Delegation competes over who can better prepare starches, liquids and proteins

DFL U.S. Sen. Al Franken and Republican U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann serve themselves hotdish at the congressional delegation's annual hotdish competition, March 12, 2014 (Brett Neely/MPR News)

WASHINGTON - It's been a long, cold winter, not just in Minnesota but also in Washington, DC. Congress also continues to be wildly unpopular with the American public. How do those two pieces of information fit together? In the case of the Minnesota congressional delegation, it means it's time for another hotdish competition, a culinary throwdown meant to show that politics ends at the oven door.

The rules are pretty simple: "Each hotdish has to contain a starch, a protein and some liquid, either canned soup or a dairy product," announced Dan Meyer, the master of ceremonies.

The dishes ranged from the creatively titled  "Polar Vortex-Mex Hotdish" to the avante-garde "It's So Cold My Hotdish Froze" ice cream-based dessert hotdish. Gratuitous promotion of Minnesota products and ingredients is an integral part of the competition. The hotdish dessert, the brainchild of DFL U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, contained two different kinds of Crystal Sugar (made from Minnesota sugar beets), ground Golden Grahams cereal (a General Mills product), Land O' Lakes butter and Kemps milk.

So much hotdish, so much fat. (Brett Neely/MPR News)

In addition to artery-clogging, gut-busting food, the event offered a rare opportunity for political friends, enemies and frenemies to mingle. Former U.S. Rep. Vin Weber, now a power lobbyist (including for, ahem, the recently deposed Ukrainian government) and GOP strategist, and former U.S. Rep. Gerry Sikorski, a Democrat and also a lobbyist, judged the event. Weber also sits on the board of the Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC that's trying to unseat DFL U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan. But that history wasn't evident as the pair, who have known each other since the 1970s, shook hands and mugged for the cameras.

U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan and former U.S. Rep. Vin Weber. (Brett Neely/MPR News)

For the first time since DFL U.S. Sen. Al Franken started the competition in 2011, all ten members of the delegation took part. The national media, eager for the occasional feel-good story about this trench warfare Congress, came out in large numbers to cover the event.

Part way through the proceedings, all eight U.S. House members had to leave for votes while DFL Sen. Amy Klobuchar left early for a meeting with President Obama at the White House. That left Franken alone as Sikorski and Weber rendered their verdict.

The winner? For the second year in a row, 1st District U.S. Rep. Tim Walz won an engraved hotdish, this time for his "Turkey Trot Tater Tot Hotdish."

Franken jokingly accepted the prize on Walz's behalf, saying, "If Tim were here, I know he would thank me." The crowd laughed and began lining up for a mid-afternoon snack sure to send most mortals into a food coma.

If you're looking for new recipes and want to try one of these out, Franken's office has collected them here.


Walz's winning recipe courtesy of the Associated Press:

1 pound of fresh green beans, chopped into bite sized pieces

4 slices of Hormel bacon

1 clove of garlic, finely chopped

6 tablespoons butter

5-6 tablespoons flour

2 ½ cups Whole milk

½ cup half and half

2 teaspoons salt

3 cups Kraft shredded sharp cheddar cheese

1 pound Jennie-O ground turkey

½ teaspoon sage

1 teaspoon pepper

1 egg

1 tablespoon olive oil

½ cup green onions

¼ cup chopped onions

1 ½ cup chopped baby bella mushrooms washed and well dried

1 package tater tots

Pre-heat the oven to 375 F.

In a medium bowl, mix turkey, garlic, sage, green onions, egg, pepper and one teaspoon salt.

Using a 10-inch cast iron skillet, heat the olive oil and then cook the turkey to the well-done temperature of 165 F and place in 9-by-13-inch baking dish. (Browning similar as you would for ground beef).

Blanch the green beans by dropping them into boiling water for 2-3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove and plunge them into ice water. Once cool, drain completely and gently mix them in with the turkey in the dish.

Fry the bacon until crispy then chop into ¼-inch pieces. Add bacon into turkey mixture.

Heat 2 tablespoons of butter. As soon as you see that the butter foam has begun to subside, indicating it is hot enough, add the mushrooms. Stir continuously and gently with wooden spoon for 4-5 minutes or for about 2 minutes after browning point. Remove from heat and add to casserole dish.

In a sauce pan, melt remaining butter over medium heat. Little by little, sprinkle flour into the butter. Let cook for 2 minutes, then slowly whisk in the milk and half and half. Cook for 2 more minutes, add diced onions and salt and pepper. After a minute, stir in 2 ½ cups of cheese until melted.

Pour cheese mixture over the ingredients.

Scatter tater tots over the top and remaining cheese.

Bake 45 minutes or until golden brown.

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