Saturday, March 5, 2011

Presidential Palate 2: Monroe, Quincy Adams, Jackson, and Van Buren

Last night, we made the second of our Presidential Palate dinners.  The next set of four presidents were represented in the appetizer plate alone:

  • James Monroe, like the two Virginia presidents that immediately preceded him, had international tastes and was a great lover of French cuisine.  He is represented by the French baguette.
  • John Quincy Adams, of the other hand, was like his father in preferring the plain, simple foods of New England.  He is represented by the apples.
  • Andrew Jackson was the first president who came from the ranks of the "common man," rather than the well-to-do.  Jackson often invited the public to White House parties, and was famous for one time serving a cheese wheel that weighted 1,400 pounds and was consumed in two hours.  He is represented by the cheddar cheese.
  • Martin Van Buren came from New York, and is represented by the Gouda cheese as a testament to his Dutch American ancestry.
Monroe also like traditional Virginia cooking, and his favorite dish was supposed to have been chicken fried with rice.  I couldn't find a specific recipe for it, but I assumed it was fried chicken service on rice.  Now, looking back, I don't think I have ever fried chicken in my life; it's not something I learned as a child, and is one of those dishes that I think is just worth buying (if we're going to have it at all, since we steer away from deep fried food).  But I did have one asset:  the old season black iron skillet that I inherited from either my grandmother or my great-grandmother...I have to check with my father.

But my father's side of the family came from Tennessee, just like Andrew Jackson, so it seemed fitting to pull out the old family skillet for my inaugural attempt at frying chicken:

From the history I read, back then they used to bake rice, rather than boil it on a stove.  So I tried my version of baked rice, based on this recipe for baked brown basmati rice.  It was actually an interesting departure from our typical brown rice dishes.

One of Andrew Jackson's favorite dishes was supposed to have been "Leather Britches," which, it turns out, is dried green beans hung on a string (like you often see done with chili peppers today), then soaked and simmered in water with bacon (in our case, hickory smoked bacon in honor of "Old Hickory").  So we did that for our vegetable, although we had to start with fresh green beans, since this is the first time I had ever heard about drying them.  Maybe next year we can try it again with beans dried from the coming summer.

So with those dishes combined, the main plate looked like this:

John Quincy Adams apparently paid very little attention to food, often eating nothing but crackers and some fruit for his meal.  Since we had already had apples in the appetizer, we decided to use pears, which were another Adams favorite.  Rather than just serve it as fruit, though, I found this recipe for a late winter salad featuring pears.  I'm not a great one for combining sweet with savory, but I thought I would give it a try.  We simplified it, using organic artisan greens, radicchio, pears, and feta cheese with a vinaigrette dressing.  It turned out pretty well, I thought, although fruits in green salads are still not really my thing.

Our dessert was in honor of Martin Van Buren--Dutch Apple Cake.  However, we used a recipe from the old President's Cookbook, which was pretty different from the Dutch Apple Cake that I am used to having.  The cake dough was much thinker, and there was no streusel topping.  So it ended up looking pretty much like our Apple Pan Dowdy from our first Presidential Palate meal, since you can't see that there is a cake underneath the apples, rather than a pie crust:

It wasn't received as well as the Dowdy, so I would stick to the Dowdy for both Adams presidents in the future.

All in all, it was a pretty southern meal, which is appropriate because so many of those early presidents were Southerners.  Although I live in North Carolina, I'm not much of a southern cooker, so this was a good learning experience for me.  And I do think it is helping us keep the presidents from running together into one undifferentiated blur.

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