Monday, November 20, 2017

Best Brining Recipe?

So, one of the wonderful things about having all kinds of foodie-friends is that there is always a plethora of advice, but I'm cooking Christmas dinner for my family for the first time, and I'm trying out different brines on turkeys before then.

I have two solid leads so far: one recommended the Pioneer Woman brine, while another gave me a simpler one using lemons.

And so, I ask you, what brining advice do you have to add to the mix?

Thursday, September 8, 2011


When I moved to site last year, I watched my host mom spend a few weeks cooking and canning tomatoes, vegetable and jam for the winter season. Being a male, I was not supposed to be interested in cooking, let alone canning (you'll remember that it wasn't until January was I allowed to make potato soup for the family), and I had very little interest in the process. That said, I've had a lot of free time on my hands this past week as the office has been shut down to allow the Armenians some rest after completing 3 projects between the 2 of them over the summer.

So, I decided to do something in my kitchen since I've neglected it for far too long. And I decided I'd learn to can. I'll admit, I'd previously considered this after suffering without fruit last winter save mandarins, and had already purchased a can sealer and lids, but hadn't began to be serious until I suddenly found myself with 10 days off. So, I decided it was time. I, along with the two sitemates who have recently moved to Բերդ, went and purchased 20 kilos of tomatoes and 2 dozen jars. And so the inaugural week of canning began.

First things first: Canning is serious. Screw it up and you can end up with food spoilage and potentially botulism.  Before you look into canning, I'd seriously spend some time (Simply Canning - Canning Safety) doing some research. Invest in lemon juice; adding it to every can will help preserve the food, and the lower acidity will reduce the chances of spoilage. And don't take shortcuts. Clean and sterilize everything.

So, Day 1: Tomato Sauce
20 Kilos Tomatoes, Garlic -> 6 Liters of Tomato Sauce

PickYourOwn.Org - Canning Tomato Sauce

Here you see the initial ingredients for Tomato Sauce and Apple Butter (Day 2)

New sitemate Caroline was in charge of peeling the tomatoes. An easy way to do it is to bring a bowl of water to boil, and drop the tomato (with a small x cut in the peel) in for 30 seconds or so. Then immediately drop it in a bowl of cool (colder the better) water for about 10 seconds. The peel should all but fall off.

Here is Ashley (the other new sitemate) and I cutting open the tomatoes to remove seeds and fluids.

Know your proportions! 20 kilos is way too much for your first time. After about 8 hours cooking down the mixture, I was ready to can. Sterilize jars and lids. When ready, dip jar in boiling water to heat it up. Immediately fill with hot food after shaking out water. Top off with about a Tbsp of lemon juice for every liter. Finally, remove lid from boiling water, shake off water and cover jar.

Last, place in giant pot of boiling water, so that it comes up to 3/4 the jar's height (in America, you can submerge if you have a waterproof seal in place before final sealing. For tomatoes, let sit about an hour in the boiling water, while fruit products take only about 10 minutes. Remove from water bath, and immediately seal. Flip upside down on the floor; in the morning jar should be cooled and if your seal is bad, leakage will have occurred. If everything is done right, the lid should be sucked in and the jar cool (not broken, obviously) and ready for storage.

Day 2: Apple Butter
Approximately 6 kilos of Apples -> 3.5 Liters Apple Butter

So, follow the recipe. We left the peel on and then food processed it. After letting it cook down, we pressed the mash into a sieve and removed the apple sauce. If you have access to a food mill or ricer, use it. This was a major pain in the but for such a large order (I mentioned I have a problem with proportions, right?). Add cinnamon, nutmeg, ground clove, ginger and nutmeg. 

I have to admit, this was very satisfying. Unlike the jams that Armenians make, it has far less sugar and the apples (like everything but the peaches and the tomatoes) came from my garden.

Day 3: Plum Jam
Approximately 1.5 kilos plums -> 1 Liter Plum Jam

Savory Sweet Life - Plum Jam w/o Pectin

These are Damson plums as best as I can figure. They are small, and a bit unripe, which I wanted to make up for the uber-sweetness of the jam after adding a seeming excessive amount of sugar.

I marveled at the colors as I pitted the plums.; the brilliant green of the flesh, the indigo peel.

But after being run through the food processor, I had my doubts. I decided to leave the peels since I had been told by many commenters that the peel added a lot of nutrients and gave the jam a beautiful red-purple hue. At this point, with what looked to be fruit vomit (yeah, that's what I thought), I had the sincerest of doubts.

But, as it began to cook, a light pink started to break through the ugliness.

Which became a pristine magenta by the time the sugar was added.

And after reduction, I had the most amazing looking purple jam I'd ever seen. Really, scroll up; remind yourself of the fruit vomit and then look at the final product.

Day 4: Pear Butter
4 Kilos Pears -> I don't want to talk about it.

Trying to reign in my propensity to start with too much fruit, I handpicked pears from my yard. A bit unripe, but I wanted to try pear butter.

Gorgeous right? I, however, made a rookie mistake. Pears need to ripen indoors for 7 to 10 days, in a paper bag in a dark, cool place. First batch took 4 hours and I managed to get 2 cups of pear sauce. The second batch failed even worse; I scrapped it all at 2 am and went to bed. Angry. Very Angry. But I have another 7 kilos of pears from the tree sitting in my desk waiting for this weekend.

Moving on...

Day 5: Plum Jam, Revisited
4.5 kilos Plums -> 3 Liters Plum Jam

So, after the failure of the previous day, and being a little dejected by only having one liter of plum jam, the ladies returned and helped me make more. We did 3 jars, which goes by far faster with 2 extra folks helping pit, cut, stir, etc. Remember the portion control? This overfilled my largest sauce pan, and ran over. Good news, I know now that my largest pan can handle 3 Liters at the max. Best to stick with 2.

Day 6: Peach Butter
4 Kilos Peaces -> 3 Liters Peach Butter

Smitten Kitchen - Peach Butter

Peaches! Reduced to sauce, with cinnamon and sugar. I love the Smitten Kitchen blog, as you should, too. This recipe appeared on Day 5 of the week and I took it as a sign. I, however, couldn't not add cinnamon. I  added .5 Tbsp per Liter, and it smelled delicious.

Remember, the lemon juice for preservation! Also, a word of advice: if you're using the old fashioned kind of jars and lids (Americans, this isn't you), having a small grip mat helps a lot when dealing with exceptionally hot jars.

And not a drop to spare with the 3 jars filled.

Day 7a: Blackberry Jam
Well, I could buy blackberries or I could pick them. What do you think I did?

My host family invited Caroline and I to go picking with them. We didn't realize this would be a 7-hour event and when I returned later, 5 kilos of blackberries richer with bonus wild hazelnuts, I just gave up on trying to can that night, especially since another local volunteer brought down a kilo and half of blackberries for me.

Day 7b: Blackberry Jam, this time with cooking
6.5 Kilos of Blackberries - > 5.5 Liters of blackberry jam

SavorySweetLife Blog - Blackberry Jam w/o Pectin

Simple: Wash, add sugar, reduce. At least this time, I remembered my proportion problem and did it in two batches.

And the extra half liter has been tasty. 

Final Results:
6 Liters of Tomato Sauce
5 Liters of Blackberry Jam
4 Liters of Plum Jam
3 Liters of Apple Butter
3 Liters of Peach Butter

Bonus! After being bored after such a busy week of canning, I decided to pick Հոն (pronounced like the word "hone"; it's a cornelian cherry) from my trees. They are quite tart, and if you have never tried one, know that the cherry moniker is very misleading. Rough peel, extremely tart until over ripe, and even then, it's still sour. But I have 7 trees of them and it kind of makes me feel bad to see the fruit go to waste, so I looked up a recipe.

Day 8: Հոն Marmalade
1.5 Kilo Հոն -> 1 Liter Հոն Marmalade

Pitting the small Հոն took forever, but you can see, they have a really rich color.

I added too much water, and it was obvious after pressing through the sieve. The marmalade is more a syrup right now. I have plans of reducing it more when I open it this winter. The taste is hard to describe. Considering this recipe required the greatest part sugar, there is a sweet taste. The tartness isn't as strong as I suspected; I'd recommend this for the adventurous or those who already have a taste for cornelian cherries. The color alone is striking, however. 

And that concludes canning until I get these pears ripe and pumpkins come in season. 

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Cooking in Country

Armenia PC brings all the volunteers in for a conference around the time of Thanksgiving, and the volunteers gain access to the kitchen to prepare a Thanksgiving feast. This year, I decided to throw in my favorite dessert along with the traditional pies.

Ah, Truffles! Is there anything better?

I tracked down dark chocolate bars, 35% cream, unsalted butter, but alas, no light corn syrup. My recipe, gathered from the Tartine cookbook, calls for the syrup for texture. Having none in country, I made a simple syrup from brown sugar.

When finished, I poured the liquid truffles into plastic molds which had previously held cheap, Armenian chocolates. 2 days later, a few hours before dinner, I moved the truffles into a freezer to stiffen them up (they were far creamier than my US attempts), and popped them out.

How did they turn out? They were awesome. A bit melty in the hand, but delicious. And now I'm ready to start prepping for homemade marshmallows.

UPDATE: So, over the winter, I wanted to make them again, but was annoyed at the mess and the use of my brown sugar (has to be shipped from the US) and modified the recipe. But, the good news is it's even easier and made a superior truffle.


500g (~ 1lb) dark chocolate, approximately 75% is what I use.
400g (1 can) of sweetened, condensed milk
100g (7 tbsp) of butter, unsalted and cubed

Set up a double boiler, and melt the chocolate. Cut the butter while the chocolate melts, and stir in until completely melted and mixed. In quarter can amounts, pour the milk in while stirring. As soon as the mixture is well mixed, it's ready if you'll be using molds. If not, wait until stiff enough to roll into balls. Makes approximately 70 truffles.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Renewed Interest

So, my training for Peace Corps is coming to a close and I cannot wait much longer! I've been away from my/a kitchen for way too long. This summer I've assisted in 2 batches of granola, an order of pumpkin seeds, and a few fixings for a 4th of July barbecue (Armenian khorovats-style). This is less than an afternoon really back in my life on native soil.

But in just over a week, I move to my new site in Berd, Armenia. I'll still be living with a family, but my American site-mates are well versed in my cooking...ahem...prowess, and have promised to lend me kitchens as needed.

I finished Julie and Julia today and have found a renewed sense of vigor and need to be in the kitchen. I've yet to see the movie, which I suspect to be radically different, but found the book to be filled with the right blend of profanity, frankness, Whedonverse references, and <3 of cooking. I have no desire to start with the basics of French cuisine, but I do want to get my kitchen in some order. I'm already signed up to help with Thanksgiving meal.

So, I'm perusing recipes and I think I want to try this as soon as I'm able: Homemade Marshmallow.

Otherwise, Brown sugar and/or Molasses is impossible to track down over here. I'm going to be requiring a great deal to be shipped over. Feeling generous?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Brown Sugar

When I first made this blog, well, it was to be my backup project. I had wanted my own cooking blog for a long time, but was waiting because I had applied for the Peace Corps. There came a very sad day in which I thought I was not going to pass the application process, and in an effort to remain positive, I registered as a home for my stories about cooking for and by guys. I'll go in the full reasons in a different post soon, but for the time being, I was pleasantly surprised when I was not rejected from the applications process.

But that meant giving up my ability to freely bake. So, my dishes are packed up, my kitchen is rented by another and I'm in Armenia, where I was told no men cook and there is no such thing as brown sugar.

This actually was the hardest thing to come to terms with. Baking was something I did for stress relief, to impress those I wanted to impress, and perhaps to win over those who were not as easily impressed by my awesomeness (my other means was to run, and well, this country wasn't built for runners, either).

And so, I set out on the great quest to find brown sugar! And you know what less than a month and a half in country, and I succeeded. One store in Yerevan (the capital) had brown sugar, though granulated, and I now feel ready to begin both my Peace Corps experience and baking under hardship. What shall I bake? My mom's blonde brownies. I can't think of anything greater that makes me think of home, and it's also something really great to share with American's who might not be enjoying the varied sweets over here.

Pictures and what-not to follow!

Friday, April 9, 2010

Welcome to

Welcome to, home of John Q. Doe and his friends.

I'm a baker by hobby and an eater by nature. This blog is an attempt to share what I've learned being a guy who can bake. I've recruited a few friends to help me, but ultimately this blog is about baking/cooking/candy making and in a way that isn't overly-complicated or delicate. Most of the recipes here will require some skill unless noted for beginners. And here are some basic things you should get right now beyond spoons, spatulas and mixing-bowls:

  • A cookbook you like. I am a big fan of The Tartine Bakery of San Francisco for Desserts, though it requires an intermediate level of knowledge. Beginners should grab something like The New Basics since it will give good advice on many of the processes that will be discussed.

  • An oven-thermometer. Cheap ones are about $5. Your oven's knob isn't accurate. And if it is, it was worth a couple of bucks to know for sure.

  • Baking stone and parchment paper.

  • Patience, because you will screw things up. Nothing wrong with that.

  • Baking Soda. Old Chemistry teacher taught me that a mixture of baking soda and water (in a paste consistency) helped to removed the sting of burns. He was right, and I've had lots of opportunities to experience it.
There will be more, but this is a good start. Stick around, I hope to teach you something new.