Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Freezing Garlic

I’ve been having some anxiety lately surrounding garlic. More specifically, I’ve started to worry that all the garlic we grew and stored last summer wouldn’t last until we’d used it.

Garlic is a great vegetable. So many of my favorite dishes include it and it stores so easily that it seemed logical that we should grow a substantial quantity of those funky, fragrant bulbs. In the past, we’ve purchased winter farmers’ market garlic that was dry, dusty and frankly moldy so I wasn’t overly optimistic about keeping garlic in Wisconsin through the winter. When I harvested our crop last summer I hung it in baskets in the basement to cure a while before tying it in garlands to hang in the fruit room/root cellar/server closet—it is the Twenty-First Century after all!

Since that room is visited frequently, I was keeping an eye on the state of the bulbs and have been happy with how they’ve been keeping. Lately, however, I’ve noticed the outer skins on some of the bulbs I’ve brought up to cook with have been more dry and looser. Also, some bulbs are showing sprouting cloves. They’ve got nowhere to grow at this point and are still safe to cook, but I decided that just in case I’d process and freeze some of them. I selected the remaining five bulbs of ‘Tai Lang’ for this project. Incidentally, I’ve found nothing about this cultivar online; Googling it just brings up my own references to growing it. All I know is I bought it at the Westside Community Market and the seller said it was hot.

The first step in processing garlic for freezing is to peel each individual clove. When I’m doing one or two or five for a recipe I just cut off the root end, halve it lengthwise and then flake away the skin with a knife. To peel quantities of garlic I use a faster method. First, separate all the cloves in the bulb and cut off  the root end. Then, lightly crush them with the flat of your knife. Be careful. You’ll end up with a chaotic pile of garlic cloves and papery skins.

Next, get a couple of bowls, preferably stainless steel, that are close to the same size. In a pinch, you can just use a bowl and a plate.  Put your distressed garlic cloves in the bowls and get ready to rumble!

Cover one bowl with the other and sha-a-a-ake vigorously. Listen to the tone and you can actually hear when the cloves have been removed from the skins. It’s pretty cool and I’m sure there’s some big-ass industrial machine out there that uses the same principle to do the same thing. Now you just pick the oh-so-tasty garlic cloves out of the skins and set them aside.

Next, chop the garlic to make it easier to dispense and use. Either coarsely chop it by hand if you have the time and patience. I didn’t so I used a mini food processor. Don’t overdo it. If you want a finer chop later you can always do it then.

The final step is to get some protection on those chopped cloves. Drizzle in a little olive oil and stir it into the chopped garlic. A little goes a long way! The key is to coat the cloves without having them swimming in it. Stir thoroughly so that they’re completely coated. The oil will keep the garlic from turning ugly colors and also make it easier to spoon out the quantity you need when cookin’ time comes around.

Finally, put the oiled garlic in a jar and screw that lid on tightly. Keep it in the freezer and just scoop out however much you need in your future cooking. You’ll thank yourself for putting in the effort now not only for saving yourself the chopping later, but for also saving some produce that may not have lasted until the next crop comes ready.How do you keep your garlic? I’d be interested in hearing new ideas on growing and storing one of my favorite crops. Comment or email to share your ideas.

This riveting, stem-grinding offering is part of Post Produce, hosted by Daniel Gasteiger over at Your Small Kitchen Garden. Check it out!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

El Día de San Valentín

On Monday we returned to cold, white Wisconsin from some time in hot, colorful Costa Rica. What a letdown. Fortunately Tuesday was a holiday, I’m still layed off this week, and one of the mementos we brought back from Puerto Jiménez was a cookbook. All the means to compensate for having to come home were in place. The book is “Gallito Pinto: Traditional Recipes from Costa Rica.” I consulted it to devise a menu and went grocery shopping.


The first course was a cocktail I concocted with carambola, also known as starfruit. It’s got sort of a weak flavor but some calvados and lime juice rounded it out and the garnish couldn’t have been more obvious.



For  munching along with the cocktails I whipped up a batch of striped seabass ceviche. We’ve been talking about making ceviche for three years since we had it so often in Ecuador but this is the first time we’ve followed through. It’s so simple there’s really no excuse.



For the salad I took the easy route and did a pseudo-Caesar but with fancy-schmancy heart-shaped eggs. I briefly entertained the possibility of coloring them pink. Maybe next time.


The main course was Bistec Encebollado, better known as steak and onions with Chacletas de Chayote—mashed chayote and cheese stuffed in the exotic fruit’s skin. It was unusual but good. Cheese can make anything good, though. I’d make it again.



For dessert I whipped up a couple of simple mini flans. They weren’t much to look at but tasted delicious. I only wish I had remembered to put some coconut in them. As it was, they were so good I dug in before I remembered to take a picture.




One traditional dish we did not have but saw a lot of in Costa Rica was the black bean and rice dish called Gallo Pinto. It was served at any or all of the three meals of the day and with all the hiking we were doing was a welcome, high energy dish. I’ve definitely found a use for some of the black beans I grow every year.


Check back to see the wild side of Costa Rica coming soon!