Sunday, May 22, 2016

Fresh Finds Mesquite Barbecue, and Sriracha Honey Kettle Chips (Big Lots)

This is a tasty little barbecue chip.

After trying a couple of the other Fresh Finds “gourmet” potato chips, I opted to try the most straightforward one yet: mesquite barbecue.  There are only so many things you can do with BBQ chips, and many of them come off tasting like salt more than actual barbecue, but based on what I’ve had, I had faith in Fresh Finds to deliver the goods.  Did they come through, or leave me hanging for the first time ever?

Like all the other Fresh Finds chips that I’ve seen, the Mesquite Barbecue is contained in an 8 oz. bag, for $1.90, which is a pretty good price point.  A vast majority of the chips take on a dark red hue, from the sheer amount of barbecue seasoning on each one.  While this can be a blessing, a lot of times with barbecue chips it tends to mean that it’s just overwhelmingly salty; still, I’d rather there be too much seasoning, than not enough, I suppose.

Just like the other Fresh Finds chips I’ve had, these really are nice and crunchy, just like the packaging declares.  This is no doubt due to them being processed as kettle chips, which tend to be twice as crunchy as standard ones.  And just like all the other ones I’ve had under the Big Lots private label brand, these are surprisingly delicious.

The “secret” ingredient in these, which are curiously missing from a lot of other BBQ chips, is that they add a touch of sweetness to their seasoning.  This is welcome, because it helps to counterpoint the saltiness inherent of standard barbecue chips, that I have now mentioned three times.  By adding a little bit of sugar to the mix, it creates a much more addicting flavor, and I found myself reaching into the bag at various points throughout the day just to shove a few in my mouth.  This doesn’t happen very often to me, as far as barbecue chips are concerned.

But it really works here--I was downing these quicker than any other barbecue chip of recent memory.  I’m usually hesitant to purchase BBQ chips because they all seem to taste the same (or close enough), but these stand out enough that I wouldn’t hesitate to get them again, though it would be some point down the road (barbecue used to be the only kind of chip I would buy, so I get sick of them quite easily, no matter how good they are).  If you don’t mind a little bit of sweetness to go with your salty, then these are a surprisingly delicious way to go.

Overall: 8/10.  A surprisingly sweet barbecue chip that is one of the better ones I’ve had in recent memory.  The BBQ itself is good, and manages to avoid being salty on its own, but adding in a touch of sugar makes these far more addicting than they should be.  For purveyors of crunch, these are kettle cooked, so they are twice as crunchy as standard potato chips.  The retail price, $1.90 per 8 oz. bag, offers plenty of chip for an affordable price, too.  If you’re a barbecue connoisseur, you should pick these up the first chance you get!

Don't think about it too much, and you will be pleasantly surprised.
I’m going to be honest here: I didn’t want to try these.  It was the last flavor that I had yet to try from Fresh Finds’ gourmet potato chip line, (besides the “standard” sea salt and other boring flavors), and even though the others were good, I was more or less terrified to buy a bag of these.  In fact, after much hesitation, I forced myself to pick this bag up, but also purchased a bag of their amazing Aged White Cheddar & Sour Cream chips to use as backup, in case these were bad.

For starters, everyone suddenly has sriracha fever, but “sriracha” these days essentially means something tomato-y and spicy, as companies flock to throw together something that they can call by that name simply to meet the demand of the market.  In other words, the “sriracha” taste companies often use isn’t very good, nor is it very authentic, and this is why I wasn’t too excited to get them.  But at the same time, I like a good edible challenge, and after walking around the store a couple of times and dwelling on the concept, I softened up and began to embrace the idea.  Besides, for $1.90, it’s not like I’d be out a whole lot if they didn’t live up to my mediocre expectations.

As with Fresh Finds Jalapeno Popper chips, I feel like these also are so named simply to cash in on the sriracha craze.  Again, the taste doesn’t remind me of sriracha sauce all that much, though there is a solid bit of heat that comes through.  If I hadn’t read the bag, and you just delivered these to me blind, I’d probably label them “sweet chili chips”, or something of the sort.  But you know what?  For all my opinions of the chip name, all that matters is the flavor, and once again Fresh Finds has come through—I’m honestly leaning toward naming them my current favorite chip brand, which is high praise coming from a store typically associated with closeouts and discontinued items.

It’s common sense how this combo is supposed to work—the spicy of the sriracha mixes with the sweetness of the honey to provide a counter-balanced taste—but there are a lot of ways this can go wrong, the most obvious of which is if one flavor overpowers the other. Thankfully, this isn’t the case.  It isn’t too sweet, with the honey playing a supporting role, allowing the “sriracha” to remain front and center, yet the sweetness still punches through.

These aren’t nearly as addicting to me as the Aged White Cheddar and Sour Cream chips, but this is a fantastic chip that’s very hard to put down.  The $1.90 price tag hints at something much more generic than what you get, which is a fairly original, very tasty snack.  If you come across these at your local Big Lots, ignore the voices in your head telling you this combination is “weird”, and give them a shot. Chances are, you’ll thank me later.

Overall: 7.5/10. These are pretty darn tasty.  Again, the flavor name seems to be a little exaggerated—sweet chili would have probably been more on point—but then again, they were probably just trying to cash in on the sriracha craze (that’s Marketing 101).  But regardless of the name, the taste is fantastic, with just the right amount of heat counterbalanced with a slight bit of honey that’s noticeable, but not excessive.  I’ve got to hand it to Big Lots…their Fresh Finds chip line provide excellent value for the money (each bag is only $1.90), as well as surprisingly delicious, and sometimes even unique, flavors. Give them a shot if you haven’t already.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Casa Mamita Fiesta Bake, Casa Mamita Bean and Cheese Burritos (Aldi)

A frozen Mexican entree that is actually pretty good.
There’s really only one thing that Aldi stores have to do to get me to buy something I normally wouldn’t go anywhere near:  Put it on sale.  There’s nothing quite like the excitement of looking around the store for red tags, then seeing what each one pertains to.

Enter Casa Mamita’s Fiesta Bake, a rather unappetizing-looking blend of cheese, rice, and just about anything else that can be considered “Mexican”.  I’ve passed up this entrĂ©e probably at least two dozen times over the years, without even a slight interest in purchasing it.  Until I happened to come across it when it had a red tag.  Even though the markdown was rather insignificant (from $7.99 down to $5.99, if I remember correctly), I figured that it would feed us for at least a couple nights, making it somewhere around $1.50 per serving, per person.  And who can argue with numbers like that?

After following the oven cooking directions to a “T”, which consist of putting it in the oven for a mind-boggling SEVENTY minutes, it came out way too soupy.  So I put it back in for another ten.  It was finally starting to bake, and “solidify” a bit more, but I was so hungry, I took it out of the oven and decided to eat it while it was a little softer than it was supposed to be.  I mention this because you might want to allot a few more minutes when preparing this, as it probably would have required closer to 90 minutes for it to get that proper cooked texture.

So after eighty minutes, dinner was finally served…in a bowl, its chunks of rice and corn surrounded in a brown “broth” more than slightly resembling vomit.  But hey, I figured as gross as it looked, it would still taste the same, so who really cares?  I added a little dollop of sour cream for some added flavor, and dove right in…

Even though I’m not a fan of rice in any capacity, I have to say that this was surprisingly delicious.  Not, “this is something I’m going to eat several times a year” delicious, but given its unhealthy-looking texture, it was a lot better than I was expecting it to be.  The rice combines with meat, cheddar cheese sauce (my favorite), peppers, and corn to form a delicious Mex-American taste that’s actually a notch or two above Taco Bell (granted, dumpster diving will get you something better than Taco Bell).  It’s certainly not an original casserole, but it’s something that’s a little different than, say, macaroni and cheese, or tacos.

My biggest complaint is the tortilla strip topping, which didn’t cook up very crispy in our oven.  Though the flavor was fine, there’s just something a little unappetizing about chewing on soggy tortilla strips, so that part didn’t win me over.  Besides, adding tortilla strips on everything considered “Mexican” seems to be a fad that I’m really hoping dies down soon.  I get it in some applications (I mean, tortilla soup wouldn’t be the same without it), but nowadays it just seems like it’s used simply to make Americanized Mexican dishes appear more “authentic”.  I highly doubt Mexicans put tortilla strips on everything, if they even use them at all.  Without that, this would have been even better.

Overall: 7/10. The tortilla topping stays soggy, which isn’t really all that appealing (or necessary), but the rest of this dish is actually quite good.  It’s got cheese, rice, meat, and tortilla strips coming together to form the kind of Mex-American taste that you would expect; I’m sure it’s far from authentic, but it’s about on par with what you would get at a popular “Mexican” fast food joint, and for a pretty good price, too.  A bit of caution: Even after 70 minutes in the oven (the recommended cooking time), it was still soupy and not quite ready, and we even have a newer oven.  So you may want to set aside some extra prep time, just in case.


You'll taste lots and lots of bean.  As for the cheese, you won't even notice it's there.

I never get these things, because they kind of remind me of gas station food.  Then again, I guess the same could be said about any number of frozen dishes, but the couple of times I have purchased these--many, many years ago--I never really cared for them all that much.  Well, times change, so I decided to give these a little shot.  We settled on the bean and cheese variety because my wife is a vegetarian, and she was unaware they even had a variety without meat.

As with most frozen burritos, less than two minutes in the microwave yields you a (hopefully) tasty finished product.  I’ll admit that I was a little taken aback upon opening the package--I had assumed that each burrito was individually wrapped.  They aren’t.  In fact, they’re just grouped together in clusters of four, so expect to have to peel some frozen burritos apart if you just want one or two.  It didn’t take long, but it was a little extra hassle that I wasn’t prepared for.

They’re also a little smaller than I thought they would be, but then again, you get eight of them for a mere $2.79 (if I recall correctly), so that wasn’t a big deal.  Unfortunately, they also taste exactly the same as I remember.  Where’s the cheese?  All I got was bite after bite of dry beans, with no cheese flavor in sight.  I thought maybe I just had to dig a little deeper--maybe it all settled in the middle, or something--but even then there was nothing but beans.  My wife, who has a set of taste buds far more acute than mine, also agreed that the cheese was nowhere to be found; thus we were both very disappointed.

Overall: 3/10.  There are eight in a package, for a mere $2.79, which make these a pretty cheap snack.  But even by those standards, there’s very little cheese in each burrito, making them incredibly dry, as they are overrun with beans.  I also went in expecting them to be individually wrapped, but they are not.  Again, at the price point that’s just a minor quibble, but go in expecting to have to peel apart frozen burritos when you open the package.  Time changes some things, but apparently the dry taste of frozen bean and cheese burritos are not one of them.  Will set my phone alarm for 2027 before giving them another shot.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Mama Cozzi's Morning Take and Bake Pizza, Breakfast Best Frozen Western Breakfast Pizza

If you're a huge fan of breakfast pizza, then prepare yourself for the biggest disappointment of your entire lives.
In Illinois, where my mother is from and grandmother currently resides, there is a chain of convenience stores known as Casey’s General Store.  They seem to be like any other convenience store: small and overpriced, except that they are curiously known for their pizzas.  They have a variety of them, from Taco Pizzas, to more standard toppings, but the one that immediately caught my attention was the most underrated, under-offered pizza of them all: breakfast pizzas.

How do more places not carry these?  More to the point, how do no pizza chains carry these?  I get that the logistics of keeping eggs fresh would probably get a little pricey, but that would be offset by the sheer monopoly that place would have on the industry.  And it’s not like breakfast pizzas are the kind of product that would only appeal to a small niche of people: it has everything that people who love breakfast love, and since everyone loves pizza, that’s a demographic so large I’m honestly surprised that no one has the guts to jump on it.

Needless to say, Casey’s breakfast pizzas became the go-to breakfast for us during our stay in Illinois.  I also happen to love Aldi’s frozen breakfast pizzas (released under the “Breakfast Best” moniker), so imagine my excitement when I saw that the discount grocer would be offering a take and bake breakfast pizza, complete with sausage AND bacon, cheese, egg, and a cheese sauce.  How could this not be good?  A fresher, deli-style version of a frozen classic?  I was ready to immediately praise this as a triumph before I even took my first bite.

This pizza is one of the biggest letdowns I’ve ever encountered from an Aldi store.  The sausage is the closest thing to “delicious” on the whole thing, but it’s so overloaded with sodium that the salt overpowers the actual sausage flavor.  My wife made the claim that the bacon tastes like “dog food”, which I found to be a little extreme…but not by much.  It’s kind of bacon-y, to the point that you can tell that’s what it is, but it is by no means a “good” bacon taste.  It’s just like little clumps of jerky, with a smokier flavor.  There weren’t a whole lot of bacon pieces on our pizza, so you shouldn’t notice them too much (seriously, my wife was at least two, maybe even three, pieces in before she even realized bacon was on it).

I was really hoping the cheese sauce would bring everything together and win me over, but even that sucks.  There’s no tang to it, nor anything interesting…it’s just a bland cheese sauce that doesn’t taste a whole lot like cheese.  Just for the sake of saying something nice, I will say that texture is perfect, as it’s not so thin that it runs all over the place, but it’s The only thing that I didn’t pretty much completely hate is the crust, which according to the box is a “croissant style crust”.  I don’t think “croissant” would have crossed my mind if I hadn’t read the packaging in advance, but it is light and kind of buttery.  There’s not much flavor at all, but when the rest of the flavors are so bad, something tasteless is better just by default.

This 12“ pizza retails for $5.  Normally, I would be ranting and raving about how that’s expensive for a frozen pizza, except I realize that breakfast pizzas seem to naturally be more expensive anywhere you go (and there are disturbingly very few companies that offer them; why no major chains have jumped on board is a complete mystery, except for probably the logistics of keeping eggs and the other ingredients fresh), so it’s about on par with what you can expect to pay elsewhere.  Only, there can be no value for something that’s bad; this is by far the worst breakfast pizza I’ve ever had.  In fact, it’s the only one that I’ve ever tried, and haven’t liked.  That probably says it all.

Overall: 2.5/10.  Hands down the worst breakfast pizza that I’ve ever had, which is a complete shocker to me, considering Aldi’s frozen breakfast pizzas are pretty excellent.  The cheese sauce has a great texture, but a taste that’s just “off”, while the sausage is made up of 90% salt.  My wife mentioned she thought the bacon pieces tasted like “dog food”; while I think that’s a little bit of a stretch, I will admit the look and the flavor have more in common with jerky than actual bacon.  I didn’t mind the crust…it’s light and lightly buttery, and that’s enough for me to call it the best thing on the entire pizza.  Breakfast pizzas are one of my favorite things in the world, and I was super-excited to give this a shot; to call this even a “massive letdown” feels too understated.  Unless they improve it or change it up completely, we will never be buying this ever again.

Now THIS is what you were expecting if you bought the above product...
The last time they offered their breakfast pizza, I’m pretty sure they only offered the bacon/sausage kind.  So I had to get one for myself.  This latest time, however, they also had a meat-free “Western” version, which substitutes onions and peppers for sausage and bacon, so I got one of each--one for myself to eat when my wife didn’t feel like cooking, and one for the both of us to share.

I did burn this pizza a little bit, but actually found the extra char to work to its advantage: Even without the meat, this is an insanely flavorful pizza.  In fact, I have another confession to make: I actually forgot that this was meatless.  The peppers and onion add some extra flavor and texture to the whole affair, while the cheese sauce (a replacement for pizza) is actually quite phenomenal…it’s got great texture, and has a light enough cheese flavor that the other ingredients still have room to shine on their own.

Honestly, I thought for sure that this Western version would suffer from a big hit to the flavor, without the bacon or the sausage, but that was certainly not the case.  In fact, I’d probably prefer this one to the meat-covered one, if for no other reason than the decrease in cholesterol and sodium.  But the flipside to this, and one of the biggest downsides for me, is that both the Western and the Meat varieties cost the same price.  I suppose that shouldn’t really bother me that much, but come on, peppers have to be a lot cheaper to manufacture than TWO kinds of meats; not to mention that meat is generally much more filling than vegetables.

On those grounds, I guess I would probably favor the meat one in the future, just because I felt like I got more food, for the exact same price.  But for strict vegetarians, you should feel confident knowing that what you’re getting is every bit as tasty as the meaty version…and that’s not always the case, at least in my opinion.  As usual, the biggest downside is that these are only available as a Special Buy; I believe they are a more recent offering, though, so I’ve seen them twice within a six-month span.  Hopefully this means it’s one that they put out often, especially during the summer months.

Overall: 9/10.  These are absolutely fantastic.  As someone who can appreciate both the vegetarian and carnivorous aspects of life, I was expecting there to be a huge flavor drop-off here, with the meatless combination of red and green peppers replacing sausage and bacon, but I thought it was actually better.  The meats tend to be overly salty, so this cut back on the salt while still delivering a ton of flavor.  Of course, the most important part of any pizza might be the base; the cheese sauce here delivers great flavor that blends in perfectly with the rest.  Breakfast pizzas of any kind sadly seem to be a rare breed, but Aldi delivers an excellent one here.  The $4 asking price might seem a little steep, but is well worth it.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Clancy's Cajun & Herb, and Dill Pickle Potato Chips (Aldi)

I hope you like paprika...

I have to say that these didn’t really appeal to me all that much when I saw them sitting on Aldi shelves…but when you eat as many chips as I do (sadly), sometimes you just want to try something a little different.  And so, while they didn’t look like they would do much for me, I wanted to give them a shot anyway.  Hey, worst-case scenario, I was out a dollar and a couple quarters.

The smell certainly delivers on the whole “Cajun and herb” idea…this smells strongly of Cajun spices.  However, though the smell hints at a strong, super-spicy taste, the actual flavor is no hotter than your typical barbecue.  This will no doubt disappoint those with a taste for really hot peppers, but obviously, they’re just trying to appeal to the mass market, so it makes sense (financially) to cool it down a bit to appeal to as many people as possible.

The taste is very heavy on the paprika.  The flavor profile actually reminds me a lot of a barbecue, if you remove any traces of the sweetness that many mass-market BBQ chips have, and replace it with lots of the red powder (curiously, there’s actually brown sugar in the seasoning here also, though I didn’t really catch any on the tongue).  I don’t mind the flavor of paprika, but it’s a pretty one-note kind of taste, and I did think these got pretty old fairly quickly.  I guess that’s sort of a good thing, as it prevented me from eating too many at once, but these definitely don’t have anything to make them “addicting”.

These are a Special Buy, meaning they’re only available occasionally at different points throughout the year, and once stock is gone, it’s gone until the next time.  Even with the potentially long intervals between seeing these offered again, I don’t think I’ll get them the next time they become available, or even the time after that—they’re just not really in my wheelhouse.  But at some point down the road, I’m sure I’ll once again get sick of the norms, and give these another chance.  They’re not good, not bad…just kind of there.

Overall: 5/10.  These aren’t bad, per se, just uninspiring; the main flavor of these consists of paprika, which is a pretty one-note taste.  It reminds me of a barbecue chip, minus the brown sugary sweetness that most of those chips have; at least the sweetness counterbalances with the salt and spices in most BBQ chips, giving it at least some slight complexity.  These are just pretty boring, and I got tired of the flavor pretty quickly.  Value is pretty good, at $1.49 per bag, but even at that price, it’ll be a while before I get these again.

I hope you really, really like pickle...
Of all the weird chips I’ve eaten over the years, I’ve always gone out of my way to avoid getting pickle chips.  I guess a lot of it can probably explained by the simple fact that I’m not a huge fan of actual pickles, so the thought of them in potato chip form sounds even worse.  But my wife loves anything and everything pickle-related, and so she picked up a bag of these when they were a Special Buy at Aldi.  Since they were in the house, I had to try them for myself.

Wow, I have to say that these are really pretty spot-on. It starts off with a sourness very reminiscent of salt and vinegar chips (and due in large part to the presence of vinegar as part of the pickle seasoning), but then a surprisingly accurate pickle flavor seeps in to the forefront.  I know there are people that like to put chips on sandwiches—it would be an interesting experiment to substitute these for actual pickles in a sandwich or sub and see if it would give the same flavor (or at least something relatively similar), but with the benefit of additional crunchy texture.

The only problem with these, and it’s something that even my pickle-obsessed wife agrees with, is that they just aren’t addicting.  They’re almost too accurate; they creeped me out more than they begged me to dig into them.  The sour factor also plays a strong role in these, because there’s really nothing to counterbalance the flavor:  It starts off with the sour vinegar flavor, and that merely gives way to a sour pickle flavor.  It’s not really surprising that a guy like me (who doesn’t really enjoy sour chips) doesn’t find these too addicting, but again, for the sake of comparison, even my wife could only eat a couple of these.  And she’s of the mindset that the more vinegar in a salt and vinegar chip, the better (I’ve tried a couple that she loved and actually winced because the taste was so strong).

This is a rare product that I just can’t really wrap my head around.  It should receive points because it’s very close to the food that it’s trying to replicate (an area where most chips fail miserably), but at the same time, there’s almost no reason to eat them.  They’re not addicting, and a jar of actual pickles are about the exact same price, meaning there’s really no reason to just grab a jar of those if you’re craving them.

A random, hypocritical side note: I would love to try a chip based on bread-and-butter pickles. That would be interesting, though it would probably be subject to the exact same complaints I had about this one.

Overall: 5.5/10. They’re pretty darn accurate, but that doesn’t mean that they’re necessarily "good": These aren’t the least-bit addicting, and actually get pretty old after just a few chips. Each bite starts with a strong vinegar flavor, with the pickle coming in shortly thereafter. Even my wife (whose decision it was to buy these, who is pickle-obsessed, and whose idea of a good salt and vinegar chip is one swimming in the latter liquid) could only eat a couple of these before putting them down, due to “taste fatigue”.  I can appreciate the accuracy and value, but these aren’t something either of us would be likely to get again.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Specially Selected Pancetta & Parmesan, and Rosemary & Balsamic Kettle Chips


One thing that I’ve learned in my lifetime is that it’s probably a good idea to avoid potato chips that are flavored after a meat.  There’s just no accurate way to really translate the flavor of, say, bacon, onto a piece of fried potato.  At their best, meat-flavored potato chips generally omit the titular meat entirely, such as with buffalo wing chips, which merely taste like chips covered in buffalo powder, without a hint of meat.  Ditto that for the hot dog chips I tried, which merely tasted like a mess of condiments.

With that in mind, I was actually against trying these at all, but inspiration came from an unlikely source: my vegetarian wife.  She reasoned that pancetta is a lighter-flavored meat (she went vegetarian about a year ago, so has tried just about all of them at one point or another), and she was convinced that flavor could, conceivably, be somewhat accurately replicated in chip form.

Even after eating them, I’m not sure if she’s right or not, because this successfully follows the aforementioned rule of pretty much omitting the meat flavor entirely.  As I ate more and more of these, a subtle aftertaste seemed to emerge that suggested the pancetta, via a lightly smoky flavor, but it exists more in the background, rather than a marquee flavor.  And trust me, I’m not really complaining about that, because that means that the spotlight belongs to the parmesan, which is much easier to translate to chip form.

And they do a good job of it here, because these chips are pretty good.  The parmesan flavor is fairly strong (which I like), and each chip is given a generous coating of the stuff to ensure just about every bite is even in taste.  They aren’t so good that they’re anywhere near “addicting”, but on the other hand, that’s kind of a good thing considering potato chips aren’t really all that healthy for you.

The one bit of confusion I have is why these are under the Specially Selected label, which is generally reserved, at least I thought, for more “upscale” offerings, rather than under the Clancy’s line, used for chips and snacks.  There’s really nothing here that seems to suggest anything fancy, and even the price, which is $1.79 per bag, is in line with the other chips that Clancy offers.  Maybe by giving it “fancier” packaging they’re hoping to appeal to a certain crowd, but I can’t think that there are droves of meat-lovers craving pancetta on a chip.

This is more of a stray observation than a knock, because these chips are good, and affordable, no matter what label they put them under. I would get these again, and for those that don’t mind the meat-on-a-chip aspect that I’ve more or less been harping about, they are recommended.

Overall: 7/10.  A delicious chip that mainly ignores the pancetta, focusing instead on delivering the parmesan in droves, a task that it accomplishes.  The pancetta does sneak up on you the more you snack on them—the first few chips for me tasted like clear parmesan, until I started noticing a little smokiness entering into the tastebuds—but it doesn’t do much to detract from the overall flavor.  Maybe best of all: a bag is just $1.79, which is pretty good for a “premium” bag of chips, and much cheaper than even plain potato chips of the national brand.  They aren’t so great so as to be addicting, and I won’t say that I’ll ever crave them in between Special Buy cycles, but I would pick these up again at some point in the future.


I needed a nice chip for my lunch (just about every single day at work, I eat a sandwich and chips), and was going to settle for one of the more usual flavors that Aldi has, when I opted to wait and see if they had any eye-catching ones as Special Buys.  I was about at the end of the aisle, running out of potential space to find something, when something caught my eye: Specially Selected Kettle Chips.  They were available in two flavors: Balsamic Vinegar and Rosemary, or Parmesan and Pancetta.  I had the parmesan version in my hand, but my mind flashed back to all the meat-flavor potato chips I’ve had, which are sadly plentiful, and after enduring a slight shudder, I opted for the balsamic and rosemary.

I was even more amped when my wife told me that she tried one as she was packing my lunch, and that they were very good.  We tend to agree on foods, so if she likes something, there’s a really good chance that I will, too—part of the many positives to being together with someone for so long is you really learn to adapt to their lifestyles, and vice versa.  I enjoy things that I never did before I met her, and some of my favorite things have rubbed off on her.

I must say that I had totally forgotten exactly what the flavors were in the chip I bought.  I knew rosemary was in there, but I couldn’t remember with certainty what the other one was.  I took a bite.  There was some rosemary and then…holy hell, there was a ridiculous tartness that tasted a lot like vinegar, which, as it turns out, is what it was.  I always thought that balsamic vinegar was a little weaker, and even a tad bit sweeter, than regular vinegar, but maybe I’m just thinking of balsamic glaze.

Anyway, the first few chips took me some time to adapt to.  A day later, I’m still not entirely sure what I think about them.  They have grown on me somewhat, to the point that I like them, but I’m certainly not crazy about them, and I’m not sure about the prospects of me ever buying them again.  On the flipside, my wife loves them, despite disliking rosemary, but she does love salt and vinegar chips, which these remind me of a lot.  The flavor is different enough to set itself apart from those, but have flavor profiles similar enough to widely appeal to fans of salt and vinegar chips.

Overall: 6/10.  The thinking man’s salt and vinegar chip, Specially Selected’s Balsamic Vinegar and Rosemary have enough subtle flavor differences to stand on their own, but also have a similar enough flavor profile that they really won’t appeal to those that don’t enjoy salt and vinegar chips.  I grew to like these, but I definitely don’t love them, and I really don’t think I’ll ever pick these up again.  But for $1.79 per bag, there’s not a lot of monetary investment required to give these a shot to see if they will appeal to you.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Sun Dishwashing Detergent, Dollar Tree Aluminum Foil (Dollar Tree)

Terrible picture, solid product.

The problem with reviewing dishwashing products is that it can be hard to tell what’s really at fault if a particular dish doesn’t come out clean.  Was it just put in with too much grease or food on it, to the point that no single cycle or single dishwashing product would possibly be able to clean it?  Was it simply put in a bad spot, where water wouldn’t reach it no matter how much, or what kind of detergent was used?  Or is it the detergent’s fault?  It can be really hard to deduce sometimes, even after multiple uses.

Anyway, my wife swears by the expensive “three-in-one detergent packs”, which have dishwashing powder, along with three random pockets of multi-colored gel, whereas I prefer things that are much, much cheaper.  And so we like to go back-and-forth; I use my favorite products when I do dishes, and she sticks to her expensive crap.  Well I was perusing dishwasher products on the Dollar Tree website recently (actually, I was hoping they would have a rinse aid, but to no avail) and saw huge praise from users for their Sun Dishwashing Detergent.  Could this be the product I’ve been looking for?  Could it win my wife and I over, thus saving us a few dollars a year on overpriced detergent packs?

Refer to the opening paragraph.  It can be hard to deduce what is what (though our dishwasher is only about three weeks old, and I’d like to think it couldn’t really be at fault); actually, after contemplating this for a little while, what I really think it boils down to, is that there’s really not much difference between any of the dishwashing products out there.  Did the Sun detergent blow my mind with how wonderfully well it performed?  Not really; it simply did what it was supposed to do:  The glassware was sparkling, with no streaking, just as it is with everything else we’ve ever used, and the bowls came out as they should: Clean.

So while I can’t say it does any better a job of cleaning dishes than any other dishwasher product out there, I will say, at the very least, it performs exactly the same as all the others.  Which should be enough incentive for most to purchase it, as a 20 oz. box retails for a mere $1.  Alas, it won’t be enough evidence for my wife, who will still swear the overpriced detergent packs do a better job, and will continue to pay five times as much just to fulfill her perception but hey, I guess you can’t win them all.

Overall: 8.5/10.  Many reviews I’ve seen state that this stuff does a better job than pretty much every name brand powder in existence, a claim that I did not find to be accurate.  However, I did find it does pretty much the exact same job, for a fraction of the price, which is good enough for me.  Ultimately, in this day and age, I just don’t think there’s that much difference between the cheap stuff, and the more expensive stuff, a sentiment that seems to be becoming truer by the day, as national brand factories, sensing an opportunity to make even more money, produce more and more private labels.  Random thought: Wouldn’t it be funny if they ended up putting themselves out of business?

Here's what a bunch of it together looks like. Avoid this like the plague.

We usually go elsewhere for our foil needs, but during a recent trip to Dollar Tree, my wife realized that we were completely out.  Rather than make a stop somewhere else just to get some foil, we just grabbed some there.  After all, how bad could it be?

The first red flag is that there’s no brand name.  None whatsoever.  All you can tell from the rectangular red packaging is that it’s aluminum foil, and that there’s 40 square feet of the stuff inside; that’s all the information whoever made it is willing to give you.  After we opened it, we realized why:  Words like “sucks”, and “completely worthless” would not be good selling points, yet they are the only words you can use to describe this dreck.

There’s “bad”, and then there’s this.  It’s absolutely terrible.  Even just touching it, you can tell that something’s not quite right; it’s very thin, very fragile, and threatens to fall apart every time you do something as simple as look at it.  Against all common sense, my wife still decided to use it anyway, to cover up a cake she made for Thanksgiving dessert.  Well by the time we got to our destination, the foil was threatening to fall off of the cake, and in simply trying to put it back on, we ended up puncturing it full of holes.

I suppose if you’re going to be keeping something in a refrigerator, where there’s positively NO chance that it can be bumped, or come into contact with any other thing, this might be a good product for you.  But if whatever you’re carrying under this foil is being touched, or transported, I’d spend the extra money and get your foil somewhere else.  Anywhere else, because, quite simply put, even at a dollar, this is more of a hassle than it’s worth.

Overall: 1/10.  If you just need foil for light duty stuff, you may be able to get away with using this junk.  But if you’re going to be covering something that needs transported, or handled, or has any chance of coming into contact with anything else, spend the extra money for aluminum foil elsewhere.  It’s unbelievably thin, doesn’t hold to the sides of dishes well at all, and falls apart so easily, you’d swear it was a defense mechanism.  Some things just aren’t worth it no matter how cheap they are; these need pulled off the shelves immediately.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Millville Summer Berry, and Apple Walnut Oatmeal (Aldi)

Great option for those that like to overpay for average oatmeal.
I very rarely eat oatmeal, but when I do, my absolute favorite kinds are the cheap little “fruit and cream” varieties.  And best of all, it’s only a couple of dollars for somewhere around eight packs.  There’s just something about fake fruit pieces (or maybe they’re real…hard to tell these days) floating around in a bunch of sugar that just hits the spot every once in a while.

Well, since “natural” oatmeal seems to be gaining in popularity, I guess it only makes sense that Aldi would jump on the bandwagon.  Here, we have a single-serve cup of oatmeal, containing "summer berries", which would consist of strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries.  But unlike the packets, these aren’t little pieces of questionable-looking fruit “flakes“--these are huge, full-sized blue- and raspberries, and large chunks of strawberry that looks pretty darn inviting.

I must say that I was thrown for a loop when I came home one day to a barely-eaten cup of this sitting on the kitchen counter.  It was from my wife, who was the one that made the decision to purchase these; it didn’t take a whole lot of investigating to deduce that this meant she did not like it.  And if she didn’t like it, then chances were probably good that I wouldn’t like it.  And so I kind of put off eating the second, and final, cup that we had purchased, instead relegating it to a dark existence sitting in our pantry.  But it was only a matter of time until I got too lazy to go grocery shopping, got hungry, and needed something to eat.  Naturally, this was easy, and was otherwise serving no purpose, so I decided to go for it.

As can be expected, prep work is easy: Fill up the cup to the “fill line” (which is curiously located on the outside of the container), pop it in the microwave for about a minute, let it sit for a few, stir it up, and breakfast is served!  It gets nice and thick after setting, and is the perfect consistency even for me, and I prefer mine to be pretty watery.  But how does the flavor compare to my little packets?

Honestly, I prefer the little cheapies.  I stirred for a while, and the first few bites were pretty weak in the sweetness department…even the berries themselves are more tart than anything.  As I got down farther and farther into the cup, however, the brown sugar became more and more noticeable, but it wasn’t until the final couple of bites that it was as strong as I like.  I guess I’ll have to spend even longer stirring it up next time.

I did like having the multiple berries, but they don’t really pack a whole lot of flavor.  So what you’re pretty much getting is a slightly flavorful, slightly sweet cup of oatmeal for a ridiculously overpriced $1.19.  I’m sure these are better for you than the packets that I like, but then again, I can get eight of those for the price of just two of these.  And artificial flavors or not, those taste a hell of a lot better.  I didn’t dislike these at all, but the price just isn’t in line with what I’d be willing to pay for a breakfast food that I hardly partake in, and the flavor tradeoff isn’t worth that inflated price, either.  This just isn’t a product for me.  Or my wife, who absolutely hated it.

Overall: 5/10.  It’s not that bad, and I actually liked having “fresh” berries in there, but I am of the opinion that, at $1.19 per single serving cup, there’s just really not much in the way of value.  In fact, I much prefer the taste of the cheap “fruit and cream” oatmeal packets, of which you can get 8 for about the price of two of these cups.  There’s also an astonishing 18g of sugar, even though I barely got any sweetness until I was about halfway done with the cup.  For me, it was definitely edible, it just wasn’t even close to being worth it.  If these dropped in price by at least half, I’d think about getting them again.  Otherwise, I’m fine considering this purchase a one-off.

Pretty good stuff, but also pretty pricey for what you get.
In my review of Millville’s Triple Berry Oatmeal, I noted, among other things, that the $1.19 price point is pretty excessive.  And it is, especially for what you get.  Even though Apple Walnut sounded a lot better, I would have been just fine going without it had they not been marked down on my next trip, to $.99.  Laugh if you must, but the twenty cent drop made a difference because that is the maximum retail price that I think these should go for; I still didn’t feel like I was getting a good deal, but $1 for a full serving of oatmeal isn’t all that terrible.  Besides, I was looking forward to this one the most, so I wanted to have enough of a reason to give it a shot.

I was hoping that there would be a little bit of cinnamon in this one, because everyone knows that apples and cinnamon go together incredibly well, but slightly to my chagrin, it only has “golden sugar”, which is a combination of sugar and molasses.  As with the triple berry variation, there are some pretty large chunks of real (dried) apples and cranberries in here, on top of the walnut, so I guess that kind of helps to justify the larger price tag.

Tastewise, this one is a lot better than the triple berry.  I still think it could have benefited a bit more with even a little bit of cinnamon, but the molasses/sugar combination does a good job of delivering sweetness throughout the cup.  The cranberry taste wasn’t really noticeable to me, but you can’t miss the apple; the walnuts are rather soft, as you might expect from microwavable oatmeal, but there’s not really enough of them to give off that much of a flavor.  The crunchiness does add a bit of texture for those that don’t like the weird softness of oatmeal, though, and the pieces are pretty big when you do stumble on them.

Basically if you like apples and oatmeal, you’re going to like this.  Again, even at the discounted $.99 I paid for it, it still feels a little overpriced, and unless it gets marked down even more, I won’t pick up either flavor again.  But if you like oatmeal way more than we do, or have a much more disposable income than we do, or find it deeply discounted, then this might be something that should be on your radar.

Overall: 6/10.  It’s a lot like you’re probably expecting: the taste of apples, a little bit of sweetness, and that‘s about it.  The walnut pieces are pretty large, but no matter how much I stirred it up, they always seemed to sink to the bottom.  I didn’t even realize there were cranberry pieces in there until I happened to read the container, and unlike the walnut and apple pieces, the cranberries are really thin; thus, they don’t provide any kind of discernable taste.  I paid $.99 for this because it was marked down--even at that price, it feels kind of hefty, with the regular $1.19 price tag even more ridiculous.  It’s not bad at all, but I didn’t think the end result justified the price; I’ll be fine sticking to the cheap oatmeal packets, no matter how questionable their contents are.