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Cookbook review: Try recipes served to former first families

A White House holiday dinner from December 2004 features roast tenderloin of Angus beef, black truffle-scented merlot sauce, sautéed bulb onions, herb potatoes, green beans, baby carrots and artichokes.
A White House holiday dinner from December 2004 features roast tenderloin of Angus beef, black truffle-scented merlot sauce, sautéed bulb onions, herb potatoes, green beans, baby carrots and artichokes.

‘Dining At The White House: From The President’s Table To Yours’

By John Moeller with Mike Lovell (American Lifestyle Publishing, $35)

Quick Look: In this 400-page memoir, chef John Moeller reminisces about his time in America’s First Kitchen – offering anecdotes, authentic recipes and photographs of elegantly plated entrées. Together, they provide a portrait of what it’s like to dine at the White House, something most Americans might find interesting – no matter their politics.

What’s Inside: Moeller worked at the White House for 13 years, serving three first families and preparing meals for dignitaries and celebrities like Nelson Mandela, Julia Child and Sophia Loren. He provides a behind-the-scenes look at cooking and creating recipes for Presidents George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush and their guests – from Inauguration Day and state dinners to excursions to Camp David and Christmastime celebrations.

“Our pastry chef, Roland Mesnier, had to start making Christmas pastries in August each year,” writes Moeller, who worked at the White House from 1992 to 2005.

Trained in Rhode Island and France, Moeller cooks classical French cuisine with an American influence. In his book, he provides more than 100 authentic White House recipes, tested and downsized to serve four to six people. He also includes correspondence – like a thank-you note from Chelsea Clinton – as well as sample menus, pictures of place settings, and breakfast orders from the likes of Lee Iacocca and Caroline Kennedy and Edwin Schlossberg.

He discusses what it was like to be in the White House kitchen on Sept. 11, 2001, prepare for the annual Easter Egg Roll, and cook for the president and his family on a daily basis. “For daily cooking, I kept it as light and healthy as possible – but it had to be tasty as well. … My second priority as White House chef was to bear in mind that I was in somebody’s home. I was serving a real family every day. In a restaurant, you develop a menu and have different customers each day, but in the White House, we had the same ‘customers’ all the time, so we had to vary the menus.”

What’s Not: While Moeller offers recipes for a variety of soups, salads, starters and main dishes, there’s only one dessert: a warm flourless chocolate torte with raspberry sauce. And, alas, his book doesn’t come with a formal invitation to dine at the White House.

On the heels of Presidents Day, eat like a U.S. president in your own home with this dinner from former White House chef John Moeller.

“Working at the White House, we had an eyewitness view of history as it happened,” Moeller writes.

“My aim here is to enable readers to bring the experience of dining at the White House to their own tables.”

Roast Tenderloin of Angus Beef

1/4 cup canola oil

4 pounds center-cut beef filet

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature

1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme

1/8 teaspoon sea salt

1/4 teaspoon fresh milled black pepper

Heat oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Sear fillet on all sides, until nicely browned. Remove from skillet, place on baking sheet and cool in refrigerator for at least 2 hours. In a small bowl, mix butter, thyme, salt and pepper, until well incorporated. Remove fillet from refrigerator and liberally coat with butter mixture. Let stand at room temperature for 1 hour. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place fillet on roasting rack on sheet pan, and roast 45 to 60 minutes, or to an internal temperature of 130 to 135 degrees for medium rare. Remove from oven and rest for 20 minutes before carving. Serve 2 slices per person with Black Truffle-Scented Merlot Sauce.

Note: The tenderloin can be seared the day before roasting. Remove roast from refrigerator, and let stand at room temperature for 1 hour before roasting.

Black Truffle-Scented Merlot Sauce

1 tablespoon, plus 1 teaspoon unsalted butter

2 shallots, peeled and thinly sliced

6 black peppercorns

1 spring fresh thyme

1/2 cup merlot

1 cup prepared demi-glace

1 teaspoon cornstarch, dissolved in 1 tablespoon water

1 tablespoon black truffle, chopped

Salt and fresh-milled black pepper

In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt 1 tablespoon butter. Sauté shallots for 2 minutes, add peppercorns and thyme, and sauté an additional 3 minutes. Add wine, and reduce by three-fourths. Add demi-glace, and simmer over medium-low heat for 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Gradually add cornstarch mixture, and return to boil over medium heat, stirring constantly until sauce coats the back of a spoon. Remove from heat and strain into another small saucepan. Heat strained sauce over medium heat, and stir in truffles and remaining butter. Remove from heat, and cover until ready to serve.

Note: Fresh or frozen black truffles are very expensive and difficult to find. I suggest using canned or jarred truffles for home use. Truffle butter is also available and will give the black truffle essence, if you whisk a bit into the sauce at the last moment.

Sautéed Bulb Onions, Herb Potatoes, Green Beans and Baby Carrots and Artichokes

For Sautéed Bulb Onions

6 small bulb onions

1 tablespoon butter

Salt and pepper

Trim most, but not all, of the root from onions, then peel. Cut onions in half through the root. Melt butter in sauté pan over medium-low heat. Place onions cut-side down in pan, and cook 8 to 10 minutes, until caramelized to a rich golden brown. Remove from heat, cover, and let stand for 20 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, just before plating.

For Herb Potatoes

12 small new potatoes

6 cups water

1 tablespoon salt

1 tablespoon chopped fresh Italian parsley

2 teaspoons chopped fresh tarragon

1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives

1 tablespoon unsalted butter, room temperature

Salt and fresh-milled black pepper

Place potatoes, water and salt in large pot and bring to boil. Decrease to simmer, and cook about 10 minutes, until fork tender. Drain and let stand in colander for 5 minutes. Combine parsley, tarragon and chives in small bowl. Cut potatoes in half, roll in butter, season with salt and pepper, and toss potatoes with herbs. Keep warm until ready to serve.

For Green Beans

and Baby Carrots

6 carrots

6 cups water

Salt and pepper

1/2 pound French green beans

2 teaspoons butter

Trim all but 1/2-inch of greens from six carrots. Peel carrots, and trim to 2 1/2-inch lengths. Using a peeler, round off bottom cut of each carrot. Set aside.

In medium pot, bring 6 cups of water and salt to boil. Place carrots in water, and boil for 6 to 8 minutes, until tender. Remove with slotted spoon and place in bowl of ice water. Return water to boil and blanch 1/2 pound French green beans for 2 to 3 minutes, until tender. Transfer to ice water with carrots. Once cold, drain vegetables, and cut carrots in half lengthwise.

Melt 2 teaspoons butter in medium sauté pan over medium heat. Add carrots and green beans, gently toss, season with salt and pepper, and sauté until heated through.

For Artichokes

6 cups water

Salt and pepper

Juice of half a lemon

6 artichokes

2 teaspoons unsalted butter

In medium pot, combine 6 cups water, salt and juice of half a lemon. Cut top 1/2 inch from six artichokes. Using a paring knife, trim the tough outer leaves from each artichoke. Place trimmed artichokes in lemon water. Bring pot to boil, decrease heat and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, until tender. Drain and let cool. Cut artichokes in half lengthwise and set aside. Melt butter in medium sauté pan over medium-high heat. Place artichokes cut-side down in pan and sauté 3 to 4 minutes, until lightly browned. Season with salt and pepper.