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.

The Tartlette


I was one of those people who before having a child had a long list of all of things I would and would not do. I was so very sure of what I would NOT do when I had my child - she would NOT sleep in our bed, no meant NO, TV time would be severely limited, and the list went on. It is funny how one thinks that everything is completely within their control before having a kid - and then in a moment it changes. You start on an endless journey of treading water and there are days when the waters are calm, and the the tide is low and you have a chance to catch your breath because your feet can touch the bottom, but then there are days when the seas get rough and you can barely keep your head above water. I suppose that is what it is all about - especially when it comes to meal time.

Our daughter - our the Tartlette, which I thought was rather fitting given the name of my blog - started off with avocado. I thought I was being a super mom by giving my kid avocado as a first food. Tartlette at it up, and I was proud - I beamed. I knew I was on the road to greatness when it came to provided my child nourishment. I had fantasies about the food she would eat. I would be the perfect cook for my kid. Then came that one day in the mall when a work colleague/friend was offering her daughter cheeseballs and asked if the Tartlette would like one. I cringed. I got nervous. I think I might have started sweating. I was shocked, and I didn't want to be THAT mom who always said no, but at the same time I was horrified. CHEESEBALLS? Yup. I loved them as a kid, but NOPE we were not allowed to have them in our home. Under no circumstances would my parents buy us those puffed up glow-in-the-dark air filled sodium enriched balls of goodness.

I caved. I said she could have one. And I really and truly meant one. That was all. Not two, not three. But one. Yes, I was being a control freak, but I was trying to balance the best I could. I was treading water. And little did I know it was only the beginning. There is no control. You try your best, you manage. You do what you can, but you have to balance. Avocados, quinoa, and now and then some cheeseballs. Balance. It is all a balancing act. 

There was that time when I came home from work and found a bite taken out of a chocolate bar. Someone had found a chocolate bar, and decided to get right to the point wrapper and all. She was barely 1 year old. Balance. Treading water. It all works out, but no still means no...



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.