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Sometimes it's nice to have a failure. When it's NOT nice is when you have people over and you are just trying some fun food experiments but everyone is really hungry and watching your every move waiting for their food. When it IS nice, is when it's just you, maybe with a friend, casually cooking and having fun. Hoping things will work out but being ok if they don't. Having a contingency plan. Plan B. Another time it's nice is when it takes you down a peg. When you haven't had a failure in awhile, and you are beginning to think you are the master of the kitchen.

After making some pretty awesome meals that were out of my comfort zone with new and exotic ingredients, I was feeling pretty confident myself. Yesterday afternoon Mandi and I decided to make Arepas for dinner with some shredded beef for the filling. If you don't know, an arepa is kind of like a corn-y Central American version of an English muffin. After reading a few recipes, I thought that Masarepa, or Harina PAN, the main ingredient of arepas, was the same thing as Masa Harina. I was very wrong. As always, I was online doing some serious research. We were set on arepas at this poing but I didn't think I could find Harina PAN in Bermuda. I kept reading blog after blog trying to find out what Harina PAN actually was! Finally I discovered that corn flours, cornmeal, and masa harina are raw corn that has been grinded down. Harina PAN is COOKED corn that has then been dried and grinded. People said to look for the words "harina de maiz refinada precocida," or "refined, precooked corn flour" on the package.

Ok I thought to myself wandering around the grocery store. Is there anything I can use here? Once Mandi has something on her mind, she has to have it. Making anything but arepas would be out of the question tonight! What else at the grocery store is refined precooked corn flour? For awhile I was honestly going to buy corn tortillas and mash them with some warm water. I vaguely remember Alton doing something like that at one point. That corn flour is cooked right? Then it hit me! Rachael Ray's favorite product! Instant polenta! The reason it is instant, is that it is just that - pre-cooked. I looked at the ingredients, and there was only one: Pre-cooked maize meal. The ingredients on Harina PAN read the same: Pre-cooked white corn meal. Then I looked at my recipe: 2 cups pre-cooked white cornmeal. Did white matter? If nothing else, it was going to be an interesting night.

This is for the shredded beef.

Long slices of 5 jalapeños. The seeds and ribs of one diced.

We used a mixture of pepper and coriander for all of our peppering needs in this meal.

This all went in after the tomato paste.

We used a flank steak because that seemed common on areparia menus.

We've been on a plantain kick lately. We wanted to fry these to have some crunchy contrast with all the rest of the gooey ingredients.

These are super easy to make and really tasty!

They also look cool when you make a pile of them.

We made some simple beans that I didn't take many pictures of. Just cook some onions in a pan with a splash of oil, add garlic and jalapeno, add cumin, then add a rinsed can of beans. Stir them a lot so some smash up and they become pasty. Don't go all the way to refried bean status, just half way.

Here is the instant polenta in question.

Salt, oil, and warm water.

I have a link to the REAL recipe down at the bottom. You know, the non failure one.

At this point, we knew this would not thicken up. What to add? Well there wasn't much polenta left, but I had some finely ground cornmeal and masa harina.

We added equal parts of these until the dough became the texture we wanted.

They still look like they are going to be good!

Hockey anyone? These things came out as hard as a puck.

Such promise!

We flipped them and put the whole mess into the oven. Notice they aren't brown? They wouldn't brown even at the highest heat!!

In this picture Mandi is making fun of me for skimming. I like to skim ok? Deal.

YUM! At least this flank steak was amazing, because the failrepas were not.

The arepas failed, now what? Show a few more gratuitous shots of the plantain chips. Check.

We used this cool Portuguese cheese we found in the store. We wanted queso blanco but couldn't find it anywhere!

I would have made these more sandwichy if they had come out right, but instead I put it at the bottom of the plate. The insides of the failrepa just tasted like cornbread, but the outsides tasted like rocks.

Yum! I still enjoyed everything, just wish the arepas came out right! This isn't the last you will hear from me arepas! I will seek revenge!

Plantain chips
Remove peel from plantain with a knife.
Make strips the long way with a vegetable peeler.
Fry at 350 for about 3 minutes or until it is crisp and the bubbling has slowed.

Guacamole is here

Cook onion on high heat, add garlic and jalapenos, add cumin, add rinsed can of beans, stir a lot and slightly mash some.

Arepa Recipe is here.

Tablespoon cumin
Tablespoon chile powder
Tablespoon dried oregano
Teaspoon smoked paprika
½ teaspoon cayenne
Few splashes worcestershire
2.5 oz chipotle sauce (or 2 chipotles in adobo)

Sear a seasoned flank steak on both sides.
Put 2 sliced onions in a pot and sauté 5 minutes.
Add 5 sliced jalapenos with seeds and ribs removed. Add the seeds and ribs of one.
Add garlic, 1 minute.
Add tomato paste, 1 minute.
Add "spices", 1 minute.
Add 3 cups or so of water and stir to combine.
Add flank steak. Put in 300 degree oven covered for an hour and a half. Or cover and cook on the stovetop on low heat for that same amount of time.


You could of totally fooled me if you hadn't called this a failure. Everything looks amazing! Get back in the kitchen, try again, and have it perfected for when I visit.

Do you get FoodTV down there? Bobby Flay had a Throwdown episode about arepas recently. The show is a half hour, but here's a clip:

Yeah, I loved that episode of Throwdown. It's only like one of three that are actually good. :-)

I tell ya those banana chips become extinct if put near me.

since arepa flour is finer than instant might consider pulverizing the polenta in a food processor first..real fine like flour...since you get less yield you end up adding more polenta and your recipe might actually end up being very close. 1/1 it'll be lighter, more tender. hmmmm, just thinking out your link from doing research myself..don't know where I'm going to find arepa flour near me ..I'm going to try it and add a smidgeon of leavener plus cold butter/water and flour.

Thanks so much. I just got a Wolfgang Puck grill waffle maker and it has a recipe for these corn cakes.

I also first thought it might be the masa harina, but the precooked didn't jive, masa harina is made from hominy, the soaked corn in lime to remove the shell and give it more nutrition, is dried for flour, but that's not really "pre cooked".

I immediately thought of it as white polenta, since so many Italians emigrated circa 1900 to Argentina,etc.

I have used precooked polenta, but it's usually so much more expensive, I just cook the regular grind.

There is a Mexican food chain, Vallarta, over 30 stores just expanding like crazy, but they are non union, so I try not to buy there. Trader Joe's is closer, so I'll look there first. It just ires me that Americans can't own businesses in Mexico, but Mexicans can own big businesses in the US, and the profits exit California. Maybe I'd better rethink this. Trader Joe's used to be owned by a family in Pasadena, now they are owned by a grocery family in Germany. I guess I like the Xmas cookies, albeit Vallarta is a store you can get imported coca cola made with real sugar. Corn syrup has destroyed the taste of our foods!

Corn is indigenous to South America (the chile to Mexico which is in N America!), but since couscous is precooked wheat, I wonder if North African culture has a similar cake made with precooked wheat? And is there a precooked rice?

I've noticed that the tortilla is present in every culture, some sort of flat bread cooked on a fire/stove...
let's see, tortilla, crepe, pancake, pita, lavash, moo goo gai pan wrapper, I guess wrappers for egg rolls, is more like pasta...

In South America, I'm sure there are texts in the archives of Catholic libraries of what and how the natives cooked in 1500...I wonder what has been Europeanized, and what has stayed similar... I mean, did you ever eat poi? No wonder Hawaii eats spam, anything improves poi! I think all the tropical fruits were imported, right? Now that's something,I think I'll look it up, exactly what was there when the Portuguese first "discovered" Hawaii? Ukelele is a Portuguese guitar! Fish and poi? Some honey, macadamia nuts? Pretty bland. Pork and pineapple might not be Hawaiian at all! Actually, they eat spam in Key West, so I think it might just be places with limited refrigeration, where they had to bring food in by ship!

I've bookmarked you site... thanks for the pics...


P.S.I omitted this part of my previous letter...
One thing I have learned, is that you have to pulverize polenta to make it into corn flour because it is coarse milled. The blender works ok. And I wonder, is the commercial arepas mix self rising? You know, like in the South, people cook with self rising flour, the baking powder already in it? I have decided to venture over to Vallarta, pick up some premixed tamale corn (it's wet and ready to go!...come one we buy pizza dough!)and the actual arepas mix. Once I use the original, I'll then know how to substitute in a pinch. The Wolfgang Puck wafflemaker/etc bakes them on both sides at once, like a waffle...I liked how you cooked the plantain, fried isn't my preference...don't even eat many egg yolks anymore... I save them, though, freeze them, and in winter, I make jiffy mix cornbread for the birds with them, to give them fuel for migration and nesting. It's all egg yolks for liquid, looks like a dense sponge cake. Only feed them in winter. Otherwise the squirrels and possum just eat up the food, in winter I don't mind feeding all God's critters, but come April, they are on their own again!

Hi. I was checking out what did with the arepas, and the way we cook them is using a pan and merely touching the bottom with oil, putting the arepa there and cooking it until you see little brown marks, then flip it and do the same with the other side. I have never baked arepas.

Arepas are South American, not Central American :)

They looked nice regardless!

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