One of America's most enduring Mother's Day rituals is the honoring of Mom with a meal produced by Dad and/or the children. All too often, the images of this ritual unwittingly make fun of how incompetent everyone is in the kitchen without her.
Usually, there's a tray with burned toast and eggs that look as if they had to be jackhammered out of the pan, and behind it, a kitchen that looks like a war zone.
As much as we may love the stereotype perpetuated by these images, today it resembles the modern American family far less often than we think. Our families come in all shapes and sizes. And as for the traditional roles each member has played, we no longer take for granted that Mom even knows her way around the kitchen, let alone that she's the only one who does.
But that's neither here nor there: regardless of what your family is like, cooking for the Mom within it needn't be an adventure into the unknown terrors of the kitchen. Or of groggily producing a breakfast in bed for someone who'd probably rather not have it to begin with.
If you tailor that special meal to fit your family and your own and your mom's temperament - and plan a menu that realistically reflects your own culinary skills - it can be a happy and delicious experience for everyone.
To that end, I offer a menu for a dinner of Mom-approved fare that can be produced by virtually anyone. The recipes are simple enough even for occasional cooks to tackle them without help, yet flexible enough for experienced cooks to be creative. And for the really accomplished cooks who want to show off, there are suggestions for taking them up a notch.
If you have never in your life cooked, however, here is what you need to make: a reservation.
This is not the time to learn to cook or to delude yourself by imagining that it can't be all that hard. It's not: but then, neither is walking, yet it takes a toddler months to master that skill.
If you've never done it, learning to cook in a day is a challenge that's bigger than you are. It doesn't matter if you're a kindergartener, middle-aged executive or a know-it-all teenager.
And finally: yes, no matter how little or large a mess you make, you're not off the hook because you've made this grand gesture. You still have to clean up after yourself.
Don't roll your eyes at me like that. It's not a treat if she has to clean up after you.
Bonnie Gaster's Shrimp Cocktails with Two Remoulade Sauces
Tybee Island native, mom, grandma and fabulous cook Bonnie Gaster is my seafood diva, the cook I turn to with any questions about fish and shellfish. Her spicy remoulade sauces take this old-fashioned standard up a notch or two. Offer one or both, or, if you really can't break with tradition, the more usual ketchup and horseradish cocktail sauce as you like.
Make it easier: simply put the sauces into small bowls in the center of one big platter or tray and pile the peeled and chilled shrimp around them.
Seafood seasoning blends can be found at seafood shops and at seasonings shops such as The Salt Table, a locally owned business whose Tybee Island Coastal Blend is perfect for seasoning shrimp and other seafood. Some purists insist on using only sea salt. It's all up to you.
1 Â½ pounds Georgia May prawns or jumbo Georgia shrimp
Seafood seasoning blend or sea salt
Bonnie's Red Remoulade (recipe follows) and/or Bonnie's White Remoulade (recipe follows)
1. Bring one gallon of water to a rapid boil. Drop in shrimp. Stir several times to move the shrimp from bottom to top of pot. Do not allow water to return to a boil. When first few shrimp float and water begins to shimmer, pour into metal colander in sink to drain, where they should be allowed to steam no more than 1 minute while you prepare ice water to stop the cooking.
2. While shrimp steam, stir 2 quarts water with half as much ice. Hold back ice with hand, pour this over shrimp, then stir 2 quarts water into ice and pour water and ice over shrimp. Toss well until cooled.
3. Season with seafood seasoning blend or sea salt and toss a few times. Peel and devein shrimp and put in container lined with paper towels. Chill at least 2 hours. Serve in cocktail cups with both sauces.
Bonnie's Red Remoulade
Makes about 1 cup
Â¼ cup chili sauce
6 tablespoons Creole mustard
3 ounces prepared horseradish
1 heaped teaspoon Spanish (smoky) paprika
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
Â¼ cup olive oil
Lemon juice to taste
Â¼ cup green onions, thinly sliced using white and green parts
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf (Italian) parsley
2 tablespoons minced celery
Dash hot sauce such as Louisiana or Tabasco
1. Whisk together chili sauce, paprika, vinegar, horseradish and Creole mustard until smooth. Slowly blend in oil until all of the oil is absorbed.
2. Add lemon to taste and fold in remaining ingredients. Taste and add salt and hot sauce as needed.
Bonnie's White Remoulade
Makes about 1 cup
Â½ cup mayonnaise
Â¼ cup Creole mustard
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons minced celery
Â¼-Â½ cup thinly sliced scallions, light and dark green parts
1 tablespoon (or more, to taste) chopped capers
Hot sauce such as Tabasco
Whole white pepper in a mill
1. Combine mayonnaise, mustard, lemon juice, celery, Â¼ cup scallions and 1 tablespoon capers. Add hot sauce, Worcestershire and pepper to taste.
2. Taste and adjust scallions, capers, hot sauce, Worcestershire and pepper.
Roasted Salmon with Capers
My own mother loves fish of any kind, and her mother was especially partial to salmon. Wild-caught salmon is deeply flavorful and rich, and therefore demands simple treatment.
4 6-8 ounce wild-caught salmon fillets
Salt and whole black pepper in a mill
About 2 tablespoons olive oil
Â¾ cup dry white wine or vermouth
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar or lemon juice
4 tablespoons nonpareil capers, drained
6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small chunks
1 level tablespoon minced flat-leaf parsley
2 tablespoons snipped or thinly sliced chives
1. Pat fish with paper towels and season well with salt and pepper. Position rack in upper third of oven and preheat to 450 F. Rub heavy-bottomed, flame-safe baking pan with oil. Put fish on pan in single layer, skin-side-down. Brush top with oil and season well with salt and pepper.
2. Roast in upper third of oven until done to taste, about 10 minutes per inch of thickness. Remove to platter with thin spatula, making sure skin comes up from pan, and let rest 5 minutes.
3. Put pan over direct medium heat. Pour vermouth into pan and deglaze, stirring and scraping to loosen cooking residue. Add capers, gently shaking pan to distribute, and let wine boil until reduced by two-thirds.
4. Stir in vinegar or lemon juice and remove from heat. Whisk in cold butter a few bits at a time until incorporated and emulsified. Stir in parsley. Pour sauce and capers over fish, sprinkle with chives and serve at once.
Stir-Fried Asparagus with Leeks and New Potatoes
My mother loves to stir-fry and loves anything that has been cooked that way. This family favorite is quick and has the added bonus of providing two side dishes in one. Adapted from my book "Beans, Greens, & Sweet Georgia Peaches" (2nd Edition, Lyons Press/2014).
Â½ pound small red new potatoes, scrubbed under cold running water
1 Â½ pounds fresh, fat-stemmed asparagus
Green tops of 2 large leeks, washed and trimmed
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
Salt and whole black pepper in a mill
1 tablespoon minced flat leaf parsley
1. Bring at least 1-inch water to a boil over medium high heat in heavy bottomed pot. Put steaming basket or insert in or over pot, add potatoes, cover and reduce heat to medium. Steam until potatoes are just tender and can be pierced easily with a paring knife, about 8-10 minutes. Potatoes can be precooked a day ahead. Let cool, and if making ahead, cover and refrigerate.
2. Meanwhile, wash and trim asparagus, peel tough lower part of stem, and cut into 1-inch lengths, keeping tips separate from stems. Slice leek greens crosswise into 2-inch lengths, then cut into thin strips. When ready to finish dish, cut potatoes into 1-inch pieces (halves if small, quarters if larger, eighths if really large).
3. Melt butter in large skillet or sautÃ© pan over medium high heat. Add asparagus stems. Stir-fry, tossing frequently, until bright green all over and beginning to soften, about 3 minutes. Add potatoes and continue tossing until beginning to turn golden, about 3 minutes longer.
4. Add leek greens and asparagus tips, season to taste with salt and pepper. Stir-fry, tossing frequently, until asparagus is crisp-tender and beginning to brown. It should still be firm and bright green. Stir in parsley and turn off heat. Taste and correct seasonings and serve at once.
Amaretto Semifreddo with Chocolate Grand Marnier Ganache
If you've not encountered an Italian semifreddo, it's homemade ice cream for dummies - even novice cooks can master it. The name is Italy's little joke on the rest of us: semifreddo literally means "partly cold," but there's no "partly" about it: it's actually completely frozen.
The eggs in this concoction are not cooked, but the freezing takes care of any bacteria that might be in them. If you're still uneasy, use pasteurized eggs.
3 large eggs
Â¾ cup fine granulated sugar
2 Â½ cups chilled heavy cream
2-3 tablespoons Amaretto liqueur
Chocolate Grand Marnier Ganache (recipe follows)
1. Separate the eggs, putting the whites in a clean metal or glass bowl. Whip whites until they form firm and glossy but not dry peaks.
2. In another large mixing bowl, beat yolks and sugar together until fluffy and smooth. Whisk in the liqueur, to taste. Fold egg whites. Using bowl that whites were whipped in, add chilled cream and whip until it forms firm but not stiff peaks. Fold cream into other mixture.
3. Line large bread pan or mold with plastic wrap, overlapping it on sides. Spoon in semifreddo, smooth with spatula and cover with plastic wrap. Freeze until set, at least 8 hours or overnight.
4. To serve, turn it out of mold, remove the wrap, and let it soften a few minutes. Slice and serve with Chocolate Ganache Grand Marnier.
Chocolate Ganache Grand Marnier
It's just orange-flavored chocolate sauce, but doesn't it sound so much classier when you call it a "gah-NAHSH grAHnd Mah-NEE-EH?" If even the semifreddo looks too complicated for you, just buy your mother's favorite ice cream and top it with this.
Makes about 2 cups
1 cup heavy cream
1 piece orange peel, about 1 inch wide and 3 inches long
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped, or bittersweet chips
2 tablespoons orange liqueur such as Grand Marnier
1. Bring cream and peel to a simmer over medium low heat. Simmer 2-3 minutes and remove zest. Add chocolate and let stand about 1 minute, until chocolate softens.
2. Whisk until smooth and stir in orange liquor, extract or liqueur.