Ask Chef Phyllis
Mother’s Day only comes once a year every year, but I’m at a loss for easy, elegant ideas on how to celebrate this special day. It’s more than a bacon-and-egg day. Please give me something that is simple and easy to put together. A little fancy is good but not making a mess is even better. Also, though my children would love to help. Tthey are young. Any suggestions?
—David Golom from College Point, New York
I applaud you, David, for seeking out an easy, not-too-messy, light-clean-up idea for Mother’s Day. There’s an old expression, “A messy kitchen is a happy kitchen,” but I understand and appreciate that you don’t want a big clean-up on this day, especially since you have younger children.
Even young children can and should help in the spirit of celebrating a special day for their mom. What better way to show them how much you value her! And it’s never too soon to teach young ones about kitchen safety and awareness either. For all intents and purposes, simple is best. Read on for some festive suggestions.
First, ask the children what they would like to contribute. Before you agree, make sure they are capable of their chosen chore, and keep in mind that division of labor makes tasks easier and teaches cooperation. (Yes, many hands make light work.) I bet they will be enthusiastic about helping in any way possible. And in my opinion, helping them develop a good attitude about kitchen skills while they are young is everything!
For example, one child can place fruit (such as sliced strawberries, blackberries, or blueberries) in a bowl. Another child can arrange small flowers in a vase or fold some pretty paper napkins to help decorate a serving tray. Little drawings and love notes are a nice addition on paper napkins as well.
For you, making a simple casserole like the one below will expedite the last-minute morning activities. If at all possible, prepare it the evening before. In the morning, just pop the casserole in the oven while you and the kids secretly work on the surprise.
If this still seems too daunting, try some of these ready-made foods that are easy to dress up:
A small Brie cheese: This can be heated slightly in the oven for five minutes and is wonderful served with a drizzle of honey or a fruit jam or spread (I prefer fig or apricot). If your wife doesn’t like Brie, this idea can be adopted to suit her favorite cheese.
Greek or plain yogurt: Serve with pineapple chunks, a drizzle of honey, and a sprinkle of cinnamon in parfait glasses. Very pretty and super easy.
Ham roll-ups: Ham slices spread with cream cheese, then wrapped around fresh asparagus and served with cantaloupe slices on an oval plate. Easy and delicious.
Fresh fruit: Fresh mixed fruit served in a glass dish looks appetizing sprinkled with good-quality granola on top. Have a child spoon fruit into smaller bowls and place an edible flower on the top of each.
Any one of these ideas served with the breakfast casserole below would be sufficient for this day’s brunch.
And as a final touch, little handmade notes can be keepsakes at the next event. Until then, you display them on the fridge. I know. As a mother, I saved these mementos for years. And in my experience, when children can tell what their contribution is, they will fondly remember the event.
Simple Crustless Breakfast Casserole
Chef’s note: If you time this right, it will be like clockwork to get it done with the least amount of stress and clean-up. For me, food is only half the equation to a happy experience. A festive and stress-free atmosphere is the other half.
2 cups whole milk or half and half
1 cup coarsely grated cheese (I used sharp white cheddar)
½ teaspoon each sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup cooked meat (such as bacon, sausage, ham, or chicken), diced
2 Roma tomatoes, sliced
¼ cup Parmesan cheese
Special equipment: Deep-sided buttered pan, round or square (9–10 inch).
- Preheat oven to 400°F. Mix together eggs, milk or half and half, grated cheese, salt, black pepper, baking soda, and baking powder.
- Pour into the buttered casserole. Add meat, distributing it evenly over the custard mixture.
- Arrange the sliced tomatoes in a circle and sprinkle the Parmesan cheese over all.
- Bake 35–40 minutes. Turn off the oven and let the casserole sit for 5 minutes, until set.
- Let cool before serving. When ready, cut into 6 pie slices and serve on pretty little plates.
Have a wonderful experience and enjoy the day!