There are many ways of showing your mom that you love her. Flowers are fine, but I like to go into the kitchen and cook.
This is something I can thank my mother for — and my grandmother, too. Every time she’d visit, she’d bring a Tupperware container filled with homemade M&M cookies, which seemed wonderfully exotic for the ’70s. To this day I can’t look at an M&M cookie without thinking of her and the love that went into the late-night baking, which must’ve taken place after she got home from working as a secretary at the University of Alabama in Birmingham. She’d carefully wrap the cookies in wax paper so they wouldn’t break, and hand-carried them onto the plane so they’d arrive as safely as she did.
Like her mother, my mom baked all the time for our family of four. I don’t remember not having some kind of homemade cake on the twirly cake platter with the Plexiglas dome that she kept on the bottom shelf of the tea cart in the kitchen, so-called because it was the place to display her silver tea set, which was more for show than for making tea.
Like me, Mom was — still is — an avid coffee drinker, and also like me, she loves teapots because they’re interesting to look at; they all have different shapes. Over the years, I’ve brought her teapots from Morocco, from India, and from the Paris flea market. Not too long ago, she and I went to an antiques fair near Denton, where she still lives. Guess what she bought? A sweet little blue ceramic teapot for $8.
Mom turned 80 this year and she still bakes, but only for special occasions. She relies on the classics, the cakes and cookies that she’s known and has made for decades now — her sour cream poundcake with lemon curd on the side; a chocolate layer cake with white seven-minute icing for my birthday (which she now makes with chocolate shavings on top, a fancy add-on since the ’90s, when good-quality chocolate became more widely available); and oatmeal cookies from a recipe passed down by her mother.
Unlike my mom, who cleans as she goes, measures her parchment with a ruler, and veers not one iota from the recipe, I’m the renegade, always experimenting, forever changing, and wondering what would happen if I swapped out one thing for another, or left it out altogether. I think it makes her a little bit nervous. Flour flies everywhere when I’m baking. She has told me more than once that I’m like Pig-Pen.
I know she loves it when I cook for her, mess or not, and that she likes the surprise of tasting something new. Which is how I came up with these recipes for a Mother’s Day brunch. Now I just need to decide which one I’m going to make.
Ellise Pierce is the author of “Cowgirl Chef: Texas Cooking With a French Accent” (Running Press, $25). www.cowgirlchef.com; @cowgirlchef.
Two-potato hash with baked eggs
Makes 4 servings
1 pound sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped into 1-inch cubes
1 pound Yukon gold potatoes, chopped into 1-inch pieces
6 tablespoons olive oil, divided
Sea salt and pepper
1 yellow onion, sliced into half-moons
1 poblano pepper
2 avocados, cubed, for serving
A handful of cilantro, chopped, for serving
Salsa, for serving
Corn tortillas, for serving
1. Heat the oven to 450 degrees.
2. Toss the potatoes onto a large baking sheet with 2 tablespoons of olive oil, and sea salt and pepper to taste. Bake for 40 minutes or until lightly browned, turning once so they’re evenly cooked.
3. While the potatoes are cooking, caramelize the onion. Put the half-moons into a large skillet with 3 tablespoons olive oil, a little sea salt and pepper, and cook over low heat until dark brown — it’ll take 45 minutes or so.
4. On another burner, roast the poblano by placing it directly on top of the flame if you have a gas cooktop or into the oven on broil if you don’t. Either way, watch it carefully and turn it frequently so all sides are evenly charred, then put the pepper in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap so it’ll steam. Scrape off the blackened skin, remove the seeds, and chop into a small dice.
Save time: Cook the onion and the poblano pepper a day in advance and keep in the fridge until ready to make the hash.
5. Reduce the oven temperature to 400 degrees.
6. To make the hash, put the potatoes, caramelized onion and poblano in a large skillet with 1 tablespoon of olive oil — you don’t need much because everything’s already cooked. Either crack the eggs directly onto the potatoes in the skillet (if it’s ovenproof and you want to serve it that way) or spoon the potatoes into individual ramekins and crack the eggs on top. Pop into the oven for 10 to 12 minutes, or longer if you like your eggs less runny. Serve right away with chopped avocado, cilantro, salsa, and tortillas on the side.
Nutritional analysis per serving: 621 calories, 41 grams fat, 53 grams carbohydrates, 14 grams protein, 212 milligrams cholesterol, 136 milligrams sodium, 7 grams dietary fiber, 58 percent of calories from fat.
Strawberry yogurt parfaits with homemade granola
35 ounces Greek yogurt
3 cups easy granola, recipe follows
16 ounces strawberries, hulled and sliced
Honey for drizzling
Layer the following ingredients in glasses: 1/2 cup yogurt, 2 tablespoons granola, 1 tablespoon yogurt, 1/2 cup chopped strawberries. Sprinkle with a little additional granola and squeeze some honey on top (or maple syrup is nice, too). Serve.
Note: You can play around with the amounts of yogurt, granola, etc., depending on the size of glass. Mine were about 16 ounces, so these amounts worked perfectly.
Nutritional analysis per serving: 496 calories, 16 grams fat, 72 grams carbohydrates, 21 grams protein, 10 milligrams cholesterol, 180 milligrams sodium, 9 grams dietary fiber, 27 percent of calories from fat.
Makes about 16 cups
This recipe makes a large amount of granola, and you can easily half this. I always make a big batch because I like to freeze some and share it with friends.
3 cups sliced almonds
10 cups oats
1 cup apple juice
1 cup honey
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1 teaspoon sea salt
3 cups currants
1 cup sesame seeds
1. Heat oven to 300 degrees.
2. Spread the almonds on a cookie sheet and bake for 5 to 10 minutes or until light brown. Watch them carefully so they don’t burn. Put in a bowl and set aside to cool.
3. Pour all of the oats into the biggest bowl in your kitchen.
4. Put the apple juice, honey, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and sea salt in a small saucepan over low heat. Cook only until warm, so the ingredients come together, about 3 minutes.
5. Pour this over the oats and mix well to make sure that all of the oats are well-coated. Divide the mixture between 2 large baking sheets, and spread it out so the granola is evenly distributed.
6. Cook for 45 minutes to 1 hour, checking every 15 minutes or so and stirring it around so it’ll crisp. Remove from the oven, let cool completely, and mix in nuts, currants, and sesame seeds. Store in jars or heavy-duty plastic bags in the freezer.
Nutritional analysis per 1/4-cup serving: 185 calories, 6 grams fat, 28 grams carbohydrates, 6 grams protein, no cholesterol, 32 milligrams sodium, 4 grams dietary fiber, 30 percent of calories from fat.
Lemon ricotta pancakes with blackberry coulis
Makes about 12; serves 4
16 ounces blackberries (could use frozen)
3/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Zest of 1 lemon
1/2 teaspoon powdered ginger
1 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
Pinch sea salt
3 tablespoons sugar
1 cup ricotta
1/2 cup Greek yogurt
Juice of 1 lemon, plus zest
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 eggs, lightly beaten
Canola oil or butter for skillet
1. Make the blackberry coulis. Put the blackberries, sugar, lemon juice, zest and ginger in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Cook for 15 to 20 minutes, until thick and reduced by half. Puree in a blender, then pour into a fine mesh colander or chinois to remove the seeds.
Save time: Make the coulis in advance and keep in the fridge. Simply warm before serving.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, sea salt, and sugar.
3. Mix together the rest of the ingredients, except the oil or butter, in another bowl, and pour this into the bowl of dry ingredients, mixing gently with a wooden spoon — it’s fine if there are a few lumps.
4. Heat a large skillet with 1 tablespoon of oil or butter over medium heat. When it’s hot, make the pancakes by spooning 1/4-cup portions into the skillet and smoothing it out with a spatula (as you would a crepe) so the pancakes aren’t so thick. Let cook for 3 to 5 minutes, then flip to the other side. Adjust the heat if necessary, keeping it low rather than too high, so they’ll cook in the middle. Remove from the skillet and keep warm in a 200-degree oven until serving. Drizzle the blackberry coulis on top of the pancakes.
Nutritional analysis per serving: 553 calories, 15 grams fat, 90 grams carbohydrates, 16 grams protein, 139 milligrams cholesterol, 296 milligrams sodium, 9 grams dietary fiber, 24 percent of calories from fat.
Orange cinnamon rolls
1 cup whole milk
1 stick ( 1/2 cup) unsalted butter, plus 1/4 cup, melted for brushing the pans and dough
1/2 cup sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
2 eggs, at room temperature
4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 stick ( 1/2 cup) melted butter
1 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons cinnamon
6 tablespoons cream cheese, room temperature
1/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
Zest of 1 orange
1. Warm the milk, butter, and sugar in a small saucepan over low heat. Pour into a mixer bowl fitted with a dough hook and let this cool to lukewarm.
2. Sprinkle the yeast over the milk mixture. Make sure the milk isn’t too hot or it’ll kill the yeast. It’ll take about 5 minutes to get foamy.
3. Add the beaten eggs, flour, and salt, and mix and knead with the dough hook until the dough is shiny, for 5 minutes. Put the dough in a lightly greased bowl and cover. Let rise for an hour or until doubled in bulk (I let mine go for almost 2 hours because it was cool in the house the day I made them).
4. Punch down the dough and transfer it to a lightly floured board. Roll it into a rectangle of about 16 inches by 21inches.
5. Mix the ingredients for the filling together and spread evenly over the dough.
6. Roll the dough toward you, making a nice long log. Slice it into thick, 1 1/2-inch slices and place them in a greased ovenproof baking dish, leaving 1 inch between them. (I used 2 dishes because I didn’t have one large enough for all of them.) Brush the cinnamon rolls with melted butter, and let them rise for another half-hour.
7. Heat the oven to 400 degrees.
8. Bake the cinnamon rolls until brown, about 15 minutes.
9. Make the icing while they’re baking. Put all of the ingredients in a mixer bowl with the paddle attachment and mix until combined. Let the rolls cool slightly before icing them, then serve right away.
Nutritional analysis per serving: 547 calories, 28 grams fat, 68 grams carbohydrates, 8 grams protein, 108 milligrams cholesterol, 396 milligrams sodium, 2 grams dietary fiber, 45 percent of calories from fat.
Adapted from a King Arthur flour recipe