My mother’s life philosophy is best summed up by Tracy Jordan of 30 Rock: “I don’t need a birthday ’cause I buy myself all the presents I need. And because of my drinking, they’re often a surprise.”
This admittedly fabulous approach to living life makes it nearly impossible for me, her daughter, to buy her a birthday, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, or Mother’s Day gift she hasn’t already bought for herself. So my strategy for the last few years has been to give her the one thing she can’t buy: a really, really good homemade meal. It’s the only gift I’ve given her that has been met year after year with raves instead of, “That’s nice.”
Usually my sister and I will go home for the weekend and make her some Mother’s Day waffles—which is the one time a year we use the waffle iron—but this year, I’m also going big on dinner because I didn’t get her a birthday gift(!!!) in April, and she hasn’t forgotten. I’m building the whole meal around a couple of great steaks (my mother’s favorite food group), with lots of other veg-heavy dishes that come with plenty of built-in tasks for my prep cook aka Dad—so he doesn’t feel left out, you know? Here’s what I’m thinking:
I tend to immediately check out when I see the words “pine nuts” in a recipe (do I look like I’m made of money tho???). But ever since my dad finished paying off his share of college tuition for me and my sister, he has enthusiastically adopted a way of life he calls “Livin’ Large.” Activities that fall under the purview of Livin’ Large™ include buying literally every nut at Costco, including luXeEe pine nuts, so radish yogurt dip it is! I always want to eat while I prep for dinner, so I’ll put this out with cucumber spears, halved radishes, and Stacy’s pita chips for us to munch on.
This is a far cry from the Chaey family house salad—chopped romaine hearts, cucumber coins, cherry tomatoes, and Wish-Bone Light Italian Dressing—and that is not a bad thing. Lots of tasks for dad here (washing lettuce, peeling garlic, picking mint, scrubbing carrots lol), but I can already tell I will have to make the dressing in a closet where no one can see me so I don’t have to explain why I’m making a salad with, um, whipped cream.
The main event!!!! Okay so I’ve actually never cooked a rib-eye at home before because I’m too scared of effing up aka overcooking expensive meat. My plan is to follow the Test Kitchen’s golden rules (buy great meat, season it with LOTS of salt, bring it to room temperature before cooking) and hope for the best. I’m also going to bring home a cake tester because this restaurant trick for how to check any meat for doneness completely changed the way I cook protein.
I’ve been waiting all year for fat spears of purple-tipped local asparagus to show up at the farmers’ market, and last weekend I was finally rewarded with some sweet, sweet stalks. I think most roasted asparagus is kind of lame and not nearly as vibrant as blanched, so I’ll cook these in very well-salted boiling water for 30 seconds to a minute, just until they turn bright green, then dunk them in a salted ice bath (the salt is key to lots of flavor!) Lemon, olive oil, crushed toasted pistachios, flaky sea salt. Done.
While I love a mayonnaise-based potato salad, I think this lighter version topped with lots of shaved crunchy vegetables from Kismet in L.A. is exactly what I want to cut through the richness of a butter-bathed steak. Also, Key Dad Task: scrubbing the potatoes.
And for dessert: A pint of Häagen-Dazs coffee ice cream, which is my mother’s favorite food of all time and beats out any other dessert in her book. Apparently the perfect Mother’s Day gift was hiding in plain sight all along—it was just in the freezer.