Invitation to Join Monthly Culinary Book Club

groceryshoppinglist

Every month, from noon until 1 p.m., you are welcome to attend my monthly culinary book club. It is held at Central Library, in the Locust Street Atrium, in the street level monthly book club room. We have our regular members that show up every month, but we are always welcoming to new members.

Reading a cookbook is not a requirement. Instead, coming with an open mind and ready to listen, or share your culinary experience is helpful. We all can learn from each other, so come on down and visit our wonderfully renovated Central Library.

Quinoa For Your Health

Quinoa

Quinoa is a well-known food that provides lots of nutrients. This plant is more than five thousand years old.  It originated in the Andes in South America. Quinoa is considered a superfood because it boasts qualities that help your body heal and provide vitamins and minerals nourish. Quinoa is a good source of minerals such as calcium, magnesium, and potassium. It is also rich in vitamins, such as Vitamin E, riboflavin and folic acid.

An well-known fact about quinoa, is that it is gluten-free. Thus, many people who are allergic to gluten enjoy the versatility of quinoa.

Quinoa cooks fast. Within fifteen minutes you can have a bowl of quinoa all cooked, ready to be served.  It is a grain that is available in red, black, white, or golden in color.  However, the nutritional  values are different with every color.  You can make your own quinoa flour by grinding it in a blender or food processor.  Quinoa flour has a nutty flavor.

One interesting tidbit of information about quinoa is that the seed has a bitten resin called saponin. This is a bitter resin. If this outer layer is removed, the cooking time is reduced.

According to the Whole Foods Council there are over 120 different varieties of quinoa. However, only a few varieties are grown commercially.

Saffron – Crocus Stigmas

saffron

A crocus flower (Crocus sativas) is a wonderfully, rich lavender flower whose stigmas are commonly known as the expensive spice “saffron”. Three stigmas are found in each bloom. These are picked and sold as saffron.

Crocus flowers are grown commercially in Iran, Greece, Italy, southern France, and Spain. Fields of these lavender flowers transform into one of the most expensive spices. These little plants grow from three to six inches tall. In the United States crocuses grow in the plant hardy zones 5 to 9.

Saffron may be made into a liquid. In Iran, the saffron pistals , also know as filaments, are ground to a fine powder and then mixed with warm water before adding them to their dishes.  If you mix the ground saffron with boiling water, the water will infuse to a deep orange color. If mixed with boiling water, this liquid saffron can be kept in a jar for several weeks.

Saffron can easily become the enhancer of taste. It can have a very discrete flavor. Mix it with rice and your rice will soon have a fine yellow color.

Two methods may be used with saffron filaments. An infusion is where liquid, heat, and time activate the crocus filaments. The other method to use saffron filaments is with gentle heat and grinding. In other words powdered filaments. Once filaments are placed in hot water they instantly start to release color and aroma.  It only takes a few minutes to see the reaction.

An interesting fact about saffron is how you can tell if what you bought at a very dear price, is really what you were told it was. By using the following purity tests, a saffron buyer will not be taken.

Purity Tests:

  1. Saffron filaments will impart a yellow color to water, alcohol, methanol, ether and chloroform, but not to xylene and bezone.
  2. In sulphuric acid, saffron filaments will dye and then turn blue, which changes to red-purple.
  3. No oily stain should be left when filaments are pressed between sheets of uncoated paper, indicating the absence of added vegetable or mineral oil.
  4. Saffron yields about 5 to 7 percent ash. An excess of ash indicates added inorganic matter, which may be artificially colored.

Saffron is an international spice that is used around the world: France, India, Italy, Spain, Sweden, and many other countries. Try it once and you will be enjoying the tantalizing flavor and color with your many dinners.

Edible Flowers – Wild and Tamed

201504-yjmag-flowers

Have you ever wondered which flowers are edible? First you should learn if you are allergic to pollen, as eating a flower, whether wild or domestic, could trigger an asthma attack.  So be careful, ask your doctor first if it safe for you to do.

Next, before you decide which flowers are edible or not, make sure you learn if the area has been sprayed with a weed killer. You do not want to eat any flower that is found growing on top of a toxic waste dump, been sprayed with weed killer, or raw sewage.

Starflower_1

One of the earliest edible flowers that I encountered was right in our herb garden. I was a little girl and my mother, a professional economic botanist, loved to serve cold, jellied consomme to guests during her summer garden parties. Floating on top of each bowl of jellied consomme was a deep blue borage flower. Borage (Borago officinalis) is an annual herb that has hairy, dark green leaves that are hairy. Its taste is similar to cucumber. It is native in the Mediterranean area. However, it has been documented to have been in America in 1806. Their flowers are star shaped, sometimes a pale rose colour, but more often a deep, brilliant blue colour. I enjoy picking off the star shaped flower and adding it, not only to jellied consomme, but cool, refreshing summer drinks.

nasturtiums_1605160c

Nasturtiums are very colourful edible flowers. They come in fresh pinks, but more often are seen in blazing, bright orange, fire engine red, or a sunshine yellow colours.  They add colour to any garden. Nasturtiums are easily grown by seed. They have a mild peppery flavour and are an excellent addition to a green leafy salad. They enhance a stir fry dinner or a simple omelette.

My favourite thing to do with nasturtium flowers is to make a homemade vinegar with them. To do this, start with an empty clear bottle. Boil the empty bottle in water and once sterilized, add your washed nasturtium flowers, and then pour inside boiled white vinegar. Use a knife to clear the bottle of any air bubbles.  Place them on a window sill for a few weeks in order to have their white vinegar turn to the colour of your flowers. These sun filled bottles of vinegar make a lovely house warming gift!

Researching about flowers you should pick up Kathy Brown’s book “Edible Flowers”. She nicely summarizes complementary foods and flowers. For example, you can make delicious ice creams using lavender, mint flowers, or roses. Use flowers to decorate your ice cubes, such as borage and violet flowers.

Czech Cooking

CzechRoastedDuck06

A favourite Czech meal that I had growing up visiting my Czech grandparents was roast duck with bread dumplings and red cabbage. You have not enjoyed a great Czech meal until you have this combination. It is often served as a Christmas dinner. It is a classic delicious Czech meal.

To make your red cabbage, begin by slicing 1 medium red cabbage. Make sure it has been washed before you shred it very finely. In a deep cast iron frying pan, I first add a few pieces of bacon. Next I add my shredded red cabbage, along with caraway seeds, salt and pepper. After it is cooked on a low heat for 30 minutes, add half a cup of red wine vinegar. Cook another 15 minutes, or until the cabbage is soft. I was fortunate that my grandparents had a huge farm, thus, fresh cabbage. Make sure you wash off the outer leaves before shredding.

To make your duck, begin by preheating  your oven to 400 degrees F. Wash your duck inside and out, then pat dry with paper towels. Prick the skin all over with a fork, then rub the bird with salt and pepper. If you like, rub with minced garlic and caraway seeds. Place your duck on a rack in a large roasting pan. My pan has a V – shaped rack, so that I can place it above the bottom and the duck grease can drip onto the bottom of the pan when roasting. Pour half a cup of the red wine vinegar over your duck.

If you like, you can place the red cabbage on the bottom of the pan, underneath the duck. However, although you will end up with a very tasty duck, you will also end up with a very greasy red cabbage dish. I prefer to empty out the duck fat every twenty minutes and save it for future cooking.

Reduce your oven temperature to 350 degrees F. after fifteen minutes, then let your duck roast for 2 hours. Make sure you empty the duck fat, if you don’t have red cabbage baking underneath the duck, every twenty minutes.

czechbreaddumplings

Bread dumplings (houskove knedliky) are a traditional part of Czech cooking. My Czech grandfather made them every time we ate roast duck. They are made of flour and cubed bread. Depending on the type of flour you use, will make them light and fluffy or not.

From my Czech recipe notes, here are the ingredients for bread dumplings:

3 cups white flour

3 cups semolina

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 whole egg

1/2 cup milk

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 loaf French bread, cubed

Mix the flour, semolina, and baking powder together. Next, add your egg along with your salt and milk. Gradually stir everything together to finish by working it into a dough. Make sure you add the cubed French bread before you are finished. Roll it into four large balls.

Once you have a large pot of boiling water (you can add salt if you wish), drop your bread balls. Let them cook for 12 minutes, then flip them over for another 12 minutes so that the entire dumpling is cooked. Once cooked, the dumplings are then removed from the water they are boiled in and sliced. Use a cutting board to slice them.

You might not have a Czech restaurant nearby to go to enjoy these delicious foods if you not want to cook. However, try finding a local Hungarian restaurant. You should be able to find as delicious meal! Your local Czech church might have a festival once or twice a year where you can buy bread dumplings and other Czech foods.

All About Peppercorns

Brazil_pepper_-_Brazil_Trade_Business_Group.1540742_std

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.

4_color_mix_of_peppercorns

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

Vichyssoise

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!