Cook of the Week: Winfield mom follows Greek genes to feed people
Despite the fact that she is 100 percent Greek and an adventurous cook, you won't find Chris Crabtree setting flame to saganaki anytime soon.
"On my last big attempt, I totally burned my arm!" she laughs. Luckily, according to Chris, the popular cheese appetizer is just as good when it's not set on fire.
Chris was raised in a home where cooking was an enthusiastic pursuit of her Greek father and grandmother, but Chris didn't really start to enjoy cooking until she got married.
"Cooking was something my husband and I enjoyed doing together -- and still do, 26 years later!" The Crabtrees are often joined in the kitchen by their two teenage daughters.
"We made homemade pasta the other night," Chris said. "One (daughter) is very creative and one is very good at the prep work, like chopping." Her husband serves as "sous chef and cleaner-upper."
"I love going out to a restaurant and later trying to re-create something we had at home. We've made fondue, and even tried a Benihana-type meal. I love making something and then putting my twist on it."
Naturally, being Greek, Chris has a repertoire of Greek dishes she loves to make as well.
"I think my kids should have that heritage. My dad and grandma were great cooks."
Chris remembers spending time in her grandmother's two kitchens (one upstairs, one down).
"It was just like 'My Big Fat Greek Wedding;' have a simple dinner and 40 people would show up!" she laughs. "My grandmother lived to be 101 and one of my greatest joys is that for her last few years I cooked for her. I made all those things she used to cook for me."
Of course, learning to cook from Grandma meant learning by doing, not following written recipes. We are fortunate that she has written down the recipe for her Stuffed Peppers and Tomatoes and shares it with us today.
"People always ask me how I can make something if I don't have amounts written down. Well, it's by feel! It's very hard for me to follow a recipe. I like to experiment. It is a problem when I do my baking. It can be haphazardous when I'm in my zone -- there is flour everywhere!" Chris' husband often jokes that he has to vacuum the stove after she's done.
"I'm a baker only one time a year. I'm kind of known for it," she admits. At Christmas, Chris bakes more than 150 dozen cookies and cakes for friends, neighbors and colleagues.
"There was only one year in the past 26 years that I didn't bake -- the year I had my daughter in December and even then I had just bought all the baking supplies when I went into labor."
As a very busy volunteer (she is a PTA District president) Chris finds preparing fresh meals takes its own creative planning. Thus was born Panini Wednesdays. "It's just a way to make having a sandwich fun," she explains.
Another strategy is to make a double batch of whatever she is cooking and put half in the freezer. "It's so nice to be able to reach into the freezer and have a meal to thaw out."
Chris has also hosted Thanksgiving every year for the past 26 years.
"I always send everyone home with a complete dinner of leftovers. I just think that everyone should have leftovers at Thanksgiving! It's the Greek in me. We feed people. It's just our way!"