Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Dolley Madison Fresh Strawberry Ice Cream

Legend has it that in the early nineteenth century, a freed slave named Sallie Shadd went into her family’s catering business in Wilmington, Delaware. Sallie supposedly achieved fame there for a fabulous new dessert sensation she created with frozen cream, sugar, and fruit.

When Dolley Madison heard about this new dessert, she supposedly travelled to Delaware to try it - and she must have loved it because a "magnificent pink dome of ice cream" was served at President Madison’s second Inaugural Ball in 1813, and ice cream often appeared as the official dessert on the White House menu during her husband's two terms of office.

If you'd like to whip up some Fresh Strawberry Ice Cream this Memorial Day weekend, here is a delicious and relatively simple recipe to try from epicurious.com

1 3/4 cups heavy cream
3 (3- by 1-inch) strips fresh lemon zest
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
3/4 cup sugar
1 lb strawberries (3 cups), trimmed and quartered
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Special equipment: an ice-cream maker and an instant-read thermometer

Combine cream, zest, and salt in a heavy saucepan and bring just to a boil. Remove from heat and discard zest. Whisk eggs with 1/2 cup sugar in a bowl, then add hot cream in a slow stream, whisking. Pour back into saucepan and cook over moderately low heat, stirring constantly, until slightly thickened and an instant-read thermometer registers 170°F (do not let boil).

Immediately pour custard through a fine sieve into a metal bowl, then cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally. Chill, overed, at least until cold, about 2 hours, and up to 1 day.

While custard is chilling, purée strawberries with remaining 1/4 cup sugar and lemon juice in a blender until smooth, then force through fine sieve (to remove seeds) into chilled custard. Stir purée into custard. Freeze in ice-cream maker, then transfer to an airtight container and put in freezer to harden.

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Friday, May 20, 2011

Woodrow Wilson, the Sinking of the Lusitania, and Food Blockades during World War I

On May 7, 1915, a German submarine torpedoed the British passenger liner Lusitania that was en route from New York City to London. Attacked without warning, the ship sank in fifteen minutes, killing 1,198 civilians, including 128 American men, women and children.

Woodrow Wilson immediately denounced the sinking of the Lusitania in harsh, threatening terms and demanded that Germany pledge to never launch another attack on citizens of neutral countries, even when traveling on French or British ships. Germany initially acquiesced to Wilson's demand but only temporarily. In March of 1916, a German U-boat torpedoed the French passenger liner Sussex, causing a heavy loss of life and injuring several Americans.

Two months later, in what is known as the Sussex pledge, German officials announced that they would no longer sink Allied merchant ships without warning. At the same time, however, they made it clear that it would resume submarine attacks if the Allies refused to respect international law, which in effect meant that the Allies had to lift their blockades of food and other raw materials bound for the Central powers.

Despite further provocations, President Wilson still hoped for a negotiated settlement until February 1, 1917, when Germany resumed submarine warfare against merchant ships, including those of the United States and other neutral countries. In response, Wilson immediately broke off diplomatic relations with Germany.

Then, on February 25, the British intercepted and decoded a telegram from Germany's foreign secretary Arthur Zimmermann to the German ambassador in Mexico. The so-called "Zimmermann telegram" proposed that in the event of war with the United States, Germany and Mexico would form an alliance. In return, Germany promised to regain for Mexico its "lost provinces" of Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico.

The release of the Zimmermann Telegram ignited a public furor that was further enflamed by the loss of at least three U.S. merchant ships to German submarines. After deep thought and introspection, President Wilson appeared before a joint session of Congress on the evening og April 2, 1917 and asked for a declaration of war against Germany.

This is a partial excerpt of what he said:

It is a fearful thing to lead this great peaceful people into war, into the most terrible and disastrous of all wars, civilization itself seeming to be in the balance. But the right is more precious than peace, and we shall fight for the things which we have always carried nearest our hearts - for democracy, for the right of those who submit to authority to have a voice in their own governments, for the rights and liberties of small nations, for a universal dominion of right by such a concert of free peoples as shall bring peace and safety to all nations and make the world itself at last free. To such a task we dedicate our lives and our fortunes...

Wilson was having lunch in the State Dining Room when he received word that the declaration of war had arrived for his signature. Although no one knows what Wilson ate for lunch on that momentous day, we do know that by the time the United States entered the war, German submarines were taking a catastrophic toll on the supplies of food and other provisions being shipped to Britain from abroad.

In response, the British admiralty decided to establish a system of convoys. Under the plan, merchant ships were grouped together in "convoys" and provided with warship escorts through the most dangerous stretches of the North Atlantic. The convoys had a dramatic effect. By the end of 1917, the tonnage of Allied shipping lost each month to German U-boat attacks plummeted from one million tons in April to about 350,000 tons in December.

And although many other critical factors were at play, the increase in food and other necessary wartime provisions helped to stiffen the resolve of French and British troops and thwarted Germany’s attempt to force Britain’s surrender.

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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Donald Trump, the 2012 Presidential Campaign, and Oprah's Favorite Turkey Burgers

You could almost hear the sighs of relief from Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, and other Republican presidential hopefuls when Donald Trump announced early this week that he will not be running as a candidate in the 2012 presidential campaign. Trump's official statement read in part:

After considerable deliberation and reflection, I have decided not to pursue the office of the Presidency. This decision does not come easily or without regret; especially when my potential candidacy continues to be validated by ranking at the top of the Republican contenders in polls across the country. I maintain the strong conviction that if I were to run, I would be able to win the primary and ultimately, the general election.

I have spent the past several months unofficially campaigning and recognize that running for public office cannot be done half-heartedly. Ultimately, however, business is my greatest passion and I am not ready to leave the private sector...

I look forward to supporting the candidate who is the most qualified to help us tackle our country's most important issues and am hopeful that, when this person emerges, he or she will have the courage to take on the challenges of the Office and be the agent of change that this country so desperately needs.


Not surprisingly, political pundits quickly began trying to decipher reasons for his decision. Some said that Trump’s business interests were at the center of it, noting that his popular reality show "Celebrity Apprentice" was renewed for next season on NBC and he “had to decide if he was going to be back as its host or run for president.”

Others claimed that they never thought Trump would run because of the requirement that candidates file a financial disclosure form. Whatever the reasons, one thing is clear: the 2012 presidential campaign will not be nearly as entertaining without Trump as a contender.

One of the more entertaining political events recently, of course, was last month’s White House Correspondents’ Association annual dinner, where President Obama “exercised his revenge" after weeks of attacks from Trump, "joking that the billionaire businessman could bring change to the White House, transforming it from a stately mansion into a tacky casino with a whirlpool in the garden.”

According to The Huffington Post:

With Trump in attendance, Obama used the White House Correspondents' Association annual dinner to mock the reality TV star's presidential ambitions. The president said Trump has shown the acumen of a future president, from firing Gary Busey on a recent episode of "Celebrity Apprentice" to focusing so much time on conspiracy theories about Obama's birthplace.

Focusing on Trump's decision to fire Busey instead of rock singer Meat Loaf on a recent episode of the TV show, President Obama quipped, “These are the types of decisions that would keep me up at night. Well handled, sir.”

While he took the president’s ribbing in good humor, Trump was clearly not amused by Saturday Night Live’s Seth Meyer, who was the emcee of the event and picked up where President Obama left off. “Donald Trump has been saying he will run for president as a Republican,” Meyers said, “which is surprising, because I just assumed that he was running as a joke.

Although Trump clearly didn't enjoy Meyer’s performance, later calling parts of it inappropriate, he may have enjoyed the elegant dinner itself. According to obamafoodoroma.com, menu items included Petite Filet Wild Mushroom and Onion Compote; Coco-Buttered Scallops; Cranberry and Tasso Risotto; Grilled Baby Zucchini, Spring Pepper, and Sun Burst Squash.

Of course, The Donald is no stranger to fine dining. His luxurious destination resort The Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Florida offers “an extraordinary culinary experience for its members and their guests who can choose from Continental, New World, Classical and New Caribbean cuisine."

And every Wednesday evening, according to the resort's website, guests can enjoy a Six Star Seafood Night dinner buffet that features “a sumptuous array consisting of an appetizer table, two pound lobsters, freshly grilled fish and meat items, salads and a dessert bar accompanied by a saxophonist under the stars.”

Sounds tempting, but for those who prefer more casual fare, you can’t go wrong with Trump's delicious Mar-a-Lago Turkey Burgers, which got rave reviews from none other than Oprah Winfrey herself. “I believe [it] may be the best turkey burger in the entire world," Oprah is quoted on her wesbite as saying.

If you'd like to make some Mar-a-Lago Turkey Burgers this weekend (and who wouldn't with that kind of celebrity endorsement?) here is the original recipe from Oprah.com:

1/4 cup thinly sliced scallions
1/2 cup finely chopped celery
3 Granny Smith apples , peeled and diced
1/8 cup canola oil
4 pounds ground turkey breast
2 Tbsp. salt and 1 Tbsp. black pepper
2 tsp. Tabasco® chipotle pepper sauce
1 lemon, juiced and grated zest
1/2 bunch parsley , finely chopped
1/4 cup Major Grey's Chutney, pureed

Sauté the scallions, celery and apples in the canola oil until tender. Let cool. Place the ground turkey in a large mixing bowl. Add sautéed items and the remaining ingredients. Shape into eight 8-ounce burgers. Refrigerate for 2 hours. Season the turkey burgers with salt and pepper.

Place on a preheated, lightly oiled grill. Grill each side for 7 minutes until meat is thoroughly cooked. Let sit for 5 minutes. Serve with a side of Mar-a-Lago Pear Chutney and your favorite toasted bread, pita or hamburger roll.

Monday, May 16, 2011

John F. Kennedy and the Rise of Space Food

With this morning's successful launch of the Space Shuttle Endeavor it seems fitting to remember President John F. Kennedy's famous 1962 speech at Rice University in which he reaffirmed America's commitment to landing a man on the moon by the end of the decade. In it, he said:

We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too….It is for these reasons that I regard the decision last year to shift our efforts in space from low to high gear as among the most important decisions that will be made during my incumbency in the office of the Presidency…

Less than seven years later, on July 20, 1969, as part of the Apollo 11 space mission, astronaut Neil Armstrong opened the hatch of the lunar module (nicknamed “The Eagle”) and became the first man to walk on the surface of the moon. The crew spent a total of two and a half hours on the moon, performing experiments and collecting soil and rock samples to return to Earth.

So what in the world does this have to do with food? A lot, if you’re talking about space food! According to sources at NASA, the first American astronauts had to eat bland, bite-sized cubes of food, freeze dried powders, and semi-liquids that were squeezed from aluminum tubes.

By the late 1960s, the quality of space food had greatly improved. The Apollo astronauts were the first to have hot water, which improved the food's texture and taste. Today, more than 250 food and beverage items are available for astronauts in space. They can choose from beef stroganoff, chicken teriyaki, macaroni and cheese, spaghetti with meatballs, peanut butter, seafood, candy, cereal, nuts, and fruit.

Sandwiches with bread, however, are strictly forbidden. That's because there is no gravitational pull in space and so bread crumbs could float away and get stuck in equipment, clog air vents, or contaminate experiments. Condiments like ketchup and mayonnaise come in their normal forms, but salt and pepper are only available in liquid form because, like bread crumbs, the powdered versions could float away and pose a danger to the mission.

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Friday, May 13, 2011

George Washington's Ice House at Mount Vernon

So did you know that one of George Washington’s favorite desserts was ice cream? In fact, he liked this soft, creamy treat so much that he had an ice house constructed near his Mount Vernon home so that he and his family could eat ice cream often.

Historians say that Washington’s icehouse was located on a riverbank about 75 yards from the Potomac. To store ice, Washington’s slaves had to use chisels and axes to pull large chunks of ice from the frozen river during the wintertime and then haul them to the icehouse where they were stacked in layers and stored for use throughout the spring and summer.

Before constructing his ice house, Washington sought advice from his friend and fellow patriot Robert Morris, who had an ice house at his home at 6th & Market Streets in Philadelphia. In a letter to Washington, Morris provided a detailed account of how his ice house had been constructed:

My Ice House is about 18 feet deep and 16 square, the bottom is a Coarse Gravell & the water which drains from the ice soaks into it as fast as the Ice melts, this prevents the necessity of a Drain...the Walls of my Ice House are built of stone without Mortar...On these [walls] the Roof is fixed...I nailed a Ceiling of Boards under the Roof flat from Wall to Wall, and filled the Space between the Ceiling and the Shingling of the Roof with Straw so that the heat of the Sun Cannot possibly have any Effect...

The Door for entering this Ice house faces the north, a Trap Door is made in the middle of the Floor through which the Ice is put in and taken out. I find it best to fill with Ice which as it is put in should be broke into small pieces and pounded down with heavy Clubs or Battons such as Pavers use, if well beat it will after a while consolidate into one solid mass and require to be cut out with a Chizell or Axe. I tried Snow one year and lost it in June. The Ice keeps until October or November and I believe if the Hole was larger so as to hold more it would keep untill Christmas...


Although Morris didn't mention what he stored in his icehouse, we do know that the Washingtons used theirs to preserve meat and butter, chill wine, and make ice cream and other frozen delicacies for their many guests at Mount Vernon.

Of course, George Washington wasn’t the only president who enjoyed ice cream. Accounts of it often appear in letters describing the many elegant dinner parties hosted by James and Dolley Madison, and the dish frequently appears in visitors' accounts of meals with Thomas Jefferson.

One particular guest wrote: "Among other things, ice-creams were produced in the form of balls of the frozen material inclosed in covers of warm pastry, exhibiting a curious contrast, as if the ice had just been taken from the oven." If you'd like to whip up some ice cream contained in warm pastry for your next dinner party, here is a simple and delicious recipe to try from puffpastry.com

1/2 of a 17.3-ounce package pastry sheets, 1 sheet, thawed
1 pint chocolate ice cream, softened
1 pint strawberry ice cream, soft
Chocolate fudge topping

Heat the oven to 400°F. Unfold the pastry sheet on a lightly floured surface. Cut the pastry sheet into 3 strips along the fold marks. Place the pastries onto a baking sheet. Bake for 15 minutes or until the pastries are golden brown. Remove the pastries from the baking sheet and let cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Split each pastry into 2 layers, making 6 in all.

Reserve 2 top pastry layers. Spread the chocolate ice cream on 2 bottom pastry layers. Freeze for 30 minutes. Top with another pastry layer and spread with the strawberry ice cream. Top with the reserved top pastry layers. Freeze for 30 minutes or until the ice cream is firm. Drizzle with the chocolate topping.

FAST FACT: In 1790, Robert Morris's house at 6th & Market Streets became the Executive Mansion of the United States while Philadelphia served as the temporary capital of the nation. Morris' icehouse was used by President Washington and his household until 1797, and by President John Adams and his family from 1797 to 1800.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Battle of the Chesapeake and the Significance of Food in Military History

The Battle of the Chesapeake, also known as the Battle of the Virginia Capes, was a critical naval battle in the Revolutionary War. It also provides a fabulous example of how world and military history has been partly shaped by food.

The battle took place near the mouth of the Chesapeake on September 5, 1781 between “a British fleet led by Rear Admiral Sir Thomas Graves and a French fleet led by Rear Admiral François Joseph Paul, Comte de Grasse.” Although it didn't immediately end the war, the victory by the French was a major strategic defeat for the British because it prevented the Royal Navy from resupplying food, troops, and other provisions to General Charles Cornwallis’ blockaded forces at Yorktown.

Equally important, it prevented interference with the delivery of troops and provisions that were en route to General George Washington's army through the Chesapeake. Six weeks later, with the British forces tired, hungry, trapped, and depleted, General Cornwallis surrendered his army to General Washington after the Seige at Yorktown, which effectively ended the war and forced Great Britain to later recognize the independence of the United States of America.

Of course, many other critical political, economic, and military forces contributed to the end of the Revolutionary War, but that doesn't in any way diminish the fact that food (or the lack of it) has played an important role in the course of world and military history.

FAST FACT: During the Civil War, General Winfield Scott observed that, "The movements of an army are necessarily subordinate...to considerations of the belly." And the famous French emperor Napoleon valued pickles as a food source for his armies so much that he offered the equivalent of $250,000 to the first person who discovered a way to safely preserve food. The man who won the prize in 1809 was a French chef and confectioner named Nicolas Appert who discovered that food wouldn’t spoil if you removed the air from a bottle and boiled it long enough. This process, of course, is known as canning and Appert's discovery was one of the most pivotal events in the modern history of food and human nutrition.

Image: Surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown by John Trumbull (1787)

Friday, May 6, 2011

George Washington Glazed Baked Ham

In addition to overseeing the daily menus and many house slaves at Mount Vernon, Martha Washington carefully supervised the preparation of the hams that were served to their many dinner guests. But of all the food produced at Mount Vernon it is said that Martha was “especially proud of her hams.”

After slaughtering and butchering hogs in December and January, slaves smoked the meat over a fire pit in the smokehouse to preserve it for eating during the coming year. After smoking, the meat was aged and stored in the smokehouse. According to historians at Mount Vernon:

a thief would occasionally break into the smokehouse at night and steal a ham.
However, the most notable ham theft occured in broad daylight, right off the Washingtons' dining room table. The thief was a hound named Vulcan, who made a running pass at the table and dashed out the door with the savory prize clenched between his teeth. A chase ensued, and the ham was recovered; but, of course, nobody wanted to eat it after that!


Although Martha was furious, George reportedly thought the incident was very funny and "delighted in recounting it to guests. If you'd like to prepare a special Glazed Baked Ham, for your Mother's Day Brunch this weekend, here is a simple and delicious recipe to try from southernfood.com

1/3 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup honey
1/3 cup dry red wine
1/2 cup pineapple juice
1 fully cooked ham, about 6 pounds

In a large bowl, combine the brown sugar, honey, wine, and pineapple juice. Place the ham in the marinade, turn to coat well, and let marinate for 6 hours or overnight in refrigerator.

Preheat the oven to 350°. Place the ham on a rack in a roasting pan, reserving marinade for basting. Bake the ham, basting frequently with the reserved marinade, until a meat thermometer (not touching the bone) reads about 140°, or about 10 minutes per pound.

FAST FACT: Biographers say that "George Washington's attitude toward slavery changed as he grew older. During the Revolution, as he and fellow patriots strove for liberty, Washington became increasingly conscious of the contradiction between this struggle and the system of slavery. By the time of his presidency, he seems to have believed that slavery was wrong and against the principles of the new nation."

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