Yesterday my niece turned 26. She lives in town for now since she is enrolled in graduate studies at the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Ottawa. To celebrate her big day and the ‘almost’ completion of her program, she accepted the invitation to our ‘restaurant’ and she brought along two of her school friends. We eased into the meal with a very meaty crab cake appetizer. The recipe is from Cook’s Illustrated and therefore guaranteed to be tried and true.

I like to get my crab (real) for this dish at the Produce Depot on Carling Avenue. In their seafood section they carry a container of crab that is close to 1 pound and the crab has already been prepared. We had tried it once before and found it worked well and it is a super easy way to begin the preparation of this delectable treat. What a starter for fine dining!

Although the recipe says it makes 4 patties, I pushed for 5 to accommodate the crowd (one person sat this one out). They still weighed in at a good 4 ounces each. I also made a few change ups to the recipe. I decided to try Panko (Japanese bread flakes) instead of the more pedestrian, everyday bread crumbs. And the herb I chose was cilantro. The picture below is plating in progress and; therefore, pre-sauce. I made a concoction of mayonnaise, lemon juice, chives, horseradish and capers. A real burst of flavours. For me, the crab cakes turned out to be my favourite dish from the evening.

PAN-FRIED CRAB CAKES WITH OLD BAY SEASONING
Source: The ‘New’ Best Recipe – from the editors of Cook’s Illustrated

The amount of bread crumbs you add will depend on the crab meat’s juiciness. Start with the smallest amount, adjust the seasonings, and then add the egg. If the cakes won’t bind at this point, add more bread crumbs, 1 tablespoon at a time.

1 pound crab meat
4 scallions, green parts only, minced (about 1/2 cup)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro, or dill, basil or parsley
1 1/2 teaspoons Old Bay Seafood seasoning
2 tablespoons bread crumbs, plain dry
1/4 cup mayonnaise
salt
ground white pepper
1 large egg
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup vegetable oil
lemon wedges

Gently fold the crab meat, scallions, herb, Old Bay, 2 tablespoons bread crumbs and mayonnaise together in a medium bowl, being careful not to break up the lumps of crab. Season with salt and white pepper to taste. Carefully fold in the egg with a rubber spatula until the mixture just clings together. Add more crumbs if necessary.

Divide the crab mixture into 4 portions and shape each into a fat, round cake, about 3 inches across and 1 1/2 inches high. Arrange on a baking sheet lined with waxed or parchment paper, cover with plastic wrap and chill at least 30 minutes. (The crab cakes can be refrigerated for up to 24 hours.)

Put the flour on a plate or in a pie tin. Lightly dredge the crab cakes in the flour. Heat the oil in a large, preferably nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until hot but not smoking. Gently lay the chilled crab cakes in the skillet and pan-fry until the outsides are crisp and browned, 4 to 5 minutes per side. Serve immediately with lemon wedges or dipping sauce.

***

Then on to the main course. The veal dish is one we found back in 1990. It came from the then newly published Canadian Rush Hour Cookbook. We made it expecting ‘reliable’ but came away pleasantly surprised at the WOW factor. What a fantastic dish for entertaining. I ended up getting the veal at Produce Depot as well. Costco was sold out and the product at Farm Boy, although on sale, didn’t warm me.

For sides, we chose oven roast potatoes and sautéed green beans and red, yellow and orange peppers. The peeled, red (because they are so creamy!) potatoes are first tossed lightly in olive oil and seasoned with salt, pepper and fresh rosemary. The Pampered Chef stoneware pan gives consistent results every time. I vary the temperature and roasting time depending on the dinner party and how we are juggling other dishes timing-wise. If we need them fast, it is 425ºF for an hour. Last night I went for 350ºF and maybe as long as 2 hours as we were trying to throttle back on their readiness. The vegetables were first steamed and then quickly sautéed lightly in butter to finish.

VEAL SCALLOPINI IN MUSHROOM MADEIRA SAUCE
Source: The Canadian Living Rush Hour Cookbook

A simple but stylish sauce over quickly cooked meat makes classy
rush-hour fare. Use pork or turkey scallopini for a change of flavor.

All-Purpose Flour
1 tbsp Vegetable Oil
2 tbsp Butter
1/2 lb Mushrooms, small, cut in half
2 tbsp Shallots, minced
2 Garlic Cloves, minced
1 lb veal scallops
1/2 cups Beef Stock
1/4 cups Madeira
1/2 cups Whipping Cream (35%)
Salt
Pepper
2 tbsp Parsley, chopped

Using flat side of meat cleaver, pound veal very thin between 2 sheets of waxed paper. Dust veal lightly with flour.

In large skillet, heat oil with 1 tbsp of the butter over medium-high heat; cook veal (in batches if necessary) for about 1 minute on each side or until lightly browned. Remove veal; set aside.

Melt remaining butter in skillet; cook mushrooms, stirring, for about 3 minutes or just until tender, adding a little more butter if needed. Remove with slotted spoon and set aside with veal.

To juices in pan, add shallots and garlic; cook briefly until softened, about 1 minute. Stir in stock and Madeira; cook until reduced by half, about 2 minutes. Add any juice that has accumulated around veal and mushrooms; pour in cream.

Reduce again to thicken slightly, about 1 minute. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add veal, mushrooms and parsley; heat through. Makes 4 servings.

***

We went at a relaxing pace towards dessert. As the lattes were being brewed from our Rancilio Silvia, the Triple Lemon Layer Cake was being prepped with candles. Really, really long candles. The cake is a find from Fine Cooking. It is family tradition to decorate the birthday cake with smarties. 26 is the age of sophistication so we dispensed with multicolour and artfully placed only the yellow smarties, along with the house favourite jujubes and the ubiquitous silver dragées.

The Lemon Curd filling (also Fine Cooking) between the layers is to die for. This is definitely a worth-while recipe to have tucked away for future use.

All in all, a very good birthday dinner that left us all feeling a wee bit soporific!

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