Thursday, September 14, 2017

Breakfast from Samantha's Cook Book

A full course breakfast fit for any Turn of the Century enthusiast!

My fiancée was teasing me the other day about how I secretly want to be a 1920’s society wife a la Downton Abbey or something, and honestly? She might be right. I love thinking of different themed parties to throw, from tea parties, birthdays, holidays, historically themed potlucks… I think this is something that actually goes back to when I was a kid. I loved thumbing through the catalogs we used to get filled with birthday party props and themes. 

Of course, planning and executing these events often takes time, equipment, money, and manpower, plus people to eat whatever food you prepare and I just don’t always have that these days. But I was going home for the weekend last month, and decided I might as well try execute one of these historically themed food parties I’ve been dying to try my hand at. 

So, welcome to Samantha’s Turn of the Century Breakfast!

The American Girl cookbooks available in the 90’s each had a full breakfast and dinner included in them, as well as the character’s favorite foods. Although all of these recipes can obviously be made by themselves, the breakfasts and dinners are written in a way where it’s clear the intention is to serve all of them together as a coherent meal. I’ve often wondered how difficult it would be to pull off all the steps in making one of these meals. After all, this cook book is meant to be used by kids and their parents, so ideally, these should be pretty easy to make, taste good, and not cause so much hassle that these meals just aren’t worth prepping. 

Well, I decided to test pilot this, as I’ve done with other AG recipes in the past. After a lot of hemming and hawing, I decided to try out Samantha’s breakfast because the items seemed pretty straight forward, easy to time together, and were appealing to my taste testers. 

The menu was as follows: 
Blueberry Muffins 
Strawberries and Cream 
Ham Slices 
Saratoga Potatoes 
Cheese Omelet 

I started the night before with the blueberry muffins, since those seemed like the easiest thing to just get out of the way. I mean how hard can blueberry muffins be, right? 

To start, you wash off a cup of blueberries and pat them dry. Next, you cream together 3 tablespoons of shortening and sugar together in a mixing bowl. Add one egg and one cup of milk, stirring after each addition. In a separate bowl, combine 1 3/4 cups of flour, 3 teaspoons of baking powder, and 3/4 of a teaspoon of salt. This gets added to the wet ingredients and stirred until everything is just combined. Next, fold in the blueberries.

Now, I’ve had some issues in the past with some of the baking recipes from these cookbooks, so I have to admit, I was a little concerned that my batter looked so lumpy when the illustration in the book made the batter look pretty liquid…

But after baking in the oven for about 25 minutes at 400 degrees, they came out looking okay! They were pretty standard blueberry muffins. Nothing to write home about, but they did what they needed to do, and made slightly more than the twelve muffins the recipe said it would.

The next morning, I decided to tackle the Saratoga Potatoes. Now, I’m assuming at least a couple of you are asking the same question I was when I first took a look at this cookbook: what are Saratoga Potatoes? Turns out they’re just homemade potato chips! Potato chips might seem like a very modern snack, but in reality, they can trace their history back to 1853, when a Native American chef in Saratoga Springs, New York sliced his potatoes so thin, his cranky customer (who had already sent back the chef’s French fried potatoes twice!) wouldn’t be able to stick his fork in them. To everyone’s surprise, the extremely crispy potatoes were a huge hit, and thus the potato chip was born! 

Potato chips might seem intimidating to make by yourself, and honestly I was worried this was going to be one of the worst parts of prepping this breakfast. Frying stuff can be messy and a pain, literally if you manage to get hot oil on yourself! And I was lucky to be doing this part of the recipe at home, because my mom has a pot with much higher sides than I do, which helps cut down on splatter. 

Samantha’s recipe for Saratoga potatoes called for slicing four peeled potatoes into very thin slices. The cookbook says to use a vegetable peeler to do this, but at my mom’s suggestion, I used her mandolin. 

PLEASE NOTE: These are a pretty dangerous part of kitchen equipment if not handled properly, so if a younger chef is trying this out, I’d really recommend having the adult handle this part, or using the peeler as the book recommends. This might make your slices thicker, but it’s better to have thick potatoes than a bad cut! 

Once the potatoes are sliced, they need to get soaked in ice water for a little while to help get the starch out. They then need to get thoroughly patted down, which will help keep them from spitting when you start frying them.

In a large pot, melt down 1 cup of shortening over high heat. Once the shortening is very hot, you’re ready to start frying!

The cookbook recommends taking one slice to test the heat of the shortening before dumping in a lot of potatoes. If the slice immediately turns brown, the shortening is too hot and you need to reduce the heat. Once you’re sure the shortening is hot but not too hot, add in more potato slices and fry them for about four or five minutes. Flipping the potatoes when they start to brown on one side helps them cook evenly. 

When they’re finished, use a slotted spoon to remove them from the shortening and then put them in a metal pie pan to cool down. Sprinkle salt over them while they’re still warm.

I was really pleasantly surprised by how hassle free this was! It wasn’t fast, I’ll tell you that much, but it was way easier than I thought it would be. They were also really good. This was also a bit of a pain to clean up, but overall, a lot more fun than I thought it would be. I will say this feels to me like something an adult should really be taking the reins on this part of the meal prep, if only because hot oil and slicing things can get dangerous if your kiddo isn’t super confident in the kitchen. 

Or, of course, if you really want to save time and hassle, you can always just buy some chips from the store, but where’s the fun in that?

Next, I heated up the ham slices. The recipe called for one 2 pound ham slice, but knowing that my taste testers are not big ham fans, my mom bought a smaller package in anticipation that it wouldn’t be a big hit. All the book wanted you to do with these was heat them up with hot water in a skillet on the stove. Easy peasy, right?

Another easy addition was the strawberries and cream. The book wanted 3 cups of strawberries in a pint of heavy cream, with just a little bit of sugar, and… that’s literally it. I personally don’t like the texture of strawberries just floating in heavy cream, so I whipped mine instead, and my grandma helped prep the strawberries. She arranged them in a crystal bowl in a really nice pattern.

Finally, the cheese omelet. I’ve never made an omelet before or watched one get made before, so some of the directions were a little baffling to me. Luckily, my mom was on hand to ask for help and take over while I snapped some action shots. 

First, you crack 6 eggs into a bowl and whisk them. Add 1/2 of a teaspoon of salt, 1/8 teaspoon of pepper, and 4 tablespoons of water, and then beat the eggs until they’re foamy. Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a skillet and add the eggs once the butter is bubbly. When the eggs start cooking, gently push them to the middle of the skillet and tilt the pan a little to get the raw egg on the outside of the skillet. 

Repeat this until the bottom of the eggs is slightly brown, and then sprinkle 1/2 a cup of cheese (I used cheddar) over one side of the eggs. Fold the other half of the omelet over, and then let it cook until the cheese is melted. Ours tore a tiny bit when we folded it, but otherwise…

I think this came out pretty okay!

Take a look at our spread!

So, thoughts and impressions: this was a lot easier than I thought it would be, which I think is going to give me a false sense of confidence when it comes to making the rest of the meals in the AG cookbooks. Two of the five recipes required almost no prep, and the muffins and potato chips were pretty easy to get done. The omelet might give you some trouble, but everything else is pretty easy if you’re savvy in the kitchen. 

That said, I definitely don’t think an unsupervised kid should be allowed to tackle this single handedly, and I will say having people on hand to help me out did speed things up quite a bit. The potatoes ended up taking a really long time, so being able to delegate some of the tasks took some of the load off me. If possible, it would be a good idea to recruit a sous chef or two if you’re giving this a shot!

My taste testers were me, my mom, my grandparents, and my sister. The cookbook says this is meant to serve six people, and when everything was done, I was a little worried that we’d end up with either too much or too little food. As it turns out, we had just enough food for everyone to leave feeling satisfied, plus a few extra muffins. The potato chips went very quickly, and were probably the stand out hit of the meal. 

I said one of the reasons I picked Samantha’s Breakfast was because the menu items were pretty standard, and that’s very true: with the exception of the Saratoga potatoes, this is all food you see in American diners and on breakfast tables today. Most of the other breakfasts are a little more exotic for today’s palates, so those will probably end up being more exciting to review, but I can’t say I had any issues with these recipes. The omelet was very tasty, and I have to admit I’ve been thinking about when I’m going to try my hand at making a smaller one back in my apartment. 

Now, keep in mind this is just my feedback for Samantha’s Breakfast. Long time readers will know I’ve had some issues in the past with AG recipes either thanks to timing or just not coming out the way they were supposed to, so tackle other meals in these older cookbooks with that in mind. That said, if Samantha’s Breakfast was any indication, the breakfasts might definitely be worth trying out next time you feel like having a lot of people over for a tasty meal. I’m already looking forward to the next time I can tackle one of these menus!

Although which one I’d pick to do next is going to be tough!


  1. I would love to be a party planning Downtown Abbey society lady myself too, but unfortunately, I think in reality I would definitely be a clumsy help in the kitchen, à la You Rang M'Lord (if you know that British show) lol!
    This breakfast looks so good! I didn't know this about the history of potato chips! This is something I would like to try out myself, everything you made looks yummy, and I think this is do-able for me with my limited cooking skills :-).
    Samantha looks adorable, I love that outfit!

    1. I would definitely encourage giving it a shot if you're ever looking for a fancy, fussy breakfast! Remember, as Chef Gusteau says anyone can cook! ;D

  2. It all looks delicious and I'm glad it made such a good meal! Very interesting history about the potato chips! Omelets are pretty standard in my house, most often made for breakfast-for-dinner.

    1. I think they're a breakfast-for-dinner I should look into working into my regular routine! I really do like eggs but almost never think to eat them by themselves, which is silly. Might as well just do it, right?

  3. My brain thinks in party themes too! Sometimes we just have dinner themes. When we get really wild and crazy, we do movie, tv or book themed meals just because we can. It's like a contest to see who can come up with the best match to movie pairing and then, of course, we watch the movie while we eat/drink.

    I bet Julie's family might have made frittatas instead of omelets. I prefer making them because you use up leftover and NO FLIPPING (you cover the eggs while they cook to cook the tops).

    1. Oh that sounds like so much fun! What was your favorite theme you came up with? :D

  4. all looks scrumptious and I think you did a great job!

  5. I grew up learning how to cook from AG cookbooks. That said, I was an unsupervised kid in the kitchen learning how to cook. *not something I would recommend* I have had loads of issues with American Girl recipes in the past too. What I have begun doing more recently while looking back at the recipes, is googling the recipe to see if I can find something similar to make sure the recipe is standard and supposed to be the one in the cookbooks.

    There are some that come out great though! I learn how to make Samantha's cheese omelet when I was kid and I have always loved it! I wouldnt recommend using american cheese though. (I actually cant stand american cheese now) It always made me sick.

    The one recipe I wish I could get to turn out is Samantha's Jelly Biscuits. Have you ever gotten them to turn out?

    1. I've never made them, but they're on the list!