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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: Hallacas Venezolanas | Venezuelan Christmas Dinner Hallacas

1 Jan

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.

Venezuelan Restaurant Review: Eats Good 33

29 Jan

I first heard about this place while searching for a list of Venezuelan Restaurants in south Florida using Foursquare (check out my list here). Someone had posted a picture of their ‘Pabellón Criollo‘ and it made my mouth water, so I added this place to my list of Venezuelan Restaurants to visit and review for this blog. Unfortunately, when I researched more about this place, I noticed their hours were only Monday through Friday from 8:00 am – 4:00 pm. I gave up on ever visiting this place, because I am at work during those hours and they are a bit far away from me.

One day I was released from work early, and it just so happened to be Venezuela’s Independence Day (July 5th), so I came home and demanded that my husband take me to eat an Arepa on such an important day. We drove about 30 minutes (from Hollywood, FL) to the restaurant. At first, I was just hoping I wouldn’t be disappointed, because I really wanted to eat an Arepa on our Independence Day, sort of to celebrate. The place is a bit hard to find, and we almost missed it. The surrounding area is a bit industrial and the location is not ideal for a restaurant. My husband was skeptic, but I was determined to try this place and give it a chance.

Once inside I definitely felt like I was at an ‘arepera’ (place where they sell arepas) or ‘panadería’ (bakery) in Venezuela. Everyone speaking in spanish, using Venezuelan slang words, the coffee machine noises in the background, the smell of arepas on the stove, the soccer game on the TV, the Venezuelan photos on the wall. It felt great, but this might be because I am Venezuelan. I could see how anyone else would be annoyed by the loud spanish speaking, and friendliness, so let’s get something clear here; this isn’t your fancy-schmancy-starbucks-competing sandwich/coffee shop, this is an AREPERA! It is quite small and it can get a bit too crowded and loud in the blink of an eye. But in my opinion, the drive, the loudness and the crowded space are all worth it.

Their menu is more of a ‘café’ kind of menu, with breakfast, soups, burgers, panini, wraps and salads. But they do have a ‘specials’ board and big lunch items to fill you up if you are starving. They have a second menu, which is the Arepa menu, and since that is what I wanted, I completely ignored the main menu. They have 30+ different arepas to choose from, so I took me a while to decide.

My husband wasn’t even hungry, but I wanted to sample at least two different arepas, so I suggested that he order “La Reina” (Shredded Chicken Salad, Avocado, Cilantro), because it would be on the lighter side. I ordered the “Cremosa” (Roasted Pork, Guayanes Cheese, Avocado). One thing I loved about their arepa menu is that you can add anything you want to your arepa, like Avocado, Sweet Plantain, Guayanes or Gouda cheese, White or Swiss cheese, Ham, Turkey, Bacon or Egg, and even Steak. I decided to add sweet plantains to my arepa. Of course we also ordered “un con leche” (coffee with milk).

**I have to apologize here, because the arepas looked so delicious and I was so hungry and excited, that I completely forgot to take a picture of our arepas that time around.

My ‘Cremosa’ was amazing. I took one bite and was in love. The pork was seasoned to perfection with all kinds of different ingredients that made it juicy and saucy. I tasted honey and citrus in the mix. The Guayanes Cheese was super fresh and it balanced the whole thing out. The avocados fresh as well (but you will never hear me say anything bad about avocados). And my addition of the plantain complemented the sweetness in the pork perfectly. My husband’s ‘Reina’ was really light, and fresh. The chicken salad was delicious and you could taste the cilantro was really fresh as well.

When it came time to switch out plates so I could sample the Reina, and my husband could sample the Cremosa, I realized I wouldn’t be getting mine back. My husband wasn’t even hungry and he ate almost all my arepa. It was that good.

After we basically inhaled the arepas, we sat around and the owner and cook Andy Mostert greeted us in a very friendly and polite manner, and told us a bit about himself. He graduated from a private and respected university in Caracas, and he came to the US like most Venezuelans do to follow their dreams. He ended up taking cooking classes and working in restaurants until finally deciding to open up his own.

I had a chance to visit Eats Good 33 for a second because I was released from work early. This time I only had one arepa, the arepa “Gustavo” (Asado Negro, Guayanes, Avocado). The Asado Negro, which is one of my favorite dishes that my grandmother prepares was delicious, almost as good as hers. Asado Negro is a slow-cooked round beef in a very dark and delicious wine based sauce. As before, the cheese and avocado were very fresh.

Eats Good 33 Arepa Gustavo: Asado Negro, Guayanes, Avocado + Plantains

Eats Good 33 Arepa Gustavo: Asado Negro, Guayanes, Avocado + Plantains

When I was there that second time I noticed they had a sign that read that they are now open on Saturdays from 9:30am to 1:30 pm, which was the best news ever! So of course I went yet a third time on a Saturday. My husband asked for the same ‘Cremosa’ from our first time there, with added plantains. And I continue on my goal to try all of their arepas, so I ordered “La Pelúa” (Shredded Beef, Gouda Cheese). I really should stop adding things to their arepas and just have them the way you are supposed to have them, but I couldn’t resist and I added avocado and sweet plantains to it. The shredded beef was delicious. I am usually disappointed with shredded beef here in the US, because most places cook it the cuban way (Ropa Vieja), but I was pleased that this didn’t taste like “Ropa Vieja”, it actually tasted like “Carne Mechada”. So, please don’t come to a Venezuelan restaurant and expect things to taste like you are at a Cuban, or Colombian, or Mexican place, because it is a different culture, and although it might just mean “Shredded Beef” to you, it is cooked, seasoned and prepared differently in every latin country.  **I have to apologize again, I was so eager to eat my arepa that I forgot to take a picture before I took a bite, so this one is after a couple of bites.

Eats Good 33 Arepa Pelúa: Shredded Beef, Gouda Cheese + Plantains & Avocado

Eats Good 33 Arepa Pelúa: Shredded Beef, Gouda Cheese + Plantains & Avocadoa

We also took some “Marquesa de Chocolate” to go, this is a Venezuelan dessert made with layers of cookies and chocolate. It was very good, but I think that the chocolate used was dark chocolate, and I have always had Marquesa de Chocolate with Milk Chocolate, so it was a bit too strong and chocolaty for me. This is a lot coming from me, because I could eat an entire jar of Nutella and I wouldn’t feel “sickly sweet” or “Empalagada”, but with this version of the marquesa I did have to stop eating it half way through and I thought it was too rich for me.

Eats Good 33 Marquesa De Chocolate

Eats Good 33 Marquesa De Chocolate

Overall I really recommend this place if you happen to be in the area around lunch time or after lunch, or Saturday for brunch. I have only sampled the Arepas, but I honestly recommend them. They serve authentic Venezuelan food.

The Details:
Address: 6882 NW 20th Ave Ft. Lauderdale, FL 33309

Phone: 954.956.4480
Website: http://www.eatsgood33.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/EatsGood33
Menu: http://www.eatsgood33.com/menu
Hours: Monday through Friday from 8:00 am to 4:00 pm & Saturdays from 9:30am to 1:30 pm.

Categories: American (New) | Breakfast | Latin American | Vegan | Vegetarian | Venezuelan
Yelp: http://www.yelp.com/biz/eats-good-33-fort-lauderdale
Foursquare: https://foursquare.com/v/eats-good-33-fort-lauderdale-fl/4ca9df0976d3a09368c8236b?ref=atw

Recipe: Perico Venezolano | Venezuelan Scrambled Eggs

24 Jul Perico | Venezuelan Scrambled Eggs

Venezuelan scrambled eggs are just like Venezuelans; anything but plain.  Scrambled eggs were too boring, so we incorporated a few things to make them extra special.  Throw some onions and tomatoes, and you’ve got very colorful and tasty scrambled eggs.  I don’t know why do we call these extra special scrambled eggs Perico, but I think it is because perico is the Spanish word for parakeet, and when you add tomatoes to scrambled eggs, they get a red tint to them, just like our parakeets.

When I was a kid, my mom used to make arepas con perico usually on the weekends.  I didn’t like perico when I was a kid, but as an adult I love it.  Especially because with just a few tweaks, like using only the egg whites and no oil, you can make a lighter breakfast.

Ingredients: Perico

Ingredients: Perico

What you need:
– 1/8 C. Oil
– 1 Tbsp. Butter
– ½ C. Onion
– ½ C. Tomato
– ½ Tsp. Salt
– 1/8 Tsp. Pepper
– 3 Eggs

Preparation:
1.  Chop the onion and tomato in small cubes.  It is recommended to take the seeds and skin from the tomato, but… who has time for that on a Saturday morning?  I like tomatoes; skin, seeds, and all.

Chop Onion and Tomato

Chop Onion and Tomato

2.  In a large enough frying pan, add the oil and the butter and heat on medium.  You can skip either the butter OR the oil if you prefer a lighter option.
3.  Add the onion and fry until it browns (about 4 minutes).

Fry Onion

Fry Onion

4.  Add the tomato, salt and pepper, and fry for another 6 to 7 minutes, or until the mixture dries up a bit.

Add Tomato

Add Tomato

5.  Beat the eggs and add them to the mix (you can use egg whites only for a lighter option as well).  Continue frying and mixing for about 3 minutes until the eggs cook thoroughly and become dry, but at the same time keeping it loose and without clumping it together.  You can also add some milk to the beaten eggs to make them fluffier.
6.  Serve hot with arepas… I happened to have some avocado nearby, and it was just the perfect addition to this breakfast for champs.

Perico | Venezuelan Scrambled Eggs

Perico | Venezuelan Scrambled Eggs

Desayuno Venezolano | Venezuelan Breakfast

Desayuno Venezolano | Venezuelan Breakfast

Note:  Perico can be served just like any other scrambled egg dish; with bacon or sausage, and toast.  It can also be served as an arepa filling (relleno de arepa), already inside an arepa. (Avocado addition is great here too… as you can probably tell by now… I love avocado)

Arepa Rellena con Perico | Perico Filled Arepa

Arepa Rellena con Perico | Perico Filled Arepa

Arepa Rellena con Perico | Perico Filled Arepa

Arepa Rellena con Perico | Perico Filled Arepa

*Serves 2

¡Buen Provecho!

Navidad Venezolana | Venezuelan Christmas

4 Jan

One of the things I miss the most about Venezuela is our Christmas.  We Venezuelans have a very celebratory spirit.  You just give us an excuse, and we’ll make a party out of it.  So Christmas is definitely a good excuse for a GRAND celebration.  Usually, the entire family gathers in one place and we have a full house of 30+ people for Christmas.  When I was a kid it usually took place at my great-grandparent’s house, where all the aunts, uncles, grandparents, sisters, brothers, nieces, nephews, cousins, and even dogs and cats where invited.  They had a pretty big house where they could fit and feed all those people.  I was young and had several cousins my age that I had fun with.  But there were too many guests to bring a present for each, so we usually did a gift exchange in which you give one gift to someone (picket out randomly) and then you got one gift from someone else, so basically like a Secret Santa, but sometimes it wasn’t a secret.  However, within each individual family, the mom and dad exchanged gifts, and the kids all got gifts from everyone and also from Santa!

As I grew older, my great-grandparents passed away, and most of my family immigrated to the United States.  Pretty soon, it was mostly my grandparents, my parents, my sister and I.  Sometimes we spent it with my mom’s side of the family too, which is also pretty large (20 + people).  One time I event went with my dad’s entire family to spend Christmas in Puerto Rico.  Now, I have family in Venezuela, and in Florida, so the possibilities of getting everyone together for Christmas are slim.  But one thing that was definitely present in every single Christmas, no matter who was there, who wasn’t and where we were, was the food!

“La Cena Navideña” (The Christmas Dinner) is something that has to be present during Christmas and New Years Eve in order for it to be considered a real celebration.  No Venezuelan home can be called a Venezuelan home without the traditional Christmas dinner during Christmas, no matter where they live.  Venezuelans celebrate Christmas during Christmas Eve, on December 24th.  Dinner starts late, around 9-11 pm, in true Venezuelan fashion.  Then people exchange gifts (like our gift exchange), and then adults have drinks, talk and dance, while the kids play and try to stay awake to see if they can get a close look at Santa.  The same goes for New Years Eve, where the Christmas Dinner is also present.  Another important Venezuelan Christmas tradition we can never forget about is our Christmas music.  Gaitas, Aguinaldos and Villancicos serve as the perfect soundtrack to a true Venezuelan Christmas.  Gaitas are the most popular music genre during Christmas, originated as church songs, and later becoming popular outside church and during Christmas season.  Aguinaldos and Villancicos are based on Spanish Christmas carols and old carols.

La Cena Navideña Venezolana | Venezuelan Christmas Dinner

The Venezuelan Christmas Dinner Table is the greatest example of the miscegenation of Venezuelan Food.  The different dishes served at a Venezuelan Christmas Dinner are the result of the many different culinary traditions that converged and intermingled in our country, as a reflection of the miscegenation of the country during colonization.  The Hallaca is the main component of the Venezuelan Christmas Dinner, joined by Pernil de Cochino, Ensalada de Gallina, Pan de Jamón, and Dulce de Lechoza (Ham, Chicken Salad, Ham Bread, and Papaya Delicacy).

La Cena Navideña Venezolana | Venezuelan Christmas Dinner

La Cena Navideña Venezolana | Venezuelan Christmas Dinner

La Hallaca/Hayaca
Pronounced Ah-jac-kah, is the most important component for a true Venezuelan Christmas Dinner.  The origins of the word, the spelling, and the origins of the actual dish have been in dispute for quite some time, so I will give you the versions that I like the most.  As far as the spelling goes, I like Hallaca better.  As far as the origin of the name, I like to believe the word Hayaca comes from the Guaraní dialect, in which “ayua” or “ayuar” means to mix or stir something together, and “ayuaca” is the mixed ‘thing’ that you get.  Then this became “ayaca”, latter “Hayaca”, and finally “Hallaca”.  And as far as the origin of the dish itself goes, I like the story that back in the colonial times, the aristocrats descendants of our Spanish conquerors would enjoy great banquets and the leftovers would be either donated to the slaves or basically taken by them, and then mixed all together, wrapped in corn flour and plantain leafs and boiled.  And once the aristocrats discovered this amazing dish, it was incorporated into their fancy banquets and became our popular Hallaca.  The popular dish that makes an appearance only during Christmas, and brings our families together even for the preparation, which can take up to 2 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.

Unfortunately for me (and you), this year I didn’t have a Venezuelan Christmas, and I didn’t have any Hallacas.  So I do not have a personal recipe to share with you.  I can only hope, and promise you, that next Christmas I am surrounded by enough family members to help me make my own Hallacas, and the rest of the Venezuelan Christmas Dinner Menu, so I can share my very own recipe.  I do however, have a GREAT collection of photographs of the complicated process of making Hallacas, that my awesome uncle Fernando took for me, while my beautiful aunt Gaby (the designated Hallaca maker and personal gourmet inspiration and influence) was making Hallacas this year.  And also a couple of links of good Hallaca recipes:

– From Adriana Lopez and Pica Pica with VIDEOS and complete Recipe Booklet!

– From one of my favorite sites Hispanic Kitchen.

And now the photos!

Venezuelan Hallacas Ingredients

Venezuelan Hallacas Ingredients

Venezuelan Hallacas Ingredients

Venezuelan Hallacas Ingredients

Venezuelan Hallacas Ingredients

Venezuelan Hallacas Ingredients

Venezuelan Hallacas Ingredients

Venezuelan Hallacas Ingredients

The Making of Venezuelan Hallacas: El Guiso | The Stew & El Aceite Onotado | Annatto Oil

The Making of Venezuelan Hallacas: El Guiso | The Stew & El Aceite Onotado | Annatto Oil

The Making of Venezuelan Hallacas: La Prensa | The Press

The Making of Venezuelan Hallacas: La Prensa | The Press

My beautiful Aunty Gaby super ready to make Hallacas

My beautiful Aunty Gaby super ready to make Hallacas

The Making of Venezuelan Hallacas: La Masa | The Dough

The Making of Venezuelan Hallacas: La Masa | The Dough

The Making of Venezuelan Hallacas: Las Hojas de Plátano | The Plantain Leaves

The Making of Venezuelan Hallacas: Las Hojas de Plátano | The Plantain Leaves

The Making of Venezuelan Hallacas: Prepping the Dough

The Making of Venezuelan Hallacas: Prepping the Dough

The Making of Venezuelan Hallacas: Adding the Filling

The Making of Venezuelan Hallacas: Adding the Filling

The Making of Venezuelan Hallacas: Wrapping the Hallaca

The Making of Venezuelan Hallacas: Wrapping the Hallaca

The Making of Venezuelan Hallacas: Tying & Cooking

The Making of Venezuelan Hallacas: Tying & Cooking

*A very special thank you to Gaby Ojeda and Fernando Sucre for the beautiful images, that still make my mouth water! (I LOVE YOU GUYS)… and guardenme mi Hallaca!

¡Buen Provecho!

Recipe: Venezuelan Hallaquitas or Bollitos

28 Dec Venezuelan Hallaquitas or Bollitos

One of the most delicious side dishes in Venezuela are hallaquitas, or bollitos.  The name is still debatable.  Some people call them hallaquitas and some call them bollitos.  Either way they are delicious.  We usually serve them as a side dish, much like you would a baked potato, and then add some butter on top, or Guasacaca and enjoy.  This is a very common side dish to have with a good Parrilla Venezolana (Venezuelan Grilled Steak, much like your BBQs, but without BBQ sauce).  Another great dish to have hallaquitas with is rotisserie chicken.  Since we also accompany these dishes with Guasacaca, hallaquitas are the perfect side dish for those occasions.  They are also great if you incorporate other ingredients such as pork rind, chorizo or cheese inside them.  But the plain ones are great with some butter, Guasacaca, mojo isleño, mojo de cilantro, or chimichurri on top.

Ingredients

Ingredients

What you need:
– 8 to 10 Dried Corn Husks
– 1 Cup Harina P.A.N.
– ¾ Cup Water (for mixture)
– 1 Tablespoon Butter
– 1Teaspoon Salt
– ¼ Cup or 250 g. Chorizo, one link (optional)
– 5 Cups Water (for boiling)

Preparation:

1. Separate and clean the corn husks, then soak them in water for about 1 hour so they can be bent without breaking.  If you don’t have one hour to spare, you can just pre-boil them for about 5 minutes so they can be bent easily.

Separate and clean the corn husks

Separate and clean the corn husks

Soak for 1 hour

Soak for 1 hour

Or boil for 5 minutes

Or boil for 5 minutes

2. In a bowl mix in the Harina P.A.N., the ¾ Cup of water, the salt and the butter (softened or melted).

Prepare dough

Prepare dough

3. Once you have kneaded the mixture and it becomes homogeneous you can begin forming the hallaquitas.

Form Hallaquitas

Form Hallaquitas

4. Grab a handful of the dough (or separate in 4 equal parts), and roll it in your hands to form a cylindrical shape. (Here is where you can add chopped chorizo, cheese, pork rind, etc.).

Add optional chorizo, cheese, etc.

Add optional chorizo, cheese, etc.

5. Wrap each hallaquita with 2 or 3 corn husks so that the dough is well covered.  You can accomplish this by wrapping them on the widest side of the corn husk, and then folding down the rest of the corn husk on top of the hallaquita and tie it down either with another piece of corn husk, or with a rubber band right down the middle, and if you need to, you can add another rubber band or tie at the end.

Wrap with 1st corn husk

Wrap with 1st corn husk

Wrap with 2nd corn husk

Wrap with 2nd corn husk

Fold top

Fold top

Fold bottom

Fold bottom

Tie around center with rubber band

Tie around center with rubber band

Use two rubber bands if needed

Use two rubber bands if needed

6. Begin to boil enough water, and when it starts to boil add the hallaquitas.  Cook for 40 minutes on high heat.  You are supposed to know they are ready when they start to float, however mine floated as soon as I introduced them in the water.  So to be safe, just wait the 40 minutes.

Boil for 40 minutes

Boil for 40 minutes

7. Remove from pot and drain for about 3 minutes, and serve hot.  You can serve them with the corn husk, or without.

Drain and let cool

Drain and let cool

8. Serve as a side with butter, or chimichurri, or Guasacaca, or anything else you like.

Serve with husk

Serve with husk

Or without husk

Or without husk

Venezuelan Hallaquitas or Bollitos

Venezuelan Hallaquitas or Bollitos

*Makes about 4 to 5 hallaquitas.

¡Buen Provecho!

Cool Tool Thursday

1 Dec

Today’s Kitchen Tool is:

El Tostador de Arepas | Tostiarepas | Arepa Toaster

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Yet another great Venezuelan cooking tool.  I have written about it before, but I thought this ingenious tool should be featured on a Cool Tool Thursday post as well.   The Tostiarepa was invented not too long ago, and it was a relief for all Venezuelan areperas (arepa makers), including my mom.  Arepas usually take a bit long if you make them using the original technique and the budare (another Cool Tool featured here).  However, this great new invention was created with the purpose of making arepas cook a lot faster and easier.  You might think that this tool is too specific, because it was literally created with only one purpose in mind.  However, for us Venezuelans who eat an Arepa at least once a day, this is an essential tool in the kitchen.

The first Tostiarepa were made out of aluminum and you still needed to use the stove to heat them up on one side, and then turn it and heat up the other side.  Latter, came the electrical Tostiarepa, which you only have to plug, fill, wait 7 minutes, and done!

A lot of companies that specialize in kitchen appliances make their own version of this arepa maker, arepa toaster, Tostiarepa, tosty arepa, tostador de arepas, or whatever you wish to call it.  Some of these brands include Brentwood, Bene Casa, Miallegro, Oster and of course Imusa.  And you can find these in stores like Amazon.com, Overstock.com, Sears and Target.  Some even have different sizes of Tostiarepas to make either 2, 4, or even 6 arepas at once.

Recipe: Arepitas Dulces | Arepitas de Anís (Sweet Arepas)

2 Nov

Yes! that’s right… yet another post about Arepas.   By now you know why they are the most Venezuelan dish ever!   But these are different than the Arepas I have blogged about before.   These are sweet arepas… Sweet? You say… YES! Sweet.   They are delicious.   These were sort of a treat when I was growing up.   My mom only made them once in a while.   Of course regular arepas were made… regularly.   But these were special arepas!   She would make them for dinner and serve them with “Queso Blanco”, the same one I’ve been saying is good with Arepas, and Empanadas, and anything else you can think of.   These can be great for breakfast as well, or even as a snack, or pretty much whenever you feel like having one.   Like today, I just felt I had to try to make these myself, because I haven’t had them in years.

Key Ingredient

Key Ingredient

Now, most of the recipes you see out there for “Arepas Dulces” or “Arepas de Anís” have a very peculiar ingredient that is definitely hard to find.   I am talking about “Papelón”.   Papelón is also known as “Panela”, which is an unrefined whole cane sugar that comes in a solid block.   I didn’t even know what papelón was until I was trying to make these arepas, but since I couldn’t even find it; I called my mom and asked for her recipe, which doesn’t include this mysterious ingredient.   So here it is:

Ingredients for Arepitas Dulces

Ingredients for Arepitas Dulces


What you need:

– 1 Cup Harina PAN
– 1 Cup Water
– 1 ½ Tablespoon Sugar
– ½ Teaspoon Anise Seeds
– ¼ Teaspoon Salt
– Vegetable Oil (Enough for frying)

Preparation:

1. Add the Harina PAN into a bowl, add the anise seeds to the Harina PAN a mix with your hand so that the seeds are spread evenly throughout the mix.

Add Anise Seeds to Harina Pan

Add Anise Seeds to Harina Pan

2. Add the water, salt and sugar into a separate bowl, or measuring cup, and stir it, so that the salt and sugar dissolve in the water.   The water should taste sweet, but have sort of a salty kick to it.   I tried it; I just don’t know how to explain it in correct terms… sorry!

Add Sugar and Salt to Water

Add Sugar and Salt to Water

3. Add the water slowly to the mix and start kneading with your hands.

Add Water to Harina Pan

Add Water to Harina Pan

4. Once the dough is ready, let it sit for a minute, while you prepare for the next step.   The dough will be ready when it feels sort of like play dough, but it is firm and doesn’t crack.

Let the Dough Sit

Let the Dough Sit

5. On top of a cutting board, or simply your countertop, lay a large enough sheet of Cling Wrap, and have a bowl, round cookie cutter, or Tupperware of about a 3” diameter, as well as a large flat heavy plate set aside.
6. You are going to grab a handful of the dough, make a ball, set it in the middle of your cling wrap, cover it with the other half of the cling wrap or even grab another sheet of cling wrap if you wish.   Then press on it a bit with your hand, and then grab the large flat heavy plate and press on it until you flatten it to about ¼ of an inch thick.   Then with the cookie cutter or bowl cut out a 3” diameter circle from the dough.   Uncover the cling wrap and remove the circle and set aside (on top of another sheet of cling wrap) to fry them when they are all ready.   Remove the excess dough from the cling wrap and put back in your bowl of dough.   Continue to make these disks until you have no more dough left.

Ball of Dough

Ball of Dough

Flatten with Heavy Plate

Flatten with Heavy Plate

Disk of Dough

Disk of Dough

About 1/4 of an Inch Thick

About 1/4 of an Inch Thick

Cut Out Smaller Disk

Cut Out Smaller Disk

About 3" Diameter

About 3" Diameter

Remember They Should Be Thin

Remember They Should Be Thin

Cut Out As Many As You Can

Cut Out As Many As You Can

7. Heat up the frying oil and begin to fry your arepas.   Not too many at a time, just as many as fit in your frying pot, deep fryer, or Dutch oven, as you can without them touching each other.   But there should be enough oil to cover them completely.

Fry Until Golden Brown

Fry Until Golden Brown

8. As they fry, they will sit at the bottom, but quickly rise to the top.   They will also start to bubble, as in they will look like they are puffed up.   The skin should be crispy and separate from the dough inside.   When one side has done this, and started to brown, flip them.
9. They will be ready when they are brown/golden on both sides.
10. Lay on paper towels to remove the excess oil.
11. Serve hot with Queso Blanco (and a little butter if you wish).

Serve with Queso Blanco

Serve with Queso Blanco

12. To eat them, delicately using a knife, separate the skin on the side which is most puffed-up and stuff with cheese, add butter to the inside dough if you wish.

Venezuelan Arepitas Dulces / Arepitas de Anís

Venezuelan Arepitas Dulces / Arepitas de Anís

*Makes about 8 arepas of 3” diameter and ¼ of an inch thick (uncooked).

¡Buen Provecho!

Recipe: Venezuelan Empanadas

19 Oct

Empanadas are like Venezuelan hot pockets or calzones.   We usually serve them as appetizers (small ones), or as a main dish with delicious fillings and dipping sauces.   Empanada fillings are as varied as Arepa fillings, and we use some of the same fillings that we use in Arepas as well.   The most common and easy to prepare are cheese empanadas, and they are the most popular amongst kids.   We also have exquisite ones like lobster, or Cazón (small shark), and common ones like ground beef, shredded chicken, shredded meat.   Then there are big ones like filled with Pabellón (Shredded beef, black beans and plantains), or combination ones like cheese and beef, or even ham and cheese.   One thing is for sure; you will like them no matter what is in them.   Another great thing about empanadas is that they are a great way to re-purpose your leftovers, and no one will complain about eating the same thing for lunch that they had the night before for dinner, because everyone loves empanadas.   So keep that in mind when you have leftovers, and you don’t want them to go to waste.

Ingredients for Venezuelan Empanadas

Ingredients for Venezuelan Empanadas

What You’ll Need:

– 1 Cup Harina PAN
– 1 ¼ Cup Water
– ½ Teaspoon Salt
– 1/3 Teaspoon Sugar
– Vegetable Oil (enough to fry all the empanadas)
– Your Empanada Fillings (Cheese, beef, chicken, pork, etc.)
– Clear Plastic Wrap (Cling Wrap)
– Bowls

Preparation

1. Just like the Arepas: Add the Harina PAN into a mixing bowl, then add the salt and the sugar to the water and stir it.   Now little by little add the water and knead and mix the dough using your hands.   You must knead the dough until the mix is soft, firm and has a uniform consistency without any grains.

Knead the Dough

Knead the Dough

2. Once the dough is ready, make a big ball out of it, and then split into 4 equal parts.

Split Into Equal Parts

Split Into Equal Parts

3. Set up your cooking space as shown in the picture below in order to have:
a) Your Dough
b) Your Fillings (I have beef and shredded Queso Blanco cheese here)
c) A bowl with warm water with a little bit of oil in it.
d) A bowl to shape your empanadas with
e) A large enough piece of Cling Wrap

Set Up Your Cooking Space

Set Up Your Cooking Space

4. Grab one of your four sections of dough and form a ball.

Form A Ball

Form A Ball

5. Begin to flatten the ball into a disk shape using the entire length of your hands, also use the water with oil to moisten your hands so that the dough doesn’t stick to them.
6. Flatten the ball until it is less than 0.25” thick.

Flatten

Flatten

Flatten More

Flatten More

Done

Done

7. Place about two to three tablespoons of your filling right below the center of the circle.

Add Filling

Add Filling

Add Any Filling

Add Any Filling

8. With both hands grab the top of the Cling Wrap and carefully fold the circle in two, so that you have a semicircle.

Fold Circle Into Semicircle

Fold Circle Into Semicircle

9. Press the Cling Wrap with your fingers over the top dough towards the bottom dough, in order to close the empanada.

Semicircle

Semicircle

Press Edged to Close Empanada

Press Edged to Close Empanada

10. Now use the extra empty bowl as shown to cut the excess dough and make the famous empanada moon-shape.

Use Empty Bowl

Use Empty Bowl

Cut Out Empanada Shape

Cut Out Empanada Shape

11. Open the Cling Wrap and remove the excess dough, which you can add to the remaining dough to make the rest of the empanadas.

Empanada Shape

Empanada Shape

Open Cling Wrap

Open Cling Wrap

Remove Excess Dough

Remove Excess Dough

Empanada Shape Done

The Perfect Empanada Shape

12. Carefully remove the empanada from the Cling Wrap, so you can make the rest of them.

Carefully Remove from Cling Wrap

Carefully Remove from Cling Wrap

Set Aside

Set Aside

13. You can begin to fry them immediately if you have someone else to help keep an eye on the ones in the pan, so you can continue making the other ones and not burn them.

Fry Empanadas

Fry Empanadas

14. Also, it is a good idea to mark them so you know which ones have which filling. In case someone doesn’t want one of the fillings. I use one dot for cheese, two dots for beef, and three dots for beef and cheese.   But you can use whatever you want.

Mark Your Empanadas

Mark Your Empanadas

15. Once you have all your empanadas ready, it’s time to fry them.

Fried Empanada and Remove Excess Oil with Paper Towels

Fried Empanada and Remove Excess Oil with Paper Towels

16. Once they are golden, take them out and lay them on paper towels to remove the excess oil.
17. Serve and enjoy.   Be careful, they are hot!

Venezuelan Empanadas

Venezuelan Empanadas

¡Buen Provecho!

More Delicious Arepa Fillings (Rellenos)

7 Sep

As it turns out, I actually needed more than 4 posts to cover everything there is to know about our delicious Venezuelan Arepas.   So here are some more ideas for delicious arepa fillings. Some of them even have unique names that sort of describe the filling or stuffing in one way or another.   This is probably because we Venezuelans would take too long at an Arepera (Arepa Restaurant) ordering an arepa, trying to decide which of the 20 different fillings to get inside of it.   So then, if we say “Una de Pabellón”, de Arepera knows what we mean.

De Pabellón 

De Pabellón

De Pabellón


The “Pabellón”, it the most traditional dish after the Arepas.   Somehow, someone decided to combine the two most traditional Venezuelan dishes into one, making an arepa stuffed with the second dish, Pabellón.   Pabellón is a word for “pavilion”, but it can also mean the national flag, an ensign, or even a tent.   The Pabellón Criollo, the traditional Venezuelan dish is made up of shredded (or pulled) beef, black beans, rice and fried plantains, as the most basic version of it.   Some people, depending on the part of the country, also add a plain arepa on the side, some avocadoes, some delicious grated white cheese and even a fried egg.   Of course that would be way to much stuff to put inside an Arepa, so the basic Arepa de Pabellón simply includes shredded beef, black beans, and fried plantains.

La Dominó
Just like the traditional game of domino’s black and white chips, this arepa has a black and white stuffing or filling.   The Dominó Arepa includes black beans and grated white cheese.

La Dominó

La Dominó

La Viuda (The Widow)
This arepa is a plain and empty arepa.   Usually served as a “side” to other dishes like the Pabellón Criollo, or a delicious fried egg breakfast.

La Pelúa (The Hairy One)
Don’t panic! This arepa doesn’t have any hair.   The filling on this Arepa consists of shredded or pulled beef and Gouda cheese.

La Catira (The Blond One)
This Arepa has more fun! The filling is made up of shredded chicken and Gouda cheese.

La Sifrina (The Snobby One)
This Arepa is too good for you! The filling is the same as the Reinapepiada, but it also has Gouda cheese.

La Rumbera (The Party One)
This arepa is for the 3AM after party munchies.   The filling is Pork and Gouda cheese.

La Rumbera

La Rumbera

La Musiua (The “Monsier” One)
This arepa is a burger.   Literally.   It has a burger patty, tomatoes, onions and lettuce, minus the burger buns, inside an Arepa.   I have never had this myself, but it just doesn’t sound right.

La Bomba (The Bomb)
This arepa IS the BOMB! Filled with Perico and Black Beans.

La Pata-Pata
Filled with black beans, Gouda cheese and avocado

De Carne Mechada (Pulled/Shredded Beef)
Filled with delicious shredded beef, just like the one served on the Pabellón dish. 

De Carne Mechada

De Carne Mechada

De Guasacaca
Stuffed with Guasacaca and white cheese.

De Carne Molida
Just like the name says it; this one is stuffed with ground beef.

De Pernil
Just like the name says it; this one is stuffed with roast pork.

De Pernil

De Pernil

De Jamón y Queso
Just like the name says it; this one is stuffed with ham and cheese.

De Pollo
Just like the name says it; this one is stuffed with pulled chicken.

De Chorizo
Just like the name says it; this one is stuffed with Spanish Sausage or Chorizo.

De Cazón
Just like the name says it, this one is stuffed with Cazón… what is cazón? Cazón is a small shark, and this is one of my favorites because it is a popular one in the town where I was born, Puerto La Cruz.

Arepa Filling Faux-Pau
Do not by any means use any of these fillings in front of a Venezuelan:

– Peanut butter
– Jelly
– Jam
– Ketchup
– BBQ sauce

¡Buen Provecho!

*Thank you to Flickr photographers who share their photos with Creative Commons licenses.

Arepas Nutritional Facts

27 Jul

I was curious to know just how bad or good for you arepas are.   So I went ahead and did some calculations. According to the Harina PAN packaging Nutritional Facts, in 1 serving of 30 g. there is:

Calories 110
Calories from Fat 5
Total Fat 0,5 g
Saturated Fat 0 g
Trans Fat 0 g
Sodium 0 mg
Total Carbohydrates 24 g
Dietary Fiber 3 g
Protein 2 g
Harina PAN & Arepa Nutritional Facts

Harina PAN & Arepa Nutritional Facts

So, if we do some math… ugh math… we can establish that (if you follow my recipe) we are using 1 cup of Harina PAN, which I measured out to be about 170 grams. Out of that I got about 4 arepas, so each arepa would contain about 42.5 grams of Harina Pan, in which with a simple cross-multiplication we can conclude that the nutritional information would be as follows (keep in mind this is just an estimate):

Serving = 1 Arepa of about 42.5 g. of Harina Pan + Water (without adding the salt)

Calories 156
Calories from Fat 7
Total Fat 0,7 g
Saturated Fat 0 g
Trans Fat 0 g
Sodium 0 mg
Total Carbohydrates 34 g
Dietary Fiber 4.25 g
Protein 2.83 g

For those of you in a Gluten Free diet or Low Sodium/Heart Healthy Diet, an arepa can be a healthier alternative to a sandwich, as long as you fill it with healthy fillings like some scrambled egg whites and other cheeses or meats you are allowed to eat.   For the low sodium diets, just don’t add salt to the mix before you prepare the dough.   And you can also use the Harina PAN to make empanadas, tortillas, hallaquitas, tamales and other similar products.

Also I think the arepas made in the Tostiarepa are about twice the size of the arepas I measured out here.

¡Buen Provecho!

***I just realized it took me 4 posts to cover everything about arepas.

Recipe: Venezuelan Arepas

13 Jul

Arepas are very easy to prepare.   First, you will need a few basic things.

– Mixing Bowl

Basic Ingredients and Utensils

Basic Ingredients and Utensils

– Measuring Spoons

– Measuring Cup

– 1 cup Harina PAN (Discussed here).

– 1 cup lukewarm water

– ½ teaspoon salt

Next, you will prepare the dough.

Add the Harina PAN and the salt into the mixing bowl and mix together using your hands.   Then, little by little add the water and knead and mix the dough using your hands.   You must knead the dough until the mix is soft, firm and has a uniform consistency without any grains.

Add Water, Salt and Harina PAN

Add Water, Salt and Harina PAN

Another way if doing it is to first add the water and the salt into the mixing bowl and stir that together, and then proceed to add the Harina PAN little by little.

It is up to you to decide which method to use.   I usually had preferred to mix the water and the salt first, so to make the water salty and spread the saltiness evenly through the dough.   However, I found that using all the water first usually resulted in having to add more Harina PAN to the mix latter in order to get the right consistency.

Therefore I think the best way to go about it is to add the salt to the water in the measuring cup, and have the Harina PAN in the mixing bowl.   That way you add as much water as needed, but you also distribute the salt evenly and then proceed to knead.

Knead Dough

Knead Dough

Once the dough is ready you let it sit for 5 minutes.

Let it sit

Let it sit

Now you are ready to form the arepas.   You should grab a handful of the dough, and with both hands make a nice sized ball of about 2” to 2.5” in diameter.   Then you use one hand to hold the ball and the other to flatten it ever so slightly with your fingers, turning it around so you flatten it evenly.   The thickness is really up to you and up to the type of arepa you are going to prepare.   I usually flatten it to about 0.5” or 0.75” thick.   And if you are using a “Tostiarepa” you don’t event have to worry about flatting it, because it will do it for you.   Now that you have the basics, you can decide to cook your arepa in several different ways.

Make Balls

Make Balls

Flatten

Flatten

Arepas Asadas

This is probably the most common way to cook an arepa.   I believe the translation would be something like roasted or grilled Arepas.   The best way to do this is with what we call a “BUDARE”, which is basically a cast iron round griddle (think Lodge Logic).   You would first seal them at a higher temperature and then cook the inside at a medium temperature flipping them over constantly.

Arepas Asadas

Arepas Asadas

Arepas Fritas

These are probably the most delicious ones, because they are Fried arepas, and lets face it, anything fried tastes 10 times better.   You would simply heat up about 2 cups of oil at medium heat in a pan, or better yet, in a fryer or Dutch oven.   After the oil is hot enough you would fry the arepas for about 10 minutes or until they are golden on both sides.

If you wish to fry your arepas, I recommend that you flatten them further, to about 0.25” thick, and also its tradition to open a hole with your finger in the middle of the fried arepas (don’t ask me why).

Usually, in Venezuelan restaurants, instead of serving bread and butter while you wait for your food to arrive, we serve “arepitas con nata”.   These are small little about 1.5” in diameter (cooked) fried arepas served directly from the fryer with either butter or delicious “nata”, which is hard to explain, because I really never though of it.   It is sort of like a sour cream, but its cheesier and buttery, like cream cheesy but with a more liquid consistency.

Arepas Horneadas

These are baked arepas.   They usually have to be “sealed” using the Arepas Asadas technique on a cast iron round griddle for about 5 minutes on each side on high heat.   Then, they are baked in the oven at about 180º C until they start to puff a bit and the crust starts to come up a bit from the inside dough, which is usually about 20 to 30 minutes.

TostiArepa

The arepa toaster will basically toast the arepas in about 7 minutes.   All you have to do is place a large enough ball of dough on each of the compartments in the toaster and press the cover down.   You should open it back up and check that you had enough dough, or that you didn’t have too much dough.   If you had too much just remove the excess pressed out with your fingers.   If you had too little add more dough and reshape the ball.   You can also add a bit of butter to each compartment before you put the dough in.   I think the toaster is non-stick, but then the crust will taste like butter.

Tostiarepa: Make Balls

Tostiarepa: Make Balls

Flattened Arepa in the Tostiarepa

Flattened Arepa in the Tostiarepa

Now you are ready to enjoy your arepa with any filling you want.   I will cover fillings in the next post, but for now you can enjoy them with butter, your favorite type of cheese and any kind of sandwich meat.

Tips

Arepas become hardened in only a few hours, so you should cook them when you want to eat them.   Also, if they are already hardened, you can damp a paper towel or two in water, and cover the arepa and then stick it in the microwave for about 30 seconds or so.   You can however prepare the dough and refrigerate it beforehand and then proceed to cook them when you are ready to eat them.   You can also refrigerate leftover dough for about 5 days, just make sure you cover it with a damp cloth and spray with water or even a little bit of oil.   You can also prepare baked arepas by sealing them using the griddle first, then freezing them, and simply baking them for 20 to 30 minutes when you are ready to eat them.

Some people add different things to their dough before they cook the arepa to add flavor to the dough.   I have heard and seen a lot of different additions including milk, oil, butter, cheese, eggs, and even honey.   They all have a different taste, but I have to say I have NEVER tried an Arepa I didn’t like and I have NEVER met anyone who didn’t like Arepas 🙂

Check out Arepas on Chef John’s Blog and Also on Bobby Flay Throwdown

¡Buen Provecho!

NEW!!! – Download the One-Page Recipe Printout [Recipe: Venezuelan Arepas PDF Printout

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