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THE NIBBLE’s Gourmet News & Views

Trends, Products & Items Of Note In The World Of Specialty Foods

This is the blog section of THE NIBBLE. Read all of our content on,
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Archive for Top Pick Of The Week

TOP PICK OF THE WEEK: Blue Isle Mediterranean Yogurt Spread

Following on the heels of the burgeoning Greek yogurt market, ready-to-eat yogurt dips and spreads are finally raising their hands.

While some people like to putter over dips and spreads, making their favorite recipe or seeing what new flavors they can add to cream cheese, Greek yogurt or sour cream, others like to grab and something already made. We belong to both groups, depending on how hungry we are at the moment.

For the latter group, Blue Isle Mediterranean Yogurt Spreads will be welcome. The product’s stated goal is “to raise the bar in the retail cream cheese category with superior flavors, functionality and nutrition.”

The brand differentiates itself by promoting its healthy probiotics (or “good bacteria”) and their calcium-rich yogurt spreads as “the new cream cheese.”

It is spreadable, like cream cheese. It’s also dippable.

Compared to the leading cream cheese (that’s you, Philadelphia), Blue Isle has nearly 40% fewer calories and fat, with only 60 calories and 6g of fat per two-tablespoon serving. Like Philadelphia, it is certified kosher by OU. The company says that Blue Isle contains 180% less sodium per serving than the leading cream cheese. Who knew cream cheese was salty?

Blue Isle is available in savory and sweet flavors:

  • Blueberry
  • French Onion
  • Honey
  • Original
  • Spicy Vegetable


    The new spread in town, made from probiotic Greek yogurt. Photo courtesy Karoun Dairies.


    In its debut year, Blue Isle Original won the 1st Place award from the American Cheese Society in the Labneh, Greek Style Yogurt, and Other Strained Yogurt Products category. It is made by family-owned Karoun Dairies.



    While developed as a spread, Blue Isle is easily dippable. Photo courtesy Karoun Dairies.


    We enjoyed all of the flavors, alternately spreading them on bagels and using them to dip crudités. The sweet and savory flavors—a opposed to the plain Original—were equally beguiling. We look forward to experimenting with canapés and dessert canapes (using our Stackable Appetizer Maker device, loaf cakes with Honey Blue Isle and raspberry jam were a good start).

    Made from rBST-free California milk, you can:

  • Spread it on bagels, flatbread and toast
  • Blend it into deviled eggs and mashed potatoes
  • Thicken or garnish soup
  • Use it as a sandwich condiment

    The line is available at better supermarkets and natural food stores nationwide (partial list: Central Market, Fiesta Mart, Fred Meyer, The Fresh Market, Harmon’s, H-E-B, Jon’s Marketplace, Lucky’s, Mollie Stones, New Seasons, QFC, Strack and Van Til).

    The suggested retail price is $3.29 for an 8-ounce tub.

    Discover more at




    TIP OF THE DAY: Share A Favorite Gadget

    For an inexpensive holiday gift or stocking stuffer, give one of your favorite kitchen gadgets—one that most people probably don’t have, but you wouldn’t want to be without.

    Last year for us it was a serrated peeler, two years ago a mushroom brush.

    But this year, it’s going to be a Wavy Knife from Crisp Cooking. Just by slicing in a normal fashion, it provides a decorative side to fruits and vegetables, whether cooked (including fries) or for crudités and salads.

    We have an old-fashioned crinkle cutter, but the wavy knife is an improvement, easier to use and potentially safer.

    The ergonomic handle provides a sure, comfortable grip and better cutting control. The offset blade provides plenty of “knuckle room” while cutting.

    At $12.99, it’s pricier than the peeler or mushroom brush, but it’s also a more substantial gift.


    This year’s gift to everyone old enough to cook: a Wavy Knife. Photo courtesy


    Check it out at



    TOP PICK OF THE WEEK: Peanut Hottie


    Wowsa: this hot peanut butter drink is
    terrific! Photo courtesy Peanut Hottie.


    It’s true: We’ve gone nuts over Peanut Hottie, the most innovative beverage we’ve seen in a long time and the first-ever hot peanut butter drink. Instead of hot chocolate, made with cocoa powder, it’s hot peanut butter, made with peanut flour.

    And oh my goodness, after one sip you’ll never want to be without it.

    Like instant hot cocoa, Peanut Hottie is a powder that is simply dissolved in hot water. With delectable peanut butter flavor and aroma, it has just 83 calories per six-ounce cup. It’s caffeine free, and packs a bit of protein from the peanuts.

    Note that the container says there are 13 servings worth of drink powder, but made a few mugs and found that we could use up the contents in six or seven large mugs. No complaints—it just means we had to buy more, sooner.

    And we stocked up big-time. Peanut Hottie will be our stocking stuffer and small gift for Holiday 2014.


    You can find Peanut Hottie at Wal-Mart and other retailers. Here’s a store locator.

    Or, buy it online:

  • Peanut Butter Hottie
  • Peanut Butter & Chocolate Flavored Peanut Hottie
    The idea for Peanut Hottie came to co-creator Lisa Gawthorne, owner of Bravura Foods Ltd in the U.K., when she washed down a spoonful of peanut butter with a sip of hot tea. Captivated by the deliciousness, she tried to find a hot peanut drink. Nothing existed, so she and co-creator Karl Morris decided to make it themselves.

    Peanut Hottie is gets our vote for the hot product of the year. You’ll go nuts for it.

    Discover more at Check out the recipe for a Peanut Hottie Milkshake.



    A steaming cup of Peanut Hottie. There’s also Chocolate Peanut Hottie. Photo courtesy Peanut Hottie.




    TOP PICK OF THE WEEK: barkTHINS Chocolate Bark


    barkTHINS: thin and rich. Photo courtesy
    Ripple Brands.


    There are several reasons to love barkTHINS:

  • The delicious varieties, crammed with inclusions* (see the list below).
  • The thin pieces that, unlike conventional bark, let you have half as much.
  • The Fair Trade certification ( that helps poor farmers.
  • The everyday affordability (yet it’s great for party favors and stocking stuffers.
    October is National Fair Trade Month, the perfect time to feature barkTHINS as a Top Pick Of The Week (here’s more about Fair Trade certification).

    The line debuted in 2012. Unlike traditional chocolate bark that is thick and hard to break, barkTHINS are thin slivers of chocolate that are easily snap-able—easier to eat, fewer calories in your chocolate fix, more flexibility as a dessert garnish (well, that probably wasn’t their intent but it’s a use we employ regularly, by crowning a scoop of ice cream or breaking into pieces for mix-ins).


    *The industry term for what many people call “mix-ins.”



    Each variety is as delicious as the next, depending on your flavor preferences. We were personally thrilled with Dark Chocolate Peppermint Pretzel, a limited edition for holiday season. The packages have a shelf life of 12 months, so if you can’t live without it, you can stock up until the new batches arrive for the next holiday season).

    Feast upon:

    • Dark Chocolate Almond With Sea Salt
    • Dark Chocolate Blueberry & Quinoa (sweetened with agave)
    • Dark Chocolate Mint
    • Dark Chocolate Peppermint Pretzel (Limited Edition)
    • Dark Chocolate Pumpkin Seed
    • Dark Chocolate Toasted Coconut With Almonds
    • Milk Chocolate Peanut


    A great party favor, stocking stuffer, teacher gift, etc. Photo courtesy Ripple Foods.

    The bags stand upright for presentation as party favors. You can stick a place card on the front; you can tie a ribbon through the shelf-hanger opening at the top for added festiveness or to hang on the tree.
    Check the store locator for a retailer near you (including Costco, H-E-B, King’s, Stop & Shop, Wegmans, Whole Foods Market and numerous others), or head to

    A Fair Trade certification guarantees consumers that the farmers who grow the product are getting paid a fair price. In many areas of the world, middlemen buy up crops at a price that often is the same or less than what it cost the farmer to grow it, resulting in a cycle of poverty. Under Fair trade, farmers can increase their incomes and gain afford education and healthcare for their families.

    When you make a conscious decision to seek out Fair Trade products, you are helping hard-working people raise their standard of living. You can feel good about every bite and every sip (look for Fair Trade coffee, tea and hot chocolate, too).

    Fair Trade certification also means that the farmers are following good agricultural practices and are investing in their farms and communities. To learn more, visit



    TOP PICK OF THE WEEK: Polska Foods Pierogi

    Today is National Pierogi Day. How we miss the pierogi of our youth. Now that Nana is gone, we have searched in vain in both stores and restaurants to recapture the glory of her homemade pierogi.

    Finally, we’ve found it with the excellent pierogi from Polska Foods. Yes, they are pierogis that are as good as Nana’s. We rejoice!

    Many pierogis are pretty flavorless lumps of flour and potatoes, requiring lots of seasoning, frying, sour cream or whatever to become pleasing.

    Polska’s dough and fillings are so flavorful, we ate them plain—although for serving to family and friends, we’d spruce them up with some melted butter, fresh herbs, or one of these 50+ ways to serve pierogi.

    The line of authentic pierogi, made in San Francisco, is organic and all-natural. They are shipped frozen, anywhere in the continental U.S., from

    Tomek Piszczek, founder of Polska Foods, was born and raised in Poland and knows the real deal. “This is how we enjoyed pierogi,” he states. “All ingredients were from our garden or our neighbor’s farm. We even grew our own grain.”



    A real treat, for every day or special occasions. Photo by Elvira Kalviste | THE NIBBLE.

    Polska Foods follows tradition with the fresh ingredients, slow food cooking processes and nothing artificial.

    After a full year of research and development, the company settled on kosher, award winning, handcrafted farmer’s cheese made without rennet and enzymes and rBST-free; organic heirloom grain and flour; fresh organic vegetables; real sauerkraut made with just cabbage and salt, and even organic herbs and seasonings.

    The pierogi contain no preservatives, no MSG, no GMO ingredients, no soy, and absolutely nothing artificial. The recipes use only organic or expeller-pressed oils, and never any trans fats.

    The result duplicates Tomek’s grandma’s recipes from Lubiechowa, Polanda: tasty comfort food with superb flavor.

    The line is certified organic by Oregon Tilth.



    A delicious all-vegetable (and vegan)
    version. Photo by Elvira Kalviste | THE



    To make the pierogis, you simply boil or steam the frozen pierogi for 8 to 10 minutes or fry or sauté them in a nonstick pan. Then, simply toss with butter, sautéed onions, bacon and fresh sage, or top with sour cream, nonfat Greek yogurt or yogurt-garlic sauce. The results are spectacular.

    You can also make a sweet breakfast or brunch recipe with a topping of sour cream and brown sugar on the potato and cheese variety. The line includes:

  • Potato Cheese Pierogi, made with herbed mashed potatoes and farmer’s cheese, is peppery, with complex flavor from the onions and garlic.
  • Mushroom Cabbage Pierogi, a delicious vegan recipe
  • Spinach Feta Pierogi, a Greek fusion favorite
  • Savory Beef & Pork Pierogi, too delicious for words
  • Whole Wheat Potato Cheese Pierogi, made with better-for-you whole wheat dough
    Each is wonderful, and we can’t get enough!

    For a retail locator, to buy online or for more information, visit




    TOP PICK OF THE WEEK: Covered Bridge Cookies

    It began in the summer of 1992, when Carl Goulet began making cookies to sell at a local farmers market in Windsor, Vermont. Then employed as executive chef at a local hospital, Carl had been a pastry chef and baker for most of his working life. He had a part-time venture on the side, Christopher’s Cakes & Pastries. His employer allowed him to rent time in the kitchen after hours.

    The cookies expanded in distribution, from the farmers market to local stores, and developed an enthusiastic following. In five years he had outgrown the time and space available at the hospital, and Carl decided to take the plunge to baking full time, investing in a facility and equipment.

    His Covered Bridge Cookies taste of homemade goodness, using the finest ingredients from Vermont producers: butter from Vermont-based Cabot Creamery, chocolate from Barry Callebaut, a French company with U.S. headquarters in St. Albans, Vermont, and unbleached and unbromated flour from King Arthur Flour in Norwich.

    Superior ingredients and small batch production techniques that produce delicious, old fashioned goodness—as if you (or your grandmother) had just baked them.
    The line is small, comprising New England favorites:

  • Chocolate Chip Cookies
  • Ginger Snaps
  • Hermits
  • Maple Shortbread
  • Shortbread


    Hermits: a New England cookie favorite that deserves to be baked more often. Photo by Elvira Kalviste | THE NIBBLE.

    While we love them all, we have to give a shout-out to the hermit, starting with…



    Old-fashioned goodness in a box. Photo by
    Elvira Kalviste | THE NIBBLE.



    English and Dutch immigrants brought cookies to America in the 1600s. The Dutch used the word koekje, while the English primarily referred to cookies as small cakes, seed biscuits, tea cakes, or by specific names, such as jumble (a spiced butter cookie) or macaroon.

    By the early 1700s, koekje had evolved to cookie or cookey, and was well-entrenched in New York City, then the nation’s capital—a factor that resulted in widespread use of the term.

    During the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, most cookies were baked at home as special treats, both because of the amount of labor and the high cost of sugar. Recipes for jumbles, macaroons and gingerbread are found in early cookbooks. Our simple butter cookie recipes are similar to English tea cakes and Scottish shortbread (the term “tea cake” is used to describe that type of cookie in the Southern U.S. as well).

    During the 19th century, affordable sugar and flour, plus the introduction of chemical raising agents such as bicarbonate of soda (baking soda), led to the development of other types of cookie recipes.

    Another explosion of cookie recipes took place in the early 1900s, not surprisingly paralleling the introduction of modern ovens with thermostats. Cookbooks yield recipes for cinnamon-accented Snickerdoodles, raisin-filled Hermits, Sand Tarts and many varieties of butter cookies including Southern-style Tea Cakes.

    Hermits Appear

    Cookies called hermits appear in New England cookbooks by 1880. Those first Hermits were made with raisins, spices—cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg—and white sugar.

    Most recipes that continue in use will evolve. It is a rare for a recipe not to change, whether from creativity of cooks, the availability of new ingredients or changing tastes.

    According to Hermits is a classic example: New York bakers replaced white sugar with more flavorful brown sugar. By the 1950s, the Fannie Farmer Cookbook uses white sugar and molasses in place of brown sugar, providing a stronger molasses flavor than with brown sugar alone.

    A mix of currants and raisins, optional citrons and nuts become Hermit variations. Later versions of Hermits offer the option of dates, figs and dried apricots. Today, the cookies are typically large, chewy molasses cookies with raisins. We wish they were more available in our neck of the woods (or maybe, we should be thankful that they’re not!).

    Covered Bridge Cookies are $6.99 for a 9-ounce box, about 10 cookies. You can buy them online at



    TOP PICK OF THE WEEK: Veggie Fries

    If the only way to get the family to eat more veggies is to feed them fries…well, Veggie Fries should become a very big brand.

    You can make veggie fries, which substitute all or some of the potato for a more nutritious vegetable, from scratch at home.

    Or, you can buy Veggie Fries, a new line that has debuted offering:

  • Broccoli fries (27% broccoli and beans)
  • Carrot fries (32% carrots and beans)
  • Chickpea & Red Pepper fries (25% chickpeas and bell peppers)
  • Tuscan Bean & Herb fries (29% beans and herbs)
    The all natural line mixes better-for-you vegetables and legumes in with potato, to deliver more fiber and vitamins. The fries are low in sodium and gluten-free.

    The company tried more than 300 recipes to create the perfect veggie fries: extra crispy on the outside, fluffy and tender on the inside. We hope you love them as much as we do.

    Learn more at



    One of the new fries in town: Broccoli Veggie Fries. Photo courtesy Healthy Life Brands.



    Chickpea & Red Bell Pepper Fries. Photo
    courtesy Healthy Life Brands.


    The fries bake in the oven, and in just 18 to 23 minutes you’ll have crispy fries to enjoy with your favorite foods—or all by themselves as a lower-guilt fry snack.

    Serve them with your favorite condiments, or try a new one, like ponzu sauce—an Asian alternative to the malt vinegar preferred by the Brits instead of ketchup. Or take a look at these more unusual, sophisticated condiments from Chef Johnny Gnall.

    If ketchup is your condiment, take a look at the best ketchup brands. For example, blend your own chili paste and honey or hot sauce, a dip of balsamic vinegar and soy sauce, or flavored mayonnaise.

    And consider creating a signature fries recipe with different toppings.




    TOP PICK OF THE WEEK: Nonni’s Biscotti Bites


    We want many bites! Photo by Elvira Kalviste


    The history of Nonni’s Biscotti begins in the little town of Lucca, Italy, in the heart of Tuscany. There, among meandering cobblestone lanes and venerable piazzas, one particular Nonni (an endearing term for Grandma) made biscotti for her family and friends.

    When Nonni moved to America almost a century ago, she continued baking the family biscotti to acclaim. One day, her children decided to take the recipe to the bank, creating the Nonni’s brand—now the number one brand of biscotti in the U.S.

    In the modern manifestation of the American Dream, the company was sold to a private equity investment firm several years ago.

    Since then, the original classic biscotti have been joined by two line extensions:

  • Nonni’s ThinAddictives, a melba toast-thin alternative to dense biscotti, introduced last year.
  • Biscotti Bites, smaller size biscotti.
    In Tuscany these biscotti are called cantucci di Prato—cantucci (con-TOO-chee) for short. They were originally baked with almonds from the plentiful almond groves of Prato, a town in Tuscany.

    A cantuccio (plural: cantucci) is a hard almond biscuit. The name cantucci means “little stones,” the stones referring to the almonds.

    We are very keen on the Biscotti Bites, and appreciate that the smaller size gives us a great biscotti experience with fewer carbs. Each is a two-bite treat; the suggested serving size, five pieces, is 120 calories. But two or three pieces is more than enough, and one can suffice.

    The varieties include:

  • Almond Dark Chocolate Biscotti Bites, an almond biscotti with the bottom edge dipped in dark chocolate. Classic deliciousness!
  • Double Chocolate Salted Caramel Biscotti Bites, our favorite, a chocolate biscotto with a chocolate dip; bits of salted caramel are mixed into the dough.
  • Very Berry Almond Biscotti Bites combines dried cranberries and almonds; it is dipped in a vanilla yogurt coating.

    Rich in flavor, crunchy in texture, Biscotti Bites are the perfect coffee break snack. We relish them:

  • With coffee or tea.
  • With ice cream.
  • As a chocolate fondue dipper: Dip into a shallow pot or bowl of chocolate fondue (you can’t easily spear the biscotti on a long fondue fork).
  • As dessert bruschetta, spreading the tops of the biscotti with mascarpone.
    The Italian dessert tradition of dipping biscotti and a glass of vin santo—a sweet late-harvest wine—doesn’t really work here. Plain biscotti are typically dipped into the wine, which softens the biscotto and adds the sweetness of the wine.

    Biscotti Bites are too short to dip, and the chocolate or yogurt coating kind of interferes with the honey notes of the wine. But the work-around is: Don’t try to dip; sip and bite, alternatively.

    The shiny, perky bags are just waiting for you to make someone happy. Bring to a friend’s house, to teachers, to hairdressers and anyone who deserves some tasty crunch.



    Our new favorite snack with tea or coffee. Photo by Elvira Kalviste | THE NIBBLE.


    The line is certified kosher (dairy) by United States K.

    There’s a store locator on the website, or you can buy them online:

  • Almond Dark Chocolate Biscotti Bites
  • Double Chocolate Salted Caramel Biscotti Bites
  • Very Berry Almond Biscotti Bites


    TOP PICK OF THE WEEK: Chillsner Beer Cooler


    Chill that beer in a minute. Photo
    courtesy Hewy Wine Chillers.


    We’re quite enamored of the Corkcicle, a reusable, gel-filled plastic icicle. Kept in the freezer until you need it, it becomes a wine cooler and bottle stopper that chills down a bottle of wine or maintains the temperature of an already chilled bottle.

    Forget a bulky ice bucket: This the perfect way to keep opened bottles of wine at just the right drinking temperature. It’s available in a standard edition, Corkcicle Classic, and a deluxe edition, Corkcicle One, which has a built-in aerator and pouring spout. Either is a great gift for wine lovers.

    Now Corkcicle has a beer brother: the Chillsner, for standard long neck beer bottles. The stainless steel frame contains the same proprietary thermal gel used in the Corkcicle. As with the Corkcicle, you keep the Chillsner in the freezer until you need it; then, simply insert it into the bottle.

    You can place the Chillsner in a warm bottle of beer and immediately sip cold beer through the spout (or pour it into a glass). Or, use the Chillsner to keep a pre-chilled bottle cold.

    If you’re drinking alfresco, the Chillsner also keeps the bugs out.

    Give as a summer gift, or plan for the holidays. Any beer drinker will be delighted.


    The list price is $29.95 for a two-unit gift box; but you’ll find the Chillsner for $20.95 on



    TOP PICK OF THE WEEK: Lärabar’s Renula “Granola”

    The Lärabar brand of healthy, gluten free energy bars (now owned by General Mills) has reinvented granola. They call their new product Renola.

    The reinvention substitutes nuts for the traditional oats in granola. As a result, Renola is grain free, gluten free, soy-free and dairy-free. It is certified kosher by OU.

    It’s also crunchy and complex, with 6g protein per serving.

    A blend of non-GMO fruits, nuts, seeds and spices, Renola debuts in three flavors:

  • Berry Renola: almonds, cashews, pecans, sunflower seeds, molasses, blueberries, dried apple, raspberry powder, lemon juice, cinnamon, sea salt, vanilla.
  • Cinnamon Nut: almonds, sunflower seeds, molasses, pumpkin seeds, pecans, raisins, cashews, tapioca syrup, cinnamon, vanilla.
  • Cocoa Coconut: almonds, pecans, cashews, cocoa nibs, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, toasted coconut, coconut oil, cocoa powder.
    They are purchased in 1.25-ounce single serve packets. We received samples from the manufacturer and are pleased to report: the Berry and Cinnamon Nut flavors are superb.

    And Cocoa Coconut? The sample we received was a disappointment, with marginal cocoa flavor and a bit of coconut too dessicated to be enjoyable.

    But that doesn’t diminish the excitement of the other two flavors. They are wonderful, and thus, our Top Pick Of The Week.

  • On yogurt or cottage cheese
  • On oatmeal or other hot cereal
  • As a snack from the pack
  • In baking (add to cookie dough, for example)
  • As a dessert or salad garnish


    Berry Renola, a nut-based replacement for conventional granola. Photo courtesy General Mills.


    Renola is currently available at select Target stores nationwide, as well as a variety of grocery chains including Kroger, Meijer, Ahold, Safeway and Shaws, with others to come. The suggested retail price is $1.79 per package.

    For more information about Lärabar and Renola, visit



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