Il Panere: Focaccia

Focaccia before it went into my oven

This is a recipe I adapted from a restaurant I used to work in. It was an Italian restaurant and pizza place. My station was next to the pizza chef and I watched him make hundreds of pizzas, garlic knots, focaccia bread, rolls, breads and more. I learned so much about working with dough. I loved what they called garlic sticks and decided to make them at home. I was successful on the first try because I bought some of the dough they used to make everything. So if you’re too chicken or rushed to make your own dough, you should be able to purchase some from your local pizza restaurant. Please don’t get dough from a chain, like Dominos. It’s usually made in a warehouse, frozen and shipped to the store. Go to a small local pizza restaurant. You’ll be guaranteed to get the freshest dough around. 

When you get the dough home let it sit for an hour or two. Make sure you put some olive oil in a room temperature bowl, move the dough around in it, being sure to coat the whole thing. Cover it with plastic wrap and let it sit. 

When the dough is ready take a sheet pan and brush it with olive oil. Spread the dough in the pan, cover it and let it rise for another hour. Make sure it’s evenly distributed in the pan. 

Turn your oven as far up as it will go. At the restaurant I worked in the ovens were 800+ degrees. At home my oven only goes up to 550 degrees but that was enough. 

Take a whole head of garlic and dice it very finely. Spread it all over the dough. Garlic has a natural oil that will make the dough just divine. Make sure the garlic pieces are evenly spread on the dough. Distribute sliced red onions (preferably paper thin) and sun dried tomatoes – also thinly sliced – and push them to embed them in the dough. Sprinkle Parmesan or Romano evenly.  Bake for 10 minutes. Cut into rectangles and enjoy. I cut off the edges but you can keep them on if you wish. 

A word about the cheese. If you are going to the trouble of making the garlic sticks from scratch please use only the best cheese you can get your hands on. Please don’t use the kind of cheese that you will find in your supermarket. Need I say that is subpar – which is an understatement. It is usually so dry that it might as well be a spice. 

We have a fabulous Italian Deli near us. It’s a real foodie’s paradise. They make their own Buffalo Mozzarella and the Proscuitto is to die for. I could buy everything in the store if I had the money and a reason to. 

The next time you have guests try putting these on the table. I’m sure they’ll be gone in minutes. Try experimenting. Use Olives, Basil and/or Proscuitto, wherever your imagination takes you and enjoy! 

Next week I will start to bake with my Sourdough Starter. I hope you will follow along. 

The Greenmarket: Fresh!!

Talk about fresh! All I have to do is go to the Greenmarket and I’m a whole new person. Finding things I’ve never tried cooking before, talking to farmers, seeing gorgeous produce and you’d think I’d just gone to heaven and returned. 

You’d probably also think I’d do fancy things with these ingredients, coaxing them to life with loving hands. Certainly not! These are the epitome of Fresh! Of taste all by themselves. Why ruin it?

One of the finds was Fiddlehead Ferns. I’ve never made these before and I asked the wonderful woman behind the stand what the best way to make them is. She said to parboil them and then sautée them in a pan with butter, salt and pepper. I did just that. I had to husk them first. I didn’t know they had husks and it was time consuming but well worth it. They have a kind of crunch with a slightly bitter taste that turns to sweet aftertaste. Almost like Broccoli Rabe They looked dark green at first but after I cooked them they brightened up and got the most interesting lines. 

I picked up three kinds of oyster mushrooms. Yellow, Pink and Brownish Grey. The man behind the table said he gathers them in the woods of Ithaca, NY and is a mushroom freak just as I am. He had things on a table to my right as I was paying that looked like shells from the beach. They were mushrooms! For decoration only because you couldn’t possibly eat them. I want to go foraging with this guy some day. 

I got THE most divine spinach and I made it with the mushrooms with olive oil and garlic. I also added Arugula and Basil. It was so good we almost ate the whole thing right there and then. 

I’m not really a huge fan of radishes but these were so beautiful that I could not resist them. I shaved them into a salad along with an Ugly Heirloom Tomato along with Shaved Carrots, Strawberries, Persian Cucumbers, the above mentioned greens as well as parsley, Walnuts, Asparagus, Roasted Squash, Baked Chicken Slices, and mine had a Blue Cheese from the neighboring Whole Foods that I just could not resist. I can’t believe how good salad can be. Like eating candy. Of course, I tossed it with my Homemade Italian Dressing. 

Tomorrow I want to make some focaccia bread which I usually make with pizza dough from the restaurant I used to work in. However I’m going to try making the dough myself. Whether I’ll use some of the sourdough is something I’ll decide later. I will post it as I go tomorrow. Keep those forks tuned.

Sourdough Adventure: Day Five

Imagine my sadness when I took a look at the Sourdough Starter this evening. I thought the city of New York had killed my yeast children. You see they turned off our water today because they are replacing the pipes on our block so I was unable to feed the starter this morning. Turning off the water is a royal pain in the you know what but well worth it. The water pressure in our apartment is so much better. However they are going to be doing this tomorrow and a few days next week. 
Not one to give up so easily, I poured off some residual water that had accumulated on top and there were no carbon dioxide bubbles. I stood there for a moment in silence and then I added more flour and a touch of water. It came roaring back to life! There were bubbles immediately. I am elated. This stuff is resilient. The kitchen is indeed smelling like beer. 

 I’m sure I will see more bubbles tomorrow when normally I would bake bread but I am going on an adventure to the Union Square Greenmarket. I haven’t been there in quite a long time so I’m excited to see what I can pick up. I’ll take pictures and tell you what my winnings are. I’m hoping for herbed, greens, purple carrots, string beans, and possibly some mushrooms. Wish me luck that I don’t spend everything I currently have to my name – which isn’t much.  So I’ll be baking Saturday and I hope that you’ll be following along. 

Sourdough Adventure: Day Four



Last night when I took a look at the Sourdough Starter it wasn’t as bright and cheery as it had been.  I think that’s because I didn’t feed it with the full amount in the morning.  It was watery and I thought that would be too much for it.  So I added more flour and water and this morning it was singing once again.  See above photo.

I added the full cup of flour and water and almost immediately bubbles started appearing.  I was doing a little dance with glee as the carbon dioxide started appearing. Yes! I didn’t kill it! Give it a little love and nature does the rest!  Like a science experiment.

The yeast smell is getting stronger and stronger.  Kavli Foods said your kitchen should smell like beer.  It’s been a long, long time since I’ve smelled beer because I don’t consume alcohol and I haven’t had a non-alcoholic beer in a long time.  However, this does make sense because two of the ingredients that make beer what it is are yeast and hops. In fact, you can use beer to leaven bread.  Hops are used primarily as a flavoring and stabilizing agent in beer.  Ever notice that you are a bit more relaxed after drinking beer?  That’s because Hops have that effect on you.  Like what a mild version of catnip would do to cats.  More on Hops:

Tomorrow is the last day of feeding and fermenting. Then it will go towards my first attempt at sourdough bread on Friday – if all goes according to plan.  Wish me luck and come back tomorrow.

Sourdough Adventure: Day Three

Coke Up View of Sourdough Starter with Bubbles
Today’s adventure began with a gathering of bubbles singing hello to me. The carbon dioxide is a sign that yeast is being captured and what was once flour and water has come to life. I feel like a yeast mother. It even smells like yeast. Like it’s supposed to so I am cautiously excited. I won’t exactly dance with joy until the bread has risen with a perfect crust and a crumb that practically cries eat me! I am enjoying watching this grow and become something just by my stirring it and feeding it. I can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings.

Note about last night’s check. The flour and water had captured enough yeast to start rising. It rose so far that it ruined the towel I am using to cover it. I had to throw out the towel and replace it. I was actually excited.


My Bread Baking Adventure

One thing that I have never truly mastered is bread baking. Since I am slowing down my other work this Summer I am putting myself through bread baking boot camp. I’m doing everything I can to get the perfect artisan loaf as well as the perfect everyday light and fluffy sandwich bread from scratch. I’ll be learning all Summer and I hope that you will join me on this journey. 

Two of my go to resources are Rose Levy Berenbaum’s The Bread Bible. I intend to go cover to cover baking all of the recipes in this book. If you want to follow along I highly recommend purchasing this book. There is a fascinating history of bread in the forward and introduction. She also goes into the ten steps of bread baking from fermentation to slicing. 

I also like Kavali Foods You Tube Channel. Especially Sourdough Starter. Here is a link:

King Arthur Flour is not only my favorite resource for ingredients but their videos are quite good too. Check out their website for recipes, shopping and all kinds of educational resources. This is the only place I’ll buy mixes from because the ingredients are top quality and nothing artificial. They are also employee owned and run.I love their Pumpernickel Bread Mix.  Here’s a link to their step by step white bread baking video

What you see in the picture above is the beginning of my adventure with sourdough starter. It’s amazing how simple it is. Just flour and water and not much work.  The concept is – if I’ve got this right – that there are natural yeasts floating in the air around us. By combining the flour and water you are creating a medium to capture the yeast. In a day or so it starts to become alive. It needs to be fed every day for the first week. Adding more flour and water. The above photo is just after I uncovered it this morning before I fed it.  It was perfectly smooth, gooey and soft. It even bubbled a little at me as if it was saying “Hello.”

I am hoping for success but I’ve been nervous about baking bread since I was a teenager. Without knowing anything about dough or even pastry the foodie adventurer in me attempted croissants. Right?  I proudly presented them to my mother during a family gathering at our house. They tasted like croissants but they were flat and ultimately wound up in the trash. My bread baking adventure is as much about overcoming a fear as it is about finally getting it right. 

This is what the sourdough starter looked like after I fed it. Come back each day this week to see it grow and to see how my first loaf turns out. 

Going Chinese: Without Takeout

In 1987 I went on a month-long journey to China and Tibet. It was the most amazing trip. I remember all of Tibet and not much about China – except the flavors. They varied from region to region and were like nothing I’d ever tasted before. The Chinese food that you get in the U.S. is far different from China. It has to appeal to our senses which are sweeter and involves more fat and sugars than in China. Of course, palates in the U.S. are becoming educated. We are seeking authenticity and Spice more and more. 

There are as many flavor variations in China as there are provinces. Sichuan cuisine has a lot of heat in it, while Guangzhou Province tends towards sweeter flavors. Guangzhou used to be known as Canton and inspires the food served in the U.S. The provences by the South China Sea are very fertile and are known for mushrooms. As our tour bus was driving down the road I saw the mushrooms right there. Right by the side of the road! There was a mushroom market right outside our hotel where there were mushrooms the size of large straw summer hats and as teeny tiny as a pin and everything in between. They were for medicinal and nutritional consumption. 

When I got home I was looking for the distinct flavors and textures in Chinese food sold in the U.S. I discovered Chinese Five Spice. I used to buy it in the supermarket and put it in my spice rack where it barely saw the light of day. Now I make my own. Here is my recipe. Adjust it to your liking.

Chinese Five Spice

1/4 Teaspoon of Salt

1/2 Teaspoon of Pepper

1/4 Teaspoon of Ground Cinnamon

1/4 Teaspoon of Ground Nutmeg

1/4 Teaspoon of Ground Cloves

1/4 Teaspoon Ground Ginger 

1/4 Teaspoon Ground Anise Seed

Mix evenly and add to your dish. If you like heat you can add red pepper flakes. The key is that these are all powerful flavors so less is more. You should adjust the amounts according to how much you’ll need for your dish. You can also premix it and store it in a jar for later. Chinese Five Spice should be used in conjunction with Soy Sauce or Teriyaki Sauce. I like Teriyaki Barbecue Sauce because it’s thicker. You can also use Hoisin, Black Bean or Plum Sauce. You can also try using it as a dry rub for Chicken, Beef, Pork or Fish. Just add a touch more salt so that it will permiate your protein. You can also try marinating your protein overnight for deeper flavors. 

The other night I made Cashew Chicken in a sheet pan that was so good we couldn’t believe it. The heck with stir fry. Roasting it on a sheet pan deepens and enhances the flavors. Here’s the recipe….

Cashew Chicken

1 family package of chicken cutlets – about eight

1 Tablespoon Chinese Five Spice (recipe above)

3 Tablespoons Teriyaki, Hoisin, Black Bean or Plum Sauce (if you like heat throw in a bit of hot sauce…if you haven’t added heat to your Chinese Five Spice)

1/2 Cup of Cashews (more if you like them)

2 Broccoli Crowns cut into small pieces

1 package baby carrots sliced

1 Red, Yellow or Orange Bell Pepper ( you can add one of each or get a package of baby bell peppers) cut into 1″ strips and then half the strips

1 Onion – halved and then sliced

1 to 2 Cloves of Garlic (more if you like it)

Olive Oil for the sheet pan

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Brush the Olive Oil on the sheet pan. Combine Chinese Five Spice with Teriyaki Sauce. Combine the rest of the ingredients in a large bowl to toss until evenly integrated. Add Chinese Five Spice and Teriyaki mix and toss until evenly coated. Spread evenly on sheet pan and cook for 20 to 25 minutes (depending on your oven and how you like it). Serve.