A seasonal guide to holiday produce for foodies

Kissam_2_092014 150A seasonal guide to holiday produce for foodies

Featuring a recipe for Chestnut and Fennel Soup

Article by Linda Kissam. Photos by Allan Kissam except as noted*.

DSC04337Nobody loves holiday produce like a foodie.  If that describes you, then this is the article for you.I’ve created a seasonal guide to help you find the best picks of the season, from chestnuts and beets to herbs, micro greens and baby potatoes. Browse through this seasonal guide for some surprising and unique product inspiration, recipes and tips to make the most out of this season’s bounty.
DSC04324Having a well-stocked pantry and fridge makes holiday life easy. With basic and fancy supplies on hand, you’ll be equally prepared to put together a family-friendly meal or a last-minute dinner for friends. The trick is figuring out what to buy that is seasonally fresh, convenient and holiday relevant.
DSC04269Consider the checklist a starting point. I have listed top items you should purchase for your holiday meals. The idea is to make sure you have enough vegetables and fruits to pull together several satisfying meals, plus some flavorful condiments, convenience items and seasonings to keep things interesting and your taste buds hopping. I’ve also included a seasonal chestnut soup recipe to tempt your palate. Smooth and creamy, it is like nothing you’ve ever had before.

Whatever you decide to toss in your shopping cart, you can rest happy knowing you won’t get caught with empty cupboards. You’ll have exactly what you’re in the mood for at just the right time you’re in the mood to prepare it.

DSC04251For peak freshness, shop at grocery stores that carry Melissa’s Produce brand vegetable, fruits and convenience packages. Bristol Farms, Whole Foods and Gelsons and Ralphs are a good source of these upscale products.
Vegetables
486-2TAnaheim Chiles*: Among the most popular and commonly available chiles in the United States. he Anaheim is pale to medium green in color with a long, narrow shape. Named after the Southern California city where it was originally grown, Anaheim Chiles are favored because of their sweet and mild flavor. Anaheims are found in a broad range of Latin dishes and are commonly used in salsas, as well as roasted and stuffed to make the well-known favorite Chile Rellenos. Melissa’s Anaheim Chiles are hand-selected for excellent quality. Choose bright green, glossy peppers that are firm with a medium to thick flesh. Avoid soft spots. Refrigerate, unwashed in a plastic bag for up to 5 days.
DSC04265Baby Brussels Sprouts: They  like miniature cabbages and are eye-catching. Tasting similar to regular cabbage, these fresh nutty-flavored sprouts have a solid and dense texture. Available in bulk, on the stalk, or in a convenience pack (roasted by Melissa’s).
DSC04272Melissa’s Baby Heirloom Tomatoes:  Generally, an “heirloom” variety is one that has existed more than fifty years, and can reproduce from its own seed. Use them freshly sliced by themselves, on sandwiches, or in salads, sauces, salsas, and stews.
DSC04266Melissa’s Baby Dutch Yellow® Potatoes (DYP’s®) : Think round with distinct yellowish-white skins. These baby potatoes can be cooked in almost any way imaginable and provide a delicious way to round out your holiday meals. They have a light, subtle flavor and a creamy texture. To preserve the nutrients, leave the skins on and simply scrub gently in water before using.
DSC04260Pearl Onions: A variety pack of Red, Gold and White Pearl onions offers a choice of onion flavors in one convenient container.
1581-1Purslane Microgreens*: Think pleasantly crunchy texture and slightly lemony flavor, reminiscent of watercress or spinach. This weed-like green is rich in vitamin C, magnesium, riboflavin, potassium and phosphorus. Picked at a very early stage of development, the tender Micro Purslane will add flavor and nutrition sprinkled in salads or on sandwiches. Delicate yet firm, it holds its shape during the cooking process so it can also be lightly steamed or added to stir-fry.
DSC04274Dried Porcini Mushrooms: Melissa’s are hand selected for exceptional quality. Store in a cool, dry place. After re-hydrating, trim tough stems as use as you would fresh Porcini mushrooms. Widely utilized in Europe, Dried Porcini Mushrooms from Melissa’s are superior-tasting, flavorful, wild mushrooms. These Mushrooms possess a succulent, deep woodsy flavor. Goes well when served with beef, veal or fish.
Fruit

DSC04254Christmas Crunch Grapes: Grown exclusively for Melissa’s and being marketed for the first time, Christmas Crunch is a new variety of seedless red grape that is slightly larger and sweeter than the standard Red Seedless. The fruit has a pronounced crunch in texture and a distinctive flavor that has had time to develop with a very late-season harvest. Use them throughout the holiday season to add a splash of color to any festive centerpiece presentation. Product of California.
DSC04321Cinnamon Persimmons: A great winter salad ingredient when accompanied by walnuts and pomegranate seeds. For a real taste treat, enjoy this sweeter variety of persimmon with a crisp, juicy flavor. Cinnamon Persimmons, exclusively from Melissa’s. Beneath the deep orange skin lies a golden flesh with flecks of brown. Many liken the fruit of this variety to both the Fuyu and Hachiya combined with a sprinkling of cinnamon. They can be eaten out of hand when they become soft to the touch as well as used in cakes, tarts, and puddings.
DSC04279Dried Cranberries: Use them in cakes, cookies and stuffings. They add flavor and sweet crunch to yogurt, cereal, cookies, and cakes. Tart and sweet, great for snacking and baking.
615-1Finger Limes*: Yummy citrus caviar! The fruit’s exterior resembles a tiny pickling cucumber or cocktail avocado in shape and size. Its skin is thin. When sliced in half, the round, pearlescent juice vesicles, which are under pressure, ooze out of the fruit like a lava flow. Unlike the tender juice sacs in most citrus, the greenish-white or pinkish sacs in finger limes are quite firm and pop on the tongue like caviar, releasing a flavor that combines lemon and lime with an aromatic hint of fresh herbs.
DSC04318Fuyu Persimmons: Unlike the more common pointed Hachiya persimmon, which must be very soft to be eaten, the Fuyu is a non-astringent variety. It is sweet and delicious when it has become orange to orange-red in color and is still firm. A six ounce fruit has only 130 calories. Delicious sliced while still firm and eaten out of hand, the Fuyu is also delicious when used in cookies, cake and desserts.
New Convenience Items

SAM_4398_Leeks _900Cleaned and Sliced Leeks: A deliciously mild onion flavor laced with subtle hints of garlic. Fresh whole leeks are quite sandy and a bit labor intensive. Melissa’s Cleaned and Sliced Leeks eliminates time and waste with this convenient package of only the edible parts of the vegetable, carefully sliced into recipe-ready pieces! While leeks are primarily used as a soup ingredient, the vegetable pairs especially well with fish either sautéed as a stand-alone side dish or in a vegetable stir fry.
House-of-Voodoo-Photo-by-Pat-GarinMelissa’s Steamed Lentils, Steamed Red Kidney Beans, and Steamed Six Bean Medley*: Picked with the highest standards of quality and already cooked for your convenience. You would never know these legumes came out of vacuum sealed packages by their delicious fresh taste and their beautiful coloring.Add to soup, salad, or pasta just before serving. If desired, they can be heated in the microwave after creating a few knife holes in the plastic pouch, or on the stovetop by placing the unpunctured pouch in boiling water. There are no artificial flavors or colors added to any of the legumes in this assortment. Remember that beans are a great source of fiber and protein and are very versatile.
SAM_4393_Packaged beets_800Organic Baby Beets Peeled & Steamed: With the same earthy goodness as regular-sized beets, Melissa’s Organic Baby Beets are the perfect solution to the messy preparation associated with beets. Peeled, steamed and vacuum sealed, these tender bulbs are ready-to-eat right out of the package. Serve cold in salads or warm them for use in your favorite beet recipe.
SAM_4413_900 Artichoke timerMicrowaveable Artichokes*: Take the guess work out cooking by placing the globe, still in its plastic wrapper, in a microwaveable container with a little water. When done, the red button on the stem end of the package with pop out! Quick, convenient and so very good. My favorite pick on this list.
39-1Organic Grinders*: Fresh, whole spices that you grind as you need. A quick twist of the built-in grinder top will enhance your recipes; try any of these certified organic fresh spice blends: Garden Herb with Sea Salt, Rainbow Peppercorn, Italian Seasoning, and Garlic & Herbs with Sea Salt. Convenient to use and easy to store, they do not have artificial additives or msg. Shelf life of 12 months and are convenient to store and use.
DSC04281Peeled & Steamed Chestnuts: All natural with no preservatives or additives. They are delicious cold or hot in various recipes or as a garnish. There is no need to add anything to them; they are full of flavor and ready-to-eat. Use them as a garnish with poultry, meat and seafood dishes. Sprinkle them on salads to add crunch and flavor. Make a smooth and robust soup (recipe below).

Chestnut and Fennel Soup
By Chef Ida Rodriguez
DSC04299
Ingredients
2 cups Italian Chestnuts roasted, shelled and skinned
2 Shallots chopped
2 Leeks chopped (white and pale green parts only)
3/4 stick Unsalted Butter
2 tablespoons Dry White Wine
1/2 Fennel coarsely chopped
1 cup Chicken Broth
2 1/2 cups Water
1/4 cup Half and HalfDirections

Coarsely chop chestnuts, reserving 1/3 cup for garnish.

Cook shallot and leeks in 2 tablespoons butter in a 5-quart heavy pot over moderate heat, stirring, until softened.Add wine and simmer until almost all liquid is evaporated, about 1 minute.

Stir in fennel, broth, chestnuts (excluding garnish), and water, then simmer, covered, 20 minutes.
Stir in half- and-half and cool mixture slightly.
Purée mixture in batches in a blender until smooth, transferring to a bowl (use caution when blending hot liquids).

Return soup to pot and bring to a simmer, thinning with water if desired. Season with salt and pepper.

While soup is reheating, heat remaining 4 tablespoons butter in a 10-inch heavy skillet over moderately high heat until foam subsides, then sauté reserved chestnuts with salt and pepper to taste, stirring constantly, until crisp and butter is browned, about 4 minutes.
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*Photos courtesy of Melissa’s Produce