Venezuelan Event Recap: Expo Sentir Venezuela

3 May Expo Sentir Venezuela 2015 Mascot
Expo Sentir Venezuela 2015

Expo Sentir Venezuela 2015

Last week I learned from an acquaintance about a Venezuelan event going on last weekend. She was looking to borrow a falda llanera, which is a typical skirt used in the folkloric Joropo dances in Venezuela. I was curious as to why she needed to borrow such a specific item. She said she was attending a Venezuelan event that same weekend, and that I should go to this event as well. I was surprised that I didn’t hear anything about this event prior to my friend mentioning it to me, but I wasn’t surprised that she knew about it, after all, I can always count on her to know all the Venezuelan happenings in South Florida.

My decision to attend the event was kind of a serendipitous series of events, which started last year around July. You see…  I listen to a Venezuelan radio station almost all day long at work.  They are one of the very few stations left that report news that the government attempts to hide from the masses; Radio Caracas Radio. In one of their shows, De Todo Un Poco, they have a section for Venezuelan entrepreneurs and as I listened to them describe the artwork of a young Venezuelan artist, I had to Google him, and I found his online blog. I saw his artwork featuring the Venezuelan flag, and immediately fell in love with it. I even contacted him via twitter to ask where I could get his artwork, but of course, it was only available in Venezuela. A couple of months ago, my grandparents mentioned they would be flying to the US to spend the summer here, I immediately wrote them an e-mail with a few encarguitos, meaning I placed an ‘order’ for a few Venezuelan products that they usually bring to our entire family from Venezuela, to Miami. Within my order I asked if they could find this artist and his artwork, because I wanted to own an illustration for my home. Fast-forward to last week, I went to this event’s website, after hearing about it, and realized that the artwork they used for their mascot, was something I recognized immediately as a piece by that same Venezuelan artist.  As it turns out, he created that piece specifically for the event mascot; Chamo.  I immediately contacted the artist again via twitter, and asked if by any chance he was planning to attend the event, and if I would be able to purchase one of his pieces there, and he replied immediately that he was in fact attending the event, and he would have his own booth there, with all of his pieces available for purchasing and even a few other surprises. Of course, right then and there, I decided couldn’t miss it.

Expo Sentir Venezuela 2015 Mascot

Expo Sentir Venezuela 2015 Mascot

The event was called Sentir Venezuela, or Expo Sentir Venezuela, which translates into Feel Venezuela, or Expo Feel Venezuela. The event took place at the Miami Airport Convention Center from Friday, April 24th in the afternoon through Sunday April 26th. Since this was a last minute weekend plan, we decided to attend on Sunday. Although, if they have this event again, I would most likely plan to attend during Saturday, since it seems that was the busiest day, with the most surprises and presentations. The tickets were $10 if you bought them online, or $12 if you bought them there. It was advertised as “A unique and vivacious event celebrating the eternal Venezuela, the Great Nation that Simon Bolivar dreamed of; one of brotherhood, pride, and beauty. Let’s celebrate its music and its joy, it’s unique cuisine and folklore, its wonderful artistic expressions. Let’s celebrate together with “el Bravo Pueblo!” LET’S SENTIR VENEZUELA!.

They had a variety of vendors including artwork, paintings, sculptures, photography, crafts, food samples, prepared foods, pastries, arepas, bread, cakes, shaved ice, tequeños, cheeses, all kinds of different Venezuelan brands products like harina p.a.n., nucita, chocolate de leche, flips, granadina garlin, susy, samba, pepito, leche la campiña, as well as companies such as banks, insurance providers, realtors, printers, local Venezuelan TV channels, radio stations, newspapers, associations, and groups, not to mention Venezuelan flags on EVERYTHING like pins, bows, scarves, bracelets, necklaces, rings, shoes, shirts, pants, even shirt sleeves… Overall they had an incredible wide array of products unique to Venezuelan culture. They also highlighted a stage with live music and entertainment featuring several Venezuelan artists and bands, and a dance team showcasing the best of Venezuelan folklore, as well as special entertainment and activities for kids.

Sunday was a beautiful sunny day in Miami, but I was glad to know the event was indoors, since it was way too hot to be outside. We arrived at the Miami Airport Convention Center about half an hour after the event had opened its doors for their last day. It was not crowded at all… as my hubby pointed out; true Venezuelans would arrive way latter during the day, in true Venezuelan fashion. I wanted to be there early, because it was already the last day of the expo and I wanted to make sure to get an illustration from the Venezuelan artist I mentioned earlier. As we walked into the event itself, we stepped onto a familiar floor… They had a printed vinyl, sort of red-carpet welcome, but instead of a read carpet it was a replica of the famous floor located inside the Caracas International Airport, which is a very familiar design known to all Venezuelans, designed originally by renowned Venezuelan kinetic and op artist, Carlos Cruz-Diez. Nowadays, there is a famous and sad tradition of Venezuelans leaving the country taking photos of their feet on top of the recognizable pattern on the floor, saying goodbye to their home country. That day though, it had a different meaning; it was welcoming us to feel Venezuela, and it did feel for a second, as I looked down, as if I was actually arriving at the Caracas International Airport in Venezuela.

Welcome To Expo Sentir Venezuela

Welcome To Expo Sentir Venezuela

We started by saying hello to my acquaintance and her family at their booth, the Zerpa’s Antojos Criollos booth and one of the top booths in the entire event. El Sr. Zerpa (as you may recall from my previous post) is known throughout the Venezuelan community in South Florida, as el señor de los quesos. His company sells the absolute best Venezuelan cheeses around. Not only do they sell Venezuelan cheeses like Queso Guayanés, Queso de Mano, Queso Telita, Queso Duro Tipo Llanero, and Nata Criolla, retail and wholesale, but they also sell prepared and frozen food items and products for you to make and enjoy at home like Cachapas, Bollitos, Cachapas en Hoja, Hallaquitas, Tequeños, Empanadas, Pastelitos, Cachitos, Pandebono, Churros, Colombian Empanadas, Pan de Jamón, Hallacas, Punta Trasera, Guasacaca, Huevos de Codorniz, Frescolita, Malta Polar, Chinotto, Papelón con Limón, Salsa Verde, Ají Dulce, Dulce De Lechosa, Flan, Jalea de Mango, and much more. Their booth was quite large and beautifully decorated in a cow skin pattern, to match their logo mascot, Mariposa the cow, a cardboard cutout of a cow with barn-like fence over it; very clever considering their main selling product is cheese. They had a table showcasing their products, and samples of their delicious cheeses. They also had a new addition to their product line, Granadina Carlin, which I had been looking for, for a long time. Of course I got myself a bottle, and I promise an exciting drink recipe to come soon. I sampled their Queso Guayanés and it was to die for. They also have other Venezuelan brands products for purchasing like Harina P.A.N., Toddy, Samba, Ovomaltina, Toronto, Susy, Nucita, Chocolate Carré, Pirulín and Nestea. They were also featuring these new types of Tequeños, called MaizQuesitos, which are tequeños, but made with corn dough. Here is their contact information:

Phone Number: 305.456.3571 | 954.652.1058 | 754.234.4855
Website: http://antojoscriollos.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/zerpasAntojosCriollos
Instagram: https://instagram.com/antojoscriollos/
Yelp: http://www.yelp.com/biz/zerpas-antojos-criollos-sweetwater
Urbanspoon: http://www.urbanspoon.com/r/12/1655495/restaurant/Miami/Doral-Miami-Springs/Zerpas-Antojos-Criollos-Doral

Zerpa's Antojos Criollos

Zerpa’s Antojos Criollos

Zerpa's Antojos Criollos

Zerpa’s Antojos Criollos

Zerpa's Antojos Criollos

Zerpa’s Antojos Criollos

The next thing we did was have breakfast. I had purposefully left home without eating anything so I could have enough space for breakfast and all the delicious samples they had. We had breakfast at the Don Pan Bakery Booth. Don Pan International Pan is a very well known Venezuelan bakery and café, which actually started in Venezuela, and now they have several locations all over South Florida, Dominican Republic and Panamá. The closest one to where I live is the one in Sunrise, right outside the Sawgrass Mall. I had a cachito de jamón and a delicious café con leche, my sister had a cachito de jamón y queso and an empanada de jamón y queso, my hubby had an empanada de carne and an empanada de jamón y queso, and my friend Ann had something I had never seen or heard of before. It was a pastry filled with cream-cheese and it had sugar on top. We also took a Pan Andino to go and ate it at home the next day with café con leche and it was very good.  Here is don pan’s info:

Website: http://www.donpan.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/DonPanBakery
Twitter: https://twitter.com/DonPanBakery
Instagram: https://instagram.com/donpanbakery

After we ate and had a little bit more energy, we started to walk around the expo and checked out all the different booths. We tried some samples at the shaved ice booth, I had the passion fruit flavor, and my hubby, sister and friend had the coconut flavor. They were good. We also saw a lot of different companies promoting their businesses. Companies like the Venezuelan Business Club, BienvenidosVenezolanos.com, PaVenezolanos, a couple of realtors, immigration lawyers, etc.

We finally arrived at the artist’s booth, Oscar Olivares’ booth. He was there tending to a lot of customers with the help of his mother, Maribel Matos. His booth was a colorful one, filled with the Venezuelan flag design spread out on prints, canvases, tote bags, coin purses, caricatures, and much more. I introduced myself and told him how I was practically stalking him on twitter ever since I heard his interview on the radio last year, and I was so exited to finally meet him and have the opportunity to purchase one of his illustrations. He is so humble and modest, and he is very young.

Oscar is just 19 years old. He was born in Caracas, and began drawing at age 6, but it wasn’t until he was 15 that LaVinotinto.com hired him as the first-ever official illustrator for the national Venezuelan soccer team. His artwork depicted the love of the fans for the team and the game, focusing on the stands as the main subject for his illustrations. He participated in the Caracas Comic Con as a caricaturist in 2013. He is a self-taught artist, since ever since he was little, he did not enjoy being told what to draw, but he would rather draw whatever he was inspired to draw. In 2014 he was inspired, and he was inspired by all the political and sociological tumultuous evens in our country, to bring hope, unity and concisions to society by way of his illustrations. This is when he created his series of art with the Venezuelan flag and the concept of the arepa as the sun (Arte con la Bandera de Venezuela y el concepto del Sol como Arepa).

When I first saw his illustrations with the Venezuelan flag, I was very impressed. I am a graphic designer by profession, and I have to combine colors every day that I don’t necessarily find appealing. Most of the times I dislike combinations of primary colors such as red and blue, because it is hard to read and the two colors so close to each other cause visual vibration and afterimage effects. Generally, I would not pick the colors of our Venezuelan flag for any design, and I would most likely dislike any design that would use the primary colors. However, Oscar’s art made me love my flag colors all over again. His use of the colors is so cleverly done, that the visual vibration and afterimage effect is inexistent. He uses abstract shapes in different shades of each primary color to create depth and uses white and black to highlight the shapes of other elements in his illustrations. But perhaps the most interesting thing about his illustrations is the concept behind them. The elements of our Venezuelan culture that make us who we are, and the recognizable symbols and pop culture humor that is truly representative of Venezuelans.

Oscar Olivares, Venezuelan Artist @ Expo Sentir Venezuela 2015

Oscar Olivares, Venezuelan Artist @ Expo Sentir Venezuela 2015

I asked Oscar about the meaning of the arepa as the sun, and he sees the arepa as a common element between all Venezuelans, those with the government (red) and the opposition (blue). The arepa is not just literally something that unites all Venezuelans, since it is our staple food, but he sees it as the common ground; the light. The light that could bring together both sides of our divided country, not literally the arepa, but as a representation of something we all have in common. If we can find common ground in the fact that all Venezuelans love arepas, we can find common ground in other matters as well.

I asked him about finding the necessary materials to continue his work in Venezuela, since I know those kinds of imported products like paints, brushes, paper and canvas must be hard to find in a Venezuela where medicine, food and even toilet paper is also hard to find. He explained that the scarcity of such products was one of the reasons he started creating art digitally by composing illustrations by hand first, scanning it, and filling in the colors with computer software such as Photoshop. Unfortunately for him, he said some art galleries are not receptive to digital art and it makes it harder for him to get exposure that way.

After finally making a decision I purchased a print of the art with the Venezuelan flag, which he explained was the very first piece he created in that series. I also purchased a piece of the arepa surrounded by the red and the blue, because I really enjoyed his explanation of the importance of the arepa as a symbol of unity. And we also purchased a tote bag illustrated with one of the pieces of the art with the Venezuelan flag collection. He even gave us a free Venezuelan chocolate for purchasing 2 pieces. Here is Oscar Olivares’ info:

Website/Blog: http://soyeljugadornumero12.blogspot.com/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/olivarescfc
Instagram: https://instagram.com/olivarescfc

Oscar Olivares Venezuelan Artist at Expo Sentir Venezuela 2015. "Araguaney y fase lunar"

Oscar Olivares Venezuelan Artist at Expo Sentir Venezuela 2015. “Araguaney y fase lunar”

Oscar Olivares Venezuelan Artist at Expo Sentir Venezuela 2015. "Unidad"

Oscar Olivares Venezuelan Artist at Expo Sentir Venezuela 2015. “Unidad”

We continued on with the rest of the expo. We saw more artwork being displayed and we saw the artwork of Gerardo Fernández, a Venezuelan artist that creates these beautiful sculptures called escaladores or the acrobats, which I had seen previously at a high-end store where I purchased a rug for my living room before. His artwork was being sold by a store specifically dedicated to sell artwork by Venezuelan artist, Samán Arte. We also saw some beautiful bows and headwear for girls by the talented Lucky Cat Headwear. They were some beautifully decorated ones with the Venezuelan flag, and also the Venezuelan soccer team color (vinotinto – wine color), some incredible ones with the American flag, and some very cute ones of all the Disney princesses. We also saw a beautiful cake design by One Million Cakes Design Factory.

Gerardo Fernández' acrobats, sold by Samán Arte

Gerardo Fernández’ acrobats, sold by Samán Arte

Lucky Cat Headwear

Lucky Cat Headwear

Lucky Cat Headwear

Lucky Cat Headwear

One Million Cakes Design Factory

One Million Cakes Design Factory

Then we stumbled upon a stand I know my mom would have loved. My mom and dad used to go some weekends to a special place in Caracas just to stop and get a Cocada. A Cocada is a coconut drink made with fresh coconut, milk, sugar, ice and optional condensed milk and cinnamon. I don’t know if I have mentioned this before or not, but I have an absurd hatred towards coconut. Initially as a kid, I merely disliked anything that smelled like coconut, and I concluded that if I didn’t like the smell, I would most likely not like the taste. As a teenager, I thought I would grow out of this absurd hatred and decided to give coconut a try, since my mom was making bienmesabe and she had fresh grated coconut laying around in the kitchen. I took a pinch of it, placed it on my tongue and immediately spit it out, became nauseous and almost sick to my stomach. I never tried it again, or ate anything with coconut. However, my sister, my husband and my friend Ann took a free sample from the cute friends at La Caracola Cocada, and they said that it was absolutely delicious and refreshing. My sister even went as far as to say that it was better than the one she had with our dad back at that same place my mom and dad used to go to in Caracas.

La Caracola Cocada

La Caracola Cocada

We kept going and found ourselves in front of La Reina Del Golfeado’ booth. A Venezuelan delicacy I had completely forgotten about, right there in front of me. We had to buy one. We were so full by all these samples, we only needed one, and split it four ways, but usually I would’ve eaten one all by myself. A golfeado is a breadlike pastry/dessert that is rolled in a spiral shape, they are soft and caramelized with sugarcane and anise seeds, so it smells and tastes a bit like licorice. Served with a delicious slice of queso de mano. It was to die for.

Overall, I was glad that my acquaintance and the Venezuelan artist inspired me to attend this event.  I enjoyed spending time with my family and friends, surrounded by the familiarity of my country, the culture, the music, the food and the colors.  The only thing I must say, is that the event organizers should have marketed the event a bit more, and perhaps attempt to respond to inquiries from the attendees.  It is wrong of me to think that I could possibly transcribe to you the entire list of vendors, artist, food, celebrity, and bands that encompassed the entire event. So all I can say is that if you want to Sentir Venezuela, you must definitely attend this even next time.  So, here is the info for the event:

Phone Number: 786.447.7793
E-mail: info@sentirvenezuela.com
Website: http://www.sentirvenezuela.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/sentirvenezuelaevent
Twitter: https://twitter.com/SVenezuela1
Instagram: https://instagram.com/sentirvenezuela/

Venezuelan Restaurant Review: Doggi’s Venezuelan Cuisine

15 Mar Doggi's Venezuelan Cuisine Decor

A while back, while I still lived in Montgomery, Alabama, I had created a foursquare list for myself of all the Venezuelan Restaurants in South Florida that I wanted to try out and write reviews for, once I moved back down to Florida.  In that list, I had included Doggi’s.  When I finally moved back down here, I was a bit upset with myself because I was too busy with work and I realized most of the Venezuelan Restaurants on the list are in Miami and Doral, and I lived in Hollywood.  I rarely drove down to Miami and I rarely had a chance to try out all these places.  I was lucky to find Eats Good 33 (read the review here), but I was unable to enjoy their delicious food because they are only open when I am at work.

Things have changed a bit around here.  I moved to Plantation (even further away from all the good Venezuelan Restaurants), and now my commute is longer, giving me less time to try out new Venezuelan places and write recipes of my own for the blog.  However, my husband has been driving around all over South Florida due to his new job, and he has been keeping an eye out for new Venezuelan places to try out.  Since he drives to Miami all the time, it doesn’t seem that far away to him, and one weekend he suggested to take my sister and I down to the Wynwood Arts District in Miami.

Wynwood Art District Miami

Wynwood Art District Miami

It was kind of a “spur of the moment” plan for that weekend, so we really didn’t make any plans for lunch or anything.  After enjoying a nice walk, taking a few photos, and taking in all the artwork on the walls, we were kind of hungry.  My husband suggested finding the nearest Venezuelan Restaurant and going there for a late lunch (around 3 pm).  He found Doggi’s first, and I immediately remembered it was on my list of places to try.  So we headed over there.

Wynwood Art District Miami

Wynwood Art District Miami

On our way there, driving on Coral Way, my sister commented that the drive felt much like driving around Las Mercedes, in Caracas (Venezuela).  The bit of traffic, the trees, the road… something about it reminded her of Las Mercedes, and I agreed.  We were very lucky to find a parking stop right in front, but that is not the norm, so if you aren’t as lucky, you can park on the other side of the building.  There is an Italian Restaurant/Bakery on this corner building and a couple other businesses to the side.  Walking towards Doggi’s, you can appreciate the love and detail poured into every single detail in this place.  There are a couple metal tables and chairs on the outside, much like I remember a certain ice cream shop in Las Mercedes in Caracas.  The door is bright red and has a black wrought iron door in front of it, very much like almost every home in Venezuela.  You usually have your wrought iron ‘gate’ and then your wooden door – very nice touch.  Once in it feels a bit tight, and there are only about 10 small tables or less.  It is small and tight, but I think it makes it homey and cozy.  We were also lucky to get one of the only three tables by the window, so that was great.  The inside is beautifully decorated with a ton of Venezuelan… things.  I don’t really know how to explain these things; they are juts typical Venezuelan things that you would see on the walls of your grandmother’s house.  Things like a cuatro, maracas, cast irons, and virgins.  On another wall there are countless posters, ads, and logos of all kinds of different Venezuelan brands, sports teams, celebrities, etc.  They also have a large projector, which wasn’t turned on, but I can only assume they play all the soccer games when they are on.  On that wall they also have very stylized drawings of a male and a female figure dressed in typical Venezuelan folkloric costumes.  My poor description of the decor doesn’t really do it much justice, since it sounds crazy and cluttered, but it was actually done in a very minimalistic, simplistic and trendy manner.  They also have a smaller TV Screen that displays the current song being played.  My husband pointed out that he was shocked that they were not playing loud Spanish music like in most Venezuelan Restaurants we have been to.  They had a pop channel, and it was at a perfect volume level, in which you can still talk to the person next to you without having to scream like you are at a club.  The tables also have a trendy word-cloud or word collage of cool and unusual Venezuelan slang words.  The entire place’s decoration and design is very trendy and up-to-date, but also filled with old Venezuelan traditions and ‘things’.

Doggi's Venezuelan Cuisine Decor

Doggi’s Venezuelan Cuisine Decor

Doggi's Venezuelan Cuisine Decor

Doggi’s Venezuelan Cuisine Decor

Doggi's Venezuelan Cuisine Decor

Doggi’s Venezuelan Cuisine Decor

Doggi's Venezuelan Cuisine Decor

Doggi’s Venezuelan Cuisine Decor

Doggi's Venezuelan Cuisine Decor

Doggi’s Venezuelan Cuisine Decor

As soon as we sat down our kind server Gabriela greeted us promptly.  We read trough the short but complete menu and we were definitely unsure of what to order.  Everything sounded delicious, so it was hard to make a decision.  We decided to have an order of Tequeños as an appetizer.  They are served in these cute little baskets and they are five small tequeños, but perfect for an appetizer, since you don’t want to be filled up before your meal gets to the table.  As soon as I tried one I knew they had it right… the cheese that is.  Usually, most Venezuelan places make tequeños with mozzarella, or whatever other white cheese they can find.  At Doggi’s they have the right kind of cheese, simple white cheese is what we call it, but it is far from it.  It is perfectly salty enough and melts just right inside the tequeños.  I had to order a café con leche, since it was very cold outside (for me at least), my hubby ordered the pineapple juice and he wouldn’t stop taking about how good it was, he said it was the freshest pineapple juice he’d ever tried, and then he realized it had fresh chunks of pineapple in it, and he liked it even more.

Tequeños

Tequeños

After giving it a lot of thought, I ordered the Arepa Santa Bárbara, which is an arepa with marinated churrasco (beef), tomato, avocado and I switched the organic white shredded cheese for queso de mano.  My sister ordered the Arepa Pabellón, which is an arepa with shredded beef, fried plantain, black beans and organic white cheese.  My husband ordered the Milanesa Steak, which is a thin flank steak breaded and fried, with fried yucca and plantains on the side.  My arepa Santa Barbara was delicious.  The arepa itself was not too big that you can’t even hold it, and not too small that it can’t contain all the stuff inside.  The size was just right.  The texture was just right too, not too soft, and not too hard, and just the right thickness as well.  When I had the first bite with some churrasco beef, I was immediately taken back to Sunday nights at my grandparents’ house when my dad used to make parrillas.  The beef was perfectly marinated and cooked, juicy and tender, exactly the way my dad used to make it.  It’s cut in bite size cubes so it is easy to eat inside the arepa.  Combine that juicy beef with avocado, tomato and cheese, and you create my new favorite arepa.  My sister’s arepa de pabellón was delicious, too.  The beef was seasoned just right and the plantains were ripe and sweet.  My hubby absolutely loved his milanesa steak, so much so, that he ate the entire thing, which he usually doesn’t.  He compared it to my mom’s milanesa, which is a huge compliment, since he once ate 3 servings of it in one sitting.  Surprisingly, we still had some room, so we ordered desert.  We ordered the churros with dulce de leche on top, I think the order usually brings 5 churros but we got 6.  They were pretty darn good.

Arepa Santa Bárbara

Arepa Santa Bárbara

Milanesa de Carne

Milanesa de Carne

Churros

Churros

Overall we all enjoyed the food, the ambiance, the décor and the music.  So much so, that we went back two weeks later for more.  We went there specifically, not just because we were down in Miami.  It’s about a 40 minute drive from where I currently live, but it is worth it.  We went down there on Valentines Day for an early dinner around 5:30 pm.  I called on our way there to reserve a table, because I thought it might be busy, I’m glad I did.  This time around we ordered arepitas dulces as an appetizer.  They are served with white cheese and nata.  They were delicious.  Not exactly the same as the ones I am used to, large and with a crispy thin crust.  However, they were still delicious, perfectly sweet and complemented by the right white cheese.  They where small and thick, and had just the right amount of anise.  I ordered the asado negro, which is marinated eye round cooked with brown sugar, green peppers and onions, served with rice and plantains.  The asado was incredible, it was just like my grandmother makes it, and I loved the addition of fresh cilantro on top, which balanced the sweetness of the beef and the plantains.  The plantains were served with white cheese and nata on top, which is a great extra.  The rice is the only thing I was not super excited about.  In my opinion, everything at Doggies has an extra something, but the rice doesn’t.  This time it was a bit undercooked and I think the type of rice is not what Venezuelans are used to.  True white Venezuelan rice is flavored with onions and bell peppers and then they are taken out.  Also this rice type seemed thin and small, like Basmati rice.  Whereas Venezuelan rice is more like medium grain rice that is not long and not short, and it’s a bit fatter.  I appreciate trying to go for a fancier type of rice, but it was the only thing on my plate that didn’t bring back memories of eating asado negro at my grandmother’s house in Venezuela.  Just to be fair, my sister disagreed and said the rice was fine.  She ordered a cachapa, which is a traditional corn pancake semi-sweet, served with queso de mano inside and topped with nata and white cheese, and she asked to add chicken to it.  I do not like cachapas so I did not try it.  My sister said it tasted just like the ones sold in Venezuela, and actually better, because it was less sweet, like not overwhelmingly sweet.  My husband loved the milanesa so much the first time, that he had them again, even though we had all agreed to try something different.  We were very satisfied after appetizers and meals, so we didn’t want any desert.  However, we did take a can of Pirulín home, it’s great that they have Venezuelan snacks, I sure miss those.  They also have Venezuelan beer brands and malta.

Arepitas Dulces

Arepitas Dulces

Asado Negro

Asado Negro

Cachapa

Cachapa

We like Doggi’s so much, we had to go yet again two weeks after that.  We simply wanted to eat there again, so we took the drive down there, simply because we were craving some really good Venezuelan food.  This time we ordered cazón and cheese empanadas, and grilled chorizo as appetizers.  The empanadas were medium sized so if you order these as appetizers, don’t order such a big meal, maybe an arepa.  The cazón was delicious and very well seasoned and filled with herbs and veggies that made it even better.  The cheese empanada was great, because it’s the right cheese.  The chorizo, even though I don’t usually care for it, it was very tasty, just like my dad used to make it on the grill at my grandparent’s house on Sundays.  I ordered the Pabellón Criollo as the main entry, which is the most traditional national Venezuelan dish.  It came with white rice, black beans, fried plantains, and shredded beef.  The beef was well seasoned and juicy.  The black beans were cooked well and they weren’t too watery.  My sister did point out that the black beans had white cheese on top, which is how I like them, but she said some people eat them with sugar instead, so she would ask for them to be sweetened before putting the cheese on top.  The plantains were perfect as usual with white cheese on top.  The rice, again was simple, there was nothing great about it, this time it wasn’t undercooked though.  My husband ordered the marinated churrasco, which is grilled steak with fried yucca and fries; he also ordered a side of plantains.  The beef (as before with the arepa santa Barbara) was seasoned and cooked to perfection.  And the yucca fries are delicious with the guasacaca sauces on the table.  My sister ordered the Doggi’s parrilla for one, which includes marinated churrasco, chicken and chorizo, with yucca fries.  All the protein was cooked and marinated to perfection.  We both agreed that it reminded us of my dad’s parrilla on Sundays at our grandparents’ house.  All of our plates were on the larger side, so we all had “doggibags” to go, and we all had the food the next day for lunch and we were surprised to see that it still was pretty tasty and somewhat fresh after re-heating it in the microwave.

Pabellón Criollo

Pabellón Criollo

Doggi's Parrilla

Doggi’s Parrilla

Marinated Churrasco

Marinated Churrasco

Overall I must say, if you want to experience true Venezuelan flavors, traditions, customs and ambiance, then visit Doggi’s.  What I love about it is that even though the menu seems small, you have a little bit of everything and not only do you have the typical Venezuelan dishes, but also dishes that families in Venezuela eat on a daily basis.  The servers are friendly, and you can tell that the owners are on top of their game and involved, which makes the place and the food, the best.  As I learned on my first visit, from Gabriela, Doggi’s started as a gentleman selling hotdogs from a cart in Miami, hence the name Doggi’s.  Then the gentleman, his wife and three kids opened up the restaurant down the street from where it is now.  Now, the three brothers run the place, and I even saw the mother there.  This truly makes all the difference in a place, because you can tell they put thought and care into every detail and they run an airtight family business.  The place is clean, and the service is fast.  I enjoy that they serve you with real plates and forks, it has a restaurant feel, but it is small and cozy like a fast food place, and they ARE fast. They deliver nearby and they also have take-out. You will get a true Venezuelan experience and you wont be disappointed.

The Details:
Address: 1246 SW Coral Way Miami, FL 33145
Phone Number: 305.854.6869
Website: http://www.eatdoggis.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/DoggisAndMore
Twitter: https://twitter.com/doggismore
Instagram: https://instagram.com/doggis
Hours: Mon – Wed: 10:00 am – 11:00 pm
Thu: 10:00 am – 12:00 pm
Fri – Sat: 10:00 am – 1:00 am
Sun: 10:00 am – 10:00 pm
Menu: http://www.letseat.at/doggis/menu
Categories: Venezuelan
Yelp: http://www.yelp.com/biz/doggis-venezuelan-cuisine-miami-2

Recipe: Crema de Auyama | Venezuelan Cream of Squash Calabaza (Soup)

4 Jan Crema de Auyama | Venezuelan Cream of Squash Calabaza (Soup)

By now you must know how much I love soups and creams. I have given you the Apio Soup and the chicken soup recipes so far, but there are plenty more Venezuelan soup and cream recipes to come. Today I want to share with you another very popular Venezuelan creamy soup, the Crema de Auyama. The Auyama, pronounced awˈʝa.ma, is technically a fruit because it contains the seeds of the plant inside. However, most people consider it a vegetable. It most resembles the squash and pumpkin types. In Venezuela it is used in most soup preparations like Sancochos and it is also used on its own to create this cream. However, it is also used to create sweet recipes such as bread and cakes.

The Auyama is easy to cultivate and therefore it is sold in large quantities and at a cheaper price than other vegetables. It is rich in potassium, calcium, vitamin A, and fiber. It is also low in calories because it is mostly made out of water, but it is very tasty. It is believed that because it was easily cultivated, Europeans used it as fodder to feed their animals. Each plant can bear up to 8 fruits and it only takes 140 days to harvest. In Venezuela it is available all year long. However, the Auyama harvested in summer has a sandy-textured pulp and it works best for pasta fillings or cakes. On the other hand, the Auyama harvested in winter is the one that is best for creams and soups, because the pulp is more fibrous and pale, and it has more water content.

Here in the US, the type of pumpkin or squash that I believe to be the closest to the authentic Venezuelan Auyama is sold as Squash Calabaza. I have bought it at Publix and Sedano’s in big chunks (they cut it and sell each individual piece in cling wrap), I have also bought one at Wal-Mart sold as a whole (the whole Calabaza), but I think the ones that come cut in chunks are the ones that most resemble the Auyama taste. The Venezuelan Auyama belongs to the Curcubitaceae family, and the curcubita genre, in the varieties called máxima, moschata, mixta and pepo. Its size is large and it comes in different shapes and sizes, with skin that varies from green to yellow to orange, it can be either smooth or corrugated, and the pulp varies from pale yellow to bright yellow-orange. The taste also varies from very sweet to not so sweet. This is probably why it has been hard for me to find one that truly matches the Venezuelan Auyama taste.

This particular recipe is my sister’s very own recipe, so it is not a traditional recipe, but it is very close to it. My sister, Mariale Ojeda, a.k.a. The Soup Queen as we call her around here, is an expert at making delicious soups for me, the soup lover. This post was created by her, the recipe, the cooking and the photos are all hers. I have to say special thanks to her for all the soups she has been cooking for us lately and for this amazing recipe and post she created as a featured writer of Venezuelan Cooking.

Ingredients for Crema De Auyama

Ingredients for Crema De Auyama

What you need:
– 4 lbs. Auyama (Squash Calabaza)
– 6½ Cups Chicken Broth or Chicken Bouillon (enough to cover all the Auyama)
– 5 to 8 Stems of Cilantro
– 1 Teaspoon Minced Garlic
– ½ Chopped Onion
– 1/3 Sliced Bell Pepper
– ½ Stem Sliced Leek

Preparation:
1. Peel the Auyama and remove the seeds. Cut it in big chunks.

Cut The Auyama In Big Chunks

Cut The Auyama In Big Chunks

2. Place the chunks of Auyama in a large enough pot. Cover entirely with the chicken broth or chicken bouillon (1 bouillon cube per cup of water).

Cover With Chicken Broth

Cover With Chicken Broth\

3. Boil the Auyama at medium to high heat for about 13 minutes.
4. Add the cilantro and continue to boil for another 7 minutes.

Add Cilantro

Add Cilantro

5. Stir occasionally and remove accumulated foam from the top.
6. Meanwhile, cut the rest of the vegetables and heat up a pan with a little bit of olive oil.
7. Toss the veggies in the pan and sauté until brown, then set aside.

Sauté Veggies. Set Aside.

Sauté Veggies. Set Aside.

8. After about 20 minutes of boiling, test the Auyama by taking out a large piece and try to mash it with a fork, as if making mashed potatoes. If you can do this easily, then it’s done.

Test if the auyama is done

Test if the auyama is done

9. Add the sautéed vegetables to the Auyama pot, stir and remove pot from the heat. Let it cool down.

Add veggies to auyama

Add veggies to auyama

10. Once it has cooled down, grab all the solid pieces and place them in a blender or food processor.

Blend

Blend

11. Blend together and gradually add as much of the liquid remaining on the pot as necessary, to reach the right creamy consistency. What you are looking for is a creamy soup consistency.

Creamy consistency

Creamy consistency

12. Serve hot with your favorite garnish and topping, like my sister and I do. Some of our favorite toppings include Parmesan cheese, cream cheese, avocado, rice, croutons and cassava bread.

Crema de Auyama | Venezuelan Cream of Squash Calabaza (Soup)

Crema de Auyama | Venezuelan Cream of Squash Calabaza (Soup)

Note: You can make a big batch of this Squash Calabaza creamy soup and store it in the fridge for a couple of days, or you can store it in the freezer for up to a month. Reheat on the stove and not on the microwave for better results.

¡Buen Provecho!

2014 in review

1 Jan

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The Louvre Museum has 8.5 million visitors per year. This blog was viewed about 130,000 times in 2014. If it were an exhibit at the Louvre Museum, it would take about 6 days for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Recipe: Hallacas Venezolanas | Venezuelan Christmas Dinner Hallacas

1 Jan Hallacas Venezolanas  | Venezuelan Christmas Dinner Hallacas

I am truly exited to be able to share this recipe with my readers and followers. As a kid I was sometimes involved in the making of hallacas during Christmas in Venezuela, but with very little responsibility; something like handing over a piece of yarn, or a spoon. Finally, eleven years after moving to the US, I can say that I have truly been involved in, and enjoyed the hallaca making experience. If you haven’t read my previous post regarding Venezuelan Christmas traditions, you can take a look here, to understand the full scope of a traditional Venezuelan Christmas Dinner, celebrations, traditions and dishes, but for this post I am going to limit myself to only explaining the hallacas.
This past year (2014), my paternal grandparents came to spend Christmas here in Florida with the rest of my paternal family, which they usually do every year. However, this year was extra special because they didn’t come alone, they invited my great-grandmother (my paternal grandfather’s mother) to join us. My great-grandmother, la señora Nery Ruso (98), is my true role model and a great inspiration as a woman. From a very young age she was dedicated to working, studying, raising her children, and it paid off in a life filled with accolades, awards, medals, and the highest honors as an entrepreneur, writer, business owner, a true influential character in the Venezuelan society. Writing for the most important newspapers in the country, socializing with several presidents and their wives, marrying internationally recognized painters, founding recognized magazines and pageants. A true inspirational woman who worked hard to position herself into spots once only held by highly educated men.
As I was sitting there ready to learn how to make the traditional hallacas from my great-grandmother, my grandmother and my aunt, I asked my great-grandma, who we all call Bila (A nickname my dad gave her when he was a kid), if she knew where and how did the hallacas come from. Bila said the story she knows is the one I wrote on my previous post about Venezuelan Christmas. But the way she described it to me was even better. She said a long time ago there were the very rich families with European descendants and they used to have these giant parties with all kinds of dishes that their maids would prepare for them. At the end of the parties, the maids would clean up the tables and think what a waste to throw away such expensive ingredients like olives, capers, steaks, pork, chicken, and raisins. So the maids would chop up all the ingredients and make them into a stew, and since the corn dough was cheap they used that to make the outer envelope for the stew. She said eventually the rich people would come to try these inventions and they became what we know today as the hallaca.
The hallaca/hayaca (pronounced Ah-jac-kah) is an original traditional Venezuelan dish that we only consume during the month of December and during Christmas and it is the number one most important component for a true Venezuelan Christmas Dinner. The hallaca brings our families together even for the preparation, which can take up to 3 days and at the very least two people to make at least 50 Hallacas. The preparation itself is a reason to come together and celebrate, and create an assembly line with positions assigned, like the chopper, the cook, the dough kneader, the wrapper, and the knot maker. This year I was very fortunate to have these three women teach my sister and me how to make the hallacas. We made them over two days in the afternoons (because of my busy work schedule), at my aunt’s house, in the middle of her moving overseas. It was definitely a crazy experience, but all the fun we had and all the tips I learned were worth it. I felt blessed that there were three generations of experts each giving me their own tips and advice, at the end I was very tired, but the experience couldn’t have been any better and definitely worth it. Each person has their own way of making hallacas, each family has their own secret ingredient or traditions passed down from generation to generation, and techniques that are also improved upon generation to generation. For example, the flattening of the dough was and still is usually done by hand pressing with your fingers, but my aunt has a beautiful tortilla press (tortillera), which she bought in Mexico that she uses for hallaca making, and it makes it a lot faster and easier. Even tying the yarn can be a subject of debate. The funny part is my great-grandmother would want to teach me how to do it her way, my grandmother would want to teach me how to do it her way, and my aunt had her own way of doing it, which was different that both their ways. After taking in all that knowledge from those three generations I think I am confident in making hallacas on my own next year and sharing all this knowledge with you so you can also make them at home this year, or next year.  Each family and each region in the country has their own recipe and their own way of making the hallacas, but the process is basically the same.

A Few Tips Before We Begin
This is basically a summary of all I learned while making hallacas with my great-grandmother, my grandmother and my aunt.
a) The entire process is time consuming and it takes a toll on you physically. Be sure to set aside at least two entire days for making hallacas, and enlist the help of a couple of friends or family members. However, as my great-grandmother said… “Muchas manos en la olla ponen el caldo morado” – Too many hands on the pot, make the broth turn purple.
b) You will need a large area for the ‘assembly line’. You can use your dining table if you have a large enough one, but be sure to cover it either with newspaper, a tablecloth you don’t care about damaging, a plastic table cloth, or some other protective surface. Be sure you don’t have a carpet or rug you don’t wish to damage or stain either.
c) On that note, come prepared with a change of clothes that you don’t mind staining, or aprons…and some hairnets, or if you want to be cute and fancy like us, you can wear bandanas. You just want to make sure that hair doesn’t become an ingredient.
d) Be sure one of your helpers is the person in charge of cleaning up. You don’t want to wait until the end of the night when you are tired and have a mountain of dishes to wash. Be sure your helper is washing everything as you go, because sometimes you might need to use the same tool twice.
e) Be sure to gather all the tools and ingredients necessary at least a day before you begin, so you don’t have to send someone out to get them and loose a pair of helping hands. Also be sure the tools are nice and clean and ready to be used.
f) Be sure to empty out your fridge because you will need a lot of space to store the hallacas when ready. And also be sure you don’t make the hallacas way to far in advanced, otherwise you will have to freeze them, and they are better when they are not frozen. The weekend before Christmas is good enough.
g) Kitchen Tools. There are a few kitchen tools that would make your job a lot easier. You don’t have to buy the expensive brands, and you may even be able to borrow some of these from someone else. A tortilla press or tortillera is not something you would probably have in your home, but there are a few cheap wooden ones you can get online, like the ones from the IMUSA brand. They have a round cast iron one for $20 at Bed Bath and Beyond, but I am not sure if those are large enough. You are better off with a large rectangular one, which you can buy online from a Mexican store, on etsy or ebay. You could also make your own as shown here… or you could just use your hands or a rolling pin, or even a large heavy Pyrex baking pan. You will also need several cutting boards, sharp knives and keep your knife sharpener handy, several bowls and Tupperware containers to keep all the ingredients you have to chop beforehand, large stew pots and large pans, several clean wash cloths and scissors, extra large bowls for mixing the dough and keeping the stew, strainers, latex gloves, measuring cups, and measuring spoons.

What you need for 50 Hallacas:
Guiso | Stew (Filling):
– 5.5 lbs. Sirloin Tip Roast
– 3.5 lbs. Chicken Breast With Rib (No Skin)
– 2.5 lbs. Rib End Boneless Pork Roast
– 1 lb. Bacon
– 5 Lemons Cut In Half
– 1 Cup Vegetable Oil
– 6 Cups Chopped Onions
– 4 Cups Chopped Leeks
– 2 Cups Chopped Green Onions
– 3¼ Cups Minced Garlic
– ½ Cup Capers in ½ Cup Chicken Broth
– 2.5 lbs Red Bell Pepper, Grated without skin or seeds
– 5 Cups grated Tomatoes (No Skin or Seeds)
– 4 Chopped Sweet Peppers (Ají Dulce)
– 1 Cup White Wine
– ½ lb. Papelón Rallado (Grated shredded sugar cane blocks available in Latin stores)
– 1 Tablespoon Ground Black Pepper
– 2 Teaspoons Paprika
– 5 Tablespoons Salt
– ½ Teaspoon Mustard
– 2 Cups Chicken Broth
Masa | Dough:
– 9 lbs. Harina P.A.N.
– 4½ Cups Chicken Broth
– 17 Cups Water
– 5 Cups Oil
– 6 Tablespoons Annatto Seeds
Adornos | Garnish:
– 1 lb. Bacon (Same one that was cooked with the pork cut in long slices)
– 2 lb. Red Bell Peppers (Cut in long slices without skin or seeds)
– ½ lb. Sliced Almonds
– 1 lb. Medium Onions, cut in long rings or long slices
– ½ lb. Small Drained Capers
– 1 lb. Medium Pitted Green Olives, Drained
– ½ lb. Raisins
Envoltura | Wrapping:
– 10 lbs. Plaintain Leaves (about 10 bags)
– 2 rolls of Pabilo (Cotton Yarn, Butcher’s String, Kitchen Twine, etc)

Preparation:
DAY ONE
1. The first thing you want to do is prep and clean all the plantain leaves, cut them and separate them by size. As I mentioned before, this recipe can take up to three days in the making and you want all your assembling parts to be ready on the final day. Therefore, you can begin by prepping the plantain leaves on day one. You can even do it before day one, or you can do it while the stew is on the stove. Either way you should do it before you are ready to assemble the hallacas.  Here in the US, it is fairly easy to find plantain leaves. There are a couple of brands that sell plantain leaves in a bag, in the frozen section. They sell them as Hojas de plátano or Banana Leaves, although the real translation should be plantain leaves. They have Goya, La Fe, La Nuestra, El Sembrador, etc. You can buy either one. My aunt bought El Sembrador and La Fe brands. The plantain leaves are really large and they come all folded together inside the bag, and they are pretty cold when you handle them because they are frozen. Its best if you leave them out to thaw a bit before you begin this process, because they will be easier to handle.

Hojas de Platanos | Plantain Leaves | Banana Leaves

Hojas de Plátanos | Plantain Leaves | Banana Leaves

If you look at the leaf, you can tell it has a main vein or central nerve, which is where it is attached to the tree, then a lot of little lines perpendicular to the vein/nerve that go from the nerve to the edge of the leave, lets call them little veins or little nerves. When you are working with the leaf, whether it is cleaning it or cutting it, you should always keep the side where these little veins or little nerves are most visible protruding, side up. And also lay them with those lines going away from you (you would see them vertically) and the line where the main nerve is, or used to be closest to you. Don’t worry I will illustrate all of these complicated terms below for you.

Plantain Leaf Parts

Plantain Leaf Parts

2. First you should open the bags and lay them all opened and flat on a large table. They are supposedly already cleaned, but you should clean them anyways with a wet kitchen towel or cloth. They are easily broken and torn in half so it is better to clean them all first and then proceed to cut the veins and cut them into all the different sizes you will need. Clean the leaves with a wet cloth and then dry them with a dry cloth.
3. Once you have cleaned them and dried them all, you can proceed to cut the vein or central nerve if you will. If you lay the long plantain leaf vertically in front of you, you will notice one side has a thick vein (the side that is most straight). You can proceed to cut the whole vain, which is only about half an inch from the edge.

Cuttin the veins of the plantain leaves

Cutting the veins of the plantain leaves

4. Once you cut all the veins from all the leaves, you can proceed to classify and cut them into all the different shapes and sizes you will need. You can also proceed to tear apart the pieces, which are already torn, because if they already have a tear, they will eventually tear all the way.
5. The different pieces you will need are:
– La camisa | The Shirt: This is the main piece which is used to directly place the dough on. They can be roughly about 15” x 10” rectangles. You want to pick the best pieces for this category. You want them to be flexible and without any torn edges. These will also be used as the second piece, which goes on top of the shirt to prevent much water to getting into the shirt, which holds the hallacas itself. But this second piece will not be directly in touch with the dough, its just a second cover (I guess we can call it the jacket, lol… just kidding, that is not the official name)
– La Tapa | The Cover: These leaves are a bit smaller than the shirts, they are usually about 8” x 10” rectangles. They are used are a cover or top for the main ones. The more you cover up your hallacas, the less water will get into them.
– The faja | The Belt: These leaves are 3” to 5” wide times whatever width of the original plantain leave. They are used, as their name describes it, simple to hold in the hallacas and all those previous leaves together right before it is ties up with the thread.
*From one good entire plantain leaf you can probably get one or two shirts, a cover and a couple of belts.
*Someone asked me if they could make Venezuelan Hallacas without using the plantain leaves, the answer is no.  As you will understand by the end of this post, the plantain leaves are essential to the making of Venezuelan Hallacas, and they even give the that distinctive smell and taste.
DAY ONE (Continued) OR DAY TWO
Guiso | Stew (Filling):
1. Clean the pork and the chicken rubbing them with the lemon halves and then rinsing thoroughly with enough water.
2. In a large enough stewing pot with hot boiling water, cook the pork and the bacon on medium heat for 10 minutes. Remove from the pot and drain the meats (you can get rid of this liquid). Set the pork aside to cool down so it can be cut into small square pieces of about ½ an inch to ¾ of an inch. Cut the bacon in long strips and reserve it for the adornos | garnish.
3. In the meantime you can begin to chop up, de-skin, de-seed, and grate all the rest of the ingredients for the stew (filling), like the onions, leeks, green onions, garlic (mince it), red bell peppers (grate), tomatoes (grate), sweet peppers, sugar cane (grate), all in small little pieces.

Chopped Onions

Chopped Onions

Chopped Green Onions

Chopped Green Onions

Chopped Ají Dulce | Sweet Peppers

Chopped Ají Dulce | Sweet Peppers

3. In a different pot with enough water, cook the chicken at medium heat until it is thoroughly cooked, but not too long. Remove the chicken from the broth, and drain the broth and let it cool (we will be using it later). Take ½ Cup of this broth and put all the capers in it, save the rest of the broth. Let the chicken cool down and once it is manageable, shred only half of it into long strings of about 2 to 3 inches long.

Chicken Broth & Chicken

Chicken Broth & Chicken

Shredding the Chicken

Shredding the Chicken

4. In yet another large pot, add the oil and stir-fry at high heat the onions, leeks and green onions for about 5 minutes or until they brown. Add the garlic and the capers along with the chicken broth they have been soaking in, and cook at medium heat for about 15 minutes or until it begins to boil.

Frying the Ingredients

Frying the Ingredients

5. Add the bell peppers, tomatoes and sweet peppers and let it cook for 10 more minutes at medium heat.
6. Add the wine, sugar cane, pepper, paprika, salt, mustard, 2 cups of the chicken broth we saved earlier, and cook at medium heat for 15 minutes or until it begins to boil.

Adding the liquids

Adding the liquids

7. Add the beef and the pork we cooked earlier, cover, and continue to cook at medium heat for 40 minutes.

Adding the Beef

Adding the Beef

8. Add the half of the chicken you didn’t shred before and continue to cook for 15 more minutes making sure the meats are not disintegrating and they are still in small pieces.
9. Taste the stew and add more salt if necessary.

Add Salt To Taste

Add Salt To Taste

10. Remove from the heat and let it cool down. If your stew if too liquid, you can thicken it by adding one tablespoon of Harina P.A.N. dissolved in water. Add as many as necessary to get the right consistency.

The Stew Is Ready

The Stew Is Ready

11. You can cut and prep all the garnishes while you are cooking the stew so you have them ready before you begin with the next step.

Garnish : Red Bell Peppers

Garnish : Red Bell Peppers

Garnish : Shredded Chicken

Garnish : Shredded Chicken

Garnish: Almonds

Garnish: Almonds

Garnish: Olives

Garnish: Olives

Garnish: Onions

Garnish: Onions

Garnish: Raisins

Garnish: Raisins

DAY TWO OR THREE
Masa | Dough:
1. In a large pan, heat up the oil and the annatto seeds at low heat. This step is the process by which we are tinting the oil to the necessary color we need to give the hallacas its famous color. The annatto seeds are the ones that give this reddish caramel color to the oil, and the oil then turns the dough its bright orange/yellow color. Once the oil is tinted it can be placed in a measuring cup, making sure to drain all the annatto seeds from it first. Let it cool.

Making Annatto Oil

Making Annatto Oil

Annatto Oil

Annatto Oil

2. In a very large bowl, like extra extra large mixing bowl, add the Harina P.A.N. and add one cup of oil and two cups of the colored/tinted annatto oil we just made. Add the chicken broth that we saved, and add the salt and water, and mix in together with both hands until you have a fine and soft dough, that is easily manageable. It is a bit softer than your usual Harina P.A.N. mix for arepas, because it has oil in it.

Making The Dough

Making The Dough

Making The Dough

Making The Dough

3. You can add more Harina P.A.N. more salt, or more annatto oil to make it just the right consistency or the right color. You can also divide all the ingredients in half and make two batches at a time instead of the whole batch at once.
4. Divide the dough into small little balls the size of a small orange, or two to three inches in diameter.

The Set Up:
1. Now that you have everything you need ready, you need to set up your assembly line in a large enough table. What you will need (in this order) is:
– Plantain Leaves: The Shirts
– The rest of your annatto oil (you should have some left over, but if you don’t you can make some more, following the steps above, it’s pretty easy)
– The dough
– The Stew
– All the garnishes ready in different little bowls
– Plantain Leaves: The covers and The Belts
– The Thread

Setting Up The Work Area

Setting Up The Work Area

Setting Up The Work Area

Setting Up The Work Area

Setting Up The Work Area

Setting Up The Work Area

Setting Up The Work Area

Setting Up The Work Area

Setting Up The Work Area

Setting Up The Work Area

Setting Up The Work Area

Setting Up The Work Area

Setting Up The Work Area

Setting Up The Work Area

Envoltura | Wrapping (The fun part):
1. Now that everything is set up and ready to go, we can begin assembling each hallaca. The first step is to grab one plantain leave (the shirt) and lay it flat in front of you. Be sure to place the leaf with the lines going vertically from side to side in front of you, and the protruding and most visible parts of the little veins or little nerves side up.

Start with an empty shirt

Start with an empty shirt

2. With a small clean kitchen rag or towel (I used my hands because I was wearing gloves, remember I told you, you will need gloves for all this), grab some annatto oil and spread it in a circular motion on top of the leave.

Add Annatto Oil

Add Annatto Oil

3.  Grab one of the balls of dough and place it in the middle of the leaf. If you have an awesome tortilla press like my aunt has, just press it and voila! If not you have to press the dough lightly with your fingers until its flat. You can also use a heavy plate or any other way you can come up with to flatten the dough faster and easily. Use another shirt on top of that one covered with annatto oil if you use any other method other than the manual method to flatten the dough. The flat dough should be about 4 millimeters thick and be flattened in a circular shape.

Set a ball of dough in the center

Set a ball of dough in the center

Cover with another plantain leave with annatto oil on it

Cover with another plantain leave with annatto oil on it

Close the press

Close the press

Press down a bit

Press down a bit

Press down fully, but not too much

Press down fully, but not too much

Open the Press and Remove the top leaf

Open the Press and Remove the top leaf

Easy as Pie

Easy as Pie

Voila!

Voila!

Beautifully pressed hallaca dough

Beautifully pressed hallaca dough

4. With a large spoon that measures out about half a cup (or 8 tablespoons), pour some of the stew in the center of your flattened dough.

Add the stew

Add the stew

5. Add all the garnishes as follows for each hallaca: 2 strips of bacon, 2 strips of red bell pepper, 2 sliced almonds, 2 strips of onions or one onion ring, 2 green olives, 4 capers, and 6 raisins.

Add garnishes

Add garnishes

6. Proceed to close the hallaca by folding in the top and bottom of the leaf towards the center, once the leaves meet in the center on top of the hallaca dough, fold that piece a couple times (the extra leaf), and lay it flat then fold the sides in.

Closing an hallaca (my aunt's method)

Closing an hallaca (my aunt’s method)

Closing an hallaca (my aunt's method)

Closing an hallaca (my aunt’s method)

Closing an hallaca (my aunt's method)

Closing an hallaca (my aunt’s method)

Closing an hallaca (my aunt's method)

Closing an hallaca (my aunt’s method)

Closing an hallaca (my aunt's method)

Closing an hallaca (my aunt’s method)

Closing an hallaca (my great-grandmother's method)

Closing an hallaca (my great-grandmother’s method)

Closing an hallaca (my great-grandmother's method)

Closing an hallaca (my great-grandmother’s method)

Closing an hallaca (my great-grandmother's method)

Closing an hallaca (my great-grandmother’s method)

Closing an hallaca (my great-grandmother's method)

Closing an hallaca (my great-grandmother’s method)

7. Cover it again with another leaf (the shirt) if necessary. Then wrap it again with a cover and finally add the belt to it.

Wrapping an hallaca

Wrapping an hallaca

Wrapping an hallaca

Wrapping an hallaca

Wrapping an hallaca

Wrapping an hallaca

Wrapped Hallacas Ready To Be Tied Up

Wrapped Hallacas Ready To Be Tied Up

8. Tie up as you would a gift (as shown in the photo) and tie up with a knot.

Tie them up

Tie them up

Even the little ones can help

Even the little ones can help

9. Set aside one next to another, preferably not one top of another. If you run out of space you can do up to two layers, but not more than that.

Hallacas

Hallacas

10.  Continue until you run out of ingredients. You should end up with about 50 hallacas in total.

Cooking:
1. In a large enough pot heat up enough water (about half the size of the pot). Add a bit of salt. Cook at high heat until the water boils. Add as many hallacas as you can fit, they must all be completely submerged in the water. You can do it in batches as they become ready from the assembly line. You can also add some of the left over plantain leaves on top to help keep them submerged and also add aroma to them. Cover and let them cook for about 1 hour. You might want to have several pots and timers on your stove to keep track of you different batches.
2. Once cooked, remove them from the pot and let them drain. The easiest way is to drain them on a clean sink, and stand them up one next to the other so they can drain the water inside them a lot faster.

Boiling Hallacas

Boiling Hallacas

The Hallacas Are Ready

The Hallacas Are Ready

Serving:
1. Let it cool for a minute, but not too long, you don’t want it to get cold.
2. Lay them flat on a large enough serving plate that will serve as the ‘opening plate’. Cut the thread and carefully open each layer of plantain leave until you get to the hallaca. Use the last plantain leave to lift up the hallaca and carefully slide it on to the plate where it will actually be served.
3. Just to clarify… you do not eat the plantain leaf.

Serving An Hallaca

Serving An Hallaca

Serving An Hallaca

Serving An Hallaca

Serving An Hallaca

Serving An Hallaca

Serving An Hallaca

Serving An Hallaca

Serving An Hallaca

Serving An Hallaca

Recipe: Hallacas Venezolanas  | Venezuelan Christmas Dinner Hallacas

Recipe: Hallacas Venezolanas | Venezuelan Christmas Dinner Hallacas

 

Venezuelan Christmas Dinner Plate

Venezuelan Christmas Dinner Plate

Storing:
1. After you make your entire batch of 50 hallacas and you wish to store them, you can let them all cool down and then keep in the fridge for up to 4 weeks.
2. If you are planning on freezing your hallacas its better to freeze them before they are cooked so that the dough maintains itself better. In this case, you can take them straight from the freezer and then boil them as described above.
3. If you do freeze them after they have already been cooked, you should thaw them to room temperature before you boil them again.

Re-heating:
1. To reheat your hallacas, take them out of the fridge and boil them in enough water to cover all the ones you wish to serve at the moment. Add a little bit of salt to the water. Boil them for 15 to 20 minutes, turning them at the half point.

Bollos de Hallaca:
1. If you run out of some ingredients, or if you already have the number of hallacas you wish to make and still have some leftovers of the ingredients, you can make bollos de hallaca.
2. To do so, simply add all the leftover dough, stew, and garnishes and mix them all together to form the compact dough.
3. You wrap them the same way you did with the hallacas, but add a distinction, like a little bow made of a string of plantain leaf, or a different tying method, or just something distinctive to set them apart from the hallacas. It is basically the same thing, except the bollos are all mixed in together in a uniform mass, and the hallaca has all the stew and ingredients inside and the dough outside serving as a pocket or container.

Bollos de Hallaca

Bollos de Hallaca

Bollos de Hallaca

Bollos de Hallaca

Bollos de Hallaca

Bollos de Hallaca

Bollos de Hallaca

Bollos de Hallaca

Bollos de Hallaca

Bollos de Hallaca

Bollos de Hallaca

Bollos de Hallaca

Bollos de Hallaca

Bollos de Hallaca

¡Buen Provecho!

¡Gracias A Todos!

This post is very special to me and I will never forget the two days I spend making hallacas with my family, and I dedicate it to everyone involved in making hallacas possible for Christmas 2014:
Nery Russo, Felípe Ramón Ojeda Russo, Ana C. Sandoval de Ojeda, María Gabriela Ojeda de Sucre, Fernando Sucre, Marialejandra Ojeda, Raymond Wolowicz, and even little miss Andrea Sucre.
You were all involved in a small or big way, you all taught me something and you all sacrificed your time and busy schedule so we could all make hallacas together! I love you all!

*This post was supposed to be out by December 24th, but you guys know (by reading this post) how Venezuelan Christmases can be, so it is a little bit late.

Recipe: Ensalada de Gallina | Venezuelan Christmas Dinner Chicken Salad

14 Dec Recipe: Ensalada de Gallina | Venezuelan Christmas Dinner Chicken Salad

“Pollito chicken, gallina hen
lápiz pencil y pluma pen”

This is a short verse of a popular Spanish children’s song that helped us learn English when we were kids.  It was the first thing I thought of when researching today’s recipe and the history behind it.  The literal translation for this recipe is actually hen salad, not chicken salad.  The original recipe from the early 1940’s included hen, specifically.  However, as time passed and availability of chicken versus hen specifically became larger and more cost effective, the chicken replaced the hen in this traditional recipe.  Probably, due to hen being smaller and having less meat content and their meat also requires more time to cook thoroughly.  The difference between chicken and hen, if you don’t know, is that chicken refers to both the male and female versions, while hen refers only to the female chicken.  Nevertheless, the name of the recipe retained its original denomination: Ensalada de Gallina, Hen Salad.
The chicken salad is another important component in the Venezuelan Christmas Dinner Plate.  However, unlike the hallacas and the pan de jamón, the chicken salad is not exclusive to Christmas.  The chicken salad is prepared all year long, and it is quite versatile, taking the stage as a main dish, but also as a side, as a cracker topper or dip, and even as a filling inside arepas.  The chicken salad is also very popular in any birthday party or any other celebration or family gathering in Venezuela.  The best part of this recipe is that it is the easiest one to prepare out of all the Venezuelan Christmas recipes.  This is probably why it is usually prepared last, even on the same day of the Christmas dinner, which we usually celebrate on Christmas Eve.  It must be refrigerated, but it is best when consumed the same day or the day after, but not longer than that, since it can become bitter very quickly.
It is believed that this recipe originated in the most humble stoves in Caracas’ shacks.  When the leftovers of chicken stews such as the chicken, potatoes and carrots where mixed together with mayo to create this cold salad.  When the dish found its way to the wealthier parts of town, they gave it the name of Russian Salad in order for it to sound more sophisticated and fancy than hen salad.  They picked the name Russian Salad, because in fact our Venezuelan Hen / Chicken salad is very similar to the Russian Salad.  The Russian Salad was created around 1860 by an Italian chef in Moscow, and it originally contained deer meat.  With time, the original recipe was changed, but it had already crossed over to other countries, such as Ukraine, where green peas and chicken were cheaper and thus added on to the original recipe.

 Ensalada de Gallina  | Venezuelan Christmas Dinner Chicken Salad

Ensalada de Gallina | Venezuelan Christmas Dinner Chicken Salad

What you need:
For Cooking The Chicken
– 1½ lbs. Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breasts
– 1 Lemon (Juice)
– Enough Water to Boil Chicken Breasts
– ¼ Onion
– 1Cilantro Stems
– 1 Green Onion Stems
– 1 Celery Stick
– 1 Chopped Garlic Clove
– 1 Leek Stick
– 1 Ají Dulce Venezolano (without seeds or veins)
– 1 Tablespoon Salt
For the Salad
– 2 Small To Medium Potatoes
– 2 Medium To Large Carrot Sticks
– 1 Red, Green or Yellow Apple (Peeled)
– ¼ Cup Canned Green/Sweet Peas (No Salt Added)
– ½ Onion (Optional)
– 1 Red Bell Pepper (Optional)
– 2 Celery Sticks (Optional)
– 2 Cilantro Stems
For The Sauce
– 1 Cup Mayo
– 2 Tablespoons Mustard
– 3 Tablespoons White Vinegar
– ½ Tablespoon White Pepper
– ½ Teaspoon Salt
– ½ Teaspoon Worcestershire Sauce (Optional)
Preparation:
1. Clean the chicken breasts using the juice of one lemon and rinse thoroughly with water.

Rinse thoroughly with water

Rinse thoroughly with water

2. In a large enough pot, add the chicken, onion, cilantro, green onion, celery, leek, ají dulce Venezolano, and the salt.  You don’t have to worry about chopping these ingredients, they are being used to add flavor to the chicken.  Use enough water to cover all the ingredients and cook everything at medium heat for about 30 minutes, or until the chicken is done.
3. Remove the chicken from the pot, drain and set aside to cool down.

Set aside to cool down

Set aside to cool down

4. Wash and peel the potatoes.  Cook the potatoes with enough water and a little bit of salt.  Boil for about 10 minutes.  You want them to be done, but still firm so they don’t get mushy while making the salad.

Cook the potatoes

Cook the potatoes

5. Wash and peel the carrots.  Cook the carrots separately with enough water and a little bit of salt. Boil for about 20 minutes.

Cook the carrots separately

Cook the carrots separately

6. Once the potatoes and carrots are done, cool them down in a big bowl with some cold water and ice.

Cool down the potatoes and carrots

Cool down the potatoes and carrots

7. Your chicken should be cooled down by now.  Shred the chicken breasts using your hands or two forks.

Shred the chicken breasts

Shred the chicken breasts

Shredded chicken breasts

Shredded chicken breasts

8. Begin to cut the potatoes, carrots, apple, celery, and bell pepper in small cubes. Finely chop the onion using a food processor.  Chop the cilantro as well.

Cut the potatoes in small cubes

Cut the potatoes in small cubes

Cut the carrots in small cubes

Cut the carrots in small cubes

Cut the apple in small cubes

Cut the apple in small cubes

Cut the celery in small cubes

Cut the celery in small cubes

Cut the red bell pepper in small cubes

Cut the red bell pepper in small cubes

Chop the cilantro

Chop the cilantro

Finely chop the onion

Finely chop the onion

9. In a large enough bowl, combine the chicken with the finely chopped onion.  Then add this to all the other ingredients chopped and cubed in the previous step, plus the green peas.

Combine the chicken with the finely chopped onion

Combine the chicken with the finely chopped onion

Combine

Combine

10. Add the mayo, mustard, vinegar, salt and pepper and mix all the ingredients together.  Adjust the salt and mayo if necessary to taste.

Add the sauce ingredients

Add the sauce ingredients

Mix well, but carefully

Mix well, but carefully

11. Decorate as you wish. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours before eating.  Serve cold.

Recipe: Ensalada de Gallina  | Venezuelan Christmas Dinner Chicken Salad

Recipe: Ensalada de Gallina | Venezuelan Christmas Dinner Chicken Salad

Recipe: Ensalada de Gallina  | Venezuelan Christmas Dinner Chicken Salad

Recipe: Ensalada de Gallina | Venezuelan Christmas Dinner Chicken Salad

¡Buen Provecho!

Recipe: Pan de Jamón | Venezuelan Christmas Dinner Ham Bread

7 Dec Recipe: Pan de Jamón | Venezuelan Christmas Dinner Ham Bread

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas around here. One thing I didn’t have in this blog is Venezuelan Christmas Recipes… until now. I have a very informative post about Venezuelan Christmas celebrations, traditions, dinner and gifts, but I did not have any actual Christmas recipes until now. I wanted to wait until I had a couple of them, so the recipes I will post this month will be all part of the Venezuelan Christmas Dinner Recipe collection, but I have been working on them since 2012. It was hard for me to cook all the recipes at once by myself, so I had to wait for guests like my sister who visited from Venezuela back in 2012, and my grandmother and even my great grandmother to help create and compile all the recipes.
This recipe is for the #2 most important Venezuelan Christmas Dinner component; Pan de Jamón. The first component is obviously the Hallaca, I am hoping to be able to cook some hallacas with the help of the rest of the family this year to be able to add a recipe for them to this collection. It is believed that the production of pan de jamón began in the 1900’s, and has gradually been incorporated in to the Christmas dinner traditions ever since. It is said that it was originally created in a Panadería (a Venezuelan Bakery/Deli/Café) in the capital city, Caracas. First, it was only made with ham filling, then some other fillings where added including walnuts, almonds and even capers, until it became the version that we know today.
The pan de jamón is usually bought at the panadería, however, there are some families who make them at home. So now I am sharing this recipe with you, so you can make it at home yourself, like I did with my sister. I would like to give her a special thank you for her help with this recipe and blog post back in Christmas 2012.

Ingredients for Pan de Jamón

Ingredients for Pan de Jamón

What you need:
For the Dough
– 2 Cups Milk (Room Temperature)
– 1 Teaspoon Sugar
– 1½ Tablespoon Yeast
– 8 Cups of All Purpose Flour
– 1 Stick of Butter (Soft but not melted)
– 1 Tablespoon Salt
– 3 Tablespoons Sugar
– 3 Eggs
For the Filling
– 2.2 lbs. of Boiled Ham (Sliced)
– ¼ Cup Raisins
– ½ Cup Pitted Green Olives
For the Glaze
– 2 Egg Yolks
– 2 Tablespoons Water
– 1 Teaspoon Salt

Preparation:
1. In a large enough mixing bowl, add the milk. Then, dissolve the teaspoon of sugar in the milk and then add the yeast but don’t stir it in. Cover with a kitchen towel and let it rest for about 20 minutes in an area with little to no airflow.

Mix Milk, Sugar and Yeast

Mix Milk, Sugar and Yeast

2. After the 20 minutes, add only 4 cups of the flour and mix it very well using your fingers.
3. Make a ball with the dough and leave it in the bowl, cover it with cling wrap and put a kitchen towel on top. Let it sit in an area with no airflow for about 2 hours, or until it doubles in size.

Knead dough and cover

Knead dough and cover

4. After 2 hours, add the rest of the flour and continue to mix it in very well with your fingers, kneading the dough with both hands.

Kneading

Kneading

5. If your dough is dry, you can add two tablespoons of cold milk and knead it in. If on the contrary, your dough is too wet, you can sprinkle more dough on top and continue to knead the dough until it is uniform and consistent.
6. Cover again, as before, and let it sit for another 4 hours.
7. Take the dough out of the fridge and sprinkle some more flour on your working table. Add the soft butter, the salt, the rest of the sugar and the eggs (one by one). Knead the dough with all the ingredients very well. Until you have a very well worked dough that is uniform and without clumps. At the end you can lift it up from the table as high as you can, and let it fall on the table repeatedly until the dough easily lifts of the table and doesn’t stick to your hands.

The dough is ready

The dough is ready

8. Divide the ball of dough in three equal parts. You can cut one small piece and set aside for decorations if you wish. Grab one part and extend it as a rectangle over your working table (be sure to sprinkle your working surface with more flour). Extend the dough using a rolling pin until the dough is about ¼ to ½ an inch.

Divide in 3 equal portions

Divide in 3 equal portions

One portion

One portion

Extend dough with rolling pin

Extend dough with rolling pin

9. Now its time to add the fillings. Begin with a layer of the ham. Add the raisins and olives. Make sure that they are well distributed. Remember to divide the olives and raisins in three equal parts for each bread. Be sure to leave an empty space of about ½ and inch border from the edge of your rectangle without any filling.

Adding the ham

Adding the ham

10. Grab one end of your dough rectangle and begin to roll the entire thing from one end to the other.

Rolling the bread

Rolling the bread

11. Close the ends with your fingertips. At this point you can use that little bit of dough for any decorations.

Close off the ends

Close off the ends

12. Grease a baking sheet with butter and place the bread on the sheet. Cover the bread with a kitchen towel and let it sit for another hour.
13. Preheat your oven to 400°F.
14. Place the bread in the oven (one at a time) for 30 minutes.
15. Take the bread out of the oven and using a brush, cover the top of the bread with the glaze mixture (mix all the glaze ingredients in a bowl).

Glaze

Glaze

16. Place the bread back in the oven for another 10 minutes.

Recipe: Pan de Jamón | Venezuelan Christmas Dinner Ham Bread

Recipe: Pan de Jamón | Venezuelan Christmas Dinner Ham Bread

Recipe: Pan de Jamón | Venezuelan Christmas Dinner Ham Bread

Recipe: Pan de Jamón | Venezuelan Christmas Dinner Ham Bread

¡Buen Provecho!

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