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


Tiger turns seven.

Last week - but the photo is a year old. Gift: first pair of football boots, half price at Rebel Sport. End of season is a great time for football fans to have their birthday. They get twice the value. Second gift: vintage 1950s sheriff's badge and holster set in original unopened packaging, made in England and found in Essendon op shop. Gold for a seven year old. Tom said it was his best birthday ever. Five friends visited after school for an early dinner of spaghetti bolognese.


Two items from my morning routine that are almost identical but must never be confused.

Although you could, of course, polish your shoes with Vegemite. One of these products is celebrating its 90th birthday. I'm not sure which.


Heard: the first commercial of the season to feature Christmas background music.

On October 23, before even the Melbourne Cup has been run!

A radio commercial for Mercedes Benz cars, backed by Angels We Have Heard on High, the voiceover urging people to 'secure' a demo model Merc, the faux-upmarket jargon designed to impress the cashed-up bogans who comprise today's Mercedes Benz market. MB could at least have spent some money on an original composition rather than a tune in the public domain.

I'm off to the supermarket to secure a carrot.


"A minute's success pays the failure of years."

It was a nice stew, almost perfect. It's only taken several decades to refine, but I'm almost there. It can't be taught. You have to learn it by trial and error. How small you cube the beef. The few extra seconds browning it. The amount of flour, salt, pepper. The heat of the pan. The weather. Whether or not you have had coffee yet that day. Where the planets are. Whatever.

Even so, it is still better some times than others. That bit is chance. But even the children ate it the other night. Then they wanted more. That proves it. I used oyster blade, which has a thin layer of connective tissue running through it like a vein of gold in quartz, which melts during long cooking and turns the meat molten. I browned it in seasoned flour in a very hot pan, but browning is the wrong word, so we will not use it again. Seal it only. Browning will cook it. The word browning should be reserved for Robert, or the gun.

Then it was all routine. Beef stock, a carrot, an onion, a stick of celery. Plenty of fluid including a can of beer. Doesn't have to be dark. Any beer. I used Victoria Bitter, $36 a slab at Dan Murphy's. You can get it walking. The best commercial ever to screen on Australian television. With the best voiceover.

Four hours on the lowest simmer you can achieve. I can trick mine lower by rotating the knob from the locked-in 'low' position towards 'off', ensuring there is just enough flame to keep it going, unless anyone opens a door when there's a gale outside, which there seems to have been for most of this month.

Quartered potatoes into the pot halfway through. Make sure they submerge.


Later, there was nothing left but two inches of gravy. And what gravy. Too good to throw out. I could have poured it over mashed potato for another meal, but the next night I decided to do something with the potatoes first.

Baked gnocchi.

I boiled two large potatoes, peeled and smashed them, lay them on a large floured breadboard and set to work on them, adding flour, two tablespoons of fresh ricotta, some finely chopped parsley and salt and pepper.

I moulded pieces of them until they were no longer sticky, but discrete orbs. This was easier written than done. After a long wrestle with the dough, even the air was floured; and the kitchen had the look of a saloon after a shooting, minus the smell of burning cordite. That would come later when I burned the gravy. If I burned the gravy. Sometimes I don't.

I flattened the soft floured orbs into discs the diameter of Tolley's brandy cardboard coasters, but thicker, of course; and hoped they would taste better. They amounted to a dozen or so.

I boiled water in a large pot and lowered the discs in a few at a time. They settled to the bottom and then rose. I lifted them out just as carefully, drained them and lay them in a baking dish, overlapping them like Spanish roof tiles. They made four layers and I added some heated gravy over each layer, pouring the rest over the top and finishing that with a shower of grated parmesan and more parsley.

In the oven for twenty minutes with the lid on; ten minutes lid off.

Side dish: curly kale straight from the garden cooked with a lot of garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper and a little cream.

McLaren Vale shiraz. Heaven.


Purple Rice.

Subtitled: The Hunt For Red Cabbage in October.*

Why are menu descriptions in restaurants so long and pretentious? Because it helps them sell the meal. A restaurant menu would never offer 'cabbage risotto' because no one would order it, would they? Of course not. It doesn't sound very nice.

But it is.

Risotto with leek and red cabbage.

Finely chop an onion and a couple of inches of leek, and score two cloves of garlic**. Saute these in a generous amount of olive oil until just soft.

Pour in a cupful of Arborio rice. Stir the rice to coat in oil. Pour in half a cup of white wine. Then add enough boiling stock to cover the rice. Stir to stop the rice sticking. If you turn down the heat low enough, you can leave it for a while; but remarkably, many stoves can't go down beyond a certain temperature. I used to have an electric stove and found it perfect, but most people don't like them.

Finely slice a couple of red cabbage leaves. Add. They will give off their colour making the rice a beautiful lavender colour. Cook until rice is done, adding more stock as required.

Instead of the usual cheese and butter treatment, try adding a generous spoonful of sour cream over the rice with a shake of paprika on the cream. This turns it into something special, as sour cream has a particular affinity with cabbage, and the sourness is a welcome change from the usual over-oiliness of much risotto.

*Bad pun in tribute to Tom Clancy. (Red cabbage being, of course, out of season by this time of year; but the supermarkets have some in cold storage.)

**Finely chopped garlic can burn, so I leave it whole and just score it instead. When you stir the onions, the garlic skitters around the pan and doesn't burn, whereas small pieces can stick and burn.


Vintage football, chicken with lemon and garlic, and a football tragic quiz question.

Saturday afternoon we were at the indoor pool. It was built some time in the 1980s overlooking City Oval. They put it right behind the northern goal, and the entire south wall is a window, making it a virtual grandstand. You go for a swim and get a VFL football game thrown in, with a view across the brilliant green to terraces, mainly empty, that rise away and almost obscure the Edwardian roofs beyond. The shadows creep across the green late in the afternoon, and sometimes rainstorms blow in from the west. The old grandstand is at the other end. I followed VFA decades ago when Essendon had some lean years and some Essendon players transferred to Dandenong, then a VFA power. Now it's VFL, a blend of the old VFA and the then-VFL reserves.

On Saturday, they put the AFL grand final on the loudspeaker system and we - the boys and I - played pool volleyball and listened to the game. The place was almost empty, like two grand finals ago. Everyone goes home and watches it on television, but I have an aversion to sitting in a lounge room in daylight hours. Even for a grand final. Apart from that I prefer radio. I like figuring out the action in my mind and guessing from the crowd noise what's happening milliseconds before the caller calls it.


That night, the house was full of the aroma of garlic and lemon suffusing chargrilled chicken.

Lebanese-style chicken drumsticks.

The thing to do with these is to be heavy-handed. I suppose there's plenty of lemons in the middle east so you don't have to be sparing. For a dozen drumsticks, chop two dozen cloves of garlic and squeeze the juice of four lemons. Get some of the zest and throw that in as well. Cut a few leaves of fresh mint, and a sprig of oregano.

Slash the drumsticks deeply and place them in a large bowl, tip in the lemon juice and scatter the garlic and herbs. Add a good dash of cumin, pepper and salt. Turn the chicken to make sure it is completely coated and set aside for a couple of hours. Bake or grill.

Serve with hommous - blend a drained can of chickpeas with five garlic cloves, a little tahini; a few tablespoons of olive oil; a quarter cup of lemon juice; salt and pepper - and a quick tabouli salad of parsley, onion, tomato and bulgur wheat. Use a little couscous if you have none of the latter. It works fine. Drown with lemon juice.

The drumsticks were even better cold the next day. Unbelievable but true. Roll on 2014.


Quiz question: name the VFA grand final that was not decided until the Wednesday following the game.