Baking with a view


I have always had the luxury and joy of using a large oven and stove. Sure - this may seem very trivial, but it is true. Five and six burner stoves and numerous ovens make up my parents' kitchen. My own "grown up" kitchen has a five-burner stove, and an oven, which hold extra large cookie sheets. I mention only because we are moving. We are staying in Abu Dhabi, but moving to a different apartment, and one of the challenges I have had is finding a place that has BOTH a great view and a stove that meets my critical baking needs. Yup - a real serious challenge I know. While there is climate change and war and serious political strife in the US I am sitting here in the Arabian Gulf concerned about a view versus and oven. Completely trivial in some senses, but in other sense it gives me something to focus on and control.

The view is important because for the past 2 1/2 years my husband and daughter have watched Arabian Sunsets almost nightly and the sunrises from the East in the morning. It is their "thing". We have sweeping windows that look out onto the Arabian Gulf - West - and we have the fortune to watch the sun dive down underneath the horizon most nights. At first we thought we could give up the view - the view would not matter so much. I wanted the oven - I wanted to ensure that I could use my oversized cookie sheets. I could not even fathom compromising on the size of the oven. But as the search continued and I took an increasing interest in the view. I started to think about what I would be missing by not seeing my husband and daughter watch the sunset. So baking will now take a slightly different and more creative direction - and I can ensure the the sunsets (and sunrises) in the Gulf remain a constant.

Thin Mints - BabyCakes NYC style



I was never a girl scout. Growing up I always kind of envied them - it was like an elite club that I was never part of. Years later I made up for it by joining a sorority at college in Texas, but Girl Scouts always eluded me. As I was not a Girl Scout, I never really got into the whole cookie thing. Sure, I knew about them and ate them, but I really only liked the Thin Mints. They reminded me of similar cookie my parents would buy and keep in the freezer. The mint flavor was like an explosion of freshness in my mouth. I have always loved the chocolate/mint combination. Living overseas, Girl Scout cookies are not something that come around on an annual basis - I might see a post about them on FaceBook, or hear American friends whistfully mention them in passing. But no one comes knocking on our door to sell Girl Scout cookies. My sister recently shipped over a bunch of boxes, and they were a huge hit in the office where many of the people had only ever heard about them from the movies. The thin mints - of course - were a big hit. It is not always going to be possible to get the cookies over here in the Middle East. That I know is true. However, international shipments aside, there is another way to get the chocolate mint combination. 

Baby Cakes has a fantastic recipe for this little delights, and they are just as satisfying as the original. Sure, you might say "Why would I try to change the real thing?" but these little delights are pretty damn satisfying, and easy to make at home. Aside from that they are vegan and gluten free (if that is your thing, and if it isn't, they are still worth it!)

Thin Mints (adapted from Baby Cakes NYC)

Preheat oven to 325F
Line 2 cookie sheets or baking sheet with parchment paper, tinfoil, or silpat baking sheets

1 1/2 C Bob's Red Mill All-Purpose Gluten Free Baking Flour
1 C Sugar
1/2 C unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 C arrowroot
1 1/2 tsp xanthan gum
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
3/4 C melted refined coconut oil
1/3 C unsweetened applesauce
2 tbsp vanilla extract
1 C chocolate chips (gluten free/vegan if wanted)
3 tbsp mint extract
In a bowl whisk together the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, arrowroot, xantham gum, baking soda, and salt. Add in the melted coconut oil, applesauce, and vanilla. The mixture will form a thick dough. Take a cookie scoop or spoon (depends on the size you want your cookie) and drop the cookie dough on the baking sheet about 1 1/2 inches apart. Flatten each cookie and smooth the edges of the cookie with your fingers. Bake for about 14 minutes, and then allow to cool on the baking sheet for 15 minutes. While the cookies are cooling melt together the chocolate and mint extract. This is best done by placing the chocolate in a heat-proof bowl, and then placing the bowl over some simmering water. Gently stir the chocolate until it is melted and then add in the mint extract. Remove from the heat once it is melted. Either dunk the cooled cookies into the chocolate mixture, or take a spoon and spread the chocolate over the top of the cookies. Refrigerate for about 30 minutes or until the chocolate sets. This should make about 2 doz cookies.

Peanut butter, coconut, and chocolate granola



There are so many granola recipes out there. Everyone seems to like theirs slightly different from the next - dried fruit, no fruit, sweet, salty, buttery, dry, crispy, soft, etc. I first made my own granola a few years ago in our apartment in Boston's South End. It was pretty simple- oats, coconut oil, agave necter, toasted almonds, and raisins. I also added a few extra pinches of salt for the sweet/savory combination. I liked the creation so much, that I made a HUGE batch of it before our wedding and had bags of it waiting in the guests' hotel rooms. I labeled it "Tanzania Trail Mix" since we were headed there for our honeymoon safari. I threw in a bit of dark chocolate chips once the mixture cooled to make it more like a treat.

Since that June in 2010, I have made dozens more batches of the tasty creation - each slightly different from the previous. I recently saw a post for peanut butter chocolate chip granola on David Lebovitz's site, and I was annoyed I had not previously thought about those ingredients together. All I needed to do was read the recipe's title before running off to the kitchen to make my own batch. I have to confess - I did not even look at his specific ingredients until after making my own granola.

That being said, he was the inspiration for these flavors. Unfortunately, since adding peanut butter to the mix, I have found the granola to be entirely too good, and while I love making it, I have to restrain myself. It is more like a dessert that a breakfast item.

Preheat oven to 325 F

6 cups rolled oats (not instant)

1/2 C peanut butter (I like Teddie's, as it is only the good stuff!)

1/4 C coconut oil

1/2 C agave nectar or maple syrup

2 tsp salt

1/2 C dried unsweetened coconut flakes

1 cup semi-sweet/dark chocolate chips

Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and set aside.

Over low heat melt the coconut oil and peanut butter and gently whisk together. Add in the agave necter and continue to whisk gently until everything is incorporated together. In a large bowl add in the oat and coconut flakes. Pour the coconut oil mixture over the oats and mix with a spoon. Pour the oats onto the baking sheet and spread the mixture out, so that it covers the sheet. Sprinkle the salt on top. Bake for 15 minutes, and then gently mix the oats on the sheet. After another 10 minutes remove the oats from the oven. Allow to cool for 5 minutes, and then sprinkle the chocolate chips on top. After another 5 minutes, mix the oats around so that the melted chocolate is equally disbured throughout the oats.

At this point you can allow the granola to totally cool, however, it is at exactly this point when I tend to grab a spoon - or use my hands - and eat the still-warm nutty chocolate goodness!


Basic Banana Bread


On July 13, 2005 my husband and I went on our first date. On our second date I cooked for him. The meal was fine, some might even go as far as to say great, but the dessert was over the top - poached pears in red wine with a dark chocolate sauce over the top. I also made chocolate truffles for the first time. All of my friends now know that I make chocolates on a fairly regular basis (of course it is a bit more difficult now that we live in the Middle East - the weather does not always make it easy!). I also made him mojitos with Cuban rum. One cannot purchase this in the US, but I had a bottle and given that he is Cuban, I thought that this little factor would make for a memorable evening. There was no turning back after this night.

I still cook and bake for him. However much to his disappointment I am always "playing" around with the recipes. I will make them vegan or gluten free or *gasp* healthier... All is going along just fine, and then I let it slip that I substituted whole wheat flour for white flour, and his face darkens, and he mumbles something about knowing the whole time that it just did not taste right. I should have learned my lesson a long time ago to just keep my mouth shut.

In any event, for the past few days we have had some bananas sitting on the counter in our kitchen. They are just getting darker and darker, and finally I got fed up smelling them. I decided to make Dr. H banana bread. Plain, simple, basic banana bread - a recipe from The Joy of Cooking, which is a basic, go-to cookbook that has everythign and anything you could possibly need. White sugar instead of agave nectar. Canola oil instead of coconut oil. White flour instead of whole wheat flour. As I mixed and poured I realized that people have developed and unhealthy fear with "plain" ingredients. This was the most basic of basic - the stuff that makes people smile. That takes away the bad days and dries up tears. Yup - sometimes plain and basic is just good stuff. I have made a few adjustments to the recipe, and they are largely based on my not paying attention; I was reading the recipe after Banana Bread, which is for Pumpkin Bread, and ended up using some of those ingredients and measurements in the Banana read recipe. My husband proclaimed it was the best banana bread I had ever made, so sometimes it might be ok to not pay attention when it comes to baking!

Basic Banana Bread (adapted from The Joy of Cooking)

2 medium-sized VERY ripe mashed bananas

5 tbsp canola oil

2 medium eggs (lightly beaten)

1/3 C milk (regular or soy)

2/3 C sugar

1 1/3 C all purpose flour

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1/4 tsp ginger

OPTIONAL - 1 C chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350F and grease a 8 1/2x4 1/2 loaf pan.

Whisk together the dry ingredients. Mix the bananas in a bowl. Add in the oil, egg, sugar, and milk. Mix well. Add in the dry ingredients and mix until just incorporate. Make sure you scrape down the sides of the bowl. Pour the batter into the loaf pan and spread it evenly. Bake for 55-60 minutes or until a toothpick or cake tester comes out clean. Remove from the oven and allow the bread to cool in the pan on a cooling rack for about 10 minutes. Remove the bread from the pan and allow to thoroughly cool before slicing.


Brenda's Zucchini Bread


OK - so maybe the original version of this recipe is not by Brenda, but Brenda made this zucchini bread for me, and she shared the recipe with me, so she is now getting the credit. Truth be told, the credit should go to Gluten Free Goddess - amazing recipes and gorgeous pictures! There are several things that make this recipe so amazing. It has brown sugar in it, which gives a deep and rich sweetness. The recipe is gluten free and dairy free, and you could make it vegan if you want. It is a forgiving recipe, and this is not always the case for gluten-free recipes. You see, I had to substitute potato starch for tapioca starch (only to find out later I actually HAD the stupid tapioca starch...) and it still rocked. Enjoy every single bit of this treat - as it is so worth it! Next time I will try not to eat the whole loaf in 3 1/2 days...

Preheat the oven to 350F and grease a 9 inch loaf pan.


1 rounded cup of fresh, grated zucchini 
1 cup sorghum flour
1/2 cup potato starch
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon xanthan gum
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2/3 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup light olive oil or coconut oil
2 egg whites, beaten or egg replacer (1/4 cup liquid)
1/4 cup soy milk 
1 teaspoon fresh lemon or orange juice
1 1/2 tablespoons vanilla extract

Press the grated zucchini with a paper towel to remove as much moisture as you can. Set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the sorghum flour, tapioca starch, baking powder, baking soda, xanthan gum, sea salt, and cinnamon. Add in the brown sugar.
Add the oil, lemon juice, egg whites or egg replacer, and the coconut milk. Beat to combine and continue to beat on medium high until the batter is smooth- about two minutes.
Add in almost all of the shredded zucchini and stir by hand to combine.Pour the batter into the loaf pan and spread around evenly with a spatula. Sprinkle some extra zucchini shreads on top.
Bake in the center of a preheated oven until the top is golden and firm, yet gives a bit when lightly touched. It should feel slightly springy - approximately 50-55 mintes. Test with a thin sharp knife or a wooden pick- they should come out clean.
Enjoy and see if you can't eat this in 2-3 days...


Milk Chocolate Chip Cookies

I have the best memories of cookies as a kid - my mother ran a gourmet food store, and I would sneak into the walk-in freezers with a spoon and put spoonful after spoonful of the cookie dough into my mouth. It made me quite popular when I brought my friends to show them what treasures hid behind door number one. Sure, you could argue that it was unsanitary or a terrible thing to eat raw egg. As a 12 year old, those kinds of things really didn't matter, and it is still a great memory. I mean really, how many kids (or adults for that matter) get that kind of opportunity?
Cookies (and raw dough for that matter) were very popular in our house. The go-to cookbook for sweets in our house was anything by Maida Heatter. In fact this dessert queen was so very loved by my parents that they named my sister after her. From cakes to tarts to cookies, everything that Maida touches turns into sweet perfection. Creating her recipes here in Abu Dhabi make me feel closer to my family and New England, which is where I grew up. 
Maida Heatter's book "Brand new book of Great Cookies" is full of incredible recipes ranging from gingersnaps to biscotti, to fortune cookies. I tend to gravitate towards anything that is chocolate related, so when I saw one of her creations titled "Positively-the-Absolutely-Best-Chocolate-Chip Cookies" I had to try them. They are similar to the Toll House recipe, but they have more chocolate. I slightly altered the recipe and sprinked pink sea salt on top of the dough before baking. I also used dark brown sugar instead of light to make the flavor a little richer. Yup, pretty damn good! 
Positively-the-Absolutely-Best-Chocolate-Chip Cookies
Makes about 24 large cookies
8 ounces unsalted butter
1 tsp salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
2 large eggs
2 1/4 cups unsifted all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 tsp hot water
2 1/2 cups if milk chocolate chips or pieces
Sea salt
Preheat the oven to 375F and put the rack in the middle of the oven. In a large bowl beat the butter with an electric mixer until soft. Add in the sugar occassionally scraping down the sides of the bowl if necessary. Add the eggs one at a time. Once everything is combined add in the flour, baking soda, and salt. Add in the hot water, and finally add the chocolate.
Use a 2 inch cookie scoop measure out the dough onto a well-greased cookie sheet spacing them about 2 inches apart. Gently press the dough down to flatten it and lightly sprinkle a small amount of the sea salt on top. Bake for about 10-12 minutes. Allow to cool for a few minutes on the cookie sheet, and then transfer them to a cooling rack.

Triple Chocolate Chip Cookies

Cookies 3 copy

My mother taught me how to cook. My father also spent a considerable amount of time with me in the kitchen. They both have their specialties and entertain better than anyone I know. The best gift they have ever given me is  the ability to cook. It often does not come down to the exact 1/8 of a teaspoon or the perfect shape of a pie crust. Instead it comes down to a feeling, a sense of knowing what flavors work well together, when to improvise, and when measuring matters.

Of course when it comes to measuring there tends to be few liberties one can take when baking. Over the years I have learned which ingredients I can adjust according to my tastes and mood. Vanilla extract and chocolate are two of these ingredients, which is why I love this particular cookie recipe from Baking with Julia, by Dorie Greenspan

This is a chocolate lovers recipe and it has instant coffee in it, which adds a subtle but sophisticated flavor. This is not the kind of recipe you want to try to make low fat or low sugar. It begs for eggs, butter, white flour, and white sugar. Just go with it, it works, and every single cookie crumb is pure deliciousness. While original recipe indicates that it makes about 4 dozen cookies, I managed to make about 6 dozen cookies - they are a nice size and keep well. I used a 1 inch cookie dough or melon ball scoop to get uniform cookie sizes. I also used a variety of chocolate - dark, white, and milk. I chopped it all up and threw it into the recipe. YUM! 

Triple Chocolate Chip Cookies (adapted from Baking with Julia, by Dorie Greenspan)

2 C all purpose flour

3 tbsp instant coffee

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp salt

8 oz butter - softened to room temperature (I tend to use salted butter as I like the flavor, however use what works best for you)

3/4 C granulated sugar

3/4 C packed dark brown sugar

2 medium eggs

2 tsp vanilla extract

3 C chopped chocolate (I used a mix of white, milk, and dark)

Mix the flour, baking soda, coffee, and salt together in a bowl and set aside. Put the butter in the bowl of a stand mixer and mix with the paddle attachment on high until the butter turns pale in color. Add the white sugar and mix for about 30 seconds, and then add in the brown sugar. Mix for 30 seconds. You might need to scrape down the sides of the bowl on occassion. Add in the eggs one at a time and mix until well blended. Finally, add in the vanilla.

Turn the mixture down to a slow speed and gradually add in the flour mixture. Only mix until everything is just incorporated. Then add in the chocolate.


Take the dough from the bowl and wrap it in plastic wrap for several hours or overnight so that it becomes quite firm.

When you are ready to start baking the cookies, preheat the oven to 350F. Lightly grease 2 large baking sheets or use silpat sheets on top of the baking sheets. Usings a tablespoond or a cookie scoop, scoope out the dough into balls and place on the cookie sheet about 2 inches apart, as they will spread while cooking.


Gently press down the tops of the raw down to flatten slightly before placing the sheet in the oven. Bake for about 10 minutes, and rotate the sheet 180 degrees about 5 minutes into cooking.


Gluten Free Flour Mix

There are lots of flours out there. More kinds of flours that I can possibly begin to name. At times, it really is a bit overwhelming. There are of course the basic, no-nonsense kinds of flour like all purpose, whole wheat, and bread flour. Then there are the more exotic kinds of flour like spelt, teff, quinoa, and coconut. For people with allergies or those looking for something different, the options are endless. I suppose I fall into the latter category. I am always trying new recipes and experimenting with old ones.

So it is no wonder that our pantry is filled with different kinds of flour. I finally decided that with all of the flour, I could make my own gluten free mix. I have played around enough with gluten free recipes that I am starting to get the hang of it. What I really wanted though was a mixture that had coconut flour in it. I love the smell and the taste and the fact that is is nutritionally dense. This particular mix will yield enough flour to last you through several (2-3) recipes. If you double the recipe you will of course have more. I store it in a ziploc bag in the the freezer. Enjoy!

2 cups of potato starch

2 cups of brown rice flour

1/2 cup coconut flour

1/2 cup almond flour

2 tsp xantham gum

Mix all ingredients well and store in an air tight container.


Boozed-Up Citrus Cornmeal Cake for HHH

Cake platter

I know - maybe the name of the cake should be a bit more refined... but really, that is exactly what kind of cake I made. It is adapted from Nigella Lawson's Orange Cornmeal Cake, which I made for my husband several years ago. Since I first made that cake he has talked about it to friends on several occassions. Even when I first made it, I boozed it up a bit. When it came out of the oven I poured a generous amount of Grand Marnier over the top as the cake cooled. The result was, well, pretty damn good. Butter (lots of it) cornmeal, orange flavors, and alcohol - it is kind of hard to go wrong. In fact, I have mentioned on several posts before that adding alcohol (in responsible and reasonable amounts of course) to desserts often enhances the flavors. 

While the original recipe is pretty perfect, I found I did not have any oranges in the house when making this the second time around, so I used lemons instead and added in some Fiori di Sicilia instead of orange oil. When you mix all of the ingredients together, they will look a bit curdled - it is ok, it all comes together in the end as often happens when you cook/bake. Have fun with it. It is just a recipe after all.


Boozed-Up Citrus Cornmeal Cake (adapted from Nigella Lawson's Orange Cornmeal Cake in her book "Forever Summer")

8 oz soft unsalted butter

4 oz fine yellow cornmeal

1/2 c caster sugar

4 medium eggs 

1/4 c plain lowfat yogurt (I used greek yogurt)

juice + zest of 1/2 lemon

1 3/4 oz flour

1 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp of Fiori di Sicilia OR orange oil OR vanilla extract

1/3-1/2 c Cointreau or Grand Marnier

Preheat the oven to 350F or 180C. Grease a springform pan and place parchment paper on the bottom of the pan. Cream the butter and the sugar together in a stand or hand-held mixer. Add in the eggs, and mix well, and scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add in the yogurt, lemon juice and zest and mix. The mixture might seem a bit curdled, don't worry. It will all come together when baking. Finally, add in the cornmeal, flour, and baking powder. Mix until all ingredients are incorporated and pour into the pan. Bake for 38-40 minutes or until firm and golden brown on top.

Allow the cake to cool for about 10 minutes in the pan and then run a knive around the edge before you release the cake gently from the pan. Turn the cake on a cooling rack. While it is cooling pour about 1/4 C of Cointreau over the cake (this will be the bottom of the cake) and let is soak in. When the cake is full cooled and about 30 minutes before serving, pour the remaining Cointreau over the top of the cake.

Serve alone or with fresh berries and cream.

Plain Vanilla

Vanilla two copy


When asked whether I want chocolate or vanilla, I tend to choose vanilla. There is something undeniabley wonderful about the simplicity of the flavor. Don't get me wrong, I love chocolate, and I have small pieces of dark chocolate every single day. However, vanilla is often overlooked.

When we first moved to the UAE I have a hard time finding vanilla extract. Sure, there was imitation vanilla, and I could find vanilla flavouring on the shelves of every grocery store and hypermarket. But vanilla extract was no where to be seen. It then dawned on me that it contained alcohol. In order to purchase alcohol you need to have an alcohol license. Luckily, I had this particular document, so I went into one of the liquor stores (which is a separate adventure in itself). I was out of luck. I did find small, I am talking small bottles of vanilla extract in a great Australian grocer/market, but I mean the way I use vanilla it would be gone after two recipes.

I noted my frustrations on Facebook - you know, about not finding vanilla extract etc, and two friends immediately responded. They both told me how easy it was to make my own. Umm, why hadn't I thought of this before? Mason jar, vodka or rum or even bourbon, and vanilla beans. And vanilla beans are EVERYWHERE here. So I gave it a go, and made the most wonderful tasting and smelling vanilla I have ever had. I used vodka, but I am going to use rum next time. One of the benefits about livng in the UAE is that I can buy the really good rum here - the rum from Cuba - so Cuban vanilla extract will be the next batch.

NOTE: this is not a quick process. It takes about 2 months. Make sure you have some vanilla extract on hand if you know you are going to need some in the next 2 months!

1 16 oz mason jar

1 1/2 C vodka (or rum or bourbon)

2 vanilla beans, carefully split lengthwise

Make sure the mason jar is clean. Put in the vanilla beans and pour in your alcohol of choice. Store in a cool dark place for about 2 months. Every week, go and visit your vanilla and give it a gentle shake.