Crab Cakes, French Toast, Cereal and Pantry

(originally e-mailed to Recipe Testers on Sunday, March 15, 2009)

Recipe Testers,

On Friday afternoon my friend, Kirsteen, stopped by. The kids were all having a play date. Kirsteen and I were going to have some tea, cookies, cheese and crackers, but suddenly I realized it was almost five and I said “why don’t I make some crab cakes.” I hadn’t been to the store, but I knew I had some staples in my fridge and I had a new idea for crab cakes that I want to try. So instead of tea we opened a bottle of wine and I started cooking. This is one of my favorite things to do: stand in the kitchen cooking and visiting with a good friend. She called her husband Tony and he came over and then Jason got home. Even though Tony and Jason did sit down, we never had formal dinner. I just kept cooking a variety of things and everyone kept eating them as they came up. (Usually when I make dinner it is all ready at the same time and we sit down and eat it together. But I also love those experimental days like last night, when I can just cook whatever comes to mind and then people can stand and eat it.) I’ll write a draft version of the crab cakes here since we all really enjoyed them. Then, later, when I officially test them, I will send an official version with measurements. (Keep in mind that the only two things in the world that I don’t like to eat are red bell peppers and cumin. So my crab cakes are not going to be like the ones you normally eat. i.e. they won’t have red bell pepper in them. But they are very light and fresh and were lovely.)

Crab Cakes

Lump crab from Costco if your Costco still carries the crab in a can. (it used to be in a black can, but now it’s plastic. And I've had three of the plastic ones from two different Costco's go bad. So I recommend finding some in a can because it keeps for such a long time in the can. Crab is a staple I always have in my fridge. I think it is around 16 oz, but I’ll need to double check since I don’t have one right now)
2 eggs, beaten
Parsley (leaves from one bunch, roughly chopped)
Panko (Japanese bread crumbs)
Oranges cut up into small dice
(after we made them, I thought I would add almonds or pine nuts when I try them next time, so I’m writing it here. I might possibly add celery next time too, but these were good just as they were.)
Sea Salt (more than you think you need because the crab can be a little bland.)

Orange juice
Siracha (I was hoping I had sambal olek, but I didn’t. I’ve also used adobo before. You could use cayenne pepper or any hot sauce you want. The crab NEEDS more hot sauce that you imagine, so make this mixture fairly spicy because when you combine it with the crab it will be mild)

Panko for breading
Butter for frying

Mix the mayonnaise, Orange juice and hot sauce together. (you’ll want to make extra of this. Half to mix with the crab and half to use as a sauce after they are cooked). In a large bowl put the crab, half the mayo mixture, 2 eggs, chopped parsley, Panko, oranges, (add nuts if you think you’d like them) generous sprinkle of salt.

Heat up a frying pan to medium high. Form the crab into little patties, and coat both sides with Panko. But butter in pan (a decent amount) and cook crab cakes in butter. If the butter gets too dark between batches, then wipe out the pan with a paper towel and then add fresh butter. Fry them on each side until golden brown and serve immediately. I served them with two different sauces and Arugula. (I’ll send some different sauce options when I write the final recipe. There are so many options. The spicy mayo orange sauce was terrific)

I was telling Kirsteen I was so glad that they stopped by because otherwise I wouldn’t have made the crab cakes. There was too much crab for just Jason and me and I would have hated to waste it. I was telling her that with cooking I need someone to cook for. If I’m all alone I’ll eat a bowl of cereal or cheese, crackers and apples. Even though I enjoy cooking so much, I won’t take the time to do it for myself. But just give me one other person to please and I’ll cook like crazy. Because the true joy in cooking comes from making someone else happy. Which brings us to my biggest family complication of how my cooking at home changed once I had the girls. Before we had kids, when it was just Jason and I, I cooked like crazy. Jason loves to eat and isn’t picky at all, so he’d eat any experiment I wanted to come up with. Every night we ate by candlelight, even if we were wearing sweats. He was so happy with anything I made and I’d be happy to cook for hours. We’d have lots of dinner parties and I’d be in the kitchen for days.

Then I had kids and I made the huge mistake of changing my cooking. At first, when we just had Melissa, I fed her everything we ate. So she liked sushi, Japanese eggplant, pasta with spaghetti sauce. She’d happily eat anything we gave her, except applesauce and some other fruit. Then I got pregnant with Katherine and I was so sick that I couldn’t cook again. So Melissa only got things that didn’t smell: goldfish, crackers, pretzels, plain pasta, bananas, carrots, peanut butter, rice, cereal and milk. I’m miserably nauseous when I’m pregnant. I think Jason must have cooked any kind of protein for Melissa. By the time Katherine was born, Melissa had turned into a picky eater. Then we moved a lot, so it was challenging to cook. I want to cook to please people, not to make them cry. I remember one night, when we lived in Pennsylvania and Jason was gone and I thought I’d make peanut butter cookies for Melissa for dinner. I figured they had protein in them from all the peanut butter. I wanted to make her happy. She wouldn’t eat them. I cried. One of the only things she LOVED was MacDonald’s. It broke my heart because it seemed like the antithesis of everything about me, but it was the one time she would happily eat everything. So we went once week because I felt like at least she was eating the hamburger that had protein. (Thank goodness they grew out of McDonalds one year after we gave it up for Lent. Katherine didn’t miss it, but Melissa did. But somehow when lent was over and we went back she said it didn’t taste the same.) The bottom line is that even though Jason is there and I could cook for him, I won’t make spinach and feta quiche or soup or some of our favorites, because the girls won’t eat that for dinner and I don’t want to make two separate dinners. The girls eating has improved tremendously, but if there is one thing I would change about parenting, it would be to make my kids eat whatever we are having for dinner and not feed them “kid food.” All of my friends who have children who are great eaters only fed them what they were making for dinner. Being a short order cook and catering to their finickiness was my biggest mistake. I remember my mother telling us when we were little that we had to just take one bite. I remember stir-fried rice in particular. I thought it was shear torture to have to take those bites of rice. Of course, it ended up becoming one of my favorite things my mom ever made and is still a favorite.. But I remember the first time looking at it as a younger child, not believing I was going to have to eat this mixed up mess of rice and stuff. So the bottom line is that we can all acquire a taste for most things if we continue to try them. Some child specialist told me that if a child tries something 20 times they will develop a taste for it. Think of things like coffee, goat cheese, double-salted licorice, even beer. They are all acquired tastes. Then things like brussel sprouts (which I adore) are things some people may never care for no matter how many times they eat them. Melissa, the pickest of eaters, ended up loving certain things that she once hated. So I truly need to start being firmer at meal times, but I’m still kind of a wimp with the kids. It’s just so hard for me when the pleasure in cooking comes from pleasing people. So it is nice when friends come over and I can make crab cakes or something new and have happy eaters instead of upset eaters that they have to take “one bite.”

This morning, Katherine wanted French Toast for breakfast. So she bought a baguette yesterday with Jason while I was at the library thing. It is best to make French Toast with day-old bread. Jason likes cinnamon-raising bread the best for French toast, but he enjoys it with almost any kind of bread. Katherine prefers a baguette, so Jason was happy with that too. (Melissa won’t even try it, even though she loves bread and butter! She had cereal. There is me being a wimp again. I’m just not making breakfast to try to torture anyone, so it didn’t seem worth forcing her to eat it when she was fine with cereal) I learned how to make French Toast from two people and one movie: Kramer vs. Kramer when he made the French toast mixture in a cup; Terri Buzzard’s mom, Karen Anderson, who made it with heavy cream; then from my Mummu who told me the secret was to put in tons of butter. (she was right!) My best friend from Paris, Mathilde, thinks it is insane that I make the Pain Perdu (French Toast) with cream because she said it is peasant food and you make it with milk. So you can make it with milk or cream, whatever you prefer or have on hand. (This is another draft recipes. I’ll try to put some measurements in, but will send an official recipe later) Jason likes sautéed bananas on his French toast, so I’ll put that here now too. It’s optional

French Toast

1 baguette (or loaf of cinnamon raisin bread), sliced

2 cups heavy cream (whole milk, half and half, or 2% milk can be substituted)
2 spoonfuls of sugar
4 eggs
Pinch of salt

Butter (lots. Up to two sticks depending how much bread you use!)

Bananas, sliced (1 or 2 bananas)
Brown sugar
Cinnamon and/or cloves or allspice. (Go very very light if you are using cloves or allspice. You want a hint, not overpowering. Cinnamon alone is terrific)

Mix cream, cinnamon, sugar and eggs, pinch of salt together. Heat a frying pan to medium high. Put in 1/4 stick of butter in pan. Dip bread quickly into cream mixture and then fry in butter. But butter on top of each piece so when you flip it over it will cook in even more butter. If you’re not sure or it isn’t browning like you want it too, add more butter. (Watch the heat and turn it down if it is getting too dark to quickly. You may need to play around a little to adjust the heat)

Either while the french toast is cooking or when you’re all finished and it is still warming on the plate, make the bananas.

For the bananas: Heat up a small frying pan. Put 2 or 3 tablespoons of butter in. But the bananas in and then immediately put in some brown sugar, cinnamon and a pinch of salt. Cook until the bananas just start to cook on the outside and the brown sugar is melted. Serve immediately on top of French toast. Serve with syrup.

Someone else asked me how I can possibly take the time to write these e-mails when I’m so busy. I realized that I’m writing them for me. If I cook to make others happy, I write to make myself happy. I have all these ideas and thoughts swirling around in my head. When I get them on paper, they are released. Even something as simple as a list of things to do, makes me feel better once I’ve written it down. Otherwise the list plays on “automatic rewind in my head.” I go over whatever it is I have to remember again and again and again. It is enough to drive you mad. But when I write it down, there it is on the list and it isn’t that much and my brain doesn’t have to concentrate on remembering it. There it is on a simple list to check-off. So I’m a huge list maker. I’ve also kept a journal since I was in 4th grade. My 4th grade journal is devoting to wishing my horse Rusty could fly. I wanted my horse to fly so badly. I just thought that would solve everything. I loved that horse so much. I used to wash him with strawberry shampoo and then lay on him. He was all white, with a plate size rust patch on is left shoulder. He had a grey mane. He was a brilliant horse and I swear he could understand everything I told him. I remember building a tree fort in the tree next to his corral, just so I could sleep near him.

I’m getting off topic on my horse. (Nice memory though.) I usually write when I’m very happy, very sad or have a lot on my mind. I usually write the recipe testing e-mails when I am the most stressed and have the least amount of time. Somehow writing them is calming to me. (For instance this is a very busy weekend: Melissa has her Shakespeare play, Loves Labor Lost. We had to be at a four hour dress rehearsal, then a break and then come back for the performance. Then we had the big library booksale, cookout, etc. in between rehearsal and performance. Today, we had church in the morning and then we have to split up in the afternoon because Jason has to take Katherine to her basketball party and I have to take Melissa to another play performance.) So I should have gone to the gym, or did another one of the 101 things I need to do, but I somehow feel better taking the time to write this e-mail. I still keep a private journal, but the recipe testing e-mail list turned out to be writing a letter to my friends. It started sometime in 1995 or 1996 when I first got AOL and I was so new to the internet. There were only about 10 friends on it them and it wasn’t officially called the recipe testing list, but gained that title soon after. When it first started I just use to mail recipes to my 10 best friends around the country who cooked. Then they could test them and send comments and critiques back to me. I think I snail-mailed out a few recipes to the people who didn’t have e-mail. It was all of my friends who liked to cook and many that I had worked on cookbooks with in North Carolina. (I know Pam Keravuori, Christy Benitez, Sue Burbelo, Lori Patin and Marianne Heilferty were on it. Teri Buzzard got printed recipes. That was around the same time when I met Martha Stewart the first time--I almost fainted I was so excited to meet her.) Now the recipe testing e-mail list has grown quite a bit!. But it is still a list of my friends and my friends’ friends. The only way to get on it is to actually know me or be a friend of someone who knows me. So I think that is why I can write so freely and personally because I think such warm and happy thoughts of my friends who are getting this. So by sending this e-mail it is kind of like you stopping by and letting me visit with you while I make crab cakes. I still get to give you the gift of the food. And I get to write the words, which calms my mind and frees me up for new thoughts.

Blessings to all of you,


PS Numerous people have asked me “what do you keep in your fridge?” or “can you suggest a basic pantry?” So I made one up and attached it. I’m sure there is something I forgot. I’ll send this out now. Then I’ll revise it when I sent out my basic cooking tips. There are a few certain techniques that everyone should now that will change your cooking if you don’t already know them. Also, my refrigerator is quite large. I can hold up to 24 gallons of milk on just the bottom shelf. There are not drawers on the doors, so all the condiments have to be on the shelf. It has positives and negatives. The freezer is the same brand. No ice-maker because it is for a restaurant. The compressors are underneath them, instead of in the attic, so my kitchen sounds like helicopters about to take off, but you get used to it.

PPS I’m attaching the peanut butter cookie recipe in remembrance of the night Melissa would not eat cookies dinner when she was 2 years old in Pennsylvania.

Off to Shakespeare! And I need to feed Melissa before she goes!


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