New World Truffles

You probaby have enough time on your hands these days to make truffles, those round, wonderful, little balls of chocolate that are easier to make than you would think. Canadian friends sent me a recipe years ago. It fell by the wayside, but they were kind enough to send it again, probably to encourage me to return to Cooking in Mexico.

The original recipe, Cacao Wow, is from the Vallarta Tribune, an English language newspaper in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, and created by Shakti Baum, the former executive chef at Xinalatal Yoga Retreat, and now with a cooking school in the Houston area. It includes chipotle chile, cacao beans, and cinnamon. I upped the Mexican flavors by adding ground coffee beans, vanilla, and ancho chile powder. All six of these ingredients are from the New World, as well as the cane sugar.

Cinnamon sticks were freshly ground in the coffee grinder, as were the cocao beans and home-roasted, organic coffee beans. Bittersweet chocolate is called for, which I don’t have on hand. Somehow that was overlooked when stocking up for the coronavirus quarantine. But I did have organic Mexican cocoa powder, cocao butter and coconut oil, the three ingredients that make emergency chocolate. I realize that few pantries are stocked with cocao butter, but mine is, so if you try this recipe, I hope you have bittersweet chocolate, but the truffles are just as delicious made with emergency chocolate.

New World Truffles

  • 12 ounces bittersweet chocolate (OR emergency chocolate: 3/4 cup/156 grams coconut oil melted with 6 ounces/170 grams cocao butter, plus 3/4 cup/ 75 grams cocoa powder, and sweetened to taste)
  • 1/4 cup/60 ml rice milk or other milk
  • 2-4 tablespoons/30-60 ml chipotle liquid from canned chipotle chiles
  • 1-2 teaspoons/3-6 grams ancho chili powder (or to taste)

Truffle Coating

  • 1/4 cup/25 grams very finely ground coffee
  • 1/4 cup/25 grams ground cocao beans, roasted or raw
  • 2 tablespoons/52 grams unrefined cane sugar
  • 1 tablespoon/8 grams ground cinnamon
  1. Melt bittersweet chocolate (or emergency chocolate) over a double boiler. Add rice milk or milk of choice.
  2. Refrigerate for 20-30 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes until stiff, but still soft enough to spoon out.
  3. Blend coating ingredients.
  4. Working with one tablespoonful at a time, roll quickly between your hands, then roll in the coating mixture.
  5. Store in the fridge, though best at room temperature for eating.

Truffle Coating

  • 1/4 cup/25 grams ground coffee
  • 1/4 cup/25 grams ground cocao beans, roasted or raw
  • 2 tablespoons/52 grams unrefined cane sugar
  • 1 tablespoon/8 grams ground cinnamon
  1. Melt chocolate (or emergency chocolate) over a double boiler. Add rice milk or milk of choice.
  2. Refrigerate for 20-30 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes until stiff, but still soft enough to spoon out.
  3. Blend coating ingredients.
  4. Working with one tablespoonful at a time, roll quickly between your hands, then roll in the coating mixture.
  5. Store in the fridge, though best at room temperature for eating.

Notes ~

Many are unaware of the dark side of chocolate, that much of the chocolate from west Africa is harvested using child slavery. Hershey’s, Nestle and Mars can’t say their products are slave-free. Chocolates and cocoa that are labeled free trade and/or organic are good indications that they are not harvested with child slave labor. Here’s a list of ethically harvested chocolate. Chocolate and cocoa from Central and South America, as well as from Mexico, do not use child slavery.

Cinnamon, too, has a secret, though not a dark one. The ground cinnamon generally purchased in the U.S. and Canada is not true cinnamon. True cinnamon is Ceylon cinnamon, Cinnamomum verum. Sticks of this cinnamon are softer, and can be broken up easily to put in a spice grinder. See photo above. Common cinnamon, the usual type in the little spice bottles, is Cassia Cinnamon, Cinnamomum cassia, also called Cinnamomum aromaticum. It is cheaper and considered a lower quality. Sticks of this cinnamon are almost impossible to break up to put in a grinder without resorting to a hammer, and then probably too hard to be ground. The common cinnamon of Mexico is true cinnamon, aromatic and flavorful, a difference that grows on you. Look on your spice bottle to see if it gives the botanical name of the plant as Cinnamomum verum. If not, it is most likely not true cinnamon. Simply Organic ground cinnamon, available at natural food stores, is true cinnamon.


Día de la Independencia at El Molcajete


El Molcajete provided the perfect setting for our celebration of Independence Day in Mexico on September 16. Set on a lake shore. Mountains in the background. Menus in hand. This was the way to say, “Viva México!” An afternoon of eating, drinking, laughing and chatting. What better way to celebrate our adopted homeland.

A molcajete is the carved, black basalt bowl with a grinding tool, the mortar and pestle of Mexico, the first food processor in the Americas. With a molcajete, endless varieties of salsa are created, chocolate and coffee beans are ground, seeds and spices are blended into a smooth paste for mole, the rich sauce that dresses chicken, turkey, and pork.

El Molcajete, our local restaurant, boasts the world’s largest molcajete as its namesake. A for real, carved basalt molcajete that weighs close to 8,000 lbs. (3.5 toneladas) and is big enough to make 350 quarts of salsa, is registered with Guinness World Records.


An order of Chingaderas started us off while we enjoyed the vista and decided what to order next. A chingadera loosely — and politely — means “whatever”. The menu description, “totopos sobre una cama de frijoles banandos con carne en su jugo y queso fundido“, included a lot of “whatevers”: fried tortilla chips on a bed of seasoned refried beans with meat in its broth and melted cheese. Dip in a tortilla chip and scoop up a bit of everything. Yummy.


After commenting on how high the lake is now after a couple of rainy months, and gazing at the distant mountain whose name translates to “good for nothing”, I remembered a conversation with a neighbor a few months before.

Me (en español): Why is it called Good for Nothing?

Beto: Because you can’t do anything with it, not even climb it.

Me (to myself): A mountain has to be good for something?


Wanting to make the afternoon at El Molcajete last as long as possible, we slowly studied the menu and discussed all the options, reminiscing about past meals we had enjoyed here.


We had already tried the signature dish, Molcajete, a steaming, hot molcajete of seafood, chicken or beef, or a combination, with avocado, grilled onion, green chile and a nopal cactus pad, topped with local fresh cheese, and served with corn tortillas.


We settled on Arrechera. Rather, Russ did. I had already decided I was too full after the Chingaderas to eat another bite. When his plate arrived, I took one look and my appetite returned. Sweetheart that he is, he shared it with me. Marinated, grilled flank steak, grilled onion, chile and nopal cactus pad, refried beans, and guacamole con mas totopos.  The plate was also carved from basalt and very, very hot.


Marco, our waiter, and a local high school student, couldn’t have been cuter in his revolution-inspired outfit. He waited attentively on us, checking to see if we needed more of anything, refilling my glass with ice, bringing Russ another cerveza. The place was packed, and he managed to keep up with all his tables.


To get to El Molcajete, go south out of Mascota toward the lake, Presa Corrinches. Continue through the small settlement of La Providencia to the lake shore where you will find El Molcajete, the first restaurant on the left.  Open seven days a week from 11 am until 9 pm. I hope Marco is your waiter.

For readers who don’t live close and are wondering where in the world this is,  Mascota is a county seat, a “municipio” in the state of Jalisco, on the west coast of Mexico, and is about two hours by car east of Puerto Vallarta. Don’t be confused by the sign in front that says Restaurant “La Terraza”. This was the former name before the record holding molcajete was acquired, and a new sign is not yet in evidence. Such is Mexico. Viva México!




How to Clean Nopal Cactus Pads without Becoming a Pin Cushion

It just took a few times of getting my hands full of cactus spines to decide I was never going to clean fresh nopal pads again. The spines were almost too tiny to see, even with my reading glasses. I needed those same glasses and a bright light to extract each minute spine with tweezers. The next thing I touched let me know I had missed one. Or several. From then on, I only ate store-bought nopales, because somebody else had already de-spined them for me.  A visit to my friend Linda’s garden and a taste of freshly picked nopales made me realize how much flavor I had been missing. It took Linda to point this out to me, as she removed each aureole of spines.

If you have your own nopal plant (also known as prickly pear cactus and opuntia) select young, small pads that do not yet have mature, large spines. These young pads are brighter green and usually small, though they can be large.

Anything is better when freshly picked, but something else is going on here. Nopales picked in the afternoon lack the pronounced fresh citrus, slightly acid flavor that an early morning picking can give. The difference is so great, that I was ready to brave the spines again and learn how to de-spine them under Linda’s direction so I could harvest my own in the morning. My fine opuntia specimen would no longer to be just an ornamental in my garden.

It could not have been easier, with a little attention to detail and a sharp knife. After first breaking off a pad, Linda used the knife tip to cut out the tiny spines bunched together in aureoles by shaving across them. Each aureole was slightly raised, making it easier to slice them off. Then she took off a thin slice of the edge of the paddle, where there are more aureoles. She was careful not to touch the remaining spiny aureoles as she repositioned the nopal in her hand. See the light spot at the base of each soft, green spine? That spot is an aggregation of spines so tiny, they are barely visible. That’s what was cut out.

If you are ready to rush off in the morning, after a quick cup of coffee, this trimming may seem slow going, cutting off each little aureole one at a time. It could be tedious, but Linda says she sees it as meditation, patiently focusing on the task at hand.

The morning bird calls and quiet garden setting added their own meditative qualities to the task.

When the nopal pad was trimmed of spines, Linda cut it into strips and handed me a piece to eat fresh. No salt, no lime juice. Just fresh nopal. The skin provided a soft crunch, followed by juicy, tender, slightly acid … cactus. I don’t know how else to describe it, except to say it was refreshing, lemony and like nothing else in the vegetable world. A good way to start the day.


Many instructions for cleaning nopales recommend wearing gloves, but I don’t think this is a good idea. The gloves will get full of tiny stickers, which can work through the glove or stick in your fingers when you take them off or pick them up again. I learned this the hard way.

Related Articles

Protected by Copyscape Duplicate Content Check

Eating flowers — squash blossom quesadillas

Another Sunday Market in La Cruz and another bunch of squash blossoms too beautiful to eat. I could have looked at their vase on the kitchen counter all week, but eat them we did when I made squash blossom quesadillas for lunch, using fresh corn tortillas, queso fresco from the Sunday market, poblano chile strips and epazote leaves.

Squash — calabaza — were cultivated in pre-Hispanic Mesoamerica, and then spread throughout the world with the arrival of the Spanish. Classic Mesoamerican clay pots mimic large squash in design, and are still seen in contemporary Mexican art work. We have a beautiful copper pot from Santa Clara del Cobre, hammered into a calabaza form.

Before chopping up the flowers, I inhaled their aroma. They smelled of squash, pumpkin and earth, like a garden. The colorful flowers add a delicate flavor that is easily overpowered, so go light on the onion and garlic. Use whatever cheese you have on hand, but the classic cheese for quesadillas is string cheese from Oaxaca. Today I used fresh cheese from the market, but other possibilities include Muenster, Monterey Jack, or even cheddar.

Squash Blossom Quesadillas

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 small bunches squash blossoms, all but 1″of stem removed, chopped; enough to measure 2 cups
  • 1/4 cup onion, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • salt to taste
  • 1 poblano chile, roasted, peeled and cut into strips
  • 6 oz. cheese, thinly sliced
  • 8 epazote leaves (optional)
  • 8 corn tortillas
  1. Heat oil in a medium skillet over medium-low heat. When hot, add onion and cook for 3 minutes, or until translucent.
  2. Add squash blossoms and garlic, and cook until blossoms are wilted.
  3. Remove from heat and salt to taste.
  4. Heat an oiled griddle over medium heat. Place four tortillas on griddle and evenly divide squash blossom mixture among them. Add strips of poblano chile, thinly sliced cheese, and two epazote leaves to each quesadilla. Cover each one with a second tortilla.
  5. Cook about 3 minutes per side, or until brown, toasty spots appear on the tortillas and the cheese melts.
  6. Cut into halves or quarters and serve hot. (Cold left-overs are delicious.)


North of the border, flour tortillas are often used for quesadillas, but corn tortillas are more common in Mexico.

This may be heresy to a Mexican cook, but building quesadillas in my kitchen is like making a sandwich: anything goes. I have made great quesadillas with left-over brown rice, steamed greens, a bit of steak from last night’s dinner, whatever cheese is on hand, even cottage cheese.

Epazote (Teloxys ambrosioides), also known as Mexican Tea or Wormseed, is a bitter herb used to season black beans, quesadillas and empanadas. A few months ago, I found it in a Mexican market in Minneapolis, and I hear it is becoming more common in U.S. supermarkets that cater to a Hispanic clientele. A native of Mexico, it is not eaten raw, and may be an acquired taste. There is no substitute.

A bit of etymology: calabaza is from the Persian word kharbuz, meaning melon, and the French word calabase, later calabash, is of Spanish origin.

Protected by Copyscape Duplicate Content Check Registered & Protected

Vera Bakery in Bucerias satisfies the sweet tooth

Vera Bakery in Bucerias, Nayarit, is a delight for the pastry lover. Owner and baker Christian Calvento is my market neighbor at the new La Cruz Sunday Market and I wish he were my next-door-neighbor at my home in La Cruz. But if he were, I’d weigh 200 pounds by now. His pastries, cakes, and other tasty treats are so tempting, I’m gaining weight just looking at these photos.

Christian, an Argentinian by birth, came to Bucerias by way of pastry jobs with the Marriott Plaza Hotel in Buenos Aires, Disney cruise lines, and then the Four Seasons in Puenta Mita, where he worked as a assistant pastry chef for four years, learning everything he could from the head pastry chef. Bucerias was his next stop, when he and his partner, Jorge, opened Vera Bakery, named after his mother, from whom he first learned to cook as a youngster.

The menu changes from day to day, but regular items include cinnamon rolls, chocolate chunk muffins, cheesecake, chocolate mousse cake, brownies, quiches and breads. Elodia speaks perfect English and will wait on you with a smile.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, how much are these next four worth? All four, plus the one at the top, were taken by Christian. Uh, Christian, do you want to start taking the photos for my blog?

One of the sweeter legacies of the European occupation of Mexico is pastries. Spanish nuns and French bakers gave Mexico delightful desserts for those who tener un paladar delicado (have a sweet tooth). Culinary influence went in both directions, as chocolate from the New World traveled back to Europe, adding a new dimension to  Old World cakes and pastries.

If you pop in for a pastry, be sure to try the coffee, roasted by award-winning Bacio, a Mexican coffee company. Christian feels that this special blend of beans from the states of Chiapas, Vera Cruz and Guerrero, is the best he can offer.

Christian does special orders for birthdays, weddings, and parties. For the holidays, he will be baking Bûche de Noël, the yule log cake, a Christmas favorite in France and of our many French-Canadian visitors. Savory yule logs with fillings such as roquefort cheese with ham are also planned, as are baguettes and small, appetizer-sized empanadas.

Vera Bakery is located in Bucerias, Nayarit, Lazaro Cardenas # 101, in the same block as Mark’s. Phone: (329) 298-1962. Open seven days a week, Monday through Saturday 8 am- 8 pm, Sunday 8:30 am – 3 pm. WiFi available.


Protected by Copyscape Duplicate Content Check