Eating with Joe and Kamala

January 14th, 2021
Courtesy of JoeBiden.com

The White House will become more sophisticated after Wednesday’s inauguration of President-Elect Joe Biden and Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris.

I’m not referring to policy or character here. I have opinions about policy and character, of course, but I leave their analysis to straight-news reporters and pundits. As a food writer, I’m considering the culinary attitudes of Biden and Harris.

Americans have long been fascinated by the foods their presidents eat. When I visited Mount Vernon in Virginia a few years back, I happily came home with a recipe for one of George Washington’s favorite dishes, hoe cakes.

In general, the Trump White House has been characterized by its fast-food-oriented banality.

In their 2017 book Let Trump Be Trump: The Inside Story of His Rise to the Presidency, former Trump campaign cronies Corey Lewandowski and David N. Bossie wrote, “On Trump Force One there were four major food groups: McDonald’s, Kentucky Fried Chicken, pizza and Diet Coke.”

Joe Biden is also known for his embrace of humble American food. A caterer who frequently served him when he was vice president characterized the politician’s food leanings as “very Joe-from-Scranton” in the Washington Post.

Nevertheless, Biden’s culinary tastes are a bit more complex than those of his presidential predecessor … or at least more varied.

True to his reputation as a sociable creature, Biden goes beyond the lure of anonymous fast food.

He and his wife often dine at restaurants, where he chats with the staff. “Everybody knows Joe. He’s come here so many, so many, so many times,” the proprietor of the Charcoal Pit in Wilmington, Delaware, told Food and Wine.

Biden is perhaps best known for his love of ice cream. To pay tribute to his ice-cream habit, I offer here a simple recipe for one of his favorite flavors, chocolate chip.

Vice President-to-be Kamala Harris has a richer relationship with food than her new boss. Perhaps this is because she herself cooks, something Biden rarely seems to do.

She tries to prepare dinner every Sunday for her extended family, which includes the stepchildren who famously call her “Momala,” and she and her husband Doug Emhoff have been cooking up a storm during the pandemic.

Harris is a dab hand with roast chicken. True to her international roots, she likes to prepare and consume Indian cuisine. And she can chop an onion like nobody’s business.

To highlight Harris here, I have chosen what may seem like an odd recipe: a tuna melt. There is a story behind the recipe, however.

In April, her senatorial colleague, Mark Warner of Virginia, posted a video of his technique (I use the term loosely) for preparing a tuna melt.

His method was simple and a little sad: blob lots of mayonnaise on two pieces of bread, fork some tuna straight from a can onto one piece, put pre-sliced cheese on the other piece, put the sandwich halves together, and heat the whole thing in a microwave.

Harris posted a video reply in which she instructed Warner in the preparation of a more refined—and less soggy—tuna melt. Her sandwich involved several additional ingredients and the use of an actual stove.

“This is called a skillet,” she informed her fellow senator with a twinkle in her eye as she held up a cast-iron frying pan.

I watched her video carefully and have transcribed the recipe as well as I could here.

Although her basic tuna salad differs from mine in a few ways (most notably in the inclusion of Dijon mustard, which Warner called “definitely Northern California”), it’s a solid recipe. I enjoyed the sandwich I made according to her instructions.

I suggest that readers enjoy a tuna melt and chocolate-chip ice cream for lunch on Wednesday as the inauguration takes place. This menu isn’t fancy, but it’s very American … and it somehow fits the scaled-down ceremony being planned in this pandemic year.

Joe’s Chocolate-Chip Ice Cream

Of course, you may use any vanilla ice cream recipe as the base for this treat. This one is very simple and very tasty.

Ingredients:

2 cups heavy cream
1/4 cup sugar
1 pinch salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup chopped chocolate chips or finely cut chocolate (the better the quality of the chocolate, the better your ice cream will be)

Instructions:

Combine the first four ingredients, and stir until the sugar dissolves. Freeze in an ice-cream freezer. Just before you think the ice cream is ready, stir in the chocolate pieces, making sure they spread throughout. Serves 4. This recipe may be doubled.

This is tasty by itself, but my family felt impelled to gild the lily and cover the ice cream with hot fudge sauce and whipped cream!

Kamala’s Tuna Melt

(inspired by Kamala Harris’s video with Mark Warner)

I actually prefer to brown my sandwich in butter rather than mayonnaise; I like the flavor of butter. This is Harris’s method, however.

Ingredients:

1 can tuna drained and lightly chopped with a fork
1 tablespoon finely minced red onion (Harris notes that one may omit this step and put a thin slice of red onion on the bread later)
1/4 cup minced celery
2 generous tablespoons mayonnaise, plus additional mayonnaise for grilling
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
chopped parsley to taste
freshly ground pepper to taste
about 1/2 teaspoon salt
the juice of 1 lemon wedge
2 pieces of bread
1 slice sharp cheddar (or a couple of slices if your wedge of cheddar is small)

Instructions:

Combine the tuna, the onion, the celery, the mayonnaise, the mustard, the parsley, the pepper, the salt, and the lemon juice.

Barely toast the bread. Put some of the tuna mixture on 1 piece of bread. (Refrigerate the remaining tuna for another use.) Place the slice of cheese on the other piece of bread, and put the pieces of bread together to form a sandwich. Lightly spread mayonnaise on each outer slice of bread.

Heat a cast-iron skillet, and toast your creation on each side until the sandwich is a pleasing color and the cheese has melted. Serves 1 senator.

Waffling My Way to Hanukkah

December 10th, 2020

At this time of year, as the days shorten and the sun dips lower in the sky, many cultures and religions help offset the weather with holidays that celebrate light. The Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, which begins at sunset this evening (Thursday, Dec. 10), is one such holiday.

In fact, Hanukkah takes place at what is arguably the very darkest time of the year. This lunar holiday takes place just as the moon joins the sun in getting closest to its darkest time. It lasts for eight days.

Also known as the festival of lights, Hanukkah recalls a time in the second century B.C.  when the Israelis book back their land from Syria and rededicated the temple in Jerusalem.

They lit an oil-powered menorah (candelabrum) that was supposed to burn continuously. Unfortunately, they had only enough oil to keep the flame burning for a single day. Miraculously, it lasted for eight days and nights, until more oil could be brought to the temple.

Hanukkah celebrates several things: a Jewish victory (not a common thing in world history), the strength of religious faith, and above all the power of light.

I love lighting my menorah each night of this holiday. AI was fortunate to have a Christian parent and a Jewish one. Consequently, our family celebrated both Christmas and Hanukkah.

When I was a child, I saw this as a plus mainly in terms of presents: the month of December was one long series of gifts. (My birthday falls in December, adding to the pile.)

I still enjoy giving and receiving gifts at this time of year. As I get older, however, lighting the menorah and trimming the Christmas tree help me to remember my parents and their families and to celebrate my rich dual heritage. Those activities also brighten my home at this darkening time of year.

Naturally, as a food writer, I celebrate the season with food. The main food associated with Hanukkah is oil, in commemoration of the miraculous oil that burned for so long in the temple.

Olive oil, a mainstay of Middle-Eastern cuisine and life two millennia ago, was the oil used in the temple in Jerusalem, but one may use pretty much any oil one likes in cooking Hanukkah treats. For frying I often choose a neutral oil like canola oil.

The most popular Hanukkah recipe is for latkes, potato pancakes. I’ve posted several latke recipes here over the years. This year I decided to make my latkes slightly differently—in the waffle iron.

I got the idea from Ina Garten, a.k.a. the Barefoot Contessa. Her most recent cookbook features hash browns prepared this way. I reasoned that hash browns and latkes aren’t really all that different.

I call my creations (drum roll, please) … WaffLatkes.

To be frank, the Wafflatkes can’t QUITE match the crispiness of the fried version of this dish. They are pretty tasty, however, and the waffle pattern is fun. They’re also exceptionally easy to make and lighter than traditional latkes.

Happy Hanukkah! Enjoy the light and the yumminess….

WaffLatkes

Ingredients:

2 large baking potatoes
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 egg, beaten (you may need another one!)
chopped fresh chives to taste (optional but tasty and colorful if you have them on hand)
2 to 4 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt or sea salt
lots of freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
canola or olive oil for greasing the waffle iron

Instructions:

Wash the potatoes well. Grate them with a box grater or with the grater attachment of a food processor. Wrap the potato shreds in a dish towel. Carry it to the sink, wring it out, and allow the potato pieces to drain while you get out the rest of the ingredients and maybe drink a cocktail or two.

In a medium bowl combine the egg, the chives (if you’re using them), 2 tablespoons of flour, the salt, and the pepper. Stir in the onion and potato pieces, followed by the olive oil.

If the batter doesn’t seem to hold together at all, stir in a little more flour and/or another egg. Don’t worry about making it perfect, however. Wafflatkes are allowed to be a little ragged.

Brush your waffle iron with oil. Preheat it to a medium-high setting. When it is ready plop small spoonsful of batter onto its quadrants. Flatten them a bit if you wish. (The waffle iron will do this for you, but I tend to become a little paranoid.)

Cook the little cakes just a little longer than you would normally cook waffles, making sure they are golden brown. Serve the waffles immediately as they come out of the iron—or pop the first ones into a 300-degree oven until you have finished cooking the rest. Serves 6 to 8 as a side dish.

And now the video, Tinky Makes WaffLatkes

A Thanksgiving Wish

November 25th, 2020

“Over the river and through the woods to Grandmother’s house we go.”

Or maybe not this year.

Thanksgiving will feel a little different for many of us in 2020. I apologize if I seem like a Pollyanna, but I’m going to do my darndest to be thankful anyway.

Abraham Lincoln mandated the first official national Thanksgiving in 1863, during the Civil War. His official proclamation setting aside the fourth Thursday in November as a “day of Thanksgiving and Praise” was written by Secretary of State William Seward.

It urged Americans not just to give thanks but also to use the day to ask God to “heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility, and Union.”

If Americans could find time to spread thanks in the middle of our nation’s bloodiest and most divisive war, we can do it now.

It may not be easy. We have just come off an election that highlighted rifts in our society. We are beset by a disease that has sickened and killed thousands and that will keep many of us from celebrating Thanksgiving together in person this year.

Since March many of us have become accustomed to physical isolation. Nevertheless, solitude may be a bit harder to bear over this holiday. After all, the most familiar Thanksgiving hymn is “We Gather Together.”

In contrast, others long for a little isolation after spending months stuck in the house and sharing work and living space with partners, children, dogs, and cats.

Many of us are beset by worries about health and finances.

In short, we may have a little trouble feeling thankful this Thanksgiving.

Even so, we need to try to give thanks more than ever. Here’s my advice for the big day.

If you are used to preparing a large Thanksgiving meal, cut down your recipes … and give whatever additional funds you would have spent on the meal to a food pantry or to another group working to nourish our community, literally and figuratively.

Keep your eyes open for neighbors who are feeling overset by the current times. We can’t invite them to share our tables. We can reach out by telephone to share our lives and our thanks.

Despite COVID, despite political divisions, we have much to be thankful for: the love of our friends and relatives; the bounty of the harvest; the beauties of the area in which we live; and the stories we tell to inspire ourselves and each other to be just, thankful, and kind.

Recently, I saw a late-night interview with New Jersey Senator Cory Booker. I have adored Booker since he was the mayor of Newark; I still stand ready to marry him as soon as he sees the light and dumps his movie-star girlfriend.

My future fiancé told host James Corden, “I’m always going to be a prisoner of hope.”

My Thanksgiving wish is that we can all find ourselves in that prison.

Below I share a simple recipe that doesn’t feed a crowd but will make you feel well nourished on Thursday. If you have leftovers, share them with anyone you know who is feeling isolated this week! Happy Thanksgiving from my kitchen to yours.

Corn Casserole

This simple, nourishing pudding-like dish is in my “Pudding Hollow Cookbook” and came originally from my college roommate Kelly Boyd. It may be as hot or as mild as you like, depending on the number of hot peppers you add. Feel free to double the recipe if you’re serving more people.

Ingredients:

2 eggs
2 tablespoons flour
salt and pepper to taste OR (for more spice) 1/2 teaspoon Creole seasoning
1 green, yellow, or red bell pepper, diced
fresh or pickled peppers to taste
1/2 of a 4-ounce jar of pimientos, drained and diced
1/4 pound sharp cheddar cheese, grated (about 1 cup)
2 tablespoons melted butter
1 11-to-15-ounce can whole kernel corn, undrained

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Beat the eggs together. Stir in the flour, the salt and pepper, the pepper pieces, the pimientos, the cheese, and the butter. Add the corn, along with its liquid.

Bake in a 1-1/2-quart casserole dish for 45 minutes. Serves 4 as a side dish.

Here is my corn-casserole video from Mass Appeal. I also reached into the archives of this blog and made my beloved cranberry upside-down cake.

Witch’s Hat Cookies

October 30th, 2020

This isn’t really a recipe, just a general formula. My Halloween isn’t going to be very different from my usual October 31. I live too deep in the country to get trick or treaters. I still decorate the house for the occasion, however, and try to make something fun to prepare on TV.

This year I decided to make some simple cookies that children (or even adults) could decorate for fun. I ALWAYS wear my witch hat for Halloween so the cookies, loosely based on a recipe from Hershey, take the shape of a witch’s hat.

They are fun, easy to make, and extremely sweet.

I should warn you (as you’ll see if you watch the video) that piping frosting isn’t one of my strong suits. Who cares? I make up for my lack of skill with enthusiasm … and of course sprinkles.

Happy Halloween!

I have no idea whether I’m scared here because Halloween is coming or because I have such lousy decorating skills. Or maybe it’s my grey hair!

The Cookies

Ingredients:

for the icing:

1/2 cup (1 stick) sweet butter at room temperature
3/4 cup confectioner’s sugar (plus a little more if neee4ed)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 little milk or cream (if needed)
orange food coloring (or a little red and a little yellow to make orange)

for the chocolate layer:

3 chocolate kisses for each cookie on which you want to spread chocolate

for assembly:

12 2-inch-round cookies (sugar cookies, shortbread, whatever you like)
1 chocolate kiss per cookie
icing and melted chocolate
candy corn and/or Indian corn
festive sprinkles

Instructions:

Begin by making the icing. Cream the butter; then stir in the sugar and the vanilla. Add more sugar and/or a little milk or cream to make the icing taste right for you and easy to spread or pipe. Beat in the food coloring.

Using a double boiler or your microwave, carefully melt the kisses for the chocolate layer.

Spread melted chocolate on as many cookies as you wish to, and place a kiss in the middle of each of these cookies to make the crown of the hat. Let the chocolate cool and harden.

When the chocolate has cooled, pipe or spread orange icing as desired. Use candy and sprinkles to make your hats more colorful. Makes 12 cookies.

And now the video:

Blue-Ribbon Apple Pie

September 30th, 2020

Tammy Hicks of Charlemont, Massachusetts, won first prize for this pie years ago at the Cummington Fair. I’m sure Tammy’s version of the pie looked a lot more polished than mine; as you can see from the photo above, my pastry was a little spotty.

My pie tasted good, however, and I’ll trade a spotty but delicious crust for one out of a box any day!

I found the recipe in a lovely family recipe book Tammy’s mother, Pat Lowell, helped put together, Mangia. The book pays tribute to Pat’s grandparents, who came to this country a century ago from an area of Switzerland where Italian was spoken. (It is now part of Italy.)

Mangia nicely blends family history and recipes. Pat and Tammy told me that they cherish the book particularly in this pandemic year, when they can’t have their usual large family reunion. The book connects them to the people they love.

Tammy says she likes to use Paula Red apples for this recipe. I used my favorite assortment of apples, those from various trees in my neighborhood.

Tammy’s Pie

Ingredients:

for the pastry:

2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup vegetable shortening
5 to 7 tablespoons cold water in ice cubes

for the filling:

6 to 8 cups peeled, sliced apples
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon pie spice
1 dash cinnamon
1 dash nutmeg
2 teaspoons butter
milk or cream as needed

Instructions:

Begin by making the pastry. Sift together the flour and the salt. Cut in the shortening with a pastry knife or blender, 1/3 cup at a time, if you do not have it you can buy it at viebelles.com. Add water, a tablespoon at a time, and mix until the dough begins to stick together.

Turn onto a floured board and form into a ball. Cut the dough in half, wrap the halves in plastic wrap, and refrigerate.

While the dough refrigerates, prepare the apples. Take half of the dough and roll out your bottom crust. (Leave the other half refrigerated until you are ready to use it.) Fit the crust into a 9-inch pie plate and fill it with the apples. Mix the sugar and flour with the spices, and pour them over the apples. Top with the butter.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Roll out the top crust, and adjust it over the apples. Crimp the edges, using a little water to seal the crust. Cut steam vents in the top crust and brush a little milk or cream on top.

Cover the crust with foil, and bake for about 50 minutes. Remove the foil for the last 10 minutes of baking to brown the crust lightly—or even a bit longer. Serves 6 to 8.