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Welcome to Fancy Food & Culinary Products' blog, your place to read reviews of the great fancy and gourmet products we find in the marketplace.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Editor’s Choice: Wind & Willow soup

If you love soup but you hate cooking it in hot weather (or just hate cooking it period), there are lots of alternatives. And they don’t all have to come out of a can.

Wind & Willow has been producing high-end soup and other gourmet products for more than 20 years. Their soups are all dry mixes, which makes them easy to prepare, but they’re also customizable, says co-owner Renee Tentenhorst: “I think that people like to be able to kind of customize and put their own spin on things, but we don’t all have time to be chefs and take a lot of time in the kitchen.”

The soups come in flavors that include Spinach & Romano, Smoky Harvest Chowder, Roasted Red Pepper Asparagus and Tortilla con Queso. Their best seller is Baked Potato (shown) and new flavors include Minestrone and Grilled Cheese and Tomato.

I tried the Broccoli Cheddar single-serve packet. (They also come in six-cup stovetop sizes.) It couldn’t have been easier: Nuke a cup of water for one minute, add the powder, zap it another 45 seconds, and voila. Very savory and subtle, without the overpowering saltiness that characterizes so many prepared soups. A definite keeper.


Monday, July 22, 2013

Editor's choice: illy issimo iced coffee

The folks at illy issimo recently sent us a selection of iced coffee. It included an “espresso style” 6.8-ounce can and several 9.5-ounce bottles with other standard coffeehouse flavors, including cappuccino, mochaccino and latte macchiato.

This piqued my interest for two reasons:

1) My previous job was at a trade magazine for coffeehouse owners. Prior to that, there were only two varieties of coffee for me: instant and the other kind. But I learned all about espresso drinks and all their variations; it’s a fascinating subculture. I also developed a serious caffeine habit, leading to:

2) My current job requires a long train commute, which means that if I don’t want to get up before dawn, I have to pack breakfast the night before and eat it on the train. With my new caffeine jones, iced coffee has become an important part of that breakfast, at least during the summer.

So I was in a position to appreciate illy issimo’s cold-coffee offerings and compare to Starbucks’ Frappucino, which is the only brand of bottled cold coffee available in my supermarket. Verdict: A slight but noticeable advantage, in my humble opinion, for illy. They’re both very sweet, but the coffee flavor comes through more with the illy product, and paradoxically, there’s less of an aftertaste.

Neither is very much like the iced coffee you’d get at a coffeehouse—not unless you load the coffeehouse product up with milk and sugar. But they’re very filling and very convenient, and to a commuter like me, convenience rules.


Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Editor's Choice: Love Your Health, LLC

Like many people, I try to eat healthy. Meals don’t present much of a problem, but snacks are another thing. I’ve tried a variety of healthier snacks, but most of them either lacked taste or tasted strange. And so the search continued. Last week, however, I discovered a keeper.

It is Love Your Health ( SoyMix and I literally found the package in a bag I had taken home in the midst of our recent office move. The picture on the bag looked inviting and I was curious about the taste.

I was amply rewarded. It turns out there is a whole array of tastes. The soynuts are dry-roasted. They offer a combination of salty and sweet, with lightly sea-salted and honey-toasted varieties. And then — the bonus reward for healthy snacking — there’s the dark chocolate-covered soynuts. But, as if that’s not enough, the soynuts are blended with U.S.-grown pumpkin seeds and Sweet n’ Juicy dried cranberries. It is a delicious festival of flavors and textures.

The mix is only 120 calories per serving, low in sodium, with no cholesterol or trans fat. 

It’s great as a solo snack, but you could also top yogurt with it or pair it with fruit. It can also be used as party mix, even paired with cheese. The mix comes in a bag that can be resealed, so you can scoop some out, put it in a small container and take it along.


Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Editor's Choice: Gearharts Peanut Butter Pups

If you've read this blog, you know that I am a fan of chocolate, peanut butter, and chocolate with peanut butter in it. It's not surprising that I loved these Peanut Butter Pups from Gearharts Fine Chocolates - they feature premium milk chocolate and Virginia artisan peanut butter, and are then decorated with a dark chocolate face and toasted almond ears. The puppy-faced treats are extremely cute and would make a great gift.

I am also a fan of dogs - to be specific, shelter dogs. Cursed with a tiny apartment and a huge heart for dogs, I have never been able to have a dog of my own so far in life. To get my puppy fix, I spent time volunteering at Chicago Animal Care & Control, and fell in love daily with every dog there. I was overjoyed to spend time with these friendly and lovable pups, but left feeling empty because of the enormous quantity of dogs that were brought in daily, knowing that many would inevitably not get adopted. 

That's why I love that Gearharts has decided to donate 5% of sales for their Peanut Butter Pups to Companions for Heroes, a terrific organization that provides companion animals, skilled companion dogs, and service dogs obtained from shelters and/or rescues, who might otherwise be euthanized, free of charge to active duty military personnel, military veterans, and first-responders recovering from the psychological challenges they suffered during service to our country. C4H increases public awareness of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury (TBI) and other challenges confronting our country’s heroes; and rally’s support for animal welfare and the adoption of shelter and/or rescue animals.

Tim Gearhart, the owner of Gearhart's Chocolates, started cooking as a Marine in Kuwait. He's created a quality chocolate item and partnered with a great organization to make something to be proud of. 

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Who invented the Piña Colada?

An e-mail crossed my virtual desk (actually, the virtual desk of former editor Brooke Smith) from a publicist for the Caribe Hilton, bearing what was touted as the recipe for “the original Piña Colada.”

This touched off a distant memory of my first (and only) trip to Puerto Rico. As my bus rolled through San Juan, I spotted a plaque on a wall declaring the building to be the birthplace of the Piña Colada. It was the kind of plaque you could spot from the street—as big as a window.

I no longer remembered exactly where that was, but a little Googling revealed it to be, not the Hilton, but a restaurant in downtown San Juan called La Barrachina. More Googling, and I learned that the Caribe Hilton and La Barrachina have been locked for decades in a rum war over who truly originated the popular drink. According to Team Hilton, their bartender, Ramón “Monchito” Marrero, invented it in 1954; the plaque at La Barrachina claims it to be “The house where in 1963 the Piña Colada was created by Don-Ramon Portas Mingot.”

For an excellent explanation of the controversy, see this post on “Wanderlust and Lipstick,” a travel blog by Lanee Lee. Lanee’s post includes the dueling recipes; the Hilton one almost exactly matches the recipe in my e-mail.

I have to say, they both sound good, but since the Hilton one uses heavy cream and fresh pineapple, it might have an advantage (for the tastebuds, if not the arteries). Judge for yourself—here it is:

The Original Piña Colada: 


2 oz. white rum
1 oz. coconut cream             
1 oz. heavy cream
6 oz. fresh pineapple juice
½ cup crushed ice

Add the rum, coconut cream, heavy cream and pineapple juice together in a blender. Add the ice and blend for about 15 seconds or until smooth. Serve in a 12-ounce glass. Garnish with a fresh pineapple wedge and a maraschino cherry.