Sunday, November 16, 2014

Specially Selected Pasta Crackers: Marinara and Garlic & Olive Oil (Aldi)

SPECIALLY SELECTED MARINARA PASTA CRACKERS

Aldi ads are the only store advertisements I receive every week through my email, and I make sure to visit the site every week to see what they are carrying the following week (you can also look two weeks out, which makes it great to be able to plan for meals and Special Buys before most people are aware of them).  So needless to say, I pretty much know everything that will be coming in.

But these Specially Selected Marinara Pasta Crackers totally caught me off guard when I caught them in the store one day, as I did not recall seeing them at all in the weekly ads (I’m sure they were there, but I thought something weird like this would have caught my eye).  According to the bag, they are “Real pasta and Italian-inspired flavor in a thin, crispy chip.”  Okay, that made them sound so unappetizing and pointless, I just knew I had to give them a shot!

Sniffing the bag, you can pick up a faint scent of marinara, but I think I got more garlic and onion than anything else.  The crackers themselves actually look like thin little pieces of pasta, complete with serrated edges, but they also look very delicious, as they are coated with a generous helping of seasoning and parsley flakes, which I guess gives them the Italian look they are wanting.

Tastewise, I’ll admit that I was a little shocked, because these are pretty good.  Now if you were to blindfold me, I don’t think I would ever in a million years guess they had anything to do with marinara, or Italian pasta in general, for that matter, but the seasoning (made up of tomato powder and parmesan cheese, among other things) is tasty.  If you’re looking for something that’s going to overwhelm your taste buds, this is definitely NOT the snack for you, as each cracker is relatively light, in both weight and flavor.  The only downside is that it’s very easy to eat way more than you intended to, as I finished off half the bag the first time I picked it up.

Overall: 7/10.  A delicious, light cracker that is way better than its weird description makes it sound.  The seasoning, while tasting nothing like actual marinara, seems to consist mainly of garlic and onion, and it’s pretty darn tasty.  Don’t be nervous about the texture, either--even though it proudly claims on the packaging that it’s made out of real pasta, the texture is exactly that of a typical cracker.  If you’re looking for a snack that’s going to blow up your taste buds, this isn’t it.  The seasoning is modest, and that’s what makes it work as well as it does.


SPECIALLY SELECTED GARLIC & OLIVE OIL PASTA CRACKERS

Ever wanted a pasta in cracker form?  Here's your chance!
In the above review, I went into what a “pasta cracker” is, so if you need an introduction, head there.  Otherwise, I’m just going to jump right in.

Even though I found Specially Selected’s marinara pasta crackers to taste pretty good, I did mention that there would have been no way I would have been able to detect that they were marinara-flavored if I was blindfolded.  It tasted nothing like it.  So I decided to try their other flavor offering, garlic and olive oil, as it seemed like that flavor profile would be a lot easier to hit in chip form.

My theory proved to be correct, as this definitely is way more accurate than the marinara version.  Olive oil even happens to be second on the ingredients list, and you can tell just from sampling a bite:  I was expecting the garlic to take front and center, but it’s actually the olive oil that does, followed up close behind by the expected garlic.  I also think these are a little bit stronger than the marinara ones, so you’re probably going to want some gum, or at the very least, mints, if you’re going to be talking to anyone right after eating these.

Although I didn’t get a chance to do so, I think dipping these in some French onion, or even some ranch veggie dip would probably take them to an entirely different level.  Maybe someone will give that a try and let me know how it goes.  Straight out of the bag, though, these have a nice, light texture and big crunch that does hit the spot.  The only downside to the stronger flavor, is I seemed to get sick of these a lot quicker than I did the marinara ones.  Then again, I don’t think garlic and olive oil are two flavors that anyone can really pig out on for that long to begin with.

Overall: 6.5/10.  Even though these are more accurate than the marinara pasta crackers, I still think I prefer those.  For starters, garlic and olive oil are a lot stronger flavors than tomato, so these tend to get to be too much after a short snacking session, and I have to stop eating them.  The light texture and crunch is nice, and the $2 price tag (per 5 oz. bag) provides some good value.  On a side note:  They would probably be very good in ranch or French onion dip, something I’ll have to try at some point in the future.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Larry the Cable Guy White Cheddar & Bacon Shells (Big Lots); Goldfish Macaroni & Cheese (Nacho Cheese, Cheddar, and Butter Parmesan) (Dollar Tree)

LARRY THE CABLE GUY WHITE CHEDDAR & BACON SHELLS

Great to keep on hand if you run out of dog food.
Let’s just get this out of the way, because it’s inevitable:  I HATE Larry the Cable Guy.  Hate him.  He’s the perfect example of what’s wrong with American comedy and, if you decided to delve deeper, you could further that by making a case that he’s a good example of what’s wrong with America in general.  His jokes are lower-than-the-lowest common denominator, his accent and redneck appearance is completely faked, and perhaps worst of all, he’s now so popular he gets to put his name on food products and rake in the dough without having to do a single damn thing.

But you know what?  I also love macaroni and cheese and I’ll be damned if I was going to let a personal hatred of a celebrity get in the way of at least giving this a shot.

I totally should have, because now I‘ve found a reason to hate him even more.

This has to be food that was actually made for dogs, but accidentally marketed to human beings.  It’s complete slop.  You’re probably thinking “What did you expect”, and to that, I have no real response.  I guess I should have taken it as a clue that the box declares “Made with real bacon!”, while completely ignoring the cheese, which looks like mayonnaise, and tastes like mayo mixed with a heaping helping of human feces.  In a world full of processed supermarket garbage, this somehow manages to be two notches under “below-average“, which is ironically an exact parallel with the career of the man on the box.

Even if you are a huge fan of Larry the Cable Guy, and I realize there are way more than there should be, do yourselves a favor and pass this up.  Use the savings to buy a Larry the Cable Guy yoyo, or something.  Go to the dollar store and get two Larry the Cable Guy DVD‘s.  Buy two tickets to a Larry the Cable Guy show.  Whatever you do with the two dollars you were going to spend on this product, please just do us all a favor and spend it somewhere else. 

Overall: 0/10.  The only thing worse than Larry’s “comedy” career is this joke of a product marketed to his redneck minions.  But even they will be disappointed by the mayonnaise-y “cheese product” that tastes every bit as horrid as it looks.  But hey, at least that bacon is real!  One of the worst things I’ve ever had the misfortune of eating.


GOLDFISH MAC N' CHEESE
We reviewed all but the Cheesy Pizza, which sounds just absolutely disgusting.
 While the Goldfish name certainly doesn’t evoke thoughts of budget foods, after all it is only one of the most popular snack crackers available, the attempt to cash in on it as a mac n’ cheese line was pretty much dead-on arrival.  As a result, excess stock of the stuff appears to be liquidated to just about every discount store on the face of the Earth, as I’ve seen boxes at both Big Lots, and Dollar Tree, and they were only $.33 per box at each place.

All it will take is a quick internet search to reveal that this stuff did not go over well.  At all.  And they were even sold only in Wal-Marts.  If Wal-Mart’s nightmarish clientele couldn’t even find use for this stuff, then it must be really, really bad.  I mean, from Wal-Mart at $.98 per box, to closeout at $.33 a box just a year later…it’s got to be terrible.  Right?

Well we grabbed each flavor, except for Cheesy Pizza, which both sounds and looks disgusting.  So if you want to try that one, you’re on your own.  But here are my thoughts on the remaining flavors, and some of them might surprise you.

BUTTER PARMESAN
In my opinion, this is by far the worst flavor of the lot.  (Amazon agrees, with users giving this a 1.7 out of 5 stars, not that the rest fared much better).  I was really reluctant to even try it, because just the combination sounds pretty repulsive, but figured it might be surprisingly good.  I don’t know if I just have built up an insane tolerance to mac n’ cheese flavors over the years, because while I would never get it again, I didn’t have a problem finishing the bowl. 

To me, it’s not that the flavor is offensive or repulsive so much as it’s not really there.  Sure, you can taste some butter (probably the butter you added to make it), but I didn’t get much of a parmesan taste at all.  There was a faint sweetness about it, which is fairly disturbing because neither of the titular ingredients are all that sweet, but no real discernible cheesiness at all.  I would avoid this one in the future, even though common sense told me to avoid it in the first place.

Overall: 3/10.

NACHO CHEESE
I am not going to lie…the wife and I actually liked this stuff.  I mean, don’t get me wrong, I realize that it’s terrible for you, and that it’s severely processed, and I even understand that, even by nacho cheese standards, the flavor is incredibly exaggerated and tastes nothing like actual nacho cheese.  I get all of those things.  But you know what, we bought a couple of boxes of this stuff, ate it, and then went back to get a couple more, so go on, keep the judgments coming.

At its original price (which as I understand, was $.98 at Wal-Mart), I would never have given it a chance.  Even now that I’ve tasted it, and can say I like it, I would still say a dollar per box is flat-out robbery.  But for $.33, it’s a decent value, and a “meal” that can be quickly thrown together whenever neither of us actually feel like making real food.  And come on, it can’t be any worse nutritionally than your typical box of shells and cheese, or the national brand's own line of mac n’ cheese offerings, so I don’t get where all this vitriol is coming from.

So while it will never become a staple in our house, I thought the nacho cheese flavor tasted pretty good (in an exaggerated, almost cartoony way), and was a decent alternative to the other heavily-processed mac n’ cheese products out there.

Overall: 7/10.


CHEDDAR
This is the one that’s closest to your “typical” macaroni and cheese.  Like the others, I had to cut back a little bit on the amount of milk used (the 3 tablespoons recommended under the “Classic Prep” instructions resulted in an end product that was way too runny), but the end result still ended up pretty creamy.  The cheese flavor is more or less what you would expect from this kind of product…nothing to write home about, but pretty much on par with other boxed macaroni and cheese products. 

That being said, offering these for only $.33 per box definitely adds some value.  Even though the flavor is similar to other store-bought mac and cheese’s that I’ve had, they cost substantially more than this one, so that’s reason enough to grab this.  Why pay more for something that tastes pretty similar?  My wife and I both liked this one the most, and wouldn’t hesitate to pick up another box of these if we came across them.

Overall: 7.5/10.

PRO TIP: The recipe on the box calls for way too much milk.  I followed the initial instructions for “Classic Prep” (3 tablespoons butter and 3 tablespoons milk), and found it to be way too watery for my tastes.  So from then on out, I cut back to 2 tablespoons of both butter and milk, and the end result seemed to taste exactly the same while being, I guess, slightly “healthier”.  That’s just my two cents.

SUMMARY: I didn’t find most of these to be as bad as I thought they would be.  With the exception of Butter Parmesan, which was terrible all around, the cheese flavors were surprisingly edible, and…dare I say it…even good.  But the scores listed above are assuming a price of $.33 a box--anything more, and the value is pretty much gone.  The 5.5 oz. boxes only make two servings, as opposed to other brands, which give you three servings, and the shortage is definitely noticeable.  If you see these on a clearance shelf somewhere for under 50 cents, pick them up.  Otherwise, spend a little more and go with the macaroni and cheese in the blue box, or even better yet, Aldi's brand.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Vivache Peach Moscato; Block Party Hard Lemonade (Aldi)

VIVACHE PEACH MOSCATO
Old pic I stole from the internet.  The bottle looks different now.  I've really got to get better about taking pictures...
I am not, by any normal sense of the term, a wine drinker.  Sure, I’ve been known to throw some down with my wife, but my only requirements are that it has to be sweet--dry wine, at least to my unrefined palate, is the equivalent of drinking rubbing alcohol with the faint taste of grapes--and it has to be cheap.  I can’t see spending even half of what a typical connoisseur might drop on a single bottle of wine, so I tend to look for offerings that are in the $10 or lower price range.

Even though my wife can go far dryer than I can, her favorite kind of wine is moscato, which as you probably know is a light, sweet, and often sparkling wine.  Obviously, that’s right down my alley, too, so we often buy cheap moscato’s just to give them a whirl.

So imagine our excitement when we saw Aldi was offering Vivache Peach Moscato for just $6 a bottle.  Curious as to the origins of this wine, I discovered it was exported by a Prestige Wine and Spirits Group.  A little further digging through their portfolio revealed they produce a large selection of labels in both spirits and wines, of which I am familiar with exactly zero (I guess that’s what happens when you do most of your alcohol purchases at grocery stores and convenience marts).  Curiously, the brand Vivache is missing from their wine brand list, and a quick Google search only reveals hits from Aldi stores.  Could this be a label made specifically for Aldi?  It sure looks like it.

Anyway, being unfamiliar with fruit-flavored moscato, I was a little nervous as to how this would taste.  How “realistic” would the peach flavor be?  How would it blend in with the existing flavor of moscato?  A sniff right after twisting off the cap revealed a very strong, and very welcoming, peach aroma that is very akin to a wine cooler (sure enough, its label reveals that this is, in fact, a “wine cooler with natural flavor”).  Alcohol content is pretty lame, at 6%, but that's in relation to what you would expect from this kind of beverage, so if you’re looking to get drunk, I would definitely look elsewhere (you’ll probably get a headache from the sweetness before you even get hammered).

But if you’re just looking to sip some wine by the poolside, or out on the deck on a nice warm day, this is the perfect drink for you.  The peach takes center stage, with a mouth-watering flavor that I really didn’t find to be fakey at all, yet you can also taste the moscato hovering just below the surface.  I thought the flavor combination was pretty incredible, and the wife and I unanimously agreed that we wouldn‘t hesitate to pick this stuff up again whenever it becomes available.  Unfortunately, it was gone within a couple weeks after becoming available at our Aldi store, so it seems that we’re not the only one in on this secret.

Overall: 8.5/10.  As with many of the alcoholic beverages I enjoy, this will no doubt be too sweet for some, and true wine drinkers will scoff at the mere recommendation of a wine cooler, but I thought Vivache’s Peach Moscato is an excellent blend of the two titular items.  The peach is pronounced, and is complimented by an equally-sweet moscato background…honestly, the two flavors seem to feed off each other in perfect balance.  The 6% alcohol content is pretty lame, but what you would expect out of a wine cooler, so you can’t really knock it for that.  Value at $5.99 a bottle (in Ohio; it's usually $1 or $2 cheaper elsewhere) is very good, and for those that are just looking for a refreshing summer drink, I can’t recommend it enough.  Act fast; stock was out within two weeks at our store, so if you happen to see a bottle, grab it before it’s gone!

BLOCK PARTY HARD LEMONADE
Another pic I stole from the internet.  I've really got to get better about taking pictures....
When I first started shopping at Aldi very nearly a decade ago (my best estimates peg the year 2005 as the year I first set foot in one), they carried a hard lemonade by the name of T-Dubs.  To put it plainly, it was swill, with a flavor more akin to a lemon cleaning product than the actual tart fruit.  Yet I still bought it anyway, if only for the reason that it was (if my memory serves me correctly) $5 for a six-pack.  Well, I couldn’t have been the only one that found it offensive, as a short while later it was pulled off the shelves, never to return again.

But the only problem was, it wasn’t replaced by anything.  As a non-beer drinker, Aldi’s options are severely limited, to either wine, or the occasional special buy coconut rum or strawberry daiquiri.  I’ll even down a good cider, but for reasons unknown, they never get any of those in, especially considering Trader Joe’s has a fantastic one that could easily (at least in my head) be ported over to Aldi stores.

So imagine my surprise when, after at least seven years, a quick perusal of an Aldi advert revealed--a hard lemonade!  Then imagine my brief letdown when I saw the name: Block Party.  I mean honestly, could they have picked a more ghetto, ridiculously cheesy name than that?  Still, my interest was more than piqued, and I knew that no matter what, I was going to try one.  And I also knew that there was a good chance it was going to be terrible.  After all, this was the same company that thought T-Dubs was fit for human consumption.  So I grabbed the first six-pack at my local Aldi, went home, grabbed one, twisted off the cap and…

…was incredibly shocked.  This is what Mike’s Hard Lemonade strives to be; a refreshing mix of authentic lemon flavor and carbonation that dissipates into a sugary sweet finish.  There’s no bizarre aftertaste or bitter notes, it’s just a very sweet, very refreshing drink for a summer’s day.  Granted, even for someone as in to sweet drinks as I am, a little bit can go a long way, so you probably won’t be downing more than a couple in one sitting, but it’s pretty delicious.

That being said, there are a couple downsides.  As I just stated, the sweetness will be a turn-off for many, as each bottle feels the equivalent of drinking three cups of sugar.  The price is also a little alarming; at $7.99 (in OH; price may vary elsewhere) per six-pack, there’s really little incentive for people to give this a try, as it’s just about the same price as the main brand of hard lemonade. 

Overall: 7/10.  Though it will undoubtedly be too sweet for many, I found this to be a refreshing mix of authentic lemon flavor blended with lots and lots of sugar.  If you’re looking for something to get drunk off of, you’ll probably want to steer clear and look for something else, but as a patio drink on a hot summer’s day, this just might be the perfect beverage.  However, the $7.99 (in OH) price tag is also a little off-putting, as it’s very close to, if not the exact same price, as the national brand of hard lemonade.  I would still recommend this to those that are into this sort of thing, as I am.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Savoritz Cheddar Baked Snack Crackers (Aldi); Busy Baker Tangy Cheddar Squares (Dollar Tree)

SAVORITZ CHEDDAR BAKED SNACK CRACKERS
Any guesses as to what product this may be knocking off?
If you are a fan of the national brand, and chances are you can tell exactly what product this is emulating simply by looking at the box, go out and buy some, because these are every bit as addicting as the “original“, and for at least a dollar less per box.

I had my reservations the first time I grabbed Savoritz’ Cheese Baked Crackers from Aldi…who wouldn’t?  After all, the product on which it is based is a nearly perfect snack, with a nice, satisfying crunch, and a delicious cheese powder that leaves you coming back for more.  The margin for error was such that I thought there was no way that these could compare.

Everything here is just about perfectly emulated, even down to the national brands’ sole flaw (at least in my eyes) of being pretty darn salty.  Don’t get me wrong, it never stopped me from shoving these down my gullet by the handful, but it’s something that you notice, especially the longer the snacking session continues on.  The texture is every bit as crunchy, while the cheese flavor is pretty much spot-on.  I’ll just keep this one simple and to the point:  If you like the national brand, I can confidently say that you are going to like these.  And if you like saving money, then you’ll like these even more.

Overall: 10/10.  Not much needs to be said about these, other than the fact they are an almost perfect replica of the national brand.  The crunchy texture, the strong cheddar flavor, and the heavy dose of salt are all here in overabundance.  Even better, it’s at least a dollar less for the same size box, making it an excellent value.  Once you buy these, you may never go back to any other brand…not even the original.

BUSY BAKER TANGY CHEDDAR SQUARES
Don't be afraid...they're better than you think.

I think I’ve mentioned this before, but I always get a very hesitating feeling wash over my body any time I pick up a food item from Dollar Tree.  And it’s not without its reasoning, as more than a few food items I’ve purchased here have been pretty…subpar, to put it politely.  So imagine just how nervous I was when I grabbed a box of Tangy Cheddar Squares off the shelf, knowing full well that Aldi’s knockoffs are every bit as good as the national brand.  Could there possibly be room for another one?

In a side-by-side taste test, I found Aldi’s Savoritz crackers to be a lot closer to the taste and texture of the national brand.  Busy Baker’s crackers didn’t have quite the same cheesy punch, and they feel a little less crunchy than Savoritz’s version.  On the value front, both boxes are pretty close to a tie--although Busy Baker’s offers a 7 oz. box for $1, Savoritz offers their 12 oz. box for less than $2, so really the ounce-for-ounce comparison is pretty neutral.

But don’t go looking at this like it’s a complete loss for the Busy Baker’s version, because while it doesn’t have the same flavor as Aldi’s version or the national brand, that almost works to its advantage.  The taste is just different enough that it almost feels like its own separate product; like it’s just a unique twist on the same thing, yet it‘s still so good that I found it hard to limit myself to just a handful or two.  The cheese is muted a little bit, giving you a slightly more subtle (but still completely noticeable) cheesy flavor that would also be perfect in a soup or dip. 

There’s also 90g fewer sodium in Busy Baker’s version.  While in the grand scheme of things, it’s still pretty high (250g per 27 cracker serving), that’s still a whole percent less sodium per serving than Savoritz’s crackers, so for those eyeing their sodium intake to a “T”, you could save a little bit going with the Busy Baker (though curiously, there’s four times more saturated fat per serving, despite similar overall fat content, which could negate that advantage).

Overall: 7.5/10.  While not as close in taste to the national brand as Aldi’s Savoritz crackers are, Busy Baker’s Tangy Cheddar Squares are almost every bit as addicting.  The cheese flavor is dialed back just a little bit, but there’s still plenty to go around.  There’s also 90g fewer sodium per serving, which can certainly add up.  If you don’t have an Aldi store nearby, or just want to try something a little different, I’d definitely urge you to give the Busy Baker a try.  For $1 per 7 oz. box, you won’t be disappointed.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Millville Honey Nut Crispy Oats; Millville Blueberry Crunch Squares (Aldi)

MILLVILLE HONEY NUT CRISPY OATS
All the box is missing is a cartoon bee.
There are just some nights when I have to have a bowl of cereal.  But since the name brands are so ridiculously overpriced (really, $4 for a box full of corn and sugar?), I’m always looking for alternate options.  Malt O’ Meal is probably my favorite secondhand cereal company, but Aldi’s own Millville line is a close second, offering knockoffs that are generally very close in quality and flavor to the national brands.

Milville’s Honey Nut Crispy Oats are no exception.  Obviously a private label take on Honey Nut Cheerios, Millville’s version offers up a delicious honey kick that is not too sweet, but not too subtle.  For some reason, the taste reminds me of caramel popcorn, but that’s probably just me, so don’t quote me on that.  It has seriously been some years since I’ve last had the name brand, so I can’t really say how it compares to them, but it has an addicting sweetness that has made it one of my main go-to cereals from Aldi.  The corn “O”s are also pretty resistant to milk, so they don’t get soggy as quick as some other cereals do.  This is a good thing, because I tend to hate soggy cereal, or at least ones that have a habit of getting that way almost immediately after you pour the milk on.

And for under $2 a box (for a 12.25 oz. size), it also provides some good value that you won’t find with the national brands, at least short of cutting a bunch of coupons, or buying thirty boxes and mailing in for a rebate.  As we all know, a good deal makes everything taste a little sweeter now, doesn’t it?

Overall: 8/10.  As stated earlier, I have not had the name brand version of this in a long time, simply because they tend to be ridiculously expensive.  Since cereal is a staple in our household (mainly just because of me), I don’t have time to wait, or look around for sales, because I always like to have some on hand, as it makes a great snack and occasional supper substitute.  Specifically, one of my main staples is Millville’s Honey Nut Crispy Oats, which is a perfect blend of sturdy corn “O”s that don’t become too soggy too quickly, a light touch of honey, and a delicious sweetness that’s always seems to hit the spot.  Even better is the fact a good-sized 12.25 oz. bag is under $2, which somehow makes it taste even better.  Whether or not you’re a fan of the national brand, I suggest you at least give these a shot.  With Aldi’s Double Guarantee, what do you possibly have to lose?

UPDATE:  I actually just accidentally bought the national brand, ironically from Aldi, earlier this year.  If anything, I felt that the name brand did have a slightly stronger honey taste, but certainly not enough for me to justify spending the extra $1+ asking price from most retailers.  I’ll stick with Millville, thank you very much.


MILLVILLE BLUEBERRY CRUNCH SQUARES
Perfect for when you want something sweet and breakfast at the same time.
I tried Millville’s Blueberry Crunch Squares cereal several years back, one of the many times it has been offered as a special buy in Aldi stores.  I was simply looking for something new besides their typical cereal offerings, and I figured a mix of blueberries and lots of sugar couldn’t be so bad.  After just one taste, it immediately vaulted into my top 10 list of favorite cereals, a spot that it has held through to this day.

To be honest, I’m not even sure what product this is knocking off, as I don’t believe I have seen a national brand make a product like this.  Even a quick search on the internet yields nothing.  Yet there are dozens of private labels that offer a cereal like this, ranging from store brands, all the way down to Malt-O-Meal.  Is this one of the very few original private label items that have gained popularity without the benefit of riding on the success of a national brand?

Enough questions.  All I can say is, this is a delicious blend of blueberries (both naturally and artificially flavored, something I still don’t quite understand), and an almost streusel-like sugar topping that really brings it all together.  I’m not sure that it tastes like a blueberry muffin, which I believe (based on other private label versions with names such as Blueberry Muffin Tops, and, at second glance, the picture of the muffin on the above box) is the point, but taken at face value, this stuff is absolutely delicious.

Now, I realize this is definitely not for everyone’s tastes.  As a matter of fact, if you’re over 16 years old, I think it’s safe to say you have probably outgrown this cereal.  It’s ridiculously sweet; think Cinnamon Toast Crunch but with the added benefit of dried blueberries stuck to them.  That alone should tell you whether or not this is something you would be interested in.  Love cinnamon cereals?  Love blueberries?  Then you’re probably going to take to this.  Even though I’m a huge fan of this cereal, and it seems to be offered pretty regularly as a special buy (I‘d say around four times a year), I still have to be in the mood for it, so I usually only end up getting two or so boxes every 12 months.  So it’s probably not something you’ll want to have on hand at all times.  But if you have a sweet tooth, and are looking for something different, then I think Millville’s Blueberry Crunch Squares will be right down your alley. 

NOTE: I really feel like this would be a great main ingredient in a dessert of some sort, but that’s definitely not my forte.  If you've ever used this in a recipe, or have an idea for one, please share it below!

Overall: 9/10.  It can be sickeningly sweet, and for this reason it’s probably not something you’re going to want to eat all the time, but Millville’s Blueberry Crunch Squares is one of my favorite cereals.  Think Cinnamon Toast Crunch, only with blueberries, and you’re pretty much there.  It’s an inspired mix, as both of those flavors go together so well, to the point that I’m almost surprised there haven’t been attempts to mix other fruits with the streusel cereal (a Strawberry Crunch Squares springs immediately to mind).  Anyway, it’s one of many products only available for limited times at Aldi stores as a special buy, but seems to be offered pretty regularly.  If you want something different and want to fill a craving for something sweet, grab a box of this and kill two birds with one stone.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Live G-Free: Pizza Crust Mix and Brownie Mix (Aldi)

LIVE G-FREE PIZZA CRUST MIX
Great way to make a gluten-free pizza.
 My wife just started a gluten-free diet not too long ago, and so that means I’ve kinda started one, too.  So now when she makes spaghetti, it’s with gluten-free noodles, and so on and so forth.  While even my unsophisticated palate can detect a taste difference when these items are eaten plain, thankfully, they’re generally covered with enough sauces and/or meats to hide the difference in the finished product.

But even then I must confess to being completely overwhelmed with terror when my wife brought home a box of gluten-free pizza crust mix.  I mean, think of your favorite pizza…chances are, the taste of the crust is at least part of the reason you enjoy it so much.  And since gluten-free products, at least in my opinion, generally have weaker flavors, I was not too excited to see it ruin our tasty homemade pizzas.

Each box of the mix makes two pizza crusts, which I would estimate at around 12” in diameter.  The crusts were very thin and crispy, which thankfully is a style both of us like, so I give it some points for that.  I tasted bits of the crust without anything on it, and must say that, true to form, it was relatively bland.  Really, it didn’t taste like much at all.  But it did have a great crunch and a texture consistent with “regular” pizza crust.  And considering the awful flavors that I imagined at great length while the dough was setting in the refrigerator (it must sit in the fridge for 30 minutes before use), a lack of flavor was actually very welcome in my book.

In the end, we topped it with pizza sauce, mozzarella cheese, ground sausage, onions, and topped it off with some freshly-grated parmesan, and it was seriously one of the better pizzas I’ve had in a long while, either restaurant or otherwise.  Of course, the other ingredients played a bigger role in that, as the crust’s only job is holding all the toppings, but again, the thin crust and satisfying crunch definitely added to the pizza experience.  Even when we heated up the leftovers (that we refrigerated) the next day, the crust lost none of its texture or crunch, and the pizza itself was just as good, if not better, as it was the day before.

We bought these back when gluten-free products were only available as Special Buys, so it's good to see that they have added some of these items permanently in their stores.  Gluten-free products can get very pricey, but most of them that I've tried from Aldi (pasta notwithstanding) have been affordable and pretty tasty.  Hopefully they will expand the line as the months go on.

Overall: 8/10.  While short on flavor, it does what a pizza crust is supposed to do (hold toppings) and does it well.  I also gave it high marks for texture, as it was thin and very crispy out of the oven, giving most bites a nice, satisfying crunch.  I also liked that the box contained two roughly 12” crusts, which allowed both my wife and I to make our own pizzas, and at just $2.99, I didn’t think the price was that bad at all.  In short, I would definitely scoop these up again in a heartbeat, and will definitely be less nervous when trying other items from their “LiveGFree” line.

LIVE G-FREE BROWNIE MIX
You won't be able to tell these are gluten-free.  No joke.
When my wife announced she would be making gluten-free brownies, I wasn’t sure what to expect.  While I have enjoyed some items from Aldi’s Live G-Free line (see above review), others, like the pasta noodles, have been far less than satisfactory.  At best, I was expecting a decent chocolate flavor with a slightly-sandpaper-ish texture, while at worst I was expecting a crumbling mess of something not at all resembling a brownie, either in taste or appearance.

Right after my wife completed the creation, the first thing I noticed was how…normal it looked.  It looked exactly like a glutenous version of a brownie, and I thought maybe my best-case scenario would be far surpassed.  It even cut like a “normal” brownie, meaning the texture was pretty much spot-on as compared to a “normal” brownie.  But just because it looks like a brownie doesn’t mean it tastes like one…so how do these things taste?

Now I’m not a brownie connoisseur, but if I didn’t know in advance that this brownie was gluten-free, I never would have known.  It’s almost eerily spot-on.  Even though the texture was convincing while it was in the pan, I figured once I popped a piece in my mouth, that the fa├žade would end there, that something would be off just enough to ruin the ordeal.  But nothing like that ever occurred.  The brownie was soft, and almost melted in my mouth, the way a typical brownie does.  The chocolate flavor was surprisingly deep and authentic, which I really wasn’t expecting at all.  When it was all said and done, this was a brownie, plain and simple.

Though I haven’t tried a whole lot of the products in the Live G-Free line, I can say that this is by far my favorite one.  Everything is flawless when compared to the “real thing”, and at $2.99 per box, it’s also pretty affordable, at least as far as gluten-free products go.  I’m pretty convinced that even the most discerning child wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between this, or a gluten-filled brownie, so even parents on the diet that are afraid of subjecting their children to the sometimes “off” textures and tastes of gluten-free products shouldn’t have anything to worry about here.

Overall: 9/10.  If you don’t tell anyone these are gluten-free, no one will ever know.  This package makes a spot-on gluten-free imitation of a brownie that was absolutely delicious.  The chocolate flavor is very chocolaty and rich, while the texture is exactly what you would expect out of a delicious brownie.  At $2.99 a box, it’s also pretty darn affordable, especially as far as gluten-free products are concerned.  Whether you are on the diet, thinking about starting it, or just curious to see what a gluten-free brownie can taste like, this is a shining example of how products can be adapted for just about anyone to enjoy.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Choceur Peanut Butter Cups; Choceur S'mores Bites (Aldi)

CHOCEUR PEANUT BUTTER CUPS
Forget everything you think you know about peanut butter cups...
When you think of “peanut butter cups”, what word comes to mind?  If that word is “Reese’s”, that’s only because you’ve never tried Choceur Peanut Butter Cups, available at Aldi.

These are everything the national brand isn’t, and I mean that in a GOOD way.  You know how the peanut butter in the national brand tends to be a little…manufactured?  How sometimes the chocolate can be a little…flakey?  How it all becomes one jumbled mess in your mouth?  I mean, let’s be honest here…national brand peanut butter cups taste good, but it’s clearly evident we’re not working with world-class ingredients here.  Well Choceur’s product surprisingly doesn’t run into those problems.  For starters, the milk chocolate is ridiculously smooth, and melts in your mouth the way you wish the national brand cups did.  Like most products carrying the “Choceur” branding, it’s got a delicious milk chocolate taste that perfectly combines with the peanut butter.

And oh, the peanut butter.  You know how it’s just a peanut butter mass in most mass-market peanut butter cups?  How it kind of tastes like peanut butter, but doesn’t really look like peanut butter?  Well this is clearly peanut butter.  Just like the milk chocolate, it’s smooth, and it’s rich, and it tantalizingly swirls out of the cup with every bite, as if daring you to stop eating them.

If you like the combination of chocolate and peanut butter, this is something that you must try.  The only downside, which isn’t really much of a downside, is that Choceur’s peanut butter cups are about a third of the size of the “king size” national brand cups.  But that can also be a good thing, as those with incredibly strong willpower can eat a couple to cover a chocolate craving, without taking in a lot of calories.  In other words, these aren’t just worth the $2.49 asking price, these would even be worth an asking price of $5...and that would even be better, because then I’d be less tempted to buy them every time I walk past them.

Overall: 10/10.  Forget the national brand--Choceur’s Peanut Butter Cups are infinitely superior in every single aspect.  The milk chocolate is creamy, smooth, and melts in your mouth.  The peanut butter isn’t a mass of something resembling peanut butter, like it is in the popular version of these cups--this is straight up rich, fall-out-of-the-cup peanut butter that tastes like it’s fresh out of a jar.  And at $2.49 for a 12 oz. container, they are worth every single penny, and then some.  If you have even a passing interest in the combination of chocolate and peanut butter, you simply have to check these out.

CHOCEUR S'MORES BITES
I’m a sucker for anything s’mores, which is an odd thing to say, considering an actual s’more is so easy to make, it makes me wonder why there’s a sudden influx of s’mores products.  Normally if I saw mini s’mores bites anywhere else, I would have taken a pass.  But once I saw these at Aldi, and saw they were in the exact same container as their heavenly peanut butter cups, and made by the exact same brand (Choceur), I knew I had to give them a shot.

As you would probably expect them to be, Choceur’s S’mores Bites are nothing more than marshmallows and a graham cracker cookie, all smothered in rich milk chocolate.  The chocolate coating was actually my favorite part…it’s creamy, melts in your mouth, and is a vast step up from the rest of the ingredients.  The marshmallow, which works in the real thing only because it’s so warm and gooey, here just tastes like a normal, bland marshmallow.  The little graham cracker cookie more or less tastes like a graham cracker cookie.  But without the warm fillings, nothing combines the way they should, and what you’re left with is a poor imitation of the real thing.

To be fair, these things are far from atrocious, and they will definitely fulfill the occasional sweet tooth.  But if you’re looking for something that might match the utter deliciousness, and creamy perfection, of the actual thing, then you’d be doing yourself a major disservice by purchasing these.

Overall: 5/10.  Though they are definitely edible (thanks mainly to the delicious, almost addicting milk chocolate coating), Choceur’s S’mores Bites are so underwhelming as a whole that, if you are buying these because you have a craving for s’mores, you might as well just buy the stuff to make s’mores.  The marshmallow, which obviously isn’t warm, is just a boring marshmallow, while the graham cracker cookie is…well, a graham cracker cookie. Aside from the chocolate, there's nothing outstanding here in the least.