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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.

FRESH and Festive: The Spirit of Valentine’s Day

February 14—Valentine’s Day—some people look at it with quiet anticipation…kind of like a grown-ups’ Christmas…others look at it as nothing more than an imaginary day dreamed up by card companies.  Regardless of where you fall between those two lines of thought, most people would say it is the spirit of the day—the meaning of it—that is more important than the means by which it is expressed.

Whether it is said with champagne and chocolate dipped strawberries, a hand-written note, a flashy arrangement of exotic tropical blooms or a simple bouquet of hand-picked flowers, it isn’t the actual gift that is so important…it’s the heart that the giving comes from. It’s communicating the thought: “You are important to me and I am glad you are a part of my life.”

It’s a little easier to see now that I am older, but for the past few years I’ve tried to live by my own saying of “Don’t put off until tomorrow something you could have said today.”  Life has a way of throwing some pretty impactful things our way, and one of the greatest tragedies I can think of would be to find yourself in a situation of finding out you’ll never see someone again and you realize you never took the time to let them know how much they meant to you.

Your way of doing that may be going out to a fancy dinner.  It may be staying home listening to music, or walking along the beach.  Whatever the expression may be isn’t the important thing.  The important thing is to express it, in whatever form that takes.

Wouldn’t it be great as the years have rolled on and you find yourself looking at pictures of days and years gone by, that when you turn past the last page of that photo album you can lean back on the sofa and say , “I didn’t just say I love you…I lived it.”

To me, in many ways, food means love.  Feeding someone is very nurturing, and cooking for someone is one of the ways we can show that person that we love them, every single day. So a romantic meal, whether you cook it yourself or just make the reservations, is one of the most personal things you can do for your sweetheart.

If you’re planning a special day with your special person, I recommend you stick to what you know works and that you know you do well.  There’s nothing worse than planning a perfect dinner only to have your soufflé flop or find out your Newburg turned into an iceberg.  If you just have to do something new and exciting, at least give it a run-through first, so you are familiar with the recipe and the way it goes together. 

Valentine’s meals are extra-special when you prepare foods that can be shared – one large shrimp cocktail rather than two small ones, or a platter of sushi to nibble on together. Just pick what you both love. For dessert, I always suggest something light and airy – mousse, flan, crepes—a little flash never hurts.  A great way to begin—or end—your perfect evening is with a glass of Prosecco touched with a splash of Chambord.  Garnish with two or three raspberries and you are off to a great start.

But again, it’s the thought that counts – and expressing that thought. Happy Valentine’s Day.

Family Central: Valentine’s Day Gelato Sandwiches

Celebrate Valentine’s Day with your family with a FRESH twist on ice cream sandwiches: Get the kids to help you make homemade, heart-shaped chocolate sugar cookies, then sandwich them together with your favorite flavor of our house-made gelato.

This recipe is just a little softer and chewier than a traditional rolled sugar cookie, so it holds up better to the rich gelato than a more brittle cookie does.

For the filling? We love the strawberry gelato at FRESH, both for flavor and looks, but really almost any flavor will do. (If you’re making this for teens or adults, try Donatella, the hazelnut-chocolate flavor; it’s to die for.)

Chocolate Sugar-Cookie Gelato Sandwiches

1 cup butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 eggs
2 cups flour, plus more for rolling out
3/4 cup plus 1 Tbs unsweetened cocoa (preferably dark-chocolate or Dutch-process)
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
Optional: Baker’s sugar (larger, decorative crystals, found in baking supplies area)
1 to 2 pints FRESH gelato, your choice of flavor, for sandwiches

In medium size bowl, mix together flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

Using an electric mixer, beat butter and sugar together until fluffy. Add egg and vanilla and beat until blended.

Slowly, add flour mixture, stirring until well-combined. Cover dough with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least one hour and up to 24 hours.

BAKING: Preheat oven to 350° F and line a cookie sheet with parchment paper . Remove dough a few minutes before you want to roll it out. Place about one-third of dough on a lightly floured surface and roll no thinner than about 1/4-inch thickness. Cut with heart-shaped cookie cutters and transfer to prepared cookie sheet, at least two inches apart. If desired, sprinkle half of cookies with a bit of baker’s decorative sugar. (These will be the top of the cookie sandwich.)

Bake for 10-15 minutes, depending on size and thickness of cookie, until edges begin to look “dry” but the center is still slightly doughy and puffy. Remove from cookie sheet and let cool on wire rack.

TO MAKE SANDWICHES: Let cookies cool completely. Before assembling cookies, pull gelato out of freezer to let it soften slightly, at least 5 minutes and up to 15, depending on temperature of your deep freeze.

Working quickly, place one cookie on a platter or plate, top side down. Place a scoop of softened gelato in center of cookie and gently spread to cover. Do not push too hard or cookies will break. Top with a second cookie, sugar side up. Place completed sandwich in a plastic container or a cookie sheet and repeat with remaining cookies, creating a single layer of completed treats in container. Return to freezer and chill for at least 20 minutes before serving.

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

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.

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