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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.


Summer Sips, Sodas & Cocktails

School is out, and summer is finally here. It’s time for vacations, trips to the lake and pool parties. That means you need plenty of cold drinks on hand to quench everyone’s thirst in the summer heat.

We all have our favorite sodas, but a walk down the beverage aisle at FRESH reveals a variety of options that offer some fun, summer flavors. Also, check the juice aisle for plenty of pure juices and lemonades. Plus, the water aisle contains many flavored and vitamin-enhanced waters.

Here are a few of my favorites, plus some cocktail recipes that are sure to be a hit at your next pool party.

Fever-Tree Light Ginger Beer: Natural fruit sugars are used to create this reduced-calorie ginger beer. A naturally brewed product that has distinctive long-lasting ginger character and 53% fewer calories, each 200-milliliter bottle has 42 calories. Enjoy as a mixer or by itself.

World Waters WTRMLN WTR: Cold-pressed watermelon flesh, rind and organic lemon juice are the only ingredients in this refrigerated beverage. No water or sweeteners are added. The natural vitamins and minerals in watermelon water include vitamin C, magnesium, iron, potassium, L-citrulline and lycopene. 60 calories in an 8-ounce serving.

Hubert’s Lemonade: Since 1935, Hubert’s Lemonade has been delivering sunshine in a bottle with their homemade lemonade. It’s a tasty and refreshing mix of sweet and tart. Sweetened with stevia and sugar with 70 calories.

Hint Water: This water contains only purified water and a hint of flavor derived from natural ingredients. No sweeteners, preservatives, sugar or other artificial ingredients. Available in a large variety of flavors.

Moscow Mule

1.5 oz vodka
1/4 of a lime, juiced
3/4 cup Fever-Tree Ginger Beer, chilled
fresh mint leaves, for garnish

Pour vodka over stacks of ice in a tall glass. Add fresh lime juice and chilled Fever-Tree Ginger Beer. Garnish with fresh mint.

Serves 1

Calories per Serving : 139, Fat: 0 g (0 g Saturated Fat), Cholesterol: 0 mg, Sodium: 1 mg, Carbohydrates: 8 g, Fiber: 1 g, Protein: 0 g

Back Nine (aka Spiked Arnold Palmer)

3 cups brewed tea
2 cups Hubert’s Lemonade
1 1/2 cups vodka
lemons slices, for garnish

Add ice to a pitcher. Add all ingredients to the pitcher; stir to combine.

Makes 6 1/2 cups

Serves 6

Calories per Serving : 152, Fat: 0 g (0 g Saturated Fat), Cholesterol: 0 mg, Sodium: 4 mg, Carbohydrates: 6 g, Fiber: 0 g, Protein: 0 g

Watermelon-Basil Margarita

1 oz tequila
1/2 oz triple sec
1 large basil leaf
2 tsp sugar

Add ice to a cocktail shaker. Add tequila, triple sec, basil and sugar. Shake vigorously for 10 seconds. Fill a cocktail glass with ice. Add ingredients from the shaker. Top with the watermelon water. Stir to combine.

Serves 1

Calories per Serving : 204, Fat: 0 g (0 g Saturated Fat), Cholesterol: 0 mg, Sodium: 1106 mg, Carbohydrates: 23 g, Fiber: 1 g, Protein: 1 g

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Posted in: Entertaining, Recipes

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.

S’mores Bring Smiles

S’mores Bring SmilesSpooky treats, lots of candy, tiny ghosts and pumpkins on every front porch. It must be Halloween and time to throw a party.

Chips, dip, cookies and brownies are your usual party foods, but why not combine all of them and make s’mores dip? It’s a great way to enjoy the melted, chocolatey goodness of a s’more without the campfire and skewers.

Whenever I serve this recipe, it disappears fast. So, having extra ingredients on hand to quickly whip up a new batch is always a good idea.

I like to use Brookshire’s and Full Circle products because I know I will save money without skimping on flavor.

Here’s my checklist:

  • Brookshire’s Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips (or Milk Chocolate, if you prefer)
  • Brookshire’s Marshmallows
  • Full Circle Organic Honey Graham Crackers

All combined, I spend $6.07, and I have enough ingredients to double the recipe. What a simple way to entertain on a budget!

S’mores Dip

1 1/2 cups Brookshire’s Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips
17 large marshmallows
graham crackers, for dipping

Preheat oven to 425° F. In an 8-inch cast-iron skillet, add the chocolate chips. Cut the large marshmallows in half, and arrange them over the top of the chocolate chips. Bake for 7 to 9 minutes, or until the marshmallows turn golden-brown. Serve immediately with graham crackers for scooping.

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

Note: FRESH has an assortment of Lodge cast-iron pans, available in several sizes, in the housewares department.

Celebrate Football and Wings with FRESH

Celebrate Football and Wings with FRESHAre you ready for some football? I am so excited to kickoff the season. It’s such a fun time of year with game-watching parties, school spirit and plenty of fun snacks.

Of course, everybody’s favorite is wings, and on September 10th and 11th, FRESH will be having a Wing Fest Weekend. We will have a new wing flavor that we will be creating in the Test Kitchen and many other traditional flavors that everyone enjoys.

When making wings at home, the flavor possibilities are endless. With so many seasonings and sauces, you could serve a smorgasbord of wing selections.

A new line of sauce that I enjoy for flavoring wings is from Ginger People. They have 6 flavors – Sweet Ginger Chili, Ginger Sesame, Spicy Ginger Teriyaki, Hot Ginger Jalapeño, Ginger Lime and Ginger Peanut. They are all great for basting or dipping, and they can be used in the oven, on the grill or straight from the jar.

When I make wings for a party, I like to get the packages of Smart Chicken party wings. Add them to a slow cooker or you can spread them out on a baking sheet. For the slow cooker, simply add some water, salt and pepper. In the oven, toss the wings in some oil, salt and pepper.

After they are cooked through, it is time for saucing. Place the wings, about 12 at a time, in a large bowl. Add 1/2 cup of Ginger People sauce – any flavor – and stir to coat. Spread the wings out on a greased, rimmed baking sheet. Place them under a broiler for 3 to 5 minutes or until golden and caramelized. You can then put them back in the slow cooker to keep warm. What’s better during game time than a never-ending supply of delicious wings?

Be sure to come out to Wing Fest at FRESH for more great ideas. Check the calendar for additional details.

Asian Wings

2 lbs Smart Chicken Party Wings (about 24 pieces)
1 cup water
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 to 3/4 cup Ginger People Cooking Sauce
ranch or bleu cheese dressing, for dipping

Place the wings in a slow cooker. Add the water, salt and pepper; stir to combine. Cook on low for 2 to 3 hours or until chicken is cooked through. Remove the wings from the slow cooker, and place in a large bowl.  Pour in the sauce. Using a large spoon, stir to coat thoroughly. Spread the wings onto a greased baking sheet. Place under a broiler on high for 3 to 5 minutes to caramelize. Serve with ranch or bleu cheese dressing as a dipping sauce.

If making the wings for a party, you can use the slow cooker to keep the wings warm. After cooking and saucing, place the wings back in the slow cooker on warm or the lowest setting. Leave uncovered to serve. Stir occasionally.

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

Mateo’s is a March Madness Winner

Mateo’s Gourmet SalsaMarch is one of my favorite times of year. Is it because of springtime, flowers and warmer days? No, it’s because of March Madness. For many years, I have loyally followed the excitement of the NCAA basketball tournament. It starts with 64 teams, and after a wild few weeks, the field is narrowed to 4. It’s unpredictable, fun to watch and certainly requires plenty of chips and salsa.

Don’t just grab any old jar of salsa. This is March Madness. You need a salsa champion! That’s why I like Mateo’s Gourmet Salsa. It’s a restaurant-style salsa that uses all-natural ingredients, and has a unique flavor that is hard to find in jarred salsa.

They also have a level of heat that satisfies all types of cravings. From mild, medium, hot and habanero hot, there’s a favorite waiting for everyone.

Mateo’s was created in Dallas from a family recipe. It was designed to mimic the fresh flavor of restaurant salsas but in the convenience of a jar. Forget the chunky, tomato paste-base salsas, Mateo’s is made with fresh ingredients. It’s great for dipping, as a topping for baked potatoes, stirred into eggs or basted over grilled chicken.

With only 10 calories per serving, you can feel less guilty about game-time snacking while watching the tournament. When you head to FRESH to grab a jar, just look for the jalapeño wearing sunglasses. This salsa is so hot that it has to wear shades!

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Posted in: Entertaining, Grocery

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.

Cold Weather Cocktails Need FRESH Apple Cider

Cider BelliniThe holiday season would not be complete without apple cider, but ordinary cider certainly won’t do, especially for special celebrations.

Fowler Farms’ fresh apple cider, located at the juice counter in produce, is a premium blend of seven varieties of fresh apples and no concentrate. The flavor profile is maintained throughout the year by managing the mix of the varieties.

Fowler Farms is a Huron, New York-based family farm that spans six generations. The farm began in 1858 with 80 acres, but now it encompasses more than 2,000 acres of apple production. It is also located in the ideal climate for growing crisp, juicy apples.

The cider is delicious on its own, but during this time of year, I like to use it as an ingredient in cocktails. It’s a great way to infuse some seasonal flavor while spreading holiday cheer.

Cider Margarita

salt, for rimming the glass
1 Tbs simple syrup
1 Tbs lime juice
1/4 cup tequila
1/4 cup cranberry juice
1/2 cup Fowler Farms Apple Cider

Dip the rim of a martini or margarita glass in water, and then dip in the salt. Place ice in a cocktail shaker; add all ingredients. Shake and strain into the glass. Makes 1 cocktail.

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

Apple Cider Sangria

1 apple, sliced
1 pear, sliced
1 orange, sliced
1 cup brandy
1 bottle dry white wine
4 cups Fowler Farms Apple Cider

In a large pitcher, add the fruit and pour over the brandy. Chill for at least 2 hours or overnight. When ready to serve, add the wine and cider. Pour into tall glasses filled with ice.

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

Cider Rum Punch

2 apples, sliced
1/2 fresh pineapple, cubed
1/2 cup pineapple juice
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/2 cup brandy
1/2 cup rum
3 cups Fowler Farms Apple Cider

Combine all ingredients in a pitcher or bowl; chill for at least 4 hours or overnight.

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

Cider Bellini

1 Tbs Fowler Farms Apple Cider
sparkling wine
1 sprig fresh rosemary

Pour 1 tablespoon of cider in the bottom of each champagne glass. Top with sparkling wine, and garnish with fresh rosemary.

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

Cornbread Dressing – a must-have for Thanksgiving

Cornbread DressingCornbread dressing at Thanksgiving is almost as big a tradition as the actual day. You will find it in almost every household, and it’s the type of dressing that family members crave.

That’s why I like to make mine with the best ingredients. The two most important ingredients in cornbread dressing are the cornbread and the stock. I like to get the Hodgson Mill Cornbread Mix because it’s made with stone-ground yellow corn and whole-grain wheat flour. Also, when I follow the recipe on the box, the cornbread comes out perfect every time.

For the chicken stock, I always reach for Kitchen Basics. It is a rich, high-quality stock that is made by simmering McCormick Gourmet herbs and spices with chicken and vegetables that are cooked long enough to extract layers of hearty flavor.

This year, I thought I would put a Texas twist on my cornbread dressing by using the Hodgson Mill Mexican Style Jalapeño Cornbread Mix. Adding that great spicy flavor that everyone loves is sure to receive rave reviews.

Jalapeño Cornbread Dressing

1 box Hodgson Mill Mexican Style Jalapeño Cornbread Mix
1 lb Jennie-O Italian Turkey Sausage Links (Hot or Sweet)
1 medium white onion, finely chopped
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley, plus more for garnish
1 egg
1 cup Kitchen Basics Chicken Stock
2 Tbs unsalted butter

The day before, cook cornbread mix according to package directions. Cut into small cubes, and leave out at room temperature overnight to dry.

When ready to prepare, preheat the oven to 350° F. Squeeze the turkey sausage out of the links. Heat a large skillet over medium heat; cook the turkey sausage, breaking it up with a wooden spoon and stirring occasionally. Cook sausage all the way through until it begins to brown, about 5 to 10 minutes. Add the onions, celery and garlic to the sausage. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables have browned (about 10 minutes). Remove from heat to cool. Place the cornbread pieces in a large bowl. Add the parsley, egg and sausage mixture. Begin working in the broth while stirring. Gradually pour in enough of the stock, so the dressing is not too dry but at the same time not too wet. Stir gently and stir well.

Butter a small casserole dish. Spread the dressing in an even layer. Dot the top of the dressing with pieces of butter. Bake until it’s heated through and lightly browned on top, about 20 minutes. Serve right away, garnished with additional parsley, if desired.

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

Seafood Grilling Made Simple

Grilled SalmonWhen it comes to grilling fish, many people leave it to the experts and don’t try to cook it at home. Here’s a secret that can make any fish fillet in the seafood counter suitable for the grill. Cook it on a plank.

With planks, you don’t need to worry about fish sticking, falling apart or burning. In fact, you don’t even have to turn it.

In the housewares department, FRESH has planks in both cedar and alder. Alder has a more neutral flavor, and cedar will give the meat a smoky edge. These planks are specifically designed for food-safe use. It is not recommended to purchase wood from a hardware store for cooking. That wood may have been chemically treated and not food-safe.

When talking with the staff at the seafood counter, I learned that any type of fish is good for plank grilling. Lighter, flaky fish that is usually not suitable for grilling is perfect because the plank gives it stability, and it doesn’t have to be moved. The most popular choice is salmon.

They also said the most common mistake people make is not soaking the planks in water before using them on the grill. They will quickly burn and usually before the fish is finished cooking.

When grilling with planks, these guidelines will ensure success:

  • Soak the planks in water for at least 30 minutes and up to 2 hours.
  • Preheat the grill with the planks on the grate.
  • Place the planks on the grill where indirect heat can be applied. If using propane, turn the burners on that side to low.
  • Place fish directly on the planks and close the lid.
  • Baste with your favorite marinade while cooking.
  • Keep a spray bottle filled with water near the grill to put out any flare-ups.
  • If the planks aren’t too charred, they can be rinsed, resoaked and used again.

When I do plank grilling, I like to use salmon or halibut. I also grab a bottle of the Asian marinade that is made in-house at FRESH and available at the seafood counter. Simply marinate the fish for 5 to 10 minutes, season with salt and pepper, and place on the preheated planks. Baste while cooking and very soon dinner will be ready.

The Asian marinade is also good for marinating and grilling vegetables. Place them in a grill basket next to the planks, and you couldn’t have an easier meal.

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