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‘Tis the Season for Holiday Snacking

Throughout November and December, it’s the season of entertaining. Holiday parties, family gatherings and last-minute guests fill our schedules and keep us busy with festive activities. I like to keep a file of quick and easy recipes that make entertaining a breeze. There are a few requirements to fit this category: minimal ingredients, little to no cooking and easy cleanup.

Baked brie is always a favorite. You can use a variety of preserves over the cheese and an assortment of toasted nuts to crumble over the top. It can be baked and served in the same dish, and it can even be made in the toaster oven since oven space can be hard to come by when preparing holiday meals. Spiced nuts also offer versatility in flavor, and a large batch can be made in advance and stored in a large airtight container. Visit the bulk department at FRESH and create your own assortment of favorite nuts. You can even add dried fruit after baking.

The flavor profile can vary by baking the nuts with your favorite seasoning and a touch of sweetness from honey, agave or maple syrup. I like the combination in the recipe below with seasonal fall spices and a generous sprinkle of coarse sea salt. There’s also a touch of heat with cayenne pepper.

Fig and Pistachio Baked Brie

1 (4-inch) wheel brie
1/4 cup fig preserves
1 Tbs honey
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 cup shelled pistachios, chopped

Place brie in a shallow baking dish or on a baking pan lined with foil. Spread preserves and honey over the top of the brie; sprinkle with cinnamon. Top with the pistachios. Place in a 350° F oven for about 7 minutes, or until the brie softens and begins to ooze but not melt. Remove from oven. Using a wide spatula, transfer to a serving plate. Serve with crackers, toasted baguette slices or sliced apples.

Per Serving:
Calories: 462, Fat: 35.5 g (15 g Saturated Fat), Cholesterol: 75 mg, Sodium: 470 mg, Carbohydrates: 19 g, Fiber: 0.5 g, Protein: 16 g.

View this recipe to print or add items to your shopping list.

Maple-Spiced Nuts

2 tsp dried rosemary, finely minced
2 tsp dried sage, finely minced
2 tsp dried thyme, finely minced
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
6 cups mixed nuts (walnuts, pecans, almonds, hazelnuts, etc.)
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
coarse sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 350° F. If you have a mortar and pestle, grind the herbs and cayenne pepper together to combine. In a large mixing bowl, combine the nuts, maple syrup, olive oil and herb/spice mixture; toss well to thoroughly coat. Spread the nuts on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake for 15 minutes until browned, stirring occasionally. Remove from oven; season with salt and pepper, to taste.

Per Serving:
Calories: 578, Fat: 51 g (8 g Saturated Fat), Cholesterol: 0 mg, Sodium: 265 mg, Carbohydrates: 25 g, Fiber: 5 g, Protein: 13.5 g.

View this recipe to print or add items to your shopping list.


Mangia Bene at FRESH

There’s a famous Italian quote, “Mangia Bene, Ridi Spesso, Ama Molto.” It means “Eat well, laugh often, love much.” It sums up the Italian lifestyle of long, multi-course feasts filled with laughter, friends and family. It’s also a good reason why Italian cuisine is so loved in America.

At FRESH, there are plenty of ways to eat well, especially when it comes to authentic Italian food. From October 9 – 15, the store will be celebrating a Taste of Italy. In every department, products will be featured that highlight the essence of Italian cuisine and are perfect for creating your own multi-course feast with friends and family.

The ingredients in many Italian recipes are really quite basic. They highlight the wonderful natural flavors of things like quality extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, handmade pasta, artisanal cheese, slow-baked bread and plump juicy San Marzano tomatoes.

Here are a few of my favorites that I think you will enjoy from various departments throughout the store:
Cheese: Housemade Fresh Mozzarella, Gorgonzola Bleu Cheese, Parmigiano-Reggiano, Pecorino Romano, Grana Padano and Asiago.

Charcuterie: Prosciutto di Parma, Mortadella, Speck, Molinari & Sons Italian Salami and Pancetta, and Columbus Italian Salami.

Fresh Pasta: Also found in the cheese department is fresh pasta. Made daily, you’ll find Fettucine, Pappardelle, Alfredo Sauce, Marinara and Bolognese.

Pizza di Napoli: Enjoy an authentic Neapolitan-style pizza cooked in our new pizza oven. Made with handmade dough, San Marzano tomato sauce and fresh mozzarella. An assortment of toppings and flavors are available that are truly Italian.

Chef-Prepared: Spaghetti & Meatballs, Lasagna Rolls, Eggplant Parmesan and more.

Bakery: All bread is baked in the store. Look for Rustic Italian Bread, Focaccia Bread and Ciabatta.

Wine: There is a wide assortment of Italian wines to enjoy from throughout the country and at every price point. From an inexpensive Chianti Classico to the prized Barolo. Two of my favorites are from Southern Italy.

Asmodeus Nero d’Avola from Sicily is a dark red wine that has a rich earthy flavor, but it is also balanced with red fruit, spice and high tannins. Also, Lacryma Christi Bianco Feudi di San Gregorio from the Naples area is a bright and golden white wine that has floral notes and flavors of white fruits. Lacryma Christi means “Tears of Christ” and the legend claims that as Christ ascended into heaven, he wept over the beauty of the area and brought life to the vines that were growing on Mt. Vesuvius.

Italian Products: Some of the essential Italian pantry ingredients can be found in the aisles. Look for Extra Virgin Olive Oil made in Italy and Balsamic Vinegar of Modena. San Marzano whole canned tomatoes are available in a variety of brands, along with sun-dried tomatoes, basil pesto, olive tapenade and a variety of pasta sauces. Of course, you need some pasta to go with all of these wonderful ingredients, and FRESH carries Montebello dried pasta that is made in Italy. Available in a variety of shapes, Montebello is handmade using Old World techniques.

Holiday Cheese Platter Made Easy

Holiday Cheese Platter Made EasyThe holidays are a time for entertaining, parties and last minute guests. But there’s not a lot of time for planning, shopping or cooking. That’s why I like to keep my refrigerator stocked with an assortment of items from FRESH’s Cheese & Charcuterie department.

It’s easy to build a quick cheese platter that includes sliced meat, various cheeses, artisanal crackers, olives, dried fruit and spreads. It doesn’t have to be elaborate, and there are so many great options.

I generally start with three cheeses. The first one being a hard cheese – something like Gruyere, Grana Padano, manchego or a sharp English cheddar. The next cheese will be something soft – brie, goat, Camembert or a marinated mozzarella. The last cheese I choose is blue. There are many varieties of blue cheese that are very nice with rich flavors that are sweet and nutty. Some great examples are Gorgonzola, Roquefort or some of the American artisanal blues like Point Reyes.

For the charcuterie, some good choices are Prosciutto di Parma, speck, Italian salami, mortadella or, from Spain, serrano or chorizo. Pâté can also be served in cubes or as a spread.

Finish it off with a fruit spread, artisanal honey, dried fruit or Marcona almonds. Be sure to grab some of the artisanal crackers or flatbread located by the Olive Bar, and then, head over to the Bakery for a sliced baguette, Italian loaf or hard rolls.

Here are a few items to try when building your cheese platter.

Leoncini Mortadella: Known as the original bologna, this typical charcuterie product from Italy is characterized by an exclusive and delicate flavor that is hearty, yet delicate and mild.

Alexian Chicken & Veal Pâté: Traditional, country-style pâté to be served by the slice or cubed and placed on toothpicks. Can also be used as a spread on artisan bread. Made with veal, chicken breast, chicken liver and cognac.

Kerrygold Blarney Castle: 100 percent natural, grass-fed cheese that is mild and creamy with rich and velvety undertones. Taste and texture is similar to a young Dutch Gouda.

Cana de Cabra Goat Log: Cana de Cabra is a soft-ripened cheese made from pasteurized goat’s milk, in Murcia, Spain. This creamy, buttery, mild and delicious cheese has a bloomy rind with semi-soft texture. Aged for 21 days, as it ages, the flavor intensifies.

Point Reyes Original Blue: Artisanal, American Farmstead cheese from California. This blue is creamy with layers of full flavor. It is sweet and milky with a medium-to-strong punch of blue flavor.

Entertain with Ease & Cheese

Entertain with Ease & CheeseThe holidays are certainly the season for entertaining, and we all want to be the perfect hostess. However, there’s not a lot of time to plan, shop and cook for potential guests. Here’s a little secret – you can still be the perfect hostess and only spend a few minutes in the kitchen. How can you entertain with ease? One simple word – CHEESE!

When building a cheese tray, texture, color and portion size are important to consider. The rule to remember is easy to follow: “Old, new, stinky, bleu and maybe a wildcard.”

Three to four varieties of cheese are enough, and five is only necessary for large groups. Old and new covers the texture category with hard versus soft, and color can be accomplished through the bleu. The stinky is sometimes a category that is dropped because many people are offended by overly-stinky cheese. Wildcard can represent a favorite from a different country or region of particular interest.

A general rule for portion size is two ounces per category, per person plus various sides like olives, nuts, fruit paste and charcuterie items. The cheese needs to come to room temperature before serving. Remove the cheese from the refrigerator 20 minutes in advance of your guests arriving.

Something Old
This category includes hard cheeses like aged Gouda, aged Cheddar, Parmigiano-Reggiano, Grana Padano, Manchego, Gruyere and Asiago.

Something New
Fresh cheeses, soft or semi-soft cheeses, and bloomy rind cheeses fall into this category. Examples of fresh cheeses include many goat cheeses (also known as fresh Chevre), Ricotta, Mozzarella and Feta. Popular semi-soft choices include Fontina and Havarti.

Bloomy rind cheeses include Brie and Camembert. It is called “bloomy rind” because if you look at the rind under a microscope, it looks like a field of white flowers. They are at their peak when their interior is soft, and the rind is starting to show white spots of mold.

Something Bleu
In America, bleu cheese is traditionally associated with salad dressing, but bleu cheese as an ingredient or as a component on a cheese tray is a rising trend.

In the American artisanal cheese industry, farmhouse bleu cheeses are on the rise and rival the pungent sweetness and creamy texture of European versions. In Italy, bleu cheese is called Gorgonzola, called Stilton in England, and called Roquefort in France. Another popular version is Irish Cashel Bleu. Many of the European and Farmhouse versions of bleu cheese are milder and creamier.

Some exceptional American bleus include Rogue River Bleu from Oregon and Roth Buttermilk Bleu. All of the bleu cheese varieties – American and European – offer a range in flavor and texture.

Why so stinky?
Stinky cheeses are an acquired taste, and most people love them or hate them. Generally, the cheeses are soft cheeses, and they have a slimy, slightly gooey rind. Their flavors and aromas are particularly pungent because of the bacteria used in the cultures. Examples of stinky include Tallegio, Raclette and Chimay.

Many cheeses would be an ideal choice for a wildcard cheese. From Spain, Idiazabal is a firm sheep’s milk cheese that is slightly smoky with a buttery, nutty flavor. It’s a good choice for those who aren’t sure if they like sheep’s milk cheese.

From Italy, Parmigiano-Reggiano and Grana Padano are the obvious choice, but another hard Italian cheese is Piave. Sometimes called Parmesan’s cousin, Piave has a sweeter, milder flavor.

Another idea is to include a flavored cheese. Beecher’s Flagship cheese is an award-winning blend of Cheddar and Gruyere that is a semi-hard cow’s milk cheese left to cave-age for at least 15 months. The No Woman variety adds Jamaican Jerk spices to create a complex, smoky flavor that’s earthy, nutty and spicy.

Supporting Cast
Rounding out your cheese selection is easy to do and requires no cooking. Several accompaniments can be found right in the cheese department. Sliced salami and other cured meats like Serrano ham, Prosciutto di Parma and Speck complement the flavors found in many cheeses. Also, fruit paste and honey are nice toppings for Brie and semi-soft cheeses. Add a few small bowls of almonds, caramelized walnuts or pecans, olives, pitted dates, and an assorted selection of cut fruit or grapes. Don’t forget the artisan crackers, toasted baguette slices or baked pita chips.

Health & Wellness: Kerrygold Cheese


Kiss me, I kind of look Irish! With my red hair and freckles a plenty, it was destiny that I spend some time on the Emerald Isle. I jumped the pond a few years back but I will always have a fondness for Ireland.

Of course, when I celebrate there is always cheese around. My dear friend Andrew Griffith, whom I consider “the Big Cheese” at FRESH, was on hand to showcase the Irish cheese offerings from Kerrygold at FRESH. In Ireland, cows roam free in fresh air and graze in lush pastures of tender grass. From this legendary landscape comes luscious milk that births some divine cheeses you simply must try!

Vintage Irish Cheddar boasts a delightfully distinctive character.  Aged for three to six months the wheel is encased in black wax to differentiate it from less-aged Cheddars.  This connoisseur’s cheddar, notable for its rich, rounded, buttery flavor and firm, smooth body, deserves a place on the cheese board alongside your choice of the world’s other great cheeses.  Pair it with Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon Blends and Syrah.

Aged Cheddar with Irish Whiskey is infused with robust flavor, Kerrygold’s rich and creamy Aged Cheddar with unique undertones of the smooth, woody, and nutty taste of pure Irish Whiskey. What a bonus! Entrenched in the history and traditions of Ireland, Cheddar and Whiskey are now together in one spirited cheese. This tasty combination is the perfect complement to your cheese platter and is also a unique gift item.

Dubliner can be described as a combination of Cheddar and Parmigiano Reggiano. The description is quite accurate.  Dubliner tastes of a mature Cheddar with the sweet aftertaste of Reggiano.  Created by Kerrygold and named after Ireland’s capital city, this cheese’s texture is semi-firm and slightly crumbly. Dubliner’s flavor is one-of-a-kind, with a slight spice and sweet aftertaste.  This cheese is complemented by strong reds like Merlot, Cabernet and Chianti, and is also an excellent choice with Irish beers!

Dubliner with Irish Stout is a combination of Kerrygold’s original Dubliner Irish Cheese and its perfect pair, an Irish Stout, are now together in a unique cheese. The classic flavor combination brings out the sweet, nutty, rich flavor of Dubliner and swirls and tumbles it together with the malty, caramel, bitter flavor of a perfect pint of Irish Stout. Serving this cheese to your guests will have them toasting for more!

Freshie Faves: Sartori Cheeses

The “Big Cheese” has struck again. A tall, lanky friend of mine leads the way of all things cheese at FRESH. Andrew Griffith, Charcuterie and Cheese Manager, is the kind of comrade you want on your side. He is quick witted, amazing on stilts and man, does he know his cheese. Perhaps you have met him lurking by the Limburger or standing by the Stilton. He is always on hand when you need a nibble of Beemster and for that; I will always be in his debt.

And it seems that my debt ledger is ever increasing. In part due to my new find via Andrew, Sartori Cheese. Sartori has been making award-winning artisan cheese in Wisconsin since 1939, including the recent gold medal winner of the 2011 U.S. Cheese Championship Contest. The cheesemakers at Sartori have won over 100 international awards in the past few years. They are as impressive and they are tasty!

Let’s go for the gold. BellaVitano Gold that is. A Sartori-family original, this rich, creamy cheese with its nutty, fruity flavor is also, in all modesty, a celebrated gold-medal winner. Inspired by traditional, Italian farmstead cheese, BellaVitano Gold begins in the mouth like a premium parmesan and finishes in award-winning style with hints of melted butter.

Now on to the Balsamic BellaVitano. The sweet, nutty, fruity flavors of the most-sought-after BellaVitano become even more desirable when blessed with a few prized drops of Modena balsamic vinegar. By gently bathing BellaVitano Gold in balsamic, cheesemaker Mike Matucheski has given it a sweet coating that burnishes the legend of BellaVitano with yet another honor from the World Cheese Awards.

Let’s toast to the Merlot BellaVitano. By wedding this rich, creamy cheese to the berry and plum notes of Merlot, they have created a marriage of flavors destined to make your taste buds say, “I do.” On that note, if you invite a few friends — say, toasted walnuts, thin slices of prosciutto and semisweet chocolates for dessert — the honeymoon never has to end.

Freshie Faves: So good you won’t want to share

I hope I’m not the only one that hordes food. Do you have those oh so special items or dishes that you just don’t want to share?

My list of “hands off” treasures gets longer each day I spend at FRESH. And our Cheese Department’s Yarra Valley Marinated Feta is top on my list. Yarra Valley Dairy is located in the heart of the beautiful wine district, the Yarra Valley, 30 miles east of Melbourne, Australia.  Yarra Valley has won several of awards, including a gold medal at the London World Cheese Awards.

Maybe you have not noticed the unassuming blue tub of creamy, silky pasteurized cheese made from the milk of Friesian dairy cows in the well known wine region of Australia nestled in our Cheese Department. The feta is lovingly surrounded with olive oil, fresh thyme, peppercorns and garlic that gives this delicious cheese a warm rich finish that will haunt you. The feta is velvety and effortless to spread. The essence of the herbs, peppercorns and garlic are wonderfully balanced. All working together to provide your taste buds a one of kind delight.

This is the part of my blog that I usually list a recipe for my Freshie Fav. But Yarra Valley’s Marinated Feta never makes it into a recipe. It goes straight into my belly via slices of our FRESH baked Rustic Italian bread. I suggest you do the same!

A FRESH Point of View: Take it and Make it

As all you know, our store is all about variety, freshness, and making sure that our guests get exactly what they want when they visit us. We are kicking off several new programs throughout the store designed to promote those three key principles.

I am happy to announce that the Charcuterie and Cheese Department is now offering a “take it and make it” bar where a guest can build a delicious fresh sandwich with ingredients of their choice. And the best part… these sandwiches start at around $3.

Got you hooked? Ok great, now let me give you the details!

“Take it and Make it” is located directly in front of our famous FRESH Wall o’ cheese, next to our olive bar. Here, we offer fresh cut meats and cheeses, fresh baked bread, and fresh veggies that we have packaged into individual portion sizes just for you.

  • 2 slices of our FRESH baked bread: Choose from white, whole wheat, honey wheat or jalapeno cheddar or an amazing brioche roll, all straight from our bakery, for an average price of $.50.
  • 4 slices of deli meat ranging from fresh cut ham and turkey, FRESH house roasted turkey, or organic offerings for an average price of $1.25/pkg.
  • 2 slices of all natural cheese (Swiss, American or Cheddar) for an average of $.75.
  • Lettuce, tomato and onion slices and pickles for $.50. Again, all conveniently portioned and packaged for you.

Adjacent to the “take it and make it” we are still featuring our established olive bar offerings but have also added space for small portions of cured meats, such as salami and prosciutto, and artisanal cheeses.

In addition to these offerings, you can also purchase any item on our salad bar to go atop your sandwich masterpiece. Just fill a container and simply pay by the pound. Favorites like cucumber, spring mix, feta cheese, and roasted veggies will be available there.



Freshie Faves: A platter to pause for!

The culinary path at FRESH is ever winding. I have been shown the way to a many gastronomic jackpots in my short time here. And the one that is by far the most entertaining to say and delightful to eat is charcuterie (shär-kū’tə-rē’).

This flavorsome method of preserving meat goes way back, in fact, 6000 years back! During the rise of the Roman Empire the cuisine started to be refined but it was the French that propelled it to its greatness. This division of the culinary arts is devoted to the making of salted, cured, smoked and preserved meats, like bacon. Yes, bacon. Now, I have your attention! And be prepared to taste much more than bacon.

Charcuterie has been has quickly become a rising rock star. It has found its way into foodie’s hearts and tummies everywhere. And our own Cheese & Charcuterie Manager, Andrew Griffith, has painstakingly crafted the perfect cheese & charcuterie platter that is paired, each week, with a FRESH wine selection. He changes it up often to keep things interesting!

You can order a platter for 2 or 4 at our 801 Grill on Friday and Saturday evenings while listening to our Live and Local music series. Or take it home to your own patio or to bring as a hostess gift to your next gathering.

You will be dazzled by thinly sliced Prosciutto di Parma, Capocollo, Serrano Ham and even perhaps some of Creminelli’s artisanal salamis. These savory slices are balanced by an offering of both soft young cheeses like brie and more dense mature cheeses like parmesan. Andrew throws in some fruit paste or quince for good measure along with some whole olives. Our fresh baked rustic Italian bread is a soft mild canvas for you to build the perfect bite upon!

OH my goodness, I’ve made myself hungry again. I’ve got to go eat something!

A FRESH Point of View: A Sweet Spin on Salad

I always look forward late Spring because of the amazing produce that comes into season when the weather turns a bit warmer.  Aside from my favorite local veggies such as Noonday Onions and Jacksonville tomatoes, I am a huge fan of berries and cantaloupe.

I came across this recipe a while back and thought it was a genius combination of flavors.  Since we are in the middle of our Taste of Texas event, I revised the recipe a bit to include a popular Texas cheese from Brazos Valley, the Blueberry Havarti.

The best part is that it is very easy to put together with the cut fruit medleys and FRESH orange juice available in my department. It is a light and refreshing side dish for summertime and I hope that you will try it and enjoy it.

Fruit And Havarti Salad
2 cups strawberries, sliced
1 1/2 cups cantaloupe, cubed
1 cup blueberries
1 cup raspberries
1 cup kiwi, sliced
2 cups Brazos Valley Blueberry Havarti Cheese, cubed
1/3 cup FRESH Orange Juice
2 Tbs olive oil
2 Tbs honey
2 Tbs basil leaves, chopped

Combine fruits and cheese in large bowl. Mix together orange juice, oil, honey and basil in a small jar with tight-fitting lid. Shake vigorously to combine. Pour over fruit and cheese; toss.

Serves 6

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