I think many people out there suffer from the same quandary that I did – no new ideas for Mother’s Day gifts. Of course there are the usual stand-bys (such as flowers, chocolates, gift certificates, etc.), but they get old fast.
The Start of Something Good:
For Mother’s Day 2006 I wanted to come up with a unique way of showing my mom just how special she is to me, so I decided to make a restaurant quality meal and serve it in a restaurant quality atmosphere, at home. Now I have to tell you I’m no chef at all. I have no chef training or experience, unless you want to count cooking my husband’s meals as experience. But making a gourmet meal isn’t hard…if you plan it ahead.
For my mom’s dinner, it wasn’t just about the food though – I came up with a name for the restaurant (“Café L’Amour”), thought of a flower theme to go with the name (red roses, naturally), printed up menus and had them laminated, set a very beautiful table with linens and fresh flowers, recruited my brother as the waiter and my sister as the maître d’ (handling things like hosting, music, etc.), and of course I played the role of chef.
My dad was in on the game – he told my mom he was talking her to a really fancy restaurant, he made her wear a blindfold (he told her he wanted it to be a surprise!), he drove around for a little bit, and brought her back to her own house. He helped her out of the car (still blindfolded) and walked her to the patio in the backyard where she took off her blindfold and my brother (decked out in a suit) greeted her. The rest of the evening was sheer magic – we had soft music playing, soft lights strung around the patio, and the whole family was involved. But the most amazing part was how special my mom felt.
After that, the tradition stuck like white on rice. Every year we choose a new menu, new “restaurant” name, new flowers, new music, etc. Last year I actually sewed the tablecloth and accompanying napkins customized to the menu (trust me, I’m a real beginner at sewing, so if I can do it, I’m sure you can do it!).
There are other up-sides to making mom a restaurant-style dinner at home. You literally pay a fraction of the price, you don’t have to worry about reservations or having to wait, and after dinner you can just slip into something more comfortable without having to drive home first. For me, one of the most important benefits of cooking at home is that you get to control the ingredients that you put in your food; that way, you know exactly how much oil, salt, etc. you’re eating.
Mother’s Day 2009:
This year the restaurant name was “Donald and Daisy’s Romantic Days Café” (my parents are serious Disney nuts – they religiously go for a two week stint every year – and my dad’s name is Don). So the obvious flower choice was daisies, which was really serendipitous, since they’re one of my mom’s favorite flowers. Without further ado, here is how to make your own 5-course, 5-star feast, for Mother’s Day or any occasion. Enjoy!
6 oz (~1 c) raspberries
Fresh vegetables of choice (for crudités platter) (I also used ~1 c of cherry tomatoes that I had at home; cost was $1.20)
2 small red onions
1 head garlic
1 container (5 oz) baby spinach
1 bunch fresh parsley
½ bunch fresh chives (I got this from my garden)
A few springs of fresh thyme
½ c plain yogurt (I had this at home; cost was $0.25)
Small container (4 oz) Bleu cheese
1 stick salted butter
1 block (8 oz) Neufchatel cheese
1 (8 oz) jar roasted red pepper (I already had this at home; cost was $2.69)
Small jar sundried tomatoes in oil (I already had some at home; cost was $4.99)
6 TB walnuts (I got these from the bulk area)
2 L fruit-flavored sparkling beverage
Crackers of choice (I used 3 Wasa Crispbread Oat crackers that had I ordered online from Amazon; cost was $0.38)
Brown rice (I used microwaveable Gogo Organic Brown Rice that I ordered online from Amazon; cost was $1.79)
1 (11.5 oz) can of frozen juice (I used Welch’s Strawberry Breeze)
French vanilla ice cream
1 loaf fresh bread of choice (for crudités platter) (I used fresh Italian bread – it was still hot when I bought it!)
8 small petit fours (I ordered the traditional petit fours online from The Swiss Colony; cost was $1.66, not including shipping cost)
2 rib-eye steaks
2 halibut fish fillets
Pantry Items (Not Included in Cost of Meal):
Red wine vinegar
Cost of Food: Cost of food was $69.49, not including the pantry items. This might still seem like a lot, but don’t forget about all the food you’re getting…starting off with cute beverages, an appetizer platter to feed an army, dinner salads, surf and turf (basically two entrées!), and a fancy little dessert (with a lot of leftover ice cream of course). How much would all this cost at a nice restaurant? And don’t forget you’re saving gas money by staying at home! If you’re still not convinced, you can omit either the steak or fish and shave about $14 off the cost of the meal and still have a lovely restaurant-esque feast.
Up to a Week Ahead: Purchase all groceries except steak, fish, and fresh bread.
One Day Ahead: Make berry sauce, cheesy red pepper spread, sundried tomato-red pepper coulis, and herb butter; toast walnuts.
Day Of: Buy steak, fish, fresh bread, and fresh flowers (optional).
T-30 Minutes: Set the table; assemble the drinks and the crudités platter; refrigerate the beverages until serving time.
- Have your “waiter/waitress” (aka, husband, sibling, niece/nephew, etc.) bring out the drinks, followed by the crudités platter.
- Assemble the salads. Wait about 10 minutes after they finish the crudités (there will be a lot of this leftover, remember the spread alone makes 2 cups!) before sending out the salads. Make sure they’re enjoying the music, and the waiter can entertain a little too.
- In the meantime, assemble the ingredients for the entrées – let the fish and steak rest outside the fridge for about 10 minutes before cooking. For the rice pilaf, the onions and sundried tomatoes can be sautéed now – just sauté it and turn off the heat – right before serving you can reheat it and add the rice and other ingredients. For the sautéed spinach dish, the garlic can be sautéed now – just sauté the garlic and take it off the heat – when you’re ready to serve, put it back on the heat and add the spinach.
- When they’re about halfway done with the salads, start cooking the steak; begin cooking the fish after the steak has been flipped to the second side; finish cooking the rice pilaf and sautéed spinach after the steak and fish are cooked; assemble each dinner plate and serve. The entrée will take quite a while for them to get through (expect it to take about 20 minutes, and don’t forget, at this point they’re probably feeling really full).
- After dinner, wait at least 15 minutes (or more) before preparing and serving dessert; make sure that when you serve the petit fours, they’re at room temperature.
Pink Grapefruit Raspberry Spritzers
(Yield: 4 spritzers, each a little over 2 cups)
~4 TB berry sauce (recipe follows)
½ pink grapefruit, cut into wedges (save the other half for the Grapefruit Vinaigrette)
~2 TB white sugar
2 L sparkling beverage (I used 1 L Wegman’s Diet Peach Grapefruit, and 1 L Wegman’s Diet Peach)
1 (11.5 oz) can of frozen juice (I used Welch’s Strawberry Breeze)
1 c fresh raspberries, divided
2 TB cornstarch, mixed with 2 TB cold water
~2 TB powdered sugar, or more or less to taste (I think honey would work well also)
2 large fancy glasses for serving (assume you’ll be making a refill in each glass)
1 plastic condiment bottle
Place ½ c of raspberries on a baking sheet, making sure that none of the berries are touching. Put the baking sheet in the freezer and allow the berries to freeze completely (this takes about 30 minutes).
Add the frozen juice and ½ c of the berries to a pot with a lid; bring the juice mixture up to a boil, then cover and simmer for 10 minutes; strain the juice mixture in a colander lined with cheesecloth or a coffee filter. Add the strained juice mixture back to the pot on medium heat and taste for sweetness (I added about 2 TB of powdered sugar). If you choose to add sugar, whisk it in so that it dissolves completely. Whisking continuously, add the cornstarch and water mixture to the pot; bring the juice mixture back up to a boil and then shut off the heat. You’ll have way more sauce than you need for the spritzers – each spritzer only requires about 1 TB of sauce.
Put the white sugar on a small plate and coat the grapefruit wedges in sugar. Put the slightly warm berry sauce (if you made this in advance and refrigerated it, just heat it up slightly in the microwave) into a condiment bottle. On the inside of each serving glass, use the condiment bottle to make a swirl design with the berry sauce. Reserve the rest of this sauce to decorate the dessert plate. Pour in the sparkling beverage, add the frozen berries as “ice cubes,” and garnish with the grapefruit.
Cheesy Red Pepper Spread with Assorted Breads and Crudités (Adopted from Cooking Light)
(Yield: 2 cups of spread)
1 small red onion, peeled and halved
Cooking spray (or about 1 tsp olive oil if you don’t have cooking spray)
1 head garlic, outer peel removed but cloves still intact (reserve 1 clove for the spinach sauté)
¾ c (~8 oz) jarred roasted red pepper strips, drained
6 halves (~¼ c) jarred sundried tomatoes in oil, drained
~2 TB oil from the sundried tomatoes, divided
1 (8 oz) block Neufchatel cheese
½ c plain yogurt
¼ tsp cumin
¼ tsp kosher salt
~1 TB chopped chives, or any green herb you like (garnish)
Fresh bread, sliced (I used fresh baked Italian)
Crackers (I used Wasa Crispbread Oats)
Fresh vegetables (I used cherry tomatoes, baby zucchini, baby carrots, and snap peas)
1 piece (~6” square) aluminum foil
Preheat the oven to 400F. Lightly spray a small casserole dish with cooking spray; wrap the garlic in the foil, and place the onion and the wrapped garlic in the dish; bake for 15 minutes, then flip the onion and bake for another 15 minutes. At this point, remove the onion and bake the garlic for a final 15 minutes. Allow the garlic to cool slightly (about 10 minutes), and squeeze the garlic out of its skins. After draining the red pepper, squeeze the excess liquid out with your hands so the dip won’t be too thin. In a food processor, pulse together the following ingredients: garlic, onion, red pepper, sundried tomato, 1 TB oil from the sundried tomatoes, cumin, salt, and pepper. Once this mixture is processed into a thick paste, reserve 2 TB of this mixture to a separate bowl. To the mixture in the food processor, add the Neufchatel cheese and yogurt, and process until smooth. Chill for at least an hour; before serving chop the chives and sprinkle on top of the spread; assemble the spread on a platter with any breads and/or vegetables that you fancy.
Other Uses for Cheesy Red Pepper Spread: The spread is also great as a replacement for mayo and/or cheese on sandwiches, and it would also be great as a sauce on grilled chicken.
To the reserved 2 TB of the red pepper mixture, add 1 TB oil from the sundried tomatoes. This is a sundried tomato-red pepper coulis, which can be used as a garnish for the top of this spread, or for another dish (I used this to garnish the halibut).
Other Uses for Sundried Tomato-Red-Pepper Coulis: This would be an excellent garnish for chicken or steak. It would make a great pasta sauce, or it could even be turned into vinaigrette by adding a tablespoon or two of your favorite vinegar (I think balsamic or red wine vinegar would work well). You could also use this sauce on homemade pizzas instead of regular pizza sauce.
Possible Substitutions: This dip was excellent, the only minor adjustment I would make if I make it again (which I probably will!) would be to use Greek yogurt instead of regular yogurt, just to make the dip a little thicker and richer. I usually make Greek-style yogurt at home instead of buying it (I absolutely adore Greek yogurt, but it’s pricey!). All you have to do is strain regular yogurt in a colander lined with coffee filters in the fridge overnight.
(Yield: a whole lot of butter, to be used sparingly)
1 stick salted butter, softened
2 TB minced fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 TB minced fresh chives
1 TB minced fresh thyme
Mix all ingredients, chill until firm (at least one hour), and serve.
I served this with my Cheesy Red Pepper Spread with Assorted Breads and Crudites (because herb butter is amazing on fresh bread and veggies), and I also served it as a garnish on the grilled rib-eye steak.
Other Uses for Herb Butter: Herb butter is also great with cooked fish, chicken, or veggies, or even tossed with pasta or rice. Also, it makes amazing cucumber tea sandwiches.
Possible Substitutions: If you don’t like the herbs I used, you can use any combination of herbs that you like. You can also add roasted garlic to make incredibly delicious garlic butter.
Pear, Bleu Cheese, and Walnut Salad with Grapefruit Vinaigrette
(Yield: 2 salads)
1 pear, core removed and thinly sliced (I used a green Packham pear)
6 TB walnuts, toasted (reserve 2 TB for the Sundried Tomato Brown Rice Pilaf with Walnuts and Herbs)
½ small red onion, thinly sliced (save the other half for the Sundried Tomato Brown Rice Pilaf with Walnuts and Herbs)
2 TB crumbled Bleu cheese
3 c baby spinach
Pink Grapefruit Vinaigrette:
2 TB fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice
½ TB red wine vinegar
2 TB olive oil
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp honey
Dash salt and pepper
2 salad plates, chilled
To toast the walnuts, put them in a dry pan over medium heat for about 3 minutes, or until browned in spots and fragrant. Make sure to shake the pan about every minute so they don’t burn on one side.
Layer all of the salad ingredients on top of the spinach and drizzle with the dressing.
Other Uses for Pink Grapefruit Vinaigrette: The Pink Grapefruit Vinaigrette would also be a great marinade for fish or chicken.
Sundried Tomato Brown Rice Pilaf with Walnuts and Herbs
~2 c prepared brown rice (I used microwaveable Gogo Organic Brown Rice)
½ small red onion, diced
6 halves (~¼ c) jarred sundried tomatoes in oil, drained and minced
¼ c chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 TB walnuts, toasted
Put the onion and sundried tomato in a pot with about 1 TB of water over medium heat; sauté until the onion is translucent and then mix in the prepared rice; heat until the rice is warmed through, then turn off the heat and add the parsley and walnuts. I used this pilaf as a bed for steak.
Other Uses for Sundried Tomato Brown Rice Pilaf with Walnuts and Herbs: This could also be used as a bed for chicken or fish, or even just served with a salad for a light meal.
Grilled Rib-Eye Steak with Herb Butter
2 rib-eye steaks
Dash salt and pepper
2 tsp herb butter (garnish)
Preheat a grill to medium-high. Season the steaks with salt and pepper and transfer to the hot grill. Cook for about 7 minutes on each side for medium (pink in the center); let the meat rest for about 5 minutes, then put each steak on top of the brown rice pilaf, put 1 tsp of herb butter on each steak, and serve.
Pan-Seared Halibut on a Bed of Spinach Topped with Bleu Cheese and Sundried Tomato-Red Pepper Coulis
(Yield: 2 entrées)
~4 c fresh baby spinach
1 clove garlic, pressed
1 tsp olive oil
Dash salt and pepper
Heat a pan to low and add the olive oil; add the garlic and cook for about 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the spinach and season with salt and pepper. Sauté for about 2 minutes or until the spinach is wilted.
1 TB crumbled Bleu cheese
1 TB sundried tomato-red pepper coulis
2 Halibut fillets
1 TB olive oil
Dash salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 350. Heat a pan to high and add the olive oil; season the fish with salt and pepper and place it in the hot pan. Sear the fish on the first side until golden brown (should take between 3-5 minutes), then flip it and sear on the second side until golden brown (should take about 3 minutes). Bake the fish in the oven for about 5 minutes, or until done (this will depend on the thickness of the fish, but when it’s done it will be opaque and flake easily with a fork).
Assemble this dish by putting a bed of spinach on each dinner plate. Place the fish on top of the spinach, and sprinkle on the Bleu cheese and coulis.
Assorted Petit Fours with French Vanilla Ice Cream and Berry Sauce
(Yield: 2 servings)
8 small petit fours, either store-bought or homemade (I used assorted petit fours that I purchased online from The Swiss Colony)
2 scoops French vanilla ice cream
~4 TB berry sauce (reserved from the Pink Grapefruit Raspberry Spritzers)
If the petit fours are refrigerated, allow them to sit at room temperature for 30 minutes before serving. Arrange each dessert plate with 1 scoop of ice cream and 4 petit fours; decorate each plate with the fresh raspberries and about 2 TB of berry sauce from a condiment bottle.