pork.

Add another 2 tablespoons of olive oil to your casserole dish and add 2 medium onions chopped. Cover and fry for 15 minutes on medium heat.  Once browned, uncover and add 6 finely chopped garlic cloves, 7 oz of skinned and chopped chorizo sausage and cook for another 2 to 3 minutes.   Stir in 2 teaspoons of smoked paprika,  2 tablespoons of tomato paste,  14 oz of skinned and chopped fresh tomatoes, thyme leaves, marjoram leaves, and fresh oregano leaves, plus 4 bay leaves. If you do not have fresh herbs, use more dried herbs as their flavour will not be so strong as fresh herbs.  Mix together these ingredients with your pork in the same casserole dish. Cover and bake for 1 hour until the pork is almost tender.

Finally, add 3 1/2 oz of pitted black olives to your casserole mixture. In a separate pan place 3 tablespoons of sherry vinegar and 2 teaspoons of fine sugar and boil until reduced to about 1 teaspoon. Stir this mixture into the pork mixture.  Cook another 20 to 30 minutes.

This hearty dish will definitely be great to serve on a cold and frosty winter night. After dinner bundle up with a good book to read and a nice glass of red wine. You have great memories of fine Spanish dining!

Entertaining with Blue Colours


What a pleasure it is to plan a party! Let’s start with planning a cocktail party. What do you think of first? Of course, you need to ask yourself, “why are you planning a party?”  The answer to this question will give you the background to your planning. The theme can set the mood, the colour, the extraordinary ideas, and the cost of your entertaining budget. For example, a winter theme might be captivating with shades of blue throughout you entertaining facility. Tableclothes, place settings, flowers, and even dinnerware colours will be reflecting the theme of you party. Asking your guests to arrive dressed in white, blue, and silver would add to your theme of snowflakes glittering. Ice crystals (ice cubes) may have blue flowers embedded inside. A deep blue borage flower is a perfect flower to be used.  It is star shaped and edible!


When you decide to hold a function, figure out how many people do you want to invite? Will they all attend? Or, do you request that they send a response by a certain date so you know approximately how many guests actually plan to attend? If it is a wedding you will probably have to invite many family, friends, and even coworkers. However, you will probably also know that many don’t like each other. Thus, your table seating arrangements should be well planned out. If you hold an Asian wedding reception, with over ten courses, served at round tables that have a lazy susan in the middle of the table where food is placed, you might consider leaving an empty seat at each table. Then, the bride and groom can move around the room and enjoy the company of their guests, changing tables for each course.

Fabric used to drape over bar tables, or on the backs of chairs, also creates a wonderful image. Just imagine a royal blue material over your serving tables with a crisp white lace on top of that.  A very delicate look! Flowers can be arranged at each table placed in clear glass vases. Shorter vases will encourage your guests to talk to one another. A tall vase will detract from conversation as your guests will not have a clear view of each other across from their table.

There are many more ideas to talk about when entertaining. Come check out our culinary books!

Where The Wild Things Are

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The Art of Maurice Sendak will be at Central Library from September 5 to October 18, 2015. In celebration of the 50th anniversary of the children’s classic, Where the Wild Things Are, the St. Louis Public Library proudly presents “The Art of Maurice Sendak.” The exhibit features 50 original works of art of Sendak; programs’  and a life-size, interactive replica of Max’s bedroom.

Kids will go Wild@SLPL as they:

  • Lie on Max’s bed, gaze at the jungle canopy, and hear night sounds
  • Climb in Max’s sailboat
  • Find monsters hiding in the Library
  • Pretend Max’s dinner is for them
  • Become Max in a photogrphy
  • Take a picture at the Selfie Station.


10 a.m. Opening Ceremony

11 a.m. – 2 p.m. LIVE “Wild Things”

2:30 p.m. Celebrity Reading of Where the Wild Things Are