Morning or Afternoon Tea, Super Easy, Sweet

Parenting in the Imperfect / Nutella Macaroons with White Chocolate Ganache

“Perhaps it takes courage to raise children.” John Steinbeck

My three-year old son spent most of today with at least one hand down the back of his nappy or up his nose. Although I can admire his tenacity, I felt the need to gently and persistently steer him away from this new activity. Partly because I can’t keep an eye on everything he touches after; and partly because the only other part of his body he’s currently obsessed with is the inside of his mouth. And he gives me lots of kisses, which can turn into licks. Just one of the many joys that come with parenting a toddler…

His other new activity’s opening his mouth as wide as possible and yelling a single note as loudly as he can. Mostly in response to something he doesn’t want to hear. Which, these days, could be just about anything. He has no compunction about doing this in the car, in a cafe, in the supermarket. I believe his preference is somewhere public and definitely where others are quiet.

I was laughing with a fellow mother the other day about our opinions on parenting before we had children. Before my son was born, I was judgemental towards parents who allowed their children to use electronics, once staring in horror at a family allowing their two-year old to use an iPad for an entire breakfast. My child was never going to have a dummy. My child was going to sleep through at 6 weeks thanks to letting him cry himself to sleep. My child was going to only eat organic, biodynamic produce, prepared entirely from scratch by me and was never, never going to have sugar, salt or preservatives in food. Before he was born I seriously considered cloth nappies and unpainted, Scandinavian wooden toys. I briefly played with the idea of changing all our cleaning products to white vinegar and baking soda, with the occasional whiff of diluted eucalyptus oil. He’d never have a temper tantrum because I’d read all the right books. I’d never bribe him to behave. I would exude patience, love and tolerance at all times.

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Three years on, as he’s eating chocolate covered sultanas (totally a fruit in there), watching his second hour of television (Dora’s educational, right?), wearing clothes probably made in terrible sweat shops in a third world country (Kmart have trolleys with child seats – my new essential for a shop), with an ugly plastic toy xylophone that keeps him happily entertained for the 20 minutes it takes for me to have a shower; I’m so very grateful that I’ve learned to be happy about being an imperfect parent. And beyond grateful for the parents who snort with laughter when I tell them about this, before responding with tales of their children sharing bites of food with dogs, of co-sleeping, of owning 14 types of dummy, of fish finger dinners and of having watched every episode of Peppa Pig… twice…

As part of my softening to all parenting ideas that involve parenting as happily as possible, my boy and I share a love for these macaroons. Hazelnut and chocolate is a completely delicious combination, as the Italians discovered many years ago by creating Nutella. As a side note; there are macaroons and macarons, two completely different nibbles. Macarons are the slightly fussy, often poorly made meringue biscuit sandwiched with something creamy. Macaroons are a very easy-to-make, robust meringue biscuit; super-light in texture, packed with flavour and last happily for several weeks in an airtight container  — perfect for toddlers (and adults) who need to be bribed out of a brewing temper tantrum (yup, I do that too) or for afternoons when your friends drop by and the only other food in the house is a honey sandwich…

Enjoy.

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Nutella Macaroons

  • 250g (9oz) hazelnut meal
  • 125g (4.5oz) icing (powdered) sugar
  • 50g (2oz) cocoa powder
  • A pinch of sea (kosher) salt
  • 150g (5.5oz) egg whites (about 4 egg whites)
  • 25g (1oz) caster (superfine) sugar

Preheat the oven to 200˚C and line two baking trays with baking paper

Place the hazelnut meal and salt in a bowl

Sift in the icing sugar and cocoa powder and stir to combine

Place the egg whites and caster sugar in a separate bowl and whisk together until soft peaks form

Gently fold in the hazelnut mix

Spoon into a piping bag and pipe walnut-sized balls onto the trays, about 5cm apart (if you don’t have a piping bag, you can shape using two teaspoons. The only warning I have with this is that when I tried it this way they looked like… and I don’t know another way to say this… cow pats. Yes, they still taste amazing but they will look slightly dung-like. My son thinks this is hilarious and now won’t let me pipe them. You have been warned.)

Decrease the oven temperature to 160˚C and place the trays in the oven, baking for 25-30 minutes or until the macaroons are lightly coloured and dry to the touch

Cool on the trays for a few minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely

White Chocolate Ganache Frosting

  • 440g (15.5oz) white chocolate (choose real chocolate, check on the ingredients that it contains cocoa butter)
  • 150ml (5.5oz) double cream (at least 35% fat)
  • Small pinch salt
  • 5ml (½ tsp) vanilla essence

Heat up your cream until it almost starts to boil and then pour over the chocolate

Let it sit for 30 seconds and then stir

If there are still lumps of white chocolate you can microwave it for 10 seconds and stir it again until it’s smooth

Leave it to cool

Using a palette knife (really any blunt knife will do), smear the ganache onto the macaroons in quantities and patterns that make you happy

Use for all your most important bribes.

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Dessert, Super Easy, Sweet

This Stuff Called Joy / Spiced Rhubarb & Pear Crumble with Vanilla Custard

“Man is fond of reckoning up his troubles, but does not count his joys.”
Dostoyevsky

As a continuation of last week’s post on 10 reasons to be universally grateful, I’ve been thinking about the snippets of life that can’t help but break into joy.

Just to be clear, I don’t mean the schadenfreude joy that reading the annual Darwin Awards brings. Or even the cackling joy brought on by an unpleasant person’s public demise — I’m looking at you Robin Thicke (from a sexually safe distance), while thinking about my favourite #AskThicke tweet of your whole PR disaster, from @JoLiptrott, “When you’re not busy objectifying women, making light of rape and justifying sexual violence, how do you like to relax?”.

No, this post won’t be about the joy that’s dulled by the satisfaction of someone else’s suffering (although I think there’s a place for that in life). This is about the joy that sparkles through life and lights up our days. Unsullied joy.

Like these guys.

I posted this little gif in my Dark Chocolate, Whipped Peanut & Caramel Cookies recipe the other week and every single time I glance through The Imperfect Kitchen page it pulls joy from the base of my stomach, all the way through my chest and tugs at the corners of my mouth and eyes.

Another is my toddler’s singing. I’ve written before about his adventurous additions to the Old MacDonald song. Well now he has an ever-growing repertoire of adorable songs and dance moves. His refusal to sleep still drives me insane, but these days he so often couples his sleeplessness with a quiet rendition of ‘5 Little Ducks’ or a more rousing rendition of ‘Baby Crocodile, Don’t You Bite’. Hearing him sends shivers of love through me and I always have to smile — which only encourages the little monster.

There’s the silent joy at the end of a deep meditation, the belt-loosening joy of an overly full stomach, the breathless joy of uncontrollable belly laughter. The satisfied joy of a job well done, the relieved joy when there’s enough money to pay the bills each month, or when that brown substance around my son’s mouth is mud instead of…

The groaning joy at one of my Dad’s jokes. The excited joy of a reunion with my family on the other side of the world (15 weeks until we fly to London!). The sheepish joy in making up after an argument. The comforting joy of a loving hug at the end of a tough day.

The peaceful joy in writing alone in a cafe with great coffee. The parents-will-get-this joy of a slowly sipped cup of tea. The tastebuds-tingling joy of a beautifully crafted donut or a perfect slice of lemon tart. The incredulous joy at seeing my readers’ engage with The Imperfect Kitchen as it reaches out to more of you all the time.

The reassuring joy of talking honestly with a trusted friend and realising that I’m never alone in anything I feel or experience. The aching joy of facing loss and walking through the pain to a more sincere life. The tentative joy of allowing a friend to love me, without instructing them on how much is too much. The grown-up joy in setting an appropriate boundary of self-care. The releasing joy after great, gulping sobs of grief. The vulnerable joy of opening my heart to life even though my fears cry out.

The joy of getting it wrong and getting it right and getting it every shade in between. The joy of still feeling joy when life is steeped in sorrow. The joy of finding joy again after walking through seemingly endless darkness.

And the most fulfilling joy of bringing joy to others.

And you? Have I missed anything that scatters joy through your life today?

TIK_Spiced Rhubarb & Pear Crumble with Vanilla Custard

What about the joy of a simple and comforting pudding? I make crumbles all the time, they’re my ‘go to’ dessert when I feel like something sweet but can’t be bothered with too much effort. In this one, tart rhubarb and mellow pear are enhanced by smokey maple syrup and warmed throughout by a classic spice blend of ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg. This easy dish will impress all your dinner party Joneses, or is a perfect pud during lazy afternoons curled on a cosy chair with a good book and a cup of tea. If you’re cuddling up for winter, pair it with my creamy vanilla custard recipe below; or, if you’re lounging in summer, serve my apple and strawberry version with scoops of vanilla bean ice cream.

Enjoy.

  • 200g wholemeal flour
  • 150g light brown sugar + 2 tbl sp for the topping
  • 3 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 ½ tsp ground cinnamon
  • ¾ tsp ground nutmeg
  • 150g unsalted butter, cold and cut into small cubes
  • 4 ripe pears – peeled, quartered and cored
  • 500g rhubarb (trimmed weight)
  • 50g raw caster sugar
  • 1 tbl sp pure maple syrup
  • 3 tbl sp cold water

Preheat your oven to 200˚C/390˚F

In a medium bowl, whisk together wholemeal flour, light brown sugar and 1 teaspoon of ginger, ½ teaspoon of cinnamon and ¼ teaspoon of nutmeg

Add the cold, cubed butter and, using your fingers, mix the butter into the flour until the whole mixture resembles coarse sand and starts to clump together

Set aside

Chop the quartered pears in half, then chop the rhubarb into finger-length batons

Place the pears, rhubarb, caster sugar and water in a saucepan, cover and cook gently, over a low heat, for 8 to 10 minutes until the rhubarb is just softened, but still holding its shape

Stir in the maple syrup and remaining ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg before tipping into a large ovenproof dish

(Both the rhubarb mix and the crumble topping can be frozen for up to 3 months, just defrost in the fridge before using)

Use your hands to scatter the crumble on top before sprinkling over the remainder of the brown sugar

Bake for 40 mins until golden and bubbling at the sides

Spoon into bowls and serving with the vanilla bean custard

Vanilla Custard

  • 250ml milk
  • 250ml double (heavy) cream
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 1 tablespoon cornflour
  • 80g caster (superfine) sugar

Combine milk and cream in a small saucepan

Using a sharp knife, split vanilla bean in half lengthways and scrape out seeds

Add bean and seeds to milk mixture and place over medium heat

Cook, stirring constantly, for 5 minutes or until hot (do not allow to boil). Remove saucepan from heat

Whisk egg yolks, cornflour and sugar in a heatproof bowl until well combined

Remove vanilla beans from milk mixture. Pour hot milk mixture over egg yolk mixture, whisking constantly

Return mixture to saucepan over a low heat

Cook, stirring constantly, for 10 to 15 minutes or until custard thickens and coats the back of a metal spoon (do not allow the custard to boil, as it might curdle)

Eat in greedy joy

TIK_Spiced Rhubarb & Pear Crumble with Vanilla Custard all done

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Easy, Morning or Afternoon Tea, Sweet

Warring with Desire / Dark Chocolate, Whipped Peanut & Caramel Cookies

“There is a charm about the forbidden that makes it unspeakably desirable.” Mark Twain

I moan gently in the back of my throat, half heartedly protesting at the frisson of excitement running through my body. I’m determined not to cave this time. I’ve made so many promises to myself over these months, so many times determined not to give in to the desire again, and so many times crumbled into frantic ripping and devouring.

Damn you Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.

I’m not normally a fan of American chocolate, preferring the creaminess of the British, but once these little devils snuck into my chocolate repertoire it’s been nearly impossible to resist their salty, caramel deliciousness for any proper length of time. Like a week.

And they come in pairs. Could life get any more unfair?

Apparently so, because then my local food market started selling them. The one place I rely on for whole foods untainted by the stain of my nasty chocolate crushes and they fail me utterly by supplying Reece’s by the boxful. Cunningly placed next to the organic, 80% cocoa chocolates and raw peanut balls as if to say, “Who? Me? Oh, I’m just hanging out here for a while. Watching the scenery. Don’t mind my gorgeous chemical-laden calorific presence on the shelves. Go and buy some carrots. Bad girl.”

Caramel & Part Nibbled Dark Chocolate Biscuit

I went through a stage of slipping a pack under the rest of my shopping; like all the organic, raw produce sitting on top would somehow transmogrify the terrible temptation into a tamed beast. No such luck. Now, like the hard bitten addict I’ve become, I jut out my chin and slap one into my basket, daring the artisan chocolates to question my life choices.

When I had my son, two and a half years ago, the side of me that houses my passions, desires and a penchant for the naughty just shut off. I felt numbed to anything more than motherhood and existed in the dubious freedom that comes with muted, untangled emotions. The price to pay was a level of depression, at times the exhaustion left me so bleak I couldn’t fathom ever feeling human again. But there was also a cleanness to my emptiness, a relief in living a half life for a while.

Over the past few months I’ve begun to feel everything again and, as with all change, there are plusses and minuses, with Reece’s sitting firmly in the terribly naughty but so very good category. And it’s not just that temptation, it seems that my tastebuds have burst into permanent activity, offering up all the flavours I’d forgotten and threatening to turn the rest of my eating life into that scene from When Harry Met Sally…

Unfortunately, another gift from my son is a slowed metabolism. Where I used to be one of those people who could eat anything and stay slim, I now need to be far more conscious of what I put into my body and how much dreaded exercise is going to be needed to shift it. With that in mind, I’ve been trying to recreate the naughtiness of Reece’s without so much of the wide-eyed horror when I step on the scales.

And here it is…

A soft nuzzle of caramel and thoroughly whipped peanut butter are gently sandwiched between two dark chocolate cookies in this definitely-still-rather-unhealthy-but-so-very-good cookie recipe…

Enjoy.

Preheat oven to 160°C. Line a baking tray with baking paper

On a high speed, whisk the butter, half the peanut butter, caster sugar and 1 teaspoon of the vanilla until pale and creamy

Sift half the flour and cocoa powder over the butter mixture. Stir by hand until just combined. Add the remaining flour and cocoa powder and stir until the dough begins to clump together

Gather the dough into a ball and turn onto a large sheet of cling film, fold over the film and, using your hands, gently roll and shape the dough into a rough tube shape. Then wrap again with a tea towel and roll into a log about 6cm in diameter from tip to tip. Remove the tea towel and wrap in a sheet of card. Secure with elastic bands and put in the freezer overnight

(At this point you can keep the dough in the freezer and chop off slices as your cravings hit)

Cut an even number of 5mm slices from the log and place on the baking tray

Bake the cookies for 12-15 minutes. Set aside on the tray to cool

Meanwhile, add the cold cream, peanut butter and remaining vanilla into a bowl and whisk until it’s combined and no clumps remain. Sift in the icing sugar and whisk until stiff and completely combined

Spread half the biscuits with a teaspoonful of the caramel spread

Spread the other half of the biscuits with a tablespoon full of the peanut whip

Gently sandwich together and serve to groans of achingly naughty delight

Chocolate, Peanut & Caramel Cookie finished

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