Thursday, December 6, 2012

Becky's Cooking Lessons: Garlic

Mostly I take it for granted that I know how to cook, but it wasn't always that way.  I started cooking when I was around 18 years old.  I have always been a picky eater, but I discovered that I am picky towards good food. In the majority of cases, I do not like the processed crap.  When I am able, I cook from whole ingredients.

I learned all the tricks that I know from reading recipes, watching cooking shows, and tons of trial and error.  Ask my husband, I am a great cook, but I have made some stinkers.  From this, I have learned the ways to make simple and delicious meals.

As they come to mind, I will share with you what I have learned.  I hope these lessons will make it easier for you to look like a fabulous cook without going to much trouble.


If you've ever tried, you'll know that peeling garlic is a difficult task.  The trick to easily removing the skin is to smash the clove first.  A lot of people recommend using a knife to do it, but I am always afraid of cutting my hand.  So I have a small rolling pin that I use just for garlic smashing.  Most of the time, I smush it too much and the clove splits, but since you're going to chop or mince the garlic anyway, who cares.

Instead of mincing garlic, all the cool kids use a wood rasp. Originally used by carpenters, you can buy it in the kitchen section nowadays.  It's great ;) for grating all kinds of things like garlic, cheese, lemon and lime zest, and spices like whole nutmeg. It's much easier than using a garlic press which gets clogged and is a mess.

Most recipes say to add the garlic at the same time you add onions or meat.  Clever cooks, however, know that you add the garlic about 30 seconds before you add the liquid part of your recipe.  You only want to cook the garlic until you smell it, otherwise, you can and will burn it, giving your food an off taste.

A little goes a long way!  In the past my husband, who likes garlic, thought the more the merrier.  Not so.  Unless your are adding garlic to a liquid such as soup or beans, you'll want to mince/grate it.  This releases all the flavor into your dish.  Leaving the cloves whole will retain the flavor in the clove, so that when you bite into it, you'll get a huge, overpowering garlic taste and some wicked breath.

Once your mince/grate your garlic and cook it until it smells, you don't actually need the garlic pieces anymore.  The flavor is now in your dish.  Sometimes recipes will even call for straining the bits out. You may add the whole cloves to liquids but I really do prefer to simmer them until fragrant.

You can make garlic olive oil this way easily.
  • Mince/grate your garlic into a small bowl, add some olive oil, and 
  • microwave about 30 seconds to release the flavor.  
  • Add some dried herbs, and 
  • now you've got a fancy bread dip that took all of 2 minutes to make.
Roasting garlic is a different story.
  • You will leave your cloves on the bulb.  
  • Cut off the top part until you just expose the raw cloves.  
  • Put the bulb(s) on foil on a baking dish, drizzle olive oil over the bulb until lightly coated.  
  • Wrap the bulb(s) in the foil.  
  • Bake at 400F for about 30 minutes while you drink wine.
  • Your house will now smell wonderful.
  • To check if it's done, squeeze the still wrapped bulb with at pot holder.
  • If smushy, it's ready, if firm, wait another 5-10 minutes and re-check.
Roasting the garlic caramelizes it and releases sugars which mellow out the harsh taste.  You can and should use many cloves in your recipes when you roast the garlic since a small amount won't have a strong enough flavor to permeate through your dish. 

Roast garlic and mix with melted butter or olive oil and maybe a few dried herbs for an easy bread spread that will make you look like an amazing chef.   But you'll know it took about 5 minutes of prep.

Until you get the basics in cooking down, I recommend not experimenting too much.  I find that when people have failures in cooking, they tend to think they can't cook.  You will indeed have failures, I still do.  Learn the basics and you will have many successes!

I have loads more to share, but only so much neck power to sit in front of the computer.  So, I will continue with the cooking lessons later on.

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