Monday, August 23, 2010

Lucy Hayes Famous Homemade Angel Cake

Historians say that “Everything in Moderation” was the motto of Rutherford B. Hayes. He reportedly drank “one cup of coffee at breakfast” and “one cup of tea at lunch.” Dinner was often chicken or steak followed by a slice of his wife Lucy’s famous homemade Angel Cake.

It has been said that Angel Food Cake got its name because "it is so white, light, and fluffy it must be the food of angels.” Although no one knows who created or named this cake, we do know that recipes with the name "Angel Food" began appearing in American cookbooks in the late nineteenth century – around the same time that mass-produced cake pans hit the market!

If you'd like to bake one of these delightfully light and fluffy cakes, here is a simple recipe to try from the Food Network's ever-energetic Alton Brown

1 3/4 cups sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup cake flour, sifted
12 egg whites (the closer to room temperature the better)
1/3 cup warm water
1 teaspoon orange extract, or extract of your choice
1 1/2 teaspoons cream of tartar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a food processor spin sugar about 2 minutes until it is superfine. Sift half of the sugar with the salt the cake flour, setting the remaining sugar aside.

In a large bowl, use a balloon whisk to thoroughly combine egg whites, water, orange extract, and cream of tartar. After 2 minutes, switch to a hand mixer. Slowly sift the reserved sugar, beating continuously at medium speed. Once you have achieved medium peaks, sift enough of the flour mixture in to dust the top of the foam. Using a spatula fold in gently. Continue until all of the flour mixture is incorporated.

Carefully spoon mixture into an ungreased tube pan. Bake for 35 minutes before checking for doneness with a wooden skewer. (When inserted halfway between the inner and outer wall, the skewer should come out dry). Cool upside down on cooling rack for at least an hour before removing from pan.

FOOD FACT: According to Food Timeline compiler Lynne Olver, recipes for cakes similar to Angel Food (calling only for egg whites) were known by other equally descriptive names, such as Silver Cake and Snow Drift Cake. The latter recipe was included in an 1881 cookbook entitled What Mrs. Fisher Knows about Old Southern Cooking. According to Olver, Mrs. Fisher was the first freed American slave to author a cookbook in the United States.

Credit: Portrait of Lucy Hayes by Daniel Huntington, White House Historical Association (White House Collection)

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Martin Van Buren's Charming "Lady of the House"

When Martin Van Buren became president in 1837, he was a widower of nineteen years with four young bachelor sons. Dolley Madison was living nearby at the time, and historians say that when her "young relative-by-marriage Angelica Singleton came from South Carolina for a visit," the two went to the White House to "pay a call."

Angelica's "aristocratic manners, excellent education, and handsome face" quickly won the heart of the president's oldest son, Abraham. The two were married in 1838, and, after an extended honeymoon abroad, Abraham served as the president's private secretary and Angelica presided as "Lady of the House".

According to historian Poppy Cannon, Angelica did her best to lessen the formal atmosphere of the White House, though as a young mother, "she did not always find the assignment an easy one." In a letter home, Angelica candidly wrote:

My first state dinner is over; oh, such a long one, our first in the state dining room. I was the only lady at the table...I tried to be cheerful as possible, though I felt miserable all the time, as my baby was crying, and I received message after message to come to the nursery.

In addition to the rigors of hosting frequent state banquets and caring for a baby, Angelica graciously contributed many of her favorite Southern recipes to the White House kitchen. Although the president surely appreciated the assistance of his charming daughter-in-law, his tastes were deeply ingrained, and ran toward a somewhat strange combination of simple hearty Dutch fare and rich French and English dishes that he had grown accustomed to during his years serving as U.S. Minister to Britain.

With his friend Washington Irving, who was living in London at the time, Van Buren reportedly "explored old castles and abbeys, drank wassail before the Yule log in charming old taverns...and ate heartily" of the Olde English favorite, Boar's Head crowned with Holly and Rosemary.

While some of you might not be inclined to dine on a festive Boar's Head tonight, you can try this recipe for Rosemary Pork Tenderloin from the Food Network:

1/3 cup Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon freshly chopped rosemary leaves
4 sprigs rosemary, with hard woody stems
5 large garlic cloves, 2 cloves minced, 3 cloves smashed
2 pork tenderloins, about 1-pound each
4 slices maple bacon

In a small bowl, whisk together the Dijon mustard, fresh ground black pepper, chopped rosemary, and minced garlic and mix well. Rub the mustard mixture over the surface of the tenderloins and wrap in plastic wrap. Marinate in the refrigerator for 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Place rosemary sprigs and smashed garlic in the center of a roasting pan. Remove the plastic wrap from the tenderloins and top each with 2 slices of maple bacon. Tie with kitchen twine to secure bacon strips.

Place the roasting pan in the oven and bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until an instant-read thermometer, inserted in the tenderloins, registers 160 degrees F. Remove from oven when desired doneness is reached and let sit for 5 to 10 minutes on a cutting board. Remove kitchen twine, slice and serve with your favorite sides. Garnish with the rosemary sprigs and garlic and enjoy!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

John Adams, the President's House, and "May None But Honest and Wise Men Ever Rule Under This Roof"

Late in the morning of November 1, 1800, John Adams arrived in the new capital city of Washington D.C. and moved into the President’s House. The next day, while sitting in a damp, unfinished room, John wrote a letter to his wife Abigail which included a blessing for the new house and its future inhabitants. This is what he wrote:

I Pray Heaven To Bestow
The Best of Blessings On
All That shall hereafter Inhabit it.
May none but Honest and Wise Men ever rule
under This Roof

More than a century later, in the final year of World War II, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt had these words carved in the stone mantle of the fireplace in the State Dining Room. These words are still there today

FAST FACT: The State Dining Room served as a drawing room, office, and Cabinet room. It wasn't until Andrew Jackson's administration that it was called the "State Dining Room," although "it had been used for formal dinners by previous presidents."

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

William Henry Harrison, The Election of 1840 and "Tippicanoe and Burgoo, Too!"

During William Henry Harrison's presidential campaign, hard cider flowed so fast that he became known as the “Hard Cider Candidate.” To feed his many rowdy supporters, Harrison's cooks served an election dish called Burgoo which was made by dropping chopped vegetables into warm squirrel stew.

Hailing his victory over Tecumseh thirty years earlier, Harrison’s supporters came up with the slogan, TIPPICANOE AND TYLER, TOO!” With its shrewd and heavy use of slogans, poems, ditties, and songs, and organized picnics, rallies, bonfires, and parades, the Election of 1840 is considered to be the first modern American presidential campaign!

Of course, the custom of plying potential voters with food and drink has been practiced by politicians since George Washington's day. But it reached its zenith in the campaign of 1840, when Harrison and his lieutenants "wined and dined the populace throughout the West."

The first step, according to historian Poppy Cannon, was to erect a log cabin, then "invite all eligible males to a feast of cornbread, cheese, and hard cider." Little by little, the feasts became more elaborate, "culminating in a spread in Wheeling, West Virginia, in which 30,000 hungry voters were served 360 hams, 20 calves, 1,500 pounds of beef, 1,000 pounds of cheese, 8,000 pounds of bread and 4,500 pounds of Burgoo."

Perfected in Kentucky and popular throughout the western territories, Burgoo was the perfect election dish since it could be easily expanded to feed large crowds simply by adding more water, vegetables and squirrel meat to it. Although squirrel was once deemed essential to this classic American dish, most modern recipes, like this one for Kentucky Burgoo from Emeril Lagasse, call for beef, lamb and chicken.

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 pounds boneless beef shank, trimmed of excess fat
2 pound boneless lamb shoulder, trimmed of excess fat
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 medium onions, quartered
4 cloves peeled garlic
1 medium fresh hot red pepper, quartered
Water, to cover
1 (3 to 4 pound) whole chicken or hen, cut into 8 pieces
2 cups chopped onions
2 cups medium diced carrots
1 cup medium diced green bell peppers
1 pound baking potatoes, like russets, peeled and medium diced
2 cups peeled, seeded and chopped tomatoes
1/2 pound fresh green beans, strings removed and cut into 2-inch pieces
2 cups fresh corn kernels
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh parsley leaves
Serving suggestions:
8 fresh cornbread muffins, hot
8 fresh biscuits, hot

In a large, heavy pot, over medium heat, add the oil. Season the beef and lamb with salt and pepper. When the oil is hot, sear the meat, in batches, for a couple of minutes on all sides. Add the onions, garlic, cloves, and pepper. Cover with water. (about 3 to 4 quarts). Bring to boil, reduce the heat to medium low, and simmer until tender, about 3 hours.

Season the chicken with salt and pepper. During the last 1 1/2 hours of cooking, add the chicken. Remove the meat, chicken and vegetables from the pan, set aside and cool. Discard the vegetables. Add the remaining vegetables and brown sugar to the pot of hot liquid. Continue to cook for 1 hour.

After the meat has cooled, cube the beef and lamb into 1-inch pieces. Remove the skin and bones from the chicken and discard. Dice the chicken into 1-inch pieces. Add the cubed meat and chicken to the vegetables and continue to cook for 30 minutes. Re-season if necessary. Ladle the stew into serving bowls. Serve with hot cornbread or biscuits. Garnish with parsley.

A LITTLE BACKGROUND: “Tippecanoe and Tyler, Too!” was originally a song written for Harrison and his running mate, John Tyler. Harrison was known as “Old Tippecanoe” for his military victory over the Shawnee chieftan Tecumseh at the Battle of Tippecanoe in 1811. Thirty years later, Whigs used Harrison’s nickname in a campaign song that portrayed Harrison as a “simple, homespun hero” in contrast to the Democratic candidate, Martin Van Buren, who was depicted as a wealthy elitist. Here are some of the lyrics:

Sure, let 'em talk about hard cider
and log cabins too
't'will only help to speed the ball
for Tippecanoe and Tyler too
and with him we'll beat Little Van, Van
Van is a used up man
and with him we'll beat Little Van…

Although Harrison wasn't born in a log cabin, he was the first to use one as a symbol to suggest that he was a man of humble origins. Other candidates followed his example, making the idea of a log cabin (and a non-wealthy background) a recurring theme in presidential elections for the next half century.

Credit: William Henry Harrison, oil on canvas by Rembrandt Peale (National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C.)

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Jimmy Carter and "The Grits Factor"

Even before Jimmy Carter and his family moved into the White House, reports in the press "began to highlight the Carters' Southern style of life and the public was forewarned that the White House would soon serve grits to guests."

According to White House chef Henry Haller, grits were included on the menu for the Carters' first breakfast at the White House. A staple dish for the Carters and their Southern visitors, grits, as Haller tells us, "soon became standard fare for White House guests from all over the world. The White House kitchen quickly realized that many of the Carters' distinguished visitors really expected to be served grits, and most were pleasantly surprised to discover they actually liked the taste of the ground hominy dish."

The key to preparing palatable grits, according to Chef Haller, is to avoid a watery product by cooking completely and stirring often. Grits, as many southerners would surely agree, taste great served hot with lots of melted butter or baked with a flavorful cheese.

Because President Carter was fond of Grits Baked with Cheese, this dish was often included on the Carter family's weekend breakfast menu. If you would like to whip up a batch, here is simple recipe to try from The White House Family Cookbook by Henry Haller:

4 cups chicken bouillon
1 cup enriched white hominy
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter
2 cups grated sharp cheddar
4 eggs yolk
1/4 to 1/2 cup cold milk
4 egg whites, at room temperature

Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease inside of a 2-quart casserole dish. Bring buillon to a boil in a 2-quart saucepan; add grits gradually, stirring with a wire whisk. Reduce heat and continue cooking, stirring vigorously, until mixture thickens. Cover and cook for 15 minutes, sirring often. Remove from heat and add Worcestershire sauce, butter, and 1 1/2 cups of the cheese, stirring until well-balanced.

In a small bowl, blend egg yolks with 1/2 cup of milk. Pour into grits and mix thoroughly; add more milk if necessary, thinning to the consistency of cream of wheat. In a clean, dry bowl, beat egg whites until stiff. Fold into grits. Pour into prepared baking dish. Sprinkle with the remaining 1/2 cup of cheese. Bake on middle of shelf of preheated oven for 30 minutes or until fluffy and brown. Serve at once and enjoy!

FOOD FACT: According to an article in the New York Times, grits is "the first truly American food." When a sea-weary group of English settlers came ashore at Jamestown, Virginia in the spring of 1607, they were reportedly greeted by a band of friendly Indians offering "bowls of a steaming hot substance consisting of softened maize seasoned with salt" and bear grease.

The settlers liked it so much they quickly adopted it as a part of their own diet and "set about devising a milling process by which the large corn grains could be ground into smaller particles without losing any nutriments." Today, of the 150 million pounds of grits milled each year in the United States, more than two-thirds (or one hundred million pounds!) is consumed in the South.

Source: Henry Haller, The White House Family Cookbook, Henry Haller [New York: Random House, 1987)

Credit: Oil Portrait of Jimmy Carter by Herbert E. Abrams (1982) White House Historical Association (White House Collection)

Monday, August 9, 2010

Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the Mysterious Origins of Country Captain Chicken

Although they may have become accustomed to elegant State Dinners, many American presidents enjoyed a wide variety of homey dishes prepared with chicken while living in the White House. James Madison was reportedly fond of Chicken and Okra Soup, James Monroe retained a childhood taste for Chicken Pudding with Fried Rice, and it has been said that Woodrow Wilson frequently requested that Chicken Salad be put on the White House luncheon menu during his two terms of office.

But that's not all. John F. Kennedy and his wife Jackie were fond of Poulet a l'Estragon (Chicken Tarragon); Richard Nixon reportedly enjoyed his daughter Tricia's homemade Chicken Divan; Bill Clinton was, and perhaps still is, partial to chicken enchildas made with a cheese similar in texture and taste to Velveeta; and one of Franklin Delano Roosevelt's favorite dishes was reportedly Country Captain Chicken, a curried-chicken dish with mysterious origins.

In her nineteenth-century cookbook, Eliza Leslie claimed that the dish got its name from a British officer who brought the recipe back from his station in India. Others maintain that the dish originated in Savannah, Georgia, which was a major shipping port for the spice trade. In Rare Bits: Unusual Origins of Popular Recipes, Paterica Bunning Steven puts forth another other theory about the origins of this slightly spicy chicken dish:

According to an oft-repeated story, a sea-captain sailed into Charleston harbor with a shipload of spices from India. Entertained by the hostesses of a city noted for its graciousness, he repaid their kindness by teaching their capable cooks to make a delicious dish of chicken and curry. Alas for legend! A virtually identical dish is known in England, where it goes by the very same name. The captain, if there ever was one, must have been a British officer stationed in the back country of India. An English writer has noted that "country captain" is also an Anglo-Indian term from the captian of a...ship...from a foreign country. Just how or if that fits into the puzzle would be difficult to say. Another suggestion is that Country Captain may be only a corruption of "country capon."

Although no one knows exactly who created and named this dish, we do know that it has been popular throughout the south for centuries. If you'd like to try it someday, here is a simple and delicious "30-minute Recipe" from the Food Network's ever-peppy Rachel Ray:

2 3/4 cups water
1 tablespoon butter
1 1/2 cups white and wild rice or long grain rice
2/3 cup flour, eyeball it
1 rounded tablespoon sweet paprika
4 pieces, 6 ounces each, boneless, skinless chicken breast
3 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, 2 turns of the pan
2 tablespoons butter
1 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
2 or 3 large cloves garlic, smashed
1 tablespoon curry powder or mild curry paste
1 cup chicken stock
1 can diced tomatoes in puree or chunky style crushed tomatoes
1/4 cup golden raisins or currants, a couple of handfuls
2 ounces, 1 small pouch, sliced almonds, lightly toasted
3 scallions, chopped, for garnish

Bring water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add butter and rice and return water to a boil. Reduce heat to low and cover the pot. Cook rice 20 minutes or until tender. Turn off heat and fluff rice with a fork.

Combine flour and paprika in a shallow dish. Season chicken with salt and pepper. Cut each chicken breast and thigh in 1/2 on an angle. Coat chicken pieces in paprika seasoned flour. Wash your hands and chicken work surfaces thoroughly.

Heat a large skillet over medium high heat. Add oil to the pan. Brown chicken pieces, 3 minutes on each side, and remove from the skillet. Add butter to the pan, then stir in peppers, onions and garlic. Season the veggies with salt and pepper and saute them 5 to 7 minutes to soften.

Add curry, stock, tomatoes and raisins. Slide chicken back into the skillet and simmer over moderate heat for 5 minutes to combine flavors and finish cooking the chicken through. Place skillet on a trivet and serve the chicken from the pan. Garnish the Country Captain's chicken with sliced almonds. Transfer rice to a serving dish and garnish with chopped scallions.

FOOD FACT: So now that we know which presidents liked to eat dishes prepared with chicken, it seems only fair that we consider what chickens like and need to eat for their well-being. According to experts, chickens need grains; greens (like grass, green vegetables and weeds); protein (from bugs, worms, milk and meat); calcium (from Oyster shells); as well as Vitamins A and D, and salt. And because a chicken's weight is made up of more than fifty percent water, they need a constant supply of fresh water to "drink."

Credit: Chicks Feeding, oil on canvas by Lucy Ann Leavers

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Mamie Eisenhower's Million Dollar Fudge

As Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe during World War II, General Dwight D. Eisenhower’s favorite cold weather military dish was ox-tail soup. Ike was also fond of Vegetable Beef Stew, Corn Pudding and String Beans Almondine, and, for dessert, he loved Prune Whip, Frosted Mint Delight, and his wife Mamie’s Deep Dish Apple Pie!

Mamie's Million Dollar Fudge was another Eisenhower family favorite, so much so that her recipe for it was printed in newspapers and magazines throughout the 1950s. If you'd like to whip a batch, here's a simple and simply delicious recipe to try from The Food Network and Mamie's original recipe from the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum in Abilene, Kansas.

4 1/2 cups sugar
Pinch salt
2 tablespoons butter
1 (12-ounce) can evaporated milk
2 cups coarsely chopped pecans
1 pint (1 jar) marshmallow cream
12 ounces semisweet chocolate
12 ounces German's sweet chocolate

In a heavy saucepan over medium heat, bring the sugar, salt, butter and evaporated milk to a boil. Boil for 6 minutes.

Meanwhile, place the pecans, marshmallow fluff and chocolate in a large bowl. Pour the boiled syrup over the chocolate mixture. Beat until chocolate is all melted.

Spray a 15 1/2 by 10 1/2 by 1-inch jelly-roll pan with a nonstick cooking spray and pour fudge into pan. Let harden at room temperature before cutting into 1-inch squares (can be placed in the refrigerator or freezer to speed hardening process).

FOOD FACT: Published in 1929, Alice Bradley's The Candy Cook Book devotes an entire chapter to fudges and includes recipes for chocolate fudge, caramel fudge, coconut cream fudge, coffee fudge, ginger fudge, maple marshmallow fudge, pecan fudge, peanut butter fudge, raisin fudge, raspberry fudge, rainbow fudge, maraschino fudge, pistachio fudge, walnut maple fudge and orange flower opera fudge!

Credit: Oil Portrait of Mamie Eisenhower by Thomas Edgar Stephens (1959) White House Historical Association (White House Collection)

Monday, August 2, 2010

Ice Cream for the Obamas

During a fun-filled summer vacation in August of 2009, the Obama family toured Yellowstone National Park. After watching an eruption of the Old Faithful geyser, the Obamas stopped for ice cream at a nearby general store. Before placing their orders, President Obama reportedly asked about the ingredients of such flavors as Moose Tracks, Stuck in a Rut and Buffalo Chip.

When a server began “carving an enormous scoop" of Stuck in a Rut for Sasha, the president reportedly urged restraint. “You don't have to make it that big," he said. “She's not going to be able to eat all that.” After finishing their treats, President Obama departed for a town hall meeting on health care in Colorado while Sasha and Malia headed to a nearby orchard with their mother to pick peaches.

Although news reports didn't mention what flavor the president ordered that day, he was photographed in Maine enjoying a single scoop of coconut ice cream. So in honor of the president's birthday this week, here is a recipe for Quick Coconut Ice Cream adapted from Delicious Days by David Lebovitz:

2/3 cup heavy cream
1 cup coconut milk
2 ounces palm sugar, or 1/4 cup white or unrefined cane sugar
scant 1/2 teaspoon saffron threads

In a medium-sized saucepan, bring all the ingredients to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer gently for ten minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat, and chill the mixture thoroughly. Once chilled, freeze in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's directions. Once churned, be sure to scrape any saffron threads clinging to the dasher back in to the ice cream.

FOOD FACT: Historians say that the origins of ice cream can be traced as far back as ancient China, where fruit-flavored ices were created, possibly as early as 3000 BCE. The ice creams we are familiar with today, however, are said to have been invented in Italy in the early seventeenth century. As time and technology progressed, ice cream flavors, complicated confections, and novelty concoctions, like ice cream sandwiches, sundaes, popsicles, and banana splits, became popular.