A simple press release from U.S. Sen. Susan Collins’ office crossed my desk. The senator was co-hosting the Senate’s first bi-partisan lunch last month and the menu included a lobster salad made with a “special recipe from the University of Maine.”

A special lobster recipe? That sounded like something Eats readers needed to know about, especially if it was from Maine and one of the senator’s favorites. I made a string of phone calls and did some noodling around the internet but came up empty — less than a goose egg. Then, the next morning, while chewing on a pencil, my phone rang.

“Hi, this is Susan Collins.”

Luckily, I had chewed my pencil into a sharp point and I rapidly scribbled notes as the senator told me how the bi-partisan lunch had grown out of the successful lunches she had helped sponsor for her Republican colleagues over the years. Those weekly gatherings usually featured food from the sponsoring senator’s home state. Collins, who loves to show off Maine products, told me: “My lunch is always the best attended lunch.”

The senator admitted it was “very, very rare” for Republicans and Democrats to lunch together, but she felt strongly that “if we interacted more and socialized more, we’d find we had more common ground.” So late last year she offered to co-host the first bi-partisan event with Democratic Virginia Sen. Mark Warner.

For the February luncheon, Collins brought her popular Maine menu: the special lobster salad, Terra blue and garlic-mashed potato chips, and wild blueberry pie a la mode.

Warner brought Virginia-baked ham served on either a biscuit or a ciabatta loaf.

The outcome?

“My food went much, much faster,” said Collins. “A couple of senators asked to go back for seconds.”

But who’s keeping track?

The senator then moved the conversation to the businesses behind some of Maine’s iconic foods, speaking passionately about both. “Maine signifies quality to people,” she said, and has a growing reputation as “a great place to eat.”

She pointed out that the LaJoie family farm in Van Buren supplies the majority of the blue potatoes used to make Terra Blues — about 3 million pounds a year! And that the vanilla and wild blueberry ice cream she served comes from Gifford’s, the family-owned business in Skowhegan. And that she insists on using only Wyman’s Maine wild blueberries for the pie — not just because they taste better but because “they have more anti-oxidants.”

Could it be that Maine’s senior senator is a . . . foodie?

“I love to cook!” she confessed, giving her mother credit for her inspiration. (See the recipes for more on her mother.)

She loves to bake, too, but admitted some baking projects take more time than others. The baked treat that fits into her schedule best? Muffins. She shared two of her favorite recipes and said she is always looking for new ones.

Speaking of new recipes, what about that University of Maine special lobster salad recipe that started it all?

Sadly, Senator Collins said it was the creative property of the chef, but she gave these hints, for those interested in experimenting: She described it as being lower in calories because “instead of mayonnaise, the recipe has a citrus-based vinaigrette with a little bit of ginger” and it’s served on a bed of lettuce with “mandarins, tangelos and sliced oranges as a garnish.”

On Mom and muffins: In her own words

“I started making muffins for my husband almost every Sunday night about a year ago. It made me feel that I was doing something special for him to compensate for the many times that one or both of us had evening events that precluded our having dinner together. In addition, I knew that the muffins he was buying from the bakery near his office were loaded with fat, salt and sugar. These were healthier and tastier alternatives.

“My mother, Pat Collins, of Caribou, is the best cook I know, and it was natural that I would first turn to a cookbook that she published for family and friends called “Fifty Years of Cooking: 1948 to 1998” for the first muffin recipes I made. These two are still my favorites.”

— U.S. Sen. Susan Collins

Pat Collins’ Maine blueberry muffins

Ingredients:

1 and 1/2 cups flour

1/2 cup sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup shortening

1 egg

1/2 cup low-fat milk

1 to 1 & 1/2 cups wild Maine blueberries

Mixture of granulated white sugar and cinnamon to sprinkle on the tops of the muffins.

Process:

Pick over and rinse blueberries, and let drain well on a paper towel.

Mix dry ingredients together.

Cut shortening into the dry ingredients.

Beat egg slightly and combine with milk.

Pour liquid mixture all at once into the dry ingredients/shortening mixture. Stir with a fork until flour is just mixed in.

Fold in berries.

Fill greased muffin tins and sprinkle tops lightly with sugar-cinnamon mixture.

Bake in a pre-heated 400-degree oven for 20 to 25 minutes.

Pat and Susan’s cranberry oatmeal muffins

1 cup oatmeal

1 cup buttermilk

1/3 cup shortening

1/2 cup brown sugar

1 egg

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 cup of flour

1 cup of fresh cranberries cut in half*

1/2 cup of walnuts (optional; I always use them, my mother does not)

Soak oatmeal in buttermilk for one hour.

Beat together shortening, sugar and egg.

Sift together dry ingredients.

Add dry ingredients, alternating with the oatmeal/buttermilk mixture, to the shortening/sugar/egg mixture.

Fold in cranberries and nuts.

Fill greased muffin tins and bake in a pre-heated 400-degree oven 20 to 25 minutes.

*If fresh cranberries are not available, use 2/3 cup of dried cranberries.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.