Everyone's Party Favorite: Stuffed Mushrooms

Everyone needs this recipe in their arsenal -- the perfect party treat that all guests look for when they arrive to your house. The specialty my mom's known for is fruit salad. For my aunt, it's coconut pie. For my girl friend, it's jalapeño-spinach-artichoke dip. And me? It's stuffed mushrooms. Prep time is fairly minimal, cook time is a snap, and the results have my guests begging for the recipe, thinking I spent years perfecting this Italian appetizer. (But really, I've perfected the recipe in one shot after a friend passed it on to me).

Makes: About 3-4 dozen mushrooms Prep time: 20 minutes Cook time: 8 minutes

Ingredients: 2 packages whole mushrooms (about 3-4 dozen mushrooms) 2 cans crab meat (6 oz each) 2 cups shredded or powdered Parmesan cheese 3/4 cup butter, melted 1/3 cup green onions (or chives) salt and pepper, to taste

1. After rinsing and draining mushrooms, pluck stems out and, if needed, carve a small indentation to accommodate for filling. Set aside.

2. Chop about half of the remaining mushroom stems and add to mixing bowl. Mix in Parmesan cheese, crab, melted butter and chopped green onions. Add salt and pepper, if desired.

3. Scoop and stuff mixture into each mushroom cap (which may be about 1 tablespoon of stuffing per cap).

4. Arrange stuffed mushrooms on a baking sheet, sprinkle a little more salt and pepper. Broil for 7-8 minutes, or until the tops are light golden brown.

My Notes How to take off mushroom stems: Hold the mushroom in your palm, stem facing up. With your thumbs, gently push the stem until it snaps. It should give way easily; if not, rotate the mushroom and push the other side. This ensures you don't break the cap.

A non-crab variation? Crab meat can be expensive, especially if you're making this recipe in large quantities. A good substitute is spinach and a few basil leaves. Use 1 cup chopped spinach with several chopped basil leaves for a boost in flavor and freshness.

A meat-lover's variation? And if you prefer meat over crab, try using spinach with bacon bits. Try 3/4 chopped spinach with 1/4 cup bacon bits for a salty, meaty kick.

What to do with the extra filling? Sometimes the ratio of stuffing to mushrooms is uneven, but it's definitely better to have too much rather than too little mix. If you find yourself with an excess, try spreading it on a baguette and toast in the toaster or conventional oven until the cheese melts.