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 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.
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.
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 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….
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.
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.
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.
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?
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!
Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes with Jalapeno Cilantro Crema
Makes about 10 cakes
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 shallot, finely minced
½ cup small diced red bell pepper
2 tablespoons jalapeno, seeded and finely diced
16 ounces lump crabmeat
½ cup Japanese Panko
1 egg, lightly beaten
½ cup mayonnaise, or more as needed
2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese
1/3 cup finely chopped cilantro
2 tablespoons minced chives
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup Japanese Panko
2 tablespoons Parmesan
3 tablespoons canola oil
Jalapeno Crema (recipe below)
Garnish: Micro greens
1. Heat 12-inch non-stick skillet over medium heat with 2 tablespoons oil. When oil is hot, add shallot, red pepper and jalapeno, and cook until soft, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from pan and set aside to cool.
2. Place crabmeat on paper towels to drain. Stir together cooked vegetables, ½ cup panko, beaten egg, mayonnaise, 2 tablespoons of Parmesan, cilantro, chives, salt and pepper. If mixture is dry, add additional mayo. If too moist, add additional panko.
3. Form mixture into 10-12 (2-inch) cakes. Press hands so mixture holds together, but do not pack.
4. Place 2 cups panko and 2 tablespoons Parmesan in shallow bowl and stir to mix. Coat each cake in panko to coat and set aside.
5. Wipe out skillet and add 3 tablespoons oil; heat over medium heat. When oil is hot, add 4-5 cakes, being careful not to crowd. Cook until lightly browned, flip and brown other side. They should take 3-4 minutes per side. Remove to paper towels, then to platter.
6. To serve, spoon a dollop of crema on top of each cake and a pinch of micro-greens.
1 tablespoon minced shallot
1 tablespoon minced garlic
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
½ cup chopped cilantro
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 tablespoon jalapeno, seeded, finely diced
1 cup mayonnaise
1. Place ingredients in blender and process until smooth.