Friday, December 16, 2016

"Chowgirls Killer Party Food" - Swiss Chard Gratin and Wild Mushroom Hotdish - Holiday party food!

Date I made these recipes:  December 4, 2016 – Holiday Party Food!

Chowgirls Killer Party Food – Righteous Bites & Cocktails For Every Season by Heidi Andermack & Amy Lynn Brown
Published by Arsenal Pulp Press
ISBN: 978-1-55152-645-4; ©2016
Recipes:  Wild Mushroom Hotdish – p. 84 and Swiss Chard Gratin – p. 90

Okay, folks, make a note of this website right now because we're going to come back to it and there's going to be a quiz: is the home base of Chowgirls Killer Catering and also where you can find information to buy the book I'm featuring today, Chowgirls Killer Party FoodChowgirls Killer Party Food is a new release by Chowgirls co-owners Heidi Andermack and Amy Lynn Brown who I have met and who are responsible for today's featured "killer" party food.

You're welcome.

As often happens, there is a backstory about how I came to buy this book and make these recipes and so without further ado:  several years ago, when these ladies were just getting their business underway, they catered an event I attended and I was blown away by their food.  I think we can all agree that there is "catered food" (small "c") and then there is CATERED (and killer) food, and the "Big C" was what I sampled that night and a few other times thereafter.

Then a few months ago, I noticed that they had just published a cookbook (be still my cookbook-loving heart, right?) and so I made a mental note to buy it and then just like that, opportunity presented itself in the form of a sampling and book signing at local floral powerhouse, Bachman's, during a holiday event in early November.  (Side note:  Bachman's floral and garden center also stocks an incredible selection of holiday decorations and doo dads which you must – must – check out either in store or online at

So I went to the event and I talked to Chowgirls owners Heidi and Amy, and introduced myself by saying something like "Well, you ladies should know that I have a huge cookbook collection and your book just became number 2,324 in my collection.  And I also blog about my cookbook collection and so will soon be including yours."

As always, stunned silence ensued.  Because yes, that is a large number of cookbooks and it's ever growing as I am always on the lookout for books to add to my collection under the adage "If some is good, more is better."

I also told Heidi and Amy that my husband and I were weeks away from hosting our 8th annual holiday open house, and so I was especially interested in looking through their cookbook's recipes to add to our holiday table of finger-food appetizers and sweet treats.

As it happened, they were sampling their "Swiss Chard Gratin" at the Bachman's event and I, who never met a Swiss Chard recipe I liked before then (it can be so bitter), fell in love with it.  How could I not, it's got melted Gouda in it?  Cheese "fixes" everything!

So I left the event determined to add it to our line-up and then after much perusal and consultation with my husband, decided to go for broke and make also the "Wild Mushroom Hotdish" to go with the gratin.

You should know that I am not necessarily a mushroom person, either.  And here's a quick and amusing story as to why:

When I was a kid, my maternal grandmother, an immigrant from Eastern Europe, dried several varieties of mushrooms and made them into a soup that made her children swoon.  The grandchildren?  Not so much.

So one year when I was about 13, one of my older cousins threw a Christmas Eve party for family and friends, and one of my uncles recreated grandma's soup but oh darn, forgot it at home.  He would have left it there too, had there not been complete and absolute rebellion from the adult, and so he drove the short distance back to his house to get it and my brother and some other cousins and I rode shotgun.

In our opinion, and to our young noses though, that soup reeked!  Oh my god, to this day, I can still smell it.  And so we made him drive back to the party house with the windows down in the middle of winter so we could tolerate (barely) the stinkin' soup that now riding shotgun in a "seat" of honor.

When we got in the house, the adults fell on the soup tureen, crying with joy that grandma's soup had been delivered unto them on that snowy Christmas Eve. (And then after partying quite a few hours, the adults went to midnight mass which I heard was hilarious but that's another story for another day.)

Meanwhile, my cousins and I hit the chip and dip table, the end.

But that was then, this is now, and these recipes had me at "hello," turning my culinary landscape from a decided "Oh hell no," to a "Oh yes, please!"

So after an email consultation with Amy, who I must say is very, very good about answering their emails, I set to work a couple days in advance to make and then refrigerate these recipes.

Shall I tell you that after putting each mixture into a baking dish, I licked the bowls clean?  As in thoroughly clean.  As in a dishwasher could not have done a better job.

This from the gal who didn't really like Swiss Chard and is sometimes "meh" on the whole mushroom concept.

In fact, I wondered whether I wanted to even bake these as the "raw" mixture was so good, but there are, I think, unwritten culinary rules about these things and the recipes were in a "cook" book so I went ahead and "cooked" them just before the start of the party and served them with crackers and baguettes.

And so the party got underway and those "in the know" know to come early for best seats and eats as we do indeed put on quite a spread. And there is always this ritual "stalking" of the two tables (one table for hot foods like these recipes, and one for other appetizers and desserts) that takes place, during which time everyone examines the food cards[1] that I put next to the dishes identifying what they are about to eat. Questions are asked, recipes are clarified, and then at some point, a silent, secret signal is triggered and everybody digs in at once!   I should really film it some day as it's the equivalent to animals stalking prey in the wild only with people and food and it's hilarious to say the least.

In fact, I often picture myself as Marlon Perkins of the TV show, Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom (TV show from the 60's and 70's), providing running commentary along the lines of "The guests are circling the turkey meatballs, Jim [sidekick], waiting for an opening so they can pounce.  But there seems to be some kind of disturbance brewing further down the hot food table and it appears that two of them are battling over a serving spoon.  Let's see if we can creep up there quietly to take a closer look....

But all "stalking aside," nothing was more hilarious than a comment a long-time friend and party guest made about the Chowgirls dishes, but first you need some background information.

Given that I have 2,324 (now 2,340—you see how this works!) cookbooks, it stands to reason that I have some by famous celebrity chefs and cookbook authors such as Ina Garten (The Barefoot Contessa), Martha Stewart, Rachael Ray, James Beard, and so on, and I have found that telling the guests whose recipe we're serving gives them comfort.

As an example, several guests (and I as well) are fans of Ina Garten because her recipes are elegant but easy to make.  Ina's recipes have likely graced our party table every year since the party's inception and so on the food card, I usually note "Ina Garten's XXX," (or Martha Stewart's YYY") and every ooh's and aah's, and says "I really like the Ina recipe.  Can I get it from you?" The short answer is of course, "Yes."

So to showcase (and show off) the Chowgirl's recipes, I designated on the food card which recipes were theirs.  But keep in mind that space on these place cards is limited so I wrote something like "Chowgirl Catering's Swiss Chard Gratin," and "Chowgirl Catering's Wild Mushroom Hotdish" and left it at that. 

So people were eating and dialoguing about the recipes (which they loved) and all was well and then I had this head-scratching conversation with the above-referenced friend that went like this:

Friend:  "Well, the food was great as usual, but I'm really surprised that you outsourced two of the recipes this year.  That isn't like you!"
Me:  "What? What are you talking about?"
Friend:  "Well, you got those two dishes from Chowgirls Catering this year!"

Bless.  I quickly informed him that we never, ever outsource.  Never.  In fact, my husband, who is pretty mild-mannered and laid back, takes great pride in the fact that he bakes several types of home-made crackers for the party, telling a friend recently, "Look, you need to come [to the party] because we make our own f'ng crackers!"

Said friend was unbelievably on the fence about attending until Andy said this.  Said friend now asks us regularly for recipes.  Said friend is a smart man.

And so with permission, I am happy to reprint below the most-excellent recipes for Chowgirls Killer Catering's "Swiss Chard Gratin" and "Wild Mushroom Hotdish" (which I will call a "casserole" because that's how I roll) that I made all by myself with my own two hands.  You will love them.

But then as promised, both to them and to you, let's turn our attention back to their website – - so I can tell you in earnestness  to buy their book.  BUY IT.  Right now.  "Operators are standing by...."

Because not only is this a great cookbook to which I will return for future parties, but as the saying goes (and pun intended), "These gal's gotta eat!"  In other words, they did not write and publish a cookbook just for the joy [of cooking] it, they did it to earn some dough, pun again intended.  So let's help them out.

Their website lists all the independent bookstores that carry this "killer" cookbook, most of which are local, but you will also see that they are doing singings at bookstores in other parts of the country so perhaps you can pick it up at an independent bookstore near you.  If not, fear not:  Amazon and Barnes and Noble carry it online.

Before I get to the actual recipes, let me just share some shopping and baking tips regarding these recipes with you:

*I made half of each recipe because we serve so much food at our party that half recipes work out well.  And Amy said I could and so there.

*Even though the truffle oil in the "Wild Mushroom Hotdish" is optional, Amy highly recommended it.  But I did a quick cost-benefit analysis at the grocery store, and at $9.00 a bottle (the lowest-price bottle I could find) I couldn't justify buying it since I was using only a few drops.  Actually, less than a few drops since I made half a recipe. But don't let my math deter you: if you want it, buy it!

*The mushroom recipe calls for you to chop the cremini mushrooms but thinly slice the portobello and the shiitake.  I decided to finely chop everything under the rationale that smaller-sized mushrooms would be easier to serve.  I had visions of one, large piece of portobello "dragging" smaller pieces of the other mushrooms behind it, wiping out half my dish in one fell swoop!  (I have a vivid imagination!)

*Let's talk breadcrumbs:  I added them as directed, but I think next time around I may go rogue and leave them off.  I don't mind breadcrumbs, but I've used them on a couple of recipes as of late, and then later thought better of it as I'd rather taste what's underneath.  Just a personal preference.

*Then as to shopping, for whatever reason, I had a hard time sourcing "Swiss" Chard and so I used Rainbow Chard instead, sourced at Target.  One bunch will do.

*And although several grocery stories stocked fresh mushrooms, only Kowalski's had the three mushrooms used in this dish:  cremini, shiitake, and portobello caps.  So hooray for Kowalski's.

*Finally, Amy said I could bake these in advance and reheat (and I'll include instructions below), but I made the mixtures in advance, refrigerated them, and then baked them off just before serving.  Either way, the results are great, and I inhaled the leftovers (and they were scant) pretty much the minute I took them off the table after the party ended.  And perhaps it's me, but I have this "thing" for cold food, and I'm telling you, this stuff is the bomb hot, cold, or somewhere in between.

This then, concludes my rather long blog (when are they not?), but I felt I had to do justice to these two "killer" caterers and their "killer" cookbook and their "killer" recipes.  (You have now been subjected to subliminal messaging.  Go buy their book!)

And now we return you to their two recipes in their entirety with many thanks to Heidi and Amy who were just delightful to talk to and work with on this party food endeavor.

Swiss Chard Gratin – Makes 3 cups (750 mL) or 24 servings
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter
1 large shallot, peeled and diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
½ jalapeno pepper, seeded and diced
1 bunch Swiss chard (about 4 cups [1 L])
½ tsp kosher salt
¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
8 oz (230 g) cream cheese, softened
2/3 cup (160 mL) mayonnaise
½ cup (125 mL) milk
½ tsp garlic powder
½ tsp freshly ground nutmeg
1 cup (250 mL) fresh breadcrumbs
Salt and pepper, to taste (for breadcrumb topping)
1 tbsp melted butter (for breadcrumb topping)

Preheat oven to 350F (180C).

In a large frying pan on medium-high heat, melt olive oil and butter.  When sizzling, add shallots, garlic, and jalapeno, and sauté for 2-3 minutes, being careful not to brown the garlic. (Ann's Note:  my Sicilian relatives drilled into my head the dire consequences of burning garlic so I don't!  Burned garlic turns bitter and who wants bitter food besides "not me?")  Stir in the chopped chard, salt, and pepper and raise heat to high.  Sauté, tossing continuously, 1-2 minutes, until chard is partially wilted.  Remove from heat, drain off excess liquid, and set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, combine cream cheese, mayonnaise, milk, garlic powder, and nutmeg.  Mix on medium speed for about 30 seconds until smooth. Stir in cheese and cooked chard.

Pour mixture into a 1-quart (1-L) casserole dish or medium cast-iron frying pan.  In a small bowl, toss the breadcrumbs with salt, pepper, and melted butter until lightly coated.  Top chard mixture with breadcrumbs and bake, uncovered, for 30-35 minutes, until sides are bubbling and crumbs are toasted.

Ann's Note:  Per Amy, you can make and freeze this recipe in advance and then reheat, or you can make it for up to three days in advance and refrigerate and then reheat.

If you want to make it and freeze it, she recommends putting the mixture into an airtight freezer bag, then thaw and transfer to a casserole dish.  Add the breadcrumbs just before baking, if desired.

If you bake the dish in advance and want to reheat it, put it into a 325 oven then heat, covered, for 15 minutes, uncovered for 5-10 minutes until bubbling.

I split the difference and made up the mixture in advance but then didn't bake it until the day of the party at which point, I baked it at 350 degrees as directed in the recipe above.

Wild Mushroom Hotdish – Makes 4 cups (1 L) or about 30 servings
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp olive oil
8-oz (230-g) cremini mushrooms, chopped
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 large portobello mushroom caps, thinly sliced
8-oz (230-g) shiitake, oyster, or other mushroom variety, sliced
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp all-purpose flour
½ cup (125 mL) milk
½ cup (125 mL) heavy cream
½ cup (125 mL) grated pecorino or Parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper, to taste
1/8 tsp truffle oil (optional)
¾ cup (175 mL) breadcrumbs tossed with 2 tbsp melted butter

Preheat oven to 350F (180C)
In a large frying pan on high heat, melt 1 tbsp butter with 1 tbsp olive oil.  Working in small batches, add cremini mushrooms, salt, and pepper and sauté for 3-5 minutes, until soft. Remove mushrooms and set aside.

Melt another tablespoon butter and olive oil, and, working in small batches, sauté portobello and shiitake mushrooms for about 5 minutes, until soft.  Remove mushrooms and set aside.

Reduce heat to low and melt 1 tablespoon butter.  Whisk in flour to make a roux.  When roux begins to brown, stir in milk and cream.  On medium heat, bring to a boil.  Add cheese and whisk until bubbling and thick.  Stir in cooked mushrooms.  Season to taste.  Stir in truffle oil.

Transfer to a 2-qt (2-L) casserole dish or cast-iron frying pan.  Sprinkle breadcrumbs over top and bake for 30-35 minutes, until heated through and breadcrumbs are browned.

Ann's Note:  Per Amy, you can make and freeze this recipe in advance and then reheat, or you can make it for up to three days in advance and refrigerate and then reheat.

If you want to make it and freeze it, she recommends putting the mixture into an airtight freezer bag, then thaw and transfer to a casserole dish.  Add the breadcrumbs just before baking, if desired.

If you bake the dish in advance and want to reheat it, put it into a 325 oven then heat, covered, for 15 minutes, uncovered for 5-10 minutes until bubbling.

I split the difference and made up the mixture in advance but then didn't bake it until the day of the party at which point, I baked it at 350 degrees as directed in the recipe above.

[1] My "food cards" are really printable place cards like the kind you see at wedding receptions, that I purchase at Michaels.  They come 48 to a pack and all you need to do is download the template and then start typing (the recipe name) where directed.  I "fancy" them up a bit by changing the type color to red or green, or a mixture of both.  

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