For Mother's Day: A cooking lesson for a special meal

Maureen Fitzgerald teaches son Tim and daughter Sally to make a special cod and risotto meal. AKIRA SUWA / Staff
Maureen Fitzgerald teaches son Tim and daughter Sally to make a special cod and risotto meal. AKIRA SUWA / Staff
Posted: May 11, 2012

"What exactly are we making here?” asked my son Tim as the blender whirred with liquid neon. “It looks like green sludge.”

“It’s Petits Pois Sauce, a lovely springtime accompaniment made with, well, little peas,” I told him. “It’s French.”

We had only just begun the cooking endeavor: teaching my kids a recipe they could prepare on Mother’s Day. And already I was getting, shall we say, gentle resistance.

“Who do you think is going to eat this stuff, really, Mom?” he continued.

“Well,” I answered, “me.”

That was sort of the whole point.

Rather than braving crowds at restaurants, or giving up and cooking myself, I had decided to be proactive this year. I would give my kids a recipe and a cooking lesson, the idea being that they could then make a nice meal for me every year!

The truth is, I am always looking for excuses to get my kids in the kitchen cooking. And I am not above using guilt to get them there. Like so many young adults, they do not cook many of their own meals; instead, they rely on take-out or restaurant meals.

Sally, 25, began cooking more since we started the blog “My Daughter’s Kitchen.” Tim, 27, is open to cooking more and may start posting his results on the blog as well.

Both of them agreed to come home for the lesson. Our 20-year-old son, Jonathan, was off the hook as he is still burdened with college studies (or he is the spoiled baby, depending on your point of view).

Instead of going with my first instinct and teaching them how to make fajitas, a meal they love, I had upped the stakes, opting for more elegant fare, something they could easily re-create, not only for me on Mother’s Day, but maybe for someone else they wanted to impress.

I decided on a lovely meal that took a little effort, but was totally doable: Miso-Marinated Cod with Petits Pois Sauce and Mushroom Risotto.

(The recipe originally called for Chilean sea bass, but with that fish on the “Avoid” list, we opted for cod, a flaky white fish, wild caught, and reasonably priced at $12.99 a pound).

Some of the other recipe ingredients — like Japanese miso and Vietnamese chile paste — once required a trip to an Asian market, but they are now available at many groceries. So, a single trip to the supermarket and we had everything we needed.

The first step, marinating the fish, was as simple as could be. (The recipe suggests marinating overnight, but a couple of hours will do the trick.) Just mix all the ingredients, lay the fish in a 9-by-13 Pyrex dish, and spoon the mixture over it. Turn the fish, to make sure the marinade coats both sides, and cover with clear plastic wrap.

After the fish had a couple of hours in the fridge, we began working our way through the preparation of the three recipes, the fish, the sauce, and the risotto, with me trying to give mini-lessons along the way.

We started with the sauce, which required simmering the peas in stock, prompting a debate over the definition of simmering. Sally contended simmering required bubbles. Tim insisted bubbles meant boiling. Lesson One: A few tiny bubbles rising to the surface is simmering. The whole pot rolling with bubbles is boiling. Moving right along!

Next, the peas and stock were added to a blender with spinach to create the French sauce, the stuff prompting continued derision from my son.

“We should have done the fajitas,” said Tim. “Honestly, it is looking like sewage, Mom.”

“It is a weird consistency,” put in Sally.

“What do you expect: It’s made of leaves,” said Tim.

“That would be spinach, Tim,” I said.

As the afternoon wore on, I could see, in a rather sweet and sentimental way, the resonance of the same traits I saw when these two were growing up in this kitchen.

Sally, who always wanted to follow the rules, required very specific instructions and wanted to do everything perfectly: “Mom, shouldn’t we read through the whole recipe first?” and “Do I mince or slice the scallions?”

Timmy wanted to get it done and move on.

“OK, the butter is absorbed. Mission accomplished,” he said. “Can I watch the Flyers now?”

When I explained that the risotto was going to require a lot more stirring to absorb a lot more liquid, Sally piped up: “Can I stir?”

Even as a little girl, she always wanted the most important job, the hardest job … until she didn’t.

Tim, still as easygoing as he was as a child, was more than willing to let her have a go.

“Wow, this is really looking like risotto, Mom!” said Sally, always anxious to learn something new, always full of enthusiasm. “This is exciting. We’re making our own risotto!”

As she stirred away at the stove, adding more stock and wine, waiting for it to be absorbed, Tim got the fish out of the fridge, turned on the broiler, and when it was hot, stuck the cod under the heat. Again, he was ready to retire to the hockey game.

“You have to keep an eye on the fish, Tim,” I warned. “It will burn pretty quick.”

After about two minutes, it was browning up nicely, and he took it out, turned the oven down and, finally, put the fish in to let it bake for the last 15 minutes.

“How is the risotto coming, Sal?” I asked.

I’m still stirring — it takes for-flipping-ever,“ she said glumly.

“It is a pain,” I conceded. “That is why it is such a good gift.”

“Do you want me to stir?” offered Tim. He is usually willing to bail out his sister, but not without giving her grief.

“OK,” he said, as she relinquished the spoon. “We’re bringing in the closer … Now it’s coming together, now that I’m stirring. It’s all in the wrist action, Sal.”

“Well, sorry, Tim. Not all of us are lifting weights every day in the gym,” she retorted.

The risotto finally absorbed all the liquid; the mushrooms, scallions, and grated cheese were stirred in; and it was time to take the fish out of the oven.

A little swoosh of the Petits Pois sauce was spooned on the plate, the lovely browned cod was posed on top, and the mushroom risotto was served on the side.

With classic timing, my husband appeared just in time to pour the wine. Finally, we all sat down to eat.

“Very nice job,” I praised. “I am impressed.”

“I really like it,” said Sally.

“I’ve got to hand it to you, Mom, it is a good recipe,” said Tim. “I didn’t think it would be, but it is really good.”

“So do you think you guys could make this again, on your own?” I asked.

“Yeah, it really wasn’t that hard, honestly,” said Tim.

“I definitely could,” said Sally.

“So, would you still rather have had fajitas?” I asked.

“Are you kidding, Mom?” said Tim. “Of course we would.”

While it would be nice, I’m not holding my breath for a re-creation of this meal on Sunday. I think I may soon be doing another lesson: How to make fajitas.

Contact Maureen Fitzgerald at 215-854-5744 or mfitzgerald@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @mydaughterskit. Read her blog, “My Daughter’s Kitchen,” at www.philly.com/mydaughter.

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