Mother’s Day is coming up this Sunday, and it’s got us thinking about all the meals (and desserts) that our moms fed their insufferably picky children throughout over the years. If there’s one thing we want to make clear, it’s that not everyone’s mom is an enthusiastic cook. And that’s fine! They still get the credit for stocking the pantry with snacks, whether store-bought or homemade, and they have our belated apologies for having to endure our theatrics when presented with a dreaded plate of greens. So: what foods spring to mind when you think of your own mothers?
Cheesy chicken and rice casserole
I can’t say this is something I’m “nostalgic for,” since it remains my regular request when I am dining at my parents’ house. When I was growing up, my mom understood the importance of building a repertoire of consensus dishes, and this one was embraced by me, my sister, and my dad (all of us picky) in equal measure. If you’re not into the slop-like nature of casseroles, I certainly don’t recommend it, but for everyone else: this is a warm plateful of hot, cheesy rice mixed with cream of chicken soup and topped with a chicken breast, unadorned aside from its cheesy, soupy rice environs. I only recently learned from my mom that you don’t even have to cook the rice beforehand, because the dry grains simply absorb the soup (and a measure of water) as it’s baked in the oven. And did I mention that we could all eat our fill and still have days’ worth of leftovers? Casseroles, man. If you know you know. —Marnie Shure, editor in chief
Baked goods, preferably with chocolate
The truth is, when I think of the most memorable meal my mother ever served me, I think of microwaved Hamburger Soup. It appeared on the table just once, but was a source of family jokes for years and years. This post, however, is about Mother’s Day, a time to remember love, not failure, so I’ll pretend my first thought was about baking. Because while my mother hated—and still hates—to cook, she loves to bake, and it was something she did with my sister and me frequently while we were growing up. I don’t even remember learning how to measure flour or crack an egg, I did it so often, and it didn’t occur to me that these weren’t innate skills for everyone until I tried to coach my boyfriend through baking a batch of chocolate chip cookies.
Even now, when I spend time at my mom’s house, we usually find ourselves in the kitchen baking. A few weeks ago, we took an online baking class through the Chicago bakery Masa Madre and learned how to make their signature babka (though not the secret chocolate filling, which I guess I wouldn’t give away, either). The babka baked up airy and rich and delicious, and, after we took the dog for a walk while it cooled, we sat at the kitchen table and ate it together with glasses of milk (sometimes I think it comforts her to imagine I am still 7 years old). It made us both very happy. —Aimee Levitt, associate editor
Weight Watchers taco soup
My mom is an old-school manicurist. For 30-plus years, she’s spent five days a week tending to vanity of Springfield, Missouri’s gnarled retirees, sawing off toenail fungus, breathing in cherry red lacquer, and coming home dusted in a thin layer of foot detritus. She works hard, and she’s never relished the idea of cooking an elaborate meal after a long day clipping hangnails. This meant that, growing up, my siblings and I ate a lot of one-dish wonders: quick meatloaves, tuna tetrazzini (she still calls it “Tuna Pet-My-Weenie”), and, most importantly, Weight Watchers taco soup.
The recipe is a holdover from one of my parents’ early-aughts fad diet phases. These days, we stay far, far away from Weight Watchers meetings, but taco soup has a way of sticking around. Essentially, you brown a bunch of beef, toss in taco seasoning and powdered ranch dressing, and stir the whole thing up with corn and beans. It takes about three seconds and eight bucks to make, and it feeds the whole family—even the idiot eldest daughter who comes screaming in from after-school play practice, upset that the director called her improvisational dance “not in line with the spirit of Seussical: The Musical.” Even though my siblings and I are all out of the house, my mom has absolutely no plans to retire from the nail tech grind. I have a feeling Taco Soup is here to stay. —Lillian Stone, staff writer