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Seasonal Colorado Cherries: Fresh Cherry Salsa Transforms into a Lovely Cantaloupe Gazpacho

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Palisade, Colorado may be famous for their extraordinary peaches, but mid June through July is cherry season on the Western Slope. These sweet luscious cherries are not to be missed! Cherry season is the perfect time to enhance the flavors of many cuisines. As a huge fan of Latin Cuisine, I love the complementary taste of sweet cherries and spicy chilies. Fresh Cherry Salsa “leftovers” easily find new life in a refreshing Cantaloupe Gazpacho.

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Fresh Cherry Salsa

Fresh Cherry Salsa
1 1/2 Cups Fresh Cherries, pitted and coarsely chopped
2 Tablespoons Fresh Lime Juice
1/4 Cup Finely Diced Red Onion (or White Onion)
2 Tablespoons Fresh Lime Juice

1/2 Serrano Pepper, seeded and diced (more if your want a spicier salsa)
1/4 Cup Finely Chopped Cilantro
Salt and Freshly Ground Pepper to Taste

Mix all ingredients in a small bowl, taste for seasoning, and serve. Fresh Cherry Salsa will keep in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.

Cantaloupe Gazpacho with Fresh Cherry Salsa
1/2 Medium Cantaloupe, diced
2/3 cup Fresh Cherry Salsa (reserve 1 Tablespoon for topping if desired)
1 Tablespoon Finely Chopped Organic (sulfur dioxide-free) candied Ginger
1/8-1/4 Tsp. Ancho Chili Powder
Freshly Ground Pepper and Salt to Taste

Cantaloupe Gazpacho with Fresh Cherry Salsa

Cantaloupe Gazpacho with Fresh Cherry Salsa

Liquify cantaloupe in high speed or regular blender. Pour into a bowl and stir in the remaining ingredients. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed. Serve immediately. Serves 2. Recipe can be easily doubled.

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Tlacoyos: Traditional Latin street food comes to your kitchen

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About a year ago,  my cousin Cari and I met some of her friends at El Aguila, a new Mexican restaurant that had opened in an unassuming strip mall in Pleasant Hill, CA.  While the interior looked more like a Subway with sparse Latin art on the wall, the food was out of this world!  The owner of El Aguila had worked in several high-end restaurants and has created a menu that is unique in its

El Aguila Menu Board - Copied from the San Francisco Chronicle

authenticity and artistry.  In any case, our group sampled an ample portion of the menu, and all of us were very impressed, to say the least. I was intrigued by the tlacoyos; mostly, because I had never heard of them. Excuse the platitude. but it was “love at first bite.” We followed up with another visit to El Aguila, 6 months later. This time, it was standing room only. The San Francisco Chronicle, among other periodicals, had discovered El Aguila, and apparently, so did the rest of the Bay Area. This time, I asked if I could learn the secret to making these “gems.” I received a reply with a laugh: “Make corn tortilla dough, flatten it out thicker than a tortilla, fill it and fry it on the griddle – easy!” They were right! It is easy, and what you fill your tlacoyos with, and how you garnish them, makes your meal unique. In any case, they make a quick and easy dinner or lunch, and so far, I’ve had no complaints, only complements and empty plates.

Tlacoyos (makes 8, for 4 main dish servings, or 8 appetizer servings)

DOUGH

1 3/4 Cups tepid water (maybe a bit more)

2 Cups Maseca (instant corn masa flour)

1/2 tsp. salt

1/4 cup organic corn kernels (optional, and I did it on a whim last night)

Put the Maseca into a medium-sized bowl, add the salt, stir, and add the tepid water. Mix with a wooden spoon, or by hand, quickly, until you have a fairly soft dough but not sticky. The Maseca will quickly absorb the water, you might want to add up to a 1/4 cup more.  Cover with plastic wrap and briefly set aside while you make your filling.

QUICK REFRIED BEAN FILLING

1 can organic black refried beans

1 red or green bell pepper, diced small

1 medium white or yellow onion, diced small

1 4oz. can Hatch green chilies (mild or hot, depending on your taste)

1/2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil (or avocado oil, or coconut oil)

Heat fry pan to medium heat and add the olive oil. Add the bell pepper and onion and cook, stirring, until onion is translucent. Add the green chilies and then the beans, and stir to combine. When heated through, take the pan off the heat.  Uncover the dough and measure out in 1/4 cup portions.  Tear a piece of wax paper and gently pat out the dough to about 1/4″ thick, repeat with each piece of dough.

pressed tlacoyo dough

Place 1/4-cup filling on one half of the tlacoyo.  And then gently fold over, using the waxed paper as a guide. Sometimes the dough cracks a bit, but just pinch it back  together.


Pre-cooked tlacoya with filling

Add another 1  1/2 – 2 tbsp. of olive oil (coconut oil, or avocado oil)  to the pan over medium heat. When warm, add the tlacoyos and pan fry, until lightly brown on each side. The dough should be a bit crisp on the outside, and lightly chewy on the inside, like polenta.  In the US, we certainly add excessive amounts of cheese to all of our Mexican menus, which is certainly not authentic, not to mention, not healthy. I like to serve fresh guacamole, salsa, greens (sunflower greens are a personal favorite) and cashew cheese (see recipe following ) on the side. You can certainly top them with sour cream or Mexican crema, and they would be great also. I personally like a colorful platter. El Aguila topped their tlacoyos with a bit of cheese and Mexican crema, and served them with  a vinegar slaw on the side, and a few fresh salsas.

CASHEW CHEESE (easily doubles)

Soak 3/4 cup of raw cashews  in water to cover overnight, or at least 6 hours

Drain, rinse, and put in a small food processor with:

1/4 tsp. salt

1/4/ tsp. onion powder

1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice

a few grinds of black pepper

1/2 tsp. extra virgin olive oil

Finely chop, scraping down the bowl a few times.  Then add 3-4 tbsp. cool water. Blend until cashews are no longer crunchy, and the mixture is a bit thick. Finally, excuse my photography, but here is the result of last night’s dinner. Total time, not including the cashew soaking: less than 45 minutes from start to finish. ENJOY!

Tlacoyo with Cashew Cheese, Guacamole, Sunflower Sprouts, and Salsa

The Northern Colorado Wine Tasting Group – gearing up for August!

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The Northern Colorado Wine Tasting Group, hosted by WineFlights Consulting  (Suzanne Alley) and Fly By Diner (Jan Findlater), enjoyed their third meeting at the Savory Spice Shop in Fort Collins. Savory Spice Shop owner Susan Kirkpatrick, generously offered her beautiful store for the wine tasting.  Our theme was Spanish and Portuguese wines, and as always, Suzanne selected another batch of lovely wines for the tasting. It was a perfect follow-up to last month’s tasting hosted by Sally Davidson, owner of the award-winning Winery at the Holy Cross Abbey, in Canon City, CO. and James Blanchard, from Blanchard Family Wines in Healdsburg, CA.

Learning about great wines, is one of many benefits of joining the N. Colorado Wine Tasting Group!

Learning about great wines, is one of many benefits of joining the N. Colorado Wine Tasting Group!

The pairings:

1.  2009 Auratus (50% Alvarinho/50% Trajadua), with Greek-Style Shrimp with a Salty Lemon Sauce.

2. Rioja Muga (a full-bodied lovely blend of 90% Viura and 10% Malvasia), with Roasted Mushrooms with Thyme and Garlic.

3. 2010 Petalos (made of 100% Mencia grapes),-  the only organic wine to make this year’s Wine Spectator Top 100 list.  It was fabulous paired with Aged Spanish Manchego Cheese and Membrillo!

4.  Churchill’s 10-year-old Tawny Porto from Portugal, a blend of over 7 varietals, paired with Chocolate-covered Strawberries, Dark Chocolate Fig and Fennel Bark, and a creamy blue cheese.

Our next wine event will be on August 21 at the Independence Galley in Loveland, CO.  Contact  Suzanne Alley at wineflightsconsulting@gmail.com to be put on our mailing list. Where else can you taste exquisite wines with great food pairings, receive a world-class wine education, and meet great people for $20 (pre-paid)!

Suzanne Alley and Jan Findlater serving up great wine and food!

Suzanne Alley and Jan Findlater serving up great wine and food!

Fly By Diner joins WineFlights Consulting for inaugural Northern Colorado Wine Tasting Group

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It’s no coincidence that two airline flight attendants, (one former, one current), have chosen to incorporate their airline bios in their business names. It is always in your blood.  For me, travel has been the catalyst for stimulating my culinary aptitude. Thus, the tag name for this blog: Culinary Musings of a Passionate Traveler.

After creating pairing menus for several breweries, it seemed like the logical next step was to move on to wine. While I consider myself a “taster” vs “drinker, ” it has been an exciting and delicious challenge.  Enter Suzanne Alley, owner of  WineFlights Consulting, LLC, and the collaboration resulted in our newly minted Northern Colorado Wine Tasting Group. Suzanne is a Certified Wine Instructor and Executive Wine Sommelier who trained at the International Wine Guild in Denver, one of the top five wine programs in the country, and I am a part-time chef for the program.

Last night’s theme was “wines that tell a story – wines that may not be a part of your everyday wine experience.” The Independance Gallery in Loveland, CO. generously offered an art-filled space for our first event. Suzanne selected four beautiful wines: #1  A Cremant D’Alsace, a 100% pinot noir sparkling rose wine made in the Champagne style – and was served as a palate cleanser. #2 A Hungarian Tokaji Furmint, dry, and a lovely representation of the reinvigorated Hungarian wine industry. #3 Italian Piave Raboso, a dry red wine that is exceptionally food friendly, and #4  2002 Dominio de Valdepusa, the first Spanish estate wine to be recognized as it’s own DO.

The tapas menu included:

*Roasted Almonds with Hungarian paprika, Fleur de Sel, and organic orange zest for wine #2

*Peppadew Peppers stuffed with French Valbresso Feta for Wine #3

*Rare Roast Beef, with Grilled Orange Peppers, and Horseradish Cream Sauce on Fresh Pretzel Rolls for Wine #3

*Aged Sharp White Cheddar topped with Dried Cherries soaked in the Dominio de Valdepusa and Herbs for Wine #4

*Dark Chocolate Truffles with Fleur de Sel for Wine #4

The Northern Colorado Wine Tasting Group will meet on on Wednesday, June 19th. Location details to follow. Please contact: WineFlightsconsulting@gmail.com to receive an invitation to our next event. Mark your calendars for the 3rd Wednesday of each month. WineFlights Consulting has a facebook page – be sure to “like it” for updates.

Revisiting Hummus: Go for the Green!

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Back in the day, when I was a flight attendant, my food choices, being a vegetarian were very limited on layovers; particularly in the plains states (South Dakota, North Dakota, Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, etc). My restaurant dining options were grilled cheese, pizza, or pasta Primavera. Perhaps you are wondering why these choices were a problem. The truth is, I was searching for something fresh, and certainly a bit lower on the “grease” scale.

Menus have certainly changed with the times, and I am often thrilled and surprised to find interesting vegetarian options in the most unlikely places. I wish that most cities would have a wide range of ethnic dining options. Ethnic foods, in general, are often vegetarian-friendly. The most common vegetarian menu item that I currently see on most “standard menus”, is hummus.  For awhile, it was OK to order each restaurant’s own hand-made version, or pre-packaged version of hummus; especially when I was with friends, as I didn’t want to be the person who could never find anything to eat. Eating hummus quickly got old,  and I began to think that hummus was just another “grilled cheese sandwich” in disguise. Therefore, I swore off eating hummus in any form, for a few years.

These days, I have come around to appreciate hummus again, but, it just can’t be traditional hummus (garbanzos, tahini, lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, salt, and pepper). I have  been experimenting and “upgrading” the basic recipe to provide a more interesting product (hemp seeds, almonds, pistachios, herbs, spices, tropical fruits and vegetables, etc). I am finding that I actually like hummus for breakfast  as it fills me up and stays with me longer than oatmeal, granola, nut butters, etc. As it keeps for at least several days to a week, I can always grab some carrots, celery, cucumbers, rice cakes, tortilla or lentil chips, or, just a spoon, and snack on hummus while I am making dinner.

As I am heading to New Mexico this week, I thought that I would share one of my favorite Southwestern hummus recipes. This recipe for Chile Avocado Hummus, with fresh avocado, one of my top ten foods, is one of my favorites. I hope you will enjoy it as much as I do.

Chile Avocado Hummusmakes about 3 cups

1 can organic chickpeas, drained and rinsed well

1 large ripe avocado

1  4-oz can (or 1/4 cup) of mild diced Hatch green chiles

3 tbsp. tahini (raw or roasted)

2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil, plus 1 tbsp. for garnish

2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced

2 tbsp. fresh lime juice

1/2 tsp. ground cumin

3/4 tsp. sea salt, or to taste

2 tsp. hot sauce, optional (I use Cholula, or Horsetooth Hot Sauce (a local Fort Collins brand))

1/4 cup of toasted pine nuts (for garnish; toast over lower heat in a dry skillet for 3-5 minutes until lightly browned in places)

Directions:

Place the chickpeas in a food processor and pulse until finely minced. Add the rest of the ingredients, except for the pine nuts and additional olive oil, and process until smooth. Taste for seasonings and top with the extra tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle with pine nuts. Serve with fresh diced vegetables, tortilla chips lentil chips, crackers, or, on top of a taco salad as an alternative to sour cream. Hummus is also tasty in a wrap with fresh sprouts, tomatoes, greens, cheese, and salsa. Avocado hummus will keep for 4 days, and then starts to discolor a bit.

Chile Avocado Hummus

Chile Avocado Hummus

Fly By Diner “in the house” at Verboten Brewing this Saturday!

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Fly By Diner is the “in-house food truck” this Saturday at Verboten Brewing in Loveland. Beer, Chili, Empanadas, and Chocolate – a wonderful pairing with a perfect local beer! We’ll be at the Brewery from 4:30pm-8:30pm! We hope to see you there!

*Smokey Beef Chili – with a touch of “heat”- with tortilla chips
*Cashew Chili” – you’ll never miss the meat! -with tortilla chips
*Mushroom, Cheese, and Caramelized Onion Empanadas with Cilantro Cream
*Chocolate Espresso Truffles
*Assorted Bar Snacks!

An Industry Celebration at Verboten Brewing

Fly By Diner was thrilled to provide a beer pairing menu for Loveland, Colorado’s newest nanobrewery, Verboten Brewing. Co-owners Joe & Keri Akers and Josh & Angie Grenz invited Northern Colorado brewers and restauranteurs to a special “industry night” celebration last night.

Owners Joe and Keri Akers

Owners Joe and Keri Akers

Invited guests feasted on a custom menu that incorporated Verboten Brewing’s delightful beers in almost every bite! The results were awesome!

*Verboten Brewing IPA-infused Caramelized Onion and Sharp Cheddar Empanadas with Chimichurri Sauce

*Verboten Brewing Orange Blossom Honey Wheat and Chipotle Chile Sloppy Joe Sliders

*Hand Made Pretzel Bites with the following dip options: (1) Bacon Beer Jam with Verboten Brewing Cream Ale (2) Lara’s Famous Habanero Pineapple Jam (3) Spicy Brown Mustard

*Oriental Spiced Bar Peanuts

*Verboten Brewing Midnight Espresso Cheesecake

*Verboten Brewing Midnight Espresso Truffles

Guests enjoying beer samples at Verboten Brewing

Guests enjoying beer samples at Verboten Brewing

Verboten Brewing is located at 1550 Taurus Court in Loveland, Colorado. Their beer menu is always changing which is utterly fun! “Like” them on Facebook for updates!

Jan and Lara at Verboten Brewing