Memories of holiday celebrations remain very food centric for me. When I recall the roasts, turkeys and hams of holidays past, I am instantly transported to the chaos and love of the kitchens where those meals were affectionately prepared.
Christmas was always spent at my aunt and uncle’s home. My brother and I could never wait to arrive there to play with our cousins, see all the new toys Santa delivered and for me, eat copious amounts of my aunt’s stuffed mushrooms. These mushrooms somehow verified it was finally Christmas. They were not fancy, just mushrooms with a piece of link sausage placed in the cap and baked to perfection. I craved these mushrooms all year. They would disappear within minutes of exiting the oven.
As we grew older the family increased and now boyfriends, girlfriends, new husbands and wives were also attending the holiday celebrations so the mushrooms would vanish at an even faster rate. There were never enough of these little bites to meet the growing families’ demands and the competition to score a few was fierce. I truly miss that.
The memories of those mushrooms over the years brought my own creation of Holiday Sweet Stuffed Mushrooms. While they are very different from my aunt’s version, they still evoke great memories of the holidays in my youth.
During the hustle and bustle this time of year, it’s important to have appetizers we can prepare ahead and have ready to place in the oven. These mushrooms can be made to a certain point earlier in the day and placed in the oven right before guests arrive.
Holiday Sweet Stuffed Mushrooms
24 large fresh mushrooms
4 Tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 Tablespoon minced garlic
1/2 pound ground pork
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon toasted fennel seed, ground*
1 Tablespoon grated orange zest
1/4 cup dried bread crumbs
1 cup chicken broth
Salt and pepper to taste
Remove the stems from the mushrooms and chop; reserve the caps. Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large sauté pan. Add onion and cook until softened; about 5 minutes. Add the chopped stems and cook over high heat until they begin to dry; about 5 minutes. Stir in garlic and cook until fragrant; about 30 seconds. Transfer mixture to a bowl and set aside.
Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil in the same pan. Cook the pork, breaking it up with a spoon, until cooked through. Stir in cinnamon, nutmeg, fennel seed and orange zest. Add the cooked mushroom and onion mixture and bread crumbs; mix well. Season to your own taste with salt and pepper.
Preheat oven to 350°F. Stuff the pork mixture into the mushroom caps. Place the mushrooms in a baking pan and drizzle chicken broth around them. Bake until they are cooked through; about 20 minutes.
Place them on a platter and drizzle with the broth from the pan, serve warm.
*Toast whole fennel seeds in a frying pan over moderate heat until fragrant; about 1-2 minutes. Let them cool slightly and place in an electric spice mill or a clean coffee grinder to pulverize, or crush them with a mortar and pestle.
Cathy is currently in the development stages of her vineyard and winery in the Willamette Valley of Oregon. She is a food writer for Davis Life Magazine and blogs daily about wine, food and everyday living. She lives with her husband and two sons. You can visit her at noblepig.com.