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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, 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