Sunday, November 02, 2008

Presidential Dinner I: The Entrees

All of this is thrown up in the air, since after the big Halloween party I went to last night I made some informal dinner plans with some friends. We'll be eating pasta before the results start rolling in. But these recipes aren't going by the wayside. I have plans to try them all over the next week or so. Just because most of them are attached to states with losing candidates, doesn't mean these are losing recipes.


JOHN McCAIN (Republican - AZ)

representing the Southwest - quesadilla

John McCain comes from the Southwest, a region with its own unique cuisine. Now I could be all "maverick-y" and just put an MRE here. Or I could put some tasty Vietnamese cuisine in this spot. Instead, let's just stick with the safe choice: Southwestern. Granted, a man of McCain's age might not be able to handle spicy, gassy food, but it can always be tamed down. It's also not terribly expensive to make, depending on what you are making.

Photo linked from Flickr user Paul Goyette

One of the easiest and cheapest Southwestern foods to make is the ever-versatile quesadilla. There are tons of recipes for quesadillas on the net, and there are tons of different ways to make them. I like this unusual one from the sadly-forgotten Food Network show How to Boil Water: a tasty though "less simple than they think" chicken and scallion quesadilla, also with beans. Another comes from Nigella Lawson, featuring ham.

For me, just about every quesadilla needs cheese, at the very least. From there you can take it wherever. When I want a fast quesadilla, I usually put about 1/2 c to 1 c on mine, depending on the size of the tortilla. I prefer corn tortillas for many things, but for quesadillas I often go with the large flour ones. My favorite fillings include chopped tomatoes, sautéed garlic and onions, and jalapeños or chipotle peppers (any will do). Whatever else is laying around gets thrown on top before the other tortilla goes on. I've used everything from chicken to spinach to venison, or three to four types of cheeses. Heat it at 350 for about 10 to 15 minutes, and top it with all manner of toppings: cilantro, chipotle sauce, guacamole, salsa, sour cream, etc. All are especially easy to chew and eat.

BARACK OBAMA (Democrat - IL; born - HI)

representing the Midwest - Shrimp de Jonghe

Different regional cuisines evoke different images: Pacific is "healthy", Southwest is "spicy", Southern is "homey", and our own Chesapeake cuisine is "crabby". When I think of Midwestern cuisine I think one word: "filling". No, Midwestern food is not known for being, um, slimming. "Rib-sticking" is more like it. That said, Obama's unique corner of the Midwest is the Chicago area, not exactly a culinary wasteland. I could suggest any number of famous dishes unique to the Windy City, many of which are easy to find in most cities: the Chicago-style dog - a hot dog surrounded on a big poppy seed bun with fresh tomato wedges, a pickle wedge, banana peppers, relish, chopped onions and mustard - is sold in some form at most places that sell hot dogs (Zack's dogs in the Harbor and White Marsh, Weenie World in Dundalk, and the Orange Julius down in Arundel Mills are just a few). Easier to find is the Chicago-style pizza. More than just deep dish, most Chicagoans swear by the kind they can only get at home. It's like us and our crabs.

I even found a heart-attack-inducing recipe for something called a "Horseshoe", which is native to Springfield, Illinois - an open-faced sandwich topped with a few hamburger patties, French fries and a thick, buttery cheese sauce. See, told ya' Midwestern food is not slimming. Makes Paula Deen seem like the host of that short-lived Low Carb and Lovin' It show.

Photo linked from Flickr user She Who Shall Not Be Named

Since I at least want to live to be the age of Obama's competitor, I'll go with something a little less unhealthy, not easy in the Midwest. One of the older recipes that just screams "CHICAGO" is a dish called shrimp deJonghe, which Wikipedia notes is "a casserole of whole peeled shrimp blanketed in soft, garlicky, sherry-laced bread crumbs". It's a bit more complicated than that. One recipe I found from Hallmark Magazine looks easier than most, but still has lots of ingredients, particularly two pounds of shrimp. You also need a few fresh herbs, including tarragon, parsley and chervil, and everything from freshly grated nutmeg to 1 1/2 cups of bread crumbs, to shallots to garlic to two sticks of butter. I will try this recipe sometime, though I'll have to wait for a group of people to eat it with me. It sounds wonderful but I'm afraid it'll kill me.

representing the
Pacific - Pineapple-Spamburger

Mind you, Barack Obama was born not in Illinois, but in Hawaii (despite rumors to the contrary). So he probably grew up eating a lot of Hawaiian food instead. When I think of Hawaiian cuisine, I often think of poi, that classic taro root dish that is not readily found outside of Polynesia. Seriously, you can buy bagged poi in Hawaii, but I've never seen it here, or in California. You can make your own, but taro is also nearly impossible to find in Maryland (the Latin American root vegetable yautía, which is more readily available at H-Mart, is often often cited as an acceptable substitute).

Photo linked from the Mental Floss website. The can shows another favorite Spam dish in Hawaii, spam musubi

The next things that comes to mind when I think of Hawaiian food are pork and pineapple. Easy enough to put together. But why not pair pineapple with Hawaii's most favorite potted meat product - Spam? Yes, Spam is incredibly popular in the Aloha State, and a simple Pineapple-Spamburger is just about the easiest dish to make. Just slice a big lump o' Spam into two to three slices, lengthwise, fry it up in a pan (or - ooooooh! - grill it), along with some whole pineapple slices, put them in a hamburger bun, and voila! The unofficial potted meat dish of Hawaii!

Image of Barack Obama linked from Wikipedia. Image of John McCain linked from the website Just Press