Yesterday we celebrated our friend Tomeika's twenty-seventh birthday and my wife spent the day making Tomeika's favorite foods so we could enjoy a lovely meal together on the terrace.
The menu: crab cakes, macaroni and cheese, braised kale with bacon, followed by a German chocolate cake.
German chocolate cake happens to be my favorite as well and I'm told our 7-year-old daughter helped in the baking. At a certain point, she was instructed that some of the eggs needed to be separated. Her solution to that request was to begin placing eggs in different parts of the kitchen: an egg on top of the microwave, an egg on the kitchen table, etc. It sounds to me like the eggs had plenty of separation...
At this point I need to interject that my wife makes probably the best crab cakes anywhere. For those of you who think crab cakes are something pounded out with lots of bread crumbs, then tossed in a deep fat fryer until the resemble something close to a horse turd, I have news.
My wife makes her crab cakes much more in the style of Maryland's Eastern Shore, where the large pieces of premium crab meat are just barely held together with a little mayo, a little mustard and a little fresh bread crumbs (not the stuff out of a can). At the Captain's Table in Crisfield, they are made in just this manner--more a tall pile of crab meat than anything--then finished under a broiler. Or at least they were the last time I was there years ago.
My wife prefers to fry her crab cakes in a heavy iron skillet until they are just browned on either side. And, yes, they do sometimes want to separate around the edges, there's just no helping that.
One of our favorite places to eat in the District of Columbia is The Diner in Adam's Morgan. I should amend that to say this is one of the places frequently haunted by my wife, my daughter and our friend Tomeika, often as a group. They particularly favor The Diner's macaroni and cheese and my wife was shooting for something approximating that, but wanted all you readers to know that the recipe she used came from Martha Stewart's website.
This is a dynamite macaroni and cheese, with both sharp cheddar and Gruyere cheeses in it and a wonderful crustiness owing to the bread crumbs my wife made fresh from a rustic loaf purchased at Whole Foods. After assembling the dish she poured it into one of our ceramic ovals and baked it earlier in the day. Then just prior to serving she placed it back in the oven to warm and develop that beautiful brown top. My wife used a round pastry cutter to place rounds of macaroni and cheese on the plates.
Finally, it turns out Tomeika is a big fan of greens. But greens prepared a certain way, which is the slow, Southern way that just so happens to be my favorite way with greens as well. These greens in fact were the dark Italian kale I harvested and cooked some weeks back. While they were defrosting, I sauteed a quarter-pound of slab back, roughly chopped, in some olive oil. When all the grease had been rendered, I removed the bacon and sauteed a whole Vidalia onion cut into thin strips. Then I added back the bacon and about seven cups of chopped kale along with a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar and let everything cook very slowly in a heavy pot for about 45 minutes to meld all the flavors.
It's a long walk from the kitchen to the terrace. My wife plated the food restaurant-style and we walked the plates out there and had a beautiful meal. Our friend Darren joined us and we topped it off with the German chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream and candles. I think Tomeika was pleased.