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February, 2010

Guest Chef Ida Rodriguez

By Dennis Linden

February’s featured dessert dish, Cara Cara Compote in Rosemary Sauce submitted by Chef Ida Rodriquez, takes advantage of the unique flavor and color of this season’s abundant Cara Cara pink navel orange crop
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Chef Ida Rodriguez

While this wonderfully flavorful specialty citrus is the perfect ingredient for this dish, Chef Ida’s recipe is meant to flex with the seasons. You can really use almost any kind of fruit or combination of fruits, depending upon what is peaking in flavor, ripeness and availability. In fact, there is a version of fruit compote found in just about every regional cuisine around the globe where fresh fruit is grown; however, the accepted culinary definition of the term, which is basically the stewing of fresh fruit in a simple syrup, can be traced to the royal kitchens of 16th century France. Chef Ida gives the traditional compote formula a slight twist by cooking only the sauce to create her honey-rosemary syrup, which is cooled and then combined with the fresh, uncooked citrus pieces and chilled before serving. No stewing is required. The chef relies on the unusual cranberry-cherry-citrus characteristics of the Cara Cara to be the star of this dish, accented by the honey and rosemary flavors of her sauce. Adding a sprinkle of Maraschino cherries to this mix provides a dash of color contrast as well as an occasional burst of whimsical flavor that makes this the perfect party dessert. Serve Chef Ida’s compote in a crystal bowl centerpiece setting so that guests can serve themselves or, for that extra touch of class in a more formal setting, plate individually in long stemmed champagne glasses.

Cara Cara Oranges
When Cara Cara navels are not in season, try using combinations of fruit varieties that vary in color and texture, such as pineapples and strawberries or apples, red grapes and kiwi. Even the rosemary in Chef Ida’s syrup can be replaced with other herbs or spices like cinnamon, citrus zest, lavender, allspice or even ginger to better complement the flavor of the chosen fruit ingredients. Do not underestimate the easy preparation involved in this recipe; the natural flavors of the fresh fruit are the focus here, not the complexity of the preparation process. Serving this simple, clean-tasting dessert will linger on your guests’ palates as the perfect ending to a special meal. Chef Ida Rodriquez oversees Melissa’s test kitchen and the staff chefs needed to support the company’s retail grocery and foodservice divisions on an almost 24/7 basis. All of the products that are marketed by Melissa’s, whether they bear the Melissa’s brand or not, must go through the test kitchen before being offered to our customers. Once Ida and her crew have a clear understanding of how an item can be prepared and, more importantly, agree that the product offers culinary value to the consumer, then and only then will the item be incorporated into the company’s product list.

That is how things work at Melissa’s today, but there was a time when Ida was the entire chef staff and all products were prepared in her own home kitchen. “It really all started about twelve years ago as an education program for Melissa’s sales staff,” explained Chef Ida. “Back then, many of the company’s fresh produce items were new to the marketplace, which included many of the professionals in our own marketing department as well as the retail buyers they were dealing with. I started out preparing these unfamiliar items at home and delivering them to the office so that the sales staff could experience them firsthand. This led to demonstrations of our products at meetings with the company’s retail partners so that they could make informed decisions as to what items to promote or stock, for instance.” Today Chef Ida oversees two full-time chefs working in a state-of-the-art kitchen at the Melissa’s corporate offices who are busy testing new products, developing recipes for demonstrations to staff and customers, as well as preparing dishes for the food photos needed on packaging and for publishing on the company’s two web sites. Plus, with the addition of the foodservice division several years ago, she has a very knowledgeable chef on duty in the late evenings to work directly with our customer chefs who operate the kitchens of restaurants throughout Southern California and Las Vegas. Her department also employs a traveling chef who tends to the unique culinary needs of the large commercial kitchens that support the sports and entertainment industry at large arenas and stadiums. Chef Ida and husband Sam, who is also a key member of Melissa’s procurement team, try to make a culinary pilgrimage to another part of the world each year to learn about regional foods and techniques that she can apply back in the test kitchen. It’s a far cry from the days of delivering test recipes in the back seat of her car to staffers so many years ago!

“On a professional level, it’s been so rewarding working with such a talented team of dedicated chefs in making the kitchen such an integral part of the company’s success. Plus, I must admit that getting to play with good food for a living is about as good as it can get for this devoted foodie!”

Cara Cara Compote in Rosemary Sauce

Cara Cara Compote in Rosemary Sauce
By Chef Ida Rodriquez (makes 10 servings)

Ingredients
1 cup sugar
½ cup water
3 tablespoons honey
3 sprigs fresh Rosemary
10 Cara Cara Oranges
½ cup maraschino cherries with stems
Rosemary sprigs for garnish

Preparation
Combine sugar, water, honey, and rosemary in saucepan. Boil 5 minutes over medium heat. Remove from heat, let cool completely and discard rosemary. Peel and segment the oranges over a bowl to catch juice. In a large mixing bowl add the segmented orange pieces as well as any juice and then fold in the syrup gently coating the fruit. Add cherries, cover and chill until ready to serve. Serve is a large serving bowl or plate individual long-stem wine or champagne glasses. Garnish with rosemary