Getting ready for Australia Day


So familiar, and so amazing to have stood here


In spite of Austravel’s best attempts, I’m not heading to Australia this year but I guess we could be very tempted to celebrate Australia Day on January 26.

It was certainly a trip of great eating and drinking, and there are some things I’d definitely think of having on the menu here to celebrate:


SundayFavourite end to a fabulous trip of great eating in Australia


So, it’s unlikely to be BBQ weather here (although with the way things are going then you never can tell), so I’m going to go with the Bill Granger option and make a pile of the ricotta hot cakes. Or, given that it’s a Tuesday morning, then maybe I’ll make the sweetcorn fritters for dinner instead.


Tim Tams in every possible flavour


I seem to remember my luggage had a whole load of Tim Tams in it, from the original through to the chocolate raspberry, some peanut butter ones and the coconut ones. And the salted caramel. They didn’t last long. Sanza have quite a few of the flavours, which is cheaper than the return airfare!


Vegemite spread - one for the shelves


I never got into Vegemite, but then I’m not a fan of either Marmite or Bovril. But it would seem appropriate to have a jar on display at least.


Bundaberg Ginger Beer


For when it wasn’t quite yet wine o’clock, then I got seriously into Bundaberg Ginger Beer. Perfectly refreshing when it was warm, without being too sweet. It went perfectly well with fresh fish and chips on the beach. And it appears you can get it pretty much everywhere here too now, from Tesco to Waitrose. I must remember to stock up.


Getting used to the local wine in Australia


When it was wine o’clock then it was hard to choose from the huge variety. In the end I ended up picking a name I liked the look of. I choose racehorses to back in the same way. I had better luck with wine than I’ve ever had with horses. Looking at the choices on Majestic, then I’m going with Two Left Feet Shiraz. About right for me.


Banana bread: appears to be a national obsession in Australia


And if I wanted to get baking, then there could only be one thing: banana bread. Everywhere we went it seemed to be on the menu, in much the way a scone or flapjack might be here. My go to recipe has always been from Domestic Goddess, we have always been, and remain, Team Nigella.

I would love to be in Australia for Australia Day, it was definitely the most incredible trip and I loved every minute of it. But, not to be, at least this year, but I’ll be raising a glass to family and friends there, and to the expats who for some reason want to leave all that for here.

What about you, anyone else joining in?


Breakfast at my Aussie food hero’s


Sunday Breakfast at Bill Grangers


As it’s a leisurely long weekend here, and a leisurely Sunday breakfast is one of my favourite things, then it made me think of one of my highlights of our trip to Australia. Up there with the natural wonders of Uluru and the Great Barrier Reef, Sunday breakfast at Bills at Surry Hills was the perfect memorable end to a wonderful trip.

I’ve written many times about how much I love Bill Granger’s books, the freshness of the recipes, the idyllic looking lifestyle…I mean, I can dream. And eating at one of Bill’s restaurants (not to be confused with Bill’s, the apostrophe makes all the difference, not to mention the locations) has been on my eating bucket list for a long time.

Yes, I know there’s one in Notting Hill but not the same. And breakfast at Surry Hills was everything I hoped it would be, as there was always that fear that it might not live up to the expectation.

But it did, from the friendly service, to the way coffee was quickly with me (it was 7.30 on a Sunday morning). From the healthy looking green juice that was actually delicious, through to the pile of fluffy ricotta hot cakes. Ok, I know it’s what they are known for and not the most exciting choice on the menu, but god, it was mouthwateringly good. Talk about clouds of fluffy deliciousness.


Bills menu Surry Hills


MGG had the sweetcorn fritters, which I must track down the recipe for and replicate at home, as these were sweet, savoury and crunchy all in one. In fact, there wasn’t anything on the menu that I wouldn’t have happily ordered and worked my way through. Had to settle for ordering a second coffee instead, sadly.


Even the flowers in the ladies were beautiful
Even the flowers in the ladies were beautiful


Surry Hills looked like it would have been a great place to explore further but we had a plane to catch. I did notice the Rapha shop opposite also had a cafe, filled with very sporty looking types. I knew which side of the road I belonged on.

So, sometimes it’s good to meet your hero, tick something off your bucket list and start planning a return trip. Like I said, I can always dream.


The Friday Five – Inspired by our travels



MGG and I are on a countdown as 5 weeks today we will be heading to Australia by way of Hong Kong, and we can’t wait. Neither of us have been to Australia, and I’m really excited about showing MGG my favourite parts of Hong Kong.

As usual, my best housesitters will be in residence, so wondering if I should leave them some appropriate cookbooks, or if that would just be rubbing salt into the wounds of not being on the trip. Well, on the offchance that it’s ok, then these would be on my list:


Dim Sum Small Bites Made Easy


Dim Sum: Small Bites Made Easy – I guarantee we will pack in a lot of dim sum during our two days in Hong Kong. I could happily live on dim sum during those two days, but have never attempted to make any at home. Maybe this would encourage me to give it a go. Though I’m still not sure I’d get the hang of the crimp on a Shanghai dumpling!


Easy Hong Kong Cooking


Easy Hong Kong Cooking at Home – I’ve not had a home cooked meal during my trips to Hong Kong, and I’m not entirely sure what would characterise Hong Kong cooking. Like in most major cities I’ve eaten many cuisines whilst I’ve been in the city, but never quite known what people cook at home. So this book has me quite intrigued!


bills sydney food


Bill’s Sydney Food – so, in my imagination, all Australian’s live like Bill Granger. Not to mention eat like his recipe books read. I love his books, and I know it’s summer when I reach for them. I’m thinking that even if I don’t get to eat at one of his places in Australia then maybe I’ll treat myself to this book as a lovely reminder of hopefully great meals we will have had.


the cook's companion


The Cook’s Companion – I’m told that Stephanie Alexander’s book is considered a must have in Aussie kitchens, so could be a good addition. I like some of her later books, which reflect the work she’s gone on to do in education around kitchen gardens, so definitely think it’s worth a look.




Quay: Food Inspired by Nature – I don’t imagine that we’ll be eating at Quay (although guess we could press our noses against the window) but Peter Gilmore is definitely one of Sydney’s poster boys on the restaurant front. I have featured it before when I wrote about my five Wizards of Oz, never imagining that 3 years later I’d be going past his front door. Still love the look of it as a book though.

We are so excited about this trip, and look forward to sharing stories when we get back. In the meantime, if anyone has any hints, tips or recommendations for Sydney, Alice Springs or Port Douglas then would love to hear from you!

Photo by Ankur Gulati on Flickr.


The Friday Five – Sunshine in my kitchen


As I look out the window now, it’s a dismal, grey night, with every chance that it’s about to chuck it down. It’s the sort of weather that just makes me want to reach for the flavours of sunshine: lemons, olives, rosemary, sumac.

For me, it could be Middle Eastern, it could be Greek, it could even be those sunny shores of Oz. So if it’s dismal with you, summon up the sunshine with maybe one of these books to inspire.


Olives Lemons & Za'atar - a great gift of a cookbook for a food lover with a taste for sunshine flavours


Olives, Lemons & Za’atar – see, this one had me at the title, definitely my kind of book. Arabesque is one of my favourites, but would have no problem experimenting with new recipes from across the Middle East. Red pepper and walnut spread sounds delicious, definitely one I would try.


Comptoir Libanais - a feast of Lebanese-style home cooking - a great gift of a cookbook for a food lover with a taste for sunshine flavours


Comptoir Libanais – great place to stop in for lunch when I’m in London, a great cuisine that I love and flavours that can’t help but brighten up the day. One of the things I love about Middle Eastern food is that it’s a great source for inspiration for vegetarian and vegan food, and this book certainly has plenty of both.


Smashing Plates - Greek flavours redefined - a great gift of a cookbook for a food lover with a taste for sunshine flavours


Smashing Plates – my experience of Greek food is Greek Cypriot food, and I love it, particularly when we’ve been to some of the remaining proper traditional places. In my head, the sun is always shining on whatever I’ve eaten. This book is a redefining of Greek dishes, and I’d love to work my way through it.


Sunshine on a Plate - a great gift of a cookbook for a food lover with a taste for sunshine flavours


Sunshine on a Plate – I know nothing of Mauritian food, other than watching Shelina cook it on Masterchef. But I know it always looked incredibly appealing, and she must have been responsible for a national shortage of mangos! We’re lucky to have a signed copy of this as part of the Great Vale Charity Cookbook Swap, so that should really bring the sunshine to someone’s day.


Bill's Open Kitchen - a great gift of a cookbook for a food lover with a taste for sunshine flavours


Bill’s Open Kitchen – I have a cousin who regularly posts pictures of her early morning surfing off Manly Beach, just what you need on a wet Friday morning in the UK. I like to think of them heading off to one of Bill’s places for a great brunch. His books sum up sunny weather, lighter cooking and outdoor eating for me. I may not have the Australian lifestyle, but Bill’s books are my go to summer cooking references.

What flavours conjure up sunshine for you?


The Friday Five – my golden tickets


I wrote last week about the Great Charity Cookbook Swap that I’m organising, and the Golden Ticket books we are bringing together. I feel really thrilled that the first book we had was from Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi, and I know I would be very happy if this was my golden ticket book.

So, just for fun, these are the five writers I’d love to find I was holding the golden ticket for:


real fast food


Nigel Slater – I’ve written before that the first cookbook I ever bought was Nigel Slater’s Real Fast Food, pretty much in the first edition. I still have it, and I still have a real soft spot for Nigel’s writing and to find any of his books behind a golden ticket would be fantastic. I don’t know if I could pick a favourite. I really loved Eating for England but then I really like Tender…too many to choose, would be happy with any.


Too Many Chefs


Sat Bains – every morning I pass, in the space of about 5 metres, three, possibly four brown signs for Restaurant Sat Bains. I eat my lunch about a mile as the crow flies from the restaurant, and a million miles in culinary terms. I’ve been lucky to have eaten there once, back in the days when the restaurant did lunch, and we had expense accounts. The book would be about the closest I get, other than that daily passing of the sign.


The Modern Pantry


Anna Hansen – lunch at The Modern Pantry has been one of my favourite eating experiences of the last couple of years. I’ve recommended it to numerous people, but still not managed to get back myself. I love the flavour combinations and would hope that I could translate some of that from the cookbook. Especially the fig leaf ice cream.


Bill Granger Every Day


Bill Granger – I know that warmer weather is here when I reach for Bill’s books. I think I have about four, because for the summer (all 3 weeks of it) I love that style of cooking. I also love the look of the lifestyle: the sunshine, the Australian coast, all that white linen. Well, a girl has to have a dream. I think I reach for Every Day most, although Bill’s Food probably is a close second.


Tamasin's Kitchen Bible


Tamasin Day-Lewis – this really would thrill me, as Tamasin’s Kitchen Bible is one of my all time fave cookbooks. Put it this way, if I was rescuing stuff from this house, I’d rescue this (if only because it now costs a fortune to replace). I love the variety of her books, and I love her recipes, I’ve never had one fail yet. Though they’re short on white linen in the photography!

We are at early days of Golden Tickets books but we’ve had some amazing donations already. So, if you were coming to Graze the Vale what would you hope to find behind a Golden Ticket?


The Friday Five – Three years of fives


It’s hard to believe that over three years have passed since I started writing this blog, and about 164 Fridays. I don’t know why I started it, other than I’ve always loved a good bit of alliteration, and because cookbooks and books on food are always top of my gift list.

I tried to work out what to feature. I’ve looked already at most popular, books to stroke, books I was jealous of other people owning. Then there’s the slightly quirky ones, like cookbooks not to take too seriously, alternative cookbooks for students, the ones I never use and even Strictly Come Cooking and the cookbooks of the film.

So in the end, I decided to put up the five that I would pack MGG off with, come the day she heads off somewhere with her own kitchen. I hope I will have sent her off with some good skills in the kitchen already, and with an appreciation of good food from good producers.


Tamasin's Kitchen Bible - the cookbook I'd save in a fire, great cookbook to gift to a food lover


Tamasin’s Kitchen Bible – I have no idea why this book is so expensive, or not in print, but it’s such a great book, and I refer to it a lot. If I don’t know what to cook, or how to cook something unusual that perhaps has turned up in the veg box, this is where I turn.


Short & Sweet by Dan Lepard - my favourite baking book ever


Short & Sweet – up until a month ago, I think my go to baking book for her would have been Domestic Goddess, but I have to admit it’s been replaced by Short & Sweet. I’m only four recipes in on the baking front, all worked brilliantly, and just delivers great, interesting recipes, brilliant techniques, and great writing. That said, Nigella’s is still my go to brownie recipe if I’m not making a gluten free version.

Delia's Summer Collection - a great cookbook to gift to a food lover for sunshine flavours


Delia’s Summer Collection – my mum bought me this one, she even queued at what was then George’s on Park Street in Bristol to have Delia sign it. Can’t believe this was published in 1994, but the number of stains over the pages show how many times it’s been cooked from. When I start cooking from this again, I know summer is back.


Bill Granger Every Day - one of my food heroes, a great cookbook to gift to a food lover


Every Day by Bill Granger – I’ve got a few of Bill’s books, and I love the photography in them and hanker after that billowing white linen in the sunshine lifestyle. That said, will settle for the pretty decent recipes for all kinds of occasions, and particularly good for breakfast. Berry hotcakes are one of our fave recipes, which we make together.

Claudia Roden Arabesque - great cookbook to gift to a food lover with a taste for the Middle East

Arabesque by Claudia Roden – I ummed and aahed over the 5th choice, particularly if I wanted to choose something to take her cooking beyond mainstream modern British. And I guess the cover of this one made me pick it, as MGG loves pomegranate, and has spent many happy hours bashing out the seeds with a rolling pin, and getting juice everywhere. There are lots of flavours in here that I know she loves as well, and lots of great recipes that are great to make for big gatherings of friends around a table.

If MGG learns nothing else from these books, I hope that it is that good food, however simple, cooked with love and shared with good friends is the best kind of food of all.


The Friday Five – The Wizards of Oz


I’m writing this on Australia Day, and there are a couple of Aussies occupying food headlines in my book at the moment, so seemed appropriate to feature some of the great cooks and cooking come out of Australia. So, advance Australia’s fair cooks, here’s my choices:


John Torode's Beef and other bovine matters - perfect cookbook gift for a meat loving food lover


* John Torode’s Beef – hard to avoid John at the moment, thanks to the return of Masterchef. And it’s been great to see him running the kitchen, to remind us that he’s not just that bloke on the telly, but a bloke that can cook. I associate him most with beef, and bet this is a bloke’s kind of cookbook, but as I love my beef, I think I’d cook lots from this too.


Every Day by Bill Granger - one of my food heroes, a perfect cookbook to gift to a food lover who likes it fresh


* Every Day by Bill Granger – I might well have put this one in before, as it is my fave of the several Bill Granger books I have, and love. I am really thrilled to learn he has opened a restaurant in London, as a lot more chance of me eating there than one of his Australian ones (updated link  in 2015, as I did eat in one of his Australian ones!).  I’ve also written before about how I love breakfast, and this one has great breakfast and brunch recipes in, which are well thumbed in my copy!


Charmaine Solomon's Complete Vegetarian Cookbook - perfect cookbook gift for a non meat eating food lover, or even one that just loves their veg


* Charmaine Solomon’s Complete Vegetarian Cookbook – not the most up to date choice, but when I went through a veggie phase in my 20s, this was my cookbook bible, along with the Moosewood cookbook. I still remember the cheese soufflé stuffed red pepper that was a real fave. The fact that I was cooking it in a bedsit with only a handwhisk to hand is not a part I wish to repeat, but the dishes in the book were definitely worth revisiting.


Kids' Birthday Cakes from Australian Women's Weekly - a gift of a cookbook for busy parents needing cake inspiration


* Kids’ Birthday Cakes from Australian Women’s Weekly – I wasn’t sure which one to pick from AWW, but this is the first one I ever bought. If you ever want simple cakes that will send kids high as kites with sugar and colourings, this is the one for you. That said, kids love the cakes!


Quay by Peter Gilmore - fantastic restaurant location, gift of a cookbook for any food lover


Quay by Peter Gilmore – I know very little about Peter Gilmore, I only know from looking at this book that the food and the restaurant looks like what I perceive to be quintessentially Australian. I know we don’t always have the weather for these dishes, but there is something incredibly appetising about so many of these!

Maybe these are a good way of bringing some of the Aussie sunshine into the kitchen during our cold, grey days of winter, as we start to think again of lighter summer eating.



What do foodies do in Spring?


There are very vague signs of Spring: mornings are lighter, if I slink off sharpish it’s still light when I leave work, and there are some small green shoots in the garden.


Green shoots are coming!


And in the kitchen all sorts of things change for me. I know that it’s Spring when I start reaching for Bill Granger cookbooks and put away Delia’s Winter Collection. I start craving different things to eat, lots of South East Asian, lots of lighter stuff. What else might be going on?

1. The casserole might be heading back into the cupboard, and the wok might be heading out more permanently. Quick, easy and full of fresh flavours!

2. The grow your own foodies will be busy prepping their fruit and veg plots, as well as working out what seeds to order in. I am really keen on Seeds of Italy, and there are some really unusual varieties of tomatoes and basil, as well as things like spelt and garlic chives. I am told I should be chitting potatoes, but misheard that the first time. If you’re not great with seeds, then order in seedlings ready to go in the ground. I like Sarah Raven and Thompson and Morgan, and I won’t tell your more green fingered friends if you don’t!

3. The pancake loving foodie will be dusting off their crepe pan ready for Shrove Tuesday. The less well co-ordinated will be looking at their ceiling and worrying. The really inept amongst us might choose an electric crepe maker!

4. The globe trotting foodie will be lured around the world to track down a huge variety of flavours. They were probably in San Francisco yesterday at the Crab Festival, and next weekend they could be at Menton in the South of France for the Lemon Festival. And you could head anywhere with a Chinatown next weekend ready for Chinese New Year.

5. Those of us with just Oyster cards will be enjoying a Parisian experience in W1, by heading to Pierre Herme’s instore patisserie at Selfridges for some truly magnificent macaroons. These are exquisite looking, and taste as good as they look. If you want to try recreating them, his book is only avaiable in French through Amazon France, although I can recommend a read of the experiences over on the He Eats blog. I particularly want to give the Salted Caramel and Apple ones a go.

So, even if more snow comes, just hang on in there, the Spring is on it’s way along with all the bounty that will bring.

Interesting shot of shoots by sciondriver over on Flickr.


A taste of summer


Lime Squeezer - all juice, no mess


It seems like it’s been a true summer’s day all over the UK today, although tempered, of course, with heavy downpours in places. So I’ve been thinking about warm summery flavours, of which one of my favourite is lime.

It’s tropical but sharp, and goes with all sorts of great things, from fruit to griddled halloumi (one of my favourites). But it can be a so and so to get the juice out of, and doesn’t really love having to use the same juicer as the lemon gets! So if your foodie is a gadget gatherer, then one of their gifts has to be this lime squeezer.

With that vivid green colour, there’s no mistaking what this one is for! It easily squeezes out all the juice and doesn’t drop in any of the seeds, pulp or peel. And at under £10, it’s also a perfect credit crunch gift, with the only thing getting squeezed being the lime, not your bank balance.

What are you going to do with all that lovely juice? Well browsing around I came across this great recipe on The Cottage Smallholder for Coriander and Lime Juice Pesto, which sounds amazing. This would make a really great light summery supper stirred through pasta, with a crunchy green salad on the side, and possible a glass of something white and chilled.


Bill Granger Everyday


It credits Bill Granger with being the inspiration, who is one of my favourite cooks. I’ve never eaten at any of his places, or even stepped onto Australian soil, but a great many of his books line the bookshelves here. It all looks invitingly fresh and healthy, but not dull. The sort of flavours you want to eat when it’s hot, but not when it’s February.

I am working my way through Bill’s Food and Every Day, as well as Holiday. Now the warm weather is, hopefully, here for a bit, they are just perfect. If your foodie needs some new recipe inspiration, then try these. Just don’t look at them on a wet day, you will feel jealous!

Or else, just book yourselves on that trip to Australia and visit his resturants. That’ll be like all their foodie gifts come true at once!



Since I wrote this, I’ve had the joy of a trip to Australia, some amazing eating and a trip to Bill’s very first restaurant. It wasn’t a let down.