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Nutella on popcorn? Oh yes

nutella popcorn

When I worked in a huge office in the middle of an office park wasteland over 10 years ago, the only place I had to turn for mid-afternoon snack cravings was our cafeteria. They were pretty good, all things considered, they made a breakfast wrap I still hold as a benchmark of the best breakfast wrapped in a tortilla. The day the bags of sweet and salty kettle corn appeared next to the cashier, though, that was a moment of joy. No more bags of substandard mini chocolate chip cookies, oh no. It was a revelation.

Ever since, I have been a seeker of the balance between salty and sweet. I love baked kale chips with tamari and maple syrup, Chinese doughnuts with red bean paste, and when every sweet thing seemed to contain salted caramel a couple years back, I was in heaven.

I was thrilled to discover that in British movie theatres, the popcorn comes in ‘salty’ and ‘sweet’ flavours. When you mistakenly ask for butter, the 12-year-old behind the counter first pretends they didn’t understand the word you said, but when your meaning is clarified, they can’t conceal a lip curl of disgust. Also, it’s cold. Besides all that, the nice thing is you can ask for half-salt and half-sweet. Yum.

Why it took me this long to recreate this experience at home, I’ll never know.

The first step is popping your own popcorn, rather than using a readymade microwave bag. I’m not asking you to drag the red-and-white circus-themed air popper from whatever corner of the attic you’ve put it in, nor figure out how to oil-pop corn on the stove. My mother-in-law turned me onto this crazy bowl with a lid that you can put in the microwave with plain kernels in it and approximately three minutes later proper popcorn comes out. Magic.

Finally – get some decent kernels. I went and bought a bag of popcorn kernels from our local shop, and they tasted okay. But when someone gave me some posh kernels, I realized the ones I had in the big no-name bag were not up to snuff. I like Fireworks Popcorn.

Rigourous testing ensued, of course. All the below topping ideas cover one-third of a cup of kernels (pre-popping). All salt mentioned is large-flake sea salt.

Nutella popcorn
Thin out one tablespoon of Nutella with two tablespoons of melted butter. Mix with popcorn, then salt to taste.

Salted caramel corn
This is the best caramel corn I’ve ever had. Make a batch of David Liebovitz’ butterscotch sauce. He uses salted butter, which I find makes the resulting sauce a bit salty (perfectly so!) but do taste it and add more if you like. I’ve found North American salted butter much saltier than the ones I used in England. Make your popcorn, then spread it out on baking sheets lined with parchment paper (do NOT skip this step or you will cry later). Drizzle the warm sauce over the popcorn, then toss it gently. Let it cool, if you can manage it. You will have plenty of sauce leftover, thank me later.

Soy and parmesan
I saw this mentioned across the internet – it was alright, but nothing I’d bother with again. You have to sprinkle the soy carefully or it makes the popcorn soggy.

 Peanut butter and maple syrup
This works best with creamy peanut butter. Thin two tablespoons of peanut butter with water, and then whisk with three tablespoons of good maple syrup, and two tablespoons of melted butter. Toss with hot popcorn, and salt to taste.

Salt and sugar
Our favourite by far for quick assembly and taste. Melt butter (I’ll leave quantities to you), and pour over popcorn. Toss gently with salt, and then a small amount of white sugar.


Mashed potato cakes

In the language of allotmenteers, there’s a term for this stretch from January until April, when some of the earliest proper crops start coming in, it’s called the hungry gap. When you get a vegetable delivery box, around this time of year it feels like it’s 60% leeks by weight.

What am I going to do with a logpile of leeks? The thing is, Christopher doesn’t eat eggs, so a quiche or frittata is out. Leek and potato soup is a bit much more than once in a fortnight, I think. Fortunately they also go well with potatoes.

I knocked together these little potato cakes from leftover mashed potato, with peas and leeks I fried up for the occasion. The quantities are a bit vague because this is really something to be made with leftovers, so do with it what you will. My very favourite way to eat these is with a fried egg lolling around on top and a generous sprinkling of good crunchy sea salt.

Leftover mash potato cakes 

  • Panko breadcrumbs
  • 1 leek
  • Knob of butter
  • A quantity of leftover mashed potato
  • Frozen, or leftover cooked peas
  • All-purpose flour
  • Olive oil or butter
  1. Tip panko into a dry non-stick frying pan over medium heat. Stirring often, toast the panko until it is golden brown. Remove to a plate to cool.
  2. Slice the leek into narrow rings, going all the way up including the light green bit, discard the tough dark green tops. Heat a pan on medium heat, add the knob of butter, and then toss in the leeks once the butter has melted. Cook until leeks are soft, stirring occasionally. Cook the peas according to package directions if they are frozen.
  3. Add the mashed potatoes, peas, and leeks into a medium bowl, scraping the leek pan to get all that lovely butter in there. Start with 2 tablespoons of flour and mix. You want to get to a texture that starts sticking to itself. Try making a small cake the size of your palm, if it falls to pieces, add a bit more flour a tablespoon at a time.
  4. When you’ve got the right consistency, make small patties and press them gently into the panko on both sides to coat. I make a few and put them on a clean plate next to the stove.
  5. Heat up the leek pan again over medium heat, and add a small amount of your fat of choice. Add a few of your patties at a time, without crowding the pan. Leave them undisturbed for a couple of minutes, but monitor them closely. At the first sign of overbrowning, flip them like mad. You’re really just heating the potatoes through here, so no need to rush it over high heat.
  6. Remove to a plate and keep warm in a low oven or under foil until you cook the lot of them.
  7. Serve warm with eggs, or bacon, or good sausages. Yum.

Beetroot brownie cupcakes

A few things came together in a kind of culinary planetary alignment to bring me to the constant chocolate beetroot cupcake assembly line my kitchen has become.

For the last month I’ve been receiving bags of beetroot in my Spud veg box. I like them, but I could never eat them all before they went bad. I’ve had variations on the beetroot* chocolate baked thing a few times, but mostly in cakes or loaves. Finally, Elliot has been on a sleep training plan which required a reward every morning when he slept in his bed all night. I wanted something that would be a treat, but not too overwhelmingly dessert, and incorporated some kind of vegetable.

Which is how I ended up making, no exaggeration, 10 consecutive batches of these cupcakes. Of course I tweaked as I went. Some batches I cut too much sugar and it tasted too botanical, and others I subbed out too much of the oil so they were a bit dry and went stale quickly. I think I have the perfect ratio now. You want to read through this whole recipe before starting, as it requires cooking the beetroot first – I often do this the day before whilst I’m making dinner or something. I sometimes keep and freeze the beetroot water to use as a natural food colouring. Finally, I get 18 cupcakes out of this, but my muffin tin is on the small side, so don’t fret if you only manage 12.

Beetroot brownie cupcakes
makes 18 cupcakes
Adapted from this Jill Dupleix Saturday Kitchen recipe 

  • 250g beetroot, about three small ones or two large ones
  • 75g dutch process cocoa powder
  • 110g wholewheat flour
  • 70g all-purpose flour
  • 225g granulated sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 150ml vegetable oil
  • 50ml applesauce
  • 1tsp vanilla extract
  1. Bring a large pot of water to the boil, add beetroot. No need to top and tail them.
  2. Boil until a knife poked into one of the beetroot slides in with no resistance to the centre. Remove with a slotted spoon to a cutting board. Top and tail each beetroot, then slice in half. Scrape skins off with the side of a knife, and then roughly cube. You will be puréeing these, so don’t get too perfectionist here.
  3. Preheat your oven to 355ºF/180ºC, place a rack in the middle of oven. Line a muffin tin with paper cups (I have tried greasing the tin only – these little guys are brutal to get out in one piece, don’t bother and just use paper cups).
  4. In a large bowl, sift your cocoa, flours and sugar. Set aside.
  5. Tip the beetroot into a food processor or blender (I can just about do this with my mini chopper, if I hold the lid down tight – there are a few more ingredients to go in, so I would measure the total volume before you try it!), and blend until beetroot is just about puréed. Add the eggs, one at a time, with a few pulses in between to thoroughly mix. Finally, add oil, applesauce and vanilla and give it a good whirl until everything is combined. You may need to scrape down the sides a few times to make sure you get everything.
  6. Tip your beetroot mix into the dry ingredients, and fold with a spatula until just combined.
  7. Pour into your prepared muffin tin. Bake for 20-25 minutes. Remove to a wire rack to cool.

*I say beetroot throughout, which is the British way of referring to a beet. They are one and the same. I didn’t really start eating beetroot until I moved over there, so to me they will always be beetroot.