Today is Mother’s Day (and this is my 100th post!) and I think it is perhaps the first Mother’s Day that I am not actually going to see my Mom. Long story, nothing tragic, but I thought since I won’t see her I would connect with her by sharing one of the early recipes she taught me back when she inspired me to cook — Champignon Farci, which is just a fancy French way of saying “stuffed mushrooms”. They are quite delicious and can be served as a passed appetizer or as a side dish. I often serve them with roasted meats like rack of lamb. They are great for parties because they can be made in advance and kept in the refrigerator for a couple of days, if necessary. I made the batch seen above by special request of my mother-in-law. I served them to her a few weeks ago and she enjoyed them so much she asked if I wouldn’t mind making some for a party she was having. We are new in each other’s lives so this request was saturated with meaning for me. As such, I don’t have a picture of the finished product to show you as these were packed up and sent to her house to be finished off in the oven for her own guests to enjoy. (I’m sure you can use your imagination and figure out what they looked like — they are stuffed mushrooms after all!)
In addition to giving me this recipe for stuffed mushrooms nearly 30 years ago, my mom is the one I credit with showing me the value of connecting to other people through good food and thoughtful entertaining. Back then when I went away to school for the first time I was a shy, reserved and probably a bit frightened young man. Certainly, I had not yet grown into my own skin. Even though I tried very hard to fight those tendencies I’m sure that outwardly, I was still quite socially awkward. I joined a fraternity to get a sense of group belonging but I still had a difficult time setting out any identity as an individual. As silly as it sounds today, I didn’t think I had any talents to rely on — and one of my more central identity traits was not quite ready to be dealt with. I wasn’t any good at sports and my near encyclopedic knowledge of Disney movies and Broadway’s leading ladies wasn’t going to win me many fans in that particular environment. I searched around for an ‘angle’ and then after a year or so I began to see how my mother used cooking and entertaining as a means to take control over her own shyness with people. In her own home, and presenting a well thought out party for her guests, she shined! I will always remember the night that one of her friends told me that being at one of my mother’s dinner parties was the one place on earth he enjoyed most! That’s a pretty incredible statement when you think about it (and all the other places in the world he could have chosen.) It wasn’t long after that I asked Mom to help me learn to cook. Everyone has to eat, after all.
I would come home from college on the weekends and she and I would plan out a dinner menu and she would give me xerox copies of the recipes. (I still have them.) We would talk out the recipes and she would tell me why certain foods were good together or why some things were perhaps better choices than others. We would then often make the recipes together for our Sunday family dinner or I would head back to school and try to duplicate the meal for my room mates and their girlfriends. Those early dinners were mostly comprised of the basics like meatloaf, lasagna, and roast chicken. After college we tackled more advanced fare including basic French cooking. I would spend hours going through her extensive cookbook collection and watch her prepare for her parties and our family holiday feasts. She knew that you started your meal with your eyes and so setting out a good table was key to her planning. She even showed me how to take apart and debone a chicken in one piece and then sew it up back together for her signature dish, Chicken Ballantine. (A triumph that was actually photographed and published in Orange County Magazine who was sent to actually cover one of her fêtes!) My college friends who came to visit following graduation started to notice a certain uptick in the menu quality. “Taco Night” became “Tournedoes aux Poive Verte”night as Mom and I spent the requisite hours in the kitchen together making our own classic brown sauce and the Glace de Viande that I learned true chefs used to transform a good sauce into amazing. She didn’t cook like this nightly, but she knew that to make a special meal you had to pull out all the stops and do it right. Good times indeed and I really enjoyed those times with her.
She initially showed me Champignon Farci as a side dish to that last meal but she herself usually served it as a passed appetizer. You know its good ’cause it has bacon in it! Just about anything in this can be substituted but the recipe as written is my favorite for sentimental reasons and I will make it this way forever. Thanks Mom!