Thursday, July 19, 2012

Cranberry Cooking

I saw fresh cranberries for sale for the first time the other day.  They were sitting on the same shelf of a gourmet food store as paw paw from the Philippines, close to where a month ago, I had spotted blood oranges from the US.  Despite being grown in New Zealand, these cranberries were by no means cheap.  In fact, they were decidely expensive, at about $9 for less than 340g.

Not having had prior experience with fresh cranberries, I assumed they would be similar to the more familiar blueberries, cherries and strawberries, that is, sweet, soft and juicy.  I was therefore surprised to find them vacuum packed.  No other fresh berry would survive such a treatment, surely?  It turns out they weren't as fresh as I had thought either.  The best by date was already two weeks in the past, which is not surprising as the cranberry season runs from around March to June in New Zealand.  Fortunately, I discovered that they keep a long time, up to two months in a sealed bag in the refrigerator.  They were still very firm anyway, with the exception of a few bad ones.

Vacuum packed cranberries at the store (top left).
Since my previous cranberry encounters were in the form of juice and dried fruit, I imagined these berries to be a deep red throughout, gushing a sweet liquid as soon as you give them a gentle bite, a bit like giant pomegranate seeds, perhaps.  How wrong I was!  First, there is a distinct crunch when you chew them, and almost immediately, you realise that they taste horrible, sour and astringent without any redeeming sweetness.  Yuck!

After your mouth stops puckering, you might notice that apart from the skin, the fruit is in fact not very red at all.  Nor is it very juicy.  And there are little seeds inside.  How curious!

Not what I imagined cranberries looked like inside!
I decided to cook them as I would quinces, in water with plenty of sugar (though not for as long), forming a delicious mixture which thickened on cooling.  Cranberry sauce or cranberry jam, if you like.  What a transformation!

Making cranberry sauce.
Cranberry sauce is most often associated with Christmas or Thanksgiving turkey in the US and Canada, but you could also have it with your roast chicken, smear it with whipped cream onto your freshly baked scones, or use it to sweeten a plain yoghurt.

My American sister-in-law also suggested I try blending the fresh berries in a food processor with an orange, apple, and a few tablespoons of sugar, but I'm not convinced that a raw cranberry relish would be my thing.

It turned out to be a tasty (when prepared) and educational purchase in the end.  However, I am not sure that I would pay that amount of money for raw cranberries again, especially since you (or rather, I) cannot eat them raw.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Review: Chinese Apple in Hot Toffee (拔丝苹果) @ New Flavour Restaurant (新源风味食府)

Northern style Chinese dumplings seem to be all the rage these days.  And notwithstanding Al Brown's endorsement of Barilla Dumpling on Dominion Road, one of the places where people get their fill is another little eatery down the road called New Flavour.  Since Natalie Smith wrote about the place on the Eat Here Now website nearly two years ago, a number of other bloggers have picked up the cry, including Her Worldy Pleasures, Andrea at Dlish, and Nessie at Baking Equals Love.  Even the vegans love the place.  Not surprisingly, if you turn up at dinner time, chances are now pretty slim that you will find a seat without waiting.  The fact that the eatery was shut down earlier this year after receiving an E food grade rating (it has since cleaned up its act and is now rated A) didn't diminish people's enthusiasm at all.

The other bloggers have done a great job of raving about the dumplings, handmade ("manual") noodles and vegetables at New Flavour already, so I won't carry on about the savoury dishes you can have there.  What I would like to share is a sweet snack I have not seen at many other places in Auckland: apple fritters coated in hot toffee (拔絲蘋果/拔丝苹果), served with a sprinkling of sesame seeds and a bowl of water so you can cool the molten sugar, turning it hard and crispy.

Apple in hot toffee
Unlike the Western toffee apples on a stick, you don't need to strain your jaw trying to eat this dish.  You do, however, need to eat quickly, savouring the warm, soft interior and the sweet, crunchy exterior of each mouthful, before the toffee coating the battered apple pieces loses its heat and sticks onto the plate in one giant clump.

New Flavour also offers banana and kumara chunks in hot toffee, the latter simply deep-fried without a batter, but we prefer the candied apple, because we are usually so full by the time we get to dessert that we find it difficult to handle the thought of something as heavy as sweet potato.  These other options are delicious too though.

Kumara in hot toffee
If you want to try making this at home, there are a bunch of recipes online:
But I'd rather enjoy myself and leave it to the experts.

Panda Recommends

New Flavour has a very large menu, and we have yet to try even half the items in it.
Mains: dumplings, noodles and vegetables
Dessert: apple in hot toffee ($16).  We wanted to try the deep fried milk too, but they didn't have it the two times we asked.

Vegie Pandas
As above.

Restaurant Details

New Flavour Restaurant (新源风味食府)
541 Dominion Road, Balmoral, Auckland
(09) 638 6880

Opening hours:
Tuesdays closed.
Sundays, Mondays and Wednesdays 5pm - 3am
Thursdays to Saturdays, 5pm - 4am

New Flavour is a basic eatery between My Kitchen (Taiwanese) and Golden Tulip (Malaysian).

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