THERE are so many calendar dates to remember, between birthdays, anniversaries, occasions such as Valentine’s Day and next weekend’s Mother’s Day, as well as dates and times in my own diary.
It’s sometimes a challenge to keep up and I can’t help but feel under pressure to try to remember them all – like most men I think – but I’ve learnt that forgetting is not an option. No matter what any mum or wife might say, she will expect a card at the very least, so I’m preparing ahead this year and making sure Mother’s Day is special.
You don’t need a big budget to impress. A handmade card and a lovingly prepared meal can be the most special things, and time with the family should be treasured on occasions like this. With two young boys at home, I’m lucky enough to have a couple of little helpers to assist in making it a lovely, relaxed day for my wife Michaela this year. We’re also expecting twins in spring, so she certainly deserves a little rest and relaxation.
All parents know a long lie is a genuine luxury, so a great way for children to help out and treat their mum on Mother’s Day is to give her some peace, followed by a delicious brunch. You could try fresh, homemade muesli, the perfect eggs – Benedict, scrambled or boiled with heart-shaped soldiers – or even a sweeter treat like pancakes with fresh fruit.
Breakfast or brunch recipes are a great idea if you want to get children involved in the kitchen. There are lots of simple yet impressive dishes that don’t need a lot of cooking or preparation. Muesli can be an ideal option as you can make it just the way your mum likes it, prepared either the day before or in the morning. I always find that making your own is much better than the pre-packaged stuff as you can add anything you like. Some shop-bought mueslis also contain a lot of added sugar, which makes them very sweet. This recipe is a bit luxurious but you can make it as simple or as indulgent as you want. The best bit is to have fun adding a selection of seasonal fruit or your mum’s favourite nuts and seeds. Even better, you could make up a big batch to use for mid-week breakfasts.
Sometimes, though, the classics – something like eggs Benedict – are the best on occasions like this. The key to any good egg-based breakfast or brunch is to start out with good-quality eggs. From there, everything else should fall into place. The other secret is to take the eggs out of the fridge and allow them to reach room temperature before you start cooking. Making your own homemade hollandaise sauce is also really worth doing and easier than you might think.
Another way to impress mum is by getting creative with some homemade gifts. I’ve called in Mandy, the talented pastry chef at the Kitchin, this year, and she helped me and the boys make some wonderful fresh meringues. These can be wrapped up or put in a lovely gift box so that they feel like an even more special treat.
The boys are incredibly excited about making cards for their mum this year, and they love to write their own little private messages inside. For them, any kind of celebration seems to capture the imagination. What I love to watch, and I think every mum appreciates, is the real sense of achievement they get from creating something themselves, whether that’s breakfast or a card or a gift. They really put their wee hearts and souls into the task, and that dedication is enough to put a smile on any mother’s face.
For the hollandaise sauce
4 egg yolks
250g clarified butter
juice of ½ lemon
For the eggs
100ml white wine vinegar
4 quality eggs
4 slices parma ham
splash olive oil
cracked black pepper
To make the hollandaise
Bring a saucepan of water to the boil and put the egg yolks into a bowl that fits over the saucepan. Add two tablespoons of water. Place the mixing bowl over the pan of simmering water and whisk until the yolks foam and thicken.
Reduce the heat and cook the yolks until they take on the consistency of cream. Using a spatula, keep scraping the sides of the bowl to keep the eggs from scrambling – when you can see the bottom of the bowl as you whisk, it is time to stop cooking.
Remove the bowl from the heat and whisk until the eggs have cooled and you are able to hold your hand against the bowl without discomfort.
Put the bowl on top of a folded tea towel to keep it steady. Season the eggs to taste, then pour a thin stream of clarified butter into the bowl, whisking constantly until all the butter has been incorporated. Add the lemon juice and salt.
To make the eggs
Fill a tall, heavy-bottomed pan with water and bring to the boil. Add the vinegar, then crack your eggs into a teacup. You can crack all four eggs into one cup as the protein will keep them separated.
Take a spoon and create a whirlpool in the pot of boiling water, then tip the cup of eggs in gently. As the eggs hit the water, they will naturally separate. Poach the eggs for one and a half to two minutes. While the eggs are poaching, toast the muffins.
Heat a frying pan, add a dash of olive oil and then sweat down some spinach. Make sure you get the pan really hot before adding the spinach. Take the spinach out and squeeze out any excess water.
Take your toasted muffin and add a layer of spinach then a slice of Parma ham. Place one poached egg on top and pour over the hollandaise sauce. Finish with cracked black pepper to garnish. If it’s perfectly cooked, you should be able to cut into the yolk and watch it ooze on to the muffin.
200g rolled oats or muesli mix
50g chopped walnuts
50g flaked almonds
250g natural yoghurt
1 banana, chopped
1 apple, grated
Mix the rolled oats or muesli mix with the chopped walnuts, almonds and raisins. Add the natural yoghurt and continue to mix together. The yoghurt will bind all the ingredients together but you can add as little or as much as you like to suit your taste.
Add the banana and apple but leave this as late as possible to keep the fruit fresh.
If you like your muesli to be a little sweeter you can also add some honey or blueberries or any other berries that are in season at the time.
Serve on a tray with a small jug of milk or more yoghurt.