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Sen. Franken dishes it up with an ode to Willmar, Minn.

Sen. Al Franken, Rep. Rick Nolan, Rep. Collin Peterson, Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Rep. Michele Bachmann await the voting in the third annual Hot Dish-Off hosted by Franken in Washington, D.C. Rep. Tim Walz won the contest with his "Hermann the German Hotdish." (Photo courtesy Sen. Al Franken)

WASHINGTON — Willmar turkey and products from across Minnesota figured prominently in the third annual “Hotdish Off” for the Minnesota Congressional Delegation this week.

U.S. Rep. Tim Walz won the contest with his Hermann the German Hotdish, paying honor to a statue in New Ulm, which happens to be in his district.

Sen. Al Franken, who started the friendly contest a few years ago, competed with his Sen. Franken’s Willmar Stew.

The competition was meant to be a way for the delegation to get together socially and to celebrate Minnesota culinary traditions, according to a release from Franken’s office.

The state’s members of Congress from both parties participate in the fun, and all but Rep. John Kline brought a hotdish to be judged this year.

A photo from Franken’s office showed Walz accepting his plaque, which was mounted in a glass baking dish. Walz’s hotdish included brats and Schell’s beer.

Franken’s Willmar Stew recipe included Jennie-O turkey thighs, along with pork shoulder and sausages.

Many of the recipes were heavy on Minnesota brand names. Several included cheese, but not just any cheese. It was to be, specifically, Land O’Lakes cheese.

“In the midst of an April snowstorm in Minnesota, we’re hoping to heat things up with hotdish,” said Rep. Collin Peterson, who competed with his Easter ham and potatoes casserole. Peterson represents the Seventh District, which includes Willmar and west central Minnesota.

Rep. Michele Bachmann’s Southwest Metro Stew specified that the can of corn in the recipe was to be Green Giant corn.

Many of them included the always popular hotdish ingredient cream of mushroom soup. There were also a few tater tots floating around.

Rep. Rick Nolan’s Real Deal Ranger Hotdish had some specialized ingredients, like “one pound Minnesota venison, harvested and processed by Rick,” along with maple syrup from his farm and his Private Stock sherry. Anyone but Nolan who tried to make it would have to make a lot of substitutions.

 “It’s a great day when the Minnesota delegation is able to put our differences aside and focus on what really matters - Hotdish,” Franken said in the release. “I want to thank all my colleagues for participating in today’s competition and a huge congratulations to Rep. Walz for his winning Hermann the German Hotdish. It was delicious.”The recipes, photos and video of the contest are available at Franken’s Senate web site, under Hot Topics.

For Sen. Franken’s Willmar Stew you’ll need:

5- or 7-quart dutch oven

2 pounds Cannelini beans, soaked overnight

2 Jennie-O turkey thighs (can substitute 4 duck legs, 4 pheasant legs/thighs)

1 pound pork shoulder roast cut into 1-inch cubes

4 pork sausages

1 pound thick bacon cut into 1-inch cubes

3 tablespoons butter

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 large onion cut into ½-inch pieces

3 carrots cut into ½-inch pieces

3 stalks celery cut into ½-inch piece

1 whole garlic head, peeled into individual cloves and slices in halves

1 bay leaf

4 sprigs fresh parsley or equivalent

4 sprigs fresh thyme or equivalent

3 tablespoons tomato paste

1 to 1½ cups peeled tomatoes with liquid, cut into quarters

Salt & pepper to taste (optional: paprika and cayenne pepper)

2 cups seasoned bread crumbs

6 tablespoons butter


1. Soak the beans overnight in water, about 2 inches above beans. Drain, reserving any leftover liquid. Set aside.

2. Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees

3. Prep your meat and vegetable as above. Set aside.

4. Place dutch oven on top of stove. Add 3 tablespoons butter and 3 tablespoons in pot. Brown turkey. Set aside. Brown pork shoulder cubes in same fat. Set aside. Drain some of the fat and set aside. Brown pork sausages. Set aside. Render bacon. Set aside. If too much fat has accumulated, pour some off at any time but retain for assembling dish.

5. Put all meats, onion, carrots, celery, garlic, and seasonings in same fat mixture. Stir and cook on medium high heat for 10 minutes. Add tomato paste and tomatoes and beans. Add water until ingredients are covered. Bring to a boil. Salt and pepper to taste. Cover the pot and place in oven at 400 degrees. Cook for an hour to 90 minutes, until beans are tender. Check pot after 45 minutes in case mixture is dry so you can add water. When done, add the paprika and cayenne to taste.

6. Reduce oven to 350 degrees. Add bread crumbs in two batches, otherwise they will be soggy. Sprinkle 1 cup bread crumbs drizzled with 3 tablespoons melted butter. Put in oven for 15 to 20 minutes. Take pot out and press breadcrumbs into stew. Add the other cup of bread crumbs and 3 more tablesppoons melted butter. Turn oven on broil and brown breadcrumbs for 5 to 7 minutes. Your dish is now ready to serve.

Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

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