March 31, 2010

Snack Time: Not Your Grandma’s Cookies and Milk

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This week, straight back from Spring Break, Kevin Boyd brings you his grandmother’s Nuts and Bolts mix recipe.

Snack foods are something about which I don’t generally have a whole lot to say. After all, the basic formulation is crunchy, salty and frequently dominated by a single flavor, like barbecue, nacho cheese or garlic.  They come in brightly-colored Mylar packages and have the mysterious property of never occurring in quantities other than “mostly there” and “almost gone.” If it’s a chip, cracker or snack mix, the rule is that following these guidelines should lead to a successful product.The home-made snack food, on the other hand, seems to me a much smaller share of the crunchy foods market. Popcorn is almost an exception, but even that is assembled by popcorn-loving scientists and only prepared (or, if you live in a freshman dorm, incinerated) by the consumer. Pretzels are too time-consuming to make, potato chips too dangerous, crackers too difficult. And so I think it is important that the snack mix gets some recognition.The most famous of the snack mixes is, of course, the classic Chex party mix, the recipe for which can be found online or on boxes of Chex cereal. General Mills does indeed sell a commercial version of the snack, but it was originally designed (and is better suited) for home preparation. The recipe uses three kinds of Chex cereal, nuts, pretzels, bagel chips, butter and flavorings — including Worcestershire sauce, seasoned salt, onion powder and garlic powder — to yield a salty, savory, nutty mix with a delightful variety of textures.The official recipe for Chex party mix caters to the contemporary instant-gratification crowd and includes instructions for making it in the microwave. I cannot recommend this; baking in a low, slow oven has the effect of producing what is known as a Maillard reaction, a thermochemical reaction that makes things get all brown and tasty and you miss out on this in the microwave. Yes, baking things is more time-consuming and freshmen living in certain residence halls will have difficulty finding a working oven to monopolize for a couple of hours, but it’s worth your time.In my opinion, though, the traditional Chex mix is a bit humdrum. Perhaps this is because I was raised on a variant recipe, the slightly-more-badass Nuts and Bolts. It introduces some heat in the form of Tabasco sauce and a slightly more complex flavor with the addition of celery seed and Cheerios. The name is a half-hearted pun, playing off of the resemblance between building materials — thin pretzels and small, round Cheerios — as well as the presence of mixed nuts in the recipe.Nuts and Bolts is almost laughably easy to make, but, as nine out of 10 Cornell pep band members agree, it is awesome stuff. People have a hard time keeping themselves from eating it frantically, and the smell that permeates your house while you bake it is enough to drive people mad. This is a recipe best made while preparing for a long night of studying — it takes a while and is low-maintenance and the reward at the end is deliciousness.Please note that Worcestershire sauce contains a small amount of anchovy, so if that offends your dietary sensibilities, soy sauce or Tamari should make a reasonable substitute. Oh, and it’s definitely not a low-calorie snack, so use a small bowl to serve yourself.

Nuts and Bolts14 oz. box Cheerios (variation: try Multi-grain Cheerios, which are lightly sweetened)18 oz. (1.5 boxes) Crispix (the lazy man’s Chex)1 lb. mixed nuts (peanuts, almonds, cashews and pecans are good)1 lb. thin stick pretzels1 cup butter, melted1/2 cup oil (canola, vegetable or corn)3 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce1 tbsp. garlic powder2 tbsp. Tabasco sauce2 tsp. celery seedPut the first four ingredients into a huge pan. In a separate bowl, mix remaining ingredients to make a spicy sauce. Pour sauce over the dry ingredients and mix well to coat. Bake at 225 degrees Farenheit for 3 to 3.5 hours, stirring occasionally and furtively. Store in a tightly covered container or serve to a bunch of hungry friends. Makes about 30 cups, give or take.  RLD

Original Author: Kevin Boyd