Baking bakery -quality bread in your home oven – without any special equipment -is a lot easier than you’d ever guess. A few tips and tricks guarantee impressive artisan-style loaves that no one will ever believe you didn’t bring home from France this morning. You can find fresh yeast at most grocery stores (usually near the eggs) but if you can’t get your hands on some, substitute dry yeast and combine it with the water as a first step.

This recipe was featured on the Holiday Special of The Farm on Public Television.

Pan d’epi

Makes 2 loaves

41/4 cups bread flour
1 teaspoon fresh yeast, crumbled
13/4 cups warm water
1 teaspoon salt

Place the flour in the bowl of a mixer, then crumble the yeast into the flour with your hands. Add the water and salt to the bowl, then mix with a paddle attachment on low speed until combined. Increase the speed to medium and mix until the dough is elastic and has formed a ball around the paddle, about 5 minutes.

Scrape the dough out onto a well-floured work surface. Lightly flour the bowl. Working with floured hands, pull the edge of the dough up and into the center of the dough. Work all the way around the dough, pressing the edges into the center, forming a ball. Place the ball back in the bowl, smooth-side-up. Cover the bowl with a kitchen towel and let the dough rise at warm room temperature, until doubled in volume, about 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 450°F.

Scrape the dough out onto a well-floured work surface. Working with floured hands, shape the dough into a rough rectangle, then pull a long edge of the dough up and into the center of the dough. Repeat with the other long edge, folding the dough like a letter. Cut the dough in half.

Flour a baking sheet.

Working with 1 half of dough at a time, fold a long edge of the dough into the center, pressing down to form a spine of the loaf. Repeat this folding once or twice more until the dough is the length of the baking sheet. Transfer to the dough to the floured baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining 1/2 of the dough. Flour the loaves, then loosely cover with a kitchen towel. Let the dough rise at warm room temperature until doubled in size, about 45 minutes.

Flour the dough again, then using a pair of kitchen sheers, make a long diagonal cut near one side of the dough, almost the bottom of the dough. Fold the cut dough over to one side of the loaf. Repeat cutting the dough ever 3 inches, and folding in opposite directions, until the dough is the shape of a wheat stalk. This will take 4 to 6 cuts.

Place an ice cube in the bottom of the oven and bake the bread until it is dark golden brown and hollow-sounding when tapped, about 40 minutes. Let cool to room temperature. Then reheat until warm if desired or cut and use for dressing.

Butternut GratinThis recipe is a go-to for my family over the holidays. It is dead-simple to put together, can be made ahead and reheated, and makes stunning leftovers. It also has a bit of a surprise factor – the color and nutty sweetness of the squash makes it especially festive.

This recipe was featured in the Holiday Special of The Farm on Public Television.

Butternut Squash Gratin

Serves 8

3 lbs butternut squash, peeled and seeded
1 medium onion
11/2 cups heavy cream
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
12 ounces grated white cheddar cheese

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Thinly slice the squash and the onion using a slicer. Drizzle a small amount of the cream over the bottom of a 3-quart baking dish. Using half of the squash and onion, make layers, seasoning each layer with a pinch each of salt and pepper and a drizzle of cream until the dish is half full. Scatter half the cheese over the squash layers.

Continue making layers with the cream, squash and onion, seasoning each layer with salt and pepper. Drizzle the remaining cream over the gratin, then spread the remaining cheese evenly over the top.

Cover the dish with foil and bake until the squash is very tender, about 40 minutes. Uncover the dish and continue to bake until the gratin is golden on top, 15 to 20 minutes more.

JJ in the kitchen

JJ in the kitchen

The table is set. Your guests are well wined and hungry. You flip through your cookbooks, double checking just how long that souffle should be in the oven when you realize the recipe doesn’t tell you when to take it out. Frantic you open the oven door to find that it has either exploded or shrunk to a pancake.

You curse the gods of the kitchen and the publisher of the cookbooks and crumple yourself into a corner. Dinner is ruined.

And, it wasn’t even your fault.

Poorly written recipes are everywhere you look these days. The internet is the worst culprit, but even published pages are full of mistakes. I spent a few minutes talking with the food writer JJ Goode on The Splendid Table about the technical art of recipe writing and what you should look for in a recipe.

Check it out here: https://soundcloud.com/thesplendidtable/ian-knauer-on-testing-recipes

We spent the day crafting 9 pounds of fresh chiles into 50 jars of liquid fire. I have to say, my hot sauce recipe is pretty killer, especially when the right mix of chiles is used.

This morning, I stopped by our new favorite farm, Roots to River, just up the road from us in Solebury along with our friend Nick Fauchald . The farmers there, Malaika, Josh, and Natalie let us wander through the fields, picking whatever we desired. Tonight we’ll take them some sauce and have a pot luck dinner with their CSA members.

Nick, tasting the chiles right off the plants.

Nick, tasting the chiles right off the plants.

Hot, hot stuff.

Hot, hot stuff.

Here’s the recipe:


Makes about 1 quart

1 head garlic
12 oz mixed chiles
21/4 cups apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons kosher salt

Preheat the oven to 425°F. Cut the top of the garlic and sprinkle with a little salt. Wrap it in foil and roast it in the oven until it’s caramelized, about 45 minutes.

Heat the vinegar, sugar and salt in a pot until it simmers, then pulse the chiles and garlic cloves in a food processor until finely chopped. Add the chiles to the vinegar and bring to a boil. Can or keep in the fridge.

Liquid Fire!

Liquid Fire!

Papaya SaladI spend most of my time in the country and, generally, I’m pretty happy about that. There’s plenty of room for the dogs to run. I can grow my garden. The area of Pennsylvania where I live is pretty and nice. What it is not is diverse. And that is something I miss about my time living in Brooklyn, New York.

Lucky for me, my work often takes me to the big city, and this week it landed me in Jackson Heights, Queens, where the downsides are no places for the dogs to run and having to buy my vegetables from other people. But the upside (and it’s a huge upside) is the cultural diversity. On a few consecutive blocks along 37th Ave. there are eateries that specialize in Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Polish, Russian, Japanese, Chinese, Mongolian, Thai, Argentinean, and Afghanistan cuisines. You can snack on a Columbian arepa while sipping on an Indian basil-seed soft drink while standing in line for a Mexican taco. It’s like a real-life Epcot center.

But perhaps even more impressive than the restaurants and street carts are the grocery stores, where ingredients from all over the world are integrated side-by-side throughout the aisles. Familiar produce like cilantro and okra live alongside green papaya and many things I have never seen before. Of course, when I see edible stuffs I don’t know, I buy them.

One new discovery has been gongura, a pretty green-and-red leaf in the hibiscus family that has a lemony flavor and is used in Indian cooking. In the spirit of ethnic culinary fusion I decided to add it to a Thai-style green papaya salad along with a bit of curry powder to round out the pan-cultural spirit of the place. It’s a bright and refreshing take on an already delicious summery dish.

Jackson Heights Papaya Salad

Serves 4 to 6

3 pounds green papaya
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh ginger
1 scallion, thinly sliced
gongura leaves, thinly sliced
1/3 cup chopped cilantro
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 to 2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon curry powder
Fine sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1 fresh hot chile, thinly sliced

Peel the papaya, halve and remove the seeds. (Papaya seeds are worth tasting to see if you like them. They have a strong pepperiness to them that some people, like me, find tasty. If you like them, use the seeds instead of black pepper in this salad.) Cut the papaya into thin matchsticks with a slicer or a knife.

Toss the papaya in a bowl with the ginger, scallion, gongura, and cilantro. Stir together the lime juice, fish sauce, sugar to taste, curry, 1/2 teaspoon salt and pepper or papaya seeds to taste. Serve sprinkled with the hot chile.

Umami Burger

When you go to the beach, you jump in the ocean. Otherwise, what’s the point? So it goes with summertime and burgers. When you have a grill, you use it to make hamburgers.

I am partial to the classic: beefy patty on a roll with lettuce, tomato, and ketchup. I also like bison, turkey, and veggie patties. In fact, hand me a burger of any ilk between May and September and I’m a happy eater. But, the fact remains that some burgers are just better and some are just bland. Sure, salt and pepper make a difference, even adding a smashed clove of garlic in the mix can help boost flavor, but if you’re left searching for that special ingredient—a surefire fix to summer blandness—I’ve got the answer: glutamate.

It would be an unnecessary cheat to stoop to MSG, although it would do the trick; a dash of soy is a better fix. But there is one ingredient in my pantry that I always reach for just before I form the meat into patties. It’s a shriveled yet intensified form of its former self—the dried porcini mushroom.

Mushrooms, particularly porcini (also called cepes) are loaded with natural glutamates—the G in MSG—and will magically boost the flavor of everything they touch. Their true gift is adding umami flavor foundation without bringing their own personality to the mix. Stir in a small amount of ground porcini (you can buy a powder, but I just whiz the mushrooms in a spice grinder) and your burger will taste more like a burger without tasting like mushrooms. This trick works with any burger at all. If you don’t dig on steer or turkey, that’s cool—add some to you veggie burger and you’ll marvel at just how rich it becomes. And so, now that it’s summer and you’re making burgers, they should be the best burger you’ve had all season. Otherwise, what, really, is the point?

Umami Burgers

Serves 4

1 3/4 pound ground meat or veggie burger mix
1 garlic clove
Fine sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1 teaspoon ground porcini mushrooms
4 burger buns
Ripe tomatoes, sliced
Condiments such as ketchup, mayonnaise, mustard

Crumble the meat or mix in a large bowl. Using a large knife, mash and mince the garlic with a large pinch of salt, until it forms a paste. Add the garlic to the bowl and sprinkle with the porcini powder, 1 teaspoon salt and 3/4 teaspoon pepper. Gently toss the meat or mix to combine, then form into 4 large patties.

Preheat the grill.

Grill the burgers to your desired doneness, then let rest 5 minutes. Build burgers with the patties, buns, lettuce, tomato slices, and condiments to your liking. Serve.

Damson Plum Tart

Damson Plum Tart

Wandering through the farmers’ market when hungry is a terrible idea. Last year, I came to in my kitchen standing over 25 pounds of “seconds” tomatoes, drooling and mumbling to myself. Seconds are the vegetables or fruits that have been bruised and are therefore less worthy, and they can be an incredible deal. Ask for them if you don’t see them displayed. Those tomatoes cost me $7, and after they were canned, they fed me all winter. For most of the year, I have good control over my produce-induced trance-like spending sprees. But in the summer the disease creeps back, and this week, I had another attack.

This time, I came to, standing in my kitchen, mumbling incoherent phrases like, jam, smoothie, tart…the precious…to a case of Damson plums. They lay there in a pile, their skins glowing a royal shade of purple, like golf-ball-sized gems. Their perfume hung heavy over the room.

Damsons are my favorite of all plums. They have a tartness in their skin that balances the sweet of the flesh so that each bite tastes more of complex wine than of simple fruit. They are indeed a favorite in jams, and I’ll be spending the weekend boiling them with some sugar. But for a special treat, I’ll bake the prettiest plums into a frangipane tart, showing off the fruits regalness.

Damson Plum Tart

Serves 8

For the tart shell:
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 stick unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
3 to 4 tablespoons cold water
For the filling:
1 cup almond paste
1/2 stick unsalted butter
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
2 large eggs
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 pounds Damson plums
1/4 cup plum jam

Stir together the flour and salt in a bowl, and then work the butter into the flour with your fingers until it resembles a coarse mixture. Stir in 3 tablespoons of the water with a fork. Give the dough a squeeze; if it feels sandy and doesn’t come together, stir in the remaining 1 tablespoon water. Place the dough onto a large sheet of plastic wrap. Using the plastic as a guide, press the dough onto itself to form a disk. Chill the dough, wrapped in the plastic, for at least 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 375°F.

Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface with a floured rolling pin and fit it into a 9-or 10-inch tart pan, pressing to fit. Line the dough with parchment paper and then fill with pie weights. Bake the crust until it is set, about 20 minutes, remove the pie weights, and bake until golden all over, about 10 minutes more. Let the crust cool.

Beat together the almond paste, butter, sugar, and salt until fluffy. Then beat in the eggs, 1 at a time. Fold in the flour. Pour the batter into the tart shell.

Halve the plums, discarding the pits, and slice the halves as thinly as possible. Place the plums slices over the filling in an overlapping, spiral pattern.

Bake the tart until the filling is puffed and set, 30 to 40 minutes. Then transfer to a rack to cool.

Heat the jam until liquid, and brush it all over the tart. Serve at room temperature.

Fava FriesIt’s not news that California has some pretty good food, but there aren’t many things I haven’t seen when it comes to things edible. So, I was surprised when I spotted whole, fried baby fava beans on the menu of Cotogna in San Francisco. Instead of the more common preparation (where the beans are peeled from their pods, blanched, peeled again and then finished) these were simply battered and fried whole—a time-saver for sure. I had to try them. And, I liked them, but the skin of the beans (not the pod, but the thing you peel after they’re blanched) was quite bitter. Still, this was an idea worth investigating.

The next day I met Mark Marino, an organic-gardening consultant at Carmel Valley Ranch, where they grow a large percentage of the produce for their restaurant. (They also make their own sea salt and honey—pretty cool.) I told Mark about Cotogna’s fava beans and he immediately marched me over to the garden’s fava plants and tore off a leaf. The leaves, it turns out, are also edible and have a spinach-y taste.

Now that I’m home and about to plant my own vegetable garden, favas are high on my list. Before I would be wary of a plant that takes up so much space and yields only a labor-intensive bean. But now that I know I can eat everything, I’m excited to grow them.

I also started playing with the Cotogna idea and have to say, I’m thrilled with what I’ve come up with. I still remove the beans from the pods and cook them like I always have—they make a great addition to pastas, soups, and crostini. But instead of adding the bulky pods to the compost I’ve started frying them in a tempura batter and serving them with a quick aioli. I served them last night to my dinner guests, one of whom is a retired chef and has seen it all, to their delight and surprise. Now that it’s spring and favas are in full swing you can get your hands on a couple pounds and eat them—but save those pods for fava fries.

Fava Fries

Serves 4 to 6

1 pound fava beans
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup rice flour
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1 1/4 cups club soda
Vegetable oil for frying
Quick Aioli (recipe follows)

Peel the fava beans and save them for another use. Remove the strings from the fava pods like you would with snap peas and place them in a bowl of cold water with the vinegar (this prevents them from discoloring).

Whisk together the flours, cayenne, 3/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper, then whisk in the club soda. Drain the pods and pat them dry.

Heat about 3 inches of oil in a heavy pot over medium-high heat until it registers 400°F. Dip each pod in the batter, coating the inside and outside, then fry them, in batches, until they are golden brown and crisp. Transfer to paper towels and serve with the quick aioli.

To make quick aioli (at home I call this souped-up mayo), stir together 1/2 cup mayonnaise with a few teaspoons of finely chopped shallot, a teaspoon of lemon zest and a pinch of salt and pepper. Top the sauce with some finely chopped chives.

Tongue tacosIf you’re following along, you’ll know I was in Mexico last week. My mother, after retiring, decided that she’d had it with the Pennsylvania winters and took action. She bought a tiny casita in a town called Ajijic in the state of Jalisco, and every year, just after Christmas, she heads south. Looking outside this morning, I totally get it too. (Before I go on, I just want to point out that I love you, Mom, and I can’t wait to visit next year!)

The nice thing about this part of Mexico is the weather. Year-round, it’s between 60 and 80 degrees, which, for mom, is just about perfect. The bad thing about Ajijic—ironically—is the American presence there. We’ve taken over. It’s one of the reasons my diminutive 60-something mother from Pennsylvania was drawn to the place—you can thrive there without a word of Spanish in your vocabulary.

I am not going to get into the depressing socioeconomic implications of retired Americans invading Mexican towns here. Instead, I’m going to talk about the depressing food.

The restaurants in this charming little town (it really is quite pretty) mostly cater to ex-pats and serve what can gently be called outdated-and-boring-Continental-cuisine. There is one exception that I know of: Mom introduced me to a delicious pozole at the family-run Cenaduria Memo, and when I visit next year, it’s the only place I want to eat. Needless to say, when I returned home, I had a hankering for Mexican food.

Sourcing Mexican ingredients out here in Amish country is actually a lot easier than you might think. The Amish are notoriously thrifty and, if I may, have been eating on current trend since they came to this country in the early 1600s. Think pickles, pies, and offal, and you either see an image of a Brooklyn hipster or an Amish table. With that in mind, I started planning my ode to the tongue taco.

If you are not into eating tongue because you think it’s gross, or whatever, you should get over it. This is a shockingly flavorful, cheap, and tender muscle. It takes about four hours to become flavorful and tender, but the resulting broth will cure anything—I’m sure of it. So save it for soup. Tongue is not common on the American table (with the exceptions of the Amish and Jewish cuisines) because it’s been considered poor people’s food. But, after having witnessed what the rich ex-pats eat, I’ll take the cheap stuff any day.

Tongue Tacos

Makes enough for a fiesta

1 beef tongue
2 leek greens, chopped
1 small onion, halved
1 carrot, chopped
1 celery rib, chopped
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 cups fresh (or jarred) tomato salsa

Accompaniments: Corn tortillas; Pickled red onions; Crumbled queso fresco; Cilantro

Place the tongue in a sauce pan just big enough to hold it and the vegetables, add 1 teaspoon salt, then cover with water and bring to a boil. Boil the tongue, add more water when needed, until it is easily pierced with a knife. Remove the tongue and let it cool to warm, then peel it. (Sounds a lot grosser and less obvious than it is.)

Strain the broth and save it for another use.

Slice the tongue into pieces, then heat oil in a large heavy skillet over medium high heat until hot, then sear tongue, turning once, until browned. Add salsa to skillet and cook until thickened, about 6 minutes. Serve tongue with accompaniments.

Fresh Squirt Cocktail

I met Ishmael, a fourth-generation jimador, in Mexico this week. He is a farmer who, like his forefathers, tends and harvests blue agave. That’s the plant they use to make agave syrup. And tequila. And Ishmael, now in his 50s, is a master cutter of cacti. In the video I took of him below, he’s moving at a snail’s pace to demonstrate how it’s done. Typically, he can harvest several thousand tons of blue agave in an hour.

Normally, my international boozing shenanigans wouldn’t end up in this space. But tequila, I’ve learned, is probably the greenest spirit out there, and a lot of the reason has to do with the plant itself. Of course, it goes without saying—tequila is pretty delicious stuff too.

Agave thrives in an environment void of almost all water. The plantations are not irrigated—unlike cornfields for bourbon or potato crops for vodka—which saves water. For this reason the plant is also considered one of the best sources for biofuel. Unlike sugarcane or corn, agave does not utilize land that might otherwise be used for food crops—a huge problem in countries like Guatemala, where farmers are resorting to growing their families’ food on road medians after been pushed out of crop fields by sugarcane-ethanol producers. Agave grows where no food can—in the desert.

Once harvested, the agave hearts are steamed, converting their starches to sugars, then they are pressed, extracting what is called the honey (watered-down agave syrup). The leftover pulp is then recycled in one of many ways. It can become compost. It can be repressed to make biofuel (in fact, agave is more efficient than other biofuel crops and even the post-tequila agave can be made into ethanol, reducing the need for more land use). It can be used for livestock feed. Or it can be reused in a variety of paper and natural fiber products, like twine or burlap.

The final green factor of tequila is in your hands. Some tequilas are aged (or rested) in oak barrels—not green—but, unlike bourbon, which requires a new barrel for each batch, tequila barrels are used five to seven times. However, you can choose to drink tequila blanco, the un-aged version, which is just as good, uses fewer resources, and is usually cheaper.

Finally, a recipe.

The locals here like to make a cocktail called a Paloma, a mix of tequila blanco and a grapefruit soda called Squirt. Instead, I’ve stirred together some fresh grapefruit juice, a little sparking water and a shot of tequila.

Fresh “Squirt”-Tequila Cocktail

Makes 1
Ice cubes
2 tablespoons tequila blanco
1/4 cup fresh grapefruit juice
sparkling water

Place ice in an 8-ounce glass and top with tequila and grapefruit juice and stir. Top with sparkling water.