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Freshie Faves: Valentine’s Flowers

Picking out flowers should be fun, especially at Valentine’s Day. But I also understand how choosing just the right gift for someone else can be nerve-wracking, especially for those who do not send flowers regularly. Or, how it can be easy to fall into the rut of the traditional dozen red roses with baby’s breath– beautiful but maybe a little TOO traditional.

So if you want to make an impact this Valentine’s Day, come see our floral designers. We’ve come up with some fresh, contemporary designs that can be ready quickly, at an affordable price, but that aren’t the same-old, same-old.

Like the one we’re calling Sweet Unique – a contemporary arrangement of roses, curly willow and a dramatic antique hydrangea in a cylinder vase. Or our spin on the traditional red roses – ours features 18 blooms, in a striking rectangular glass vase with a minimum of greenery and filler so the flowers really stand out.

You can order these or other arrangements at 903-747-3511, or stop by our floral department 7 days a week to talk to one of our floral experts. And, yes, we deliver.  But remember to get your order in soon because our delivery time slots will fill up fast! 

If you want something truly one-of-a-kind, our designers can help there, too. Here are some things to keep in mind when designing your own arrangement:

Share your budget with the designer: Knowing how much you want to spend will help you focus, and will also help the floral designer steer you toward blooms and arrangements that fit within it, so you can find the right flowers quickly.  And, if your budget is on the thin side, you’ll be surprised what creative ideas our designers will have for stretching it.

Think of where the flowers will likely be displayed: This will help you focus on both scale and style of the arrangement.  Will the flowers be set in a hallway with a soaring ceiling, a tall table, or in a small office cubicle? A room with a high ceiling and large furniture cries out for a larger, or taller, arrangement. Modern, simple arrangements, maybe in a slim glass cylinder, will look best in a home with modern, stark lines and furniture.

Consider your beloved’s taste: This is the hardest one for most people. That’s where designers can really help. They’ll want to know things like the recipient’s home décor (shabby chic, traditional or contemporary?) and personal style in clothing and jewelry. If that’s difficult for you to explain, they’ll be ready with some of our unique ideas, like our 100-centimeter roses – a single, super-long-stemmed rose in an Italian tower vase.

Well and Good: Drink Your Water!

In the heat of summer, it’s easy to remember to drink your water. But just because it’s cooler out, it doesn’t mean that your need for hydration goes down. In fact, especially if you exercise regularly or drink a lot of caffeine, you need to drink just as much water in the winter as you do during warmer months.

That’s because water is so important to our well-being.

Water has sometimes been described as being a forgotten nutrient, yet it is required by all of our cells and organs to function properly. You need plenty of water every day, to help your body absorb vitamins and nutrients, to help it detox, and to keep your organs like lungs and kidneys function correctly. I’ve even found that when I don’t drink enough water, I can feel irritable, tired and even experience headaches. 

Most experts agree that the average person should consume daily a minimum of 64 ounces, or  8 eight- ounce glasses of water every day. 

That requirement can be even higher under certain circumstances, such as a hot climate, alcohol consumption, extensive exercise, time spent in a sauna or hot tub, or consumption of caffeinated beverages.  But even in cooler weather, your body still needs that minimum.

To me, it doesn’t much matter what kind of water you drink – tap, mineral, spring or artesian well water.  If you don’t much like the taste of water, as some people complain, you can try sparkling water for part of your daily requirement. (As long as it does not have added sugar or caffeine.) Or, try adding a few slices of fresh lemon, lime, orange or grapefruit to a pitcher that you keep in your fridge, to lightly flavor it. Or, experiment with temperature; you may find it goes down easier if it’s super  icy cold.

One way that has helped me stay on top of my necessary water consumption is to carry with me to work a one- liter bottle of water and make sure I consume it all before the end of the work day.  Combining this along with the water I take in before and after work helps me reach the recommended amount on a daily basis.

One other thing to keep in mind is the container you put it in. Glass is always the best choice, but food- grade stainless steel water bottles that are unbreakable and travel well that are a good choice as well. If you are using a plastic water bottle, look for the PET #1 plastic container.  These are recognized as being safe for food and beverage storage.

Drink for your health.

A FRESH Point of View: We’re LEED certified!

It’s not easy being green – but we did it! FRESH has received LEED certification from the U.S. Green Building Council, a non-profit group that recognizes outstanding accomplishments in sustainable, environmentally friendly construction and design.

FRESH is the first grocery store in our area to meet the stringent standards that go along with being LEED certified. LEED stands for “Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design”, and getting this recognition means that a building has been designed, built, and is operated in a way that reduces energy use, limits waste, and conserves water.

This is important to us at FRESH, because we’re part of the community. We designed and run FRESH in a way that uses our community resources wisely – while still creating a great, fun, affordable shopping experience.

And what that means to you is that many of our innovative, energy-savings ideas occur behind the scenes, or in ways that gently impact our guests.  For instance:

  • Have you admired the many native plants in our landscaping? Our water-efficient landscaping reduces irrigation demands by 50 percent over a baseline landscape. We even collect much of our irrigation water in a cistern that stores rainwater.
  • When you stroll down the frozen aisles, you may notice the lights switch on just as you pass by. That’s because they’re equipped with motion detector technology, which shuts off unneeded lights and optimizes energy performance.
  • Do you like to recycle? So do we! We designed a recycling collection and storage system that fits seamlessly in our stores, both in public areas and in our own work and storage areas. Plus, an amazing 98 percent of our construction waste was diverted from the landfill – a statistic that is considered exemplary by LEED standards.
  • We want to be good neighbors: To reduce “light pollution” to our neighbors, we used LED exterior lighting. Our outdoor  “green space” exceeds local zoning requirements by 25 percent, to give our guests a more natural setting. And we created preferred parking spaces for our guests who drive fuel-efficient vehicles.
  • Breathe easier: We designed our building with increased ventilation and low-emitting materials, in order to provide improved indoor air quality.

FRESH and Festive: Valentine’s Day at Home

If you don’t have your plans made for Valentine’s Day, I hate to be the one to break it to you, but time’s running out.

So since I called this little problem to your attention, let me also solve it for you: Plan a romantic dinner at home, and let us do (most of) the work.

First, pick up our surf-and-turf special from our chef-prepared area. Then, you’ll have plenty of time left over to whip up a cocktail (alcoholic or not) from recipes we’re providing from the fabulous Christine Gardner, food editor at the Tyler Morning Telegraph.

Dinner: Our special Valentine’s Day FRESH for 2 menu is restaurant-worthy – but you can avoid the crowds and high prices. For $29.99, you get thyme scented, grilled filet mignon with bacon chive butter;  herb-grilled Gulf shrimp; creamy potatoes au gratin; grilled asparagus; fresh garden salad; and our house-baked brioche rolls. These will be available in our Grab and Go area in limited quantities, but we suggest you call 903-747-3512 to reserve your meal for pick up on February13 or 14.

Drinks: Our friend Christine Gardner regularly graces our FRESH Taste Kitchen with demos and classes, and these drinks are based on recipes she has taught to our guests. Fancy and festive, but easy!

1 bottle of prosecco (Italian sparkling wine)
1 (8 oz) bottle pomegranate juice
2 oz brandy
2 oz orange liqueur

Fill champagne glasses 1/3 full with pomegranate juice. Add a splash of brandy and orange liqueur. Top with prosecco.

1 can peach nectar
2 Tbs lemon juice
1 liter ginger ale
Peach slices

In a large pitcher, combine peach nectar and lemon juice. Top with ginger ale. Stir to combine. Fill glasses with ice. Pour in ginger ale mixture. Garnish with fresh peach slices.

Family Central: Easy, Homemade Shrimp Tamales

There’s a reason a lot of people only make tamales for special occasions, when there are plenty of family members or friends around to help: They can be a lot of work. Stewing meat for hours to make the filling, soaking the corn husks, making the masa shells; it can become an all-day project.

But my recipe for shrimp tamales is different. Because you use quick-cooking shrimp, the filling only takes minutes, not hours on the stove.  Try them this weekend for your Super Bowl party, or serve them up for Mardi Gras in a couple weeks.

And, if you use a tamale kit like the ones we carry from Melissa’s, you can have your tamales ready in just a couple hours. (The Melissa’s kits contain everything except the filling, including instructions, pre-soaked corn husks for wrapping, and a corn masa mix that just needs water.)

Shrimp Tamale Filling
Fills 12 tamales

2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
1 lb 50-60 shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/3 cup celery, finely diced
1/3 cup red bell pepper, finely diced
1/3 cup white onion, finely diced
1 tbs fresh garlic puree (SEE NOTE)
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, finely chopped
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1 Tbs FRESH Creole seasoning
1 tsp cumin
sea salt, to taste

Puree shrimp by pulsing in a food processor. Set aside. Heat olive oil in a thick-bottomed sauté pan over medium/high heat. Add shrimp, celery, red bell pepper, white onion, garlic and cilantro. Stir. Add Creole seasoning and cumin. Sauté until shrimp are almost cooked through; then deglaze pan with lime juice and cook 1 minute more. Check for seasoning and adjust to taste. Place filling in refrigerator to cool completely before stuffing tamales.

NOTE: To make garlic puree, simply peel fresh garlic cloves and puree in food processor.

Freshie Faves: Pizzeria-Style Pizza

My family always keeps a couple of pizzas in the freezer, for those nights when nobody has much energy to cook and we’re too hungry to wait an hour for the pizza delivery guy to show up.

Good news if your family is like mine: We’ve recently added a few new pizza brands to our lineup, so you can mix it up a bit.

Our new varieties give you pizzeria-style quality in the convenience of your home – in less time, with no more work than turning on the oven.

Home Run Inn: True Chicago-style pizza, with a thin but slightly chewy crust that tastes like you pulled it out of a real pizza oven. Saucy, cheesy and filling, too. Home Run Inn started out as a neighborhood joint more than 80 years ago, branched into pizza in the 1940s, and it’s still run by the Perrino family, descendants of the founders. We like the uncured pepperoni, but there’s also sausage and a sausage-pepperoni blend.

Red Fork: These are pizzas for grownups, with sophisticated flavor combinations. You won’t miss the traditional red sauce on the Bianca pizza, with chunks of mushrooms, diced onions, intense kalamata olives, mozzarella on a thin layer of garlic-spiked ricotta sauce. There’s also a chicken-and-smoked gouda pie, and a more basic margherita, with Roma tomatoes and fresh mozzarella. Like Home Run Inn, the crust is really good on these – crisp on the edges, just a little chewy, and flavorful, not like the cardboardy texture you may remember from the frozen pizzas you ate as a kid.

FRESH chef-prepared: These aren’t actually frozen – they’re fresh-made in our kitchens by our chefs – but they are too good not to mention. Our chefs have been hard at work, coming up with new varieties to join old favorites like our sliced-meatball and four-cheese pies. We recently introduced two winners: Smoked chicken, with goat cheese and spinach, and BBQ brisket, with cheddar cheese and jalapenos. Like all our chef-made pizzas, they’re on our own house-made crust, and available to take home and bake from the grab-and-go case. (Smart tip: Try them on Wednesdays and Thursdays, when you can pick up a pizza for just $9.99.)

Well and Good: Super Pomegranates

Pomegranates have been the “it” fruit for several years now, and not just because they taste good. (Which, by the way, they do; slightly tart but refreshing.)

No, at least part of the reason that pomegranate is such a popular flavor in juices, yogurts, tea and even ice cream is because the pomegranate is just so darned good for you.

Low in calories, high in fiber and Vitamin C, the pomegranate is just loaded with antioxidants. And even though it’s a fruit that has been eaten for centuries – it was even mentioned in the Book of Exodus – scientists have only more recently begun to study its health benefits. Just in the year 2010, pomegranate juice or extract was studied in 23 individual clinical trials registered with the National Institute of Health. 

  • Researchers are examining this fruit for links to protection against the following diseases; atherosclerosis, arthritis, cancer, diabetes, lymphoma, the common cold, coronary artery disease and still more.
  • The pomegranate juice or extract contains powerful antioxidant compounds that scientists believe can help inhibit the formation of plaque in the arteries, as well as balance high blood pressure.  Because of its high levels of polyphenolic compounds, it has greater antioxidant activity when compared to red wine or green tea.
  • Studies in the field of cancer have also shown promise with the pomegranate in its ability to block aromatase, an enzyme that converts androgen to estrogen, a hormone known to have a role in the development of breast cancer.  Natural compounds in the fruit may potentially prevent estrogen-related breast cancer.
  • According to a report in the International Journal of Cancer, Dr. Hasan Mukhtar and colleagues from the University of Wisconsin at Madison conducted a variety of experiments to test the anti cancer effect of this fruit and found it has the ability to block skin tumor formation.

All that said – fresh pomegranates can be a little intimidating to prepare and eat. The part you eat are actually the hard little seeds, surrounded by a little sac of juice, called an “aril.” You can eat them on their own, or add them to yogurt or cereal, or even freeze them for a cold treat on warm days.

However, with the growing popularity of this fruit, it’s easier than ever to enjoy it. You can now purchase just the arils, cleaned and ready to eat, in the produce section. Or, several companies have taken the work out of getting the juice, with pomegranate juices that can be found on our grocery shelves with our juice selection. And, several yogurt companies have begun making a pomegranate flavor – check in the dairy section to see if your favorite brand has, too.

A FRESH Point of View: Big Game Plans

Are you ready for some football? The biggest game of the year is this weekend. And whether you’re hosting a bash, bringing snacks to a friend’s party, or would rather just avoid the whole thing and spend the weekend doing something else (like shopping or cooking!)– FRESH has you covered.

Snacks for sale: Don’t spend the weekend in the kitchen; we’ve got party food ready to serve. Make it a Tex-Mex theme with half-price margarita mix (located on our fresh-squeezed juice area in produce) and half-price quesadillas, in our chef-prepared case. Or look for our take on that classic party appetizer, 7-layer dip; we’ll have our own chef-prepared version while supplies last this weekend.

Super cooking demo: Spice up your party with some new ideas from Chef Casey Shanower’s talented team. They’ll be demonstrating new ideas for your football-watching menu (or any party night) from 6:30-7:45 p.m. Friday in our FRESH Taste Kitchen, just inside the patio entrance, between the chef-prepared section and the bakery.  It’s free, but because of the popularity of these cooking events, please reserve your seat by calling 903-747-3512.

Wing it: We’ll have our very own wing station, tossed to order with three sauce options (BBQ, Classic Buffalo, Asian), from mild to wild. Check it out in chef-prepared on Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. for just $4.99 per pound.

Wing it, part two: Got a killer wings recipe? You can afford to feed a crowd with these deal – 35 percent off Smart Chicken wings, from our market, and 50 percent off selected Wing Time Wing Sauce from grocery.

Shop and sample: Football not your game? Come spend part (or all) of your weekend with us. Saturday, we’ll have a full house of samples and demonstrations from some of our wonderful local and regional vendors. Stanley’s BBQ, a Tyler legend, will be in the Taste Kitchen, and look for other friends throughout the store: Beanitos healthy bean chips; spicy and seasoned peanuts from Lord Nut Levington;  Simply 7 hummus and lentil chips; and salsas, dips and sauces from Tyler’s own Leigh Oliver’s.

Fuel up with pancakes: You’ll need your energy to properly focus on the game. So come carbo-load with our popular all-you-can-eat pancake breakfast, both Saturday and Sunday from 9 a.m-1 p.m. All the yummy hot flapjacks, mix-ins and toppings you care to enjoy. (And if you really want to get the party started – don’t forget we have mimosas, too. Super Sunday, indeed.)

FRESH and Festive: What’s cooking at FRESH

Have you been to FRESH today? It’s our goal to see you as often as we can – not just for your weekly grocery shopping, but to enjoy some of our special meals, great deals, and free workshops, music and cooking demos.

Over the past few months, we’ve introduced several new weekly events, in addition to the frequent product samplings, cooking demos, holidays and festival events that we host. You don’t have to come every day to join the fun – but if you wanted to, you could!

Mondays (5-7 p.m.): Seafood Nights with Chef John Peters. Our talented seafood manager, who once cooked at New Orleans’ Commanders Palace and other fine restaurants, will personally cook your dinner to order! Choose from a selection of fresh seafood, shop or enjoy a beverage while the chef cooks it up, then eat with us or take home to enjoy.

Tuesdays (10-11 a.m.): Coffee Talk with Freshologist, Jane. You can’t help but catch Jane’s enthusiasm about her favorite products, exciting recipes, and new cooking techniques. She often brings in a guest from our talented team of experts. Pour a (free) cup of coffee and join the talk!

Wednesdays (5-7 p.m.): Happy Hour with food and drink specials. You never know what we’ll offer here; recent specials have included Frito pies, nachos, quesadillas and BBQ sliders – always washed down with a choice beverage like Shiner Bock. You’ll be amazed at what you’ll get for ridiculously low prices!

Thursdays (5-7 p.m.): Market Manager, Herb Turner, cooks for you. Herb will cook up the perfect cut of meat just for you, complete with savory sides. You can take home or enjoy here with us!

Fridays (6-7:45 p.m.): Front Row Eats Cooking Showcases! Launched just last week, this new series will feature our chefs, bakers and other culinary experts, doing what they do best – demonstrating how to use our fantastic ingredients in new ways. The demos are free, but because of limited seating, we ask that you reserve your spot by calling 903-747-3512.Tonight’s topic is fresh and healthy dinner options, with seasonal veggies, whole grains and lean meats. Next week, it’s super snacks for Super Bowl Sunday.

Fridays and Saturdays (times vary): Music Showcases: Our popular free summer music series is back, this time in the warmth of the store. Come catch old favorites and rising stars, like Daniel de la Rocha (4-7 today) and Neal Katz (3-6 Saturday, Jan 28).

Saturdays and Sundays (9 a.m. – 1 p.m.): Pancake Breakfast: Get your pancakes – all you can eat! We started these pancake breakfasts right around the holidays, and they’re a great way to ease into your weekend mornings. All you can eat, including all the mix-ins and toppings you can imagine, just $6.99 for adults, and $4.99 for kids 12 and under.

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.

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