Monday, June 30, 2008

Attack Of The Killer Tomatoes and This Sequel Doesn't Star George Clooney*

You know what really cracks my claws? Lousy customer service, that's what. When you're out buying a product all the salespeople can talk about is how good their item is. If you ask about problems or issues, they act appalled, as though you somehow insulted their mother. I can't begin to count the number of times I've been told about the "Lifetime Warranty" or 24/7 Help Lines.

Of course, sooner or later, something does go wrong. Whether it's a car or a computer or a tomato tree stand. Suddenly your best friend, the salesman, he doesn't remember you. If you have a problem, well call the 800 number.

These days when you call the 800 number, you have to live through a twenty minute recitation of your push button options. "Listen carefully as our phone options have changed". Ha! The phone options never change! It's always, "press 1 for sales, press 2 to tell us how great we are, press 3 to buy a 1000 more and all other inquiries press 8 to be dumped to a call center in West Youdoofustan, where one of our English-as-a-never-had-language operators are standing by to help you. You are number 487 in queue".

WOW! Crabby's hot!

Youbetcha. As we all know Crabby has received mail warning him about the imminent collapse of his Tomato Tree Stand. Well on June 16th, the date of my last update, Crabby got a second letter informing him that the Tree Stands were now on full recall. Please disassemble the stand, cut out a 4"x4" portion of the Gro-bag, package it all up and ship it back for a full refund.


What about my tomatoes? Just what am I supposed to do about them?

So Crabby called the 865 number (no toll free number for Felknor Ventures LLC - you buy our defective product, you pay for your own phone calls). Guess what happened? After listening to the phone options, because they've changed you know, nobody answered the phone! I called the next day, wanna guess again? You're right, no answer. Wow!!! what great product support. Or do I mean to say, What great customer support?

Crabby then took another approach, contacting frank@felknorventures who was to be of further assistance. Now Frank got back to me in a day apologizing profusely for people not answering the phone. Frank even offered to refund me the cost of my tomato seedlings. In my email back to Frank I pointed out the $15 for tomato seedlings in the middle of June didn't solve the impending problem of no fresh tomatoes come August.

I told Frank that I was going to risk grave bodily harm and keep the Stand hoping it would survive this growing season. I also asked him if I could return the stand at the end of the summer and get my replacement then. Guess what? Eleven days and no answer from Frank.

Now maybe Frank is the President of Felknor and is just too busy to get back to me. Maybe Frank is just some drone in sector 7G who's had all the complainers dumped in his lap. Regardless, it would be nice to get an answer.

At any rate, the tomatoes seem to be growing just fine. The Better Boys are far ahead of the Brandywines. I'm hoping to make it to September, wish me luck.

Now if I could just get rid of this recurring nightmare: an old lady, pinned by her Tomato Tree Stand, unable to reach her Lifeline, her Tree Stands' fallen and she can't get up. The horror, the horror.

* George Clooney's first movie credit was for his appearance in Return of The Killer Tomatoes

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Tastespotting's Back!!!

Just a quick note to tell everyone that has returned under new ownership. Apparently stories about copyright issues, stalkers and alien abduction were greatly exaggerated.

For those of you who don't know, Tastespotting is a clearinghouse for recipes and food photography. Food bloggers submit their posts, those meeting the recipe and photo standards are published on the front page of the site. It's a great place to find cooking inspiration.

Of equally good news for foodies, (God, I hate that word), has been the proliferation of copycat sites in Tastespotting's absence. Hopefully they can all coexist. Here's a list of the blog/food photo submission sites that I'm aware of, if you know of any others, please leave a note in the comment section. In no particular order:

Additionally, a small, up and coming site I like is All these sites have been added to my link list. Enjoy.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Macadamia Nut Grilled Chicken Breasts with Apricot Mustard Cream, Sounds Like a Mus'Go Night To Me!

Let's get something straight. I hate leftovers. I can't stand them. The very word tells you everything you need to know about the upcoming meal. "Leftovers". Obviously I either made too much the first time or people didn't like it, so I was stuck with a plate of shame.

Some of you are saying, but Crabby there are so many things that are even tastier the next day. No, you're wrong. Nothing tastes better the next day. It gets cold. It dries out on the edges. It congeals. Not a one of these things is good for food.

Over the years I've gotten better at estimating the amount I need to prepare. I also have the fall back of teenage sons. Anyone with teenage boys will tell you that there isn't enough food in the world to satisfy their hunger. They'll eat anything - leftovers, cookies, fruit, ice cream, small woodland creatures, anything that makes the mistake of slowing down near their all consuming jowls.

About the only exception I make to my leftover regime is in sauces and marinades. I make a large batch of any new sauce just so I can try it on different things, meats, fish, vegetables, etc. The problem is that eventually my refrigerator fills up with all sorts of small jars and containers. So I've adopted a dining tradition from SSSal's family. The Mus'Go Night.

Mus'Go night is when you stand in front of a full refrigerator and realize there's nothing to eat. It's so full you can't reasonably put any more food in without risking structural damage to the kitchen floor. Mus'Go night is when you reach around and start pulling out things saying, "This must go, that must go", until you finally have enough for a meal.

For this meal to work you have to be utterly fearless in combining ingredients. The meal isn't always the greatest, but at least the fridge is emptier. Once in a while though, I stumble onto a pleasant surprise. So, for the first time ever on this blog, a Crabby Mus'Go recipe.

Macadamia Nut Grilled Chicken Breasts with Apricot Mustard Cream Glaze
a Crabby Mus'Go Production.

4 Boneless Chicken Breasts (skin-on if you can find them)
3/4 cup Mustard Cream (recipe to follow)
1/2 cup apricot nectar
3/4 cup macadamia nuts, finely chopped.

Combine the mustard cream and apricot nectar in a medium bowl.

Place the chicken breasts along with the mustard cream mixture into a large resealable plastic bag. Seal the bag, refrigerate and allow to marinate as long as possible, (up to 24 hours).

Pre-heat your grill over medium-high heat.

When heated, turn the grill down to medium. Remove the chicken from the marinade and grill, turning once, approximately 10 minutes per side. Note: if you are using boneless, skinless breasts the cooking time will be shorter. If you are using bone-in chicken breasts the cooking time will be longer.

Remove the chicken from the grill and allow to rest, covered, for 10 minutes.

After resting roll the breasts in the macadamia nuts and serve.

Mustard Cream
by Eve Aronoff, Eve Restaurant, Ann Arbor, Michigan.

1 Cup Creme Fraiche (or 1/2 cup sour cream + 1/2 cup whipping cream, well blended)
2 1/2 TBSP Honeycup mustard
2 TBSP Whole Grain Mustard
1/2 tsp Kosher Salt
1/4 cup heavy cream

Combine all ingredients

See, simple as can be. I realize that this has the potential for chicken leftovers and only succeeds in getting rid of mustard cream, apricot nectar and some macadamia nuts, but it does make for a very flavorful meal with an amazingly small amount of work.

Enjoy. Next time, the lastest chapter in the Tomato Tree saga. You won't want to miss that one. Until then, remember, you can do it, you can cook.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Ile Flottante or We'll Always Have Paris

Have you ever watched Emeril Lagasse on TV? Oh the "BAM!" business is truly annoying, but watch how he adds spices and garlic. If the crowd goes crazy for more garlic he just "BAMs" some more in there. It's all about the show.

It doesn't work that way for desserts.
Desserts are the "hospital corners" of cooking. There is comparatively little room for spontaneity when it comes to dessert recipes. There are repercussions from using baking soda instead of baking powder; you can't just wing it with a cup of heavy cream more or less.

Everyday cooking is theater. It's the scallopine hitting the saute pan with a burst of flame. It's the explosion of bubbles and steam as you add wine to deglaze a pan. Cooking is for showmen, desserts are for surgeons. It's why I cook dinner and SSSal makes the desserts. I just don't have the patience or precision for dessert making. She does.

After senior year in high school SSSal spent the summer living in Paris. She learned to appreciate the French culture and food. So here's a simplified (no, really) version of a dessert that she's always wanted to try. I wouldn't call it easy, but for you precise types out there it should right up your alley (or is that "place"?).

Ile Flottante, Floating Islands with Lemon-Scented Custard Sauce and Raspberries
from Bon Appetit, April 2008, Jeanne Thiel Kelley

1 cup whipping cream
1/2 cup whole milk
6 large egg yolks
1/3 cup sugar
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons finely grated lemon peel

Meringue islands:
1/2 cup egg whites (about 4 large)
Pinch of salt
2/3 cup sugar
6 paper-thin lemon slices
2 6-ounce containers fresh raspberries

For sauce:

Bring cream and milk to simmer in heavy medium saucepan. Using whisk, beat egg yolks and sugar in medium bowl until light, about 2 minutes.

Gradually whisk hot cream mixture into yolks.

Return mixture to saucepan and stir over medium-low heat until custard thickens and leaves path on back of spoon when finger is drawn across, about 3 minutes (do not boil).

Pour custard into bowl. Stir in lemon juice and peel.

Cool slightly, then chill uncovered until cold. do ahead Sauce can be made 2 days ahead.

Cover and keep refrigerated.

For meringue islands:
Preheat oven to 350°F.

Generously butter six 3/4-cup soufflé dishes and dust with sugar. Place on baking sheet.

Using electric mixer, beat egg whites with pinch of salt in large bowl until soft peaks form.

Gradually beat in sugar.

Continue beating until stiff and glossy.

Divide meringue among prepared soufflé dishes, mounding slightly.

Bake until meringues puff and begin to brown lightly on top and tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 15 minutes.

Cool to room temperature, at least 20 minutes and up to 3 hours (meringues will deflate).

Divide custard sauce among 6 shallow soup bowls. Carefully run small sharp knife around edge of meringues to loosen, if necessary.

Invert meringues, then turn top side up and place on sauce. Garnish with lemon slices and sprinkle with raspberries.

The result is this eggy, marshmellowy meringue sitting atop the best vanilla pudding you've ever had. A word of warning, like the recipe says, the meringues do deflate so don't be upset. Also a touch of fresh mint wouldn't hurt the look or taste of this dish.

OK crablings, This one was a little tough but I think you'll find the result worth it. See you next time, remember, you can do it, you can cook.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Mushrooms Two Ways or The Tyranny of the Appetizer

It seems whenever we host a group dinner party or are invited to one, the course that everyone avoids bringing is the appetizer.

"How much should I bring? Oh just some quick bites for beforehand."

"What do people like? You know people like whatever you make."

"How about soup? Oh no, that's just a mess in the car."

"Salad? That's so boring."

"What about crostini? They'll just get soggy by the time we get there."

"Crudite? Cold vegetables and ranch dressing? Please."

The truth is that some of the most intricate cooking I do is for appetizers. They're virtually mini meals. One bite wonders that you just happened to whip up at home. With our cooking group I make it clear I'm happy to make the app but I may be over your house a few hours early and I'll probably need a part of the stove or the broiler.

Well here's two mushroom appetizer recipes, one can be done completely in advance and the other just need minimal work on site. Good luck and keep fighting the good food fight.

Mushroom Ceviche
from The New York Times, Country Weekend Cookbook

1 pound, small white button mushrooms
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 cups fresh lemon juice
2 cloves garlic, peeled & crushed
1/2 inch piece fresh ginger, minced
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded & finely chopped
Coarse Salt
1/4 cup finely chopped scallions
2 TBSP chopped fresh dill
1/4 finely minced red bell pepper

Place cleaned mushrooms in a bowl and toss with olive oil. In another bowl, combine the lemon juice, garlic, ginger, jalapeno and salt to taste. Mix well. Add the mushrooms and marinate for 30 minutes at room temperature.
After 30 minutes add the scallions and dill; marinate for an additional 30 minutes at room temperature. Check the seasoning, sprinkle with minced red pepper and serve.

Easy, 15 minutes of actual work and 1 hour of passive marinating time. The only problem is that if the mushrooms sit in the marinating liquid too long they'll become rubbery mouth puckering blobs. This is a good recipe, but it can't be made the night before. If you aren't going to eat this appetizer within 3 hours then I strongly urge you to drain off the excess liquid.

Crabby's Stuffed Mushrooms
adapted by Crabby from every stuffed mushroom recipe you've ever had.

1 pound large "gourmet" stuffing mushrooms, stems removed and saved
1 TBSP Butter
1/4 pound chorizo sausage, removed from casing and crumbled
1 shallot minced
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and finely chopped
1/4 cup Marsala wine
1 cup Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
1 cup Bread crumbs

Clean the mushrooms, removing and finely chopping the stems.

Melt the butter in a large saute pan over medium-high heat. Add the mushroom caps and leave undisturbed for 4 minutes. Turn the mushroom caps over so that the open hole faces downward and saute an additional 4 minutes. Transfer the caps, hole side down, to a plate covered with paper towels. This will allow any excess water to drain from the caps.

Reheat the saute pan over medium-high heat. When hot add the crumbled chorizo, breaking apart any large clumps. Saute for 2 minutes then add the minced shallot and jalapeno. Saute an additional 2 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the chopped mushroom stems and saute until the mushrooms have given up most of their water, approximately 3 - 5 minutes. Add the Marsala and scrape up any browned bits attached to the bottom of the pan, allow liquid to completely evaporate.

Transfer mixture to a large bowl and add 1/2 of the Parmesan cheese, retaining the other half for garnish. Add bread crumbs and combine the mixture, stirring well. Allow mixture to cool slightly.

When cool, spoon a generous amount of the stuffing into each mushroom cap.

(The remainder of this recipe should be done at the final destination.)

Preheat a broiler. Top each mushroom with some of the remaining Parmesan. Place under a broiler to melt the cheese, depending on the strength on the broiler, this should take anywhere from 3 -10 minutes.

When the cheese has melted, serve.

This is a more involved recipe than the ceviche, but it's always been well received. One warning, this dish is very sensitive to the amount of liquid given off by the mushrooms so don't be afraid to use additional bread crumbs, you want a moist but not gluey consistency to the stuffing. Consider using Manchego cheese for a more Spanish/Mexican feel. Also, have some Tabasco on the side for those that like their appetizers a bit spicier.

That's it for now, until next time remember, you can do it, you can cook.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Pressed Sandwiches Are Like Ogres, They Have Layers.

When I first started this blog about the only people who visited were friends and family. Now, with an archive of posts building up, Crabby's appearance on some food forums, and the occasional spotlight on a food photo site, I've built up a small following.

That doesn't mean I've forgotten my roots. Back in the beginning, one of the requested recipes was for "The Sandwich". Years ago I saw this on some cooking show (Martha Stewart I think). It struck me as the perfect picnic, boating, big crowd sort of meal. For CrabCakes 1 & 2 the appearance of this sandwich is a signal that either summer's here or there's going to be a party.

In truth this is not so much a recipe as it is a technique. The closest "named" sandwich I can find is a Muffaletta, and there are enough differences that it's not a fair comparison. You can be as creative or meek as you like. In truth, because this sandwich stews overnight, you're actually better off being really daring. The only catch is that it has to be made a day ahead and then "pressed" overnight in the refrigerator. But then the next day all you have to do is pack up and hit the road.

So here goes, let's call this...

Crabby's "Shrek" Sandwich, Because Ogres Aren't The Only Ones With Layers
by CrabbyCook

This recipe makes enough for two sandwiches.

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt & Pepper to taste

2 Loaves of crusty, soft-centered bread. Crusty is important. A bakery loaf of Italian Bread works well, though I've done it with Ciabatta, Country Wheat, and a French Round.
1/2 pound Sliced Ham
1/2 pound Sliced Turkey
1/2 pound Sliced Corned Beef from the Brisket
1/2 pound Sliced Pastrami
8 slices of Provolone Cheese
8 slices Muenster Cheese
1 (12 oz.) jar of roasted red peppers
2 TBSP Hot Pepper Relish

Plastic Wrap

In a medium bowl combine the balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste, roughly 2 teaspoons pepper (alot on purpose) and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. The point here is to make a balsamic vinaigrette.

Now, take your two loaves of bread and slice them in half horizontally. That's right horizontally. We are going to make one huge sandwich out of a single loaf of bread. Separate the two halves, then very carefully, remove the soft inner portion of the loaf. You are trying to create a hollow into which we will stuff the meats, cheeses and condiments. The key here is to leave some of the soft inner part. If you go all the way to the crust the vinaigrette won't get absorbed.

Step 1. Spread a quarter of the vinaigrette onto each of the four bread halves that you have created. Next, layer some cheese, in this case 4 slices of Provolone, onto the bread.

Now place a layer of each type of meat on top of the cheese. You are half way done. At this point you should have half of your meats and cheeses remaining.

At the middle level, put on a layer of roasted red peppers and some of the hot pepper relish. If there is a drizzle of vinaigrette left, add it here. Now recreate the layering that you did the first time, finishing with a final layer of cheese (If I started with Provolone then I like to mix it up and finish with the Muenster).

Put the top of the bread loaf onto the sandwich and lightly press down.

Now the interesting part. Lay out sheets of plastic wrap approximately three feet long and six inches wider than the loaf of bread. Place the loaf at one end of the plastic wrap and while pressing firmly on the sandwich roll the loaf into the plastic wrap. The key here is to keep the pressure up and let the plastic wrap hold the sandwich tight.

If you've done this part correctly you should have a solid loaf of bread neatly wrapped in plastic.

Put the sandwich in the refrigerator and place a weight on top. A gallon of milk does a good job, though if you have a brick lying around that would work too. Leave it in the fridge overnight.

The point of this pressing is to meld the flavors and distribute the vinaigrette and brine from the peppers and relish throughout the sandwich.

The next day, remove from the refrigerator, slice and serve. Prepare yourself for the adulation.

You can try many different ingredients in this sandwich. The mixing of the flavors gets people to try things they wouldn't normally go for, for example: try slicing a round of Brie as one of the cheeses, use diced, pitted olives in a layer, use artichoke hearts as the a layer, and fresh mozzarella always works (it really absorbs the flavors of the sauce).

The oily vinegary layers are key to the success of this sandwich. It's OK to add mustard, but what will keep your guests raving is the virtual salad dressing that is formed by pressing all these flavors together.

There it is, "The Sandwich". Easy, no cooking, but some assembly required. Try one for your next outing, you will not be sorry.

Until next time, you can do it, you can cook.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

So Long Tastespotting, Hello Foodgawker.

Some of you found CrabbyCook through the wonderful food site, Last Friday the 13th the site abruptly shut down citing ongoing legal issues. This move left a void amongst foodies who had come to know and love Tastespotting, not only for the visibility it gave individual bloggers, but also for the great recipes and photos we'd come to enjoy.

Food boards have been furiously dissecting the demise and bemoaning the loss. A few tech types have tried to step in, as of this moment the closest recreation is The layout and approach are virtually identical to Tastespotting. The site is going through some birthing pains, but I'd urge you all to support this effort.

Hopefully Tastespotting will be able to resolve whatever legal issues shut it down. Until then consider visiting for additional cooking inspiration.

I'll be posting in the next few days.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Rotisserie Pork Loin with Fire-Roasted Pineapple Salsa, Alooooohaaaaaa

I went to college in Pennsylvania. My roommate for three years was from Hawaii. There was a marked difference between the "CARE" packages we got from home. My mother's shipments revolved around chocolate chip cookies. My roommate, born in Hawaii to Japanese parents, would get far more exotic things.

It wasn't unusual to find him munching on dried seaweed skins or all sorts of bizarre candies, from sickly sour suckers to shrimp flavored gum. Yeah, that's right, shrimp flavored gum. Who thought that was a good idea?

About the only treats I'd even think about eating were the Macadamia Nuts and the Hawaiian Sweet Bread. A loaf of bread, made sweet, I think, by various island fruit juices. Today it's probably sweetened with corn syrup, but back then it felt exotic. It also made a heck of a French Toast.

Today's recipe is a tribute to the Islands. Besides eating seaweed strips, shrimp gum and sweet bread, my roommate always talked about slow-roasted pork with pineapple. Of course he meant the whole pig, placed on hot coals and buried underground. Nothing so labor intensive or dramatic as that here.

This recipe employs a rotisserie. No rotisserie!?, then simply grill the pork for about 40 minutes, turning once. It's done when the internal temp, measured with an instant read thermometer, reads 150 degrees (the pork will be slightly pink, but will finish cooking during the resting phase).

Rotisserie Pork Loin with Fire-Roasted Pineapple Salsa
adapted by Crabby from

1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 tablespoon mild or hot chili powder
1/2 cup orange juice

3 tablespoon fresh lime juice

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 boneless Pork Loin, approximately 2 pounds

1 small golden pineapple (about 1 1/2 pound), diced into 1-inch cubes

1/2 cup pineapple (or orange) juice

1 large red bell pepper, cored, seeded and thinly sliced
1/4 small red onion, finely chopped

1/4 cup chopped fresh basil

Mix tomato paste with chili powder. Combine with orange juice, lime juice and oil in a double resealable bag. Add pork loin and marinate at least 3 hours, preferably overnight.

Heat a large pan over high heat to the smoking point, 3 to 4 minutes. Brown pineapple 4 to 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add pineapple juice and stir 1 minute, scraping up brown bits from pan. Remove pineapple from heat.

Combine pineapple in a bowl with pepper, onion and basil.

Pre-heat rotisserie burner or grill pan over high.

Remove pork from marinade and skewer on rotisserie, (Discard excess marinade). Mount spit onto grill and start mechanism.

Reduce heat to medium; cook, until pork is no longer pink and internal temperature is 150°F, this can take up to 1 hour depending on typical grill variables (heat of your burners, ambient temperature, etc).

When finished remove pork from spit, cover lightly with foil and let rest on cutting board.

Slice pork and spoon salsa over each serving.

There you go, easy as poi. Well, actually much easier than making poi, and tastier. Until next time, Aloha and Mahalo.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Cool Peanut Soba Noodles

There's something about the spring and summer that inspires me to try different things food-wise. Maybe it's the longer days or the warmer weather, but I start to think in more exotic terms.

In the fall and winter it's all meatloaf and pot roast. In the summer, it's "the islands" and far away places. For some reason, taking chances on new recipes and ingredients just feels right. It must be the safety valve effect; that feeling of "what the heck, if it doesn't work out I can always cook burgers". The downside just doesn't seem so far down.

Noodles. So today, in a recipe that my Asian food fans will find none to exotic, I introduce SobaSoba is made from Buckwheat. Buckwheat is a plant (not a grain), whose seeds, husks intact, are typically milled into a dark brown-gray flour. The result is high in both fiber and protein. The flour is then turned into noodles. An interesting and completely worthless side note, buckwheat is vaguely related to rhubarb and sorrel (don't you just love that there Internet?).

Cool Soba Peanut Noodles
adapted by Crabby, from various Internet sources

4 TBSP Peanut Butter
3 TBSP Honey
4 TBSP Water
2 TBSP Soy
2 Cloves Garlic, minced
1 Tbsp Rice Vinegar
1 Tbsp Sesame Oil
Crushed Red Pepper Flakes, to taste

8 oz. cooked soba noodles (from buckwheat)
3/4 cup julienned carrots
2 green onions, sliced
1 red or orange bell pepper, cut into strips
Sesame Seeds for garnish (optional)

Cook the soba noodles according to package directions. Run under cold water and then allow to drain fully.

While soba are cooking, combine all sauce ingredients in a large bowl.

Toss soba and vegetables with sauce, mix well, ensuring the noodles are evenly covered in sauce.

Cover and allow to rest at least 30 minutes before serving.

You're done. These noodles, when chilled, tend to get dry and "gloppy" (a technical cooking term), so if you like your noodle salads soupier, make additional sauce. If the noodles have been sitting in the 'fridge for a day, microwave them for 30 seconds and then add a mixture of 1 TBSP each of soy, rice vinegar and water. It won't restore the salad to its original slickness, but it will help loosen things.

OK, I'm out of here. Next time I'll probably grill some sort of animal. Until then, just remember, you can do it, you can cook.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Tomato Tree Day 15

Time for a two week update on the Tomato Tree. Everything has been going fine, with one notable exception. One month after I received the Tomato Tree and two weeks after I had planted it, I got a letter informing me of a safety issue with the Tomato Tree Stand. It appears that the legs of the stand have a stability issue. If the stand is moved, the legs may fall out of place causing the entire tree to come crashing down. Lovely!

Included with the letter were instructions on how to retrofit the stand to make it stable. What wasn't explained was how to remove the legs of the stand while it supports 6 plants and 15 - 20 pounds of water soaked potting soil. Since I can't figure out how to retrofit the stand without a 3 person crew and a small hoist, I've taken to surrounding the base with heavy potted plants.

Adding to the adventure(danger) is the fact that we've been going through some extremely fierce (read windy) weather here in the upper Midwest. So you will notice that I have also attached a couple of bungee cords to the top of the stand in order to hopefully keep it upright.

The plants themselves are growing at a spectacular rate. None of the six plants have died, so I'm trying to decide if I need to cull the herd in order to ensure maximum yield. Any ideas?

Here are a couple of photos. If your local paper runs a story with the headline, "Local Man Killed by Falling Tomato Plants, Embarrasses Family", you'll know they're talking about Crabby.

This is the first time I've had to wear a helmet to garden.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Butter Fried Cod with Agrio-Dulce or "The Terroir of Food"

Terroir, loosely translated, "a sense of place".

I believe with food there is a "taste of place". Maybe it's tied to a specific location, maybe it's tied to a time of year or time of day. Is there anyplace better than a ball park to have a hot dog? When does a gin and tonic taste better than on a summer's day watching a setting sun?

One of my favorite white wines is Viognier, but only at the winery. At the winery it's lush, full of ripe fruit with a nose of wildflowers. Put it on a truck, transport it cross-country and it turns dull, with an almost metallic flavor.

Years ago, while vacationing in Maine with friends, SSSal and I bought lobsters from an oceanside pound. It was little more than a small barn with a pump keeping a constant flow of seawater turning over in tanks filled with hundreds of lobsters. That night we boiled them over an open flame under starlight. Boiled lobster, red potatoes and Carling Black Label Beer, no lobster since has come close to tasting better.

One of the reasons I cook is to try and recapture those moments of taste, to recreate the "terroir" of the food. Another reason is I try to "travel" around the world using my dining room table; I try and guess what the "terroir" would be like someplace I've never been.

Which brings me to today's recipe. I've never been to the Algarve or coastal Spain; I imagine both places to have food centered around seafood with peppers, onions and tomatoes playing a large role. This is a recipe from a cohort ("cohortress"?, it's the internet, I can make up words if I want), Kitchen Goddess. It combines all the ingredients I would expect to find on a visit to Portugal. I did brown the fish (my mistake) and added some crushed tomatoes to my sauce, but the result is still a fresh, subtly flavored meal that I would recommend to anyone. Now if could only get a decent bottle of Viognier....

Butter Fried Cod with Agrio-Dulce
by Kitchen Goddess

Agrio-Dulce Peppers

1/4 cup olive oil
2 onions, peeled and finely sliced
3 large red peppers, sliced
4 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
2 bay leaves
1 sprig fresh thyme
1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika
1/2 tsp. sugar
2 TBSP water
1 small can (14 oz.) crushed tomatoes (this is a Crabby addition)

4 TBSP Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 TBSP Sherry Vinegar
Salt & Pepper to taste

2 TBSP Chopped Basil

Heat 1/4 cup olive oil in a medium pan (using medium heat), when hot add the chopped onions, fry gently for 25 - 30 minutes. Stir occasionally until softened but not colored.

After 30 minutes add peppers, garlic, bay leaves, thyme, paprika, sugar, wand water and cook for an additional 15 - 20 minutes, until the peppers soften and the onions begin to caramelize. During the last 10 minutes add the can of crushed tomatoes. (Crabby Note: I added the crushed tomatoes because my reduction was not generating the same amount of broth pictured in Kitchen Goddess' version. I also liked the idea of an added tomato flavor).

While the peppers are cooking, whisk together the extra virgin oil and sherry vinegar. Season with salt and pepper. When the peppers are finished add to the pan and toss to distribute.

Butter Fried Cod
by Kitchen Goddess

4 Cod Fillets, skin on
1 TBSP Olive Oil
2 TBSP Butter

Over medium heat, heat oil in a frying pan large enough to hold the fish fillets without crowding.

Add the butter to the hot oil and allow it to brown slightly.

Add the fish, skin side down and cook for 3 - 5 minutes.

Turn the fish and cook for an additional 3 - 5 minutes, cook gently to avoid coloring the fish.

Serve peppers and broth in a bowl. Place Butter Fried Cod atop the peppers and then garnish with chopped basil.

That's it. Simple, delicate. Serve with a nice Spanish White, say a 2005 Esperanza Rueda Verdejo ($12), (unless of course you can get your hands on some good Viognier).

Until next time, remember, you can do it, you can cook. Adio. Adeus. Ate logo. Tchau.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Chimichurri or "Sauce for the goose, Mr. Saavik." *

I've been writing this blog for nearly 4 months, during that time I've learned a few things. Probably the most interesting thing is that, based on the numbers and time of day visits come in, there is a good chance you're reading this at work.

How do I know this? Well there is a definite pattern to your visits. There is always a surge of visits during the first 24 hours after a post, (thank you to all of you who have subscribed to the RSS feed). Thereafter I see a drop of 50% from the previous days' visits. Well you say, that still doesn't explain how I know you're at work!

Here's the thing, on weekends visits disappear. I can post on a Saturday morning and it'll be Monday before the hits match a typical mid-week post. So, given that most hits come in during working hours mid-week, I can only assume that you're at your desk, skimming Crabby. I'm actively contributing to the degradation of the productivity of the workforce! I couldn't be more proud! So please, keep reading, print off the recipes so you can stop at the market on your way home, and keep sticking it to the man!

Another thing I've learned is that Crab Nation loves sauces. The Red Pepper & Toasted Sesame Sauce recipe far and away evinced the greatest reader input. The discussion surrounding the Grilled Sweet & Spicy Shrimp was a close second. This confirms something I've always suspected, it's always about the sauce. We care less about the thing being cooked and more about what gets put on it to affect the flavor. Covered in the right sauce, we'd all happily eat an SUV!

So, in the spirit of responding to my readers, in the hope of keeping you all a little sauced, here's a recipe for a Chimichurri Sauce. Chimichurri is said to be of Argentinian origin, which would explain why it goes so well with beef, but it's a great accompaniment for virtually any grilled meat, whether beef, chicken, pork, lamb or fish (though I'd stay away from salmon). So fire up the grill and add a little South America to your life.

Crabby's Chimichurri Sauce

8 garlic cloves, minced
1 jalapeno, seeded, de-veined and minced
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
1 bunch fresh flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
1/4 cup fresh oregano, finely chopped
2 limes, juiced
1 1/2 cups, olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon crushed black peppercorns

Combine the garlic, jalapeno and red wine vinegar in a medium size bowl.

Stir in the parsley, oregano and lime juice, (for a more Mexican flavor, consider using cilantro instead of oregano).

Gradually whisk in the olive oil. Lightly salt and pepper the chimichurri.

Set aside at room temperature for 1 hour, allowing the flavors to intermingle, before serving check to see if more salt or pepper is needed.

That's it. Easy!! Chimichurri is the "little black dress" of sauces, it spices up an event and goes with just about everything. Speaking of spicy, consider adding another jalapeno (or leave the seeds and veins in) if you're looking for more heat. If you're serving lamb, try adding mint instead of oregano. It's really hard to screw up this sauce, so have some fun.

I'll be back soon, until then, remember, you can do it, you can cook!

Oh, yeah...

* Crabby Quiz: The title of this post includes a movie quote: name the movie, the character saying it, and the actor portraying that character. Bonus Question: Who played Mr. Saavik?

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Orzo Salad with Peas, Red Onion, Basil and Mint

I was going to title today's post, "Bring Along Summer Salad, Take 2", but I was worried that you'd think I was suggesting making two bring-alongs.

The other idea I had was, "Orzo Salad - Death to Gluey Pasta!" But that sounded like it would make a better movie than blog post. You know the story, devilishly handsome super spy/chef, King Crab, battles evil kingpin Starch McGluten, all the while seducing beautiful temptress, Giada Delawantsit. I'm thinking Clooney for the King Crab role and maybe Angelina Jolie as Giada, or for that matter Giada as Giada. It'd make billions.

In the end I went with the basics. I love pasta salads, I hate how they get all gluey. How many times have you gone to spoon out some salad only to get one large clump? Or worse yet, you start to scoop and realize you need a ladle because it's swimming in "dressing"!?

Well here's a recipe from my future wife, Giada Delaurentiis, that isn't gluey or soupy. I've made one major change. I've substituted peas for garbanzo beans because I detest garbanzo beans. Hey, write your own blog if you love them so much!

Orzo with Peas, Red Onion, Basil & Mint
adapted from Giada's Family Dinners by Giada De Laurentiis

4 Cups Reduced Sodium Chicken Broth or Water
1 1/2 Cups Orzo (a rice shaped pasta)
1 Cup Thawed Frozen Peas (or (1) 15 oz can garbanzo beans, drained)
1 1/2 Cups Red and/or Yellow teardrop or grape tomatoes
3/4 Cup Finely Chopped Red Onion
1/2 Cup Chopped Fresh Basil
1/4 Cup Chopped Fresh Mint
3/4 Cup Red Wine Vinaigrette (see below)
Salt & Pepper to Taste

Bring the broth to a boil and add the orzo. Cook for approximately 7 minutes, stirring frequently, until the orzo is tender but still firm (start checking after 5 minutes). Drain the orzo and transfer to a large bowl, tossing and stirring the orzo to help it cool quickly. Set aside to cool completely, (but do not refrigerate).

Mix the remaining dry ingredients with the cooled orzo. Add enough vinaigrette to evenly coat the salad, you may not need the entire 3/4 cup. Season the salad with salt and pepper and serve at room temperature.

Red Wine Vinaigrette

from Giada's Family Dinners by Giada De Laurentiis
Makes approx 1 3/4 cups

1/2 Cup Red Wine Vinegar
1/4 Cup Lemon Juice
2 Teaspoons Honey
2 Teaspoons Salt
3/4 Teaspoon Freshly Ground Pepper
1 Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Mix the vinegar, lemon juice, honey, salt and pepper in a blender. With the machine running gradually add the oil. Taste the vinaigrette, if needed season with additional salt and pepper.

That's it. The only cooking involved is preparing the orzo. Sure there's some mixing of the vinaigrette but that's very easy. I've been known to add corn along with the peas and once added crumbled feta cheese (though I'd avoid that on a hot day if you're serving this outside).

Okay crablings, go forth and orzo, you can do it. You can cook!