The White House is more sophisticated now that President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris are in charge — and I’m not referring to political policy. I have opinions about that, of course, but I leave policy 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.”
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, Deleware told the magazine 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.
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 enjoy 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.
Of course, you may use any vanilla ice cream recipe as the base for this treat. This one is very simple and very tasty.
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)
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 four. 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.
I actually prefer to brown my sandwich in butter rather than mayonnaise; I like the flavor of butter. This is Harris’ method, however.
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
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)
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 one 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 one senator.
Tinky Weisblat is the award-winning author of “The Pudding Hollow Cookbook,” “Pulling Taffy,” and “Love, Laughter, and Rhubarb.” Visit her website, TinkyCooks.com.
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