Post image for Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes from Chef Mary Ellen Rae at Personal Touch Gourmet

I went to my first cooking class taught by Chef Mary Ellen Rae in April of 2010. My photos of her delicious recipes have been pinned and stumbled thousands of times, especially the Chicken, Sun-Dried Tomato and Basil Wrapped in Filo. So when Chef Mary Ellen recently invited me to a class she was teaching, which inclued her menu, I replied,”You had me at Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes!” How did she know crab cakes are one of my very favorite things?

Chef Mary Ellen graduated at the top of her class with high honors from the “Le Cordon Bleu” program of the California School of Culinary Arts in Pasadena. Her culinary internship was at the Los Angeles Times Food Section and test kitchen. After culinary school, she started Personal Touch Gourmet, a boutique catering company specializing in small intimate parties, freelance recipe testing and cooking classes around the South Bay and Los Angeles.

Several years later a call from the Los Angeles times beckoned her back into the test kitchen with the position of “recipe tester.” This included sourcing, shopping, preparing, testing and editing the recipes published in the weekly Food Section. Mary Ellen had the opportunity to write articles and develop many of her own recipes for publication, several winning “Top Ten Recipe of the Year Awards.”

In 2007, after four years of commuting downtown, she left the paper and decided it would be great to run her own life again. She teaches private classes in your home, either one-on-one or group parties, a great way to celebrate birthdays, bridal showers or special celebrations. And, of course, the participation cooking classes, such as the one I attended.

Chef Mary Ellen Rae 1

Chef Mary Ellen started her class by going over the recipes in detail, and then a pair of students was assigned to cook each recipe. There were several couples who came to class for a date night and they were having a lot of fun with this.

Chef Mary Ellen Rae 2

In order to stave off hunger and fainting while everyone was cutting and chopping, Chef Mary Ellen had this beautiful Kalamata Olive & Roasted Cherry Tomato Tapenade with Burrata and Garlic Toasts on the sideboard for noshing. Ok, I admit, I visited it a few times myself.

Chef Mary Ellen Rae 3

Each student had a cutting board and knife provided and everyone got busy preparing their recipe, while I went around taking photos of everything.

Chef Mary Ellen Rae 4

Chef Mary Ellen demonstrated how to form the crab mixture into cakes so they kept their shape, but were not packed too solidly together. Everyone took turns making a crab cake or two for practice and then into the skillet they went. They turned such a beautiful crusty brown. Yum. High anticipation on my part….

Chef Mary Ellen Rae 5

Meanwhile the vegetables, which had been marinating in an olive oil, red wine vinegar, lemon juice, oregano, rosemary, thyme and garlic vinaigrette, were put on the grill. The New York Steaks were also put on and the gentleman at the helm of this job wanted me to shoot the digital thermometer so my readers could see that they were perfectly cooked.

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Chef Mary Ellen serves her dishes family-style, beautifully presented on raised platforms covered with cloths in muted colors. Here you can see the Mixed Green Salad and Fresh Peaches with Creamy Feta Vinaigrette.

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The Grilled Summer Vegetables with Garlic and Fresh Herbs was not only marinated in the red wine and lemon juice vinaigrette, but this same vinaigrette was drizzled over the lightly charred veggies just before serving.

Chef Mary Ellen Rae 8

The New York Steaks were served with a slice of Truffle Chive Butter, which was made with unsalted butter, jarred truffle butter, grated Parmesan, minced chives and Italian parsley. Doesn’t that look mouth wateringly scrumptious?

Chef Mary Ellen Rae 9

And, of course, the Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes, served with Jalapeno Crema topped with a pinch of Micro-Greens (recipe follows below). Chef Mary Ellen suggested that if you cannot find fresh crab meat, she found Chicken of the Sea pasteurized crab meat in the refrigerated case at Costco. And those cute little micro greens came from Trader Joe’s. I have been looking everywhere for micro greens, so I was really happy to find out where I could get them. Yay!

Dessert was Grilled Santa Rosa Plums with Mint Sugar, which was served over vanilla ice cream. Mint Sugar, which is made by grinding fresh mint and sugar together in a mortar and pestle or spice grinder, is sprinkled over the plums encased in their foil wrapper. Grand Marnier was poured over, foil was sealed and the whole packages were put on grill pans. You could also cook these on your BBQ grill for 5-7 minutes. The result is soft minty plums with a delectable orangy sauce. You want some of this. I know you do.

Chef Mary Ellen’s next cooking class is Tuesday, October 21st and will feature Cooking with Fall Flavors. You can go to her website, Personal Touch Gourmet, for a look at all the services she offers, list of classes, sign up for a class and photos. Check it out. Take a class. You’ll be so happy you did!

Chef Mary Ellen Rae 10

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Post image for Korean Dak Galbi ~ Chicken Stir-Fry in Spicy Red Pepper Sauce with Gochugaru and Gochujang

Before we jump into the recipe in this post, I have some fist-pumping news. My little blog, Cook & Be Merry, launched in January of 2010, recently hit one million pageviews. That’s 1,000,000. If you had told me when I first started that I would hit that number in my lifetime, I would have fallen on the floor, laughing uproariously. Thank you, everyone who has visited. You have no idea how much you all mean to me and how much you enhance my life. You’re the best. XO

Ok, so much for the mushy bits. On to the recipe….

Dak Galbi is one of those dishes where you take your first bite, close your eyes and say raptureously, “Oh my god, this is amazing!” Well, at least that is what my live-in family member said when he had his first bite. I have been making this about once a week for the last few months, and frequently for a couple of years. One of the things that is great about it is the red pepper paste (gochujang) and red pepper powder (gochugaru) are cheap. You can make this so many times and hardly make a dent in your supply.

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NY Black & White Cookies

Thumbnail image for NY Black & White Cookies August 1, 2014

The other day I met a friend of mine for tea and we were talking about our upcoming blog posts. I asked her if she had ever heard of Black and White Cookies and she replied, “Are you kidding, I’m from New York! You can buy them everywhere, wrapped up in cellophane. Just make sure [...]

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Chipotle Swai Fillet with Rainier Cherry Salsa

Thumbnail image for Chipotle Swai Fillet with Rainier Cherry Salsa July 22, 2014

I grew up in Minnesota, the Land of 10,000 Lakes. My father was an avid fisherman, and my brother and I were included in many fishing trips from the time we were old enough. We fished from shore on little lakes, from fishing boats on big lakes, in an ice house in the dead of [...]

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3 comments Read the full article →

Thai Beef Salad from Patricia Rose at Fresh Food in a Flash Cooking Class

Thumbnail image for Thai Beef Salad from Patricia Rose at Fresh Food in a Flash Cooking Class July 14, 2014

I am a cooking class junky. I love going to cooking classes. So imagine my happiness when I was recently invited to the Main Dish Salads Cooking Class by Patricia Rose of Fresh Food in a Flash. Her classes are hands-on and it is so fun to watch her students preparing her recipes, cutting and [...]

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Scotch Eggs with Garlic Butter Parmesan Fries

Thumbnail image for Scotch Eggs with Garlic Butter Parmesan Fries June 29, 2014

The signature or national dish of a country or state or city can be counted on to be interesting and delicious, because it has been around for ages and has been perfected by numerous cooks. A whole country can’t be wrong, can it? Unfortunately I am not going to be able to visit every country, [...]

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Oven Roasted Fries with Garlic Butter & Parmesan

Thumbnail image for Oven Roasted Fries with Garlic Butter & Parmesan June 13, 2014

Now that grilling season is here, I will be seeing quite a number of burger patties coming off the grates. There is nothing like the flavor of beef cooked over an open fire, or in my case, glowing coals, on a toasted bun with all the fixings. And what I love with my burgers are [...]

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8 comments Read the full article →

Chile Verde with Pork & Ancho Chile Sauce

Thumbnail image for Chile Verde with Pork & Ancho Chile Sauce June 4, 2014

If you have been following along with my story, you know I moved into an apartment last January. I looked at several in the area I wanted to live, but fell in love with mine immediately. It’s interesting how you just know when it is a match. You walk from room to room and it [...]

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4 comments Read the full article →

Grilled Shrimp & Potato Tomato Avocado Salad

Thumbnail image for Grilled Shrimp & Potato Tomato Avocado Salad May 24, 2014

Memorial Day. The kick-off of the summer grilling season. We wait all year for this day, don’t we? Well, I do. So I wanted to make a stellar salad with grilled shrimp and all my favorite salad veggies for this venerable holiday. Not only tomatoes, avocado and grilled little potatoes, but also olives and red [...]

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Springtime Apricot Cake at Grace-Marie’s Kitchen

Thumbnail image for Springtime Apricot Cake at Grace-Marie’s Kitchen May 17, 2014

Springtime Apricot Cake was the dessert recipe for the recent Easter Family Brunch class at Grace-Marie’s Kitchen at Bristol Farms in Manhattan Beach. This wonderful cake was the ending to a delicious luncheon which also included Easter Banana Muffins, Roasted Shrimp & Pineapple Salad, and “Croque-Madame” Brunch Gratin. Grace-Marie has always made such good desserts [...]

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Lamb Shepherd’s Pie & Parmesan Ricotta Potatoes

Thumbnail image for Lamb Shepherd’s Pie & Parmesan Ricotta Potatoes May 8, 2014

I’m a little late to the St. Patrick’s Day party with my Lamb Shepherd’s Pie, but it was the photos I saw during that celebration that inspired me to make my own version. So now I am suggesting Lamb Shepherd’s Pie for your Mother’s Day brunch. See how neat I worked that in? But really, [...]

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Pork Pot-Stickers with Lemon Soy Ginger Sauce

Thumbnail image for Pork Pot-Stickers with Lemon Soy Ginger Sauce April 30, 2014

About a month ago I showed you how to make your own gyoza wrappers, and then I left you hanging. You were probably thinking to yourself… but, but, but…what about filling and cooking them? Well, truly, I wouldn’t leave you in the lurch like that, but after I made them it was dark outside, so [...]

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Rib-Eye Carpaccio with Salmoriglio Oregano Sauce

Thumbnail image for Rib-Eye Carpaccio with Salmoriglio Oregano Sauce April 23, 2014

In my experience, there are two kinds of beef people. On one side of the spectrum are the rare or medium rare guys, who want theirs soft and red, possibly still kicking. And waaay on the other side, the well-done guys, who for some unfathomable reason, want theirs gray throughout with the texture of leather. [...]

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“Croque-Madame” Brunch Gratin with Asparagus & Prosciutto from Grace-Marie’s Kitchen

Thumbnail image for “Croque-Madame” Brunch Gratin with Asparagus & Prosciutto from Grace-Marie’s Kitchen April 15, 2014

“Croque-Madame” Brunch Gratin was the entrée recipe for the Easter Family Brunch class at Grace-Marie’s Kitchen at Bristol Farms in Manhattan Beach last week. I have to say, this Gratin was one of the best things I have eaten recently, with buttery crusted bread topped with Swiss cheese, prosciutto, asparagus, béchamel and a beautiful egg [...]

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Brunch Roasted Shrimp & Pineapple Salad from Grace-Marie’s Kitchen and A 20 Year Anniversary

Thumbnail image for Brunch Roasted Shrimp & Pineapple Salad from Grace-Marie’s Kitchen and A 20 Year Anniversary April 12, 2014

Easter Family Brunch was the theme of the Lunch With Friends class at Grace-Marie’s Kitchen at Bristol Farms in Manhattan Beach last week. Who doesn’t look forward to a holiday brunch, with delicious dishes set out on the board and you get to fill your plate to your heart’s content and your tummy’s satisfaction. The [...]

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7 comments Read the full article →