Barritas: A Toast to South Texas Bakeries (literally)


This is a very simple meal. It is one of those meals that you just put together and I had fun preparing it and sharing  memories about barritas and growing up the Rio Grande Valley.

The origins of “barritas” come from my childhood  in South Texas where there was an abundance of Mexican bakeries or “panaderias.” My sister blogged about this experience. See “Mexican Panaderias”

In South Texas and throughout Mexico, one can buy fresh French bread in addition to pan de dulce (pastries) at these panaderias. The smaller loaves of French bread are called “barritas.” We often sliced and toasted them in the oven if there were any left by the time we got home from the panaderia.  We would top them with butter, with butter, cinnamon, and sugar, or with beans and cheese like this recipe.

I used ciabatta bread from the grocery store since I don’t have easy access to a panaderia like I did growing up. While I missed the real bread from the bakery, the ciabatta bread and was a good substitute. I topped these with mashed pinto beans that I had made in the slow cooker but you could use canned beans for even greater ease. I topped with thin cheddar cheese slices and baked in the oven and served with sauteed asparagus.  Enjoy! If you were at our table, I’d raise my toasted barrita and toast to South Texas bakeries and childhood memories! Cheers!



Ciabatta bread or French bread sliced

Refried beans (mashed pinto beans with crushed garlic, a pinch of kosher salt, and black pepper)

Cheddar cheese (sliced thinly or grated)



Slice bread. Top with pinto beans and cheese. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes. Broil for 1 to 2 minutes (watch closely) until the cheese is caramelized.

I served the barritas with sauteed asparagus.

Sauteed Asparagus


1 bunch fresh asparagus (washed with the hard stems cut off)

1 T. Grapeseed Oil

1 T. Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1 T. Balsamic Vinegar

Kosher Salt

Black Pepper



Heat grapeseed oil in large pan or wok on medium high heat. Add asparagus and salt and pepper. Saute for 3-4 until asparagus is bright green. Add balsamic vinegar and cook for 1 more minute. Remove from heat. Drizzle with olive oil. Serve.





Zabar’s Banana Bread Recipe


Below is a great banana bread/muffin recipe that I received in an email from

I’ve only made it as muffins and they are so yummy.

I used Plugra unsalted butter, freshly brewed espresso, Ghirardelli Bittersweet chocolate chips, Mexican vanilla, and very ripe bananas.  I did not use orange blossom water, nor white whole wheat flour, though I’m sure that they would be very good made that way.  I have not made them with nuts, but I know they would be great with with walnuts or pecans. These freeze well in case you cannot eat them all when they are fresh!

Our (new) Favorite Banana Bread


from Tiffany Ludwig


Banana Bread is my go to treat when company pays a surprise visit, as a simple hostess gift or when we just need something delicious to snack on. I have a number of recipes; ones I can create in my sleep and ones that are so intricate that I never seem to have the ingredients on hand.

Recently we held a bake-off in my house. My husband swears by his mom’s recipe so we compared her recipe to a new one I’ve been working on to an old standard from a tried-and-true cook book.

And here is the one that won across the board. We all favored it, even my mother-in-law! It’s nice because theingredients are simple, ones that you probably have around the house. It’s easy to omit anything you don’t have or substitute with ingredients you prefer. I’ve included those variations below.




2 cups white whole wheat flour or all-purpose flour

½ tsp baking soda

1 ½ tsp baking powder

½ tsp salt

½ cup butter, softened (see tip below)

2/3 cup sugar

1 egg

1 tsp vanilla

¼ tsp orange blossom water (optional)

1/3 cup strong coffee or espresso (can substitute with milk)

2-3 mashed ripe bananas (see banana tips below)

¾ cup chocolate chips (can omit or substitute nuts)




Preheat oven to 350 F

1. In a medium bowl mix together the dry ingredients: flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. I use white

whole wheat flour for a little extra nutrition without having bread that seems “whole wheat-y”. Set this aside.

2. In a large bowl cream the softened butter until smooth and light. If you haven’t pre-softened your butter, here’s my trick: slice it into ½” slices and place in a microwave safe bowl and microwave it for 8 second increments. Slicing it before microwaving will soften the butter without melting it. Every microwave’s power settings are different so experiment to see what time works best for you.

3. Add the sugar and continue to mix it until it’s creamy.

4. Add the beaten egg, vanilla, orange blossom water, and espresso and mix until lemon colored and fluffy. You can use an electric mixer, but I don’t, especially for the following steps, your bread will turn out better if you mix it by hand with a wooden spoon.

5. Add the flour mixture slowly, stirring until just combined and add the mashed bananas and chocolate chips.

6. Transfer this to a greased 9 inch loaf pan. Smooth it to fit. Bake 50 – 60 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Let it sit for 10 minutes in the pan before you transfer it to a wire rack to cool.

You can also bake this as muffins; just reduce the cooking time to around 25 minutes. It will make about 10 muffins, depending on how tall you want them to be.


A note about bananas.

The perfect banana for this recipe is a very very ripe banana. It’s very yellow with a lot of brown spots on it. The more brown there is the sweeter the banana is. If you have ripe bananas on hand (but aren’t ready to bake with them) just peel them, wrap them well and freeze them. Then thaw them before adding them to your mixture.






Ppoosstt PPrreevviie





Recipes Blog: Our (new) Favorite Banana Bread Page 4 of 4… 5/10/2011

Mexican Panaderias

I recently had the opportunity to visit La Monarca Bakery in Santa Monica, CA.  Being there took me back to my childhood in Brownsville, TX , when we would go to my grandparents’ house on weekend or summer afternoons  for “merienda”, which is like afternoon tea, except with coffee and sweet bread, or “pan de dulce”.  (This practice actually dates back to 16th century Spain.)  There were several bakeries nearby and my mother and sister and I would stop and get an assortment and enjoy it with my Huelito and Huelita.  Often my aunts and cousins would be there too and we would have a blast. We would often cut the pastries into smaller pieces so that we could all taste some of each (sometimes you just couldn’t decide which one you were in the mood for!)  This solved the problem.  Just like the bakeries in Brownsville, there are trays and tongs at the front and the pan dulce is in bins to keep them fresh.  You make your selection and go to the counter and pay. 

 La Monarca is more than just a bakery.  They also have more delicate and formal pastries behind a counter as well as delicious Mexican tortas.  I had one with chicken mole poblano, chipotle infused pinto beans and cotija cheese on a fresh bolillo, similar to Mexican “French” bread.  It was amazing! I did not try the coffee, but they have a nice selection and even serve coffee drinks like “Cafe de Olla”, brewed with cinnamon and brown sugar. 

If you have a chance to visit their website, ( you will learn that the business was founded by two brothers who grew up in Monterey, Mexico.  While they were studying in the United States, they missed the variety of breads they grew up with.  When they moved to Los Angeles they could not find  authentic, high-quality pastries from Mexico, so they decided to create their bakery.   They use traditional recipes and all natural ingredients. 

There is a page on their website on the History of Bread in Mexico, which is very interesting.  According to historians, one of the first non-native foods introduced into New Spain was wheat, a Spanish staple and religious necessity, since the only grain recognized by the Catholic Church as being suitable for the Eucharist wafer.  They also discuss the French influence in Mexico. 

La Monarca supports the ECOLIFE Foundation with benefits the Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary in Michoacan, Mexico.


Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies (recipe from Pinterest)

These are sooo good!


By Texas standards, today was a cold and wintry day, the perfect day for baking cookies and with my two helpers at each side, we made these chocolate chip cookies from a recipe I found on pinterest. We made lots of cookies so the kids can take some to their teachers tomorrow as an early Valentine’s Day present and I can bring some to my fabulous colleagues at work. That is, if there are any left by tomorrow. The recipe makes a plethora of cookies (Jefe, do you know what a plethora is?). There will be plenty for us,for my friends at work, and for my children’s amazing teachers.

This recipe is adapted from this recipe. I substituted butter for the margarine and used parchment paper instead of silpat. These were the only changes I made. The recipe below is my version. These are the best oatmeal chocolate chip cookies I have ever made! (My quest for the best recipe in this category is over). I hope you enjoy them and thank you so much for tolerating my quote (as best I can remember) from the Three Amigos.

Almost Potbelly Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookie

1 cup butter (softened)
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup white sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
2 1/2 cups quick oats (or regular, food processed)
2 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 cups chocolate chips ( I used Guitard milk chocolate chips because they are bigger than standard chocolate chips and because they are so delicious, you could eat them without a cookie surrounding them)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large mixing bowl, cream margarine and sugars. Add in egg, one at a time, beating after every addition.  Mix in vanilla.

In a separate bowl, combine oats, flour, baking soda, and salt.  Mix together then slowly add into the margarine mixture. Add about a cup at a time, mix, then add another cup. Do this until it is all blended together.  Mix in chocolate chips.

Form dough into medium size balls, place on cookie sheet covered with a parchment, and bake for about 10 minutes.

Milk Chocolate Florentine Cookies

It’s almost Valentine’s Day and I can’t stop thinking about chocolate. You too? I thought so. Although this is my signature Christmas cookie, I think because they have a healthy dose of milk chocolate, they would be perfect for Valentine’s Day too.

Milk Chocolate Florentine Cookies from Nestle Best Loved Cookies

2/3 cup butter

2 cups oats

1 cup granulated sugar

2/3 cup flour

1/4 light or dark corn syrup

1/4 cup milk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract ( I like Vencedora Mexican Vanilla)

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 3/4 cup (11.5 oz package) milk chocolate morsels (recipe calls for Nestle Toll House brand but I prefer Guittard)


Melt butter in medium saucepan; remove from heat. Stir in oats, granulated sugar, flour, corn syrup, milk, vanilla extract and salt; mix well. Drop by level teaspoon about 4 inches apart onto foil-lined baking sheets. Spread thinly with rubber spatula.

Bake in preheated 375 degree oven for 6 to 8 minutes or until golden brown. Cool completely on baking sheets on wire racks. Peel foil from cookies.

Microwave morsels in medium,  microwave-safe bowl on MEDIUM-HIGH (70%) power for 1 minute; stir. Microwave ad additional 10 to 20 second intervals, stirring until smooth. (Or you could you a double boiler if you prefer)

Spread thin layer of melted chocolate on to flat side of cookies. Top with remaining cookies,placing flat side against chocolate. Makes about 2 and 1/2 dozen sandwich cookies.

Mexican Chorizo

Mexican Chorizo

From Simply Mexican by Lourdes Castro

Growing up in the Rio Grande Valley, we had access to the most delicious chorizo.  Chorizo con Huevo breakfast tacos are one of my favorites.  I much prefer to make my own chorizo using great quality lean ground meat, be it pork, beef, chicken or turkey –or any combination thereof. I ran across this recipe in this wonderful cookbook and have made it several times.  I changed the type of vinegar used.  The author calls for red wine vinegar, but I discovered that apple cider vinegar tastes more like the chorizo I grew up with.  I freeze this in small portions so that I can have it for breakfast tacos.  Another great recipe idea in this book is for a Chile, Cheese and Chorizo Melt (queso fundido with chorizo and poblano peppers).

Puree together until you have a smooth paste in a mini food processor:

2 cloves garlic

1 Tbs. kosher salt

½ cup apple cider vinegar

½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper

1 Tbs. oregano (preferably Mexican oregano)

1 tsp. sugar

3 Tbs. ancho chile powder

1 canned chipotle

1 Tbs. adobo sauce from canned chipotle

2 Tbs. water

In a large bowl, blend  1 pound of lean ground beef and 1 pound of lean ground pork or if just using one type of meat, place in bowl and pour in the pureed spice mixture.  Using your hands (wear plastic gloves or put small plastic bags over your hands) and work the puree into the meats until well incorporated.  Place the mixture on parchment paper and shape into a log.  Wrap the parchment securely around the chorizo, twisting the ends closed, and refrigerate overnight.  Alternately transfer the mixture into a large plastic bag and refrigerate overnight.

If you are planning to use the chorizo within 2 days, leave it in the refrigerator.  Otherwise, divide the chorizo into small portions (1/4 cup, ½ cup or 1 cup) in place in individual airtight freezer bags and store in the freezer.  The chorizo can be kept frozen for up to 3 months.