Sunday, August 31, 2014

Mama Cozzi's 16" Italian Meat Thin Crust Take n' Bake Pizza; Mama Cozzi's 14" Hawaiian Thin Crust Take n' Bake Pizza

MAMA COZZI’S ITALIAN MEAT 16” THIN CRUST TAKE N’ BAKE PIZZA
Pretty delicious.

Whenever my wife doesn’t want to cook, or we’re just looking for something quick and easy, Aldi’s take and bake pizzas are our most frequent go-to option.  They are cheap (a 16” will run you no more than $5.99), and so easy even I can toss one in the oven.  Not to mention they are actually pretty good for the price.  No, you won’t be getting anything near the equivalent of a gourmet pizza straight from Italy, but then again in that price range, you shouldn’t expect one.  What we do agree on is that a take and bake pie from Aldi’s is better than most delivery pizzas nearby, and for half the cost.

Aldi always carries the “typical” pizzas (pepperoni, cheese, sausage, The Works, and a 14” Ultimate Meat pizza are among their year-round offerings), but also offer seasonal take and bakes as Special Buys, which are items carried in limited quantities that are not replenished once stock runs out.  Their latest, and one we hadn’t tried yet, was an Italian Meat pizza.  Truth be told, I actually got this to eat myself, since my wife is generally not a fan of meaty pizzas, but we agreed to save some cash on delivery, and just eat this for a nice, relaxing Friday night at home with a movie.

What really drew me in to this pizza is the addition of some delicious-looking circular hunks of Italian sausage, which are featured as a topping, along with pepperoni, their regular large chunks of sausage, and a blend of five different cheeses.  Let’s see you get a pizza like that for under $10 from a delivery or carryout chain!

As with most of the others we have tried (BBQ Chicken pizza notwithstanding), this pizza was delicious.  In fact, it’s better than most of the others we have tried from Aldi.  I was a little afraid the two sausages would be too similar in flavor that they would essentially cancel each other out.  But both of them were different enough to compliment each other very well (the sausage hunks were more an “American” sausage while the round cuts are more Italian-style).  The cheese blend is also a step above their typical cheese, and while I can’t even pretend to pick out the different styles, you can clearly tell it’s not just mozzarella.  The thin crust, after about fourteen minutes in the oven, was perfectly crispy, and provided the nice, crunchy foundation for the rest.

Of course, there’s a crap-ton of salt in here, to the point that I felt my mouth “tingling” from “sodium burn” after a few pieces.  But thankfully, it doesn’t really affect the taste all that much.  And I’m sure no one buys a meat pizza from a supermarket and expects it to be even remotely healthy, but just wanted to toss that out there regardless.

Overall: 8/10.  While just about all of Aldi‘s take and bake pizzas are good (BBQ Chicken notwithstanding), their Italian Meat pizza is even better than that.  The cracker-thin crust was perfectly crunchy after about fourteen minutes in the oven, the five-cheese blend is a step above their usual, and the flavors of the different meats compliment each other very well.  It might not be saying much, but this is better than the pies at most delivery pizza chains, and for only $6.  Of course, it’s so high in sodium, you can literally taste it, but given the fact it’s a.) a supermarket pizza, and b.) covered in meats, that should come as a surprise to no one.  If you are into this sort of thing, I definitely recommend that you give this a shot.

MAMA COZZI’S HAWAIIAN THIN CRUST TAKE N’ BAKE PIZZA
A pre-devoured Hawaiian pizza.

Well I had just reviewed Mama Cozzi’s own Italian Meat take and bake pizza, and called it one of the best I’ve had from the supermarket chain.  How was I to know that it would be topped just a couple of nights later?

Also a Special Buy, in that once it’s sold out, it’s gone, Mama Cozzi’s Take and Bake Hawaiian pizza is just what you would expect from such a pizza, except for one semi-odd thing:  Instead of pizza sauce, it has barbecue.  Now for me, that wasn’t much of a big deal, as I rarely eat Hawaiian pizzas.  But my wife, who has eaten a few in her day, was a lot more apprehensive of the sauce switch.

The unique thing about this pizza, is at a quick glance, you’re not going to see any pineapple on it whatsoever.  That’s because there isn’t any on it.  Instead, it comes in a separate plastic container, and you put it on yourself right before baking. This prevents the pineapple from getting too mushy, or getting everything else too soggy.  It also keeps the pineapple fresh, to the point that it tastes like a freshly-cut pineapple.  I was expecting it to be more akin to canned pineapple, but even once it’s cooked, it’s very sweet, very juicy, and very flavorful.

The ham appears in paper-thin chunks, yet is still the perfect counter to the sweetness of the pineapple.  In fact, the ham’s thinness is actually a good thing, as it avoids the taste of being overly salty, something that plagues a lot of Aldi’s take and bake meat pizzas (and a lot of meaty pizzas in general).  The cheese is standard stuff; good, but nothing spectacular to write home about.  However, the addition of the barbecue sauce is a truly inspired moment, as the sweetness of the barbecue perfectly compliments the sweetness of the pineapple.  Even my wife was impressed, giving this pizza surprisingly high marks, and obliterating her skepticism of trading pizza sauce for barbecue.

This pizza is also only available in thin crust, so those that enjoy their pizzas a little more traditional and thick, might want to think twice before purchasing.  However, much like the Italian Meat pizza, it only took about 14 minutes to get a perfect crisp on the cracker-thin crust, and I felt the crispiness made the pizza even more enjoyable.  If you see this one, and aren’t opposed to pineapple on your pizza, I strongly urge you to pick this one up!

Overall: 8.5/10.  A delicious Hawaiian pizza that replaces pizza sauce with barbecue.  Wisely, the pineapple is left off the pizza, and included in a separate plastic pouch, which keeps it fresher, and from getting everything else too soggy.  Tastewise, the sweetness of the barbecue mixes perfectly with the sweetness of the pineapple, while the paper-thin ham chunks provide just the perfect amount of salty to balance everything out (while preventing it from being too salty, like many other Aldi take and bakes are). One of the best of Aldi's take and bakes, and we've tried just about all of them!

Guess I moved the camera too quick!  Anyway, here's the setup of the pizza when you open it.  Note that it's not as blurry in real life.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Good and Clean/Freshine Lemon Wipes (Dollar Tree/Aldi); Scrub Buddies Quick Erasers (Dollar Tree)

GOOD AND CLEAN (DOLLAR TREE)/FRESHINE (ALDI) LEMON WIPES
Aldi wipes.
We might as well have a two-fer here, because you really can’t review one without referencing the other…in other words, I’m pretty convinced it’s the same product.  My wife and I recently started making candles, as a way to cut back on the cost of always having to purchase them.  As you can probably imagine, this can be messy business, as stirring spoons and thermometers have to be cleaned after every use, wax can get all over, and fragrance oils and colorants can spill.

Water and soap only tends to make things worse, at least when it comes to the wax, so I started using Freshine Lemon-Scented Wipes from Aldi to clean up the messes.  They work really well, every bit as well as the Clorox wipes, which let’s be honest here, are completely overpriced.  Sure, it might take a little scrubbing, but within a few seconds, all my utensils are like new and ready to make another candle!

During a trip to Dollar Tree, we stumbled on Good & Clean Lemon-Scented Wipes and also decided to give them a try, just to see how they would compare.  Without wasting time on a build-up, I’ll say they also did a good job, one that was pretty much exactly like Freshine’s version.  If I were a betting man (and I am only on occasion), I would say that Clorox probably has a hand in making both of the knock-offs, as they perform and smell very similarly to both each other, as well as the national brand product.  The price points are also crazy similar, with Freshine’s version retailing for $3 (for 75 wipes), while Dollar Tree has 24 for $1.  So while technically you get 3 free wipes at Aldi when comparing the two, Dollar Tree is still perfect for households that don’t use them all that often. 

This is one of those items where two discounters come together to prove the only way that you can go wrong, is by buying the national brand.

Overall: 10/10.  With both performing exactly like (and probably being created by) the national brand, Freshine’s Lemon-Scented Wipes (from Aldi) and Dollar Tree’s Good and Clean Lemon-Scented Wipes are perfect for disinfecting and cleaning countertops, stove tops, hardwood floors, and many other hard surfaces for a fraction of the cost.  Both off-brands also feature very similar pricing (with Freshine holding a miniscule edge by offering an extra wipe per dollar), so you really can’t go wrong either way.  Definitely a must-have for any household!

Dollar Tree's wipes.  Note this container is much bigger than the dollar version, which only have 24.
SCRUB BUDDIES QUICK ERASER SPONGES

Stock photo.

One day long ago, my wife picked up the name brand “magic eraser” product at a local store, and was amazed at how quickly and easily it cleaned up even difficult stains.  I was a little skeptical at first, that something without so much as soap could do even a decent job cleaning up, say, ink off of a tile floor, but watching her wipe off some kind of stain on our kitchen counter-top without even breaking a sweat made me a believer.

The only thing preventing it from becoming a constant staple in our household was the price.  No, $3.50 for four pads certainly isn’t going to break the bank, but considering we tend to go through them fairly quickly, as these things can clean just about anything almost anywhere in the house, the cost could certainly add up.

So a few months back, we stumbled on Scrub Buddies Quick Eraser Sponges at our local Dollar Tree.  What piqued my interest in this product is that two come in a pack, instead of one, so you are only paying $.50 per sponge, which add up to some fairly decent savings over the long haul.  Of course, such savings are nothing if they don’t work well, but I have to say that these do a great job of cleaning up spills and stains, like the aforementioned ink on tile.  After one of our ballpoint pens broke in our kitchen, leaving ink all over the floor, I was frantically thinking about what could clean it up.  My wife calmly suggested one of these, and sure enough, it took it up like a charm.  I had to scrub a little bit harder than usual, but if that’s the only trade-off to saving 40 cents a pad, then that’s one I’m willing to live with.

The only main difference I could see is that these are flat sponges, and aren’t textured like the name brands.  Seeing as how I’ve never used the national brand, I can’t say if it makes much of a difference, or not.  I will say my wife thinks the name brand works a little better, but considering she has me pick some of these up every time I go to Dollar Tree, there must not be that much of a difference between the two.  So if you’re on a tight budget and looking at ways to shave off a few bucks (and in this day and age, who isn’t?), I highly recommend giving these a try.  Chances are, you won’t be disappointed.

Overall: 9/10.  My wife claims the national brand erasers work slightly better, but each pad also costs at least 40 cents more.  In my experience, Scrub Buddies Quick Eraser Sponges have handled every task that I’ve thrown at them, from color stains on our kitchen counter-top, to ball-point ink stains on tile after one of our pens exploded on the floor, which is no small task considering these are only 50 cents a pad (two come in a package for a dollar).  These have become one of our household staples, and this is a product that I highly recommend.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Bremer Frozen Fettucine Alfredo (Bagged); Bremer Fettucine Alfredo (TV Dinner) (Aldi)

BREMER FROZEN FETTUCINE ALFREDO (BAGGED)
Fettuccine alfredo has, and probably always will be, one of my favorite foods.  The heavy cream sauce, the thin noodles, the feeling that you can drop dead at any time from all the cholesterol…mmmmmm, just a match made in heaven!

Of course frozen entrees can never match the ‘real’ thing, and Bremer’s attempt at alfredo is certainly no different.  The most notable surprise for me are the noodles, which go for a thicker, home-made style, rather than the thin fettuccine noodles that I’m used to.  While these noodles are much thicker, and somehow make the meal feel heartier, they totally negate my preferred method of eating by spinning them around on the fork, which kind of depressed me a lot more than it should have.

The sauce is more or less what you would expect from a frozen meal, and my wife summed it up almost perfectly by referring to the taste as “garlic milk”, something it also resembled as it was super-thin, even after sitting for a while (but I’m going to chalk that up as a mistake during the cooking process and give the fine folks at Bremer the benefit of the doubt).  There is definitely some garlic in there, and it has a slight hint of richness in it, but it almost seems as if heavy cream was substituted for skim milk…the usual ‘punch’ of a really good sauce is nowhere to be found.  I also detected no parmesan.

I also take umbrage to the serving sizes, which (no offense to anyone) always seem to be aimed at dieting women.  The bag boasts four servings, which for $5 isn’t bad at all.  Except that as a growing young man, I only got two servings out of it.  $2.50 per serving still isn’t bad, and is way cheaper than you will pay at a restaurant, but I just thought I should mention that you might not be getting as much as you think you are.

That’s not to say any of these quibbles are surprising--they’re more or less exactly what I was expecting as I picked it out of the frozen case at my local Aldi store.  It’s not bad, nor is it anything to write home about; it’s fettuccine alfredo made safe for the majority, like every other mass-produced, heavily-processed food out there.  If you’re looking to throw together a quick meal for a decent price, this could definitely be an option for you.

Overall: 5/10.  I wasn’t a big fan of the “home-made” style thick noodles, which aren’t as conducive to twirling them around a fork like the thinner fettuccine noodles.  The sauce is just typical pedestrian stuff, a thin blend of garlic and cream that, like many frozen foods, strives only to appeal to the masses.  There’s nothing to write home about here, and nothing that stands out, but if you’re just looking for a quick meal to whip up, this could be for you.


BREMER FETTUCINE ALFREDO (TV DINNER)
What "meh" looks like.
There was a time, several years ago, when I was a bachelor, that I virtually lived off of TV dinners.  They were cheap, they were quick and easy to prepare, and there was just the right amount of fat, cholesterol, and processed additives in them to make them surprisingly tasty.

Thankfully, my days of relying on them as a main source of nutrients are long gone, but I’m not against grabbing some every now and again.  Not so I can relive my glorious bachelor days, but simply because they make a good snack (What can I say?  I’m a health nut!), or a good dinner substitute in case my wife doesn’t feel like cooking, or we both get too lazy and there’s no food in the house.

It is with this mindset that I purchased a couple Bremer Fettucine Alfredo frozen dinners from a recent trip to Aldi.  After all, the national brands that I had years ago where rich, creamy and really pretty good, so I figured that Bremer’s version would have no problems stacking up to those memories.  I was wrong.

First of all, there didn’t seem to be a whole lot of sauce.  In the past, I remembered having way too much, and here you get a small puddle that might be enough to lightly coat your entire serving of noodles, but certainly not enough to drown them in.  I mean let’s be real here:  These things exist in a world where words like ‘healthy’ and ‘nutritious’ have no value, so I at least expect enough alfredo sauce to make me die a happy man should I suddenly collapse of a heart attack in mid-meal. 

But then again, this thought process took place before I actually tried the sauce…one bite in and not only was I wishing there was less, but I was wondering where Bremer, and by extension Aldi, could go so terribly wrong.  The main taste in the sauce is…salt.  Salt.  Out of all the unhealthy yet delicious ingredients in a typical alfredo sauce (heavy cream, butter…parmesan cheese for God’s sake!), and they have to overload it with something that’s not even in a typical fettuccine alfredo recipe.  Give me a break.

While we’re complaining about things, I would also like to direct your attention to the front package, which proudly exclaims “Made with real half and half!”  Well, that right there explains why this sauce is nowhere near as rich and creamy as it should be, and maybe why massive amounts of salt is needed to give it any type of flavor.  It’s also a perfect example of what irks me with packaging nowadays, where products feel the need to tout the only real ingredient in the entire thing.  Even if it is something as pointless and underwhelming as half-and-half.

Overall: 3.5/10.  While it’s not THAT offensively terrible, I will admit that I had some relatively high hopes for Bremer’s Fettuccine Alfredo, and it didn’t even come close to matching them, let alone exceeding them.  So my ensuing disappointment has been factored into the score.  Some good-looking egg noodles are destroyed by an overly salty (?) alfredo sauce that’s proudly “made with real half and half”, as the box hilariously declares.  Seriously, let’s focus on that for another second.  You really want to mention that instead of heavy cream, your terrible sauce was made with a coffee creamer?  Anyway, I ate it because I was hungry, but it was nowhere near satisfying.  This is one of the rare times I’ll say avoid this stuff and go with any national brand.  They’re also usually on sale for a few nickels cheaper anyway.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Nature's Nectar Orange Pineapple Banana and Peach Orange Mango Juices (Aldi)

NATURE’S NECTAR ORANGE PINEAPPLE BANANA JUICE
A word for the wise for those that may be new to Aldi:  Their Nature’s Nectar brand juices are always good and provide serious bang for your buck, often tasting very similar to the national brands but for a fraction of the cost.  Thankfully many of them, like their fantastic V8 knockoffs (Blendz, which knock off V8 Fusion, and Splash, which, not ironically, are similar products to V8 Splash) are available year-round, along with the typical suspects (apple, orange, grape, etc.)

Unfortunately, their best offering, the ne plus ultra of Aldi juices; a ridiculously delicious concoction of pineapple, orange, and apple juices, along with banana puree,  is only available occasionally as a special buy.  Like the national brand on which this is based (it’s even in a very similar container), Aldi’s version of Pineapple Orange Banana juice is made up of 100% juice, and it’s evident from the first sip; every single one of its flavors is evident from the moment it hits your tongue; the tartness of the orange gives way to the sweetness of the pineapple, and the entire thing is finished off with the perfect dose of banana that brings the level of sweetness down a notch or two.

I must confess that this is probably not a drink for everyone:  While, in my opinion, the banana and the orange do a great job of neutralizing the very sweet pineapple, I could still see it being way too sweet for those opposed to such drinks (though in the interest of full disclosure, I should also mention my wife, who generally is opposed to my super-sweet drinks, still ended up liking this a great deal, to the surprise of both of us).  I did think the sugar content was kind of high (25g per 8 oz. serving), but when you’re mixing the juice of several different fruits, that is probably unavoidable (the package does claim there is no added sugar).

This is a beverage that deserves a permanent spot on Aldi shelves, at least during the spring and summer seasons; the fact that it has been a Special Buy twice in consecutive months (January and February 2014) might be a hint that they are looking into doing just that.  It’s a very refreshing drink that stands among the best of what Nature’s Nectar has to offer.  If you ever stumble on it at your local Aldi store, you should definitely pick it up and give it a try!

Overall: 10/10.  My favorite of all Nature’s Nectar juices, which is saying quite a lot as I have never been disappointed with anything from that line.  The individual juice flavors are very well balanced and, in my opinion, not too sweet.  As with a lot of juice drinks, the sugar content is fairly high (25g of sugar per 8 oz serving), but that is also to be expected when you’re mixing the juice of several fruits.  Overall, if you have even a passing interest in any of the three fruits featured in this drink, there should really be no reason not to give it a try.  The only downside:  Get it before it’s gone, because it’s a limited-time Special Buy that deserves a permanent place on Aldi shelves.

NATURE’S NECTAR PEACH ORANGE MANGO JUICE
The bottle.  For the review above, simply imagine this bottle with pineapples and oranges on it instead of peaches and mangos, and mentally replace the lettering with "Pineapple Orange Banana".

I am not really a fan of mango.  I had the fruit once, and that was enough to know I would be fine if I never tried it again.  Yet for some reason, I don’t mind mango when it’s an ingredient in certain things, especially juices.  I’m not exactly sure how that works, but that’s how it works.

Well enough about my random mango intro.  I didn’t mince words in my review of Nature’s Nectar’s Pineapple Orange Banana drink, calling it ‘my favorite of all Nature’s Nectar juices’.  Like that one, their Peach Orange Mango is also a Special Buy, which means that it is only available for a limited time throughout the year, and while I can’t say this did as much for me as the Pineapple Orange Banana, it’s still a very fine addition to the Nature’s Nectar juice line.

Much like POB, POM is also made up of 100% juices with no sugar added, which definitely gives it a very fresh, authentic taste (though there are a few other added juices beyond the three titular stars, such as apple, grape, and pineapple that are used to round out the flavor).  But for those that might have been off-put by the sweetness of the Pineapple Orange Banana, this version puts orange a little higher up the ingredients list, meaning this juice is much more tart than sweet.  This probably helps to explain why they are generally offered during the same Special Buy cycles, as each one covers a different palate and focuses on the different tastes of the consumer.

Despite the name, which puts peach in the front, it definitely seems to have a much stronger orange flavor, with the remaining fruits revealing themselves later.  Even though I would say it’s fairly well balanced, I didn’t find it as smooth as the Pineapple, as with the orange comes the extra acidity, as well.  However, the mango and peach do their best to soften out the orange with their respective sweetness, and the end result is a very drinkable juice beverage that, if it weren’t for the Pineapple, I would definitely get a lot more often.

Overall: 7.5/10.  Though, in my humble opinion, not quite as smooth or well-balanced as their Pineapple Orange Banana juice, Nature’s Nectar’s Peach Orange Mango juice is an excellent addition to their line, and one I would definitely recommend.  The orange seems to take center stage here, but the peach and mango are still noticeable, edging out the tartness with their respective sweetness.  Unfortunately, this is only available occasionally as a Special Buy, but would make a very refreshing beverage come spring or summer.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Candy Christmas: Belmont Candy Cane Pie; Moser Roth Milk Chocolate Truffles (Aldi)

BELMONT CANDY CANE PIE
Words like "heavenly" don't even come close to accurately describing this.

I can’t hold it in, so I‘m just going to come out and say it:  This pie is perfect.  It’s hands-down the best frozen pie I’ve purchased anywhere.  When I first stumbled on it at Aldi a little over five years ago now, I immediately fell in love with it; its ridiculously soft and creamy mint center, its light and fluffy whipped cream, those perfect chocolate candies on the top, that ridiculously necessary fudge layer toward the bottom, the chocolate cookie crust…all come together to form a slice of heaven.  Jesus couldn’t make a better pie…it’s that freaking good.

Available at Aldi and only around Christmastime, I made the vow right then and there that this would become my holiday tradition.  Sure enough, it has remained that way, even to this day.  Unfortunately for me, thousands of people also seem to have picked up on these in the time since my first fateful encounter, because every year they seem to get harder and harder to get, assuming you fail to get them the week they are first offered as a Special Buy. 

Wanting to share in the wealth, I’ve even taken these over to my parents’ house, as well as my in-laws, and now both of them ask me when these are available every year.  No joke.  It’s pie perfection, and the fact that they are only occasionally available make it that much more addicting, as the cravings have too much time to fester and grow.  Now, it’s to the point where I only have to see them in the Aldi ad, and my mouth immediately starts watering.  That flawless mint flavor…those chocolates…that silky-smooth texture…I’m sorry, I just can’t help it!

It’s interesting that this is one of the very few Aldi products that, at least to my knowledge, aren’t a knockoff of a major brand.  In fact, I’m not sure of any other stores carrying anything like this.  A quick internet search has revealed that school fundraiser Market Day is the only other place to sell this product, and it seems to be the exact same thing, which is kind of bizarre…why haven’t other stores jumped on top of this?  Has no one ever tasted this thing?  If you’re reading this, turn around, jump in your car, go to your local Aldi store, and buy one now.  Then you can go ahead and thank me in the comments later.

Overall: 10/10.  The best frozen pie I’ve ever had, Belmont’s Candy Cane Pie is a perfect mix of mint, chocolate, and whipped cream that‘s so good, I really don‘t think there are words that can accurately sum up just how great it is.  Ever since I first tried it a little over a half-decade ago, I vowed it would become my own personal holiday tradition (it‘s only available at Aldi‘s around Christmastime), and it has remained that way ever since.  It has also received rave reviews from family members I’ve let try it, and they continue to ask me every year when this is available.  Seriously, if you like mint and chocolate together, there is almost a 100% chance you'll love this.



MOSER ROTH MILK CHOCOLATE TRUFFLES
I stole this pic and was too lazy to Photoshop out the dark chocolate bag.
Aldi consistently has some excellent chocolate offerings.  From their Choceur line, which is more akin to Hershey’s in terms of flavor and price-point, to their more exotic Moser Roth line, you generally can’t go wrong with purchasing any of them from your local Aldi store.

That certainly holds true with Moser Roth’s Fine Truffles, which are available in both dark and milk chocolate versions.  These are basically knock-offs of Lindt’s Lindor truffles, with a very similar “bag”-style packaging that contains individually-wrapped chocolates inside, but it won’t quite set you back as much as their national-brand counterparts.

True to such form, these truffles consist of a ball-shaped, hollow outer shell of chocolate, that gives way to a soft chocolaty center.  Both parts are ridiculously creamy, with the outer shell melting in your mouth almost upon contact, leaving the rich center to do its thing.  One of my only complaints is that the soft chocolate core tends to come out entirely on the first bite, which ruins my planned tactic of eating them in equal halves.  But obviously this is just a minor quibble.  Another minor complaint is that they do not offer a white chocolate version, as, in my opinion, those are the best out of all of Lindt’s varieties.  Still, Moser Roth’s truffles provide some pretty decent value, making what should be a splurge, into an almost necessary buy (a bag of these, which consist of 17 truffles, will only set you back $2.49).  The only major downside is, much like the national brand, it’s only available during the holiday season, as these would make great treats year-round.

Overall: 9/10.  These are almost pitch-perfect knock-offs of Lindor truffles, with a tougher outer shell of chocolate that hides a rich, soft chocolate center.  The only difference is you won’t have to pay an arm and a leg to get them, as a bag of 17 truffles is a mere $2.49 (prices may vary by location).  I highly recommend these to anyone who enjoys chocolate.  Just be sure to stock up on them when you go, since like many of Aldi’s best products, these are only available around the holiday season.  Note that they are also available in a dark chocolate version.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Clancy's Baked Cheddar and Sour Cream Ripples; Specially Selected Gouda Cheese Bites (Aldi)

CLANCY'S BAKED CHEDDAR AND SOUR CREAM RIPPLES
A picture of a bag of this stuff, cowardly stolen from the internet.
In the world of chips, I much prefer the fatty, greasy, fried potatoes as opposed to the lighter, “healthier” baked options.  But for the sake of variety, I like to switch things up every now and again, which is what lead me to Clancy’s Baked Cheddar and Sour Cream Ripples potato chips.  Since ripples are my favorite style of chip, and cheddar and sour cream is my favorite flavor, I thought ‘What could go wrong’?  Hindsight is 20/20...

I was first off-put by the smell, which I guess is pretty much what you would expect out of a product that somehow has fifty ingredients--it pretty much smells like a factory.  There’s nary a hint of cheddar, or sour cream in the scent profile, which is never a good thing when that’s the flavor of chip you’re about to eat.  It just smells…processed.  Bitter.  Take your pick; it’s anything but inviting.  But hey, there are plenty of things that smell terrible that still taste good, so this is just a small knock…right?

Thankfully the looks put my fears at ease, at least temporarily.  A lot of the chips are absolutely covered in cheese powder, which is something I was not at all expecting.  Far too often baked chips skimp out on the flavor, giving you a light sprinkle of flavoring in an effort to once again remind you that you’re eating something semi-healthy.  One thing you can say:  Clancy’s is definitely generous with the cheese…it’s all over the place!  Now with a rejuvenated interest in the processed product, I hunkered down and took a bite…

The chips have a satisfying crunch, which is about the only positive thing I have to say about the taste aspect.  And don’t think that I’m holding these to the standards of a normal greasy, fried chip; I have had some very good baked chips in my day, even from Clancy themselves.  Like Alexander’s bad day, these are terrible, horrible, and no good.  The cheese powder does give you a flavor that slightly resembles cheese, but I had a hard time detecting even the slightest bit of sour cream, unless that was the nasty, processed aftertaste that lingered in my mouth for far too long.  Speaking of taste, for this being a ‘potato’ chip, I couldn’t even detect the slightest bit of potato, as the chip base tastes more akin to a cracker, than a chip.

I packed these for my lunch at work all week, and whereas I usually have no problems sticking to what I packed, I kept trying to find excuses to buy food rather than force these things down my throat.  About a quarter of the bag ended up in the trash, and I honestly can’t remember the last time I didn’t finish a bag of chips.  They single-handedly took the fun out of lunch, and that is the first time I’ve ever had anything like that happen.  In case you can’t tell, this is something I will never buy again, and if you’re in the market for baked chips, I strongly advise you to find an alternative.

Overall: 2/10.  The chips do get some marks because of value (a full-sized bag goes for under $2), and the chips are absolutely smothered in cheese powder, but those are about the only positives I can even dig up.  If the scent doesn’t turn you off, the flavor will, which tastes pretty much as you’d expect from potato chips made in a factory; there’s nary the taste of sour cream to be found, and the chip itself tastes more like a cracker.  One of the few Aldi products I can say with utter certainty that I will never buy again, so I highly recommend you look elsewhere, too.

SPECIALLY SELECTED GOUDA CHEESE BITES
Emmentaler cheese bites are pictured here, because my wife has our only camera and she is out of the house for a few hours.  "You could just wait for her to get home," you say.  But I don't want to.  Regardless, the Gouda cheese bites are of the same line, in a very similar bag (with slightly different coloring), and look exactly the same, so it's used as a substitute.  I regret any inconvenience or confusion that may arise from using a different, but very similar, product.
The “Specially Selected” line seems to be Aldi’s “premium” collection, so I tend to jump at the chance to try the items that are, shall we say, cheaper.  Honestly, I’m not really sure how much these were, as they were unmarked (and I’ve since tossed the receipt), but they looked pretty cheap, and that was good enough for me.

These Gouda cheese bites are light, fluffy potato crisps that are cutely made to resemble Swiss cheese, which is kind of weird if you think about it, because these have nothing to do with Swiss cheese.  Still, I somehow liked the unnecessary touch.  They get their Gouda flavor through the use of “Gouda cheese powder”, according to the ingredients (one of three powders, including just straight-up “cheese powder” and “butter powder” that are also listed). 

Let me be honest here: I have no idea what Gouda cheese tastes like.  But if it tastes like these chips/crackers, I could probably learn to like it.  The flavor in these crisps starts off heading for “white cheddar” territory, then somehow veers off before it gets too strong, ending with a creamy, buttery flavor that’s actually kind of addicting.  The light texture doesn’t make you feel like you’re eating greasy potato chips (which you’re not), while the aforementioned lighter taste makes it come across as something that’s almost…healthy (which it's not).

As I said, these are pretty addicting, so it’s easy to eat more than you plan to.  I found myself eating one of these cracker/chip hybrids every few seconds for a few minutes one day when I was bored, so keep yourself entertained while you eat them to prevent overeating.  This isn’t a snack that I could keep around the house all the time, but seeing as how this is a once-or-twice-annually Special Buy from Aldi, that means it’s really not an option anyway.  This is something I could definitely see myself getting again.

Overall: 7.5/10.  A nice, light texture and a creamy cheese flavor combine to make this pretty delicious and surprisingly addictive snack.  A quick search on the ‘Net has also revealed these things are only $1.49 per 4.4 oz. package, which makes them even more enticing.  If you stumble on them, and are in the mood for something a little different, I would definitely suggest you check them out.  Chances are, you won’t want them around all the time, but seeing as how they’re only available a couple times a year from Aldi, that will give you plenty of time to build up your next craving!

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Blue Starling Candle Co.

Over an Open Fire (Chestnuts + Brown Sugar) - 9 oz. size
I definitely don't want the focus of this blog to waver from what it's intended to cover (budget and private-label foods), but I did just want to take a little bit of time out to mention a business my wife and I have just started, in the hopes that some of my readers might be interested in it.

Blue Starling Candle Co. is, as the name suggests, another candle company.  But it's not just another candle company.  Instead, we operate by seasonal collection (Spring/Summer and Fall/Winter), offering just a handful of scents in each collection that center around a seasonal theme.  Once the season ends, so too do the fragrances available for that season...and they may never return again.  Why do we do it this way?  The answer is simple:  We feel our limited collections add value.  What's so special about owning mass-produced candles that anyone can buy?

Not only are our candles highly fragrant and of high quality, but each one is individually crafted and hand-poured right in our own home.  Each one is also finished off with our own candle label, as well as Christmas-colored ribbon around the top of the jar, and a Christmas sticker on the lid, making them also effective as Christmas decor.  And we always offer free shipping!

Our debut collection consists of six scents that focus on the smells of Christmas.  They will only be available through December 20th, at which point we are closing down to focus on creating our Spring/Summer collection, so please check out our website for our current inventory and like us on Facebook to help us spread the word.  You can also just Google us, as we have been featured in a couple blogs, and also offer our products from a few different online marketplaces if that's more your style.

On top of our typical collection, we are also currently offering Ultra-Limited Edition candles, which are special edition candles that are limited to quantities of just ONE, so once that one sells, it is gone for good!  For being one-offs, these candles are surprisingly affordable, and would make excellent Christmas gifts for friends or loved ones, so scoop one up now if you are interested because they certainly won't last long!

Example of an Ultra-Limited Edition candle!  How limited are they?  See this one?  It's it!
This season is just the tip of the iceberg, as we have some massive plans to expand our product selection, and to market and promote our brand, so please check us out.  You can also sign up for our mailing list on our website to receive discounts and information on new seasonal offerings, and Ultra-Limited Edition candles.

Thank you very much for taking the time to read this.  Now back to this blog's regular material!