Former White House chef tells kitchen tales

October 28, 1992|By Orange County Register

Cottage cheese doused with ketchup.

Sound like a luncheon dish fit for a president of the United States?

Not according to Henry Haller, the White House executive chef in 1966-1987.

"Somehow, everyone thought that President Nixon ate cottage cheese with ketchup on it, but in fact I never saw him do that. And I have no idea how that rumor ever got started in the first place," Mr. Haller said in a telephone interview from his home in Potomac, Md.

Yet during Richard Nixon's term, the alleged Nixon Cottage Cheese and Ketchup Diet Plate become so popular with dieters that it appeared on many trendy restaurant menus.

Mr. Haller's "The White House Family Cookbook" (Random House, 1987) gives an intimate look at the eating habits of five presidents and their families.

Administration by administration, he takes the reader on a culinary tour of the office, with glimpses into breakfast nooks and homey "just family" dinners as well as White House weddings, banquets and sumptuous state dinners.

Not just a collection of recipes, this book (in its fifth printing) iscrammed with anecdotes about life in the executive mansion.

Mr. Haller, 69, retired in October 1987.

Here are recipes from three of the five administrations he served. President Johnson

"President Johnson liked to accomplish some of the day's work before he even got out of bed in the morning," Mr. Haller wrote.

"Mrs. Johnson used her own bedroom suite as an office, #F spending much of her day there working on projects and answering the some 1,500 letters she received each week. She would join the president each morning to have breakfast in his four-poster bed.

"Once in a while, Mrs. Johnson would also join him in indulging in some thickly cut, well-cooked thick ranch-style bacon. It was prepared every morning in the White House. Any extra might be used in Mrs. Johnson's quiche Lorraine."

Mrs. Johnson's quiche Lorraine

Makes two 9-inch pies.

12 thick slices of bacon, cut into small pieces

1 cup diced onions

6 eggs

2 egg yolks

1 quart half-and-half

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

3/4 pound Gruyere cheese, freshly grated (see cook's notes)

1/4 pound Parmesan cheese, freshly grated

2 (9-inch) partially baked pie crusts (recipe follows)

4 tablespoons chopped fresh chives

Cook's notes: Swiss Gruyere cheese has a rich, nutty flavor. If i is not available, substitute Swiss cheese. It has a golden-brown rind and a firm pale-yellow interior.

Preliminaries: Adjust oven rack to lowest position. Heat oven to 375 degrees.

Procedure: In a cast-iron skillet, saute bacon until crisp. Remove with a metal spatula and drain well on paper towels. Add onions to the hot skillet and saute in the bacon drippings until lightly browned. Drain well on paper towels.

In a mixing bowl, beat eggs, egg yolks and half-and-half. Add salt, pepper and nutmeg; stir to blend.

Divide cheese between the partially baked pie crusts. Top with equal portions of bacon, onions and chives. Pour egg mixture carefully into pie crusts. Do not overfill.

Bake on lowest rack in 375-degree oven for 45 minutes or until golden brown and firm to touch. Remove and let stand for 30 minutes.

Presentation: Slice into wedges and serve. Serve as an entree for a lunch or dinner, or in thin slices as an hors d'oeuvre. Quiche can be reheated, wrapped in aluminum foil in a 250-degree oven for 20 minutes or until warmed through.

PIE CRUSTS: Heat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium-size bowl, stir 3 cups all-purpose flour and 1 teaspoon salt. Cut 2 sticks (1 cup) butter with pastry cutter until it is thoroughly distributed and the mixture resembles coarse bread crumbs. Add 1/2 cup cold water a little at a time, mixing by hand until dough is smooth. Divide dough in half. Place part on lightly floured surface and flatten by hand into a round. Roll out to 1/8 -inch thickness. Fit loosely into a 9-inch pie pan. Trim and flute edges. Repeat with second portion of dough. Line pie shells with wax paper or parchment paper. Weight down with uncooked dried beans or (( pie weights. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove paper and beans (or weights).

President Carter

"When they were first married Jimmy Carter taught Rosalynn some of his favorite recipes," Mr. Haller wrote. "Mrs. Carter became an enthusiatic cook, and the young couple often prepared dishes together as a form of relaxation. While living in Atlanta in the governor's mansion, Mrs. Carter enrolled in a local cooking school to enhance her culinary skills.

One of Mrs. Carter's favorite recipes was for a simple Cheddar cheese mold. Served in a rind to be spread on crackers, the cheese appetizer was prepared for many of the Carter's family dinners and some of their official White House functions. One unusual ingredient in Mrs. Carter's 'Plains Special' was the strawberry preserves served in the center of the ring."

Mrs. Carter's special cheese ring

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

1 pound sharp Cheddar cheese, finely grated

1 cup mayonnaise

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