Hail to the chef
An Obama-Romney cookoff

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Mitt's favorite meatloaf cakes.

Note: The following article does not necessarily reflect the political views of either the authors or the Wisconsin Gazette. Really.

President Barack Obama and contender Mitt Romney are going hammer and tongs in their race for chief executive of the United States. The heat, as they say, is on. As food writers we felt it also was time to turn up the temperature in the First Kitchen.

It’s difficult to picture Michelle Obama, after a day of First Lady duties, or Ann Romney, fresh from dressage practice, strapping on an apron and heading into the kitchen. But both have come forward with widely touted recipes they say are family favorites. In light of next month’s presidential election, we tested several to see what we might expect from the head of the next, ahem, Kitchen Cabinet.

Please note that our taste buds are bi-partisan and our judgments objective and based both on the dishes’ flavor and nutritional value.

That said, let’s start with cookies. We matched Mrs. Obama’s white and dark chocolate chip cookies against Mrs. Romney’s M&M cookies. This sounded like a pairing of equal weights, and the end result varied only based on personal tastes.

Mrs. Obama’s cookies used all the basic ingredients – flour, baking soda, salt, unsalted butter, egg, vegetable shortening, walnuts, various white and brown sugars and various chips, including mint chocolate chips. As cookies go, these were perfectly fine, although the mint caught us off guard now and then, and not always in a pleasant way.

Mrs. Romney’ cookies used many of the same ingredients, but in place of flour, baking soda and shortening substituted crunchy peanut butter, rolled oats and Karo syrup. The flavors proved more or less comparable, but Mrs. Romney’s cookies were healthier because of their content, and the M&Ms made them more colorful.

Next we moved on to main dishes, pairing Sasha and Malia Obama’s Favorite Mac and Cheese with Mitt’s Favorite Meatloaf Cakes. (Editor's note: Mitt Romney garnered the coveted endorsement of the burned-out, drugged-addled 1970s hard-rock musician Meat Loaf.) Here a clear front-runner emerged.

As locavores and champions of healthy eating, we applaud Mrs. Obama’s White House garden and emphasis on healthy foods. Such an effort is long overdue, but we don’t think the Mac and Cheese will take the American people very far in that direction.

In her attempts to make traditional comfort food healthier, the First Lady added cauliflower to the dish. The cauliflower, which is steamed, then pureed and blended with a cup of skimmed or 2-percent milk, results in a thin sauce with a vegetal smell that does little to bind the elements together. Whatever health benefits may be gained are undone by adding a pound of cheese and half-cup of buttered bread crumbs.

Mrs. Romney’s Mitt-loaf cakes are prepared in the standard meatloaf fashion, but with a quarter-cup of lemon juice added to the mix. The accompanying sauce of ketchup, mustard, allspice, brown sugar and cloves – which sounded like an odd combination – actually worked very well, giving the American standard a holiday flare.

Voters will decide who occupies the First Kitchen come January. But in hopes of helping the American people enjoy a healthier mac & cheese, we’ve included our own recipe for consideration, using some of our favorite cheeses from Wisconsin’s Carr Valley Cheese:

Jean’s Designer Mac and Cheese

Ingredients:

4 cups skim milk

2 bay leaves

½ tsp. nutmeg

4 T. cornstarch

1 lb. Carr Valley 10-year old cheddar

1 cup Car Valley Ba-Ba Bleu

2 fresh whole tomatoes or

2-15oz cans diced tomatoes

1 lb. penne pasta or large pasta shells

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Cook pasta according to package directions. Rinse in cool water and set aside.

Put 4 cups of skim milk in a saucepan. Whisk in the 4 T. cornstarch until smooth. Add the bay leaves and nutmeg. Heat over medium heat while stirring constantly (to avoid burning the milk) until mixture thickens (about 5 minutes). Set aside.

Grate the cheddar cheese (you should have about 4 cups).

Spray a 3-quart casserole dish with pan spray. Place 1/3 of the pasta in the bottom of the dish. Pour 1/3 of the white sauce over the pasta, then sprinkle 1 cup cheddar cheese over the sauce. If using fresh tomatoes, slice them and place 1/3 of the slices over the cheddar cheese. If using canned tomatoes, pour 2/3 of one can over sauce. Repeat layers until pasta, sauce, cheese and tomatoes are used. Top with 1-cup bleu cheese. 

Bake in 425-degree oven for 30-40 minutes. The dish is done when the cheese is hot and bubbling.

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