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Simple Sides: Holiday Stuffed Mushrooms

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By Dennis Linden

Competing schedules in the day-to-day lives of a busy modern family make it difficult to share a home-cooked meal together, but not impossible. In fact, with a little planning, cooking together can become a fun family event and learning opportunity. This feature will focus on providing a child or a group of children, working together under the supervision of an adult, with one uncomplicated, healthy and delicious side dish recipe. The dishes will be centered on seasonal fresh produce items; the recipes will always contain tasks will allow even the youngest kitchen helper to contribute to the family meal. Parents should always read through each recipe carefully to judge the division of labor based on age and ability as well as to identify where adult attention might be especially needed.
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Many of the recipes presented here will seem very basic -- this is by design. It is hoped that these simple preparations will provide the culinary foundation and confidence to inspire kids to try more challenging recipes as their experience in the kitchen develops. Melissa’s encourages parents to find the time to gather as a family unit at least once a week for a dinner that everyone pitches in to prepare. It’s a wonderful way to teach a child basic culinary skills and, more importantly, cooking with your children will build memories in all of your hearts forever.

One of the first dishes that I remember taking great pride in serving as a very novice cook was stuffed mushrooms. I now chuckle at myself for being so proud of preparing such an easy dish that I, in my very early twenties, considered so very “gourmet” at the time. As a product of a 1950s/60s upbringing, when the kitchen was a no-fly zone for all family members except my stay-at-home mom, my own culinary education did not really begin until I found myself in the kitchen of my first apartment. It was there that I discovered (shockingly) that if I wanted something to eat that was prepared in that room I was going to have to cook it!

In hindsight, I probably served Stuffed Mushrooms way too often back then while I played catch-up for all those lost formative years in the kitchen. To this day, I can’t help but get a quickie flashback when confronted with a platter of them, usually at catered events, as the dish has become a classic banquet appetizer. So mama don’t let your kids grow up to be Cowboys or culinary-challenged like me; get them started stuffing mushrooms with all sorts of filling of their own creations early and often! You will be thanked later – maybe with a fantastic meal served TO you out of that first apartment kitchen!

To get your young sous chefs stuffing in the right direction, here’s a very versatile recipe that a beginner can use as a model to create variations with other filling ingredients and/or mushroom varieties. ‘Tis the holiday season, so the recipe below uses Portobello mushrooms in order to create an elegant, special-occasion side dish. However, the same filling could also be prepared with about a dozen extra-large white mushrooms to fill a festive holiday appetizer platter. In fact, since the season can provide several opportunities for your kitchen helpers to practice their culinary skills, you might ask them to try this recipe both ways depending on the event!

While the simple one-bowl mix/stuff/bake prep of this recipe is perfect for the novice, a very fine dice of the mushroom stems, onion and parsley is critical so that the texture of the filling is smooth and not chunky. This is a good opportunity for an older child to learn and practice the difference between the terms chopped and finely diced. For a child too young to work with a sharp knife yet, a quick run-though of these same ingredients on the PULSE setting of a food processer will accomplish the same consistency or, better yet, use a kid-friendly tool such as Cuisinart’s SmartStick™ chopper and grinder attachment that will do the trick nicely. Be aware of the special handling caution with regards the removal of the Portobello stems that is provided in the adult section of the recipe text. Happy Stuffing!

Loaded Holiday ‘Shrooms
Servings: 4
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Ingredients:

4 whole large Portobello Mushrooms (option 12 XL White Mushrooms)
2 TBS Olive Oil
2 TBS Garlic, minced
½ small Red Onion, finely chopped
½ cup Dried Cranberries
2 TBS fresh Parsley
½ cup grated Jack Cheese
½ tsp. Black Pepper

What the kids can do:
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Carefully break off mushroom stems and finely chop them after discarding the tough end. In a sauté pan, heat the olive oil, then add garlic, chopped onions and stems. Cook until all the moisture has disappeared.
Image of combining mushroom mixture, dried cranberries, parsley, shredded cheese and pepper
In a mixing bowl, combine the mushroom mixture, dried cranberries, parsley, shredded cheese and pepper.
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Lightly scrape out the “gills” of the mushroom with a serrated spoon to deepen the cavity a little. Then fill each mushroom cap with a generous amount of stuffing. Arrange the caps in a baking dish sprayed with cooking oil, then hand off to an adult for baking.

What the supervising adult should do:

Careful hint: Removing the stems from the Portobello can result in breaking the mushroom cap in half if just the right amount of leverage is applied – it might be a good idea to do this yourself. Oversee the fine chopping of the mushroom stems and red onion, as well as the stovetop sauté of the stem mixture. Once the kids have filled the mushroom caps, place in a preheated oven @ 350°F and bake for 15 - 20 minutes or until mushrooms caps have browned and start to lose moisture.
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