Follow by Email, sign up to receive my newest post

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Sweet Memories

One day, while on my account, a cookbook title popped up as a suggestion. It turned out the Internet retail giant's system that finds-things-you-will-not-be-able-to-resist-buying, is completely accurate. I obediently clicked on My Sweet Mexico and felt the urge to add it to my virtual shopping cart immediately. Then...I realized that  Fany Gerson had penned it.
I bought the book right away and once out of its smiley faced box, I couldn't put it down any more. I took it to bed at night and I smiled, salivated, and almost cried with the strongest nostalgia while turning each one of the pages.
Beautifully written, thoroughly researched and wonderfully photographed, this book narrated my most precious food memories. Growing up in Mexico City, born in the mid seventies, raised in a Jewish family, making family road trips with my parents throughout the Mexican Republic and being a hard core sweet tooth...there was something for and of me in every page. Polvorones, conchas, churros, garabatos, mazapanes. The recipes were like childhood souvenirs.

It seemed as if Fany and I had a similar upbringing... And well, we kind of did. We were friends in elementary school at the Escuela Montessori de la Ciudad de Mexico.
We had lost touch after fifth grade, when we enrolled in different schools. About five years ago she emailed me. She'd discovered we were both pastry chefs in NYC. Of course, being me, I lost that email account and with it, all my contacts. Couldn't get in touch with her then.
I found her again recently, on Facebook (once I joined after years of refusing to do any social networking) wanting to congratulate her on her fabulous My Sweet Mexico.

After some messages, we planned to meet to catch up at a cafe.  Once at the assigned place, and after an hour of unsuccessfully trying to recognize her on the face of every human drinking coffee, tea or flavored milk at the site, and wondering if she had transformed herself into a teenager, an 80-something man or a baby or the baby's nanny, I realized I had showed up early...Twenty three hours early!!! With my head throbbing with private embarrassment, I left and came back the next day.
While we both wondered if we would recognize each other after all these years....We did. Right away and without any hint of doubt, which somehow, felt very satisfying, relieving and comforting.
We talked a bit about our lives, achievements, frustrations, heartaches, memories, experiences, projects, writing and baking seasoned with some former classmate trivia. I had a lovely time with her!
Besides My Sweet Mexico, Fany published more recently Paletas: Authentic Recipes for Mexican Ice Pops, Shaved Ice & Aguas Frescas, another fantastic cookbook based on her popular La Newyorkina ice pop business inspired in the flavors we both grew up enjoying at the Mexican paleterias. When she's not making or selling ice pops or artisanal Mexican candy in markets, carts or pop up shops, developing recipes, or writing, Fany prepares to open her flagship La Newyorkina store. I'm fascinated by everything she's doing and can't wait to see what she does next.

When reading her, you can feel how personal are her recipes and the relationships she formed with everyone who shared them with her. She established bonds with the people through the food, and she's now working on giving back to all those generous artisans, by helping them set up businesses or other sources of income.
I have My Sweet Mexico marked all over with tiny Post its with the recipes I want to make, plus the ones my kids want to make together. I'm hoping this winter break gets us through the list.
I made Fany's churros for Chanukah (if I was going to celebrate the oil miracles, I couldn't think of a better way!), and today, while our building's heater is being fixed and it's so chilly in and outside, I made a batch of her "Atole de Amaranto."

Atoles are thick, porridge-like drinks that date back to Pre-Hispanic days. They are usually made out of corn or corn masa and water (although, after the Spaniards introduced cattle into the New World, milk was added to the mix), a sweetener and flavorings such as chocolate, fruit, spices, etc. This particular one calls for amaranth, one of my most favorite ingredients.
Atoles are usually sold by street vendors and are drank for breakfast or dinner, accompanied by steamy tamales.

I buy amaranth and amaranth flour from Bob's Red Mill or other brands at the health food store and I toast the grain myself as I mentioned here, which is fairly easy and quick, BUT you can purchase organic puffed amaranth at: Nu-World Foods, which is Fany's source, and it's kosher certified.


Recipe from Fany Gerson's My Sweet Mexico: Recipes for Authentic Pastries, Breads, Candies, Beverages, and Frozen Treats, a Ten Speed Press publication
  • Vegetarian (uses honey). Nut, gluten, wheat, dairy, egg, and soy free
  • Super ingredients: amaranth (rich in complete protein, fiber, iron and calcium), honey and canela (rich in antioxidants)    

3 cups water
1 (3-inch) piece canela*
1 1/2 cups amaranth flour
1/3 cup honey
1/2 cup puffed amaranth

I added:
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 pinch fine sea salt

Place the water and canela in a pot over medium heat and bring to a boil.

Slowly whisk in the amaranth flour so it doesn't form lumps. Decrease the heat to low.

Cook, stirring frequently, until the mixture has thickened and starts to boil again.

Stir in the honey (and vanilla and salt, if using), remove from heat, discard the canela, and pour into serving bowls.

Top each bowl with some puffed amaranth and serve warm.
Serves 4

Left: canela; Right: cinnamon

*canela is Ceylon cinnamon, a different variety of the cinnamon commonly used in the U.S. As per Fany, canela "is more fragrant and less spicy." And I agree. Canela's flavor is more complex, a bit sweeter, fruitier and it doesn't have such a strong bite. There's definitely a difference. If possible, get canela sticks (I found some in Target, but you can find it in Hispanic stores or online)

What's your sweetest food memory?

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Galletas Chocochips (Mami)

That's the recipe title I wrote almost thirteen years ago on my first ever recipe notebook. I was about to get married, move to the U.S. and carve a life away from my family and my friends. At least I wanted to bring their flavors along with me so I could taste and smell their familiarity and for a couple of bites, feel a bit closer.

These cookies are the first thing that pops into my mind whenever I think of my mother's cooking and baking. It wasn't the only thing she made, but this one watched us both, my brother and I, grow up. 
We would bake them together with the Nestle chocolate chips that she had "smuggled" into pre-Nafta Mexico, after trips abroad, always concerned the custumes' officer might discover the yellow bag hidden inside her unworn shoes in the suitcase.

When very young, my brother decided to make those cookies his only source of food. My mom started keeping the cookie jar behind a locked pantry, but he perfected a strange and still not clear climbing, contortionist and reaching technique with which he managed to take off the lid and empty the whole jar of its contents and into his mouth in one afternoon. She would hide the cookies, he would find them (weird, because it sounds exactly like my own son, and given the fact that they look identical, I often feel I live in a deja vu).
When my friends came over for pajama parties, they would wake up in the middle of the night, sneak into the kitchen and snack on the cookies too. They were kind of the "specialty of the house."

Two years ago exactly, my mother passed away after a 28-year-long fight for her life. She never gave up. She went when she fell her time had arrived, once my brother and I had reached adulthood, graduated university, got married, and kind of settled down. She didn't pass away 8 months after her cancer diagnosis, as her doctors had predicted she would, but 28 years.
She never gave up. She believed, and she knew what she wanted: to survive. And she survived. She never took a "no, you can't" for an answer. She never stopped fighting, being hopeful and confident. She passed away the day before Chanukah, and I find it incredible because--just like the oil needed to light the Menorah in the Temple in this holiday's story-- Her life, was supposedly going to extinguish much sooner than it did. G-d's miracle, made her light shine for much longer. 
And this is why, I want to share today; to celebrate her, her light, her strength and her beauty as a person; these chocolate chip cookie recipes.
I first thought I wouldn't change her original recipe, but after thinking it further, I came to the conclusion that she would probably be proud of the fact that I took what she gave me, made it my own and changed it for what I believe to be better. After all, she's the one who forced me to drink fresh orange juice every morning before school "to get my vitamin C," (I hated then and still hate, the pulp in my drinks, so I tried different techniques to escape it, like throwing the juice down the bathroom sink, or running to the car pretending I had forgotten. I was always caught). She was the one giving me bee pollen tablets "to strengthen my immune system" (those were the 70's...), and made brown colored lemonade, because she'd learned honey was a better sweetener than sugar. We were the only household I knew where sandwiches were prepared with whole wheat bread then, and there was never soda at home. I hated it then, and I embrace it now in every single way I can.
I wished I had her near me, healthy and happy. Teaching me how to be a mother. But in the meanwhile, I do have my memories and her her recipes. And I'm thankful for both and for the fact that with her powerful light, she still illuminates my life!


Well, this is my interpretation of my mother's classic. The recipe uses pecans, that you could substitute for seeds or toasted brown rice cereal if you needed to. But my mother loved nuts and I wanted to keep them in. If you scroll down, you'll find my mother's REAL recipe.


  • Vegan, gluten, soy, wheat, dairy, and egg free. CONTAINS NUTS
  • Super ingredients: coconut and olive oil, flax meal, whole oat flour, pecans
2 ounces (1/4 cup) virgin coconut oil, melted
2 ounces (1/4 cup) extra virgin olive oil
0.25 ounce (1 tablespoon) flax meal mixed with 3 tablespoons water
2.75 ounces (1/2 cup) coconut palm sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
5 ounces (1 1/4 cup) whole oat flour (gluten free if needed)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
3 1/2 ounces (3/4 cup)coarsley chopped pecans
3 ounces (2/3 cup) semi sweet chocolate chips or chunks

Preheat oven to 357 F. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper. Set aside.

In a large bowl, mix oils, flax-water mix, coconut sugar and vanilla extract with a spatula, until an homogeneous batter forms.

Add flour, baking soda and salt into the bowl with the oil mixture, and whisk it until it comes together.

Add pecans and chocolate chips and mix them into the dough with a spatula until they are evenly distributed.

Drop tablespoonfulls of dough onto the prepared pans, leaving 2 inches between each cookie (they spread a LOT).

Bake for about 11 minutes, until nice and brown.

Let cookies cool for 2 minutes and enjoy! The cookies are crunchy and very delicate, so be aware that they crumble a lot. Get a plate!!!


1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup dark brown sugar, packed
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1 cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 375 F.
Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper.
In an electring mixer, beat the butter and the sugars. Add the egg and the vanilla until egg incorporates.
Add flour, baking soda and salt and beat until the dough comes together.
Mix the pecans and chocolate chips by hand with a spatula and follow the instructions for the recipe above.

Enjoy! But don't bother hiding the cookies. They will find them anyways!!!

Monday, December 12, 2011

More Chia Please!

Sorry, but I'm still dealing with my chia obsession, so bear with me.
As all good things related to healthy and delicious baking (which include chocolate, vanilla, amaranth, and myself. of course), chia, Salvia hispanica, originated in Mexico. It was a staple of the Aztecs and Mayas, who consumed it as a food, used it in religious rituals, extracted oil to make paint, healed disease and taxed the conquered peoples with it. It was known as an optimal food for endurance, and it's said that when needed, Aztec warriors would subsist on 1 tablespoon of chia seed a day (and nothing else). 
Some of its uses, specifically the ones linked to the religious rituals (which for the Aztecs often included human sacrifices of many kinds) freaked the Spaniards out during the Conquest, and in their effort to convert the indigenous peoples to Catholicism, they forbade the cultivation of foods associated to their local religious practices and offerings. As time went by, the seed lost its place as a staple and remained consumed only in a few regions of Mexico and Central America. Mainly as a beverage called "Chia Fresca," prepared with water, lime juice, sugar and chia.
It wasn't until the Omega-3 vogue that started in the late 1990's, that chia was rescued from obscurity. Now it's grown commercially in Mexico, Central and South America, and mostly in Australia, and you can find it baked or added into a zillion products (like my fave drink: Kombucha).
Chia has been commercially marketed as the next big thing, and with good reason, as its rich content of Omega-3 (and its adequate omega-3:omega-6 ratio), dietary fiber, protein, vitamins (B complex mainly) and minerals, definitely make it a good ingredient to include in our diet (however, as with everything, don't exaggerate!).
Another important point is that chia contains lots of antioxidants, which--besides benefiting the person ingesting it--keep the seed from becoming rancid, so chia can be stored for longer periods than flax seed (the former Omega-3 king) and DOESN'T need to be ground in order to be digested.
With all its qualities, chia, a gluten free food, has been said to help prevent diabetes, heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer's, depression, obesity, inflammation, constipation, and anemia, among others. It's supposedly also helpful during gestation and lactation (please always consult your doctor) and to strengthen the immune system. But I love it the most for its culinary property of gelling. So move over molecular gastronomists. Chia was there all along!
I just bought some Meyer lemons today, and as usual during this time of the produce year, nothing makes me happier in the cold season, than these sweet aromatic lemons. My friend, and former co-worker Emily, a native Californian, introduced me to them almost a decade ago, and since then, every year I get into Meyer frenzy and a nostalgia for my friend who moved back to the Golden State, the sun and Meyer lemons.
I love these citrus in curd, filling layers of coconut meringue cake, but I thought a healthier and still delicious version of a parfait-mousse-triffle-like thing with whipped coconut cream sweetened with coconut nectar might be worth a try.
The result was CRAZY good. Please try this no-bake dessert. Please, please!!!!


The sweet lemony taste infuses the richness of the coconut cream in the most delicious way. I can't get enough.
I chose coconut nectar as the sweetener, because it's a low glycemic, all natural, unrefined alternative that pairs really well with the rest of the ingredients in this recipe. As I mentioned before, the sap of the coconut plant produces a sweet nectar that it's evaporated into coconut sugar. I recently found this unevaporated version and like it a lot (for more info please click in the link below).
  • Vegan. Gluten, wheat, soy, nut, dairy and egg free (contains coconut)
  • Super ingredients: chia, Meyer lemons, coconut and coconut cream

    1 (13.5 oz) can organic coconut milk (NOT light!)
    2 tablespoons coconut nectar, divided
    2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
    4 Meyer lemons, zested and juiced (seeds removed)
    2 tablespoons chia seed

    1/2 cup cookie crumbs (graham cracker crumbs work well) or granola
    1/2 cup unsweetened organic coconut flakes

    1. The night before you make the recipe, refrigerate the unopened can of coconut milk.

    Notice the separation between coconut water (back) and cream (front) 
    2.The next day, open the can (straight from fridge) and separate the creamy (often solid) part into a mixing bowl and save the more liquid-y, serum-like part for another use (nice addition to soups or rice cooking liquid).

    3. Whip the coconut cream, 1 tablespoon coconut nectar and 2 teaspoons vanilla in an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment until thick and soft peaks form (it will look just like whipped cream). It will take a couple of minutes, but it will happen.
    Isn't it awesome?

    4. While coconut cream whips, mix Meyer lemon juice, the zest of 1 of the lemons, the chia seeds and the remaining 1 tablespoon coconut nectar in a small bowl or a measuring cup. Set aside for at least 20 minutes, so the gelling magic of the chia can occur.

    5. Place about 1 teaspoon or so of cookie crumbs or granola in the bottom of each of the jars or glasses where the dessert will be served.

    6. Top crumbs with about 2 dollops of whipped coconut cream.

    7. Add about 2 teaspoons Meyer-chia gel to the cream, and top with a bit more cream.

    8. Top off with about 1 tablespoon coconut flakes, a pinch of lemon zest and crumbs.

    9. Serve

    Makes 4 individual parfaits.

    Tuesday, December 6, 2011

    Grocery Voyeurism

    This past summer, my life changed. Fairway, the grocery and specialty store with some of Manhattan's most moderate (yes, oxymoron) pricing and exotic assortment, opened a branch six blocks away from my apartment.
    I used to have to make special trips to the West Side store hunting for my hard-to-find seeds, flours and strange ingredients or look for them online and in 5 or 6 different stores all over the Upper East Side. Those days are over! Now, stopping at Fairway after dropping my kids off in school has become as part of my routine as brushing my teeth. Actually, more than routine, and addiction.
    Fairway has turned into my personal office, and the center of my social life (imagine how much fun it is to hang out with me!). I take care of business there: I buy ingredients for my baking, I bump into friends and acquaintances, schedule future cooking classes, while I also interrupt people's conversations when I hear they don't know how to use a certain ingredient in the organic isles and I give them tips and recipes. I'm full service, I even guide the shoppers to where the items are. I've become the unofficial (and unpaid) Fairway ambassadress.
    I have also had a chance to exercise more often my bad grocery voyeurism habit. Yes. I tend to peek into other people's carts and make secret judgements about the person pushing it: "they like eating healthy, they are addicted to soda, they don't cook, they are gourmands, they have a huge family, they don't read labels, they are shopping for someone else, they like the same chocolate I like (so they must be smart and have good taste), they suffer from celiac disease, they have bad taste, how can they buy so much stuff I'd never buy?, Oh...I wonder where they found that..."

    I was there (obviously) on a Sunday afternoon with my daughter (NOTE: never go on Sunday afternoon. It's a zoo). I curbed our cart and started studying the organic grain section, right where I had found the fabulous green lentils I wrote about on an earlier post. From the same truRoots brand, I found a bag of chia seeds. I had ran out of chia at home, and since I liked the brand's products I grabbed the bag. I started reading in their serving suggestions how to make pudding with the seed that I usually add to baked goods, and found the possibility, fascinating. My daughter and I took the cart and continued our shopping mission.

    Then, this man started following us and staring at our cart. "A fellow cart voyeur," I thought. But this was becoming too much. "At least I try to be discreet! Can he be less obvious?" Maybe he was SO impressed with the food selection in my cart, that he wanted to ask me for advice. Maybe he wanted to hire me to do his own shopping. Maybe he'd never seen better, more interesting, smarter, more perfect ingredient choices in his life. Maybe he wanted to congratulate me, but he was too shy...
    It was getting really weird...I made eye contact with him, and without saying a word I inquired about his crazy behavior. Very politely, he said: "I'm sorry, but I think you took my cart. Yours must be right next to the fish section." I looked down, and yes, in deed, those weren't my veggies in the basket. I grabbed my chia with one hand, my scared daughter's hand with the other one (or ashamed of her cart thief mom), and laughed all they way back to where our cart was. My daughter relaxed, and I realized the only sicko at Fairway was me!

    I have LOTS to say about the fabulous chia, so I will start doing so in this post and continue on the next one. It's a super healthy and fun ingredient to work with. Even more now that I learned about it's gelling properties.

    Chia, yes, the seeds that eventually sprout to become a Chia Pet's fur or Obama's "hair" are probably the highest vegetable source of Omega-3 fatty acids and are extremely rich in soluble fiber and antioxidants. They also contain some protein and minerals such as calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, manganese, copper, iron, molybdenum, niacin, and zinc. For its nutritional properties, chia is a good addition to our diet to help prevent chronic disease, like cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular problems.

    Here are two simple recipes that use very few ingredients and the only technique required is mixing with a spoon or fork. NO baking or cooking necessary, so they are raw-friendly and very tasty preparations.


    This can be served as a yogurt or ice cream topping, a salad dressing, a sauce, in a fruit salad or as my husband (who doesn't even like grapefruit), my friend J (or Y), my daughter and I ended up doing: eaten by the spoonful for a strange, original and very pleasant mouth feel.

    • Vegetarian (uses honey), nut, gluten, dairy, soy, and wheat free
    • Super ingredients: chia, fresh grapefruit and lemon juice (high in antioxidants), raw honey

    1 Ruby Red grapefruit (or any other kind) 
    1/2 lemon, zested
    1 1/2 tablespoons raw honey (I loved it with Tupelo)
    1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
    1/4 teaspoon lemon extract (optional)
    1/4 cup chia seeds

    Squeeze grapefruit and lemon juice onto a bowl or a measuring cup fitted with a strainer.

    Add lemon zest, honey and extracts to the juice and mix well with a spoon or a fork.

    Mix in chia and let mixture set for at least 20 minutes (or refrigerate overnight).

    The longer it sits, the more liquid the chia absorbs and the thicker the gel gets. Add more juice if you'd like to thin it down and drink it as a beverage.

    A great alternative to commercially packaged puddings, this is a nice and healthy snack. You can add more or less date puree and/or cocoa powder to taste.

    • Vegan, dairy, nut, soy, egg, wheat and gluten free
    • Super ingredients: chia, non-alkalized cocoa powder (which contains an incredible amount of antioxidants and a nice amount of iron), dates (rich in antioxidants, fiber and minerals)

    1/2 cup unsweetened rice milk (or the milk of your choice, such as: coconut, dairy, nut, soy, if there are no allergies or other limitations)
    2 tablespoons date puree (or to taste)
    1 tablespoon non-alkalized cocoa powder (such as Scharffen-Berger) OR carob powder
    1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
    pinch of sea salt
    2 tablespoons chia seeds


    In a small bowl mix all the ingredients with a spoon or fork, until cocoa (or carob) powder has completely dissolved. Let sit for at least 20 minutes or cover and refrigerate overnight.