Grown Up Nutella

Homemade Nutella

Nutella?  That’s for kids right?  And you can just pick up a jar in any food shop so why on earth would you want to make your own?

These are good and valid questions but I think I also have some good and valid answers to them.

First of all no.  Just no.  Nutella is NOT just for kids – why should they get all the good stuff?  Call it hazelnut and chocolate spread and it already sounds more grown up.  And don’t pretend you don’t eat it yourself.  By the spoonful.  When no one is looking.

So, that brings us to the next question “why would you make it yourself?”.  Well, when I started seeing lots of “make your own Nutella” recipes on Pinterest I asked the same question.  Then I looked at the ingredients in the original:

The main ingredient is sugar, lots of sugar, nearly 57% to be exact.  That’s more than half the jar.  That’s followed by Palm Oil.  Lots of people have a problem with palm oil because demand has led to large areas of deforestation across Indonesia which, in turn, has destroyed the habitat of the orangutan.  Both species of orangutan are now endangered, the Sumatran orangutan is listed as critically endangered.

Next on the list are hazelnuts and cocoa (as you might expect) followed by skimmed milk powder and whey powder (which you might not), lecithin (a stabiliser made from soya) and finally vanillin (a synthetic vanilla flavouring).

Well, I guess you never thought it was a health food – nothing that tasty ever is.

My next question was “can I make a version that is tasty and a little healthier?”  So I started looking for recipes.  I found about 12.  All of them were different.  Some used sugar, some used maple syrup, some added milk powder, some added condensed milk, some used plain chocolate, some used milk chocolate, some used raw cacao, some added vegetable oil, some didn’t bother.  They all used hazelnuts though!

I started thinking about what I wanted from my nutella.  I wanted it to be simple and I wanted it to be grown up.  I decided to start with the simplest of recipes knowing I could add to it later if necessary.

So I started with hazelnuts and plain chocolate in a 2:1 ratio. It was rich and bitter (in a good way) and I loved it.  However, I decided that it could be improved bythe addition of a little sea salt and some vanilla.  That made it perfect for me.  If you want yours to be a little sweeter add some honey, or maple syrup or maybe some agave.  If you want it to be a little runnier (and sweeter) try adding some condensed milk (a tablespoonful at a time until it suits you).  If you want it to be vegan use vegetable oil instead.  If your kids don’t like the bitterness of plain chocolate try making it with milk chocolate.  Experiment, it’s worth it.

However you make it you will need a a really good food processor / blender.  Mine is a little on its last legs and it left the nuts slightly grainy.  I don’t actually mind a bit of texture but if smoothness is important to you just be warned.

In the interests of fairness this is still a high calorie, high fat (nuts are always high in fat) product but the sugar content is significantly reduced – just 10% in this recipe.

And it is perfect for putting in your pancakes on Tuesday!

Grown Up Nutella


200g Hazelnuts

100g Plain Chocolate (75% cocoa solids)

A pinch of Sea Salt

1 tsp Vanilla Extract


Roast the hazelnuts for 10 minutes at 180 C until lightly toasted.

If you bought blanched hazelnuts you can blend them straight away, if not you will need to remove the skins by rubbing the nuts vigorously in a tea towel whilst still hot.  They don’t need to be perfect but the effort is worth it as the skins can be bitter.

Place the nuts in a food processor or power blender and turn it on full.  After a few minutes you will have ground hazelnuts – keep going.  After a few more minutes you will have a thick paste which clumps around the blade (you could turn this into hazelnut butter) – keep going.  Eventually the paste will become more liquidy – be patient – it’s worth it.

Meanwhile, melt the chocolate in a bowl over a pan of simmering water (make sure the bowl does not touch the water).

When the nuts have reached the desired consistency pour in the melted chocolate and the vanilla and add a pinch of salt.  Blitz until well blended.

Taste before you take it out of the food processor.  If it’s not quite to your taste add some more stuff (see above) until it is.  Pour into a sterilised jar and keep in a cool dark place.  The fridge is too cool and it will get a bit too stiff to spread*.  Just remember that it contains no preservatives so it won’t last more than a week.

Good luck!

*nb – if you add dairy products such as condensed milk it is probably best to keep it in the fridge.

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Shakshouka 1Last Friday our lovely friend Andy came over and we took the opportunity to introduce him to our favourite restaurant: No. 4 Peterville.  Now, Andy is a bit of a foody and he eats out A LOT in some very nice restaurants so we were thrilled that he loved No. 4 as much as we do but, you know, what’s not to like?

Not only did we eat our way through the menu but we also drank our way through the wine list.  The boys even finished up with some amazing cognac but I confess that I was done by that stage and settled for espresso.

Needless to say, after such indulgence, Andy was staying overnight at our house.  Anticipating some serious hangovers (“not me – I don’t get hangovers” she said smugly) I planned a revitalising breakfast – nothing like a bit of chilli heat to bring you back to life after an evening of excess – so I decided to make shakshouka.

However, as Andy was eating out again on Saturday night (and Sunday and Monday apparently) he decided to skip breakfast and head home to Plymouth.  We ate the shakshouka anyway and I just thought I would post this to show him what he missed – I am such a gracious host!

By now you may well be wondering what on earth it was that we ate.

If you decide to research shakshouka (or shakshuka) you will find that it is Tunisian or maybe Israeli or Moroccan or Egyptian in origin.  The more you read the more you will  realise that most North African countries have their own version of this dish.  What is more, everybody makes it in a slightly different way, which is brilliant because you can vary it according to your own desires and it will always be authentic somewhere – even if only in your kitchen.

This dish is tradionally served for breakfast and we love eating it for brunch at the weekend but it also makes a great lunch dish or, with the addition of some potatoes, a perfect dinner.

Some recipes (like this one) use peppers and some don’t, others add spicy sausage or chunks of cheese.  For me, the joy of a dish like this is the variability.  In our house it belongs to that category of recipes called a “bung in” because you can just “bung in” whatever is in the fridge; finally a use for 3 slightly wrinkled mushrooms and a lonely half courgette.

The eggs are a fairly fundamental part of shakshouka but if you are vegan (or you just don’t like them) leave them out.  Try adding tofu or beans instead.

One thing is sure though; it absolutely has to be eaten with lots of fresh, crusty bread to soak up the lovely sweet, hot, spicy juices.


(Serves 2)

1 large Onion (sliced)

2 cloves of Garlic (chopped)

1 red Pepper (sliced)

1 orange Pepper (sliced)

2 fresh Chillies (red or green to suit you)

1 tsp Ground Cumin

1 tsp Cayenne Pepper

1 tsp Ground Coriander

2 tbsp Olive Oil

1 x 400g tin Chopped Tomatoes

A generous handful of fresh Coriander (chopped)

4 large Eggs


Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan.  Add the sliced onions and cook gently until softened.  Add the garlic, cayenne pepper, cumin and ground coriander, stir well.  Add the sliced peppers and chopped chillies (seeds in or out depending on how hot you want it to be) and cook gently until softened.

Turn the heat up a little until the peppers and onions begin to colour a little (don’t overdo it).

Add the tinned tomatoes, season well with salt and pepper and stir.  Cook together for five minutes adding a little water if it gets a bit dry.

Make four wells in the mixture and break an egg into each one and cover with a lid or some tin foil.  Be careful here.  There is a bit of an art to getting the heat right.  You want the whites to set before the yolks are overcooked so start off with a gentle heat and adjust it as you see fit.

Once the eggs are cooked sprinkle over the chopped coriander and serve.

This dish is traditionally served straight from the pan at the table with bread, lots of bread and then maybe a little more bread.  Eat, enjoy, feel better.  Now get out there and enjoy your weekend.


Savoury Bread & Butter Pudding

Savoury Bread & Butter Pudding

When I first met my husband I was 16 years old and my experience of the world was limited to say the least.  I had grown up in a household where food was plentiful but simple, mealtimes were noisy and alcohol was only drunk on special occasions.

When I first ate at Martin’s house I thought his parents were the height of sophistication.  I was offered a G&T before dinner and wine with my meal – unheard of.  The only wine I had experienced before was of the Blue Nun variety but they drank Le Piat D’Or – which seemed to me to be extremely classy at the time (well it was the early 80s).

My future mother in law was an adventurous cook and each week she would produce something interesting for the meat eaters around the table and a separate, carefully thought out dish for me as I was a vegetarian at the time.

Like most children of the 60s and 70s, bread and butter pudding featured quite highly in my diet.  It is a quick, cheap, filling and above all tasty dessert and I still love it to this day (although I suspect it is a bit of a “marmitey” love / hate thing).  So imagine my delight when Gill (my mother-in-law) produced a savoury version of B&B pudding.  I think that the original recipe came from a Robert Carrier cook book but this version has evolved over the years.

I sometimes add roasted red peppers, left over broccoli or asparagus if it is in season so feel free to experiment.  You can use any cheese too – it’s a good way to use up end pieces but it does need something with flavour.  The recipe is vegetarian and is a complete meal in itself but if you want to add meat it works well with ham or bacon in the pudding or serve it alongside some good quality sausages.  I prefer to leave the crusts on the bread but most other recipes suggest that you cut them off – it comes down to personal choice really but this seems wasteful to me and deprives you of the lovely crispy/chewy bits on the top.

I completely accept that it sounds odd but it is definitely one to try – a cheap and filling family dish with minimal washing up.  What more could you want?


(Serves 4)

1 large Crusty White Loaf of Bread

100g Butter

1 tbsp Vegetable Oil

2 Leeks (finely sliced)

200g Chestnut Mushrooms (sliced)

75g Mature Cheddar (grated)

50g Parmesan Cheese.

1 tbsp Dijon Mustard

4 Eggs

400 ml / Semi-Skimmed Milk

Salt and Black Pepper


Pre-heat the oven to 180°C / 350°F / Gas Mark 4.

Melt a knob of butter in a frying pan along with the vegetable oil.  Gently fry the leeks and mushrooms until softened.

Cut 8 medium slices from the loaf, butter them and spread thinly with the mustard.  Cut each slice into quarters (diagonally) and arrange in a greased, shallow oven dish.  Arrange the leeks and mushrooms in between the slices of bread.  Grate the cheddar over the top.

Beat the eggs in a bowl, whisk in the milk and season well with salt and pepper.  Pour evenly over the bread and vegetables.  Leave to soak for 15 minutes (longer is fine).

Grate a little parmesan cheese over the top and place in the oven.  Bake for 15 to 20 minutes until the top is nicely browned and the custard is set.  Serve with a crisp green salad.

Red Onion Tarte Tatin

I wrote this piece during National Vegetarian week because I was saddened to read an article which claimed that over 70% of people would avoid inviting a friend for dinner if he / she was a vegetarian.  I don’t really understand why people are afraid of vegetarian food – there are so many great, simple recipes to cook which don’t include meat but then I used to be a vegetarian myself so maybe I am biased.

These days I am a confirmed meat eater but I still cook vegetarian meals once or twice a week at home.  It may just be a simple soup or stew served with crusty bread, roasted mediterranean vegetables with grilled halloumi, a rich, lentil heavy curry or a huge bowl of salad using whatever is in season plus some pasta or new potatoes.  These meals are tasty and satisfying and also have the added benefit of being cheaper than meat.  The saving I make on veggie nights allows me to buy really good quality meat when I am being a little more carniverous.

If you are still feeling in need of inspiration just type “vegetarian recipes” into your favourite search engine and browse – you are bound to find something that you want to make.

My inspiration today came from a quick trip to the village greengrocers where a box full of little, sweet red onions inspired me to make a red onion tarte tatin.  I have been making this tart for years (I think the original recipe came from a Delia Smith book) and it’s a lovely savoury twist on the classic apple tarte tatin.  This one uses shortcrust rather than puff pastry (I much prefer the short crispness) and it’s flavoured with cheese and thyme.

If you are making it for vegans just replace the butter with a soya margerine and either leave out the cheese (add a little more fat to the pastry) or use a vegan cheese alternative.  If you are not sure what your guests do or don’t eat then ask them – it’s better than leaving them out.


2½ lb / 1kg Red Onions

1 oz / 25g Butter

1 tsp Caster Sugar

6 small Thyme Sprigs

1 tbsp Fresh Thyme leaves

1 tbsp Balsamic Vinegar

Salt and Pepper

For the pastry

5 oz / 75 g Plain Flour

2 oz / 50 g Butter (softened)

1 oz / 25 g Cheddar Cheese (grated)

1 oz / 25g Parmesan Cheese (grated) plus a few extra shavings to serve

1 teaspoon chopped fresh Thyme Leaves


Pre-heat the oven to 180°C / 350°F / Gas Mark 4

Peel the onions and slice in half through the root (this helps them to stay intact during cooking).

Place a heavy based, oven proof frying pan on a medium heat. Add the butter and the sugar. When the butter has melted add the thyme sprigs and remove the pan from the heat.

Arrange the onions cut side down in the pan – bear in mind that the underside will be the top of the tart once it is turned out. Cut any left over onions into wedges and use to fill in any gaps between the onion halves.

Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper, scatter over the chopped thyme and sprinkle in the vinegar. Return the pan to a low heat and cook gently for 10 minutes. Cover the pan with foil and place in the oven for 50 minutes.

While the onions are cooking, make the pastry. Rub together the flour and butter until the mixture resembles fine crumbs. Stir in the grated cheese and chopped thyme. Add enough cold water – about 2-3 tablespoons – to make a soft dough. Wrap the dough in cling film and put it into the fridge for 30 minutes to rest.

Remove the pan from the oven and check the onions – they should be cooked through but still offer some resistance.

Turn the oven temperature up to 200°C / 400°F / Gas Mark 6.

Put the pan back on the hob over a medium heat until the buttery juices are reduced to a very small amount of syrup.

Roll out the pastry to a circle about the same diameter as the pan. Place the pastry over the onions, pushing down and tucking in the edges all round the inside of the pan. Return the tart to the oven and cook for 25-30 minutes until the pastry is crisp and golden.

When the tart is cooked, remove it from the oven and allow it to cool for 20 minutes before turning it out onto a flat serving plate or board. If some of the onions are left in the pan just lift them out and replace them in the pastry case.

Serve the tart warm with a few shavings of parmesan and a side salad.