Latina food influencers, Christy Wilson, a registered dietitian at ChristyWilsonNutrition, and Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack, cookbook author and founder of the blog, Muy Bueno, share their favorite Latin-inspired dishes, stories from their experiences in California strawberry fields, and a couple of their must-make strawberry recipes. Enjoy!
Tell us a bit about yourself. Where did you grow up, describe what you do in the food world, tell us about your blog and why it is unique.
Christy: I am a Border Town girl who was born and raised in Nogales, Arizona, the sister city to Nogales, Sonora, Mexico. Growing up, crossing that international border to eat, shop, celebrate and pray was a way of life. Walking “across the line” for lunch and arrive back home in time to meet up with friends before eating dinner with family was just another normal day in Nogales!
After high school, I moved to Tucson, AZ and earned my bachelor’s degree in Nutritional Sciences from the University of Arizona. After completing my dietetic internship in Dallas, TX and passing my Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) exam, I began working as a nutrition counselor at a community health clinic. Part of my job was teaching classes on disease management and prevention, but when I helped teach a class that was paired with a cooking class, I was hooked! After several years of counseling, teaching classes and writing articles for a local fitness magazine, I launched my website and food blog, Christy Wilson Nutrition, where I shared food photos, stories and recipes. I focused on featuring recipes that not only tasted great, but were quick, budget friendly and included ingredients that I could highlight the nutritional value of. Even though I enjoy eating all sorts of foods, the ones I felt most comfortable blogging about were the ones I grew up eating as a kid living in the desert southwest. I had the most fun modifying family recipes to make them lighter in calories and more robust in plant-based ingredients. These were also the recipes that seemed to resonate most with my audience.
Yvette: In 2010, I founded my award-winning blog, muybuenocookbook.com, where I share my cherished family Mexican recipes as well as healthy Latin inspired recipes, entertaining tips, travel adventures, home renovations, and DIY crafts. My blog attracts families looking to embrace their culture through food, fiestas, and family life.
As my blog and audience has expanded over the last ten years, they have provided many opportunities. Currently, I work as a food writer, product tester, food stylist, video producer, YouTuber, spokesperson, ambassador, social media influencer, an on-camera host for well-known food brands, and have been a speaker at conferences.
My cookbook and blog recipes, as well as my story as a food blogger and entrepreneur, have been featured in several prominent press outlets, including print, radio, TV, and online.
I was named “Bloggers We (Heart)” by Taste of Home magazine; “Latina Blogger You Must Know” by Latina magazine; and “Chica You Should Follow on Instagram” by People en Español.
I am a second-generation Mexican-American, born and raised in El Paso, Texas. I currently live in the beautiful state of Colorado with my husband and two children.
In July 2012, my proudest moment was when I participated in a live round-table discussion with First Lady Michelle Obama, to discuss some of the issues impacting Hispanic families across the nation, including the health and future of our children.
Who has influenced your cooking the most?
Christy: I grew up surrounded by amazing female cooks who all have, in some way or another, influenced my love of food and my passion for cooking. Looking back, it seems like anytime I went to visit my grandmothers’ or my aunts’ homes, they were always cooking up something delicious! But, most importantly, I grew up in a home were my mom cooked every meal we ate. She not only cooked us traditional Mexican dishes like cocido (a vegetable and beef soup), gorditas (cooked corn masa patties topped with meat and vegetables) and picadillo (a one-pot ground meat dish with potatoes), she’d also experiment with new recipes she’d see in magazines or on her favorite television programs. My mom was (and still is!) adventurous in the kitchen and always prioritized feeding her family balanced, home-cooked meals. She always welcomed and encouraged my brother and my sister and me to help her out in our small, bustling kitchen, and guided us through recipes she was preparing. Like my grandmothers and aunts, Mom rarely used hard copy recipes (unless she was baking a special dessert or using a recipe that a friend or a family member had passed along to her), which always made it extra difficult for me to replicate her dishes! But, when I started cooking for myself in college, she’d guide me through her recipes over the telephone so that I could have that important piece of home with me in my own little duplex kitchen 70 miles away from home. Thanks, Mom!
Yvette: My late grandma and my mom have influenced my cooking the most. Traditional old-world northern Mexican recipes from my grandma and comforting south of the border home-style dishes from my mom.
When people ask me why I named my blog and cookbook Muy Bueno, my response is that my mother/grandmother (Grandma Jesusita) would always invite family and friends to her table with the same words: “Siéntate a comer, esta muy bueno” (Sit down and eat, it’s very good). And she lingered on the “muuuuy bueno” with a smile, raised eyebrows, and a twinkle in her eyes as if to let her guests know they were in for a treat. Those two words—and the memory of my Grandma and her legendary meals—never fail to bring smiles to my face too.
I am not a professionally trained cook nor do I claim to have the best Mexican recipes. The recipes I share are simply our family’s recipes. Along this journey, I’ve learned a thing or two about cooking, and every once in a while, I get an idea for a new recipe. Thanks to my Grandma Jesusita, who I know is watching over me, I feel that maybe, just maybe, she whispers a few words of encouragement into my ear to help me find my way around the kitchen and turn out a recipe worthy of her praise.
What is your all-time favorite Latin-inspired dish?
Christy: My all-time favorite dish that I grew up eating and love making for my family is Mexican rice. It’s the first dish I learned to make well while living on my own during my final year in college and it was the comfort food I craved most when I was missing home. From the aroma that fills the kitchen while its cooking, to the bright red color the tomato sauce saturates the rice with, to the flavors that the combination of vegetables, fresh cilantro and dry seasonings like Mexican oregano and cumin give this dish, it all comes together beautifully. For me, it hits all the points from nostalgia to undeniably delicious and I can honestly say that I could gladly eat Mexican rice every single day!
Yvette: My all-time favorite dish is my mom’s famous roasted green enchiladas! Its literally heaven in one bite – the flavors explode in your mouth with just the right amount of spice and tang.
Her secret weapon is twofold. First you have to roast the long green chiles and you must use suero (whey) or buttermilk, not the same but it’s a close second. If you live in El Paso, you can purchase the “secret ingredient,” Suero de Sal from Licon Dairy, or substitute with buttermilk.
Our family prefers our enchiladas stacked, but if you are cooking for a lot of people, oven style is the way to go. Stacked or oven style, with or without chicken, this recipe is bomb.com.
How has your Latin-inspired cooking evolved over the years? How much have things changed, or remained the same?
Christy: I never thought much about my recipes as being “Latin-inspired” until I was asked to develop recipes for brands and commodities. When I started my blog, I was simply sharing healthy versions of recipes that I grew up eating and didn’t realize how unique they were compared to what was out there in the big world of food blogs. Once I learned more about branding and cultural cuisine and learned how few Latina bloggers were out there sharing their stories and recipes, I gained a better understanding about why my voice as a healthy food blogger was relevant. This knowledge combined with my experience as a dietitian working in healthcare made me better understand the responsibility I had in sharing my Latin-inspired recipes–particularly, healthy Sonoran Mexican recipes. These dishes were meaningful me and to people who looked to me for guidance, inspiration and sound advice about nutrition and eating for wellness. These recipes had familiar names and included ingredients that they, too, grew up eating or remembered loving while traveling, etc. So, modifying recipes by bringing down the fat or sugar or salt showed people that they didn’t have to give up eating culturally meaningful foods while they were actively working on improving their health.
Although the initial intention of my food blog and recipes hasn’t fundamentally changed, things like my travel and food experiences, my work opportunities with food brands and products, and my own expanding knowledge about food, nutrition and health allow me to spread my proverbial wings in the culinary nutrition world and I have a lot of fun while doing it!
Yvette: I am often asked if I grew up eating “Mexican food”. The simple answer is, yes, but to me it was just “food”. It was what was on our kitchen table daily. It was what my grandma and my mom knew to cook. There was never a time I would say, I don’t want Mexican tonight. LOL! That just wasn’t a thing. Till this day, I love to cook classic traditional Mexican recipes, but I also love fusion recipes and modern dishes with a Latin twist. I think my cooking is a combination of the both – I crave the classics, but then I also love to experiment with modern recipes with a healthy or Latin twist.
You have both visited strawberry fields in California. What is one thing you learned or took away from meeting a strawberry farmer?
Christy: Farm tours are my absolute favorite part of working with food commodities like California Strawberries! Learning all about strawberries from the very farmers who grow them is the most enjoyable and effective way for me to learn more about the foods I eat, about the foods I recommend others eat, and about the foods I prepare for my own family. As a nutrition provider and educator, I constantly get questions from clients about the health and safety of our foods. People have become more and more fearful and skeptical about our food system and they often don’t trust how foods are grown.
One thing I have learned from farmers, like David and Jesus Alvarado who own Fresalva Berry, LLC in Salinas, California, is that farmers dedicate their whole lives to growing foods in an environmentally responsible, safe and healthy manner. Preserving the land their crops are grown on, ensuring that the soil is healthy to continue farming on for generation after generation, all while making sure their employees are taken care of (especially since every single strawberry is hand-picked!) is part of their job. But, this isn’t just a job to them, it’s their way of life and doing it well requires a constant eye on the land, the soil, the weather, the workers and, of course, the precious plants that produce the most delicious strawberries.
Yvette: The first time I visited a strawberry farm was in 2013 and I came home with a whole new appreciation for strawberries after seeing the entire process of strawberry farming, picking, packing, shipping, and all the safety standards that are in place.
I think the one thing that shocked me the most is that the strawberries are literally packaged for the store right there in the field by the field workers – I had no idea. My next surprise was the timely process of it all. Once strawberries are picked they are rushed to a cooling facility where cold air is forced through the vents of the packaging. This whole time I thought the packaging was designed to rinse and strain the strawberries. Am I the only one who thought this?
Once the strawberries are precooled they are then packed into refrigerated trucks and on their way to grocery stores and markets around the world. So, depending how far you live from California will determine arrival time. I thought that it was interesting that strawberries arrive sooner to Paris than New York because they are literally flown out the same day vs. the two-day drive to New York.
I also love hearing the personal stories of migrant farmers and hearing from the passionate farmers on multi-generation family farms. I love to hear the stories of generations on the fields and living the American dream.
What is your favorite Latin-inspired dish and/or drink that you serve to your family that features strawberries?
Christy: Oh, goodness. Just one? I am going to go two – my Fresh Fruit Salad with Minty Honey Lime Syrup and my Strawberry Limon Paletas always hit the spot! I love the combination of strawberries and fresh key lime juice in both recipes. Key limes were a staple ingredient in almost everything I ate as a kid and it’s my favorite way to punch up the flavor of both sweet and savory recipes. For the fruit salad, I can mix just about any seasonal fruits with strawberries, add the simple honey, lime and mint syrup to it and serve it as a sweet and nutritious side dish or dessert. Paletas (frozen pops) are always a winner, no matter how old you are! These strawberry paletas remind me of the ones my dad would buy us from “el paletero” who’d be sitting under a shady tree by the church or at the street market in Sonora. His mobile cooler was always filled with a rainbow of fruit pops! For this recipe I froze a slurry of fresh strawberries, lime juice, honey and mint, and for an extra flavor kick, I sprinkle some salty chili powder (like Tajin seasoning) over it. Yum!
Yvette: I love surprising friends and family with Strawberry Pico de Gallo. It is spicy, bright, and exotic. This is definitely a creative and zesty salsa perfect as a topping on grilled steak, fish, chicken, or with a basket of tortilla chips.
I also love Strawberry Empanadas! For Valentine’s Day I like making them in the shape of a heart. These empanadas are filled with strawberries slowly simmered in piloncillo. The preserves are sweet but not overly sweet making these flaky baked empanadas delicious and comforting.
Do you have any favorite strawberry hacks for storing or preparing?
Christy: My favorite strawberry hack on extending the shelf life of the fruit is one I learned from the farmers: Hold off on rinsing the berries clean until right before serving. . Since the skin of the fruit is so thin, rinsing them too far ahead of time will cause them to absorb too much water and result in rapid spoilage. If I need to prepare a big batch of strawberries several hours ahead of time, what I’ll do is wipe them clean with a damp cloth or paper towel rather than run them under water. I store them in a covered container in the refrigerator and sometimes I’ll loosely cover them with a paper towel to absorb any excess water. By doing this, the strawberries don’t get saturated with water and will remain plump and bright until ready to eat!
Yvette: Freezing strawberries: There are a few different ways to freeze strawberries. One popular method is to freeze whole without sugar to maintain shape and health benefits. Directions: After rinsing, gently blot dry and slice stem off at top of berry. Place cut side down on a cookie sheet lined with waxed paper and place uncovered in freezer for a minimum of six hours. Transfer strawberries to a freezer bag or container. Frozen strawberries can be stored frozen for several months.
Store strawberries: For strawberries to stay fresh, do not wash them right away. Refrigerate them as soon as possible in the original clamshell or in a container with a dry paper towel at the bottom. Separate the berries by layering them with paper towels to maximize freshness. Just before using, wash strawberries with the caps attached under a gentle spray of cool water. For best flavor, serve strawberries at room temperature.
Finally, any tips for others thinking about food blogging as a way to share the foods and traditions they grew up with?
Christy: Blogging is a way to tell a story, and the best stories are those that are authentic and true to the person writing them. Everyone has a story to tell, everyone eats and everyone wants to feel connected in some way or another. My best advice to people who may be thinking about food blogging to share the foods and traditions they grew up with is to simply begin. I never thought my food stories were special or unique until I started sharing them. I didn’t think anyone would be interested in learning about how I used to cross the international border with my mom to buy freshly made corn tortillas from a little house on a hill where three women were making them by hand around a fire, or how my dad would pick quince fruit off the tree in our back yard and serve it to us with a splash of lime juice and a sprinkle of salt. These are food stories that may be uniquely mine, but I know they are relevant. Recipes and the food stories behind them have the potential to resonate with an audience of people who will appreciate them more than you’ll ever know, and at the same time, will educate others about the meaning and importance of culturally relevant foods.
Yvette: If you don’t share the unwritten recipes of your childhood, nobody else might either. Recipes are a lovely legacy and should be documented for your family and future generations. I promise you, you will love knowing there is an online journal of your recipes you can share not only with your family, but an audience who might be craving and missing the exact same dishes. A blog is a virtual kitchen where everyone is welcome.
I also recommend taking lots of candid photos of your parents/grandparents in the kitchen. I only wish I had more photos of my grandma in the kitchen. She passed away in 2004 way before everyone had a camera in their back pocket.
Christy Wilson Bio
Christy Wilson is a Tucson, AZ based Registered Dietitian with a special interest in culinary nutrition. She is a nutrition counselor and cooking class teacher at El Rio Health’s Special Immunology Associates HIV clinic and at University of Arizona’s Campus Health Service. Christy’s passion for nutrition, cooking and teaching is highlighted on her website and blog, www.ChristyWilsonNutrition.com, which showcases recipe development, blogging, and food photography she has done in collaboration with numerous food brands and commodities over the past decade.
Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack Bio
Yvette Marquez is an Emmy-winning producer and writer, award-winning food blogger over at muybuenocookbook.com, and author of Muy Bueno and Latin Twist. She is a second-generation Mexican-American, born and raised in El Paso, Texas and currently lives in Colorado. She has been sharing cherished family Mexican recipes since 2010. Her blog is the perfect destination for anyone looking to embrace their culture through food, fiestas, and family life. Yvette has been featured in several prominent publications, websites, radio, and TV.