All About Peppercorns


Peppercorns, whether they are black, green, red, or white, all come from the same plant species (Piperaceae Family). The different colors are due to the processing methods and the time they were harvested.

Each peppercorn consists of an outer shell, also known as a pericarp, that covers an inner seed. What makes the peppercorn hot is the amount of piperine that is contained in each seed. As shown in the figure above, the berries, or corns, grow in densely packed spikes. So, when these spikes are harvested not all the peppercorns are mature. Green peppercorns are less ripe than black or red peppercorns as they are more immature. They are considered mildly hot. To keep their color, often harvested green peppercorns are freeze dried. If left to dry on their own, the green peppercorns will turn black.


Black peppercorns are actually green peppercorns that are left to dry in the sun. They are picked when they are either bright orange or purple, then within a few days of being left in the sun change from a green to a brown, then black color.

White peppercorns are those that have had their husk, or pericarp, removed. Underneath, the seed is of a greyish white in color.  These are picked and placed into sacks that are left in a cool flowing stream of water for one to weeks. This aids in loosening their pericarps.

Finally, there are red peppercorns. These are the fully mature berries of Piper nigrum. These are not the same family as the pink peppercorns which are varieties of Schinus terebinthifolius and Schinus molle.

It is worthwhile to learn that peppercorns are graded before they are sold to companies that market them. Good quality peppercorns are graded by size, texture, and color of their corn.  A better quality corn will have fewer pinheads, or bits and pieces of contaminants.

According to McFadden (2008), it interesting to note that in the pepper corn industry the following terms are used:

“bold – A large peppercorn.

decorticated –  Black peppercorns from which the husk has been removed by mechanical abrasion. Decorticated berries resemble white pepper but don’t have the characteristic pungency – they taste more like mediocre black peppercorns. They are used as a substitute for white pepper when white pepper is in short supply.

FAQ – Fair to average quality.

garbled – Cleaned peppercorns with stems, dust, and most of the ‘lights’ removed.

lights – Black peppercorns without a kernel and which float when stirred into an alcohol or methylated spirit solution.

pinheads – Very small immature and /or broken black peppercorns usually reserved for oleoresin extraction or for grinding.

special – The best grade for flavor.

ungarbled – Peppercorns that include a variety of sizes.”

July – Culinary Book Club Guest – Chef Pelly

Come to hear Chef Pelly during our next Culinary Book Club meeting on Wednesday, July 1 between noon and 1 p.m. in the Locust Street Atrium of Central Library, in the monthly book club room located near our cafe.

Chef Pelly is the Executive chef for the entire In Good Company restaurant group:  Sanctuaria, Diablitos, Cafe Ventana, and Hendrick’s BBQ. A favorite quote he uses to guide his work in the kitchen and beyond is the Frank Zappa: “Without deviation from the norm, progress is not possible.”

Let’s go fresh water fishing for dinner!

Largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides) is a freshwater gamefish that is in the sunfish family. It is  a species of black bass and it is native to North America. It is a lovely white meat fish that is solid and delicious to eat.

I remember going fishing, before I was a teenager, with my family in a very forested area of Ontario. It was a research area, so most of the rivers and lakes were not very fished. We had our favourite fishing spots. “The Rocks” was a special favourite. We drove from our home, located on a forestry station, along windy, gravel roads, to a place where we hiked through the low bushes of  sweet fern and elders, about a quarter mile, to the wild shoreline. Wearing our black rubber boots, we jumped over the water and landed on one of two huge rocks that protruded out from the shore about eight feet from the water surface.

My father would bait our lines with freshly picked worms or minnows that we trapped earlier in the day from our minnow trap, and then proceeded to through our fishing line over the edge of the rock we sat upon. Once in the water, we would monitor our red and white bobber to see if any fish were nibbling. To make our bait more attractive to the fish, we jigged the line with our free hand.

Sure enough, just as the sun was setting and the dusk was approaching, the bobber bobbed up and down in the water. Using a jigging fashion, I finally snagged a fish – a wonderful largemouth bass. I think it was about two pounds big. I pulled it out of the water, with it thrashing back and forth, fighting to get off my fishing hook. The worm was delicious. However, the next day, that largemouth bass was going to be delicious!

After catching a few largemouth bass each, our family trekked back through the woods to our car. Handheld flashlights led the way.  Thank goodness my father turned our car around so it was homeward bound facing. Once into the car, the night became pitch black with only headlights shining.

The catch spent the night in the fridge, ready for cleaning the next day.  Once it was gutted and the scales were removed, with my homemade scaler of bottlecaps nailed onto a two by four by eight block of wood, it was time to prepare it for dinner. I recall that the easiest dinner that we would enjoy, was simply a steamed fish.

Wrapped in foil, with a few dabs of butter laid first in the foil then a few slices of fresh lemon, a few sprigs of fresh parsley, finally we would lay our cleaned fish on top. I would also add the same ingredients inside the cleaned out fish belly. Before closing up the foil, I would put more sliced lemon, squeeze a few lemons as well, plus a few turns of ground peppercorns and a drizzle of olive oil, and a sprinkle of kosher salt.  Once all of these tasks are done, we would crinkle together to two sides of foil. This would then be placed onto a baking sheet and put into the oven, heated at 325 degrees,

After approximately thirty minutes, we would remove the fish from the oven, open the closed foil, and let the steam come out.  Sure enough, the solid, white meat of our largemouth bass was falling off the bones. A lemony butter flavour seaped into the flesh of our fish. It was divine.

I would definitely suggest that you should try to eat fish as soon as it is caught. If you do go fishing, you should be aware that later in the fishing season, by September, quite often you will discover yellow spots on your fish. These are maggots that gaining maturity and should not be eaten. Thus, I would recommend the eat fresh fish in the earlier part of the fishing season.

May Culinary Book Club Visiting Chef

Today we had our first visiting chef, Chef Ryan, from the Alumni Restaurant. It was an awesome visit! As with anyone new, we were all excited to learn how Chef Ryan gained his appreciation for cooking. His grandmother’s influence made quite the impact when he was little. Learning how a Chef is inspired helps us understand a person better. We learned how he worked in different restaurants and learned what he needed to be successful.

Ordering food supplies for his restaurant is just one part of his job of being Chef and General Manager for the Alumni restaurant.  Designing new menus is still an accomplishment that he enjoys as it gets him back into the kitchen to cook and create new menus.

Those of us who attended were thrilled to learn about the experiences of being a chef.

Soups for Every Season


Whether summer, spring or fall, soups are a delicious way to start a meal. In the summer months, cold soups are great to offer a guest. In Saint Louis, with heat and humidity reaching 120F, definitely a cold soup will make your guests cool down. A classic vichyssoise soup contains the white part of a leek, butter, thinly sliced onion, and potatoes peeled and thinly sliced. Your spices will be fresh thyme, marjoram, and a bay leaf.

My favorite part of making soup is at the beginning and at the end. I enjoy making my own stock. It gives a flavorful foundation that you could never find in a store. A simple stock that I use for several other recipes is a chicken stock. I usually make a stock after I have had a roast chicken dinner. I place a huge pot on my front burner and turn it on high. I then add my chicken bones that usually are left over from the night before dinner. The extra meat comes in handy to provide a great flavor with spices used on my chicken used to flavor the soup.

There are several types of broth used to make soup. These include: beef, chicken, fish, veal, and vegetables. Each type of broth takes between twenty to thirty minutes to make. Preparation time is under fifteen minutes.  A fish broth starts with rinsing fish bones with cold water. Then you add these bones into boiling water along with any fish meat.  By adding dry white wine, lemon juice, salt, thyme, a sliced onion, chopped mushrooms, parsley, and a bay leaf, your stock will be delicious.

After reducing your stock, covering it, and letting it simmer for 30 minutes, your result will be a fish stock. After it cools, strain the broth through a cheesecloth lined sieve.  Discard the bones and any other solids. Use your broth immediately, or freeze up to 6 months.

Whenever I make a beef broth, I always flavor it with chopped carrots, onions, mushrooms, celery,  and season it with a bay leaf, several peppercorns, about five sprigs of fresh parsley, and fresh thyme. With a beef stock I first brown my meat before adding about six cups of water. As with a fish broth, once boiling, turn it to simmer and cook for two to three hours. Let cool, then strain the broth to have a clear broth. Again, use immediately, or store in your freezer up to 6 months. A veal broth is prepared the same way as for a beef broth.

Making a vegetable broth is much easier than a meat broth. Instead of browning meat, you add your vegetables to the boiling water. Include any type of mild vegetable for flavoring, such as: peppers, carrots, celery, leeks, mushrooms, spinach, zucchini, and potatoes).   Continue to add a chopped onion, fresh herbs (thyme, basil), and several parsley sprigs. Use salt, freshly ground pepper corns, 2 bay leaves, and 5 chopped cloves of garlic.

A familiar soup that I grew up with, mostly in the wintertime, was a delicious beef barley soup. I begin with browning stewing beef or beef shanks, then once nicely browned on both sides I add water to cover generously.  After bringing the water to a boil, plus adding a cup of rinsed pearl barley, four chopped carrots, five sliced mushrooms, and salt and pepper to taste.

You do not have to be Irish to enjoy a corned beef, barley and cabbage soup. Start your soup by browning a beef brisket. Once browned, add chicken broth and bring to a boil.  Stir in diced onions, diced savoy cabbage, one diced celery stalk, 1/4 cup of barley, 3 crushed garlic cloves, five sprigs of parsley, a bay leaf, fresh thyme, and crushed black peppercorns. Season with salt when cooked. Once your mixture is boiling, reduce to a simmer, cover with a lid, and cook for about 2 hours.

So, as we move into the hot and humid summer months, consider the cool cucumber soup or a fresh berry soup. It is all a matter of taste!

Mexico – One Plate at a Time Host – RICK BAYLESS – March 24 @ 7 p.m.


Rick Bayless is the Keynote Speaker for the Library’s second annual of Culinary Food for Thought: A Month of Culinary Events @ Your Library. He’ll discuss and sign his books Mexican Everyday and Margaritas, Guacamoles, and Snacks.

Please bring your family, friends, and colleagues to our Central Library auditorium, located at 1301 Olive Street, St. Louis, MO 63103. Free parking is available at our Olive Street and 15th parking lot. Program begins at 7 p.m.

Fondues are Yummy

fondueChocolate fondues are a great way to spend a cold winter evening. Put a few logs into the fireplace, take out a warm blanket, and cuddle up to dipping strawberries, bananas, and other fruit into melted chocolate. A fondue set used to be a standard wedding present. Now, I have to go out to a culinary store and buy one. However, it’s a great investment, especially if the power goes out.

Fondues of all kinds are enjoyed around the world. They originated many centuries ago in Switzerland. Fondues are a Swiss national dish. Fondue is the French word for “melted.”  The traditional Swiss fondue is made of a mixture of cheeses melted with wine, beer, or liqueur.

There are five different types of fondue, as described by the Swiss:  1) Cheese; 2) Burgundian (oil); 3) Bacchus (wine); 4) Asian; and chocolate. First, the cheese fondues are mostly made up of a liquid or a sauce of melted cheeses. Often cut up fruits, vegetables, or cubed breads are dipped.

The cheese fondue is best made in an enamel, or a cast-iron base, or a heavy-glazed eathenware pot. These type of pots will help prevent the cheese from burning. Use strong flavoured cheese. I enjoy a three cheese fondue, where three different cheeses are melted together.  Watch closely so that you can make sure the cheese does not burn. If your cheese forms a lump in the bottom of the pot, turn up the heat and keep stirring. Add a teaspoonful of lemon juice if your cheese begins to curdle, while beating well.

You won’t be disappointed if you create a creamy cheese sauce. If you want to create a unique cheese fondue, try adding in, one or more of the following: 2 teaspoons curry paste;  freshly ground black pepper, red (cayenne) pepper to taste, 2 or 3 dashes of hot pepper sauce,  2 to 3 teaspoons grainy mustard, dried mushrooms rehydrated, roasted garlic paste,  olive paste, spicey hot olives, or cooked and crumbles bacon.

cheese fondue

Burgandian and Bacchus fondues are served with bearnaise sauce, mayonnaise, and condiments such as mustard, tomato sauce, and chutneys. Asian fondues can be sweet or savory. A hot pot of flavours makes these fondues delicious with a group of three or four friends. An example is a Mongolian firepot, where meat stock is heated with dry sherry. Dipping sauces accompany an Asian fondue. Vietnamese Laus might have crushed peanuts. Thinly sliced beef sirloin or tenerloins are often dipped lightly with sesame oil and ground white pepper before being dipped into the fondue sauce.  Cilantro, Thai, or sweet basil, are commonly served with Vietnamese vegetarian platters.


Above is a great example of an Asian hot pot, or “fire pot.”  You can see the rolled up thinly sliced beef, plus many of the dipping sauces. Often crisp lettuce leaves are used to place your cooked meat inside. Then you add sauces to give it an added flare. Ground peanuts are often used.

Another interesting hot pot is one made of coconut and seafood. To make the broth for this hot pot start with heating oil over medium heat. Brown shallots and garlic 2-3 minutes in the oil. Then add freshly chopped ginger or galangal, 1 teaspoon of red pepper flakes, 1 tablespoon salt, 2 teaspoons sugar, 1 1/2 cups thin coconut cream or thick coconut milk, and 4 cups water and let come to a boil. When serving add lime juice to the pot and bring broth to a rapid simmer. Crisp, fresh vegetables, such as bean sprouts and green onion hardly need more than two minutes to cook. The thicker the vegetable, the more timer required in the broth to be completely cooked. Often you will see small wire-mesh baskets to lift up from the broth cooked vegetables.

Finally, my favourite type of fondue is the chocolate one. Melted dark chocolate makes a great combination with fresh: sliced bananas, cubed pineapple,  and of course strawberries. Using a long thin fondue fork, pierce individual banana slices  and dip into the fine chocolate. Let it cool a few minutes before you decide to devour each bite.

Just remember you can always design your own unique fondue. Besides rubbing garlic around the inside of your fondue pot, it is well known that you can add some Kirsch to your fondue. Make sure that you never rush making your fondue. Keep stirring. And never let it burn. You will be guaranteed to have a delicious fondue.



Mardi Gras is here in Saint Louis, Missouri, and a favorite of mine are macarons of lemon yellow, lavender purple, and  lime green. They are a delight to shop for if you have nearby a French pastisserie to select these colorful sweet deserts. I often wondered if I go for the flavor of the shell, or their filling. Of course, it’s the filling that most are interested in. The coloring given to their shells is playful. It is associated with their flavour.

Many hybrids of macarons can now be bought, though a professional pastry chef might still choose to cater to private parties while making them. I was reading today Pierre Herme’s book titled “Macarons” and discovered that he divided his book into chapters that organize the macarons according to: Classics, Fetish Flavours, Signature Macarons, Made-to-Order Macarons.  As one chef is noted on saying, “There is something very endearing about macarons”.

According to Hermes, there are thirty-two steps to making a great macaron:

“1. Weigh out the egg whites indicated in each recipe described as ‘liquefied’ egg whites. Separate the whites from the yolks.  Weigh out the necessary quantity of egg whites into two bowls.

2. Cover the bowls with clingfilm. Using the point of a sharp knife, pierce the film with holes. It is best to prepare the egg whites several days in advance, preferably a week, so that they lose their elasticity. Set the bowls in the fridge.

3. On the day you bake the macarons, prepare two piping bags. Disposable plastic piping bags are best.  The first is for the batter, the second is for the ganache or cream filing. Using kitchen scissors, cut the points off the piping bags 5 cm from the end.

4. Insert a nozzle right to the end of the bag.

5. To make sure the macaron batter doesn’t escape when you spoon it into the bag, push the nozzle firmly into the bag with  you finger.

6. Prepare the baking trays for the shells. Lay the template of circles on the first baking tray, then cover it with a sheet of baking parchment. Depending on their size, you will need three or four baking trays.

7.  For the macaron batter. Weight out the ground almonds and the icing sugar separately.

8. In a bowl, stir together the ground almonds and icing sugar. Place a medium-mesh sieve over a large bowl. Sift by gently shaking the sieve.

9.  If you have chosen a recipe that includes food colouring(s), mix it/them into the first bowl of egg whites.

10.  Pour the coloured (or not) egg whites into the bowl of ground almonds and icing sugar, but do not stir.

11. If you have chosen a recipe that includes food colouring(s), mix it/them into the first bowl of egg whites.

12. Pour the water into a small saucepan then add the sugar.  Put the probe of an electronic thermometer into the sugar.  Cook over a medium and as soon as the sugar reaches 115C, simultaneously start to whisk the second quantity of liquefied egg whites to soft peaks at high speed in an electric mixer with a whisk attachment.  Dip a pastry brush in cold water.  When the sugar boils, clean the sides with the damp brush.

13.  When the sugar reaches 118C, take the suacepan straight off the heat. Pour the hot sugar over the egg whites before the meringue is fully formed.  Continue whisking at high speed for another minute.

14.  Reduce the whisking speed to a medium speed and continue whisking the egg whites for about two minutes. You have just made an Italian meringue.

15.  Wait until the Italian meringue has cooled down to 50C by the electronic thermometer (about four or five minutes) before taking it out of the bowl of the electric mixer.

16.  Tip the Italian meringue out of the mixer bowl.  Using the spatula, stir it into the mixture of icing sugar and ground almonds folding in the batter and stirring outwards from the middle to the sides, rotating the bowl in your hands as you stir.

17.  Continue stirring, still from the middle of the batter out to the sides of the bowl and rotating the bowl as you do.  When the batter is just starting to turn glossy, it is ready.  The batter should resemble slightly runny cake dough.

18.  Take the first piping bag you prepared in your half-open hand.  Scoop up a little batter on the spatula. Scrape it into the bag.  Fill the bag with half the batter by scraping it on to the side of the bag.

19.  Squeeze the batter into the bag so that it slips right down to the end of the piping bag. This is important because there should not be any space or air bubbles in the batter.

20.  Twist the end of the bag down tightly with several twists to trap the batter firmly in the bag.

21.  Pull on the nozzle to begin piping the shells.

22. Position yourself about 2 cm above the first baking tray. Hold the piping bag vertically and gently squeeze the top to pipe out the first shell which should be just short of 3.5 cm in diameter, as the batter will spread during cooking.

23.  Stop squeezing the piping bag. Move forwards a little and give a quarter turn to block the batter. Continue piping the shells leaving a 2 cm gap between them and arranging them in staggered rows. This is why the template is very important.

24.  When you have used up all the batter in the bag, fill it up again with the other half of the batter.  Continue piping the shells on to the other baking trays (with the template).

25. To flatten out the points that have formed on the shells, lift up the baking trays one by one and rap them lightly on the work surface covered with a kitchen towel.

26.  Lift a corner of the baking parchment, slide out the template and lay it on the other baking trays, one by one as you use them.

27.  To make sure the baking parchment doesn’t move during cooking time in the fan oven, stick down the four corners with dabs of the batter. Press gently on the corner to make sure they are firmly held in place.

28.  Allow the shells to stand at room temperature for about 30 minutes until a skin forms on the surface.  The batter should not stick to your finger.

29.  Pre-heat the fan oven to 180C, but be aware that the cooking temperature in your oven may vary between 165C and 190C. The shells should not change colour during cooking.  You should set the Temperature of your oven according to the type of oven you have.

30.  Depending on the size of your oven, you can put all three or four baking trays in the oven together, otherwise, bake them in two batches.  Bake for 12 minutes, briefly opening and shutting the oven door twice to let out the steam. Open the door the first time after eight minutes (at that point the ‘foot’ of the shells will be cooked) then a second time for 10 minutes.

31.  As soon as you take the macaron shells out of the oven slide the baking parchment on to the work surface.  This is important:  if you leave the shells on the baking tray, they will  go on cooking. Allow the shells to cool on the baking parchment.

32. Carefully unstick half the cooled shells from the baking parchment, one at a time by hand. Lay them flatside up, side by side on another sheet of baking parchment.  They are ready to be filled. You can also store them for 48 hours in the fridge or freeze them.”

Here are my favourite macaron flavours: almonds, chestnuts, coffee, chocolate, green tea, lime and basil, pistachio, raspberry, and violet and blackcurrant.

Good luck with your baking and take your time to learn. If you have little patience, go to your local French patisserie and buy them!



February 4, 2015 – Culinary Book Club – Vegetables – Meets noon to 1 pm in Book Club Room @Central

On Wednesday, February 4th, between noon and 1 p.m. we will be meeting in the Central Library book club room near the Locust Street entrance to discuss vegetables. We will discover what new vegetables look like and, if interested feel and taste them. Ethnic vegetables, as many are known to be used by various cultures, are tasty and edible. We just have to learn where to buy them and how to prepare them to eat. Recipes and culinary experiences will be shared by members. As well, handouts will be given so that you can lunch and learn about veggies! Phone Spruce @ 314-539-0390 if you need more information. Looking forward to seeing new members next week!

Super Bowl Party Foods

In the midst of freezing temperatures and snow in parts of the United States, many are preparing for the Super Bowl game. However, many are also preparing for the party that surrounds Super Bowl watching. Favorites offered include vegetables cut-up, such as celery and fennel. Fresh little cherry tomatoes, black olives, or pickled mushrooms.

Chicken wings are a favorite to offer your guests. A recipe from Senegal called YASSA, is a spicy marinated chicken is delicious if you enjoy spicy chicken. Start this recipe by marinating your chicken for ten minutes to overnight. The longer it is marinated, the more spicier your chicken meat will become. Remember to lightly score your chicken wings or pricking them all over, before you place them in the marinate. This will help them absorb the flavor.

Marinade includes:
3 large onions, chopped Salt and pepper
2 small cloves of garlic, crushed Juice of 4 lemons
1/2 teaspoon red pepper 1 tablespoon peanut or vegetable oil
1/4 teaspoon ginger 1 cup water

Make sure you mix all the marinade ingredients, including the lemon rinds, in a large bowl. Stir well, then add the chicken pieces an allow to marinate for several hours (up to one day). Be sure each piece is either immersed in marinade or turned occasionally to be evenly coated. When ready to cook the chicken, remove it and pat dry with a towel, but reserve the marinade.

Grill over a charcoal fire for 10 minutes on a side or broil in an over. Return the chicken plus 1/2 cup water and the solid marinade to the skillet. Cover and simmer for 20-30 minutes. Serve with rice.

(Source: Muessen, H.J. 1981. How the World Cooks Chicken).