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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.

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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.

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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.

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FRESH and Festive: Holiday Entertaining

I hope all of you Freshies were successful in stuffing yourselves full of turkey yesterday!  Although, I too am still full from yesterday’s feast, I have already begun thinking about the upcoming month that will be full of holiday festivities and parties.

Of course, in my book, the barometer for the success of a holiday party is how good the food is.  So, don’t risk it this year by purchasing frozen hors d’oeuvres or serving the same old, same old.  Call our FRESH Catering Department and make it simple and amazing.

We have some phenomenal bite-size treats that can help you create a platter like no other.  Check out our holiday guide centerfold and see for yourself.  Order a mixture of these and voilà yours will be the most popular party on the block.  We offer potato sliders (available in pimento cheese, andouille green onion, twice baked or pulled pork), crab cakes, bacon-wrapped medjool dates and beef churrasco, just to name a few.  Or, you can reserve a charcuterie and artisanal cheese platter with assorted flatbreads or crackers.

And the best part about FRESH catering is that we can work with you to create your perfect menu if you don’t see something on ours that strikes your fancy.  Just call our lovely catering manager, Linda, and talk to her about your gathering.  She is sure to come up with a perfect solution for you.

Try being a guest at your own party and see for yourself what a difference it makes.

Happy partying!

FRESH and Festive: Oh JOY-full Table

The holidays are full of joy.  The joy of gathering with family and friends, the joy of giving, and most importantly, the joy that comes from a delicious meal.

Spread joy around your family table this season with our chef-prepared holiday meals.

We offer three complete dinners, side packages, family packs and individual items by the pound.  Here are the highlights:

FRESH Turkey Dinner (serves 6-8)

12-14 pound turkey, brined and roasted to perfection with cornbread dressing, giblet gravy, whipped sweet potatoes, green beans amandine and FRESH cranberry sauce

FRESH Ham Dinner (serves 6-8)

Spiral cut, glazed ham with cornbread dressing, giblet gravy, whipped sweet potatoes, green beans amandine and FRESH cranberry sauce

Beef Tenderloin Dinner (serves 6-8)

Roasted whole thyme scented beef tenderloin with cabernet demi-glace, cornbread dressing, giblet gravy, whipped sweet potatoes, green beans amandine and FRESH cranberry sauce

Side Dish Package

Side dish package includes cornbread dressing, giblet gravy, whipped sweet potatoes, green beans amandine and FRESH cranberry sauce. For our whipped sweet potatoes, we actually use organic garnet yams!  Each side dish is also available in family packs or by the pound from the chef case.

In addition to full meals, we offer a large selection of small bites, party platters and desserts.  Whether you are hosting a cocktail party or need some appetizers to hold over the crowd until dinner, our amazing hors d’oeuvres are perfect for any gathering, from casual to elegant.  Try some Freshie favorites — our unique potato sliders or assorted petit four platter.

Ordering is easy. All you need to do is pick up our Oh JOY-full Table holiday guide and select the complete meals, sides or small bites that you desire and call our Catering Department at 903-747-3512. Or, you can stop by the Catering Desk at FRESH to place your order.

And here is the best news of all — our Holiday Tastings are going on most weekends between now and Christmas.  Come by and sample our holiday offerings and see for yourself why you should choose FRESH for the holidays.  Click here to check our calendar of events for all of the details.

FRESH makes it easy to entertain like a chef this holiday season!

FRESH and Festive: Last-Minute Holiday Treats

Your shopping is done, your Christmas and New Year’s menus are planned – but what about treats for last-minute drop-in guests, or to keep crowds happy and well-fed during the long days of family togetherness ahead?

Check out some of these new arrivals and seasonal offerings, to add a fresh and unexpected twist to your holiday cheer:

KuchenMeister cakes: In several flavors, including Jamaican rum, amaretto chocolate, and tiramisu, these European-style cakes are delicious as an afternoon or late-night break, served with coffee, espresso or even a dessert wine or port. They’re also nicely packaged, so you can take one along as a hostess gift. “Kuchenmeister” means “cake master” in German, and these cakes are favorite traditions throughout Germany and other European countries.

Cheese-stuffed dates, figs and more:  These rich delicacies, brought from Europe by European Imports Ltd., make a good addition to an appetizer spread or an excellent late-night snack. Mild, creamy cheese is stuffed inside apricots, figs or dates, and then the whole thing is marinated in rapeseed oil. The result is a silky, sweet-salty bite of fruit and cheese, best sliced into small pieces and served with flatbread, crackers, crusty bread and perhaps some cured meat like prosciutto. Find these in pretty glass jars near our dip and olive bar. (Place a jar in a basket with some fancy crackers, and you’ve got a last-minute gift for the gourmand on your list, too.)

Hans Freitag cookies: Didn’t get as many Christmas cookies baked as you planned? Round out your platters with these European favorites. Also from Germany, this family-run company produces assortments of fancy cookies – crisp wafers, delicate butter cookies, many chocolate-dipped – that look pretty on a platter and taste great with coffee, milk or hot chocolate.

From Our Backyard: Greenberg Turkeys

They’ve been discovered by Oprah and The New York Times, but don’t worry  – Greenberg smoked turkeys are still an East Texas treasure, made right in Tyler in the time-honored way, and just as delicious as you remember.

And, yes, we still have your holiday Greenberg turkeys at FRESH!

If you don’t know the story of Greenberg turkeys, you’re either not from around here, or you’ve never been fortunate enough to enjoy one.

More than 75 years ago, Samuel Isaac Greenberg started smoking turkeys in his barn, using hickory and a secret spice rub handed down from his mother.  Word spread about his delicious smoked birds, and by the ‘40s, Greenberg and his son Zelick were making deliveries as far away as Dallas and then beyond.

Today, the third generation of Greenbergs, Sam Greenberg, runs the company, and the turkeys are smoked with the same level of care as they were in the early days. Workers still hand-trim the birds, and slow-smoke them over a hickory fire in pit houses still located in Tyler.

A Greenberg turkey has a distinctive, deep, smoky flavor, and yet somehow manages to stay moist underneath that smoke-darkened skin. To me, they’re best served at room temperature or slightly chilled. I especially like them as the centerpiece of a sandwich buffet, plopped onto soft bread like brioche or onto a crusty roll. I might add a little cranberry sauce or a raspberry-spiked Dijon mustard, but really, this turkey is flavorful enough to stand on its own.

Is the Greenberg turkey part of your holiday tradition? Come get one while we still have them. Never tried one? Come start a new custom for your family celebrations.

Family Central: Christmas Classic Movie Night

A family movie night is just the kind of low-key evening you probably need about now. So gather the kids and cousins, pick one of your favorite holiday movies, and then take it up a notch, by matching your movie-night snacks to the film. A little holiday inspiration:

A Christmas Story
The movie: All Robbie wants for Christmas is a BB gun – but his mother is convinced he’d put his eye out.
The snacks:  Chinese food, of course! (This is obvious if you’ve seen the movie, but if you haven’t, we don’t want to give it away.) Create a family dim sum feast with ready-to-heat snacks from our frozen section, like red-bean rice buns, coated in sesame seeds; steam-and-go buns, filled with pork or chicken and easy to heat in the microwave; or mini spring rolls. (Ling Ling, in chicken or veggie, is one to try.)

A Christmas Carol
The movie: The classic Charles Dickens story of Tiny Tim, Scrooge and the ghosts of Christmas. Merry Christmas, every one. There are tons of versions, including a sort-of-creepy animated flick from 2009 starring Jim Carrey, but we like the 1999 one, with Patrick Stewart as Scrooge, and the 1951 black-and-white British version.
The snacks: Traditional English desserts, of course. For adults, try a bread pudding with a brandy butter hard sauce; the one we stock, by Wilkin and Sons, is very traditional. Kids might like a simplified version of an English trifle (cake, custard, fruit and whipped cream.) Or, go even simpler, with scones and jam. We always have them fresh-baked in our bakery if you don’t care to make your own.

It’s a Wonderful Life
The movie: I know several families that don’t consider it Christmas if they don’t watch this Jimmy Stewart classic at least once. Some kids may feel it’s a little slow going, but if you can get them hooked, softer-hearted kids may be tearing up by the end.
The snacks: All-American, simple fare matches this one best: Hot chocolate, mulled cider, and popcorn. If you’re really feeling nostalgic, get the kids to help you make some popcorn balls. This recipe is super-easy, though it works and tastes much better if you make popcorn on the stovetop, the old-fashioned way.

Christmas Marshmallow Popcorn Balls
Makes 12 to 14

12 – 14 cups popped popcorn
1 stick butter
1 (16 oz) pkg miniature marshmallows
Pinch salt
Few drops red food coloring (optional)
6 oz semi-sweet chocolate chips

Pop popcorn; set aside. If you must use microwave popcorn, select one with as little salt and butter as possible.

In a large, microwave-safe container, melt marshmallows and butter on high for about 45 seconds; remove and stir. Microwave on high an additional 30 seconds to 90 seconds, or until mixture is smooth.

Stir in pinch of salt, and, if desired, red food coloring. Pour marshmallow mixture into very large bowl and add about half the popcorn, stirring to coat. Add more popcorn, a cup or two at a time, until you get the desired consistency – sticky enough to hold together, but not too gooey. About 13 or 14 cups of popcorn is probably about right.

When popcorn mixture is cool enough to handle, shape a handful, about one cup, into in a ball, packing it together lightly. Transfer to a cookie sheet to finish cooling.

While popcorn balls finish cooling, melt chocolate chips in microwave-safe bowl, for about 90 seconds, or until smooth, stirring every 30 seconds or so. Using a small spoon, drizzle chocolate over cooled popcorn balls. Allow to set before serving, at least 1 hour.

FRESH and Festive: International Holiday Traditions

The holidays are all about tradition. But all traditions have to start somewhere. So this year, I’m thinking of trying to launch at least one new custom with family or friends. And of course, since I work here at FRESH, it’s almost certainly going to be an edible one – like some of these international holiday traditions I’ve been hearing about.

Scandinavia – Holiday hot toddies: Throughout northern Europe,but especially in Sweden, holiday parties always seem to include some sort of mulled wine. We have stocked a non-alcoholic version, Grandpa Lundquist Glogg, which has the same traditional spices of cloves and cardamom. You can add a splash of wine or port if you like, or enjoy it as is, but no matter what, it’s best served warm, maybe with some crisp, not-too-sweet cookies like gingersnaps or butter cookies.

France – The Yule log: The French, naturally, have an abundance of wonderful Christmas foods, many of them served at a late-night feast on Christmas Eve, after church services. But since I’m no French chef, I prefer one that I can get here at FRESH ready-made, the Buche de Noel. Named after the Yule logs that burned in French hearths, this is a chocolate cake, rolled and decorated to look like a log, with holly leaves and other decorations. Our pastry chef Jennifer Kuhn makes three great kinds, but my favorite is probably the trianon, chocolate cake accented with three kinds of chocolate: white chocolate mousse, milk chocolate mousse and dark chocolate mousse.

United Kingdom – Christmas pudding: As a child, I never understood what they were talking about in old-fashioned British movies when they mentioned Christmas pudding; we sure didn’t eat chocolate or tapioca pudding cups at our house on Christmas Day. Now, I get it; what they mean in England is really a heavy, sweet, aromatic dessert, more like a cross between bread pudding and fruitcake. No matter what type you choose, it’s the sauce that makes it – a sweet, rich butter brandy sauce. The one we have, by Wilkin & Sons, is good enough to eat with a spoon, by itself. (Maybe that’s a tradition I should keep to myself. )

Mexico – Good-luck grapes: In the southern United States, we eat black-eyed peas for good luck on New Year’s Day. Mexico has a simpler and, to me, tastier custom. At the stroke of midnight, everyone eats 12 fresh grapes, to bring luck. Ideally, you eat these precisely as the bell in the local church tower chimes midnight, one for each ring of the bells. A friend who once owned a restaurant in Mexico says this was a nearly universal custom, so they served each guest 12 perfect grapes in a martini glass at the stroke of midnight, along with complimentary champagne. The champagne may not be traditional there, but I’m sure going to make it part of any new New Year’s custom I create.

From Our Backyard: Christmas Milk

With its retro-cool logo, a distinctive purple-and-red bottle, and its clever name, Christmas Milk looks like a genius bit of marketing – a way to make eggnog more modern.

But it turns out there’s an even better story behind this eggnog, new this season from a company in Frisco, Texas.

A few years ago, company founders Heidi and Shane Fausel were enjoying their first holiday season with their 9-year-old son, whom they had recently adopted. The little boy kept asking for a drink he’d once tasted; he couldn’t describe it very well, just that it “tasted like Christmas.” The Fausels tried sports drinks, juices, soft drinks, but nothing was what he remembered.

Finally, one day, they happened to give him a taste of eggnog. At the first sip, their son’s face lit up.  That’s it, he shouted: “It’s Christmas milk!”

Flash forward several months. Recently laid off from a corporate job, Heidi Fausel was casting about for a new challenge, one that would let her spend more time with their growing family. She kept coming back to the idea of Christmas milk. What if she and her husband created a super-premium eggnog and sold it to supermarkets as Christmas Milk?

And even better – what if part of the proceeds from the product went to support adoption of foster children, so that more children could find forever families, just like their son?

Christmas Milk was born. The Fausels spent two years on brand development, distribution plans, and product development. They came up with the purple-retro look so it would stand out in a field of red-and-green, traditional competitors, finally getting the product to market just in time for this holiday season.

The Fausels, who now have four children ranging in age from 6-12, have committed to donating part of the proceeds from their new venture to charities that support the adoption of foster children. This year, that will include the Gladney Center in Fort Worth, which runs the New Beginnings program, which specializes in placing foster children over the age of 5 in new, permanent families.  (The Fausels adopted their children through this program.)

Of course this wouldn’t matter if the eggnog wasn’t good. But it is. It’s super-rich and creamy, not very “eggy.” In fact, it tastes pretty much like melted vanilla ice cream, with just a hint of nutmeg. (And it’s ultra-pasteurized, so it stays fresh for up to 120 days.) Taste it, and see if you don’t think it just “tastes like Christmas.”

A FRESH Point of View: Updated Holiday Traditions

At FRESH, we’re all about tradition when it comes to holiday meals – but we also think that some old favorites can be improved upon. So with our holiday meals and holiday sides, we’ve updated and modernized some traditional family holiday dishes, using fresh ingredients, from-scratch techniques and bright flavors to create new classics.

Many of these dishes are now regularly available in the chef case through the holidays, but you can also place orders for your holiday meals at our chef-prepared counter, for pickup at your convenience.

And this weekend, Dec. 10-11, we’ll be sampling many of these dishes; just come by and have a taste. Have you tried any of these yet?

Green bean casserole: No canned soup or dehydrated onion flakes here. For this rich dish, we make our own mushroom cream sauce, combine it with fresh green beans, and then top the casserole with onion strips we fry ourselves.

Whipped sweet potatoes: Sweet potatoes are roasted, then whipped till creamy and fluffy with butter, fall spices and real maple syrup.

Citrus-glazed Brussels sprouts: A sophisticated side dish, this brings together caramelized onions and sundried cherries with Brussel sprouts roasted in a light citrus-spiked glaze.

Southwest dressing: We make croutons out of fresh bread, then spice things up with chiles, pumpkin seeds and roasted butternut squash.

Cornbread dressing: House-made, sweet cornbread is the base for this traditional, simple dressing, with onion and celery.

Green beans amandine: Again, no cans here. We use fresh green beans, toasted almonds and a bit of garlic and olive oil to bring out the flavor

Giblet gravy: Roasted giblets in a traditional, thick gravy, seasoned with fall spices like sage.

Roasted root vegetables:The best, freshest winter vegetables – onions, parsnips, carrots and sweet potatoes – slowly roasted, so they’re slightly caramelized and go perfectly with ham, turkey or a nice prime rib.

Cranberry sauce: No mass-produced, gelatinous sauce here. We cook fresh, whole cranberries with fresh-squeezed orange juice and our own secret blend of spices. (Sorry. Can’t tell you what they are. You just have to come try some.)

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