A brunch menu for Mom.

Mother’s Day is Sunday, and I know there’s one thing my Mom would love — brunch. Yours too? Here are some great recipe ideas for your Mother’s Day brunch!

chicken salad with carrot and fennel | writes4food.com

Beautiful chicken, carrot and fennel salad.

They say breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and who am I to argue. I love a good bowl of steel-cut oatmeal to get me started, sure.

But I’d suggest that lunch is even more critical. A crummy lunch, unsubstantial and eaten in a hurry, is the surest way to trainwreck my afternoon. If I grab a bagel or a bowl of cereal, I’ll spiral into a carb crash around 2:00, and my mood and productivity go out the window. Give me a good lunch, one with protein, lively textures and happy flavors, and I’m set for the rest of the day.

This lunchtime salad recipe with chicken and vegetables is the perfect solution: fresh, bright, clean. Make it on Sunday and you’ll have lunch for a couple of days; this keeps well in a jar in the fridge so it’s super portable.

lunchbox salad with chicken, carrot and fennel

(makes 3 lunchtime servings)

1 cup shredded cooked chicken
1 fennel bulb
3 large carrots
1 teaspoon fennel seed, toasted in a dry skillet and crushed
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1/4 cup minced fresh parsley
Coarse sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Wash and trim the end off the fennel bulb; cut the fennel in half and use the tip of a knife to cut out the tough inner core (it’s the dense triangular center of the bulb). Cut each half again in half lengthwise, then slice very thinly crosswise. Peel carrots, then using the peeler, cut into long strips; stack strips together and cut crosswise into 3-inch (or so) lengths. (Be sure to reserve your vegetable scraps to make homemade vegetable stock.) In a large bowl, combine chicken, fennel, carrot, fennel seed, oil, vinegar and parsley. Season well with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper. Serve at room temperature.

healthy hummus-guacamole dip recipe | writes4food.com

Fresh chickpea (or edamame) guacamole.

Have you ever spotted fresh garbanzo beans in your grocery or food shop? They’re amazing: bright and green and full of flavor, funny wrinkly little beans tucked into puffy green shells.

When I spotted fresh garbanzos at Madison’s at Findlay Market recently, they sort of asked to be cooked up and mashed with avocado for a very spring-ish version of guacamole.

This guacamole-hummus recipe (let’s call it ‘guacamus’) couldn’t be easier. Adding fresh chickpeas (you can easily substitute frozen peas or edamame, lightly cooked) to guacamole lightens this fantastic dip-cum-spread tremendously. A bit of lemon juice brightens the flavor and enhances its spring-iness.

cooking fresh chickpeas | writes4food.com

guacamole-hummus dip recipe

(serves 4)

3/4 pound fresh chickpeas in the shell (about 1 1/4 cups shelled); see Note
1 large avocado
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
Salt and pepper to taste
Smoked paprika and good olive oil for serving

Note: If you can't find fresh chickpeas, substitute 1 1/4 cups of fresh or frozen shelled English peas or edamame.

Remove the fresh chickpeas from their shells; place them in a saucepan and cover with water; add a pinch of salt. Bring the water to a boil and cook the chickpeas until they're tender but not mushy, 4–5 minutes. Rinse the chickpeas under very cold water to stop the cooking. Transfer the cooked chickpeas to a bowl and use a fork or immersion blender to coarsely mash them. Add the avocado and mash to combine. Stir in lemon juice, cumin, salt and pepper to taste. Transfer the guacammus to a serving bowl and sprinkle liberally with smoked paprika and drizzle with olive oil. Serve with toasted pita chips or tortilla chips.

baby kale caesar salad recipe | writes4food.com

Baby kale caesar salad.

I’ve recently begun contributing the occasional local food feature — along with a simple recipe or two — to the Cincinnati Enquirer. I’m something of an old-school journalist type, and I value ink-on-paper media in a world of digital information. I’m perfectly happy to read The New York Times on my tablet during the week, but gimme the printed edition on Sunday so I can page through it at luxurious leisure. For awhile, our local paper considered doing away with its Wednesday food section, then resuscitated it with syndicated feature content. When a new editor approached me to ask if I’d contribute, I was happy for the opportunity to put the local back in local food coverage.

For this week’s “what’s in season now” feature story, I scouted farmers’ markets in town to get a sense of what growers are harvesting for our tables. At the Madeira Farmers’ Market, I spotted a bin full of baby kale from Elmwood Stock Farm — so beautiful! I shared this recipe for baby kale caesar salad with Enquirer readers this week; here it is for you!

Baby Kale caesar salad recipe

serves 4

4–5 ounces baby kale (or a mixture of baby kale, arugula, lettuce, other spring greens)
2 thick slices white sandwich bread, crusts removed
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar or white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
2–3 anchovy filets (to taste), chopped
1 small garlic clove, chopped
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 egg yolk
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

For the croutons: Preheat oven to 350°. Tear the bread in bite-sized pieces and lay it on a rimmed baking sheet. Toss the croutons with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt; toast, turning occasionally, until they’re dried and lightly browned, about 10 minutes.

For the dressing: In a small food processor or blender, combine the vinegar, lemon juice, anchovies and garlic; blend to combine. Add the olive oil and blend until smooth. Add the egg yolk and blend until the dressing is thick and smooth. Stir in half the Parmesan cheese and season to taste with salt and pepper.

For the salad: Pinch off any long stems from the kale. Toss the greens in a large serving bowl and season with a pinch of salt. Spoon some of the dressing along the side of the bowl and toss the greens gently to coat, adding more dressing if needed. Add remaining Parmesan and a generous grind of black pepper and toss. Top with croutons and a shower of grated Parm.

Spring orzo salad recipe

Orzo salad with spring vegetables and herbs.

Of all the recipes in my Findlay Market Cookbook, this is one of two that I’ve made the most — both for my own enjoyment and for demonstrations when I’m out talking about the book. This pasta salad fixes every problem you’ve ever had with pasta salad, it’s bright and fresh-tasting, not too heavy, full of vegetables, unlike that bowl of corkscrew pasta with bottled Italian salad dressing that’s always the disappointment of a salad bar or backyard cookout.

But what I really love about this pasta salad is … well, a couple of things. First, it’s endlessly adaptable. The version of this recipe that’s in the book is very summery, with cherry tomatoes, cucumber and basil. The version I’m sharing here features spring vegetables and herbs. Starting with the orzo, chickpeas and dressing, you can make this pasta salad recipe your own; I’ve done a fall version with roasted red onion and butternut squash to great effect.

Second, it has just the right ratio of vegetables to pasta. Orzo makes a surprisingly great pasta salad, because it’s a canvas for the other ingredients rather than being a focus. (Tortellini pasta salad is, IMO, the worst offender, all pasta and no veggies. Please, do not make that.) Cooking the pasta in broth adds flavor without fat.

Finally, it makes a ton and keeps well, which means a batch made for Sunday night’s dinner becomes several days’ worth of lunch. This veggie-packed pasta salad recipe is a perfect side dish for grilled chicken or barbecued ribs.

Made with the asparagus, spring onions and arugula I found at the farmers’ market last week, I’ve been feasting on this pasta salad all week!

spring orzo pasta salad recipe

serves 8 as a side dish

For the dressing:
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon local honey
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Place the vinegar, lemon juice, honey, salt and pepper in a blender or food processor. With the machine running, slowly drizzle the olive oil in; blend to emulsify.

For the salad:
4 cups vegetable or chicken broth
1 lb. (dried) orzo
1 15-ounce can garbanzo beans, drained
2 cups frozen peas, blanched in boiling water 3 minutes
1 bunch asparagus, ends trimmed, cut in 1-inch pieces and blanched in boiling water 3 minutes
1 bunch baby arugula
1/3 cup chopped green onion (white and green parts)
1 cup chopped fresh parsley
½ cup toasted pine nuts or sliced almonds
4 ounces Feta cheese, crumbled
Salt and freshly ground pepper

In a saucepan, bring the broth to a boil; stir in the orzo. Cover partially and cook until the orzo is al dente, stirring frequently, about 7 minutes. Drain the orzo and put it into a big serving bowl to cool. While the pasta is still warm, add about half the dressing and toss to coat. Let cool. Add garbanzo beans, peas, asparagus and toss gently to combine. Add arugula, onion and parsley and a bit more dressing; toss to coat. Top salad with Feta and almonds. Taste and season with more salt and pepper as needed. Serve at room temperature.

overnight steel-cut oatmeal with quick caramelized bananas | writes4food.com

Easy overnight steel-cut oatmeal.

So, today is rainyrainyrainy … this kind of morning needs to start with a nice, satisfying bowl of oatmeal. Good thing I’d prepped some up the night before.

In a pinch, if I’m feeling oatmeal-y on a morning, I’ll do a batch of quick-cooking oats. But if you want that real, hearty, flavorful bowl of oatmeal, then steel-cut oats are best. It’s just, who has that kind of time in the morning to kill 20 minutes waiting for your breakfast to cook?

This easy technique for overnight “cooking” steel-cut oats is totally the best. Of course, you can top your oatmeal as you like — I dig these caramelized bananas, but really, a big spoonful of brown sugar and a sprinkle of cinnamon make lovely toppers. Fresh fruit, toasted pecans or slivered almonds, dried raisins or cranberries. Or go savory, and top your bowl with a softly fried egg.

Start this tonight, and you’ll have a welcome day-starter tomorrow.

creamy overnight oatmeal recipe with caramelized banana topping

(makes 4 servings)

for the overnight oatmeal:
1 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1 cup steel-cut oats
3 cups water
generous pinch salt
1/4 tsp. vanilla extract (optional)
1/4 tsp. almond extract (optional)
1 cup almond or regular milk for serving

In a saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat; add the oats and stir to coat them with butter. Toast the oats, stirring occasionally, for about 3 minutes (they'll smell wonderfully toasty, like baking oatmeal cookies). Add the water, bring to a rolling boil over medium-high heat. Cover the pan, turn off the heat, and leave the oatmeal to sit overnight. The oats will absorb the water and take on a perfectly toothy texture. The next morning, stir in the extracts, if using.

This recipe makes 4 (3/4-cup) servings. The oatmeal keeps well in the refrigerator. To serve, measure your cooked oatmeal into a pan and add 1/4 cup of milk. (I like almond milk for its nutty flavor that complements the oatmeal.) Heat for 5 minutes until warm and creamy.

For the caramelized bananas:
1/2 banana, peeled and sliced
1 tsp. unsalted butter
2 tsp. brown sugar

In a small skillet, melt the butter and brown sugar. Add the banana slices. Cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes, flipping the bananas once, until they're soft and golden brown. Spoon the bananas and sugar syrup over a serving of oatmeal.

chicken salad with pecan dressing recipe

Beautiful roast chicken salad in a jar.

This lovely salad-in-a-jar recipe is my idea of the perfect lunch: Light, yet full of protein to keep me going all afternoon. Make ahead-able. Brightly flavored and nicely crunchy. Plus, you know, spiced pecans.

This salad recipe is loosely based on one I clipped out of a Williams-Sonoma catalog about a billion years ago and stashed in my three-ring binder’o’recipes. (Sigh. I kind of miss clipping paper recipes out of magazines and catalogs. Though the New York Times Cooking app does that in a more digital and somehow less engaging sort of way.)

Make up a big batch of the dressing and prep a ton of vegetables early in the week and you’ll have a tasty dinner and several days’ worth of lunch, besides.

roast chicken salad with pepper, fennel and spicy pecan dressing recipe

serves 2

For the dressing: In a small skillet, combine 3 tablespoons finely chopped pecans with 1/4 teaspoon salt and a pinch of cayenne pepper to taste. Toast the pecans with the spices over medium heat until they're fragrant, about 3 minutes. Remove to a lidded glass jar and add 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar and 2 teaspoons water. Shake to combine. Add another teaspoon of water to thin the dressing if needed. Taste and adjust seasonings, adding more cayenne for heat if you'd like.

For the salad: Chop into 1/2-inch dice: half a red bell pepper, half an apple (choose your favorite), half of a medium fennel bulb. Transfer to a large bowl. Slice half a head of leaf or Romaine lettuce into thin strips and add the lettuce to the bowl. Season the vegetables with a generous pinch of salt and toss gently to combine. Add a drizzle of dressing and pecans and toss gently to coat. Top the salad with about 3 tablespoons crumbled blue cheese and 1 cup sliced roasted chicken.

pecan cream cheese pound cake recipe | writes4food.com

Heavenly pecan pound cake.

Cream cheese, butter, and all those toasty pecans? Yes, please! This recipe for a cream cheese-based pound cake, studded with pecans, is one of my very favorites. I’ve had this  stashed in my binder of recipes clipped from newspapers, magazines and who-knows-where-else for a long time, and made it often. (Note to young readers: this binder thingy is the analog version of Pinterest.)

I’m not a sweet-sweet person, so I reduced the granulated sugar called for in the original recipe by a bit and loved the results. Be sure to gently toast the pecans and cool them before tossing them into the cake batter.

Pound cake has endured for good reason: it’s not at all hard to make, simple yet impressive and delicious without a lick of frosting.

pecan cream cheese pound cake

makes about 24 servings

1 1/2 cups whole raw pecans
1 1/2 (3 sticks) unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
8 ounces cream cheese, softened at room temperature
2 1/2–3 cups sugar (use the larger quantity if you want a very sweet cake)
6 large eggs, at room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
3 cups cake flour
Pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 325°. Arrange the pecans in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet and toast until fragrant, 5–7 minutes (watch to be sure they do not burn). Remove to a cutting board and chop fine. Use 1 tablespoon of the butter to grease a 10-inch bundt or tube pan; dust the greased pan liberally with about 2 tablespoons of all-purpose flour. Cut the butter and cream cheese into chunks and place in the bowl of a stand mixer (or in a large bowl using a hand mixer). Beat the butter and cream cheese together until fluffy, about 4 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the vanilla and almond extracts and blend to combine. Whisk together the cake flour and salt in a medium bowl; use a 1/4-cup measure to add flour to the batter one scoop at a time, blending well on low speed. Keep adding flour until you have about 1/2 cup left; toss the chopped pecans with this remaining flour and add it to the batter. Mix just to combine. Transfer the batter to the prepared pan; smooth the top and tap the pan briskly on the countertop to settle the batter. Bake for 1 hour 35 minutes to 1 hour 45 minutes, or until the top of the cake is deeply caramel-brown and a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out with just a few moist crumbs. Remove the pan from the oven and let cool about 45 minutes. Run a thin knife around the inside of the pan to loosen the cake; invert it onto a baking sheet and then onto a serving plate (domed side up). Cool completely before slicing. Cake freezes well, wrapped in a double layer of plastic and foil, up to 6 months.

winter panzanella salad recipe

Beautiful winter panzanella salad.

To me, salad is fungible; a variable concept with endless iterations. Salad isn’t just a plate of greens with a splash of vinaigrette. It’s that, sure, and it’s a wedge of crunchy iceberg with blue cheese dressing.

But lettuce is not a requirement for salad. Too, the whole idea changes drastically from season to season: Thick slabs of sunkissed tomato and dollops of homemade ricotta cheese in summer, to a toss of green beans and fingerling potatoes in the fall, to a big bowl of orzo with tons of vegetables and other goodies that works pretty much all year long.

Typically, panzanella—an Italian salad of tomatoes, black olives, cucumbers and stale bread—is a summer dish, designed to use the glut of veggies and leftover bread. But here’s a wintertime version that’s just as delicious, hearty and super seasonal.

This winter panzanella salad would be the perfect side dish to roast chicken or pork tenderloin. Use good bread—a hefty multigrain, unsalted rye or even a good bakery raisin bread are all good options here. You can make the components of this salad ahead of time (roast the vegetables, toast the croutons, mix the vinaigrette), but assemble it just a few minutes before serving.

Winter Panzanella Salad Recipe

serves 4

4 cups day-old multigrain or rye bread croutons (see Note)
4 cups cubed butternut squash
1 small red onion, slivered
1 red apple, cored and sliced
1 large handful baby arugula
1/2 cup fresh parsley leaves
1/4 cup toasted whole walnuts
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons sherry vinegar
1 small garlic clove, mashed to a paste with a bit of salt
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Shaved Parmesan for serving

Note: Instead of cutting bread into even cubes, tear it into bite-sized chunks. Let croutons dry, uncovered, for a day before proceeding.

Preheat oven to 375°. On a rimmed baking sheet, toss bread croutons with a drizzle of olive oil; season with salt and pepper. Bake croutons for 10–15 minutes until mostly dried and lightly toasted; transfer to large serving bowl. Increase oven temperature to 400°. On the same rimmed baking sheet, toss the butternut squash cubes and red onion with a drizzle of olive oil; season with salt and pepper. Roast 20 minutes or until tender. Transfer to the bowl with the croutons. Add arugula, sliced apple, parsley leaves and walnuts. In a small jar, combine the olive oil, sherry vinegar, garlic, and a pinch of freshly ground pepper. Cover and shake to combine. Toss salad with just enough dressing to lightly coat the ingredients. Transfer to serving plates and top with shaved Parmesan.

Shagbark corn chips

In praise of: Shagbark Seed & Mill corn chips.

Ohio friends: Have you had these? We’ve been crunching on Shagbark Seed & Mill‘s excellent corn chips and can’t get enough of them. You know what’s awesome about them? They. Taste. Like. Corn. Not corn-ish. Not supersaltycorn. Not processed corn. Corn. Kind of a cross between fresh corn and popcorn.

And wow! The crunch! Hefty, hearty, totally satisfying. Bet you won’t just mow through a pile of these like you would name-brand corn chips.

I won’t buy any other corn chips. Ever.

FYI: Shagbark, based in Athens, OH, is a pretty remarkable local food business, built to help sustain employment and supply nutritious food in Appalachia. Their flours, cornmeal and other milled grains are awesome (I love their spelt cereal, kind of like a more healthful and delicious Cream of Wheat). In Cincinnati, you’ll find Shagbark products at Madison’s at Findlay Market, Whole Foods and Green BEAN Delivery.