A tribute to George Frederick Handel

by Don Bingham
Mike Kemp photo

The Arkansas Governor’s Mansion comes alive each year with a chosen theme from the First Lady, and décor and music, both inside and out, carry through this theme with brilliant color and construction. 

Beginning the first of November, the Mansion is closed for public tours and events while truckloads of decorations are brought in from storage units as both construction and decorator crews begin transforming the Mansion, its grounds and especially the Janet Huckabee Grand Hall, into a wonderland of Christmas delights!


The December 2016 Christmas theme presented “A Tribute to Handel.” The Grand Hall was transformed in European Cathedral fashion, with larger than life angels and sculptures, and a pipe organ with floor to ceiling pipes. 

The season began with a Mansion Art Gallery showing of award-winning artwork from the Fellowship Bible Church of Little Rock, featuring pieces from their annual art show. Artwork was taken from the various themes from Handel’s Oratorio, “The Messiah.” A performance from the Christmas portion of “The Messiah” was also presented through a joint effort of Fellowship Bible Church and the Ouachita Baptist University Music Department. Professional artists and volunteers began in November to create this masterpiece of the holidays for all of Arkansas to enjoy.

There is no shortage of culinary treats during the holidays, and here are some of the recipes you might find on any given day at the official executive residence of the Governor and First Lady of the great state of Arkansas!

Green Beans with Almonds

8 ounces bacon, diced
6 ounces slivered almonds
2 bags (14 ounces each) frozen whole green beans
1 red bell pepper, cut into strips
2 teaspoons garlic powder or granulated garlic
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Sauté bacon and almonds in skillet over medium heat until bacon is crisp, being careful not to burn almonds. Add green beans and bell pepper. Season with garlic, salt and black pepper. Cook until green beans are tender.

Yield: 8 servings

Apple and Squash Soup

1 pound butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into pieces
3 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and cut into pieces
1 medium onion, chopped
1/4 teaspoon rosemary
1/4 teaspoon marjoram
3 cans (10 3/4 ounces each) chicken broth
4 cups water
2 slices white bread
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup whipping cream
Garnish: whipping cream

Combine squash, apples, onion, rosemary, marjoram, chicken broth, water and bread in a large saucepan, salt and pepper to taste. Bring mixture to a boil and simmer, uncovered, 45 minutes; cool.

Place half of mixture at a time in a blender and puree. Return to saucepan and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and stir in cream. Garnish, if desired. Serve hot.

Soup can be made ahead and refrigerated after it is pureed. Add cream when ready to serve. 

Yield: 10 cups 

Rice and Fruit Dressing

4 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup butter or margarine
1/4 cup lemon juice
2 cups uncooked brown rice
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup chopped dried apricots
1/2 cup chopped onion

Bring chicken broth, butter and lemon juice to a boil. Stir in rice, raisins, apricots and onion. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover and cook 1 hour or until rice is tender. 

Yield: 8 to 10 servings

Chocolate Sugarplum Cheese Ball

2 packages (8 ounces each) cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/3 cup cocoa
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1/2 cup finely chopped dried figs
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup finely chopped dried apricots
2 tablespoons almond extract
1 package (8 ounces) pecans, finely chopped
Garnish: chopped dried apricots
Gingersnaps and/or chocolate graham crackers to serve

Beat cream cheese, butter, sugar, cocoa and corn syrup with an electric mixer until creamy and smooth. Add figs, raisins, apricots and almond extract; mix thoroughly. Shape into a ball and coat with finely chopped pecans. Garnish, if desired. Serve with gingersnaps and/or chocolate graham crackers. 

Yield: one 7-inch cheese ball

Hearts of Romaine with Cranberry Vinaigrette

1/2 cup whole berry cranberry sauce
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1/2 teaspoon grated orange zest
2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
1 1/2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon honey
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup olive oil
Hearts of romaine lettuce
Garnish: toasted sliced almonds and dried cranberries

Stir cranberry sauce, vinegar, orange zest, orange juice, mustard, honey and salt until well blended in a bowl. Stir in olive oil, 1 tablespoon at a time, until well blended. Pour dressing over lettuce. Garnish, if desired, with apple peel coiled into an elegant rosette.

Yield: 1 cup vinaigrette

Parmesan Encrusted Salmon Fillets

1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
4 salmon fillets (4 to 6 ounces each)
2 tablespoons olive oil
Key Lime Beurre Blanc (see recipe)

Combine flour, cheese, salt and pepper. Cover salmon with cheese mixture until well coated. Sauté salmon in olive oil over medium heat until golden brown on both sides. 

Serve with Key Lime Beurre Blanc.

Yield: 4 servings

Key Lime Beurre Blanc

2 cups white wine
1 whole onion, cut julienne style
1 tablespoon whipping cream
1 cup cold butter, cut into pieces
Juice of 1 lemon
3 tablespoons key lime juice

Cook wine and onion in a saucepan over medium heat until wine is reduced to 3 to 4 tablespoons. Add cream and cook 1 minute. Whisk in butter until melted. Stir in lemon and key lime juice. Serve sauce over salmon.

If making sauce ahead, do not refrigerate or reheat. Keep at room temperature. 

Yield: 2 1/4 cups sauce


Recognized throughout the state as an accomplished chef, Don Bingham has authored cookbooks, presented television programs and planned elaborate events. Today, he is the administrator for the Governor’s Mansion.


Don Bingham
Latest posts by Don Bingham (see all)