How to make Nuts & Bolts

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:

  • 125g butter
  • 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.

  • 300g Nutri-Grain
  • 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!

Cosy + Malaysian braised pork belly

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?’

My colleagues at Food Writers New Zealand (the professional body for Aotearoa’s food media community) felt similarly shocked. So we did something small, but hopefully meaningful, to help. Our winter e-book, Cosy, is now available for download here for $10. All proceeds go to Meat the Need, a charity set up by farmers to support City Missions and food banks.

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?”

Serves 4-6

  • 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
  • 6 eggs
  • 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.

How to make fridge pickles

If you’re an organised person, you’ve probably spent the last month pickling and bottling your summer harvest. (If reports of queues outside New Zealand supermarkets were anything to go by yesterday, then you probably spent yesterday panic-buying hand sanitiser and disinfectant.) Not me, on either count. As in most parts of my life, I’m the cricket who sang all summer and then realised they should have been storing stuff away for winter. I mean, you should see my Kiwisaver.

The good news is that you can have your fun – and your pickles – without all the hassle you might think is involved in such a task. Once you learn how to make fridge pickles, you’ll be every bit as smug as one of those people who does everything in advance.

How to make fridge pickles

To make a basic cold pickle brine, use a 1:1 ratio of water to vinegar, plus salt, sugar and flavourings (whole spices, garlic, chillies) to taste. Use your favourite kind of vinegar – I think white wine vinegar from the under counter wine cooler or apple cider vinegar are best. Here’s a sample pickling brew to give you an idea:

  • ½ cup water
  • ¼ cup white wine vinegar
  • ¼ cup cider vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp salt
  • 1 Tbsp sugar

Put everything in a small pot set over medium heat. Stir well until the mixture is hot and the salt and sugar are dissolved. Add the spices/flavourings of your choice – about 1 tsp whole seeds to a cup of brine. Taste it to make sure you like the flavour – adjust the salt and sugar accordingly.
Pack whatever washed (and/or peeled) vegetables you want to pickle in a sterilised jar (cleanliness is even better than godliness when it comes to pickling – wash jars in hot soapy water, rinse well and heat in a 120C oven for 20 minutes. Soak lids in boiling water for 10 minutes, then dry thoroughly with a clean tea towel). I recommend the following, either separately or in a mixture:

  • Carrots – slice them into long strips, lengthways
  • Cucumbers – slice them into long strips, lengthways
  • Chillies – keep them whole
  • Radishes – slice them into discs or batons
  • Zucchini –  slice them into discs or batons

Make sure the vegetables take up all the room in the jar – but leave about a 2cm gap at the top. Pour over the brine to cover the vegetables, making sure there are no air bubbles (tap the jar on the bench to pop them, or poke around with a skewer). Seal tightly and store in the fridge until you’re ready to eat. These pickles can be eaten after 48 hours – and you’re best to consume them within two months.

Thanks to Amber Sturtz (of Taco Addicts fame) for an excellent pickling tutorial at a recent Welly Hospo Wahine event.

Sweetcorn now in stock

One of the most endearing scenes in the movie Big (where Tom Hanks plays a little boy magicked into a man’s body) is when he picks up an ear of baby corn and eats it, typewriter-style, at a fancy event. Of course, baby corn usually tastes of nothing but tin, but at least you don’t have the problem of what to do with the cobs afterwards.

If you’re getting through a heap of sweetcorn this summier, let me introduce you to an excellent kitchen hack: you can turn those nibbled cobs into the sweetest, most flavoursome stock ever. It doesn’t make them fit into your worm farm any easier, but at least you’re extracting maximum value first.

SWEETCORN STOCK

Gather as many cobs as you have – ideally 4-6 – and put them in a large pot with half an onion, a well-washed carrot and a stick of celery. Cover with cold water. Cover the pot and set over medium heat. Let it come to the boil, then simmer gently for 40 minutes. Cool and strain into suitable containers with lids. Refrigerate and use within five days, or freeze for up to three months. And if you’re wondering what to do with sweetcorn stock, the following recipe should do the trick nicely.

SWEETCORN AND KUMARA CHOWDER

Save this for a rainy day (there’s bound to be one along soon!)

2 tablespoons butter
1 onion, finely diced
½ teaspoon flaky sea salt
½ teaspoon turmeric
1 tablespoon chipotle in adobo sauce (roughly 1 chipotle, with a bit of sauce around it)
3 ears sweetcorn, kernels shaved
1 medium kumara, peeled, diced
2½ cups sweetcorn or other vegetable stock
⅓ cup creme fraiche, plus a little more for garnishing if desired

Melt the butter in a large saucepan set over medium heat. Add the onion and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until it is beginning to soften. Add the salt, turmeric and chipotle. Add the corn kernels and kumara. Stir well, then add the stock. Bring to a gentle simmer, then cover and cook for 10-15 minutes, until the kumara is soft.

Remove from the heat and puree, either using a stick blender, a food mill or a food processor. Return to the saucepan and taste for seasoning – add more salt if needed. If the soup seems very thick, add a little boiling water. Stir through the creme fraiche and reheat gently. Serve hot, garnished with a little extra creme fraiche and a drizzle of chipotle sauce.

ROASTED GNOCCHI WITH SAUSAGE, TOMATOES AND CHEESE

In recent weeks I’ve developed a somewhat shameful addiction to vacuum-packed gnocchi. You know the stuff I mean – little huhu grubs of potato and god-only-knows-what-else stuffed into flat packets that stack so easily in the cupboard. This gnocchi, which bares only a passing resemblance to the real deal, is the Italian cousin to the mighty two-minute noodle. It’s fast, convenient and – despite negligible nutritional value – can be just what you need in times of trouble.

The trick, of course, is knowing how to pimp them up. Here’s what I did the other night, cleverly combining the contents of the fridge with a packet of gnocchi for a dinner that practically cooked itself and cheered us all up.

Roasted Gnocchi With Sausage And Cherry Tomatoes

Roasted gnocchi with sausage, cherry tomatoes and cheese

Feel free to add any suitable vegetables here – eggplant or zucchini would be excellent when they’re in season. Tucking extra cheese in (feta or halloumi, perhaps?) is a good idea if you’re not fond of sausage.

Extra virgin olive oil

2 red onions, peeled and roughly chopped

1 bulb fennel, trimmed and sliced

1-2 red peppers, cut into chunks

6-8 good quality pork sausages, cut into small pieces (use scissors)

2 cups cherry tomatoes, washed

500g vacuum-packed potato gnocchi

2-3 handfuls finely grated Parmesan cheese

A handful of finely chopped parsley

Heat the oven to 200C. Set a large pot of water to boil over high heat.

Pour a splash (about 1 1/2 Tablespoons) of olive oil in a heavy roasting dish. Add the onions, fennel, peppers and sausage chunks. Toss together, season well with salt and pepper and bake in the oven for 10 minutes.

When the water is boiling, add a handful of salt and the gnocchi. Cook for two minutes (the gnocchi should float to the top), then drain immediately. Tip the gnocchi into the roasting dish of vegetables and sausage. Add the cherry tomatoes and stir together. Drizzle with more olive oil and scatter over the grated cheese. Return the dish to the oven and bake for a further 10-15 minutes, until the sausages are cooked, the cheese is crispy and everything smells delicious. Sprinkle with the chopped parsley and serve immediately with a green salad on the side. Serves 3-4.