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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, January 29, 2013

Editor's Choice: The Healthy Pantry Skillet Lasagna

I have a confession to make.  I'm not very good at cooking. Well, I am really good at making French Toast, and can put together a mean macaroni and cheese by following the directions on the back of the Kraft box.  But that is IT. I tend to stay in my comfort zone of things that can be easily boiled or put on top of my rotating frozen pizza cooker.

We recently had an article in last month's Fancy Food Magazine about one pot meal kits, and I was inspired by the idea of keeping things simple without sacrificing taste or quality. It seemed like a perfect way for me to get into cooking without the guesswork of finding the right spices and proportions. Eventually I hope to evolve some kind of competency at the finer details, but for now, one thing at a time. Throw stuff in pot + apply heat = eat.  I can handle that.

Enter the CookSimple line from The Healthy Pantry.  Being a huge fan of lasagna (and a huge fan of how delicious it looked in the photo), I grabbed the box and headed to the store to get the meager list of ingredients. All I needed was some turkey, cheese and diced tomatoes. That's it!  Three ingredients.  And I didn't have to do anything but pour them in a skillet. I was excited. As it cooked, I literally stood over it and said the same thing over and over again in my head: yup, this looks like it's gonna be good. In less than 30 minutes, I sat down to my feast and was not disappointed.

To make things even sweeter, CookSimple products use only all-natural ingredients. This means gluten-free items with no preservatives or artificial additives. CookSimple is certified by the Gluten-Free Certification Organization (GFCO) and is tested and approved by an independent lab to ensure compliance with all standard regulations.  Many of the ingredients are organic, and most of the products in CookSimple's line have no added sugars. The lean proteins are a great boost for an active guy like me, and the high fiber content left me feeling full and satisfied.

There are many other tasty sounding dishes in the CookSimple library, including Cranberry Wild Rice, Punjabi Curry, Tibetan Dal, White Bean Chili, Tamale Pie, and the one I'm heading for next, New Orleans Jambalaya. These authentic, globally-inspired dishes can serve an entire family, or a living garbage disposal such as myself for a few days (the leftovers are just as good heated up). You can find these all over the place, so pick one up and give it a try!

-Marc Kozak (

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Editor's Choice: Fire & Flavor Turkey Brine

I never knew what the big deal was with the whole brining the turkey craze. It seemed like a lot of sound and fury. When we were picking out our turkey this year, there was a lovely end cap right next to the birds full of these brining kits from Fire & Flavor. (I have used their products before with great results.) We are nothing if not adventurous chefs, so we got the kit and took it home with our enormous turkey (18 lbs!).

The brining kit comes with almost everything you need, not unlike the pickling kit. You have to add sugar and vinegar but it comes with the all important brining bag. Frankly, we don't own a plastic bag, beyond a garbage bag, that is big enough to put an 18 lb. turkey in. And the idea of putting my extremely expensive and important piece of turkey in a garbage bag is off-putting. The brining bag was great. It even zip locks!

A little bit about brining from the Fire & Flavor website, if you, like me, don't get what the fuss is about:
Brining is a process that greatly improves the moisture and flavor of lean meats. Brining actually 'unwinds' meat proteins using salt while marinades tenderize the meat by breaking down meat fibers with an acid. Marinades only add flavor to the meat it penetrates, which is typically just the surface and can often times be high in sugar. Brines, however, trap moisture and flavor in the entire protein, leaving you with tender, juicy and full-flavored end results, without significantly raising the sodium level.
So we carefully followed the instructions and brined the bird overnight. The next day we popped it out of the bag and following Alton Brown's turkey recipe, put it into the oven. It cooked fast! We were done early, but I am not sure if that was the brine or not. But the flavor! Wow, that was a flavorful turkey! Enormous as it was, every bit of it was tasty with rosemary and goodness. Our guests clambered for take home bags and we were able to oblige. The next day, it made amazing turkey tacos and Sunday was turkey salad on pumpernickel.

If you are not sure about brining, try it on a smaller, less important piece of meat with Fire & Flavor's Swine Brine or Chicken Brine. You will not be sorry.

-Elizabeth Dugan

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Editor's Choice: Byrd Cookie Company

On my recent trip to The Atlanta International Gift & Home Furnishings Market, a showroom visit gave me a chance to renew an acquaintance with a food favorite. As I walked through the Butler Group showroom, I came upon a wonderful sight. There before me were jars of a variety of cookies from the Byrd Cookie Company (

The cookies were always a special treat for me at the long lamented (by several of us) Chicago edition of the Fancy Food Show. Here they were, up from their native home in Savannah, GA. The showroom rep invited me to sample and after some deliberation, I selected the Key Lime Cooler. It was as delicious as I remembered. The crunch of the first bite leads into a cookie offering a fresh, rich flavor that's just tart enough. I remembered why it was one of my favorites. Truth be told, I could have stood there and sampled at least four or five more. But I had places to go and people to see.

Sometimes, however, the cookie gods smile on you.  Showroom owners Ed and Betty Butler were celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary and 25th year in business with a party in the space that evening. One of the takeaway gifts was a commemorative ornament filled with — you guessed it — Byrd’s cookies. Once the ornament's top was removed, it revealed a small bag of the Triple Chocolate cookie, a rich Dutch chocolate cookie loaded with dark chocolate chips and then sprinkled with cocoa powder. It’s a treat I have been enjoying since I returned back to the frozen North.

But Byrd’s are more than great cookies. The company is known for its assortment of artful tins. Besides seasonal, it offers tins with all kinds of themes, including Travel Postcard, Vintage Collection, Southern Scenes and Mad About Mod patterns cylinder shaped tins.

For retailers they would make great displays and gift ideas, as well as cookie sampling opportunities.


Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Editor's Choice: Holy Crap Cereal

If I don't have a bowl of cereal immediately after waking up, my day is ruined, and I'm immediately grouchy.  I'm starting to think it may be a result of some kind of mysterious scientific experiment performed on me by the collective mainstream cereal companies.  Enter stimulus of cereal: subject responds with happiness and frivolity. Continue introducing cereal for years. Enter french toast stimulus: subject is bewildered and disoriented. Permanently discontinue all stimuli that isn't cereal. Profit from resulting cereal sales over subject's lifetime.

Unlikely conspiracies aside, I have recently noticed that my daily routine of cereal has been rendering me increasingly sluggish and unfathomably hungry by 10:30 a.m. What should I do?  I can't stop having cereal or I could be attacked by secret cereal company agents. Thankfully, Holy Crap cereal has come to my rescue.

This gluten- and lactose-free cereal is jam-packed full of things that will keep you healthy and alert all day long. It's high in calcium and iron, and has more protein, lipids and dietary fiber than rice, barley, oats, wheat or corn. The secret ingredient is chia, an ancient grain used by the Tarahumara Indians, who happen to be the greatest long distance runners on the planet (and are a fascinating story in their own right - check out the book Born to Run and be amazed). As a runner myself, I'm not even exaggerating when I say that the day I had Holy Crap cereal, I found myself running with a little extra kick.

You might be thinking, "hold on, there is hardly any sugar, no marshmallows, and the word 'frosted' isn't written anywhere on the bag.  There's no way this tastes good." That line of thinking is the exact opposite of correct. I was completely surprised with how much I enjoyed the taste.  And you can mix it in with soy or hemp milk, or sprinkle it on yogurt, oatmeal or granola. It's really a super versatile item to have in your cabinets.

The convenient, resealable zip bag keeps the cereal fresh for several months if need be - not that there's a chance it'll stick around that long. If you're looking for a way to jump start your day in a delicious and healthy way, I'm recommending you look into getting a bag of Holy Crap cereal to try out.

-Marc Kozak (