Our first December living in Trinidad my brand new husband, Scot, fished for Captain Zach, while back on land I worked at Zach's Crab Shack. There I was introduced to the California tradition of feasting on crab over the Christmas holidays. From early morning on Christmas Eve Day, folks cued up outside the crab house to pick up their Christmas crab without a lull in the line until dark. It was a blast. I had the pleasant task of being greeter, running up and down the line bringing people coffee and doughnuts and taking orders.
We're lucky this time of year. Scot brings home lots of delicious Dungeness crab, and he loves nothing more than cooking it up for our friends. Whether it be a boiled crab dinner with drawn butter and sourdough bread or our almost-famous hot crab dip, it has become California tradition at our house to invite friends over for holiday meals from Solstice to New Year's Day. Over the years a menu including crab and other dishes has developed -- one we're stoked to cook and serve over and over again.
(Directions on how to prepare live crab and the Hot Crab Dish recipe can be found in Table Talk March 18, 2010, "It Ain't Over ‘Til It's Over.")
Earlier this month I visited Ed Bernard, owner of Libation on the Arcata Plaza, to garner additions to my repertoire of wine and food pairing, asking him to stay as close to home as possible with his selections. (Most of the wines mentioned here are available at Libation.)
Before our guests even get to sit down, a platter of wontons oozing with creamy smoked fish filling is put before them along with a flute of the bubbly. Smoked fish and champagne get along famously. An easy-to-prepare yet impressive-looking dish, this appetizer is a good choice to bring to parties, too. The secret: the wrappers are baked in mini-muffin pans with no deep-frying. If you're fortunate enough to have a larder or freezer with homemade smoked albacore, all the better. Otherwise, pick some up at Katy's Smokehouse in Trinidad, Mr. Fish in Eureka or get the vacuum-sealed packages sold at many markets. Our local sparkling wine choices are Briceland Vineyard Brut from southern Humboldt and Roederer Estate Brut from Anderson Valley in Mendocino.
Crab comes next. Flutes may be refilled for those who wish to stick with the bubbly, or we open a bottle of Acacia Vineyard Chardonnay or Ed's pick of Winnett Sauvignon Blanc from Willow Creek. Choose between hot crab dip served over lettuce with crotons or deviled crab, a new dish I'll be serving this year -- both have some heat, a good match for these fruity wines.
After perhaps taking a step out onto the deck for a bit of the winter air, we sit down to butternut squash ravioli from the fresh pasta section at the Co-op, with a luscious sage butter sauce. The clincher is grated amaretti cookies, which can be hard to find here in Humboldt, although Roy's Toscano Market and Deli on 2nd St. in Old Town has them. (You can also substitute slivered almonds.) It's time to pour one of my all-time favorite wines, Robert Goodman Humboldt County Pinot Noir, or Ed's suggestion, Cabot Humboldt Syrah.
For dessert, any of Moonstone Crossing's ports will blow your mind, or I should say, your mouth. This is going to sound weird, but for a cheese and dessert course I serve chocolate tortilla chips with Cowgirl Creamery or Point Reyes blue cheese. The chips, made by Food Should Taste Good, can be found at the Co-op and Wildberries along with the cheeses. This is a discovery I made at Moonstone Crossing's tasting room in Trinidad -- the pairing of port with chocolate and blue cheese was sensational.
Port can be pricey, but with intense flavors and a high alcohol content, a little goes a long way. Four courses accompanied by four glasses of wine may be too much for some. Remember you don't have to fill the glasses. Relax, eat and drink slowly, talk, move around the room and mingle between courses, step outside to look at the night sky (if the rain isn't coming down too hard), savor the evening, savor the wine, the food, the company, the season.
Make sure to have non-alcoholic bubblers like Martinelli’s or Knudsen sparkling juices for kids, non-imbibers and designated drivers. White grape and berry flavors work with the succession of dishes, same as white and red wine. There's that special something about pouring a sparkly drink into a fancy glass that makes any night turn festive.
Smoked Fish and Cream Cheese Wontons
24 wonton wrappers
8 oz smoked albacore or 2 cans smoked oysters, drained
8 oz cream cheese
1/2 tsp hot sauce
1 1/2 tsp minced chives
lemon juice, dash white pepper
Preheat oven to 350. Lightly oil mini-muffin tins and press wrappers into each cup. Bake for 8 minutes. Let cool.
Combine all other ingredients in a food processor until well blended. Spoon mixture into wontons. Bake for an additional 10 minutes. Remove wontons from tin. Serve.
adapted from Ann Anderson's recipe in Locally Delicious
Preheat broiler to 400
4 Tbl butter
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/4 cup chopped celery
2 Tbl minced garlic
Sauté all ingredients in a pan until onions turn golden brown.
Combine sautéed vegetables with 1/2 cup breadcrumbs and 1 cup milk and set aside.
3 tsp Dijon mustard
generous splash of hot sauce
1/2 tsp salt
Add to veggie mixture. Cook on stovetop until thickened.
Add 1/2 lb cooked crab meat and mix.
Pack into ceramic baking dish. Brush with melted butter. Broil until lightly browned. Scoop onto beds of lettuce and serve.
Butternut Squash Ravioli with Sage Butter Sauce
1 lb fresh butternut squash ravioli
Gently cook ravioli in a large pot of boiling, salted water until just done. Remove from water with a skimmer, dump the water, and put ravioli back in the pot on the same burner, turned off.
Spray a large sauté pan with oil and melt 1/4 lb of butter. Add around 10 leaves of fresh sage that has been allowed to dry for a few days and continue to cook until the butter starts to brown. Remove from heat.
Arrange ravioli on individual plates and spoon the sauce on top. Garnish with grated amaretti cookies or slivered almonds and grated Parmigiano-Reggiano.
Dessert and Cheese Course
Food Should Taste Good Chocolate Tortilla Chips smeared with blue cheese (softened at room temp for an hour). Serve with Moonstone Crossing Port.
Happy New Year!