The Focaccia Bread that Ruined Everything

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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

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,


Blushing Eggs

I’ve been researching the various ways authors include food in their writing.  Some authors weave the recipes right into the story, others mention the food and then include recipes in the book.  While that seems like it would narrow the options down to just two, each author does this in their own unique way and I’m enjoying this exploration very much.

One example is the memoir Blush: A Mennonite Girl Meets a Glittering World that I have written about before.  This book has inspired me a great deal, and I even had lunch and a delightful conversation with the author, Shirley Showalter.  That was FUN!  (Authors are So Cool!)

In her book, Shirley mentions food and she includes special recipes at the end of the book.  There were two recipe that caught my attention, one was for a Beet Pickle and the second was for Pickled Red Beet Eggs that uses the brine left from the pickle a second time, to pickle the eggs.  The more I thought about these pickled eggs, the more I began to crave them.  But without the leftover brine from the pickles… and beets aren’t in season… how?

Then I thought about the pickled eggs we used to serve at our restaurant.  The other day I discovered a whole banker’s box full of recipes left from our restaurant.  I even found the blue book of hand written recipes that was the reference book for my husband’s sandwich shop that he ran alongside his pipe organ business before I was a part of his life.  I was delighted to find this box and as I sorted the recipes I found my long forgotten recipe for pickled eggs that we used in our restaurant.

Two dozen farm fresh eggs (some of which have a turquoise hue) in hand made pottery on a hand woven cloth.

But before I go on about those beautiful eggs, let me share a little morsel from the book:

“In the 1950’s a few hobos still traveled the countryside, although most of them had disappeared after the Depression and World War II. I remember Mother making a delectable meal for one man who knocked on our door.  She cooked up fried chicken, mashed potatoes, gravy, green beans, bread and butter, and home-canned peaches, along with chocolate cake for dessert.  I could tell she was also a little afraid.  As she confided afterward, she had heard that sometimes hobos set fire to barns, but she swallowed her fear after looking at the hungry man in front of her.  She wanted to make him a meal he would enjoy, one that would stay with him until he met another generous farm wife down the road.  The man ate the meal on the porch, sitting on a rocking chair.  Henry and I played in the yard, watching him from the corner of our eyes.  When he had eaten every morsel, the man returned the plate to Mother and thanked her.  ‘You’re a good cook, Ma’am, he said.'”

Even through her fear she chose to be generous, and she cooked a real meal for the “hobo” knowing it might be a while until he had another.  Everything about this meal shows a woman walking in Grace and making the road a little gentler for her fellow travelers.  Brava!

About those eggs…

Put two dozen eggs in a roomy pot and cover with water.  Bring to a rolling boil, then remove them from the heat, cover them, and set the timer for 14 minutes.

When the timer rings, drain the hot water and rapidly cool the eggs in cold water.  When the eggs are cool, peel them gently and place each dozen in a quart canning jar.

 Juice three large beets…
 and one onion.
 To the quart jars with the eggs add two gloves garlic and 1/2 T pickling spice per jar plus a healthy pinch of salt.
Fill the bottom half of the egg-packed jar with the beet/onion juice and fill the rest with vinegar and cover.
 Allow them to sit in the fridge for a few days until the color and flavor seeps through the egg white.
Ok, I know that’s the advice to give, but mine were in the brine
only a few hours before I could NOT TAKE IT ANY LONGER.
I ate the first egg.
It was yummy!
(If this is wrong I don’t want to be right)
pickled for only a few hours

Helpful tip: I use this brine over and over for lots of eggs.  I boil a new batch of eggs, pack the jar, pour in the brine, and just top it off with vinegar.  The eggs will continue turning out delicious and colorful, and a little lighter in color each time.   And pickled eggs are yummy straight from the jar, and they make a delightful addition to a cob salad!

BTW, I’m posting these Blushing Eggs (see what I did there?  The title of the book is “Blush” and I’m talking about pickled eggs, lol, I amuse myself!) in conjunction with Novel Food by Simona Carini.  Drop by over there to see all the links to delicious food inspired by a published literary work!  I’ve been a part of Simona’s collection in the past and seriously, the Novel inspired food from creative cooks all over has been absolutely spectacular!  Last time there was a guy who wrote about pots de creme from Proust.  The very idea is swoon-worthy!

A shout-out to generous cooks everywhere, especially the kind who feed our modern day ‘hobos’!
These “Blushing Eggs” have been allowed to soak in the brine for about 24 hours.

Stay Tuned