Ruminations and recipes from a small kitchen in a big city.


Spring into fish: baked Tasmanian Atlantic salmon with leeks, red onion and lemon.

1. Chop a leek radially into thin rings. Rinse out grit if necessary. Chop a large red onion into rings. Sweat the leek and onion in oil in a covered pan until they just start to soften.

2. In a bowl, combine three tablespoons of olive oil with the juice of two lemons, a handful of chopped parsley and half that amount of chopped dill. Season.

3. Place two large salmon fillets into a baking dish and cover with warm leek and onion mixture. Pour over the herbed oil and lemon mixture. Cover dish with foil. Bake twenty minutes depending on size of fish. Salmon cooks quickly, staying moist.

4. Serve with asparagus drizzled with lemon butter: boil and remove asparagus from pan, drain most cooking water, add the juice of two lemons and a pat of butter, reduce, pour over asparagus and add cracked black pepper.


Thirty years?

Impossible? 1984. It had always been in everyone's conscious future because of the George Orwell book, but then it arrived, and now it's thirty years in the rear vision mirror.

I got the grand final video out for the boys. The colour is muted. It had been an overcast steel-grey day with patchy rain. I had walked to the M.C.G, of course; lived in Carlton then. Through the Carlton Gardens, across at Nicholson Street, past St. Patrick's Cathedral. And yes, I dropped in. Call it superstition. Could you seriously walk past when your team is in the grand final against the club that won by more than thirteen goals in the same game the previous September? Through the Fitzroy Gardens. Yarra Park. In.

I watched the video with the boys. The soundtrack is strangely muted. The old commentators let the pictures speak for themselves, waited for the goal umpire before calling the score. Essendon hopelessly behind all day, and then that electric last quarter that will live on in the memory of anyone who was there that grey day. I had been hemmed in in standing room like a tinned sardine. That's hardly even a simile. You could barely get an empty beer can to the ground. Yes, we dropped them in those days, but that was simply because you couldn't move. Also, you could bring them in.

There is a ghostly passage of play in the dying light of the last quarter, when Nobby Clark tears out of the back pocket and fires a pass to Merv Neagle. That passage might be on a frequent loop at the 1984 Essendon premiership reunion next month. Only way to get those two players there.


Tail end of winter.

August could be my favourite month. While the weather is still intermittently bad, you can see the end of winter.

So now we're having a last rush of cooking winter dishes before h swept away by spring's warmer weather. Heavy stews like the following always taste better when the weather's cold.

Oxtail with red wine.

Take an average oxtail* and joint it. Hardly necessary: the butcher will do it for you. Boil the pieces ten minutes with a bay leaf, a clove of garlic and a teaspoonful of pepper. Drain.

Now sear the oxtail pieces in a cast iron pan and remove to a large pot.

Place two chopped onions, two chopped carrots and a scored clove of garlic in the pan in which you have seared the oxtail. Add a cup of boiling water. The residual heat will deglaze the pan juices, combining them with the vegetables. Pour the lot into the large pot over the oxtail. Add half a bottle of red wine and one jar of tomato passata. Add enough water to just cover the contents.

Simmer a couple of hours, then cool and chill. Next day, remove fat, reheat and eat. The meat will fall off the bone. Ideal on garlic mashed potato.

Turn the remaining gravy and meat into a ragu: add a can of chickpeas and a sliced avocado, reheat and serve over tortiglioni or rigatoni. Possibly even tastier than the original dish.

*What's an average oxtail? 1.5 kilograms according to a farmer I just asked.