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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.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Rebel Kitchen's dairy-free Mylk

 No, it's not quite milk. But it sure does look and taste like it. Except for Rebel Kitchen's newest flavor: Chai Mylk - an organic coconut milk drink with a chai spice blend.
And it's definitely chai-oriented. It was an instantly recognizable chai flavor that woke up my taste buds. And as strange as it tasted, I finished the whole drink within a couple minutes. "It's delicious!" I thought.
Here's it's bio: A treat reminiscent of an Indian chai. Made with organic coconut milk, organic cacao, organic date nectar, filtered water and organic spices cardamom, cinnamon, and turmeric.    
The new Chai Milk flavor debuted at the Fancy Food show, making it brand-spanking new to the market. But for those of you who aren't familiar with the Rebel Kitchen brand, here's a little background from its press release:
"Rebel Kitchen ( is here to get people excited about food through its ridiculously tasty snacks made from simple ingredients, direct from nature.
Rebel Kitchen knows that being healthy isn’t about bland or boring food. It’s about enjoyment and having fun. Rebel Kitchen first launched with its innovative range of coconut mylks in the UK in January 2014, and so began the brand’s mission; to start creating healthier, delicious tasting alternatives to everyone’s favorite snacks.
Rebel Kitchen was created to be an honest, health-focused brand with broad, mainstream appeal; not another niche brand that simply preaches to the converted.”
That sounds like a brand that I can get behind! The product's ingredients are sound as well: All mylks contain a base of three simple ingredients; organic coconut milk, filtered water and organic date nectar. The mylks are Non-GMO certified and dairy, gluten and soy free. They contain no refined sugar, additives or preservatives. Mylks are suitable for vegans and those following a paleo diet.
Of course, other delicious and more mainstream flavors to try:
Chocolate Mylk - A healthy superfood alternative to satisfy those chocolate cravings. Made with organic coconut milk, organic cacao, organic date nectar and filtered water.
Coffee Mylk – A healthy way to enjoy a coffee fix. Made with organic coconut milk, organic date nectar, filtered water and organic coffee.
Learn more about Rebel Kitchen at


Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Peanut Butter Wings

OK, there’s no healthy spin on this one; I’ve tried, it’s impossible. 
You need embrace Peanut Butter Wings with the full, intentional notion that this is your indulgence, your reward for a hard day’s work, your blissful moment of splendor. And when you take that first bite, it’s everything I just said and more. 
A ruffled salty potato chip slathered with gobs of creamy peanut butter and then dipped in milk chocolate. Need I say more? I think not. 
And they don’t go easy on the peanut butter, either. It’s a fantastically rich experience that make your eyes pop out a little when you realize what you’ve gotten yourself into. Half way through one chip and I melted; all the stresses of the day faded and it was just me and my Wings for a blissful 2 minutes. Then I sinned: I got up to have another. So that’s 4 minutes. OK, and then another. Count ‘em, 6 minutes of true bliss and then vowing to walk an extra block tomorrow.                                             
These things are unique, and they’re fun! I gave the rest to my mom, for fear I might eat the whole box one night, and she was an instant fan as well. “It’s a potato chip!” she exclaimed. “How clever!” She said she's like to see a caramel version. I'd, personally, like to taste more salt; but then again, no one is complaining here. 
The Peanut Butter Wings come in an 8-ounce box that’s more narrow on the bottom yet stands up on its own. It’s bright red colors and picture of the familiar potato chip wrapped in peanut butter and chocolate screams “I’m a fun gift for anyone, any occasion!” It’s definitely a memorable gift, too, because it’s so unique; I haven’t seen anything like them. And I keep going back to that potato chip - it’s genius; it’s a different take on something that everyone knows and everyone loves. 
The Wings come in a full case of 18 retail-ready containers or a half case of nine. They’re produced by - what goes better with wings? - the Chocolate Pizza Company, and owner Ryan Novak says they’re an instant traffic-driver to his retail store. Customers become instant fans, he said, and they just have to share the novelty snack with their friends. 
The company is most notably known for its candy-topped gourmet chocolate pizzas - they are 16 ounces of a rich milk and dark chocolate blend with add-ons like English toffee and served in a customer pizza box. They are truly unique gifts, of course, and are sold wholesale with four pizzas to a corrugated retail-ready case. But, he says, people often come into his retail store to specifically ask about the Wings (and, obviously, to buy two or three).
“The Wings are a very unique gift item that creates an almost instant customer fan club,” he said. 
Novak bought the Chocolate Pizza Company in 2010 at the age of 21, and he has quadrupled sales since then. Now his wholesale division caters to more than 6,000 stores nationwide.  
The Food Network made both the Chocolate Pizza Co. and its Peanut Butter Wings famous when they featured the product on the hit show, “Unwrapped” as a unique, delicious and impressive gift idea. That paved the way for the construction of a brand-new 10,000-square-foot production and retail facility to handle its explosive growth.
“In five years, we have gone from a small-town chocolate shop to an emerging national brand,” Novak said. “You can get a nice background on our company and backstory on my rise from dishwasher to owner on our website (click here). I also had a piece published in last year (click here).” Fore more information, visit 

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Simply Shari's gluten-free shortbread cookies

No gluten, no wheat.
Those are the two claims that caught my eye - and my attention - when I received samples of Simply Shari's shortbread cookies. The muted floral packaging featuring earth-tone colors even talks a subtle promise of natural, delicate and good for you.
OK, we all know cookies aren't good for you; but I was starting to buy into the claim that, as far as cookies go, this is as healthy as you can get. Other claims front and center: Simply Balanced; Simply Nutritious; Simply Delicious.
I'm not gluten intolerant, but I do have plenty of friends who are, and they all stay away from cookies because if it's not going to taste good, then what's the point? For that, I was skeptical when I broke open the bag. But, I was ready for the risk.
Verdict: Are you sure these are gluten-free? They tasted so much better than expected. In fact, they don't taste like gluten-free at all! I had the Chocolate Chip, and it was not insanely sweet or loaded with sugar, like I hate. But it also wasn't bland or cardboard-tasting, which I also hate.
The folks at Simply Shari's has somehow managed to land right in the middle, offering a devilishly buttery snack that I can somehow feel good about eating. And the best part - as a woman who just turned 30 last weekend and now sees the need to watch the calories - is that they're bite-sized! I instantly became accustomed to popping one or two in my mouth after lunch and dinner - and boom! A small yet sweet satisfaction for my sweet tooth. The portion-control was much appreciated!
The small bites of pleasure are chewy, moist and easily crumble in your mouth. I also felt like the 6.5-ounce bag offered plenty of product, probably because the smaller pieces seem to last longer than the giant cookies that I need to toss in the garbage after a few bites.
Other flavors are plain, zesty lemon and aromatic almond. Chocolate Chip was my favorite, but Fudge Brownie came in a very close second. I found myself serving one or two to my husband after dinner as a small dessert, and not only did he love them, but he never suspected them as gluten-free! (If only he knew, muhahahahah!)
According to the press release, only "clean ingredients" are used and all the cookies are GMO-free. The Celiac Sprue Association (CSA) Recognition Seal and the Certified Gluten-Free (GF) Seal is faithfully displayed on every package. Personality also dominates the packaging, as the back reveal Shari herself offering a comforting and personal guarantee that her "simply delicious, gluten-free products" are simply the best. Thanks Shari!
The presser also suggests eating them with ice cream or afternoon tea-wonderful idea! Prices range from $4.99-$5.99 retail. Your customers-yes, those who are gluten intolerant but also anyone who is looking to eat a bit more healthy-will love them! Guaranteed.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Dolcedi: organic sugar alternative

I'm not the kind of person who sweetens food or drinks with honey, sugar or any other sugar alternatives like Splenda. As a Millennial, my health-conscious subconscious screams "Warning! Stay away!" like a sugar-detecting radar when I come within a mere 5 feet of a frosted pastry, a caramel macchiato or even a honey packet for my tea. Like most Millennials, I try to keep unnecessary "fillers" out of my diet.
So when Dolcedi arrived at my office for my sampling, I was not anxious to give it a try. I thought it looked kind of weird--its clear, thick liquid resting peacefully inside a big 12-ounce bottle with a bright red drip-free cap. It didn't look like anything I've seen before, and the ingredients were certainly unique as well.
"Low glycemic sweetener from apples," boasts the label front and center. Other eco-friendly labels surround the red cursive "Dolcedi" name as well: "organic farming," "all-natural plant-based," "Non-GMO," "Vegan," "star-kosher certification" and "neutral flavor." Now you've got my attention.
I read the instructions from the press release: "Dolcedì can be used any way you would use traditional table sugar or honey and in the same proportions; one teaspoon of sugar equals one teaspoon of Dolcedì. Its neutral flavor enhances the taste of food and drinks without altering them. Perfectly soluble in both cold and hot drinks. Use on pancakes, on yogurt, in fruit salad and in baking."
OK, I'm intrigued. Time to put this sweetener to the test. First, I squeezed some into my plain Greek yogurt one morning at work. To my pleasant surprise, it was an instant success! The clear liquid did not dilute the color of my yogurt, which I liked because, like many in my generation, I eat with my eyes. And if I can't see the sweetener, it's like it's not there. (If I see golden honey in my yogurt, on the other hand, I feel instant guilt for adding sugar to an otherwise healthy snack.)
Then, I added some Dolcedi to some chopped fruit - again, a hit! And again, I'm not feeling guilty for adding sweet stuff to my fruit! In fact, I'm feeling pretty trendy for using such a unique-looking AND organic sweet source. Before I knew it, my co-workers (both Millennials) were asking to borrow my bottle of "clear stuff" for their tea, toast and even to douse on their mix of dried fruit and nuts.
Like me, they became even bigger fans of the "clear stuff"--as it's now affectionately called in my office--when they read the story behind the product:
"The Rigoni family from the Altopiano di Asiago in Northern Italy (90 miles north of Venice) has launched a new, all-natural liquid sweetener called Dolcedì (pronounced dohl-che-DEE) that’s made from 100 percent organic apples and is a low-glycemic alternative to sugar and other sweeteners. With 25 percent fewer calories than table sugar, Rigoni di Asiago Dolcedì is made from the concentrated and filtered sugar extracted from organic apples. It is certified USDA organic, non-GMO, gluten-free, vegan, and Star-Kosher."
25 percent fewer calories than table sugar?? SOLD!! We all were! Then, as we looked at the nearly empty bottle, panic came over us. Where would we buy our next bottle?! Hopefully, at the closest specialty food store. Touting the calorie count and, of course, "made from organic apples" is a sure-fire way to draw in our attention--as well as any other Millennial--and make us thankful for any local store that offers unique "finds" like Dolcedi.
"Dolcedì is a wonderful marriage of old and new," says Rigoni di Asiago CEO and president Andrea Rigoni. "We source our apples with the same organic farming practices that we have practiced for years but are processing the bounty in a new and exciting way to bring the world a great-tasting, better-for-you sweetener." For more information, visit

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Explore Cuisine, Organic Black Bean Spaghetti

I'm not gluten intolerant, but I do suffer from extreme guilt every time I cook pasta. Whether it's greased down with butter and oil or slathered in white creamy Alfredo sauce, there's no other to way to enjoy a pasta dish other than simply tossing caution to the win and promising to work out an extra 30 minutes-better make that 45-the next morning.
However, I have discovered an alternative that will allow me to enjoy the pleasures of pasta-sauce and all-from now on. OK, I didn't "discover" it; rather, samples were sent to my office and I merely needed to open the parcel. But when I did, my culinary world changed for the better.
Explore Cuisine sent me a number of flavors: Organic Red Bean Lentil, Organic Green Lentil Lasagna, Organic Chickpea Fusilli and Organic Edamame Spaghetti. However, my eye was immediately drawn to the Organic Black Bean Spaghetti.
And how could I not be drawn to it? The spaghetti was black! Instantly, my intrigue was piqued and the Millennial adventurer inside me screamed, "Try it, try it!" I know if I saw it on the shelves of my local specialty food store, I wouldn't be able to resist purchasing that first box. And now that I've tried the results, I know that I would come back for more.
First, I've never felt so guilt-free about a pasta. Well, semi-pasta. The label front and center on the box says all I need to hear to make me pick it up and "explore" (get it?): "Loaded with plant-based protein," it says in a bold black label that's hard to miss. The best part of the elegant yet catchy packaging is the cut-out that allows the consumer to see the product for themselves. I flipped over the red box and the info got even better: "35 grams of protein, 11 grams net carbs, low glycemic index, high in fiber, only beans!
That's right, this pasta is made of beans, peas, lentils and rice, providing nourishing meals that are easy, quick and colorful, boasts the messaging. Other touted qualities: Affordable food with ingredients bought direct from the farmer, produced next to the fields; Committed to fair trade and sustainable living "so everyone benefits along the way-from the field to your home." Also, 2 percent of proceeds support the Food to Thrive Foundation.
Now, to the kitchen. I was excited to prepare the mysterious black pasta, and I was relieved to realize that the preparation instructions are the same as any other box of conventional pasta. The dried spaghetti was shorter than what I'm used to, but turns out it fits easily into the pot on the stove without having to dunk the exposed ends once it softens up. Within the first minute, it thickened up and the water turned black, which I found to be kind of fun to watch. I drained, covered in butter, oil and some Parmesan cheese.
Verdict: Utterly delicious. True to its claims, it tastes like a healthier version of pasta! It tastes like pasta had a run-in with a plant and I'm reaping the benefits. The taste was lighter than traditional pasta, yet I was equally as full and satisfied by the end of my meal.
I cooked in bulk so I can pick at it throughout the week. What I loved the most is that the spaghetti did not clump together I stored it in the refrigerator! This is a problem I often have with traditional pasta. But now the problem's solved. The next day, I took a bit more of the black spaghetti-easily with no tears or clumps!-and dressed it in marinara sauce before reheating it in the microwave. Voila! It tasted just as it had the day before, when it was freshly made, and dressing it in the heavy sauce gave it a completely different taste and experience. And the best part, of course: no guilt! In fact, I felt healthy for it!
Explore Cuisine, you can count me as a fan. And if your Millennial shoppers are anything like me, they'll be fans as well. The bright colors and healthy ingredients will compel their inner adventurer to purchase their first box; and the easy preparation and, most importantly, great taste will make them a loyal customer!
Find out more at

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Nonni's biscotti

For every coffee and tea drinker in America, there's a biscotti-lover.
In my opinion, biscotti tastes best when dipped in a piping-hot cup of cappuccino while sitting on my balcony during a rainy spring afternoon. It takes me to Italy and back in the blissful 10 minutes I have to myself before the chaos of life rudely interrupts my cognitive getaway.
All that from a cookie, you ask? Yes, my friends. Biscotti, when done right, is a girl's best friend. And when Nonni's Foods sent me samples of its Nonni's Biscotti, I knew I found my new bestie.
The press release touts premium ingredients and artisan roots dating back to 1988, when the company’s founder first opened his bakery. But today, Nonni's is stepping into the 21st century with new packaging that debuted this year. The new biscotti boxes feature vibrant imagery of its different flavors: Originali, Salted Caramel, Cioccolati, Dark Chocolate Almond, Limone, Toffee Almond, Triple Chocolate and Turtle Pecan. The new design also notes key ingredients as well as calorie count in bold font at the top right-hand corner of the box.
As a health-conscious Millennial consumer, I am instantly drawn to the mentions of "Real Almonds," "No Artificial Flavors" and "90 Calories" at the top of my almond and walnut biscotti box. Personally, I love when companies make a point to highlight nutritional facts front and center rather than hide them on the back or side panel. It's not necessary; but it goes a long way in showing me that they stand behind their product's contents 100 percent.
There's also a brand-new logo that features the phrases “artisan baked” and “Italian inspired” to signify the family recipe traced back almost a century ago to Lucca, Italy, a place that still inspires today’s bakers. The addition of a transparent window cutout to the front of each box is designed so consumers can see the biscotti firsthand. From the window, I can tell that each biscotti is individually wrapped (8 come with each box) to seal in freshness. Finally, the entire Nonni's history is told on the back of the box in storybook format, touting a heart-warming tale of the founder's grandmother, Nonni, who baked biscotti for her friends and family. "Today, our bakers are inspired to follow Nonni's Old World traditions in preparing a variety of delicious delights using real ingredients you might find at a farmers market," it reads.
The company's new tagline, "Real Ingredients, No Compromises," proudly sits to the side of the story, hovering proudly over a fantastic photo of a biscotti resting on a hot cup of joe. Looking at the image makes my body warm from the inside as I envision my Saturday morning routine of balcony, cappuccino and biscotti. But now that I'm attuned to the pure ingredients and beautiful family story behind the product, I'll be choosing Nonni's from the store shelves from now on.
“At Nonni’s, we are proud to offer consumers a Biscotti they can feel good about eating, made with no artificial flavors or preservatives,” said Patricia Bridges, senior brand marketing manager, in a press release. “We are thrilled that the new 2016 packaging tells our story and provides consumers with clear information about our ingredients.”
For ordering information, retailers can call 877-295-9604 or visit

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Gaea olive oil

Gaea olive oil is a product of "old world" production in Greece, the result being authentic, flavorful and high quality products that have garnered many international awards.
I poured Gaea olive oil over my pasta, and it instantly gave me a taste of pure ingredients grown in the fertile earth of Greece. The packaging is sophisticated and attractive, and it certainly will stand out on store shelves. Its aesthetic looks are just as impressive as its taste.
This product will no doubt appeal to the gourmet-food lover who knows what kind of an impact quality olive oil can have on one's food. In addition, the morals of the company and its dedication to sustainable production is equally as enticing for customers who care to ask about its backstory. 

According to its press release, Gaea's ingredients are exclusively of the highest quality: naturally grown in Greece, sun-ripened and harvested the traditional way. It is important for Gaea to preserve and to optimize what Mother Earth offers. All Gaea products are Non-GMO and traceable to the source. Gaea is also dedicated to sustainable production. As such, Gaea produces the first Extra Virgin Olive Oils that have been certified Carbon Neutral. Gaea is also committed to reducing its water footprint, and it is a member of the non-profit Water Footprint Network. All Gaea olives are traditionally harvested, picked and sorted by hand and then processed with care. Almost all of Gaea's oils are certified PDO (Protected Designation of Origin).

Here are the new Gaea products:
Kritsa Estate EVOO - Kritsa extra virgin olive oil is produced in Kritsa, in one of Crete's oldest olive groves dating back 4,500 years from ancient trees dating back 80-100 years. This area has a warm, dry, semi-mountainous climate with a lot of sunshine as well as perfect soil conditions, which are ideal for olive oil tree cultivation. The production comes out of common grinding from a variety of olives known as "Koroneiki," which are ground within three hours from the harvest to ensure very low acidity and top quality.

Vranas Estate EVOO - Gaea's Vranas PGI extra virgin olive oil comes from the island of Lesvos and is made from the unique variety called "Agrielia." Grown on ancient trees dating back 80-100 years that are exposed to the sun for more than 3,000 hours per year, the olives acquire a distinctively warm aroma and taste. Classified P.G.I. (Protected Geographical Indication) by the EU, which guarantees the superior quality and total integrity of the product.

Balsamic and Honey Glaze - Gaea Balsamic and Honey Glaze is the balsamic vinegar of Ancient Greeks with a creamy texture – Crema di Oxymelo. This glaze is unique in that it has only four ingredients with nothing artificial and no sugar added.

Natural Grape Glaze - The Greek Crema di Balsamico, Petimezi is based on a Greek recipe produced in a traditional way. GAEA Petimezi Cream is made of 100 percent natural grape juice syrup (grape must) and contains only two ingredients with no sugars and nothing artificial added. 

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Orange Madeleines from Sugar Bowl Bakery

In a focus group, feedback on a new product launch is valuable. But when feedback comes voluntarily from a stranger who simply feels the need to stop you and put in his two cents--that, my friends, is priceless.
So my experience goes when I dined at a local sushi restaurant with my husband. Trying to save money on dining out, I admittedly committed a big restaurant no-no: I brought my own dessert. Of course, I don't make that a habit, but I simply couldn't help myself. I had just received a box of Sugar Bowl Bakery's newly launched (in early February) orange-flavored Madeleines cookies, and I was so eager to try them that I couldn't even wait to get into the car before breaking them out. 
I did, however, manage to stem my desire long enough to finish dinner like a grown-up. But after I completely cleaned my plate of salmon skin roll and edamame, I decided I had waited long enough. I stealthily pulled the big clear box of what I had always known as delicious, buttery Madeleines cookies, and this version looked just like the original except for the orange-colored label as opposed to classic white. (The word "orange" also sits above the iconic Madeleines print that's front and center on the package.) You can clearly see through the packaging that the cookies boast a slight orange hue as well, further intriguing my taste buds.  
I handed one cookie to my husband and finally had the chance to bite into one myself. Instantly, I knew I could never go back to the original flavor. Since 2003, Sugar Bowl Bakery's Madeleines have been more of the (mouthwatering) same. But this new (and truly exciting) orange version was a subtle citrus variation that blended all the sweetness of just-ripe Valencia orange zests and oils with the soft, buttery goodness of a traditional Madeleine. 
Then, I was busted. A very polite and very petite waiter came to our table, knelt down beside me and politely pointed to my box of cookies. "Excuse me," he whispered with a thick Asian accent. "I don't want to intrude, but--" 
I interrupted him with instant apologies and began to stuff my box of Orange Madeleines back into my purse. Then I realized, with astonishment, that I was not being reprimanded. No, I was being interrogated. 
"Where did you get those Madeleines? I've never seen that flavor. Where can I buy them? Did you get them from Costco?" he inquired. "I buy a whole box from Costco every month because I know I'll finish them in a week, but I didn't know they had different flavors." 
A whole box in a week, huh? Judging from his small stature, I had my doubts. But then again, he seemed like a very honest guy. Once I got over my realization that I was not being kicked out of this fine-dining restaurant, I proceeded to answer his questions with vigor. 
"No, the company sent them to me. They just launched a line of flavored Madeleines this month, that's why you've never seen them. This is orange, do you want to try some? They also have Meyer lemon. They'll be on shelves soon. The new fall flavor is Pumpkin Spice, and there's Tuxedo for winter," I said. 
Although he refused my offer several times and insisted that he "did not want to intrude," I insisted right back that he simply must have a taste. I plated several cookies and pushed them in the general direction of his mouth, simultaneously reaching for my notepad and pen to take notes on his conclusion. 
"I love them," he said. My natural reporter instincts immediately kicked in with the "why" question. "It's different, and they've been doing the original for so long that it's really nice to have a new flavor. Plus, orange is a very Asian citrus flavor, so I know they'll be popular. They will definitely sell through," he assured me--that's a note to the wise for any specialty food retailer.  
Delighted with his feedback, I insisted that he keep the rest of the box to hold him over until the new flavor hits shelves. He tried to say no, but I knew this was an offer he couldn't refuse. Someone with a Madeleines passion this big deserved it, I thought. Then I went home to write up my blog post.  
"Biting into the bright Lemon and Orange Madeleines will take you to beautiful spring and summer days, and the Pumpkin Spice and Tuxedo Madeleines will whisk you to cozy autumn and rich winter. We wanted to make something we'd enjoy with our own families, and you can taste the love," said Andrew Ly, CEO of Sugar Bowl Bakery in a press release. "It only made sense to expand the line to include some of our favorite seasonal flavors." 
The cookies are free of artificial flavors, artificial colors, trans-fat and preservatives. The Lemon Madeleines are made with Meyer lemon zest and lemon oil; the Orange Madeleines are made with Valencia orange zest and orange oil; the Pumpkin Madeleines are made with real pumpkin puree and spices; and the Tuxedo Madeleines are made with the highest quality cocoa powder. 
For more information on the Sugar Bowl Bakery brand, its products or where to find them at a store near you, visit

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Annie B's handmade caramels

I'm not a chocolate-lover by nature, so Valentine's Day is always kinda tough for me (in relative terms). I don't have much of a sweet tooth, and every year, before the big day of red, I practice my "surprise face" in anticipation of receiving that ubiquitous heart-shaped box of chocolates and flowers. 
While the flowers are not so bad (hint, hint to my husband), when you're not a sugar-lover, even the finest box of chocolates can make you roll your eyes at the thought of downing the required handful of morsels that signal the non-verbal, "Thank you for thinking of me!" to your sweetie. He did, after all, try. 
This year, the lovely wife-husband team at Annie B's sent me a sample of their Handmade Caramels with a classy yet simple "happy Valentine's Day" phrase in white cursive font that is written above a modest white heart on a red label. What, no white-lace borders? No frills? No garish designs that shout out, "Eat this candy now!"? No, none of that. But I assure you, the lack of gimmicks really make it pop. Put it next to any cash register for that impulse buy, and it will catch the eye of the guys (and girls!) looking for an upscale add-on for his flowers or Teddy bear. 
The Annie B's 8-ounce clear-plastic box of caramels modestly reminds the buyer with more small-print that the caramels are made in small batches and cooked in copper pots for the best and purest taste possible. 
Again, not a sugar-lover, so I was hesitant to delve into the sweetness of a caramel. I can down a bag of salt-and-vinegar potato chips all by myself but sweets are just not my thing--until now. Not even realizing that I had the choice of three different flavors in one box--seat salt, chocolate sea salt and raspberry chocolate--I pulled out the first two-inch stick of caramel I could grasp. With preconceived notions of what a super-sweet caramel usually tastes like, I bit in. 
Result: unexpected bliss (which is the best kind of bliss!). As it turns out, the chocolate sea salt caramel is not too sweet at all! In fact, it's actually salty! (Go figure.) "Wow," I thought, "a sea-salted caramel in which you can actually taste the salt!" As I chewed into the stiff caramel to break it down into soft goey-ness, I began biting down on precious chunks--not flakes-of actual sea salt. It was glorious. 
While other candies may boast the "sea salt" label, few actually follow through with the more-salty-than-sweet combination. But this fine morsel--which won a nod from "Oprah's Favorite Things in 2014--passes the test with flying colors. So much so that I was compelled to take a look at
Turns out, Justin and Amanda Henke bought the Annie B's company, which has been around since 1978, from its founders--another husband-and-wife duo--Tom and Carol Bouquet. In fact, the Henkes bought the candy company on the same day Amanda gave birth to her first child, August. (How's that for a sappy Valentine's Day story?!) 
It also turns out that Annie B's is known for much more than just their caramels (although that's what I'll be hitting them up for because I'm officially hooked). The company also offers small-batch popcorn in flavors like sharp cheddar, jalapeno cheddar and, of course, original caramel. 
I checked out the reviews left on their website and, sure enough, people are raving about my new-found love: chocolate sea salt Annie B's caramels. It seems, like me, once they tasted it, they had to have more. 
Also interesting are the notes about the company's (or couple's) Facebook page. Of course, I took a visit and, sure enough, it's active (unlike so many mom-and-pop companies that tout their social media pages but don't actually post anything). Not only is it active, but it's fun! There are quizzes, pictures and--surprise!--you can actually talk and chat with the people behind the candy. 
Yes, the wholesalers have amazing candy gifts to offer your customers for Valentine's Day. But if you're looking for that impulse-purchase all year-round, then set some samples up near your cash register and watch the Annie B's fly off the shelf. 

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

San Francisco Salt Co.

My mom never used salt in her cooking when I was growing up. There's enough things added to our foods already, she would say. But, sure enough, as I became my own experimental chef in the comforts of my own kitchen, I quickly learned of the noticeable flavor enhancements that salt brings to the table. 
What I did not realize, however, is that there are different levels of salt. Until recently, my knowledge - and palate - was limited to the very modest wonders of Morton kosher salt. Just a pinch here and there from a big black carton; nothing frilly, nothing fancy, although I never realized I had a choice. 
Step in San Francisco Salt Co. Just the name alone makes me feel like an upscale chef catering to the culinary elite. The company sent me three samples to try out: Himalayan salt, French Grey and Sea Salt. While it's never even occurred to me to have more than one kind of salt on hand, now I wonder how I ever cooked without them. I also learned how professional chefs elicit the best flavor profile of every ingredient - it all depends on the salt! (Cue the fireworks)
Not only does each variety of salt I received offer its own taste and texture enhancements for any mundane dish, the jars themselves are beautiful and classy. Clear glass shakers allow the color differentiation of each salt to shine through, from pink to grey to pure white (the Black Hawaiian Salt was the first to catch my eye on the website, and it's sure to do the same for any customer walking down your aisle - you just can't look away once you've spotted it). The sleekness of the compass-like logo exudes a premium, high-end look, but the feel of the label itself is smooth and soft to the touch, gliding between my fingers, making me want to keep holding it in my hands once I pick it up. 
These are words I never thought I'd use to describe something as simple as salt, but the newly launched re-packaging makes me feel like an instant executive chef at my own restaurant. And I knew I was on to something when I checked out the website,, and saw the beautifully packaged jars included in a Gift Set of 3 for $34.99. Now that I can appreciate the finer points of salt and all its nuances, I can easily see myself gifting such a gift to friends who enjoy their time in the kitchen as much as I do. They may be somewhat puzzled at first, much like I was, but once you have a jar from San Francisco Salt Co. in your hands, it doesn't take long to become a salt snob. Soon enough, having any less than three different varieties of salt to choose from on a daily basis is simply unacceptable. (Proof of the salt snobbery)
The website, is an adventure in itself, with a Salt of the Earth blog that features every use of salt one could ever (or would ever) dare to think of. From exfoliation to soothing our bodies to curing flu symptoms, salt, as it turns out, is much more than just a spice, and every kind carries its own small miracle, whether it be taste, touch or feel. The possibilities - and the blog posts - are endless, so have a look for yourself. Although a salty company, these people are clearly passionate about what they do - go figure. Clearly, they are, indeed, "salt of the Earth" kind of folks.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

MariBelle New York chocolate

It doesn't happen often, but when it does, it's strong - the chocolate crave. I was yearning for some sweet goodness after my lunch break, and that's when my co-worker handed me a MarieBelle New York chocolate bar. 
"Gosh, Megan," I exhaled at once. "My birthday is not for two more months. Wanna save the gifts for then?" 
Megan--normally a caring, generous and selfless creature--made two things clear. First, it's not a gift. And second, she wants it back. 
I took one square of the luscious chocolate and complied with her demands, but not before thoroughly admiring its alluringly artistic packaging. A thick stock of pastel blue paper encases the chocolate bar like wrapping paper with images of a young boy sailing out to sea in a tea cup. His striped shirt and brimmed hat reminds me of an afternoon in Paris while seashells, starfish and anchors delicately adorn the outline of the pastel-blue sky. Below, a decorative whale swims in the wavy waters while the boy-sailer spots land just ahead. 
MarieBelle New York's Milk Chocolate and Sea Salt, reads the label in the center of the scene, noting the main ingredient is from Ecuador. As I gently opened the first colorful flap, as though opening a book of watercolors, I was greeted with the owner and founder: MarieBelle Lieberman, and her brief bio. Hailing from Honduras, she's a skilled chef, designer and chocolatier. As a child, she would sell her confections to the kids in her village. After attending the Parsons School of Design in New York, she opened a chocolate factory in Brooklyn. In 2012, Inc. Magazine named MarieBelle New York as one of “the fastest growing private companies in America,” and Oprah Winfrey gave accolades to her products in the highly coveted “Oprah’s Favorite Things.”  
Now the bar itself is just as impressive as its maker. I'm not usually a fan of milk chocolate, but this one is on the top of my list. The chocolate tastes of a mild, silky-smooth experience with subtle flakes of sea salt complementing the last moments of indulgence. It is made from the Cacao Trinitario, a cacao from Honduras. 
The packaging notes that Maribel Lieberman now works to empower women producing cacao, buying directly from the producers and giving them the opportunity to improve their living standards. Carrying a product like this in your stores doesn't only mean a beautiful piece of artwork for consumers to look at but also an opportunity to support women at all levels of the chocolate industry. 
Find more information at

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

FiggyPops Tart Cherry Fig Supersnacks

As the clock slowly ticked toward 3:27 p.m., I felt it it: the mid-day crash. Everyone knows it. Everyone dreads it. 
I started off the morning so energized, so motivated, so ready to tackle anything. The momentum was invigorating as I pushed one task after another off my to-do list. But somewhere around 3 p.m., I felt the energy begin to wane. My eyelids grew heavier the longer I stared at the computer screen, and my cognitive thinking process began to feel like hard physical labor. 
That's my cue, I thought. I reached for the bag of FiggyPops, an organic fruit and nut energy snack that was sent to me from the good people at Made in Nature. 
FiggyPops Tart Cherry Fig Supersnacks is the newest member of the Made in Nature family. The package boasts a burst of powerful energy-boosting ingredients that's packed into nutritious bite-size pieces. The best part is they are made with certified USDA organic, Non-GMO Project Verified ingredients and no refined sugar. That's important for today's consumers who are looking for a healthy but tasty alternative to the not-so-appetizing protein bar. 
About three pops is one serving, according to the 16-ounce package. That packs 4 grams of protein, 4 grams of fiber and 190 calories. Being bite-sized pieces, I doubted that three would hold me over for the 2 1/2 hours left of the workday (what seemed like an eternity). But, sure enough, by the time I bit into my third pop, I already felt my stomach sending the "full signal" to my brain. Not only was my tummy satisfied, but so were my taste buds. 
I'm a big fan of figs not only for their sweet taste but their powerful antioxidants. But these organic figs offer so much more: tart cherries, walnuts, cacao nibs and a splash of coconut. They are rolled together into soft, chewy fig balls that easily fit between your thumb and index finger, although I needed two bites to finish one pop. Tart cherries balance the sweet figs while the walnuts offer just a bit of crunch. 
According to the press release, FiggyPops Tart Cherry Fig Supersnacks provide enough fuel to supply snackers with a steady stream of energy that lasts until dinnertime. I can happily vouch for that claim, as I gradually felt my energy levels back on the rise within 15 minutes of my FiggPops snack. It carried me through to 5 p.m., and I was able to end my day just as strong as I started. 
As a consumer, I like the convenience of the pops, and I can see myself easily "popping" one in my mouth for a sweet energy burst before or after a workout. The packaging is also alluring with "FiggyPops" in big, bold red letters that practically jump out at you. Just above it sits the certified organic and Non-GMO labels, which prominently and proudly indicates the values of Made in Nature. Finally, the Ziplock bag easily reseals for moist, soft and delicious FiggyPops every day.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Popkoff's pelmeni

My husband is Russian. Actually, he’s from the former Soviet Union, hailing from what’s now called Ukraine. Since I met him, just a month out of college, his mother has been cooking us handmade, authentic pelmeni (pronounced pel-MEN-ee), Russian dumplings stuffed with flavorful minced meat. As tradition dictates, she serves them steaming hot with a slice of butter and a dollop of sour cream. It hits home every time—an Eastern European comfort food that rivals treasured American classics like Campbell’s chicken soup or grilled cheese sandwiches. It’s usually followed by a good heaping of cabbage-laden borscht, also adorned with a healthy dose of sour cream. By the end of the meal, you realize a sublime appreciation for the simple pleasures in life.
Popkoff's Frozen Foods offers authentic pelmeni and vareniki in 10-ounce packages.
Imagine my skepticism, then, when Popkoff’s Frozen Foods challenged me—and my husband—to test its pelmeni (similar to Italian tortellini) and vareniki (like a crescent-shaped ravioli) after being packed in dry ice and shipped from its facility in San Francisco to my office in Chicago. We were quick to rebuke the notion that a frozen pelmeni could even compare with Babushka’s, but we were willing to give it a try, of course.
After bringing them home for dinner, one thing was certainly obvious: They were fast and simple to cook. The frozen morsels only took five minutes until done, giving me barely enough time to get the cabbage salad ready. That’s a vast improvement on time since it takes my mother-in-law a tedious and grueling two or three hours just to get a few batches prepped for the week.
Once topped with the necessary garnishes, the moment of truth was upon us. Michael, my husband, was the true taste-tester here, as his Russian palate is more sophisticated than mine. And the verdict:
“For a frozen pelmeni, it’s pretty authentic.” That’s a direct quote from a very direct Russian, believe me. Ultimately, he gave it the “Michael stamp of approval,” although he refused to give me a comparison breakdown with his mom’s version. He did, however, discuss his reasoning.
For one, there is no funny aftertaste like with many frozen foods. I realized this to be due to its plethora of natural ingredients: non-GMO King Arthur Flour; Mary's Free Range Chicken, which is air-chilled and free from antibiotics and steroids; and Meyer Natural Angus Beef, also free from antibiotics and steroids. They’re also completely free of preservatives, artificial flavors or colors, soy or fillers.
The beef pelmeni is the most traditional, and Michael said Popkoff’s flavor profile is spot-on authentic. Again, no unfamiliar ingredients here: all-natural beef, wheat flour, water, onions, egg, sour cream, pepper, salt and sugar. In fact, Michael’s mother’s recipe is not far from it. The Popkoff Pelmeni are also available with chicken and farmer's cheese. The Vareniki are filled with either potato and onion or cabbage and carrot.
What we both noticed is that the hearty doughy shells didn’t break when I drained them from the pot, which is sometimes an issue with the homemade version. Traditionally, pelmeni and vareniki are boiled, sautéed with butter and then topped with dill, sage, rosemary or caramelized onions and a dollop of sour cream. But I was pleasantly surprised to read on about the many recipes in which pelmeni can star: Asian dumpling soup, Chinese chicken salad, Mexican sope and even creamy Italian pasta dishes. They can easily be added to any soup or salad, although I don’t think anything beats eating them plain with humble preparations.
"Not only do we pride ourselves on keeping these traditional recipes of Eastern Europe alive, but we have gone to great lengths to make them with only the best ingredients," says Popkoff's President Alex Meseonznik. To learn more about the 10-ounce packages of Popkoff’s Pelmeni and Vareniki, visit