For some reason the idea of "American" food conjures up images of tater tot casserole and Velveeta cheese dip. Not that there's anything wrong with that (I love me some processed cheese food now and again), but we were thinking more Tex-mex and less white trash.
For the appetizer, we discussed a few options: deviled eggs & buffalo wings being a couple. We decided on potato skins. Everyone loves potatoes, so potatoes with cheese & bacon would be a hit! They turned out great - crispy on the outside. Salty and cheesy on the inside. These were a nice touch of Americana and a nod to bar food.
For salad, I wanted to go steakhouse retro. Iceberg wedges with blue cheese dressing.
For the main course, we made two different chilis - one vegetarian and one meat chili. The meat chili wasn't a true Texas-style chili since it included beans. We kind of ad libbed the recipe. We have a great recipe from Gavin's mom and read a good article in Fine Cooking awhile ago too. It ended up including everything but the kitchen sink: onions, red peppers, garlic, celery, green chilis, beans (black, kidney, pinto), beef broth, canned tomatoes, tomato sauce, cumin, cinnamon sticks, bay leaves, cloves, cayenne, salt & pepper and lots of chili powder. I made a trip to World Spice Merchants and they recommended a chipotle chili powder. It was perfect and added tons of flavor.
The trick to chili is to make it in advance. I started soaking the beans on Thursday night and made the chili Friday afternoon. Then, I simmered it nearly all day Saturday.
Cornbread is always a good partner to chili, so I made 3 batches of crunchy & sweet cornbread from the Moosewood cookbook.
For dessert I was looking forward to making pies. Nothing is more American than apple pie. The thing is, I sort of lost my touch a few years ago. I have slowly been getting it back though. I found a new crust recipe, which has helped. A recent issue of Cook's Illustrated had a recipe for "foolproof" pie crust. It calls for vodka which is kind of madness but also pretty brilliant. Anyways, The crust was flaky and rich. For the apples I used Jonagolds. Our friend Billie "aka the pie queen" and her daughter made pies for our wedding and she always uses Jonagolds. They were perfect.
But, I couldn't seem to stop at one dessert. When I started planning the menu and was thumbing through cookbooks and magazines I came across cheesecake. If anything competes with apple pie for being more American, it may be cheesecake.