Not your usual comfort food

Make your own: [Marshmallow Easter chicks] [Thin Mint cookies] [Spicy hot Marshmallows]
Better movie than book: The Constant Gardener

So I grew up spoiled, especially where food is concerned. California, land of plenty, ingredients from everywhere. Oh yeah, and having a great cook for a mother doesn’t hurt. My stepfather is a fisherman, and growing up I had fresh salmon or halibut a few times a week. To the point I stupidly started getting sick of it and saying, “Not ‘can’t get fresher than this’ salmon again!”

This forced my mom to get more creative with cooking the fish (especially the halibut) and something called “Mexican Fish” was invented. Fresh halibut, fresh salsa, and a bit of cheese, all in the oven. Fish was welcomed once again by us spoiled ones. Especially when Costco started getting Mango salsa…yum!

But there was one thing that I never turned down, and I never got tired of. Dungeness crab. (You’ll notice that was #1 on the food list) At my house, dungeness crab arrived whole. I hadn’t tried a crabcake until I was in my 20s (ok, I’m still in my 20s, but I’m trying to illustrate it was “late” in my life) and I couldn’t see what all the fuss was about. How could anyone, having tasted a real fresh crab, opt for these seasoned breaded impostors?

I went to university #1 in Texas, and we were far away from the ocean for me to not trust the seafood that made its way to the town. So, every time I made it back to my parents’ house for the holidays during those four years, I always asked my mom for the same thing….fresh crab, please!

The first Christmas back to California after six months in Italy was an ordeal. That morning, I exchanged a tearful goodbye with my new boyfriend (later-to-be-husband) at the train station. I had packed up all my things from my old apartment, and moved them to a friend’s house for when I returned and had to find a new place to live.

That was also when I decided to really give living in Italy a try. Sante might have influenced my decision. Maybe.

So, not being able to afford a direct flight home, I flew back the 23rd, in the morning. After 22 hours I arrived very late at SFO that night. Even at customs in Chicago you could feel everyone was thinking about their families, being so close to Christmas. The customs man didn’t even glance twice at my declaration form checked “Yes” for the 2 kilos of cheese I had stuffed in my bag.

When I arrived I had so much to say but was so tired that I thought sleeping or crying sounded better…my mom took pity on me and let me go straight to sleep.

A few hours later, it was Christmas Eve. That night, the best dinner I had seen in months greeted me at the table. Mom had remembered. This is the picture I took that night:

I feel I must share the best crab appetizer ever with you…it allows the crab to remain undisguised but the textures and flavors together are amazing. If you’re skeptical, try it first – it’s so easy and always gets complimented.

Spicy Crab Cocktail
1 (Dungeness) crab, cracked and shelled
8oz Philadelphia/cream cheese
Lemon juice
Horseradish (Rafano in italian)
Tobasco sauce
Crackers (Wheat thins, Triscuits, or thinly sliced bread may do)

Pick apart the crab and set the meat in a small dish. Try to keep the pieces mostly intact and not shredded. In a small bowl, beat the cream cheese with a little of the lemon juice to make it smoother and easier to spread. You can also mix this with a little sour cream, but it’s fine on its own.

In another bowl, add ketchup, a small spoonful of horseradish, and more lemon juice to taste. You can also add the Tabasco if you want it a little spicy.

On a plate, mound the cream cheese into a small dome. Press the crab meat pieces directly onto the dome, covering it completely. Spoon the cocktail sauce on top. Refrigerate if not serving immediately!

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