For food junkies like me, the Christmas holidays can best be described as a “cook-a-thon.” By the time Thanksgiving is over, I find myself frantically scouring magazines and cookbooks for special things to make throughout the season.
I make a few cookies each year but seem to always come back to the crispy gingersnaps I have made for decades and Martha Stewart’s sugar cookies laced with a touch of brandy. There’s always a standing rib roast for Christmas dinner and a fruit-studded pound cake that I soak in bourbon for days after baking. If I have time, I will make sweet almond macaroons with pine nuts (Italian pignoli cookies) and a seasonal biscotti, perhaps with cranberry and orange. Tradition usually prevails.
For almost 30 years, my family hosted a Christmas Eve open house. Although it began as a two-hour event, it eventually stretched from one in the afternoon to well into the evening. There was always lots of food: baked ham with brown sugar and cloves, turkey breast roasted with butter and maple syrup, smoked salmon with capers and red onion, Italian antipasto, cold shrimp, a variety of wraps and the ever-popular “cocktail weenies.” This latter item was very popular among the high school crowd when our sons were that age.
But the star of the show was my baked crab spread. A co-worker shared this recipe with me many years ago, and it has been a holiday “go-to” ever since. For some reason, I opted to exclude it from my open house menu one year. There were protests all around.
Whenever I serve this to guests, it is quickly eaten, and so I always double the recipe. I like that I can use a lower fat cream cheese without harming the consistency of the spread and, if there happens to be any left over, it re-heats beautifully. You can make it with backfin crab rather than the very expensive lump or jumbo lump variety, thus cutting the expense somewhat. And as Martha Stewart is fond of saying: “That’s a good thing.”
Rosemary’s crab spread can be part of your cocktail party spread at Christmas (or all winter long). But it is light enough to serve as an appetizer before dinner, as well. I hope you find many occasions to serve it throughout the holidays and beyond.
Baked Crab Meat Appetizer
- 2 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, softened (I use either the “lower fat” or regular fat.)
- 8 ounces fresh crab meat
- 3 tablespoons onion, finely chopped
- 2 tablespoons milk (Whole milk works well, but I have often used half and half for added creaminess.)
- 1 teaspoon horseradish
- ½ teaspoon salt
- Dash of freshly ground pepper
- ½ cup sliced (not slivered) almonds, lightly toasted.
- Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees
- Combine all ingredients except the almonds in a bowl and mix together well (I use a wooden spoon.)
- Spoon mixture into an oven-proof baking dish.
- Sprinkle the almonds on top and bake until bubbly, about 15 minutes.
The crab spread can be made ahead, kept in the fridge, and popped in the oven right before your guests arrive. I usually serve it with nice crackers, but it is also very good with crostini or small pumpernickel bread rounds that are available at the holidays. Sprinkle the top of the spread with a little paprika for a nice touch. And, if you like things spicy, sneak in a few red pepper flakes when mixing.
I do a fair amount of cooking over the Christmas holiday and often a lot of fretting over getting everything done. But my one constant is my crab dip. It works for almost every occasion (well, maybe not Christmas morning brunch!) And it sure beats cocktail weenies.
Author: Rosemary Ruggieri Baer