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Product Talk: The gift of fruit


The tradition of giving fruit as a holiday gift is an old one, but it’s just as good an idea today as it was 50 years ago. In these days, when everybody seems to be avoiding sugar, developing food allergies, or going on a diet, fruit is one food gift that just about every person on your gift list will appreciate.

We are making it even easier this year to finish your holiday shopping, by carrying fruit gift packs that are ready to give to family, friends, clients or neighbors. Most of our stores have several gift ideas available, so look for these in your neighborhood store or ask your produce manager to see what gift packs may be available this season:

Spanish Clementines: Sweet, seedless and easy to peel, clementines have a smaller window of availability than most other citrus fruits. They’re at their peak from about November through January – which might be why they’re sometimes called “Christmas oranges.” Available in five-pound gift crate.

California Navel Oranges:  Perhaps because they were once available only to the wealthy, oranges continue to be associated with prosperity and luxury, and remain a traditional Christmas treat. Of course, oranges are also at their peak, and most delicious, at this time of year.   Available in gift crate, approximately 24 to 36 count.

Texas Rio Star Grapefruits: Texas’ shining contribution to the citrus industry, these are the sweetest, juiciest grapefruit you can find; the kind that even people who swear they don’t like grapefruit end up loving. Available in holiday gift pack, approximately 12-18 count.

Red Delicious Apples: Shiny, picture-perfect red apples are always a good gift-giving choice; have you ever heard of anyone who didn’t like apples?  Didn’t think so. Available in holiday gift pack, featuring Washington-grown apples, approximately 18-22 count.



Product Talk: Brown Rice


As food writer Mark Bittman put it in The New York Times earlier this month – Brown rice isn’t just for hippies anymore.

But I’m willing to bet that most of you don’t eat it very often – or at all. If you don’t, you really ought to try it, not just for a change of pace but because in most cases it really is a better choice, nutrition-wise. It has more fiber and more minerals than white rice, and slightly fewer calories.

Brown rice is simply the less-refined cousin of refined white rice. (Brown rice can be any kind, including exotics like jasmine or sushi rice, but the kinds that are easiest to find are short-, medium-, or long-grain rices.)

 During processing, only the outer, inedible hull is removed. The bran and the germ, which are stripped out of refined rice, remain behind in brown rice. That makes brown rice one of those whole grains we’re all advised to eat more often, and gives the clear health advantage to brown rice:

  • On average, brown rice has about four times as much fiber as white – 4 grams of fiber per cup of brown rice, compared to less than one for most varieties of white rice.
  • Brown rice has much higher levels of such nutrients as manganese, iron, selenium, and many B vitamins. While some of these nutrients are added back into enriched white rice, many of the minerals are not.
  • Brown rice gets a NuVal score of 82. Enriched white rice is scored about 30 points lower. (Remember, the higher the NuVal score, the better the overall nutrition of the product.)
  • A study by Harvard researchers indicated that eating brown rice regularly may even help lower your risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Convinced yet? You might be if you try some, as long as you don’t compare it to the white rice you’re used to. Brown rice has a nutty flavor and a chewier, heavier texture; it may remind you more of a whole grain like barley, quinoa or even oatmeal.

Simply served plain, yes, brown rice can be a little boring. So incorporate it in other dishes: Serve it as a base for chili or stir-fries; cook it in chicken or beef stock instead of plain water; substitute it for white rice in your favorite pilaf recipe.

And if you’re in a hurry, or intimidated by cooking something new, try one of the faster-cooking or microwave varieties that have hit supermarkets in recent years. Regular brown rice does take much longer to cook than typical white rice, but some of these newer products can be ready in as little as a couple of minutes. So you really have no excuse not to give one a try.

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Product Talk: Pomelos


If you’ve noticed the giant, greenish pomelos in the produce department, you may have just thought these citrus fruits were just freakishly large, unripened grapefruit.

Actually, the pomelo is just a distant cousin of the grapefruit – but you may find you like them even better.  Most people will find them juicier, sweeter and milder than most grapefruit.

In fact, if it weren’t for pomelos, we probably wouldn’t even have grapefruit today. Pomelos (sometimes called “pummelos” ) are native to southeast Asia, and were particularly common in  Malaysia, Indonesia and southern China, even as far back as thousands of years ago.

According to the authoritative Oxford Companion to Food, food historians believe that sailors brought pomelos to the Carribbean West Indies in the 17th century. There, they were cultivated, cross-bred and refined until the modern grapefruit was produced.

Only in the last few years have pomelos been common in U.S. supermarkets again. Maybe that’s because of appearances: The pomelo does look like an ungainly stepsister to more common, petite citrus fruits. Its skin is usually green or yellowish-green, and slightly rough.  Pomelos are usually at least an inch or two larger in diameter than even the largest grapefruit.

The skin, or rind, is also very thick and soft, with a thick white pith. Rather than eating it on the half-shell like a grapefruit, it’s easier to eat a pomelo like an orange, by peeling away the rind and separating the fruit into sections. The flesh doesn’t have the tart edge of a grapefruit or the high acidity of other citrus fruits.

You can use pomelo in just about the same way as you would a grapefruit, in a salad or by itself. Peak season is now through late winter.



Product talk: Eggnog: A BGC tradition


Nobody’s really sure who invented eggnog. The holiday tradition is usually credited to the English, but some food historians seem to think it’s just a modernized version of a milk-based toddy that has been enjoyed in the winter since the Middle Ages.

What I do know is this: We make some pretty fine eggnog right here at Brookshire’s.

Our Food Club eggnog, made locally, is now in stores, carrying on a tradition that has now been going on for nearly 20 years.

The recipe for our rich, fragrant eggnog was developed in 1992 in our own BGC Dairy. It uses a secret blend of spices and vanilla, and fresh whole milk that comes to us from family dairy farmers in the nearby countryside.

And it’s part of an even bigger dairy tradition that dates back to 1927, when the first working dairy was founded on the site of the current BGC plant in Tyler, Texas.  The dairy changed hands several times before Brookshire’s purchased it in 1990 in order to bring its own fresh milk products to customers.

We’re proud of our dairy’s strong history of quality. In spring 2005 the dairy became the first dairy in Texas certified to process organic milk. And we’ve won the All Star Dairy Association’s “Best Fluid Plant” Award the last 5 out of 7 years.

At the dairy, we gear up to make eggnog just in the fall, in time for all those holiday parties. It’s available by the quart, perfect for enjoying yourself, or the half-gallon, enough for the whole family or special holiday parties. Dust it with ground cinnamon or nutmeg, top it with real whipped cream, or even spike it with a little brandy or rum, if you are so inclined.

Just make sure you enjoy it while you can; at the end of the holidays, it will disappear again from our stores, not to return until the 2012 winter holiday season.

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Product Talk: New Charter Reserve deli meats


Coming this week to selected stores: Great new choices in deli meats.

We are introducing Charter Reserve, a line of premium deli meats, giving you 18 new flavors of deli turkey, ham, beef and chicken to try.

Charter Reserve is high-quality, all-natural meat – providing great taste at affordable prices. But even though it’s budget friendly, they do not skimp on the quality or the preparation:

  •  This is whole-muscle meat, with no binders or fillers.
  •  No MSG or trans fats.
  •  Every variety is gluten-free.
  •  They’re all oven-roasted, and seasoned with fine ingredients and spices.
  •  Several varieties are even certified by the American Heart Association, meaning they meet the association’s guidelines for heart-healthy food.

No matter your deli meat of choice, Charter Reserve probably offers it. The line includes seven kinds of turkey (including cracked pepper, mesquite roasted, and honey-baked) and five kinds of ham (brown sugar, Virginia ham and Black Forest among them.) It also includes four kinds of choice Angus beef and two flavors of roasted chicken.

Charter Reserve should be arriving in selected stores with delis this week. Don’t be shy – ask for a taste!



Product Talk: Dried beans, simplified


Except for the whole time and convenience thing, dried beans are so much better than canned beans, in so many ways. They’re cheaper, they taste richer and more flavorful, and you can better control the fat and, especially, the sodium content.

Of course, the time and convenience thing is pretty big. Not everybody thinks ahead enough so they have time to soak beans overnight and then cook them a few hours too. But what if I told you something big about dried beans – that you don’t have to soak them first?

Yes, I know that goes against pretty much everything you have probably been told about beans, and what you and your family have probably been doing for years. But it’s true. It’s what cooks do in many other countries, including Mexico. And more American cooks are finally coming around to this idea.

The main idea behind soaking dried beans was to diminish cooking time. But newer varieties of beans have been bred to absorb water more quickly, so they cook more quickly anyway. Additionally, some cooking experts say that soaking beans strips them of some of the flavor.

So you can take the beans straight from the bag into the pot, and they’ll still be done in a couple of hours.

I’ve cooked dried beans – pintos, black beans, navy beans, you name it – both ways, with soaking and without. And really, about the only time soaking seems to make a difference is when the beans were old, and had been sitting in the back of the pantry for a year or two. (Actually, if dried beans don’t ever get soft enough to eat, that’s probably the problem, not your cooking technique; your beans were probably old.)

The other thing you ought to try with dried beans? Don’t wait to salt them till the end. Again, that’s what most of us have been trained to do, believing that if you salt them earlier, they’ll never soften. However, again, I have found that not to be true. Try adding salt mid-way or three-quarters through the cooking time. That way the beans, not just the broth, get well-seasoned.

 



Product Talk: Orville Redenbacher Lives!


There really was an Orville Redenbacher. That wasn’t just a funny name that some marketing guys dreamed up to sell popcorn.

If you’re old enough, of course, you already probably knew that, because you remember the TV commercials ol’ Orville used to make in the ‘70s and ‘80s, wearing his trademark bowtie and glasses and talking a mile a minute about popcorn. He really was an Indiana popcorn farmer, who had started out as a popcorn-obsessed kid and then set out to develop the world’s best, fluffiest popcorn. He launched his self-named company in the 1970s, and the rest was TV, and grocery store, history.

Mr. Redenbacher passed on about 15 years ago, but the popcorn brand he started is still one of the best-loved in the U.S.  And just like the entrepreneur who started it, the brand keeps managing to reinvent one of our favorite snacks – with new ideas like their single-packet Flavors.

These flavor singles come in three varieties –Extra Cheese, White Cheddar, and, taking a cue from a popular potato chip flavor, Sea Salt and Vinegar. Each comes with a separate seasoning packet, so you can decide if you want just a light sprinkle of seasoning or an intense flavor. And, because they are sold individually, not in a multi-pack box, you can try all three, or stock up on each family member’s favorite flavor.

The new flavors join a big lineup of Orville Redenbacher’s products, including microwave popcorn in kettle corn, caramel corn, nacho cheese,movie-theater butter, and light varieties.

I understand why Orville’s popcorn has such staying power – it really is good, popping up big and fluffy and with few inedible widows, and with true, bright flavors.

And, of course, it’s benefited from our growing awareness that when it comes to snacks, popcorn is a pretty healthy choice. It’s a whole grain, so it delivers more fiber than the average salty snack food. And years ago, Orville Redenbacher’s ditched the trans fats and lowered the salt content in its leading variety.  So you don’t have to feel guilty about indulging. Seems that even back in the day, Orville Redenbacher was really onto something.

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Product Talk: New cranberry – pecan chicken salad


If you like chicken salad – or actually, even if you don’t  – you need to try our new cranberry chicken salad, which has just arrived in all our stores with delis.

This new offering updates traditional chicken salad with a modern twist – the sweet-savory flavor that’s a big trend with restaurants and chefs these days.

This is no bland salad; it has tons of flavor. Made with tender, all-white chicken breast, the salad gets a burst of sweetness from chopped cranberries and just a bit of crushed pineapple, and texture and crunch from pecans. The creamy dressing, with just a hint of honey, brings it all together.

It’s fancy enough to serve to guests, especially if you put it on a croissant or on a bed of mixed greens, but familiar enough to make it a good choice for a regular lunch or a light supper for family.

You’ll find the cranberry chicken salad with our other salads in the chef case and in our self-serve deli sections, where it’s available pre-packaged in a 12-ounce container, so you can pick it up quickly when you’re on the run. Try some and see if it doesn’t change your mind about what makes a great chicken salad.



Product Talk: The great pumpkins


If you consider pumpkins one of the sure signs of fall, you need to start pulling out your sweaters. Fresh, colorful pumpkins have started arriving in our stores, ready to be turned into jack-o-lanterns, seasonal centerpieces, or pies.

The pumpkin patches sprouting up at our stores offer a variety of fall classics:

Magic Lantern: These medium-sized pumpkins are great for carving or decorations. They’re uniform in size, usually 20 pounds or less, and have a beautiful, deep orange skin and a thick, sturdy stem. Although these are edible, they don’t make pies as good as some other, smaller varieties; their flesh tends to be more watery and stringy than a pie pumpkin.

Mini-pumpkins: A pumpkin in miniature scale, these are mostly used as fall decorations. Use them in a centerpiece, spilling out of a cornucopia or artfully arranged in a basket, with some colorful Indian corn.  Or hand them to your children, along with markers, googly eyes, pipe cleaners and yarn, and see what art projects they create.

Mystic Pie: Grown mostly in New Mexico and Texas, these gorgeous, small pumpkins are bred for cooking. They have a sweet, smooth flesh that cooks up into a rich, flavorful texture that’s perfect for pie, breads, cakes or any other recipe that calls for pumpkin or even squash.

If you’ve never tasted a pumpkin pie from fresh pumpkin, make this the year you try it. Using fresh pumpkin can be little messy and time-consuming, but the flavor is absolutely worth it. Fresh pumpkin tastes a little brighter, a little more intense, and really magnifies the flavor of cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and other spices.

We asked Barb Grey of GWR Produce, a major pumpkin distributor, how to handle a soft-shelled pumpkin like the Mystic Pie. She swears it’s easy, if you follow her directions:

  • Cut the top off the pumpkin.
  • Scoop out seeds and set aside. (These can be roasted separately.)
  • Pour about an inch of water in a sturdy baking dish, like a brownie pan or cake pan.
  • Place the pumpkin in the pan, upside down. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 45 minutes, depending on size of pumpkin, or until flesh is soft.
  • Remove from oven and scoop out flesh.
  • Place cooked pumpkin in a colander, and let the watery juice drain away. The cooked, solid pumpkin that remains is ready to use in your favorite recipe.
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Product talk: Whole wheat pasta


Whole-wheat pasta is an easy, delicious way to add more fiber and nutrients to your family’s diet.

Yes, I said delicious. While early versions of whole-wheat pasta were often heavy, gummy and, frankly, didn’t even taste like pasta, that is no longer the case.

Over the last several years, pastamakers have really improved the process of making whole-wheat varieties – keeping the great nutritional value while creating whole-grain pasta that is much more delicate in texture and neutral in flavor. If you haven’t tried a whole-wheat pasta lately, you may be surprised at the taste. Sometimes it can even be hard to tell the difference from regular, refined-wheat versions.

Whole-wheat pasta is just what it sounds like. It is made from flour that uses the whole grain of the wheat. (Regular white pasta is made from refined wheat flour, which has been stripped of the bran and germ, which contain most of the fiber and nutrients.) Some whole-wheat pastas use a combination of refined and whole-wheat flours.

Because it contains the whole grain, it’s a healthier choice. Whole-wheat pasta usually has at least two times as much fiber as regular pasta, as much as six grams per serving compared to just two for regular pasta. It also usually contains more protein, and more vitamins and minerals.

The result is usually a pasta that tastes a little nutty and earthy, and that is a little firmer when you bite into it. Because it’s a little heavier, whole-wheat pasta seems to go best with hearty, robust sauces like a meaty Bolognese or a rich Alfredo or carbonara. It can also stand up to strong cheeses, like gorgonzola or aged parmesan or romano.

This four cheese sauce http://brookshires.mywebgrocer.com/RecipeDetails.aspx?C1=35&C2=88&recipeID=53109&Pos=48&s=166382685&g=2a4db0e4-de07-4ea4-b6ed-9249fd321e1e&uc=DC97B is one I plan to try soon. With whole-wheat noodles, of course.

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The products mentioned in “Share, the Brookshire’s Blog” are sold by Brookshire Grocery Company, DBA Brookshire’s . Some products may be mentioned as part of a relationship between its manufacturer and Brookshire’s.

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