Bless Your Spoon: Celebrating the American Table and White House culinary arts

Published 2:00 pm Friday, June 30, 2023

By Stephanie Williams Dean

Today our dinner tables are often a smorgasbord of foods that originated in this country as well as others. On a recent visit to the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, I was elated to discover that the museum’s cafeteria resembled an exhibit in itself — one of the American Table. I was equally surprised when I realized the eatery had an executive chef, Kyle Rochon, curating food selections at the cafeteria-style restaurant. Who knew, right?

It was delightful to see food celebrated in such a way, one where even the cafeteria isn’t just a reflection of history but one of art as well — the culinary arts. A chef-inspired menu rotates every month and includes a station of food steeped in American history as well as an ethnic station with more diverse choices. Selections for the month of June celebrated the Southwest Kitchen and Caribbean Heritage Month with foods that reflected the diverse cuisines.

A tour of the White House served up another nice surprise. Of course, what commanded my attention was the collection of the official White House china. The collection was housed in built-in cabinets in the China Room, representing various patterns of state porcelains from each presidency. Many of the gorgeous sets — from single banded to more complex designs — were French Limoges, yet others were made by American companies such as Lenox. And so many different patterns — each presidential administration had chosen its own unique White House pattern — a nod to the first lady’s refined, decorative tastes, no doubt.

My tour ended at the White House Visitor’s Center which is another small museum. One interactive exhibit was the “Who Ordered What?” which related to the favorite foods of various presidents. A favorite of President Garfield was squirrel soup with a recipe that called for “three or four good-sized squirrels.” President Ronald Reagan kept full bowls of Jelly Belly candies close by at all times.

In the gift store, I discovered some highly prized cookbooks. I especially enjoyed Chef Matthew Wendel’s cookery book, a first-hand account of his years working for President George W. Bush and his family at Camp David and at their Texas home.

Even the gift store was designed in a museum-like fashion. One whimsical curio housed curated spatulas, whisks and other cooking instruments displayed with cookbooks all arranged in an artful vignette.

Today’s recipe selections offer readers a choice of American foods as well as a few Caribbean selections. In days past, local cafeteria-style eateries were more prevalent, but they’re still a favorite of mine due to the food variety from which to choose.

Skillet BBQ Chicken

• 2 Tbsp. Wesson vegetable oil

• 2 pounds skinned, bone-in chicken thighs

• ½ cup fresh orange juice

• ½ cup pineapple juice

• 1 Tbsp. cornstarch

• 1/3 cup soy sauce

• 1/3 cup light brown sugar

• 2 Tbsp. minced fresh ginger

• 3 Tbsp. cider vinegar

• 3 Tbsp. catsup

• ½ tsp. dried crushed red pepper

• 2 minced cloves garlic

• Rice

• Chopped green onions

In a skillet, heat oil. Add chicken, and sauté 6 minutes, turning once. In a bowl, combine orange and pineapple juices. In another bowl, combine cornstarch and 1 Tbsp. of juice mixture until smooth and set aside. Add soy sauce, brown sugar, ginger, cider vinegar, ketchup, red pepper and cloves to the remaining juice mixture, and pour over chicken. Bring mixture to a boil, cover, reduce heat, and simmer 35 minutes while turning chicken after 20 minutes. Uncover chicken and stir in cornstarch mixture. Cook while constantly stirring for 5 minutes or until sauce thickens. Serve over rice and sprinkle with chopped green onions.

Roasted Garden Vegetables

• 1 medium yellow squash

• 1 medium zucchini

• 1 large red pepper

• 1 large yellow pepper

• 1 medium red onion

• 1 medium eggplant

• 2 sliced garlic cloves

• 2 Tbsp. olive oil

• 1 Tbsp. cider vinegar

• 1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

• ¼ tsp. salt

Cut vegetables into bite-sized pieces and arrange in a large roasting pan with sliced garlic over the top. Evenly drizzle with olive oil and vinegar. Evenly sprinkle with salt and pepper. Toss to coat thoroughly. Roast in a preheated 400-degree oven for 30 minutes or until edges are browned and vegetables are tender.

Fruited Coleslaw

• 11 ounces drained mandarin oranges

• 1 Tbsp. mandarin orange liquid

• 1 cup drained crushed pineapple

• 1 tsp. grated fresh ginger

• 1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg

• ½ tsp. salt

• ¼ tsp. white pepper

• 4 cups shredded cabbage

• ½ cup mayonnaise or salad dressing

In a bowl, combine drained mandarin oranges, mandarin liquid, crushed pineapple, fresh ginger, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Mix well. Fold the mixture into the shredded cabbage and toss until thoroughly mixed. Add just enough mayonnaise to thoroughly coat and hold slaw together.

Gourmet Blue Potato Salad

• 4 cups cooked, sliced potatoes

• 1 cup sliced tops/bottoms green onions

• 1 cup sliced celery

• ½ cup diced green pepper

• 3 chopped hard-boiled eggs

• 1 cup creamed cottage cheese

• 1 cup sour cream

• 2 tsp. yellow mustard

2 tsp. seasoned salt

2 ounces crumbled blue cheese

In a bowl, combine the cooked potatoes, green onions, celery, green pepper and eggs. Toss and gently mix well. In another bowl, combine cottage cheese, sour cream, mustard and salt. Gently fold the cottage cheese mixture into the potato mixture and gently mix. Chill for several hours so flavors blend. Just before serving, gently fold in crumbled blue cheese.

Black Bean Soup

• 1 tsp. olive oil

• ¾ cup chopped onion

• 30 ounces canned black beans

• 14 ounces chicken broth

• 15 ounces drained whole-kernel corn

• 14 ounces Mexican-style stewed tomatoes

• 1 tsp. balsamic vinegar

• 3 bay leaves

• 1 tsp. minced garlic

• 1 tsp. thyme

• ½ tsp. cumin

In a Dutch oven heat olive oil. Add onion and cook while stirring until browned. In a bowl, add 15 ounces of black beans. Mash the beans with a spoon until paste consistency. Add mashed beans, the remaining whole beans, and broth to the cooked onion and mix well. Stir in corn, tomatoes, balsamic vinegar, bay leaves, garlic, thyme and cumin. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low, and simmer 8 minutes while stirring. Remove from heat and discard bay leaves.

Cilantro-Lime-Pepper Chicken

• ¼ cup chopped, fresh cilantro

• 1/3 cup fresh lime juice

• ¼ cup olive oil

• 1 ½ Tbsp. minced garlic

• 2 Tbsp. minced fresh jalapeño peppers

• Splash of Tequila (optional)

• 6 skinned boned chicken breast

• ¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro

In a bowl, combine cilantro, lime juice, olive oil, garlic and seeded, minced jalapeño peppers and tequila. Into a shallow glass dish, pour ½ of the cilantro mixture and set aside the remainder. Dredge meat in the glass dish with marinade mixture and refrigerate 24 hours When ready to prepare, season meat with salt and pepper and grill until cooked to desired doneness. Drizzle reserved marinade over cooked meat and garnish with ¼ cup additional chopped cilantro. Good marinade for pork chops or tenderloin, as well.

Rice, Beans and Cheese Dish

• 1 ¼ cup water

• ½ cup uncooked rice

• Salt

• 1 ½ cups diced onions

• 1 cup each diced green/red bell pepper

• 2 tsp. minced garlic

• 2 Tbsp. Wesson vegetable oil

• 1 cup each white wine /chicken broth

• 1 cup each golden raisins/slivered almonds

• 4 tsp. cumin

• ¼ tsp. crushed red pepper

• Salt and freshly ground black pepper

• 2 cups black beans

• 4 cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese

• ¼ cup bread crumbs

In a saucepan, bring water to a boil. Stir in rice and salt. Cook covered for 15 minutes until rice is tender and water absorbed. Remove from heat and set aside. In a large skillet, sauté onions, bell peppers and garlic in oil until tender. Add rice, vegetables, wine, broth, raisins, almonds cumin, red pepper, salt and pepper, and beans. Mix well. Cook for 10 minutes or until thickens. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Evenly cover bottom and sides of a butter greased 10 x 13 baking dish with 1 ¾ cups of cheese. Spoon bean mixture evenly over cheese. Top with remaining cheese and bread crumbs. Bake in a preheated 375-degree oven for 30-35 minutes or until bubbly and top crusty.

Island Grilled Swordfish

• ½ cup soy sauce

• ¼ cup sherry

• 2 tsp. minced garlic

• 1 tsp. grated fresh ginger

• 4 6-ounce swordfish steaks

• ½ stick softened, salted butter

• 1 Tbsp. minced shallots

• 1 tsp. chopped fresh parsley

In a bowl combine the soy sauce, sherry, garlic and fresh ginger. Pout into a plastic sealable bag. Add swordfish to the mixture and seal. Turn bag over several times until fish is coated thoroughly. Marinate in refrigerator for 2 hours while turning every 15 minutes. In a mixer bowl, cream butter with shallots and chopped parsley. When ready to grill, remove fish from marinade and reserve the marinade. In a saucepan, pour marinade. Bring to a boil for 3 minutes while constantly stirring. Grill fish over hot coals while basting with marinade until fish flakes easily. Top each steak with 1 tsp. of shallot seasoned butter.

Hot Honeyed Caribbean Cornbread

• 2 beaten eggs

• 2 cups yellow cornmeal

• 2/3 cup Wesson vegetable oil

• 8 ounces sour cream

• 15 ounces cream-style corn

• 1 chopped, small onion

• ½ cup chopped zucchini

• ½ cup well-drained, crushed pineapple

• 1/4 cup honey

• 1 tsp. seeded, chopped jalapeño pepper

• Butter and honey drizzle

In a mixer bowl, beat eggs. Add cornmeal and Wesson oil. Mix well. Fold in sour cream, cream-style corn, onion, zucchini, pineapple, honey and pepper without seeds. Mix well. Bake in a greased, hot cast iron skillet in a preheated 350-degree oven until done. When done, melt 3 Tbsp. of butter on top and drizzle with honey. Allow to cool for 1 hour before cutting.

Island’s Jamocha Chocolate Cake

• 1 box devil’s food cake with pudding

• 1 Tbsp. instant coffee or espresso

Rum Sauce:

• 2 Tbsp. salted butter

• ½ cup water

• ½ cup sugar

• ½ cup dark rum


• 2 cups whipped cream

• 3 Tbsp. confectioners’ sugar

• 1 Tbsp. instant coffee or espresso

• 1 Tbsp. Hershey’s unsweet cocoa

• Grated bar of milk chocolate

In a mixer bowl, prepare cake according to package directions and add the instant coffee or espresso. Pour batter into a greased and floured 9 x 13 baking dish. Bake according to pkg. directions until done. For the sauce, in a saucepan, melt butter. Add water sugar and rum. Heat while stirring until sugar is dissolved. When cake is done and still hot, make small cuts across top of cake. Spoon butter sauce over the hot cake as soon as it comes out of oven. For the topping, completely cool cake. In a mixer bowl, whip the cream with sugar, instant coffee or espresso, and cocoa until it peaks. Frost cake and sprinkle with shaved chocolate. Chill in refrigerator until serving time.

Rum and Honey Fruit Dessert Soup

• 1 cup quartered fresh strawberries

• 1 cup fresh raspberries

• 1 cup halved fresh cherries

• 2 cups cranberry juice

• 1/3 cup honey

• ½ tsp. cinnamon

• 1 Tbsp. dark rum

• 1 Tbsp. fresh chopped mint

• Fresh mint sprigs

In a bowl, combine strawberries, raspberries and cherries. In another bowl, stir together cranberry juice, honey, rum, cinnamon and chopped mint. Pour over fruit and allow to soak at least 1 hour in refrigerator. Serve in stemmed, sherbet glasses with a dollop of whipped cream topping and fresh mint sprigs. (If preferred, substitute a favorite combo of mango, papaya, coconut, pineapple, kiwi, starfruit and other island fruits of your choice).