Lamb Rendang, now with pictures!

I've been reading the The Pioneer Woman Cooks for a little while now, and I am terrifically inspired by her photographic journeys through her recipes. So, today, when someone asked me for my Lamb Rendang recipe, I decided to try a Pioneer Woman-style rendition. My photography isn't a patch on hers, but I'm hoping you'll recognise this for what it is - a poor imitation. Anyway, here it is, please enjoy, and let me know what you think!

Chop the onion into wedges. A large brown onion works best, as the flavour is a bit sweeter and easier to take in large chunks.

Dice up some lamb. I prefer to use backstrap as it's lean and easy to cut up, but I have also used a lamb leg in the past with a lot of success (it's just more time consuming to get the meat off the bones). You can cut this into any size pieces you like, just remember that large pieces will take longer to get to that really good falling-apart stage, so if you're in a hurry, keep it small.

Dice up some potatoes into the same (or slightly smaller) size pieces as the lamb.

And now for the fun part!

Put the tagine over a moderate heat, and drop in a slurp of olive oil. This may depend on your tagine. If your tagine can't be heated too much, then use a frying pan for the next few steps, and transfer it to the tagine when it comes time to simmer everything. If you don't have a tagine, sucked in! Oh. I mean, you can do the whole thing in a saucepan over a very low heat, as long as you stir it a lot during the process. It won't get the same level of tenderness, but it will still be good (well, as good as you'll get. Run down to House and buy a tagine. You won't regret it!)

Chop up some coriander (fresh is best, but dried leaves will do in a pinch) straight into the oil.

Here's what you'll need from the spice drawer - minced garlic (I'm too lazy to chop up garlic, but if you're keen, then you'll need about two or three cloves, pressed and then finely chopped); turmeric; garam masala; chilli powder (a deseeded and finely sliced red banana chilli would work even better, but I didn't have one this time around).

Drop a good amount of each into the oil with the coriander, and then add the onion wedges.

Stir it around until it starts to smell fantastic, and the onion is just starting to cook on the edges.

This is the Rendang paste I use (is it cheating to admit to this?!). It's the "Home Asian Gourmet" brand and it is available from the Asian Food aisle in Woolworth's. It is not stocked by Foodworks in Bungendore. So if you ever come to visit me out here from somewhere civilised, be sure to bring a packet or two.

Add in the curry paste and stir it all around. Smelling good? Yes, I think it is ...

Transfer the onion and the herbs and spices into a bowl.

Without cleaning out the tagine, start browning the lamb in small batches. Again, this depends on being able to get your tagine quite warm - the lower the temperature, the smaller your batches will need to be.

Sizzle, sizzle. The lamb should be picking up some of the colour from the turmeric still in the pan. Don't overbrown it, just make sure it has a bit of a tan.

Stash the lamb batches in the bowl with the onion while you work on cooking the rest of it (Why does this picture look like it was taken in a freezer? I assure you, it was sitting on my kitchen bench. Honest.)

Dump it all back into the tagine and stir it all around to get the curry paste all over the lamb.

Now you can add the potatoes in, and get them all coated in curry goodness too. I do this in two distinct steps, because otherwise it's just too much to stir in and you end with an unholy mess. Well, I do, anyway.

If you've done the last few steps in a frying pan, now is the time to pour it all into your tagine. Everything from now on needs to be done on the lowest possible heat setting you have.

Now, as tempting as it may be, do not add any water. Or stock. Or anything else. Just put the lid on, turn the dial down as low as it goes, and walk away. Or, you can stay and admire my beautiful mismatched Emile Henry tagine on my amazingly modern stovetop! Or not. Fine.

Make yourself a cup of tea and go and sit down for 20 minutes or so.

Then come back to find ...

Magic juice! No not really (sorry to disappoint you there). It's because we only very lightly browned the lamb, so the liquid from it has drained out into the dish. We're going to cook this very slowly over a few hours, so the potatoes will suck the liquid up and turn into lovely little soft balls of curryliciousness (is that a word? Ah well, it is now).

Pop the lid back on and go and do something else for a few hours. Write an opera, I'm told there's good money for those in Europe ...

You should come back to something like this. Mine was cooked for just over four hours, but anything longer than two should be good. Ideally, you're now about half an hour away from when you want to be serving it up. Leave the heat on low, take the lid off, and let it simmer away to reduce any liquid down to nothing.

Look, Ma! No juice!

Add a dribble of coconut cream.

Stir it around, give it a taste, and add a little more if you like it runny. You might also decide to give it another hit of chilli at this point.

And it's done! Now to serve it all up ...

Here's some rice I prepared earlier. I use Basmati rice, but that's because I use Basmati rice for everything. I even make rice pudding with Basmati rice (but that's another story ...)

Slop it all on to the plates and put it in front of hungry people. Guaranteed not to last!

As a note, I like to steam a bunch of veggies to have with mine - I plate the rice, add the veggies, and then dribble the curry over the top. This is because I am the only vegetable eater in the house, and no one else will tolerate me putting it into the curry. Beans, julienned carrots, and little pieces of cauliflower works well. You can also add these in the last hour of simmering as well, that way they properly suck up the flavours of the curry.

You can see all these pictures (with slightly different captions) in my Lamb Rendang Picasa album

It was a year ago.

In the kitchen, it's all action. People everywhere. I've been planning the menu for weeks, and had done most of it by the time the first guests - my parents - arrived. I saw Dad briefly, he gave me a kiss on the cheek and I could smell alcohol on his breath. I said nothing. He looked around with haunted eyes, then opened the fridge just enough to slide a beer out from the bottom shelf, and then slunk outside to consume it. In the few minutes it took him to do it, Mum had sifted through the pile of recipes on the kitchen table, eyed up the pre-prepared dishes, and had started running the water to wash up. I knew that, whatever menu I had decided on, Mum was now firmly in control. A year ago, I would have fought with her over it. Now, it just didn't seem to matter that much. I stayed in the kitchen long enough to refill my wine glass, and then went outside to find Dad. He was sitting out in the garden, under a spreading tree. I sat beside him and we drank. Together, giving and receiving comfort, yet lost in our own thoughts. Thoughts that were, possibly, along similar paths, although we did not share them.

It was a year ago that my Dad stopped cracking jokes. It was a year ago that my mother's quirks became full-blown neuroses. It was a year ago that Jamie didn't come from home from work. It was a year ago that I turned 21. It was a year ago that everything changed.

My mother came bustling out from the kitchen, and my Dad gave me a look that made me think of wildlife, stunned in the headlights on the side of a country road. She started talking before she was completely in earshot, and all I caught was "... tablecloth, you do have a clean one don't you? A nice one?" I nodded, gave her directions to the laundry cupboard, and glanced at Dad as I stood up. I drained the last of my wine, although it felt as though I had only sipped it, and meandered back inside. Aimless. Suddenly, despite having been excited about the party, and about seeing everyone, I didn't want to do it anymore.

I went to the kitchen door, intending to refill my glass. Through the glass panel in the door, with my hand on the doorknob, I saw Mum tut-tutting over two different tablecloths, things bubbling on the stove, and my sponge cake in pieces on the benchtop, ready to be turned into trifle. I can't stand trifle. My hand dropped from the knob, and I found myself heading down the hall instead, to my room.

I closed and locked the door behind me, and wondered idly if I still had my stash in the wardrobe. I hunted around, shifting jumpers and scarves, dusty from where they had been stashed last winter, waiting to be taken down again in a month or two. I sneezed, and my hand touched cool glass. I retrieved the bottle, took a long swig, and grimaced. Then I put it back behind the ski pants and woollen gloves, to be forgotten about.

I lay down on the bed, and tried not to think about anything. It's impossible to think about nothing. Even if you imagine nothing to be a vast blank emptiness, you're still thinking about that emptiness. You can never completely clear your mind. I must have started to drift off to sleep, aided by the vodka, because I imagined a knock on the door, and it crept open a little, even though I knew it was locked. I wasn't surprised to see Jamie through the sliver showing at the doorjamb, although of course I should have been. He pushed the door open a little wider, and I caught his grin. That grin that said, I'm doing something I shouldn't be, but you'll forgive me, right? I grinned back, but didn't speak. I didn't want to shatter this daydream of mine, didn't yet want to let myself back into the reality that Jamie was dead.

He came in and sat on the bed, his weight shifting the mattress. He was wearing a shirt I didn't recognise, although they were the same old work boots on his feet. He smiled at me, reached out and touched my hair, brushed it back out of my face. He leant down and kissed me on the forehead, and I closed my eyes, breathed in his smell - aftershave and sweat, grease and leather. I smiled, and opened my eyes again when the warmth of his lips faded, and the bedsprings gave a squeak. He was standing and, without a word, he walked back to the door. He looked over his shoulder, dropped me a languid wink, and then he was gone. The door gave a soft click as it closed. I listened for footsteps, and then laughed at myself for this foolishness.

I stayed in bed a little longer, still trying deperately to stay with the fantasy, and to allow the fantasy to stay with me, but it was already fading. Eventually, voices from downstairs stirred me awake, and I realised I had been asleep for about an hour. They would be wondering where the birthday girl was, no doubt. I stood up, and noted absently that the bedsprings didn't squeak. This realisation was enough for the last gossamer threads of my dream to dissipate into the air like steam.

I went to the ensuite to wash my face, brush my hair. In the mirror, in lipstick, the now-empty case lying open in the sink, were the words, "Sis, Love you 4 ever. J".

ANZAC Day (or "Why I Bugle")


Many of you already know that I am bugling for the ANZAC day services in Braidwood this year. I'm sure most of you also know that I am morally opposed to war and in no way condone its glorification. That said, I'd like to explain why I do this:

Despite the many elements of the traditional ANZAC day service that glorify war and the 'ultimate sacrifice', the bugle is played specifically to mourn for those who died. I grieve for the men and women who have died during war, even while I don't understand, respect, or condone the reasons why they were there. The men and women who died in service died because they had no choice but to follow orders from the government, the armed forces, their superiors. A change is required in the way war victims are honoured, but in the meantime, I will show my respect in this way.

On a different but related topic, I have been to a few events in the past few months and been extraordinarily pleased to notice the increasing use of "we recognise the original owners of this land" at the beginning of the event. This ANZAC day I'd like to remind you all to think about not just the white Australians (and all the members of other nationalities) that have died during war, but to remember the original owners of this land who died in other, non-glorified, and unremembered battles. Those victims were not under order, but were fighting for their freedom, their land, their traditions, for everything that they had. They should be recognised and remembered. When you hear the Last Post being played on Saturday, please think of them. I will be as I play.