Last night I my daughter called to share some giggles about my oldest granddaughters struggles to learn about life without mom and dad to cover the bases. It got me thinking of myself at eighteen. Newly married and completely unaware of what having two rings on my left ring finger encompassed, it wasn’t long after the honeymoon was behind me I realized that all the wedding gifts looking suspiciously like cooking utensils were intended for my use. Being an only child, and somewhat spoiled, I had never cooked anything beyond toast and dry cereal and certainly had never considered that someone actually would expect me to explore the intricasies of the inside of a cookbook any further than admiring the pictures. Three months as a newlywed the rabbit died unexpectedly, thus adding to the urgency to learn something about a chicken wing besides how to eat it out of a bucket. Six months of living on In ‘n Out burgers and toast and Cherrios and starting to look like the rabbit didn’t give up its life on bad information, I knew something had to be done. My young husband, if possible, was even more clueless than myself and so it was determined this had to come from me.
To preface this story, I am a stubborn human being and very tenacious. If I set my sights on a goal, I will go in that direction with great verve and likely it is best not to get in my way. Such was the way with learning to cook. This was a new and exciting experience for me fraught with pitfalls that even I had not determined at the time. My first effort was a reciprocal dinner for another young couple involving chili. Reading the ingredients list, I made one of my own and headed into virgin territory, the grocery store. Ground beef was happily well located in the “Meat Department” and most of the rest of the ingredients were fairly self-explanatory. However, towards the bottom of the list I had written two cloves of garlic. There were no cell phones, nor was the Internet birthed at the time (I know, I know, we were barely out of the caves), so I asked where I would find such a thing and was directed to the vegetable department. Who knew? What a place that was. There were long green things with bulbs on them, fat round red things with bushes sprouting on the end, and names such as leek and kale that I’d never heard of, much less had any vision of how they would be used to create a meal. Looking lost, I once again asked where to find a clove of garlic and was escorted to a large bin with what looked to be little white tops piled inside. On the outside was what looked to be a paper wrapping with a sprig of hair popping out of the top. Ah, cloves of garlic. Placing two in a bag, I thought, “this isn’t so hard”.
Purchasing my items, I headed home to prepare my fabulous chili for dinner that night. Meat, onions and the chopped “cloves” of garlic went in the pan first. I circled the little bulbs, wondering how to chop them. As I assumed you didn’t eat what I referred to as “paper”, I peeled it off. To my surprise I discovered the insides were in sections, which logically must be the clove of the beast. Diligently, I diced the entire bulbs up and added them to the pan with the other ingredients. Piece of cake. Once all the ingredients were in the pan, I put the lid on and went about setting the table and getting ready for my guests.
Being totally unfamiliar with the smell of garlic, I assumed that’s how chili might smell while cooking and got myself dressed for the evening. Amazingly, the bottom of the pan refused to simply disintegrate on the stove instead emitting the most pungent fragrant smell that probably enticed small animals and rodents within a five-mile radius to pack their bags and leave town. I can remember my husband commenting that it must be delicious because he could smell it from the carport when he arrived home.
That night our guests arrived. Walking in the door their first comment was that it “smelled delicious”. It certainly did smell, I’ll give you that. Even my hair smelled like garlic. Had it occurred to me to taste the bloody thing, that bucket of chicken would have been sitting on our counter.
After a brief cocktail hour, which included a bowl of chips and some onion dip and coke on ice, I asked everyone to be seated. In the kitchen I dished up the strong brew into my beautiful new bowls with the little pink flowers and served them like the wicked queen might present a poisoned apple to Snow White. “Eat my pretties.” Waiting in anticipation for the reaction from my guinea pigs, it didn’t take long for me to determine that the looks of pain were not a sign of a thumbs up. How funny. It took weeks to get the smell out of the house, and once again I sent my husband out for burgers.
We learn. We learn to survive and we take one experience and add it to the mix and hopefully create a better experience the next time. I’m sure my young granddaughter is practicing a lot of trial and error at this juncture in her life, but that’s the fun of taking your first steps out on your own. I’ll keep the garlic hotline open to field any questions, as if there was a mistake to be made along the way I’m sure I stepped in it. Smiles for today. This is the best broccoli.
“Garlic used as it should be used is the soul, the divine essence, of cookery. The cook who can employ it successfully will be found to possess the delicacy of perception, the accuracy of judgment, and the dexterity of hand which go to the formation of a great artist.” – Mrs. W. G. Waters
Garlicy Baked Broccoli
2 large bunches of broccoli
4 garlic cloves, minced
4-5 Tbsp. olive oil
1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
1/4 tsp. garlic salt with parsley flakes
1/2 tsp. dried basil
1/2 lemon (1 Tbsp. zest plus juice)
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Cover large baking sheet with tin foil. Spray with cooking spray.
Wash broccoli and separate into large florets. Cut each in half. Dry well. Toss with 3 Tbsp. of olive oil. Spread on baking sheet.
Sprinkle with salt, pepper, garlic salt, garlic and red pepper flakes. Bake for 20 mins. turning several times until florets are slightly browned. Remove from oven and sprinkle with 1 Tbsp. olive oil, lemon zest and lemon juice. Top with cheese. Cook for an additional 10 mins.