Macaroni cheese is the ultimate comfort food, but I’m never in the right frame of mind to make it. This unconventional method is the answer – the pasta cooks in the milk, eliminating time and dirty pots. What’s not to love about that?
Once you’ve tried this method, you won’t look back. It’s best made with blue top or whole milk; but if you want to use trim, use 3 ½ cups of milk and omit the water. If you don’t drink cow’s milk, try this with goat milk. If you’re in Wellington, look out for Brooklyn Creamery goat milk, which comes from a farm up behind the wind turbine (I know, who knew?) It’s gorgeous milk, hyper-local and very fresh.
2 ½ cups milk
1 cup water
1 bay leaf
220g dried small pasta (like elbows, macaroni or small penne)
A good grating of fresh nutmeg
1 ½ tbsp Dijon mustard
3 packed cups baby spinach
1 ½ packed cups grated tasty cheese
2 slices stale bread, crumbled or grated
Set the grill to medium-high and grease an ovenproof gratin dish (about 20 cm x 30 cm).
Put the milk, water, bay leaf, pasta and nutmeg in a large pot and set over medium heat. Bring to a gentle simmer and cook, stirring frequently, for 10-15 minutes until the pasta is al dente. It will seem at the start that the sauce will never thicken, but keep stirring, I promise it will happen all of a sudden.
Remove from the heat and add the mustard, baby spinach and most of the grated cheese. Stir well to combine and tip into the prepared dish. Scatter the grated bread and the rest of the cheese over the top.
Put the dish under the grill and cook for 5-10 minutes, until golden and bubbling. Serve immediately. Serves 3-4.
In these trying times, it helps to have a reassuring snack at hand. If you want something to briefly take your mind off the woes of the world, I have the snack for you: Nuts & Bolts.
For the uninitiated, Nuts & Bolts are a highly addictive snack with just-about zero nutritional benefits. For me, they’re an important link to my childhood, when my great-aunt Makiri would make them as a special cocktail hour or holiday snack. Nostalgia is a great flavour enhancer, don’t you think?
Makiri was an amazing cook and I always imagined that she’d made up the recipe herself, but recent research has proved otherwise. Nuts & Bolts appear to have originated in the US in the 1930s and 40s, after a cereal company included a recipe for them on the back of the box. This sly content marketing has been used by brands for decades, but few recipes are as out-there as the re-purposing of breakfast cereal as a legitimate snack (rather than just eating them out of the box when no one’s looking).
Makiri’s Nuts & Bolts were intensely savoury, slightly spicy and impossible to stop eating. After much consultation with my cousin Dominic and a lot of trial and error, I’ve recreated a 2022 version of her recipe below. Nutri-Grain and Burger Rings appeared in the OG version, but I’ve also added chilli peas and spicy broad beans for extra kick (I like to think Makiri would approve).
Nuts & Bolts
Warning: once you start eating these it’s VERY hard to stop. This makes about six cups – I wouldn’t make more unless you’re serving snacks to a big crowd or you have impeccable self-control. If, like me, you haven’t eaten Burger Rings for 30 years or so, you’ll notice that they don’t taste like they used to. They’re included here for texture and nostalgia, more than anything else. Nutri-Grain (the brick-like cereal that has multi-sport athletes on the box) has actually changed for the better in the last decade, nutritionally speaking. Even so, please note that eating Nuts & Bolts is unlikely to improve your performance at your next sporting event.
For the dry ingredients:
2 cups Nutri-Grain
2 cups Burger Rings
1 cup roasted nuts (cashews, almonds, peanuts are all good here)
1 x 100g packet spicy broad beans (I use the Savour brand)
1 x 100g packet chili peas (I use the Savour brand), optional
For the flavourings:
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon tomato sauce
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon curry powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Heat the oven to 125℃. Line a large, shallow-sided oven tray with baking paper.
Put all the dry ingredients in a bowl and stir to combine.
Put all the flavourings in a small pot set over medium heat. Stir until melted.
Pour the melted butter and flavourings into the bowl of dry ingredients, stirring well to make sure everything is well-coated. Tip the mixture out onto the prepared tray, spreading it out evenly.
Bake for 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes or so. Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly before serving, or wait until completely cold and then transfer to an airtight container.
Nuts & Bolts – Aunty Pat’s version
When I was searching for Makiri’s original recipe my Aunty Pat (maker of Aunty Pat’s infamous Never-Fail Pavlova) shared her version of Nuts & Bolts with me. Aunty Pat reckons her recipe is better – and my in-house taste-testers definitely enjoyed it, but I prefer the baked version because it’s closer to what I remember. Please note the nuts are missing from this image because some naughty taste-tester picked them all out.
350g roasted, unsalted nuts
1 dessertspoon curry powder
1 packet Creme of Chicken Soup
1 packet French Onion Soup
1 cup peanut oil
Put the Nutri-Grain and nuts in a bowl and stir well. Put all the other ingredients in a small bowl and stir until smooth. Pour this evenly over the Nutri-Grain and nuts, stirring until evenly mixed. Cover loosely and set aside for 4 hours, stirring occasionally. Transfer to an airtight container until ready to serve. Makes about 10 cups.
Is there a Nuts & Bolts story in your family recipe archive? I’d love to hear it!
If you’re lucky, you’ll have memories of your parents or grandparents pickling and preserving up a storm at this time of year. My mother wasn’t a great jam-maker, but she made a killer tomato sauce that we all remember fondly, probably more so because the recipe has been lost to history. Modern food culture makes preserving summer’s bounty less necessary than it used to be, but it’s still a fun thing to do. Making smaller batches – and using a few convenient shortcuts – means you can pickle or preserve after work rather than having to set aside a whole weekend. Put in a little time and energy now and your investment will pay off in the cold, damp months ahead.
LIFE-PRESERVING TIPS Follow these golden rules if you want your preserving efforts to be successful:
Measure everything carefully, especially the weight of fruit and vegetables, sugar and vinegar.
Make sure all utensils, equipment and jars or bottles are scrupulously clean. Wash jars and lids in hot soapy water (or run them through a dishwasher), then heat jars in a 120C oven for 20 minutes. Put lids in a heatproof bowl and cover with boiling water, then dry thoroughly and use while still hot.
Store the finished product carefully: if you’re not confident that you’ve sealed a jar or bottle properly, store the preserve in the fridge and eat within two weeks. Don’t chance a bubbling brew!
TANGY PLUM AND CHIPOTLE SAUCE Makes about 1 litre
Is a barbecue sausage really a barbecue sausage without a splash of homemade plum sauce on the side? This one uses pre-prepared chipotle peppers in adobo sauce (look for them in the ‘Mexican’ section at the supermarket) to give it a little more kick. While it’s magic with a traditional pork sausage, this tangy sauce also goes well with deep-fried tofu or in a cheese toasted sandwich. It can be used immediately, but the flavours will deepen over time.
500g plums (about 4-5 large Fortune plums), stoned and roughly chopped
750g onions, peeled and sliced
5cm piece fresh ginger, roughly chopped
4 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
½ cup sultanas
2 cups vinegar (white wine or malt)
6 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce (about ½ a 200g tin)
1 packed cup brown sugar
2 ½ Tbsp salt
1 Tbsp turmeric
1 Tbsp five-spice powder
1 Tbsp smoked paprika
Put the plums, onions, ginger, garlic and sultanas in a large, heavy pot with 1 cup of the vinegar. Simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for about 30 minutes or until the plums and onions are very soft. Transfer to a food processor (or use a stick blender in the pot) and add the chipotle peppers. Puree until smooth. Return to the pot and add the sugar, salt, spices and remaining 1 cup vinegar. Simmer over low heat for 20-30 minutes, until thickened (remember it will thicken further as it cools). Leave to cool, then pour into sterilised sauce bottles. Cap tightly and store in a cool, dark place.
Do you snap or cut? Peel or shave? The start of the asparagus season often ignites debate between cooks about whether it’s better to cut off the woody ends (gives a neat finish) or snap them (feels satisfying, but has high potential for wastage). Others claim using a vegetable peeler or sharp knife to shave off any tough, stringy bits is a better option.
Personally, I think it depends on the asparagus; spears as fat as your fingers are likely to have woodier ends, while the very slender ones will need the tiniest of trims. Any ends you do trim off can be used in vegetable stock or – according to Love Food Hate Waste, because I haven’t tried this one myself – turned into asparagus stalk pesto.
If you’re challenged in the kitchen equipment stakes and don’t have a deep pot (or steamer insert) to cook the asparagus standing up, try cooking them in one layer in a deep frying pan instead.
ASPARAGUS WITH MUSTARD CREME FRAICHE
This is a fast way to dress up asparagus, whether you’re serving it as a side dish for four or a main course for two. The sauce can be made in advance and stored, covered, in the fridge for up to three days.
500g fresh asparagus, ends trimmed
For the creme fraiche sauce:
1 small clove garlic, peeled and crushed to a paste with ½ tsp salt
1 generous tsp Dijon mustard
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon and 1 tsp freshly squeezed juice
½ cup creme fraiche
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Cook the asparagus in lightly salted boiling water until al dente – about 5-6 minutes for spears of medium thickness (skinny ones will be done in 3-4 minutes and their thicker compatriots will need 6-7 minutes).
While the asparagus is cooking, put the crushed garlic, mustard, lemon zest and juice in a small bowl. Mix well, then fold in the creme fraiche. Season to taste with black pepper.
Drain the asparagus and divide between two (or four) plates. Serve with a generous spoonful of the sauce.
TIP: This also works if you want to eat the asparagus cold: just cook the asparagus until al dente, then drain immediately under cold running water. When the asparagus is cold, wrap it loosely in a clean, dry tea towel and store in the fridge until ready to serve.
It’s a terrible thing to be hungry. Not hungry as in, ‘I’m bored and I need a snack’, but hungry because there is just nothing to eat. In this land of plenty, thousands of New Zealanders are hungry all the time. During the Covid-19 lockdown, food banks and charities were reporting four-fold increases in demand. Auckland’s Spark Arena, New Zealand’s largest indoor stadium, was even transformed into a giant food parcel distribution centre to help. This was heralded as a great example of Kiwi ingenuity and people pulling together in a crisis, but all I could think of was, ‘how have we let things get THIS bad?’
When I posted about the book on Facebook people were curious to know what they were getting for their investment – hopefully the photos above whet your appetite. Recipe contributors include household names like Nadia Lim, Annabel Langbein, Lauraine Jacobs, Ginny Grant and Kathy Paterson, along with some less-known but no less talented others (hopefully I fall into that category). Here’s my recipe from the book (mercifully photographed by the amazing Kathy Paterson, who dreamed up the whole concept and slaved away on every single detail). You can have this recipe for nothing, but it would be really kind of you to buy the book. It works out to 25c a recipe, plus you get some bonus essays too. What’s not to like?
Malaysian pork belly with soy, cinnamon and star anise
This recipe came to me via dedicated Wellington foodie Shirleen Oh. She described this dish to me once with such passion that I felt as hungry for it as she was. I shamelessly bribed her with lunch and she later texted me the recipe. A week later, when I was heating up the leftovers in the microwave at work, a colleague ran into the room, demanding to know who had the great-smelling lunch. When I said it was me, she rushed to the microwave to peer in. “But that smells exactly like what my mum used to make in Malaysia,” she cried. “How do you know how to make it?”
900g-1kg piece pork belly
10 cloves garlic, peeled but left whole
1 stick cinnamon
¼ teaspoon whole cloves
1 large or 2 small whole star anise
¼ teaspoon whole black or white peppercorns
3 Tablespoons kecap manis
3 Tablespoons dark soy sauce
4 Tablespoons light soy sauce
1 Tablespoon sesame oil
200g deep-fried tofu pieces, optional
Heat oven to 180C. Carefully trim the skin from the pork belly, making sure to leave the fat on the meat. Cut into 4cm pieces.
Half-fill a large ovenproof pot with a lid with water. Bring to a boil and add the pork. Cook for about three minutes – you’ll see some scum float to the surface. Skim off the scum, then drain off the water. Leave the pork in the pot and add the garlic, whole spices and sauces. Cover with cold water – it should be about 2cm above the meat – and cover tightly. Bake in the oven for two hours, stirring after one hour.
While the pork is cooking, boil the eggs. Bring a small pot of water to the boil, add a pinch of salt and then slip in the eggs. Let it come back to a simmer and cook the eggs for eight minutes exactly. Drain immediately, then shake the pot to break the shells while holding it under the cold tap. Carefully peel the eggs and set aside to cool.
After two hours, remove the pork from the oven and add the boiled eggs. Stir gently so the eggs are covered by the sauce. Cover and return to the oven for 20 minutes. Remove the lid and add the tofu, if using. Return to the oven for another 10-15 minutes, or until the sauce has thickened slightly and the tofu is hot. Serve immediately with jasmine rice and a blob of hot sambal, plus a lightly cooked green vegetable like bok choy or broccolini.. Any leftovers can be cooled completely and stored in the fridge for up to three days. Reheat to piping hot before serving.