Sunday, April 12, 2015

Specially Selected Truffle Macaroni and Cheese; Mascarpone and Sun-Dried Tomato Mac and Cheese (Aldi)

Definitely not the blue-box macaroni and cheese you grew accustomed to!
It should only take you one, maybe two reviews before you realize that I do not have anything close to a refined palate.  I can’t pick apart certain flavors when given a complex dish, nor can I swish around wine and tell what vintage it is.  The only way I know to enjoy food is to put it in my mouth and rely on what my blue-collar taste buds tell me.  At least, that’s usually how it works.

I’ve eaten half of the bowl, and I still can’t even tell what I think of Specially Selected’s Truffle Macaroni and Cheese.  I will say that it cooks up nice and creamy on the stovetop, thanks partly to the packet of cheese powder and dried mushrooms that comes inside the box.  As you probably know, “truffle” is basically code for “mushrooms”, and while I’m not a fan of mushrooms, I felt like the combination could be pretty delicious.  And as the cheese sauce starts to thicken a bit more, it seems to explode with more flavor.  This definitely isn’t your typical boxed macaroni and cheese, as the cheese isn’t so cartoonishly exaggerated; there’s plenty of it here, but it’s also offset by the earthy taste of the mushrooms, so those looking for a cheese overload would do best to look somewhere else.

Even though I can’t exactly describe this flavor as “addicting”, it’s different enough that I keep getting urges to take another bite, so that certainly has to account for something.  The texture, between the soft noodles and the creaminess of the cheese, is a big reason for that; but you definitely can’t ignore the taste…I’ve seriously never had a macaroni and cheese like it, boxed or otherwise, and while I definitely won’t be getting this again any time soon, I certainly would get it again at some point in the future.

Points must also be awarded for value.  Given the “Specially Selected” label, I was figuring that the box would make even less than a typical box of national brand mac and cheese, but it ended up making the same amount, which was definitely enough to fill me up.  A box of this costs $1.99, which I initially thought was pretty affordable; after tasting it and seeing just how much it makes, I have to conclude that it’s a pretty solid deal, especially since it’s only a couple quarters more than the national brand of shells and cheese, yet packs in a much more unique cheese flavor.  If you’re tired of the same ol’ macaroni and cheese, and don’t mind a little fungus in your food, you should definitely scope this one out.

Overall: 7.5/10.  Tired of “typical” macaroni and cheeses?  This is definitely a step in the opposite direction!  I’m not a huge fan of mushroom, but decided to give this a shot anyway, and I’m glad I did.  The mushrooms provide a nice, earthy taste that coexists with the rich, creamy cheese; the end result is a surprisingly addictive twist on an all-time American classic!

A few days ago I tried Specially Selected’s Truffle Macaroni and Cheese, a review which you will find paired up with this one.  But the one I was secretly most excited for was this one, which my wife picked up during the same trip.  I’m not one for mushroom (though I did end up liking it quite a bit), but the combination of cheese and tomatoes have never let down anyone.

I’m not too familiar with my cheeses, especially “exotic” ones like mascarpone, so I can’t say with exact certainty that’s what this smells like, but this dish is packed with an overwhelming smell of cheesiness.  Like the truffle mac, once cooked, it’s smothered in cheese, with the added benefit of having little bits of sun-dried tomatoes, instead of mushrooms.  But this isn’t just one of those women that are just good looks and no personality…no, this has the taste to match.

It’s absolutely exploding with a decadent cheesy flavor, and “decadent” is a word I usually reserve for desserts at fancy restaurants.  The tomatoes actually play a key role here, helping to offset the mascarpone explosion, by balancing it out with a hint of sweetness.  For being completely dried out, the tomatoes manage to taste at least somewhat fresh in the finished dish, and have a nice, soft texture.

Now one thing I will say, is for this one, my wife added the recommended, but optional, additions of butter and grated parmesan cheese, something I did not do while preparing the truffle mac.  So that no doubt helped to make this even creamier and more delicious.  I have no doubts it would taste pretty darn good even without those additions, so if you don’t have butter or parmesan on hand, you’ll still be left with a delicious, and at least somewhat healthier, entrĂ©e.

Overall: 8/10.  We wouldn’t hesitate to get this again.  A ridiculously cheesy macaroni with bits of sun-dried tomatoes…how could you go wrong?  As this dish proves, you can’t.  If you like really any kind of cheese, but especially mascarpone, you owe it to yourself to check this out.  I should note that we did prepare this with the recommended additions of butter and grated parmesan cheese, which no doubt made it even creamier (and even less healthy) than it would normally be, but I also wouldn’t think twice to try it the way it is right out of the box.  It’s a Special Buy at Aldi stores, meaning once it’s gone, it’s gone until the next time, so time is of the essence!

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Cooking Concepts Digital Timer; Jot Permanent Markers (Dollar Tree)

Need a basic timer?  This is a handy little thing for the price.
It seems I’m always using a timer for something, whether it be games, or cooking, so I always need to have one on hand.  The last one I had, a digital one from Taylor, lasted me about five years, but finally started to become too much of a hassle to operate as the buttons starting wonking out. 

Even though Taylor’s aren’t very expensive, I had heard good things about the digital timers at Dollar Tree, and decided to give one a shot.  After all, it’s not like they require a large investment, so if it was terrible, I could just pitch it, and spend a couple more dollars and get a name brand one.

Right out of the package, there was some frustration:  The minute key didn’t work very well.  Over one year later, and it still doesn’t.  I was going to get another one to see if it had the same problem, but I’ve gotten used to working around it, as it just requires a little extra force to get it moving.  Thankfully, the second button works with minimal effort, so it very well might be limited to mine.

Working it is simple:  Press the minute button to advance the minute, and the second button to advance the seconds.  To reset, simply press both the minute and second buttons at the same time.  Pressing the “Start” button after time expires recalls the last minute entered, which is a feature that I’m glad was included, as I often use the same time over and over.  The beep when time expires is suitably loud (but not too loud) and easily audible even when I’m on a different floor.

Even though I would recommend these to anyone with a use for them, and yes, even though I realize these are only a dollar and I shouldn’t expect much for so little, I do still have a couple minor quibbles:  1.) The screen is rather small, so if you want to read the countdown, you will have to get very close to it, and 2.) There are no additional features.  Again, that is not an issue for me, but others that might need their timer to, say, count up, will definitely be at a loss.  There is also no way to turn it off, which can be kind of annoying.  It's still held up for over two years, so it's not that big of a deal, but it'd be nice to have the option of stretching its life out even more by being able to shut it off when not in use.

Overall: 7/10.  The screen is pretty small and special features are pretty much non-existent (except for a memory function that remembers the last time entered), but for a no-frills timer, you really can’t go wrong.  My minute key does require some excessive force to get it going, so I’m not sure if that’s just limited to mine, or a constant occurrence, but either way, this functions about as admirably as you could expect from a dollar timer.  I’ve also had it for going on two years now, and it’s still functioning, so chalk a point up for longevity.  Well worth looking into.

8 markers for a buck?!  Best of all, they even work!
I go through phases where I burn lots of CD’s (or DVD’s), and then don‘t burn anything for a few months.  The only reason I ever need markers are to label the discs.  For this reason, my last set of markers, two Sharpie fine points, lasted me almost five years.  But once they finally ran out, it was time to look for a replacement.  I easily could have just taken some from work, and I did that for a bit, but ended up losing them, or disliking the quality, so I figured I would just see if I could find some on the cheap.

Well I did, on a trip to Dollar Tree, where I discovered an 8-pack of Jot’s Permanent Markers.  Not surprisingly, I had never heard of the brand, but considering a single name-brand marker is upwards of a dollar by itself, I figured they would be worth a shot…even if I only could label a handful of CDs with each one, that would get me through at least 100, which would last me well over a year.

I can’t say how long they’ll last me, as I’ve only had them about three months, long enough to only label about ten CDs, but I figured I would post some early thoughts, then adjust the score as the months wear on, and the markers wear out.  Do I have enough dedication to remember to do this?  Probably not, but it’s worth a shot.

The cool thing are the range of colors that come with these markers.  For a dollar, you don’t just get 8 blacks, or 8 of a single color; you get an entire rainbow, ranging from red, to black, and just about every main color in between.  The markers themselves look very vibrant and inviting…but how do they look when used? 

The main difference I noticed is that, at least on the face of a disc, the colors are much lighter than they appear, and don‘t have much “pop“, at least compared to the national brand.  This didn’t bother me much whatsoever, but instead of a crisp, dark blue, the blue is rather bland, and much lighter than the outside color would suggest.  This isn’t just limited to blue--this is a problem across the board.  I will say that this could simply be due to the glossiness of the disc, as they did seem to perform much better on paper, but the national brands also seem to work much better on disc surfaces.

I’ve seen online reviews of this where people have complained one (or more) of the colors are dry upon opening.  I have to say that all of mine worked perfectly right out of the package, but it’s worth tossing out there that there may be some quality control issues (which shouldn’t be too surprising given the price point).  Still, even if half of them didn’t work, you’ve only ended up paying a quarter per marker, which still isn’t a bad deal at all.

Overall: 8/10.  This review is subject to updates, given the markers’ long-term performances, but right out of the package, color me impressed; all eight of the markers worked, and are perfect for labeling discs.  The colors are a bit weaker when used on a CD, but perform much better on paper, so it might just be on glossy surfaces.  The ink dries quickly and doesn’t smear, two required characteristics of a “permanent” marker.  For $1, this is an outstanding deal.  I wish they would be available in fine-tip, but given the price point, I won’t complain much about that.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Mama Cozzi's Game Day Sampler; Breakfast Best Sausage and Bacon Breakfast Pizza (Aldi)

I don't even think the homeless would eat this crap.
I reviewed two of Mama Cozzi’s other Super Bowl offerings right before the “Big Game“, but they still had these left over in March, so we decided to pick them up as a cheap dinner.

The Game Day combo consists of a 14” take and bake pepperoni pizza, along with a small order of cheesesticks, and a marinara sauce.  So basically, everything you need to watch a sporting event, apparently.  But what’s most striking is the modest price of $5.49, which is certainly about half of what you would expect to pay at an average pizza shop for both items.  Not too shabby at all.

In case you’re new here, I’ve reviewed quite a few of the items in Mama Cozzi’s take and bake pizza line lately, and they’ve pretty much all been positive.  In fact, I can’t remember the last of their pizza items that really disappointed me (I’m not counting their calzones and wings, the other two Super Bowl items I reviewed, which were pretty bad, but also aren’t technically “pizza items”).  Until now, that is.  While most of their take and bake pizzas at least resemble something that could have been handmade in a deli, this one, at least when fully cooked, resembles nothing more than a frozen pizza.  It more or less tastes like it, too.  There’s nothing here that stands out, from the bland cheese, to the boring sauce, to the cardboard crust; it all comes together to form a massive disappointment.

The cheesesticks were okay, but also nothing that I would consider actually “good”, while the marinara sauce tasted like it had been sitting around for a while.  Which it probably had, considering these pizzas were released as Special Buys a month ago for the Super Bowl, but they were still being sold at full price and seemed to be within their expiration dates, so that’s certainly not my problem.  It’s hard to believe that I was disappointed that these sold out last year before I could get my hands on one…but it should have been telling that we’re a month removed from the Super Bowl this year and there were still plenty left at my local Aldi.  Stay far away from this one.

Overall: 2/10. Even at $5.49, this was a huge waste of money, especially considering Aldi offers much better take and bake pizzas for roughly the same price.  Most of Mama Cozzi’s similar pizza offerings at least somewhat resemble “fresh” bakery-style pizzas, but with this one, you’re much better off paying a little more at your local Little Caesar’s; the enclosed cheesesticks were only okay, while the marinara sauce was what failure would taste like, if it had a taste.  All of Mama Cozzi’s Super Bowl offerings were below-average, but this takes the cake as the worst of the bunch.  Get any of their other standard take and bake pizzas instead.

If only more pizza places offered breakfast pizzas, I probably wouldn't be so excited about a frozen one.
In this day and age, where pretty much everything is available with a flick of the wrist, it baffles me how certain things still manage to be so hard-to-find.  For example, there are about 100 pizza shops, both chain and mom-and-pop, every 500 feet in Ohio.  And yet, finding any kind of breakfast pizza in any of them is next to impossible.  Of course, I was exaggerating with the number of pizza shops there are here, but not really exaggerating about the breakfast pizza part; why a chain restaurant hasn’t added them to their menu is beyond me, as they would have the breakfast pizza market cornered.  But I guess the marketing firms they pay millions of dollars to to think for them, have decided it wouldn’t be worth the investment.

Anyway, in Illinois (birthplace of my mother and current home to my grandmother; my grandfather died late last year) they have a gas station/convenience store called Casey’s General Store, and of all places, this is their go-to place for breakfast pizzas; it’s for good reason, because the eggs are light and fluffy, the sausage and/or bacon is perfectly cooked, and the melty cheese compliments it all perfectly.  I don’t know if that’s a testament to Casey’s pizza experts, or more an indication of how easy these are to make, but either way, they are fantastic.

Of course, expecting a frozen supermarket pizza to be just as good as a fresh-made breakfast pizza is pretty ludicrous, but these things hold their own.  For starters, most breakfast pizzas I’ve had have been either sausage OR bacon; Breakfast Best’s consists of both, on the same pizza, and let me just say the combination is every bit as delicious as you’re expecting.  It’s also every bit as unhealthy as you were worried about, but hey, you deserve to indulge every once in a while!  Instead of the standard pizza sauce, which would be pretty gross with eggs, we get a thin layer of cheese sauce that actually blends really well with all the other ingredients.  My main complaint is that the crust is rather bland, but that can be fixed with a little dash of your favorite sauce.

These pizzas retail for $3.99 each, which I think is a pretty good deal for what you get.   Even if you’re on a smaller budget (and I know I’ve been there), this would be a good “splurge”, assuming you like this kind of thing.  It’s definitely nowhere near a fresh breakfast pizza, but considering my nearest Aldi store is about five minutes away, it’s well worth that trip.

Overall: 7.5/10.  Of all the pizza shops and chains in the world, why do so few sell breakfast pizzas?  I wish they would carry these year ’round at Aldi, considering finding fresh made breakfast pizzas are hard-to-find, but Breakfast Best’s Sausage and Bacon Breakfast Pizza is well worth the $4 asking price.  It doesn’t come close to matching a fresh-made one (how could it?), but all the individual parts come together to make a solid whole.  As you can expect, these are pretty darn unhealthy (sausage AND bacon is never a good mix), but if you like this kind of thing, you should definitely scoop one up before they run out!

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Mama Cozzi's Mexican Style Taco Seasoned Pizza; Nacho Cheese Flatbread (Aldi)

For a frozen pizza, this is pretty much flawless.
This pizza is fantastic.  Awesome.  Amazing.  It’s quickly become one of my favorite, if not THEE favorite, of the frozen pizzas that Aldi carries.  Unfortunately, it’s only available as a special buy, but thankfully it’s offered quite frequently, so I never have to wait more than a few months to get my hands on one of these…and whenever it’s available, I always make sure to grab one.

What makes it so delicious?  Mama Cozzi’s commitment to the bit, for starters:  Everything on this pizza is taco related.  You have the obvious, like the hamburger meat and cheese, then they throw in some olives and peppers for good measure, all of which are the typical flavors found in similar pizzas.  But they don’t just stop there…at least, not according to the packaging, which declares this has a “tortilla style crust”.  I’m not really sure what that means exactly, and the packaging doesn’t care to elaborate, but all you need to know is it’s thin, and it crisps up nicely in the oven.  It also tastes like a normal pizza crust, although now that I think about it, it might have a slightly tortilla-y taste.  Hard to say for sure, but it’s good.

But I think the ingredient that really brings it all together, is the sauce.  But this isn’t just a straight-up pizza sauce.  Nosiree.  It’s a straight-up taco sauce.  Let that sink in…taco sauce, on a pizza?  While it may sound weird, or maybe even gag-inducing, let me just say that the taste more than makes up for it; the sauce combines surprisingly well with the other toppings to create a nearly flawless frozen pizza experience.  If that sounds like hyperbole, then you’ve clearly never tried it.

Here’s a pointless and boring story that I nevertheless feel the need to share with you; a story that truly summarizes just how delicious this pizza is:  I think every time I’ve eaten this pizza, I topped it with sour cream.  I’ve been doing this for years now. I mean, tacos are good, but tacos with sour cream are even better, right?  That was always my logic, anyway.  Well, this last time, I discovered that the only tub of sour cream we had was a week expired, and tasted a little too sour for my liking.  So I was literally about to get ready and head to the store just to get a tub, when I decided to try a slice without it…and it’s every bit as good.  In fact, it honestly might be a tad bit better, as every flavor stands out a lot more when it’s not slathered with the white stuff.  But it’s also good with it, so ultimately, it all comes down to personal preference.

Overall: 10/10.   I was going to give it a 9, but I really can’t think of any gripes that would justify that.  This pizza is ridiculously good, and far better than any frozen pizza has a right to be.  For starters, there’s no pizza sauce to be found; instead, it’s an actual taco sauce on a “tortilla style crust”, which cooks up very crunchy.  The toppings, from the hamburger meat on down to the cheese, are surprisingly fantastic and go together pretty flawlessly.  Even the $3 price tag is pretty darn reasonable, putting it a few bucks cheaper than name brand frozen pizzas.  If you see this in your Aldi’s freezer, don’t hesitate to pick it up. 

Thankfully I ate this thing so you never, ever have to.

I’d seen these before as a special buy at Aldi stores, and have been fascinated by them every time I had seen them offered.  Granted, I was “fascinated” in much the same way it is human nature to be intrigued by train wrecks and freeway accidents, but regardless of the reasons why, it still captured my attention.  But the one thing I couldn’t get past was the price tag: $3.49 for a flatbread?  I could get a full-size frozen pizza for the same price, or a delicious take and bake pizza for a dollar or so more.  So I kept passing it up and passing it up.

Well then I caught it on clearance for $1.99, and I decided to jump at the chance to try it.

I must say, even after having a few slices, I’m still pretty torn.  For starters, it loses points simply for taking part in the latest trend that seems to be sweeping junk foods: It has tortilla strips on top.  When did this become a thing?  Papa John’s just released a pizza with chips on it, Taco Bell had a burrito loaded with corn chips…it’s a completely useless, unnecessary trend that angers me for some reason.  Now, the packaging clearly told me there would be chips on it, so I knew that going in, but it doesn’t make it any less stupid.  End rant.

Besides the corn chips, there are also three kinds of cheese (cheddar, mozzarrella, and nacho cheese sauce), pico de gallo, taco sauce, and beef.  In other words, a bunch of fat and sodium.  But isn’t that what gyms are for?  The tortilla strips don’t add much in the way of flavor, but do add a sort of soggy-ish crunch; the kind you’d expect from a frozen chip being cooked in an oven.  The pico de gallo, at least to me, was undetectable; all I got was a tomato that tasted like it had been tossed in taco seasoning.  The cheese sauce tastes like standard cheese sauce (which isn’t a bad thing in and of itself), while the beef is standard frozen pizza beef.  Surprisingly, this doesn’t have much of a kick at all, though a little bit of spice crops up occasionally.

Honestly, this is something I would expect to see at a circus, or on a Taco Bell menu instead; I’m actually kind of depressed that I got it from an Aldi.  Not that they’re known for their healthy options, but this just feels like an exercise in complete pointlessness.  It’s not offensively bad; I could even make an argument that it’s not bad at all.  It’s just not good.  Nothing stands out; it all just feels like typical Mex-American fast food fluff that was probably only okayed as a Special Buy to take advantage of the “let’s put corn chips on or in something” trend that’s currently sweeping fast food establishments across the nation.  Well, I gave it a shot; live and learn.

Overall: 3/10.  It’s not bad, per se, it’s just not good, nor does it serve a point.  It tastes like every item from Taco Bell, only on a flatbread; I guess that might not actually be a bad thing to certain people.  Also angering to me is the addition of tortilla strips on top--I get that it’s trying to live up to the “nacho supreme” name, but adding bland (and frozen) tortilla strips that only become half-crunchy even when overcooked in the oven doesn’t serve as a valid excuse to take advantage of the current trend of putting corn chips on or in things that shouldn’t house corn chips.  Original price of $3.49 also seems a little steep, considering you don’t get a whole lot of food here.  Pass.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Appetitos Mac and Cheese Bites; Corn Nuggets (Aldi)

My, what a terrible picture.
In sitting down to write this review, I’m rather shocked to realize that I have not reviewed any other items from Aldi’s “Appetitos” line, which, as you can probably tell, are frozen appetizers.  Aldi carries quite a few year ‘round, including cream cheese jalapenos and mozzarella sticks, but their Mac and Cheese Bites are only available a couple times a year as Special Buys.

The wife and I had actually tried these once before, quite a while ago, and neither of us remembered what we thought of them, so we decided to give them another go.  It’s usually not a good thing when you can’t remember how something tasted, but then again, Aldi is also known to switch up the recipes of their products, so even if there’s an item that you once hated, there’s a possibility the “formula” might change into something that you actually enjoy.

For $1.99, you get somewhere around six decent-sized triangular pieces (we only ended up with five in our box).  Originally, we were actually pretty disappointed at how few we got.  I mean, even though they’re not small, five is still five…it’s not really a whole lot.  Those complaints quickly disappeared once we bit into them, however, because then it seemed like way too much. 

Too put it bluntly, these things suck.  The breading, which somehow is the sole highlight, actually cooked up perfectly crispy, much to my surprise.  It had a nice crunch, and would have made a perfect companion to some delicious, creamy macaroni and cheese.  Unfortunately, the mac that Appetitos serves up here is bland and lifeless…imagine Stouffer’s macaroni and cheese, minus even more flavor.  Yeah, not kidding you, it’s that bad.  After a few minutes, the three remaining pieces looked even larger than they actually were, and it was hard to believe just a short while ago we were complaining how few we got…by the end, these things might as well have been the size of basketballs; there was no way I was going to be able to cram them down my throat.

I did dip these in ranch, which made the flavor somewhat palatable.  But on their own, they’re almost inedible.  The Appetitos line has always been hit-or-miss for me, but none that I recall have missed the mark so badly.  Stay away from these.  Unless you have an unhealthy obsession with factory-created macaroni and cheese products.

Overall: 2/10.  The breading was crisp.  There, now that we got the sole bright spot out of the way, let’s cover the rest:  The macaroni and cheese inside tastes nothing like macaroni, or cheese, should.  It’s shockingly void of any form of cheesiness, and tastes like it came straight out of a factory.  It’s even a few notches below frozen supermarket mac and cheese.  Hell, even the smell is disgusting, and gives off no hints of cheese whatsoever.  We couldn’t finish the five pieces we were given, as two ended up in the trash can.  There’s a new low in the already-sad lineup of frozen appetizers.

Also a bad picture. And a bad product.
I’ll be honest here: I wasn’t entirely excited about this purchase, but the wife really wanted to try them, so I decided to give in and get them.  Now don’t get me wrong:  Corn is one of my favorite things in life.  I love Aldi’s canned corn, I love frozen corn out of a bag, I love corn fresh off the cob…really, name the ways there are to experience corn, and those are pretty much all the ways that I enjoy it.  However, corn deep-fried into breading?  Now you’re pushing it.  But hey, I figured maybe it would be better than it sounds.

It’s not.  Now, it’s not that it’s really bad, per se, it’s just completely unnecessary:  The corn inside is a super-sweet creamed corn, and the outer breading is just typical breading.  I’m baffled as to how this is packaged up as a side dish, except for the fact we, as Americans, seem to enjoy anything deep fried into breading.  It’s absolutely pointless, and we both got sick of them about five pieces in.

For the most part, Aldi’s Appetitos’ line are average frozen side dishes (though their cream cheese jalapeno poppers, which I somehow haven’t written about yet, are every bit as good as any you’ve ever had), but these are just a pointless misfire.  Instead of this, just get some creamed corn and be done with it; if you still have to have this, put creamed corn on top of toast.  There.  Same basic idea, and I saved you a whole bunch of calories.  And in case you're wondering:  My wife was very disappointed with these, as well.

Overall: 2/10. What’s the point?  Super-sweet creamed corn deep-fried into breading.  I absolutely love corn, but this just feels like a science experiment gone wrong; the breading adds absolutely nothing to it, and there are no enclosed sauces to add anything in the way of flavor, either.  If you’re contemplating getting this, just grab a can of creamed corn and call it a day.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Clancy's Onion Rings; Clancy's Sour Cream and Cheddar Rippled Potato Chips (Aldi)

Guess who once again neglected to take his own picture of the product!  I'm reviewing the one on the left.
The national brand “onion ring” chips are one of my favorite snacks, but I rarely get them because, when they’re not on sale, they’re approaching $4 a bag.  Thanks, but no thanks; no processed snack is worth that much money.  And since I rarely shop at the big supermarkets, I never really think to see if they are on sale.  So even though I like them a lot, I tend to live without them.

Aldi has offered knockoffs of these onion ring snacks for as long as I can remember.  But when I first tried them, around eight years ago (if memory serves me right), they were absolutely terrible; they tasted nothing like the national brand, and didn’t even taste good as an alternate to those snacks.  Needless to say, it would be a few years before I would give them another shot.

And that brings me to today, when I decided it was time to see if anything had changed.  For starters, just out of the gates, I noticed a big difference; Clancy’s Onion Rings look a lot more similar to the national brand onion ring snacks.  When I tried them years ago, they were all much smaller, much thinner, and more uniform in size, as if they were trying to exist as something different.  They also smell very similar to the bagged “fun onion ring” snacks available at supermarkets.

The taste, you will be happy to know, is much more in line with what you would expect; assuming you‘ve had “fun onion rings“ before.  In fact, I actually found them to be a little too onion-y, courtesy of a very heavy onion powder that I believe is more overwhelming than the national brand, which, from my memory, doesn‘t even have a seasoning on them.  The texture is also a little different, as Clancy’s is much softer; these snacks almost melt in your mouth.  While that may sound enticing, I’ve found that I actually prefer the heavier crunch of the name brand snack.

But don’t think Clancy’s Onion Rings are a lost cause; for starters, the taste has certainly come a long way, and is a lot closer, than they used to be.  Secondly, a similar-size bag to the national brand is only $1.19, which is more than $3 off the regular price.  Even on sale, you’d be hard pressed to find “fun onion rings” for that inexpensive.  I guess you can say what Clancy’s is lacking in flavor, they more than make up for in price.

Overall: 7/10.  While I would prefer the national brand onion ring snack, at least in terms of texture and flavor, Clancy’s version has come a long way since I first tried them several years ago.  They do seem to be overly doused in onion seasoning, which I found to get old pretty quick.  The texture is also a lot softer, so that these melt in your mouth; I could see that appealing to some, and while I didn’t mind it on its own, I prefer the much larger crunch of the original onion rings snack. Marks must be given for value, though, as a bag of Clancy’s Onion Rings are only $1.19, far cheaper than the name brand even when it's on sale.  In short, if you’re a fan of the original, the savings alone could make you prefer the Clancy’s version, so I suggest you give them a shot.

Guess who once again neglected to take his own picture of the product...
I think I’ve mentioned this in a previous review for a Clancy’s product, but my main gripe with the brand is the distinct lack of quality control:  The chips in some bags I get are absolutely smothered in seasoning, while other bags have just a slight dusting throughout.  In other words, you really don’t know what you’ll be getting when you open the bag, which almost makes me hesitant to buy certain kinds.

With that in mind, these were so under-seasoned that it should be a federal crime.  There’s probably barely a full tablespoon of seasoning in the whole bag.  Sure, you can taste the cheddar and sour cream on each chip, but it’s very weak; almost as if the flavoring was just tossed in as an afterthought.  Only, it’s supposed to be the headliner; the main star.  I know it’s impossible to have every chip covered in sour creamy goodness, but upon opening the bag, I at least expected to see at least half of them bright orange, insinuating that they are bursting at the seams with rich cheddar flavor.  Instead, all I got were some that were slightly orange, but more that looked like a normal potato chip with slight patches of the titular ingredients.

Maybe I’m just spoiled by typical Aldi quality, but even though these were only $1.19, I feel like I was gypped.  Of course, I could return them and get something else, but at that price point, it’s enough to make such a trip nothing more than a waste of gas.  Plus, it’s just a bag of potato chips; hardly anything to get that worked up over.  Still, it’s pretty inexcusable.

To bring this whole review full circle, the problem I have is that the bag right next to it might have been covered in deliciousness; in fact, maybe I got the only bad batch out of the whole case.  Maybe if you went to Aldi and grabbed a bag, you’d hit the jackpot, find one with so much cheddar and sour cream that it’d make your head explode, and you could leave me a comment telling me how terrible this review is and that they are the best cheddar and sour cream chips you’ve ever had.

Unfortunately, as long as getting the “right” bag is little more than a game of luck, there is no way I can possibly recommend these.

Overall: 2/10.  Clancy’s needs some quality control.  Like some of their other varieties (the baked barbecue chips come to mind), the amount of seasoning you get in each bag is completely hit or miss.  And I’m not just talking a slight, but noticeable difference; some bags are glowing with orange, sour cream and cheddar goodness, while others look like normal potato chips with a little bit tossed on as an afterthought.  Can you guess which one my latest bag was?  In the end, even for $1.19, I don’t feel that they are worth it.  Grabbing a good bag of chips shouldn’t come down to a casino-style game of luck.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Medion Akoya P53002 19" Widescreen LCD Monitor; Kitchen Living Digital Scale (Aldi)

A faithful companion for seven years.
When I first bought my HP computer (after ruining my Sony VAIO desktop) about seven years ago, I happened to have a super-old, bulky monitor from the ‘90s.  Refusing to join the modern age, when that one died, I frantically searched used computer stores for the cheapest replacement I could find, opting to spend $10 on a similarly-bulky, and awkwardly heavy replacement.  Part of this was out of necessity--my wife and I had just gotten married, and she had a terribly low-paying job at a popular coffee chain, so we couldn’t afford much--but it was also out of my notorious love of penny-pinching.

Flash forward about a year; Aldi was selling a 19” Medion widescreen monitor for $150.  While even back in 2008, this wasn’t a spectacular deal, it was decent enough to capture my attention, and I thought long and hard about buying it to finally replace my unreliable old-school monitor for Aldi’s slim LCD.  But there were a couple things that made me hesitate.

Unlike private-label foods, where many of them are created in the same factories as their name-brand counterparts, private-label electronics can be a little harder to make heads-or-tails of.  Sure, some of them are also made in factories owned by the bigger brands, but you especially have to be careful, especially if it’s really cheap, because you might be getting some thrown together crap from China, that will fail before you even have time to realize what‘s happening.  To combat this, I always research potential purchases online, to see what other users of the product thought about it.  Well, that’s where things got a little more interesting, as I couldn’t find any information on the monitor whatsoever, and could barely even find info on Medion, the company, as a whole.

Ultimately, I decided to take the plunge and give it a shot, mainly aided by their 2-year warranty.  Hey, at least I knew, worst-case scenario, that I wouldn’t have to buy a monitor for another two years!  Well, I’m happy to say it has far exceeded that:  About seven years later now, and it’s still holding up just as well as it did the day I brought it home.  To be perfectly honest, I’ve never had a problem with it at all, and there’s no reason not to believe it can’t last at least a few more years.  The picture is crisp and clean, and not even a single pixel is out of place.  I can’t really vouch for all Medion products simply based on this one (though I almost did buy a Medion computer to go along with it), but in this day and age, where it seems everything is made to fail right after the warranty expires, I have to say I’ve easily gotten my money’s worth, and then some.

Overall: 9/10.  I’ll admit, I took a leap of faith when purchasing this monitor, as there was no information on it available online, and barely even any information on Medion as a whole.  But this has far exceeded my expectations; going on seven years later, and this thing still works like a charm.  Not even one pixel is out of place, and the picture is still every bit as crisp and clean as the day I bought it.  I wouldn’t hesitate to purchase another Medion-branded item in the future, especially since finding out they were acquired by Lenovo in 2011.  Definitely worth the asking price, though Aldi stores in the U.S. don’t seem to carry electronics very often.

Kitchen Living Digital Scale in its natural habitat: Our candle workroom.
As I think I’ve alluded to in previous posts, my wife and I started a candle business a couple of years ago.  Since our business is very small “scale” (pun intended), we decided that we just needed a basic kitchen scale to measure out our wax.  Lo and behold, Aldi happened to be offering one just when we needed it!  Without much hesitation, we decided to pounce on it.

Their Kitchen Living scale retails for $10, and works well for us.  While I haven’t had this nearly as long as I had the monitor featured in my previous review, I can say that after a year, it’s still holding up very well, and has given us no problems; the digital readout is clear and very easy to read, and the weights are very accurate, allowing us to make candles with very little wax waste.

Really, all I needed was a very basic kitchen scale, and this even goes beyond that.  For its price, it has quite a few features, including weights in ounces or grams, a mode for weighing milk (in ounces or milliliters), and a separate mode for weighing water (also in ounces or milliliters).  I never stray from ounces in the “weight” mode, but it’s good to know that if I ever needed to weigh something else, it would have me covered.

There is a 7 lb. weight limit, which is just about the only downside, though in all honesty, I’ve never even come close to exceeding that.  This means that if you’re looking to weigh heavier objects, this probably won’t be for you, although if you know you’re going to be weighing heavier items, you’re probably not looking at kitchen scales to begin with.  Once our business picks up, we’ll probably have to look at other options, but for right now this one is perfect and gets the job done well.  The fact that the top is made of glass could also be a problem, at least in households with children, or clumsy owners.  That being said, the glass top also makes it very easy to keep clean, which is another plus.

Overall: 8.5/10.  I’ve only owned this for a year, but it gets some pretty consistent use, and has not faltered.  The digital readout is very clear, and easy to read, and most importantly, the weights are very accurate, allowing us to make candles without a lot of wax waste afterwards.  It has several modes, allowing you to weigh in ounces, grams, or milliliters, and it even has separate “milk” and “water” modes.  I probably could have gotten away with an even more no-frills scale, but for $10, this one has been worth its “weight” for us (pun intended).  Highly recommended.