Gettin’ cheesey – goats cheese and asparagus tart

The days are gettin’ longer, the flies are buzzin’ later and the weather’s gettin’ balmier. Although I love to eat – I really do – the last thing I want at this time of year is a big, heavy meal. I’m done with the sitting in a food coma in this hot, hot heat and perspiring while my body desperately attempts to digest the onslaught I have just unleashed.

Anyway, my recipe today is a delicious, fresh goats cheese and asparagus tart. Crisp and light, I think it’s kinda nice to eat this with a sharp little rocket salad on the side.

You will need…
– Asparagus! For one of those round (c.23cm) tart tins, I’d say a couple of bunches
– Olive oil – just around about half a tablespoon
– Salt to taste
– Fresh thyme – say, a tablespoon
– Goats cheese – about 100 grams
– 2 eggs
– 1/3 cup of milk
– 1/3 cup of thickened cream
– 1/4 cup parmesan
– Pepper
– A hearty pinch of nutmeg
– 1 lot of shortcrust pastry from my epic pecan pie recipe

Step 1 – roly-poly: pre-heat your oven to 190 degrees celcius, fan forced. Roll out your pastry, lay it in a tart tin, prick the bottom, line with baking paper and fill with beans / rice / baking weights and bake for about 10 mins. Take out the baking paper / weights and continue baking for a further 10 mins.

Step 2 – vegalicious: roll your asparagus around in a light coating of the olive oil and then season with a bit of salt and pepper. Bake at 200 degrees until tender (and some bits are nicely golden)

Delicious, roasted asparagus

Step 3 – get your goat: in a bowl, mix together your milk, cream, parmesan, eggs (beaten), pepper to taste, nutmeg and thyme. In your beautifully baked tart shell, layer lumps of half of the goats cheese. Then fill with your creamy milky mixture. Lay your roasted asparagus in some incredibly arty formation on top, and then dollop in lumps of the remaining half of the goats cheese. Bake at 190 degrees for about 25 minutes or until the mixture is set. Let cool and eat with ravenous-ness.

 

Art in a tart

I am going to eat you like a lion

 

The Spanish Fly, Randwick

I once went to Spain, back in the day. It was after a set of my uni exams and I was on exchange in England and everyone else was either busy, boring, studying or a combination of the three so I decided that for a brief weekend I would nip on down to Barcelona to check it out. I caught a train out of the busy, bustling city one day, out to this beachside town called Sitges. After many hours of wandering aimlessly, looking at beautiful, old crumbling buildings and wading in the warm waves, the hunger that had been brewing in that tummy of mine came to a head. As if the town of Sitges knew that my hunger was rampant, it provided a cute little tapas bar in my very path. I sat there for hours, talking (badly) in Spanish to the waiter, taking photos of the passing people and ordering plate after plate of delicious tapas. I enjoyed so much the pure flavours that came out of the meats, the cheeses, the seafood. It was nothing fancy – the whole premise of the bar was an out-of-the-way family run tapas bar for the locals. But everything was fresh. And the flavours of the ingredients – of the meats, for example – came out so vividly. As I watched nearby tables talking and laughing and sharing these little, beautiful plates of deliciousness over glasses of red wine, I came to appreciate just how much the humble tapas contributes to this amazing social movement. I drank my wine and finished my plate and as the sun dipped behind the old, crumbling buildings, I caught a train back into the hustle and bustle of Barcelona.

Anyhoo – through my dining friend, I decided to attempt to re-live this beautiful moment (hey – it’s a mission to get back to Spain) There are a number of tapas restaurants around “The Spot” in Randwick – El Bulli, L’il Darlin, to name a couple. But being fans of the independent, non-chain restaurant, we ended up at the Spanish Fly. We got there at about 7pm on a Friday night and it was packed.  Seated at the bar, it unfortunately ruined any chance of a romantic evening, but at the delicious smells wafting around, we were happy to take it.

Starting off, we went with a jug of sangria. I’ve gotta comment The Spanish Fly on their Sangria, it was cinnamon-y, nutmeggy, winy and not wimpy. It was strong without being overpoweringly wine-y. It wasn’t filled to the brim with those little bits of fruit that ruin my delicious mouthful. It was just tasty, spicy, heady sangria.

For our plates of deliciousness, we went with the fried zucchini flowers, filled with ricotta and sat upon a red capsicum sauce. I felt that the batter was ever so slightly thick and oily (not in the “corner store battered fish” sort of way; more in the “compared to tempura” sort of way). The capsicum sauce on which it sat has a nice strong flavour – not too spicy – but like a roasted capsicum that meant to be there. The filling of the flowers was neither here nor there; I couldn’t really detect anything exciting. But with a bit of capsicum smooshed onto it, the combination was crisp, fresh and nicely flavoured.

Crunchy, crispy zucchini flowers

Next up, calamari. Without having actually read the description, I automatically assumed that the calamari would have been deep fried to crisp perfection. It wasn’t. DF wasn’t as impressed with the dish that appeared in front of us, but I thought it was a nicely different dish to the usual hum-drum deep fried squid. In front of us appeared a generous mound of calamari rings, sauteed in almost a caponata – it had been tossed in a tomato-y, olive-y, eggplant-y, chunky sauce. The calamari was tender, the sauce was spicy and well seasoned and I didn’t mind it at all. It wasn’t a wholesome, fulfilling dish,  but light and fresh isn’t so bad.

Calamari – fresh is best

We also had chorizo, as I guess you need to get to complete a tapas meal. We were served a – again – generous portion of thick slices of chorizo (by the time I got around to taking the photo, we’d eaten most of it), sitting atop the zucchini flower’s capsicum sauce, and a healthy dose of extra virgin olive oil. I have to say that the chorizo could have done with a bit more time over the flame to get that delicious caramelised, char-grilled surface; instead, the chorizo was cooked so-so, but sort of dry.

Chorizo!

Last up, mushroom ravioli. Ok, so it’s not spanish per se. But we were presented with a cute little terracotta bowl of 6 beautiful morsels of ravioli. I actually think this was the highlight of the night. Mushrooms can often be an underwhelming, flavourless effort to inject some form of salty flavour into a vegetarian dish. But here, the Spanish Fly performed admirably. The ravioli was delicate, the mushroom flavour really came out, and each piece was seasoned well. And the sharp parmesan that topped the dish was crumbly and strong, if a bit light on the coverage.

Mushroom ravioli

All up, I had a good time at the Spanish Fly. Tispy from that delicious sangria and comfortably full, I noticed the many groups of tables nearby, talking and laughing, sharing little plates bursting with flavour over glasses of wine. And I realised that despite not being in the beautiful beachside town of Sitges, the same movement carried across the kilometres, through the waves and into the Spanish Fly in Randwick.

The Spanish Fly
35 St Pauls Street
Randwick NSW 2031

Food? 7/10
Drinks? 8/10
Atmosphere? 9/10

The Spanish Fly on Urbanspoon

I’ll have the Dal, Darl

Dal. Dahl. Daal. Doesn’t matter how you spell it, all that matters is that you eat it. A staple of Indian, Nepalese, Sri Lankan, Bangadeshi and Pakistani diets, Dal is one tasty, healthy (and cheap!) meal to eat.

For all of you vegos out there, the lentils that go into making dal are high in protein. And they’re high in lean protein – lentils contain virtually no fat. They have plenty of fiber to improve your digestive system. They are high in iron. They contain folate, essential for cell growth and reproduction. They contain vitamins C and K. For all of you guys that go for the Glycemic Index, lentils have a low GI – it takes a lot of work for your body to break them down. Basically, summing all of these together, lentils could be described as a super food.

Anyway, in my attempt to change unhealthy ways that full-time sitting in a full-time job has brought, I decided to turn this superfood into a delicious meal. Here’s my recipe for Dal.

You will need:
– 1 cup of lentils
– 1 tbsp cumin
– 1 tbsp turmeric
– 1 tbsp garam masala
– 1 tbsp chilli powder and/or a chopped red chilli
– 1 onion, chopped
– 4-5 garlic cloves, chopped
– a decent handful of chopped coriander
– 3 1/2 cups of veg stock (or water)
– any sort of veg that you might want to add – I went with some pumpkin and sweet potato, and also some kale left over from my epic kale chip recipe
– olive oil

Step 1 – fry me a river: heat some oil in a saucepan and fry off your onion until it’s tender and translucent. Add your garlic, cumin, turmeric, garam masala and chilli/s. Fry these for a few seconds to release their fragrance and then add your lentils. Give them a bit of a stir.

Lentilly goodness

Step 2 – low and slow: tip your stock/water into the pot. Bring to the boil and then turn that heat right on down. You pretty much just want to be leaving this hear, lid on, stirring occasionally – like, every 20 minutes or so – until the lentils are tender and most of the water has soaked in. Think – an hour / hour and a half-type thing. About 30-45 mins into the cooking process, I added some chopped pumpkin and sweet potato – sort of square-inch sized pieces, and just let them cook along with the rest of it. About 5 mins before the end, I also added some kale and some fresh chopped coriander. The veg is optional, really, but it’s a great, healthy and tasty addition!

Herbalicious

Have it with rice; have it with curry. I had mine with a smashing bit of barra

What a meal – your body will thank you

 

Kozy Korean, Sydney

Last year I went snowboarding over in Japan for a few weeks. And whilst the snow was epic, and the people were epic and the cute little vending machines were epic and trying to say “I need the strongest prescription painkillers you have for my agonising back” based on year 10 Japanese was…hilarious, and the cold was…cold, I have to say that one of my best memories from the trip was discovering this hidden Korean BBQ joint that a friend told us about. The whole concept was fantastic – I mean, it was great that it was an all-in eat and drink-fest, but it had these cool little ordering machines where you type in a number and then 5 minutes later a new plate of meat magically appeared. And it tasted bloody good as well.

Anyway, I massively digress. The point is, my universal love of Korean BBQ was reignited a few weeks ago when a friend and I visited Kozy Korean in Sydney. Now, I work down the end of town that has approximately 48 Korean BBQs per square inch, and the couple that are super well-known also bring with them a 45 minute wait. We decided to take a total stab in the dark and check out the Kozy. The restaurant looked a little sparse at first, but after taking comfort in the couple of tables of Koreans already there, the restaurant soon filled.

I think we both resigned ourselves to the fact that there would be no shame in terms of just how much we would eat. We just piled in. We decided on a bit (a lot) of pork, a bit of beef, a HUGE kimchi pancake and a kimchi pork stew-type dish. We also ordered what I like to call “mystery drink”. Ok, it was actually Soju, and sort of tasted like slightly weaker vodka – but it was definitely an acquired taste.  I have to admit that I’ve been outrageously busy studying for a couple of exams so I may or may not have forgotten some of the specific details…

Not long after our table’s BBQ was lit, the food started coming. First, the fixins – kimchi (of course), crunchy little beansprouts, radish, potato/carrot.

Bite-sized delights

And then the meat – pork belly and marinated beef.

And that was about half of it…

And then more beef:

Mooooooooooo

And then the biggest Kimchi pancake I’ve ever seen:

Kimchi pancake

In my excitement over…cooking my own food…I forgot to take a photo of a delicious stewed pork and kimchi dish – the pork was falling-of-the-bone tender with a tiny bit of spice – very comforting.

Basically, it was all delicious. The cuts of meat weren’t the most tender, but the pork and one of the beef dishes were nicely marinated. And the novelty of cooking my own meat on my own little BBQ in front of me never wears off. The kimchi pancake was different to the usual hum-drum shallot pancake and I thought it was interesting and tasty. I don’t know exactly how much kimchi was in there – it wasn’t an overly strong taste though. And too big for the both of us to finish.

Look, it’s not a place for a first date (do you really want to know that he or she has the ability to stuff down a kilogram of meat in one sitting that early on in the relationship?). But it’s a cool place to go with a bunch of friends, have a few cheap beers, a few plates of meat, a bit of cooking, a lot of laughter and a good little night.

Kozy Korean BBQ
7 Wilmot St, Sydney NSW 2000

Food? 5/10
Drinks? 6/10 – there were a few Korean items I’d never heard of, plus about 6 different sorts of Soju (for us, it was more a …point and see…when we picked ours)
Atmosphere? 5/10

Give me the chips!

Kale. Beautiful green, wriggly, wiggly kale. If you’ve read anything in the last little while, anything at all, I’m sure that one of those things you’ve read is a tout on how great is kale. It’s low fat, it’s high fibre, no fat, high in iron, high in vitamin k (for all of you people out there that think everything is caused by cancer, vitamin k is supposed to reduce it all), high in antioxidants, anti-inflammatory powers, can help lower cholesterol, high in vitamins A and C and high in calcium. Seriously – remember back in school how there was always that obnoxious over-achiever? Was his name Kale? No? Well, it should’ve been.

My super healthy snack for today is kale chips. Yes. You heard it – chips. I’m going to blow your minds by showing you how to make healthy chips quicker than you can zip down to the local store and buy a bag of oily, fatty, salty potato chips.

Let’s make like a tree and leaf

For all of you health nuts out there who are about to rebut my claims of making healthy chips out of kale, yes I get that cooking leaves takes away the goodness. I get that fresh it best. But considering these things are so damn healthy, and considering that if you do like them, it’ll mean you eating lots more kale than you otherwise would…hell, why wouldn’t you chip these things?

To make these little leaves of godliness, you will need:
– Kale. I used about half a bunch – say, 5 leaves, washed and dried
– Olive oil – enough to lightly coat the leaves, so, about a teaspoon
– The smallest amount of salt – half a pinch
– Grated parmesan – just grate as you go, to nicely cover the leaves

Step 1 – tear me apart: preheat your oven to 190 degrees fan forced. Rip apart the kale leaves, discarding that thick stemmy stem, into, say, half the size of your palm. They’ll shrink a little during the baking process. Chuck these in a bowl.
Step 2 – mixaroo: drizzle over a small amount of olive oil – start with about a teaspoon, and then sprinkle over literally half a pinch of salt. Get your hands in there and mix the leaves around, so that they’ll all evenly coated with the oil.

Kale and friends

Step 3 – shake and bake: lay your leaves on a lined baking tray, flat. All we want is one layer. You want the leaves to dry and crisp, not to steam and wane. Whack the tray/s into the oven for 5 minutes, then take out, grate over some parmesan to coat nicely, and put back into the oven. I’ll say that it takes another 5 minutes, but you want to be watching it closely. It only takes half a minute for the leaves to go from epic crunchy bright green-ness to bitter gross brown-ness. When they are still green, but ever so slightly going golden (or as golden as the colour green can go), you want to take them out. Brown = overdone.

So leafy

So wrinkly

Let your trays cool for a couple of seconds, and then eat! Don’t worry – you won’t die – just give it a go. They’re crisp, nicely salted from the parmesan and disappear in your mouth. If they taste bitter, then they’re probably a little overdone. Cook them for a minute less next time.

Munching right on to good heatlh