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A FRESH Point of View: A Great First Year

When we opened our doors almost one year ago today, we didn’t quite know what to expect. We wanted FRESH to be a food destination that offers outstanding service, amazing world class foods and specialty items within the convenience and affordability of a grocery store setting.  We wanted to provide products that you used to go to big markets like Dallas or Houston to find, however, we also wanted to be true to our East Texas roots, and create a warm, welcoming place to shop, eat, or just hang out.

We are so grateful for the overwhelming response we have received from East Texas/West Louisiana and beyond.  We’ve had a great first year, and we’re expecting only better things for our second year. Like these:

Supporting our community: We’ll continue to support causes in the East Texas community. One of the groups nearest to our heart is the East Texas Food Bank, which helps feed needy kids, seniors and working poor families right in our community. We donate thousands of pounds of FRESH bread, produce and other food to the food bank, which gives it to those who are hungry – we’ve donated about 6,500 pounds of food every month since last summer! We’re also proud that you’re joining our efforts: This week at our checkouts, you can make a cash donation or buy bags of groceries that are being donated to ETFB to help needy families.

Food and festivals: At FRESH, we love a good party. So, we’ll be bringing back many of our signature foodie events  – with music, guest chefs, product demos and fun. Look for our popular Taste of Texas this June, featuring Texas products, Texas chefs, and homegrown Texas musicians. Some Like it Hot, our fiery foods festival, will be back in August. And our Steak Cookoff will return, featuring local cooks out for bragging rights, but this time it will be in June, just in time for grilling season!

Weekly events: There’s always something going on at the Taste Kitchen: Start your weekend with our all-you-can-eat pancake breakfast; chow down on Chef John Peter’s Louisiana-tinged seafood on Monday nights; laugh and learn at Coffee Talk with FRESHologist Jane every Tuesday morning; Wednesday Happy hour featuring a snack and drink special and our Market manager cooks up something FRESH right out of our market counter on Thursdays.  If you love to eat and learn how to put amazing foods together don’t forget to sign up for culinary showcases at our Friday Night Eats series, led by our talented chefs. We’ll continue to showcase the best local and regional chefs, nutrition experts and fitness gurus, too, especially on the weekends!

Patio time: With the return of warmer weather, our patio will be back in full swing, starting this weekend. The 801 Grill opens for the season on Saturday, with new menu items and old favorites. And our popular weekend music series kicks off Saturday too, with music starting at noon, and continuing most Friday and Saturday nights from here on out.

The best in grocery, bakery, chef-prepared foods and more: Of course, it all comes down to the food. We’re proud to have brought many only-at-FRESH foods to our corner of the world – local and exotic  produce, house-made artisan breads, a huge selection of organic, gluten-free, and natural foods, and great meat and seafood selections. And we want to keep wowing you. So, keep coming back to see what new finds we’ll be bringing you in 2012.

FRESH and Festive: Try These Cheeses!

So you’re looking for a cheese to serve with wine or crackers this weekend, or you want to add a cheese course to a special meal. What are you going to get?

Well, you know you can always ask one of our cheesemongers for a suggestion – or a sample. Or, just head right to the cheese department and try one of my current three favorites:

Midnight Moon: This is an aged goat milk cheese, so even if you think you don’t like goat cheese, you should try this one. The aging process gives it a firmer texture and a smoother, more mellow flavor. It is buttery and nutty and doesn’t have that tangy bite you may have tasted with typical goat cheese. It comes from a California company, Cypress Grove.

Taleggio: This is a lesser-known Italian cheese that is creamy, smooth, and mild – soft but not really spreadable, and delicious all by itself. It’s what’s known as a “washed-rind” cheese, which means that as it matures, cheesemakers rub the rind with a brine, which helps the cheese remain moist and develop a good flavor.

No Woman:  This one takes its name from the Bob Marley song, No Woman No Cry, so you can guess the flavor here – a strong, spicy Jamaican jerk seasoning, with traditional Caribbean-flavored undertones like clove, in a nice, firmer-textured cheese.  The cheese comes from an artisan cheesemaker, Beecher’s, which was founded in Seattle. Beecher’s gives a percentage of its sales to its own Flagship Foundation, which teaches kids how to make healthy eating decisions.

Family Central: Grilled Cheese Night

Grilled cheese sandwiches are great kid food – but with just a couple changes and additions, your kid’s grilled cheese sandwich can be a fantastic grown-up meal as well.

Our FRESH Croque uses such simple ingredients that even your kids might be asking for one instead of their American-cheese-and-Wonder-bread usual. (Imagine that; everybody eating the same thing at dinner, so you don’t have to be the short-order cook.) The real trick is good bread and a great cheese – rich, buttery Gruyere, so mild and melty that almost everybody likes it.

The FRESH Croque

2 oz prosciutto (sliced as thin as possible)
2 oz thin sliced Gruyère cheese
1 egg, fried sunny side up
1/2 Tbs butter
2 slices of rustic Italian bread
4 oz Dijon Crème Fraiche, recipe follows
Fresh cracked pepper, to taste
Fresh chives, finely chopped, to taste

Sandwich the prosciutto and Gruyère between Italian slices (Gruyère on top of proscuitto). Toast on a panini press, flat top or Teflon pan with a touch of butter or EVOO. Once warm all the way through, cut in half on the bias. Place fried egg on top. Place chilled Dijon crème in a ramekin on the side. Garnish with cracked pepper on egg and chopped chives.

Dijon Crème Fraiche

4 oz Dijon mustard
2 oz sour cream
2 oz mayo
8 shakes of Tabasco Jalapeño
1 small bundle of chives (fine chop)
Salt and fresh cracked pepper, to taste

Mix all ingredients and store in a sealed container in the refrigerator until ready to use. Will keep for 5 to 7 days.

View this recipe to print or add items to your Shopping List.

Freshie Faves: Our Birthday Bash!

Hard to believe, but next weekend, it’s been a year since FRESH first sharing the wonders of food with you. So to celebrate, we’re throwing a big party next week – and you’re the guest of honor.

The real party is our actual birthday, Saturday, March 10, but other deals and festivities will be going on all next week. Check it:

WIN: Feeling lucky? Then register for our birthday sweepstakes: More than 60 prizes including a grand prize trip to Napa Valley, a FRESH Chef Prepared Dinner for 10 in your home, and a FREE FRESH for 2 meal every week for a year! Plus a 32″ LCD TV, gift cards galore, and goodie bags overflowing with delicious products found at FRESH. Register at our Concierge Desk, starting Wednesday, March 7!

GIVE BACK: Celebrate by helping us give back. Join us in supporting the East Texas Food Bank, which feeds thousands of hungry kids, seniors and families every week. Starting March 7, purchase a bag of canned goods that will go to someone in need, or make a monetary donation to the Food Bank at our checkouts.

CUISINART Rewards: Our Cuisinart Cookware reward event was such a hit, we’re bringing it back, starting March 7! This time, you can earn FREE Cuisinart appliances – like a coffee maker, a juice or a blender – just by shopping at FRESH. You’ll usually receive one sticker for every $10 you spend. But as a birthday treat, you’ll enjoy double stamps on all purchases from March 7-March 13.

March 10 Birthday Bash: Help us blow out the candle on our first birthday cake, all day!

  • Live local music debuts for the season, with three acts from noon-9 p.m. on our Back Patio.
  • The 801 Grill will open for the season, with exciting new menu items.
  • We’ll have lots of samples to taste and party favors to take home.
  • And it wouldn’t be a party without cake. So enjoy FREE birthday cake and FRESH gelato, from 11 a.m-7 p.m.

Well and Good: Seaweed Bath Co – Skin Relief

Seaweed has been used for generations in Asia and parts of Europe to battle itchy, dry, distressed skin. But the founder of Austin-based The Seaweed Bath Co., Adam Grossman, stumbled across it almost by accident.

He was looking for a more natural treatment for his own psoriasis. He discovered spending time in the ocean helped. Trying to recreate an ocean environment, he began researching the  soothing effects of seaweed.

Grossman literally started as his kitchen table, mixing seaweed with other natural ingredients, like argan oil from Morocco, Dead Sea salts, and soothing scents like lavender and eucalyptus. His skin irritations began improving dramatically. So he sought help from a lab to create his full line of bath powders, body creams, lotions and hair care products, getting them to the marketplace just over a year ago.

Seaweed Bath Co. products are free of dyes, parabens and harsh chemicals. They’re gently scented, and I love the way the creams and body butters massage so easily and smoothly into the skin. These are good products for anyone with dry, scaly, or distressed skin.

But what really is interesting to me about this company is the seaweed component. Unlike many other natural products utilizing seaweed, Seaweed Bath Co. sources a particularly hard-to-harvest type of seaweed called bladderwrack.

Bladderwrack contains fucoidan, a natural anti-inflammatory agent which contain essential amino acids, nutrients and vitamins that soothe and hydrate the skin. These amino acids help alleviate the flaking, scaling, and redness experienced by those with skin conditions like psoriasis and eczema.  Bladderwrack also contains iodine, which offers many of the same benefits. (Kelp, which is the kind of seaweed often used in other products, has a higher level of iodine, so one must be careful about how much kelp one uses.)

Bladderwrack is also a highly sustainable type of seaweed. Grossman sources his bladderwrack seaweed off the coast of Maine – helping to create jobs in an economically depressed area, and avoiding the high carbon footprint created when importing seaweed from Europe.

Grossman is careful to note there are no true cures for conditions like psoriasis. But he’s his company’s own best testimonial: In the three years he’s been using seaweed-based products, he has stopped using any other prescribed topical medications like steroids. He now manages his skin condition with just seaweed products and a gluten-free diet.

A FRESH Point of View: Cheese To Please

It’s easy to fall into a rut with food – even with something as varied and wonderful as cheese. As the new “head cheese” in our charcuterie and cheese department, I’ve got a few suggestions If you’re trying to expand your horizons when it comes to cheese, and move beyond the three or four kinds you always buy, here are my top tips:

  1. Find a knowledgeable source of information that will let you try as many cheeses as you’d like – At FRESH, our staff is equipped with detailed information about each of our cheese selections and will let you taste anything you desire. Just ask!
  2. Decide if you prefer cow, sheep or goat milk cheeses (or all of them if you are like me) – Do you like the buttery richness of cow’s milk cheeses, the tang of goat’s milk cheeses or the mellow nuttiness of sheep’s milk cheese?  This will help you narrow down your search if there is one that you do not care for at all. 
  3. Try different textures (soft, semi-soft, hard) to see which appeals to you most. The texture of cheese varies greatly from extremely hard and granular (like Parmesan) to almost runny (like aged Brie).  You might like the taste of a cheese but do not care for its texture.  The perfect cheese needs to delight you in both taste and texture.

From there, you can start branching out. Once you know the basic characteristics of cheese you like, you can begin substituting similar ones.  For instance:

If you like brie, try: camembert, another buttery French cheese that’s great on warm bread, or saint-andre, a triple-cream French cheese that is super-rich and tastes like brie on steroids.

If you like parmesan, try:cotija, a dry, crumbly, sharply flavored Mexican cheese that’s good for sprinkling on enchiladas or pastas, or grana padano, a hard Italian cheese that’s practically identicial to real parmigianoreggiano, except it’s made in a different part of Italy.

Remember, just like wine, the flavor of cheese is affected by its origin -the climate, the slope of the pasture land, the diet available to the animals who gave the milk, even what time of year the animals were milked.  All of these things factor into the final flavor profile of the cheese.

 In addition, all cheeses do not pair well with the same foods.  Think of cheese like pasta — some noodle shapes are better for thicker, heartier sauces while others work best with smoother sauces. 

Come in and let us help you find the cheese that pleases you!

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!

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