Queen of Sheba Chocolate Cake

My dad had a great sense of humor and he had a special way of putting people ‘in their places’ when they were being disrespectful.  One of his favorite Bible stories to use to ‘crush’ gossipers was the story of Solomon and Sheba.  When folks would begin to gossip about the marital escapades of others, Daddy would remind them of Solomon’s many wives, concubines … and his affair with the Queen of Sheba!  That would usually turn off the gossip. 

Raphael's Solomon and Sheba

Most of us know the story of the Queen of Sheba.  The stories vary, depending upon the religious text!  Sheba visited Solomon, gave him many gifts after testing and marveling at his wisdom.  Solomon wanted her, but she didn’t believe in his lifestyle and did not ‘lie’ with him until he tricked her on the last night of her visit.  He promised Sheba that he would not touch her if she did not touch anything in his palace.  He had made sure the cooks fed her spicy food at the banquet that night.  The story says that she was thirsty in the night and reached for a pitcher of water.  … touching it … and breaking her promise.  Solomon, of course, seized the moment.  On her journey back to the Kingdom of Sheba, she gave birth to Solomon’s son.  She named him Menelik.  Menelik and his 200 descendants following, ruled in the ways of Judaism.

Who was this Queen?  Where did she really come from?  Was she white or black?  The earliest sculptured likeness of Sheba shows us a face that looks neither black nor white.  Raphael painted a white Queen.  If she was from Ethiopia, was she black?  If she was from Arabia, was she white?  Who really knows?

The ancestry of the Kingdom of Sheba goes back to Noah.  Two of his sons had descendants named Sheba.  One son’s people were in Ethiopia and the other in Arabia, just across the Red Sea (a distance like going across the Mississippi River).  The Kingdom of Sheba spread across both regions.  I don’t think there is really much mystery there.  I also think she would have had dark skin, no matter which part of that region she was from.

The Mariners' Museum holds a bust of the Queen of Sheba in their collection.  It is clearly a black female.  The bust dates to 1853 and was probably a ship captain's cabin ornament.  There is a hiding place in the back of it.   It is believed that this bust was carried on the ship also named "Queen of Sheba" that ran between London and New Zealand.

Now we get to the rich chocolate cake that is named for the Queen of Sheba!  Not much is known about the history of this cake.  It is actually a pretty common recipe, but at some point along the line, somebody named it after a black queen instead of calling it chocolate.

Julia Child made it popular.
  The French version of the Gateau Reine de Saba was the first French cake Julia tasted!  She featured it in her first cookbook and in her television shows. 

This cake is rich and filling!  Plan to serve small pieces, and I think it can only be improved upon by serving it with good coffee! 

Picture from Creative Commons

Queen of Sheba Cake

For the cake:
4 oz semi-sweet chocolate squares
2 Tablespoons of rum
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
⅔ cup sugar
3 large eggs, whites and yolks divided
¼ tsp cream of tartar
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp sugar
3/4 cup almond paste

¼ tsp almond extract
½ cup all-purpose flour

For the icing:
1/3 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 Tablespoons rum
6 Tablespoons unsalted butter room temperature

Begin this recipe by beating the 3 egg whites and the cream of tartar until stiff peaks form. Set this aside.

In a microwave, melt the chocolate squares a few seconds at a time, so you don’t over do it! Stir in the rum to smooth the chocolate.

In a big bowl, whip the sugar, salt, almond paste and almond extract with the butter. When this is creamy, beat in the egg yellows and the flour.

Now it is time to gently fold in the egg whites until incorporated. Bake in a prepared 9-inch cake pan at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

Preparing the icing is quite simple. Melt the chips in the microwave, a few seconds at a time. Stir in the rum and let it cool. Whip it with the soft butter. Spread it on the cooled cake. It should be glossy.

This column is part of my 2021 foodie project!  Click he menu button to see other columns about foods named after famous people.

Parmentier's Potatoes

I have written about the history of potatoes more than a few times.  A few years ago, when I was teaching children how to prepare foods made with products grown in Southern Illinois, we made a map of the route of the potato!  We traced it from Peru to Spain and then through other European countries.  In many of those countries, potatoes were only grown for feed for stock.   In Prussia, King Frederick the Great planted potatoes and staged armed guards around them during the day.  By night, the locals would sneak in and steal the potatoes thinking they were rare and valuable! 

In France, potatoes were grown to feed pigs … that is until a
famous agronomist and pharmacist promoted the potato as food for humans.  Antoine-Augustin Parmentier learned about the potato when he was a prisoner of the Seven Year War and was held in Prussia.  He returned to Paris in 1763 and started his quest to feed hungry people with potatoes.  Finally, in 1772, the Paris Faculty of Medicine declared potatoes edible.

Parmentier was my kind of foodie!  He was appointed to teach at the Free School of Bakery and what he taught was that a bread made with potatoes was just as good as wheat bread.  He publicized the potato using stunts that I have to say I would have been happy to try!  He had lavish dinners with guests like Ben Franklin … featuring potatoes!  He gave bouquets of potato blossoms to the King and Queen.  He copied King Frederick’s stunt and grew potatoes   by guards, so the impoverished people would steal the plants at night!

In 1785, potatoes staved off famine in northern France and four years later, Parmentier published the Treatise on the Culture and Use of the Potato which was printed by order of the King.

It is important to note that potatoes were not the only passion of Parmentier!  He studied and published about baking bread, making cheese and storing grain.  He taught people to use cornmeal and chestnut flour.   He used mushrooms, mineral waters and studied wine-making. 

Parmentier died in 1813, but he left quite a legacy, so much so, that his burial plot was surrounded by potato plants and is now surrounded by flowers.  There are streets named after him and a bronze statue of him is located at Montdidier.  Below the statue is a marble relief of seed potatoes being distributed to a peasant.

In the 1870s, chefs began naming foods after him.  A potato and leek soup is named Cream Parmentier.  Salt cod mashed with olive oil and potatoes is called Brandade de morue Parmentier.  There are cubed potatoes fried in butter named Garniture Parmentier … mashed potatoes called Puree Parmentier … and potato salad named Salade Parmentier.

Today, I’m sharing one of my favorite comfort foods.  Some call this dish Cottage Pie and others call in Shepherd’s Pie.  “Hachis Parmentier” may have been the original creation of this deliciously filling dish.

Often times, cooks make Cottage Pie using leftovers and there is nothing wrong with that.  You can even break up a couple pieces of meat loaf to use as the base.  Pot roast, rotisserie chicken, a chunk of pork roast … all work.  You could also make a meatless pie!  Some folks use tomato in their filling for the pie.  It really is your choice and one of the best ones I’ve ever made was with a little leftover grilled salmon, carrots, corn, peas and a creamy sauce … all topped with mashed potatoes with a little extra garlic stirred in.   Use your imagination. 

Cottage Pie  or Hachis Parmentier

FILLING:  I made this recipe using fresh and frozen products.  I chopped a big tomato and kept it ready to add to the stewed ingredients. 

Brown 1 pound of ground beef and a half cup of chopped onion.  Add salt and pepper it generously.

Add 2 cups of frozen mixed vegetables and 2 cups of beef stock.  Let the ingredients simmer for a couple minutes, then add the fresh tomato.  Continue to cook the ingredients until the tomatoes disappear into the stock.  Finish seasoning by adding a heaping Tablespoon of tomato paste, a dash of garlic powder and tiny bit of sugar.  Thicken the sauce by adding one more cup of broth (or water) with 2 Tablespoons of corn starch blended in. 

TOPPING:  You will need 4 cups of mashed potatoes to have enough topping for this much filling.  Make the mashed potatoes like you usually do.  Let them cool, so you can drop an egg in and not have it scramble!  Whisk in the egg, salt and pepper and 1 cup of shredded cheese.  For this recipe, I added about a cup of shredded cooked carrots … for flavor and color!

Whip all this together and spread it over the filling.  For additional color, sprinkle paprika and/or parsley over the top.  Bake at 350 degrees for 30 – 40 minutes until the top of the potatoes brown a little. 

You can make all this the day before and refrigerate it.  Put cold ingredients together  but bake for about 50 – 60 minutes.

I’ve post this as a part of my foodie project for 2021.  Enjoy!

Potatoes O'Brien

A very common American breakfast food may take us back to
mid 1800s Ireland!  While some believe that a cook in a New York City restaurant nicknamed “Beef Stew O’Brien” may have created the dish, food historians believe that there is a true link to William Smith O’Brien who was born in County Clare, Ireland in 1803.  Was William an ancestor of our New York City cooks, or was he just a patriot celebrated by generations of Irish Americans?

William Smith O’Brien was an Irish nationalist and a Member of Parliament.  He was a leader in the Young Ireland movement, and he encouraged Irish citizens to use the Irish language.   He participated in the Young Irelander Rebellion in 1848 and was convicted of sedition.  The Irish didn’t have ‘freedom of speech’.  He was initially given a death sentence, but that was changed, and he was deported to Van Diemen's Land, which is now Tasmania in Australia.  A few years later, he was released but still exiled from Ireland.   Finally in 1856, O’Brien was released, and he returned to Ireland.  He stayed away from politics, however!

William Smith O'Brien

High King Brien

I could list generations of O’Brien’s ancestors, but what might be most important is that he was a descendent of the Ard Ri Brien Buro, the High King of Ireland.  The term ‘Ard Ri’ is a very old term dating to the times that the Vikings were ransacking Ireland.  In the year 999, High King Brien rescued Dublin from the Vikings and started rebuilding Ireland.  Had I been William Smith O’Brien, I would have been passionate about maintaining heritage.  Had I been that breakfast cook ‘Beef Stew O’Brien”, I would have been proud to claim the High King’s family as my own!

With a little research, I’d probably find lots of things named after O’Brien!  O’Brien County, Iowa is named after him.  There is a statue in Dublin commemorating his works.  Let’s accept that Potatoes O’Brien are named after him and that the colors of the green pepper and orange/red pepper symbolize the Irish flag!



 Potatoes O'Brien

My recipe for these potatoes probably changes each time I make them!  Really!  I like mine with bacon in them, but you can skip the bacon and use butter or canola oil … or olive oil.

4 strips of bacon, chopped in small pieces and browned.
Bacon grease or replace with 3 Tablespoons of canola oil.
2 Tablespoons of butter, used half at a time.
1 large red bell pepper diced
1 large green bell pepper diced
1 medium sweet onion, diced
2 pounds of potatoes, peeled and diced
1 Tablespoon roasted garlic
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper

In a heavy skillet, gently fry the bacon until brown.  Remove the bacon but use the grease.  Add a Tablespoon of butter to the grease and sauté the peppers and onion until they start to look glossy.  Add the potatoes, garlic, salt and pepper.  Put a lid on the skillet and cook until the potatoes are done.

It is important to stir the potatoes a few times to keep them

cooking evenly, but the lid lets them steam and they will get done more quickly.  When the potatoes are done, remove the lid and add that extra Tablespoon of butter.  Turn the burner to high and keep stirring the potatoes for a couple minutes until they get crispy, and the moisture disappears.  Stir in the bacon bits at the end of cooking.


This post is part of my 2021 foodie project!  Click the menu tab to see other recipes for foods named after famous people. 

Lobster Newberg or Wenberg?

Brothers, Louis and Benjamin Wenberg were natives of Portland, Maine but moved to New York City and continued their father’s shipping business. Benjamin was a part of the New York Bar Association, but his wealth came from the slaving trade during the 1830s and 40s. Were people aware of this? Maybe but maybe not. It was not uncommon for the trade to be kept underground and ships that carried slaves also carried products like palm oil. Benjamin Wenberg and his brother were affluent members of the Maritime Exchange, so all that they were doing was done under the cloak of legitimacy.

During their heyday, New York’s Delmonico’s Restaurant was very popular. Ben introduced Charles Delmonico to a rich dish of lobster meat covered in a sauce made from clarified butter, cream, sherry and thickened with an egg yolk. The dish was loved by the restaurant patrons and was originally named “Lobster Wenberg”.

 Charles Delmonico
Delmonico and Wenberg had a fight over business that was actually a fist fight! Delmonico had the delicious lobster dish removed from the menu, but their customers begged for it, so he offered it again … under a different name. “Lobster Newberg” was born!

Was this really a new creation? There were several sauces just like this one already in printed cookbooks at the time. One in particular was served over turtle. Delmonico’s added cayenne pepper to their recipe, but other than that, the sauces were identical.

It is important to note that any seafood can be substituted in the recipe I’m going to share with you today. You can serve it as a main entrée or in smaller portions as an appetizer. We love it over puff pastry shells, but it is equally good over toasted bread or English muffins.

Lobster Newberg

1/3 cup butter
2 tablespoons flour
2 cups Half and Half
4 egg yolks
2 cups cooked lobster meat
1/4 cup dry sherry
2 teaspoons lemon juice
Dash of salt teaspoon salt
Dash of cayenne pepper

Gently melt the butter in a heavy deep skillet. Stir in the flour and continue to blend it with a whisk until is starts to bubble. Don’t let it turn brown. Pour in the Half and Half and over medium heat, continue to whisk it until it thickens.

Beat the egg yolks until they are smooth. At this point you want to temper the egg yolks by adding a little bit of the hot cream sauce a little at a time. If you pour the egg yolks directly into the skillet, you’ll get scrambled eggs! Slowly add the tempered yolks into the skillet and continue to whisk. The sauce should turn colors and become even creamier. Drop in the lobster meat and simmer it for a few minutes until it heats through. Add the sherry, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Stir to combine and serve immediately over toast points or puff pastry. Garnish your plate with chopped parsley. Delicious and very festive. This makes 4 entrée servings or double that as an appetizer.

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