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Savory and sweet dishes to celebrate mom on Mother's Day

Savory and sweet brunch dishes to whip up for mom on her big day include banana pancakes, crab eggs Benedict and chocolate dipped strawberries.|

It’s not hard to understand why Mom would choose breakfast in bed on Mother’s Day over dining out at a restaurant crowded with dysfunctional families embittered by the heightened expectations and pressure of delivering another “perfect” display of their affection.

After all, simple comfort food made with love - and nurtured along with a few shortcuts and do-head tricks - is often more satisfying than the guiltiest pleasure from a commercial kitchen.

And when your menu also showcases the vibrant, fresh produce of spring - from Chocolate Dipped Strawberries to Crab Eggs Benedict with Asparagus - it’s hard not to smile.

Just thinking about the yolk of a poached egg and a mound of golden hollandaise oozing into the crunchy canyons of an English muffin can melt even the fiercest tiger mom into a mound of butter.

Lisa Lavagetto of Ramekins in Sonoma came up with these and other dishes - from easy-peasy pancakes to a sophisticated goat cheese soufflé - and is happy to pass along her tips about how to pull off each dish, with efficiency and grace.

“I want to share what I know so that people will cook more,” Lavagetto said. “This is a great thing to do for Mother’s Day, and you can do a lot of this ahead of time.”

At a recent class on Spring Brunches, Lavagetto helped two women who flew in from Connecticut cook up a batch of Macadamia Nut and Banana Pancakes, and one of them had hopes that it would translate into a delicious breakfast in bed when she got home.

“I have two kids, so I’ll give them a crash course for Mother’s Day,” said Christine Paulo, avid home cook from East Branby, Conn.

The class started off with a super simple recipe for Chocolate Dipped Strawberries that can be served with a flute of sparkling wine or Prosecco.

“These are so much fun to do if you have kids or grandkids,” Lavagetto said. “You can drizzle bits of white chocolate at the end.”

Next up was a Chocolate Cherry Scone that can be cut into a heart shape for fun.

“It’s a very rich scone, made with buttermilk,” Lavagetto said. “Have your butter already cold and use a pastry cutter or two knives to combine it with the flour. It will be a lot lighter, with a nice, biscuit flavor.”

The dough can be made the night before, cut into heart shapes and stored on a baking sheet in the fridge. The next morning, just pop them into the oven.

The recipe for Macadamia Nut and Banana Pancakes, topped with Orange Butter and Maple Syrup, was the most accessible, but the combination of crunchy nuts, sweet banana and orange butter elevated it above the usual, ho-hum hotcake.

“These are my kids’ favorites,” Lavagetto said. “You can chop the nuts and make the orange butter the night before.”

For more of a challenge, Lavagetto offered a savory Goat Cheese, Tomato and Poached Garlic Soufflé, served on a bed of spring greens. While the thought of a soufflé may conjure images of a disastrous collapse, Lavagetto coached the students with tips for success, including poaching rather roasting the garlic, making the base early and whipping the egg whites until they are barely firm.

“This is kind of a fun thing to make,” she said. “Every soufflé starts with a roux as a base. The key is letting the base cool so that when you add the whites, they won’t curdle.”

For those daunted by the idea of whisking up some homemade hollandaise, Lavagetto came up with a fail-proof alternative made in minutes in a blender. The Blender Hollandaise is used to top the Crab Eggs Benedict, which already has plenty of moving parts, with toasted English muffins and poached eggs, sliced tomato and asparagus, smoked salmon schmear and fresh crab meat.

To help with assembly, it may be wise to blend the salmon and cream cheese in advance in a food processor, pick the crab meat (if necessary) and blanch the asparagus.

Finally, for mothers with a sweet tooth, Lavagetto suggested making an Apple Cranberry Crostata with Cinnamon Topping, which can be served with whipped cream. The dough also an be made in advance. In fact, it needs to rest in the fridge for at least an hour or so.

“That lets the glutens rest,” she said. “It will roll out much easier.”

The following recipes are from Lisa Lavagetto of Ramekins.

Chocolate Covered Strawberries

Makes about 20

1 pound strawberries with stems, washed and dried well

6 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped

Rinse strawberries but do not hull. Drain and pat dry.

Put the semisweet chocolate into heatproof medium bowls. Fill medium saucepan with a couple inches of water and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Turn off the heat; set the bowls of chocolate over the water to melt. Stir until smooth. Once the chocolates are melted and smooth, remove from the heat. Line a sheet pan with parchment or waxed paper.

Holding the strawberry by the stem, dip the bottom half of each berry in the melted chocolate. Twist the strawberry so that the chocolate forms a “tail” at the end. Set strawberries on parchment paper. Repeat.

These scones can be cut out the night before, refrigerated unbaked on a baking sheet, then popped into the oven in the morning.

Heart-shaped Dried Cherry and Chocolate Chip Scones

Makes about 12 scones

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

7 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter, diced

1 teaspoon (packed) grated orange peel

3/4 cup miniature semisweet chocolate chips

3/4 cup coarsely chopped dried tart cherries

2/3 cup chilled buttermilk

1 large egg yolk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon almond extract

- Milk (for glaze)

Butter and flour baking sheet. Whisk the flour, 1/3 cup sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large bowl. Add butter and grated orange peel; rub in with fingertips until coarse meal forms. Mix in chocolate chips and dried cherries. Whisk buttermilk, egg yolk, vanilla extract and almond extract in small bowl to blend. Add buttermilk mixture to dry ingredients; stir with fork until dough comes together in moist clumps.

Gather dough into ball, then press it out on a lightly floured surface to 3/4-inch thickness. Using 2-inch heart-shaped cookie cutter, cut out scones. Gather scraps, press out dough and cut additional scones. Transfer to baking sheet, spacing 1 inch apart. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover. Chill.)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Brush scones lightly with milk; sprinkle with remaining 2 tablespoons sugar. Bake until scones are crusty on top and tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 15 minutes (up to 20 minutes if refrigerated). Serve warm or at room temperature.

Banana Macadamia Pancakes with ?Orange Butter

Makes 15 4-inch pancakes

For orange butter:

1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter, softened

1/2 teaspoon finely grated fresh orange zest

11/2 teaspoons fresh orange juice

1/8 teaspoon salt

For pancakes:

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

3 tablespoons sugar

11/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

11/2 cups well-shaken buttermilk

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

2 large eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 ripe large banana

1/2 cup salted, roasted macadamia nuts, chopped

- Maple syrup, to serve

Stir together all orange butter ingredients in a small bowl until combined well.

For pancakes, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a bowl. Whisk together buttermilk, 2 tablespoons melted butter, eggs and vanilla in a large bowl until smooth. Add flour mixture and whisk until just combined. Cut banana into bits and fold into batter along with nuts. (Batter will be very thick.)

Brush a 12-inch nonstick skillet with some of remaining tablespoon melted butter and heat over moderate heat until hot but not smoking. Working in batches of three, pour 1/4 cup batter per pancake into hot skillet and cook until bubbles appear on surface and undersides are golden brown, 1 to 2 minutes. Flip pancakes with a spatula and cook until golden brown and cooked through, 1 to 2 minutes more. Transfer to a large plate and loosely cover with foil to keep warm while you make more pancakes, brushing skillet with butter for each batch. Serve with orange butter and maple syrup.

Goat Cheese, Sun-Dried Tomato and Roasted Garlic Soufflés

Makes 4 servings

5 large garlic cloves, flattened, skin removed

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon salt

3/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

- Nonstick vegetable oil spray

4 tablespoons plain breadcrumbs

1 tablespoon butter

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

11/4 cups milk

1/2 cup finely chopped, drained, oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes

11/2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme

4 large egg yolks

4 ounces mild, fresh goat cheese, crumbled (about 1 cup)

6 large egg whites

1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar

- Fresh baby salad greens

Cover the garlic cloves with olive oil and poach in a small saucepan over low heat until soft (about 15 to 20 minutes). Drain off the olive oil and add salt and pepper to the garlic, mashing into a paste.

Spray four 2-cup soufflé dishes with nonstick spray. Sprinkle each with 1 tablespoon breadcrumbs, coating bottom and sides; place dishes on baking sheet. Melt butter in medium saucepan over medium heat. Add flour; whisk until smooth, about 1 minute. Gradually add milk, whisking constantly until mixture boils, thickens and is smooth, about 2 minutes. Stir in tomatoes, thyme and garlic mixture. Remove soufflé base from heat.

Whisk egg yolks in large bowl to blend. Gradually whisk in hot soufflé base, then fold in goat cheese. Using electric mixer, beat egg whites in another large bowl until foamy. Add cream of tartar; beat until stiff but not dry. Fold whites into soufflé mixture in 4 additions. Divide among prepared dishes.

Bake soufflés until puffed and golden, about 25 minutes. Serve immediately on a bed of greens tossed with olive oil and salt.

To poach the eggs in advance, cook to the hard white/soft yolk stage and place in a cool water bath in fridge. Then, when ready to serve, place in a pre-heated 350 degree oven for enough time to heat the eggs through (about 10 minutes.)

Crab Eggs Benedict

Makes 6 servings

6 English muffins

4 ounces smoked salmon

6 tablespoons cream cheese

2 large, ripe tomatoes, thinly sliced into 12 slices

1 fresh lemon (for garnish, sliced into 6 wedges)

1 pound Dungeness crab meat

12 large eggs, poached

12 spears asparagus, stemmed and blanched until tender

Prepare the hollandaise sauce per the recipe below.

Half the 6 English muffins and place on a baking sheet, then lightly toast under the broiler.

Mix the smoked salmon with the cream cheese and spread over the 12 toasted muffins, followed by a thin slice of tomato, and a 12th of the drained crab meat.

Place the baking sheet in the oven for about 5 minutes to heat through only (not cook). When warmed, top with a poached egg and spoon sauce over the top. Garnish with the asparagus.

Blender Hollandaise Sauce

Makes 8 servings

6 egg yolks

1/2 teaspoon salt

- Dash of cayenne pepper

2 tablespoons heavy cream

1 pound unsalted butter, melted until bubbly but not brown

2 tablespoons lemon juice or white wine vinegar

- Large sprig of fresh dill, chopped finely

Place egg yolks, salt, pepper and cream in blender and blend for a few seconds at high speed until you have a smooth froth mixture.

Still going at high speed, start adding hot butter in a thin, steady stream, not too slowly.

As you add butter, the sauce will thicken. When half the butter has been added, add the lemon juice or vinegar. Then continue blending until the rest of the butter has been added.

Once finished, fold in about 1 tablespoon of the fresh dill.

Apple Cranberry ?Crostata with Cinnamon Topping and Whipped Cream

Makes 8 servings

For crust:

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon sugar

1/8 teaspoon salt

6 tablespoons chilled, unsalted butter, diced

3 tablespoons ice water

For crumb topping:

2/3 cup all-purpose flour

6 tablespoons (packed) golden brown sugar

2 tablespoons yellow cornmeal

1 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon salt

6 tablespoons chilled, unsalted butter, diced

2/3 cup blanched slivered almonds

For filling:

7 tablespoons sugar, divided

1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise

4 large pippin or Sierra Beauty apples, peeled, halved, sliced 1/4-inch thick

3/4 cup dried sweetened cranberries

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, divided

For crust: Mix flour, sugar and salt in a medium bowl. Add butter. Cut in with back of fork until butter is reduced to oatmeal-size flakes. Add ice water.

Toss until moist clumps form, adding more ice water by teaspoonfuls if dough is dry. Gather dough into ball; flatten into disk. Wrap and chill at least 1 hour (or up to 1 day.)

For Topping: Mix flour, brown sugar, cornmeal, cinnamon and salt in bowl. Add butter. Blend with back of fork until moist clumps form. Mix in almonds.

For filling: Set rack at lowest position in oven and preheat to 400 degrees. Place 6 tablespoons sugar in large bowl. Scrape in seeds from vanilla bean; stir to blend well. Mix in apples and cranberries. Add 3 tablespoons melted butter and toss to coat.

Roll out dough on floured sheet of parchment paper to 13 1/2-inch round. Arrange apple filling in center, mounding slightly and leaving 2-inch plain border. Gently fold dough border over edge of filling, pleating loosely and pinching any cracks to seal.

Brush dough border with remaining 1 tablespoon melted butter and sprinkle with remaining 1 tablespoon sugar. Sprinkle topping over exposed apple filling.

Slide rimless baking sheet under parchment and crostata, and place in oven.

Bake until crust is crisp and apples are tender, about 40 minutes, rotating baking sheet after 20 minutes.

Run knife under crostata to loosen from paper. Cool completely on paper on baking sheet.

Staff writer Diane Peterson can be reached at 521-5287 or diane.peterson@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @dianepete56.

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