For Mother's Day, if you're thinking of taking Mom out for dinner, here are a few good reasons to change your mind. For one, the restaurants will be mobbed. If you haven't already made your reservation, chances are it's too late. If you do get in, your table won't be ready. Waiting for it, sandwiched between the front door and a crowd of frustrated diners, is about as relaxing as getting out of a stadium after a game. By the time you're seated, you'll be lucky to snag a jogging waiter, and when you do, the service will be second-rate. And the noise level will be so high you can forget about any meaningful conversation.
The solution: Surprise Mom with a sumptuous, peaceful, homemade meal cooked with your own loving hands. This menu is so easy even a novice -- or Dad and the kids -- can get it on the table in under an hour. And even the sloppiest cook will have a hard time messing up the kitchen while preparing it. It's economical, fuss-free, and takes a minimum amount of ingredients and pots and pans to prepare. And to top that, it tastes as though it took days.
Cornish hens, cut in half and thickly daubed with a piquant cherry-red glaze, are practical, inexpensive, but still elegant. Canned sour cherries stirred into the glaze make a tangy, sweet sauce to dress them up. Unless your family has the appetite of wee birds, you'd better plan on one of these chicken-littles per person. To reduce the fat, before baking the hens, remove the skin by pulling it off with your fingers and a knife. Then brush the glaze directly over the meat. Shorten clean-up time by lining the baking pan with two layers of heavy-duty foil. While the hens bake, you can prepare the remainder of the meal.
A fast trip around your supermarket salad bar will provide the exact amount of fresh vegetables -- already washed, peeled and chopped -- you'll need for the pasta dish. The vegetables cook in the same boiling water as the pasta, and then do double duty by cooking the spinach as they are poured over it to drain. This gets done in a wink, so be sure to organize the ingredients before you begin. To make it even faster, substitute grated or shredded Parmesan cheese for the shavings.
Grapes doused with black raspberry Chambord, blanketed with thickly whipped yogurt cream and sprinkled with toffee crunches make an exception to my rule that fruit is not dessert. You'll have to taste this beguiling combination yourself to see how surprisingly tasty it is. If you don't have a bottle of the liqueur, keep costs down by buying it in a single serving mini-bottle.
This delicious, low-cost, low-fat and easy-to-manage meal may be the greatest gift you can give Mom and yourself, too. And it may be the most enjoyable, relaxed and memorable Mother's Day ever.
Cornish hens with tart cherry sauce
Makes 4 servings.
Prep time: 15 minutes
Bake time: 40 minutes
4 Cornish hens (about 1 1/4 pounds each), at room temperature
2 teaspoons prepared mustard
1 tablespoon dry mustard
1/2 cup sweet orange marmalade
1 cup ketchup
1 can (16 ounces) tart red cherries, drained, juice reserved
1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
garnish of orange slices twisted into butterflies and/or watercress or parsley
Heat oven to 425 degrees. Using poultry or kitchen shears, cut hens in half through the breast and down the back. Cut out the row of bones from each side of the back bone. Line a shallow roasting pan with a double thickness of heavy-duty foil and place hens on it meat side up.
To make glaze, in a small bowl stir together mustard, marmalade, ketchup and 1 tablespoon of the cherry juice. Set aside 1/2 cup for sauce. With a brush, dab half the glaze over hens.
Bake at 425 degrees for 40 minutes, basting with remaining glaze after 15 minutes. Hens are done if juices run clear when a sharp knife is inserted between the drumstick and breast. The glaze will look runny, but will set up. If browner tops are desired, place under broiler. If desired, cut out small rib and back bones with scissors. (The hens may be refrigerated overnight. Bring to room temperature and reheat at 425 degrees for 10 to 15 minutes or until heated through.)
While hens bake, make sauce. Drain cherry juice into a medium saucepan. Stir in reserved glaze and cornstarch, whisking until cornstarch is dissolved. Cook over moderate heat, stirring, until sauce comes to a boil and thickens. Stir in 1 cup of the cherries; reserve remainder for another use. (The sauce may be refrigerated overnight. Before serving, reheat in microwave or on top of stove. If too thick, thin with a little orange juice.) If desired, garnish hens with orange slices and greens. Spoon a small amount of sauce over hens and pass remainder.
Salad bar pasta with Parmesan shavings
Makes 4 servings.
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 2 to 3 minutes
1 chunk (about 1 1/2 to 2 ounces) Parmesan cheese
1 cup packed fresh spinach leaves, cut into 1/2 -inch wide strips
1 1/2 cups chopped tomato, cut into 1/2 -inch pieces (2 medium tomatoes)
1/2 cup shredded carrots
1/2 cup garbanzo beans
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil or 2 teaspoons dried
1 cup broccoli flowerets, cut into 1/2 -inch pieces
1 cup cauliflower flowerets, cut into 1/2 -inch pieces
4 ounces dried capellini (angel hair) pasta, broken in thirds
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
salt and pepper to taste
carrot rose for garnish, optional
Fill a 4-quart saucepan with salted water and bring to a boil. Meanwhile, with a vegetable peeler, shave Parmesan cheese into long thick strips. Place spinach in a colander in the sink and place tomatoes, carrots, garbanzo beans and basil in a large bowl.
When water comes to a boil, add broccoli, cauliflower and pasta. Boil for 2 to 3 minutes or until pasta is tender to the bite. Drain in colander over spinach and transfer to the bowl with the tomatoes. Add olive oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper and cheese and toss well. Serve immediately.
1 large unpeeled carrot or slender yam or sweet potato (when sliced, the potato looks like a carrot)
Slice very thinly with a mandoline or the thin slicing blade (2 millimeters) of the food processor. Place slices in warm water to cover with 2 to 3 tablespoons of salt. For a deeper shade of orange, add several drops of red and yellow food coloring. Let sit until soft enough to bend. Wrap one slice up tightly for the center of the rose. Continue overlapping slices around the center, wrapping more loosely for the outer petals. Secure the base with toothpicks, breaking or cutting them as needed. The roses may be wrapped in plastic wrap and held at room temperature overnight. Garnish with nonpoisonous washed and dried garden leaves such as lemon, gardenia or grape.
Chambord grapes under snow
Makes 4 servings.
Prep time: 15 minutes
3/4 pound seedless grapes, mixed green, red and purple, if available (2 cups)
2 tablespoons Chambord liqueur
1/3 cup whipping cream, chilled
1/3 cup light sour cream, chilled
1/3 cup thick regular or low fat plain yogurt, chilled
1/2 cup (about 4 ounces) chopped chocolate coated toffee bars (such as Heath Bars)
Cut grapes in half and divide among 4 goblets or dessert dishes. Stir 1/2 tablespoon Chambord into each. In a small mixing bowl with electric mixer, beat whipping cream until soft peaks form. Add sour cream and yogurt and mix until soft peaks form. Spread over grapes, covering completely. (May be refrigerated, covered, until ready to serve or up to 8 hours.) Before serving, sprinkle with toffee.
Marlene Sorosky is a Baltimore-based food writer and the author of five cookbooks on entertaining. Her "Season's Greetings: Cooking and Entertaining for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's" (Harper/Collins) has been recently reprinted.