There’s never a dull moment when visiting with the Zarrilli’s, and the trend continued at our most recent invitation to start the holidays a few weeks early with a festive Christmas themed dinner at their home in Hamilton, NJ. To start things off, Mrs. Z premade a pitcher of real tasty Pomegranate Cosmos concocted with Pama liqueur and some Grande Marnier among other ingredients. These are definitely finding their way to our cocktail short list!

img_9149Provisions are at the ready for cocktail hour.

Rosanne is so talented when it comes to crafting and decorating, and she pulls out all the stops with her holiday decor. I don’t think there’s a square foot that isn’t adorned with something, even the dining chandelier had snowflakes hanging from it!

We offered to bring an appetizer and even though we hadn’t made them before, we took a chance and made this dish of garlic-stuffed mushrooms, which were enhanced with a little dry sherry and nutty Gruyère cheese. Between the four of us we polished them off in no time. Fair warning, they are brimming with lots of chopped garlic. (Recipe follows.)



Did you know that Gilroy, California is home to 90% of the American garlic crop? True fact. I believe the origins of this appetizer came from the Gilroy Garlic Festival. Well, you don’t have to go all the way to Cali to try these babies, just make a batch for yourself, they are delicioso… FYI, in Step 2, Russ added the entire 1/2 cup of oil initially, but then strained about half of that off because we thought it was too oily, so keep that in mind when making yours.


After enjoying cocktail hour, we meandered into the dining room where the festive salads were already plated. Wow, were they good! I did ask about the dressing, though I can’t remember exactly what it consisted of, I just know I really liked it! One can’t help but take note of the red and green theme continuing throughout the course(s) of the night.

But let’s talk about the star of the show which was Beef Bourguignon made with filet mignon, compliments of Food Network Chef Ina Garten—it was the bomb!! And paired with a cheesy polenta and roasted Brussels sprouts with pancetta, a winning combo that was comfort food on steroids! Russ loaded up my plate and I tried my darndest to finish, but had to relent in the end.



Then came dessert. I was definitely too full to indulge, but Russ was not going to miss out and had nothing but raves about it. Mrs. Z assembled egg nog ice cream with a blackberry compote—which fittingly turned red—that came swimmingly together in martini glasses for that added touch of class. And what’s a Yuletide meal without Christmas cookies? As an added bonus, a plate of assorted confections adorned with red and green Hershey Kisses also found their way to the table.



All-in-all, not a bad way to kick off the holiday season—absolutely Z-licious! And as the cocktail napkin denotes “Keep Calm, and Merry On.”

Garlic-and-Gruyère-Stuffed Mushrooms


  • 1⁄2 cup olive oil, plus more (we only used about 1/4 cup)
  • 20 large cremini mushrooms, stems roughly chopped
  • 10 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 small shallot, chopped
  • 1⁄4 cup dry sherry
  • 3 tbsp. chopped parsley
  • 2 tbsp. chopped sage
  • 1 egg white
  • 1 1⁄4 cups grated Gruyère
  • 1⁄2 cup panko bread crumbs


  1. Heat oven to 375°. Toss 2 tbsp. oil, the mushroom caps, salt, and pepper on a baking sheet. Arrange stem side down; bake until tender, 25–30 minutes.
  2. Heat oven broiler. Heat remaining oil and the garlic in a 12” skillet over medium; cook until garlic is golden, 4–6 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer garlic to a paper towel to drain.
  3. Add chopped mushroom stems, shallot, salt, and pepper to skillet; cook until shallot is soft, 3–4 minutes. Add sherry; cook until evaporated, 2–3 minutes.
  4. Transfer to a food processor; add parsley, sage, and egg white, and pulse until coarsely ground. Transfer to a bowl; stir in reserved garlic, the Gruyère, and panko.
  5. Fill caps with 1 tbsp. filling; return to baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil; broil until tops are browned, 2–3 minutes.


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