From Recipes

Cristina’s collection of her invented recipes and heritage recipes balancing health with pleasure.

Super Healthy Pumpkin Sweet Potato Custard

Healthy Pumpkin Sweet Potato Custard and Dairy Free Pumpkin Pie Custard recipe is a nutritional treat

My daughter Isabella and I LOVE pumpkin pie. By the time the October chill in the Northwest settles in, we are ready to eat pumpkin pie everyday. But add up the fat from the crust and the creamy custard and pumpkin pie is a special treat.

This recipe is my response to the challenge of how to get a regular pumpkin fix and not have to lug those extra calories up the next hill. Milk and extra eggs increase the protein and reduce the fat, while the sweet potato brings extra fiber and vitamins into the mix. Pour the mixture into a pie pan or baking dish and save yourself the crust. Chill it before serving.

Tools: Blender / Vitamix or Food Processor or by hand, oven

Baking Pans: Glass or Ceramic — Two 8” x 8” x 2” or 2 9″ pie pans or 1 large baking pan or smaller ramekins for individual servings.

Yield: See above


Baking time, 40 – 60  minutes.  Assembly time  15 minutes

Preheat Oven 350 (for at least 5 minutes)

  • 29 oz. can of pumpkin
  • 15 oz can of sweet potatoes, drained OR appx 1 1/4 C. baked and peeled sweet potato (More or less sweet potato is no big deal – if final mixture is too thick, add a little milk and get a bigger baking dish.)
  • 1/2 t. sea salt
  • 5 large eggs or 6 med. eggs
  • 2 cups milk (The creamier the milk, the creamier the custard. I’ve tired 1%, 2%, whole and half-and-half. All are good — for my arteries sake I choose 2%).
  • 1 cup brown sugar (packed)
  • 1 cup white sugar (I use organic white or a mexican cane sugar in the style called Azúcar Morena)
  • 3-4 t. pumpkin pie spice OR 2 t. cinnamon, 1 t. ginger, 1/2 t. cloves, 1/2 t. nutmeg (all spices are ground)
  • Optional: 1/4 c. (or so) dark rum

Put all ingredients in the Vitamix or other powerful blender or food processor. You may need to blend ingredients in batches and then pour them into a large mixing bowl and stir the batches together before pouring them into baking dishes. Because Blenders are different, I can’t suggest a time for all blenders. Blend the mixture until it is completely lump free and smooth. If you’re using  a Vitamix, Step the variable speed gradually over 30 seconds from 1 to High. Blend for 1 minute on High, using the tamper to be sure all chunks of sweet potato are blended.

Bake at 350 for 40 minutes. Put a thin skewer or knife in the center. If it comes out mostly clean, remove the custard from the oven. If the custard is undercooked (runny or sloppy), continue cooking in increments of 5 minutes. If your oven temperature is uneven or you are using metal baking pans, set the baking dishes in a larger dish filled with about 1/2″ to 1″ of water before baking. Completely cool the custard before serving.

Summer Berries Homey Fruit Cobbler

Rustic, warm and homey, this cobbler looks especially nice in a deep cast iron or metal skillet. A simple to make fruit base covered by a biscuit-like topping gives this dessert the presence of a pie without as much fat (in the dough) as a pie. It’s a wonderful dessert or breakfast treat. Easy and less fattening means I can put more ice cream on top!

Tools: Pastry Cutter OR knives OR food processor
Pan – 13” x 9” x  2”  OR oven safe metal skillet approx 12” – 13” diameter with sides at least 2 inches tall.
Oven – 350 degrees. Pre-heat at least 10 minutes.
Cooking time approx 35- 45 minutes

Fruit Filling
•    2 lbs. Berries (any kind) and/or thin sliced and peeled peaches or nectarines. Use fresh or frozen.
•    ½ Cup Flour
•    ¼ to ½ Cup sugar (your favorite type)
•    ½ t. ground nutmeg or mace
•    dash of sea salt (optional)

1.    Mix the dry ingredients well before adding them to the fruit mix. Spread evenly across pan. If using frozen fruit the mixture tends to separate from the dry mix. Distribute the dry mix as evenly as you can across the fruit.
2.    Make topping.

•    2 Cups Flour
•    ½ teaspoon sea salt
•    ½ t. baking soda
•    2 t. baking powder
•    1 -3 Tablespoons light brown or turbinado sugar (optional: white or dark brown sugar)
•    ½ C. butter
•    1 ½ cup buttermilk

1.    Mix dry ingredients together. By hand with a pastry cutter/knife or in a food processor, cut the butter into the flour mixture until the butter chunks are so small (about the size of 1 or 2 grains of rice) they blend into the flour mix.

2.    Pour the buttermilk in and stir to blend. Once the flour is wet, and there aren’t any dry streaks, stop. Don’t over-mix the topping.

3.    Using your fingers and a spatula, spoon the topping over the fruit. It will not spread well. Try to make it roughly the same thickness all over, approx. 1/2” to 1 ½”. Don’t worry about perfectly covering the fruit, you can have holes up to a tablespoon or so in area – it’ll look pretty when the cobbler is cooked.

4.    Bake the cobbler uncovered on a rack for approx. 35 – 45 minutes. The cobbler should be bubbling and the topping should be a warm golden brown color. When using frozen fruit, allow for a longer cooking time. Put foil over the cobbler area if it’s browning too much with the longer cook time.

Serve warm or cold.

Carne Adovada New Mexican Beef in Red Chili Sauce

This roast is typical to New Mexico (without the potatoes and carrots). The result of the long cooking process is shredded beef redolent with a rich red chili sauce.  I add the carrots and potatoes because I love to walk through the door after a long day and have dinner ready. I always make more than we can eat and transform the leftovers into a filling for enchiladas, tacos, tamales, burritos or the base for a soup.
Pair this with fresh cornbread, artisan bread or warmed tortillas and serve.
Tools: Crock Pot or Pot Roast Pan with oven-safe lid.

  • 3 to 4 cups Cristina’s Red Chili Sauce. This sauce is REALLY important to this dish BUT, if you don’t have time to make some, substitute canned red enchilada sauce. The best quality sauce is made with chilies, not tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup red wine
  • 3 to 5 lbs. beef or bison roast — brisket, rump, chuck, shoulder, etc.
  • 1 to 3 medium onions (depending upon how much you like onions), peeled and quartered
  • 3 or 4 medium red potatoes (or similar variety of potato that holds up to a long cooking time)
  • 3 or 4 peeled carrots, cut into very large chunks

Put meat in the bottom of the crock pot or pot roast pan. Add vegetables and sauce.

  • Crockpot: Turn on low*, cover and cook for 6 to 8 hours. Crock pots differ from each other. Mine hasWarm, Low and High settings. You want the setting that corresponds to an oven temp of appx. 300-325 degrees.
  • Oven: Bake covered for 4 to 6 hours at 300 to 325 degrees.

Check the roast at about 6 hours. Meat should become easily shredable.

Cooking Up a Color Story

With color on my mind, this past weekend I cooked up a dinner party and menu with a color theme - the red, white and green of the Mexican flag. Inspired by the cookbook, Frida's Fiesta's - Recipes and Reminiscences of Life with Frida Kahlo by Marie-Pierre Colle and Guadalupe Rivera, I've been experimenting with the recipes and themes in the book. A very beautiful cookbook, the photos and stories are inspiring. The recipes. . . well, they remind me of my abuelita's (grandmother's) recipes, something very important is missing from most of them. The missing item is usually an ingredient, amount or technique that ranges between crucial to the success of the recipe to a minor taste problem. Maybe the recipe editor had more to do with this than Frida did, but nonetheless, reading her cookbook reminds me of my abuelita's passionate artistic temperament (she was a concert pianist and gifted chef). The recipes that my abuelita gave me were always more of a suggestion than a solution.

Read more

Low Fat Easy BBQ Ribs

Low fat and easy ribs! Now I have your attention! Actually, lower fat is more accurate. The cooking method allows much of the fat to melt into the bottom of the crock pot where you can discard it. I have tried many different recipes for ribs and finally came up with a method that I love. It’s so easy! You let the slow cooker do the work and finish them under the broiler or on the grill.

Time: 4-6 hours in the Crock Pot – 10 minutes on the BBQ or under the oven broiler

•    Large Crock Pot or Slow Cooker (same thing): Mine is a 5 qt. oval. You can cook these in a small crock-pot, but then you won’t be able to make as many ribs.
•    BBQ or home broiler

•    Ribs – Choose your favorite bone-in rib. Make sure it is not too tall for the crock-pot. Each rib must not be longer than the pot is tall (with the lid on).
Pork Baby Back Ribs        Pork Ribs
Beef Spare Ribs

Water and other liquid:
•    Approx. 1 cup of a mixture of water with your choice of : spices, Worcester sauce, 1/3-cup wine, ketchup, etc. Don’t use a thick solution. The purpose of the water is to steam the ribs and collect the fat that drips from the ribs. You’ll discard the water when the ribs are cooked.

•    At least 1 cup to 2 cups of your favorite BBQ sauce. Enough for the amount of ribs you’re serving.


1.    Curl a strip of ribs into the pot, standing them upright on the small bony side of the rib. Do not cut the ribs into individual pieces. Fill the pot with as many ribs as will fit.
2.    Pour in the approx. 1 cup of water solution. You want about ¾ inch of coverage on the bottom of the pot. Add more water if necessary.
3.    Turn the pot on low and cook for 4 to 6 hours. After 4 hours, check the ribs for doneness. (This varies with the heat of the crock pot and your preference.) If you like your ribs to practically fall of the bone, cook them longer. Be careful, cook them too long and they will fall of the bone and into the bottom of the BBQ.
4.    Remove the cooked ribs from the crock pot. Slather them in your favorite BBQ sauce.
5.    BBQ or Broil the ribs on med/high for 5 to 10 minutes. Some people like the sauce warmed, others like it almost caramelized by the heat. When they look the way you like them to look, take them off the grill and serve.


Key Lime Squares are Easy and Amazingly Delicious

Put one bite of this  sweet/tart desert in your mouth and you’ll be able to see the long, flat horizon of blue-green ocean layered under the green topped islands of the Florida Keys. Not really. But it is a nice fantasy. Nonetheless, these easy-to-make squares will give you plenty of time to make plans for your next tropical vacation. The shortcake cookie base enriched with nuts supports the creamy tart filling. Dress these up with  a lime twist and a pretty plate for a dinner party or take them as is to a picnic and eat them with your fingers. Aloha! And recorridos felices! (Happy Travels)

Tools: Blender / Vitamix or Food Processor or by hand, oven

Baking Pan: 8” x 8” x 2”

Yield: 6 to 16 pieces, depending on size cut.

Time: Baking time, 30 minutes.  Assembly time  15-20 minutes

Base and Topping

  • 1/3 Cup real butter, chilled
  • ½  finely chopped nuts or ground nut meal. (pecans, walnuts, hazelnuts or almonds)
  • 1/3 C. dark brown sugar, packed
  • 1 Cup white flour


  • ½ cup 100% unsweetened key lime juice, OR organic 100% lime juice, not from concentrate.
  • 1 can sweetened condensed milk
  • 3 egg yolks


Preheat oven to 350 degrees
Butter sides and bottom of pan

1.  Combine all dry ingredients

  1. With a blender, food processor or by hand, cut the butter into the dry mixture until the butter is in very small pieces and the mixture has a crumb like appearance.
  2. Reserve ½ cup of the mixture for topping.
  3. Firmly press the remaining mixture into the bottom of the pan.
  4. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes

2. While the base is cooking, mix filling:

  1. Mix the filling ingredients into a blender on low until the mixture is silky and well blended. (Don’t let the mixture get foamy.)
  2. Pour it onto the cooked base.
  3. Sprinkle the topping evenly across the filling.
  4. Return the pan to the oven and bake for an additional 15 minutes.

Serve at room temperature or chilled. Cut into servings after it has cooled. Refrigerate for ease of cutting into small squares or to transport (makes the dessert firmer).

Whole Cranberry Rum Sauce

This whole cranberry sauce compote is a versatile variation of the usual holiday cranberry sauce. Use it to enhance the savory flavor of cooked turkey or as a topping on Sweet Bean & Potato Tart with Hazelnut Crust.

Yield: Approx 3 ½ cups.

Time: about 5 minutes to assemble. 15 minutes to cook. 30 minutes or more to cool

Tools: Stove, saucepan


  • whole raw cranberries – 12 oz dry weight OR approx. 3 cups
  • ¼ cup dark rum (the cooking process causes the alcohol to evaporate, leaving only flavor)
  • ½ Cup brown sugar
  • 1 T. orange zest*
  • 1 cup orange juice
  • dash of sea salt


Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan and bring to a boil on medium/high heat, stirring frequently for 15-20 minutes. By then at least 1/3 of the berries have spilt open and the liquid has reduced and thickened, remove the compote from the heat and cool.
Compote will continue to thicken as it cools.

Serve chilled or at room temperature.

*See involved instructions for Orange zest on the Creamsicle Flan Recipe

Contemporary Hispanic art Guadalupe by Cristina Acosta

The Guadalupe with the Three Sisters – Corn, Squash and Beans by Cristina Acosta

Walking through the aisles of a natural foods store I’m lulled into thinking that buying the latest salty snack with the word “organic” plastered all over the plastic sack will save the planet. Yes, it’s better than eating a GMO (Genetically Modified Organism) conventional product that’s similar, but there’s a lot more to saving the planet than falling prey to some marketer’s labeling of an ultra-processed packaged edible as “organic food.”

So what does this topic have to do with the creative life? More than you might think at first glance. Creativity and our willingness to embrace positive change are integral to changing the course of planetary environmental degradation. I got started thinking about this while drawing the chili pepper plant growing in my house. Though it’s officially spring in Bend, Oregon, it is in the 20’s and snowing today. Growing in the sunshine of our upstairs window, this perennial plant is an abundance of bright green leaves teamed with a few dozen slender, brilliantly red & green, small chili peppers.

I let the chilies ripen red and dry on the vine, then I crumble them over salted, roasted peanuts for an afternoon snack. Sometimes I put them in a salsa or red chili sauce. The unique thing about this chili plant is that it is native to New Mexico, the home of my paternal grandmother’s ancestors. I like eating a food that enriched the lives of my ancestors for generations. You can buy seeds for this and other native plants at Native Seeds/SEARCH. Native Seeds/SEARCH is a non-profit that is striving to preserve the genetic diversity of our country’s South West heirloom and indigenous food and utility crops. No matter how “organic” our food is, if we continue to lose biodiversity, our food supply can be easily jeopardized by diseases or other unforeseen problems.

Native Seeds/SEARCH describes themselves thus: “The Native Seeds/Search Seedbank houses, for future generations, the seeds of crops and wild plants traditionally used as food, fiber and dyes by prehistoric and more recent cultures inhabiting the arid southwestern U.S. and northwestern Mexico. . . approximately 2,000 different accessions of traditional crops grown by Apache, Chemehuevi, Cocopah, Gila River Pima, Guarijio, Havasupai, Hopi, Maricopa, Mayo, Mojave, Mountain Pima, Navajo, Paiute, Puebloan, Tarahumara, Tohono O’odham and Yaqui farmers. Over one-half of the collections are comprised of the three sisters — corn, bean, and squash. An additional 48 species of crops and wild crop relatives wait in frozen storage, including amaranth, tepary bean, chile, cotton, devil’s claw, gourds, melon, sunflowers, tobacco, teosinte, watermelon and wild beans.”

The “Three Sisters” of corn, beans and squash are the crops that the American Indians considered necessary to support a settlement. Honoring these indigenous crops and that American Indian heritage along with the Spanish heritage of the American Southwest, I painted a Santos style retablo of my Madonna, Guadalupe with the Three Sisters: Corn, Squash & Beans.This retablo is part of my Hispanic Culture Sacred images series.

If you live anywhere in the American Southwest, or if like me, you have a sunny window, I encourage you to look through website. They sell heirloom seeds, baking mixes, spices, art, goat milk soap, even Christmas ornaments by Hopi artist Gerald Dawavendewa and others. Another thing they do that is so generous both individually and to our planet is their Native American Outreach program where they give a certain amount of seeds to American Indians for their gardens, along with Adopt A Crop program to keep those seeds viable. They also have a Cultural Memory Bank Project that pairs the knowledge of the geneticist with the folklorist to conserve not only the plant, but how that plant was nurtured and utilized. Art and Science together for the good of our planet. Now that’s creativity!

My Grandmother’s Vintage Cheesecake Cookie Recipe

My grandmother Catalina Maria Ortiz de Acosta obtained this cheesecake cookie recipe in the 1930’s and served this cookie for decades. A concert pianist and piano teacher, her cheesecake cookies were the perennial favorite at every recital and holiday reception.

These delicious cheesecake cheesecake cookies make “just a bite’ a  reality. (Unless you have to have “just one more”!) Nuts give crunch and flavor to a butter cookie base covered in a thin layer of cheesecake and sprinkled with a crumb topping. They freeze beautifully, so you can serve them for a spontaneous get-together. I’ve updated the recipe with just a few changes.

Tools: Food Processor or Vitamix or by hand, oven
Baking Pan: 8” x 8” x 2”
Yield: 16 aprox. 2” square cookies

Crust and Topping

  • 1/3 c. real butter, softened to room temperature (get a little extra butter to coat pan or use an oil spray).
  • 1/3 c. dark brown sugar, packed
  • 1 C. white flour
  • ½  finely chopped nuts (walnuts or hazelnuts)


  • ¼  C. granulated sugar
  • 8 oz package cream cheese (full fat)
  • 1 egg
  • 2 T. milk
  • 1 t. vanilla extract
  • 2 T. White Balsamic vinegar (or substitute fresh lemon juice)


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Butter sides and bottom of pan.
Cream butter, brown sugar until light and fluffy. Approximately 30 – 60 seconds.  Add flour and nuts and blend mixture to a consistency of crumbs.  Set aside ¾ of a cup of the mixture.  Press remaining mixture into an 8” x 8” x 2” square pan.  Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes.

While crumb crust is baking –
Combine granulated sugar, cream cheese, egg, milk, vanilla and White balsamic vinegar.  Beat until mixture is smooth.  Spread over baked crust.  Sprinkle reserved ¾ cup of crumbs over the top. If you make the crust ahead and it is cool, cook the filling for the longer time.

Bake at 350 degrees for 15 – 20 minutes.
Cool and cut into bars.

Failsafe Easy Citrus Salad Dressing

Homemade salad dressing boosts not only the flavor of your salad, the fresh and healthy ingredients you put in the dressing are key to a tasty result and a huge nutritional plus. Top quality ingredients are the foundation of good food and are especially obvious in a salad dressing. Try this easy recipe and you’ll discover how failsafe a homemade dressing can be.

Yield: Approx. 1 1/4 cup

Tools: Blender / Vitamix or mix with whisk or fork. Tool to crush or mincegarlic if not the blender. Jar with lid to store the dressing.


I like my dressing less acidic, so I tend to structure the recipe to be about 1 part acid ingredients versus 3 to 4 parts  oil ingredients.

  • 1 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Buy the best quality of oil you can. First cold pressed oil is best. Store it in a cool dark cupboard and replace it every six months if you haven’t eaten it all.
  • Appx. ¼ – 1/3 cup. juice of one medium lemon, fresh-squeezed.
  • ¼ teaspoon (to taste) unrefined sea salt (small enough grains to dissolve in the dressing)
  • ¼ teaspoon (to taste) fresh ground pepper (I prefer a mix of black and white pepper berries)
  • 1 small clove of garlic, minced or pressed. You can skip this step if your blender is fast enough to mince the clove.


Combine all ingredients in a blender and put on the lid. Turn on the blender beginning on the lowest setting. Gradually step the speed to high for about a minute. If you don’t have a blender, make sure to put the garlic through a press and whisk all ingredients together well.


Dressing into a glass jar or decanter with a secure lid. You are ready to dress the salad. Refrigerate any dressing you don’t eat. Cold will cause the olive oil to become hard. This does not hurt the dressing. To re-liquefy the dressing, set the dressing container on the counter or in a bowl of warm water until the oil is runny.


  • For Mexican inspired salads: Replace the lemon juice with lime juice (I like a half lemon, half lime mix) and add a few Tablespoons of chopped fresh cilantro.
  • For a sweet or fruit filled salad: Add 2 Tablespoons of honey or other sweetener and omit the garlic and pepper. I like to add a dash of cayenne to my fruit salad dressing. The sweet/hot flavor is very flattering to a variety of summer fruits, especially melons.
  • For a starch-heavy salad like pasta or potato, I like to increase the acid part of the dressing to a 1 or 1 1/2 parts acid to 3 parts oil. Often I’ll add something salty like olives, pickled vegetables or salty fish to lighten the heavy starch.
  • Figure out the oil versus acid ratio you like. Keep that in mind when you are creative with variations of your own, and you’ll be making fresh dressings regularly.