This Sunday is Mother’s Day, a day when we celebrate all that our mothers have done for us. Think of all the clothes they have washed and ironed, the scraped knees and cuts they have cleaned and bandaged, the meals they have prepared, the fever-hot heads they have cooled with damp cloths, the sleepless nights they have spent while we were sick. They care for us, they sacrifice for us, and they love us with all our faults, no matter how disagreeable we can be. How lucky we are to have these amazing women as part of our lives!
They do so much for us every day; try to make this day a very special one for them. What does your mother or wife love to do? Is she the kind that prefers to curl up with a good book, with gentle music playing in the background? Would she rather be outdoors hiking, playing tennis, or swimming? Does she love attending plays or the symphony? Think what makes her happy and plan to do that with her. Give her a day off from all the household chores, clean the house for her, do the laundry, make all the meals. Show her just how special she is to you!
Even when you have lost your mother, as The Artist and I both have, Mother’s Day is an opportunity to say thank you once again, albeit for us with heavy hearts. Take a quiet moment, shed a tear or two, and be grateful for the time you have had with your mother.
Of course in many homes, it is the mother who prepares the meals. If you have never been taught how to cook, taking over this responsibility can be daunting. So, in anticipation of this, I have put together a wonderful meal that even the most kitchen-challenged among us will be able to make. A succulent chicken sandwich that everyone will love, served with sides of your choice, and a simple, but lovely dessert. You can use store-bought cake or if you are inclined, I have included a recipe for a delectable pound cake. Simple to assemble and bake, when you top it with fresh berries, it becomes an elegant end to your repast.
I usually pan-sear the chicken which is a very quick and simple method. But you can also use your grill or BBQ if you are comfortable with them. The smoke adds a wonderful dimension to your meats. I like to add a couple slices of bacon, but this can be left off the sandwiches if you don’t like it or want to save the calories. One unusual thing I do with the chicken for sandwiches is to slice them in half horizontally before marinating and cooking them. While this may seem counterintuitive, most chicken breast halves are too thick to cook well and eat easily in a sandwich. You wind up with something so thick you can’t get your mouth around it. We ladies like to be delicate when we eat, LOL!
Cooking a thinner piece of chicken is not only extremely quick, but lets you get a nice golden brown on the outside without overcooking the center. The key is to use a very hot pan that quickly sears the outside, trapping the juices inside. Just follow my directions and it will turn out perfectly every time. If you are using a BBQ grill, it will only take a couple of minutes to cook properly. Sear the first side of the chicken and then flip and move them to a cooler portion of the grill. Top with slices of cheese. By the time the cheese has melted, the chicken will be done. Transfer to a plate, tent loosely with foil and let them rest for about 10 minutes. This lets the meat reabsorb the juices that have migrated to the surface and lets the meat finish cooking gently.
You can serve the sandwiches with any sides that you like. Carrot and celery sticks are healthy and add a nice crunch. Add whatever vegetables you like and that add color to the plate. Pickle spears and sliced cucumbers are very refreshing. Chips (potato, tortilla, or vegetable) are traditional and always welcome. If it is a cold day, add a steaming bowl of her favorite soup.
The recipe for pound cake is simple and straightforward. Even those who are afraid of baking from scratch will be able to make a delicious dessert. Using sour cream adds a delightful rich note that also tenderizes the cake – don’t be afraid of using it. The lemon syrup lends a bright citrus note and slight crunch to the surface. I think it blends beautifully with the sugared berries, but you can leave it off if you would rather not use it. And if baking it from scratch seems above your abilities, buy a cake from a bakery or your local grocery store. Adorning it with fresh berries makes it beautiful and special.
Every event needs a beautiful setting. Create a pretty table with a colorful tablecloth or placemats and napkins, and don’t forget fresh flowers! These can be from your own garden or buy some at the farmer’s market or florist. A lighted candle (unscented) always makes a table look special. Even a small effort will be greatly appreciated.
I vote that we honor not just our mothers this Sunday, but also all the wonderful women in our lives. The amazing women we call our friends, sisters, aunts, and nannies. Recognize those who prepare and serve our food at restaurants, assist us when we are shopping, the accomplished ladies we work with, and all those who make our lives easier in a variety of small ways. Say Thank You with a smile, they deserve our respect.
A special thank you to all the women who read and share my posts. I truly thank you for your patronage and support. I love hearing from you and appreciate every comment. They warm my heart.
Jane’s Tips and Hints:
To avoid having holes in your baked cakes, pour the batter into the pan(s) and tap them on the counter. This will force the bubbles to the surface. If your batter is very thick, use a table knife and run it through the batter several times. Smooth the top if needed and bake as directed.
When testing for doneness of cake that has a split on the top, do not insert the toothpick in the split which can have excess moisture in it. You will not be able to accurately judge when it is baked properly. Sometimes moist crumbs will cling to the toothpick, giving you a false reading, causing you to overbake the cake.
Kitchen Skill: To make your plates look like a professional chef prepared them
Mentally divide each plate into thirds (think of a peace sign). Each section will hold part of your lunch. The sandwiches will be in one section, side vegetables such as pickle spears, carrot, celery, or cucumber slices will be in another section, and chips will be in the third. This way the plate looks balanced and your portions will be equal.
Set half of a sandwich on each plate and prop the second half against it, with the pointed end up. Place sliced vegetables next to the sandwiches, and a handful of chips in the remaining space on the plate.
Pan-Seared Chicken Sandwiches with Pesto Mayonnaise
Jane Evans Bonacci © 1997
Yield: 4 servings
1/2 cup good-quality olive oil
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 tsp Dijon mustard
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp dried thyme
2 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1/2 cup Hellman’s or Best Foods Lite Mayonnaise
3 to 4 tbsp prepared pesto sauce
2 medium tomatoes, cored and sliced
1 head Green leaf lettuce
1 large ripe avocado, optional
8 slices bacon or turkey bacon
8 slices Monterey Jack cheese
4 soft croissants, Kaiser ciabatta, or other sandwich rolls, split in half horizontally
Make the Marinade: In a bowl, combine the olive oil, vinegar, and mustard. Whisk until smooth. Add a pinch of salt, a couple grinds of pepper and the thyme; whisk again. Pour into a resealable plastic bag.
Using a sharp knife, slice chicken breasts in half horizontally, creating 4 thin filets or cutlets. Place in plastic bag with the marinade. Marinate in the refrigerator for 20 to 30 minutes while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.
Make the Pesto Mayonnaise: In a small bowl whisk together the mayonnaise and pesto sauce. Set aside.
Wash, core and slice the tomatoes. Discard outer leaves of lettuce and pull off 4 large lettuce leaves. Rinse thoroughly and pat dry with paper towels. Snap off hard stem portion. If using, cut the avocado in half lengthwise (run a sharp knife around the center pit), and twist to separate halves. Use a spoon to pop the seed out and discard. Using a large serving spoon, scoop the avocado out of its peel and place cut side down on a cutting board. Cut into 1/2-inch thick slices.
In a medium skillet, cook bacon over medium heat until lightly crispy. Using tongs, place on a paper towel-lined plate. Set aside. Pour grease into a bowl and wipe out pan with a paper towel.
Remove the chicken from the marinade and pat with paper towels to remove most of marinade.
Cook the Chicken: Return the pan to the stove and heat over medium heat until just about smoking. Using tongs, place the chicken pieces in the hot pan. Cook for 1 minute or until golden brown. Turn chicken over and cook for another minute. Remove pan from the heat, top the chicken pieces with slices of cheese, cover with a lid and set off the heat for 1 to 2 minutes or until cheese is melted and chicken is finished cooking.
Assemble Sandwiches: Spread each half of the rolls with a little of pesto mayonnaise. Place lettuce leaves on the bottom halves of rolls. Using a spatula, place chicken on top of lettuce leaves. Place 2 pieces of bacon on each sandwich. Top with alternating slices of tomato and avocado (if using). Set top half of rolls on the sandwiches, and slice in half on the diagonal, creating two semi-triangular pieces for each sandwich. Use large toothpicks to hold each half together if needed.
Pound Cake Topped with Sugared Berries and Mint
Jane Evans Bonacci © 2011
Yield: 4 servings
2 to 3 baskets of ripe fresh strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, or a combination
Fresh mint, rinsed and patted dry with paper towels
2 to 3 tbsp granulated sugar
1 homemade or store-bought pound cake (recipe follows), sliced into 3/4-inch thick pieces
Whipped cream, optional
Remove the stems from each strawberry and rinse thoroughly with cold water. Gently shake dry.
Using a sharp knife, slice small strawberries in half lengthwise; quarter large strawberries. Very finely chop 3 or 4 mint leaves. Place berries and mint in a bowl and sprinkle with the sugar. Use more or less depending on the sweetness of the berries. Using a spoon, gently toss the berries until evenly coated with the sugar.
Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for 30 minutes or up to 2 hours. The sugar will cause the berries to release their juices, creating a syrup.
When ready to serve, cut pound cake into thick slices, placing slices on small plates. Top the cake slices with equal portions of the sugared berries, with some of the berries spilling off the cake and scattering on the plate. Top with a dollop (large spoonful) of whipped cream if you like, and tuck a sprig of mint next to the cake.
Lemon Sour Cream Pound Cake
Yield: 12 servings
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 cups sugar
6 large eggs, at room temperature
1 tsp, vanilla extract
Grated zest of 2 lemons
1 cup sour cream, at room temperature
Zest of 1 lemon
1 cup fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup water
2/3 cup sugar
To make the cake, position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 325°F. Butter and flour a 10-inch fluted tube (Bundt) pan, and tap out the excess flour.
Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together; set aside.
Beat the butter and sugar in a large bowl with a hand-held electric mixer on high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, then the vanilla and zest. On low speed, add the flour in 3 additions, alternating with 2 additions of the sour cream, beginning and ending with the flour, and beat until smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl often with a rubber spatula. Transfer to the prepared pan and smooth the top with a spatula. Tap the pan on the counter several times to release any trapped air bubbles.
Bake in the center of the hot oven until a wooden skewer inserted in the cake comes out clean, about 1-1/4 hours.
Meanwhile, make the Lemon Syrup: Bring the lemon juice, zest, water, and sugar, to a boil over high heat and cook until it is reduced to 1/2 cup, about 15 minutes. Allow syrup to cool before drizzling onto the cake.
Transfer the cake to a wire rack and cool for 10 minutes. Drizzle half of the syrup over the cake. Remove from the pan, inverting it onto the wire rack and brush the top with the remaining syrup. Cool completely.
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