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My Dad’s Burrito Beef recipe

31 Mar

BACK STORY*

* This first part is very lengthy. If you’d prefer to skip to the actual recipe, it’s under the heading “RECIPE” if you scroll down.

As an only child growing up, I was prone to catastrophising – both generally (it is an excellent way to get attention), and in particular about my parents. As I grew older, and especially after I went away to boarding school at 13 and later to uni 1000km away from home, I realised how much they meant to me – and what that brought with it was, “What if they die?”

When I was staying at home in the school or uni holidays, if they went out to a barbecue (I was too cool to go with them, obviously) having said they’d be back at 10pm and it was 10.05pm, I’d imagine every scenario of what might have happened to them. Once this had happened enough times and they came back safe and sound (usually at 10.08pm), this thought process became a superstition: if they weren’t home when I expected them (or it was a stormy night, or I didn’t know where they were), the key thing I obviously needed to do was imagine every possible bad scenario, and some part of me knew that by doing this they’d come home safe and sound. (I realise how silly this sounds!) It was like imagining the most frightening scenarios was a guarantee that nothing bad would ever happen.

And it didn’t, for a while at least. Despite regularly driving the dark road between Rockhampton and Yeppoon, travelling the world, and attending those damn barbecues, they always came home perfectly fine.

Regardless, I never took saying goodbye to my parents for granted. In my late teens, Dad and I had a rare argument one night. He started work at 5am so went to bed early before I had the chance to properly rue my choice of words. I couldn’t bear the thought of the small chance of something happening to him while we were at odds, so popped a short note in his lunchbox that night – and he discovered it the next morning and wrote me a reply. Neither of us ever spoke about it, but 10 years later I still have his sweet reply.

When I said goodbye to my parents last year after they visited over Easter, I carefully remembered and valued each hug – as always, I figured there was a chance they could be my last. They weren’t my last, but they turned out to be the last I’d have before our lives were turned upside down five weeks later with dad’s terminal cancer diagnosis. For all my obsessive catastrophising, no only child superstitions prepared me for it, nor his death in August.

Dad’s cancer worsened rapidly, but I had three weekends where he was fully lucid and the first of those it was hard to believe he was even sick. On that weekend, we made burritos. My parents had owned and managed all aspects of a Cairns Mexican restaurant called Mexican Pete’s when I was born in the mid-1980s, and, around the time I was 10 – long after they’d sold it and we’d moved three towns by then – Dad started occasionally putting burritos on the weekend dinner menu, using the recipe they’d used at the restaurant. It became my favourite meal and something I always asked for when visiting home. So, on that first weekend home after the diagnosis, I pulled out the camera and recorded a video as Dad made it. We enjoyed a very normal, tasty meal.

The video of him making it, and making it since myself, has been a great source of comfort to me. It doesn’t bring him back, but he doesn’t feel so far away.

It’s also delicious (and easy), so I want to share it with you.

RECIPE

NB: Now. I know what you’re thinking. I am the self-proclaimed most hopeless cook ever. I’ve used salt instead of sugar in pancakes. I’ve poured burnt toffee into a kitchen sink. (I really do not recommend this. But if you’re looking to strengthen your chiseling skills, give it a whirl.) However, I’ve made this dish four or five times in the last few months and I’m pretty convinced that it’s hard to stuff up.

NB x 2: I have never done a recipe post before. And this is not in any way technical. If you spot something wrong or missing, please tell me!

Ingredients:

  • TIME. This recipe doesn’t require much from you, but it does require time. Don’t start it at 7pm for a dinner that you want to serve that night. I think best started at 2pm.
  • 1.2kg of chuck steak or gravy beef, diced. I can’t guarantee finding this at Coles or Woolies, but both are always available at the Belconnen Fresh Food Markets. What Dad told me is that it doesn’t really matter which one you get – just go for what has a bit more marbling (or is cheaper!). However, I’ve found gravy beef to be much better than chuck steak.
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 small green capsicums, also chopped
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 heaped tablespoons of tomato paste (I actually think just use all of one of those little tubs they come in because it’s about the same)
  • 2 teaspoons cumin
  • 2 teaspoons ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 2 teaspoons dry mustard

Method:

  1. Chop your gravy beef, onion and capsicums. Ignore pleading whippet who is keen for off-cuts.
  2. Put it all in a saucepan (one where you always know where the lid is so you don’t waste time trying to find it). No oil. No butter. No pre-heating. Nothing. Just put it all in and mix it around a bit so the three ingredients are mixed in together.IMG_9220 (2)
  3. Put the saucepan on low (LOW) heat. By LOW I mean on the lowest setting, or halfway between the lowest and second lowest. Put the lid on.
  4. Resist the temptation to lift the lid for two-three (!) hours. Cooking is not my forte as you all know, but the low heat draws out the juices from all the ingredients and the steam does a lot to help, too. There ends up being stacks and stacks of liquid, and this is what you want. All of the juice and flavour of the onion and capsicums do a lot to seep in to the beef, leaving just the very soft mushy membrane of the vegies.
  5. After a minimum two hours (I think three is best), lift the lid. There should be lots of liquid and it might be bubbling slightly. Depending on the beef and the temperature, it may need a bit longer than three hours. Drain the liquid stock – leaving just a little in the saucepan – and put it aside.

    At first stir, it should look like this. Starting to loosen up a little.

    At first stir, it should look like this. Starting to loosen up a little.

  6. This is the hardest part for me to explain. Between this and the final step, the meat should start to shred. Sometimes I drain the stock and it really doesn’t look like it’s going to shred, but it miraculously does – and sometimes it doesn’t. What I do know is that you must use a wooden spoon if you’re going to have any luck. Stir the meat a little to loosen it up.
  7.  Add the rest of the ingredients in the ingredients list (taking careful note of the difference between teaspoon and tablespoon). The key is restraint – you can always add more, but if you add in too much soy sauce (uh, for example), it might be hard to recover.
  8. Stir more! And more. It should start to really shred well so that you have very few chunks and much more shredded beef.

    Reasonably good looking shredded meat

    Starting to look okay in terms of shredding

  9. Add a little of the stock back if you need to – it should be very moist without being drippy. Otherwise, use the stock for something else (I have recently used it in a risotto and it was great).

And that is it. Serve it with shredded lettuce, chopped tomato, Old El Paso medium taco sauce, grated cheese, sour cream and guacamole (which I make with one avocado and one tablespoon of sour cream, with a big squeeze of lemon, and salt and pepper). Don’t overfill your tortilla!

It makes enough for 4-6, depending on appetites. For two of us, it’s usually two or three meals. The beef freezes well, especially if put in the freezer in small portions.

Correct way to fill a tortilla, in my opinion.

Correct way to fill a tortilla, in my opinion.

Ha Ha Bar, Belconnen – revisited*

23 Mar

* I visited Ha Ha Bar as a guest.

Belconnen Town Centre’s Emu Bank is something special – or it has the potential to be. Facing (what I think is) the best lake in Canberra, with the Arts Centre at one end and one of the world’s best skate parks at the other, Emu Bank could be a promenade in Canberra’s north.

But it’s not quite there yet. While the restaurant quality is mixed from the average to the very good and caters from takeaway to pub to formal dine-in, it’s been missing a high-quality restaurant to anchor the area and attract similar ventures.

Ha Ha Bar is one of those venues that’s always been very good. I’ve always enjoyed the food (in addition to plenty of brunches and dinners there, you can read my first review in 2011 here, and 2013 here) even if the service left a little to be desired, but it hasn’t been what you’d necessarily call a fine dining experience.

I genuinely think that’s about to change.

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Pizza Artigiana, Jamison

16 Feb

It’s increasingly common these days for me to first get notice of a new restaurant through Facebook: friends liking the page, or a sponsored post. So it was for Pizza Artigiana which I first heard about through its common presence in my newsfeed since back in May last year. It boasts of handmade pizza and imported beers and, being so local, made it onto my ‘must try’ list. After months I made my way there – but, happily, it won’t be months before I’m back again.

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My first time at Summernats

10 Jan

Every early January, it seems like all Canberrans heave a sigh and say, “It’s that time of year again.” Engines deafen Braddon’s cafe conversations and the heat already beating off the streets becomes hazier, smokier. It means busy hotels in what should be a quiet season and advice to “avoid EPIC”. Ever since I moved to Canberra, with one sentence I’ve heard people defend it and lament it: “It’s not what it used to be.

I’ve always wanted to attend Summernats simply to see what the fuss is about. What is so attractive about it that it draws people across Australia to Canberra on what is often one of the warmest weekends of the year? Is the tourism boost worth the event’s dubious reputation – and is its reputation even warranted?

I’ve procured a ticket online and when I arrive on the sweltering afternoon, there’s no line to get in. I hand my ticket over and get a lime green wristband which clearly marks that I’m only there for the Friday session and that’s it. Through the gates, the first challenge: crossing Tuff St. Cars are just cruising and cruising, some occasionally – spontaneously – shooting forward a few metres, making it only safe to cross when there’s quite a big distance between cars.

My first experience is a tame one, heading across Main Street and into the judging pavilion. My phone camera gets a workout before we even step inside.

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Inside, there’s a barrier around the entire pavilion and people are leaning up against it, admiring the cars being judged. Even with just a few cars slowly on the move it’s very, very loud. The cars go up a small ramp so they can be judged all over and for some cars which have been lowered – and I mean really lowered – it’s a close call to not scrape off paint or do them damage. In half an hour I see cars modified with hydraulics, some amazing paintwork and one car which has all the judges engaged with tiny torches looking at every single detail. This car takes the judges five times as long to finish judging as all the others we see and later it’s confirmed it does very well.

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Hydraulics! This car appears in a video later in this post…

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From we walk through the exhibitors pavilion where there’s plenty of things on display to help you modify your car – anything you could think of (and plenty of things I have no idea about).

Outside, we walk up Main St. Crossing the road again is an adventure and my friend – a Summernats veteran – stresses the key to an enjoyable and safe Summernats is being situationally aware at all times; consciously knowing what’s going on around you and being prepared to move if you need. Every second stall seems to either be one with fried food – I enjoy two dagwood dogs during the day! – or with alcoholic slushies (bourbon, rum, tequila, and vodka fire engine). A bar with undercover shade is further up with security inside. There’s a range of mid-strength beers on offer, a cider, and the most expensive beer – at $8 – and the only full-strength is a can of VB. It’s the most popular. Outside, I have the first of a few experiences where a car goes past so loud that it feels like my eardrum is shuddering.

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One of the ‘highlights’ of Summernats is the burnout track. We’re there for over an hour in the stands with the sun scorching skin all around us. Without my friend explaining the purpose of the burnout competition to me, I’d have no idea what I’m watching. We’re upwind so we’re saved from the constant billowing smoke but not from the flecks of rubber. Within minutes I’m coated in the black powder that mercilessly spreads as soon as I try to rub it off.

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From what I can gather, the whole purpose is to pop as many tyres, create as much smoke, and spin the car around in a quite small area and try not to hurt anyone. It’s all at once senseless, entertaining, polluting and concerning. I watch talented drivers who spin their cars so hard and fast and blow tyres and create so much smoke that I then can’t even see what they’re doing to assess if it’s any good. I watch other drivers barely create any smoke and drive almost into a wall before 10 seconds are up, to jeers of the crowd.

For something where I still have no idea what it’s actually supposed to achieve, it draws an enormous crowd.

At the end of the qualifying round we depart to the Show n’ Shine field but many of the cars have departed as it’s about to transform into the arena for the night’s entertainment with Seth Sentry. In addition to a few remaining cars there’s a V8 simulation (not worth it), a Slingshot and helicopter rides.

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This car gets in trouble in a vehicle you’re about to see…

I’ve had a real assault on the senses by this point – the sun has sunk so low it feels like it’s glaring at eye-level, and combined with the fumes and smoke means I’ve got tears streaming down my face – even in the middle of the field! After a rest we head back to Tuff St where there is a lot of action. This is probably the most entertaining part of the day for me. The cars are interesting, and it’s great to see many of them in action. Directly across from us are a group of blokes who help make it even more interesting by asking cars to spin their wheels right in front of them. Given how close they are to the road, I’m also terrified that tyres are going to run over feet (and so surprised this doesn’t happen). This is also the only point that I see any, uh, exposure – of two vehicles, one is particularly devoted to this (but I see no competitions!) (this does not add to the entertainment factor for me!).

And that’s my experience at Summernats. The ticket is valid for the rest of the evening and there’s entertainment to be seen – as well as plenty more cars, and the judging pavilion is about to reveal the best cars – but five hours of heat, noise and fumes exhausts (ha, ha) me.

Does Summernats warrant its reputation? Yes and no. It’s loud and a lot to me seems senseless and plenty about it is crude. But I also saw so many families – so many very young children – having a truly great time. I saw how passionate people are about their vehicles and the money that’s gone into some of the cars and the effort that it takes to become someone who understands their vehicle’s every join and exactly how to make it do what you want. I saw a lot of security and spent a lot of time watching them, particularly on Tuff St, and their approach looked to me to be fair – having a chat to people when their behaviour made things a little unsafe, pushing crowds back a little bit, but largely being very watchful and quite simply very present.  It’s also no where near as big as I expected it to be.

It’s unlike anything I’ve ever been to in Canberra, ever. It brings something totally different to our city. While I know I’ll never totally get it – and some things I certainly question – I can see what the fuss is about.

The best Belconnen Christmas lights

19 Dec

Every year I see the published lists of Christmas lights in Belconnen, and every year I feel overwhelmed by the choice and limited time to see them all (especially when I leave it to the last minute/week).

For me, the perfect Christmas lights experience is getting in as many ‘Wow, that’s awesome!’ houses before I get annoyed listening to the GPS and/or too many hours go past. Achieving this means knowing where the best houses are. Once you’ve knocked these over, you can enjoy the fantastic efforts of so many contributors throughout town – every house offers something magical!

So, if you’ve only got a limited amount of time before your patience runs out, here are my top three picks in Belconnen (and they’re all pretty close together!).

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Trev’s at Dickson, Dickson*

10 Oct

* I reviewed Trev’s at Dickson as a guest.

Not that long ago, Trev was The Lodge’s resident chef for Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. A little over five years later, Trev leads his eponymous cafe/restaurant tucked away in the office area of Challis Street, Dickson.

Trev’s is open seven days a week for breakfast/brunch and dinners on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Today’s a Thursday at what seems a very early 7.30am. On arrival we’re greeted with requests for coffee orders and my large chai latte arrives truly large with a yummy crust of  cinnamon sugar on frothy milk.

Trev’s is also renowned for its similarly eponymous dish: the Trev’s Taste Collective. Have you ever perused a breakfast menu and felt like you really want something sweet but you also really want something savoury, and somehow early on a Saturday morning you’re still required to make that very difficult choice? For me it’s almost always pancakes with fruit and ice cream versus a dish – any dish – that has poached eggs. The eggs usually win (unless it’s pancakes from Ha Ha Bar – then pancakes are victorious!).

Trev’s Taste Collective goes some way to solving this. At $18.50 you get a small stack of thick pancakes with strawberry and basil compote, marscapone and a smatter of icing sugar, a very thick corn fritter with a heaping of avocado and tomato salsa and a bacon rasher, followed by a two-fruit salad (today it’s strawberries and watermelon) with kaffir lime syrup and a wisp of fairy floss. It all comes with their mini JOD (juice of the day) – today it’s apple, orange and cranberry and it’s tangy and delicious and all too small; I’d love it slightly larger with an ice cube.

Corn generally is not my thing but what I do have of the corn fritter is tasty. The generous helping of avocado salsa is a stand out and I could eat plenty of it with the bacon. The strawberries and watermelon are sweet and fresh and it’s easy to devour. The pancake batter is a little thick rather than fluffy but they’re just enough to make the whole dish very, very filling.

I’m sure a few friends have questions about eating it altogether or separately, and whether it’s weird to have sweet and savoury near or touching each other. While it’s clear from the photo that some of the juice from the berry compote and syrup leak under the fritter, I don’t know it at the time.

Trev’s idea is a very clever one which finally provides an answer to so many people’s early morning dilemmas. But to answer mine, it still needs a poached egg in it somewhere!

Date: Thursday, 8 October 2015

Where: Challis Street, Dickson

Cost: I dined as a guest of Trev’s at Dickson. The Trev’s Taste Collective costs $18.50 including a small juice of the day but not including coffee/s.

Want more? Trev’s has a very comprehensive website and detailed menus.

Coming Up in Canberra – Spring 2015

4 Oct

What better way to celebrate the welcome return of daylight saving?! It’s a LONG while since I’ve done one of these posts but there is honestly so much happening that this post can basically write itself from my own diary’s calendar! Here we go:

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