They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
This month, The Gourmet Retailer borrows an annual favorite from our sister publication, Progressive Grocer: Editors' Picks. Loyal readers of PG are familiar with this yearly salute to the best new products of the year as selected by the editorial staff.
To kick off TGR's version, winners were selected by an exhaustive screening process that involved the entire staff of our Jersey City, N.J., office – the editorial staff of PG and Convenience Store News, and our non-editorial staff alike. Products were judged on three criteria: taste/functionality, innovation and value. To be eligible, products had to be introduced between March 2011 and June 2012.
We put out a call for entries, and we were overwhelmed by the response. Our inaugural competition attracted nearly 500 entries. Our tireless testers weren't deterred by the task at hand. They sampled and tested fearlessly and contributed their honest, unbiased feedback. Armed with our colleagues' tasting and testing notes, we were able to determine which products were worthy of recognition in TGR's inaugural class of Editors' Picks.
34 Degrees Sweet Crisps SRP: $4.99
303-861-4818 www.34-degrees.com We picked it because: These subtly sweet, breathtakingly thin crisps soothe a sweet tooth without the slightest twinge of guilt. 34 Degrees makes these wafer-esque crackers using a handful of natural ingredients that are baked to toasty, crunchy perfection. Known for its savory varieties, Denver-based 34 Degrees offers Sweet Crisps come in four flavors: Caramel, Chocolate, Cinnamon and Graham. With only 1.5 grams of fat per serving – equating to a generous eight crackers for the Caramel variety – these crisps can't be beat when satisfying the urge for something sweet.
Barhyte Specialty Foods Suzie's Yellow Mustard SRP: $2
800-407-9241 www.barhyte.com We picked it because: Cookin' it old school never tasted so good or felt so right. This 100 percent natural mustard is a classic, clean yellow mustard made using renewable energy by the folks at Barhyte Specialty Foods in Tualatin, Ore. Let the slathering of burgers, brats and dogs begin!
Beanfields Nacho Bean & Rice Chips SRP: $2.99-$3.99
855-328-2326 www.beanfields.com We picked it because: These addictive chips are a delicious victory for vegans. Made from black and navy beans and rice, Beanfields Nacho Bean & Rice Chips also contain 4 grams of protein and 4 grams of fiber in a 1-ounce serving. Los Angeles-based Beanfields has also made this satisfyingly crunchy vegan snack gluten- and corn-free.
Belle Chevre Chevre Cheesecakes SRP: $19.95
256-423-2238 www.bellechevre.com We picked it because: These light and airy, creamy and sweet goat's milk cheesecakes nearly incited a riot the day we sampled them. Forks were flying as testers vied for seconds and thirds of melt-in-your-mouth rapture. Made with award-winning goat's milk in Elkmont, Ala., Belle Chevre crafts its small-batch cheesecakes in three unforgettable flavors: Pumpkin, Chocolate and Lemon.
Pistachio Chocolate Chunk SRP: $8
415-265-0708 www.biscottibari.com We picked it because: Beautifully packaged, these handmade biscotti exude an aura of "special treat" from first blush to last bite. Made in Petaluma, Calif., by a family-owned and -operated bakery dedicated to making biscotti the old-fashioned way, as it's done in Bari, Italy, Pistachio Chocolate Chunk is a generous nibble of all-natural nuts, chocolate and inspiration.
Casabella Quick Scrub Double Sided Microfiber
Spray Mop SRP: $29.99
800-841-4140 www.casabella.com We picked it because: Who knew cleaning could be so effortless? With the Quick Scrub Double Sided Microfiber Spray Mop from Casabella, our testers tackled everything from hardwood to tile floors with success. We loved the mop head that flips for twice the coverage and the lightweight, slim design that was easy to maneuver. The microfiber scrub pad did its duty on a particularly dirty entryway. The trigger was also easy to pull, as was the refillable spray bottle to replace. No batteries are needed with the spray mop from Congers, N.Y.-based Casabella.
Coach Farm Chevre and Fruit SRP: $5.99 (4 ounces)
914-241-2300 www.coachfarm.com We picked it because: Filled with pear marmalade for a sweet and salty combination, this fresh chevre from Coach Farm is a pairing worthy of sonnets and serenades. (A fig-filled version is also available.) Made within hours of milking, in Pine Plains, N.Y., Coach Farm's Farmstead Goat Cheese is the real deal in farm-fresh.
Cookie Zen Cookies & Corks SRP: $7.95
703-389-9274 www.cookiezen.com We picked it because: Cookies and wine? Now there's a pairing we can get excited about. Cookies & Corks are sweet and savory cookies made to complement wine. The secret to the balance of sweet and subtly savory flavors is the sprinkle of kosher salt in each cookie. We enjoyed the experience of trying the wine-and-cookie pairings recommended in the guide found on each box. Falls Church, Va.-based Cookie Zen's Red Wine Pairing Box contains five each of White Cheddar Rosemary, Espresso Chocolate Peanut Butter and Shortbread cookies.
Cornfields Hi I'm Skinny Veggie Tortilla Snacks SRP: $3.99
847-263-7000 www.cornfieldsinc.com We picked it because: With 17 grams of whole grains per serving and the word "skinny" in the name, we were hopeful that the latest non-GMO, grain-rich snacks from Waukegan, Ill.-based Cornfields would be a winner. The Veggie Tortilla proved a delicious and nutritious nibble that kept us coming back for more.
Cypress Grove PsycheDillic SRP: $6.99
707-825-1100 www.cypressgrovechevre.com We picked it because: In a word: dill-icious. Fragrant and rare dill pollen is used to give this fresh goat cheese an unmistakably pure herb flavor. Made in Arcata, Calif., from the milk of alpine goats, Cypress Grove PsycheDillic will indeed blow your mind – it's that good.
Sour Cream & Onion Medleys Snack Mix SRP: $4.99
203-454-7013 www.elskitchen.com We picked it because: Even gluttons of gluten will agree that this tasty snack mix is a delicious nosh. Pure flavors and a rich taste of sour cream and onion are definitely in the mix. What you won't find are hydrogenated oils, artificial flavors and colors, trans fats, or preservatives in El's Snack Mix, made in Weston, Conn.
Natural Brands Plentils SRP: $3.49-3.99
847-349-5909 www.enjoylifefoods.com We picked it because: A crunchy, satisfying, savory snack, Plentils are made from lentils – a great source of plant-based protein. With flavors like Light Sea Salt, Dill & Sour Cream, Garlic & Parmesan, and Margherita Pizza, the Enjoy Life Natural Brands bakery in Schiller Park, Ill., has created an array of tempting snack options. What's more, Plentils are also vegan and gluten-free.
Epicurean Butter Caramel and Sea Salt SRP: $3.49-$3.99
303-427-5527 firstname.lastname@example.org We picked it because: Off-the-charts creamy and delicious, Epicurean Butter Caramel and Sea Salt is so irresistible that some might say our testers got a little too creative in their slathering. Purity of flavor is a hallmark of all of the infused butters we've tried from Federal Heights, Colo.-based Epicurean, and the Caramel and Sea Salt was no exception. Made with grade AA butter and all-natural ingredients, the texture of this butter is as pleasing to the palate as its rich flavor. We were also fans of the Sea Salt & Cracked Pepper, pictured left.
Falafel Republic Mediterranean Foods Hummus and Salsa Wrap with Falafel SRP: $2.99
781-878-6027 www.falafelrepublic.com We picked it because: This was a hands-down favorite among our testers. Grab-and-go never had so much flavor or portability. Falafel Republic of Rockland, Md., has filled a fresh tortilla wrap with hummus, salsa and falafel for a quick and easy meal or snack on the go that's high in protein, fiber and sumptuous Mediterranean flavors.
Fever-Tree Naturally Light Premium Ginger Beer SRP: $2.99
800-6464-6974 www.brandsofbritain.com We picked it because: If you love the pungent spice of ginger beer, but rue the calories of such beverages, this zesty sipper is for you. The sleek frosted bottle suggests that its contents are high-quality, and they are, as this refreshing brew is made from a blend of carefully selected gingers. Lower in calories than traditional ginger beer, London-based Fever-Tree's concoction packs a wonderful ginger punch.
Fischer & Wieser Specialty Foods The Original Roasted Raspberry Chipotle Jam SRP: $6.95
830-997-7194 www.jelly.com We picked it because: Inspired by Fischer & Wieser's best-selling The Original Roasted Raspberry Chipotle Sauce, The Original Roasted Raspberry Chipotle Jam wowed our testers with its smoky sweet flavor. With this yummy jam, Fredericksburg, Texas-based Fischer & Wieser have created a deliciously versatile topping for soft cheeses, meats and hearty appetizers.
Flamous Brands Falafel Chips SRP: $3.99
626-551-3013 www.flamousbrands.com We picked it because: Flamous Brands takes its Middle Eastern spice combinations very seriously, and our testers could taste this tradition in both the Original and Spicy Falafel Chips. All natural and all delicious, these chips are a flavorful snack on their own or dipped in hummus. Based in San Gabriel, Calif., Flamous Brands starts with organic, non-GMO whole corn and builds its falafel chips with care from there.
Frontier Soups Hearty Meal Holiday Gathering Sausage and Bean Soup SRP: $6.95
800-300-7687 www.frontiersoups.com We picked it because: Our testers loved the rich, hearty flavor and texture of this easy-to-prepare soup. Using curry spices, chicken sausage and apple, Frontier Soups in Waukegan, Ill., has created a holiday hit. We also loved the visual appeal and festive colors in the layers of cranberry beans, white beans, red beans and green lentils that were fully visible in the packaging. Hearty Meal is a perfect hostess gift or gift to self on a cold winter day.
Sea Salt Caramel Popcorn SRP: $12.99 and $21 (mini and tall canisters) www.funkychunky.com We picked it because: We first encountered this winner at the Winter Fancy Food Show, and embarked on what's sure to be a lifelong love affair with this highly addictive sweet-and-salty combo: caramel popcorn with fresh, salted cashew pieces, topped with caramel, drizzled with milk and dark chocolate, and topped with sea salt. Back at the office, our testers were all wowed by the taste. The wide-mouth, clear canisters can be resealed – if there's any FunkyChunky left. The item is made with natural ingredients in Edina, Minn.
1849 Artichoke Pasta Sauce with Merlot SRP: $4.99
415-657-0123 www.gwsfoods.com We picked it because: No time to make homemade sauce? No problem. 1849 Artichoke Pasta Sauce with Merlot from Golden West Specialty Foods in Brisbane, Calif., looks and tastes like homemade. Our testers also experimented with this rich and flavorful sauce on pizza and were deeply satisfied with the results.
Gourmac Salad Saver SRP: $10.49
860-824-5117 www.gourmac.com We picked it because: This whimsical design is "highly functional and cute to boot," commented one of our product testers. The bottom strainer disk, which is shaped like a tomato slice, keeps salad leaves dry. The eye-catching design makes it stand out in a crowded refrigerator. The low price point, combined with BPA-free and dishwasher-safe status, make this product from Gourmac – a division of Hutzler Mfg. in Canaan, Conn. – a winner.
Guylian Artisanal Belgian Chocolate Truffles SRP: $2.99-$13.99
201-871-4144 www.guylianbelgianchocolate.com We picked it because: We love indulgence, and even more so when it's affordable. These rich and decadent marbled seashells are crafted with dark and white Belgian chocolate and filled with Guylian's signature hazelnut filling that's still made in small-batch copper kettles per the original Guy and Liliane recipe. As the items are available in a variety of sizes and price points from Englewood Cliffs, N.J.-based Guylian, there's no reason not to put more Belgian chocolate in your budget.
Halfpops Natural Butter & Pure Ocean Sea Salt SRP: $1.49, $3.79 (2-ounce and 7-ounce bags)
425-398-2386 www.halfpops.com We picked it because: As the name suggests, Halfpops are made with partially popped popcorn, and the result is an extra-crunchy, flavorful savory snack. Our testers particularly loved the natural butter and pure ocean sea salt flavor for its updated take on a time-honored classic. The clean and modern packaging used by Woodinville, Wash.-based Halfpops is tremendously appealing and instantly conveys the freshness within.
HannahMax Baking All Natural Crunchy Cookie Chips SRP: $3.99
310-380-6778 www.hannahmax.com We picked it because: The folks at HannahMax Baking in Gardena, Calif., tout their new All Natural Crunchy Cookie Chips with the slogan "tastes like a cookie, eats like a chip." And how! Our testers were hard-pressed to pick a favorite among the four flavors: Original, Chocolate Chip, Cinnamon Sugar and Sea Salted Peanut Butter. These all-natural cookie chips were simply delish.
Hearthware Nuwave Precision Induction Cooktop SRP: $149.99
847-775-8123 www.hearthware.com We picked it because: We loved the efficiency, precision and portability of The NuWave Precision Induction Cooktop (PIC). Not only is it fast – it cooks up to 50 percent faster than a gas or electric stovetop – it's also an eco-friendly and energy-efficient countertop appliance. With the PIC, energy is applied directly to the cooking vessel, rather than through the continued release of a traditional heat source. As a result, it uses up to 85 percent of the energy it creates. Our testers also found the PIC, from Libertyville, Ill.-based Hearthware Home Products, easy to use thanks to a cleanly designed digital display that made setting precise temperatures a breeze.
HoneyPax Totally Traceable Tupelo Honey To-Go Packets SRP: $10.99 www.honeypax.com
850-692-3425 We picked it because: These tote-able packets are filled with flavorful, pure raw tupelo honey that's harvested only a few weeks a year from the Apalachicola River Basin in northern Florida. As if that weren't impressive enough, Tallahassee, Fla.-based HoneyPax embosses a hive code on each packet, allowing consumers to trace their honey back to the bee yard of origin. How cool is that? Our testers loved that this all-natural raw honey never crystallizes, and that its packaging is made from 100 percent post-consumer recycled paper and printed using 100 percent water-soluble ink.
Jura Impressa J9 One Touch TFT SRP: $2,899
jura-capresso.com We picked it because: It was love at first sight when we met this Swiss-made brewing system from Jura. "Better than a live-in barista," said one admirer. While its brilliant silver finish makes for an aesthetically pleasing exterior, the machine also does the heavy lifting, making exceptional latte macchiato and countless other specialty coffee drinks. And it does it all without having to move the cup. Recipient of the International Housewares Association's Innovation Award in the Kitchen Electrics category and a winner of the 25th Annual Excellence in Design Competition, the J9 One Touch system is a stunner.
KBC Kane Food Group Kane Candy Chocolate Party Cups SRP: $7.99-$9.99 (package of 6)
800-875-5557 www.kanecandy.com We picked it because: After testing Kane Candy Chocolate Party Cups, we're now armed with a secret weapon that wows party guests every time. A quick and easy way to make pastry-shop-quality desserts at home or in the store, these convenient, high-quality party cups from Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based Kane Food Group offer virtually endless options. One of our tasters used a pastry bag to pipe in mousse, and then topped the creation with chocolate sprinkles and fresh raspberries. Needless to say, it was a runaway hit.
La Campofilone Elite Pasta SRP: $7.95
516-801-4688 www.povalleyfoods.com We picked it because: We could feel the salty breeze rolling off the Adriatic Sea when we took our first bite of this authentic Italian pasta made from non-GMO durum wheat and free-range eggs. La Campofilone pasta, imported by Po Valley Foods in Locust Valley, N.Y., uses durum wheat semolina that's produced in a local mill in Le Marche in central Italy. Extracted from the heart of a single grain, this wheat gives La Campofilone pasta its toothsome texture. We also loved the gift-basket-worthy, recently revamped packaging made from trees of certified environmentally sound forestry.
Italian Foods Corp. La Piana Almond Cake Mix SRP: $8.99
888-516-7262 www.italianfoods.com We picked it because: We forgot this product was gluten-free the moment we tasted the dense and delicious cake that we so easily created using this mix from Raleigh, N.C.-based Italian Foods Corp. Based on the classic Italian torta di noci or nut cake, La Piana Almond Cake features a combination of nut flours in its mix that are right on the mark. Users simply add eggs, butter, water and baking powder. The result is a lightly sweet cake that isn't overly heavy, yet full of bright almond flavor.
LeRoy's Ghost Pepper Aged Cheddar Gourmet Ketchup SRP: $4.99-$5.99
800-776-6966 www.leroysketchup.com We picked it because: Putting the quintessential American condiment to the test was no easy task. Our intrepid testers conducted a blind tasting of a whole host of ketchups, and the complex flavor and subtle heat of LeRoy's Ghost Pepper Aged Cheddar Gourmet Ketchup had the entire panel seeing the light. This ketchup is so good, we weren't sure whether we were eating fries with a side of ketchup or ketchup with a side of fries. The ketchup masterminds in Milwaukee who make LeRoy's really know their tomatoes and spice.
Mama O's Super Spicy Kimchi SRP: $9.99
917-326-1557 www.kimchirules.com We picked it because: Made in small batches from all-natural ingredients, Mama O's Super Spicy Kimchi shines with clean, bright flavors. We not only love the product, we think the name is catchy, too. Kheedim Oh founded Mama O's Premium Kimchi to honor his mother and share his family recipe. This traditional Korean product is made in New York City.
Mariah's Chow Chow Relish
Hot Hot Hot SRP: $7.99
203-701-0983 www.mariahsrelish.net We picked it because: Can you feel it? The latest relish from Mariah's is sweet and hot, hot, hot. Made with a combination of cayenne, habanero and crushed red peppers, this flavorful creation boasts just the right amount of heat. A delicious addition to everything from homemade salsa to cream cheese, Chow Chow relish from Southern Relishes in Milford, Conn., spices up an endless variety of appetizers and main dishes.
Pamela's Whenever Bars SRP: $4.79 (box of six)
707-462-6605 www.pamelasproducts.com We picked it because: Take these tasty and convenient bars anywhere and enjoy them whenever. Pamela's Products in Ukiah, Calif., has created gluten-free Whenever Bars in four tempting varieties: Oat Cranberry Almond, Oat Raisin Walnut Spice, Oat Blueberry Lemon and Oat Chocolate Chip Coconut. Our testers loved the flavor and texture of these nutrient-packed portable bars.
Poco Dolce Olive Oil with Sea Salt Bar SRP: $6.50
415-255-1443 www.pocodolce.com We picked it because: This smooth bittersweet chocolate bar blended with California olive oil and sprinkled with grey sea salt appealed to our gourmet tasters for its "refined taste and upscale appearance." Hip packaging sets this deliciously complex chocolate bar apart from the competition, as does its flavor, which as the name suggests, is just a little sweet. Based in San Francisco, Poco Dolce began as a small bakery specializing in Italian pastries, until owner Kathy Wiley realized that artisan chocolate and confections were her true passion.
Praim Group Choxcard SRP: $5.99
800-970-9646 www.praimgroup.com We picked it because: This is a great idea for chocolate lovers, and who doesn't love chocolate? Choxcards combine two fan favorites: gift cards and chocolate. The gift card giver can select from a 3.5-ounce all-natural dark or milk chocolate bar. The Praim Group of Salem, Mass., offers 12 designs of Choxcards for various occasions, including Christmas, Hanukkah and birthdays.
Ritrovo Selections Raro Extra Virgin Olive Oil by Madonna SRP: $25.50
206-985-1635 email@example.com We picked it because: There's passion, tradition and expertise in this elixir. Made from a blend of pitted Ravece and Rotondella olives, this rare olive oil is exceedingly smooth and well balanced. Olive oil maker Antonino Mennella, who hails from the Salerno area of Campania in Italy, sources these olives from his small tree farm. Using advanced pressing and processing, he creates a super extra virgin with double the average content of polyphenol antioxidants and a low level of free oleic acid. Seattle-based Ritrovo Italian Regional Foods brings this special olive oil to the States.
Clip-On Strainer SRP: $7
800-275-7787 www.rsvp-intl.com We picked it because: For a tool this compact and affordable, we couldn't believe how much bang it gave for the buck. This handy strainer clips onto pans or bowls with ease, allowing users to strain everything from cooked vegetables to stock for gravy. We especially liked that the sides of the strainer flex to snugly fit the diameter of the pan or bowl you're using. RSVP International in Seattle has also made this stainless steel product dishwasher-safe.
Sahale Snacks Crunchers SRP: $3.99 (4 ounces)
510-548-1097 www.sahalesnacks.com We picked it because: We were already fans of Seattle-based Sahale Snacks, and then we tried the company's newest creation: Sahale Crunchers. Loaded with fruit, nuts and nutrition, like all of Sahale's snacks, Crunchers come in three amazing flavors: Almonds with Cherries, Apples and Maple; Almonds with Cranberries, Sesame Seeds and Honey; and Almonds with Parmesan Cheese and Herbs. We love that you can taste each of the individual ingredients and their mouthwatering marriage in every bite.
Salem Baking Co. Chocolate Dipped Caramel with Sea Salt Moravian Cookies SRP: $4.99
336-748-0230 www.salembaking.com We picked it because: Salem Baking Co. made us swoon. Here's how they did it: Their bakers melt down rich Béquet caramels and pour them directly – yes, that's right, directly – into the cookie batter, and then they add a touch of gourmet sea salt. But wait, there's more: Those hard-working and way-too-inspired bakers down in Winston-Salem, N.C., then enrobe the cookies in rich artisan chocolate.
Sanders Potato Chip Chocolate Bar SRP: $2.99
586-468-4300 www.sanderscandy.com We picked it because: What do you get when you mix two of the world's most addictive treats, chocolate and potato chips? Trouble of the best possible kind. Sanders Candy in Clinton Township, Mich., has created a generous mixture of salty potato chips and blended it with sweet and creamy milk chocolate to create an out-of-this-world confection.
Sartori Reserve Espresso BellaVitano SRP: $4.99 (wedge)
920-449-7953 www.sartoricheese.com We picked it because: Another inspired union – coffee and cheese – makes for an exceptional gastronomic experience when combined in this Sartori creation that's aged for a minimum of 18 months. Sartori Cheese in Plymouth, Wis., hand-rubs freshly roasted espresso into its sweet and sugary BellaVitano wheels to make this smoky, nutty cheese. Toasted notes of vanilla and caramel combine with the sweet, buttery flavor of the BellaVitano to create a cheese that we wanted to eat for breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert.
Seattle Chocolate Co.
Baby, It's Cold Outside Collection SRP: $3.50 (2.5-ounce bars)
425-264-2800 www.seattlechocolates.com We picked it because: This one's going on the holiday wish list. Nostalgia, mouthwatering truffles and romance are all part of the package with Seattle Chocolate's Baby, It's Cold Outside Collection. We loved the vintage '50s feel to the collection, but had no qualms about ripping into the offerings, which include a truffle advent calendar, two limited-edition truffle boxes and a series of beautifully wrapped chocolate bars.
Seth Greenberg's Authentic
New York Brownie Crunch SRP: $4.99
212-878-6677 www.browniecrunch.com We picked it because: The story behind Seth Greenberg's Brownie Crunch is that his daughter, who only ever ate the crispy edges of his celebrated brownies, calling them "brownie heaven," was the inspiration behind the Crunch. His Brownie Crunch is indeed divine. A hands-down hit with our testers, the only complaint was that we wanted more! All three varieties of these thin, crispy, only-in-New-York chips – Toffee Chip, Mint Chocolate Chip and Chocolate Chip – had us nibbling on cloud nine.
Simpli Oatshake SRP: $1.79, $3.99 (6.76 ounces, 25.35 ounces)
561-472-8477 www.livesimpli.com We picked it because: The parents in our group of taste testers lit up when they tried this creamy, smooth oat-based beverage. A nondairy alternative to sodas, juice boxes and chocolate milk, Simpli Oatshakes come in two child-friendly versions: Kids' OatGrow Chocolate and Kids' OatShine Fruits. All natural, vegan and GMO-free, these beverages are also available for adults. The Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.-based company offers Chocolate, Coffee and Tropical Fruits for more discerning palates.
Simply Southern Gourmet Sweet Potato Pepper Mustard SRP: $7.95
800-281-3149 www.simplysoutherngourmet.com We picked it because: Sweet potatoes are one of the most flavorful and nutritious superfoods around, so we were intrigued to try them in mustard form. What a delicious surprise! The rich, sweet flavor of the sweet potato works perfectly with the tangy mustard and the subtle heat from the fresh peppers. North Myrtle Beach, S.C.-based Simply Southern Gourmet Mustards are all natural, low in salt, and sugar- and fat-free.
Spoonable Sesame Caramel Sauce SRP: $10-$13
718-974-0653 www.spoonablellc.com We picked it because: Start with something pretty simple, like a bowl of vanilla ice cream or even some plain yogurt. Then crack open the Spoonable Sesame Caramel Sauce and hang onto your seats. This sauce is so yummy and decadent, it transforms ordinary dishes into the extraordinary. Spoonable handcrafts its Caramel Sauce in Brooklyn, N.Y., from all-natural ingredients to create a salty-sweet sensation that combines the classic caramel characteristics of smoothness, chewiness and richness in one jar.
Takeya Double-Wall Glass
Tea/Coffee Tumbler SRP: $19.99
713-374-9900 www.takeyausa.com We picked it because: The design of this travel tumbler, both from an aesthetic and a functional standpoint, is superb. We loved the clear glass with the silicone sleeve that gives the tumbler a band of either green or black color. It also keeps hands cool when beverages are hot. Huntington Beach, Calif.-based Takeya has designed the silicone sleeve to provide a nonslip grip, while the tumbler's easy-sip lid is perfect for drinking when on the go.
Tates Bake Shop Gluten-free Chocolate Chip Cookies SRP: $4.99
631-780-6511 www.tatesbakeshop.com We picked it because: More good news for gluten-free dieters. These gluten-free chocolate chip cookies are thin, crispy and loaded with rich chocolate chips. Made with rice flour, these delicate cookies from New York-based Tates Bake Shop are so good, you won't miss the gluten.
Teatulia Tea Medley Organic Single Garden Teas SRP: $8.99
303-433-2980 www.teatulia.com We picked it because: We found both the packaging and the story behind these fabulous teas hugely compelling. Teatulia grows all of its teas in its own USDA-certified organic garden in northern Bangladesh. This organic medley is a great way to experience these exquisite teas, as it contains one of each of the following: Black Tea, Green Tea, White Tea, Peppermint Herbal Infusion, Earl of Bengal Tea, Lemongrass Herbal Infusion and Tulsi Infusion Tea. The canisters are completely compostable, while the labels are made of recycled post-consumer paper.
TH Foods Crunchmaster Multi-grain Crackers SRP: $3.49
815-639-3400 www.thfoods.com We picked it because: Seeds and assorted whole grains give this gluten-free cracker a complex flavor and tempting texture. Oven-baked to delectable crispiness, Crunchmaster Multi-grain Crackers come in three varieties: Sea Salt, White Cheddar and Roasted Vegetable. All three flavors from Loves Park, Ill.-based TH Foods are all natural, low in saturated fat and completely tasty.
The Companion Group
Pizzacraft Pizza Cone Set SRP: $24.99 www.companion-group.com
510-597-3548 We picked it because: We had a blast experimenting with the Pizzacraft Pizza Cone Set. In a fun and unique twist on making pizza at home, users just cut, form and bake the special pizza-cone dough. Once the dough is par-baked, fill the cones with pizza toppings and return the filled cones to the oven or grill until the pizza-cone crust is golden brown and the toppings are bubbly. This set from the Emeryville, Calif.-based Companion Group includes a recipe for pizza-cone dough, a cutter for cutting the dough into shape, a crimper to seal the edges of the cone before baking, two nonstick cone molds for baking the cones, and two nonstick stands for baking the filled cones.
The Invisible Chef Rosemary Raisin Savory Muffin Cake Mix SRP: $8.95 www.invisiblechef.com
800-456-7115 We picked it because: This savory muffin from The Invisible Chef in Canton, Ohio, was a cinch to make and delectable to eat. Toasted pecans, plump golden raisins, dried rosemary and a hint of black peppercorn make this mix stand out from the crowd. We loved the feeling of preparing something homemade that took only minutes to whip up.
The Spice Lab Aloha Sea Salt Collection SRP: $59.95
954-275-4478 We picked it because: Let the adventures in salt begin! This beautifully packaged and presented collection of sea salts features 11 of the most sought-after and hard-to-find salts in the world. Presented in a portable and decorative package, the Aloha Collection from the Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based Spice Lab cries out for proud placement on the kitchen countertop. The set also comes with reference cards that contain detailed descriptions and pairing suggestions.
Toas-Tite SRP: $29.99
917-689-9246 www.toastite.biz We picked it because: This retro gadget rules. An authentic reproduction of the original Toast-Tite, which debuted in 1945, the newly made-in-China, second-generation version is pure vintage delight. We couldn't resist trying out different combinations of bread, cheese and assorted fillings. A minute or so on each side, and a toasty bread and gooey cheese toast is yours for the enjoyment. We also adored the packaging created by the new greater Chicago-area-based Toas-Tite LLC, which not only captures the nostalgia of the ‘40s, but also conveys exactly what the product is and does.
Torie & Howard Organic Hard Candy SRP: $4.99 (2-ounce tin)
888-826-9554 www.torieandhoward.com We picked it because: These are not your mamma's hard candy! Made for today's more health-conscious consumers (only 12 calories per candy), these organic treats boast sophisticated flavors that sound as exotic and juicy as they taste. We savored them all, from the Italian Tarocco Blood Orange & Wildflower Honey, to the Tart California Pomegranate & Sweet Freestone Nectarine, to the D'anjou Pear & Ceylon Cinnamon – and let's not forget the Pink Grapefruit & Tupelo Honey. All natural with no artificial flavors or colors, these irresistible candies from New Milford, Conn.-based Torie & Howard come packaged in a cute recyclable steel tin.
Torn Ranch Café Time Snappy Ginger Cookies SRP: $7 (7 ounces)
707-796-7815 www.tornranch.com We picked it because: Real ginger and a perfect blend of natural spices make these Snappy Ginger Cookies sing. The folks at Torn Ranch in Sonoma Valley have been making fine foods from California's bountiful supply of dried fruits and nuts for decades. These delightfully crisp and flavorful cookies are baked with organic flour and California butter. Yum!
Tortuga Rum Cake Co. Chocolate Rum Turtles with Sea Salt SRP: $14.99
305-378-6668 www.tortugarums.com We picked it because: The sprinkling of sea salt in this tropical twist to a classic confection popped in our grateful mouths. Miami-based Tortuga takes rich milk chocolate and then covers rum caramel with pecans and that touch of sea salt, with dizzyingly delicious results. Each box of this Caribbean creation contains 12 premium handcrafted chocolates.
Premium Popcorn Collection SRP: $9.99-$11.99
773-528-9515 www.urbanaccents.com We picked it because: This product has "gift" written all over it, but it's so tasty, we wanted it all for ourselves. The collection contains a 16-ounce jar of white gold popcorn kernels and three sample-size seasonings: white cheddar, tangy dill pickle, and sweet and salty kettle corn. The seasonings and popcorn are all natural. We also liked the sense that we were making something homemade, but without the hassle. Urban Accents, based in Chicago, has packaged the collection nicely with cutouts that expose the popcorn and seasonings.
Waring Pro Breakfast Express Professional Belgian Waffle/
Omelet Maker SRP: $129
800-726-0190 www.waringproducts.com We picked it because: Every day is Sunday brunch day when you've got the Waring Pro Breakfast Express. We felt like culinary superheroes when we tried our hand at whipping up an omelet and a Belgian waffle at the same time. We couldn't believe how easy it was to load the ingredients in one side, close, flip and load ingredients in the other side. Our testers appreciated the quality, versatility and design of this handy small electric from Stamford, Conn.-based Waring Pro.
Way Better Snacks No Salt Naked Blues SRP: $3.29-$3.99
720-352-4165 www.gowaybetter.com We picked it because: Low- and no-sodium snacks can be lackluster, but that couldn't be further from the truth when it comes to No Salt Naked Blues from Way Better Snacks in Islandia, N.Y. This no-salt version of Way Better's Unbeatable Blues Tortilla Chips is a satisfying and delicious snack. Way Better sprouts its grains and seeds, as this increases their nutrients and allows the body to better absorb them. Each serving has 420 milligrams of healthy omega-3 essential fatty acids and at least 17 grams of whole grains.
Wow Baking Co. Lemon Burst Cookies SRP: $5.49
425-894-3699 We picked it because: Luscious lemon flavor defines this gluten-free goodie from Wow Baking Co. in Kent, Wash. Wow bakes with quality all- natural ingredients, un-sulfured dried fruits and sugar from crystallized pure cane. The careful selection and combination of these ingredients is evidenced in the well-made Lemon Burst Cookies.
Yasso Frozen Greek Yogurt SRP: $4.99 (box of four bars)
978-310-1610 www.teamyasso.com We picked it because: What a delicious and nutritious way to beat the heat! This healthy snack can easily substitute for dessert, but with only 70 calories per fat-free bar, we felt good about eating more than one. Made with rBST-free milk and packing a whopping 6 grams of protein in each bar, Yasso Frozen Greek Yogurt gets even better the more you know about it. We found all three flavors – strawberry, blueberry and raspberry – from Boston-based Yasso were equally yummy.
Zak Designs' Non-Skid Gallery Tray SRP: $19.99
800-331-1089 www.zak.com We picked it because: We loved the look and feel of these highly functional trays from Zak Designs in Spokane, Wash. Made from a nonslip material that's heat- and moisture-resistant, the Non-Skid Gallery Trays come in two dynamic patterns: red with white checkering and white with black checkering. Whether you're serving appetizers poolside or in the dining room, these durable and attractive trays will add visual pop to your presentation.
Aluf Plastics Harmonyx Trash Can Liners SRP: $5.49 (25-count of 13-gallon liners; other sizes available)
770-425-4522 www.alufplastics.com We picked it because: We picked it because: If you took the fishiest fish and the stinkiest stank and put it into a Harmonyx Trash Can Liner, what would you have? Nothing malodorous, that¹s for sure. These bags lived up to their promise and blocked odors, and you don¹t even want to know how our testers came to this conclusion. Made in the USA with Microban, these two-tone bags can be pulled from their packaging with ease ‹ another plus.
Dreamfarm Garject SRP: $34.99
415-626-3333 www.dreamfarm.com We picked it because: We picked it because: The Australian designers behind the Garject garlic press know a thing or two about cutting corners in the kitchen. Exceptionally well designed, the powerful Garject presses multiple garlic cloves at once ‹ and the best part is that you don¹t have to peel them first. Garject also automatically scrapes off any excess garlic and cleans itself, ejecting the peel, as you open the handle. It¹s top-rack dishwasher-safe to boot.
Fox Run Brands Outset 2-Step Corn Prep SRP: $8.99
215-675-7700 www.foxrunbrands.com We picked it because: We picked it because: A clever kitchen tool, the Outset 2-Step Corn Prep from Ivyland, Pa.-based Fox Run Brands took the mundane task of removing corn from the cob and de-silking it into a show of agility and speed. Our testers were universally impressed with this two-in-one tool featuring a double-beveled blade that stripped and de-silked corn with ease.
LéKué Ovo SRP: $9
302-326-4805 www.lekueusa.com We picked it because: We picked it because: We love little gadgets and tools that make us look cooler and more skilled in the kitchen than we really are. LéKué¹s Ovo Cylinder, Square Ovo and Semi-Sphere Ovo are silicone molds that allow for the preparation of eggs in a variety of fanciful yet foolproof ways. Whether you add ingredients to chef up a Spanish omelet or simply make a hard-boiled egg, these molds will do the job right every time. With Barcelona-based LéKué¹s Ovo, cooking an egg in a bain marie or the microwave are both a snap.
Contigo Randolph Vacuum-Insulated Handled Travel Mug SRP: $22.99
312-262-6351 www.igniteusa.com We picked it because: We picked it because: This little number is hot to trot. Featuring a stainless steel double wall that provides exceptional temperature retention ‹ and by exceptional, we mean hot stays hot for up to four hours and cold stays cold for 12 hours ‹ the Contigo Randolph is also sleekly designed for commuters on the go. Spills and stains? That¹s so last year, thanks to Contigo¹s Autoseal technology that automatically seals the mug between sips. Chicago-based Ignite USA distributes the Contigo line.
Fairytale Brownies Cream Cheese Half-Size Brownies SRP: $1.95
602-489-5135 www.brownies.com We picked it because: We picked it because: We have a love-hate relationship with the portion control on the Fairytale Brownies Cream Cheese Half-Size Brownies. Loved that they were half the calories of the original. Hated to reach the last crumb of these delectable, fudgy brownies made from a family recipe by the Fairytale folks in Phoenix. Quality ingredients like imported Callebaut chocolate, real creamery butter and farm-fresh eggs are evident in every bite.
Gimbal’s Gourmet Sour Jelly Beans SRP: $3.49-$3.99
800-344-6225 www.gimbals.net We picked it because: We knew these colorful candy creations were going to be fun and flavorful before we opened the jar, and they didn’t disappoint. Our testers puckered up and put away handfuls of mouthwatering sour fruit flavors. Gimbal’s Fine Candies in South San Francisco, Calif., makes its Gourmet Sour Jelly Beans using real fruit juice to delight the palate with 12 juicy flavors in one package.