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Family Central: Homemade Mac-n-Cheese

Mac-and-cheese is one of those foods that practically every child loves. In fact, some children of my acquaintance seemed to subsist entirely on mac-and-cheese, and the occasional grilled-cheese sandwich, for months at a go.

But the standard packaged stuff isn’t quite so appealing, at least not for the adults. So for a family meal, the trick is to find a gussied-up mac-and-cheese recipe that has enough interesting flavor and texture for the grown-ups, but not too much strong or “weird” cheese flavor to scare off the kids.

We’ve experimented with several combinations, and this one seems to satisfy everybody: The fontina and Mexican cheeses are nicely bland and creamy, and the cheddar and Asiago add just enough interest that the more mature palates don’t revolt. You can substitute any creamy, melting cheese for the three main cheeses, as long as you keep roughly the same proportion. And if your kids will stand for it, you can also add a thin layer of bread crumbs before baking, to add a bit of crunch.

Kid-friendly Four-Cheese Mac-n-Cheese
Serves 4-5 as a main course, 6-8 as a side

8 oz macaroni (elbow, farfalle or shells)
2 Tbs butter
2 Tbs flour
1 3/4 cup 2% milk
1 cup sharp cheddar, finely shredded
1 cup fontina cheese, finely shredded
1 cup Asadero or quesadilla cheese, finely shredded
1/2 cup Asiago cheese, grated
Salt and pepper to taste, if desired

Preheat oven to 350° F. Spray a medium-size casserole dish with nonstick spray and set aside.

Over high heat, bring a big pot of salted water to boil, then add macaroni. Cook till just before al dente – about two minutes less than recommended on package. Drain and set aside.

In a medium saucepan, melt butter over medium heat, then stir in flour to make a roux. Cook for about two-three minutes, stirring or whisking constantly, but do not allow to brown.  Slowly add milk, in a thin stream, whisking or stirring the entire time to avoid lumps.

Cook sauce, whisking constantly, until slightly thickened, at least five minutes.  Lower heat slightly and stir in cheddar, fontina and Asadero or quesadilla cheese, stirring until cheese is completely melted and sauce is smooth. Taste sauce, and add salt or pepper if desired. (Personally, we have found it does not need any extra salt!)

Add cooked macaroni and stir to coat well. Transfer to prepared baking dish and sprinkle with grated Asiago cheese. Bake 20 to 30 minutes, until casserole is heated through, cheese is bubbly, and edges are just starting to brown.

Freshie Faves: Angie’s Kettle Corn

Kettle corn is one of those old things that’s new again, a snack our pioneer ancestors ate but that then kind of disappeared.

But, with the exploding popularity of salty-sweet foods, it makes sense that kettle corn has made a big comeback in the last several years. And, of course, it doesn’t hurt that popcorn has a reputation for being a healthier snack. It’s a whole grain, with more fiber and less fat than a bag of chips.

All those things are working in the favor of Angie’s Kettle Corn, which has just arrived in our snack aisles.

Angie’s is a boutique operation out of Minnesota that makes just one thing – kettle corn. And it comes in just three flavors – classic, lite and caramel.

If you’re going to make just one thing, you’d better be good at it. Angie’s is. All the flavors feature fluffy, crisp popcorn lightly coated with crystallized sugar and salt crystals, the perfect ying-yang balance of salty and sweet mixing in every bite.  I’m especially impressed with the lite flavor, which somehow manages to be just as satisfying and addicting as the regular versions, despite having half the sugar and half the fat of the original flavor.

Like a lot of boutique food companies, Angie’s has an interesting back story, and yes, there really is an Angie. She’s Angie Bastian, who started popping and selling kettle corn with her husband Dan at fairs and festivals in 2001. After getting some of their popcorn in the hands of the Minnesota Vikings players, the snack’s popularity took off, paving the way for them to go national.  

Especially at a time of year when you’re probably still trying to work off the effects of all those holiday treats, kettle corn is a good choice. Angie’s Kettle Corn has just four ingredients – popcorn, corn oil, sugar and sea salt. (Well, that’s for the classic and light versions; the caramel also contains some caramel flavoring and sugar syrup.) They’re gluten-free and taste like they have a lot more calories than they do _ in a nice big two-and-a-half-cup serving, you’ll take in just 150 calories in the classic and caramel flavors, and only 120 with the lite.

Well and Good: Diabetes Workshop

Diabetes is one of the fastest-growing health problems in America. About 1 in 10 American adults currently are living with this disease, and some experts predict that number could easily double within a generation.

However, for many, many people living with Type 2 diabetes, some pretty simple changes in diet and exercise can help control most symptoms. Lifestyle changes can even decrease the likelihood of developing more serious complications.

But where to start? That’s the confusing part. So let us help, with a FREE workshop from 2-3 p.m. this Saturday, Jan. 28, on managing diabetes through diet, exercise and medicine.

I’ll be leading this workshop at the FRESH pharmacy, near the main check-out area. If you, a family member or a friend are already dealing with diabetes, or if you just want to learn how to lower your risk of ever developing this disease, this workshop ought to offer you plenty of practical, usable tips.

We’ll give you an overview of the disease and stress the importance of regularly checking your blood sugar, taking any diabetes medicines prescribed, and seeing your medical providers regularly. But we’ll also get into specifics on controlling carbs, eating right, and getting in a good workout. For instance, did you know:

Controlling your diet means more than cutting carbs: Yes, you need to count carbs, but don’t just get caught up in the numbers. Your body still needs some carbohydrates, just the right kind; oatmeal, for instance, is much better than a potato. And, you need to watch your fat intake. Meats and cheeses may not count against your carb limit, but the excess fat in these items means you can’t merely substitute bacon and steaks for bread and pasta.

Slow and steady wins the race: Especially for patients who have not been exercising regularly, the idea of going to a gym or running a mile may seem daunting. But I often suggest a much more natural approach to fitness, especially for those beginning an exercise program: Get up and vacuum, mow the lawn yourself, walk the dog a few extra blocks, or commit to taking the stairs a few times every day. The key is to be consistent and work more movement into your daily routine, every day.

If you’re living with diabetes, you’ll be amazed at how a few simple changes can make you feel so much better! Join us Saturday to find out more.

A FRESH Point of View: Front Row Eats Cooking Showcases

Pretty much everybody who works at FRESH loves food. We consider it a privilege to share our favorites and our secrets with you – whether that’s what to do with that rare seasonal mushroom, or what artisan cheese to use for the perfect cheeseburger.

So this month, we have kicked off a new event – Front Row Eats Cooking Showcases. Every Friday night, one of our chefs, bakers, or other food experts will offer complimentary demonstrations on, well, food. How to cook it; how to choose it; how to serve it. You can sit back, relax, and ask questions as we share professional cooking techniques; teach you how to clean and cook that new-to-you fish; give you new ideas for familiar ingredients; or outline the fine points of cuisines from Moroccan to Mexican to meat-free vegan.

Each session will take place from 6:30-7:45 p.m. Fridays in our FRESH Taste Kitchen, just inside the patio entrance, between the chef-prepared section and the bakery. These events are free, but seats will be limited, so reserve your spot by calling 903-747-3512.

For our first demo, last Friday, we demonstrated how to make and use some fresh, modern sauces to dress up your meals. (A great sauce is every chef’s secret weapon.) Other plans include:

  • This coming Friday, January 27, our topic will be fresh and healthy dinner ideas, featuring whole grains, the best of seasonal fruits and vegetables, and lean meats.
  • Friday, Feb. 3, Super Bowl Sunday ideas: Good food doesn’t have to be fancy or fussy. We’ll be showing off some super snacks for you to serve at your Super Bowl watch party.
  • Friday, Feb. 10, Valentine’s Day theme dinner: We’ll kick off another regular topic, destination theme dinners, with a “Night in Paris” menu perfect for Valentine’s Day.

The schedule is a work in progress, so we’d love to know what YOU’D like to learn. (The sauces demonstration, for example, was an idea that we heard from lots of our guests.) If there’s an ingredient, a dish, or a cuisine that you’d like us to explore – let us know. It just might come to the FRESH Taste Kitchen on some Friday night very soon.

FRESH and Festive: A FRESH Take On Nachos

Throwing a watching party for this weekend’s NFL playoff games? Then you’re probably making nachos. The snack of chips, cheese and jalapenos is practically the national snack for sporting events.

Ballpark nachos, the kind with soft nacho cheese for dipping, were actually invented in Arlington, Texas, in the 1970s, and quickly found their way onto the snack-bar menu at practically every high school, college and pro football game.

When I’m making nachos, I like to go a little beyond Easy Cheese and chips, though. This very simple recipe makes nachos that are hearty enough for a meal – but lets somebody else do most of the work. The chile, queso, guacamole, and pico de gallo are all available in our chef-prepared or cut fruit departments, so all you have to do is heat, assemble and serve.

FRESH Nachos

1/2 bag Gloria’s Tortilla Chips
12 oz FRESH Chile con Carne
12 oz FRESH Chile con Queso
8 oz FRESH Pico de Gallo
8 oz FRESH Guacamole
Assorted garnishes:  sour cream, pickled jalapeños

Spread chips on platter and cover in warmed Chile con Carne and Chile con Queso.  Sprinkle Pico de Gallo over top and scoop guacamole into middle of nachos.  Garnish as desired.

Family Central: Grab-and-Go Breakfast

Breakfast on the go doesn’t have to mean a doughnut scarfed down in the car.

If you’re struggling to get a healthy meal into the kids before school, here’s a simple grab-and-go treat that both kids and adults will enjoy. It’s high-protein and filling, and is lightly sweet, with just a hint of saltiness to balance things out.

It’s super-simple to make, so the kids can help. (Older ones can whip up a batch themselves.) Make it ahead of time and store it in the fridge, for a quick breakfast or snack you can grab on the way out the door.

We used ingredients from our bulk department to come up with this recipe, and you can customize it to your tastes. Substitute any nut butter – peanut, almond or pecan – for the cashew butter. And, you can use any granola flavor; try several until you find your family’s favorite!

 Breakfast Cashola

1 cup FRESH ground cashew butter
1/2 cup FRESH Signature Granola
2 Tbs agave nectar
1/8 tsp Fleur De Sel Sea Salt

Mix all together and roll into small balls, refrigerate and grab and eat on the go.

Freshie Faves: Sheer Bliss Ice Cream

Sheer Bliss ice cream stands out from the crowd, thanks in large part to its packaging: A durable, tight-sealing metal canister.

But it isn’t just a gimmick.

The metal tin actually helps protect the rich ice cream within better than a traditional cardboard ice cream container. Because it does a better job of sealing the ice cream and keeping away air, it helps prevent dehydration, crystallization and freezer burn. Especially if you are the type to only eat ice cream once in a while, you’ll find that Sheer Bliss ice cream stays fresh a long time in the freezer, even after being opened.

Of course, how long it lasts also depends on your will power. And that may be tough to exercise with this super premium ice cream.

Sheer Bliss is one of the creamiest, richest frozen treats I’ve tried, with a really smooth, velvety texture.  That comes for the ingredients – real cream, real milk, and real sugar, not any kind of high-fructose corn syrup or artificial flavors/preservatives. The fat content and calories are about the same as other super-premium ice creams, like Ben & Jerry’s or Haagen Dazs.

The flavors are unique too, like Freedom, a vanilla ice cream with swirls of pure blueberry and pomegranate, and a deep, dark chocolate that truly tastes of chocolate, not just fat and sugar.

All that, and you get a reusable tin. Double win.

Well and Good: Wholesome Millet

On these cool, damp winter mornings, a warm whole-grain cereal is just the thing to keep you fueled up. For a change of pace, why not try some millet?

Now we often think of millet as bird food, but did you know that millet was the chief grain in China generations ago, before rice became so popular? It continues to be a great source of nourishment for people in Africa, China and Russia.

And millet is good for more than just the birds. Millet is packed with nutrients.  It is high in protein, fiber, iron, magnesium, potassium and silica, which helps keep our bones flexible through the aging process. It has anti-fungal properties for those who are dealing with yeast overgrowth, otherwise known as Candida. Finally, because of its mineral content, it helps the functioning of the kidneys and stomach.

 It is gluten-free, so it can be enjoyed even by those avoiding other grains. And, it’s known to be soothing to the stomach, making it a perfect cereal for anyone suffering from morning sickness or anyone with a delicate stomach.

Millet can be used as a hot cereal either on its own or combined with buckwheat, amaranth or rice.  You can use it in soups as a way to add protein and it can be used as a wheat-free for substitute for couscous, as it has a similar consistency. 

Millet is easy to prepare. You just rinse it before cooking, and use a ratio of one part millet to two parts liquid. You can also toast it prior to cooking, to give it a richer, nuttier flavor. To toast millet, place it in a pan over medium heat and lightly brown, shaking the pan as necessary, so as not to burn the grain.

Basic Millet

1 cup millet
2 cups water
few grains sea salt

Rinse millet and place in a pot with the water.

Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes.  More water can be added if you desire a softer consistency. 

To serve, let your imagination and taste buds guide you.  For a breakfast cereal, add raisins and cinnamon for a sweeter flavor. For a side dish for lunch or dinner, try adding cooked carrots, onions, or parsnips.

A FRESH Point of View: Spiced-up Pickles

The newest wrinkle in pickles? Spice.

Hot-and-spicy pickles were once something you could get just from small, boutique pickle makers, or maybe your grandma’s kitchen if you were lucky enough to have a pickle-making grandma.

But the success of the spicy pickles from companies like Wickles has helped bring a new breed of pickle to the market. These new-school spicy pickles marry the traditional flavor of a dill or sweet pickle with the zing of chiles or hot sauce.

To me, they’re way more interesting than regular old pickled cucumbers, with an extra dimension of flavor but no more fat or sodium than regular pickles. Try them on po’ boys, muffalettas, or any old hamburger or sandwich, or mix them into potato salad or tuna salad. You can even use them in place of olives in a dirty martini or instead of pickled green beans in a Bloody Mary. Or, save the juice and swig it as a “pickle back” – the term for a pickle-juice chaser to a shot of whiskey, becoming popular in some trendy bars.

We’re all about the spicy pickle at FRESH. Some of our favorites you should try:

Wickles Pickles: The name is a mashup of “wickedly delicious” and pickle, and this brand is one that really helped get the spicy pickle bandwagon rolling a few years ago. Their basic slices are an addictive combination of sweet and spicy, with a gentle heat and a nice crunch. Try the relish, too, with the same flavor profile but a fine texture that works especially well on hot dogs and bratwursts, or mixed into your favorite egg salad recipe.

Cherith Valley: This Texas-based maker of pickles and condiments has introduced a thick-sliced, “hot n spicy” dill pickle. The slices are super-thick, so they look (and taste) like homemade.

Tabasco Spicy Dill with Garlic: From the makers of world-famous Tabasco sauce come these dill pickle slices. The heat comes from, of course, Tabasco hot-pepper sauce, plus a generous helping of minced garlic.

Rick’s Picks Hotties: Here, the heat comes from habanero chiles and Sriracha sauce, the vaguely Asian chile sauce.

FRESH and Festive: Wintery Cocktails

Feeling that post-holiday malaise? Snap out of it quickly, with friends, snacks and a new, winter-inspired post-holiday cocktail.

This drink recipe was developed by our friends at Texas Toast Culinary Tours, a Fort Worth company that creates dining events, restaurant-hopping tours and culinary-based vacations. (Their occasional “barbecue bus,” touring the best Hill Country barbecue spots, is legendary.)

Because it includes trendy pomegranate juice and a dash of calorie-free sparkling water, this drink is light and fresh and full of antioxidants, so you can feel virtuous while you chase the winter blues away. Cheers!

Serves 2

6 oz vodka
3 oz pomegranate juice
3 oz winter spice syrup (see below)
2 oz sparkling water

Combine all ingredients in a tall glass filled with ice. Stir and garnish with an orange twist.

Winter Spice Syrup:
In a saucepan, combine 3 tablespoons molasses, 1/2 cup sugar, 4 cinnamon sticks, 2 teaspoons vanilla extract, 2 teaspoons chopped crystallized ginger and 3 cups water. Bring to a boil for 2 minutes, then reduce to a simmer, stirring until molasses and sugar are dissolved. Allow to cool completely. Store in an airtight jar in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.

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