Pass the bicarb: It was bipartisan cookoff time in Washington, D.C., today, when Sen. Al Franken hosted fellow Minnesotans Sen. Amy Klobuchar and representatives Collin Peterson, Betty McCollum, Michele Bachmann, Keith Ellison, Tim Walz, Rick Nolan and Erik Paulsen for his third-annual "Hotdish- Off" (photo provided by Sen. Franken's office).

The winner? Walz and his "Hermann the German Hotdish." Find the recipe below.

Several recipes have promise. On paper, anyway. This is hotdish, after all.

The most compelling recipe is McCollum's, which is essentially a beer-braised pot roast served over savory drop biscuits. What's not to like, right? She's clearly the Barefoot Contessa of the Minnesota congressional delegation, although the recipe doesn't seem to exude an essential hotdish essence.

I'm also intrigued by Walz's winning recipe, in part because it would have never occurred to my Lutheran mother to incorporate bratwurst or beer into one of her hotdishes.

Both Klobuchar's "Hormel 'I Can't Believe It's Not SPAM' Pepperoni PIzza Hotdish" and Bachmann's "Southwest Metro Hotdish," so named for its taco seasoning and salsa and its amusing nod to the geography of congresswoman's re-formatted Sixth Distrct, also have a certain appeal. But bear in mind that I grew up in a household where a favorite hotdish was an alchemy of canned sweet corn, cream of mushroom soup, ground hamburger and Tater Tots. Next to that, these two sound downright exotic.

A major appeal of Franken's "Willmar Stew" comes from what it doesn't contain, namely a salty, glopped-up can of cream-of-something soup. Paulsen's easy-to-prepare "Taco Hotdish" doesn't have the nuance -- and I can't believe that I just invoked that word when referring to hotdish -- of Bachmann's version, but for the time-pressed, it doesn't sound half bad. 

It's tough to generate enthusiam for Ellison's "Juicy Lucy Hotdish" -- although kudos to the congressman for attempting to link to a culinary icon from his Minneapolis district -- in part because I don't know if I can embrace toasted hamburger buns as a key hotdish building block.

Because venison isn't readily available, I'm probably not going to be preparing Nolan's "'Real Deal' Ranger Hotdish" any time soon, a shame. And I'm truly bored by Peterson's six-ingredient "Easter Ham and Cheese Hotdish."

The competition's most telling element was how most of the contestants, politicians to the core, were careful to incorporate famously made-in-Minnesota ingredients into their recipes.

Ever the locavore, Rep. Nolan proved the most enthusiastic on this front, calling for venison that the congressman harvested and processed himself, wild rice he had hand-picked, maple syrup tapped and boiled on the Nolan family farm, bacon from a Pierz, Minn., processor and cream from, yes, Land O' Lakes. I'm exhausted just reading about it, although it sounds delicious.

Were the pols following the example of those Pillsbury supermarket check-out stand cookbooks, the ones with recipes that call for "Pillsbury's Best Flour" rather than "all-purpose flour"?

I ask because Klobuchar includes shout-outs to Hormel and Kemps (let it be known that she specifically and rather sacrilegiously specifies New York-based Ronzoni pasta, and not Minnesota's own Creamette!), Franken takes a shine to Jennie-O and Bachmann spotlights Green Giant.

Both Walz and McCollum were savvy enough to refer to beers brewed in their districts: Schell's for Walz, and Lift Bridge and Summit for McCollum. Smart.

Judges were fellow Minnesotans and former Reps. Vin Weber and Gerry Sikorski. Franken and former Rep. Chip Cravaack were last year's winners, and the 2011 crown belonged to Klobuchar, who took the title with the best vote-getting name, ever: "Taconite Tater-Tot Hotdish."

Find the other eight 2013 recipes here


Serves 6 to 8.

1 20-oz. package of brats

1 bottle Schell's beer

1 onion, chopped

1 tsp. garlic powder

Butter for casserole

1 c. freshly chopped celery 

1 10.75 oz. can cream of Cheddar soup

1 10.75 oz. can cream of mushroom soup

1/2 c. milk

1 c. grated Cheddar cheese, plus extra for garnish

1 28-oz. package Tater Tots


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place brats in a Dutch oven and fill with water to cover. Add beer, onion and garlic powder. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat to medium and simmer 10 minutes. Remove brats from water and let cool.

Butter bottom and sides of an oven-proof casserole. In a large bowl, combine celery, cream of Cheddar soup, cream of mushroom soup, milk and Cheddar cheese. Chop brats into bite-size pieces and add to soup mixture. Pour mixture into prepared casserole, top with tator tots and bake for 45 minutes. Remove from oven, sprinkle top with Cheddar cheese and return to oven to bake for an additional 15 minutes.