At the March of Dimes Gourmet Gala Cook-Off

For Wisconsin Napoleons, Just Add Cheese

(Ralph Alswang - Ralph Alswang)
By Marcia Kramer
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 5, 2006

Put aprons on members of Congress, and you can be certain that their recipes will showcase home-state products. That's true even if the state connection is somewhat obscure, an outright stretch or involves fruit, like Michigan apples this time of year, that is not available.

No matter. It was all for a good cause, and the 37 celebrity chefs -- five Cabinet secretaries joined the congressional cooks -- raised $1.2 million for the March of Dimes National Capital Area Chapter at its annual cook-off last week at the National Building Museum.

Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) explained the relevance of his Kansas Quesadillas this way: First, Hispanics make up 55 percent of the population of Dodge City, his home town. If that's not enough, remember the old "Gunsmoke" TV series, which was set in Dodge City? "Whenever you see them ride out of town," Roberts said, "Miss Kitty would say, 'Matt, where are you going now? You be careful.' He'd have his knapsack full of quesadillas."


"Well-known fact."

A fellow Kansan, Rep. Todd Tiahrt (R), offered up Aloha Wichita, a spirited salsa of mango chunks, lime, cilantro and just enough ginger to give it bite. But "aloha"? "You have to make your own 'aloha' when you're in Wichita," his wife Vicki cheerfully said. (Judges gave their dish the award for Easiest Preparation.)

Sen. Christopher S. Bond (R-Mo.) worked a Missouri delicacy into his Fishing Trip Gravalax, which he's been making, and consuming, during fishing trips to Alaska for 30 years: "When you go fishing, you have an ice chest. You take along some salt, some sugar, a little other seasoning, a lot of dill. You put two fillets of salmon with the skin side out in the ice chest, and you have to weigh it down. It so happens that a six-pack of Budweiser weighs almost exactly five pounds. So you put your six-pack on it in the ice chest, turn it every day for five days. Then you eat the salmon and wash it down with the weight." (For his resourcefulness, he and his wife Linda got the Health and Happiness Award.)

Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.) paid tribute to the dairy industry in layered hors d'oeuvres made by his wife Cheryl. The stacks of goat cheese, portobello mushrooms and roasted red bell peppers were seasoned with tarragon and garlic and topped with cheddar cheese. "After my husband thought of the name 'Patriot Act,' " Cheryl Sensenbrenner said, "I figured I could call this 'Farmers' Napoleons.' " (It was good enough to win Best in Show; see recipe, at right.)

Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings tied her sweet, flavorful chili to a cause rather than a state. She rearranged the list of ingredients and, in a few instances, resorted to adjectives so that the first letter of each ingredient would spell out "No Child Left Behind." "C" already being taken, for instance, cumin turned into "Delightful cumin" and chili powder became "Exhilarating chili powder."

The sentimental favorite recipe at the cook-off was a savory melange called Miss Perez's Favorite Dip, offered by Rep. Dennis Moore (D-Kan.) and his wife Stephene. It has the requisite home-state corn, plus red and green bell peppers, onion, jalapeño chili peppers, mayonnaise and sour cream. The recipe is named for Jessica Perez, who is dating the Moores's son Adam. After graduating this spring, Perez will begin a job as a neonatal ICU nurse -- the same profession as Stephene Moore's, and both are well aware of the birth defects for which the March of Dimes funds research.

It was a challenge for a couple of Michiganders to find their favorite ingredients. Rep. Fred Upton (R) acknowledged that he couldn't use Michigan apples in his Michigan Apple Walnut Pâté because they're in season only in the fall. Actually, there were no Michigan walnuts in the pâté either. "We don't really have walnuts in Michigan," he confessed. Sen. Carl Levin (D) was adamant that the cherries in his Michigan Cherry Supreme Veggie Dip were native, albeit dried (cherries, too, being out of season). "There are no cherries except Michigan cherries that are even worth talking about," he said sternly.

No such problem for Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.), who featured home-state elk meat in the Elk Tortilla Pinwheels that his wife Phyllis made with dried onion soup mix, mustard, garlic, black pepper and cheddar and mozzarella cheeses.

"I told one lady [elk] was an endangered species -- she spit it out," the senator chortled. Fact is, elk is not endangered, and it tastes like beef. In Montana, elk is hunted in the fall and eaten year-round.

Could vacuum-packed elk be the next buffalo? Burns sincerely hopes it doesn't catch on. There wouldn't be enough elk left to hunt, he said.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company