Every mother in America probably has an idea of her Mother's Day dream dinner.

First, it should be cooked by someone else. Second, it should contain all her favorites. (This way, if only one dish turns out she can make a meal of it.)Perhaps many modern mothers don't give a whit about celebrating a holiday that sometimes seems sponsored by the card and floral industries. But call me old-fashioned. I plan to cash in my chips. For chocolate.

One thing you may notice about my personal Dream Dinner: It doesn't follow the cardinal rule of menu planning, that a meal doesn't repeat flavors (two of my dishes contain Cheddar, but I love cheese).

There's a good palette of colors, though. And each dish pleases my palate.

A Mother's Day dinner should be a gentle mix of tradition and trouble, a miracle of goodness and grace. Mine is this:


Chocolate Bar Cake With Fudge Sauce

Grilled Flank Steak

Potatoes With Cheese

Spinach Surprise

Tossed Salad With Low-Cal Dressing

Fruit Salad

Bean Dip

Note that my menu starts with dessert. That's in line with my motto, "Eat dessert first - life is uncertain." The recipe comes from a former co-worker. It is chocolate to the nth degree. Of course, sometimes I cut the chocolate overdose with a scoop of real vanilla ice cream as a chaser.

The entree is a specialty of my husband. Flank steak is simplicity itself - and delicious. Unless it snows, it'll be great on the grill.

It's so simple, you won't need a recipe. It goes like this: Marinate flank steak in bottled teriyaki marinade sauce for three hours or overnight. Next day, broil 5 minutes on each side. Serve medium rare, sliced thinly across the grain.

The Potatoes With Cheese are easy fixings because they start with frozen hash brown potatoes. The cheese grates easily in the food processor and the dish is wonderful reheated.

It's a silly name, but I love Spinach Surprise. It's my second choice for a vegetable, but corn on the cob isn't in season. The rest of the family isn't crazy about spinach, but it's green - and it's my day.

The Tossed Salad With Low-Fat Dressing is a Guilt Appeaser. Give a nod to nutrition and suspend belief. Nobody should feel guilty on Mother's Day.

The next item is a favorite fruit salad that must be started the night before. It's zingy - not too sweet.

The appetizer (or Mother's Day midnight snack) is listed last, because it's optional. It can be a meal in itself with all four food groups present in the beans (protein), cheese (dairy), tomatoes, olives, onions et al. (fruits and vegetables) and corn chips (grains).

If it turns out that all I get is the Chocolate Bar Cake, life is good.

(P.S. These are recipes that work well anytime - not just on Mother's Day. If it's too late for this year, save them for another occasion.)

- Suzanne Martinson is food writer for the Pittsburgh Press.

Chocolate Bar Cake

1 (8-ounce) Hershey's milk chocolate bar, melted

1 cup (2 sticks) butter, melted

2 cups firmly packed light brown sugar

5 eggs, at room temperature

3/4 cup Hershey's chocolate flavored syrup

11/2 teaspoons vanilla

22/3 cups cake flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon cinnamon

1 cup buttermilk Grease a 12-cup Bundt or 10-inch tube pan. Melt chocolate bar and butter together, if desired. Combine all ingredients in a large bowl of an electric mixer and beat at medium speed just until mixed and no lumps remain. Pour batter into pan. Bake at 300 degrees about 1 hour 15 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of cake comes out clean. Be careful not to overbake.

Cool on wire rack for 15 minutes. Remove from pan and cover with plastic wrap until cool. Makes 16 servings.

Serve cake warm with vanilla ice cream and fudge sauce.

Fudge Sauce

1 (12-ounce) package semisweet chocolate pieces

1 (13-ounce) can evaporated milk

3 tablespoons butter or margarine

1 tablespoon coffee or almond liqueur, optional Combine all ingredients in 2-quart heavy saucepan. Stir constantly over low heat until chocolate is melted and sauce is thick and smooth. Store leftover sauce in refrigerator. Reheat over low heat when ready to serve. To make a sweeter sauce, add 1/2 cup sugar and 1/2cup light corn syrup.

- From "The Most Asked For, Most Wanted, Most Requested, In Demand, Scrumptious, Splendiferous and Most Yummy Recipes" by Louise Durman, food editor of The Knoxville News-Sentinel.

Spinach Surprise

1 package frozen chopped spinach

1/4 cup chopped onion

4 tablespoons butter

Pinch salt

1/2 cup sour cream

1 teaspoon vinegar Cook spinach with onion. Melt butter, add spinach, well-drained, and stir it about. Add salt and sour cream, and blend together. Stir in vinegar and serve. Makes 4 servings.

- "The I Hate To Cook Book" by Peg Bracken.

Bean Dip

1 (flat 10.5-ounce) can jalapeno bean dip (found with the Mexican foods)

1 (16-ounce) can refried beans

1 (16-ounce) container sour cream

1/2 package taco seasoning mix

Toppings, as desired Mix bean dip and refried beans together and spread on pan or platter. Mix sour cream and taco seasoning and spread on beans.

Sprinkle on tomatoes, green onions, green peppers, Cheddar cheese and olives, as desired. Serve with corn chips.

Potatoes with Cheese

1 large package frozen hash browns, uncooked

2 cans cream of chicken soup, undiluted

1 cup sour cream

1/2 onion, chopped, optional

1 to 11/2 cups grated Cheddar cheese In large bowl, mix frozen hash browns with soup, sour cream and onion, if desired. Spread in large, flat casserole. Sprinkle with cheese. (If the dish is deep, you can make two layers.)

Bake for 1 to 11/2 hours. (Because hash browns are frozen, this dish takes longer than you might think to bake.)

Makes 8 servings.

Note: You can divide ingredients into two smaller casseroles and freeze one, either baked or unbaked.

Fruit Salad

1 large can pineapple chunks, undrained

3 oranges, peeled and cubed

1/4 cup sugar

1 tablespoon cornstarch

1 tablespoon lemon juice

3 sliced bananas Combine pineapple chunks and liquid, oranges and sugar. Let set overnight in refrigerator. Next day, drain juice into saucepan and add cornstarch and lemon juice. Stir as you bring to a boil; cool. When cool, pour over fruit and add bananas. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

- From Georgeann Gaston, "Longview Junior Service League presents Cabaret Cuisine."