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TOP PICKS OF THE WEEK: Muuna Cottage Cheese, Oui Yogurt & More

Muuna Strawberry Cottage Cheese
[1] Muuna’s cottage cheese cups with fruit on the bottom come in 6 fruit flavors (photo courtesy Muuna).

Oui By Yoplait - Strawberry
Yoplait’s new French-style yogurt line will have you saying “Oui!” (photo courtesy Oui By Yoplait).

Reuse-a-Pop

[3] Reuse-A-Pop is a mess-free opportunity for you to make your favorite flavor push-up ice pops (photo courtesy Russbe).

 

1. MUUNA COTTAGE CHEESE WITH FRUIT

We were probably the last person in New York to buy Breakstone Pineapple Cottage Cheese before they discontinued it. It was the Ascension Of Yogurt Era, and grocers eliminated slower-moving SKUs to give the space to the hot ones.

Now, a new brand called Muuna is offering all the fruited cottage cheese our heart desires (photo #1). The line is lowfat and creamy, with the fruit on the bottom that you mix up, like a carton of sundae-style yogurt.

It’s also rich in protein: 15g of protein per 5.3-ounce cup.

The fruit is not the typical preserves at the bottom of of the cup but actual chopped fruit, in your choice of:

  • Blueberry
  • Mango
  • Peach
  • Pineapple
  • Strawberry
  •  
    There are also two plain options: 2% and 4% milkfat.

    The line is all natural, non-GMO, rBST-free and certified kosher by cRc.

    Welcome back, pineapple cottage cheese—and hello to you other flavors. You’re our Top Pick Of The Week.
    ________________

    *See the different types of yogurt.
     
     
    2. OUI BY YOPLAIT YOGURT

    Our co-Top Pick is the new Oui by Yoplait line of yogurt (photo #2). It’s different from every other container of Yoplait you’ve had.

    Eating yogurt from the perky glass jar, you could imagine you’re in France. The jar (repurposeable or recyclable) makes you look cool and in-the-know. And the yogurt does not disappoint.

    The company calls it saveur d’autrefois, the taste of yesteryear.

    Yoplait’s foray into premium, French-style yogurt (also called custard-style and Swiss-style) is on point, hitting the trending consumer checklist for all natural, non-GMO and reduced sugar products. The eight flavors include:

  • Black Cherry
  • Blueberry
  • Coconut
  • Lemon
  • Peach
  • Plain
  • Strawberry
  • Vanilla
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    A final endorsement comes from the secretary of our building, with whom we shared our samples. She is a native of Greece who eats Greek yogurt every day. Her feedback: “Outstanding!”

    The line is certified kosher (dairy) by OK.
     
     
    3. RUSSBE REUSE-A-POP BAGS

    Russbe creates reusable lunch containers, but that’s not a product we have need for.

    What we do need, and love, are the Reuse-A-Pops bags for creating homemade frozen juice pops, puréed fruit, yogurt, and other frozen pops.

    The push-up bags (photo #3) with zipper seals ensures no messy leaks or spills. Freeze, enjoy, wash, reuse. At $6.99 for 12, you can’t go wrong.

    We just enjoyed our first batch: watermelon (from watermelon juice), cantaloupe (from puréed melon) and yogurt-garlic-dill (who says ice pops have to be sweet?). Yum!

     

    4. DI GIORNO CRISPY PAN PIZZA

    We live in a neighborhood where crisp, thin-crust pizza is what grown-ups eat. When people order from Pizza Hut, it’s for the kids.

    We have a reputation to uphold, and hesitate to be seen carrying a deep-dish pizza into the building, no matter how much we need that specific comfort food.

    But there’s a solution for our cravings: DiGiorno Crispy Pan Pizza, a frozen pizza from the supermarket in its own pan.

    The one-inch-plus-deep crispy crust pie, with extra cheese and plenty of toppings, comes in four flavors:

  • Pepperoni
  • Four Cheese
  • Supreme
  • Three Meat
  •  
    We like everything on our pie (or as much of it as we can get). We went for the Supreme: pepperoni, sausage, green and red peppers and black olives.

     

    DiGiorno Crispy Pan Pizza

    [3] Pan pizza in four flavors stays in the freezer. Twelve minutes in the oven delivers steaming, aromatic comfort food (photo courtesy DiGiorno).

     
    In just 12 minutes we pulled the pie—a crunchy outside and a soft inside— fragrant and bubbling from the oven.

    Now, we just have to clear out the freezer to make room for more DiGiorno boxes.

      

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    PRODUCTS: Five More Favorite Foods & Beverages

    Another roundup of some recently discovered “favorites,” in alphabetical order.

    1. BAI BUBBLES

    Bai became a hot brand with its Bai 5 line of five-calorie drinks in great-tasting fruit flavors.

    Now, the brand has a carbonated line, Bai Bubbles: a “sparkling antioxidant infusion” in 11.5-ounce cans.

    We’re not inveterate soda drinkers, but Bai Bubbles achieves a middle ground between unsweetened flavored club soda and sweet diet soda.

    Like the original Bai 5, each can has 5 calories and 1 gram of sugar, with the majority of its sweetness coming from calorie-free stevia, a naturally sweetener.

    Everyone will have his or her favorites in this refreshing line, which has 10 flavors: Apple Pear, Blackberry Lime, Black Cherry, Blood Orange, Coconut Lime, Guava, Limón, Pineapple, Pink Grapefruit and Watermelon Lime.

    Bai Bubbles is available at Walmart and other retailers nationwide. The line is certified kosher by OU.

    Learn more at DrinkBai.com.
     
     
    2. COOKIE CHIPS: CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES

    We love Cookie Chips. They’re very thin and crunchy, very tasty, nicely buttery and rather small, so you can have a few without much guilt (5 cookies have 120 calories).

    Flavors include Chocolate Chip, Cinnamon Sugar, Coconut White Chocolate, Dark Chocolate Chip, Original (a buttery sugar cookie), Peanut Butter and Sea Salted Caramel; plus Gluten Free Chocolate Chip and Gluten Free Lemon Sugar.

    They’re available in 6-ounce bags and 1.5-ounce single serve packages. The latter are a good strategy, as we’re tempted to eat half the 6-ounce bag.

    The line is certified kosher by Kosher LA. Discover more at CookieChips.com.
     
     
    3. LANCE SANDWICH CRACKERS: POWER BREAK

    Lance makes dozens of different sandwich crackers, most variations of peanut butter and cheese.

    In a new direction, Lance has just launched Lance Power Break: granola crackers sandwiched with peanut butter or peanut butter and chocolate. They call it “a pumped up snack that gives you energy…

    Power Break is the first sandwich cracker with double-digit protein (12 grams), B vitamins and 13 grams of whole grain to keep you going.”

    We can’t vouch for the science, but they sure taste great. Load up for grab-and-go snacks.

    The line is certified kosher by OU. See more at Lance.com.

       

    Bai Bubbles

    Cookie Chips Chocolate Chip

    Lance Power Break

    New favorites: [1] Bai Bubbles, [2] Cookie Chips and [3] Lance Power Break granola sandwich crackers (photos courtesy their respective manufacturers).

     

    Polar Diet Double Fudge

    Snyders Wholey Cheese

    [4] Polar Beverage’s very chocolatey Double Fudge Diet Soda. [5] Wholey Cheese! gluten-free cheese crackers (photos are courtesy their respective manufacturers).

     

    POLAR BEVERAGES: DOUBLE FUDGE DIET SODA

    One of our readers turned us on to this zero-calorie chocolate fudge soda. Wowsa, is it good!

    We have long enjoyed the delicious flavored seltzers of the brand: The company does a great job with flavors and zero calories.

    But we only recently received the 411 on the diet sodas. We promptly went out and bought a bottle of Double Fudge Diet Soda…and then went out and bought two cases.

  • Drink it straight.
  • Make a diet ice cream soda.
  • Add milk for an egg cream.
  •  
    The line is certified kosher by Diamond K. Find out more at PolarBev.com.
     
     
    SNYDER’S OF HANOVER: WHOLEY CHEESE!

    We’re big fans of Snyder’s of Hanover pretzels: so many styles from traditional to braided, chocolate-dipped, flavored pieces, sourdough and gluten-free.

    The company recently launched round pretzel sandwiches in Brick Oven Style Pizza, Cheddar Cheese and Hummus.

    But our favorite of the new products is Wholey Cheese!: crispy, baked cheese crackers with amusing Swiss cheese-type holes (or should that be wholes?).

    The line is all natural and gluten-free, in three flavors: Mild Cheddar, Smoked Gouda and Swiss & Black Pepper. The company says they have 28% less fat than the leading brand of cheese crackers

    Like the pretzels, Wholey Cheese! crackers are great with a soda or beer, or just by themselves. Try them as salad croutons, too.

    The line is certified kosher by OU. Head to SnydersOfHanover.com to see the entire collection.

    Did You Know: The same company that makes Snyder’s Pretzels also makes Lance Sandwich Crackers, Pop-Secret Popcorn and Kettle Chips: all great brands!

     

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: How To Fix Runny Fruit Pies

    Fruit pies are one of the joys of summer. But once you cut into your beautiful pie, the juice and fruit can spill out of the crust and into the space of the piece of pie you’ve just removed.

    Unhappily called a lava flow, pan puddle or slump—or simply runny pie—you can eliminate it through experimentation with types and amounts of thickeners.

    You want your pie filling to hold its shape. Where do you begin? Here’s a detailed matrix from P.J. Hamel of King Arthur Flour, who advises that every recipe needs testing until it meets your satisfaction. There is no one perfect solution.

    Why? Each fruit has a different amount of pectin, a natural thickener. Each type of added thickener has a different thickening power, based on the percentage of starch it contains.

    For this reason, recipes from reliable sources use a specific type and amount of thickener for a specific type of fruit. Don’t substitute either the fruit or the thickener and expect optimal results.

    For example:

  • Apples contain a lot of pectin, a natural thickener. Although they release juice when cooked, they are not nearly as juicy as stone fruit or berries.
  • Stone fruits have less pectin than apples, but more than berries. They need an in-between amount of thickener.
  • Berries are the juiciest, and need the most thickener. Frozen berries release even more liquid, and require more thickener.
  • Blueberries have the most pectin of the berry group. They need a bit little less thickener than other berries.
  • Fresh cherries need less thickener than canned or frozen cherries.
  •  
    That being said, we’re just talking runniness. Even a runny pie will still taste good.

    FRUIT PIE THICKENERS

    Pie thickeners prevent the valuable juices from running out when the pie is sliced.

    The following thickeners are listed in order from least thickening agent, with the least amount of starch, to the strongest, starchiest thickener. (The thickening power is known as gel strength among professionals.)

  • All-purpose flour. The standby for generations past, flour produces a somewhat cloudy filling. Plus, you need to use more of it than you would higher-starch thickeners.
  • Quick-cooking/instant tapioca. makes filling bright and clear, but also gives it a stippled (and for some, “gluey”) texture. Filling mixed with tapioca needs to rest 15 to 30 minutes before baking, for the tapioca to soften.
  • Instant ClearJel is a product available from King Arthur Flour, that keeps fillings thick through a broad range of temperatures. This makes it ideal for pies that will be frozen, either before or after baking.
  • Pie Filling Enhancer, another product available from King Arthur Flour, thickens fruit pie fillings the same way Instant ClearJel does. Its advantage is added ascorbic acid (a flavor enhancer), and superfine sugar, which prevents it from clumping. Pie Filling Enhancer is about half sugar; so you’ll want to reduce the sugar in your recipe as directed below. It’s OU kosher.
  •  

    Blackberry Pie

    ClearJel Pie Thickener

    Pie Gate - Pie Sealer

    [1] A blackberry pie, properly thickened, holds its shape. Here’s the recipe from The Baker Chick. [2] A great thickener for frozen pies: Instant ClearJel (photo courtesy King Arthur Flour). [3] Another solution: a pie sealer or pie gate (photo courtesy Progressive International).

  • Cornstarch, like flour, gives a cloudy, semi-transparent look to filling. It can also give filling a chalky or floury taste. When using cornstarch, make sure the pie filling is bubbling up through the crust before removing your pie from the oven.
  •  
    A note: Our mom used cornstarch in her renowned apple and blueberry pies. No one ever noticed any cloudiness, and her pies were always in demand.

    MORE TIPS TO THICKEN THE JUICES

  • Reduce the juice. After you sugar the berries, let them sit for 20 minutes or so, until juice starts to collect in the bottom of the bowl. Drain the juice into a pan, reduce it, and add it back to the berries.
  • Use a top crust with openings, such as lattice (photo #1) or cut-outs (photo #3). These allow some of the moisture in the juice to evaporate, thickening the filling. When baking a lattice or open-top pie, reduce the thickener by 1/4 teaspoon per cup of filling.
  • Golden crust and bubbling fruit does not mean the pie is finished. It may still need another 5 to 10 minutes to fully activate the thickener. This is especially true if flour or cornstarch are used.
  • Some fruit fillings will continue to thicken for 24 hours after baking. Instant ClearJel will increase the thickeners by about 15% from day 1 to day 2; quick-cooking tapioca and Pie Filling Enhancer, about 30%. Fillings thickened with flour or cornstarch will not thicken further.
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    TIP OF THE DAY: National Hummus Day: Try A New Brand!

    Hope Black Garlic Hummus

    Salad-Topped Hummus

    Chocolate Hummus

    [1] Black Garlic, one of 11 delicious flavors of Hope Hummus (photo courtesy Hope Foods). [2] One of our favorite ways to serve hummus: topped with salad ingredients and, as a lunch dish, with a hard-boied egg (photo courtesy Shayla | NOLA). [3] Woo hoo, chocolate hummus (photo courtesy Hope Foods).

     

    May 13th is International Hummus Day.

    Over the last two decades, hummus has evolved from a mezze at Mediterranean restaurants to the hottest, most nutritious dip and spread at supermarkets nationwide. It’s the darling of nutritionists, nutritious and versatile, and a better-for-you snack.

    Hummus is Arabic for chickpea. The more long-form name for what we refer to as hummus is hummus bi tahina, chickpeas with tahini. Tahini is a paste made of toasted, hulled sesame seeds, which can been joyed as a dip on its own.

    The recipe for hummus is simple: chickpeas, tahini and seasonings (including garlic), mashed and puréed*.

    THE HUMMUS RENAISSANCE

    Two decades ago, the hummus available in the U.S. was the classic: plain. If you didn’t order it at a restaurant or live near a neighborhood with an international market that carried it, you made your own the recipe is easy, once you found a store with tahini).

    But since the hummus renaissance, stores have been sagging under the weight of so many brands and so many flavors. We’ve counted more than two dozen flavors among different brands. Our personal favorites: horseradish and black olive, which we found at Trader Joe’s.

    But, we like everything. So we were very pleased to receive samples of a new brand from Hope Foods. If you head to the website now, you can enter to win a year’s supply of hummus.

    HOPE FOODS ORGANIC HUMMUS

    There are 11 flavors of hummus. We tried three of them, all especially delicious.

    First, the consistency is wonderful, like well-mashed homemade hummus.

    While we enjoy the ultra-smooth texture of big brands like Tribe, we welcome the return of toothsome texture, like Grandma used to make (if your grandma’s ancestry was in the eastern Mediterranean).

    Second, the flavor selection is a bit more interesting, with black garlic, Thai coconut curry, and spicy avocado hummus (the most popular flavor).

    The line is preservative free, certified Gluten-Free, Non-GMO Certified, OU kosher and USDA Organic. There’s a store locator on the website.

    HOPE HUMMUS FLAVORS

    Currently, the line of hummus includes:

  • Black Garlic Hummus
  • Jalapeño Cilantro Hummus
  • Kale Pesto Hummus
  • Lemon Peppercorn Hummus
  • Original Recipe Hummus (nice and peppery)
  • Red Pepper Hummus
  • Spicy Avocado Hummus
  • Sriracha Hummus
  • Thai Coconut Curry Hummus
  • Plus, Dessert Hummus

  • Dark Chocolate Hummus
  • Dark Chocolate Coconut Hummus
  •  
    While we haven’t had Hope’s chocolate hummus, we have had other brands: Thumbs up!

    The company also makes guacamole, which we have not yet tried.

    “Spread” the word!
    ________________

    *Some brands also add olive oil.

     

    THE HISTORY OF HUMMUS

    Chickpeas, sesame, lemon, and garlic have been eaten in the Levant† for millennia. Though widely consumed, chickpeas were cooked in stews and other hot dishes. Puréed chickpeas eaten cold with tahini do not appear before the Abbasid period (750 to 1517 C.E.) in Egypt and the Levant.

    The earliest known recipes for a dish similar to hummus bi tahina are in 13th-century cookbooks from Cairo.

    Some food historians believe it appeared a century earlier, prepared by Saladin, the first sultan of the Ayyubid dynasty (1174–1193); and if so, it was more likely created by a cook in his kitchen, the idea of the warlord Saladin-as-cook being tough to swallow.

    Recipes for cold purée of chickpeas without tahini, but with vinegar, oil, pickled lemons, herbs, spices (but no garlic), appear in medieval cookbooks; as do recipes with nuts vinegar (though not lemon), but it also contains many spices, herbs, and nuts. [source]

    Whomever and however, we’re grateful that it came to be part of our [almost] daily diet,

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    †The Levant is an English term that first appeared in 1497. It originally referred to the “Mediterranean lands east of Italy.” The historical area comprises modern-day Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine and Syria. Among other popular foods, Levantine cuisine gave birth to baklava, balafel, kebabs, mezze (including tabbouleh, hummus and baba ghanoush), pita and za’atar, among other dishes that are enjoyed in the U.S. and around the world.
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    WHAT IS/ARE MEZZE?

    Mezze (MEH-zay) or meze is the singular form for a number of small dishes served in the Middle East to accompany drinks (add an “s” for the plural form in English). In some countries, an assorted mezze plate is served as an appetizer.

    Each country has its favorites. The ones most often found in the U.S. are:

     

    Mezze Platter

    Hummus Platter

    [4] A mezze plate in California: babaganoush, feta, hummus, olives, pita and a local touch, pickled carrots (photo courtesy Good Eggs). [5] Hummus itself is gluten-free, but not the pita. This gluten-free hummus plate from Glutino Foods offers other options.

  • Babaghanoush, mashed eggplant mixed with seasonings.
  • Dolmades can take many forms. In the U.S., they’re usually Greek-style: grape leaves stuffed with rice, chopped mint and lemon juice (these are also called sarma). In some countries, eggplants, peppers and zucchini are stuffed, often with the same ingredients plus minced lamb.
  • Falafel, a deep-fried ball or patty made from ground chickpeas, fava beans, or both.
  • Fattoush – salad made from several garden vegetables and toasted or fried pieces of pita bread.
  • Feta cheese or other local cheese.
  • Halloumi cheese, sliced and grilled.
  • Hummus, a dip or spread made from cooked, mashed chickpeas.
  • Kibbeh, a mixture of bulghur, minced onions, finely chopped meat, and spices. Depending on the region, it is shaped into balls or patties and fried, baked, cooked in broth, or served raw (tartare).
  • Souvlaki, bite-sized lamb cubes, grilled on a skewer.
  • Labneh, strained yogurt that is more tart, like sour cream.
  • Tabbouleh, bulgur wheat, finely chopped parsley, mint, tomato, green onion, with lemon juice, olive oil and seasonings.
  • Taramasalata, a carp roe dip based whipped with lemon juice and olive oil. Sometimes, mashed potatoes or bread are added to stretch the recipe. We buy the Krinos brand, which does not add fillers.
  • Tzatziki, a dip made from plain yogurt, chopped cucumber with finely chopped garlic and mint leaf.
  • Yogurt.
  •  
    They are typically served along with Greek-style olives and pita, or other flatbread.

    MORE HUMMUS

  • Beyond Dipping: More Ways To enjoy Hummus
  • Black Garlic Hummus Recipe
  • Carrot Hummus Recipe
  • Hummus Sushi
  • Make Your Signature Hummus
  • Rancho Gordo Hummus Recipe
  • Turn Plain Hummus Into Flavored Hummus
  • 20 Ways To Make A Hummus Sandwich
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    PRODUCT: Good Zebra Gourmet Animal Crackers

    Good Zebra Animal Crackers

    Good Zebra Animal Crackers

    Spirit animals await you, in chai, lemon and vanilla. Photos courtesy Good Zebra.

     

    Good Zebra calls their animal crackers “spirit animal crackers.” That’s because their four varieties represent different spirit animals.

    You can take the quiz to find your spirit animal—a totem representing you in the animal kingdom.

    A totem is a spirit being, sacred object, or symbol of a tribe, clan, family or individual.

    Native American tradition provides that each individual is connected with nine different animals that will accompany each person through life, acting as guides.

    Cultures around the world consider their spirit animal to be an otherworldly guide, who appears during difficult times to offer love, healing and/or support.

    It generally takes the form of an animal with which a person (or a clan) shares a certain set of characteristics, and thus a kinship.

    The animal acts as a guide and protector for humans. In death, the humans’ spirits are absorbed into the animal. (Here’s more from The Atlantic.)

    You don’t have to pursue your spirit animal in order to enjoy Good Zebra animal crackers, however.

    We call Good Zebra gourmet animal crackers, because the sophisticated flavors taste so good—in chai, lemon and vanilla.

    There are 11 different animal shapes*, inspired by original tattoo art, “each with a soul-touching message to enlighten, uplift and empower,” according to the producers.

     

    Each 2-ounce resealable bag contains approximately 20 animal crackers, delivering 12 grams of protein.

    The crackers are all natural, nothing processed or refined (they’re sweetened with honey and coconut sugar). Made with 70% organic ingredients, they’re certified kosher by OU.

    You can buy 12 packages for $28 or four packages for $17.

    Get yours at Good-Zebra.com.

    If you’d prefer to bake your own animal crackers, here’s a recipe.

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    *We identified a butterfly, deer, fox, grizzly bear, kestrel, owl, peacock, turtle, unicorn, wolf, and of course, zebra. There is a Native American zodiac with additional animal symbols.

     
      

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