How to Cook a Virtual Meal with Your Mom on Mother's Day
If you can't share an in-person meal with your mom this Mother's Day, take a different approach: Team up to cook a virtual brunch or dinner together from your own kitchens. While it's no substitution for actually being together, it's a way to make your routine video call a little more special in honor of the holiday. "Video chats are certainly great, but having a shared activity while chatting is even better. It makes the conversation feel less formal, and more normal," says Julia Collin Davison, an executive editorial director for America's Test Kitchen. "Also, it takes the pressure off talking nonstop, which you wouldn't do if you were together in person. It gives you both an easy way to just hang out and enjoy each other's company."
Jenn Nicken of The Chef and the Dish, an online cooking class platform that connects at-home chefs with experts around the world, agrees: "Recreate those family recipes and use the power of technology to have a special moment with Mom. It will be a meal that everyone knows and loves." Ahead, these experts' best tips for whipping up a meal together—even if you're apart.
Plan your shopping trip.
"Prep work, cooking time, and ingredient selection are the three main things to consider when choosing a recipe for this," says Collin Davison. Look for a recipe that relies on pantry staples—like chili, macaroni and cheese, or chocolate chip cookies—or is flexible enough to accommodate a last-minute swap based on your supermarket's availability. Prepare to trade fresh produce and herbs for frozen or dried versions, penne or broken spaghetti for rigatoni, or other proteins for chicken or shrimp.
Keep it simple.
An intricate recipe that requires focused chopping, zesting, and puréeing before it gets into the oven might not be the best fit if you think you and your mom will get distracted by chatting. "Keep it simple so you don't end up with a mess," says Nicken. "Stews and sheet pan meals are nice. Choose a recipe where you can set it and forget it—except don't forget it! During the downtime, you can chat with each other and maybe make a mimosa." Opting for a meal you can cook on the grill, like fish, steak, or vegetables, also offers more opportunities to socialize. "If the weather allows, maybe bring the party outside," says Collin Davison. "Hanging out around the grill with a nice drink in your hand is always a good time, and a change of scenery would probably be welcome for both of you."
Or use it as an opportunity to tackle a challenge.
Add a little suspense to your meal by sourcing a recipe neither you nor your mom has ever made before. "I think it would be fun to try something new together," says Collin Davison. "You can both compare what is working—or not working—as you go along." Looking for a little guidance? Through Nicken's company, you and Mom (and your siblings) can sign up for a live class with a chef anywhere in the world and learn a new skill from an expert; if you'd prefer to keep it more casual, challenge yourself to recreate a favorite restaurant dish or take a stab at a recipe you've had bookmarked for while. "I'd be tempted to stay away from big projects that require multiple hours," says Collin Davison. "Then again, if you did choose something complicated, you could plan a video call at a critical moment in the recipe and share the excitement."
Recreating a favorite family dish you've both made countless times before—like your grandmother's famous apple pie—lets you relax a little during the prep work and offers an opportunity for the type of reminiscing that all mother's love. "This would be a bigger project for sure, but pulling out the old rolling pins and pie plates would bring back nice memories," says Collin Davison. And habitual doesn't have to mean boring: These recipes likely form the backbone of some of your most cherished family traditions. "Make something you know without too many steps, and think about that family recipe you want to share and preserve," says Nicken. "Use this moment of isolation to make something you'd want in the family cookbook. Focus on Mom, the food you love to eat together, and the moment of sharing a meal with people you miss the most."
Bring out your inner baker.
If you prefer sweet to savory, grease those baking sheets and fire up the stand mixer to whip up your favorite baked goods. "I love the idea of baking here," says Collin Davison. "It seems a bit less dangerous, and you're more likely to stand in one place which is good if you're on a video call. Also, there is a built-in sit-down time with baking a recipe, which is always nice." Try a fruited quick bread, brunch-ready scones, a rich chocolate cake, or a simple biscuit. "There are so many different kinds of biscuits to choose from and they're easy to put together," Collin Davison says. "Plus, you can eat them together while they're still warm." Baking is also a good option if you're hoping to include younger grandchildren in making a meal with Grandma. "If there are little kids involved, be sure to keep things very simple, like a drop cookie, cornbread, or muffins."
Choose your platform.
The Chef and the Dish uses Skype to connect at-home chefs with experts making pasta in Italy or pad thai in Thailand, but Nicken recommends spending less time teaching your mom how to log into a new app and more time cooking. "If it's just you and your family, then use a medium everyone feels comfortable with," she says. "Don't get too bogged down with the technical side of things. If you're used to Zoom parties, go for it. If you're a FaceTime family, that's great, too. You want to focus less on the tech, and more on the time spent together."