Cookin’ Up a Storm: In the Kitchen with Senator Claire McCaskill

NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 12: U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill attends AOL Build Presents: "Plenty Ladylike" at AOL Studios In New York on August 12, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Rob Kim/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 12: U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill attends AOL Build Presents: "Plenty Ladylike" at AOL Studios In New York on August 12, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Rob Kim/Getty Images) /

At a time when television viewers are being taken into the homes of on-air personalities, we’ve been predominantly treated to bookshelves, awards, and trophies as a backdrop. One exception to that new rule has been former U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill and her now-famous kitchen.

“I watched as others broadcast from home and realized that many were in offices, in front of bookcases, etc,” said Senator Claire McCaskill when asked why she chose to use her kitchen as her at-home set of choice. “When I am home, I typically spend a lot of time in the kitchen. And I certainly am doing that now. So I thought, why not? It’s me, and it’s authentic”, she commented, adding that “it’s probably where I’m most comfortable.”

Whether it’s NBC anchor Lester Holt’s guitars or Arizona Cardinals’ coach Kliff Kingsbury’s glass-walled room with stunning mountain views, we’ve definitely been treated to variations on the home office theme, but there’s something fundamentally comfortable and welcoming about a kitchen and Claire McCaskill has captured that lightning in a bottle.

Garnering almost as much attention as the kitchen itself has been the sometimes-empty, lonely, sometimes-full cake dome that sits within view during her MSNBC appearances. While she may not attribute it to viewer peer pressure, the empty cake dome mentions have compelled the former senator to bake everything from an Ina Garten-inspired chocolate cake to a pineapple upside-down cake to most recently a 3-layer strawberry & lemon cake, prompting her to say that not only has she “formed a new relationship with yeast”, but that she’s also “having a blast kneading and punching down the dough.”

With a large family inevitably benefitting from Claire’s baking largesse, she said that it’s her husband “who feels like he’s won the lottery and is busy consuming everything that comes out of the oven.” Lacking a patent for Smell-a-Vision, we can only imagine what addictive aromas are wafting through McCaskill’s kitchen. And we don’t think it’s a stretch to suggest that her husband has viewers to thank for his bakery bounty.

Even a cursory peek at Senator McCaskill’s Twitter account pre-dating her kitchen-based appearances leads us to quickly recognize that the room has always held a special place in her heart. “I grew up under the feet of my mother and grandmother in the kitchen,” said McCaskill, adding “they were both strong, smart, independent women” who were “also wonderful cooks.” She goes on to say that “I’m happiest when I’m planning and creating large meals for our gatherings.”

“The most memorable moments in my kitchen were with my mother”, McCaskill reminisced, saying that “near the end of her life, she would sit at the kitchen counter and watch me cook. She never quit wanting to taste, advise, scold, and encourage”, then reflecting that “I am so blessed by those memories.”

Cherished sentiments aside, Claire is happy to share that she’s experienced “many epic fails” in her kitchen”, saying that “if you haven’t failed, you aren’t trying hard enough.” Asked to cite an example or two, McCaskill described a time when she made steak tartare for a party, “the room was dark, only candles on the hors’ d’oeuvres table”, continuing “one of my guests asked me for the dip recipe, I thought she was gonna faint when I told her it was raw meat”.

As we all continue to be challenged by a need to create enjoyable dishes working only with what we have at hand in our homes in many cases, it seemed only natural to ask Senator McCaskill how her McGyver-like skills are in the kitchen. She responded, “my mother and grandmother taught me some rules about cooking. Be brave, be creative, and taste, taste, taste”, adding that “I read cookbooks like novels and many of them are from my grandmother’s collection of hundreds.”

Learning that, we sought a specific example and Claire replied “I see a freezer/pantry challenge as nothing but fun” then adding “One day I had some almost over the hill rosemary, a small bag of frozen shrimp, and some lemons. So I made a very simple pasta with lemon butter and roasted the shrimp over the rosemary,” concluding “the sauce was just plain butter with the juice of a lemon. Tossed pasta in that, then added the roasted shrimp, the dried lemon zest from the lemon, a little bit of parmesan, and a very tired chopped scallion on top”, with the result being a dish that was “so clean and simple. It’s been one of my husband’s favorites during this cooking bonanza”.

While it’s obvious that Claire’s kitchen and food have always brought her great joy, we asked her about our collective new reality and how it’s changed her routine. She said “to say there’s been a change in the routine would be an understatement”, continuing “I have loads of energy and have led a life that embraced constant movement and activity”, before concluding that “my cooking has typically been only weekends and for family gatherings. Now I’m cooking every day and trying new things” before teasing us with “today I”m going to do a leg of lamb in my sous vide and finish it on the grill. Now to figure out the sides”.

Since we’ll cop to the fact that the lamb chops wouldn’t travel well, we can’t help but wish aloud that we could hop online and order the aforementioned 3-layer lemon & strawberry cake. That would look pretty good on our doorstep right about now.

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Who has become your new foodie inspiration? Have you found that food brings everyone around the table more in today’s current climate?