Crabby Christmas in the City

When I was about 8 years old, my mom decided she wanted our family to venture into the city to have a nice dinner and see the grandiose Christmas decorations San Francisco had to offer. We lived about forty miles away in the suburbs so we didn’t usually spend the night in the city, but she decided to go all out and get us a hotel room right in Union Square. In true eight year old fashion, I was in a bratty mood and for whatever reason wasn’t having fun. I didn’t like having to walk up the hills, I didn’t like our dinner at Sear’s Fine Food, and I was mad at my dad for not giving every homeless person on the street money. And to top it all off, our hotel room was way too small for my eight-year-old taste. To make the night go from bad to worse, Conor and I were sharing a bed in the hotel and he would not stop squirming around. I was screaming at him, so my dad was fed up and swapped beds with me. Conor wouldn’t stop flip flopping and even my dad couldn’t sleep in the same bed as him. In the end, my mom and Conor slept in the same bed and I was with my dad.  Unfortunately, my mom’s fun Christmas adventure to the city was a bust and she sure never planned that event again. Luckily, my aunt moved to the city and we were able to enjoy Christmas in the city when I was an older, more appreciative kid.

Fast forward a few years and now I live in my aunt’s apartment in the city and am the planner of the “Christmas in the City” dinner. Since no 8 year old brats or 11 year old bed squirmers were in attendance, it was a lovely evening. I spent Thanksgiving with Jon’s family this year, so I wanted to have some sort of get together with my family. My dinner party included my Dad, his girlfriend Diana, my brother Conor, his wife Steph, my nephew Noah, my boyfriend Jon, and me!

To keep some of my mom’s traditions alive, I had my dad bring a few of her Santas and other Christmas decorations. Santa figurines were the one thing that she collected and she would put them on the mantel every Christmas season in place of her china dishes. They look great on the entrance table in my apartment.

Even Noah liked the Santas.

My first idea was to do a crab feast, but that was quickly nixed with the lack of crabs! I went with another true San Franciscan meal instead. Here is the dinner at a glance:

The Table:

Cocktail: Pomegranate Martinis

Appetizer: Crab Cakes with Lemon Aioli

Main Course: Cioppino, Sourdough bread, and Caesar Salad

The sourdough bread homemade by Steph!

Dessert: Peppermint Ice Cream with Ghirardelli Chocolate Ganache

I did manage to get a couple of crabs at Fisherman’s wharf in the morning to make some fresh crab cakes and add some crab legs to the Cioppino. They turned out really great, I must say!

Crab Cakes

*Apapted from Paula Dean’s Crab Cake Recipe

  • 1 pound crabmeat, picked free of shells
  • ½ cup Panko, separated
  • 3 green onions (green and white parts), finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped bell pepper
  • 1/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 teaspoon dry mustard
  • 1/2 lemon, juiced
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Dash cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 cup peanut oil

Set aside ¼ cup of panko and the peanut oil for later. Mix all of the ingredients together in a bowl and form into round patties. Roll the patties in the extra panko right before you are going to fry them.

Put the peanut oil (a little bit for each time) in your pan and fry the crab cakes for about 4-5 minutes on each side.

Serve with lemon aioli dipping sauce (or your fave sauce).

Lemon Aioli Dipping Sauce

  • ¼ cup mayonaisse
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • ½ teaspoon lemon zest
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 clove garlic, minced

Put all the ingredients in a bowl and mix together! Easy as that.

I’ve never even had Cioppino before, but I recently found out that people consider this to be a “San Francisco food.” I’ve seen my dad order it at restaurants and it always looks delish, so why not try it? I found a recipe from Giada, my mom’s favorite Food Network star (and my dad’s too but not for how she cooks!) and I tweaked it a little bit to my liking and what I had in my pantry.


  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large fennel bulb, chopped
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 3 large shallots, chopped
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 4 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper flakes, plus more to taste
  • 1 can tomato paste
  • 1 (32-ounce) can diced tomatoes in juice
  • 1/2 cup red wine
  • 4 cups chicken or fish stock
  • 1 cup clam juice
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 pound manila clams, scrubbed
  • 1 pound mussels, scrubbed, debearded
  • 1 pound uncooked large or medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 1 pound Dungeness crab, leaving 2 legs for each bowl and rest of the crab meat for the soup
  • 1 package linguine

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the fennel, onions, shallots, salt, and pepper and sauté until the onions are translucent. Add the garlic and sauté for another 2 minutes. Now add in the tomato paste, the diced tomatoes, wine, stock, clam juice, bay leaf, and red pepper flakes.  Let it simmer covered on medium for about a half hour so the flavors merry.

Put the clams and mussels in the pot and let simmer for about 5 minutes. Then add the uncooked shrimp and crab meat and cook until the shrimp turn white and pink, about another 5 minutes. Most of the clams and mussels should be open at this point, if not, cook for a little while longer. Take out the bay leaf and add more salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes to taste.

I know linguine is not usual for Cioppino, but I decided to swap out the halibut chunks for the pasta. I made the linguine on the side and added it in after so people could have the option, but you could also put it in at the same time as the clams and mussels and it will cook all the same.

Last but not least, we had a nice holiday dessert- peppermint ice cream with Ghirardelli Chocolate ganache. Recipe to come later this week.

The boys were stuffed after dinner and sitting back and relaxin’.

Oh brother, they are teaching him the Al Bundy at a young age.

A great dinner party and great company. And a great way to start off the Christmas season that is upon us!

Thank you Foodbuzz for letting me be part of the 24×24 program! If you want to see what it’s all about, check it out here.


Lovely comments

  1. L. Ball says

    Wow! You are a fabulous cook. Every dish looked perfect. You outdid yourself —it’s very obvious by the smiles on everyone’s faces.

  2. Allie says

    Looks like Christmas in the City went off without a hitch! The food and decor looked perfect. Your mom would be so proud.

  3. AMA says

    WOW you did the feast with style, panache and elegance. Just the way your Mom would have liked. Christmas Eve at your house???

  4. Dad says

    Great post Thanksgiving extravanganza! I really liked the extra kick in the Cioppino….Mick is cooking his Cioppino next week……we’ll see if he can compare with Chef Caitlin! Thanks for a great night! Love, Dad

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