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Celebrate the Season with Sweet Italian Treats

Chocolate-Dipped CannoliThe holidays are filled with sweet treats, great parties and plenty of reasons to celebrate. Around the world, everyone is gathering with family and friends to honor the season.

I love to find new recipes from international cuisines that represent how each culture celebrates. From lebkuchen in Germany to plum pudding in England, each country has its own sweet tradition. One of my favorites is Italian cannoli, and you can’t talk about Italian desserts without mentioning tiramisu.

For both, you will need to venture down the cookie aisle to find Alessi Cannoli Shells and Alessi Ladyfingers. Alessi Foods was created by the Vigo Importing Company to bring Americans the specialty foods that capture the best of traditional Italian cuisine. From the sun-kissed peaks of Sicily to the northern vales of Tuscany, every facet of Italian culture can be tasted and experienced.

Also known as savoiardi, ladyfingers are delightful and delicately light cookies that have been enjoyed by Italians for generations. Eaten as a snack alongside a glass of milk, children love their simple goodness. Adults also enjoy nibbling on them between sips of espresso or cappuccino. They are best known for tiramisu, where they are dunked in coffee and layered with a cream filling.

Cannoli also has an interesting origin. With the Arab introduction of sugar into Sicily in the ninth century, the cooking style changed forever. Ricotta had long been an essential part of Sicilian cuisine as well as pine nuts and currants. Resourceful Sicilians added the natural sweetness of sugar to these staple foods and wrapped them in a fried but delicate pastry tube, hence the birth of cannoli. Originally enjoyed by Sicilians only at Carnival time, word spread quickly of their goodness. The wonderful legacy of this Sicilian invention now enjoys worldwide popularity.

Both of these classic desserts are easy to make and always a hit at parties. Make some today, and start your new holiday tradition.

Chocolate-Dipped Cannoli

1 pkg cannoli shells
2 cups ricotta cheese
1 cup sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 cup chocolate, chopped
1 cup chocolate chips, melted
1/4 cup cream

In a large bowl, combine the ricotta, sugar, cinnamon and chopped chocolate. Stir to combine and set aside. In a double-boiler, add chocolate chips and cream; melt over medium heat. Dip bottom of cannoli shells in the chocolate deep enough that the inside and outside of the bottom of the shell are covered in chocolate. Also, dip each end in the chocolate. Place the shells upside down on a plate, and let chocolate cool and harden. Using a pastry bag, pipe ricotta filling into shells from both ends. Lightly sprinkle with powdered sugar or cocoa powder. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Serves 6

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

Alessi Tiramisu

5 egg yolks
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup Marsala wine
1 cup whipping cream, chilled
4 Tbs sugar
1 lb mascarpone cheese
2 cups coffee
1/2 cup brandy or marsala
1 Tbs vanilla
14 oz Alessi Ladyfingers
3 Tbs cocoa powder

In the top part of a double-boiler, beat eggs and sugar together until the mixture is pale yellow in color. Place egg yolk mixture over water; gradually add marsala wine, beating continuously. Scrape bottoms and sides of pan occasionally, and cook for 6 to 10 minutes or until soft mounds can be formed. Transfer to bowl. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Make the mascarpone filling by whipping cream with 2 tablespoons sugar until soft peaks form. Fold in mascarpone and prepared egg mixture; mix until well-blended. Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour.

In a separate bowl, mix espresso, 2 tablespoons sugar, brandy and vanilla. Arrange 16 cookies on the bottom of a 9 x 13 pan. Carefully spoon about 1 tablespoon of the coffee mixture over each cookie, so they are well-saturated but not falling apart. Spoon 1/3 of cheese mixture over cookies, and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon cocoa. Add another layer of cookies; repeat steps two more times, ending with cocoa. Cover and refrigerate for at least 5 hours or overnight, so the cookies soften as they absorb moisture.

Serves 8

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

FRESH Pasta Brings the Taste of Italy

FRESH Pasta Brings the Taste of ItalyIt’s been a year since FRESH received a special delivery from Italy – the FRESH pasta machine! It makes such a difference in recipes when you use fresh pasta instead of dried. The noodles have a rich flavor, and the texture is sublime. It’s almost like you’ve been transported to a trattoria in Italy, enjoying a plate of fettuccine with Italian mandolins playing in the background.

All of the shapes and flavors, available at FRESH, are so good. I can’t pick a favorite. One thing is sure; I can’t get enough of the Texas BBQ Cream Sauce. It’s a delicious Texas-style twist on an Italian classic!

Now, for some really good news. This month, in honor of FRESH’s Taste of Italy festival, 5 new pastas will be introduced. So many great new choices to taste and try. The new flavors include:

  • Garlic Basil Fettuccine
  • Garlic Basil Tagliatelle
  • Spinach Fettuccine
  • Spinach Tagliatelle
  • Ancho Chile Pappardelle

All of these flavors pair well with either FRESH Pomodoro or Alfredo Sauce. Of course, the Texas BBQ Cream Sauce goes perfectly with the Ancho Chile Pappardelle. The wide-cut pasta ribbons of pappardelle have always been my favorite, so I can’t wait to try this spicy combination. Who says Texans can’t cook like an Italian? Buon Appetito! It’s Italian, y’all!

Tasting Tour of Argentina!

Global FlavorsIt’s time to spring forward! A change in weather means a change of atmosphere at FRESH, and in March, we step into the culture of Argentina!

Every year, FRESH celebrates Global Flavors and features a different country to showcase throughout the store. This 9-day event allows Freshies to experience Argentinian traditions without the expense of traveling! The best of Argentina can be found in all FRESH departments, and along with good food comes good fun.

Global Flavors Argentina will begin on Friday, March 14 on the Back Patio with some wine sampling. Tasting Argentinian wines on the patio is more enjoyable when music is in the background, so Tyler’s very own The Magills will be kicking off Global Flavors from 6-9PM.

Now, what better way to celebrate Global Flavors than with a live cooking demonstration from FRESH’s very own Marc Mendez! On Saturday, March 15from 12:30-2PM, Chef Marc will teach you how to make signature Argentinian samples in the Taste Kitchen. We encourage you to stay for a little while because FRESH Tango 101 follows shortly after. If you’re not aware, Argentina is well-known for Tango, their staple ballroom dance. FRESH will imitate a ballroom-like setting and will have partners Alba Menoni and Ronald Hollins teach you a step or two. This event is from 4:30-6PM, followed by live music on the Back Patio provided by Señor Gringo.

As if tasting appetizers is not enough, on Sunday, March 16 from 2:30-4PM, a grill-off will occur on the Back Patio. FRESH Chef Michael Brady will battle it out with Guest Chef Carlos Villapudua of Villa Montez. Their task is to come up with their own signature sauce for grilled steaks, so come enjoy the fun!

We will end Global Flavors with Pizza and Wine Pizzazz on Saturday, March 22 from 3-5PM. Guest Chefs Christine Gardner and Simon Webster will educate you on authentic Argentinian pizzas and guide you on how to make your own pizza dough. Pizza and wine go hand-in-hand, so we will have Certified Wine Specialist Bert Hosea here showcasing a variety of Malbecs. This event will be located on the Back Patio.

We encourage you to dance your way through Global Flavors-Argentina at FRESH. We hope to see each and every one of you Freshies take delight in the wonders of Argentinian cuisine.

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A FRESH Point of View: Primer on Asian Ingredients

At FRESH, we pride ourselves on offering a large selection of Asian ingredients in our Grocery Department.  And often I get questions on them – how to use certain sauces, what pairs well with particular types of noodles, etc.

Although this category is vast and I could write a book on all of our great Asian condiments, sauces, vinegars and oils, I pulled out a few of our most popular to write about today.  If you have questions, always feel free to ask one of our grocery Freshies or Freshologists for help!

Coconut Milk
An extraction made by seeping freshly grated coconut in boiling water or milk and used in Southeast Asian desserts, curries and shellfish recipes.

Fish Sauce
Fermented fish and salt is used to make this unique sauce. It is often used as a marinade for fish and meat, as well as a condiment.  It is a staple in Thai cooking.

Hoisin Sauce
This is a sweet and garlicky bean sauce that’s often used as a dipping sauce.  Traditionally, hoisin sauce is made using toasted mashed soy beans.

Green Curry Paste
Aromatic herbs such as lemon grass, Thai ginger and fresh green chilis are blended with fragrant spices. Use as a stir-fry seasoning, a soup base, or with coconut milk to create a delicious Thai curry.

Oyster Sauce
Containing extract from oysters, soya sauce, sugar and salt. This sauce is used in various Thai dishes, such as fried vegetables.

These buttery bread crumbs are used in Japanese cooking to coat foods for frying.

Red Curry Paste
A mash of red chilis, coriander roots and leaves, shrimp paste, lemon grass, garlic, shallots and Thai ginger.  Use in everything from stews, curries and soups to dressings, marinades and condiments.

Rice Wine Vinegar
This white to golden vinegar with a light clean taste adds a mild acidity to foods.

Soba Noodles
Made with buckwheat flour, this earthy Japanese noodle is traditionally served cold.

Soy Sauce
Soy sauce is made from soybeans that have been fermented and salted.  It is possibly the most common Asian ingredient in the United States.

Another of the most popular, sriracha is a paste of chili peppers, distilled vinegar, garlic, sugar and salt.  It is named after the coastal city of Si Racha, in Central Thailand.

This is the wheat-free version of soy sauce.

Toasted Sesame Oil
Made from toasted sesame seeds, this thick, rich oil is golden to dark brown in color and marvelously aromatic. Unlike lighter, almost flavorless sesame oils, which can be used in cooking, the toasted variety is used as a seasoning only.

An ancient Chinese and Japanese product, tofu is made from curdled soy bean milk. Tofu is a nutritional powerhouse, protein-rich, and also low in fat and cholesterol.

The name for Japanese horseradish, wasabi comes either in powdered form or as a paste and is commonly associated with sushi.

Well and Good: Lopa Art

If you’ve paid us a visit in Health and Wellness lately, you’ve noticed our new line of fair-trade leather jewelry, Lopa art. This line exists to help Ethiopian women rise out of difficult and dangerous situations… and give them (and their children) an opportunity for a better life. Each piece is hand crafted in Ethiopia by a woman who has been helped by Lopa.

With our busy lives, it’s easy to get distracted from the big picture – and from the fact that, no matter where we are in life, we are blessed to live in a free country with opportunity for hard work that leads to success. That’s why we have Lopa here in our store: to not only provide great jewelry, but to give you an opportunity to help someone you wouldn’t be able to otherwise. The next time you need a gift or you’re looking for unique jewelry, we hope Lopa will be on the top of your list.

Well and Good: Travel Time

Whether you are traveling south of the border or across the pond, you may need to do a little extra preparation before you travel abroad. Different countries have diseases that are known in a particular area. Protect yourself and your family by being prepared. Some vaccinations need to be given in a series or a certain amount of time ahead of your departure.

In the United States, we have routine vaccinations that we all need to stay current on.  Tetanus is a great example; you should have a tetanus booster every ten years.  Once you are current on all of your routine vaccinations, make sure that you have any area specific vaccines. There are some vaccines that are recommended and some that are required.  Stop by Brookshire’s Pharmacy at FRESH and ask our pharmacist which vaccines are right for you.

When packing for your adventure, make sure to include essential medications. If you take regular prescription medications, you need to pack them in their original container with label from pharmacy. These medications are best to pack on your carry-on bag to ensure they arrive with you. If you need smaller bottles to accommodate size restrictions, ask your pharmacist about reprinting labels for small bottles. Don’t forget important emergency medications, such as an Epi-pen® if you need it.  Plan ahead to ensure you have enough medication to get you through your entire trip.

Depending on your travel plans, pack over-the-counter medications to suit your needs. Simple first aid items should be included in everyone’s bag. You should also consider taking allergy medications, analgesics, and anti-diarrheal medication. If you are going to be outside much, don’t forget your sunscreen and insect repellant.

The pharmacists at FRESH will be happy to help you decide what vaccinations and medications you will need to have safe and healthy vacation.

FRESH In: Global Happy Hours

Happy hour is a concept that’s universal.

In Italy, people gather after work to drink “spritzs” _ a cocktail made with the sparkling wine Prosecco, seltzer water, and often the Italian aperitif Campari. In Mexico, you’ll get wine, beer or cocktails to wash down your botanas – little snacks, like mini empanadas, pickled vegetables, spiced nuts or ceviche. And in Spain, of course, there’s the whole tapas phenomenon – the little plates of appetizers you eat with your beverage after work, but before dinner.

So in honor of our global food fest that started today – we’re taking our Wednesday happy hour global for the next two weeks.

Tonight, we’ll be celebrating the United Kingdom. From  5-7 p.m., come try our chef’s new mini shepherd’s pie – an updated take on the traditional British casserole of ground beef, veggies and mashed potatoes. To drink? A traditional black-and-tan, the famous U.K. special made by layering a dark stout or porter over a lighter pale ale.

Then, next week, we head to Spain. On Wednesday, Oct 12, stop by from 5-7 p.m. to sip on two kinds of sangria. (One will be sparkling!)

Cheers! Salud! Drink up!

A FRESH Point of View: Celebrating The World’s Food

At FRESH, we love local food, but we also love celebrating the great tastes that have come to us from around the world: French cheeses. Italian pastas and olive oils. Pastries, breads and specialties popular in all corners of the globe.

So what better way to show our appreciation than by throwing a world-food party? Starting Wednesday, we’re hosting a store-wide Global Flavors Fest. Through Oct. 16, FRESH will be hosting chefs who will demonstrate how to cook some international favorites; introducing new chef-prepared dishes from France, Italy and beyond;  and bringing an international flavor to our weekly live-music series.

Food Fight: Get a ring side seat at the ultimate FRESH Chef Food Fight! We’re pitting top cuisines of Europe against each other, and you get to pick which reigns supreme. For the next two weekends, we’ll turn some top guest chefs and our own FRESH chefs loose in our FRESH Taste Kitchen to prepare a favorite dish from their country of choice. You get to taste – and judge. We’ll tally up the points you award on taste, appearance and originality, and crown a winning dish, and chef, each weekend!

Chef-prepared winners: Not to be left out, our team of FRESH chefs have developed their take on several classic flavors, and they’ll be debuting these dishes in our chef-prepared case during the festival. Here are some highlights:

  • France:  Coq au Vin (chicken in wine sauce);  Ratatouille (stewed vegetable casserole traditional in Provence);  Gratin Dauphinois (au gratin potatoes)
  • UK:  Shepherd’s Pie (seasoned ground meat, veggies and a mashed-potato crust)
  • Italy:  Pasta Puttanesca, Arancini (fried risotto stuffed with mozzarella)
  • Germany:  Braised Red Cabbage, Jagerschnitzel (traditional hunter’s dish of a tender breaded cutlet, with mushroom gravy)

Global happy hours: Our Wednesday Happy Hour goes international! This week, hop across the pond for a British invasion, complete with black-and-tans to drink and miniature shepherd’s pies. Next Wednesday, it’s on to Spain, for sangria and some stylish tapas.

Music with a world beat: Even our music series will cover the globe, with musicians have a Musical interlude:

  • Friday 10/7 Señor Gringos – Latin Jazz. Tyler’s own Latin jazz band plays originals, plus covers of songs by artists like Marc Antoine, Oscar Lopez and Ottmar Liebert.
  • Saturday 10/8 Austin Cajun Aces – French Cajun . From Austin, Cajun Aces play upbeat, authentic Cajun and Creole Masters tunes.  You are sure to “Pass a Good Time” when you come out and enjoy their music.
  • Friday 10/14 Island Boogie – Caribbean/Steel Drum Band. Just like being in the islands, this festive band crosses the spectrum of Caribbean music, from calypso to reggae to salsa.
  • Saturday 10/15 Beyond the Pale – East European Folk/Celtic. You’ve never heard any band quite like this one; a blend of traditional  and contemporary songs that includes fiery reels and jigs, original songs, music with a Celtic twist, and influences that range from Mexican polkas to Scandinavian tunes to Texas Swing.