Tips for a warm winter holiday meal

In the winter kitchen, we mash root vegetables into soothing purees and braise tough cuts of beef until they are meltingly tender.

In the Bay Area, we also crack open the local crop of Dungeness crab, whose tough, outer carapace belies a surfeit of sweet, delicate meat within.

Such are the comforts of cooking at the holidays, when a little culinary magic can transform humble ingredients into a luxurious feast to ease the transition into the cold, dark depths of winter.

At J Vineyards & Winery in Healdsburg, chef Erik Johnson is offering a new series of classes and dinners this holiday season highlighted by the local and seasonal ingredients of Wine Country.

"The holidays are a joyous time of year," he said. "But they can be a little intimidating."

After kicking off with a Thanksgiving primer class, Johnson guided students through a Winter Holiday Meal featuring Warm Crab Salad with Pomegranate Beurre Blanc, Braised Short Ribs with Potato Puree, and a Persimmon and Chocolate Bread Pudding with Bourbon Whipped Cream.

"It's a rich meal," Johnson said. "But it's all in season and festive. It's for that one day of the year when you really want to indulge."

Johnson, who spent four years at Charlie Palmer's Dry Creek Kitchen before moving to J Vineyards & Winery earlier this year, sources all of his produce from Healdsburg farms, including Mix Garden, Preston Vineyards and Bernier Farms.

"I'm hyper-seasonal," he said. "I try to leave each ingredient as it is, and then play around with the garnishes."

In addition to teaching classes, Johnson is in charge of the food-and-wine pairings in the Bubble Room, where he showcases the high-end pinots and sparkling wines produced by the Russian River Valley winery.

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