Two for the price of one – baked lamb meatballs and baked eggplant extravaganza

We recently had a (relatively) bloody cold day in Sydney, even though getting into summer the temperature should be hovering around the high twenties. Realising this was probably my last chance to eat warming, scrummy comfort food before the onslaught of what is an Australian summer hits, I took the opportunity to cook up a storm – baked lamb meatballs, and also what I would like to call a baked eggplant extravaganza. I give you good deal – two for the price of one.

I actually only took a picture of the lamb meatballs as both dishes looked approximately exactly the same – various delicious goods baked in a hearty tomato sauce and topped with stretchy, gooey mozzarella look the same – whaddaya know.

First up – the lamb.

You will need:
– Lamb! I baked enough for about 3 or 4 people and used about 500 grams of minced lamb
– 1 onion, diced (I used half in the meatballs and half in the tomato sauce)
– 4 cloves of garlic, chopped (because everyone should get more bullish about garlic) – half for the meatballs, half for the sauce
– salt and pepper to taste
– a nice handful of basil
– 1 tin of chopped tomatoes
– a couple of those little baby eggplant (or half a big eggplant), cut into small (say, 1cm) chunks (optional)
– tomato paste
– 1 nice, hot red chilli (optional)
– mozzarella (however cheesey you like your food) – I used about 4 of those bocconcini (the smaller mozzarella) balls

Step 1 – mary had a little lamb: in a bowl, mix your lamb, half the onion, half the garlic, salt and pepper and half the basil. Get your hands in there and really give it a good mix. Roll these into little spheres – however big you like (I went for golf-ball sized) and, if you like, stuff a tiny cube of mozzarella into each ball. Make sure you seal the meat around the cheese well!

Gettin’ friendly

Step 2 – if at first you don’t succeed, then fry, fry again: heat some olive oil in a saucepan on a med-high heat and place your beautiful meatballs in to fry, turning as each side becomes golden.

Lamby goodness

Step 3 – mamma mia: once your meatballs are golden (don’t be too worried if they’re not cooked through at this stage), add your eggplants (if using) and fry off for a couple of minutes. Tip in a can of diced tomatoes, the remaining basil, some tomato paste and chilli, if you want a little heat. Let these simmer away for a few minutes until some of the liquid evaporates.

Simmer away, my little lamby friends

Step 4 – wakey bakey: you could stop at step 3 and have a delicious dish – a really great pasta sauce, even – but in the words of some wanky chef, somewhere, I’m going to take this one to the next level (I got this). Tip your meaty lamby mixture into a casserole dish, top with carelessly torn mozzarella, strewn at random, and bake at about 200 degrees celcius until the mozza is melty and slightly goldy.

Baked lamb droolballs

Second up… for those Sunday nights when the depression of the coming work week hits its hardest, you’ve come off the back of a busy, fun filled weekend of running around, hanging out in the sun and having a brewski or two…and all you want is dinner on a plate, in front of your, not in an hour… now.

You will need:
– the rest of that pack of baby eggplant you bought for the lamb meatballs recipe… (I used about 5 or so)
– bacon! I used about 5 rashers, chopped
– half an onion, chopped
– 2 cloves of garlic, chopped
– the rest of the mozzarella (if you like getting cheesey)
– a tin of diced tomatoes
– basil, a nice handful

Step 1 – there’s really only one step: heat a saucepan – you don’t really need oil, some will come from the bacon fat (yes, gross, but delicious). Chuck in your bacon and onion and fry until the onion is translucent and the bacon with nice little golden bits on it (oh, and until any bacon fat renders). Add your garlic at this point, and also the eggplants, halved. Fry your eggplants until they’re nice and golden and gettin’ squishy. Tip in your tomatoes and basil. Simmer until some of the water has evaporated. Then, if you like, tip into a baking dish, top with mozzarella and bake at 200 degrees until it all looks nicely golden and melty. That’s it! That’s all.

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Hikaru Japanese, Newtown

I’ve been fortunate enough to have had a nice connection with Japan throughout my life. When I was but knee high to a grasshopper, a Japanese kindergarten (yes – weirdly niche) opened up across the road from where I lived, so naturally that’s where I went. Our family formed a close bond with the Japanese chap that ran the place and he taught all of us kids the wonders of how to do cartwheels, eat raw eggs, balance a chair on one finger and do handstands. Oh, I also learned a bit of Japanese too, and this cool girl came over from Japan and homestayed with us for a little while. In primary school, I learned a bit more Japanese too and then in high school I was fortunate enough to go over there for a few weeks on a school trip. Last year I was lucky enough to go over there again for brief week of snowboarding a Tokyo-ing. And what’s more, I’ve been lucky enough to grow up with a family that loves Japanese food as well. I still remember rolling little sushis as a kid, getting rice stuck on the sushi mat, not rolling tight enough so the filling fell out, and Dad just sighing… 🙂

Anyway, the point is I freakin’ love Japanese food. I love the korokke, I love the ramen, I love the curry, I love the sashimi, I love the freshness, I love the cuteness – everything.

I’d often walked past this little Japanese joint, walking along King Street in Newtown. It’s just off the main drag and doesn’t look like anything fancy. But having had some of my best dining experiences in underwhelming-looking joints, my dining friend and I decided to give Hikaru Japanese a try.

Although the restaurant was busy when we got there at about 8pm on a Friday night, the waitresses were super polite and quick to fit us on a (really) little table in the (really) little restaurant 🙂

We started off with a couple of Japanese beers – obviously – a Kirin and an Asahi (about $8 each). Food-wise, well, we went a little mental. I won’t lie about that. As I was looking through the menu, I was thinking, “wow, if the dishes are this cheap, they’re definitely going to be really small” – boy are my estimation skills out these days.

First off the mark was edamame. Despite being what is essentially a plate of boiled beans, I actually really like the slightly salty little morsels with a nice, cold beer. For a mere $5 or so, these soybeans were a steal.

Foggy picture, but you get the idea

Next up, gyoza. I really enjoy a good gyoza – juicy, flavourful filling, steamed to perfection on the top and fried to a crisp finish on the bottom. The filling of these gyoza was so-so – nothing to write home about. But the biggest killer was the fact that they were totally fried – as in, deep fried. I get that there are different interpretations of gyoza – so I think this was more of a personal preference thing as opposed to a “they got it wrong” thing. I also didn’t love the generous smear of of mayo on top – it was a little bit of overkill. At a mere $5 or so for 3, it was again, a steal.

Gyoza – the garden salad underneath was kind of weird

Korokke. Now, I appreciate that this is a grossly westernised distortion of what should be elegant, fresh Japanese cuisine. But there ain’t nothin’ like a good old hunk of has brown, whatever the culture. A korokke is essentially the hash brown of Japan, but better, including a few specks of grated veg and meat thrown into the mix. From my hazy, hazy memory, this was approximately $6. Flavour-wise, it was good. Texture-wise, I have to admit I’ve had better in terms of crunch – this one was a little crunchy, but mostly just warm.

Korokke! (as in, croquet) – again with the sort of garden salad.

It was around this point that my lack of estimation skills became vividly apparent. Two dishes in and I was feelin’ pretty full, and realised we were about a quarter of the way through my lengthy, lengthy order (why do people even let me keep ordering??). I failed to take a picture, but the next dish up was the entree-sized mixed tempura (I think it was about $9). As one of the larger sized entrees I’ve come across, we were presented with deliciously lightly battered (but appropriately tender) brocolli, pumpkin, sweet potato, prawn, fish and calamari – about one of each – along with the requisite tempura dipping sauce. It was actually pretty good! The batter was light and the oil didn’t taste strong/old and it wasn’t too greasy. All of the components were well cooked – the seafood was still plump and juicy. Pretty good!

We also ordered sushi – two of my favourites (and altogether a bastardisation of Japanese cooking, again) – chicken katsu and tempura prawn. Below is a picture of the tempura prawn, topped with slices of avocado. Both were so good – crispy, perfectly cooked, a good rice-to-filling ratio and reasonably priced at $9.80.

Tempura prawn roll

Just as I was undoing the top button of my jeans, I realised “oh shit” there’s another dish. Chicken yakisoba. The dish was reasonably tasty, despite me not being a huge fan (I can’t get past those insipid maggi-inspired noodles). But the chicken was tasty and the vegetables were well cooked and dispersed. Unfortunately I was in a huge food coma by this point, so I picked around a bit before giving up. A huge serving at about $12.

Chicken yakisoba

All in all, I was very impressed with it all. The meals came out quickly (too quickly – but that was really our own fault for the over-ordering). The service was super polite even though the restaurant was packed!

Hikaru Japanese Restaurant
134 King Street,
Newtown NSW 2042

Food: 8/10
Drinks: we just had a couple of beers really, although there were a handful of sake options
Atmosphere: 7/10 – cute and Japanese, but a little cramped (I think we were approximately 7cm from the next table)
Recommend it? Yes, for a cheap, cheerful, filling feed – bring a few friends, share a few plates and head down the street for a good night out.

Hikaru Japanese Restaurant on Urbanspoon

You old (pear frangipane) tart

There used to be this really good cake shop, Jenny Cake, in this beachside town of Byron Bay, a few hours from where I grew up. There I was introduced to the world of chocolate eclairs, cherry strudels and one of my favourite tarts – the frangipane tart. So feeling fairly tarty – as I have been lately, what with the goats cheese and asparagus and pecan varieties of late – I’ve decided to go with a pear frangipane tart in the hope of reliving memories of Jenny Cake gone by.

You will need:
– 125g softened butter
– 125g caster sugar (for the frangipane)
– 125g almond meal
– 2 eggs
– 1tbsp plain flour
– 3 large pears (depending on how peary you like your tarts), peeled
– 200g caster sugar (for the pear poaching)
– 1 cinnamon stick
– 5-6 cloves
– the juice of half a lemon
– the zest of half an orange (as in, big strips of)
– vanilla – I use about a teaspoon of those bottled vanilla pod/seed things, or you could use a vanilla pod, or just some vanilla essence
– one lot of everyone’s favourite shortcrust pastry, from that pecan pie recipe from a while back, baked and shell-like

Step 1 – like a frangipani: in a mixing bowl, cream the butter and first lot (125g) of caster sugar. Once that’s nice and fluffy, beat in the eggs, one by one (or, as I did, accidentally all at the same time). After that, fold in the almonds and flour. I just left this in the fridge until I was ready to bake.

Step 2 – get poached: in a saucepan, dump your second lot (200g – or less, depending how sweet you want your pears; 200g is not overly overly sweet) of caster sugar and then also about 500ml of water. Heat on medium until the sugar has dissolved. Add the cinnamon stick and cloves, as well as the lemon juice, orange zest and vanilla to the pan (if you’re using an actual vanilla pod, split the pod in half and scrape out the seeds and whack the lot into the pan). Add your pears and some more water to just cover the pears. Whack the lid on and bring to a simmer (or if you’re being all fancy pants, you can do the cartouche thing – cut a circle of baking paper and lay over the top of the water, touching the water and simmer – it slows down the moisture reduction process…orrr you could just put a lid on). Simmer for about 20 minutes and then remove the pears from the liquid and cool.

Poaching pears

Hi pear!

Step 3 – fill ‘er up: pre-heat your oven to 170 degrees celcius (fan forced). In your beautifully baked tart shell, spread your frangipane mix – I filled it about halfway up the shell. Slice your pears how you like – I went for long, chunky slices – and place these into your tart. You could lay them delicately on top of you like; I went for the “dig into the frangipane mix” method. Bake for about 50 minutes, or until it’s all looking delicious and golden and the frangipane is set. Serve with a nice, big fat dollop of cream or something equally delicious and wolf down! (Oh, PS, I’ve been using a smaller tin in the dumb hope that I’ll eat less junk food – so the recipe will actually make a bigger tart – like one of those 23cm tart tins 🙂

Yumbo!