Q: Some months ago a friend gave me a little plastic garlic press because I use so much garlic in my cooking. It's very handy and easy to use, but for some reason, the food just doesn't taste the same. Is the plastic reacting with the garlic somehow to make it taste strange?
A: I doubt that the problem is the plastic reacting with the garlic. I suspect the problem is that you don't put the plastic in the dishwasher.
Garlic presses certainly can be very quick and easy to use. But they are notoriously not easy to clean. Even if you have one with the teeth to push bits of skin back out of the holes, garlic presses need to be carefully cleaned with hot soapy water.
A clean toothbrush or a toothpick can be a good utensil for cleaning all the bits of garlic out of the holes and teeth. But the hot soapy water is necessary to get all traces of garlic oil off the plastic. Any oil that's left on the plastic can go rancid quickly, and no matter what you do, it's practically impossible to cover up the flavor of rancid oil, especially garlic oil.
Depending on the kind of plastic, it might be absorbing the odor of rancid oil and passing it on to the next clove of garlic you press. Or it might just be that there's still enough oil hidden in the crevices that it's contaminating all the fresh garlic.
Soak the press for an hour or so in hot soapy water. Go over it with the clean toothbrush or a toothpick to get every bit of garlic and skin out. Rinse it well and allow it to dry. If it still smells of garlic, you might want to get a new one, a metal one that won't absorb odors. If the plastic one smells fine after a good cleaning, hang on to it. You'll still need to clean either plastic or metal carefully after every use to prevent any oil from building up on it. If you can't clean it immediately after use, put it in a glass of hot water to soak while you finish cooking, so that the garlic doesn't dry on it and the oil doesn't have a chance to turn rancid.
Q: What is Lebanon bologna? I saw someone buying some at the deli the other day, and I asked the woman who sliced it what it was. It looked very dark red — not at all like bologna. Is it made of raw meat?
A: Lebanon bologna is a sweet, smoked, fermented, usually all-beef bologna. It's fairly traditional in the Amish area of southeast Pennsylvania at least, but is gaining popularity in other parts of the country.
The name "Lebanon" comes from the area in Pennsylvania where it originated. The dark color you noticed is a result of the fermentation. The ground meat is mixed with the other ingredients, spices, etc., and smoked for several days or longer at a relatively cool temperature. This allows fermentation bacteria to produce lactic acid.
Lactic acid is what our muscles make when we exercise really hard and get sore. In various kinds of bologna, lactic acid from fermentation is the preservative. When the meat is acidic enough none of the bacteria that can make us sick will grow. The dark color comes from the acid reacting with hemoglobin in the meat to "fix" it, or make it stay dark red. Without the acid, it would turn gray-brown.
Smoking also helps to darken the bologna, as well as add flavor. So it's sweet, tart, smoky and meaty, and usually on the lean side — so, not at all like most bologna.