Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Eating Carrot Greens

I don't like to throw things out. Leftover cakes are given away or stashed in the freezer. Aging vegetables are turned into soup. I will eat something, even if I don't feel like it, to stop it going into the bin.

When I saw carrots for sale at the supermarket, complete with greens attached, I naturally had to find out if the tops could be used for something. I came across a recipe for sauteed carrot greens, which sounded more than just edible. I mean, the writer even took discarded carrot greens from other customers at the market while concealing her excitement.

Bunch of carrots from the supermarket.
It turns out that the warning "the stems are pretty tough and toothsome even when cooked" was not an understatement. These greens were really fibrous and difficult to chew.

Swinging the balance towards vegetables.
Also, what the post neglected to mention was that these leaves had a pungent flavour and odour, very similar to the Asian vegetable known as tong ho (茼蒿) or garland chrysanthemum.

Deceptively innocent-looking carrot greens.
I enjoyed the bitter flavour—that's what I look for in leafy greens—but next time, I would save carrot tops for the stock pot, rather than risk pulling a muscle in my jaw.

This post is part of Our Growing Edge, a monthly blogging event aimed at inspiring us to try new things. This month, it is hosted by Louise from Crumbs and Corkscrews.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Froyo Phenomenon

There seem to have been three big food fads lately, which I haven't been able to understand: cupcakes, cronuts and frozen yoghurt (froyo). They all happen to be sweet, and they are everywhere, and my question is this: why dedicate your entire shop to cupcakes, say, when you could be selling all manner of delicious things?

What would you rather see offered in your local dessert shop?

Froyo Stores in New Zealand

When I first saw a couple of frozen yoghurt stores popping up right next to Giapo*, I thought they were trying to take away those customers who couldn't afford the high prices of gourmet gelato. And that they were doomed to failure. But no, I started noticing frozen yoghurt stores everywhere, even in places where I wouldn't expect to find ice cream, and people were flocking to them! [Added 1 May 2015: I think they are starting to close now though.] [Added 14 November 2015: Or branching into other offerings.] [Added 6 December 2015: Or getting into trouble.]

* Some claim Giapo makes the best ice cream in the world. I may get around to blogging about this central Auckland mecca soon, but it's been covered by so many others already, including a couple who shared the little shop's newest invention, the plated cone.

Yoghurt Story store on Queen St, Auckland.

StoreLocation(s)First Sighting in NZ
KiwiberriPalmerston North
    November 2011
    KiwiYoMany, including
    • Mission Bay
    • Auckland CBD - Lorne St
    • Sylvia Park
    • Botany Town Centre
    December 2011
    Yoghurt StoryMany worldwide, including
    • Auckland CBD - Queen St
    • Ponsonby
    • Botany Town Centre
    March 2012
    Yogoberry Cafe
    • Auckland CBD - Queen St
    September 2012
    Yogi'sNelsonOctober 2012
    • Mission Bay
    • Pakuranga
    October 2012
    White's & Co.
    • Auckland CBD - Britomart
    October 2012
    • Browns Bay
    December 2012
    Yoghurt Culture
    • Newmarket
    April 2013
    • St Lukes
    • Auckland CBD - Queen St
    July 2013
    Yo PickHamilton
      July 2013
      • Albany

        July 2013
        • Auckland CBD - Customs St
        August 2013
        • Birkenhead
        September 2013
        • Mt Roskill
        October 2013
        Froyo October 2013
        • Takapuna
        December 2013
        [Added 14 November 2015: Also Yoli opened in Newmarket in November 2014]

        Apart from the retail stores in the table above, which sell frozen yoghurt as their primary or only product, many ice cream stores such as New Zealand Natural also offer froyo, as do eateries including the Food Truck Garage. A quick search on the internet reveals that there is a supplier called Monalisa in Parnell which sells froyo machines, powders and accessories such as custom cups, and the Majors Group can also help you everything you need to get started, from the topping counter to yoghurt mixes from Italy.

        For those who want to eat frozen yoghurt at home, there is now a variety of brands and flavours to choose from at the supermarket, from Fonterra Brand's Tip Top tubs to Cone King's products.

        Why Froyo Appeals

        So why is frozen yoghurt taking off here? I can see a number of reasons, at least for most of the retail stores listed above:
        1. Novelty: new generation froyo stores look delightful, modern and fun, quite different from traditional ice cream parlours. It's tempting to try a new place at least once.
        2. Self-service: you can pick and choose the toppings that you want, in addition to the flavour of the froyo base. No need to engage with someone to craft an ice cream; you get to decide exactly how you want it.
        3. Colour and choice: often the toppings are beautifully displayed, with attractive colours and a variety of textures. The possible combinations are endless.
        4. Payment by weight: no such thing as small, medium or large here; you decide how much you want. The attendants will always encourage you to pick up a larger cup though, to "ensure your toppings don't fall off", but although you could have a small serving in a large cup, that is less likely to be the actual outcome.
        5. Health claims: froyo is supposed to be lower in fat than traditional ice cream, and contain probiotics, which are health-promoting micro-organisms.
        6. Social media: many of the stores have a camera available for you to easily share your froyo creations with your friends, and entice them to eat the dessert too! At least one blogger has commented on the enthusiastic community that KiwiYo has created, for instance.
        For retailers, selling frozen yoghurt is attractive because of its profit margins (apparently in a typical serving, there is a markup of 500%, though it becomes less once you take expenses like rent into account), and low labour costs (as the stores are self-service).

        Frozen yoghurt creation from the KiwiYo Flickr page.
        In fact, frozen yoghurt is becoming popular around the world. According to market research firm Mintel, the US saw a whopping 74% sales increase for frozen yoghurt in the 2011-2013 period, compared to only a 3.9% increase in the sales for ice cream. In the UK, froyo sales increased by 50% in the 2010-2012 period.

        In the News

        So What's In It? Is it Good For You?

        Some of the health benefits suggested for frozen yoghurt sound so ludicrous that it might be enough to put you off eating it. Yoghurt Story not only says it is low in fat and high in protein and calcium, but that it "lowers the risk of subsequent heart disease and diabetes", while KiwiYo claims the probiotics in the yoghurt will aid in "overcoming skin problems", act "nutritionally as anti-carcinogenic and anti-tumor agents" and "combat[...] yeast overgrowth and fungal infections"!

        So what is froyo made of, and is it really good for you?

        I went to a couple of shops in the inner city, and asked them for more information. Yoghurt Story could not provide a list of ingredients, but did have nutritional info for each flavour. I could see that most had a sugar content of 18-20%, and the staff member was quick to assure me the sugar content came from "completely natural" sources. The Yogoberry Waffle Cafe explained they did not have an ingredients list, because the product was brought in as a pre-packaged mix. KiwiYo, surprisingly, had full disclosure, with the screens above the dispensers cycling between the (very long#) ingredients list, the nutritional information, and advertising (e.g. "gluten free") for each flavour. However, I was told that taking pictures of the screens or the topping counter was forbidden, and none of this information was available on their website.

        # To make fun of the fear of long ingredient lists filled with "unknown chemicals", Australian chemistry teacher James Kennedy made a series of ingredient infographics for such natural items as bananas, eggs and blueberries.

        Ingredient infographic from James Kennedy

        I also went to the Food Truck Garage, which I was particularly interested in, because it is a high-profile eatery associated with healthy fast food. The staff were again unable to provide a list of ingredients, but owner James (not the chemistry teacher) later emailed me the details below. It's worth noting that the froyo at this eatery is quite different from the parlours down the road in that they help control your portion size (it's not self-service), only serve the plain flavour, and also give you minimal toppings.
        The product is 100% Natural with no artificial nasties in the mix.
        Sugar, Instant Whole Milk Powder, Maltodextrin, Instant Skim Milk Powder, Inulin, Dextrose, Fresh Cultured Yogurt, Gum Arabic, Citric Acid, Xanthan Gum, Carrageenan, Guar Gum.
        Nutritional Info
        Serving size: 80mLPer 100mL
        531.63 kJ
        Total Fat
        Saturated Fat
        Total Carbohydrates
        From Sugar
        Fibre - Inulin

        Other Facts
        98% fat free
        Gluten free
        All natural
        A minimum of 1 BILLION live bacteria cultures of Acidophilus per serve
        Egg free
        Gelatin free
        Guilt free & delicious!
        From what I can see, froyo has around the same amount of sugar as ice cream, but less fat. That's not to say that it is better for you though, because:
        1. Fat, even saturated fat, isn't necessarily bad for you.
        2. Thickeners and binders like carageenan and guar gum are needed to give a low-fat product a full-fat texture, making it more processed than traditional ice cream (though these ingredients are also used in, say, Tip Top Vanilla Ice Cream).
        3. The nutritional info above is for one particular variety of froyo. There are likely to be more nasty-sounding ingredients in other varieties, particularly ones with flavourings and colourings.
        4. The more toppings you add, the more sugary and unhealthy your froyo is going to be. The numbers above do not take this into account.
        5. Not all frozen yoghurt will contain live probiotic bacteria, especially if it has been heat-treated. In general, frozen yoghurt will have less bacteria than the original yoghurt it was made from.
        I guess the main thing to remember is to treat froyo as the dessert that it is, rather than as a health food.

        In the News

        Not Just Froyo

        Although the number of frozen yoghurt stores popping up, at least in Auckland, has been quite incredible, I have also been noticing other frozen desserts places appearing.

        Dessert Dojo had their grand opening in Ponsonby a month ago, specialising in ice creams with toppings mixed in by hand. Not only do they have a very attractive store interior, they also have a photo booth, which you can use for free if you have purchased enough ice cream. Crazy Mixed Up Ice Cream in Pakuranga, which opened in May 2013, has a similar concept. Somehow, I don't think their shows are quite as spectacular as that of some employees at Cold Stone Creamery in America though.

        Picture from Crazy Mixed Up Ice Cream.

        Despite the number of Italian gelato vendors that have been around for years (apart from the aforementioned Giapo, I can think of several established businesses in central Auckland, including Valentino's GelatoGinelli's^, Gelatiamo, iStorm Gelato and Casa del Gelato), that is not stopping newcomers such as Zuzu's Gelato from opening as well.

        ^ Ginelli's used to have a retail store in Mission Bay, which is now the site of a froyo outlet. Although they no longer have a shop, you can still buy their ice cream at Pizza Planet in the IMAX foodcourt, as well as from certain upmarket supermarkets and restaurants.

        Then there is Pride and Joy, which sells ice cream which is local and produced in small batches, from steel carts called "pods", which are owned and operated by "remarkable unemployees".

        Much as I like ice cream and frozen yoghurt, I don't understand how we can suddenly support so many new shops. Is it like roads and cars, where supply induces demand? And if we are happy to fill ourselves with colourful sugary creations, why aren't there more shops selling other forms of desserts, such as hot ones? Wouldn't there be so much more variety in offering hot apple pie, feijoa crumble, baked alaska and so on as well?

        Saturday, January 18, 2014

        Review: Al's Deli

        Not to be confused with Al Brown's Federal Delicatessen, which I have wanted to blog about since the day it opened (but somehow never got around to), Al's Deli is an independent eatery founded by Canadian chef Aleks Lazic. Born in Montreal to a family of European immigrants, Aleks has travelled the world cooking at prestigious venues, before settling in New Zealand and deciding to reconnect with his home town through serving its most famous foods at his own restaurant, from handmade Montreal-style bagels to the calorie-laden poutine, which many consider to be the national dish of Canada.

        Al's Deli is larger than you might think.
        Although the deli only opened in late November, the food there has already been requested by Leonard Cohen, and a Montrealer apparently claimed the smoked brisket was as good as that of Schwartz's deli in Montreal. Most of the ingredients are made in-house, from cronuts to cheese curds, to maple and cherry smoked baconsmoked brisket, and Sicilian sausages, to of course, the handmade bagels, baked fresh daily, including gluten-free ones.

        Selection of bagels.
        Situated on a steep road off Queen Street, the entrance to the deli is actually at ground level on City Road, although most of the restaurant lies above a Korean BBQ buffet restaurant. There is a good view towards the city centre from the little balcony, and the owner has also done a great job of fitting out the place, with naked lightbulbs here, round lampshades there, mismatched retro chairs, authentic deli style sauce bottles, and even a set of what looks like airline chairs.

        Retro chairs, sauce bottles and more complete the picture. 
        Most of the menu items contain bagels, even if they are not explicitly mentioned. Want a sandwich? It's in a bagel. How about a salad? Bagel chips. If the chef's special is "Fresh panko-crumbed tarakihi, home made tartare sauce, watercress", then guess what, it comes in a bagel. The exceptions to this seem to be the poutine and BBQ Ribs.

        Now, I don't have anything against bagels—in fact I like them a lot—but I am not really a connoisseur of them. So I can't give any commentary as to whether the ones at Al's Deli are better than those at Best Ugly. They do look and taste pretty similar, though they might be a bit firmer, and are also around the same size—one bagel seems too small for lunch, while two is too much. I know I shouldn't be judging on the packaging, but I love the paper wrapper emblazoned with the Al's Deli logo when you get your bagel sandwich to take away.

        Takeaway bagel wrapped in custom-designed paper.
        While one bagel isn't quite enough for a meal, the brunch options at the deli are large enough to sustain you through a Canadian winter. We were basically forced to take the accompanying bagel away when we ordered the brisket hash. The smoky beef, beautifully browned potatoes and perfectly poached eggs were more than enough to fill up on.

        Brisket hash, poached eggs, hollandaise and watercress.
        Likewise, I am not sure if our order of a small poutine can really be classified as small. This came with soft cheese curds and a beefy gravy. Although we have never eaten poutine in Canada, we have no doubt this is a fine example of the dish (even though it is not something we would eat often).

        Poutine with hand-cut fries, homemade cheese curds and gravy.
        All in all, Al's Deli is a great place to visit. Convenient location, great atmosphere, tasty food prepared by a passionate chef, open 7 days, and not too expensive... what else could you ask for? Plus they seem to be the only eatery around with "moose ears" and a selection of Canadian beers. Already a favourite of ours!

        Panda Recommends

        If you are not that hungry, then bagels are the obvious choice.
        Anything with their smoked brisket is great, and their poached eggs are just right. And though I hesitate to recommend poutine except as a novelty, you can't really go to a Canadian restaurant without ordering one at least once.

        Vegie pandas
        You actually have a bunch of options here, from bagels filled with avocado and/or cream cheese, to eggs benedict, to haloumi salad. And desserts are vegetarian too of course, including the moose ears, cronuts and any specials such as the salted apple pie fries currently on offer.

        Bagels, poutine, salads, sides and drinks menu.

        Brunch menu
        Restaurant Details

        Al's Deli
        1/492 Queen Street, Auckland Central (entrance off City Road)
        (09) 373 2961

        Opening hours:
        Mondays to Wednesdays 7am - 8pm
        Thursdays to Fridays 7am - late
        Saturdays 9am - late
        Sundays 9am - 3pm

        The entrance to Al's Deli is on City Road.

        View Nom Nom Panda in a larger map

        Tuesday, January 14, 2014

        Where are all my reviews?

        Some of you will have noticed that I haven't written many reviews for a while. Partly, that was because work was taking over my life towards the end of last year. Partly it was because I wanted to have tried most of the dishes at a restaurant before reviewing a place, so that I can give some sort of recommendation as to what to eat, and to be sure that my experience was not an unusual once-off. Partly, it was because I was lazy, and there are so many great bloggers out there who have already written about the places I like.

        If you are interested in hearing about restaurants as I try them, you can follow me on my Facebook page. There are reviews coming though, I promise. :)

        Thursday, January 2, 2014

        Fresh Pomegranate and Mint Drink

        It's the day after New Year's, and I was hankering for some fresh fruit, but not enough to head to the shops, which I wasn't sure would be open. Then I spotted it: the pomegranate on the shelf, which my Chinese grandmother had given us, along with the message to "bear many seeds" (despite her already having a great-grandchild).

        The message might as well have been "work hard and reap the rewards', because this was one of the more fiddly fruits to tackle. As with corn kernels, you need patience and a light touch if you want to remove the seeds whole. Apparently, you can also hold a pomegranate half over a bowl, and eject the seeds by smacking the rind with a large spoon, but I haven't tried this technique yet.

        Pomegranate with some seeds removed.
        Rather than chewing each seed and spitting out (or swallowing) the hard centres, I put them into a bowl and squeezed the juice out using a potato masher, before straining to make a refreshing drink. This was a relatively sweet fruit, so I did not need to add any sugar.

        Juice squeezed and strained.
        Fresh Pomegranate and Mint Drink
        Adapted from Archana's Kitchen

        Serves 2.

        1 cup ice cubes
        a couple of large mint leaves
        sugar (optional), to taste
        1 pomegranate
        1/2 lemon
        1 cup soda water or ginger beer

        1. Fill jug with ice cubes and mint, and stir to bruise the leaves. If your pomegranate is more sour than sweet, and you are not using a sweetened mixer such as ginger beer, feel free to add some sugar here.
        2. Juice pomegranate and lemon, and strain into jug.
        3. Add soda water or ginger beer.
        4. Taste and adjust as required.
        5. Garnish with a slice of lemon or sprig of mint.
        6. Serve chilled and enjoy!

        Fresh pomegranate and mint drink.

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