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TOP PICK OF THE WEEK: Meli’s Monster Cookies, Gluten Free

[1] chocolate chips, white chocolate chips and chocolate chunks (all photos © Meli’s Monster Cookies | Bluehall Bakery).

[2] It takes just 12 minutes for warm cookies to emerge from your oven.

[3] You can make bar cookies with the dry mixes.

[4] Decorate a cake with crunchy cookies.


If you’re a cookie lover who eats gluten-free, Meli’s Monster Cookies are the only cookie you will ever need, says our GF expert, Georgi Page-Smith.

What I love about Meli’s Monster Cookies is their complete deliciousness, even as compared to other monster cookies I have loved.

There is nothing lacking:

  • You have oats and M&Ms for texture.
  • You have chocolate for decadence.
  • You have peanut butter for its unctuousness, and…
  • In Meli’s pre-baked, ready-to-thaw version, there is even a slightly crystallized texture intertwined with a salted finish, which extends the mouth experience for an extra second of pleasure.
    The only very finicky criticism I can offer of Meli’s pre-baked and freshly frozen varieties—ready to thaw and serve—is also textural. I prefer a bit more crunch around the edges of my cookies.

    But that is a personal preference and did not distract from my enjoyment one bit. What one loses in crunch one gains back in chewy.

    And you will find these cookies absorbing, especially if you skip ahead from the pre-baked frozen varieties and go directly to the mix.

    Meli’s Monster Cookies are sold ready-to-eat, or in cookie dry mix flavors.

    The cookies are high in protein: One cookie has 5g protein, plus 2g fiber.

    Meli’s Cookies: Ready To Eat Monster

    These cookies are fresh-frozen. Just thaw and eat!

  • Original Ready-To-Eat (dark chocolate chips and peanut butter M&Ms)
  • Choco-Lot Ready-To-Eat (dark chocolate chips, white chocolate chips, chocolate chunks)
    Meli’s Monster Cookies: Dry Mixes

    Mix butter, egg and peanut or almond butter into the mix, and in 12 minutes warm cookies emerge from the oven.

  • Original Ready-To-Eat (dark chocolate chips and peanut butter M&Ms)
  • Choco-Lot Ready-To-Eat (dark chocolate chips, white chocolate chips, chocolate chunks)
  • Cashewlicious (dark chocolate chips, finely ground macaroon coconut, dried cherries)
    The Original Mix that I baked offered me everything I wanted from: a bold peanut-butter flavor, plenty of oats to chew on, melting pillows of chocolate, and a crunchy crust.

    I was so satisfied that I did not need to make the Choco-lot or the Cashewlicious varieties—although I just may whip out my whisk.

    Meli’s Monster cookies are billed as “naturally gluten-free,” which aroused the skeptic in me, trained as I am to query every oat with strictness.

    I also found myself wondering if something so decadent and delicious could possibly be made without wheat.

    However, their packaging states that the cookies are not just “gluten-free,” but the oats are certified gluten-free.

    Their website further states, “We use certified gluten-free oats in all of Meli’s Monster Cookies. Additionally, we do intentional, routine and scheduled testing of our products for gluten contamination and fall well below the guidelines of the FDA Gluten-Free Labeling Rule.”

    With these assurances I was thereafter able to give myself over to the cookies.


    Part of the delight of a Monster Cookie does lie in it’s oat-y texture, It tricks you into thinking you are eating something healthy, then pleasantly surprises you with its parade of flavors.

    With Meli’s, the temptation to eat Monster Cookies for breakfast is especially strong. You will want to exercise restraint!

    I found that rolling half of the mix dough into a log and freezing it was the best way to pace myself, and I needed that.

    If you’re ready to become obsessed with one of the best and most complete cookies I have ever tasted (with or without gluten!), try Meli’s.

    Head to

    — Georgi Page-Smith



    RECIPE: A Dish For Lunar New Year

    January 25th, 2020 begins the Lunar New Year (a.k.a. Chinese New Year, but it’s celebrated in many other Asian countries). It lasts for 15 days.

    We were chatting the other day that it’s the Year Of The Rat, an animal which does not evoke pleasant thoughts.

    So we looked it up. It turns out that the Chinese word shǔ​ may refer to a rat, mouse, or other muroid. It’s all in the translation.

    What’s a muroid?

    It turns out that Muroidea are a superfamily of rodents. It includes including gerbils, hamsters, mice, rats, voles and many other relatives. Here’s more about them.

    And here’s more about the Year Of The Rat.

    If you’re not happy about living in—or being born in—the Year Of The Rat, pick something that isn’t threatening: a cute gerbil or hamster, for example.

    Whatever your muroid of choice, we’d like to introduce you to a special dish made for the Lunar New Year: yusheng.

    The dish is considered a symbol of abundance, prosperity and vigor (here’s more about it).

    While it has other names depending on dialect, yusheng translates to “Prosperity Toss,” a Cantonese-style raw fish salad. Sushi lovers, pay attention!

  • Facai yusheng means “prosperity raw fish salad.”
  • Xinnian yusheng means “Chinese New Year raw fish salad.”
  • Yusheng is Mandarin; Yee-sang is the Cantonese equivalent.
    The dish usually consists of strips of raw fish, mixed with shredded vegetables and a variety of sauces and condiments. You can create a vegan version with vegan salmon.

    Here’s the significance of each of the ingredients in Asian culture.

    While some versions simply toss all the ingredients together, in the manner of coleslaw. Some cooks build a tower in colored layers, alternating the different vegetables. As people serve themselves, the tower will collapse into a mix of colored strands.

    Some of today’s cooks create culinary art, as you can see in the photos.

    It can be anything from a dazzling array of artistry to what looks like a festive sashimi platter to plates with some shredded vegetables molded into pandas and teddy bears (a way to get children to eat their vegetables?).

    Some artists mold the vegetables into the zodiac animal, as in the [cute] rat in photo #3.

    So use your vegetable shredder to shred any fruits or veggies that add to the display of colors and flavors.

  • Section a red pomelo, grapefruit or oranges, as shown in photo #1, or fruit of choice.
  • Add spices of choice. Cinnamon powder, pepper and other spices like Chinese Five Spice usher in wealth and prosperity.
  • Garnish with whatever you like: chopped cashews or peanuts, cilantro, slices of the green part of a scallion, even hot chiles.
  • You can drizzle oil over your creation. We like to provide a dressing on the side: a mixture of rice wine vinegar and olive oil. If you have dark sesame oil, add just a touch to taste: It’s potent.
  • Place whatever condiments you have on the table: hoisin sauce, soy sauce, red chile flakes, etc.
  • Serve with Asian rice crackers, preferably the small squares or a party mix.

    [1] Yusheng: sashimi-grade salmon and shredded vegetables. The dish includes pink pomelo (substitute red grapefruit) plus shredded carrot, cucumber, daikon, pickled ginger and yam Here’s the recipe from Evi Abeler | Food & Wine (photo © Evi Abeler).

    [2] This version includes different slices of fish: Condiments include plum sauce and toasted-sesame oil, plus Chinese five-spice. Crackers, nuts and seeds are added for crunch (photo © Open Rice).

    [3] The Year Of The Rat, commemorated in yusheng. See more clever ideas at Elle Magazine | Singapore (photo © Elle).


    While versions of yusheng are thought to have existed in China, the contemporary version was created in the 1960s in the Chinese community of Malaysia. It became a Chinese New Year favorite in Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore.

    Some say the Singaporean version was invented by a Malaysian named Loke Ching Fatt in Seremban, Malaysia in the 1940s;

    Today, restaurants serve a deluxe version, qicai yusheng, seven-colored raw fish salad. You might mistake it for a deluxe sashimi platter, with several different types of fish.

    The current thought is that seven-colored raw fish salad was to created in the 1960s by chefs Lau Yoke Pui, Tham Yui Kai, Sin Leong and Hooi Kok Wai, together known as the Four Heavenly Kings on the Singapore restaurant scene [source].

    Here are more yusheng traditions.

    Nian nian you yu (abundance through the years).



    RECIPES: White Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookies

    Peanut Butter Cup Cookies
    [1] Double PB yum: peanut butter cookies with chopped white peanut butter cups (both photos © Justin’s).

    [2] Justin’s White Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups (a personal favorite of ours).


    January 24th was National Peanut Butter Day. We baked these cookies late in the day—in just enough time to have a couple of warm cookies with a glass of milk at bedtime, and to wake up to cookies for brunch.

    This recipe iw from Justin’s, producer of organic, non-GMO nut butters, peanut butter cups and other PB snacks.


  • 1/3 cup coconut oil, softened (consistency of butter, not melted)
  • 2 tablespoons Justin’s Classic Peanut Butter (or substitute)
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 1 egg
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup chopped Justin’s White Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups (or substitute)

    1. CREAM together with an electric stand or hand mixer the coconut oil, peanut butter, egg, sugars and vanilla. Blend at a medium speed until light and fluffy.

    2. MIX the flour, baking soda and salt until just combined. Fold in the peanut butter cups.

    3. FORM the dough, using small scoop, into 15-20 balls about the size of a golf ball. Place on a plate and press down slightly. Cover and refrigerate the dough for at least 2 hours.

    4. PREHEAT the oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place the dough 2 inches apart on the baking sheet. Bake for 9 to 10 minutes (the cookies should appear slightly undercooked). Allow the cookies to cool on the baking sheet for 5 to 10 minutes.

    The History Of Peanut Butter

    The History Of Peanut Butter Cups

    The History Of Peanut Butter & Jelly Sandwiches



    RECIPE: Gourmet Onion Dip, With Caramelized Onions

    Fine food lovers: The days of mixing sour cream with Lipton Onion Soup mix are behind you.

    Herewith, a better recipe for Game Day or any party. It uses caramelized onions, crème fraîche and fromage blanc, making it more “French” than a dip made with onion soup mix.

    The recipe comes to us from Bellwether Farms. Located on 35 acres in Sonoma County, the dairy is dedicated to sustainable agricultural practices, ethical animal husbandry and crafting the highest quality dairy products possible.

    Bellwether Farms crafts a family of aged and fresh sheep and cow milk cheeses and sheep milk yogurt using time-honored traditions and whole milk sourced from their flock and six family dairy farms. Discover more at


  • 2 medium onions, finely chopped
  • 3 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil
  • 5 ounces Bellwether Farms crème fraîche or substitute
  • ¾ cup Bellwether Farms fromage blanc or substitute
  • 2 teaspoons white wine vinegar
  • 1 bunch fresh chives, snipped or finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • For serving: crudités and/or chips or pretzels

    1. HEAT the oil and add the chopped onion to a medium sauté pan. Lower the heat and cook slowly until the onion softens and becomes caramelized, about 30-40 minutes. Don’t rush this step and the onions will be sweet and not bitter. Remove from heat and allow to cool completely.

    2. MIX together in a bowl the cooled onions and remaining ingredients. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

    TIP: Make extra caramelized onions as a garnish for the dip. While you’re at it, make a whole bunch extra for a week’s cooking: with eggs, burgers, sandwiches, meat, fish, potatoes, etc. Onions may look large but they cook down to what looks like very little, so don’t hesitate to use a lot.


    [1] Caramelized onion dip with crème fraîche and fromage blanc (photo © Bellwether Farms).

    [2] Make extra caramelized onions as a garnish (photo © Robert Mondavi Winery).


    The classic French Onion Dip recipe was created in 1954 in Los Angeles by a French chef whose name has been lost to history.

    It dip was not known in France, but the seasoning used was modeled after the flavors of the classic French dish, Soupe à l’Oignon, made with beef stock and heavily caramelized onions.

    The chef combined sour cream and an instant dehydrated onion soup mix, that would quickly become a real crowd pleaser. Printed in a local newspaper, the recipe spread quickly.

    The following year, The Lipton Company promoted the recipe on Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts a popular television show.

    Initially, the recipe was known as Lipton California Dip, shortly contracted to California Dip. The name French Onion Dip began to be used in the 1960s.

    A Lipton advertising campaign promoted it on television and in supermarkets, and the recipe was added to the Lipton Instant Onion Soup package in 1958.

    An enduring favorite, there are now many ready-to-eat versions, such as Ruffles French Onion Dip and Frito-Lay French Onion Dip. Commercially prepared products include thickeners, stabilizer and preservatives.

    Beyond chips and crudités, fans use it as a spread or topping onburgers, sandwiches and tacos [source].



    TIP OF THE DAY: Darjeeling Tea For National Tea Month

    January is national Hot Tea Month. We’ve written tons and tons about tea, including this Tea Glossary, that explains tea terminology.

    But celebrating National Tea Month doesn’t mean simply brewing a tea bag from your cupboard.

    If you like fine tea, have you tried Darjeeling?

    Darjeeling is grown in West Bengal, India in the Darjeeling District, which is situated at the foothills of the Himalayas in the northeast corner of the country.

    Called “the champagne of teas,”* Darjeeling is the name of the district, the town, and the tea that is produced there.

    Darjeeling is a medium-bodied style of black tea, renowned for its complex, captivating aromas and nuanced flavors.

    The liquor, or brewed tea, is much lighter than most other black teas, as shown in photos #1, #2 and #6.

    While mass-marketed Darjeeling is available in supermarkets around the world, specialty tea shops carry a far superior version: first flush and second flush estate Darjeeling (more about them below).

    You can see from the descriptions below how the flavors and aromas vary by estate† (similar to how the flavor of the same variety of grapes vary by vineyard).
    An Official Certification

    Darjeeling is one of few teas with an origin certification, like the European A.O.C. or D.O.P, attesting that the product was produced in Darjeeling. Since 1999, only teas made at the 87 registered gardens† in the district is allowed to be sold as Darjeeling.

    Alas, “there is little policing, and counterfeits abound; much more tea is sold as Darjeeling than what those farms could conceivably produce,” say the experts at In Pursuit Of Tea.

    To add to consumer confusion, in some countries to which Darjeeling is exported, blenders are able to call a any tea “Darjeeling” as long as 51% or more of the leaves comes from the Darjeeling district.

    So if you want an authentic Darjeeling experience, go to the best purveyors. In Pursuit Of Tea’s Darjeelings include Darjeeling first flush and second flush teas from the finest estates.

    Their current offerings include:

  • Arya’s Estate (flavors and aromas of chicory, licorice, sorrel)
  • Jungpana Estate (raw sugar, allspice, marigold)
  • Margaret’s Hope Estate (roasted walnut, cocoa powder, taro root)
  • Namring Upper Estate (bright, nutty, round)
  • Rohini Estate (Second flush cucumber, rosewater, toast
  • Singell Estate (First flush almond, cedar, broccoli leaf; second flush passion fruit, sweet orange, wood)
  • Snowview Estate (wintergreen, pine resin, soft)
    How do you choose what to try?

    Read the descriptions on each tea’s page (start here).

    If you can afford it, buy small amounts from different estates to compare.


    Flush refers to the time of harvest: first flushes are the first picking of the plants, second flushes are a subsequent picking, and so on.

    In the Darjeeling region:

  • The first flush of the year is harvested in mid-March or early April, just after the spring rains. The tea has a lighter aroma and color, generally with mild astringency. These light-bodied, intensely fragrant teas are produced in small quantities for only a few weeks. As with all premium-grade teas, only the new growth buds and first leaves are harvested by hand, and they undergo a specialized withering process (photos #3 and #4) [source].
  • The second flush is the summer flush, harvested in June. It is bolder in flavor with a fuller body and deeper amber color. It is often said to have a muscatel‡ flavor. Some think that this winey quality engendered the phrase, “the champagne of teas.”* See photo #6 for a visual comparison of first and second flushes. It is deeper in aroma and liquor than the first flush, and the renowned muscatel flavor is pronounced in these teas.
  • The third flush is known as the monsoon flush or the rains crop, the largest crop due to the heavy rainfall. Picked from July through early September, it produces an inferior tea compared to the first two flushes. The aroma is not very expressive due to insufficient sunshine; the brew (liquor) is very dark with a dull character. Unfortunately, it has the right to be sold as “Darjeeling.”
  • The fourth flush, the autumnal flush, is harvested from the last week of September through the second week of November. This flush has the strongest liquor, due to the sunshine following the long monsoon season. The tea has a unique aroma.
    Is one flush better than the other? As with most foods, it’s a matter of personal preference.

    But for connoisseurs, it’s definitely a choice between the first and second flushes of estate teas.

    While tea was first discovered growing wild some 5000 years ago in China, it is indigenous to both China and India (the history of tea).

    Tea, like other agricultural products, varies in flavor, aroma and appearance according to its terroir: the type of soil, the elevation (altitude) and the climate and microclimate of the area in which it grows, as well as the weather in each particular season.

    The processing style of the particular estate also greatly influences the taste and appearance (photo #5).

    While tea itself dates back thousands of years, Darjeeling tea began its rise to fame some 150 years ago, thanks to Dr. Archibald Campbell.

    Campbell, a doctor in the Bengal Medical Service, was the first superintendent of the sanitarium town of Darjeeling.

    A botany enthusiast, he is credited with the introduction of tea cultivation in Darjeeling [source].

    As an experiment, he planted tea seeds from the native Chinese tea bush (Camellia sinesis var. sinesis) in his garden at Beechwood, Darjeeling.

    He was successful in raising the tea plants, such that the British government, in 1847, decided to install tea nurseries in Darjeeling. The first commercial tea gardens were planted in 1852.

    At that time, Darjeeling was a sparsely populated resort and sanitarium hamlet used by the army and affluent civilians. Tea, a labor intensive enterprise, required large numbers of people to plant, tend, pluck and manufacture the tea.

    Locals from Darjeeling and from Nepal, just across the border, were recruited.


    [1] Tea professionals compare the aromas and flavors of different estates or flushes by cupping: pouring small amounts of tea in shallow cups. (photos #1, #3, #4 and #5 © In Pursuit Of Tea).

    [2] A different cupping, showing teas from different estates or flushes. You can see how the color of the liquor (the brewed tea) (photo © The Republic Of Tea).

    [3] The teas are withered for a long time in troughs, creating the light Darjeeling style.

    [4] The withered leaves, ready to be fired, where they turn from green to black.

    [5] Visual differences in two second flush Darjeeling estate teas that have been fired and are ready to brew. The Rohini Estate (top) and Snowview State teas available from In Pursuit Of Tea.

    Glasses Of Black Tea
    [6] The difference in color between a first flush and second flush Darjeeling (photo © National Honey Board).

    The tea grew well in Darjeeling’s high elevation (average elevation 7,000 feet). In that early era of Darjeeling, the British plantation†s marketed it as “the champagne of teas,”* even though the steeped tea was heavy, dark and brisk.

    In the 1960s, Indian processors began to experiment with producing a lighter Darjeeling tea. They created the modern style, lighter in color and more delicate (more accurately champagne-like).

    The tea leaves are withered for a long time in heated troughs, and then fired for a shorter time than other black teas. The result is a more aromatic and flavorful tea with a lighter body and more astringency than the original Darjeeling teas [source].

    Darjeeling produced the world’s best aromatic teas, and became a profitable venture. Today Darjeeling has 86 tea gardens which produce about 10 million kilograms of tea each year [source].


    *This seems to us to be a clever marketing move. The tea looked nothing in color like champagne (although some other teas are pale gold, like champagne). The closest reason for the comparison is that some people perceive the darjeeling aroma to have a winey aroma, specifically, muscatel grapes. The aroma is delicate and fruity, but there are plenty of wines that could fit this description. However, “the champagne of teas” does sound more beguiling than “the chianti of teas.”

    †Estates are also called tea gardens and plantations. The term estate is used for single-origin teas that come from a single property (i.e., estate).

    ‡The muscatel quality in Darjeeling is described as “musky spiciness,” “a unique muscat-like fruitiness in aroma and flavor,” or “dried raisins with a hay-like finish” [source].



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