For the love of garlic
"Garlic is grown in Minnesota? No way." That was the reaction I received over and over again when I mentioned that I was going to the garlic festival. Most thought I was heading to Gilroy, Calif., where the 30-year-old celebration of garlic draws more than 100,000 lovers of the stinking rose.
No, I was going to Howard Lake, Minn., with breath mints in my pocket, to attend the third annual Minnesota Garlic Festival. The crowd grew larger as the smell of garlic wafted through the air at the Wright County Fairgrounds. Local growers were there with a wide variety of freshly harvested, juicy bulbs of hardneck and softneck garlic available for purchase.
Twin Cities chefs volunteered to leave their restaurants for the day to provide cooking demonstrations and to cook in the festival's own restaurant, The Great Scape Café, featuring local foods, all prepared with a bit of garlic, of course. Scapes are the curly flower stalks that grow from the top of the garlic bulbs.
I wound up spending six sunshiny hours at the festival, enjoying the entertainment, the chef demonstrations and the food.
One of the guest chefs, Phillip Becht, from the Modern Café in northeast Minneapolis, showed how to roast garlic in milk, resulting in creamy sweet garlic and garlic-infused milk, both to be used in delicious ways. Becht says the milk pulls any bitterness and sharpness from the garlic as it roasts.
I couldn't wait to try this technique. My house smelled of the wonderful fragrance of roasting garlic as it spent time in the oven. I turned the garlic into a paste to rub on chicken breasts that would be cooked on the grill. And the garlic milk? It's in a jar in my refrigerator. I'll be stirring it into scrambled eggs, using it in soup and stirring it into creamy corn custard.
I'm sharing the recipe for Milk-Roasted Garlic Stuffed Chicken Breasts, but really, you don't even need a recipe. Prepare the Milk-Roasted Garlic anytime you have the oven on for something else. Store the milk and roasted garlic separately in the refrigerator for a couple of days. Let your imagination be your guide in coming up with ways to use them.
When you prepare the chicken breasts, use any fresh herbs you like. I just happen to love lemon and thyme together and with chicken, the flavors are divine.
Take a breather and enjoy the Milk-Roasted Garlic Chicken with a group of family and friends. If you're going to associate with anyone who hasn't eaten with you, chew on some fresh mint or parsley to absorb some of your breath that they may find offensive.
I'm still carrying breath mints in my pocket.
3 or more large heads of garlic
Fresh herbs of choice plus a dried bay leaf
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Pull away any of the loose papery skin around the outside of the garlic bulb. Using a sharp knife, cut off the top of each bulb, exposing the individual cloves of garlic. Place the garlic bulbs, cut side down, in an oven-safe skillet. Pour milk into the pan until it comes half way up the sides of the garlic. Add a few sprigs of fresh herbs and a bay leaf. Drizzle a little olive oil over the top of the garlic and milk. Sprinkle with coarse salt. Cover the pan tightly with aluminum foil. Place the pan in preheated oven. Bake for 1 hour. Garlic should be very tender. Allow garlic to cool in the milk until it is room temperature. Squeeze cooled garlic into a small bowl. Pour garlic-infused milk in a glass bottle or jar and store in the refrigerator for another use.
Milk-Roasted Garlic Stuffed Chicken Breasts
3 pounds chicken breasts, bone-in, skin on
1/3 cup mashed milk-roasted garlic
1 teaspoon olive oil plus more for brushing over chicken
Salt and pepper
Sprigs of fresh thyme
Squeeze juice from 1/2 of the lemon. Cut the remaining half into thin round slices. Set aside.
In a small bowl, mix mashed garlic, olive oil and 1 or 2 teaspoons fresh-squeezed lemon juice. Season with coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Wash chicken breasts and pat dry with a paper towel. Use your fingers to carefully loosen the skin on each breast. Slide a spoonful of garlic mixture under the skin of each breast and smear it around under the skin. Place slice of lemon over garlic mixture. Top lemon with a sprig of fresh thyme. Drizzle a little olive oil into the bowl that held the garlic mixture. Pour in the remaining lemon juice and stir the ingredients together, catching all the little bits of garlic mixture that remain in the bowl. Brush this mixture over the skin side of each breast. Sprinkle with coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper. At this point, chicken breasts can be covered and refrigerated for up to 4 hours.
Prepare grill for cooking over medium-high heat (you can hold your hand 1 to 2 inches above grill level for only 3 or 4 seconds). Lay chicken on grill rack, skin side down. Brush remaining olive-oil-lemon juice mixture on the side facing up. Grill the chicken, turning once. An instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the meat without touching the bone, should read 160 to 165 degrees. Remove the chicken from grill and allow to rest on a platter loosely covered with aluminum foil for 5 to 10 minutes before serving. When an incision is made near the bone, the meat should show no signs of pink. Makes 5 or 6 servings.
Tips from the cook
--The chicken breasts can baked in an oven preheated to 350 degrees for about 1 hour.
--An instant-read thermometer is a tool that every kitchen should have. It takes the guess-work out of cooking meat to safe temperatures. Find them in large department stores, well-stocked grocery stores and some hardware stores.