In a handful of months I will become a first time mom. When my husband Alex and I think about what we’ll cook for our son or daughter, he has pot loads of ideas, and with good reason. My mother-in-law is Italian, raised in Milan, and my father-in-law is Japanese, raised in Tokyo. Alex’s childhood food memories are like an episode of Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown. They are just, quite literally, that rich and that good.
Me on the other hand, that’s a different story. For one, my mind is already cluttered with vial upon vial of internet poison and botched visits to the parenting section at Barnes and Noble. I’ll be lucky if I can get through our first family dinner without having heart palpitations. Can he have nuts? What about eggs? Did we ask the doctor about wheat? Is that yogurt organic, but no like, actually organic? WHERE IS THAT EPIPEN?
So on this Mother’s Day, I’ve decided to think back to when I was a kid and my mom made our plain old American dinner table the most fun table in the world with a hands on meal that my brother and I loved: fondue and artichokes.
One of the most popular Parisian street foods are crêpes. You can buy them filled with just about any sweet filling, including fruit preserves and chocolate. But savory crêpes, also popular in France though much less known outside of the country, actually have a different name; they are called galettes. Thinner and larger than crêpes, they are made with buckwheat flour, a soft flour with an earthy flavor. The region of Brittany is very famous for its galettes, which can be filled with any number of savory fillings.
Eggs, thinly sliced meats, fish, cheese, and vegetable all make delicious fillings. My favorite, by far, is the combination of ham and eggs. Savory crêpes can be enjoyed for lunch or dinner, but they are especially nice for an elegant breakfast. With Mother's day this weekend, a breakfast of galettes would be a wonderful way to celebrate mom with some French flair. If you know how to make pancakes and fry eggs, making these breakfast bundles is not difficult at all.
She straightened me out in college and since then my annual quest to find something unique-enough, classic-enough, interesting-enough for Iris continues.
Got an Iris in your life? Check out this week's Things We Love: A Mother's Day Gift Guide, a tightly edited collection of things we love for mom.
We have all experienced great meals, ones that we talk and think about again and again. And then there are the meals and flavors that are so epic, they imprint on our brains forever. This, my friends, was one of those meals. It was just spectacular.
Does anyone remember Wolfgang Puck's celebrated Smoked Salmon Pizza with Caviar? It was one of his signature dishes from the 80's at Spago in Beverly Hills. In fact, it was one of the dishes that really put him on the map. I have to admit, that recipe sort of inspired me here. If Puck can do smoked salmon pizza, I can do tacos.
And living in the Pacific Northwest, fresh, wild salmon is part of the culture. And smoking it yourself is part of the fun. Now, don't worry, you can easily use purchased smoked salmon in this recipe. However, if you have the capability to smoke your own, I'm going to show you how. It is so worth the small amount of effort it takes.
Here is your set up, perfect for Mother's Day, the biggest brunch day of the year. It's a lovely spread for when guests arrive. Not to mention it's to die for with a little Pinot Noir or sparkling wine. What you see here is the flaked smoked salmon, we'll get to making that in a moment. Whipped cream cheese is mixed with Sargento Pepper Jack Cheese. The pepper jack gave the tacos a hint of heat and little more smokiness. The shredded cheese also added texture to the creamy cheese, an important factor in this dish.
Mother's Day is a special time to appreciate our mothers and the mothers of our children. A leisurely meal in a pleasant surrounding is the perfect way to celebrate the women who are so central to our lives.
Brunch is the preferred meal for Mother's Day, when a sunny late morning adds to the celebration.
Michael's Restaurant (1147 Third Street, Santa Monica, CA 90403; 310/451-0843), located on Third Street in Santa Monica, half a block north of Wilshire, has an elegant dining room with the relaxed feeling of a private home. Surrounding diners at the rear of the restaurant, a lush patio garden obliterates all traces of the busy city a few feet away.
By staying focused on farmers market fresh, seasonal ingredients, owner/chef Michael McCarty has pulled off a magic trick, staying contemporary and innovative even as the culinary landscape changed. When the restaurant opened, market fresh produce was a rallying cry for a few talented chefs. Nowadays, just about every restaurant says it buys locally and seasonally.
The difference then as now is that fresh ingredients are a good beginning but to be something special, they must be prepared by a talented chef with a great palate.
Mother’s Day was always a meaningful day in my life, but not because of my own mother. Because of my father’s mother. She was born on a day in May that fell on or near Mother’s Day. Each year her family celebrated her birthday on Mother’s Day, no matter what the date of her actual birthday. Her large clan would all come to her little house, deep in the Valley, to honor her. Most of them lived nearby, but not us.
We would hop in the back of my dad’s convertible car and head over Coldwater Canyon. He drove with only one hand on the wheel. My dad was handicapped and needed his other hand for the controls that were attached to the steering wheel, both the gas and brake in one. It was very unsteady. Add to that the sharp curves going over the mountain, his cigar smoke filling my lungs, and his spit flying back into our faces that we tried dodging -- well, it was quite the E ticket ride. (For those born after they were discontinued in 1982, E tickets were for Disneyland’s most thrilling attractions.)
Finally, the road would straighten out at the bottom of the mountain for a long straight stretch till we hit Ventura Boulevard. By then, I was fully recovered, though still dodging spit and seeking a good air pocket to escape the smoke. No seat belts in those days either, and I weighed nothing, so I flew around a lot in the back of dad’s car.
My mom taught me how to cook. I was lucky she was the kind of mom who encouraged me to be in the kitchen. She would often turn her favorite room over to me, making me feel as though I was a scientist working in my own private laboratory. I would pretend I was testing recipes in the Pillsbury kitchens.
My mom did have one rule, though, that she insisted I learn and practice. When dirty bowls and pots and spoons and measuring cups started to pile up on the kitchen counter, she’d quickly remind me of the rule: "Susie, clean up as you go."
Mom believed that as long as you stayed on top of the mess, you’d have a pleasant experience in the kitchen. And everything would turn out much better. I’m pretty sure she was right about that. I was thinking about my mom as I prepared her favorite chicken salad. And I could almost hear her reminding me to clean up after each step.
It’s a recipe that has evolved over the years. I often add new ingredients and sometimes take out the old standby ingredients. Mom thought it was a real treat when I would sandwich the chicken salad in a split luncheon-size croissant. That serving style came to an end, though, sometime in the 1980′s when I attended a lecture by New York Times health columnist, Jane Brody. She said that eating a croissant was like eating one stick of butter. I haven’t enjoyed a croissant since. I’ve eaten a few — but I haven’t enjoyed them. Thanks a lot, Jane Brody.
A spring brunch just wouldn’t be complete without asparagus. Along with our grilled strawberry-brie sandwiches and brown sugar and pepper glazed bacon, we enjoyed a side of blanched asparagus spears with a garnish of gremolata at our Bass Lake Brunch.
Served at room temperature, the blanched asparagus was cooked just enough to retain some crunch. Plunging the cooked asparagus into a bowl of ice water gives it a shock that stops the cooking and helps retain the bright green color.
Traditionally, gremolata is a mixture of chopped parsley, lemon zest and garlic, sometimes held together with a bit of olive oil. In Mediterranean cooking, it is often served with veal or lamb. My Bass Lake cooking friend mixed it up with some chopped olives. It would also be wonderful as a garnish for asparagus with chopped, toasted hazelnuts or toasted pine nuts added to the base of lemon, parsley and garlic. Leftover gremolata can be tossed into pasta, spooned over a bowl of soup, whisked into an omelet or stirred into rice.
Our hostess, who always has the perfect serving plate for any kind of food, had an asparagus plate and even asparagus tongs for serving.
My mother was born and raised in Houston, which is the most “Southern” of Texas cities. Even her accent had the added rich drawl of her boarding school in Atlanta. That is why, when I think of my mother, I feel Southern. We had southern cooks and when we were not eating at the local Mexican café in Toluca Lake (California – not Mexico) memory dictates that we dined on chicken fried whatever! Chicken, of course, but also pork chops, steaks, fish, and shrimp – virtually everything (except our greens) would be chicken-fried.
To compliment our chicken-fried whatevers, mother would prepare a variety of whipped jello desserts with mini marshmallows, including Banana Cream Pie and the ever-popular Prune Whip.
It is a blessing that my father insisted on taking us to the “finer” restaurants in Los Angeles and Beverly Hills, like the Brown Derby Perino’s or Mike Romanoff’s, otherwise I guess I would be chicken-frying whatever to this day!
Twice a year, (on Mothers Day and on her birthday July 7th), my mother used to pull out her favorite phrase and say, “Attention must be paid.”
Translation? She wanted to be celebrated, and that meant The Hotel Bel Air, Sunday best, family only, no friends or ‘strangers’ pulling focus on her closeup.
Her use of the phrase drove me crazy, because of course Linda Loman’s lament was about aging and the lack of human kindness shown her salesman husband Willie, not my glamorous complicated mother on the palm-laden patio holding court.
But champagne in hand surrounded by at least two of her children with at least two of her grandchildren in tow, she got what she needed....a toast, “ To the Queen of the Day.”
Attention had been paid. Deep down I knew what Mom meant. And she knew I knew.
What better way to celebrate moms and wives than by making them breakfast. This recipe for baked eggs has been my go-to breakfast recipe since I saw Ina Garten prepare it on her show, The Barefoot Contessa.
It's perfect to serve for any meal, but it's especially nice for a Mother's Day breakfast. Serve it with bacon or sausage and some toast.
It's simple, fast, and very flavorful while also being elegant. The combination of toppings that I like to use include garlic, parsley, and Parmesan cheese, but any fresh herb can be added. Chives, oregano, thyme, and rosemary would all work well or use what's at hand.
I'm sure that whoever you make this recipe for will be very happy that you did.
Mother's Day is in one week. Are you prepared? Skip the flowers and the gift certificates, and make Mom a beautiful breakfast that she won't forget.
I'm starting with an easy frittata inspired by my mom. Nutmeg has an affinity for spinach. I learned that from her.
OK, so she didn't say "affinity," but she loves them together.
So will you.
Spinach and Ricotta Frittata
Makes 8 servings
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups white mushrooms, thinly sliced
2 cups baby spinach, thinly sliced
8 large eggs
4 ounces (1/4 cup) whole milk ricotta cheese, drained
4 ounces (1/4 cup) grated Grana Padano cheese, divided
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg or fresh grated nutmeg
a liberal helping of salt and freshly ground black pepper
Melt butter in an 8-inch non-stick skillet over medium-low heat. Add mushrooms; saute 5 minutes, or until lightly browned. Add spinach and cook just until wilted. Season with salt and black pepper.
Domaine Carneros Chocolate Truffles
Rare Wonders Talisman
mini by Everpurse
A fashionable wallet clutch that’s also an iPhone charger? For the mom on the go, this will help her phone stay charged for 48 hours straight.
Oh yeah, we definitely want one of these.
Champagne Shine and Tan Leather Band
Lola Velvet by Marc Jacobs