UPDATE: CLICK HERE for menu photos and more recipes
President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama kicked off a busy holiday party schedule on Wednesday evening, hosting their first White House reception of the season. Through mid-December, there will be holiday parties and receptions almost daily--and sometimes twice daily. The White House kitchen, led by Executive Chef Cris Comerford and Executive Pastry Chef Bill Yosses, will be in overdrive preparing lavish buffets of savory and sweet dishes for about 14,000 total guests, according to an East Wing spokesman. (Above: Comerford and Yosses with this year's gingerbread house)
The White House spotlights local and regional American foods at social events, and the buffet tables will be laden with Gulf Coast shrimp, smoked salmon and crab from Maine, and oysters from Fisher’s Island in New York. Artisanal cheeses from Vermont, West Virginia, Virginia and California will also be featured. But this year there's something new happening, Chef Comerford told Obama Foodorama: The chefs will serve dishes created from the recipes in Mrs. Obama's bestselling book American Grown: The Story of the White House Kitchen Garden and Gardens Across America, published last May.
"We're tweaking the recipes a little bit to make smaller portion sizes," Comerford said. "In terms of presentation it will be smaller, easier to handle."
Due to Presidential security concerns, guests are not allowed to use knives at the holiday parties, so all foods served are designed to be consumed in one and two bites. Comerford said the American Grown recipes will include Yosses' Sweet Potato Quick Bread, and her Winter Salad, which features fennel, pears, shallots, and walnuts; and her Green Beans with Almonds, a savory take on the favorite vegetable dish.
"I'm excited about this," Comerford said. "It's always a challenge keeping things new, after cooking for so many events all the time." Now 50, she has worked at the White House since 1997.
Numerous First Ladies have published books about White House entertaining after their husbands' term in office is over. But Mrs. Obama is the only First Lady in more than a century to publish a book that includes recipes from the kitchen while she is still a White House resident. That makes this year's holiday parties another entry on Mrs. Obama and her chefs' now-lengthy list of "food firsts."
Guests enjoying the historic party menus will include "volunteers, members of Congress, White House staff, Secret Service personnel, White House reporters and Americans from across the country," according to the East Wing.
The White House chefs will be joined by between one and two-dozen chefs hired just for the season, Comerford said, who will work "between my department and the pastry shop." Foods that can be pre-made, such as biscuit dough and cookie dough, have been "stockpiled," she said.
"But we make fresh salads and vegetables on a daily basis."
The savory holiday buffet has traditionally included rare roast beef, roasted potatoes, salads, and roasted vegetables. Last year there was a carving station featuring honey baked ham, turkey, biscuits, and the very popular "stuffing balls," created with the no-knife rule in mind. They're exactly what they sound like, balls of stuffing.
A big selection of the much-coveted holiday cookies, in decorative shapes that include gingerbread men, reindeer, snowflakes, Christmas trees and First Dog Bo fill silver serving trees. The Bo cookies tend to get slipped into pockets and handbags rather than eaten. (Above: A selection of this year's cookies; Bo is in the center)
The President and Mrs. Obama's party guests will be among the 90,000 total guests who will flock through the White House this holiday season. Comerford has a grueling month to get through, but then she will be heading back to Chicago for Christmas when the exhausting marathon is over, she said. Like the Obamas, she considers it her hometown; she emigrated from her native Philippines to the Windy City with her family when she was in her early twenties.
"I'm looking forward to it," Comerford said. "Relaxing!" Even though the temperature might be sub-zero, she added, laughing.
American Grown spent five weeks on The New York Times bestseller list last summer, and was listed as a top-100 seller on various internet book sites. The President and Mrs. Obama's reception on Wednesday evening was for the 89 citizen decorators who spent last weekend transforming 1600 Penn into a sparkling Christmas wonderland. Guests invited to the holiday receptions are typically allowed to bring one companion.
Check the sidebar of the blog for recipes from American Grown and other White House recipes. Click here for links to all posts about the 2012 holidays.
Download: The Official White House Holiday Tour Booklet [PDF]
Related: Click here for a full report on the 2011 holiday receptions.
*Photos by Eddie Gehman Kohan/Obama Foodorama. Book jacket courtesy of Crown Publishing, Inc.