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. 

Broken biscuit slab with easy chocolate ganache

On Friday, in an attempt to be an engaged and entertaining home schooling parent, I brightly asked my daughter if she’d like to do some baking. Actually, I asked her twice (never mind Covid-19, my research has shown that there is a pandemic of selective deafness occurring among tweens). Eventually she looked up from her book and said disinterestedly, ‘no, I just want to eat some baking’. I couldn’t argue with that logic.

If you feel a bit the same, here’s a no-bake slice that you can put together with all the broken biscuits at the bottom of the tin. I made this one with some kindly gifted Lotus Biscoff biscuits, but you could just as easily use Superwines, Krispies, Malt biscuits or anything in that genre. If you don’t have quite enough biscuits, add a little more coconut. Or use a little bit less butter. 

If you’ve got a food processor, bung the biscuits in there and pulse to biggish crumbs. Alternatively, put the biscuits in a solid plastic bag and bash them with a can, a rolling pin or a bottle of wine. This can be quite therapeutic, as long as the bag doesn’t come undone…

SPICED BROKEN BISCUIT SLAB WITH CHOCOLATE GANACHE ICING

  • 100g butter
  • 1/2 a tin (about 3/4 cup) condensed milk
  • 325g plain sweet biscuits, bashed to large crumbs (keep a few big pieces in there for texture)
  • 1 cup desiccated coconut
  • 1 tsp ground ginger 
  • 1 tsp mixed spice
  • Finely grated zest of an orange
  • 1 Tbsp freshly squeezed orange juice
  • For the ganache
  • ½ cup cream
  • 125g dark chocolate, roughly chopped

Line a 20 x 25cm tin (or thereabouts) with baking paper, leaving enough overhanging the sides that you can use to pull it out later.

Melt the butter and condensed milk together over low heat in a large pot. Let cool briefly, then tip in the biscuits, coconut, spices, most of the orange zest and the orange juice. Stir to mix, then tip into the prepared tin. Press down (the overhanging paper will help here) to smooth the top. Put in the fridge.

Wipe out the pot and pour in the cream. Set over very low heat. As soon as it bubbles, remove from the heat and add the chopped chocolate. Stir until smooth, then pour over the chilled base. Sprinkle over the remaining orange zest. Leave to set in the fridge (to speed things up) for about 20 minutes before slicing into small bars. Store in an airtight container in the fridge. Be warned, it will disappear quickly!

Spaghetti with agrodolce carrots

Do you have any idea how long it takes you to grate a carrot?

It’s not a competition or anything, but it takes me about 40 seconds to peel and grate one large carrot by hand. If I’m using the grating attachment on my food processor, this task takes about about 15 seconds, but that does’t account for getting the machine set up (or cleaning it afterwards). Not bad eh?

I’ve been thinking deeply about grated carrot recently after seeing a tweet from a high-up in the horticultural world that said packaged grated carrot was ‘flying off the shelves’ in New Zealand supermarkets. You read that right. People apparently prefer to pay nearly four times as much for pre-grated carrot rather than spending less than two minutes doing it themselves at home. A 250g packet of grated carrot (wrapped in plastic) will cost you about $2 – the same as a kilo of whole carrots (that you can put straight into your non-plastic bag).

To me, this is a very bad sign. Is the ability to buy pre-grated carrot a new status symbol? 

I know we should be pleased that people are eating grated carrot (I suspect this is the Nadia Lim effect), but shouldn’t we also be concerned that priorities are getting seriously out of whack? I get that life can be full-on and fraught, but are you really ever too busy to grate a carrot? 

I might be old-fashioned but I believe that being able to operate a traditional box grater without shredding your knuckles is a key life skill for every member of your household. It’s a companionable task that can be done while chatting to the main cook, thereby assisting them to get on with the rest of the meal a bit faster. Who knows, it might even give you more time to chat over dinner later?

SPAGHETTI WITH AGRO-DOLCE CARROTS

Serves 4

Agrodolce might sound like a kind of pesticide, but it’s an Italian term that roughly translates as sweet and sour. If you’re using a food processor to grate the carrot, do yourself a favour and use it to chop the onion, garlic and parsley too.

  • 1 cup raisins
  • ⅓ cup apple cider vinegar
  • 4-5 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 large onions, finely sliced
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely sliced
  • A large pinch of salt
  • 4 large carrots, peeled and grated
  • A handful fresh flatleaf parsley, finely chopped
  • 450g dried spaghetti

Pour the vinegar over the raisins. Add a splash of boiling water, stir and set aside.

Heat 4Tbsp of the olive oil in a large, heavy pan. Add the onions, garlic and salt. Saute gently for 10 minutes, until the onions are soft and starting to colour. Add the carrot and cook, stirring, for another 3-4 minutes. Add the raisins and their soaking liquid. Toss through and continue cooking until the carrots are soft (just another minute or two). Remove from the heat.

While the onions are cooking, cook the spaghetti in a large pot of boiling salted water until al dente (about 9 minutes). Drain well, reserving about ⅓ cup of the cooking water. Return the carrots pan to the heat and add the spaghetti, the reserved cooking water and the parsley, tossing well to combine. Season well with lots of freshly ground black pepper.

Divide between four warmed waiting bowls and serve immediately. Eat with freshly grated pecorino romano or another hard cheese (not pre-grated, if you please) as you wish.

Fancy more ways to utilise your newfound (or refound) grating skills? You might like this classic French Carrot Salad, or my Ultimate Carrot Cake.