Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Chester Arthur's Midnight White House Feasts

As president, Chester Arthur hosted many elegant state dinners and often stayed up socializing with his guests as late as two or three o’clock in the morning. Biographers say that he also liked to take his friends on midnight tours of the White House. Because of his nocturnal ways, Arthur was often late to his morning meetings and his habitual tardiness led one critic to say, “President Arthur never did today what he could put off until tomorrow.”

Sadly, President Arthur died a year and a half after leaving office. Most historians agree that he died from kidney disease, although, at the time, many people believed that his decadent lifestyle contributed to his illness. Describing his culinary habits, one commentator observed:

Arthur’s illness is largely due to his life in the White House. He lived too high, exercised too little, and kept too late hours. He did not breakfast much before ten o’clock and his dinners did not begin until nine or ten in the evening. He often sat at the table until after midnight, where, though he was not a glutton, he consumed fine wines and terrapin and other rich food...President Arthur rode horseback for a time, but in spite of his doctor’s advice, he discontinued this, and grew heavier and heavier from lack of exercise...

Although no one knows exactly what caused President Arthur's illness, we do know that he was a true gourmet and relished such delicacies as mutton chops with a glass of claret or expensive champagne. An avid fisherman, he was also particularly fond of Terrapin Steak, which he preferred to serve with rich side dishes like fried Macaroni Pie with Oysters.

If President Arthur were here with us today, he surely would have also liked this rich and delicious recipe for Seafood Linguine with Mussels and Oysters from the Food Network's ever-energetic Emeril Lagasse:

2 tablespoons, plus 1 1/4 teaspoons salt, divided
1 pound linguine
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
2 sliced red jalapenos
3/4 pound medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 tablespoon Essence, divided, recipe follows
1 cup small diced onion
2 tablespoons minced garlic
2 1/2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes, or to taste
2 cups canned tomato sauce
2 tablespoons tomato paste
12 littleneck clams, scrubbed
1/2 pound mussels, scrubbed and de-bearded
1/2 pound calamari, bodies diced into rings, with the tentacles
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves
1/2 cup grated Parmesan, optional

Bring a large 1-gallon pot of water to a boil, add 2 tablespoons of the salt to the pot and place the pasta in it. Cook, stirring occasionally, until al dente, about 10 minutes. Drain and then transfer pasta to a large bowl and drizzle with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Toss to coat the pasta well, then set aside.

As the pasta cooks, set a 14-inch saute pan over medium-high heat and add the remaining olive oil. Once hot add the red jalapenos. Season the shrimp with 2 teaspoons of the Essence, add the shrimp to the pan and cook for 1 minute. Turn the shrimp over and cook another minute. Remove the shrimp from the pan and set aside as you prepare the sauce.

Place the onions in the pan and cook until wilted, about 3 to 4 minutes. Add the garlic and saute until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the red pepper flakes and saute briefly before adding the tomato sauce and tomato paste. Cook the sauce briefly, then add the clams to the pan. Cover the pan and cook the clams for 1 minute, remove the lid, add the mussels to the pan and replace the cover.

Cook the mussels for 2 minutes, remove the lid and season the calamari with the remaining 1 teaspoon of Essence before adding them to the pan along with the seared shrimp and the pasta. Continue to cook the pasta, tossing to blend the pasta with the sauce, and season with the remaining 1 1/4 teaspoons of the salt, about 2 minutes. Garnish the pasta with the chopped parsley and cheese and serve.

FAST FACT: Nicknamed "Elegant Arthur" for his fastidious ways, President Arthur reportedly owned more than eighty suits and often changed his pants several times each day!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Abraham Lincoln Kentucky Corncakes

Abraham Lincoln and his wife Mary were great animal lovers and allowed their four young sons to keep all sorts of pets on White House grounds. Among other animals, Abe and his family had three cats, a dog named Fido, rabbits, horses, and two rambunctious billygoats named Nanny and Nunko.

Another was a wild turkey named Jack with whom Lincoln’s youngest son Tad played with daily. When it came time for Jack to be sacrificed for a holiday dinner, Tad supposedly begged his dad to spare the turkey’s life, and, to this day, the White House maintains the tradition of “pardoning” a wild turkey each holiday season!

Although it’s a "tad" early to be thinking about preparing your next holiday dinner, you can whip up a batch of Kentucky Corncakes, which are a great side dish at just about any meal and were a Lincoln family favorite. If you’d like to make some Kentucky Corncakes today, here is a simple and simply delicious recipe to try from the Food Network:

1 cup roasted cornmeal (fine ground yellow cornmeal)
1 cup self-rising flour
4 tablespoons sugar
2 eggs
2 cups buttermilk
3 ounces corn oil
2 cups fresh corn kernels

Place cornmeal, flour, and sugar in a bowl and mix together. In a separate bowl, combine eggs, buttermilk, corn oil, and fresh corn and mix together. Fold mixtures together. Place 4 ounces of pancake mix onto a hot griddle. Cook on medium high heat for 4 minutes on each side, until cooked through. Serve warm with lots of butter and honey enjoy!

FAST FACT: According to historians at the Miller Center, the Lincoln family's routine in the White House reflected "the presence of their sons, the demands of war, and the highly complex and many-sided character of Abraham and Mary. [T]he day went from breakfast together as a family at 8:00 in the morning, reunion again for dinner at 8:00 in the evening, and then bedtime. Until little Willie's death in 1862, the two younger sons demanded a good deal of attention, and both parents gave them ample attention, although Lincoln grew more distant as the war progressed and occupied much of his day."

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Sunday, March 3, 2013

Harry Truman's Food Conservation Speech and Meatless Monday Tuna Noodle Casserole

On October 5, 1947, Harry Truman made the first televised presidential address from the White House. In it, he asked Americans to reduce their use of grain in order to help feed starving people overseas.

At the time of his “Food Conservation Speech,” Europe was still recovering from the devastation of World War II and suffering from widespread famine. Truman asked farmers to reduce their use of grain and asked the public to avoid meat on Mondays, eggs and poultry on Thursdays, and to "save a slice of bread each day."

Within days, restaurants all over the country had pledged their support while the New York Times invited readers to write in for a free pamphlet of meatless recipes, including a “canned salmon bake topped with crushed potato chips.” Truman, for his part, lunched on a “symbolic cheese soufflé.”

Tuna Noodle Casserole was another popular "Meatless Monday" dish. If you'd like to whip up a batch, here's a quick and easy, no-nonsense recipe adapted from Bess Truman’s handwritten recipe for Tuna Noodle Casserole

12 ounces elbow macaroni
1 can white albacore tuna, drained
1 can cream of celery soup
1/3 cup milk
¾ cup cheddar cheese
½ cup bread crumbs
2 tablespoons butter
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease a 2 ½ to 3-quart casserole dish.

In a medium saucepan, cook the noodles until tender, about 10-12 minutes. Remove and drain well. In a medium bowl, combine the noodles, tuna, soup, and milk. Pour mixture into the prepared baking dish.

Melt butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Mix together bread crumbs and butter in a small bowl, then sprinkle bread crumb mixture and cheese over the top. Bake for about 25 minutes, or until the bread crumbs are slightly browned. Serve warm and enjoy!

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