Cooking up a sweet and savory Mother's Day brunch | May 10, 2013 | Mountain View Voice | Mountain View Online |

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Eating Out - May 10, 2013

Cooking up a sweet and savory Mother's Day brunch

Recipes from local restaurant owners feature seasonal ingredients

by Audra Sorman

As a child in Germany, Esther Nio used to bake bread and pastries with her mother every Friday. Sitting in her Los Altos cafe on a recent afternoon, she recalled the aromas that danced around the kitchen and the taste of the baked goods that she and her family would eat throughout the weekend.

For many people, food is central to family traditions and celebrations, and marking Mother's Day with a special meal is no exception. Those looking to cook an a Sunday brunch for their loved ones on May 12 can try out a sweet or savory brunch recipe, provided by Nio, owner of Esther's German Bakery & Cafe in Los Altos; and Charlie Ayers, the chef/owner of Calafia in Palo Alto.

The dishes, which feature a seasonal fruit or vegetable, are popular with restaurant patrons, Nio and Ayers said.

Nio's dish, the German pfannkuchen (pancake), is akin to the French crepe because it is thin and slightly crisp, she said. Pfannkuchen is more flavorful than the American pancake, which can be dry and lose its flavor because of its density, she said.

Nio and her husband Robert, who opened their retail location in 2008, serve up German pastries, breads, and dishes. She said the pfannkuchen is one of the most well-known dishes in Germany.

"Everybody in Germany grew up with it. Everybody. And it's so easy to make, and you can put whatever on it you like," Nio said.

Pfannkuchen is so easy to make that Nio's four sons, ages 10, 13, 15 and 17, often cook them at home, she said.

Nio's sons enjoy putting different jams and chocolate-hazelnut spread on the pfannkuchen, though Nio's cafe tops them with a strawberry and powdered sugar. For those looking to take advantage of California's seasonal berries, Nio said that pfannkuchen would be delicious with a hearty serving of strawberries, blueberries and blackberries.

Charlie Ayers, whose restaurant looks to provide a healthy take on Latin and Asian-inspired cuisine, knows plenty about local, seasonal produce.

Asparagus, which is currently in season, is one of the ingredients included in a dish on Calafia's brunch menu. "Roasted Asparagus, Potatoes and Manchego Pizza" is a recipe created by Ayers, the former Google executive chef.

Although Ayers' restaurant makes its own pizza dough, he suggested that anyone preparing the dish at home could simplify the recipe by purchasing pre-made pizza dough from a retailer like Trader Joe's or Whole Foods Market.

He noted that the sauce that goes on the dough, which is made of shallots, vegetable stock, thyme and Parmesan cheese, resembles a Caesar salad dressing.

Ayers said that people like the pizza because "the ingredients balance very well and the shallots create that wonderful sweet flavor profile."

Of course, if people do not want to cook at home, Esther's and Calafia — along with many local restaurants — offer Mother's Day brunch.

People who visit Esther's may see Nio at work, although not in the early-morning hours. Nio said that she usually has breakfast in bed and gets to decide upon the day's activities every Mother's Day. This year, she will be able to spend the first part of the day with her sons, who have busy school and extracurricular schedules of their own, she said.

Nio said she also wants to celebrate with her customers. Any woman who walks into Esther's on Sunday will receive a rose — "Every mother deserves to be spoiled," Nio said.

"Being a mother is hard. I think it's the most demanding job there is," she added.

Ayers said he will be at home with his wife and son for the entirety of Mother's Day, likely cooking his wife her favorite salmon dish.

He said his mother, who died last year, did not like going out on Mother's Day because restaurants are always crowded on the holidays. Instead, she preferred to stay at home, where he would cook her a meal.

Ayers' mother was not a cook, he said. "She was happy with anything I would make for her."

Ultimately, Ayers said, his mother had a saying that likely applies to many other mothers on their special day:

"She would say the best meal was the meal that she never had to cook."


German Pfannkuchen


1 1/4 cups sifted all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 1/4 cups milk

1 extra large egg

1 tablespoon olive or canola oil

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Olive or canola oil

Berries such as strawberries, blueberries and blackberries

Powdered sugar


Sift the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt into a small mixing bowl and make a well in the center. In a 1-quart liquid measuring cup, whisk the milk, egg, oil and vanilla until smooth. Pour wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and whisk until creamy. Cover and let stand. (Tip: The longer the batter stands, the thicker the pfannkuchen will be. Esther prefers to let batter stand only until oil in pan is heated.)

Heat oil in pan. Spoon a full ladle of batter in pan and spread it out. Let it fry until crisp. Flip and fry other side. Enjoy with fresh fruit and a dusting of powdered sugar on top.

Serves 2-4 people.

Roasted Asparagus, Potatoes and Manchego Pizza



6-7 shallots

1 cup vegetable stock

1/4 bunch thyme

1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

kosher salt and fresh ground pepper to taste


1 ball of pizza dough

1/8 pound Yukon gold potatoes

1/2 bunch asparagus

1/4 cup Manchego cheese (shredded)

1 cup extra virgin olive oil

1/4 cup cornstarch

1-2 tablespoons of flour

kosher salt

fresh ground pepper



Toss shallots in oil, salt and pepper. Roast in oven at 350 degrees for 25 minutes. Once shallots are soft, add to pot with thyme leaves and vegetable stock. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer for 15 minutes. Transfer contents to a blender and slowly add in Parmesan cheese. Puree until smooth. Salt and pepper to taste.


Slice potatoes into 1/4-inch thick discs. Toss in large bowl with 1 tablespoon olive oil, salt and pepper. Lay out evenly on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Cook at 375 degrees for 25 minutes, making sure the potatoes do not become too dry or crisp.

Snap off ends of asparagus. Peel the asparagus from top to bottom of stalk and place the peels in a bowl, setting aside. Leave the peeled asparagus whole and toss in bowl with 1 tablespoon olive oil, salt and pepper. Lay out asparagus spears evenly on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Cook at 375 degrees for 25 minutes.

Toss the asparagus peels in cornstarch. Heat 3/4 cup of olive oil on stoptop in heavy pan. Once the oil in the pan begins to smoke, fry the asparagus peels quickly and remove to a plate lined with paper towels. Season with salt.

Using a lightly floured surface, work pizza dough from center until the dough is flat and even. If using a pizza stone, place on stone. If using a pizza pan, lightly coat pan in olive oil and sprinkle a little cornstarch onto the oil to keep pizza dough from getting soggy.

Spread sauce on dough, followed by potatoes, asparagus spears and then the shredded Manchego cheese.

Place pizza on center rack of oven. Cook at 450 degrees for 8-10 minutes. Garnish with crispy asparagus peels.

Serves 1-2 people.


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