Mom has always provided for us kids. We may not have had everything we ever wanted, but we surely had everything we ever needed. But out of everything Mom gave us, outside of her love, I think her cooking has given me some of the greatest memories of all!
Year after year we would try a different Mother’s Day brunch. Some were very good. The presentation, preparation, taste and service was impeccable. The ambiance and fellowship with family provided much peace, love and happiness. There were, however, a few years that have been deemed forgetful. Poor service, sub-par food and an overall feeling of being rushed so the next party of Mother’s Day “Cattle” could be lead like cattle to the old feeding troth.
Three years ago, I decided to stop gambling and come up with a new, long term, family tradition. It was a gamble to say the least. It would take a lot of planning and hard work by us kids, but the end result was worth the risk. We would bring Mother’s Day Brunch back home, to our kitchen.
My sister would be in charge of the pastries and deserts. From a young girl, Kristy had a knack for baking and creating some amazing treats in Mom’s little kitchen in the country. Pie’s, cakes, tarts, puddings, and a variety of other wonderful sweets would certainly bring a smile to Mom’s face and satisfaction to Dad’s belly.
My brother Frank would handle the eggs, bacon, sausage and ham. A grill master from “way back”, Frank can sling it like no other. The sounds of sizzling swine and a variety of eggs (over light, over easy, sunny side up, scrambled, hard boiled, soft boiled, poached), you name it, Frank can cook it.
My other brother Barry would take care of all of the drinks. Coffee, tea, mimosa, juice (fresh squeezed) and a few other samplings of berry drinks would certainly quench the thirst of not only the chef’s but our family as a whole.
The kids play outside, usually a game of football or tag. Along with a handful of tears from Christopher being “too rough” or Cory “cheating”, there were tons of laughs and exciting screeches coming from under the very same window my bothers and sister and I spent years honing our kickball and kick the can skills. All the while the kitchen was a buzz with the sights, smells and sounds of yet another Mother’s Day Brunch Spectacular. Of course, Mom herself was never more than a few steps away, peering in through the kitchen swing door, wondering what was happing TO her beloved kitchen. Never more than seconds away from taking charge and bring order to her sense of perceived chaos.
Through it all, my job was to prepare three or four main course meals. Of all the kids, I am the one who truly took to cooking. As a graduate of the CIA in upstate New York, I received a great culinary education and have taken great pride in some of my recipes. For example, Mom always made requests about three weeks prior to the great feast and never in a subtle way. Her first request was always the same. Her baby boy’s homemade Mac & Cheese. Laughably simple, but unbelievably satisfying:
- 2 pounds of elbow macaroni
- 2 pounds of shredded sharp Cheddar cheese
- 32 ounces of small curd cottage cheese
- 32 ounces of sour cream
- 1 cup of grated Parmesan cheese
- 2 teaspoon of salt and pepper
- 4 cup of dried bread crumbs
- 1 cup of butter, melted
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil, add pasta, and cook until done; drain.
- In a large baking pan, stir together the cooked macaroni, shredded Cheddar cheese, cottage cheese, sour cream, parmesan cheese, salt and pepper. In a small bowl, mix together bread crumbs and melted butter. Sprinkle topping over macaroni mixture.
- Bake 30 to 35 minutes or until top is golden.
Dad had to be chained down for fear of scooping spoonful’s of the cheese delight into his mouth even before it had a chance to cool. Although funny to watch, not funny to hear the moans of frustration from my sister who was also in charge of making sure everything was “just right”
Mom has a fancy for Cajun food as well. From the moment they entered New Orleans on their honeymoon to the weekend trips they took every couple of years, my parents have always been transplant swampers and continue to pride themselves on being creole bumpkins. Mom’s second annual request for her brunch was my Gumbo:
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 3/4 cup bacon drippings
- 1 cup coarsely chopped celery
- 1 large onion, coarsely chopped
- 1 large green bell pepper, coarsely chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 pound andouille sausage, sliced
- 3 quarts water
- 6 cubes beef bouillon
- 1 tablespoon white sugar
- salt to taste
- 2 tablespoons hot pepper sauce (such as Tabasco®), or to taste
- 1/2 teaspoon Cajun seasoning blend (such as Tony Chachere’s®), or to taste
- 4 bay leaves
- 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
- 1 (14.5 ounce) can stewed tomatoes
- 1 (6 ounce) can tomato sauce
- 2 teaspoons gumbo file powder
- 2 tablespoons bacon drippings
- 2 (10 ounce) packages frozen cut okra, thawed
- 2 tablespoons distilled white vinegar
- 1 pound lump crabmeat
- 3 pounds uncooked medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
- 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
- 2 teaspoons gumbo fine powder
- Make a roux by whisking the flour and 3/4 cup bacon drippings together in a large, heavy saucepan over medium-low heat to form a smooth mixture. Cook the roux, whisking constantly, until it turns a rich mahogany brown color. This can take 20 to 30 minutes; watch heat carefully and whisk constantly or roux will burn. Remove from heat; continue whisking until mixture stops cooking.
- Place the celery, onion, green bell pepper, and garlic into the work bowl of a food processor, and pulse until the vegetables are very finely chopped. Stir the vegetables into the roux, and mix in the sausage. Bring the mixture to a simmer over medium-low heat, and cook until vegetables are tender, 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from heat, and set aside.
- Bring the water and beef bouillon cubes to a boil in a large Dutch oven or soup pot. Stir until the bouillon cubes dissolve, and whisk the roux mixture into the boiling water. Reduce heat to a simmer, and mix in the sugar, salt, hot pepper sauce, Cajun seasoning, bay leaves, thyme, stewed tomatoes, and tomato sauce. Simmer the soup over low heat for 1 hour; mix in 2 teaspoons of file gumbo powder at the 45-minute mark.
- Meanwhile, melt 2 tablespoons of bacon drippings in a skillet, and cook the okra with vinegar over medium heat for 15 minutes; remove okra with slotted spoon, and stir into the simmering gumbo. Mix in crabmeat, shrimp, and Worcestershire sauce, and simmer until flavors have blended, 45 more minutes. Just before serving, stir in 2 more teaspoons of file gumbo powder.
I can taste it as I write this article. The funniest part about Mom and my Gumbo is that no matter what she was talking about or with whom, once she bit into that Gumbo, her accent went from New York to Cajun with every bite.
Finally, the Italian would come out in Mom’s requests and as such, a variety of thoughts would center around a pasta dish. Invariably, my Linguini with Shrimp and Garlic win’s out:
- · 1lb of linguini
- · 1lb of cooked, deveined baby shrimp
- · 1 stick of butter (unsalted)
- · 1 tablespoon of salt
- · 1 tablespoon of pepper
- · 2 tablespoons of parsley
- · 2 tablespoons of minced garlic
- Sautee shrimp, butter, salt, pepper, garlic and parsley in a pan
- Cook linguini to aldante, strain
- Mix, toss and serve
Times like these Mother’s Day Brunches will live forever in my heart as one of the most special holiday’s of the year. The weather is usually beautiful. The shedding of winter skin and melted dirty snow makes way for daffodils and freshly cut spring grass. I hope as the youngsters grow, the tradition remains….even if I have to keep doing the cooking.