Former U.S. Senator Knute Nelson's birthday was celebrated in style Saturday at the first-ever Great Hotdish Bake-Off.
The event, sponsored by the Douglas County Historical Society and the Alexandria United Methodist Church, took place Feb. 2, the 176th birthday of Senator Nelson.
There were seven teams serving up hotdish at Broadway Ballroom in Alexandria, as well as a silent auction, trivia table, selfie station and of course, birthday cake. The teams included Alexandria United Methodist Church, Knute Nelson, Evansville Care Campus, Lake Ida, West Moe Church, First Congregational United Church of Christ and volunteers of the Douglas County Historical Society.
The People's Choice Award went to Knute Nelson for its chicken bacon ranch hotdish, a favorite of the residents. West Moe Church came in second with tater tot hotdish and the Evansville Care Campus came in third with a stuffed pepper hotdish.
Brittany Johnson, director of the Douglas County Historical Society, said it was a "very close competition" and that there were only two votes separating the difference between each place.
"It couldn't have gone any better for a first-time event," said Johnson, who noted that there were around 200 people who attended. "The weather probably helped us. People were ready to be out and about (after the long cold spell)."
Carol Meyer, who helped organize the bake-off, is hoping it turns into an annual event. She said she was pleased with the turnout and said it is expected to be held again next year the Saturday of Super Bowl weekend.
Johnson said the event brought in new members to the historical society, as well as generated inquiries for volunteer opportunities.
"Our volunteers were instrumental in making this event a success," she said. "We wanted to make sure everyone had a good time - the teams, the cooks, volunteers and of course, the guests. The best thing we heard was when people were leaving, 'We can't eat anymore, we're stuffed!.' "
Knute Nelson's winning recipe
Chicken Bacon Ranch Hotdish
8 cups rotini noodles
4 chicken breasts
4 cups simple homemade alfredo sauce
1 cup of homemade ranch dressing
1 1/2 cup of bacon (separate)
Topping - 2 cups of shredded cheese and 1/2 cup of chopped bacon
Cook 8 cups of rotini noodles until tender, set aside. Cook 4 chicken breasts thoroughly, season lightly, cool and chop into bite sized pieces. Cook bacon until crispy. Cool and chop well. Reserve 1/2 cup of chopped bacon for the topping.
Mix rotini, chicken, alfredo sauce, ranch dressing and 1 cup of bacon crumbles gently together.
Place in a baking pan and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.
Garnish with the 1/2 cup bacon and 2 cups of shredded cheese. Place back in the oven until cheese is melted.