What a week, guys. I don’t even know where to start. I started the week with Jamie Oliver in London, then flew back for a midweek dinner party at Rouge, where it was announced that my pals Sue, Elizabeth and I would be the next generation of the Best of Bridge ladies.
For those of you who are not Canadian, or Western Canadian, and may not be familiar with BofB, it was a group of Calgary ladies who played bridge together and, back in 1975 on a weekend trip to the cabin, came up with the idea to write and self-publish their own cookbook. Their first hand-lettered, coil-bound book was a hit, and turned into a series – one that fed most families in Western Canada throughout the eighties. I grew up in the same neighbourhood, and was friends with some of their daughters, and have memories of sleepovers at which the Bridge moms would be testing recipes. Everyone in our community used the books and supported their endeavour – which included convincing the bank loan officer to give them a loan without requiring their husbands’ signatures, and loading copies of books into their hatchbacks and driving to bookstores (and drugstores and department stores) to convince them to buy a few copies. They truly were the first to introduce me to the concept of self-publishing, and it’s no exaggeration to say they inspired my career path early on.
Fast forward to today and they’ve sold 4 million books and have become Canadian icons – their signature polka-dot ruffled aprons (they’d come up with a new matching set for each book) are in the Glenbow Museum. There are four of the original 8 ladies left – Mary, Val, Joan and Helen – and they’re in their seventies, ready to retire. And they’ve trusted us to carry on the brand. And so chef Jamie and the good folks at Rouge hosted a dinner party featuring some of the most iconic Bridge recipes – Hamburger Soup, Christmas Morning Wifesaver, Classy Chicken, Schwartie’s Potatoes (named after a family friend), and Butter Tarts. It was crazy awesome. I cried, and not because of the wine + jetlag.
Although this has been in the works for months, it was all made public at the party – which triggered a flurry of congratulations and happy Bridge memories for which I’m eternally grateful – and so I had to share here, with a few recipes that we (truly) still make today. Classy Chicken continues to be my Dad’s favourite meal, and Schwartie’s potatoes is the sort of casserole that requires no actual cooking skills, just stirring and sliding into the oven – it could be made with fresh potatoes, or with some cream in place of the soup – whatever combo you come up with, it’s like scalloped potatoes without all the work of thinly slicing, nor risking your fingertips on a mandolin.
Adapted from Winners, by the Best of Bridge. (The original calls for asparagus – thus the “classy” label – although it does suggest broccoli as an alternative. It also calls for skinless, boneless chicken breasts, but I find thighs far more flavourful – or even chopped leftover roast chicken or turkey. And cream of mushroom soup instead of cream of chicken.
canola oil, for cooking
6-8 skinless, boneless chicken thighs 3 skinless, boneless chicken breasts
freshly ground black pepper
1-2 broccoli crowns, separated into florets
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1/2 cup mayo or heavy cream
1-2 tsp. curry powder or paste
1 tsp. lemon juice
1 cup grated old cheddar cheese
Cut chicken into bite-sized pieces and sprinkle with pepper. Saute quickly in oil over medium heat just until opaque (don’t overcook – the chicken will get tough! Drain. Cook asparagus or broccoli until crunchy. Drain and arrange in bottom of buttered casserole. Place chicken on top. Mix together soup, mayonnaise, curry and lemon juice and pour over chicken. Sprinkle with cheddar cheese and bake, uncovered, at 350F for 30-35 minutes. Serves 6.
From Enjoy! by the Best of Bridge – the only change I made is to sometimes reduce the tins of soup to 1, and add more Parmesan on top – because you always need a cheesier top.
2 lbs. (1 kg) frozen hash brown potatoes
2 cups sour cream
1-2 cans mushroom soup
1/2 cup butter, melted
grated onion, to taste
salt to taste
2 cups grated cheddar cheese
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Thaw potatoes slightly. Mix potatoes, sour cream, mushroom soup, butter, onion, salt and cheddar cheese in a 9 x 13-inch baking dish.
Sprinkle Parmesan on top and bake at 350F for 1 hour. Serves 8-10.