When my kids were little, they started planning for Mother's Day weeks in advance. Now that they're older, there's not quite the same sense of urgency.
So much has been going on in the past week in Pittsburgh -- Kentucky Derby parties, the marathon, Sidney Crosby's return to the ice in the Stanley Cup playoffs, not one but two high school proms -- that planning a big brunch or dinner for Mother's Day, which falls on Sunday, has gotten lost in the shuffle. Which is perfectly fine, since I'm not the type of person who likes to be fussed over. I'd rather spend the afternoon digging in my garden.
I'm guessing many of you are in the same boat. Maybe you're a sleep-deprived new parent whose last priority is throwing together a big meal, or a well-meaning but clueless husband, son or daughter who doesn't know how to (or particularly like to) cook, fancy or otherwise. Or perhaps the mom in your life, like mine, doesn't care all that much about frou-frou food. Standing in line at a crowded restaurant for the gourmet buffet? Out of the question.
Or maybe you simply forgot until now that the holiday is approaching. (Chuckleheads!) Running out to buy flowers or a card this weekend is easy enough, but coming up with, and cooking, a meal that will impress? Not quite so simple.
We've come up with a simple but still impressive menu that will show this most important person in your life how much you care about her. (The woman's got to eat, after all, and even if she insists, this is one day in which you should take care of the cooking.) The best part is, you won't have to pull out your hair to do it: As long as you can measure, mix and use a stove/grill and blender, none of the recipes that follow will prove too challenging. Get the kids to pitch in and you'll even have time to stir together a pitcher of homemade lemonade or Mom's favorite cocktail.
If you serve the chicken with the barbecue sauce instead of as a salad topper, you may want to complete the meal with a side of rice or pasta. And you can't go wrong with a loaf of crusty bread from Breadworks.
Easy grilled chicken
Nothing is more glorious than a piece of perfectly grilled chicken. But cooking it can be tricky, especially if you use boneless, skinless breasts. I've found the key is to (gently) pound the breasts between 2 pieces of wax paper until they're nice and thin. That way, they cook quickly, without drying out. You also need a marinade with a generous amount of oil in it to keep the chicken juicy. I think Asian-style sesame dressing works perfectly.
Haven't gotten around to buying a new propane tank for the grill? (Me neither.) You can make this recipe just as easily on a stovetop grilling pan.
4 boneless chicken breasts, pounded thin (3/4-inch thick)
1 cup Italian or Asian-style sesame dressing
Place chicken breasts in a plastic bag with dressing, and allow to marinate for a half hour.
Clean and oil the grill grates. Light grill and leave on medium-high for direct grilling. (I used a cast-iron stovetop grilling pan.)
Remove breasts from marinade. Place the breasts on the hottest part of the grill and don't touch them for about 2 to 3 minutes. Using tongs, lift each breast, rotate 45 degrees and then place them back on the grill. (This will create impressive grill marks.)
After 2 to 4 minutes, lift the chicken breasts with tongs and flip them over.
Grill for 2 more minutes and then rotate again 45 degrees to make grill marks on this side. Continue grilling for another 2 to 4 minutes, until cooked through (160 degrees on an instant-read thermometer).
Allow to rest for 2 to 3 minutes, then serve with Ancho BBQ Sauce or slice and place on top of Easy Caesar Salad (both recipes below).
-- Gretchen McKay
Trey Moran's Ancho BBQ Sauce
Make this a day ahead, and store in the refrigerator. It's spicy, so be sure to give your kids a taste before they slather it on the chicken.
6 dried ancho chilies, stemmed and seeded
1 cup ketchup
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons agave nectar (I used honey)
2 tablespoon Louisiana-style pepper sauce
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon paprika
1 tablespoon chili powder
2 teaspoons dry mustard powder
Put the ancho chiles in a medium saucepan and cover with 2 cups water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, until very soft. Transfer chiles and 1/2 cup cooking water to a blender and puree until smooth. Add more liquid if necessary to get blades moving; discard the rest.
Combine ancho puree with remaining ingredients in the saucepan. Bring to boil, reduce heat, and let simmer for 15 minutes, until thick. Use immediately as a barbecue sauce or for wings. Store leftover sauce in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to a week.
Makes about 3 cups.
-- "The Hot Sauce Cookbook" by Robb Walsh(Ten Speed, May 14, 2013, $16.99)
Easy Caesar Salad
I usually make Caesar salad the traditional way, in a wooden salad bowl with lots of garlic and anchovy fillets; being able to simply pour on prepared dressing is easier for beginning cooks. Tell the kids not to worry -- this recipe omits the fish!
My family likes fried croutons so I cooked them in olive oil instead of on a grill top.
1 large egg
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon Worchestershire sauce
2 garlic cloves, minced
Kosher salt or coarse sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup olive oil
4 ounces country bread, cut into 1-inch cubes
8 cups romaine ribbons or similar quantity of crisp whole romaine leaves
Parmigiano-Reggiano curls for garnish (I used a handful of grated parmesan)
Prepare dressing. Bring 3 inches water to a boil in a small saucepan. Slip the egg into the water, boil (or coddle) for exactly 1 minute, and remove from heat. Pour oil into a small bowl. Crack the egg (which will still be runny) into the oil and whisk until combined. Whisk in lemon juice, Worchestershire and garlic until mixture is emulsified and thick. (I also added Dijon mustard.) Season with salt and pepper to taste. (Dressing can be made 1 day in advance; store covered in refrigerator).
Heat 1/4 cup olive oil into a saucepan. Add bread cubes and fry until golden and crisp. Drain and set aside.
Toss romaine with enough dressing to moisten it thoroughly. Sprinkle with parmesan and toss again. Top with croutons.
Serves 6 to 8.
-- Adapted from "100 Grilling Recipes You Can't Live Without" by Cheryl and Bill Jamison (Harvard Common, May 7, 2013, $16.95)
Caramelized Corn with Fresh Mint
Local corn is not yet in season, of course, but frozen works just as well in this recipe, so long as you stick with sweet baby white corn. Just be sure to thaw it on paper towels to draw out the excess moisture.
4 to 5 cups fresh white or yellow corn kernels, or 2 16-ounce bags frozen baby white corn
8 tablespoons butter (1 stick)
1/2 cup chopped fresh mint
If using frozen corn, thaw between layers of paper towels, about 30 minutes.
Melt half the butter in a wide skillet over high heat. Add half the corn and cook, stirring often, until golden and browned (the kernels may begin to pop), about 10 minutes. Stir in half the mint and sprinkle with salt.
Transfer to a serving bowl and set in a warm spot. Repeat with remaining corn, butter, mint and salt.
Serves 10 to 12.
-- "CookFight" by Kim Severson and Julia Moskin (Ecco, Oct. 2012, $29.99)
These are so easy, I made them as a snack right before bed after going to the movies. I didn't have kirsch (a fruit brandy made from cherries) but I do have a bottle of pomegranate liqueur, so I used that instead. The batter didn't stick extremely well, so you may have to dab it on the bare spots with your fingers. I used a lot less oil.
2 large eggs
1/2 cup whole milk
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons kirsch
8 cups extra-virgin olive oil for deep frying
6 green apples, such as Granny Smith, peeled, cored and cut into 1/2-inch rounds
2 cups vanilla gelato (I used ice cream)
Cinnamon, for dusting
In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs and milk. Slowly add the flour, about 3 tablespoons at a time, whisking until incorporated. Stir in the sugar and kirsch. Allow the batter to stand for 10 minutes.
In a large deep pot, heat oil to 375 degrees. Working in batches of 3 or 4, dip each apple slice into the batter, add to hot oil and cook until golden brown, about 3 to 4 minutes. With slotted spoon, transfer to a paper towel-lined plate to drain.
Divide fritters on 4 plates, in an overlapping circle. Place scoop of gelato in center, sprinkle with cinnamon and serve.
Serves 4 to 6.
-- "The Batali Brothers Cookbook" by Benno and Leo Batali (Ecco, May 14, 2013, $14.99)
Gretchen McKay: email@example.com, 412-263-1419 or on Twitter @gtmckay.