Colombian New Year’s Feast

For NYE this year, I had the privilege of enjoying a Colombian feast cooked by my favorite Colombian friend, Natalia. She claims to be a mediocre cook, but I’ve seen no evidence of this mediocrity. The food we had last night was awesome. So awesome that I was too busy eating to properly photo-document the experience. But, this was the end result:

Colombian Feast

Colombian Feast

Item 1: Arepas

This is Natalia’s specialty. She’s made them for us before and they’re fun and yummy. Have you had a pupusa? It’s like that. A small, corn flour patty that is pan grilled (the way Natalia makes them) and then eaten by cutting in half and stuffing with veggies, cheese, and/or meats like a pita.

Arepas fresh out of the pan

Arepas fresh out of the pan

Natalia made “sweaty chicken” (don’t ask me, I don’t eat chicken), mushrooms, grilled peppers and onions, corn with string cheese*, with guac and a butternut squash/sun-dried tomato/goat cheese spread. It was all really, really good.

Item 2: Cheese Balls (aka bunuelos)

These little gems are deep fried balls of corn flour, egg, and grated queso fresco. Nick (Natalia’s husband) describes them as cheese donuts, which is relatively accurate. They’re fluffy and delicious. Mmmm… fried things.

Bunuelos = cheesy donut balls

Bunuelos = cheesy donut balls

Item 3: Fried Plantains

This dish is genius. I did not take enough photos, but read the directions carefully; it’s so easy and they’re so good:

  1. Take unripe plantain (the greener the better), peel, and slice into about 2″ long pieces. 
  2. Place plantain pieces in boiling pan of oil until they’re cooked all the way through. This will take maybe 15 minutes or so.
  3. Take the plantains out of the oil and while still hot, mash each slice into a flat piece with a couple rolls of a rolling pin (or coffee mug). Don’t roll so much that they fall apart.
  4. Set aside to cool. Don’t stack them ‘cuz they’ll stick together. Also, put some salt on them.
  5. Using that same pan of oil, fry the flattened plantain slices until they’re golden brown.
  6. Take them out and serve to your friends. Accept compliments.
Plantain slices fried once and squashed, ready for the second frying

Plantain slices fried once and squashed, ready for the second frying

These are SO GOOD. They are good by themselves, or with a splash of goat cheese, or covered in guac, or with all the same fixins as were on your arepa. Amazing. And easy, too.

So that was our New Year Colombian feast. Not a bad way to end 2012. Happy 2013!! Also, this was us after we were fed and happy:

Happy feasters. Or, Mala and her friends. Chef Natalia is on the left.

Happy feasters. Or, Mala and her friends. Chef Natalia is on the left.

*Corn with string cheese. By far the most unsuspecting part of the meal. It was amazing. Cut corn off the cob, put it in a pan with some butter. Then slowly stir in an egg so that it coats all the corn and stays light and fluffy. Then string some string cheese and melt that in with the corn. Ridiculously good.

Recipe: Fried Catfish and Quinoa: A Juxtaposition

B&C has been, so far, solely interested in food that other people make.  Specifically, East Bay restaurants that serve food that I purchase from them.  It’s a good relationship: drive, eat, pay, write.  But perhaps it’s time for B&C to evolve to discuss some home cooking too, no?

I’m not a great cook, it’s true.  In fact, I (we) typically don’t cook anything terribly exciting on any kind of a regular basis.  Boyfriend gets a bit upset when I say this, but I’d argue for the most part that it’s true.  I’ll concede, also, that he’s a better cook than I.  Moving on.  When we do make an effort, and we’re successful, why not blog about it?  This is a food blog isn’t it?

The inspiration for tonight’s meal came from Food Maxx.  Yes I shop there; it actually is a lot cheaper than Safeway.  I just pretend like the floor is tile instead of concrete, like the arrangement is such that it does not weave me through the store as though I could not navigate it alone, and that select other patrons don’t have tear drop tattoos.  Actually, the inspiration for this meal came because I’m cheap and because of baby seals.  One of those two you probably already knew.  I will explain the other.  The dudes who club baby seals for a living up in Canada are fisherman in the off-season (or vice-versa).  The Humane Society of the US tells me this (amongst other people), and also tells me that if I don’t buy the seafood they farm in the off-season, then they’re not supported as well to be clubbing seals come seal time.  In short, I try not to buy Canadian seafood.

This ruled out the salmon I typically go for – damn you Canada.  There were some salmon steaks farmed in the US, some cod, and, alas, some catfish nuggets.  And while I raise a skeptical eyebrow at seafood that’s gone on sale, I have no current qualms with inherently cheap seafood.  Do I like catfish?  I’m not sure, I can’t remember ever having it.  Are the “nuggets” so cheap because they’re crappy?  Dunno, but they look pretty normal.  $3/pound is quite convincing.  Catfish nuggets it is.

And while we usually grill our fishies in a spoonful of olive oil, or sometimes with a light sprinkling of marinade, we decided that these nuggets were begging to be crumbed and fried.  We’ve never really done this; here’s what Kane* came up with:

  • The package told us to soak the fish in milk for 15 minutes.  I thought for sure this was going to be a “made you do it!”-type prank, but we did it anyway.  I have no idea how this contributed to our dinner.
  • In a plastic container, Kane mixed flour, corn meal, mashed up Breton wheat crackers, salt, pepper, and cayenne pepper.
  • He then drained the milk from the fish and placed the fish in the container.
  • Sealing the container, he proceeded to shake it vigorously to make sure all the nuggets were covered with breading.

We ran out of vegetable oil, so he fried these sad fish nuggets in half veggie half olive oil.  Redneck portion of our dinner out of the way, I had been all the while dutifully preparing the more cultured, college-educated half of our dinner in the meantime.

Quinoa is a actually a seed, though you cook it pretty much exactly like rice.  It turns into little fluffy balls of yum that taste sort of like brown rice.  It is typically eaten in place of rice or couscous and is very high in protein and other good stuff.  We were first introduced to it in a vegan cooking class, and so as far as I’m concerned, it’s sort of hippie, trendy food.  But, they sell it at Trader Joe’s (no surprise), so I appeased my tie-dyed heart and bought a box a few weeks ago.  I cooked some up for tonight’s feast to go hand in hand with our breaded and fried fish nuggets.  I’m a modern city girl and I do what I want in the kitchen.  No rules hold me back!

Steam up a pre-cut package of broccoli/carrots/snow peas and we’ve almost canceled out the harm of the deep fried fish.  I know that’s not how it works, but I don’t care.  Our conclusion was this surprisingly delicious meal:

Fried catfish nuggets

Fried catfish nuggets - yum!

Quinoa, veggies, fried catfish

Behold - Bohemian Bumpkin: Quinoa and vegetables with fried catfish nuggets.

Quinoa, veggies, fried catfish

Up close and personal.

The combination was really quite good.  We had no idea.  Maybe that made it taste better: we were sort of out on a limb and thinking it probably wasn’t going to work out.  You can’t go wrong with the veggies, those are foolproof.  The quinoa was cooked pretty much perfectly; I didn’t run into my typical rice problem of having too much water and/or burning it.  The little nuggets fried up really well and looked a lot like chicken, though I assure you they were not.  I dipped mine in mayonnaise, like the low-rent gal that I am, Kane slathered his in ketchup like a ten year old.  I dabbled soy sauce on my quinoa, Kane took out the teriyaki sauce.  Yep, we were all over the place.  What’s important though, is that we were successfully scattered in our dinner choices.  High fives all around.

*Beware blog readers, The Boyfriend has been named!