Thursday, December 20, 2012

Lincoln, Inaugural Dinners and Chicken Croquettes

 One of the most ironic things about working on a movie is that it is nearly impossible to see one when you are working.  Having endless sixteen-hour days leaves you no time to see what you want or do anything but work for that matter.  Although I had wished for a few hours to write my blog and cook in the last few months, what with a hurricane, a nor’easter, bridge and tunnel closings, gas shortages and actor schedules, it was a miracle we made a movie.  There was no time for anything else –– this movie was 24/7. As a final kicker, I got a dastardly flu 12 hours after I finished the movie.  It was as if I had hit a wall –– full stop.

The big news is, after all these weeks, Lost Past Remembered is back –– with Abraham Lincoln no less!

The hat Lincoln wore to Ford’s Theater.

One of the films I was dying to see during the life siege-that-was-my-movie was Spielberg’s Lincoln with the incandescent Daniel Day-Lewis playing the title role. It was my first post-film movie.  I wasn’t disappointed.

David Strathairn as Lincoln’s friend and Secretary of State, William Seward

Everything about the film was pretty remarkable, not the least of which the performances of the actors which included my personal favorite acting genius, David Strathairn   –– I love this actor.  I would eat gravel to work with him ––– seriously.  I came close a few years ago but the death of an actor stopped the production.  I was devastated.  He’s that good.


Tommy Lee Jones is perfect as the irascible anti-slavery congressman Thaddeus Stevens

Jared Harris  (who I’ve worked with and who keeps getting better and better) was excellent as Grant

James Spader had far too much fun portraying an unscrupulous if devilishly effective early lobbyist, W.N. Bilbo.  

Production Designer  Rick Carter and his team of decorators did a fine job with the Virginia locations.  The script by Tony Kushner was first-rate and based on historian Doris Kerns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals.  The story dealt with the last months of Lincoln's life and the wheeling and dealing that led to the signing of the 13th amendment and the end of the Civil War.

I recommend the film, I cried like a baby.  Harry Reid asked that it be screened it for the US Senate 12/19/12 (with Day-Lewis and Spielberg in attendance) with the hope it would inspire the legislators to work together –– yeah, it’s that good (the film had been screened for the house in November). I'm not holding my breath on this congress getting inspired by anything, but if anything could it would be this movie.

 Harper’s Weekly 1864

You might think Lincoln would hardly be a poster-boy for gastronomy in mid-19th century America and you’d be right.  It looks like Abe was not much for eating. Mary chided him about it in the film.   Mary raised money for Christmas dinners for the soldiers (the Lincolns visited wounded soldiers constantly during the war), but food and dining scenes were nearly absent from the film unlike Martin Scorsese  films that draw characters with their appetites and dining habits.  Lincoln lived on rarified air and caffeine as far as I could see.   He was sustained by his unshakable belief that all men should be  free in America. It doesn’t get better than that, does it?

When I think about the domestic life of Lincoln not much comes to mind. There's the Lincoln bedroom (that was never his bedroom, by the way, but rather his office –– although the giant 8 x 6’ bed was purchased by Mary) that became slightly infamous during the Clinton years (but that now anyone with $400 can reserve for a night) and the Lincoln china that set the fashion for White House china. 

Thing is, in researching this piece I made a discovery.  After all these years of thinking the Lincoln china had a burgundy border, I was shocked to discover the china was actually an orchid-magenta color called Soverino, from the discovery of a dye of this color in the same year that a battle was fought in 1859 in the village of Soverino in northern Italy. 

The American Heritage blog said “This State Dinner Service was French; imported and decorated by The E. V. Haughwout Company, New York.  Mr. Haughwout and Talented Staff hand-painted the Eagle and Clouds, the Gilt decoration as well as the color of Solverino (Royal Purple).  The initial order of which this Stunning Lincoln Plate is one, was for 190 Official pieces.  Mrs. Lincoln's Elegant Choice of White House China has been much appreciated by all First Families; as well as being coveted by advanced collectors for 150 years.”

Mary Todd Lincoln wearing the Tiffany seed-pearl necklace given to her by her husband
Sally Field wearing a copy of the necklace in the film

Evidently, Mary Lincoln loved the color and had the dishes made using it as well as painting a room that color and had a dress made up in the color as well.

But the Lincolns did entertain and were entertained during their time in Washington.

 I started thinking about food and the Lincoln presidency when I read my blog-pal Henry Voight  of The American Menu was having an exhibition of menus at The Mount Vernon Hotel Museum on E 61st Street in NYC (a little 18th century gem of a place nestled between great hulking modern monster buildings) that included a rare example of Lincoln’s 2nd Inaugural ball’s menu, one of 3 known copies (Henry will be giving a lecture there on menus on January 9th).  I remember when Obama was first elected, Lincoln’s first inaugural dinner was mentioned for its simplicity and inspired Obama’s menu. Lincoln’s 17 guests had mock-turtle soup, corned beef and cabbage and blackberry pie, quite a departure from the melee that ensued after his planned midnight buffet after the inaugural ball, the LATimes revealed:

“Lincoln's inaugural committee had planned a lavish midnight buffet for the inaugural ball: terrapin stew, leg of veal, beef à l'anglais, foie gras, pâté, cream candies, fruit ices, tarts, cakes and more. The venue was the Patent Office, which had two spacious halls for dancing and dining. The buffet was set out in a corridor where patent models were displayed.

 When the grand supper was announced after several hours of dancing, the crowd rushed the table and people began grabbing, pushing and stuffing themselves shamelessly. In a matter of minutes, the sumptuous buffet was a shambles -- as were several of the patent exhibits.”

That was nothing compared to Andy Jackson’s 1829 affair where 20,000 fans descended on the White House, nearly destroying it till they were lured outside with gallons of whiskey punch.

Lincoln had many dinners held for him after he was elected in 1861.  Although I looked at Henry’s 1865 inaugural ball menu, the food didn’t capture my imagination the way the dishes on a frayed and faded cloth menu did.

“Lincoln traveled by rail through 83 cities and towns, including Albany, on his way from his home in Springfield, Ill., to Washington, where his inauguration took place on March 4, 1861.

Silk menus were printed for Lincoln's Feb. 18 dinner at the Delavan House, a hotel at the corner of Broadway and Steuben Street that burned in 1894.”

There were many dishes on the menu that interested me.  They weren’t fussy, but somehow seemed the kind of thing Lincoln might have enjoyed having, moving as he was from his provincial world to the national stage.  I imagined, had he lived, he would have taken his “Molly” to Europe as he had promised –– to see the old world first-hand and taste these dishes where they were created.  Sadly, these American recreations were as close as he would ever come to the old world’s cuisine.

When you watch the movie, you can have a sense of the way they ate, and that, at least for me, always brings the past a little closer.

I chose Salmon a la Hollandaise to start, because, well, I found some gorgeous wild salmon that was asking to be purchased.  Looking at my favorite 19th century cookbook, I found a recipe that involved broiling slices of fish and that’s what I did, using a brilliant technique from Mark Bittman that cooks the fish perfectly in 3 minutes with crispy skin –– it's become one of my favorite techniques (for thicker slices just a bit longer).  The salmon is juicy and fragrant under the golden Hollandaise blanket.  We snarfed the fish up right after the photos.

Next I thought I would try those chicken croquettes.  When I was growing up my grandmother made them for me (she was a 19th century girl at heart).  They were crisp and hot and usually served with a  chicken-y cream sauce.  In Lincoln’s time they were served by themselves on folded napkins.  The “Royale” part of the recipe involved using sweetbreads and truffles in the mix.  I will give you the original recipe should you want to be authentic.  But I chose to use a selection of mushrooms and D’Artagnan truffle butter to add the truffle component (for cost) and skipped the sweetbreads since my purveyor didn’t have them this week.  The result was spectacular and quite easy to make.

Salmon a la Hollandaise for 2

3 T butter, softened
small handful of herbs (parsley, basil, thyme … what you have onhand)
zest of 1 lemon
1 t salt
black pepper

¾ to 1 lb wild salmon filet
Fresh parsley for garnish

Put a seasoned, cast iron skillet in the broiler and heat for 15 minutes.

Blend the butter with the herbs and zest.

Season the fish with salt and pepper. Smear with 2 T of the butter

Remove the skillet from the broiler and put the rest of the butter in the pan and lay the fish on top.  Put back under the broiler for 3 minutes.  Remove from the broiler and baste with butter.

Let it sit for a minute and serve.

* the recipe was originally for bluefish.  for that, add 2 cloves of garlic to the butter and cook the fish for 2-4 minutes longer after basting in butter.  If your salmon is thicker, put it back in for the longer period.

Hollandaise for 2

1 T white wine
1 egg yolk
4 T butter, cut into chunks
juice of ½ a lemon
salt and pepper to taste

Swirl the wine in a pan till almost evaporated.  Remove from the heat.  Whisk the egg yolk into the wine.  Add the butter and whisk, putting the pan on and off the heat to just melt the butter.
When the butter has melted, add the lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste and spoon over your fish


Chicken Croquettes a la Royal, makes 8- 2 1/2 oz timbales

6 ½  oz white meat chicken
6 ½ oz assorted mushrooms (chanterelles, morels, shitakes etc)
salt and pepper and nutmeg

1 T black truffle butter from D'Artagnan, softened (it's amazing stuff and very affordable)

2 egg yolks
4 oz heavy cream
1 t white truffle oil (optional)

2 eggs, beaten

1 ¼ c bread crumbs
½ t salt and pepper
½ t thyme

Enough oil for deep frying

Heat the oven to 325º.   Have a square dish with 1” of hot water in it in the oven.  

Chop the mushrooms roughly.  Put in the food processor and pulse till small.  Put in a bowl.  Chop the chicken roughly and put in the processor and pulse till chopped small.  Add the salt and pepper and nutmeg to the mixture.

Process the egg yolks and cream with the truffle oil until well blended.

Brush the softened truffle butter into the timbales.  Gently spoon the chicken mixture into the timbales and level at about 2/3 up the mold.   Pour the egg cream into the timbales till about ½” from the top.  With a skewer, poke into the chicken mixture a few times to spread the cream into the meat mixture.

Place in the water in the dish and cover the top with a piece of parchment paper.  Cook for about 25 minutes or until the timbales are firm.  Leave the oven on to warm.

Remove from the oven.  Turn the timbales upside down on a plate.  They will release in a few minutes and you can remove the metal containers.

Heat your frying oil.  I used 4 cups of duck fat for a special treat but any oil will do.

Turn the timbales over in the egg and then turn in the seasoned breadcrumbs.  Put into the hot fat 2 at a time and remove when browned. Drain on paper towels.  Put them in the warming oven as you do the rest.

Serve hot with chopped parsley.   You can also serve them with lemon wedges or lemon mayonnaise

*I made some and refrigerated them and egged and breaded and fried them the next day and it worked out well.   I also microwaved one later to see how it fared and it was good.  Waiting till the next day the truffle dissipated a bit... if you're doing it the next day you might want to drip the truffle oil on just before you are ready to serve. 

DELEVAN HOUSE DINNER MENU, given by the Legislature of the State of New York to Honor Abraham Lincoln, February 18, 1861

Terrapin   Brunoise

English Salmon a la Hollandaise
Smelts fried a la Anglaise

Tenderloin of Beef, sauce Perigord
Turkey a la Richlieu
Saddle of Venison with Currant Jelly


French mustard, Spanish olives, horseradish, assorted pickles, sardines, applesauce, celery


Sweet bread larded, with green peas
Venison Chops, Sauce Chevreuil
Croquets of Chicken a la Royal
Vol au Vent Financiere
Salmi of Partridges a la chausseur

English Capons
Canvasback Duck
Grouse larded
Quails larded

Chicken Salade   Fried Oysters

English Plum Pudding
Charlotte Russes au Pannier
Gelee au Vin du Champagne, garne l’Orange
Blanc Mange a la Rose
Fancy kisses
Biscuit Anglais au Gelee
Gateau au Chocolate
Cassette d’Amande
Sugared Almonds
Vanilla Ice Cream


Almonds, figs, apples, walnuts, raisins, dates, filberts, prunes ,oranges, coffee.

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Here’s hoping for a great holiday season for you and yours.


Emile de Bruijn said...

Must try to see this film - it appears to be beautifully produced as well as historically interesting.

La Table De Nana said...

I had just left you a message on a previous post ping you were well:)
Glad to know it was mostly business !
The croquettes are so cute..

I am certain my husband will love this movie..I love DS also..

Sally Field is so different ! Well costumed and made up..

Meilleurs voeux de la saison Deana.

pam said...

I need to see this movie AND I need to use this technique for salmon!!!

Daniel Shigo said...

Welcome back! Great post!

ArchitectDesign™ said...

I haven't seen this movie yet either even though I'm dying to!
This sounds like a really easy and interesting way to prepare salmon, I'm going to try it this weekend!

Thibeault's Table said...

Deana, I always look forward to your posts. Glad you are back posting. Thanks for the movie review. One I'm looking forward to seeing.


Barbara said...

Love to see you back, Deana, and hope the flu is gone for good. Looking forward to hearing about your movie-making experiences as well.

I haven't as yet seen Lincoln, just no time at all what with moving. Perhaps over the holidays when my daughter is here, although she'll probably keep my nose to the grindstone.
(Spent a lovely food-laden week with her in NYC over my birthday.)

Love the way you've done the salmon. Will definitely try it.
Wishing you and yours a happy, healthy holiday season!

chow and chatter said...

wonderful post and great menu love the desserts so simple and those wee chicken thimbles look lovely

merry christmas

SavoringTime in the Kitchen said...

I'm so sorry you got sick after filming the movie! But here you are back with another wonderful post. We actually just saw Lincoln ourselves last weekend. I agree, it was wonderful and finely acted. I read Sally Field gained 25 pounds for her part as Mary Todd Lincoln. If Daniel Day-Lewis doesn't win an Academy Award for his roll I will be shocked.

Wonderful look into the era once again and wonderful dishes from the Delevan House dinner!

SavoringTime in the Kitchen said...

I forgot to add a Merry Christmas to you and Petunia as well :)

Not Quite Nigella said...

Welcome back Deana! We've missed you! :D And you came back with another fabulous post. This year for Christmas, I am getting two vintage Lincoln cast iron book ends. We found them in a vintage store in Hawaii and I knew that I just had to have them! :D

Erika Beth, the Messy Chef said...

Lovely (and welcome back)!
I saw Lincoln as well and was blown away with the acting but must admit that I enjoyed Anna Karenina much more. Sorry, Abe! lol

Sarah said...

When I was in TN I came across a Lincoln look-alike! Honestly, he was the spitting image! I couldn't believe that was Sally Field.

Love the idea of hollandaise with salmon and I LOVE those croquettes. I might have to make them for New Year's Eve.

Welcome back!!! We missed you.

Linda said...

Merry Christmas Deana! We have tried to see the movie several times and it was sold out. We will all go together now that the boys are home.
Fabulous post and i so love the plates you served the croquettes on...beautiful.

Fresh Local and Best said...

I've heard lots about the new movie and it is on my list to watch when it comes out on DVD. The salmon sounds terrific. I'll have to try out your technique of oven broiling.

Emily said...

I'm so pleased to have you back here. It must be exciting to work on a film, even if it was exhausting. Thanks so much for the film recommendation - it sounds wonderful. I have a giant piece of salmon here ready for Christmas so will try out your recipe. Happy Christmas to you!

T.W. Barritt at Culinary Types said...

I loved Lincoln - such an engrossing and emotionally moving film. You've created such a wonderful texture around the storyline with your Lincoln Menu! I'm seeking more Lincoln, and looking forward to seeing "A Civil War Christmas" just before New Year's. Hope you have a wonderful holiday!

Castles Crowns and Cottages said...

My dear, dear DEANA!

I am so happy to see that you are back. I know with all the tragedies occurring in the city with the weather and all of your other scheduling demands, you must have been so busy. I came by a while back to visit you but had seen that you had an older post up, so I figured you were out working on a film.

I am having my husband take me to the theatre on Christmas to see this movie. It is just us for the holidays, so a matinee just might work for me. I don't do well in a dark theatre at night; I FALL ASLEEP! BUT this movie looks as if it could become one of my favorites of all time. The man, the legend, the history of it all is too good to pass up.

As usual, your recipes following your introductions are just stunning. YOU make magic happen every time my dear. THANK YOU for a delicious year of history, intrigue and opening my eyes to a whole new world of cuisine. BIG HUGS AND MERRY CHRISTMAS!! Anita

Karina A. Fogliani-Ahmed said...

I saw this film and agree on the fact that not much eating is done. Now we know why Lincoln was so skinny!!

In any case, it is beautifully produced and Daniel Day-Lewis portrays Lincoln down to the bone. He looks so much like him that at times I couldn't distinguished between fiction and reality.

Love you Xmas. card greeting with Petunia. Merry Christmas to you too and welcome back!

Lori Lynn said...

Hi Deana ~ I adore this post! I've done a few tributes to Lincoln over the years and I purchased the Lincoln china! Come see:

Been waiting to see the movie, been crying too much since I lost my little pooch a couple weeks ago, so I'm waiting til I'm not so sad to be able to enjoy it.
Love your photos of the croquettes and salmon, and Bittman's method sounds great, will definitely try it.
Wishing you a dazzling Christmas!

El said...

Welcome back. Incredible research. The dish looks wonderful. Hope you had a great holiday!

Frank said...

I've been meaning to see Lincoln for some time now. I've read so many positive reviews and impressions. I think it does call out to us, living as we do in an age of political dysfunction.

Would you look at that banquet menu? I guess they had healthy appetites back in the day. In fact, it's true of many menus I've seen (also Italian ones) from past centuries. How did they manage to eat that much in one sitting, I wonder?