Monday, December 28, 2015

Andrew Johnson Hoppin John

At the end of the Civil War, the South lay in ruins. Southern plantations and entire cities had been destroyed during the war. Without food, many southerners starved to death, and some of those who survived lost everything they owned.

As a result, the government had to figure out how to rebuild the South. As president, Johnson took charge of the first phase of Reconstruction. But his attempt to quickly readmit the former Confederate states into the union and his vetoes of important civil rights bills outraged Radical Republicans in Congress.

The House of Representatives impeached Johnson in 1868, but he was acquitted by a single vote in the Senate. Historians say that Johnson’s victory “marked the beginning of an ambitious series of receptions, dinners and children’s parties that would turn the last nine months of his term into an ongoing celebration.”


After leaving office, Johnson returned to his native state of Tennessee where he probably consumed such traditional southern foods as Benne Wafers, Hoppin’ John and Pine Bark Stew. Still popular in the south, Hoppin' John is often the high point of New Year's Day festivities and is thought to bring good luck throughout the coming year. If you'd like to whip up some Hoppin' John, you can't go wrong with this quick and delicious recipe from Emeril Lagasse.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large ham hock
1 cup onion, chopped
1/2 cup celery, chopped
1/2 cup green pepper, chopped
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
1 pound black-eyed peas, soaked overnight and rinsed
1 quart chicken stock
1 Bay leaf
1 teaspoon dry thyme leaves
Salt, black pepper, and cayenne
3 tablespoons finely chopped green onion
3 cups steamed white rice

Heat oil in a large soup pot, add the ham hock and sear on all sides for 4 minutes. Add the onion, celery, green pepper, and garlic, and cook for 4 minutes. Add the black-eyed peas, stock, bay leaves, thyme, and seasonings.

Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 40 minutes, or until the peas are creamy and tender, stir occasionally. If the liquid evaporates, add more water or stock. Adjust seasonings, and garnish with green onions. Serve over rice and enjoy!

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Wednesday, December 23, 2015

A Charles Dickens Christmas Dinner

One of the most famous guests to visit the White House during John Tyler’s presidency was the great English writer, Charles Dickens. Upon his arrival in the United States, Dickens was honored at a lavish ball in New York City, where he was greeted by such famous American writers as Washington Irving, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Harriet Beecher Stowe and Edgar Allan Poe.

Some days later, Dickens met Tyler in the White House and later penned this about the president:

He looked somewhat worn and anxious, -- and well he might: being at war with everybody, -- but the expression of his face was mild and pleasant, and his manner was remarkably unaffected, gentlemanly, and agreeable. I thought that, in his whole carriage and demeanour, he became his station singularly well.

After returning to England, Dickens wrote his first travel book entitled American Notes. But of all of Dickens' novels, perhaps none are more well-known than A Christmas Carol, which was published in 1843, one year after Dickens visited the White House. Among all of the food oriented scenes in this classic novel, none are more memorable than the one depicting the Cratchit family's Christmas dinner. Maybe you remember it:

Mrs. Cratchit made the gravy (ready beforehand in a little saucepan) hissing hot; Master Peter mashed the potatoes with incredible vigour; Miss Belinda sweetened up the apple-sauce; Martha dusted the hot plates; Bob took Tiny Tim beside him in a tiny corner at the table; the two young Cratchits set chairs for everybody, not forgetting themselves, and mounting guard upon their posts, crammed spoons into their mouths, lest they should shriek for goose before their turn came to be helped.

At last the dishes were set on, and grace was said. It was succeeded by a breathless pause, as Mrs. Cratchit, looking slowly all along the carving-knife, prepared to plunge it in the breast; but when she did, and when the long expected gush of stuffing issued forth, one murmur of delight arose all round the board, and even Tiny Tim, excited by the two young Cratchits, beat on the table with the handle of his knife, and feebly cried Hurrah!


No recipes, of course, are included in the book, but The Food Channel recently recreated the Cratchit's Christmas dinner and "the more bountiful feast at the merry gathering at the home of Mr. Scrooge’s nephew." If you'd like to bring some of Dickens' Christmas spirit to your family dinner table this holiday season, here's a recipe for Duchess Potatoes to try:

3 pounds russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 cup heavy cream
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch cubes and softened
1 large egg plus 1 egg yolk, light beaten
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
Pinch of nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon baking powder

Fill a large pot with cold water, add salt and bring it to a rolling boil over high heat. Add the potatoes and boil until tender. While the potatoes are still hot add cream, 3 tablespoons butter, eggs, salt, pepper, nutmeg, and baking powder. Mash the potatoes until smooth. Let cool to room temperature. Gently fold in the remaining butter until pieces are evenly distributed.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Transfer potato mixture to piping bag fitted with 1/2-inch star tip (you can use a gallon size baggie with snipped off corner) and pipe eight 4-inch wide mounds of potatoes on baking sheet. Spray the tops of the potatoes lightly with butter flavored cooking spray and bake until golden brown, about 15 to 20 minutes.

FAST FACT: Oliver Twist is another classic Dickens novel that's filled with many memorable food-related scenes. Set in England, the main character is a nine-year old orphan in a London workhouse where the boys are given only three meals of thin gruel a day. When Oliver asks for more (“Please, sir, I want some more”) he is dubbed a trouble maker and treated even more cruelly. Oliver Twist called attention to the problem of poor and starving children in England and, to a lesser extent, the United States.

Credit: Charles Dickens - 1842, painting by Francis Alexander

Monday, December 21, 2015

James Buchanan Snickerdoodles

Presiding over the nation during a time of great crisis and strife, James Buchanan is the only president who never had a wife. And while he dined very fine at his many extravagant White House parties, those close to him said that James retained a childhood taste for Scrapple, Confederate Pudding, and Dutch-German cookies called Apees.

Snicker-doodles are another traditional Dutch-German cookie that are usually covered with cinnamon and sugar and baked in the shape of a snail. Some food historians say that their fanciful name comes from the German term Schnecke Knödel which can be translated as “snail dumpling.” Others say that “snicker” comes from the Dutch word snekrad or the German word schnecke, both of which refer to a small, snail-like shape.

Although no one knows who came up with their name, we do know that these sweet, little cookies have been popular in Buchanan's native state of Pennsylvania for centuries. If you'd like to whip up a batch of Snicker-doodles for your holiday celebrations this week, here are two fabulous recipes to try from Trisha Yearwood and Emeril Lagasse:


For the topping:

3 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

For the cookie dough:

3 1/2 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup butter
2 cups sugar
2 eggs
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

In a small bowl, stir together the sugar and cinnamon and set aside. To make the cookie dough, stir together the dry ingredients. In a bowl with a paddle attachment, cream the butter. Add the sugar and continue to mix, then add the eggs, corn syrup, and vanilla, and mix thoroughly. Add the dry ingredients and mix until blended. Chill dough 1 hour if it's sticky or difficult to handle.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Roll balls of dough about the size of a walnut then roll in the cinnamon sugar to coat. Place on an ungreased sheet pan 2 1/2 inches apart. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes until puffed up and the surface is slightly cracked. Let cool on the sheet a few minutes then remove to a wire rack to cool.

FOOD FACT: At Buchanan’s Inaugural Reception in 1857, five thousand guests dined on eight rounds of beef, seventy-five hams, sixty saddles of mutton, four saddles of venison, four hundred gallons of oysters, five quarts of jellies, twelve hundred quarts of ice cream, and "pates of infinite variety." The high point of the night was a Pyramid Cake that stood four feet high and was decorated with a flag bearing the insignia of each state. As president, Buchanan’s annual $25,000 salary wasn’t enough to cover his tabs and he often had to pay the bills for his extravagant parties out of his own pocket!

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Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Andrew Jackson Benne Wafers

Andrew Jackson was so strong-willed that his enemies called him King Andrew I, portraying him as a tyrannical ruler who abused presidential powers and trampled on the constitution.

During his two terms of office, Jackson vetoed the recharter of the Second Bank of the United States, signed the “Tariff of Abominations” which led to the Nullification Crisis and ignored an important Supreme Court decision protecting Native American rights.

Jackson was also no stranger to slavery. More than 150 slaves worked day and night at his stately Tennessee mansion "The Hermitage" where cooks prepared his favorite southern foods, including Braised Duck, Chicken Hash, Old Hickory Soup and Wild Barbecued Goose.


Popular in the south throughout the nineteenth century, Benne Wafers were another Jackson family favorite. Today, these delightfully light, crisp, paper-thin cookies can still be found in bakeries and candy shops throughout the south.

If you'd like to whip up a batch of Benne Wafers today, here's a a recipe to try from CookinCanuck.com and here's another one that's simple to make and tastes simply delicious!


¾ cup sesame seeds, toasted
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
4 tablespoons (½ stick) butter, softened
1 egg, lightly beaten
½ cup all purpose flour
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 325º F. Cover cookie sheet with parchment paper or lightly grease it. In a heavy skillet over medium heat, toast the sesame seeds until they are golden brown, about 4 minutes.

In a medium bowl, beat the brown sugar and butter together until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in the egg. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, and baking powder, then add to the butter, sugar and egg mixture and mix until well-combined. Stir in the sesame seeds and vanilla.

Drop by teaspoonful onto prepared cookie sheet about 3 inches apart. Bake for 10 minutes, or until the edges are lightly browned. Let cool for a few minutes and then transfer to a rack to continue cooling.

Credit: Jackson in 1824, painting by Thomas Sully.

Monday, December 14, 2015

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 reportedly 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 numerous newspapers and magazines throughout the 1950s. If you'd like to whip a batch, here is a recipe 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, cream nut 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 Geneva Doud Eisenhower by Thomas Edgar Stephens (1959) White House Historical Association (White House Collection)

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Sunday, December 13, 2015

Benjamin Harrison and the First Decorated Christmas Tree at the White House

Benjamin Harrison’s presidency began with a dramatic, three-day centennial commemoration of George Washington’s inauguration as the first president of the United States. The festivities began on April 28, 1889 with a reception in the White House, followed by a reenactment of George Washington’s crossing of New York Harbor by barge under a fuselage of gun salutes and fireworks. The evening was capped with a lavish banquet, featuring thirteen wines and thirteen toasts in honor of the original thirteen colonies.

Despite the initial fanfare, Harrison and his family dined rather modestly during their four years in the White House, and it has been said that their Christmas dinner was about as unpretentious as the family itself. According to culinary historian Poppy Cannon:

The dinner began with Blue Point oysters on the half shell, followed by consomme a la Royale, chicken in patty shells, and then the piece de resistance, stuffed roast turkey, cranberry jelly, Duchess potatoes and braised celery. Then came terrapin a la Maryland, lettuce salad with French drssing, and assorted desserts: minced pie, American plum pudding, tutti fruitti ice cream. For those still hungry, ladyfingers, Carlsbad wafers, and macaroons were passed, followed by fruit and coffee...

But of all White House holiday traditions, the Harrison's are perhaps most well-known for setting up the first decorated Christmas tree in the White House. According to White House historians, it was on the morning of December 25, 1889 that President Harrison "gathered his family around the first indoor White House Christmas tree. It stood in the upstairs oval room, branches adorned with lit candles. First Lady Caroline Harrison, an artist, helped decorate the tree."


As our nation's First Lady, Mrs. Harrison set the stage for what would eventually become a White House holiday tradition. But not all First Families after the Harrisons set up Christmas trees in the White House. First Lady Grace Coolidge did in the 1920s; however, it was First Lady "Lou" Henry Hoover who started the custom in 1929 when she oversaw the decoration of the first "official" tree. Since then, the honor of trimming the main White House Christmas tree has belonged to the First Ladies. According to the White House Historical Association:

In 1961, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy began the tradition of selecting a theme for the official White House Christmas tree. She decorated a tree placed in the oval Blue Room with ornamental toys, birds and angels modeled after Petr Tchaikovsky's "Nutcracker Suite" ballet. Mrs. Kennedy reused these ornaments in 1962 for her children's theme tree. Set up in the North Entrance, this festive tree also featured brightly wrapped packages, candy canes, gingerbread cookies and straw ornaments made by disabled or senior citizen craftspeople throughout the United States.

The Lyndon B. Johnson Administration began during a time of great uncertainty. In November 1963, the assassination of President Kennedy had stunned America. New First Lady Claudia "Lady Bird" Johnson certainly felt a desire to help the nation heal. She chose comforting and nostalgic holiday decor during her White House years. Her 1965 and 1966 Blue Room Christmas trees were decorated in an early American theme. They featured thousands of small traditional ornaments, including nuts, fruit, popcorn, dried seedpods, gingerbread cookies and wood roses from Hawaii...

Handmade crafts set the theme for First Lady Betty Ford's 1974 Blue Room tree. Emphasizing thrift and recycling, Mrs. Ford used ornaments made by Appalachian women and senior citizen groups. Swags lined with patchwork encircled the tree. She kept this quaint feel in 1975 for her "old-fashioned children's Christmas" theme. Experts from Colonial Williamsburg adapted paper snowflakes, acorns, dried fruits, pinecones, vegetables, straw, cookies and yarn into ornaments...


In 2010, the theme for the Obamas first  holiday season at the White House was "Shine, Give, Share," which offered a paid tribute to our troops, veterans and their families throughout the White House. The tour featured 37 Christmas trees and a huge gingerbread model of the White House made of 400 pounds of gingerbread, white chocolate, and marzipan. The centerpiece was the official Christmas tree that honored our men and women in uniform and featured beautiful and moving holiday cards created by military children.

The holiday décor also included "a bounty of Bos!" With a playful nod to the First Dog, the tour featured five Bo topiaries made from materials like felt, buttons, pom poms and candy, including marshmallows and 1,911 pieces of licorice!

FAST FACT: Christmas was not an official federal holiday until an Act of Congress signed into law by Ulysses S. Grant in June of 1870. Prior to then, a few state governments celebrated the day. The bill also declared that New Year’s Day and the 4th of July would be national holidays.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Donald Trump, the 2012 Campaign, and Oprah's "Favorite" Mar-a-Lago Turkey Burgers

You could almost hear the sighs of relief from Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, and other Republican presidential hopefuls when Donald Trump announced that he would 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 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 was not nearly as entertaining without Trump as a contender.

One of the more entertaining political events of the campaign was the 2011 White House Correspondents’ Association 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 news reports, 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 fabulous, but if you prefer more casual fare, you might like to try a delicious Mar-a-Lago Turkey Burger, which got rave reviews from none other than Oprah Winfrey herself. “I believe [it] may be the best turkey burger in the entire world," she was quoted as saying in an article posted on her website.

If you'd like to whip up some Mar-a-Lago Turkey Burgers this week, 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.

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Tuesday, December 1, 2015

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.

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Friday, November 20, 2015

Franklin D. Roosevelt, the Great Depression and the Thanksgiving Day Date-Change Fiasco

So did you know that in 1939 President Franklin D. Roosevelt decided to move Thanksgiving Day forward by a week? Rather than allow the holiday to fall on its traditional date, the last Thursday of November, Roosevelt issued a proclamation declaring that the holiday would instead be celebrated a week earlier.

Why did he make such a seemingly random decision in the midst of the Great Depression? Well, his reason was economic and intended to extend the Christmas shopping season. According to the Wall Street Journal:

There were five Thursdays in November that year, which meant that Thanksgiving would fall on the 30th. That left just 20 shopping days till Christmas. By moving the holiday up a week to Nov. 23, the president hoped to give the economy a lift by allowing shoppers more time to make their purchases and—so his theory went—spend more money...

In an informal news conference in August announcing his decision, FDR offered a little tutorial on the history of the holiday. Thanksgiving was not a national holiday, he noted, meaning that it was not set by federal law. According to custom, it was up to the president to pick the date every year.

It was not until 1863, when Abraham Lincoln ordered Thanksgiving to be celebrated on the last Thursday in November, that that date became generally accepted, Roosevelt explained. To make sure that reporters got his point, he added that there was nothing sacred about the date...


Just as he had done with his controversial "Court Packing" plan of 1937, Roosevelt badly misjudged public opinion. Outraged protests began in Plymouth, Massachussetts, the place of the "first Thanksgiving" in 1621, but quickly spread to other circles.

PRESIDENT SHOCKS FOOTBALL COACHES: Many Games are Upset by Thanksgiving Plan, read a banner headline in the New York Times. And even in the staunchly Democratic state of Arkansas, the football coach of Little Ouachita College threatened: 'We'll vote the Republican ticket if he interferes with our football.'"



Of course, some collegiate coaches and athletic directors were more diplomatic. In a letter to the president's secretary, Philip Badger, Chairman of the University Board of Athletic Control at New York University wrote:

My dear Mr. Secretary:

I am wondering if you are at liberty at this time to supply me with any information over and above what has appeared in the public press to date regarding the plan of the President to proclaim November 23 as Thanksgiving Day this year instead of November 30.

Over a period of years it has been customary for my institution to play its annual football game with Fordham University at the Yankee Stadium here at New York University on Thanksgiving Day...As you probably know, it has become necessary to frame football schedules three to five years in advance, and for both 1939 and 1940 we had arranged to play our annual football game with Fordham on Thanksgiving Day, with the belief that such day would fall upon the fourth Thursday in November.

Please understand that all of us interested in the administration of intercollegiate athletics realize that there are considerations and problems before the country for solution which are far more important than the schedule problems of intercollegiate athletics. However, some of us are confronted with the problem of readjusting the date of any football contest affected by the President's proposal.


Outside of the collegiate football arena, public sentiments also ran heavily against Roosevelt's plan, as evidenced by a national Gallup poll which found "that 62% of Americans surveyed disapproved of the date change." And, as opposition grew, some state governors "took matters into their own hands and defied the Presidential Proclamation."

According to the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum:

Some governors declared November 30th as Thanksgiving. And so, depending upon where one lived, Thanksgiving was celebrated on the 23rd and the 30th. This was worse than changing the date in the first place because families that lived in states such as New York did not have the same day off as family members in states such as Connecticut! [And so] family and friends were unable to celebrate the holiday together.

By 1941, most retailers also disapproved of Roosevelt's plan, and even the federal government conceded that the date change had not resulted in any boost in sales. And so, on December 26, 1941, President Roosevelt signed Joint Resolution 41 making Thanksgiving a national holiday and mandating that it be observed on the fourth Thursday in November of each year.

FAST FACT: According to the Library of Congress, when "Abraham Lincoln was president in 1863, he proclaimed the last Thursday of November to be our national Thanksgiving Day. In 1865, Thanksgiving was celebrated the first Thursday of November, because of a proclamation by President Andrew Johnson, and, in 1869, President Ulysses S. Grant chose the third Thursday for Thanksgiving Day. In all other years, until 1939, Thanksgiving was celebrated as Lincoln had designated, the last Thursday in November."

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Ronald Reagan's Inaugural Jelly Beans

So, did you know that shortly after Ronald Reagan became Governor of California in 1967, he began eating pectin jelly beans to help him quit smoking. When a new brand of jelly beans, called Jelly Belly beans, appeared on the market in 1976, he quickly switched to them and would often enthusiastically share them with his Cabinet, staff, and visiting officials.

Reagan enjoyed these sweet little treats SO much that he later sent a letter to the chief executive of the company that produced them, stating, "we can hardly start a meeting or make a decision without passing around the jar of jelly beans."

Even after he became president, Reagan's fondness for Jelly Bellies didn't diminish, and large colorful jars of them were often prominently displayed on his desk in the Oval Office, in the Cabinet Room, and even on Air Force One!!


When Jelly Bellies first appeared on the market, there were only eight flavors: Very Cherry, Lemon, Cream Soda, Tangerine, Green Apple, Root Beer, Grape, and Licorice, which was reportedly President Reagan's favorite.

Since then, there have been hundreds of official flavors to choose from, including Bubble Gum, Buttered Popcorn, Cappuccino, Caramel Corn, Chili Mango, Chocolate Pudding, Cotton Candy, Green Apple, Kiwi, Juicy Pear, Lemon Drop, Margarita, Orange Sherbet, Piña Colada, Pomegranate, Raspberry, Sizzling Cinnamon, Strawberry Cheesecake, Toasted Marshmallow, Top Banana, Tutti-Fruitti, Very Cherry, Wild Blackberry, and Watermelon.

Of course, jelly beans taste great alone, but they can also be used in cookies, cakes, and in this official recipe for Jelly Belly Pudding Parfait:

1 5.1 ounce package vanilla instant pudding mix
1 3.4 ounce package butterscotch flavor instant pudding mix
5 cups milk
2 ounces Jelly Bellies (your choice)
8 fan wafer cookies

Directions: Select serving of parfait glasses that hold 3/4 to 1 cup capacity. In two separate bowls, prepare pudding mixes according to package directions. Fill glasses with alternating layers of vanilla and butterscotch pudding. Chill 5-10 minutes. Garnish parfaits with Jelly Belly beans on top and a fan wafer if desired.

FOOD FACT: In 1981, three-and-a-half tons of Jelly Belly beans were shipped to Washington, D.C. for Ronald Reagan’s inauguration. Blueberry, one of the most popular flavors today, was developed so there would be patriotic red, white and blue jelly beans at the festivities.

FAST FACT: In addition to official flavors, the Jelly Belly Company produces "rookie" flavors that might be added to the roster if they become popular enough. Some somewhat curious and, um, questionable flavors have included Baked Bean, Bloody Mary, Buttered Toast and...Roasted Garlic. Ummm, no thanks!!

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

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 Christmas dinner, Tad supposedly begged his dad to spare the turkey’s life, and, to this day, the White House maintains the tradition of “pardoning” two turkeys 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 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."

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Machiavelli for Moms: Because When It Comes to Raising Your Own Little Prince or Princess, Sometimes the Ends Really DO Justify the Means!!

A mother of four, Suzy Evans is fed up with tantrums, misbehavior and general household chaos. Desperate to get the upper hand, she turns to Machiavelli’s famous, sixteenth-century political treatise, The Prince, and wonders: Can Machiavelli’s rules on warfare and statecraft be suc­cessfully applied to parenting?

Using The Prince as a guide, Evans embarks on an unlikely experiment in “power parenting” and quickly learns that Machiavellian maxims can go a long way when running a kingdom...and a household.

• Study the actions of illustrious men: How to lead by example.

• It is dangerous to be overly generous: A good ruler sets limits.

• It is better to be feared than loved: Sometimes a prince (and a parent) has to be a meanie to ensure the obedience and security of the people.

Praised as "a funny, creative, new parenting guide” (Parade.com), Machiavelli for Moms offers one mother’s unlikely approach to modern parenting -- and stands as a manifesto for other frazzled moms (and dads) willing to act on Machiavelli’s sometimes shocking but ever-practical advice!!

Only $2.99 on kindle today from Simon & Schuster!

Friday, August 7, 2015

Richard Nixon Family-Style Meatloaf

Around 2:30 a.m. on June 17, 1972, five men, one of whom said he was a former employee of the Central Intelligence Agency, were arrested in what authorities described as "an enormous plot to bug the offices of the Democratic National Committee" at the Watergate complex in Washington D.C.

It was an election year, and, as the investigation into the break-in unfolded, a pattern of unlawful activites within President Richard Nixon's administration was uncovered by the press. Together, these federal crimes and misdeeds would become known as "the Watergate scandal" and lead to Nixon's resignation from the Office of the Presidency on August 9, 1974.

On his final day in office, Nixon reportedly awoke at 7:00 a.m. after "a fitful night." After a light breakfast, Nixon signed a one-sentence Letter of Resignation and said an emotional goodbye to his staff. Shortly after 9:00 a.m. he entered the East Room and made a brief Farewell Address to an overflow crowd of White House staff and Cabinet members. He then joined Gerald Ford for a short walk across the South Lawn to a helicopter that would whisk him away into history.


The previous evening, Nixon had delivered a televised Resignation Address to the nation. After acknowledging that he had lost the support of Congress and saying, "I have never been a quitter," Nixon said:

To leave office before my term is completed is abhorent to every instinct in my body. But as President I must put the interests of America first. America needs a full-time President and a full-time Congress, particularly at this time with problems we face at home and abroad.

To continue to fight through the months ahead for my personal vindication would almost totally absorb the time and attention of both the President and the Congress in a period when our entire focus should be on the great issues of peace abroad and prosperity without inflation at home.

Therefore, I shall resign the Presidency effective at noon tomorrow. Vice President Ford will be sworn in as President at that hour in this office. As I recall the high hopes for America with which we began this second term, I feel a great sadness that I will not be here in this office working on your behalf to achieve those hopes in the next 2 1/2 years.


It doesn't take too much investigative work to uncover records of what Nixon ate for breakfast on his final day in office, as it has been reported that it consisted of a small plate of cottage cheese with sliced pineapple and a glass of milk.


White House Chef Henry Haller later revealed that, at breakfast, Nixon "liked fresh fruit, wheat germ with nondairy creamer and coffee." As for favorite dinners, Nixon reportedly enjoyed Sirloin Steak, cooked medium-rare and lightly seasoned; Chicken Cordon Blue; and more simple dishes like Spaghetti and Meatballs. He was also particularly fond of his wife Patricia's Family-Style Meatloaf. According to Chef Haller:

Meat loaf appeared about once a month on the family dinner menus. As soon as the public became aware of this fact, the White House was inundated with inquires for the recipe that so pleased the presidential palate. To ease my burden, Mrs. Nixon's meat loaf recipe was printed on White House stationery to be sent in response to the thousands of requests for it.

If you'd like to get a taste of Pat Nixon's Meatloaf at your next family dinner, here is the original recipe from The White House Cookbook by Henry Haller:

2 tablespoons butter
1 cup finely chopped onions
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 slices white bead
1 cup milk
2 pounds lean ground beef
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon salt
ground black pepper, to taste
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram
2 tablespoons tomato puree
2 tablespoons bread crumbs

Grease a 13-by-9-inch baking pan. Melt butter in a saute pan, add garlic and saute until just golden. Let cool. Dice bread and soak it in milk. In a large mixing bowl, mix ground beef by hand with sauteed onions and garlic and bread pieces. Add eggs, salt, pepper, parsley, thyme and marjoram and mix by hand in a circular motion.

Turn this mixture into the prepared baking pan and pat into a loaf shape, leaving at least one inch of space around the edges to allow fat to run off. Brush the top with the tomato puree and sprinkle with bread crumbs. Refrigerate for 1 hour to allow the flavors to penetrate and to firm up the loaf.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Bake meatloaf on lower shelf of oven for 1 hour, or until meat is cooked through. Pour off accumulated fat while baking and after meat is fully cooked. Let stand on wire rack for five minutes before slicing.

FAST FACT: A year and a half before Nixon resigned, an entirely different calamity unfolded in Washington. This time, it didn't involve illegal break-ins and phone taps but...pigeons! It all began the day before Nixon's second inaugural parade when attempts were made to clear pigeons from Pennsylvania Avenue. Upon Nixon's request, the inaugural committeee spent $13,000 to smear tree branches with a chemical repellent called “Roost No More” which was supposed to drive the bothersome birds away by making their feet itch. Sadly, many of the pigeons ate the stuff and keeled over, leaving the parade route littered with "dead and dying birds which had to be hurriedly swept away.”

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Leonardo da Vinci Saffron Risotto

How Leonardo da Vinci used rudimentary pigments in 1503 to create such subtle shadows and light on the Mona Lisa has long baffled art historians. Now, French researchers are using X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy to isolate and study each ultra-thin layer of paint and glaze da Vinci used to create the effect he was seeking, according to recent news reports.

By beaming x-rays on the Mona Lisa without removing it from the wall on which it is mounted in Paris' Louvre Museum, scientists found that da Vinci used a Renaissance painting technique known as sfumato, intricately mixing thin layers of pigment, glaze and oil to create the appearance of lifelike shadows and light. Scientists now believe that da Vinci used up to 30 layers of paint on his works.

While this may solve one mystery about the Mona Lisa, others remain, like: who is this enigmatic woman and why does she hold her subtle half-smile? To these questions we can add another: what did this mysterious woman and da Vinci like to eat?

According to one researcher who studied the culinary habits of fifteenth and sixteenth century Italy, some Renaissance favorites were Risi e Bisi, Saffron Risotto with Duck and Mushrooms, and Spinach Soup with Hazelnuts. Although those recipes would be impossible to duplicate today, this one for Saffron Risotto with Mushrooms from the New York Times might give you a sense of how and what Leonardo da Vinci liked to eat!

4 cups beef or chicken stock
1/8 teaspoon ground saffron
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup finely minced scallions
1/4 cup finely minced onions
1 pound fresh wild mushrooms, trimmed, cleaned and sliced (see note)
1 1/2 cups Italian Arborio rice
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
3/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Place stock in a saucepan and over medium heat bring to a simmer. Add saffron, stir, and simmer slightly. Meanwhile, in a larger saucepan over medium heat, melt 1 tablespoon butter in olive oil. When foam subsides, add scallions and onions and cook, stirring frequently, until softened and yellow but not browned. Add mushrooms and saute, stirring occasionally until liquid has evaporated.

Add rice to mushrooms, and cook, stirring to coat well, with butter and oil. Add approximately 3/4 cup of simmering stock to rice and mushrooms. Stir well and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until rice has absorbed most of stock. Continue adding stock to rice by half-cupful adding only after rice has absorbed previous addition.

As cooking continues, stir more frequently. After 25 minutes, all the stock should be absorbed, and rice should be tender but still chewy. Remove from heat. Add salt and pepper to taste. Stir in remaining butter and 1/4 cup of Parmigiano-Reggiano. Serve immediately, passing the rest of the cheese.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Grover Cleveland, Babe Ruth and the Debate over the Name of the Baby Ruth Bar

So did you know that Grover Cleveland's name is associated with a long-standing debate over the name of the Baby Ruth bar? Some people say that this popular candy bar was named after Cleveland's infant daughter Ruth, who was endearingly referred to as "Baby Ruth." Others claim that it was named after the great baseball player Babe Ruth, who hit the peak of his fame shortly after the candy bar was introduced in 1920.

According to Babe Ruth Central, this is how the story goes:

Back in 1916, the Curtiss Candy Company was founded in Chicago. The company's first candy bar was called the "Kandy Kake". The product was not overwhelmingly successful, so Curtiss went about refashioning it. And, in 1920, the "Baby Ruth" candy bar was introduced to candy-craving consumers.

That would be a pretty simple story, if it ended there. But, of course, it didn't. Adults and kids back then, just like today, were confused by the name and thought it was a candy bar related to Babe Ruth. After all, even in 1921, Babe already had gained a lot of fame in the baseball world. He had hit 54 home runs in 1920 and 59 during the 1921 season. These were incredible records at the time and he was in newspapers all over the country.

So, for many, Baby Ruth was Babe Ruth's candy, whether truth or not. Kids around the country purportedly sent the Babe their Baby Ruth candy bar wrappers in hopes of getting his signature.


Despite widespread popular opinion that the candy bar was named after the Babe, the Curtiss Candy Company never swayed from its position that it was named in honor of Cleveland's daughter Ruth.

But...as many commentators have observed, Ruth died of diptheria in 1904, seventeen years "before Curtiss combined nougat, chocolate, caramel and peanuts into its chewy Baby Ruth." Moreover, Grover Cleveland left office in 1897, and, by the time the Baby Ruth bar hit the market in 1920, William McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt, and William Howard Taft had all served as president, and Woodrow Wilson was just finishing his second term.

So why would the Curtiss Company name its candy bar after a long-deceased daughter of a former president? Well, many people believed that the company conveniently concocted the story to avoid having to pay royalties to Babe Ruth, which, if true, would have been illegal and unfair.

Whatever the case may be, the story doesn't end there. In 1926, Babe agreed to lend his name to a new candy bar called "Ruth's Home Run Candy Bar" that was manufactured by the fledgling George H. Ruth Candy Company. In response, the Curtiss Company filed a lawsuit to prevent the rival candy bar from being made, claiming that it infringed on their trademark established in 1919.


In 1931, the Court of Customs and Patent Appeals ruled in favor of the Curtiss Company and George Ruth's Home Run Bar was forced off the market. To support its ruling, the court explained that it was evident that George Ruth was trying to capitalize on his nickname at a time when sales of Baby Ruths were reportedly as high as $1 million a month.

Regardless of the legal outcome of the case, the debate over the name of the Baby Ruth bar continues to this day! And so NOW you know how Grover Cleveland's name became associated with the debate over the name of the Baby Ruth bar!

FAST FACT: So did you know that Grover Cleveland is the only American president to serve two non-consecutive terms. His first term was 1885-1889 and his second term was 1893-1897 which means he was the 22nd and 24th president of the United States. So that's why President Obama is the 44th president even though there have only been 43 different presidents to date!

Thursday, July 2, 2015

John Adams Gooseberry Fool

As a delegate to the Second Continental Congress, John Adams was one of the fiercest advocates of the Declaration of Independence. Contrary to popular belief, the declaration wasn't signed by all of the delegates on July 4, 1776.

Instead, it was initially approved on July 2, 1776. The delegates then continued debating and slightly revised it the following day and formally adopted it on the fourth of July. Most historians agree that the Declaration wasn’t signed by all the delegates (with a few holdouts) until nearly a month later, on August 2, 1776.

Nevertheless, on July 3, 1776, John Adams wrote a letter to his wife Abigail in which he described these momentous events. This is what he wrote:

The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival...It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.

You will think me transported with Enthusiasm but I am not. -- I am well aware of the Toil and Blood and Treasure, that it will cost Us to maintain this Declaration, and support and defend these States. -- Yet through all the Gloom I can see the Rays of ravishing Light and Glory. I can see that the End is more than worth all the Means. And that Posterity will tryumph in that Days Transaction, even altho We should rue it, which I trust in God We shall not.


Although no one knows exactly what the delegates ate on those momentous days, biographers say that Adams was fond of Green Sea Turtle Soup, Indian Pudding, and other foods of his New England youth. Gooseberry Fool, a traditional eighteenth century dish, was another Adams family favorite. As an example of how national food preferences change over time, gooseberries were abundant in John's day, but aren't widely available in the United States today.

SO, if you can't find gooseberries, you can substitute blueberries or raspberries, whichever you prefer. Either way, this delicious and refreshingly sweet little treat would make a great addition to your Fourth of July festivities this weekend! If you'd like to whip up a batch, here's a recipe to try from epicurious.com

3 cups pink or green gooseberries (or blueberries)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup well-chilled heavy cream
1/4 cup crème fraîche
1/4 cup superfine granulated sugar

Pull off tops and tails of gooseberries and halve berries lengthwise. In a heavy skillet cook berries and granulated sugar over moderate heat, stirring occasionally until liquid is thickened, about 5 minutes. Simmer mixture, mashing with a fork to a coarse puree, 2 minutes more. Chill puree, covered, until cold, about 1 hour, and up to 1 day.

In a bowl with an electric mixer beat heavy cream with crème fraîche until it holds soft peaks. Add superfine sugar and beat until mixture just holds stiff peaks. Fold chilled puree into cream mixture until combined well. Fool may be made 3 hours ahead and chilled, covered.

Credit: Declaration of Independence, painting by John Trumball

Monday, June 22, 2015

John F. Kennedy's Inaugural Luncheon

In November of 1960, John F. Kennedy defeated Richard Nixon in one of the closest and most dramatic presidential elections in American history. Two and a half months later, on January 20, 1961, Kennedy was sworn in as the first Roman Catholic president of the United States and delivered his Inaugural Address on the terrace of the East Portico of the U.S. Capital. Near the end of his address, he famously said

Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, to assure the survival and the success of liberty.

This much we pledge – and more.

And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country. My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man...


After delivering his address, Kennedy and his wife Jacqueline were escorted to the Old Supreme Court Chamber in the U.S. Capitol for the traditional inaugural luncheon. According to Senate historians, menu items included cream of tomato soup with crushed popcorn; deviled crab meat imperial; New England boiled stuffed lobster with drawn butter; prime Texas ribs of beef au jus; string beans amandine and broiled tomatoes with grapefruit and avocado sections with poppyseed dressing.

Although the traditional inaugural luncheon at the Capital dates back to 1897 when the Senate Committee on Arrangements hosted a luncheon for President McKinley and several other guests, it didn't begin in its current form until 1953 when President Eisenhower, his wife Mamie, and fifty other guests dined on creamed chicken, baked ham, and potato puffs in the Old Senate Chamber.

Since then, the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies has organized a luncheon celebration at fifteen Presidential Inaugurations. Often featuring cuisine reflecting the home states of the new president and vice president, as well as the theme of the Inauguration, the luncheon program includes speeches, gift presentations, and toasts to the new administration.

FOOD FACT: According to the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum,  Kennedy preferred orange juice, poached eggs on toast, crisp broiled bacon, milk and coffee at breakfast. For lunch, he enjoyed all kinds of soup, especially New England Fish Chowder. As for dinner, there were no particular favorites, although it's been said that he liked lamb chops, steak, turkey, baked beans and mashed potatoes. He also enjoyed corn muffins, and, for dessert, if he had any, it would "likely be something prepared with chocolate." Biographers say that Kennedy was a light eater and often had to be reminded that it was dinnertime because "politics always took preference over food."

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Ulysses S. Grant's Twenty-Nine Course Banquets and the Culinary Excesses of the Gilded Age

"The inauguration of Ulysses S. Grant in 1869 did more than usher into the Presidency an honored war hero," according to historian Poppy Cannon, it launched an era of opulence in the White House "the United States had not seen before and has seldom seen since."

Culinarily speaking, however, Grant’s first few months in office could hardly be described as extravagant. When the 46-year-old military hero moved into the White House, he brought with him a quartermaster from his army days to serve as cook. To her credit, Grant’s wife Julia refrained from complaining at first, but when it became clear that the "chef" viewed the White House dining room as little more than “an enlarged mess hall,” she replaced him with an Italian steward named Valentino Melah, who had catered for some of the finest hotels in the United States and "specialized in opulent banquents."

Describing a particular twenty-nine course State Banquet at the Grant White House, Emily Edson Briggs, a Washington newspaper columnist, wrote:

In the beginning of the feast, fruit, flowers, and sweetmeats grace the tables, while bread and butter only give a Spartan simplicity to the "first course," which is composed of a French vegetables oul, and according to the description by those who have tasted it, no soup, foreign or domestic, has ever been known to equal it.

The ambrosial soup is followed by a French croquet of meat...The third "course" of the dinner is composed of a fillet of beef, flanked on each side by potatoes the size of a walnut, with plenty of mushrooms to keep them company. The next course is...made up entirely of luscious leg of partridges, and baptized by a French name entirely beyond my comprehension.

It will readily be seen that a full description of the twenty-nine courses would be altogether too much for the healthy columns of a newspaper to bear, so we pass to the dessert...[which] is inaugurated by...a rice pudding [that] would make our grandmothers clap their hands with joy. After the rice pudding, canned peaches, pears, and quinces are served. Then follow confectionery, nuts, ice-cream, coffee, and chocolate...


Although President Grant enjoyed partaking in such opulent banquets, he retained a taste for more basic fare, no doubt shaped by his old soldier's days. One of his favorite breakfasts reportedly consisted of "broiled Spanish mackerel and steak, fried apples with bacon, buckwheat cakes, and a cup of strong black coffee." At lunch and dinner, he enjoyed such simple meals as roast beef with wheat bread and boiled hominy. And for dessert, historians tell us that "nothing ever pleased President Grant as much as simple rice pudding."


Although Grant's favorite recipe for Rice Pudding may have been lost to posterity, you can try this delicious recipe from simplyrecipes.com which is great to serve at breakfast or as a light dessert:

2 1/2 cups of whole milk
1/3 cup of uncooked short grain white rice
Pinch of salt
1 egg
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon
1/3 cup raisins

In a medium-sized saucepan, bring the milk, rice and salt to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer until the rice is tender, about 20-25 minutes. Stir frequently to prevent the rice from sticking to the bottom of the pan.

In a small mixing bowl, whisk together egg and brown sugar until well mixed. Add a half cup of the hot rice mixture to the egg mixture, a tablespoon at a time, vigorously whisking to incorporate.

Add egg mixture back into the saucepan of rice and milk and stir, on low heat, for 10minutes or so, until thickened. Be careful not to have the mixture come to a boil at this point. Stir in the vanilla. Remove from heat and stir in the raisins and cinnamon. Serve warm or cold and enjoy!

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Andrew Jackson's "Great Cheese" Levee of 1837

In 1835, a New York farmer presented Andrew Jackson with a gigantic wheel of cheddar cheese. Weighing more than 1,400 pounds, it was four feet in diameter and stood nearly three feet high. Jackson let the gift sit, aging, for two years in the vestibule (lobby) of the White House.

A few weeks before leaving office, he invited the public to a reception in honor of George Washington’s birthday. According to newspaper accounts, more than 10,000 well-wishers swarmed to the White House, hoping to get a glimpse of the departing president – and a piece of the cheese!

When the last guests finally left, all that remained of the cheese were the pieces that had been ground into the carpet, smudged across the walls, and smeared on the satin couches and curtains.


If you're in the mood for something EXTRA cheesy for National Cheese Day today, this recipe for Extra Cheesy Cheddar Cheesy Bread is a great addition for large social gatherings and a cinch to make at the last minute!!

1 pound shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1 pound shredded Mozzarella cheese
1/4 cup sour cream
4 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 stick butter, softened
1 large loaf of French bread

In a bowl, mix together the cheeses. Stir in mayonnaise and sour cream. In a separate bowl, blend butter and garlic. Add butter mixture to the cheese mixture.

Preheat broiler. Slice bread in half horizontally and lay crust side down on an ungreased cookie sheet. Spread cheese mixture evenly over the bread. Place under the broiler until golden brown and slightly bubbly on top, about 5 minutes.

Remove from broiler and let sit for 4-5 minutes. Serve warm and enjoy!

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Elizabeth Monroe Baked Apple Charlotte


From all accounts, the dinner parties hosted by James and Elizabeth Monroe were very formal affairs. Large dinners had an especially “cold air,” according to novelist James Fenimore Cooper, who was frequently invited to dine at the Monroe White House. Describing a particular dinner, Cooper wrote:

The whole entertainment might have passed for a better sort of European dinner party, at which the guests were too numerous for general or very agreeable discourse and some of them too new to be entirely at ease. Mrs. Monroe arose at the end of dessert, and withdrew...

No sooner was his wife’s back turned than the president reseated himself, inviting his guests to imitate the same action. After allowing his guests sufficient time to renew in a few glasses...he arose, giving the hint to his company that it was time to join the ladies. In the drawing room, coffee was served and everyone left the house before nine…


Cooper didn't comment on what was served at that particular dinner, but the Monroes were known for serving elaborate French dishes which they had been become accustomed to during their years in Paris while James served as U.S. Minister to France. Still, James retained a childhood taste for Spoon Bread, Chicken Pudding and other simple foods of his Virginia youth.

Apple Charlotte was another Monroe family favorite, so much so that Elizabeth passed a recipe for it along to Martha Washington, who added it to her enormous recipe collection. Although Elizabeth's recipe has been lost to posterity, you can prepare this quick and delicious recipe from The Food Network:

1 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoons mace
5 Granny Smith apples, pared, cored and sliced thin
3 fresh lemons, zested
6 tablespoons butter, cold
1 stick butter, melted
1 loaf French bread shredded into crumbs, reserve 1 cup
Butter

In a bowl, add brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and mace. Mix together. Reserve 1 cup of mixture to be used for topping. In a separate bowl, mix together apples and lemon zest.

Cover the bottom of Dutch oven pan with bread crumbs and bits of butter. Layer bottom with some sliced apples and brown sugar with a few pats of butter on top. Repeat with another layer until the pan is filled.

For the top layer, combine reserved cup of bread crumbs, melted butter and 1 cup reserved mixture. Sprinkle on top and top with more butter. Bake for 30 minutes until the golden brown. Serve warm and enjoy!

FAST FACT: James Fenimore Cooper is most well known for his historical novels known as The Leatherstocking Tales, featuring a frontiersman named Natty Bumppo. Among his most famous works is The Last of the Mohicans, which takes place during the French and Indian War and was made into a popular movie starring Daniel Day Lewis.

Credit: Elizabeth Monroe, oil on canvas, by John Vanderlyn

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

William Henry Harrison, the Election of 1840, and "Tippecanoe 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.)