How to Bake Focaccia: Recipe for Onion, Olive & Cheese Focaccia

A few weeks ago I received a copy of Baking Basics and Beyond by Pat Sinclair for a review.

As you may know, I'm more of a cook than a baker. Cooking allows for more wiggle room  and more creativity when it comes to following recipes.

Although I think of myself as quite a creative person, another part of my personality is very methodical: I like numbers, formulas, and directions.  And that's what baking is: you follow directions and formulas to come up with, hopefully, delicious cakes, breads, cookies, tarts, etc.

Back to the book...It's divided into twelve chapters and covers biscuits, scones, muffins, brownies, cookies, cheesecakes, pies, tarts, and much more. The majority of the recipes have ten ingredients or less, the instructions are clear and succinct, and each recipe is followed by a baker's note and a secret to success, which share a few helpful hints.

On an aestetic note, the pages are glossy, featuring minimalistic photo styling that really lets the food shine!

As I paged through the book, one recipe really stood out: Onion, Fig, and Asiago Focaccia. Although I've baked bread before and made pizza dough from scratch, I've never made focaccia. This, I decided, will be the time to change that.

Alas, my grocery store did not have dry figs. Also, the recipe called for rosemary, which I really don't like. I ended up using pitted Italian-style oil cured olives instead of figs, and fresh thyme instead of rosemary to make Onion, Olive & Cheese Focaccia.

Onion, Olive & Cheese Focaccia
Recipe is based on and reprinted with permission from Baking Basics and Beyond, Second Edition, by Pat Sinclair, Agate Surrey, December 2011

2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 (1/4-ounce) package active dry yeast
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1 cup very warm water (120-130F)
1/4 cup olive oil, divided
1 cup sliced onion {I used red onion}
1 cup grated Asiago cheese
1/2 cup pitted Italian-style oil cured olives
5-10 sprigs of thyme

1. Combine flour, sugar, yeast, and salt in a large bowl. Add water and two tablespoons olive oil and mix until a sticky batter is formed. {My dough was pretty sticky, so I panicked, but decided to just let it be. It absolutely worked out in the end.}

2. Cover the bowl and let batter rise in a warm place for thirty minutes. Dough will have risen but may not be doubled. Punch down, forcing out any large air bubbles. Cover loosely and allow dough to rise fifteen minutes.

3. While dough is rising, heat remaining oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onions and saute till tender. Let the onions cool down before adding them on top of focaccia.

4. Lightly spray a 12-inch pizza pan with nonstick cooking spray. {I did not have a pizza pan and used 15x10" cookie sheet.} Press dough into the pan so it sticks to pan sides. Using a handle of a wooden spoon or your knuckles, press dimples into the dough.

5. Top the dough with sauteed onions, cheese, olives and thyme sprigs. Cover loosely and allow to rise thirty minutes.

6. Heat oven to 425F with rack in the lower third. Bake focaccia for 20-25 minutes or until its edges are brown and the cheese has melted. {The book says to cool focaccia to room temperature before slicing and eating it, but I say DIG IN!}

My condo smelled beyond amazing while the focaccia was baking. I can honestly say I'm really proud of myself for successfully baking my first ever focaccia. The great thing about this recipe is that you can add whichever toppings you want: use different cheeses, herbs, roasted tomatoes, cured meats, etc. In fact, I don't see why you can't use this as a base for a Sicilian pizza.

I'm looking forward to trying more recipes from Baking Basics and Beyond very soon.

What do YOU like to add to your focaccia?


Indian Lamb Balls in Tomato Sauce

After  competing in the Pro Am DC, which I did not win, I had two pounds of boneless leg of lamb left in my freezer.

My friend Sylvie, who is one of the four finalists in the same competition {YAY!}, offered to come over with her gorgeous yellow Kitchen Aid and its grinder attachment, so that I could grind the lamb. I was game!

So then I had two pounds of ground lamb...what to do? Lamb balls!

The day of the grinding, Sylvie and I spent some time at an Indian store, followed by a dinner of Butter Chicken, Spinach Salad, etc. Needless to say, Indian flavors were on my mind.

Thus, I decided to make Indian Lamb Balls in Tomato Sauce. I used this recipe for Albondigas as my guide.

Indian Lamb Balls in Tomato Sauce
makes ~ 29 lamb balls

For the lamb balls
2 pounds ground lamb {I used lamb from Border Springs Farm}
1 onion, grated
2 eggs
1 cup panko crumbs
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
1 tablespoon curry powder
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
salt & pepper

For the tomato sauce
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
1 tablespoon black mustard seeds
1 cinnamon stick
2 28-ounce cans of crushed tomatoes {confession: I only had one can, so used a few cups of water: don't do it! The sauce was good, but watery. Just use two cans of crushed tomatoes}
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon garam masala

1. Preheat the oven to 400F.
2. In a large bowl, mix together all of the ingredients for the lamb balls. Using an ice cream scoop, form the mixture into balls and place them in one layer in 9x13 Pyrex dish. Bake the balls for 15 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a large Dutch oven. Add cumin seeds, mustard seeds, and a cinnamon stick and cook until the seeds start to pop. Add the remaining ingredients for the tomato sauce and simmer for ten minutes.

4. Carefully place the lamb balls into the sauce and continue to simmer for ten minutes.

These lamb balls are incredibly tender, so be gentle with them. The flavor of fresh ginger really shines and is offset by the sweetness of the tomato sauce. I really liked the pop of the cumin and mustard seeds in the sauce.

You can serve these balls with Basmati rice, pasta, polenta, or a side of sauteed green beans and eggplant (that's what I did).



Pan Roasted Asparagus with Queso Fresco

Happy Friday! Hope you are all looking forward to the weekend; I know I am.

There will be salsa dancing, cooking, practicing calligraphy, seeing a few friends, and trying to motivate myself to exercise.

But first, I want to share with you a recipe I made last week that was inspired by a recipe that Isabelle pinned for Roasted Cumin-Lime Carrots.

Instead of carrots, I used asparagus. Since the asparagus was thin and tender, I decided to pan-roast it instead of heating up my oven. I also left out ground coriander, because I did not happen to have it on hand, and used queso fresco cheese and cilantro rather than mint and green onions.

This side dish comes together incredibly quickly and is as good right out of the pan as it is eaten cold, straight from the refrigerator.

I hope you add this recipe to your repertoire of green side dishes.

Pan Roasted Asparagus with Queso Fresco adapted from Family Style Food

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound asparagus, thick ends trimmed
juice and zest of 1 lime
1 teaspoon honey
salt & pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
1/4 cup grated queso fresco {if you can't find queso fresco, use feta}

1. Heat oil in a pan, add the asparagus and saute for five minutes.

2. Add all the other ingredients except cilantro and queso fresco and saute for another five minutes until the asparagus has softened and the spices, lime juice and honey have formed a lovely brown glaze.

3. Remove asparagus from the pan onto a large platter and top with cilantro and queso fresco.

The cheese  will start to melt as soon as it touches the hot asparagus and will add a bit of saltiness to this spicy and sweet dish. The flavors are incredible. You can try the same formula with zucchini, broccoli, or obviously with carrots, as the original recipe intended.

What's YOUR favorite way to cook asparagus?


Braised Lamb Shanks with White Beans and Tomatoes

If you are tired of reading about lamb, skip this post.

This is the last post in the series of Supper Clubs sponsored by Tri-Lamb Group. The first two were leg of lamb and lamb pizza. I really think Tri-Lamb Group saved the best recipe for the last Supper Club: Braised Lamb Shanks with White Beans and Tomatoes.

Last Thursday, I came home to a box filled with lamb shanks, white beans, canned tomatoes, onions, carrots, celery, spices, red wine and olive oil: all the ingredients necessary to make this dish.

If you know me, you'd be quite shocked that I followed the recipe provided to me EXACTLY, other than adding a bit of chopped parsley at the end for some color.

I've been eating leftovers for a few days and even used the bones to make lamb stock, which I will turn into soup tomorrow.

My friend Daphne was my guest and really enjoyed this recipe as well.

Before I share the recipe with you, a few things:
1) This was the first time I've ever braised meat: I don't know why I stayed away from this great technique!
2) I was so happy to have my large Le Creuset oven to use for this recipe.
3) I decide to serve this dish over boiled potatoes, but you can use rice, noodles or just a chunk of bread.

Here are the lamb shanks!

Braised Lamb Shanks with White Beans and Tomatoes by Tri-Lamb Group

4 lamb shanks
salt & pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 celery ribs, sliced crosswise into 1/2-inch pieces
2 medium carrots, peeled and sliced
1 medium onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespooons tomato paste
1 1/2 tablespoons herbs de provence
1/4 cup dry  red wine
1 1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth
15-ounce can white beans, rinsed and drained
28-ounce can diced tomatoes (with the juices)
To serve: boiled potatoes and fresh parsley

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Heat oil in a large Dutch oven (I used my Le Creuset) over medium-high heat. Season lamb shanks with salt and pepper and brown on each side for about four minutes. {You may want to brown the shanks for a longer amount of time and do so in batches.} Remove the shanks from the Dutch oven and set them aside.

2. Add onion, carrot, celery, tomato paste, herbs de Provence, garlic, salt & pepper to the Dutch oven and cook until softened, for about five minutes. Add wine and scrape up any brown bits from the bottom of the pan.

3. Add broth, beans and tomatoes, and bring the mixture to a simmer. Nestle the lamb shanks into the broth mixture. Cover the Dutch oven and put it into the oven. Braise the shanks for 1.5 to 2.5 hours until they are tender and easily fall off the bone.



Check out the "sauce"


For someone who usually buys boneless and skinless chicken breasts, I LOVED this dish. The lamb was incredibly flavorful and tender, the tomato & white bean mixture balanced the rich flavor of the meat, and the boiled potatoes did an excellent job soaking up all the juices.

The next day, I noticed a solid layer of fat on top of the lamb and beans. I scraped it off. I recommend you do the same unless you eat the entire dish the night you make it.

A big THANK YOU to Tri-Lamb Company for this amazing experience. I really hope to continue my working relationship with you.

Disclaimer: I was not monetarily compensated for these Supper Club posts. I was, however, provided with all the ingredients to make the recipes and was surprised with a gift card at the end of this series.


Mandarin Oranges from Tuckey's

It's the middle of the winter. Although Saturday was a sunny warm day, Sunday was grey and chilly. Who knows what today will bring...

While I'm editing photographs for new recipes to share with you, I want to bring a bit of sunshine and sweetness to you. These are some gorgeous, juicy and just so-cheerful-to-look-at mandarin oranges from Tuckey's.

Don't you just love citrus especially in the cold months? These mandarin oranges are great because the skin peels easily, there are no seeds in sight, and they come with gorgeous deep-green leaves!

If you are as fortunate as I am to have Monday off, enjoy it!!! And come back soon to see recipes for lamb shanks, Indian vegetarian curry with tofu and perhaps something with asparagus.


Mexican Mac & Cheese: Recipe for Wisconsin Cheese

When I was a little girl, one of my favorite dishes had only two ingredients: macaroni and cheese.

My parents would cook macaroni until they were soft, drain them and add them to a bowl. The bowl most likely had a character from one of the Russian fairy tales on the bottom. Then, they'd add shredded cheese. The cheese would melt as soon as it hit the hot pasta and form long strings when I picked the pasta with a fork.

That's how we did it in Russia.

Fast forward 13 years, my family moved to Seattle and discovered boxed macaroni & cheese. Great convenient meal, but not too much to write home about.

Fifteen more years went by. I've tried countless versions of mac & cheese in restaurants, but it wasn't until I started freelancing for Robyn Webb that I made mac & cheese from scratch.

When Wisconsin Cheese approached me to develop a recipe for them, I knew two things: 1) I would use Robyn's mac & cheese recipe as a guideline and 2) I would make my version with Mexican flavors. What can I say...I've come a long way from a two-ingredient mac & cheese.

Mexican Mac & Cheese
adapted from Robyn Webb
serves 6-8

7.5 ounces Mexican chorizo
2 3/4 cups 2% milk
1/4 cup half and half
3 dry Guajillo Chiles, rehydrated in hot water
3 tablespoons cornstarch
12 ounces tri color Rotini pasta
1.5 cups shredded Asiago cheese
1.5 cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese
1 4-ounce can of diced green chiles
1/2 cup crushed lime-flavored tortilla chips


Preheat the oven to 375°F.

Remove chorizo from its casing and brown in a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Drain chorizo on a paper towel.

In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, bring to a boil two cups of milk, half and half and Guajillo Chiles. Lower the heat and simmer for twenty minutes. Strain the milk mixture and discard the chiles.

In a heat-proof bowl, whisk the rest of the milk with cornstarch. Carefully, add one half of the heated milk mixture and mix together.

Add both the milk components back to the saucepan and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and cook until it thickens. This will take 8-15 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook your pasta for five minutes.

Once the milk mixture has thickened, take the saucepan off the heat and add cheese.

In a large heat-proof bowl, combine cooked pasta, chorizo, diced green chiles and cheese sauce. Pour the mixture into a 2-quart oval baking dish and top with tortilla chips.

Bake for 20 minutes.

This dish packs a lot of flavor from the Mexican chorizo and two types of chiles. You can serve it with a side of guacamole or salsa.

Special Thank You to Gina for forwarding my name to Wisconsin Cheese people and to Anna, Mary and Sangeetha for discouraging me from using black beans in this recipe!


Mexican Breakfast: Chorizo, Potato & An Egg in an Cast Iron Skillet

Last weekend I developed a recipe for Wisconsin Cheese. Make sure to come back on Friday to check it out: Mexican Mac & Cheese!

One of the ingredients in my Mexican Mac & Cheese was chorizo. What's not to like about this salty and fatty pork product?

You can add chorizo to soups, pizzas, casseroles, or use it as a decadent part of your breakfast.

Here, I used Mexican chorizo in combination with potatoes and an egg. This is one of my favorite weekend breakfasts.

As you can see from the photograph on the left, I cooked everything in a cast iron skillet. If you don't have one, go and buy it as soon as possible. Not only is it great for breakfast dishes, but it's also an excellent surface for cooking chicken breasts, baking cornbread or charring onions.

Mexican Breakfast: Chorizo, Potato & An Egg in an Cast Iron Skillet

Serves 1


1 link of Mexican chorizo, removed from its casing
1 Yukon Gold potato, scrubbed and diced
salt & pepper
1 tomato, diced
1 egg
refried beans
chopped parsley


1. Heat a cast iron skillet on medium heat. Add Mexican chorizo and diced potatoes and cook for about 15 minutes, or until potatoes are crispy and cooked through. Season with salt & pepper.

2. Add the diced tomato to the chorizo and potato mixture and cook for one minute.

3. Make a spot in the middle of the cast iron skillet and carefully drop in an egg (obviously leave out the egg shell!). Cover and cook for 3-5 minutes. Make sure the egg yolk is still runny.

4. Serve directly in a skillet topped with fresh parsley and sides of refried beans and salsa. Just be careful not to burn yourself on the cast iron! I used a thick cutting board as a trivet.

This is a simple, but very filling dish to make for breakfast. It can also be a quick weeknight meal. Of course, as with any of my recipes, you can add other ingredients to make them your own: onions, peppers, corn, etc.

What do you like to make with Mexican chorizo?


What to do with Leftover Hamentashen Dough? Cookies with Caramel Pear Preserves

Confession: I tend to hoard things. Those things include art supplies, cards, shoes, clothes (that no longer fit), people (for whom I've lost that warm and fuzzy feeling) and food!

My pantry is filled with items that I haven't used for over a year, and my freezer holds things such as chicken, pizza dough, and sorbet that I may or may not ever consume.

I need to stop hoarding.

I really must.

But it's hard. I'm sure many of you can relate.

A few weeks ago, I took a tiny little step toward the goal of dehoarding, and it was a very sweet step!

Last year, almost one year ago in fact, I made hamentashen filled with fig preserves. They were delicious, but required a ton of work. So much work, in fact, that I ended up freezing half of the dough to deal with later.

The "later" finally arrived!

Here is the hamentashen dough!

Allow the dough to defrost in your refrigerator.

Preheat the oven to 350F degrees.

Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface to about one-quarter inch in thickness. Then, using a ravioli cutter, cut out the shapes. Of course you can use whichever cutting utensil you desire: biscuit cutter, ♥-shaped cutter, or even a plain glass. I love the ridges the ravioli cutter makes.

Using a fork, make a few indentations in the dough, but don't pierce all the way through.

Then, you'll need a pretty thick jam to fill these cookies. Lucky for me, I had Caramel Pear Preserves from my friend Cecilia. If you are not lucky enough to have Cecilia as a friend, you can use store-bought preserves or Nutella.

But first, you'll have to bake the cookies. Mine took about 18 minutes. You want them to be a bit brown on the edges. It's best to bake these cookies on a parchment-lined cookie sheet. Don't worry about leaving too much space in between: the cookies don't really spread out. Allow the cookies to cool completely before moving onto the next step.

Next, it's time to spread the preserves on half of the cookies and then top with the remaining cookies. Seriously, how simple is that? Get your kids to help out!

All done!

Beauty shot:

These cookies are crispy and sweet. Store them in a tightly sealed container for a few days...but most likely they'll be gone before then.

Before you leave, please head out and vote for my lamb recipe! Thank you.