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Former White House chef tells kitchen tales

THE BALTIMORE SUN

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

1 cup chopped pecans

1/2 cup very finely chopped onions

6 twists freshly ground black pepper

-- ground red pepper (cayenne)

1 12-ounce jar strawberry preserves

Procedure: In mixing bowl, combine cheese with mayonnaise chopped pecans and onions. Mix in black pepper and cayenne; blend thoroughly.

Press into a 3-cup ring mold. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

Presentation: To serve, dip mold into a pan of hot water for 15 to 20 seconds before turning out onto a serving platter. Fill center with strawberry preserves and serve at once with whole-grain crackers or Melba toast.

President Reagan

"The Reagan family was fond of sweets and desserts. Mrs. Reagan was careful to make sure that the sweet indulgences topping off presidential meals were, for the most part, as light, healthy and low-calorie as they were delicious. The Cointreau Orange Flambe is a dramatic ending to any special meal. "

+ Cointreau orange flambe

Makes 6 servings.

6 large navel oranges

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup water

cup orange liqueur, such as Cointreau

1 cup toasted shredded coconut and candied orange zest (recipe follows) for garnish

Procedure: Peel oranges, and with a sharp knife, remove th thin, white membrane around the oranges. To make them easier to eat and serve, use a thin, sharp knife to separate the orange into sections, being careful not to cut sections loose. Arrange oranges in attractive, shallow bowl.

In saucepan, boil sugar and water until sugar has dissolved and syrup is clear. Pour syrup over oranges in the bowl. Cover and refrigerate for several hours or overnight. Turn the oranges now and then to make sure all sides marinate in syrup.

Before serving, allow oranges to return to room temperature. Heat liqueur in small saucepan just until hot. This is the trick to successful flambes. Turn face away from pan and light the warm liqueur with a long match. Then spoon the flaming liqueur over oranges in bowl.

Presentation: Sprinkle with toasted coconut and candied orange zest. Serve immediately.

CANDIED ORANGE ZEST. With a sharp knife, remove the orange part of the peel of 4 oranges. If necessary, trim and discard any white part remaining on the peels. Cut orange zest into very thin strips.

Bring 1 quart water to boil; add orange zest and boil for 3 minutes. Rinse under cold water. Pat dry on paper towels.

In small bowl, mix zest with 2 tablespoons superfine sugar. Spread sugared zest on baking sheet and bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour in upper level of a 250-degree oven, stirring frequently. Zest is ready when it is crisp and dry. Cool.

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