Friday, May 13, 2011

Mother's Day, a food truck or two, and an arepas recipe

I always get a little sentimental and reflective around Mother’s Day. I don’t know if it is the emotions of being celebrated by my children or thinking of how much being mothered myself has meant to me. How do you really thank the first girl who held your hair back as you were sick, bought your school supplies and all of your lunches for the first 20 years or so of your life?

Now that I’m a mother I’ll tell you how, just be a good person. That’s it. It’s that simple. That’s all we mothers really want. Just be happy and be a good citizen of the world. Oh yeah, girls stay off the pole and don’t do anything on camera that you wouldn’t want your mom to see (I guess this one applies to both girls and boys). Finally and most importantly, parent your own children well.

My family is always really good about not making too many plans for me on Mother’s Day. They know that I just like to chill out and do what strikes me on the day. This year my day actually started on Saturday when I headed downtown with a couple of other blogger friends to eat off of the food trucks that were in town competing in Food Network’s challenge show, The Great Food Truck Race. We did managed to visit and eat off of two trucks which was no easy feat because of the large crowds. Unfortunately we were unable to visit the Quiero Arepas (ah-RAY-pahz) truck which was one I was really hoping to see. It’s a local truck so hopefully I’ll have my chance again. Oh well, the weather was beautiful, the food we got to taste was good and the urban crowd in Denver was predictably weird. It was a perfect day.

Korilla Korean BBQ
We shared some great teriyaki style beef soft corn tacos with a crispy sweet cole slaw type topping. I wish I had a photo but my assistant (ha ha) forgot to charge my camera battery and it died.

Lime from California which serves self described "California beach cuisine." They were a little slower starting up so we were unable to try any of their food.

Hodge Podge from Cleveland


Hodge Podge Dawg and Truffle Mac and Cheese - Hodge Podge Truck from Cincinnatti
We got to try a Hodge Podge Dawg which was a huge hot dog topped with cole slaw, sriracha mayo, bacon, shredded short ribs, and smashed truffle tater tots. My blogger friend Lea Ann shared her Truffle Mac and Cheese with us which was super rich with a very subtle truffle flavor and a not too strong goat cheese accent. Even though they were both very good, after seeing a couple of more orders coming off of the truck, I really wish I'd ordered the beautiful $17.00 Lobster Roll. You only live once.

On Sunday I decided that I was going to give myself a present and take a day off from domestic drudgery. I planned to more or less give the finger to bed making, dishwashing and yard work for a day. It was near bliss until I walked into my bedroom for the third time and could no longer stand it and had to make my bed. I went to put my coffee cup in the dishwasher and next thing I knew I was wiping down the countertops and sweeping the floors. I am proud to report that the yard work strike was one I was able to follow through with, since to be quite honest I really don’t do much of that anyway.

Since I didn’t get a chance to eat an arepa off of a food truck this weekend I decided to satisfy my craving by making my own. Arepas are no more than simple little corncakes from Latin America that are either filled or topped. I kind of prefer the Venezuelan style of arepa. They are about 1” thick and are split open after cooking and stuffed with a variety of fillings.

The Columbian style arepas are thinner and served flat and topped with your choice of savory and sweet ingredients (I love them with honey). Even though they are both pretty easy to make, finding the key ingredient (precooked cornmeal) may be not quite so simple. It is important that you use the correct type labeled as masarepa or masa al instante, as the more available masa harina is not a proper substitute. I managed to find precooked cornmeal labeled as P.A.N. in the Hispanic section of a Korean market (go figure), but with everything available on the internet, it can always be ordered if you too have a hankering for an arepa and there’s no food truck around.



Arepas

My arepa here is stuffed with seasoned ground beef, lettuce, tomato, avocado and American cheese (yes, you read right - I read several references that state this is a favorite filling ingredient). I have a friend who loves stuffing hers with (speak of the devil) shredded short ribs, black beans and queso fresco. I'm also planning on trying the much referenced chicken, avocado and mayo mixture that is very popular in Argentina.

2 cups precooked cornmeal
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 – 2/3 cups hot water
Cooking oil (optional)

Place cornmeal and salt in a large bowl and mix well. Add hot water a stir vigorously to form a smooth and sticky dough. Cover and let sit for 5 minutes. Divide dough into five portions (for Columbian style, divided into 12 portions and flatten to 1/2" thickness) and roll each section into a ball. Place balls between 2 pieces of plastic wrap (this will make shaping the sticky dough much easier). Flatten to 1” thick with the bottom of a heavy, flat bottom pot. If cakes begin to crack, dampen with water and smooth edges. I have found that the best arepas are made from pretty sticky dough.

There are a couple of different ways to cook arepas, frying or grilling on a barbeque grill. To fry (my favorite), place a couple of tablespoons of oil into a medium size pan set over medium heat. When the oil is hot fry corncakes until lightly browned on each side. Place arepas in a single layer on a baking sheet and place into a preheated 325 degree oven for approximately 20 - 30 minutes. Properly cooked arepas should sound hollow when tapped. To barbeque, place arepas on a preheated, oiled grill and cook for 5 minutes on each side. Move to the outside of the grill and cook for approximately 15 minutes longer or until they sound hollow when tapped.

To serve, split arepas halfway down the middle. Carefully scoop out some of the center to form a pocket. Fill with your favorite ingredients. Suggestions follow.

Variations

•Filled Arepas: Split the arepas in half when finished and scoop out a little of the soft dough filling. Stuff with your chosen filling.

•Arepa de Pabellón: shredded, seasoned meat and black beans.

•Reina Pepeada: chopped chicken, avocado, and mayonnaise mashed together.

•Arepa de Dominó: black beans and crumbled white cheese.

•Arepa de Perico: scrambled eggs with tomatoes, peppers and onions.

•Columbian Arepas: make smaller and thicker and don't bake. Top with butter and melted cheese.

•Other possible fillings: grated white or cheddar cheese; guasacaca, ham and cheese, hard-boiled quails eggs.

•The sautéing step is sometimes skipped and the arepas are simply baked. In the countryside arepas are often cooked on the grill.

•Small arepas can be made and served as appetizers with garnishes on top instead of inside. Or they can be eaten as small biscuits.

•Sometimes a little sugar is mixed in with the dough to form sweet arepas (arepas dulces).
Notes

•The cornmeal used to make arepas is a special, precooked type that usually goes by the name masarepa, or masa precocida. It can often be found in Latino markets. The more commonly found masa harina is not the correct type to use for this recipe.
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