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U.S. politicians sometimes offer recipes. One man puts them all to the test

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Cooking can be one of life's simpler joys, especially if it's a recipe that reaches back to your grandmother, or BJ Leiderman, who writes our theme music. When the souffle is risen or those cookies are rested and you finally get to take that first taste - ha - unless, of course, that recipe comes from an elected official. Our next guest took the time to test a number of real recipes that come from senators and representatives, or those of your grandparents or great-grandparents. He is Bennett Rea, author of the blog Cookin' with Congress, and joins us now from Claremont, Calif. Thanks so much for being with us.

BENNETT REA: Thank you for having me, Scott.

SIMON: Tell us about a couple of these dishes, and should we look out for them?

REA: I would say do not try these at home, perhaps. Two of my favorites/least favorites of the past year would be Anniversary Horseradish Salad by representative Glenn English and milk toast by Representative Emmett O'Neill. I would say they kind of verged to the theater of disgust in terms of food.

SIMON: (Laughter) Sorry. The term's new to me, but go ahead. I'll use it a lot from now on. Yes.

REA: Yeah. They've struck a chord with me and my followers and fans out there as truly absurd, almost anti-food.

SIMON: Horseradish salad, please, or not please, but can we please hear it?

REA: So this isn't a salad in the modern sense. There's no greens. This is a salad in the '60s, '70s, midcentury gelatin sense. So two boxes of lemon Jell-O and lime Jell-O, boiling water, a cup of mayonnaise, crushed pineapple, a cup of cottage cheese - he specifies large-curd cottage cheese - cream-style horseradish and pimento. And then you mix it all together and chill it. And it's supposed to serve 12 people and goes very well with baked ham, apparently, is in the recipe notes. It looks sort of like a dessert from the cartoon version of "The Grinch Who Stole Christmas."

SIMON: (Laughter) Yes.

REA: The flavor is somewhere in the kind of chunky wasabi fruitcake range.

SIMON: I'm not sure I've ever had a chunky wasabi fruitcake.

REA: Count yourself lucky.

SIMON: And I'm not sure I'd want to. Yeah.

REA: (Laughter) It's almost beautiful in that midcentury way, but as soon as you take a bite, the mayonnaise and the Jell-O and the pimentos combined to make a truly abhorrent culinary experience.

SIMON: OK. And another recipe, please.

REA: Milk toast. Yeah. So this is actually where the term milquetoast came from, like M-I-L-Q-U-E toast, because the dish is weak and insipid. I can confirm that based on this old recipe, which is essentially six pieces of bread, toasted hard, according to the recipe. And then you pour hot, boiling milk over those six pieces, put a pat of butter on it, sprinkle some red pepper and salt, and call it a day.

SIMON: Why? I mean, what do you think some of these recipes reveal about public officials?

REA: The absurdity. You know, politicians are so - they're usually so conscious of everything they say and everything they do, and they're so politic. And then they'll just offer up diabetic cucumber salad as their favorite food. It felt very out of character. They revealed that they might have inhuman taste buds.

SIMON: I salute your patriotism, but I wonder, why don't you try recipes from French or Indian politicians? They might be a little more promising.

REA: My wife has been telling me to do more recipes that she can actually stomach, so - but for now, I've been really fascinated with what seems to be the last bastion of unity between Republicans and Democrats, which is these recipes and their taste buds.

SIMON: I find that very moving. Bennett Rea, who's author and chef of the blog Cookin' with Congress, thanks very much. And bon appetit.

REA: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.