Soup For The Soulless

Bela Lugosi was born on October 20th, 1882 in Lugos, Hungary. Bela was most famous for his portrayals of the vampire Count Dracula. As an Hungarian actor famous for playing a Romanian prince, it seems appropriate that his birthplace is now called Lugoj and is in Romania.

In honour of Bela’s Hungarian heritage I wanted to make a traditional Hungarian dish for his 135th birthday. I also wanted it to be blood red. Classic paprika dishes like goulash are an option but I wanted something sweet and liquid. That’s when I discovered meggyleves, a sweet(ish) soup made from fresh sour cherries. The name is a combination of the Hungarian words “meggy” meaning sour cherries and “leves” meaning soup.

To make meggyleves, unpitted sour cherries are simmered in spices before adding sour cream. The soup is then chilled and served cold. I was looking forward to making this soup but our greengrocer didn’t have any fresh cherries as they are out of season. When I got home I started thinking of ways of “resurrecting” the recipe. I had a jar of sour cherries, and although the recipes don’t recommend canned cherries, I thought I would give it a try.

Rather than simmering the already soft cherries I decided I would simmer just the juice in the spices before adding the sour cream. The one thing I was really disappointed with was that the flavour of the cherry stones would be missing. Then I remembered that one of my favourite spices is mahleb which is made from ground cherry stones. I added a dash of mahleb and hoped for the best. The soup is pink rather than blood red but I enjoyed the flavour and could taste the mahleb. I would definitely make it again and am looking forward to making it with fresh cherries when they are back in season.

Resurrected Sour Cherry Soup

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Ingredients
600g (21oz) jar pitted morello cherries
1/2 cup water
1 cinnamon stick
2 cloves
1/3 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon flour
1/4 teaspoon ground mahleb (optional but recommended!)
cream for serving

Instructions
Strain the cherry juice into a saucepan and place the cherries into a bowl.
Heat the cherry juice, water, cinnamon and cloves in a small saucepan.
Bring to a gentle boil.
Cover and simmer for 5 minutes on low heat.
Remove from heat.
Mix together the sour cream, flour and mahleb in a bowl.
Stir a little warm soup into the sour cream mix.
Pour back into the soup and stir until combined.
Cover and allow to cool before straining over the cherries.
Refrigerate until cold.
Ladle soup into bowls and serve with a dollop of cream.

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Days Of Bears And Fears

Wednesday October the 11th is Bring Your Teddy Bear To Work Or School Day. Observed on the second Wednesday in October, this curious day is a day to celebrate the importance of teddy bears in our lives. Will you be bringing a teddy bear to work or school on Wednesday?

As I work from home I don’t have to worry about being stared at if I bring a teddy bear to work. In fact my home is already filled with panda bears so it’s business as usual here! Sometimes I like to have a break from the computer so instead of taking a panda bear on my break I thought I would take one of my rare teddy bears for an outing. Here is Ursa, named for the Latin word for bear, enjoying Bring Your Teddy Bear On Your Break From Work Day.

Ursa loves riding camels. Coffee after camels. The music of the night.

And what did my panda bears get up to while I was away? Well they were getting ready for
Friday the 13th, one of their favourite days of the year. This will be the last Friday the 13th for 2017.

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Happy Friday the 13th!

A fear of Friday the 13th is called friggatriskaidekaphobia.
The name is a combination of Frigga, the Norse Goddess for Friday, with triskaidekaphobia, the Greek word for the fear of the number 13. Triskaidekaphobia combines the words tris meaning 3, kai meaning and, deka meaning 10 with phobia meaning fear.
An alternate term, paraskevidekatriaphobia, was used by an American psychotherapist in the 1990s. It is a Greek word combining paraskevi meaning Friday with dekatria meaning 13 also ending with phobia for fear.
As I don’t like Goddesses being replaced, I’ll continue using the term friggatriskaidekaphobia!

To find out more about Friday the 13th, check out my previous posts: Friday On My Mind / Bad Moon On The Rise and Deathly Delights For Friday the 13th 🙂

Black Apples & Vernal Equinoxes

I was wondering why I was finding it hard to get excited about the Spring Equinox this weekend. Then it hit me. I’m in mourning for winter. The Spring or Vernal Equinox is a time of balance, when day and night are relatively equal. It signifies a change in power between day and night. After the Spring Equinox the day wins ascendancy as long nights are overtaken by longer days. My short cold days and comforting long nights are almost over. I will miss them but know they will return when the wheel spins its way to autumn once more.

To mourn the loss of winter I thought I would create a variation of a Black Velvet. The Black Velvet was supposedly created by a London bartender in 1861 to mourn the death of Queen Victoria’s beloved Prince Consort, Prince Albert. The colour of the drink was meant to symbolise the colour of the black armbands worn by mourners. A Black Velvet is a mix of equal parts champagne or sparkling wine and stout. To make, fill a glass halfway with chilled sparkling wine or champagne then slowly top with chilled stout.

A Poor Man’s Black Velvet, also called Mud and Blood, is a variation of a Black Velvet which substitutes the sparkling wine or champagne for apple or pear cider. One way of serving either drink is to try slowly pouring the stout over the back of a spoon into the sparkling wine or cider. If done right, the stout will sit on the top and create a layered effect. I tried this but failed 🙂 If you can achieve the separation of colours, these Black Velvets would be perfect for the Equinoxes as they visually symbolise the balance between day and night.

While I am celebrating the Spring Equinox, I am also mourning the end of winter and its long cold nights which were warmed by comforting hot drinks. To commemorate this loss I thought I would make a warm and spicy mulled version of a Poor Man’s Black Velvet.
I’m calling it a Dark Queen’s Black Apple.

Dark Queen’s Black Apple

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Ingredients
1 orange
1/4 cup brown sugar
8 cloves
4 cinnamon sticks
2 cups apple cider
2 cups stout

Instructions
Using a knife or vegetable peeler, peel the skin from the orange leaving behind as much of the white pith as you can.
Place the orange peel and all the other ingredients into a saucepan.
Simmer gently over low heat until the sugar has dissolved and the drink is hot but not boiling.
Strain into heatproof mugs or glasses.
Refrigerate any leftover drink.
You can reheat it or drink it chilled.

Celebrating Red Pandas

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Saturday the 16th of September is International Red Panda Day!

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Celebrated on the third Saturday in September, IRPD was created to bring awareness to the plight of the red panda and the need to protect this very special little panda. Red Pandas are endangered due to habitat loss and illegal poaching. IRPD is celebrated by individuals and zoos around the world who raise funds for red panda conservation. Some zoos celebrate on a different day, so if you are interested in participating, check out the IRPD page at Red Panda Network.

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Donuts – Best In Show

I just found out that Honey Dee Loukoumades won the People’s Choice award at the donut festival I recently attended. They were my equal favourite with the mini cinnamon sugar ones from Blondies Doughnuts.

Loukoumades or Lokma are deep fried balls of pastry which are soaked in syrup. The ones I had when I was young were soaked in honey and sprinkled with cinnamon and crushed walnuts. When I’ve made them myself, I’ve substituted the walnuts for sesame seeds. In fact you can have fun experimenting with different syrups, spices and nuts. Next time I might make them with maple syrup, pumpkin pie spice and pecans – perfect for Halloween 🙂

Spiced Syrup Donuts

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Ingredients

for the doughnuts
250ml milk, lukewarm
60g unsalted butter, melted
1 egg, lightly beaten
7g sachet dried yeast
2 tablespoons caster sugar
2 cups plain flour, sifted
Sunflower oil for deep frying

for the syrup
2/3 cup honey
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon sesame seeds

Method
In a large bowl combine the milk, butter, egg, yeast and sugar. Stir until well mixed. Gradually add the flour and beat until smooth.
Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and allow to stand in a warm place for 1 + 1/2 hours or until doubled in size.
Heat oil in a large saucepan to 170C / 325F.
Using a wooden spoon, beat batter until smooth.
Drop teaspoonfuls of the batter into the oil.
Turning the doughnuts so they brown on all sides, fry for 2-5 minutes or until they are evenly coloured and cooked through.
Drain on paper towels.
Heat honey in a small saucepan until warm.
Place doughnuts on a large dish and pour over warm honey.
Sprinkle with cinnamon and sesame seeds.

A World Of Donuts

There are some pretty good things to do on a rainy weekend in Melbourne, and going to a Donut & Beer Festival is one of them!

I arrived at the festival nice and early and did a tour of all the food stalls. There were so many different types of donuts on offer, from cold and filled to fresh cooked hot ones. There were even glow in the dark donuts. There was no way I was going to be trying all of them. Having my partner Paul there to share the “burden” helped. After much thought we narrowed it down to five food trucks offering a range of hot and cold donuts from different countries.

First stop was Honey Dee Loukoumades. We’ve had these warm, honey drenched Greek donuts before and have even made them ourselves.

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There were four flavours to choose from:
Honey Cinnamon Walnuts
Caramel with Artisan Salts
Nutella
Callebaut Milk Chocolate with Dark Chocolate Rocks
Luckily they were offering a tasting platter with all four donuts so we chose that. They were all delicious but our favourite was the traditional cinnamon and walnut one. I really liked the salted caramel one too.

I couldn’t wait to try the South African Koeksister Donuts at the Ostrich and the Egg. I have heard of them but have never had them so I was really looking forward to them.

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They had three offerings:
Traditional – Coconut
Garden Route – Sable Biscuit, Pistachio, Sesame Seeds
North of the River – Cocoa, Coffee Crumble
Happily they too had a tasting platter deal so we got to try all three. I thought I was going to love the coffee crumble one but I think one of the spices was cardamon which I don’t like. Surprisingly Paul, who loves coffee but not coffee flavoured foods, liked it. We both loved the other two donuts. They were moist and flavoursome and really unusual.

When I first saw the sign for Yuzu Donuts I thought it was a Japanese stall. Then I saw the familiar black, red and white decor and knew this was a New Zealand stall. The name Hangi Boys Kiwi Kitchen was also a big clue 🙂 I was very excited as I love New Zealand and have visited the country a couple of times. But I haven’t had Kiwi donuts before!

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They only had one donut flavour to chose from:
Grapefruit & Yuzu Custard with Dried Raspberry
Yum. It was like a cold jam donut but with a tart and creamy centre. We both enjoyed this Kiwi treat.

A real show stopper was the Hungarian Kurtosh Donut Cone at The Hungry Boys stall. They reminded me of Romanian kürtőskalács. Everyone who walked passed had a good look, including me, but I was the first to stop and buy one! There was no way I could resist a donut moulded into the shape of an ice cream cone which is then filled with warm, creamy delights.

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You could choose a banana or an apple filling but as Paul cannot eat bananas we chose:
Mama’s Apple Pie
The cold donut cone was filled with stewed cinnamon apples, toasted granola and heaping scoops of vanilla ice cream. It was topped with whipped cream, caramel sauce and a chocolate biscuit. It took a while to make our way through this enormous donut but we did! Having so much creamy goodness made the task easier, as did the comforting flavours.

With almost no room left in our bellies we made our way to Blondies Doughnuts. Thankfully their specialty is mini doughnuts 🙂

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We chose a tried and true classic:
Mini Cinnamon Sugar
I really think hot cinnamon donuts are the best and these mini morsels were outstanding. I was considering having a second serve but I thought that would be tempting fate. Plus, we hadn’t even started the beer tastings.

After a fortifying coffee we tasted a few Indian Pale Ales. There was also a mulled wine stall which I quickly made my way to. The warm wine was sweetened with molasses and spices and was divine. They were selling jars of their concentrated mulling syrup which I bought. Now when I want a mulled wine I can make an individual cup, adding one or two teaspoons of their Smoking Bishop Syrup. I can’t wait to start mulling 🙂

Hot & Cold Lemonade

As winter slowly moves into spring, the weather in Melbourne goes topsy turvy. Yesterday was so warm and sunny I was wearing a teeshirt and sandals. This morning I’m rugged up in pyjamas and a dressing gown, listening to the rain pouring outside. That’s change of season time in Melbourne – and I love it!

Last week I celebrated the last nights of winter by visiting the Queen Victoria Winter Night Market. I was pretty excited as there were so many new food stalls and some of them had food I could eat!

I started with dessert because it’s one of the safest food groups 🙂 for me due to my allergies and sensitivities. (Also the queue was short and I had a feeling it would get longer.) I wasn’t disappointed with my huge serve of apple crumble with granola topping served with custard and ice cream.

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I wasn’t really looking for a drink but a stall selling hot buttered lemonade caught my eye.
Butter in lemonade? I just had to try it. It was as I suspected – fresh lemonade mixed with butter and a surprise hint of cinnamon and it was divine. The butter added a creamy element to the drink and helped balance the sweet acidity of the lemons. I loved that it was served hot. Excited at the new food on offer I continued my culinary journey.

As I wandered the food stalls I stopped and drooled at one serving polenta. A mound of soft, piping hot polenta was just waiting to be scooped up and topped with a choice of delicious accompaniments. My mouth watered as I wondered if any of the toppings had chilli or tomato. And then I saw them; fried polenta chips. My choice was made and my order quickly placed. As I bit into the crispy crust I was rewarded with a mouthful of that soft, creamy polenta. The dipping sauce of lemon myrtle mayonnaise paired beautifully with my buttered lemonade. It was a wonderful way to enjoy the last of our winter nights.

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I couldn’t get the hot buttered lemonade out of my mind so I just had to make some myself. I decided to make another one of my favourite lemonades – pink lemonade – and then turn it into a hot buttered lemonade. The recipe below makes about 3 cups of lemonade so you can have some cold and some hot – just like Melbourne weather!

Pink Lemonade
Ingredients
1/2 cup sugar
2 cups water
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 cup freshly squeezed ruby grapefruit juice

Instructions
Place the sugar and 1/2 cup water in a small saucepan.
Heat and stir until the sugar is dissolved.
Remove from heat. Set aside.
Pour the remaining 1 + 1/2 cups water, lemon juice and cranberry juice into a jug.
Stir in the sugar syrup.
Place in the refrigerator and chill before serving.

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Buttered Pink Lemonade
Ingredients
1 teaspoon butter (or to taste)*
1 cinnamon stick
1 cup Pink Lemonade

Instructions
Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat.
Add the cinnamon stick and juice.
Stir until the juice is cloudy and hot.
Pour into a mug or heatproof glass.

*my drink was quite buttery so you may want to experiment with the amount of butter and tailor it to your taste 🙂

The Coffin List

No, this isn’t some macabre list of dead people, or people on my hit list. Nor is it a review of coffins. The coffin list is my name for a bucket list. I don’t like buckets – they remind me of work – but I do like coffins 🙂 To celebrate Imbolc, the midpoint between the winter solstice and the spring equinox, I thought I would do some early spring cleaning and explore my coffin list.

I always hated having a list of things to do before I die, so I never made a coffin list. But when I had a few health scares in my mid thirties, I took time to look at my life and see if there was anything I really wanted to do. Only one thing came to mind – visit Romania. A diet of vampire mythology from a young age meant I was entranced by Transylvania – the land beyond the forest. I realised I would actually be sad if I never visited. So, for my fortieth birthday, I made the trip to Romania. You can read about this memorable trip in “An Archetypal Homeland” and “In the Footsteps of Jonathan Harker“.

Emboldened by having put a nail in the coffin of my first and only coffin list dream, I thought I would add Whitby to the list. Whitby is an English seaside town in Yorkshire and a major inspiration for Bram Stoker when he was writing his novel “Dracula.” I planned to go there for my fiftieth birthday as part two of my Dracula adventure. That birthday has come and gone and sadly I didn’t get to Whitby, but it’s still on my list!

Happily I did mange to hammer three very important nails into my coffin list recently. This July my partner and I took a journey to the USA to visit a dear friend on Whidbey Island, celebrate July the 4th in Salem the Witch City and visit puffins in Maine. As a bonus, we also got to meet a baby sloth in Boston.

Over the next fews weeks I’ll be sharing this exciting trip with you including recipes inspired from my travels.

For now I would like to share an earlier recipe of mine for Coffin Bread. I think it is most appropriate for a Coffin List post 🙂

Coffin Bread

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Ingredients
for the soup
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 small onion, finely diced
2 tablespoons plain flour
3 cups chicken stock
450g cauliflower florets
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
pomegranate molasses for drizzling

for the coffin bread
1 small rectangular loaf of bread (approximately L 15cm, W 10cm, H 10cm)
olive oil

for the garlic croutons
leftover bread pieces from the coffin bread
1 clove of garlic, finely minced
1/4 cup olive oil
pinch of sea salt

Method
Preheat oven to 180C / 350F.
Make the soup by melting the butter in a large saucepan.
Add the onion and cook until softened.
Mix in the flour and the chicken stock, stir until combined.
Add the cauliflower and salt.
Simmer for 15 minutes or until the cauliflower is soft and cooked.
Puree the soup then return to the saucepan.
Simmer gently until the bread and croutons are cooked.
Make the coffin bread while the soup is simmering.
Using a sharp knife, carefully cut a lid off the top of the bread.
Cut out most of the bread inside, creating a basket to hold the filling.
Lightly brush outside and inside the bread and lid with olive oil.
Place bread basket on a baking tray. Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes or until golden on the inside.
While bread basket is cooking make the croutons by tearing up the leftover pieces of bread and placing in a bowl with the garlic, olive oil and salt. Toss through and place on an oven tray with the bread lid. Bake in the oven with the bread basket until golden.
The lid and croutons may cook quicker than the basket so check and remove when ready.
When bread basket is cooked, place on a serving plate.
If the soup isn’t ready yet, switch off the oven but leave the bread in the oven to keep warm.
Pour the soup into the bread basket.
Drizzle with pomegranate molasses.
Serve the bread lid and croutons on the side.

Afternoon Tea and Jane Austen

Two hundred years have passed since Jane Austen died on the 18th of July, 1817. I wasn’t sure how I would commemorate the occasion. The one thing I didn’t think I would be doing was attending an afternoon tea hosted by Caroline Jane Knight, Jane Austen’s fifth great niece and the last descendant to be raised in the ancestral family home, Chawton House.

Caroline’s talk was informative and engaging. She spoke of so many things but the one thing that struck me most were her Australia connections. I was stunned to realise that Jane Austen’s fifth great niece actually lives in Melbourne and that her mother was born in Australia. Caroline is a renowned business woman and philanthropist. Her main philanthropic focus is promoting literacy around the world.

After the talk Caroline stayed around to chat with guests and sign copies of her book “Jane & Me.” She even brought a piece of the family dinner service. The bespoke Wedgwood service features a pattern commissioned by Jane Austen’s brother Edward. Jane and Caroline both ate from that service and we got to see it!

And speaking of dinner service, Caroline’s fascinating talk was accompanied by an afternoon tea.
For savouries we were served:
Free range egg, truffle and watercress sandwiches
Yorkshire pudding with roast beef and horseradish cream
Ham hock terrine with piccalilli.
For sweets we were served:
Scones with strawberry jam and cream
Lemon meringue tartlet
Sour cranberry Bakewell tart with citrus sherbet sauce
Strawberry Eton mess
A glass of sparkling wine to begin followed by tea and coffee brought an end to a fabulous afternoon.

The recipe I would like to share in honour of Jane Austen is from one of my favourite cookbooks – “Kafka’s Soup” by Mark Crick. Crick not only creates recipes inspired by famous writers, he writes them in the style of the author. When I read his recipe for “Lamb with Dill Sauce à la Raymond Chandler” I was hooked. His description of the leg of lamb feeling “cold and damp, like a coroner’s handshake” had me running to the bookstore counter with money and book in hand!

I think Jane Austen would love Crick’s literary wit. I also think she’d love the eggs Crick created for her. So without further ado here are Mark Crick’s “Tarragon Eggs à la Jane Austen” with edited selections from his text and tweaks by me.

“It is a truth universally acknowledged that eggs, kept for too long, go off” begins the recipe.

As to what herbs to use, Mrs B thought “Parsley might do … Good-looking, with an easy and unaffected manner.” But Lady Cumberland did not agree. “Too much curl to its leaf, and too often seen in great bunches at fishmongers. It would be a most unhappy connection.” Mrs B spies some tarragon which she does not like. “It refuses to grow here, it refuses to grow there, but fancies itself so very great, disappearing every winter I know not where. I quite detest the plant.” Again Lady Cumberland disagrees. “French tarragon is an aristocrat among herbs, and although I think it too good for your eggs, I cannot deny that it would be a fine match for them.” To avoid offending either lady I have chosen a combination of the two herbs. In deference to Lady Cumberland’s dislike of curly parsley I chose flat leaf.

The instructions for beating the 4 eggs include straining them, which I didn’t do, but I did carefully beat them so as not to create a froth which apparently is “so unsightly.”
I added 1 teaspoon of dried tarragon and 1 teaspoon of chopped fresh parsley to the beaten eggs. I then spread 20g of butter around the pan and added a further 20g of butter in small chunks to the mix. I added salt and pepper to taste. Pouring the eggs into the pan I gently cooked them, stirring constantly and scraping the bottom of the pan. I removed them from the heat before they were fully cooked, allowing the residual heat to cook them to my liking. A serving of toast and tea completes the dish.

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Mark’s recipe calls for 2 teaspoons of tarragon either fresh or dried. Parsley, either curly or flat leaf, is not used. Obviously Mark has chosen Lady Cumberland over Mrs B – a brave choice indeed!

I can only hope Mrs B and Lady Cumberland approve of my tweaks 🙂

That Arancini Guy

When I went to the Lara Food and Wine Festival earlier this year, I wasn’t expecting to be blown away by a food stall with a fun name – That Arancini Guy 🙂 But when I tasted those deep fried rice balls, served with Japanese mayonnaise, I was hooked. There were four choices but I could only try three as the Beef Ragu with Peas & Mozzarella Arancini contained tomato and other ingredients I am allergic/sensitive to. But three out of four ain’t bad – in fact they were delightful.

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My risotto balls containing Mushroom & Mozzarella, Pumpkin & Mozzarella and Spinach & Mozzarella were so delicious. One bite into the crunchy crust and I was rewarded with the taste of gooey, savoury rice. Each one was distinct and I had a hard time deciding on a favourite. The Japanese mayonnaise added a sharp and creamy note. I could have eaten a bowl of them, with or without mayonnaise.

I couldn’t wait to try making these moreish morsels at home. I went with a basic recipe but added my own unique twist – green tea. Instead of cooking the rice in stock, I thought it would be fun to use tea. I chose green but you could experiment with black teas. Next time I’m going to try Earl Grey 🙂

Green Tea Arancini

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Ingredients
for the tea
3 cups water
2 tablespoons green tea leaves

for the rice
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 small onion, finely diced
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 cup jasmine rice
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
1/4 cup finely chopped flat leaf parsley
6 baby bocconcini, drained and halved

for the crumbing
1/2 cup plain flour
2 eggs, beaten
1 + 1/4 cups panko crumbs
vegetable oil for frying

Instructions
Bring water to a boil in a saucepan. Remove from heat. Add tea leaves. Cover and steep for 5 minutes. Strain. Return tea to the saucepan and simmer until needed.
Heat oil and butter in a medium saucepan. Add onion and cook until translucent. Add garlic and cook until soft but not brown. Add rice and stir to coat. Stir in the salt. Add 1/2 a cup of the strained tea and cook until mostly evaporated. Add the remaining tea and bring to the boil. Once boiling, reduce heat to low. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes or until the rice is cooked and the liquid has been absorbed.
Pour rice into a baking dish and spread out thinly to cool. Add the parmesan cheese and parsley to the rice and stir through until combined. Divide into 12 portions.
Take 1/2 a portion of rice and flatten it in the palm of your hand. Place a halved piece of bocconcini in the centre, cover with remaining 1/2 portion of rice and shape into a ball. Repeat with the remaining rice and cheese.
Roll balls in flour, then dip in the beaten egg, then roll in the breadcrumbs. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 150C / 300F.
Heat oil in a large pan or deep fryer to 180C / 350F. Deep fry the arancini in batches for 4 – 5 minutes or until golden brown. Make sure the oil comes back to temperature between batches.
Keep warm by placing in the oven until all the arancini are cooked.
Place on paper towels and drain before serving.
Serve with your favourite mayonnaise.