tea

Sydney Under The Stars

My home state of Victoria is famous for having a public holiday for a horse race. Now we are becoming infamous for having a public holiday for a football match. Actually, it’s a holiday for the day before the football match which makes it even stranger. I’m not complaining. I’m grateful for any public holiday we can get! And it’s on a Friday, which I think is a great day to start a long weekend.

This year we went to Sydney and stayed at the Ultimo Hotel which is purported to be the world’s first astrology hotel. Among the services they offer are astrology reading packages that you can add to your booking. We didn’t do this but there was still heaps of astrological fun to be had.

On arrival we were greeted in reception by staff eager to talk astrology. They had city guides based on your star sign and astrologically appropriate “do not disturb signs.” I told them I was a sun sign Taurus with a Moon and Rising Sign in Sagittarius so they gave me both the Taurus and Sagittarius city guides. They offered me both a Taurus and Sagittarius door sign too but I only took the Taurus one as it said all that needed saying!

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Shifting seamlessly from astrology to astronomy, I booked myself two tours at the Sydney Observatory. My first tour was at night. It was a full moon which isn’t great for star gazing but I loved it, especially when bats started flying around! Peering through the enormous telescope I got to see Mars and Saturn. On the day tour I got to see the Sun which is a real treat as you have to have a special filter on the telescope to view it. Many years ago I was lucky enough to see Venus (my ruling planet) transit the Sun. While this Sun viewing wasn’t as spectacular it was still amazing. Both tours ended with a visit to the planetarium which was fun and informative.

When I returned to the hotel I noticed a selection of “Astrolo-Teas” in reception. These teas are specially selected to match your star sign. I looked at the one for Taurus which was English Breakfast. Not bad! I love English and Irish Breakfast although my favourite tea is Earl Grey. I then went to the Sagittarius tea which was Lemongrass and Ginger. This was another great match as I love ginger tea. Naturally I wanted to experiment with these flavours when I got home. 

As the weather is heating up here, I wanted to make an iced tea. I decided to create a chai blend because it can be served hot or cold. I used English Breakfast for Taurus and added ginger for Sagittarius. The great thing is you can mix and match ingredients for your own personal taste or create a blend that you think reflects your astrological profile!

Astrological Iced Chai

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Ingredients
3 cups milk
4 cardamon pods
4 black peppercorns
4 cloves
2 cinnamon sticks
30g fresh ginger, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons black tea leaves (I used English Breakfast)
2 tablespoons honey
ice cubes for serving

Instructions
Place the milk in a saucepan.
Crack the cardamon pods open and place the seeds and shells into the milk.
Crack the peppercorns and add to the milk.
Add the cloves, cinnamon stick and ginger to the milk.
Bring very slowly to the boil (you want it to take about 10 minutes) 
Once boiling add the tea leaves and simmer for 2-5 minutes, depending on how strong you like your tea.
Stir in the honey.
Strain tea and refrigerate until cold.
Serve over ice cubes.

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

This recipe is being published in an upcoming publication!
I’ll post a link when it becomes available.

Leaping Days

2016 is a leap year, which means an extra day has been added to February. The Gregorian calendar used in the western world is a solar calendar and marks the position of the earth in relation to the sun. In the Gregorian calendar, a year is 365 days. As it takes the earth a little bit more than 365 days to revolve around the sun, an extra day is added to the year every 4 years. So any year that is evenly divisible by 4 is a leap year. But even this adjustment isn’t accurate enough. So any century year (a year that ends in 00) that is evenly divisible by 100 and 400 is a leap year. If they are evenly divisible by 100 but not 400 then they are not leap years. To make things interesting, cultures that use a lunisolar calendar (which marks moon phases as well as solar ones) add a leap month to their year – but not every 4 years.

So why the name “leap year”? What is actually being leaped? In the Gregorian calendar a fixed date advances one day of the week year by year. So if April Fool’s day falls on Monday one year then it will fall on Tuesday the next year, Wednesday the next and so on. When a leap year happens, this progression changes after February 29 and all fixed dates advance or leap a day. So if April Fool’s day was going to fall on a Thursday the next year it will actually fall on a Friday if it’s a leap year. This happens all the way to the end of  the next February when the daily progressions turn to normal – until the next leap year 🙂

One of the most common folklores for February 29 is that women can ask men to marry them. While there are many stories as to how and why this tradition came about, there are no definitive answers. One legend suggests that women who were planning to propose were supposed to wear a red skirt, presumedly to warn their beloved of an imminent proposal. Men who said no to the proposal would have to pay a fine to the woman. The fines ranged from a kiss, buying her enough material to make a dress, buying her a pair of gloves or buying her 12 pairs of gloves. The gloves were probably to cover her naked ring finger.

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Thinking about lady fingers naturally drew me to food, as to me a lady finger is either okra, a small banana, a cylindrical filo pastry or a sponge finger biscuit. As I continued on my culinary musings I wanted to pay tribute to the current leap year by creating a Lady Finger recipe using sponge finger biscuits. Tiramisu came to mind. But as my partner hates coffee based desserts, I decided to make a green tea version using both green tea leaves and matcha (powdered green tea).

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So let’s all raise our ringed and un-ringed Lady Fingers to the 2016 leap year!

Green Tea Tiramisu

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Ingredients
4 teaspoons green tea leaves
2 cups almost boiling water
3 egg yolks
60g caster sugar
2 teaspoons plum wine
250g mascarpone
50ml whipping cream
2 teaspoons matcha
200g ladyfingers
Extra matcha for dusting

Method
Combine tea and water and brew for 3 minutes. Strain and allow to cool.
Beat egg yolks, sugar and plum wine until light and creamy.
In a separate bowl beat mascarpone and cream until smooth and creamy. Do not overwork.
Slowly add the matcha and gently mix to combine. You can control the strength of the green tea flavour by adding less or more matcha so taste as you go.
Fold mascarpone mixture into egg yolk mixture until combined.
Pour brewed green tea into a shallow dish. Dip a lady finger biscuit into the tea, long enough to soften but not too long or they will go soggy.
Arrange half the soaked biscuits in a large serving dish or individual dishes. Cover with half the mascarpone mixture. Repeat layers.
Dust generously with extra matcha.
Cover and refrigerate overnight.

Saline Solution

Next in my exploration of the five taste sensations through drinks is the realm of salt. When we think of salty drinks we think of soups and broths. Cocktails that may come to mind are ones that have salt encrusted rims such as salty dogs and margaritas. A favourite of mine growing up was the tequila shot – lick your hand between your thumb and forefinger, sprinkle with salt, knock back your tequila shot then bite on a slice of lemon or lime – we always used lemon. This classic shot has been the subject of much debate. One theory suggests that you salt a slice of lemon or lime, pop it in your mouth and chew on it, then drink down a shot of tequila. I haven’t tried this version  – yet 🙂

Synchronistically, my local bar Hopheads has tapped a couple of salted beers recently. I tried one and was really surprised. Even though beer is not usually sweet, the overt taste of salt takes you back at first. After a few sips I began to enjoy it but it’s definitely not a favourite. They also had a cucumber and mint soft drink seasoned with salt and black pepper. With salty drinks on my mind I knew I had to try it. My first sip sent waves of disappointment through me as I thought “it’s horrible!” but a few sips in and I began to really appreciate its flavours. It actually reminded me of the doogh I made for the sour drinks blog. I began to wonder what it would be like with a spoonful of yoghurt or a few shots of gin.

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For the recipe below I explored the world of salted teas. I have always wanted to make Tibetan butter tea as it combines some of my favourite flavours – tea, butter and salt. Sadly, the one I made was awful. I don’t know if it was me or the recipe but I really didn’t like it. Neither did my partner. Unperturbed I experimented with a different salty tea called Noon Chai – I just loved the name and happily the flavour! Noon Chai, also called Pink Tea, is a salted and spiced Kashmir tea with a surprise ingredient – bicarbonate of soda (baking soda). You can garnish it with chopped nuts like pistachios or almonds if you like.

Noon Chai

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Ingredients
1 teaspoon green tea leaves
1 cup water
1/4 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup milk

Method
Place the tea leaves and half the water into a saucepan on medium heat. Bring to a simmer. Add the bicarbonate of soda and whisk until combined. Add the remaining water, cinnamon, cardamom and salt. Whisk until combined. Simmer for 20 minutes. Add the milk and bring to a simmer.
Strain and serve.

The Battle Of The Cream Tea

What goes on my scones first – the jam or the cream? That is a question many face when confronted by a cream tea. So when the CWA (Country Women’s Association) were offering Devonshire teas (the popular name for cream teas in Australia) I couldn’t resist asking them. Their answer –  in Australia – whatever way you like! Free from the burden of choice I decided to try both ways.

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My verdict is if you like the jam to be the dominant flavour then put the jam on last, if you like cream to be the dominant flavour then put the cream on last. Either way they are delicious and a great way to spend an afternoon. But how did this battle of the cream teas begin?

While the origins of the cream tea are in dispute, it is generally accepted that a cream tea is a light afternoon snack that is comprised of scones, jam, cream and tea. The scones are cut or broken in half and then spread with jam and cream. Traditionally served in Devon or Cornwall, cream teas are now served worldwide. The confusion about which order to spread your scones has arisen because in Devon you put cream first then jam while in Cornwall you put jam first then cream. They take this issue very seriously so if you visit either county and have a cream tea, make sure you remember which order is “correct” for the county you are in. You don’t want to be thrown out of a tea room without tasting the scones! Now that is clear – problem solved! Not really … Unfortunately the type of scone, jam and cream are also the subject of much debate.

IMG_9177cScones
The original Cornish scone was actually a type of yeasted sweet bread roll called a Cornish split.
The scones of today are usually small cakes or quick breads leavened with baking powder rather than yeast.
Scones can be sweet, savoury or filled. Popular fillings are dried fruit or cheese.
There are different types of scones such as potato scones, drop scones, griddle scones and lemonade scones. American biscuits are similar to British scones. Some scones, such as griddle scones, are fried.
For a cream tea the scone should be plain, unglazed, baked and served warm.

Jam
Strawberry jam is traditional but as long as the jam is well made there doesn’t appear to be much angst over using other fruits.

Cream
Clotted cream is best but as it is difficult to get outside of Britain, whipped cream is a suitable substitute. Canned cream is totally unacceptable!

Tea
There doesn’t seem to be much debate on the tea issue. It should be black, very strong with a splash of milk and there should be plenty of it! Green or herbal teas are not acceptable substitutes. Sadly neither is coffee, as the name suggests 😦

So how do I enjoy my cream teas? In true Cornish style with butter first – that’s right butter first, then jam, then cream. Butter was part of the original Cornish cream tea. My experience in Australia is that you are served jam and cream or butter if you prefer, but never both. I save my butter indulgence for cream teas at home. My tea of choice is Earl Grey with a dash of milk.

If you’re a fan of cream teas I’d love to know what you do at home and what you are served when you go out.

And now from the traditional to a very untraditional cream tea – A Panda Afternoon Tea!!

The recipe below is from the (coming soon) cookbook – The Panda Chronicles Cuppycake Cookbook: Favourite Recipes of the Panda Kindergarten. The cookbook is a collaboration between me and artist Anne Belov, creator of The Panda Chronicles. Each cuppycake recipe will have a cartoon and an original painting by Anne. Want to know more about The Panda Chronicles? Just click here to visit Anne, her pandas and Mehitabel the Cat!

Please enjoy this “taste” from the Panda Kindergarten 🙂

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Bob T Panda’s Afternoon Tea Cuppycakes
Bob T Panda reinvents the Afternoon Tea with his Earl Grey cuppycakes served with Earl Grey cream and strawberry jam.

Ingredients
for the Earl Grey cuppycakes
1/4 cup boiling water
1 tablespoon Earl Grey tea leaves
1/2 cup (115g) unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cup superfine granulated (caster) sugar
2 eggs
1/3 cup milk
1 + 1/4 cups flour, sifted
2 + 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

for the Earl Grey cream
4 tablespoons boiling water
2 tablespoons Earl Grey tea leaves
1 + 1/2 cup double cream
2 tablespoons powdered (icing) sugar

for serving
strawberry jam
cups of tea

Instructions
Preheat the oven to 180C / 350F.
Line a 12-hole muffin pan with 10 paper cases.
Pour the boiling water over the tea leaves and allow to steep for five minutes.
In a medium sized bowl, cream the butter and sugar with an electric mixer until creamy. Add the eggs one at a time and beat until light and fluffy.
Strain the tea into the batter then add the milk and flour. Beat for 2 minutes or until the batter is light and fluffy.
Using an ice-cream scoop, spoon the batter evenly into paper cases.
Bake for 10 – 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the centre of a cuppycake comes out clean. Allow to cool for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.
Make the cream by pouring the boiling water over the tea leaves and allow to steep for five minutes.
Whip together the cream and powdered sugar with a wire whisk until combined. Add the strained tea and beat until fluffy.
Serve with lots of jam and tea.

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