Friday, February 28, 2014

Homemade Loquat Liqueur

A relative has a loquat tree on their property. Several months ago, it bore fruit, and we were gifted with a large number of the sweet, aromatic spheres.

Loquats on the tree.
It was the first time we had ever tried loquats, and I thought they were cute, held together by chubby, furry stems.

Ripe loquats.
There wasn't much flesh in each fruit, as a lot of the space was taken up by the seeds in the centre, but what there was was delicious at the right level of ripeness.

Inside a loquat.
As we had more than we could eat, I tried to make dried fruit out of most of them, putting the cut halves into the barely warmed oven over a number of days.

Loquat halves laid out for drying.

Sadly, that was a waste both of effort and delicious fruit, as even days later, the pieces were still not dry (perhaps I should have turned the oven on for longer). Pricking the skins with a fork and turning some of the pieces over did not help much either. Not only that, the orange rounds had oxidised and turned black, and the beautiful fragrance of the fresh fruit was no longer there.

Unattractive partially-dried loquats.
I put the shrivelled-up, leathery and not very sweet loquat pieces into a jar, thinking I could bake them into something perhaps, but by the time I remembered them, they had started to grow mouldy. Epic fail.

All those loquats left me with something else on my hands. I did not want to simply throw the seeds away, and when I discovered that people made loquat liqueur with them, I decided to give it a go as well. I haven't had success with brewing in the past, but loquat liquer didn't require any skills or special equipment. This was really only going to be a vodka infusion.

Loquat seeds.
Possible Poison?

While searching for recipes, I came across some pretty scary sounding advice out there. For instance, a post  by bpotter on the GardenWeb forum claimed the seeds contain a dangerous level of cyanide compounds:
Most of the stone fruit (peaches, apricots, plums) are in the rose family and loquats (at least 2 different species I know of) are members. Their pits contain dangerous levels of cyanide compounds. Our native holly-leaf cherry was used by the native Chumash people as a source of food and they knew that they had to leach out the poisons from the pits by repeated soakings and boilings before they made a mush out of them.
Others, such as Susan Lutz at Zester Daily, point out that while the pits contain toxic substances, there is not enough to worry about:
I put in a call to professor Jules Janick, director of the Indiana Center for New Crops and Plant Products at Purdue University. He’s not only the co-editor of “The Encyclopedia of Fruits and Nuts,” he is also a kind and understanding voice of reason. Janick told me that loquat seeds are indeed toxic, but then so are the seeds of apples and pears. To put things into perspective, Janick said, “If you ate 3 pounds of them, then it might be a problem.” He also reminded me that the bitterness of the seeds would stop someone from eating them pretty quickly. I realized that my daughter was at far greater risk for choking on a loquat seed than being poisoned by its chemical components.
Then there are those who deliberately eat the seeds out of the belief that it can help combat cancer. A modified form of the chemical amygdalin found in the pips (also in the kernels of apricots, peaches, cherries, and almonds) is marketed as Laetrile, although there is no proof that it is effective against cancer.

I wasn't able to find out how dangerous loquat seeds were, but I did come across some tables for other foods. This came with the warning that "cyanogen levels can vary widely with cultivar, climatic conditions, plant part and degree of processing."

Food Sources of Cyanogenic Glycosides and Amount of Hydrogen Cyanide (HCN) Produced
PlantCyanogen content  (mg HCN/kg) Major cyanogenic glycoside present
Giant taro (Alocasia macrorrhizos) – leaves29-32Triglochinin
Nectarine (Prunus persica var nucipersica) – kernel196-209Amygdalin
Flax (Linum usitatissimum) – seed meal360-390Linamarin, linustatin,
Peach (Prunus persica) – kernel710-720Amygdalin
Plum (Prunus spp.) – kernel696-764Amygdalin
Apple (Malus spp.) – seed690-790Amygdalin
Apricot (Prunus armeniace) – kernel785-813Amygdalin
Cassava (Manihot esculenta) – root15-1000Linamarin
Sorghum (Sorghum vulgare) – leaves750-790Dhurrin
Whole Sorghum2500Dhurrin
Lima beans (Phaseolus lunatus100-3120Linamarin
Bitter almonds (Prunus dulcis)2500-4700Amygdalin
Bamboo (Bambusa arundinacea) – young shoots100-8000Taxiphyllin

The numbers above don't entirely agree with a New York Times Q&A piece, which quotes Dr. Margaret Dietert, associate professor of biology at Wells College, Aurora, N.Y., in saying that "13 to 15 raw peach pit kernels would get you into the lethal range for adults", while the level of cyanogen in apple seeds is "about a quarter as much as peach pits for the same weight".

Meanwhile, food scientist consultant John Fry has this to say in The Naked Scientists, again about apple pips:
You need about 1 milligram of cyanide per kilo of body weight to kill a human being. Apple seeds contain about 700 milligrams of cyanide per kilo, so about 100 grams of apple seeds should be enough to dispatch a 70-kg adult human, but that’s an awful lot of apple cores even if you don't eat the rest of the apple first. In addition, the seeds would have to be pretty finely crushed to let the enzymes get to the amygdalin at all. All in all, you're safe eating the occasional apple core. I've done it for years. Just don't try eating a bowl of freshly crushed apple pips.
I still had some reservations about eating anything made with loquat seeds, but seeing that people even use the roasted seeds as a coffee substitute helped to allay those fears.

Making Loquat Liqueur

Although loquats come from China, they are also common in other countries such as Italy, where they are called nespoli. A liqueur made from the loquat seeds is called nespolino, similar to nocino made from unripe green walnuts, and amaretto made from apricot kernels or almonds.

I roughly followed the directions from Gardenista, which went like this:
Rinse seeds and set out in the sun to dry for two weeks.
The classic Italian recipe calls for grain alcohol, but a neutral vodka works as well. To the pits, add one whole vanilla bean and 1/4 of a lemon rind, pith removed. Let this sit in the sun for about a month. Add a sugar simple syrup to taste, and then let it sit for another two weeks.
I'm not sure why the seeds should be set out in the sun to dry. Another recipe for loquat grappa omits this step. Perhaps it helps to intensify the flavour?

Loquat seeds with lemon peel in vodka.

After a couple of weeks of soaking, I noticed that the liquid level had dropped in my jar. Did the alcohol evaporate away somehow, or did it get absorbed into the seeds? I topped up with more vodka, and noticed a delicious almond and floral fragrance already.

Reduced level of liquid.
After a couple more weeks, the liquid level had dropped again, but this time, instead of topping up with more alcohol, I made a sugar syrup and poured that in. I promptly forgot about it for another month, even though I had meant to take the seeds out after two more weeks. I don't think that did any harm though, seeing as there are recipes that call for soaking the seeds for up to six months.

Fragrant end product.
And the end product? The almond flavour was more pronounced, and overlaid with a pungent one that you might poetically describe as "formaldehyde". According to the PICSE website, amygdalin "in the presence of water and the enzyme beta glycosidase (Emulsin) releases glucose, hydrocyanic acid (Prussic acid) and benzaldehyde... It is the Benzaldehyde is responsible for the bitter astringent taste while the Hydrogen Cyanide is responsible for the almond aroma." Interesting and complex to your senses then, but not something that I will be having large amounts of.

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 Kindra, from California Cavegirl Kindra.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Auckland Lantern Festival 2014

For one weekend every year (last weekend this year), a part of Auckland transforms into a bustling celebration of Asian culture and commerce. Lanterns are clearly the highlight of the Auckland Lantern Festival, but there are also performances, trinket-sellers, and food, glorious food. Every year, the event gets a little bigger, and for the first time this year, it was even split out into two different locations. Most of the attractions were in and around Albert Park as usual, but this time, there were also outdoor movies and family activities on Queen's Wharf.

Advertising for the Auckand Lantern Festival on a bus.

We didn't even look at the programme before heading in to town, because we were mainly there for the food; the lanterns were around the whole weekend anyway. This did mean that we missed some great shows, including sand painting, a kite making demonstration, and the grand finale fireworks. We did however manage to eat, take pictures, and immerse ourselves in the crowd, albeit one which was not used to coping with the sheer amount of people. We even caught the lion dance, in which one of the three red lions somehow managed to turn a gold and a silver one, while moving to the rhythmic beating of drums.

The lion dancers somehow managed to make it past the crowd by the food stalls.

Although some of the food at the festival consists of things you can get at restaurants or takeaways anyway, there was also a lot of street snacks (plenty of things on skewers), as well as items you don't normally see, like the toffee strawberries below, or freshly pressed sugar cane juice. The volume of people not only added to the atmosphere, but ensured food was freshly cooked where appropriate.

Fried dumplings and squid on a stick.

Hardest to get: Toffee Strawberries

People kept walking past with strawberry skewers held up high, some with up to 6 or so sticks in their hands. We found the source of this delicacy and placed ourselves in the shortest queue, salivating with every step forward. Unfortunately, once we got to the front, we discovered that we were in the wrong queue. They were only selling meat jerky from our line, despite being one and the same shop.

We left for a couple of hours and looked around before attempting to join the queue again. This time, after we had waited for a few minutes, they called out that they had sold out. At $3.50 for four little toffee-coated strawberries, the skewers were not cheap, but people clearly loved them!

The very popular toffee strawberry stand, which also sold beef and pork jerky.
We returned the next day, and went straight to this stall before purchasing the savoury components of our meal. We finally got to try toffee strawberries, and they were indeed delicious, with a sweet, crunchy outer shell that gives way to a warm, fruity explosion.

Most tempting food we did not try: Fried Pork Buns and Dumplings

It was really interesting watching the buns and dumplings being cooked by Chinese Dumpling King Restaurant (shop in Mount Albert). While the bottoms of the products were frying on a hot pan, the tops were being steamed under a metal cover. I imagine the food would have been hot and fresh and delicious, and good value too ($5 for 6 buns or 10 dumplings), but the queue was a deterrent, and we figured that we could simply go to the restaurant after the festival anyway.

Fried pork buns and dumplings being cooked.

Most expensive item: Grilled Crayfish Tail

The most expensive dish we saw for sale was the grilled crayfish tail from Oceanz Seafood. On Saturday night, it cost $18, marked down from $20. The next night, however, the price was down to $15, so we decided to spoil ourselves. There's supply and demand in action for you.

Grilled crayfish tail from Oceanz Seafood.
This was actually a good choice, as the crayfish was delicious in garlic butter. You also got a bit of seaweed so it feels more like a meal.

Cheapest items: meat kebabs, deep fried things

A number of stalls were selling meat skewers for $1 per stick. For $1 you could also buy deep fried things such as durian rolls and taro cake.

Durian rolls, taro cake, spring rolls and dumplings at a vegetarian stall.
Most represented cuisine: Taiwanese Food (runner up: vegetarian food)

The range of food on offer at the festival included such cuisines as Chinese, Malaysian, Filipino, Vietnamese, and Thai, but we were surprised by how strong the Taiwanese representation was. From pearl milk tea to Taiwanese sausages to popcorn chicken to rice tube pudding, we saw maybe 10 stalls selling Taiwanese food, and that's not including the stalls that sold pearl milk tea along with other things like Hong Kong Curry Fish Balls.

Taiwanese fried chicken.
In comparison, we only noticed one Vietnamese stall, and a couple each of Thai and Malaysian ones.

The other type of stalls we saw a lot of were the ones promoting vegetarian food, often run by Buddhist organisations. They seemed to be more intent on proving that ethical vegetarian food can taste good, rather than providing any healthy offerings. As such, there were very few salads to be seen, but plenty of deep-fried snacks and imitation meat.

Oily vegetarian food.

Most disappointing item: Tofu Jelly

One of the stalls offered tofu jelly or tau fu fah, which is not something that you often get to eat here, unless you make it yourself or go to a fancy Chinese restaurant. Although there was an attractive picture shown on a wooden pail, however, the actual dish offered was nothing like it. First of all, it didn't come from the pail, which actually only contained the sugar syrup for the dish. Secondly, the jelly had the wrong texture, somewhat curdled and grainy, rather than being silky smooth. Then came the flavour, which had a slightly bitter aftertaste, as if they had added too much gypsum. Finally, the syrup was not golden brown as shown in the picture, but a clear and colourless sugar water. What a waste of a perfectly good $5.

Syrup for tofu jelly and bottle of black soy milk.

Best food for having later: Fresh Fruit

Most of the food at the festival was intended to be eaten straight away. We took home some deep-fried coconut buns from a vegetarian stall, but we wished we had remembered to purchase some cherries, lychees and longans for later too.

Fresh fruit and young coconut water for sale.

Most attractive non-Chinese food: Ice Cream in a Fruit Cup

For those who do not care for Chinese food, there were still plenty of options at the Lantern Festival, from gourmet food trucks like Urban Escargot selling pork belly burgers, mussel fritters and snails in green curry, to the standard vendors of hot chips, hot dogs and kebabs. The seafood mentioned earlier, including the grilled crayfish tail, would appeal to all, but perhaps the most popular non-Chinese food was in the dessert category.

Mini donuts flew like hot cakes, children walked around with candy floss, and ice cream in watermelon (which you find at many festivals including Pasifika and the Grey Lynn Park Festival) was jazzed up to include paper peacocks and served using a variety of fruit, including rock melon and pineapple.


After you have eaten your fill and the darkness of night takes over, it is time to enjoy the lantern displays!

Turtle orchestra lanterns.

Dragons around a post lanterns.

  • Avoid driving. You have better things to do with your time than sitting in traffic, or going round and round a parking building very slowly. Walking is a good option, as is riding a bike. Trying to catch a bus may be problematic if you are at one of the last stops, and all you see are full buses that just keep going past.
Gridlocked cars in parking building.

  • Go with friends so you can share, when you are forced to buy food in larger quantities than you want to eat. Failing that, be prepared to take food away, so that you can try more items.
  • For even greater variety, come back on multiple days. Not only will you have more stomach space to play with, you might see some new stalls too.
  • Don't go right towards the end of the evening. The more popular items might be sold out, and they turned out the lights at 10:30pm (in the food area, not the lanterns in the park) even though the place was still buzzing.
  • Relax and enjoy. This is particularly important because someone is bound to be in your way, or accidentally bump into you, in the crowd.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Review: Baduzzi

Baduzzi is the Sicilian word for meatballs, but this Italian restaurant is not the loud and raucous family affair the name may conjure up. There is no grandmotherly figure filling your plate with huge and hearty portions of food. Rather, it is an elegant and sophisticated place with a relaxed atmosphere, where you can savour your meal rather than shovelling it down.

Front door to this classy yet inviting restaurant.

The service is excellent. When we turned up one night, and the only table free was outside, right by the wind tunnel of Fish Lane, the owner brought over a woollen blanket to keep us warm. When someone dropped a fork, a new one magically appeared. If you have four people at your table, and order meatballs which normally comes as a set of 3, the wait staff always check whether you want to add an extra portion.

Plenty of drinks to choose from too.

The menu is divided into a number of sections, with only one featuring meatballs. All are delicious, and I like the fact that nothing is so huge that you cannot eat anything else.

Piccolo (Small Dishes)

You could treat the small dishes as entrees, or you could get a bunch of them to eat as tapas. As with everything else at Baduzzi, they are flavourful, well-presented, and simply a pleasure to eat.

Half of a dish of flame grilled sardines.

Breaded courgette flowers, with additional portion.

Polpette (Meatballs)

The crayfish meatballs are apparently the restaurant's signature dish. We tried these only once, at the Taste of Auckland festival, where I was amused they painted on a swoosh of spring carrot puree, even though they were using paper bowls. This dish at the event was about $4 cheaper than dining in, but was not as amazing as we had expected for a price tag of nearly $5 per ball (after paying the entrance fee), especially when you are using plastic cutlery, perched at makeshift tables. Perhaps the surrounding atmosphere interfered with our taste buds.

Crayfish meatballs with braised chickpeas.

The wagyu meatballs we ate at the restaurant, however, were juicy and delicious, worthy of the restaurant's name.

Wild deer meatballs, portabello mushroom, cauliflower crema.

We had expected the meatballs to come with pasta or other form of carbohydrates, but what you see is what you get. These dishes therefore do not make a balanced lunch, but would be a great starter to share.

Primi (First Course) / Vegetarian

The first course section comprises mainly of pastas, and overlaps significantly with the vegetarian menu. There is absolutely no need to eat meatballs to enjoy a great meal at Baduzzi!

Eggplant parmigiana.
Risotto with asparagus, broad bean and mint.

I was surprised by the naming of the dishes. I don't speak Italian, but I thought "gnocchi" were little potato dumplings. What came out looked more like what I would call "tortellini". (I was also surprised that the sauce was a bit sweet, but I guess burnt butter is already heading towards the direction of caramel.)

Saffron gnocchi w goat curd, burnt butter, almonds and herbs.

Likewise, the wild rabbit ravioli were more like meatballs in disguise, with plenty of filling in a tall lump, with a token pasta wrapping.

Wild rabbit ravioli, turnip puree, barolo reduction.
Close-up of an opened rabbit ravioli.

Secondi (Second Course)

The items in the second course section focus on meat, and despite the price, are not necessarily much larger in size than the previous dishes.

Pulled milk fed goat with grilled lettuce, polenta and rosemary.
Pheasant "en brodo" with fregola, young celery & new season potato.


I am thankful for the relatively small portion sizes, because the desserts at Baduzzi really stand out. They are presented in a fun and artistic manner, and taste as good as they look.

Tiramisu with Bailey's & amaretto ladyfingers, chocolate cream.
Cannoli w ricotta, citrus confit & chocolate chips.
Chocolate torta caprese with vanilla ice cream & amaretti.

There are many mediocre restaurants on North Wharf, but fortunately Baduzzi is not one of them!

Panda Recommends

This restaurant may be named after meatballs, but the other sections of the menu are just as enticing. Make sure you save room for dessert!

Restaurant Details

Corner of Jellicoe Street and Fish Lane, North Wharf, Auckland Central
(09) 309 9339

Opening hours:
Mondays to Sundays 11:30am till late

Baduzzi is one of a row of restaurants at the bottom of the ASB Building at North Wharf.

View Nom Nom Panda in a larger map

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Documentary Discovery: How It's Made

Factories hold a certain fascination for me. I still remember how, as a child, we went to visit the pink buildings of the Chelsea Sugar Refinery (unfortunately, public tours are no longer offered). I was intrigued to learn that they didn't have a problem with ants, because the insects killed themselves from eating too many of the sugar scraps, before reaching the main production area. I was also surprised to see the machinery packing sugar into bags labelled with the supermarket brand Pam's. Oh, and we got a free sugar sample, of course.

Chelsea Sugar Refinery at Birkenhead.

Recently, I discovered a TV series called How It's Made, which shows you what goes on in the making of everyday things, from contact lenses to toothbrushes to straw sombreros. The first season of the show aired in 2001, and it is so popular that it is now in Season 22, and is translated into numerous languages. Of course, among the episodes are many food-related ones, which I have linked to below, along with some similar videos I found on YouTube.

Some of the topics sound obvious, like frozen fruit. Uh, I thought, don't you just stick the fruit in a freezer, then seal it in a bag? Once you watch the episode, however, you realise there is slightly more to the story, like washing the fruit in chlorinated water, sorting it by size, removing any pips, and slicing the pieces. Likewise, the making of orange juice may seem trivial, until you consider how to pick a very large volume of fruit quickly.

As the programme is produced in Canada, it is American-centric. For instance, one episode shows the washing of eggs, which is something done in North America, but not in New Zealand or the EU (see Why American Eggs Would be Illegal in a British Supermarket, and Vice Versa). And we have grass-fed cows, of course.

Whether the details apply to us or not, they are addictive for the curious, as long as you can overlook the terrible puns in the narrative. I assume the producers are happy for us view the episodes on YouTube, since there's a channel that calls itself The Official How Its Made Channel, and they have also made some videos available on the Discovery Channel website (though I had difficulty viewing these). If you want to know exactly where filming was done, there is a list of factories which opened their doors to the camera crew.

Beet Sugar
Cane Sugar
Caviar (farmed sturgeon eggs)
Chicks (hatchery)
Cocoa Beans and Bulk Chocolate (cocoa nibs, cocoa butter, chocolate chips, bulk bars)
Fish (farmed trout)
Maple Syrup
Olive Oil
Oysters (farmed)
Solar Salt
Vegetable Oil

Dairy Products
Blue Stilton Cheese
Goat Cheese
Mozzarella Cheese
Parmesan Cheese
Swiss Cheese

Processed Meat
Beef Jerky
Cooked Ham
Deli Meats
Hot Dogs
Poultry Deli Meats
Smoked Salmon
Tinned Sardines

Fruit and Vegetables
Canned Corn
Canned Tomatoes
Cranberries (frozen, juice, and dried)
Frozen Fruit (strawberries and peaches)
Greenhouse Tomatoes
Hearts of Palm
Hydroponic Lettuce
Onions (chopped)
Pineapples (fresh, dried, or tinned)

Dips and Sauces
Ketchup (Heinz)
Soy Sauce
Sweet Thai Chilli Sauce
Worcestershire Sauce

Chocolate Spread
Peanut Butter

Breads and Pastries
Filo Dough
Sticky Buns

Frosted Cereal
Oat Cereal
Shredded Wheat Cereal

Sweets - Confectionery
Bubble Gum
Candy Canes
Chocolate (filled)
Chocolate (moulded)
Chocolate Coins
English Toffee
Gummy Candy
Hard Candies
Jawbreakers / Gobstoppers
Jelly Beans
M&Ms (Mars)

Sweets - Biscuits
Fig Cookies
Fortune Cookies
Marshmallow Cookies

Sweets - Desserts
Apple Pie
Blueberry Turnovers
Frozen Pancakes
Ice Cream Cones
Ice Cream Treats
Ice Lollies
Snack Cakes  (jelly logs and chocolate cream cakes)
Tapioca Pudding
Yule Logs

Savoury Snacks
Doritos / Corn Chips
Frozen French Fries
Potato Chips (Frito-Lay)
Pistachio Nuts (roasted and  salted)
Plantain Chips
Pringles / Stackable Potato Chips
Roasted Nuts
Sandwich Crackers
Soda Crackers

Savoury Dishes
Airline Meals
Black Pudding
Frozen Fish Products (fish fingers and crumbed fillets)
Frozen Fried Chicken (wings, tenders and breasts)
Frozen Fried Shrimp
Frozen Pizzas
Kelp Caviar
Pork Pies
Pre-packed Sandwiches
Veggie Burgers

Non-Alcoholic Beverages
Apple Juice
Desalinated Water
Drinking Water
Orange Juice
Soft Drinks

Alcoholic Beverages
Corn Whiskey

Aluminium Cans
Glass Bottles
Tetra Pak Containers

Kitchen Consumables
Aluminium Foil
Charcoal Briquettes
Paper Towels
Paper Cups
Plastic Cups and Cutlery
Steel Wool

Aluminium Flasks
Beer Steins
Bundt Pans
Cast Iron Cookware (Le Creuset enamelled)
Crystal Wine Glasses
Glass Cookware
Kitchen Accessories (wooden rolling pins, mallets, chopping boards, trivets)
Kitchen Knives
Non-Stick Cookware
Pepper Mills
Pewter Tankards
Pizza Cutters and Vegetable Peelers
Silver Cutlery
Silver Plated Teapots
Stainless Steel Cookware (with aluminium and/or copper core)
Stainless Steel Cutlery
Wooden Bowls

Whiteware and Kitchen Appliances
Ice Makers
Induction Cooktops
Kitchen Mixers
Pressure Cookers
Range Hoods
Water Heaters

Commercial Equipment and Decorations
Automatic Pizza Maker (pizza vending machine)
Beverage Coasters
Deli Slicers
Industrial Steam Boilers
Produce Scales
Replica Foods

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