Some of you might remember that last Presidents’ Day we started a tradition of creating a dinner from our 1887 “White House Cook Book” to celebrate a holiday that seemingly has no other traditions other than deep discounts on electronics and auto sales. If we’re gonna be honest (and one really shouldn’t lie on Presidents’ Day) last year’s dinner was so uninspired that we wouldn’t have served it to a Vice President. Or even a congressmen.
But, since this nation was founded on perseverance (and a whole lot of lackluster cooking,) we decided to keep up the tradition this year. Except instead of a dinner, we thought we’d try a “Presidential Luncheon.” We had slightly better results, with the notable exception of one disastrous dessert recipe. More on that later…
First, for our main course we chose this:
Doesn’t that sound fun?
“What did you have for lunch today?”
“A chicken Roly-Poly.”
“How was it?”
So this is basically chicken meat rolled up in a very bland dough. It certainly sounds more fun than it is. In fact, we’re going to say Roly-Poly as often as possible in this post to make it seem fun. If you decide to make this Roly-Poly yourself, it’s important to note that the meat should be precooked. Not that the recipe indicates that. Not that the White House Cookbook ever really indicates much of anything helpful. That’s why you have us as your Roly-Poly guinea pigs. (How cute an image is that?!?)
Here’s our mis en place. That’s french for something.
We could already tell by looking at these bland ingredients that pronouncing them in french wasn’t going to make this Roly-Poly taste any more interesting than the recipe foretold. So we added a few things:
Orange zest, chopped parsley and frozen peas from our garden. Looks a little more tempting now, right?
We usually try to mix doughs, and sometimes batters by hand. It’s one of the best ways to learn when the mixture is “right.” You can feel temperature, texture, lumpiness, etc that you can’t determine with a wooden spoon.
When trying to roll out dough in a rectangular form, it’s usually ok to fold over edges while rolling to keep them “square-er.” (That’s french for “more square.”) Once we got it into shape, we sprinkled it with all our ingredients:
Can you believe that in less than three weeks we’ll be planting peas?!?!? Can-Not-Roly-Freakin’-Poly-Wait.
Rolling up anything can be nerve-wracking. But this is a pretty stiff dough. Indestructible.
Ok. this might not turn out horrible.
We didn’t have a Victorian Steamer to cook our Roly-Poly in. And none of our stove-top veggie or seafood steamers were large enough to accommodate it. So we improvised by setting a roasting pan full of water on the bottom of the oven and preheating it for a really long time at 350F. Lesson learned: stand back when opening the door of an oven filled with steaming water.
Without any kind of wash on this dough (which is really just a recipe for thick paste) it didn’t brown too well in the oven. We should’ve seen that coming. If you decide to attempt a Roly-Poly yourself, use an egg wash on the crust before steaming.
Ok. So for our side dish we decided on this:
Saratoga chips are basically just potato chips. But nobody knew that in 1887 when the White House Cook Book was published. Because they were brand-spankin’ new. They were “invented” in nearby Saratoga, NY by an ornery cook at “Moon’s Lake House” restaurant named George Crum. (He sounds ornery, right?) When a patron sent their potatoes back to the kitchen for being “too thick,” George sliced up some new potatoes as thinly as possible and burnt the hell out of them before sending them back to the customer. Who loved them. As has every other human being who’s ever tried them in all of history since then. No bad deed goes unrewarded.
We decided to make Saratoga Chips to accompany our Roly-Poly because, well, after last year’s White House Cook Book debacle, we wanted to hedge our bets that we wouldn’t go to bed completely starving.
We used some of the last remaining potatoes in the root cellar:
They don’t look horrible, right?
And because no one on this planet actually has the knife skills to make potato chips, we pulled out our Mandoline. That’s french for Mandolin. Which is like a lute. Or a ukelele. Except that it cuts potatoes.
Okay. None of that was true. It’s a vegetable (and occasionally, fingertip) guillotine.
If you have a Mandoline like this, you know that it usually takes a good 10 minutes to remember how it gets put together. But once it is, it’s the MVP of your kitchen. Just try doing this by hand:
We did take the time to do as the “recipe” suggested and shook them in a towel to get rid of excess moisture.
Brent’s grandparents gave him this “Fry-Baby.” Which is a teeny-tiny deep-fryer. The son of the “Fry-Daddy.” (Is there a “Fry-Grand-Pappy?”) But it’s the only deep fryer we have, and we hate deep-frying on the stove top. So we were forced to make, like, four Saratoga chips at a time.
We sprinkled the chips with coarse salt immediately as they came out of the “Fry-Baby.” They really came out fantastic. As well they should. Have you ever meet a bad potato chip?
We’re gonna post another pic of chips. Because, well, you can’t post just one:
Okay. So here’s where our Presidential luncheon went South. And we had to secede from our initial plans. This was the original dessert we tried making:
We kinda got an idea that it might not work out so well when we realized that this custard recipe contained no egg yolks. We shoulda aborted right then. But we were on a high from the Saratoga Chips. Anything seemed possible in this Roly-Poly world.
It didn’t work. At all. We’ll spare you the process pics. Because the result was horrific. The custard cups deflated and separated completely in the oven. They tasted fine, but, well, here…have a look yourself:
Plan B: a pie.
Pies are always our Plan B.
It’s tough to really mess up a pie.
We picked the most interesting one from the Cook Book. A Lemon Raisin Pie:
We fancied up this recipe a bit too. Because raisins in a crust didn’t sound outstanding. And although the Saratoga Chips were tasty, let’s be honest…potato chips aren’t exactly a breakthrough luncheon idea.
We used half dried gooseberries from our garden and half raisins. We also used a cup of Ice Wine instead of water. We let them soak together for a bit first to get to know each other. We also added a half-teaspoon of cardamom, because we thought it would compliment the wine. And wine is notoriously insecure.
Next time we make this (and it’s the first recipe in the White House Cook Book that we’ve even come close to thinking about taking out on a second date) we’ll let the fruit and liquid soak overnight. The filling was a little too watery going into the crust, which results in a slightly glue-y bottom crust.
Doncha love when a pie crust comes together well?
The pattern on the top has meaning to us. But it’s our little secret. You should totally develop your own pie crust symbolism. It’ll drive your neighbors crazy trying to figure it out. Like a crop circle.
Not bad for not having any thickener. Letting the fruit soak overnight would make it hold together even better.
So here’s our 2nd Annual 1887 White House Cook Book meal.
It wasn’t terrible.
In a Roly-Poly kind of way:
Which President would you invite to a Presidential luncheon at your house?