Sunday, September 28, 2014

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

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.

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)

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.

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)

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.

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.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Millville Cocoa Rice and Cinnamon Crunch Squares Cereals (Aldi)


BREAKING NEWS: Cocoa Rice is also gluten free!

I think I mention this every time I review a cereal from Aldi under the “Millville” moniker, but Millville cereals really are where taste and budget merge together.  Very few of the cereals miss the mark versus the name brands, and even in instances where they might not taste as good, their substantial savings really help to even things out, closing the gap between national brand quality versus price.

Millville’s Cocoa Rice is no exception.  As you would expect, these are small, fluffy, chocolate-covered rice bits.  Visually, they look pretty much exact when compared to the national brand, but seeing as how you didn’t buy this stuff just to sit and look at it, I’ll go a little farther.  The smell reeks of straight-up cocoa, which is definitely a little more reassuring.

Taste-wise is where I could easily see this cereal dividing consumers.  For me, the cocoa flavor is spot-on, easily making this one of my favorite of Millville’s plentiful cereal offerings.  Now, when I say it’s “spot-on”, I don’t necessarily mean in comparison to the national brand, which I haven’t had in so long I don’t think I could make an accurate comparison, but it’s just a perfectly light and sweet cocoa flavor that doesn’t try to be too overwhelming.  Which is potentially where the problem lies:  This probably isn’t a cereal for serious chocoholics.  Even the milk at the end, which is one of my favorite parts of eating this kind of cereal, is usually a light brown color, rather than the darker shades I seem to remember downing as a kid.

So if you are looking to have your taste buds decimated with chocolate flavor, then this probably isn’t the cereal for you.  But if you don’t mind a more subdued cocoa, one that is still obvious but not too bold, Millville’s Cocoa Rice is something that will more than likely be down your alley.

Overall: 8/10.  Though serious chocolate lovers might be a little disappointed, I find Millville’s Cocoa Rice to be an addictive cereal, one that offers a generous helping of cocoa flavor, without being too overbearing.  The cereal is also surprisingly milk-resistant, in that it somehow manages to stay crispy for a while even after being drowned in milk.  Overall, one of my favorite Millville knockoffs, and at under $2 a box, it also doubles as an excellent value.

The downside of Aldi constantly changing recipes:  This once great cereal, reduced to crap.
One of the interesting things about dealing with private labels, is sometimes the suppliers change.  And when the suppliers change, so too does the recipe.  Since Aldi is comprised almost entirely of private labels (though more and more national brands keep creeping in, much to my dismay), recipes and formulations seem to be altered almost weekly.  Sometimes, it’s for the better:  Their gelatin fruit cups used to be inedible long ago, but they now just taste like del Monte’s.  Other times, it’s not, and this is sadly one of those cases.

If I had been writing this review even three months ago, I would be talking about how the cereal had a perfect amount of cinnamon, while the squares were light and fluffy.  It was definitely one of the best cereal knock-offs in a store full of good ones.  But something changed between now and then, and it has taken a serious nose-dive in quality, to the point that I will never buy it again (something I told myself last time, only to forget they changed the recipe).

For one, the squares have gotten much…well…crunchier.  While I can see some liking this change, I for one preferred when the squares were softer and almost melted in your mouth.  The upside to this, I guess, is that the cereal doesn’t get soggy so quick.  If this was the only change, I’m sure I could learn to adapt.  After all, who cares about a little extra crunch, right?

Well gone is the delectable cinnamon flavor of yester…month, in favor of a much lighter, almost subtle taste.  Whereas the cinnamon used to jump to the forefront and dance delicately on your palette, exciting your taste buds, this new version can best be compared to the taste of a cinnamon rice cake:  You know it’s there, but it leaves you wanting more.  Even the crunchier cereal square tastes like it’s been burnt, which might explain the sudden change in texture.  But before you go around thinking this was just a bad batch, remember, I accidentally bought this cereal a second time, with the same results, and the odds of getting a bad batch twice are probably one-in-a-trillion.  The original’s pleasant aftertaste is also gone, replaced with something that’s much more metallic and uninviting.

This new version is so bad, I’m tempted to build a time machine, track down the person responsible for the change, and off him before he has a chance to mess with my precious, precious cinnamon squares.  But while we’re all holding our breath for that to happen (and while I go to college for 10 years in order to understand how exactly to build a time machine), I’d just go ahead and avoid it.  At least, until they inevitably change the recipe again somewhere down the line.

Overall: 2/10.  There aren’t many products that I can flat-out say I would never buy again from Aldi, especially in the usually-excellent cereal department, but Millville’s Cinnamon Crunch Squares fit that bill.  Replacing a delicious version of this cereal is a new recipe that features crunchier cereal squares that almost taste burnt, a cinnamon flavor that you have to dig for, and a gross aftertaste that won’t leave your mouth as soon as you want it to.  I still must give it some marks for value, as a box goes for under $2, but value can only go so far when the product isn’t even worth buying, let alone eating.

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

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.

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)

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.

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)

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.

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.