“a stylish December birthday dinner sans kris kringle”
I helped my friend Randy Burt with the decor for a 35th birthday celebration he hosted for his wife Kimberly – also a dear friend of mine. I too have a December birthday, so I know the angst of seeing Santa invade your big day. Accordingly, my motif was cozy winter with lots of feminine flourish for the very girly guest of honor..
The dinner was a seated affair in the basement wine cellar of the cozy and always delicious Rustic House in Lincoln Park (kudos to their talented chef Jason Paskewitz). And to keep things super intimate we decided on one long narrow table keep everyone a part of the same celebration.
Kimberly’s favorite flowers are hydrangeas, so to stay in the spirit of the season I paired them with sprigs of winter greenery and white queen anne lace . To build on the outdoor forest feel I lined the clear round vases with pliable 1/16″ sheets of birch bark. One long piece of thick cedar roping bisected the table, weaving through the center pieces.
Along the long cellar wall I draped twenty yards of fresh cedar roping (accented with juniper) along with metallic pennant banners and jute letter flags which spelled “K I M B E R L Y”) both constructed from children’s birthday supplies found at The Land of Nod. To keep it extra cozy, I turned the lights way down and let three dozen candles (votives and tapers) light the room. It almost felt as if we were dining by firelight. And then the cake arrived – glowing like a torch in the dim room.
All in all, a warm, chic celebration in the city. What more could a birthday girl wish for?
This dip is a popular crowd pleaser at our annual Holiday Party. The richness of the crab pairs perfectly with thin slices of fresh french bread. I served the dip in an uber cool burnt red Emile Henry Flame Top Fondue Pot I found at Sur La Table. The fondue set’s flame keeps the dip warm and spreadable throughout the evening. And it looks so much chicer than a chafing dish. Using fresh lump crab meat was crucial here – I bought the chilled canned variety sold at my local Whole Foods. Do not mistake this for the traditional canned crab you can buy off the supermarket shelf – they are entirely different. The great thing about this recipe is that it can be made earlier in the day and baked just prior to serving.
This recipe was adapted from one found in The Junior League of Birmingham’s cookbook “Tables of Content,” a treasured gift from my grandmother. My version is as follows.
Crab Dip Au Gratin
1/2 Cup Unsalted Butter
1 Bunch Green Onions – thinly sliced (white and some green)
1/3 Cup All-purpose Flour
1 12 oz can Evaporated Milk
1/2 Cup Whole Milk
2 Egg Yolks, lightly beaten
1 TSP Salt
1/2 TSP Cayenne Pepper
1/2 TSP Ground Black Pepper
1 lb lump crab meat – shelled
8 ounces shredded Swiss Cheese
8 ounces grated Parmesan Cheese
1/2 Cup Sherry
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Rinse the fresh crab meat – pick through looking for any missed pieces of shel. Place aside. Melt the butter in a large non-stick skillet and add the green onion. Saute until tender but do not brown. Remove from heat and stir in the flour. Mix the evaporated and whole milk in a separate bowl (or large measuring cup) and mix in the egg yolks until well combined. Stir the milk into the onion mixture and add the salt, cayenne pepper, and black pepper. Cook over a medium heat for about five minutes, or until the mixture has thickened to a sauce like consistency, stirring constantly. in a large bowl combine the crab meat and sauce mixture. Do not over combine – try and maintain some of the lump texture of the crab. Gently fold in both cheeses and the sherry until just combined; spread into 9 x 13 baking dish or oven-proof serving piece (in my case the enameled fondue pot*). If making earlier in the day, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Prior to serving bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until the top is bubbly and golden brown. Serve with hearty crackers or thin slices of french bread.
* I double this recipe to fill the large enamel fondue pot pictured and increase the baking time to 25 to 30 mins.