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FRESH and Festive: Coffee Talk

Next Tuesday at Coffee Talk, we’re finally talking about one of my very favorite subjects – Coffee!

No, really! So come see us at 10 am in the Taste Kitchen to hear about some great tips, techniques and  flavors for making a better cup of joe.

I like to keep the element of surprise in our weekly coffee klatches, so I don’t want to spill exactly what we’ll be discussing. But, here are a couple of my very favorite coffee-related goodies, to keep you going until Tuesday:

Chemex coffeemakers:  One of the easiest ways to make coffee ever, and one of the most beautiful. Developed by a chemist more than 70 years ago, the Chemex system is just a glass carafe with a specially designed filter. You pour hot water in, let it filter through the coffee grounds, and end up with coffee that is vibrant, smooth, fragrant and doesn’t have any bitterness, sediment or “off” flavor. The wooden strip around the middle serves as a heat-resistant handle so you can pour it safely. And, it t is pretty enough that you can serve from it, right at the table. (In fact, it’s considered such a work of art, it is in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York.) We have both the smaller and larger Chemex systems, and the filters, in the housewares section next to our coffee bar.

Buna Bean Coffee: Also new at FRESH are these gourmet beans, hand-roasted right down the road in Ennis, Texas. Company founders Jess & Brenda Haupt started roasting their own coffee beans in their garage, shared them with friends and family members, and launched their own company when everyone clamored for more. The Haupts source their coffee from the best coffee-growing regions all over the world, including Panama, Guatemala, Ethiopia, and Indonesia. Then, they roast them in small batches, to ensure freshness and flavor. Many of their coffees are single-country origin, so you can really taste the notes of each variety – like Colombian Supremo, a balanced, full-bodied coffee, or Mexican Altura, described as bright, sweet and nicely acidic.

Family Central: A Better Fry

I don’t know about your kids, but mine would eat French fries every night if I let them. 

I don’t, of course, but I am always looking for a recipe or ready-to-serve fry that satisfies their fried-food craving, but doesn’t make me feel like a horrible, junk-food-pushing mom.

Alexia brand potatoes are my new best friend.

These are all-natural potatoes, available in our frozen section, that cook up crisp in the oven, so you don’t need the fryer. The flavors are sophisticated enough for adults, but won’t turn off kids. Their regular waffle fries are dusted with onion and garlic powder, and the spicy sweet potato sticks get a kick from chipotle powder.

They take a little longer to bake than some brands – up to 30 minutes – but they actually get nice and crispy in the oven, without burning. They’re delicious alone, and even better if you doctor them up a little bit. The regular waffle fries, for instance, are great if you dust them with a bit of chopped fresh rosemary or grated parmesan cheese, after cooking but before serving.

Alexia also makes some good little appetizers you can pop in the oven and serve, including breaded whole mushrooms and my family’s favorite – mozzarella stix, with a tasty Italian bread-crumb coating. We serve those with a spicy arrabbiata dipping sauce (Mezzetta’s Napa Valley Bistro is our go-to brand).

I didn’t know much about this company before we started enjoying the fries, but a little investigation turned up that it was founded by a chef named Alex Dzieduszycki.  And, surprise, surprise, he knows something about healthy snacking. Twenty years ago, his catering company also created another favorite healthy snack of mine — Terra Chips, one of the first lines of snack chips made out of exotic veggies like taro, yucca, and parsnip.

Freshie Faves: Fish for Lent – Cod and Haddock

Being the seafood guy around FRESH, I think about fish a lot anyway, but even more so during Lent. (Maybe it was all those fish sticks we ate in the school cafeteria this time of year, growing up in Louisiana.)

So if you’re planning to feed your family extra servings of fish for the next six weeks, let me suggest a couple that everybody from your kids to your grandma will probably like: cod and haddock.

Cod and haddock are flaky white fish that are good any way you cook them – fried, grilled, baked or poached. They go well with about any sauce or seasoning. I like them because they’re mild but they still have a good, fresh, characteristic fish flavor – about a “5” on a scale of 1-10.

Haddock filets are a little thinner, and more delicate, while cod is a little meatier, but they can pretty much substitute for each other in most recipes, including this one. It’s quick to prepare, and you can get all the seasonings you need in our seafood and produce department, within steps of each other.

Asian Grilled Atlantic Cod

1 lb FRESH Atlantic Cod
2 tsp FRESH Creole Seasoning (available at the FRESH Seafood Department)
2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
4 oz FRESH Asian Marinade (available at the FRESH Seafood Department)
Juice of 1 fresh lime
Juice of 1 fresh tangerine

Season cod filets with the FRESH Creole Seasoning and brush with olive oil.

Over a medium heat grill, place cod fillets and “mark” with grill. (This means letting grill marks sear onto the fish surface, like you would when grilling a steak.)

Turn fish once and continue cooking. Squeeze lime and tangerine juice over filets.

Just before filets are cooked to desired temp, coat with half of the marinade and cook 30 seconds to 1 minute more.

Serve hot with rest of marinade laced over fillets.

Well and Good: Losing That Belly Fat

Working in our healthy living department, I’m often asked about tricks to safely, easily lose weight. My usual answer is there are few tricks: Eat better, exercise more. But a new product we started carrying in January may change that – SafSlim.

SafSlim is a supplement that has been developed to reduce belly fat – the stubborn fat known as “omentum.” Belly fat can be harder to lose, especially as you get older. It can also be a dangerous health risk, linked to heart disease, diabetes and other life-threatening illnesses.

The ingredient in SafSlim that seems to do the trick is a form of safflower oil. Specifically, it is a high-linoleic acid (HLA), which is different from the kind found in the safflower oil you cook with. Researchers believe HLA helps raise the level of adiponectin, a hormone that helps you burn fat; it may also help regulate blood sugar levels.

In a clinical study at the Ohio State University, participants using HLA showed an average reduction of 6.3 percent belly fat after 16 weeks of use. This was a double-blind controlled study, meaning nobody knew who was getting HLA and who wasn’t. The participants were post-menopausal women with high blood pressure and extra belly fat, and significantly, they did not change their diet or exercise program!

You can get the HLA form of safflower oil in other ways, including gel tablets, but just regular safflower cooking oil does not seem to carry the benefits.

I recommend SafSlim because it is easy and pleasant to use. You take a tablespoon twice a day; that’s it. Unlike some dietary supplements, SafSlim actually tastes good. Refrigeration gives it a creamy texture, and the tangerine cream flavor is pleasant and gently sweet; it reminds me of an ice-cream-like dreamsicle. It does not contain gluten, dairy, soy or lactose, so it is easy to digest for most people.

ReBody, which makes SafSlim, is currently working on studies with their product, and testing whether it will produce the same results in people who do alter diet and exercise. Of course, I always believe a holistic approach is best, so pay attention to what you’re eating, get in more exercise, and consider consulting your medical professional. And start blasting that belly fat!

A FRESH Point of View: Cajun or Creole?

Celebrating Mardi Gras? Then you’re speaking my language – I grew up in Louisiana and to me, Cajun and Creole are the foods you cook when you want the good times to roll.

But do you know which is which? The terms get used interchangeably, but they’re really not the same.

Cajun is the country cooking of the Acadians who settled Louisiana – a hearty, heavy, French-influenced kind of cooking with a lot of one-pot dishes. It may have some hot ingredients, like Andouille sausage, but not every dish is spicy-hot.

Creole is Cajun’s city cousin – a more refined, complex cuisine with more complicated technique and influences from all the people who settled New Orleans back in the day. French, Spanish, African, German – it’s all in there, a real melting pot of food.

The confusion comes in because both Creole and Cajun cuisines use many of the same ingredients and spices (okra, lots of seafood, garlic, and file – powdered sassafras used as a thickening agent.) Also, there are so many ways to cook every Cajun or Creole dish. Etouffee, gumbo, jambalaya – I have yet to meet two Cajun or Creole cooks who can agree on a single recipe.

Me, I grew up eating and cooking Cajun food, but my restaurant training was mostly in the more refined Creole style. So in our seafood department, most of our chef-prepared sauces and bases have a distinctive Creole profile.

These make it easy to go New Orleans for a night. Some simply need to be heated, and others, all you have to do is add the seafood of your choice:

Creole Clam Chowder: This is a New Orleans version of traditional New England chowder, with a creamy base but a deep flavor from our Creole spice mixes.

Gumbo: I started making gumbo with my dad when I was five years old. This is as traditional as it gets. Add your own shrimp, chicken or what have you.

Etouffee: Again, it’s a Creole classic. I like it with crawfish tails.

Oyster Rockefeller soup: The flavors of traditional Oysters Rockefeller – bacon, cheese, spinach – but in a creamy, rich soup.  Try it as a sauce, over a simple grilled or baked piece of fish.

Cioppino: An Italian-American seafood stew from San Francisco, but ours has the Creole spices; add your favorite shrimp, crab or other shellfish, and you’re ready to go.

Creole cocktail sauce: More intensely flavored than regular cocktail sauce; ours is spiked with fresh lemon juice, chile sauce and lots of Creole herbs and spices.

Creole spice mixes: These are great for adding to your own recipes, or sprinkle just a little on fish, chicken or vegetables before cooking. We make a classic Creole (with spices like garlic, cayenne and paprika); a Jamaican jerk, which has additional flavor from Caribbean ingredients like allspice and cinnamon; and three-citrus, which has half the salt but extra flavor from lemon, lime and organic orange-peel powder.

FRESH and Festive: Big, Easy Mardi Gras

Masks, king cakes, beads and hurricanes – it must be Mardi Gras time. If you can’t make it to the really big party this year – the one in New Orleans – we’re making it easy for you to throw your own Mardi Gras fest.

King cake: You can’t have a Mardi Gras party without a king cake, which began as a tribute to the biblical Three Kings, and is enjoyed from the feast of the Epiphany (January 6) through the beginning of Lent. Here at FRESH, we make our own at our in-house bakery, using our freshmade Danish dough and fragrant cinnamon, and decorating each cake in the traditional Mardi Gras colors of purple, gold and green. Traditionally, a king cake has a baby hidden inside. Whoever gets the baby is on the hook for hosting next year’s party.

Cajun and Creole cuisine: Your party menu, of course, should feature rich Louisiana specialties, so check out our specials on things like Andouille sausage (essential in dishes like jambalaya);  ready-to-use, pre-cut “trinity” in our produce section (onions, bell pepper and celery, used in pretty much every Cajun/Creole recipe, ever; and oysters (for oysters on the half shell, or baked Oysters Rockefeller.) And remember, our seafood manager is a chef from Louisiana, so you need to check out his housemade gumbo base, in our seafood department.

Hurricane: The unofficial party drink of New Orleans, made famous by the Pat O’Brien’s bar in the French Quarter. Allegedly it got its name from the glass it’s served in, shaped like a hurricane lantern, but I’m not so sure. I think it’s more that if you drink too many of them, you wake up feeling like you got socked by a hurricane. Traditionally, the recipe uses passionfruit syrup, but we’ve lightened it up with fresh-squeezed juices; the grenadine will give it the red color you remember.

Serves 2

2 oz light rum
2 oz dark rum
1 oz amaretto
4 oz FRESH-squeezed orange juice
4 oz FRESH-squeezed limeade
2 Tbs grenadine
Splash of sparkling water
Maraschino cherry and orange slices, for garnish

In a cocktail shaker, combine rums, amaretto, orange juice, limeade, and grenadine. Shake vigorously for a minute. Strain and pour over ice into two glasses. Top each with a splash of sparkling water and stir. Add garnish and serve.

Family Central: Fresher Pet Food

Raise your hand if you consider your dog or cat part of your family. We do – down to spoiling them with Christmas presents. 

I draw the line, however, at cooking for them, even though that has been the trendy thing for pet owners for a while now. Some days I barely have time to cook for myself,  much less my furry ones.

That doesn’t mean I don’t care about giving them healthy food that they like. So I was really interested to see a line of pet food we recently started carrying, Freshpet.

Freshpet foods are meat-based and made with just a few ingredients – like you’d use for any other family member. They do not contain corn, wheat or other cheap, nutritionally questionable fillers or byproducts.

But what is really different about them is that the manufacturer chills them right after cooking. This keeps the food fresher and eliminates the need for artificial preservatives and colors that are often used in dog and cat foods. They are kept in their own refrigerated case at the store, right in our pet food aisle.

The packaging is cool, too. I really liked the slice-and-serve rolls -  you just cut off a hunk, mash it slightly, and serve.  They also have regular wet formula dog and cat foods, in resealable plastic containers that resemble Tupperware; moist kibble, in resealable plastic bags; and DogJoy treats, including crunchy brown rice “bones.”

The ones we’ve tried don’t have that off-putting smell I associate with some wet pet foods. And our doggie taste-tester really seemed to like the chicken, rice and veggie flavor (from the slice-and-serve roll) that he tried, too.  At least, he seemed to. He was too busy horking it down to answer my questions.

Freshie Faves: EVOL Burritos and Flatbreads

Did the world really need another frozen burrito or a new kind of frozen pizza?  I maybe would have thought it did not, until I tried some of the EVOL products recently.

Their burritos, pizzas and flatbreads  have been praised by the likes of Bon Appetit, Cooking Light and O, the Oprah magazine. They are made with all kinds of organic, natural, non-modified and gourmet-sounding  things like free-range chicken, roasted corn salsa and farmhouse goat cheese.

And they have a really interesting story. This stuff was created by a Colorado rock-climber turned chef and burrito entrepreneur. Just a couple years ago, his food was discovered and brought into the big time by a team that included a guy who was once a contestant on Survivor.

Yeah, yeah, yeah – but so, how do they taste?

Well, not like they were frozen, for starters.

The flatbreads and pizza have a thin, light, crispy crust, and toppings that suggest an upscale bistro. I liked the goat cheese, pesto and portabello mushroom flatbread the best, but the chicken-spinach-ricotta pizza won with other members of the family. (FRESH’s frozen section also carries the BBQ chicken flatbread and the grilled chicken and veggie one.)

As for the burritos, the best I’ve tried so far was the chicken, bean and rice, with Monterey jack cheese, a slightly spicy tomato/corn salsa and chunks of chicken and pinto beans in a flour tortilla. A close second was the bean-rice-cheese, a good vegetarian option. For a really fast meal, you can microwave the burritos and they’re done in a couple minutes, but if you have the time, I think they are better wrapped in foil and baked in the oven for an hour or so.

Oh, and about the name: I had an argume – er, discussion – about this in the frozen-foods aisle, but, yes, it is supposed to be “Love” spelled backwards. The name apparently came about because people just love this stuff.  Or because they have an EVOL plot to take over the world. Whatever. It’s good stuff.

Well and Good: Eat For Your Heart

February is that time of year when my thoughts turn to matters of the heart – and not just because it’s the season for Valentines. 

February is also American Heart Month, so this month is the perfect time to consider how well you’re taking care of yours. Not to scare you, but heart disease is still the leading cause of death among Americans. So, it’s important to cover the basics: Get enough exercise; get regular medical checkups, especially if you have risk factors like a family history of heart issues; and eat a heart-healthy diet.

But don’t get hung up on that last one. A lot of foods you already like – and more that you would, if you just tried them – are super-heart-healthy. Here are five of my favorites (all available, of course, at FRESH!)

Quinoa: This super-grain cooks up quickly, in 15 minutes or less, and is great as a substitute for rice or other starches, and terrific paired with beans. Or, let us do the cooking. At our chef-prepared area, we regularly offer black quinoa salad, with kale, onions and chunks of sweet potatoes in a light vinaigrette, and southwestern quinoa, with fresh corn, tomatoes,  and red quinoa tossed in a slightly spicy vinaigrette.

Salmon: Pretty much all fish is considered heart-smart, but salmon has particularly high concentrations of those omega-3 fatty acids that help keep hearts healthy. Choose from the fresh selections in our seafood market, or grab-and-go with the chef-prepared salmon fillets, perfectly cooked each day in our kitchens and available from our chef’s case.

Oatmeal: The familiar breakfast cereal is a great source of soluble fiber, which has been found to lower the “bad” cholesterol that can lead to heart problems. To change it up, try steel-cut oats, a tradition in Ireland; they have a rougher, slightly chewier texture. McCann now makes a quicker-cooking version, available in our cereal aisle, that is cooked in fewer than 10 minutes, as opposed to the 30+ you usually need for steel-cut oats.

Sweet potatoes: Loaded with antioxidants, sweet potatoes also provide lots of fiber, Vitamins A & C, and potassium, all at just 100 calories for a medium sweet potato. Skip the marshmallows and roast them up for a simple side dish: Toss cubed sweet potatoes with a little olive oil, salt, pepper, lime juice and a dash of maple syrup, and bake at 400 degrees for about one hour.

Dark chocolate: You’ve heard chocolate is good for your heart? Well, it’s true. Dark chocolate, anyway, which to me is the best kind. Treat yourself with one of these – after all, it IS Valentine’s Day:

  • Endangered Species: Their super-dark bars are jazzed up with mixins like cranberries and almonds; blueberries; or yacon and acai.
  • Newman’s Own: Their super-dark bar is 70 percent cacao.
  • Vosges: Sometimes oddball but always delicious. I especially like the dark Oaxacan bar, with pasilla chiles, and the Creole bar, with chicory and cocoa nibs.

A FRESH Point of View: From the Market – Certified Angus Beef

When it comes to meat, “best” is subjective. To you, it might mean the most tender, buttery prime cut of steak. To your best friend, health considerations might be more important, so she may go for grass-fed beef, or all-natural chicken.

That’s why we created our Market section at FRESH with so many choices – so that you can choose what suits your needs and tastes, no matter what you are looking for.

But that also means we are probably not like any market you’ve shopped at before.  So from time to time over the next few months, I’ll be writing some From the Market articles, which will help you make smarter, more delicious choices in beef, pork, chicken or even more exotic meats like bison. And, we hope to answer some of your most frequent questions about our selection, so you understand where our products come from, what makes them special, and, of course, the best ways to cook them.

Today, to kick things off, I’d like to talk about our Certified Angus Beef.

I sometimes describe our certified  Angus products as the “gold standard” of beef. This beef is, pardon the pun, just a cut above most other beef out there.

That’s because after this beef goes through the USDA process of inspection and grading, it then goes through another, even tougher certification process. To receive the Certified Angus Beef designation, this beef must meet 10 more specifications – and only about 8 out of 100 make the cut.

These specifications cover such things as

  • Marbling: Certified Angus Beef must have medium to fine marbling, the white flecks of fat that ensure flavor and juiciness in every bite. When the fat is evenly distributed through the meat, it keeps the meat tender and juicy during cooking.
  • Maturity: Only the youngest cattle qualify, which translates to superior color, texture and tender. When it comes to beef, older means tougher.
  • Consistency:  The high standards mean that the quality doesn’t vary from cut to cut, or week to week. It’s always good.

We cut our beef on premises, so you can always ask for your selection to be cut to order. Or, you can choose from more than a dozen popular cuts, including roasts, steaks and ground beef.

We’ve also developed some specialty cuts that you have probably not encountered in other markets. These include:

  • Ribeye filets: This is a special cut that creates a perfectly portioned, roughly 8-ounce cut, with little to no waste. It’s especially great for diners who love the meaty taste and velvety texture of a ribeye, but don’t want the typical large portion you get with our standard center-cut ribeyes.
  • Ribeye satay: We developed these long, narrow cuts of ribeye steak as a party alternative: You can skewer these, grill them, and serve them on the patio or by the pool. Think upscale alternative to the standard backyard burger or hot dog.

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