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

Wild Game – Culinary Book Club Meeting Sept. 2, 2015 from noon to 1 p.m.


Come and learn about first-hand experience with cleaning and cooking wild game for dinner. Join our guest chef and culinary book club members to learn something new, or share something old, about game.

We meet on Wednesday, September 2, at noon until 1 p.m. in the Central Library monthly book club room. It is just inside the Locust Street Atrium.

All are welcome, whether you have game cooking experience or not.

Invitation to Join Monthly Culinary Book Club


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 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


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


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.


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 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


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.


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.