Thursday, February 19, 2015

Wine, cheese and a ‘shroom of one’s own

Can you believe it’s December? The year just seemed to fly by and once again, it’s time for Christmas carols, shopping and parties. Of course, that also means it’s time for even worse than usual traffic, nonexistent parking, and jam-packed restaurants full of impatient customers and harried wait staff.

It’s enough to make you start channeling your inner Ebenezer and decide you’d rather get your humbug on at home.

Of course, you could just throw your own Christmas party. Call the caterers and throw together a simple little bash for a hundred or so of your closest chums. Or if you’re anything like me, cash in that reality check and just invite a few friends over for wine and cheese at the shoebox you lovingly call home.

If you do decide to go with the latter, here are some tips for throwing an easy W&C that’ll have your friends hailing you as your generation’s Martha for months to come.

1) First, there’s the wine. Figure on a bottle for every three people. Unless of course, you and your friends are raging alkies, in which case, reverse that ratio.

2)   Then, there’s the cheese. You want a nice variety of cheeses in terms of texture and taste. I usually stick with three or four cheeses, my favorites being an aged Manchego or Gruyere (hard), a Brie, Camembert or Brillat-Savarin (soft), and because they’re my personal favorites, always a lovely blue cheese like a Stilton or a Cambozola (stinky delicious).

3)   Don’t forget the carbs. I keep it simple, just some crackers and a freshly warmed baguette cut into slices. But you can always play around with other possibilities. Fruit and nut breads are great too, as well as ryes, brown breads, flat breads and bread sticks.

4)   Get fruity. Fruit provides a great counterpoint to cheese, be it fresh, like a bunch of plump grapes, dried (apricots, figs, cranberries) or a compote or relish (mango chutney, fig jam).

5)   There’s more to wine and cheese…than wine and cheese. I like to add small platters of nuts, olives and cold cuts to the mix. That way, no one goes home hungry, not even the lactose-intolerant.

6)   Just say yes. The well-mannered guest will usually ask if they can bring anything. Say yes. People contributing wine and cheese (or pizza, chocolate cake, siopao,) makes it easier on you and your wallet. Besides, your guests are eager to let you know how much they appreciate your hosting the shindig and hopefully, volunteering to do it again soon.

7)   Make something from scratch. Just the one homemade dish really turns your humble little get-together into something special and personal. Choose something you can make ahead and then, either serve at room temperature or pop in the oven when your guests arrive.

I usually go with a spread, dip, or a crowd-pleaser like stuffed mushrooms. I’ve made many different kinds since, but this very first recipe I ever tried for sausage-stuffed mushrooms continues to be an MRS (Most Requested ‘Shroom).

So, eat, drink, be merry and don’t forget to appoint a designated driver (or call Über). And remember—what happens at the W&C…stays at the W&C.  Happy holidays!

Sausage-Stuffed Mushrooms
Serves 6-8 as an appetizer

Breadcrumbs (preferably fresh), ¼ cup
1 shallot, peeled and quartered
2 cloves garlic, peeled
2 packages baby portobellos, cleaned
Crumbled Italian sausage (casings removed), 150 grams
Dry mustard, ½ teaspoon
Worcestershire sauce, 1 teaspoon
Butter, 2 tablespoons
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Pulse shallots and garlic in a food processor. Set aside.

Remove stems from mushrooms (leaving the caps intact) and chop, using a food processor or a knife. Set aside.

In large skillet over medium heat, cook sausage until no longer pink.  Drain well.  Add shallot, garlic and mushroom stems.  Cook and stir for 4 to 5 minutes, until vegetables are tender.

Transfer sausage mixture to a large bowl.  Add breadcrumbs, dry mustard, and Worcestershire sauce to sausage.  Mix thoroughly with your hands, a wooden spoon or in a food processor.

Melt butter in skillet over medium-low heat.  Add mushroom caps.  Cook for 1 1/2 to 2 minutes on each side, until slightly soft.  Place on ungreased cookie sheets.  Fill with sausage mixture.  Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.  Set aside. 

When ready to serve, bake at 350°F for 10 minutes or until hot and bubbly.

This article first appeared in the December 11, 2014 issue of The Philippine Star.

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