“Not Your Classic” Stuffed Mushrooms

Stuffed mushrooms on waxed paperI love mushrooms.  But I don’t love most stuffed mushrooms.  I have a problem with the consistency of the “classic version” (a paste), and if they aren’t right out of the oven, the consistency is even more troubling on its way toward cold.  So I made a “unclassic”–not to be confused with unclassy–version of stuffed mushrooms.  Un-blended, un-mushed, and un-pasty.  Your taste buds won’t will be un-happy.

Because I originally made this appetizer for a party, and there’s quite a bit of prep work, I made more than you would need on a normal night.  If you’re only serving a few people–or just yourself–you can still do the prep but only bake what you need and store the rest in the fridge.  Two days later, my leftover prepped mushrooms were still just as delicious as the first day.

Store extra mushrooms in fridge until ready to bake

Store extra mushrooms in fridge until ready to bake

For serving at a party, only bake as many as will be eaten right away, then bake as needed.  Note:  If you use a pre-heated toaster oven, you may only need to bake them for 10 minutes…they’re done when you see sizzling juice around the mushrooms and the cheese is melted/golden.  While the mushrooms are cooling, transfer them to paper towels or other material to soak up excess liquid to prevent mushiness from setting in (or juices squirting out when you take a bite!).  You could also line a basket or tray with a napkin or waxed paper and serve them that way.  Note for party planning:  The bigger the mushrooms, the harder it is to eat in one bite, which is what you want for a finger food menu.  

If you or your guests don’t eat pork, make sure you use quality thyme and add any other spices if needed to boost flavor.

Stuffed mushrooms closeup

Recipe for “Not Your Classic” Stuffed Mushrooms

  • Yields approximately 35 stuffed mushrooms
  • Prep time: 45 minutes
  • Bake time: 20-25 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 3 packages (8 ounces each) mushrooms – I used the button/white variety, but cremini mushrooms work too
  • 2 pieces bacon, nitrate/nitrite-free
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • ½ cup minced shallots (about 1 large)
  • 1 heaping tablespoon minced garlic (about 2 large cloves)
  • 1 teaspoon thyme
  • sea salt, to taste
  • freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
  • shaved/shredded parmesan cheese, enough for a pinch on top of each mushroom

Directions:

 

Fry bacon in large pan until crispy, then remove and let cool.  While bacon is cooking, clean mushrooms with damp cloth.   Separate mushroom stems from caps, being careful not to tear the caps.  Finely chop stems.  Preheat oven to 350°F.  Add olive oil to bacon fat left behind from cooking and saute stems and shallots over medium heat for 4-5 minutes, stirring often.  Add garlic, a couple pinches of salt, a few twists of pepper, and thyme, cooking for 2 more minutes.  Turn off heat and stir in parsley and finely chopped bacon.  Taste and add spices if necessary.  Toss mushroom caps with olive oil.  Use small spoon to stuff stem mixture into mushroom caps.  Press curved outside of spoon down into mixture to pack in.  Don’t overstuff.  Top each cap with a pinch of parmesan.  Bake 20-25 minutes on baking sheet.  Transfer mushrooms to paper towels or cloth while cooling to soak up excess liquid.

Star Anise and Tangerine Infused Vodka

Tangerine and star anise pods

Tangerine and star anise pods

For those of you who aren’t familiar, alcohol infusions versus mixing flavors into alcohol is like the difference between letting sliced fruit marinate in a jar of water and merely adding fruit juice to the water.  Infusions don’t dilute the original liquid or add volume to it.  They leave behind pure flavor.  

I like to use vodka for infusions because it allows the flavors of what you add to really shine through.  Although you don’t need to go for an expensive brand of vodka, do choose a decent one.  The “rubbing alcohol” flavor common in the cheapest brands will ruin the flavors of the infusion.

This particular recipe is one that will either delight or disappoint…it all depends on if you enjoy the taste of licorice!  Star anise is used in many Chinese dishes, and has a distinct flavor very similar to licorice (but not in the sugary way of Twizzlers or Good & Plenty).    I’m not a huge licorice fan, but the addition of tangerine flavor resulted in a thumbs-up experience.  This drink is best chilled and enjoyed as an apéritif, or sipped on its own after a meal.

This recipe has the power of 3’s:  Only uses 3 ingredients and only takes 3 days to infuse.  Plenty of time to prepare for holiday sipping and gifting!

Store or gift in a fun bottle. This one is from 1800 Tequila

Store or gift in a fun bottle. This one is from 1800 Tequila (375 ml size)

Recipe for Star Anise and Tangerine Infused Vodka

10 star anise pods

1 tangerine, sliced

2 cups potato vodka

Drop star anise and tangerine slices in glass jar that holds at least 3 cups (24 oz) of liquid.  Pour in vodka.  Cover tightly and store in cool place.  Give jar a gentle shake each day to mix.  Allow recipe to infuse for 3 days.  Strain out solids with fine mesh strainer.  Store infused vodka in a jar or bottle.

Let the 3-day infusion party begin!

Let the 3-day infusion party begin!

Sweet Potato Casserole

Sweet potato casseroleDuring the holidays, people get a hankering for sweet potato casserole.  You know, that dish made up of sweet potatoes, marshmallows, and brown sugar?  My problem with this traditional side is it’s often made from canned sweet potatoes (full of corn syrup) and ends up being cloyingly sweet.  But since it’s one of my husband’s favorite parts of holiday meals–and I admit my eyes light up when I see it too–I was determined to make a healthier version.

I baked my own sweet potatoes, which isn’t much harder than opening cans…just takes time and a little planning.  And fresh is so much tastier and healthier than canned!  To save time on the day of, bake sweet potatoes and scoop out the flesh the day before.  I found some natural-ish marshmallows at Whole Foods.  Obviously, marshmallows are not found in nature–and due to their odd consistency there is no way to have a completely natural version–but this brand seemed least wacky.  I used Grade B maple syrup as sweetener, which lends a richer flavor (with vitamins and minerals!) than ordinary sugar.  I added some (again, natural-ish) crushed graham crackers on top for a fun twist.

Don’t forget to check out my recipe for Fresh Spiced Cranberry Sauce, the perfect condiment for Thanksgiving turkey!

Baked sweet potatoes

Best ingredients I’ve seen for marshmallows

First layer of casserole

Sweet potato casserole ready to go into oven

Recipe for Sweet Potato Casserole

  • sweet potatoes, scrubbed and rubbed with olive oil
  • 1 package marshmallows – I used Elyon brand
  • Grade B maple syrup
  • cinnamon
  • graham crackers, crushed/crumbled – I used Back to Nature Honey Graham Sticks

Preheat oven to 400°F.  Scrub sweet potatoes, pat dry, and rub with olive oil.  Place on baking sheet and bake until can pierce deeply with ease, about 1 hour.  Cut potatoes in half lengthwise.  Scoop out flesh into large bowl.  Mash thoroughly.  Spread an inch or two of sweet potato into baking dish.  Dot with marshmallows, sprinkle with cinnamon, and drizzle maple syrup lightly.  Add rest of sweet potato mash and marshmallows.  Reminder: Marshmallows will expand so no need to pack tightly.  Sprinkle with cinnamon and drizzle maple syrup.  Bake at 350°F until marshmallows puff up and melt, about 10 minutes.  Add graham cracker crumbs on top and lightly press into marshmallows.

Butternut Squash Mash

If you’ve ever tried to peel and cut up hard winter squash, you’ll appreciate how little effort this recipe requires.  There are so many variations and adjustments you can make to suit your needs.  I listed some ideas below to get you started.  I tried the recipe as both sweet and savory versions, which were fantastic each way.  This will definitely be making its way onto the table for Thanksgiving!

While this is a simple recipe, it does take time.  The good news is you can do most of the preparation the day before.  After mashing baked squash in a baking dish, cover and refrigerate.  Baking the squash from its refrigerated state will take about 40 minutes.  It goes down way too easily, so make sure you whip up enough!  I highly recommend roasting the seeds too.  They make a great topping for soups and salads, and taste crazy good by themselves as well!

Tasty Butternut Squash Mash Twists (can combine, mix and match to suit tastes):

  • Classic – Butter, sea salt, and pepper
  • Sweet – Maple syrup and cinnamon  (Add layers of marshmallows before baking if you’ve got to have a traditional Thanksgiving side)
  • Savory – Red pepper flakes, paprika, garlic, basil, sea salt
  • Creamy – Add splashes of milk or cream
  • Crunchy – Add roasted squash seeds and/or crumbled no-nitrate bacon

Recipe for Butternut Squash Mash

1 squash makes enough mash to fill a 1.5-quart baking dish.

Preheat oven to 400°F.  Place whole squash in a baking dish and bake for 1 hour.

Easy way to bake squash!

Let squash cool enough to handle, then slice skin and peel off.  The cooler the squash is, the easier the skin peels off.  Cut squash in half lengthwise and scoop out seeds (set aside if want to roast them later).

After removing skin, cut in half to scoop out seeds

Place squash in baking dish and mash

Mash squash in baking dish.

Mashed squash ready to bake

Bake at 350°F until edges pull away from dish.

To roast seeds:  Pour seeds into colander (use one with bigger openings so pulp can pass through) and separate pulp from seeds with the help of very warm running water from the sink.  If possible, soak seeds in water in a jar or container for at least 6 hours (I do this overnight).  Coat baking sheet with coconut oil.  Spread seeds on sheet and sprinkle with salt.  Bake for 20 minutes at 350°F (or before if you hear the seeds popping).

Baking squash and seeds (from 2 squash)

Pear-fect Kale

This is a pear-fect holiday dish.  The fragrance of vanilla, ginger, and cinnamon wafting through your kitchen will get you into the holiday mood.  This is a lovely accompaniment to turkey, beef, or lamb.  Try this dish instead of marshmallow or candied yams–you’ll still get the sweetness you crave without all the crap sugar.  Your body will thank you!

Note: If you notice the photo looks suspiciously like the one I used for my Apple Fennel Kale post, you would be correct.  Good job Watson!  I somehow forgot to photograph the dish before eating it.  Whoops!  But the dish looks very similar to this photo, so I used it again.  Hope you don’t mind!

Recipe for Pear-fect Kale

The amounts of these ingredients can be adjusted to suit your taste preferences.

1 bunch green kale; stems cut into ¼ inch pieces, leaves sliced into ½ inch strips – Watch this video to see how

about 1 cup chopped pears – Make sure they are very ripe

fresh ginger, grated

1 tablespoon butter

couple tablespoons chicken or vegetable stock

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

couple pinches Chinese Five Spice Powder – This is a mixture of cinnamon, fennel, cloves, star anise, and white pepper.  Frontier makes a nice one.

sea salt to taste

Melt butter in deep sauté pan, add stems and stock and cook for a few minutes.  Add ginger and continue cooking for another minute.  Add pears and vanilla extract, cook for another few minutes.  Add kale leaves, cover pan, and cook until leaves turn a vibrant green.  Uncover, shut off heat, mix ingredients.  Add spice powder and sea salt, mix again.

Merry Christmas!