lattice bread

Photo: Johnny Miller

The Appetizer with a "Wait—How'd You Do That?" Trick
Here's an elegant but easy way to present what's essentially buttered bread. You start with a loaf of thinly sliced, cocktail pumpernickel. Spread horseradish-spiked butter on one slice, cover with another and continue until you've got a stack of six slices. Refrigerate until the layers are nicely stuck together, then cut each stack vertically and ta-da: layer-cake-like slices of bread that are lovely alongside smoked salmon, or sliced cucumber or radish.

Get the recipe: Black Bread and Butter Lattice Recipe
crab cakes

Photo: Ricky Eisen

A Restaurant-Worthy Entrée That's Easier Than You Might Think
It's true that frying crab cakes in oil will help them develop a beautiful, golden-brown crust, but there's no need to make them entirely on the stovetop. This smart recipe (which has a blessedly short ingredient list) has you start the cakes that way, but finish them in the oven, so you're only standing over the stove for about five minutes, leaving you more time to chat with Mom. (Plus, this method can also help ensure you don't overcook the crab cakes.)

Get the recipe: Baby Crab Cakes

Photo: Antonis Achilleos Photography

The Updated Bistro Standard
A traditional French casserole, cassoulet is usually made with sausage, duck fat and beans. This recipe has you use shrimp instead of meat, though, which takes away some of the heaviness and also has the bonus of cooking in a flash (a benefit that anyone, Mom or other, can appreciate). Creamy white beans are still present, and leeks and garlic add a flavor boost. The finishing touch, bread crumbs, get a pop of color from flecks of chopped parsley.

Get the recipe: Shrimp and White Bean "Cassoulet"
crock pot lasagna

Photo: Chris Granger/Colin Lacy

A New Reason for Mom to Love Her Slow Cooker
No one in the family may want to tinker with your mom's Crock-Pot chili or beef stew recipes—but this slow-cooker lasagna shows how much more you can do with the handy appliance. It starts with a quick, stovetop meat sauce; you layer that in the slow cooker with noodles (there's no need to precook them) and cheese. It's a terrific technique that lets you enjoy cheesy, baked lasagna even if you aren't home for the bulk of the cooking time.

Get the recipe: Slow-Cooked Lasagna

Photo: Shutterstock

The Rare Time Mom'll Say Laziness Is Okay
Popovers are airy, hollow puffs that can turn any meal, from brunch to dinner, into a gathering that feels like a special occasion. And despite their mystique, popovers actually turn out better when you're a bit neglectful. Mixing the batter like crazy is a no-no (you actually want an irregular texture so the rolls pop up), as is cracking open the oven during the baking to see how the popovers are doing (they'll collapse). Follow this ultrasimple recipe once, and you'll have the method down pat.

Get the recipe: Old-Fashioned Popovers
dessert poundcake

Photo: Johnny Miller

A Luxury Dessert for a Song
If you aren't buying Mom something sparkly, you can always make her something that looks as if it belongs in a jewelry-store window. These cheater petits four are refined yet surprisingly simple: You trim the crust off store-bought pound cake; use petit-four (or cookie) cutters to turn the cake into little diamonds, ovals and squares; drizzle a confectioners' sugar glaze on top; and finish with pearlized sprinkles.

Get the recipe: Diamonds and Pearls