Thanksgiving is the beginning of the holiday season for us here, and often acts as a catalyst for those who don’t normally cook, to suddenly begin doing just that. I get a bunch of panic stricken emails that ooze with frenzied inquiries, “How much is a sprinkle of salt?! What the heck is a parsnip?!”. I don’t mind answering questions, so please feel free to ask as much as you’d like and I’ll help as much as I can. Some of these emails are quite amusing, honestly, so I enjoy reading them. I get the most questions about vegetables, whether or not substitutions can be made in a recipe, making stock, making butter, baking bread and whether or not certain details matter in a recipe. So, I’ll try to cover all of these things before the end of the holiday season.
Note: The following paragraph is excessively boring to those that know how to add salt. Feel free to skip it.
The answer is: I salt to taste. I pick the salt up in my hand (about a half teaspoon at a time, maybe a little less) using my thumb and two fingers, raise my arm about eight inches above the object I’m salting and make it rain a bit slowly and gently as I move my arm and fingers slightly over the dish. I taste again and salt again if needed. Even if I did measure the amount of salt in my hand, I can’t imagine that every granule actually goes directly into the pan or pot, honestly. Also, salt is something that varies a lot when a substitution or alteration of ingredients is made. If you used a brand or type of stock that’s different from what I used, the salt level might be different at that point in the recipe and therefore call for a different amount of added salt. Not to mention, I might like things more salty than you do, which is another variable to account for. I don’t like when minor alterations made to a recipe completely derail the main objective. If you have any questions, please ask via comments or email. I’ll help you out as much as I can.
While I’m talking about basics, I just want to note that baking is different. Baking requires exact measurements, so don’t improvise while baking. I’m not much of a fan of washing all those tiny cups and spoons, but I will break out my measuring tools for a good cake. It’s true.
So, what’s the point of this? I want everyone to know that cooking, no matter how complicated, can be as simple as a series of small steps. Those steps don’t even have to require much skill, either. If you don’t have any knife skills, use a food processor and try not to cut yourself on the blades. Those things are sharp! If you don’t want to mince an onion or wash a food processor, try using a hand held grater instead. It might be slightly different, but the overall effect will still be there. Basic terms like, “season” usually means, “don’t forget to add a little salt so it doesn’t taste terrible and bland”.
“Roasting” just means “cooking something in the oven or over an open flame until done”. I don’t have a gas range, so unless there’s a grill involved, I roast in the oven. Roasting a squash, a pumpkin, an eggplant, broccoli, cauliflower, parsnips, carrots, and most other vegetables that you might roast are all pretty much the same. Sprinkle with salt, a little pepper if desired, and a small drizzle of olive oil and put them in a hot oven until they’re soft enough, or done to your liking.
I’m going to focus today on roasting garlic. Garlic has a very potent smell and flavor. It’s strong and and can be very overpowering. However, if you roast garlic, it becomes soft, almost like the consistency of room temperature butter. The flavor becomes sweeter and milder and more tolerable to the masses. If you know how to roast garlic, you’re once step closer to knowing what the heck you’re doing. You can use it a million different ways in any recipe that calls for garlic. Or you can use it just as it is. Put out the whole head of garlic with some amazing bakery bread, as part of an appetizer platter. Guests can break off a clove and squeeze and spread it right onto the bread. If you want to go one step further, you can mix it with a bit of olive oil or butter and chopped herbs which is one of my favorite ways to use roasted garlic, aside from in recipes. You can also mix it with some avocado and lemon juice for a deliciously healthy alternative to using oil or butter.
It’s simple and uncomplicated. Basics are nothing to freak out about. I promise.
Oven Roasted Garlic
- 4 heads of garlic
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon espelette pepper (or freshly cracked black pepper)
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
Note: The tighter and firmer the garlic, the fresher it is, so choose tight firm heads of garlic.
Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Hold the garlic so the root end is on the side, not the top or bottom. Chop half an inch off the opposite end (the top stem, or the non-root end) off to expose the individual cloves of garlic. You may use what you chopped off in other recipes, if you’d like.
Place the garlic heads root end down, cut side up, into a small saute pan or baking dish that fits them well, nestled snug together. Pour a quarter cup of water or vegetable stock into the bottom of the dish. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Drizzle with olive oil. Place in preheated oven for thirty to forty minutes.
The garlic cloves are ready when squeezably soft, golden brown, fragrant and easily pierced with a sharp knife.