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!

Overnight oats with Black Doris plums and vanilla

I’m such a fan of tinned Black Doris plums that I devoted a chapter of Homecooked to ways to use them. Lots of people have told me how much they love that section – if you’re one of them, this bonus recipe is for you.

Black Doris Overnight Oats

This serves four people generously, or you can eat it as individual serves over consecutive mornings. Use coconut yoghurt or whipped cream (the decadence!) instead of Greek yoghurt if you like.

  • 1 x 850g tin Black Doris plums
  • 2 cups rolled oats
  • 4 tablespoons ground almonds or LSA
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla essence
  • 1 ½ cups Greek yoghurt 
  • 6 squares good quality dark chocolate (I use Whittaker’s 72% cacao), finely chopped

Drain the plums, reserving 1 ¼ cups of the syrup. Stone the plums and put into a large bowl with the reserved syrup. Stir in the rolled oats, ground almonds or LSA and vanilla. Cover and refrigerate overnight. In the morning, gently fold through the yoghurt. Sprinkle over the dark chocolate and serve.

ROASTED KŪMARA WITH RED ONION AND DATE SALSA

Are you still pretending to be in holiday mode? Me too. I like to think it’s an important component of my 2022 ‘intention’ to Do Less (intentions are the new resolutions, in case you’re wondering). As evidence of how I’m going so far, I’m still to send out my Christmas cards. I only just completed the deep-cleaning our house needed before every man and his dog visited us between Christmas and New Year and I still have 300 unread emails in my inbox. Before the holidays, this would have stressed me out. Now, I feel supremely unbothered. I’m taking the same approach to holiday – or at least, summer – eating. Less effort is often more, as they say. If you’re of a similar mindset, here’s a very easy salad to get someone else to make for you.

ROASTED KŪMARA SALAD WITH RED ONION AND DATE SALSA
This is great at barbecues (you can make it in advance and store in the fridge for up to a day before serving at room temperature) and any leftovers are excellent for lunch the next day. To up the protein content and make it more of a meal, add up to a cup of roasted nuts or pumpkin seeds when you combine the roasted kūmara and salsa. Serves four.

For the kūmara:
800g peeled and diced kūmara
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp brown sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
Salt and pepper

For the salsa:
1 medium red onion, peeled and diced
A generous pinch of salt and sugar
2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
Let sit 10 mins
3/4 cup dates, chopped
3cm piece fresh ginger, finely grated
Two handfuls fresh parsley, finely chopped
1-2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Heat the oven to 190C. Put the kūmara, first measure of olive oil, brown sugar and cinnamon in a bowl and toss to combine. Tip out onto a large baking tray and season generously with salt and pepper. Roast for 25 minutes, shaking the tray halfway through cooking. Set aside to cool.

While the kūmara is cooking, make the salsa. Put the red onion, salt and sugar in a small bowl and stir to combine. Pour over the vinegar. Leave to steep for 10 minutes, then add the chopped dates, ginger, parsley and olive oil. Stir to combine.

When the kūmara is cool enough to touch, transfer it to a serving bowl. Toss through the salsa and let sit for at least 15 minutes before serving. 

Easy chilli chocolate pretzel sandwiches for the knackered Christmas cook

It’s the most wonderful time of the year, right? Replace wonderful with exhausting and you might be more on to it. A few weeks ago I decided I was going to give myself the Christmas gift of Doing Less. I haven’t been able to open this present just yet, but I’m hoping today’s the day.

I’m a bit of a self-harmer during the festive season, to be honest. I know I don’t have gas left in the tank to Do All The Things For All The People but that doesn’t stop me from offering. I do try to cut a few corners where I can though.

This year I’ve shelved Christmas baking for a bit of un-baking instead. This recipe is brilliant because you don’t need anything particularly fancy, there’s no tortuous icing or rolling out of dough, and people go mad for the results. If that still sounds like too much work for the last few days before Christmas, rest assured that the slightly heart-shaped pretzels make these appropriate for Valentine’s Day too. It’s good to create the illusion that you’re getting ahead, right?

CHILLI CHOCOLATE PRETZEL SANDWICHES

If you want to skip the chilli and the alcohol, make sure you add a teaspoonful of good vanilla extract instead. These can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week after making. To make these dairy-free, use coconut cream and coconut oil in place of the cream and butter.

  • 125g good quality dark chocolate, roughly chopped
  • ¼ cup cream
  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • 1 Tbsp rum, brandy, whisky or a liqueur of your choice (optional)
  • 100g bag of pretzels (about 60 pretzels)
  • Flaky sea salt
  • Chilli flakes

Put the chocolate, butter, cream and rum into a small pot and set over very low heat, stirring often, until melted. Stir well, then pour into a small bowl and chill in the fridge until firm but not rock-hard (about 45 minutes).

Line a baking tray or large plate with baking paper or foil. Take a small teaspoonful of the chocolate mixture and use it to sandwich two pretzels together. If the chocolate mixture has set too much, let it sit at room temperature until it softens. Repeat with the remaining mixture and pretzels. Store in a covered container in the fridge. Sprinkle with flaky sea salt and chilli flakes before serving. Makes 30 chocolate pretzel sandwiches.

Mere Kirihimete everyone. Be careful and kind out there, see you in 2022!

Homecooked – seasonal recipes for everyday

Hungry? Here’s something I prepared earlier – now fully cooked and ready to share. Ta-dah!

If you’ve been wondering why I’ve been pretty absent from this blog for the last year, this is the reason (it turns out juggling writing a book with a family and a full-time job is quite time-consuming). Homecooked is a collection of seriously cookable recipes for every New Zealand season and every occasion.

Obviously I can’t talk about it with any objectivity, but the press release says it’s “beautiful, honest and useful”, which is exactly what I want a cookbook with my name on the front to be. It’s been an absolute labour of love (plus many, many late nights, early mornings, and copious amounts of Whittaker’s 72% Dark Ghana Chocolate).

Roasted nectarines and beetroot with watercress and burrata

I wrote all 65,000 words of Homecooked, but I had a lot of help in making it happen. Enormous thanks to Claire Murdoch at Penguin NZ for understanding my love for honest, useful home cooking and encouraging me to bring it to life with the aid of her incredible team. Heartfelt thanks too to Evie Kemp for the stunning cover and illustrations.

Homecooked would be nothing without the work of Carolyn Robertson, who did the gorgeous photographs and styling. I basically moved in with Caro and her family over the summer, completely upending their kitchen renovation plans and forcing her to spend a lot of time at tip shops looking for props. Not only is she massively talented, she is also a saint with a great taste in bad 90s music. When we first worked together at the Waikato Times nearly 20 years ago we often dreamed up mad schemes and plans. I think this exceeds all of them!

Double peanut brownie cheesecake

Homecooked is a book about food but to me it’s also a book about whānau near and far. I couldn’t have written it without mine – and I hope it encourages you to cook for yours. It’s available now from all good booksellers in Aotearoa (or try Book Depository if you’re further afield).