Lawmaker-chefs cook primo appetizers for charity

Forty-nine members of Congress displayed their cooking and serving talents in a congressional cook-off at the 27th annual March of Dimes Gourmet Gala last week.

Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) won the evening’s top honors with a watermelon pine nut gazpacho.

Lawmakers shed their formal images and embraced the event’s light, fun atmosphere. Donning aprons, they served food and exchanged jokes and stories with attendees. Overall, they helped the March of Dimes raise $625,000.

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Below is a sampling of the lawmakers’ appetizer entries.

Recipe: Spinach Balls

Chefs:
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and his wife, Sandy

Key ingredients: Frozen, chopped spinach; herb-seasoning stuffing mix, Parmesan cheese

Assessment:
The spinach balls featured perfectly balanced flavors and were popular among event attendees.

Recipe: Tagliatelle with Truffle Butter

Chefs:
Rep. Jo Ann Emerson (R-Mo.) and her husband, Ron Gladney

Key ingredients:
Truffle butter, heavy cream, fresh chives

Chef Emerson’s notes: “This is a great meal that I can make when I get home after a long day at work.”

Assessment: The pasta was cooked perfectly. The sauce was flavorful without being overbearing.

Recipe: Maryland Crab Cakes

Chef:
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.)

Key ingredients: Maryland blue crab meat, Dijon mustard, Old Bay seasoning

Assessment:
The crab cakes were dry. They were prepared in advance and were kept warm until service time, likely accounting for the bland taste and dryness.

{mospagebreak}Recipe: Olive Tapenade

Chefs:
Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) and his wife, Dianne

Key ingredients:
Capers, anchovies, black olives

Chef Dianne Isakson’s notes:
“This is Johnny’s recipe. He makes it at home. When he makes it, he doesn’t measure anything. He just does it till it tastes good.”

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Assessment:
This dip is for anyone who loves olives. A deep, rich olive taste was perfectly balanced by the bitterness of the anchovies. Attendees raved about this dish.

Recipe: Florida Crab Stuffed Mushroom Caps

Chefs: Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) and his wife, Vicki

Key ingredients: Worcestershire sauce, sherry

Assessment: The interplay of the ingredients in this offering was brilliant. The full flavor of the mushrooms balanced the sweetness of the crab perfectly, creating a memorable dish.

Recipe: Italian Cream Cake

Chefs: Rep. Randy Neugebauer (R-Texas) and his wife, Dana

Key ingredients: Buttermilk, flake coconut, cream cheese frosting

Assessment: The cake was moist and light. The icing was heavenly. One attendee said, “This cake has the prefect cake-to-frosting ratio.”

Recipe: Avocado, Toasted Corn, and Chipotle Salsa

Chefs:
Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D-Texas) and his wife, Carolina

Key ingredients:
Sweet corn, chipotle chilies, red wine vinegar

Assessment:
This dish was the biggest surprise of the evening.  It appeared to be a simple avocado dip, but the chipotle chilies added a smoky, robust taste that contrasted with the creamy texture of the avocados.

Recipe: Creamy Grits with Shrimp

Chefs: Rep. David Scott (D-Ga.) and his wife, Alfredia

Key ingredients:
Shrimp stock, bacon

Assessment: An authentic interpretation of one of the South’s finest dishes, this was hands down the best dish of the evening. The grits were creamy, rich and decadent. As word of the grits spread, attendees flocked to the Scotts’ station to taste the talk of the event.