Cram course for Mom: How to pass the test of Mother's Day

May 01, 1994|By Marlene Sorosky | Marlene Sorosky,Special to The Sun

One of the toughest tests of being a mother is administered every year on the second Sunday in May. What's the test? Staying out of the way while Dad and/or the kids commandeer the kitchen for their annual Mother's Day tribute to the chief cook and bottle washer.

Here are a few tips for passing the test with flying colors. 1) Have on hand a best seller you've been dying to read. 2) Fill the tub with five parts water to three parts bubbles. 3) Lock the bathroom door.

If you know in advance the pain of being a hands-off mom will be too intense, arrange to go shopping with a friend who's also been warned to stay out of the kitchen.

There are, however, a few preparations that can be done before May 8 to assure test success. One is to cut the following recipes from this column and tape them to the TV screen. Doing the grocery shopping to make sure all necessary ingredients are on hand is an optional exercise.

Mexican chicken lasagna is one of my tried-and-true kids-in-the-kitchen projects. Preparation time is a scant 20 minutes. There's no precooking required for the chicken, sauce or noodles. And here's the big bonus: very few dishes to clean up.

Match the desired heat level of the salsa in the recipe to your family's comfort quotient. Whether their personal preference is mild, medium-hot or tonsil-searing, this is a meal everyone from family to company can love.

To go along with the lasagna, serve a mixed green salad dressed-up with crisply baked tortilla strips.

Depending on your family's age and cooking expertise, they can buy the salad from the supermarket salad bar or make my recipe rTC of mixed greens tossed with cubes of juicy fruit and a sweetly tart grainy mustard vinaigrette. For a simple dessert, quench the palate with a scoop of ice cream or frozen yogurt.

This entire menu can be prepared at least a day in advance, and the lasagna can even be frozen. That's always handy just in case the kids want to treat you to a Mother's Day whirl through their favorite amusement park before bringing you home to dinner. While you're careening down the roller coaster, just remember, it's all part of the test.

Salad with tortilla strings and mustard vinaigrette

Preparation time: salad and dressing -- 15 minutes; tortilla strings -- 5 minutes. Bake time: tortilla strings -- 15 minutes. Advance preparation: tortilla strings may be frozen. Dressing may be refrigerated up to 3 days. Salad may be assembled a day ahead.

Makes 8 servings

SALAD:

8 cups fresh spinach, washed, stemmed and cut into 1/2 -inch strips (about 7 ounces stemmed)

8 cups Boston or butter lettuce, washed and torn into 1-inch pieces (about 3/4 pound)

1 cup sliced radishes

2 cups fresh pineapple, cantaloupe, papayas or mangoes, peeled, pitted and cut into 1/2 -inch cubes

TORTILLA STRINGS:

4 corn tortillas, halved and cut crosswise into thin strips

VINAIGRETTE:

2 tablespoons balsamic vinaigrette

2 tablespoons grainy mustard (such as moutarde de Meaux)

1/4 cup olive oil

1/3 cup orange juice

1 medium clove garlic, minced

1/2 cup plain regular, low or nonfat yogurt

salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

TO MAKE TORTILLA STRINGS:

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Place tortilla strips on large baking sheet. Bake for 15 minutes or until pale golden and crisp. Cool to room temperature. (The strings may be stored airtight for several weeks or frozen.)

TO PREPARE SALAD: Wash and dry greens, wrap in paper towels, place in a plastic bag and refrigerate until ready to serve or overnight.

TO MAKE VINAIGRETTE: In a medium bowl, whisk or shake all ingredients until blended. Refrigerate until ready to serve. (The dressing may be refrigerated up to 3 days.)

BEFORE SERVING: Place salad greens in large bowl. Add radishes and fruit and toss with as much dressing as desired. Season with salt and pepper. Top with tortilla strips.

Mexican chicken lasagna

Preparation time: 20 minutes. Bake time: 40 minutes plus 20 minutes standing time. Advance preparation: Lasagna may be refrigerated up to 2 days or frozen up to 2 weeks.

Makes 10 servings

TOMATO-SALSA SAUCE:

1/2 medium onion, cut into quarters

1 can (1 pound 12 ounces) whole tomatoes with juice

1/2 cup jarred salsa picante or chunky salsa, medium or mild, to taste

1 package (1.25 ounces) taco seasoning mix

1 can (16 ounces) black beans, rinsed and drained

RICOTTA CHEESE LAYER:

1 large egg

1 cup whole or skim milk ricotta

2 cloves garlic, minced

10 uncooked dried lasagna noodles

4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves (about 1 pound), cut into 1-inch cubes

1 can (4 ounces) whole green chilies, cut into thin strips

1 1/2 cups shredded regular or low-fat sharp Cheddar, jack or mozzarella cheese or a combination (about 6 ounces)

TO MAKE SAUCE: In a food processor with the metal blade, chop onion. Add tomatoes with the juice, salsa and taco seasoning and pulse until tomatoes are in small pieces, 3 or 4 times. Remove to a medium bowl and stir in beans.

TO MAKE RICOTTA LAYER: In a small bowl with a fork, break up egg. Stir in ricotta and garlic.

TO ASSEMBLE: Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9-by-13-inch casserole. Spread 1 cup sauce over the bottom; it ++ will barely cover. Top with 5 noodles, overlapping slightly. Sprinkle with half the chicken, half the chilies and 2 cups sauce.

Spoon ricotta cheese mixture over and spread lightly. Top with half the shredded cheese, remaining noodles, chicken, chilies, sauce and cheese.

TO BAKE: Bake at 350 degrees uncovered for 40 minutes or until noodles are tender when pierced with a sharp knife. Cool at least 20 minutes before serving. The casserole will stay warm for up to an hour and can be reheated, if desired.

(Lasagna may be refrigerated overnight or frozen up to 2 weeks. Bring to room temperature and reheat covered at 375 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes or in a microwave until heated through.)

Marlene Sorosky's newest book, "Entertaining on the Run (William Morrow), is hot off the presses this month.

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