Some of you may know we love talking about Presidential Food here in the Alphabet Soup kitchen.
Whether it’s polishing off a bowl of JFK’s clam chowder, whipping up a batch of George Washington’s hoecakes, or wrapping our lips around Barack Obama’s homemade chili, learning about our leaders’ favorite foods makes them more human and accessible.
I like associating Ronald Reagan with jelly beans, George Bush with pork rinds, Jimmy Carter with peanuts. But what of the first female presidential nominee?
I guess Hillary Rodham Clinton can be summed up this way: she’s a hot pepper and a smart cookie.🙂
We were able to confirm this when she dropped by recently (Mr Cornelius is her secret debate coach). You probably remember the kerfuffle years ago when she famously declared, “I suppose I could have stayed home, baked cookies and had teas, but what I decided to do was fulfill my profession.”
Despite all the backlash from stay-at-home moms, Hillary went on to win Family Circle Magazine’s First Lady’s Cookie Contest twice with her recipe for Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies. It was because of Hillary they started the competition in the first place, and it’s been a fun tradition these last 24 years. This election season, the same recipe (on behalf of “First Gentleman Bill Clinton”) went up against Melania Trump’s Star Cookies and once again, it won.
Seems chocolate chip cookies were always a big personal favorite, and Hillary’s family used to compete to see who could make the biggest one. Besides a penchant for dark chocolate (chocolate covered almonds are a nice treat on the campaign trail), we also learned about Hillary’s hot pepper habit.
She does indeed carry a bottle of hot sauce in her bag (Ninja Squirrel sriracha is a current favorite), and eats a jalapeno pepper every day to boost her immune system. Aha! Now we know what fuels her fiery speeches!
Mr Cornelius is quite taken with her; he thinks potentially being the very first female President in our history is pretty darn amazing — and groundbreaking and incredible and fabulous and cool, and about time. Naturally he wanted to know more about what this powerhouse of a woman eats besides chile peppers (just in case he decides to run for office someday).
In honor of Hillary’s visit, he and the Alphabet Soup kitchen helpers baked a batch of Chelsea’s Chocolate Chip Cookies — a recipe adapted by the late White House Executive Chef Walter Scheib. Mr C thought these would be a nice “good luck on November 8” offering, a nod to the future generations of girls and women who will benefit and no doubt be inspired by Hillary’s singular accomplishments.
While munching on cookies and sipping milk, Hillary described how she hired Chef Scheib a year into President Clinton’s first term of office in 1994. Since they didn’t care for the traditional, highly caloric French cuisine prepared by Chef Chambrin, they wanted to find someone else who could showcase the best of contemporary American regional cuisine and prepare healthier, lowfat nutritional meals and restaurant-caliber dishes for state dinners and other special events.
Scheib, who was then executive chef at the Greenbrier resort in West Virginia, was selected from thousands of applicants. For his audition lunch he prepared Pecan-Crusted Lamb with Morel Sauce and Red-Curried Sweet Potatoes. Just so happens lamb is Hillary’s favorite meat and she loves spicy food — so Scheib’s meal was a big hit. Scheib “modernized and Americanized the White House food program,” creating meals that were both interesting and eclectic, reflecting the ethnic diversity of the country. Middle Eastern food (baba ganoush, tahini, hummus) was a particular Hillary favorite during her husband’s Presidency.
These days, Hillary especially enjoys the zesty flavors of Mexico and India. Whenever possible, she likes to eat locally, whether it’s pork chop on a stick at the Iowa State Fair, a hot pepper, sausage and onion sandwich at Gianelli Sausage in Syracuse, or a friendly sandwich and cup of coffee at Lange’s Little Store, a favorite neighborhood hangout in Chappaqua. She’s not a strict vegan like Bill and will indulge in the occasional ice cream treat (nice way to cool off from all those chiles :D). Her other foodie vices include Dove Bars and goldfish crackers.
Is there a food item that most recalls her back-home origins? Hillary cites the Oliveburger (renamed the HillaryBurger) from Pickwick, a Greek-American diner that was her high school hangout in Park Ridge, Illinois. It consists of 6 ounces of grilled ground beef sirloin on a toasted hamburger bun with a thick topping of chopped, pimento-stuffed green olives. Closed in December 2014, the Pickwick will apparently reopen sometime this Fall (no word on whether the HillaryBurger will be on the menu).
So, does Hillary ever cook? She admits to being a lousy cook, but she can turn out a decent plate of soft scrambled eggs. Scheib remarked that once when Chelsea was sick, Hillary requested the ingredients and cooking utensils so she could make the eggs herself in the private family kitchen on the second floor. Nothing like comfort food from your mother to make you feel better.
Getting back to Chelsea, Hillary also asked Scheib to teach her daughter how to cook so she would be able to cook for herself while she was attending Stanford. So, the summer before Chelsea left for college, Scheib taught Chelsea and a friend how to cook some basic vegetarian dishes, such as pea soup, buckwheat linguine with lentils, carrots and Swiss chard, and black bean enchiladas.
Mr Cornelius was fascinated by all these stories, and begged Hillary to share just one more tidbit. Well, she thought the 1997 G-8 Summit in Denver, Colorado, was the perfect occasion to spotlight regional American cuisine and traditions. Guests were given cowboy boots as presents, and Chef Scheib and his staff served buffalo, Rocky Mountain Oysters, cowboy roll-ups and rattlesnake meat hors d’oeuvres!
Given Hillary’s inclination for authentic, restaurant-quality, diverse regional cuisine, safe to say she’ll keep the White House chefs on their toes
if when she gets elected.🙂
Here’s the recipe for Chelsea’s Chocolate Chip Cookies (the Clinton Family Oatmeal Chocolate Chip recipe can be found here). Unlike the Family Circle contest winner, this recipe calls for butter instead of vegetable shortening and cake flour instead of all-purpose flour. I’ve included Chef Scheib’s headnote for your reference.
Chelsea's Chocolate Chip Cookies
Chelsea and her friends would make these cookies during their White House get-togethers and slumber parties, starting the year I got there, when she was fourteen. When I got the call from Chelsea (or the word from a butler) that she and her friends were in a cookie-making mood, I’d assemble the ingredients and hand-write the basic method, sending it all upstairs with a butler. This recipe is adapted from one from the legendary Fannie Farmer Cookbook, but I omitted the nuts and added more chocolate chips. The cookies are soft and chewy right out of the oven, then firm up a bit, but don’t turn brittle.
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened, plus more for greasing cookie sheets
- 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1 large egg
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1-1/4 cups cake flour
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1-1/4 cups semisweet chocolate chips
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease two cookie sheets.
- In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter, brown sugar, and granulated sugar together for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the egg and vanilla and mix well.
- Sift the flour, salt, and baking soda together, add to the mixture, and blend well, then stir in the chips.
- Place the dough in 2 tablespoon portions onto the cookie sheets, leaving 2 inches between the cookies.
- Bake until lightly golden brown, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove from the oven, let cool briefly in the pans, and serve warm or at room temperature.
Credit: White House Chef: Eleven Years, Two Presidents, One Kitchen by Walter Scheib and Andrew Friedman (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2007).
Everyone had such a good time, we hated to say goodbye. Mr Cornelius turned on the charm, and before we knew it, Hillary offered to make her famous soft scrambled eggs!
One taste, and the resident chefs gave Hillary’s eggs an 8 paws up. They agreed that when it comes to eggs, Hillary knows how to step up to the plate.🙂
After a round of hugs and handshakes, Hillary boarded her plane for the next stop on the campaign trail. She left us all starry-eyed and hopeful for the future. She and Mr C are best buds and agreed on a new campaign slogan:
When the chocolate chips are down, bake more cookies!
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