Freedom from kitchen duty is an inalienable right of Mother's Day: Somebody besides Mom has to cook.
And forget that old stereotype of burned toast and spilled juice. Cooking isn't nearly as hard as programming the VCR. Dads and children of all ages should be well up to the task.
Sarah and Zachary Williamson are big proponents of kids' cooking. The two Vermont teens have written a cookbook, "Kids Cook," to encourage it.
Kids should think of cooking "kind of like fun," says Zachary, 14, "because you're creating something." He should know. "I've been cooking since I was about 6," he said. "I cooked very simple things. As I got old enough to use the stove, I cooked more complex things, like dinners." Another advantage of cooking, he pointed out, is that the chef gets to choose the menu.
Zachary and his sister Sarah, 17, do a lot of cooking, because their parents both work. "If we're home by ourselves, we set a nice table and sit down and eat together," Zachary said. "It's kind of fun."
He and Sarah have always been good friends, he said. "We do a lot of things together." They had talked for years about writing a cookbook -- they know all about publishing, because their parents, Jack and Susan Williamson, have a small publishing firm in Charlotte, Vt. Finally, last year, they got their chance. They spent "all last summer" Zachary said, working on the book. "We had totest all the recipes. Usually we'd switch -- one would be in the kitchen cooking and one would be at the computer. We didn't type in any recipes until we'd tested them," he said. "And then, we had too many recipes, so we had to leave some out, and sometimes we had to test them again."
Deciding which ones had to go wasn't easy, Zachary said. "Probably the hardest part we had to figure out together was what recipes to leave out."
Their book, subtitled, "Fabulous Food for the Whole Family," includes safety tips, nutrition information, food trivia and a survey of kitchen equipment and techniques, besides the recipes. It even has tips on doing dishes.
Maybe there's already a tradition in your house of giving Mom breakfast in bed on her special day. With the same skill and only a little more effort, the meal can become a brunch in honor of Mom that the whole family can enjoy.
Zachary suggested two menus for a Mother's Day brunch. The " "easier one" is puffy popovers, french toast and fruit cup; the "harder one" is puffy popovers, Zach's famous omelet and whale of a fruit salad.
Either one should be served with freshly squeezed orange juice -- "and flowers on the table," Zachary said.
His tips for younger chefs: "Popovers are really only good when they're warm, so you have to serve them right away." And don't make either of the fruit dishes too far in advance, "because they get soupy." But, he said, "It's good if you can make them the night before."
Of course, children who are not kids are not barred from preparing a family feast to honor Mom. A make-ahead main dish that can be carried over on Sunday and reheated, if necessary, would be a good choice for visiting offspring; it would be even easier if there were siblings who could each contribute something.
A nice change of pace would be cheese-nut pate and balsamic strawberries. Simple cold grilled chicken would be a good accompaniment.
If you can persuade Mom to visit you, you can work with more fragile fare. My mother isn't likely to drop in from Kansas, but if she did, she would certainly want goldenrod eggs and fresh asparagus or fresh broccoli.
Zachary and Sarah Williamson note in their book that they always serve their mom breakfast in bed on Mother's Day: "Even though mothers love everything their children do for them," they write, "we still try our very best to make this day special for her by starting it off with a real treat."
The first four recipes are from Zachary and Sarah Williamson. As they point out in the book, kids should use only the appliances and equipment they're allowed to handle -- anything else needs an older person to help out.
Makes 9 or 10 popovers.
1 cup milk
1 cup flour, sifted
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon butter, melted
2 eggs, beaten
Heat oven to 450 degrees.
Beat milk, flour, salt and butter together.
Add eggs and beat again. Pour batter into greased baking cups (a muffin pan or popover pan) until they are about 3/4 full.
Bake at 450 degrees for 15 minutes. Then lower heat to 350 and bake for 20 more minutes.
Makes 8 slices.
1/3 cup milk
8 slices bread
Beat the eggs and milk together.
Soak each slice of bread for about 2 seconds on each side in the egg mixture.
Heat a skillet or griddle to medium-high. Melt 2 tablespoons margarine in the skillet. Add two slices of dipped bread. Cook, on medium heat, flipping slices occasionally to keep them from sticking.
5) Cook until golden brown on each side.
Zach's famous omelet
Serves two to four.
1/4 cup milk
2 tablespoons margarine
THE FILLING (see note):
1/2 cup deli ham, diced
1/3 cup green pepper or red pepper, washed and diced
1/4 cup mushrooms, washed and diced
1/4 cup onion, peeled and diced
1/3 cup cheese, any kind
1 tablespoon margarine
-- of pepper
Beat the eggs and milk together. Set aside.
To prepare filling, saute all the vegetables in one tablespoon margarine on medium-high heat.
Pour the egg mixture into a well-greased omelet pan, being sure to grease both sides if you are using a "fold-over" style of pan.
Cook on medium heat.
When bubbles begin to rise to the top, pour all the sauteed vegetables onto one side of the pan. Next, layer all the cheese over the vegetables.
When this is done, flip one side of the pan shut, if you have a "fold-over" style pan. If you have an open-faced style pan, gently fold one side of the omelet over the layered side, using a spatula.
When the egg is golden brown, remove from heat.
Flip onto a serving dish by placing a plate over the pan. (The plate should be upside down.) Carefully flip the plate and the pan over so that the plate is right side up. (You might want a little help with this; it gets easier with practice.) Lift the pan, and you should have a perfect omelet sitting on the plate.
Serve while still warm.
Note: Use your imagination to decide what to put in the filling, but keep the total amount close to 1 2/3 cups. Also try some herbs. Zach uses basil, oregano, chives, or whatever he can find in the cupboard, garden or refrigerator. And, of course, you can make great vegetarian omelets, too.
For the fruit cup, Zachary and Sarah slice fresh fruit into a goblet and garnish it with fresh blueberries. For the whale of a fruit salad, Zachary carves a watermelon into a whale shape, then fills it with enough fruit to serve 20 people. A less elaborate version could be served in a large salad bowl.
Serves eight to 10.
1 honeydew melon
seedless green grapes, washed
seedless red grapes, washed
2 kiwis, peeled and sliced
1 quart of strawberries, washed, hulled and halved
1 pint blueberries, washed
Using a melon ball scoop, preferably with two different-sized scoops, take out the insides of the watermelon. (If you are carving it, do that first; clean out any extra bits on the sides after scooping with an ordinary spoon.) Place the watermelon balls in a large bowl.
Cut the cantaloupe and honeydew melons in half, remove the seeds. Again, using the scoop, scoop out balls of melon. Place in the bowl with the watermelon balls.
Pick the grapes off the stem and place in the bowl. Pour in the cleaned strawberries and blueberries.
Carefully toss the entire salad and fill a bowl or carved melon.
Before serving, peel and slice the kiwis. Garnish the salad with the kiwi slices.
Prepare this salad as close to serving time as possible. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
("Kids Cook" is available by mail order from Williamson Publishing Co., Church Hill Road, P.O. Box 185, Charlotte, Vt. 05445. The cost is $12.95 plus $2 shipping and handling. For information, call (800) 234-8791.)
The next two recipes are from "Still Life with Menu," by Mollie Katzen (Ten Speed Press, 1988, $21.95.)
Ms. Katzen says in the introduction to the first recipe, "You can get truly artful with the decorations" for this dish. "The pate gets frosted all over with ricotta cheese, and then embellished ad infinitum with vegetable slices, minced herbs, nuts, olives, etc." Best of all, she notes that the pate itself can be prepared up to four days in advance, wrapped airtight and stored in the refrigerator. Then it can be frosted and decorated within hours of serving.
Serves six to eight.
2 tablespoons melted butter (to grease the pan)
1 cup finely minced onion
1 tablespoon butter
8 ounces cream cheese
1 pound cottage cheese
1 cup ground almonds and walnuts, combined (use a food processor with steel blade or blender, in quick spurts)
1/2 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
lots of black pepper
1/2 teaspoon dill
2 teaspoons prepared mustard
2 to 3 teaspoons fresh lime or lemon juice
2 cups (packed) grated Cheddar
1 cup ricotta
a few walnut halves, whole almonds and whole or chopped olives
radishes, cucumber slices and parsley
Heat oven to 325 degrees. Melt and distribute 2 tablespoons butter in a standard loaf pan. In a small saucepan, saute onions in 1 tablespoon butter until soft.
Combine and whip together all ingredients (except those for topping). Use the steel blade attachment on a food processor, or high speed on an electric mixer.
When the mixture is uniform, spread evenly into greased loaf pan.
Bake 1 hour. (When you take it out of the oven, it will look suspiciously loose, but don't worry. It gets firm as it chills.) Allow to cool completely in the pan, then chill for at least several hours before turning out onto a serving platter.
To get the pate out of the pan, loosen it with a spatula. Invert it onto a larger plate, holding the pan in place against the plate. Shake firmly several times (or give it a whack). Remove the loaf pan. The pate should emerge in one piece. If it breaks, you can easily mold it back together. (Don't be discouraged by how ugly it looks in its predecorated state. It will be transformed by the ricotta and the garnishes.)
To decorate, spread a layer of ricotta cheese all over, as if frosting a cake. Place whole or half nuts, olives, radishes, cucumber slices and parsley in the design of your choice. Serve with dark bread or good crackers.
In the next recipe, the strawberries can be sliced and the sugar added up to a day in advance. The vinegar, however, should be added within half an hour of serving.
Makes 4 to 6 servings.
2 pints (1 quart) strawberries
4 to 6 teaspoons sugar
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
Clean the strawberries by wiping them with a damp paper towel. (Rinsing them dilutes the flavor.)
Hull strawberries and halve or slice them, depending on their size. Place them in a shallow pan, (a 10-inch glass pie pan works well) and sprinkle with sugar.
Cover tightly with plastic wrap, and let it sit for at least several hours, stirring the berries or shaking the pan every now and then. (If they are going to sit for much longer than 3 or 4 hours, cover and refrigerate them, but allow them to return to room temperature before serving.)
Sprinkle on the vinegar within a half-hour of serving, and serve in individual small bowls.
Grilled chicken breasts
Serves four to six.
2 whole skinless, boneless chicken breasts (about 1 pound)
1 bottle commercial Italian dressing (not the creamy type)
freshly ground black pepper
leaves of endive or radicchio
Place breasts in glass dish large enough to leave a little space around them. Reserve a quarter cup of the dressing; pour the rest over the chicken breasts. Cover with plastic wrap and marinate in the refrigerator up to several hours.
Grill for 6 to 8 minutes per side, basting with reserved dressing. (Don't use the liquid the chicken was marinated in; discard it.) Test for doneness by making a tiny slit in the thickest part of the breast; there should be no pink and the juice should run clear.
Remove from heat and cool for about 5 minutes. Wrap tightly and store in refrigerator. Keep cold until just before serving. Slice into 1/2 -inch strips and dust with freshly ground pepper. Put a leaf or two of endive or radicchio on each plate and top with a few strips of chicken.
This next recipe I learned from my mother. It has other names, but she always called it goldenrod eggs. It's simple and simply delicious, though it's hardly low-cal.
4 eggs, hard-boiled and kept warm
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
2 cups milk
salt and freshly ground pepper
4 pieces bread, toasted, buttered and kept warm
Melt the butter in a saucepan. Whisk in the flour, a little at a time, until incorporated (don't let it burn). Gradually add the milk, whisking and allowing mixture to thicken. When all the milk has been incorporated, allow the sauce to simmer for a few minutes. Don't let it boil or burn.
Remove whites from eggs and cut whites into 1/2 -inch chunks. Put into white sauce and stir gently.
To serve, put a piece of toast on each plate, top with 1/2 cup sauce. Hold a small strainer a few inches over each plate in turn and press an egg yolk through; it will fall in a golden shower on the sauce. (If you don't want to eat the whole yolk, press just enough for a light golden dusting.) Top with salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Serve immediately.