Stuffed Mushrooms, Easy Appetizer

Easy Stuffed Mushrooms

There’s that classic movie moment where a guy is shooting a gun and runs out of bullets. He looks at the gun as it goes ‘click’, and then proceeds to throw it at the guys rushing him. And we all know that is a stupid move. That is me with these stuffed mushrooms.

When The Man gets home from work late and he’s starving, I try to have something for him to snack on if dinner isn’t completely ready. I can hear his stomach rumble as he casually saunters into the kitchen under the guise of seeing what’s for dinner, his eye on the tortilla chips. I usually pull the mushrooms out of the oven and wave them at him with the same unrealistic hope as the guy that throws his gun when he runs out of ammo. It’s more nutritious than chips, and it keeps him busy trying to eat something delicious but super hot.

The fun thing about these mushrooms is that you can get creative and change the stuffing depending on what you have on hand. And you can make as many or as few as you need. And they are super easy to prepare.

I use baby bella mushrooms (immature portobello), but you could get away with any of the small capped mushrooms that have a thicker flesh and cup shape. Clean them and gently remove the stem. Pour a few tablespoons of olive oil into a baking dish, and sprinkle that with garlic powder, Italian seasonings, and black pepper. Carefully set the mushrooms top down in the oil so they are nestled together, then salt and pepper them again. I like to put a few drops of lemon juice into each cap, a sprinkle of more Italian seasonings, then a small chunk or sliver of fresh garlic.

If you have the pre-crumbled blue cheese, you can put a few good size chunks of soft cheese into each cap, or any kind of softer cheese would work nicely. Then on top of each little cup, lay a slice of melty cheese just to generally cover the top. Sharp cheddar is a standard, but if I have a gouda, I like that best. A little more garlic powder and pepper on top of the cheese, and maybe a dusting of parmigiana or pecorino. Pop that into a 350 degree oven for about 15 minutes or until the cheese is bubbly and the caps look a bit wrinkled from the moisture baking off. Let them cool before tossing them at the hungry people rushing you for dinner.

Mushrooms are a good source of protein, as well as a few other vitamins and minerals. And then when you add good stuff like garlic, you’re practically a health-food nut when you eat these. (Keep telling yourself that!) Plus these are fast and easy but look great as an appetizer or finger food.

Instead of lemon juice and garlic, try a base of tomato sauce (great if you’re already making pasta for dinner), pesto, or even a touch of ginger and thinly sliced apple (omitting the Italian seasonings and garlic for more pepper and lemon juice). I’ve put in thinly sliced fresh spinach, olives, fresh basil, caramelized onions, or even a few drops of hot sauce or mustard depending on the flavors of the main dinner menu. And of course you can play with the cheese options. Because cheese is always welcome.

They do store and re-heat well but are best served fresh out of the oven to a hungry audience. Have a peak in the package when you’re buying them so you don’t get the huge ones that will cause some poor sod to look like a trout while trying to eat the whole thing though.

[Girl21]

Universe Smoothie

Universe's Best Smoothie

When you’re single, there’s that thing that’s just not very fun to do alone on a regular basis. Cook.

There’s something unglamorous about eating black beans from the can while standing over the kitchen sink. You could always invite yourself over to couple-friends houses for meals, but they tend to catch on eventually and move without telling you where. If you’re on a budget, eating out is not an option. And no, anything with a drive-thru is not food. So what to do? I engineered the universe’s best smoothie to combat the drudgery of eating alone while single. It’s simple, nutritious, tastes good, and isn’t very expensive per serving.

Of course, it’s now a stand-by meal on a rushed morning, great for that after-workout protein shot, and ideal for the hot, hot summer months when the stove is the enemy. It’s easy to double up to serve two also. <3 <3 <3 [gratuitous smootchie love hearts to The Man]

Feel free to juggle the ingredients of course (alternatives and additions suggested below), but put these in the blender in this order to prevent a peanut butter mess:

1 cup yogurt (vanilla; or plain and a tablespoon of honey, yum!)
1-2 tablespoons peanut butter (real peanut butter of course)
1 banana
1/3 cup frozen fruit (cherries, or berry mix)
2/3 cup orange juice

Blend until frozens are integrated. Yum!

I sometimes put 1/4 cup of oatmeal into the blender first to chop fine, and then add back into the mix with the OJ. A friend freezes kale and crumbles it into hers for added healthiness. Another friend stealthily adds veggies to her toddler’s. If you are ridiculously organized and creative, you can make your own yoghurt, pick and freeze your own fruit, juice your own oranges, and become an apiarist. Don’t laugh. My dear sweet sister is amazing like this, but it’s sometimes exhausting to watch her get through her day.

For the yogurt, I prefer Stonyfield Farm when I’m feeling super optimistic, or Dannon natural vanilla. When I start reading the ingredients list of simple products and they are more than five items long, it makes me nervous. What is it and why does it need to be in my food? This is becoming one of my tedious rants in my old age, I suppose.

Because bananas can be tricky and people have issues of too-ripe or too-green (I think bananas are only edible while still bright yellow with only a few freckles, but people have very strong opinions about this), I suggest waiting until a bunch are the right age for you, peeling them and breaking them into chunks, and freezing them stored loosely in bags so they don’t become a solid lump. That way you can toss them into your smoothie as needed and not end up with bananas that look like a cat snuck up onto your kitchen counter and did its business.

Once again, here is something on our ‘Cooking’ list that has nothing to do with actually cooking. I do cook, believe it or not. But as we hurtle towards summer and all of its steaming glory, I look for ways to avoid sweating like a priest at a Boy Scout convention. So keeping the stove off is a priority. It’s tough to do this and still get all the necessary daily nutritional requirements in a form that is also tasty. I love food, and I love eating yummy food. But I also put a priority (especially as a vegetarian) on eating responsibly.

[Girl21]

Finger Meals Fast

Only Martha Stewart and other aliens are always prepared for guests. The rest of us get get caught off guard by last minute guests or find ourselves feeling inadequate in the kitchen. If you live close to a decent grocery store, you can always come up with a classy spread after a ten minute dash around the deli and produce sections.

I have to say I’m quite practiced at this by now. I host a book club at my house (much to The Man’s amusement on those nights he’s home to witness the ladies’ gathering) and twice a month have to rush through the store on the way home from the office. A couple sorts of cheese, some savory crunchy things, some seasonal fruits and veggies, and some sweet tidbits… you’re gold.

Keep in mind the crowd you’re entertaining when choosing you yummy little bits and pieces. People used to potato chips and orange cheddar cheese are just not going to be game to try the Roaring Forties blue cheese. On the other hand, fresh fruit is usually a good option for just about any group. And of course you’re limited by your local grocery store.

We’re lucky enough to live near a Publix and Ward’s. We went to Upstate New York last summer and I was introduced to Wegmans, so my world has never been quite the same. Never the less, I shop at Publix happily because you can get a decent selection of fresh deli and bakery things. Plus the added Greenwise sections mean some good healthfood options. And of course I like Ward’s because it’s a locally owned business that has great local produce, super-healthfood sections, and a fun selection of wine and beer (that I can spend too much time perusing). And they stock the best coffee in town, Sweetwater Organic Coffee.

Anyhow, two things to keep in mind in these situations, SIMPLE and FRESH. Wait … three things… YUMMY! For a base, try getting a loaf of herb bread or a whole grain baton (yes, the long bread), which you can slice up and pop in the oven. Try a jar of pre-made pesto to slather on the bread first, topped with some deli sliced gouda and crumbled gorganzola. Or just sprinkle the slices with salt, pepper, italian herbs, and garlic powered, then cheese. Just toast them in the oven long enough to melt the cheese and let some corners get a bit golden. A box of Triscuits or some other whole grain crackers are also good if you’re in a hurry or want a variety.

For savories, if you have an olive bar, absolutely go a little wild. Even toss in some garlic stuffed and blue cheese stuffed options with the usual oil cured and kalamata. If you can find some Castelvetrano Sicilian olives, these bright green beauties are delish. Or splash out on a few nice jars of olives off the shelf. Try a jar of asparagus and artichoke hearts for a little texture.

Fruits and veggies are great balance, and besides a little cutting and arranging, are very little work. I usually go for some Granny Smith apples and whatever is in season… peaches, cherries, grapes, or pears. And for veggies it’s a no-brainer to grab some carrots (always organic carrots!), celery, cauliflower, broccoli, and maybe a pretty sweet pepper or two. I’m biased against tomatoes, but feel free to get some little cherry or grape tomatoes if you see some nice ones.

I left cheese for last because it’s the best place to go completely berserk. I could go on and on about cheese, but there are some safe bets to please the most people. Cheddar–no not the orange variety–is possibly the most obvious choice because you can easily chop it into chunks, it has a good texture, and its sharp but not overpowering flavor can pair with just about anything on the table (go for the sharpest version you can find… we like the Racer’s Edge Cabot since you can find it easily). I also usually grab a block of swiss if I can find it (I like Amish swiss) or even some Mexican queso fresco.

If you’re feeling adventursome, try a round of brie (or even goat brie). Keep the brie simple by unwrapping it, slicing the rind off the top and putting it in a shallow glass or ceramic oven-safe dish, drizzling it with olive oil and baking it at 350 for ten minutes. [In the above picture we had some cheese curds, and a super yum Humbolt Fog goat cheese.]

Notice I didn’t go on about wine or other drinks here. That’s pages of rambling. For my book club ladies I usually go for a mild red wine, maybe a chard if I’m looking to change it up a bit. I love a nice tempranillo in the $7-10 range. Or my standard seems to be a bottle of Our Daily Red (fantastic at about $7 a bottle). Basically you want to go for something the most people will be comfortable drinking, and something you like.

A little chopping and slicing, and some attention to arranging the goodies, and you can set up a nice little spread in less than 30 minutes. It’s fresh food that’s also kind of healthy, and it’s fun and easy to eat while talking and drinking. And of course it’s tasty!

[Girl21]

Pesto Asparagus Sandwich

Pesto Asparagus SammieGarlic herb focaccia
Stone ground mustard
Pesto
Sliced cheese… Muenster, provolone, mozzarella, swiss, etc
Marinated asparagus

We love easy meals that taste like they came off a trendy SoHo bistro menu. And a sandwich that takes two minutes to assemble is a fantastic option for picnics, pool parties, and impromptu lunch work-dates.

We can usually get all of the ingredients we need at our local grocery shop. (Buy local to support community businesses!)

Start with a light bread, preferably herbed or flavored. I love this rectangular focaccia made by a local bakery. If you’re looking to assemble in a hurry, make sure to pick something already sliced!

Mustard varies by personal taste, but we like a stone ground, medium flavor style. Something with a good flavor that won’t take control of the sandwich. As for pesto, those little good-quality jars in the gourmet or health food sections are guilty little pleasures. After all, fresh is best, but who has the time or resources often?

Slather opposite sides of your sammie with the mustard and the pesto. Then apply a layer of your preferred cheese. We use Muenster, provolone, or swiss because it’s fairly easy to find pre-sliced and good quality. We settled on Boar’s Head Muenster last time and it was perfect.

Before you seal up your sammie, slide in a few stalks of marinated asparagus for texture and flavor. Look for the right kind of jarred asparagus though because it can be very bad if you go the cheap route. Look at the heads to make sure they’re still intact so you don’t end up with mushy asparagus slugs.

Suggested accompaniments: blue corn chips, black bean humus, and dry cider or real ginger ale.

Mwah! Delish!

[Girl21]