Time Savers: Roasted Garlic
People are forever asking me how I have time to do the things that I do. Sure, I work some pretty long hours at work, other than our honeymoon we don’t have a free Saturday night in the calendar until January 8, 2011 (that’s not an exaggeration, just a statement of extreme sadness), and I still find time to bake my own bread and culture homemade yogurt, do canning extravaganzas of no less than 3 batches at a time, bake savory tarts with vegetables harvested from the back yard, plan a terrifyingly close wedding, and write for this blog. Sometimes I feel daunted and overwhelmed, but over time I have crafted my own way of dealing with the burn.
1. I don’t clean. No, really. Laundry is practically a bi-monthly chore and I have been known to buy an extra dozen pairs of underwear just to avoid having to fold clothes. Our Roomba is worth it’s weight in gold. I have considered buying those microfiber cat-botties that they sell in China in an effort to dust our shelves. Sometimes, in a fit of desperation, I have even put wooden spoons in the dishwasher. I know. The guilt festers on.
2. Over time I have reconciled myself to the fact that without water, all of my houseplants will die. The ones that remain, like my long suffering aloe plant or Christmas cactus, have earned names like “Black Robe” and “Rasputin”.
3. Don’t talk to me about pop-culture. I just won’t understand. I’m still reeling from the fact that Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachey broke up.
4. There are weeks when I get home at 9 or 10 pm every night, knowing that the alarm will go off again in about 5-6 hours, and cheese & crackers is a perfectly acceptable dinner. Every night. For a week. And I secretly relish these opportunities.
Regardless of how busy I get, there are certain aspects of our lifestyle that I refuse to compromise on, such as eating lovingly prepared and often elaborate meals that are nourishing, sometimes decadent, or somewhere in between. One cannot subsist on cheese and crackers alone (I’ve tried), and despite the fact that Mike would be jubilant if I served him Heinz beans and boiled hotdogs every day for the rest of his life, I just can’t bring myself to give the poor man scurvy.
By no means am I averse to ordering a pizza in when life just gets to be too much, but given the chance, and 30 minutes of free rein in the kitchen, I would much prefer to bring a pot of lip-smacking sumpin’ sumpin’ to the table. This, my friends, is where the time savers really matter. After all, anybody can whisk a cream sauce together in 15 minutes, but a roasted garlic and thyme cream sauce brings your pasta up to new heights of simple delight. No time to prepare for that potluck tonight? No need to fret when you can mix some roasted garlic with mayonnaise, cream cheese and parmigiana reggiano for a creamy dip that will have people begging for more (even me, until I think about saturated fats and casually hack the remnants into a serviette when I think you’re not looking).
Whether it is spread seductively on bread, or mashed to add instant depth to soups, stews, dips, spreads and marinades, roasted garlic is an easy find in my kitchen. The only problem with basing a dish around the subtle and earthy flavor of roasted garlic is that first you need to, well, roast the garlic. This can be a bit of a time-sink, as a single bulb of roasted garlic can mean an extra hour of oven time. That doesn’t really appeal to me.
When I make roasted garlic, I usually do it in massive quantities. I’ll buy a big bag of garlic bulbs, roast them in bulk, and then freeze the fruit of the bulbs individually for ease of use. The benefits to this technique are plentiful. Buying garlic in bulk is cheap (a bag of ~20 bulbs cost me $3 CAD), I always have roasted garlic on hand for ‘emergencies’, and 10 minutes of effort in advance means no effort at all to make some of my favorite dishes.
Time Savers: Roasted Garlic
To roast the garlic, slice across the top of the bulb and remove it like a cap. You don’t need to slice down too far, just about 1/4″, because all that you want to do is expose a wee bit of each clove.
Drizzle the garlic with a little bit of olive oil and wrap the cloves tightly in aluminum foil. I like to cut a long swath of foil and roast up to 8 bulbs in a packet, usually doing two or three packets at a time.
Garlic can be very forgiving, but if you roast it at a lower temperature for a longer period of time you will have a superior roasted garlic with a sweeter and more mellow flavor. Heat your oven to 325ºF and place the tightly sealed foil packets directly on the center rack to bake for about 1 hour. After an hour check on the garlic. The color should be a rich golden brown and if you gently press on the side of the bulb the cloves should pop out and release easily. If the color is light or the cloves seem ‘cooked’ but not soft and spreadable, tuck the garlic back in the oven for an additional 15-20 minutes.
Unwrap the foil packets and let the garlic cool until you can handle it. Working with one bulb at a time, squeeze out all of those juicy, soft cloves of roasted garlic and discard the papery shell. Mash the cloves gently as you pack them into an ice cube tray. I try not to mash the cloves completely because I like a bit of texture, just in case.
For the purposes of portion size, I pack one whole bulb of roasted garlic cloves into each ice cube mold. This way I know exactly how much I’m adding to a dish, rather than eyeballing it or trying to guess.
My favorite type of ice cube tray for a task like this is from Ikea. Instead of traditional rectangles, the silicone tray freezes long wands of ice that I can use as a stir stick in my cocktails. Uh…I mean orange juice. Anyway, the reason that I like freezing things like roasted garlic in this tray is that the long cylindrical shape means the garlic thaws faster and is more easily combined with the rest of whatever I’m making. It literally melts into stews in the most delectable way. Moreover, the silicone shell helps enormously when you’re ready to un-mold the frozen solid garlic.
Freeze the roasted garlic completely before un-molding it from the ice cube tray and packing it into a resealable freezer bag. Alternatively, if you have ice cube trays to spare you could just leave the garlic right in there, but please do protect the tray from freezer burn by covering or sealing it off.
I use roasted garlic in my cooking on a decidedly frequent basis, and having pre-roasted garlic on hand, perfectly portioned, is certainly one of my favorite time savers for busy weeknight dinners.
I know that we all have busy lives and schedules, so this is the first of our “Time Savers” articles to help the stressed out cook find a little bit of sanity. In the mean time, if you have a “time saving” trick that you’d like to share, we’re more than eager to hear it!
Choosy Beggar Tina