Mother's Day is a perfect time to reminisce about all those wonderful dishes Mom cooked for you as a child. Sometimes those dishes and days spent with Mom in the kitchen encouraged young people to choose a culinary career.
We asked several Central Kentucky chefs to share recipes of dishes that make them think of their moms.
Tom Morris, chef/owner of Della's Diner
Even though Tom Morris doesn't remember his mother, who was killed when he was 2, he paid tribute to her by naming the restaurant he opened in 2010 after her.
Della Morris was a murder victim whose memory is kept alive by her son's passion that the victims of crimes not be forgotten as publicity about the criminal is magnified through media reports and trials.
After Della Morris' death in 1964, Tom Morris and his siblings and father went to live with his grandmother. His father died when Morris was 9, and after the death of his grandmother, he lived with an older sister.
As a young man, he knew he couldn't let his mother's memory die, and he became vocal about crime victims' rights.
His grandmother Nolabell Woolums made sure her young grandson would not forget his mother through long talks over the cook stove, and he treasured the recipes for his mother's favorite chicken and dumplings, and chili. Chicken and dumplings are on the menu at Della's Diner, and the chili recipe won Best in the Bluegrass in the 2011 Chili in Cheapside Park Cook-Off.
A photo of Morris' mother hangs on the wall at the Lexington restaurant, at Short and Upper streets, and when people ask, Morris is eager to talk about what happened. Sometimes it leads to a conversation about others who are victims of crimes. "I want to make sure crime victims are not forgotten," he said.
Here's his recipe for chicken and dumplings, which always sell out when it's on Della's menu.
Della's chicken and dumplings
2 whole fryers with skin on, about 2 to 4 pounds each
5 quarts water
1 bunch celery with leaves
6 small to medium carrots, small dice
1 medium onion, diced
3 bay leaves
5 pounds all-purpose flour
11/2 cups Crisco vegetable shortening
11/2 cups milk
11/2 teaspoons salt, divided
11/2 teaspoons pepper, divided
Parsley flakes to garnish
Rinse chicken and place in a large stockpot with water, entire bunch of celery, carrots, onion and bay leaves. Boil for one hour over medium heat.
When chicken is done, remove from stockpot. Let cool and remove from bones. Strain out bay leaves and celery. Add salt and pepper to taste to broth. In a large bowl, mix flour, shortening, milk, and salt and pepper.
Boil broth and add large spoonfuls of dough to boiling broth. Boil for 7 minutes. Turn off heat and shake pot side to side. Do not stir. Let sit for 10 minutes, covered. Return chicken to pot, with carrots. Let sit another 10 minutes. Garnish with parsley.
Makes about 16 servings.
Toa Green, chef/owner of Thai Orchid Café
"I'm so grateful that my mom taught me how to cook when I was 7 years old," says Green, who took over the restaurant at 1030 South Broadway from her parents, Kat and Suda Veerasethakul, last year. "She taught me to work hard and to always strive to be the best I can. Those gifts have been the foundation of my life, and I'm so happy that we still get to cook together side by side today."
Thai-style chicken fried rice topped with a fried egg serves one as an entree or two as a side dish.
"This dish is our family's comfort food," Green said. "We have been eating it as long as I can remember. To me, it's cozy, delicious, and so simple, and the fried egg takes it over the top."
Thai-style chicken fried rice
2 farm fresh eggs from Elmwood Stock Farm
3 tablespoons light cooking oil
3 ounces chicken tenders, sliced thin
2 cups cooked white rice
11/2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon fish sauce
2 teaspoons sugar
1 tablespoon green onions, chopped
1 tablespoon cilantro, chopped
Dash ground black pepper
Heat half of oil in a high rim skillet or wok on high. Once oil is screaming hot, add one egg. Scramble egg until fully cooked. Push egg aside in the wok. Add the other half of the oil to wok. Once oil is hot, add chicken. Brown chicken until fully cooked. Add rice, then soy sauce, fish sauce and sugar. Mix and cook everything together on high heat until sauces are all incorporated in the rice. Adjust seasonings as desired. Cook fried rice for about 3 to 4 minutes. Add green onions. Cook mixture for 1 minute. Plate fried rice, then top with a dash of black pepper and chopped cilantro. Fry the other egg in a nonstick skillet with 1 tablespoon oil until edges are brown and crispy. Flip once. Top fried rice with fried egg.
Ed Valente, executive chef at The Club at Spindletop Hall
"My mother was an only child, while my father came from an old Italian family with many siblings and cousins," Valente says. "Because of this interaction, my mother assimilated into the family and became a very good cook."
He shares two handwritten recipes from her recipe file that he saved after she died in 1996.
"The first recipe is for the stuffing for ravioli, which I can remember making hundreds of them for family dinners," he says.
Valente points out that the recipe for the pasta merely says "flour."
"Not any portion, just flour," he says. "This is the way experienced family cooks did it — by touch and feel."
The second recipe is for icebox cookies.
"There was nothing like Saran wrap back then, so they used to save the wax paper containers to put the cookies into before chilling and slicing," he says. "Not many people use wax paper now, usually parchment paper. Also, notice the 'oleo' in the recipe. I would venture to say that most people never heard of oleo today. This is just what we called the margarine of today.
"We had a very extended family, and my mother would start after Thanksgiving baking chocolate chip cookies (the original Toll House recipe) by the hundreds and have to hide them or she would have nothing left at Christmas. She would store them in large, old glass pickle jars with the metal lids. Wish I still had one."
1/4 pound butter
1 pound veal and beef, ground
1 pound spinach, cooked, squeezed dry and chopped very fine
Cracker crumbs (not bread crumbs)
3 mixing spoons olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
About 2 cups milk
1 cup Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon nutmeg
Melt butter in skillet. Brown meat, gently cooking thoroughly. Add chopped spinach and all other ingredients until consistency of soft meatloaf. Correct seasonings and cheese to taste. Place small amount on circle of dough, fold over to make half a round. Seal with tines of fork. Boil in salted water until dough is done.
To make dough: Mix 5 to 6 eggs with 1/2 quart milk, 1 teaspoon salt and flour.
1 pound oleo or margarine, melted
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1 cup granulated sugar
5 to 6 cups flour
1 teaspoon soda
Dates and nuts
Mix thoroughly. Pack in wax paper cartons. Chill. Slice and bake at 350 degrees until golden brown.
Ouita Michel, chef/owner of Holly Hill Inn, Midway
"My core beliefs about food and cooking I learned from my mother, Pam Sexton," says Michel, who has been nominated five times for a James Beard Foundation Award for best chef in the Southeast. "She is a wonderful gardener, and when I was a kid we always had a garden in our back yard or across the way. ... Every night she made a homemade meal that we ate together. She even made our bread and tried her hand at yogurt.
"Mom is extremely creative, and as a child a lot of her creativity was channeled into her cooking. She prepared homemade ice cream cakes, heart cakes for Valentine's Day, all kinds of beautiful Christmas cookies during the holidays. For my 16th birthday party, she staged a large salad bar with all kinds of wonderful toppings.
"The many beautiful meals and happy family memories I have of us all around the table together have formed the core of who I am," says Michel, whose restaurant is at 426 North Winter Street in Midway. "I think in large part, I'm trying in my career to bring others a small measure of those happy feelings when they dine with us.
Of the recipes she's sharing, Michel said, "these are family gems to me — and they live on each time we make them, which is often."
Pam's fruit cobbler is the "birthday cake" Sexton prepares for Michel and her siblings each year. "I like peach — have the fruits peeled and cut or use frozen prepared fruit," she says, adding "blueberries are excellent."
Pam's fruit cobbler
1 stick butter
1 cup flour
1 cup sugar
1 cup milk
1 tablespoon baking powder
2 quarts (8 cups) your favorite fruit
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place butter in a glass 9-by-13-inch glass rectangular baking pan. Heat in oven until butter melts. Mix flour, sugar, milk and baking powder together until it forms a thin batter.
Remove baking pan and melted butter from oven, pour batter directly into the center of the butter. Pour fruit into the center of the batter and bake for 45 minutes.
Serve hot with ice cream or "our favorite, half and half cream poured over the top," Michel says.
"Eggplant caviar came from our dear friend Carolyn Lindquist," Michel says. "My mom makes it for me all summer long, and I make it at the restaurant during eggplant season. This is one of my absolute favorite foods of all time. Seriously."
1 large eggplant
1 large yellow or white onion, diced
1/2 cup olive oil
1 green pepper, diced
1/4 cup chopped garlic
2 large or 2 cups peeled, seeded and chopped tomatoes
1/4 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup fresh chopped basil (optional if it isn't in season)
Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Pierce eggplant a couple of times with a small knife and bake about 45 minutes to an hour, until soft. Peel and chop cooked eggplant.
In a large skillet, sauté onion in olive oil until translucent; add green pepper and garlic, and cook until all are very tender, about 12 minutes. Add eggplant, and chopped tomato to skillet and work together over lower heat with the white wine and basil. Cook until fairly thick.
Check the seasoning. Chill and serve as a dip.
Michel said, "Mom uses the little slices of cocktail rye with this along with Swedish Wasa crackers."
Mark Wombles, chef/owner of Heirloom Restaurant, Midway
"My mom really was the greatest cook," says Wombles, whose restaurant is at 125 East Main Street in Midway. She "always made everything from scratch. ... Mom would make this pie every year for the holidays and still does to this day."
1 cup light brown sugar, packed
4 tablespoons flour
2 cups milk
3 egg yolks (use whites for meringue)
4 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 egg whites
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
6 tablespoons sugar
For filling: Mix brown sugar and flour. Pour just a little milk in and stir. Beat egg yolks; add yolks and butter to mixture. Heat remaining milk to scalding. Pour over other ingredients and cook until thick. Mix in vanilla. Pour into baked pie shell of your choice. Top with meringue.
To make meringue: Beat egg whites with vanilla and cream of tartar until soft peaks form. Gradually add sugar, beating until stiff and glossy peaks form and all sugar is dissolved. Spread on top. Bake at 350 degrees for 12 to 15 minutes or until meringue is golden brown.
Beth Hanna, chef/owner of Hanna's on Lime
"My mom fed five kids on a skimpy budget," says Hanna, whose restaurant is at 214 South Limestone. "One of my favorite dishes growing up was Mom's Swiss steak. I feel sure everyone had a version, but this is my favorite.
Hanna's mother made the dish in an electric skillet using "value-friendly" round steak, which can feed a family and "renders great flavor when prepared correctly," she said.
Hanna prefers to serve it with mashed potatoes.
"For me it brings back great memories of time with my family around the dinner table and terrific comfort food," she said.
Jackie Hanna's Swiss steak
Salt and pepper
1 tablespoon butter
1 medium onion, sliced
1 green pepper, sliced
1 can (12 ounces) whole tomatoes
3/4 cup water or beef stock
2 cups sliced mushrooms, optional
Shake salt and pepper on round steak, then tenderize it by beating with a meat mallet. (You may use a small skillet if you don't have a mallet.)
In an electric skillet heated to 350 degrees (or a skillet on medium high heat), melt butter. Sear steak on both sides until browned. Turn heat down to 200 degrees (or low) and add onion, green pepper and tomatoes. Add water or stock, cover tightly and cook for an hour.
After cooking 30 minutes, stir to break up tomatoes, cover and cook 30 more minutes. Add mushrooms if using. If there is not much liquid left, add 1/2 cup.