Monday, January 02, 2006

New Year's Eve: Dinner and Beyond

Picking up this story where I left off, Cooper and I sat down to New Year's Eve dinner at our house with six of our close friends. Our appetites were whetted and everyone was in a fabulous mood.

Dinner was simple, especially since I only made parts of it. We started with a delicious salad made by Alison - my favorite kind, it was full of apples and pecans and walnuts and had a mildly tangy dressing to counteract the sweetness of the fruit. Alison was worried about how it would turn out, as she was improvising as she made it, but everyone loved it. Especially Clancy, who practically inhaled silverware along with the vegetables.

Then, on to the main course. Cooper grilled a London broil (which he thought was overcooked, but I thought was fine) and Alicia hauled her steamer over to our house to make asparagus and hollandaise. I made scalloped potatoes with onion confit and crab cakes to round out the meal.

I don't have photos of the potatoes, and they probably wouldn't photograph well, anyway, as they just look like a big mess of sliced potatoes and cheese. But they are consistently tasty and always a hit, so here's the recipe (it's a modified version of a Julia Child recipe):

(serves 6)

- Onion confit (recipe here - you can use all that you make, or a little less, and you can make it a day or two ahead of time, just let the confit reach room temperature before you make the potatoes)
- About 2-3 lbs. potatoes (I use Yukon Gold, but others will do)
- Butter
- Pepper
- 1 c. beef buillon (or vegetable)
- 3-4 c. grated Gruyere
- One clove garlic

Preheat the oven to 425. Rub the garlic clove all over the inside of an oven-safe pot or pan that holds roughly the equivalent of a 13x9 pan. Discard the garlic clove and butter the inside of the pan.

Peel the potatoes if desired (I don't)and slice them into thin, even pieces, no thicker than 1/8 inch. I use a mandoline - if you have one, that's an easy way to go. My mom uses her Cuisinart.

Place a layer of potatoes on the bottom of the pan and top with a few pats of butter (maybe 2 pats total, divided) and pepper. Add a thin layer of confit (don't worry about covering every piece) and scatter grated cheese over the top, until roughly covered (about 1 c.). Repeat all layers two or three more times.

Just before placing the potatoes in the oven, bring the buillon to a boil and pour over the entire dish. Bake until done - this could vary from 30-60 minutes depending on the thickness of your potatoes and type of pan. Keep covered until last 5-10 minutes.

I promise, people will love this. We ate it all the time when I was growing up (minus the onion confit - that's my addition). Once I started making it, Cooper started loving it, too. It has just a little crunch, which is great - and anything with that much cheese has to be good. It's great without the onions, but I think that adds a little something extra.

Now, I've made scalloped potatoes a million times. I could do it with my eyes closed. This was my first time, however, making crab cakes. As Annapolis-y as I am, theoretically, making crab cakes should be in my blood. But I wasn't so sure. And definitely felt the pressure.

I chose a recipe from the Annapolis Junior League cookbook, figuring that the ladies who wrote the book should know what they're talking about. And they did. The crab cakes couldn't have been easier, were super fast, and tasted, well, exactly how crab cakes should taste. And they looked pretty, too:

crab cakes
Originally uploaded by Kit Pollard.

Making crab cakes really starts with buying the best crab meat. I got mine from Eddie's, which is one of the nicer grocery stores near my house, and it came from Virginia. If I'd been in Annapolis, I would have gone to Annapolis Seafood.

Crab meat is iffy, especially since it's not summertime. Asian crab is everywhere these days. It's OK, but just doesn't have the flavor of local crab. But I digress.

I modified the recipe a tiny bit (and doubled it for 8 people), but it was very straightforward to begin with. And here it is:

(serves 4-6)

1/2 c. dry bread crumbs
1/2 tsp. dry mustard
1 tbl. Old Bay seasoning (this is far more than the recipe called for, but I like my Old Bay)
1/4 tsp. salt
1 egg
1/2 c. mayonnaise (I used half homemade, half storebought...but making my own mayonnaise for this was semi-insane)
1/2 tsp. lemon juice
1/2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 lb. crabmeat, shell and cartilage removed

Mix bread crumbs, mustard, Old Bay and salt together and set aside.

In another bowl, combine egg, mayonnaise, lemon juice, and Worcestershire sauce. Gently fold in bread crumb mixture. Add crabmeat and shape into individual cakes, placing them on a plate or cookie sheet. You should end up with about 6 or 7 cakes.

Refrigerate for at least two hours, so they won't break apart when cooked.

To actually cook the crab cakes, you can either put them under the broiler or saute in oil - I sauteed. The recipe says it will take about 5 minutes to brown each side - it took me 3 (but I have hot pans). I then stuck them on a platter in a 200 degree oven until we were ready to eat.

I served them with cocktail sauce, a lemon-garlic sauce and a mustard sauce, all of which were sort of experimental.

Really, they were a perfect dinner party food. I did most of the work beforehand and everyone loved them (of course, everyone was also from Maryland, where everybody DOES love crab cakes). At any rate, I'd highly recommend.

And we still had dessert. Alison made a very pretty and surprisngly moist chocolate chocolate chip bundt cake, which we ate with vanilla ice cream. And then we all purged so we could start over. Just kidding.

Oh, and I can't forget the wine. We did start out the night with a bottle of Veuve Clicquot (well, I did, anyway). Alicia and Mike brought a 2001 Meritage from the Dr. Konstantin Frank winery, which is close to Alicia's family's lake house (and which we visited last summer). It was mellow and sort of deep, and a perfect complement for all of the flavor in the food and the all the sauces.

Cooper also parted with one of his highly prized bottles of Faithful Hound. The fact that he opened this just proves how much he likes the people we ate with - he hoards the Faithful Hound like it's gold.

By the time we'd finished dinner and dessert, and everyone had told a few stories, it was after 11. Clancy and Suzanne headed home (she had to work early the next morning) and Alison and Sean went downtown to another party, but not before dropping the rest of us off at the wine bar.

So, we ended the year like we spent most of it: Cooper and I hanging out with Alicia and Mike, drinking wine and taking pictures of each other. At the very, very end of the night, each of us had an espresso martini, which was fabulous tasting, and had us all talking even faster than we normally do.

Overall, a great end to a very good year. And a great start to what promises to be a very, very tasty 2006.

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