The Focaccia Bread that Ruined Everything

Screenshot (82)

First available in the September issue of the Tiny House Magazine.

My Austrian husband makes bread about once a week. He doesn’t use a recipe, and I haven’t been able to tell if it’s because he has a memorized recipe tucked away in his brain, or if he really is just making it up as he goes along… either way, fresh European crusty bread appeared around here each Tuesday, or did. Until this focaccia bread ruined everything.


pinterest 1This recipe is pretty simple and requires only a bowl and wooden spoon and a cast iron skillet, and a bit of space on the counter for kneading the bread, which makes it ideal for a tiny house kitchen.

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon sugar

1 tablespoon active dry yeast

1 teaspoon oregano

1 teaspoon thyme

1 teaspoon basil

Pinch black pepper

1 tablespoon olive oil

3/4 cup warm water (110 degrees)

2 tablespoons olive oil

4-5 cloves of garlic minced fine (we love garlic!)

1 tablespoon Parmesan

½ cup mozzarella

Optional toppings like bell pepper, onion, olives, and pepperoni as desired.

In a large bowl, stir together the flour, salt, sugar, yeast, oregano, thyme, basil and black pepper. Mix in the olive oil and warm water. When the dough has pulled together, turn it out on a lightly floured surface, and knead until smooth and elastic. In a large bowl turn 2 tablespoons of good olive oil to coat the bowl and the dough. Cover with a damp cloth, and let it raise in a warm place for 20 minutes. (Turn the oven on the lowest setting for a few minutes to warm it, then turn it back off and put the dough in there to raise.)

When the dough has doubled, turn it out into your cast iron skillet, using the oil in the bowl to grease the skillet. Gently spread to size and top with minced garlic, bell pepper, onion, and cheese as desired.


Focaccia bread ready to bake.

Allow it to raise a second time for another 20 minutes while you preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Just yesterday we were talking about focaccia bread with our friends who lived in Italy for a decade. It’s made differently in different parts of Italy. In some places they add olives, in other places they add cheese or bits of sausage. So here’s your opportunity to get creative and add your favorite things on this dough. But don’t treat it like pizza and load it up with toppings or the bread won’t be able to rise and will have a heavier texture. Sprinkle on the minced garlic, a few slices of green pepper, onion, pepperoni and your favorite cheese. Bake it for 20 minutes at 400 degrees or until golden brown.


Serve warm!

My Austrian had a few bites, commented on how good it was.

IMG_8957And then…

I can’t even bear to write this.

“I guess I don’t have to make bread anymore.”


I did not see that coming.

I should have, I am not a rookie. But I totally walked right into that one. This is the focaccia bread that ruined MONTHS of fresh bread that happened at our place without me ever lifting a finger, he even washed the dishes afterward.

All that.


You were warned.


Plates are entirely optional!

Made it.  Ate it.  It was good!

Carmen Shenk Logo Mini

The Cast Iron Cookie

Aka: an Imaginary Conversation with Mark Bittman, Food writer of the New York Times

cast iron cookie

(Newscom TagID: acephotos106686)      [Photo via Newscom]

Mark Bittman, American Journalist

Hey Mark, I saw your article in the New York Times, man. “A No-Frills Kitchen Still Cooks” and I gotta tell ya man, I think you’re on to something. People do seem to think that having great kitchen gear will make them better cooks… and we can all appreciate the beautiful equipment the TV chefs use. I think you have a point, we may actually believe that some brands and products will make us better cooks. I’m not sure that’s true.  Copper pots and pans don’t come with creativity, they just don’t have that kind of power. And when in doubt – find a great recipe! The internet was MADE for recipes! Just hang out with the Minimalist Baker for like 10 minutes – just the photography alone will make you salivate.

knife best

A High Quality Messermeister Knife

Mark, where you lost me was when you started walking through the restaurant supply store, picking up various cheap tools… like actually cheap tools – not just inexpensive but seriously CHEAP. Dude, did you actually write in the NY Times that you use a $3 paring knife? Because you can seriously get your foodie card revoked for admitting that you use a cheap knife with a plastic handle… and you put it in writing where people could SEE it. Man, what were you thinking?! LOL, truth be told, I don’t really care that you use a cheap knife, I use a $20 knife pretty much every single day. It doesn’t have to be expensive to be useful. What bothers me is that you’re saying you use a disposable knife, and you’ll just pitch it after a while and get another one. Wait, what?  A disposable knife?  No. Just… no. My Austrian husband chimes in: “Organ builders and Luthiers sharpen and hone their tools – shouldn’t cooks be encouraged to buy quality tools and maintain them?” Um. Yes!


A “No-Frills” Kitchen Still Cooks.


Mark, here’s what I really don’t get. Your column was called “The Minimalist” and you’ve been writing about food and cooking since before I was even in grade school. I thought “quality over quantity” was one of the mantras of the minimalist movement, man. So what gives here? You seem to be suggesting a kitchen full of cheap kitchen gear will get the job done, but what about quality items that you purchase once and then use for life?  Isn’t there really something to be said for buying quality kitchen equipment so that you buy it only once?

quality over quantity

gorgeous saucepans

Beautiful high end copper cookware from Williams Sonoma.

I see that you recommend a small, medium, and large saucepan, 10 and 14 inch skillets, and a stock pot and ONE lid for all of that? And it’s true that the cheap aluminum ones are not much money, some of those are insanely cheap. Here’s what you may not really understand about me, your reader. I have a very special talent. I once melted aluminum on a stove top burner. It’s true. I know you wouldn’t think that was even possible… but I put a pot of chili on the burner and turned it on low, and then I went back to work. Later I came back to the kitchen (I lived in a monstrously huge house in those days) to give it a stir, and noticed a smell. Then I noticed the heat. I picked up the stainless steel pot and moved it to a hot pad beside the range… trailing molten aluminum as I went. Later, when everything had cooled and my heart started to beat normally again, I took apart the burner on the range to retrieve the aluminum paperweight I had created in the bottom of the range. That’s right, Mark. I melted the aluminum disk off the bottom of my stainless steel stock pot. Now that you know that about me, your reader, are you still suggesting that people like me purchase cheap aluminum cookware? No? Whew.  

C Carmen

Carmen Shenk, the Tiny House Foodie

Ok, fair question, and that’s “Missus Smartypants” to you… what would I tell the readers of the New York Times if I’m so smart? WHAT in my experience of being a restaurant owner and living in a micro-dwelling would I recommend to the dear readers of the New York Times? (Especially since I couldn’t tell the difference between the low setting and crucible setting on my cute vintage range.) Glad you asked, Mark. Gosh, what a guy!

sm 11 Pots & PansFirst of all, I would tell my readers to buy a cast iron Dutch Oven. It’s the sort of thing that even I can not destroy. We’ve used ours in our tiny house on a gas stove, and outside on the rocket stove and it still cleans up great! You can get the Lodge cast iron version for $40, the Lodge enamel version for $60, the French Staub version in some spectacular color for $190 and the Le Creuset version in even an more lovely color for $275. I have the 4.5 quart Le Creuset that I bought years ago (I only paid $150 for mine) and we use it often. I make all kinds of soup and stew in that pot, saute vegetables, roast beast in the oven and I even bake a loaf of bread in it from time to time. It’s a great all-purpose kitchen basic and the go-to dish for a whole pile of One Pot Wonder recipes.


The kitchen of our original tiny house on a sunny day in the winter.

The second thing on my list in a good basic sauce pan. I don’t think a person needs three sizes as you suggest, but then you weren’t writing for people who live in tiny houses. That’s more my gig. When space is at a premium, I think one sauce pan is plenty. Somewhere between a 2 and 3 quart is right in my opinion, and I like the All-Clad ones for a whopping $121, but I use an inexpensive $33 NuWave one and like it just fine. I don’t use it much because I reach for the Dutch Oven first, but I’m glad I have it and we use it.


Buttered and ready for cookie dough!

The final thing on my list is the kitchen standard for cooks everywhere, the cast iron skillet. They’re usually somewhere around $15 and can be purchased new or you can buy a used one in an antique store and the price will be roughly the same. Again, this one works indoors on the range and outside on the rocket stove and they are indestructible even for someone like me. They are heavy and I would pack a few heavier things like this in a box and put it in my car when we were moving the tiny house from one parking place to another.

14 MiscI would recommend getting and using lids for each of these three items. In a tiny house it is especially important to use the lids and also to have and use your exhaust fans to keep moisture from building up in your home because that can turn into a mold problem. Many of us in the tiny house world have a mold story. Not fun.

Mark, even if I give you grief for the $3 knife, I still think the larger idea of your article is still an excellent point. A no-frills super simple kitchen gear list really does “still cook” as you put it. We got used to having lots of stuff in our big kitchens, but the truth is that we can simplify a great deal and still make great food. Simplifying is not sacrificial if you do it right – and that’s why I wrote my own Super-Simple Kitchen Gear Listthe super simple kitchen gear list 600 and then I turned that into a Workshop to walk people through it in more detail.  And while I’m not big on cheap kitchen equipment, and we don’t use anything disposable in our kitchen, my Buyer’s Guide can help your reader choose the kitchen tools that really do work quite well. And even a $100 knife that stands in for the unneeded food processor will save power and space… and that’s a beautiful thing. That gorgeous knife may even be a good deal when you consider what a pleasure it is to cook with a loved one enjoying great conversation rather than the noise of some obnoxious power tool.

Mark, thanks for pointing out that you wrote that article way back in 2007. The beauty of your article is that it’s still so relevant that minimalists are still pointing people to that article more than a decade later. Well done, Sir.

IMG_5953Also Mark, here’s my Cast Iron Cookie recipe. It only makes one cookie. (Quality, not quantity) You’ll just have to suffer through.  (And no need for a mixer for this recipe – so it’s perfect for a tiny house!)

¾ cup softened butter

2 eggs – we got these fresh from the farmer this morning.

1 teaspoon vanilla

I combined these ingredients with a wooden spoon. No power tools needed. Then I added:

2 cups all purpose flour

¾ cups brown sugar

¾ cups white sugar

1 cup oatmeal

1.5 teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon sea salt

1 cup chips – I used chocolate chips and then threw in some M&M’s as well.

1 cup nuts – I used almonds

Spread dough in a buttered cast iron skillet and top with more chocolate chips if desired (or M&M’s) then bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes. Test with toothpick for desired doneness. I prefer cookies goey, my Austrian likes them crunchy. You choose.IMG_5952

These just came out of the oven and I carved a little bite out of the side.  Then that one was so good that I went back for another little nibble… then Xaver must have discovered them because every time I came back there was more missing.  These are absolutely delicious! 



Enjoy them while they last!  And remember… it’s just as true with cookies and it is with cookware: Quality over quantity.

Learn more on my Super-Simple Kitchen Gear list Workshop. 

Carmen Shenk Logo Mini

Horse Chow

Part of our “going tiny” journey included reading “The Good Life” by Helen (1904-1995) and Scott Nearing (1883-1983) who were the great-grandparents of the simple living movement. They wrote extensively on debt free living and self-reliance. In those days they were considered radicals, and I suppose by modern, consumerist standards – that’s still a fitting word to describe them.

Helen Nearing wrote “Simple Food For the Good Life” in 1980 and it’s a very unusual cookbook. The recipes are in narrative form. For example: “We buy a 50-pound bag of popcorn kernels wholesale, and can use up to two bags a year, as we serve popcorn on any occasion from breakfast to lunch to evening gatherings.” She mentions that she prefers it to cornflakes. Interesting. We also eat a lot of popcorn, but I’ve never popped corn for breakfast, I might have to try that.

I made hot oatmeal for breakfast a few times last winter, on mornings when it was crazy cold. You’ve never seen a grown man get more dramatic than when a steaming bowl of hot “porridge” appeared before my husband for breakfast. Apparently, this is the horror inflicted on the youth of Britain that makes them dream of expanding the Commonwealth – presumably to get better food. Or so I’m told. And by the way, if eating wallpaper paste is frowned upon – why does cooked oatmeal even exist?!


Tiny House Food Storage

In an effort to stem the flow of gelatinous oats, my Austrian husband began extolling the virtues of Muesli. Nevermind. Another cold snap hit and I cooked up another satisfying hot oatmeal breakfast with plenty of butter and raisins. Yum! He’s not one to disappoint, so he told the stories of his youth in the Tyrolian Alps of Austria… where he was subjected to wearing itchy, hand-knit woolen garments… but he was never tortured like this… and here’s where he held up a spoon of cool oatmeal and allowed it to fall back to the bowl with a rather satisfying “splat!”. He offered a clump of it to the dog, and she sniffed at it… but turned away. Et tu, Bitch?

IMG_8560Imagine my surprise when the next time we visited our favorite bulk food store, he stocked up on rolled oatmeal, raisins, and walnuts. Oh boy, what is he up to?! No worries, I was busy picking out avocados and almonds for breakfast. Yum. I also made sure we had enough oil, butter, and honey and wondered how long it had been since I’d made granola. Do I still have the recipe? Have I downsized all the cookie sheets? “What’s Granola?” he asked. How do you explain Granola?

IMG_8565While Xaver and I were in our oatmeal negotiations… I came across Helen Nearing’s recipe for “Horse Chow”. I read aloud to him from her book: “In the early 1930’s, before health foods and granola became household words, I made up a dish we called ‘Horse Chow’. At that time raw oats were not being eaten by humans.” This is where a rather amusing noise emanated from my Austrian. I looked at him. “What?!” he blurted, trying to look innocent.

Shall I continue?” I asked.

This is the simplest granola of all and perhaps one of the earliest. It was dreamed up in the Austrian Tyrol, where we holed up one winter in a village far from supplies with a very slim larder of hit-or-miss articles, but with great appetites.” “Ha!” he said – in triumph! The debate over oatmeal ended there while we giggled about being holed up for an Austrian winter and somehow “arousing” great appetites. LOL!


Helen Nearing’s recipe for Horse Chow:

4 cups rolled oats (old-fashioned, not the quick cook kind)

½ cup raisins

Juice of 1 lemon

Dash of sea salt

Olive oil or vegetable oil to moisten

Mix all together. We eat it in wooden bowls with wooden spoons.”

IMG_8568That’s how “Horse Chow” became the breakfast of choice around here. Even on mornings when it’s cold outside!

My Austrian’s version:

2 lbs raw rolled oats

¼ lb walnuts

½ lb raisins

1/3 lb sliced almonds

and toasted coconut

Served with homemade yogurt or milk to moisten.

My version:

Two scoops of his mix

2 T raw pumpkin seeds

2 T raw almonds

1 T ground flax seeds

Served with almond milk to moisten and topped with fresh fruit.


Horse Chow, our version

We eat it in china bowls with silver spoons.



* * * * *

For help going tiny without sacrificing flavor or contentment, get my helpful

Super Simple Kitchen Gear List – it’s free!  Learn more…

Signature Tiny House Foodie logo

Reminding you that we can go tiny, embrace simplicity, and still eat really well!

Mise en Place

“A place for everything, everything in its place.”  —Benjamin Franklin

There is a cooking practice, called Mise en Place [mizã ‘plas] which means putting each ingredient in place before you begin cooking. This is a classical approach to cooking used by professionals to have every ingredient ready to go at the beginning of service. 28c13-img_7861For example, instead of having a bell pepper on the counter, a chef would prepare a container of bell pepper cut precisely the way she or he prefers. Chef would prepare this before any cooking began. Television cooking shows sometimes do this: every ingredient—even each spice—will be placed out on the counter in darling little bowls. This sort of preparedness and efficiency allows one to enjoy the un-rushed art of focused cooking that can lead to spectacular meals.

Red Black 2To follow “Mise en Place” literally creates a lot of dishes to wash and I have mixed feelings about this.  I do keep some sweet little bowls in my kitchen, because I love them and I have collected them over the years when I see a cute one at a thrift shop.  I don’t cook by recipe though, so I’m not measuring out a teaspoon of this or that and putting it in a lovely tiny bowl – only to empty it into the saute pan in a few moments.  In fact, I enjoy a variation of “Mise en Place” cooking simply by having the lemons, limes, garlic, ginger, and other spices and herbs conveniently located to my cooktop.  In fact, because my kitchen is tiny, everything is already conveniently located – and isn’t that the point of Mise en Place?

Red Black 1The beauty of a tiny kitchen is that you may set it up for efficiency. Everything can be right in its place, and right within reach, not because you got it out of the cabinet to put it there – but because that’s where it lives. The tiny house kitchen has a sort of built in efficiency that guarantees that every ingredient and tool is close at hand. You can still decide to prep ingredients before you begin cooking – such as cutting the vegetables and peeling the shrimp. Efficiency is one of the things I love about cooking in a tiny house kitchen.

49678-img_7877In fact, Xaver and I visited our favorite AirBNB for a working vacation. There is an expansive glorious tricked-out kitchen that is pure perfection in every respect and I love it! I was looking forward to really spreading out and enjoying some cooking and baking in a “real” kitchen after having lived tiny for so long. What surprised me was how frustrating it was to want something that was on the other side of the kitchen and how much time I spent running around gathering up ingredients and equipment – not to mention cleaning it all and putting it back away. I was surprised how much longer it took me to prepare a very simple meal. I was also surprised by how annoying it was to want the plate that was held captive in a dish washer that wouldn’t be done washing for a while. In fact, I was very surprised to find that cooking in a large kitchen equipped with every possible convenience was much more tiring and much less fun than I remembered. Wasn’t this kitchen the holy grail? Surprisingly, no. Not to me. Not anymore.


Mind you, our entire tiny house could fit inside that kitchen with room to spare – so the scale and proportions are hilarious by contrast.  For many people, a large kitchen is their “normal”. In fact, when we had the restaurant we had an expansive 580 sq ft prep kitchen and a smaller 240 sq ft kitchen where dishes were assembled and plated. I was used to cooking in a tricked-out kitchen… but look how my sense of normal changed after living tiny for a number of years?! Now, I’m perfectly happy to cook a great meal in a very small kitchen where everything is right at hand. In fact, having now tried the various cooking and baking options, I’d have to say that a tiny kitchen is my preference.  I’m as surprised by this as you are.

Shrimp Rohini

Shrimp Rohini, recipe by Carmen Shenk

great-food-simply-preparedWe tend to think of having a small kitchen as a problem to be dealt with.  We wonder if we will have room to cook our favorite dishes or bake our favorite treats.  We fear running out of space and being frustrated by a confining kitchen. But living tiny has taught me that cooking in a tiny kitchen is a wonderful thing.  Everything is right there.  There are no wasted steps.  There is no needless complexity.  It’s just focused, fun, efficient cooking.

We tend to worry about the space we may lose in a tiny kitchen, but what if we focused instead on the efficiency we gain?

What if the tiny house kitchen was the “holy grail” of cooking and we just didn’t know it?!

That’s something to chew on, isn’t it?!

Signature Tiny House Foodie logoBTW, doesn’t that Shrimp dish look amazing?  The recipe I created for Shrimp Rohini is here… (along with the story of what inspired it) and that’s one dish where cooking in the traditional Mise en Place style is a very good idea!  Enjoy!

Tiny House Yogurt

We don’t live in our Skoolie yet, but I do have the Skoolie oven already… the Breville Smart Oven Air.  I’m exploring what it will do and my favorite thing so far has been using the dehydrate function to make yogurt.

real yogurt

 Yogurt that you can make and enjoy in your tiny house!

Yogurt is great for gut health, however… grocery store brands load yogurt up with sugar, fruit, and preservatives.  Some kinds of gut problems result from a yeast that feeds on sugar (fruit is a natural sugar), and preservatives are a culprit for other gut health issues – Yikes!  So grocery store yogurt can actually feed the problem instead of helping you heal!  Sucks, right?  Take it from someone who has had a real challenge with gut health – real yogurt – the homemade stuff – is part of the solution, not the problem!  And making your own is rewarding, delicious, good for the environment, and good for the gut health of you and your family!  Did I mention it is delicious?  Good!

When we had our restaurant, we used an Excalibur dehydrator to make yogurt for the fresh yogurt smoothies we had on our menu.  (You know how the VitaMix is the best blender?  Well, Excalibur is the best dehydrator!) We also had green smoothies and fresh juices in the restaurant.  I missed having a dehydrator around for yogurt, kale chips, and beautiful pineapple flowers.  It was one of the sacrifices we made in going tiny, no dehydrator.  No room.

The Breville Smart Oven Air

But when I found the Breville oven with the dehydrate function – SQUEE – I was delighted!  I can have an oven that will bake a pie AND a dehydrator – in one smart package!  We tiny house foodies do enjoy our multi-purpose kitchen tools!!  Plus, this one is $399 which seems like a lot for a toaster oven (it’s not a toaster oven) but when you consider how much less that is than a range it was a no-brainer for us.  (Not for everyone – no worries.)  Since our Skoolie is 128 square feet, we didn’t have room for a full size range, or even a fun-sized one.  I’ve already written about this oven, so check that out if you’re deciding which oven/range/cooktop is best for your tiny haven-home – plus there is a money saving tip at that link as well.


Would you like the yogurt recipe I use?

1 gallon whole fat milk.  (I use whole milk because it makes better yogurt and because I’ve read that whole fat is better for you than low fat or non-fat and I’m a purist anyway.  I like things that haven’t been tinkered with too much.)

When I’m ready to make yogurt, I buy some unsweetened whole milk yogurt at the grocery and use that as starter.  Then as long as I don’t eat ALL the yogurt and save some for a starter for the next batch – then there is no need to buy more.  Look on the label for active cultures.

Yep – that’s it.  Milk and yogurt cultures.  Pretty simple, huh?  (And yummy)

I put the milk in my 4.5 quart dutch oven (it just fits) and heat it to 180 degrees.  Since the dutch oven is cast iron, it may continue to rise in temperature a bit once the burner is off but that’s fine.  This step is to kill any bacteria that could be in the milk so that you can add the yogurt bacteria. Getting the milk anywhere between 180 and 195 degrees will do nicely.  Take care to warm the milk gently so that you don’t scald it.  If you think you may walk away and forget about it, set a timer to remind you.  I’ve boiled the milk all over my range before – BIG MESS – that’s why I mention it.  Once the milk hits the right temperature, turn off the heat and let it rest.

Test the temperature periodically until it has cooled to 100-120 degrees.  In my experience this will take about a half hour.  Whisk in the yogurt and transfer the mixture into glass jars.  I like to use the Pint jar with a wide mouth lid, because that way the rings and lids are the same as my food storage quart jars and that way I don’t have to keep two sets of rings and lids around.  Use the 8 ounce size if you want a single serve portion that is perfect to grab and go for a packed lunch.  This is a great way to kick plastic out of your life!  And if you can find milk locally in glass – this is a great zero-waste alternative to all those plastic yogurt containers.  Win!


Oh, are you wondering “how much yogurt?” to add to the warm milk?  Yeah, gotcha.  It will work with as little as three tablespoons of yogurt.  I make sure to save one of my jars of yogurt to use as culture – and so I just dump it all in.  Careful not to overflow!

IMG_4116Fill each jar and then carefully clean the jars with a cloth if there is any milk on the outside of the glass, then carefully set them into the Breville oven.  Space them evenly for air flow.  Use the “Select” knob to turn to the dehydrate function, then turn the temperature to 115 degrees.  I set the timer to 15 hours.  You’ll get thin yogurt at 8 hours (overnight works quite well for us) and the longer you go – the more tart and thick the yogurt will become.  Don’t mess with it while it’s in the oven – you won’t be able to tell the consistency while it’s warm anyway.  Just leave it alone in there overnight.  When you get up in the morning, carefully take the jars out to cool on the counter, then transfer them to the fridge.  I’ll put it in there after dinner and let it run all night and I suppose it’s usually in there about 10 hours – give or take.  It turns out delicious!!I suspect this is a project for an overnight where you are plugged in to shore power because it will take some power.  I would not do this while the bus/home is moving.  That could be a rather epic mess.


My version of “Horse Chow” – our favorite breakfast

I’d love to know it if you make yogurt in your tiny home and what you think of it!

Be well,