Gathering in the Kitchen for Mother’s Day

With Mother’s Day coming up, I thought I’d share some of my favorite mom-friendly tips and recipes to get the whole family together helping with meal preparation and relieving the heavy kitchen duties and stress a bit for moms on their special day.

Flexibility in the kitchen is the key to successful meal preparation, and my motto for cooking has always been to just cook off the cuff or from the hip — go with what you have in your pantry and feel free to substitute ingredients and change things up. If a recipe calls for garbanzo beans but you only have kidney beans, feel free to swap those out, or use that fragrant bunch of fresh oregano you just picked up at the Farmers Market instead of thyme as the recipe calls for. Don’t be afraid to experiment.

One of our favorite ways to get the whole family involved in dinnertime is to let our four boys have their pick of the vegetable for the night. My mom and grandmother showed me how to cook and got me involved at a very young age, spending time helping with family meals, which are memories I still cherish and want my own boys to have as well. They all help out as much as they can, and each take turns choosing for the night. I’ve found if they pick peas, they’ll be much more apt to eat them then if we’d forced them to eat broccoli. So long as they’re getting their vegetables every day and it varies, who cares what it is each particular night?

We also love make-ahead meals in our home, such as one-pot wonders like casseroles or soups. It’s such a relief to come home after a hard day to a nice big pot of Curried Orange Lentil Soup, Minestrone Verde, White Bean & Chicken Chili Blanca, or Enchilada Pie that can be left to simmer or bake on their own, while my wife Jennifer and I enjoy a pre-dinner glass of wine together.

Another great trick is taking everything and everyone outside and preparing dinner in the backyard on the grill. One of my favorite go-to meals is my Lettuce “Gyros” with Spicy Fish, Tomato Salad and Tzaztiki. Relying on the great fresh produce of the warm spring and summertime months, you can set up a do-it-yourself station and everyone can fix their own lettuce wraps with whatever they like, while the fish grills (for no more than ten minutes total). It’s healthy, beautiful, easy and quick to prepare — and great for on-the-fly weekday dinners but impressive enough for weekend get-togethers with friends.

Lettuce “Gyros” filled with Halibut & Tzatziki
Serves 4-6

4 6-ounce filets of center cut halibut (or you can substitute with salmon, snapper, branzino, tuna, chicken, etc.)
4 tablespoons of olive oil
4 limes, halved
1 tablespoons of good chili spice blend
1 head of butterleaf lettuce, leaves separate
1 head of radicchio, leaves separate
5 Roma tomatoes, diced for garnish
1 medium red onion, sliced thinly for garnish
kalamata olives, pitted and halved
1 tablespoon fresh oregano, chopped fine
2 tablespoons of parsley, rough chopped
2 heads of scallion, sliced thinly on the biased for garnish on yogurt
sea salt to taste
ground black pepper to taste

Preheat grill or oven to 400 degrees.

Season the halibut with half of the olive oil, half of the lime juice, chili blend, salt and pepper. Let sit and absorb for 10 minutes. Place on the grill or in the oven until cooked through, but not dry, about 6-8 minutes. In a mixing bowl, mix the tomatoes, onion, olives, oregano, parsley, the remaining olive oil, remaining limes juice, salt and pepper and blend well.

Once the fish is done, remove from the oven and let sit until slightly warm. On lukewarm serving plates, layer a butter leaf leaf with a radicchio leaf and flake a generous amount of fish into each one. Top with the tomatoes and onion mixture. Spoon on a dollop of the yogurt and garnish with the scallions. Serve immediately.

Cucumber Yogurt (Tzatziki)
Makes about 2 ½ cups

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon minced garlic, about 1 large clove
1 teaspoon kosher salt.
2 cups plain low fat Greek or regular yogurt
1 cup peeled, seeded and grated cucumber, about 1 medium cucumber

Add lemon juice, olive oil, garlic and salt to the yogurt. Add grated cucumber and mix well. Chill for at least one hour.

Wishing a Happy Mother’s Day to all moms everywhere!

About the Author

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Cat Cora is the first and only female Iron Chef. Outside of the kitchen, Cat is known for her philanthropy. She is President and Founder of Chefs for Humanity ( Cat recently joined First Lady Michelle Obama as part of her Chefs Move To Schools campaign in an effort to provide nutritional guidance and education from professional chefs to schools nationwide. Cat resides in the Santa Barbara area with her family, including her biggest fans, her four sons.

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