It is a quandary: What to serve Tuesday night. Do not expect 2020 to suddenly be any kinder to us. It will be a long night and we will all need substances to hold up for what may very well lead into the following day/weeks/months, all spiked with the possibility of fire and brimstone.
I read this engrossing piece in The New York Times the other day about how dark and fraught the election for Abraham Lincoln’s first term was. Throughout the campaign, Democrats called for blood-filled streets in case Lincoln won. (There were two other candidates: Stephen Douglas for the Constitutional Union Party, and William Bell for the Whig Party. The voting results were pretty interesting. See postscript below.) The opposite happened: Blood stayed in citizens’ veins after all their ballots were accurately counted and the transfer of power was fairly peaceful. Yes, the Civil War started a month later but that’s another matter. At least the country had a duly elected, supremely competent president who preserved our union. The current candidate who often compares himself to Lincoln will hopefully take note of the peaceful transfer of power bit in this story.
But first, the menu to be served at my house on Tuesday night. The dishes need to be, above all else, comforting and, if not strictly healthy, deeply delicious. Also soft with no need for sharp objects to cut. I thought of pulling out complicated recipes to have something else to focus on rather than droning news stations but who has the energy anymore? The resulting bill of fare leans heavily on the familiar, made with ingredients already on hand, and paired with whatever liquor and wine is still in the house.
Election Night Menu
A medley of small-batch finger foods: Pretzels, baby carrots, cheddar-flavored rice cakes, Triscuits and whatever cheese is around.
Suggested appertif: Beer or in-memoriam James Bond dry martini, shaken not stirred.
African-American inspired Chicken Stew with Peanut Sauce (adapted from Soup: A Way of Life by Barbara Kafka)
Buttermilk biscuits from local bakery (a cheating splurge)
Suggested wine pairing: A rich Cote du Rhone
Chocolate layered cake with chocolate butter cream frosting made by the same bakery where the bread was bought
Baked apples with vanilla ice cream
Brother’s homemade lethal limoncello
Anything 100 proof
Leftover dessert and/or Halloween candy
A pillow, tissues, anti-anxiety meds, emotional support pet, blanket big enough to hide under, pots to bang on if your candidate wins, throat soothers for shouters, religious amulets, friend on speed dial who is more rational and saner than you.
Chicken Stew with Peanut Butter
Serves about 4. The stew freezes well, making it highly recommended to triple the measurements to have on hand for whenever we can have parties again. It’s also excellent for treating colds and fever but not for delicate stomachs since it’s very spicy.
2 tablespoons peanut oil
1 small onion, coarsly chopped
One 3-pound chicken cut into serving pieces
2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
3/4 cup crunchy homemade peanut butter (recipe follows) or store-bought (I use Skippy chunk)
3 cups homemade chicken stock or good quality store-bought
3 medium cloves garlic, smashed, peeled, and finely chopped
1 medium dried hot red pepper or 1/4 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled, cut into quarters
3/4 pound spinach, stemmed, washed well, and torn into pieces
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, or to taste
Hot red pepper sauce, to taste
Heat the oil over medium heat in a large stock pot. Stir in the onion and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Season the chicken with 1/2 teaspoon salt and pepper to taste, add to the onions, and cook, partially covered for 8 minutes. Stir the chicken, turning the pieces over, and cook, partially covered, for 7 minutes more.
While the chicken is cooking, in a medium bowl stir together the peanut butter and 1 cup stock until smooth. Stir the remaining stock. Combine the garlic and red pepper and pound or chop as fine as possible–almost to a paste–using a mortar and pestle or a knife. Stir in the garlic.
Stir the stock mixture into the pot. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer partially covered for 10 minutes.
Stir in the sweet potatoes. Poke the chunks down into the pot so the potato and chicken are covered by the liquid. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer, partially covered for 15 to 18 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender.
Stir in the spinach and cook until wilted. Season with remaining salt and pepper to taste, lemon juice and hot red pepper sauce.
The chicken can be left on the bones, the skin on or off, or it can be skimmed out of the soup, removed the bone and the skin discarded, the meat torn into bite-size pieces and returned to the stew.
How to make peanut butter
2 cups roasted unsalted peanuts
1/4 cup peanut oil
Kosher salt to taste (optional)
Coarsely grind the peanuts in a food processor or blender just until they start to become oily. For the food processor, pour in the oil while the machine is running and continue to process until the desired consistency is achieved. For blender, add in the oil and pulse the machine until desired consistency. Add salt to your liking. Keeps for two weeks.
4 tablespoons brown sugar
about 1/4 cup of raisins
wine–red or white to simmer or use water
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Core and dig a hole in each apple to about half way in. Place in baking dish and pour in enough liquid to be half way up the apples. Bake for about an hour. Be sure not to cook them until they’re too soft. You want the apple to retain its shape but be soft enough to give way easily under a spoon.
Serve warm with ice cream.
Option: Pour a tablespoon of warm brandy or rum.
Postscript: Final Electoral Vote Tally for 1860 Presidential Election
When the votes were tallied, Lincoln had earned 180 electoral votes, Breckinridge 72, Bell 39, and Douglas 12. Douglas, however, placed second in the popular vote, earning 29.5 percent to Lincoln’s 39.8 percent. Breckinridge earned only 18.1 percent, with Bell claiming 12.6 percent.
Hindley, Meredith. “The Man Who Came in Second.” Humanities, vol. 31, no 6, Nov./Dec., 2010