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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, April 28, 2009

Editor's Choice: Blue Crab Bay

Late last week a huge box arrived at the office from Blue Crab Bay Co.'s Pamela Barefoot. Inside was an array of products, from her dip mix kits to her line of snack/peanut mixes. Whipping up a crab meat dip on the spot was just not an option last week, but we did pop open some of the snack mixes to give them a try. Today, Tuesday, a mere four work days later, we are down to three -- count'em three pieces of the Crab House Crunch. An addictive sweet-spicy combination, the Crab House Crunch is a traditional non-tooth-breaking peanut brittle cut up into roughly 1 in. by 1 in. squares and dusted with the company's proprietary Chesapeake Bay Seasoning, a spicy, savory blend that contrasts well with the brittle.

I wasn't sure what to think of them the first time I opened the canister -- usually I prefer my sweet things to be sweet and my spicy snacks to be spicy, but I also love trying new things. I popped a piece into my mouth with an open mind and really truly shocked my taste buds. A pleasant heat with savory undertones was the first thing I noticed, but as I chewed, the sweetness of the brittle balanced out and then finally replaced the heat, leaving me with a sweet, peanut-y finish. And a craving for the next piece.

While I enjoy eating the brittle just like I described it above, I've noticed that some of my product testers here at Talcott have their own techniques for enjoying the product. Mary, for example, teases her taste buds with a bit of heat by licking some of the seasoning off before enjoying the whole shebang. Ashley, on the other hand, likes to enjoy the spicy and the sweet separately and waits until the seasoning has dissolved in her mouth before crunching into the brittle.

However you prefer enjoy the Blue Crab Bay Co. Crab House Crunch, the one thing that's clear is that you'd better do it quickly -- before it's gone!


Monday, April 27, 2009

Artfully crafting wine -- in 28 days? (Part 1)

A couple of weeks ago I took my first tentative step into the realm of home brewing. Not because I wanted to become a master craftswoman, wowing my friends with my own homemade beer like my coworker, Chef magazine's managing editor Lacey. No, I began this kitchen chemistry experiment because I was told that I could craft my very own wine in 28 days. Now do I have your attention?

The story begins at the International Home & Housewares Show, which took place last month. Anyone who has ever exhibited at a food show will know that twilight time toward the end of the show day when exhibitors begin to circulate through the booths with their samples, meeting and greeting other exhibitors and trying to get rid of extra samples. There had been a press kit from Artful Winemaker waiting at the booth earlier for me that day, so when their representative came around with samples of their wine, I began to chat with her about the Artful Winemaker Personal Winemaking System, which turns grape concentrate into wine in four weeks. Intrigued, I followed her back to her booth to check it out. I have to be honest, I was skeptical of the whole thing. I've had the privilege of attending industry wine tastings and have experienced the difference of two, three and four years of oak aging, so I wasn't quite sure what to expect from a wine that you can make in your kitchen in 28 days!

As Laura walked me through the steps and showed me the system, I sipped from a sample of the Cabernet/Shiraz blend. Wow! This was nothing like the Boone's Farm-esque, overly sweet, unsophisticated taste I was half-expecting. The wine I sampled was a wine I would be happy to serve to my friends at a dinner party or to give as a gift. Not to mention that being able to craft one's own wine was a cool concept to begin with. I was totally hooked and when they asked me if I'd like to try a kit for myself, how could I refuse? I wanted to see for myself how "easy" it was to craft my own wine.

A couple weeks after the show, a large box showed up at my door. Inside I found everything I would need for my first batch (12 bottles) of Chardonnay, from bottles and stoppers to labels, wine concentrate and the Personal Winemaking System (or PWS) itself. I pulled out the instructional DVD, featuring James Beard award-winner David Michael Cane of A Matter of Taste, and popped it in. He made it seem simple enough; I was ready to get started.

The first (and definitely least fun) thing I had to do was clean and sanitize. Before I did anything else, I washed all of my pieces in warm soapy water (though now that I look back, I don't see that step in the instructions, but then, why would you not?). Unfortunately this was rather difficult -- big pieces that hold lots of water and a small sink are a bad combination for someone who is as uncoordinated as I am. By the time I was done, not only did I have twin lakes in the kitchen (one on the counter top and one on the floor) but I was also soaked from head to foot. I think it will be easier next time; maneuvering the pieces requires a bit of finesse.

After attaching the thermometer (wine must stay between 65-80 degrees during the process) and the spigot, it was time to sterilize my PWS with the mix provided. This was marginally more successful than trying to hand-wash the whole system, but making sure the cleaning liquid hit every surface inside the PWS required something a bit more vigorous than the "swishing" called for in the instructions. (Keep in mind, the PWS is huge -- large enough to provide 12 bottles of wine -- so this process was also a bit awkward for someone who is 5'2.) Once I'd finished my dance with the PWS and drained it, it was finally time to make some wine!

My Chardonnay juice/concentrate looked thick and syrupy and smelled sweet and fruity and very little like the wine I was hoping to end up with. I added the juice, water and my oak sachet (which got its own little warm steep-bath before I dropped it in) to the PWS. The only thing left to do after that was mix in the primary clarifier and sprinkle the yeast gently on surface of the liquid. I closed the whole thing up with its airtight lid, checked the water level in my air lock and stepped back to admire my handiwork.

Then I stepped back up close because the yeast was already doing some pretty cool things on the surface of my concoction! Small bubbles were skimming across the surface and a lovely yeasty smell was escaping as bubbles through the air lock -- success! For the next 14 days all there was to do was watch and wait (and occasionally put water back into the air lock).
Check back in (or subscribe to our email or RSS feed) to follow the Artful Winemaker's progress!

For more information on the Artful Winemaker, try their website:

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Editor's Choice: Paladini Seafood Sauces

Several months ago, Achille Paladini of the Paladini Seafood Sauces Company sent samples of his Cioppino and Pasta Sauce to the office, and I took a jar home. My wife and I were so impressed that I ordered a whole case from the company (at full retail!). Why? What made this a standout in my opinion?

First off, it is not thin and watery like many other sauces, and thick is a winner on my plate, especially with pasta. The seasonings are there—tomato, basil, oregano and more—blended to a delicious harmony that gives the sauce a lot of flavor. There are some chili flakes in there as well, which gives a little tang to the sauce, but doesn't make it "hot."

Another aspect of the sauce that I liked is its versatility. We used it first as a spaghetti sauce, but then used it over baked chicken, and again over baked fish. The sauce really adds a lot to plain fish or chicken, and not only in flavor but also in presentation. Creative cooks can have a field day with this sauce, using it in lasagna, eggplant dishes, and of course with a wide variety of pastas.

Check out their website for other products and a few recipes;

-John Saxtan, editorial director

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Editor's Choice: Nonni's Food Company

Now it has already been established that most of the Fancy Food staff has a bit of an issue with mornings. We've talked about our favorite hot cocoas, teas and beverage accessories, but liquid breakfasts do not a happy editor make. That's why I was happily surprised when samples of Nonni's Food Company's new Soft Baked Tusconi showed up at our office. Flavors include Classico (almond and praline, topped with toasted almonds), Cioccolato (almond with chocolate morsels, topped with shaved almonds and ribbons of gourmet dark chocolate), Double Cioccolato (a chocolate treat with chocolate morsels topped with shaved almonds and ribbons of gourmet dark chocolate) and my personal favorite, Raspberry Cioccolato (raspberries with chocolate morsels, topped with ribbons of gourmet dark chocolate). These little Tusconi are a softer alternative to notoriously crunchy biscotti, and are the perfect morning accompaniment to my favorite warm beverage -- whether that be coffee, tea or hot chocolate.

Everybody loves a little treat in the morning, so even when there's no time to mess around in the kitchen, these individually wrapped pieces are ready to go.

The products are still pretty new and should be out early this month. Visit for more information.


Thursday, April 9, 2009

Pistachios - Salmonella Update

Reposted, verbatim, from a announcement made by the National Confectioners Association:

Earlier this week, Setton Pistachio announced that it is expanding its recall to include all lots of roasted in-shell pistachios, roasted shelled pistachios, and raw shelled pistachios from the 2008 crop (unless they are subsequently roasted prior to retail sale). Here is a link to the press release of the expanded recall:

This comes in response to FDA finding Salmonella bacteria in "critical areas" of the Setton plant in California, as well as practices that could have resulted in cross-contamination between raw and roasted product.

FDA is advising industry not to sell or serve any pistachios or pistachio-containing products until they can determine their source. If the source is Setton, the products are subject to the recall.

If a confectioner can confirm that its pistachios were not supplied by Setton, it may wish to request listing on This website, sponsored by CAL-PURE and the Western Pistachio Association, lists firms that informed the sponsors that their products do not contain pistachios from Setton. FDA has a link to this website on its own website, but FDA states that it has not verified the information on the website. FDA's webpage on the recall can be found at:

While FDA initially advised consumers to avoid pistachio products altogether, the agency is now advising the public not to eat pistachio products unless they can determine that products do not contain nuts from Setton Pistachio of Terra Bella, Inc.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Editor's Choice: Aladdin

From the looks of Ashley's last Editor's Choice and previous Editor's Choice postings on tea and hot chocolate, one might begin to suspect that we like a good hot beverage around here. It could be the frigid temperature of our office in the afternoons (I'm wearing a scarf as I write this), but more likely I think the former is a bit more on the mark. High quality coffee, tea and hot chocolate are not a topic lost on the editors of Fancy Food, and high quality beverages are nothing less than deserving of a quality, chic ride to the office. I'll admit, not all of my travel mugs are what I would call chic, but that's why I liked Aladdin's new Artist Series when I saw it at the International Home & Housewares Show last month.

The collection features the work of six emerging artists from around the world in the form of an insulated travel mug and matching microwave-safe, 20-oz. insulated bowl. Shown at the top of this blog post is art by Portland, Oregon-native Amy Ruppel. Other artists in the collection hail from Barcelona, England and Tokyo. Each artist brings a different mood and personality to his or her creation, so the pieces have an individuality most lunch containers and coffee mugs just can't offer. In addition to being beautiful, the pieces are also quite functional. The coffee mug is dishwasher safe (YES!!!) and car-cup friendly while the bowl is microwave- and dishwasher-safe with a cool-touch exterior and an easy-grip twist-on lid. The collection should be available this spring, and I may just have to order a set myself!

You can see what else Aladdin's got by visiting


Wednesday, April 1, 2009

April Top Shelf Advice

How do you use social media to enhance your business?