Sunday, July 26, 2015

Fast Bites Breaded Chicken Sandwich; Sausage and Cheese Breakfast Sandwich (Dollar Tree)

FAST BITES BREADED CHICKEN SANDWICH
What $1 looks like in frozen sandwich form.
If you’re at all familiar with the “Fast Bites” sandwich line, available at Dollar Tree for the titular amount of currency, then you know they consist of a variety of frozen sandwiches, mainly purchased by single, lonely people who have no one to cook for them.  If you haven’t heard of them, then good for you…you were better off for it.  But sometimes we all get in a little pinch, so I picked up a couple of these just to see if they were worth a buck.

The breaded chicken sandwich is just that…a piece of breaded chicken, topped off with a sesame seed bun, and bottomed off with a much more bland bottom half.  I actually ate this entire thing the way it’s presented right out of the box, without any additional condiments or toppings, though I think that’s more a sign of my laziness than any kind of endorsement as to the tastiness of this sandwich.  Honestly, it’s almost exactly as you’re probably picturing it in your head…a non-crunchy piece of chicken sandwiched between two semi-soggy pieces of bread.  That about sums it up.  The flavor of the chicken is decent, though you can tell there’s no shortage of sodium, which is par for the course in the world of frozen foods.  You’ll also be questioning the quality of the chicken, but then again, that’s also par.

Really, I’d compare it to something you would get at McDonald’s, at least in terms of quality, and the price tag is also similar.  It is a little smaller than the box would suggest, so if you’re really hungry, you’re going to need at least two, or maybe a side dish, to fill you up.  You’ll probably also want at least some mayonnaise, if not lettuce and/or tomato, as the chicken is fairly dry by itself.  You should also probably prepare yourself for a case of eater’s regret, which you will get immediately upon finishing the last bite.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Overall: 4/10
.  While there’s technically nothing wrong with the taste, this is a perfect example of what’s wrong with America in general:  A case of food being way cheaper than this kind of food has any right to be.  There are barely any nutrients to be had, aside from a heavy dose of protein and some dietary fiber, but it’s mainly a heavy dose of fat and cholesterol, and a load of empty calories.  The bun, while not as soggy as you may expect, still doesn’t taste very fresh, and the chicken is of questionable quality, like most of the frozen foods that we eat.  If you’re in a pinch, either one that’s budgetary, or timed, I guess it doesn’t get much easier than tossing this in the microwave and having a quick dinner, but I wouldn’t recommend living off these for any prolonged amount of time.

FAST BITES SAUSAGE AND CHEESE BREAKFAST SANDWICH
This terrible picture is what I get for forgetting to take my own.
I love breakfast sandwiches, but they’re often pretty expensive, with multi-packs, even at Aldi, pushing a dollar per sandwich.  Not to mention that they are entirely unhealthy, but that’s really only a secondary concern for me anyway.  So when I saw Dollar Tree offering cheese and sausage breakfast sandwiches for roughly the same price, I decided to see what they were all about.

We’ll start off with the biggest flaw, and one that haunts all of these frozen sandwiches:  The biscuit.  Microwave prep, which these are designed for, just doesn’t allow for any kind of frozen bread to cook up crispy, so what we get is a soggy, lifeless, and largely tasteless biscuit.  I also get the feeling that it’s too soft…definitely the weakest link in the entire thing.  The packaging is also slightly misleading; you know how you buy a bag of chips, only to find out it’s 90% air?  Well the sandwich isn’t quite as big as the packaging would have you believe.  It’s still good size, don’t get me wrong, but the box it’s in makes it look like it will be a monster (it’s also pretty flat, so it doesn’t even take up half the box height).

Surprisingly, the taste comes together to almost make up for all the other shortcomings.  The sausage patty is just about on par with those you would find at a certain fast food establishment; it’s super sodium-packed (of course), but has a good flavor that tastes, well, like sausage.  There’s plenty of cheese to go around, too; even though my sandwich had most of it globbed on one side, there was still noticeable cheesiness on the other half.  It’s nothing mind-blowing, as it’s just a piece of American tossed haphazardly on top, but it goes rather well with the sausage.

I find the value to actually be pretty decent, as even a plain sausage biscuit at the biggest fast food restaurant in the world costs $1, and is noticeably smaller.  And, as I alluded to earlier in this review, even the multi-packs at Aldi are close to $1 per sandwich.  The convenience factor also plays a big role; they cook up in the microwave in just 90 seconds, making it a perfect snack (or breakfast) to grab on the go. 

Overall: 7/10.  A surprisingly delicious breakfast sandwich that cooks up quick, making it perfect for a snack or meal on the go.  The biscuit is rather soft and listless, a consequence of buying any breakfast sandwich frozen, but the sausage is tasty and there’s a generous helping of American cheese that tastes like standard American cheese, which in this case is a positive.  Value is also good; just getting a sausage biscuit at a large fast food chain costs $1, and is noticeably smaller.  The biggest downside is the health hit--just one sandwich makes up 40% of your daily fat intake, 13% cholesterol, and 50% sodium--even though you know it’s going to be bad going in, I feel like that’s a ton for just one average-sized sandwich, to speak nothing of anything you may eat with it.  Still, just going by taste, this is pretty darn good, and one that I’ll definitely indulge in occasionally from time to time.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Hype Enlite Energy Drink; Yellow Big Jak Energy Drink (Big Lots)

HYPE ENLITE ENERGY DRINK
If you're watching your calories, and like drinking junk, then I guess this is an option.
They say once you’ve tried one energy drink, you’ve pretty much tried them all.  Okay, I just made that up, but it’s largely true: Standard energy drinks have a largely standard flavor, and even the ones that have added ingredients, like juice, seem to be copied and knocked-off by other companies.  Sure, they may have slight differences that help to differentiate between the different brands, but for the most part, the chemical makeup is the same.

Enter Hype Enlite Energy, available in 16 oz. cans for just $.50 from select Big Lots stores.  It tastes just like every other standard energy drink ever manufactured, except for one difference:  It’s a low-calorie beverage, meaning it’s essentially a “diet” version of an energy drink.  These are characterized by a weaker flavor right off the bat—like many diet drinks it tastes slightly watered down—followed by that rather disgusting aftertaste, no doubt due to the usage of artificial sweeteners.  So it’s got an okay taste, made even worse by the terrible aftertaste.

Nutritionally, this drink seems to be an almost low-level energy supplement, providing 152 mg of caffeine per can (near the average mark), but well less than 100% of four different B vitamins, which are the vitamins that give you bursts of energy.  Typically, energy drinks will “max out” on these, giving around 200% per can; here, we get 152% vitamin B3 and 134% vitamin B6, but then only 80% B12 and 96% B5, putting them well under the level of most energy beverages.  Whether or not this will work for you depends on your tolerance for caffeine: As I always have to specify, mine is low, because I do not drink coffee and have cut back on soft drinks, so half a can gave me a noticeable increase in energy, but also noticeable was how weak it was compared to stronger energy drinks.

Of course, like any drink, this one can fill a niche, with people that might not want such a “hardcore” energy rush; at just 48 calories and only 8 grams of sugar per can, this can be a go-to beverage if you’re looking to avoid overloading your body with sugar; the low sugar content should also, at least in theory, minimize the “crash” later.  So I guess if you have a low tolerance for caffeine, and want just a slight push, this will do the trick.  But judging from the number of these available at Big Lots when I purchased mine, it doesn’t seem like there are a lot of people in that niche.

Overall: 4/10.  Those predisposed to the terrible aftertaste of diet drinks might give this a higher score, but this tastes just like a watered-down version of pretty much every standard energy drink out there, with the aforementioned terrible aftertaste.  The lack of B vitamins (it has well under 200% of two B vitamins, and under even 100% of two more per can) also makes this a rather low-level energy supplement; if you’re constantly drinking coffee or soda, it will probably take quite a bit of this stuff to even give you any kind of push.  However, points must be given for value, as a 16 oz. can retails for just $.50 at select Big Lots stores, though chances are even within the walls of that store, you can find a much better option.


YELLOW BIG JAK ENERGY DRINK
Yellow Big Jak?  That's all you give us?  What does yellow taste like?!
Big Jak energy drinks seem to pop up quite frequently at Big Lots stores.  I’m thinking their can designs, which refuse to reveal their flavors, probably have a lot to do with that.  For example, I always assumed their Red Big Jak (formerly known as Red Jak), was just their standard energy drink offering; after reading some reviews, I have just discovered that it’s a strawberry/cherry-ish kind of flavor, which would be right down my alley.  Maybe if they would make that a little clearer, they could increase some sales, but what do I know?

Earlier on, I reviewed their Big Jak Iced, which actually reveals their flavor on the can, unlike the other flavors.  While the iced version had a very fake peach taste (but still received a high score due to the ridiculously cheap $.50/can asking price, paired up with the intense buzz I got after drinking just half a can), I was a little hesitant to try Yellow Big Jak.  After all, what was it?  A low-calorie version of their Red Big Jak?  Lemonade?  The ingredients, which consist of no juice, weren’t much of a help, so I finally decided to just wing it and give it a go.

Turns out my estimation was right:  It is lemonade!  The smell, which is actually fairly weak, smells very similar to a popular lemonade malt beverage; I can’t complain too much, because I’ve been known to throw those back every now and again.  The taste is surprisingly tart, without being overly so, and is pretty close to the taste of lemon; at least, much closer than the fakey peach of their iced tea drink.  Of course, factor in the obligatory “altered taste” that energy drinks seem to be required to suffer from, and it actually tastes more akin to a malt beverage, than a freshly-squeezed lemon, but I guess you can only expect so much from two quarters.

The kick of energy came rather swift, and lasted a few good hours--I actually ended up timing it just right so that as the buzz was wearing down, it was conveniently bedtime.  I'm not sure how much this typically retails for, and with store shelves seemingly becoming more and more cluttered with energy drinks, I wouldn't pay anywhere near $2 for a can.  But for fifty cents, this is an outstanding value, and I would definitely contemplate purchasing it again.

Overall: 7.5/10.  Though the packaging is rather secretive, Yellow Big Jak is a lemonade-flavored energy drink that I would be willing to guess is made up of exactly zero lemons (there's no juice percentage listed, and only the vague use of "natural and artificial flavors" in the ingredients, which doesn't really tell us anything).  However, there's a decent amount of kick in each can, and when paired up with the ridiculously low asking price of $.50 per can at select Big Lots stores, it's a great, cheap way to catch a buzz.  The lemon flavor is decent, though reminiscent of a lemonade malt beverage more than freshly squeezed lemons.  If you can deal with that fact, then chances are you're really going to like this.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Nature's Nectar Super Green and Mango Medley Smoothies (Aldi)

NATURE'S NECTAR SUPER GREEN SMOOTHIE

I promise you it does not taste like sewer water, as its look would suggest.
Aldi has always been a great place to buy private label brands, often made in the same factories as the major ones, all for a fraction of the price.  However, as more and more national brands make their way into Aldi stores, I can’t help but feel a slight sense of, for lack of better term, betrayal.  For example, Aldi used to have a huge pallet filled with their off-brand sports drinks (Infuse), which were just as good as the more expensive stuff.  But now, it’s the national brands with the huge pallet, while Infuse gets sequestered into a tiny shelf space.  Ditto that for their sodas, which have now been replaced with large displays of Coke.  While I don’t think for a second that Aldi will eventually abandon their lower price goods, in favor of becoming just another supermarket (after all, it is their private-label business that has gotten them as far as they have come to begin with), it’s still somewhat alarming to see such a large percentage of available floorspace taken over with national brand products.

For the most part, I pass them all up (save for the one time I fell for it, and accidentally purchased the name brand Honey Nut O’s cereal, because I did not think to double-check that it was actually the Aldi brand); but a couple brands they started carrying did start getting constant rotation through the Tom family refrigerator: Namely, Bolthouse Farms and Naked juices.  While the Naked juices are offered for around the same price as they are in supermarkets (a 32 oz. bottle retails for $3.99 at Aldi), it was Bolthouse products that have seen the steepest discounts, with 32 oz. bottles retailing for just $2.95, a price most markets have the 16 oz. bottles for.  After trying the bottle my wife picked up once, I became addicted, and there is almost always a bottle of Green Goodness in our fridge, while my wife fell in love with the Naked Mango smoothie.

I didn’t think I’d ever see the day, but I nearly jumped with excitement upon seeing that Nature’s Nectar, Aldi’s own private label brand that specializes in juice drinks, were releasing their own versions of Bolthouse’s Green Goodness and Mango drinks.  I made sure to pick both of them up as soon as I saw them.

The bottle itself is different, shaped more like a plastic carafe, and pretty unassuming; the fruit list, which is so prominently displayed on the national brand bottles, is confined to small print on the back label.  It retails for $2.49, roughly fifty cents cheaper than the national brand, which is always offered, at least at our location.  Just like Bolthouse, there is no sugar added, the ingredients comprised almost entirely of fruits and vegetables.  So you can tell what it’s supposed to be mimicking from the outside, but how does it transfer to taste?

Not surprisingly, pretty well.  I did detect that Nature’s Nectar’s version was sweeter; I thought it was just slightly so, but the disgusted look on my wife’s face after trying it seems to suggest it was a lot moreso than I perceived.  Still, it wasn’t enough to bother me, and once the sweetness falters, the rest of the taste is pretty spot-on.  I would love to describe the flavor, for people who have never tried it before, but that can be kind of hard; it doesn’t taste like any one juice, but somehow manages to be a refreshing conglomeration of several juices (as well as weird ingredients like spinach, garlic, and artichokes, which of course aren’t obvious factors on the taste).  I did find the aftertaste to be slightly more noticeable here; it’s nowhere near pungent, but tastes a little weirder than Bolthouse’s version.

So, will I start buying the Aldi brand, if it is made available all the time?  That’s a simple question that’s not so simple in practice, because I can’t honestly say for sure one way or the other.  For the first time I can recall, I’ve really taken to the national brand, so even though Aldi’s version comes pretty darn close, I’m not sure the two-quarter discount will be enough to sway me.  Maybe the bigger question is: If Aldi feels they’ve found a suitable replacement, will they stop carrying the national brand products?  If they do, that will make my decision a whole lot easier.

Overall: 8/10.  Aside from some extra sweetness (which, like the original beverage, is derived from fruit; there is no sugar added), and a slightly more bizarre aftertaste, this is a very accurate knockoff of Bolthouse Farms’ Green Goodness juice beverage, which is one of my favorite things available from Aldi.  But for the first time ever, I’m in a bit of a quandary:  Is the two-quarter discount (Bolthouse products retail for $2.95 at Aldi, while their version is $2.49) enough to get me to commit to Nature’s Nectar’s version?  It’s too early to say for sure.  Still, if I was ever budget-strapped, or if the main brands were ever sold out (or stopped being carried altogether at Aldi stores), I wouldn’t have a problem making a switch.  As long as there’s a choice, though, I may just stick to the quiet perfection of the original.


NATURE'S NECTAR MANGO MEDLEY SMOOTHIE
Can't say that either of us are impressed with this.  At all.
To summarize the long backstory told in the previous review: One of my favorite-ever drinks is Bolthouse Farms’ Green Goodness; my wife’s is Naked’s Mango smoothie beverage.  Lo and behold, Aldi is offering Nature’s Nectar (their brand of juice beverages) Super Green and Mango Medley smoothies as a Special Buy in their stores.  As far as I can tell, both of them are knocking off Bolthouse Farms’ versions of these beverages, which neither my wife nor I, have ever tried.  So how does this stack up on its own?

The reason my wife enjoys Naked’s mango smoothie so much is because of the texture; whereas just about all of these drinks call themselves “smoothies”, many of them are lighter than a smoothie.  In other words, while thicker than the average juice, they’re still closer to the consistency of a liquid than they are an actual smoothie.  The mango version, however, is a lot thicker than most, which really does give it a thickness that could safely be considered “smoothie”.  However, this being a knockoff (I’m fairly certain) of Bolthouse Farms’ Mango drink, and not Naked’s, we weren’t really sure what to expect.

Thankfully, the texture here is also pretty thick, though my wife didn’t feel like it was up to par with her favorite one.  For me, the thickness isn’t so much of a big deal, though I will say it’s definitely thicker than the Super Green version, which is more like juice than anything else.  The smell is inviting, though I feel like it smells more like the rind of a mango than the fruit itself; a rather nitpicky “complaint”, but one I feel is worth noting, for whatever reason.

The taste is somewhat a mixed bag:  It starts off rather sweet, fruit flavors at the forefront, before it gradually gives way to a somewhat bizarre, certainly unsweet finish; the first thing I thought of was that it tastes like a mango rind, too, while my wife described it as “peppery”.  I do find it a little bizarre that, out of Nature’s Nectar two offerings, this is the one that isn’t super-sweet, considering it’s comprised almost entirely of concentrated juice and purees, save for some vitamins and beta carotene for color (whereas their Super Green somehow manages to be even sweeter while containing other ingredients like spinach and garlic; go figure).  I’m not real partial to mangos, having just started liking them a few months back, but I wasn’t a real huge fan of this.  If it’s offered full-time at Aldi stores, I would probably pick it up occasionally, just as a change of pace, or maybe as a mixer to other juices (or alcohol) but certainly not very often at all.  My wife was also sorely disappointed; I don’t think she’ll ever pick it up again.  In fact, I very well may have to finish off this bottle myself.

Overall: 5/10. Their Super Green was largely spot-on, and put me in a bit of a quandary whether to continue buying Bolthouse’s version, or Aldi’s; this one, on the other hand, isn’t even close.  While I’m not the mango aficionado in this house (a title that would easily go to my wife), neither of us were really huge fans of the taste.  It starts off sweet, but then gives way to a decidedly non-sweet finish, one that I would describe as “mango rind”, while my wife said that it's “peppery”.  I don’t often buy mango juices; for me, this certainly won’t change that.  My wife, on the other hand, counts Naked’s Mango smoothie as one of her favorite drinks in the world, and will just continue purchasing that one, at $1.50 more per bottle.  Darn you, Aldi!

Monday, June 29, 2015

Natureplex Athlete's Foot Cream; Baby's Butt Aid (Dollar Tree)

NATUREPLEX ATHLETE'S FOOT CREAM
Doesn't just work for athlete's foot! (wink, wink)
Let me start off this review with a story that will be as uncomfortable for you to read as it is for me to share:  A couple years ago, on the family trip to the beaches of South Carolina, I contracted a rather painful rash that developed in my--nether regions.  At first, we thought that it was just getting dry from all the ocean water, so I bought a couple bottles of Skin-so-Soft, and started thoroughly feeding the area with moisture.  It got worse.  Finally, after about a week (and after we had already returned home from the beach), that’s when I learned that it was jock itch…which starts because of excess moisture.  So I was literally feeding the problem every time I was spraying it with moisturizer.  Which I had been doing for the better part of seven days. Ouch.

Immediately, my quest for a cure began. 

For reasons that are still completely unknown to me even now, I initially bypassed trying this product, simply because it didn’t specifically mention that it cures jock itch.  I guess I had been suffering so long that I wanted something that I knew for a fact was going to work.  So even though athlete’s foot and jock itch are both funguses, and this is an antifungal cream, I opted to pay $7 at a local chain pharmacy, simply for a product that clearly stated it was for “jock itch”.  The store brand cream was surprisingly “pasty”, kind of like Neosporin, and was rather difficult to maneuver around (and into) the affected areas.  Pairing that up with the fact that my seven dollars only bought me a .5 oz. tube, I felt like I was rubbing liquid gold all over my balls, and thus I felt like I had to use it rather sparingly.

I’ll spare you any more graphic details by just saying after a few more applications, it was slowly starting to clear up, but my tube was halfway gone.   So I went to Dollar Tree and purchased a tube of Natureplex Athlete’s Foot Antifungal Cream to see if it could help remedy the problem.  I quickly learned I should have just done it to begin with.  Probably the biggest thing that stood out to me was the size of the tube…1.25 oz.  For a dollar.  When I had just paid $7 for .5 oz.  God I hate getting gypped.

Anyway, Natureplex’s product is actually much easier to apply, simply because it has a consistency similar to lotion.  And the fact I got so much for so little, allowed me to use it much more liberally, which probably helped in clearing it up that much quicker.  Now, this is the only product I’ll buy to treat my random little outbreaks, and it kills it before it even has a chance to flare up.  So don’t get suckered into spending ridiculous amounts of money for a little tube of the “name brand” stuff, because this works just as good, if not even better, for literally a fraction of a price.  When it’s all said and done, this has got to be one of the best all-around deals in a store that’s literally chock-full of them.

Overall: 10/10.  Let me just say it now to anyone that might be as uninformed as I was:  Athlete’s foot and jock itch are both funguses.  So even though this doesn’t specifically state it’s for jock itch, it will still work the same way as the grossly expensive “name brand” jock itch creams do.  In fact, with the consistency of lotion, Natureplex’s Athlete’s Foot cream is actually easier and more comfortable to apply than similar creams.  You also get 2.5 times more product than the national brands, for about 85% less money.  Moral of the story:  If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Unless you’re talking about Dollar Tree’s antifungal cream, in which case it’s more than worth it.  One of the hands-down best deals at the Tree! 

BABY'S BUTT AID
A double whammy: Humorous, and it actually works!
Well now that I’ve regaled you with problems I have on the front part of my body, let’s work our way to the back, shall we?  I sometimes get rashes on my behind, usually from dry skin, but sometimes from sweating at work (the summer weather will do that to you).  Needless to say, they are not pleasant.  At first, I thought it might be a cleanliness issue, even though I shower daily, but when more focused cleanings did nothing to heal it, I knew I needed some medical help.

I had always seen Baby’s Butt Aid on the shelves at Dollar Tree (and laughed at the name), but I never gave it any serious consideration to use on my own skin.  After all, I’m not a baby, so what use would I have for a diaper rash ointment?  I was surprised when my wife suggested that I try it, as she was fairly certain that what I had was essentially an adult version of diaper rash, with moisture collecting and creating an infection.  So I took her advice…and I’m glad I did.

This stuff works pretty well, as I noticed a big difference within a couple days of first use.  I actually like the texture, almost like a soft paste, which goes on easy and, as the packaging says, “wipes off easily”, so there are no annoying messes to deal with afterwards.  I was also afraid that, like some creams and ointments, it would be uncomfortable, or noticeable, right after applying, but that’s not the case either.  While I generally put it on right before bed, giving it a few hours to work, I’ve also put it on right before work, and still didn’t notice it during a long day at work.

Oftentimes, companies will charge an excessive amount of money for simple creams, and this one doesn’t seem to be much of an exception.  While this tube is only 2 oz., it still provides great value, as 4 oz. tubes of the national brand can go for upwards of $4.  So even if you have to buy two, you’re still coming out on top.  I definitely would recommend this to anyone, but especially those looking for relief on a budget.

NOTE: I’ve noticed many discussions online alluding to the fact this has boric acid, and is therefore bad for your skin, or worse, bad for your health.  Not sure if any of this is true, but it is also included in the name brand “butt paste”, and no one seems to be crying foul over that.  I’ve also been using this for several months with no adverse side effects, so it’s probably just another example of people getting worked up for no reason.

Overall: 9/10.  Why pay more for butt paste when you can get this stuff for $1?  At first, I thought the pasty texture would be very uncomfortable once applied, but it really goes on smooth and is unnoticeable.  It also worked incredibly quick, clearing up a rash I had in about two days.  I can't vouch for how it will work on a baby, but I would expect similar results.  Highly recommended, especially to those on a budget.


Sunday, June 28, 2015

Landshut Riesecco Sparkling Wine; Vivello Mango Moscato (Aldi)

LANDSHUT RIESECCO SPARKLING WINE
Not too shabby, this one.
This should come as a surprise to no one who knows me, but I do not have a refined palate when it comes to anything, but especially alcohol.  My taste definitely skewers toward the sweet side--as in, the sweeter the better.  This is why I still refuse to drink beer (and on a non-alcoholic note, coffee), and instead go for anything with tropical fruits, umbrellas, and sweet and sour mix. 

Wine is typically not my thing, but my wife also enjoys a sweet wine every now and again (her favorite kind is Moscato), and I’ve been known to have a glass with her, though usually it’s only when no other alcohol is present in the house and I’m too lazy to leave the house to get some.  Moscato is definitely something that’s down my alley, but I also tried a Riesling a while ago and really enjoyed it.

Well lo and behold, we noticed Aldi was offering a Riesecco in a recent ad.  Of course, this is a combination of Prosecco and Riesling, which is something I figured I’d probably like.  I only know of Prosecco as one of the main ingredients in peach Bellini’s, which are absolutely delicious.  I’m pretty sure Prosecco is dryer than something I would usually try, and a quick scan of the label showed that it was only halfway up on the sweetness scale…normally, I’m going to need something that’s at least three-quarters of the way up. (On a side note, I absolutely love Aldi’s wine labels, as they specifically tell you everything you need to know about the wine inside, from level of sweetness, to style, to serving suggestions, making it really easy for clueless wannabe winos like us to tell if we might like something that we wouldn’t normally try.)  But my wife really wanted to give it a try, so I decided that I could probably give it a shot.

I’m not even going to pretend I can tell all, or really ANY, of the notes in anything I smell, so I won’t even bother trying to describe the scent to you, other than the fact it smells surprisingly sweeter than something only halfway up the scale.  Tastewise, though, the label proves to be right.  This is definitely a dryer wine, though there definitely is a noticeable sweetness that takes some of the edge off.  Again, the label declares there are flavors of pear, grapefruit, and green apple.  I would never have picked those out if this information had not been provided to me, but now that they mention it, I can definitely pick out the green apple.  The other ones, not so sure.

Anyway, this isn’t really something I could drink all the time, but if you like your wine with a little hint of sweetness and an almost full-bodied flavor, then you will more than likely dig this.

Overall: 6.5/10.  Again, this isn’t really my cup of tea, but I enjoyed this wine a little more than I thought I would.  I don’t normally go for wines this dry, and mainly only got it because the wife wanted to try it, and I ended up liking it more than she did.  Smells a lot sweeter than it is, but really enjoyed the “sparkling” aspect.  Definitely not something I would get all the time, but certainly not bad.  Keep in mind my tastes skewer toward the sweet, so add additional points if your palate favors the dry.  Would definitely make a delicious Bellini, though.

VIVELLO MANGO MOSCATO

Summertime really brings out the best in Aldi’s alcohol selections, though I guess that statement could really apply anywhere, given my taste for sweet things, with summer being the main season where sweet drinks are always accepted.  So when I saw that they would be offering a mango Moscato via their ad, my wife and I knew we’d be jumping all over that.

And jump over it we did, picking it up a day or two after it was made available.  I was relieved to see that it has a twist-off top…old-fashioneds and wine connoisseurs will no doubt laugh in my face for this, but I hate the unpredictability of corks.  Even with those fancy cork removers that prevent the cork from shooting anywhere, I still get nervous trying to pull one off; I trace this back to my younger years, when I idiotically removed a cork with my hands covering the top, allowing it to shoot directly in my palm.  Even though the lasting damage was little more than a few minutes of stinging, it’s still something that has stuck with me ever since.

Cowardice aside, I cracked open the bottle, and, hoping to get a foreshadowing of the taste to come, took a whiff--my God, this stuff smells like heaven.  It literally smells like an explosion of tropical fruits and scents, all combining together in your nose, and immediately diving down in your taste buds, forcing them to water.  At least, that’s exactly what happened to me. Without wasting another minute, I resolved that I must take a sip!

Sadly, the taste did not live up to the smell, though really, there was no possible way it could have.  There are so many flavors that hit the nostrils, it’s inevitable at least a few would be lost upon hitting the taste buds, which is exactly what happens.  But before you go thinking this is going to be a negative review, I must right the ship--this stuff is still really delicious.  Of course, it’s super-sweet, but there’s at least a good bit of mango that shines through in the flavor, making this a very enticing summertime beverage.  The only thing it’s missing, and this is just a minor gripe, is a little bit of carbonation, which I think really could have elevated it a bit more, though admittedly, that would have just turned it into more of a wine cooler than an actual wine beverage (though the taste is already in wine cooler territory anyway, so…).  Aside from that, though, this is pretty darn tasty, and one I wouldn’t hesitate to pick up again.

Overall: 8/10.  It’s super-sweet, which will no doubt turn off most wine snobs, but Vivello’s Mango Moscato is a delicious, refreshing summertime beverage.  It doesn’t quite live up to the scent, which is a very inviting tropical blend that immediately made my mouth water, but there’s definitely enough mango and fruitiness to go around.  I wish there would have been a little carbonation added, but that’s just a minor gripe--I can definitely see myself getting at least another bottle of this before the season ends. 

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Beach Daiquri; Coco Bay Coconut Rum (Aldi)

BEACH DAIQUIRI
In case you were ever thinking about giving me a “man card”, which if you have ever read any of my other posts I don’t think that could even be an option, I have a confession to make:  I don’t drink beer.  Actually, that’s something that anyone that knows me learns pretty much right off the bat.  Most people are goaded into it at some point in their life, forcing it down simply to fit in with friends, and that time is generally referred to as “college”.  Having never gone, I never had the ‘misfortune’ of cramming large quantities of something disgusting down my throat until it starts to taste not-so-disgusting, which is referred to as an “acquired taste” (see: coffee).

Now this isn’t to say I don’t enjoy drinking, because I do.  But if I’m out with friends, you’re probably going to find me drinking something the ladies are drinking.  And that is probably as good a segue as I’m going to get as a lead-in to why I purchased this Strawberry Beach Daiquiri from Aldi.  Well, that paired up with its nicely-affordable price tag ($5.99 here in OH for a 750 mL bottle, though that price generally tends to be lower in just about every other state).  There was just something inviting about its blood-red color; the thought of strawberries dancing on my taste buds during a hot summer day as I cooled off with a refreshing, yet delightfully alcoholic beverage.

While the actual experience of tasting it didn't quite live up to the expectations I had floating around my head, it was actually somewhat close.  The strawberry syrup actually tastes within the general vicinity of a fresh batch of the real thing, though of course there's also a heavy amount of syrupy sugar added, too.  So this is probably not a drink that you should drink to get drunk off of, because there would probably be a rather large headache involved the following morning.  There’s also a somewhat bitter alcohol finish toward the end, which can be expected, though the strawberry is thankfully the flavor at the forefront.

I plowed through a bottle in a couple of days, and can’t say that I regretted either the decision to buy it, or drink it, in the least.  Well, until the heartburn kicked in, a not-so-gentle reminder that I should really learn to drink beer, because I’m getting too old to put up with the high sugar content of these super-sweet drinks.

Now of course, this is merely reviewing the product right out of the bottle.  As with most (all?) alcoholic beverages, the possibility exists of either using this as a mixer in another tropical beverage, or adding something to it, such as fresh fruit and/or sparkling water, to give it even more refreshing properties.  I will mention the ABV is at 14%, which is sadly pretty decent for an alcoholic beverage from Aldi, and given its low price point, can give you a decent buzz on a budget.

Overall: 7.5/10.  I had originally typed up this review in 2014, to a 6-point rating, but upon re-reviewing it this year, I found it to be a lot better than I did back then.  In fact, I'm on my third bottle in just as many weeks.  I deducted points last year for a fakey strawberry flavor, but I actually find it to be pretty accurate, at least as far as these kinds of drinks are concerned.  There is a slight bitter finish, courtesy of the alcohol, which can be expected, but the strawberry overwhelms it, so it's not a big deal.  Also note this review is for the product straight out of the bottle; the potential to use this as a mixer in another alcoholic concoction, or to add fresh fruit or other products to liven it up a little bit adds a whole new world of possibilities that could make it even better.


COCO BAY COCONUT RUM
I’m all for the cheap liquors.  While I sometimes enjoy getting some heavier stuff (i.e. 80 proof and up) to get a nice buzz (or occasionally, a drunk) on, other times I just want to relax with something refreshing, just to take the edge off.  Of course, state laws prevent Aldi from selling anything above a certain ABV percentage, so while you won’t find anything that will get you nice and hammered, they do have great year ‘round options to cover those searching for a light, relaxing drink.

As you can tell from the similar colors of the bottle, Coco Bay is a knockoff of the Malibu brand of rum, which is generally in the $12-14 price range, depending on the state.  Similar to that brand, Coco Bay is 14% alcohol, yet retails for almost half the price, coming in at just $6.99 in Ohio.  That’s $3 cheaper than the next cheapest coconut rum I’ve seen, which was $9.99 on sale.  This makes it an excellent deal on paper, but how does it stack up on the most important aspect:  Taste?

I’m definitely no alcohol connoisseur, but making a drink with Coco Bay is absolutely simple:  Splash in some cranberry, tropic, pineapple juice, or perhaps a combination of all three, and you have yourself the perfect summer drink.  Since there’s not a strong level of alcohol, the drink goes down smooth, and it can be easy to forget there’s even any alcohol in the drink to begin with!  When taken straight out of the bottle, the very sweet (no doubt artificial) coconut flavor is at the forefront, as it should be, with only a slight alcohol finish toward the end.  Really, if you like the main brands, chances are you are going to love this, especially given its very inexpensive price point.  If you don’t…well this one is too similar to win you over.

Overall: 7.5/10.  Great for what it is: An inexpensive, low ABV coconut rum knockoff.  It goes down smooth and easy, and can easily be blended with just about any form of juice to make a quick, refreshing summer beverage.  Even shot straight, it’s sweet, and tastes largely of (artificially flavored) coconut, with only a slight bitter alcohol finish toward the end.  This is a must-try for those on a budget, but don’t get too addicted to it, as it’s only available throughout the summer months at select Aldi stores.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Friendly's Celebration Roll; Belmont Cookies n' Cream Ice Cream (Aldi)

FRIENDLY'S CELEBRATION ROLL
No celebration is complete without it!
This might be pushing the limits of what my blog is all about.  After all, Friendly’s is a national brand.  But you know what?  They just shut down the last of our Friendly’s stores in Ohio last year, and some of the memories with my mom consist of going to the Friendly’s down the street when I was a little one back in the early nineties.  If nothing else, I’ll justify it as being an ode to my childhood; a trip down memory lane.  Although, in all honesty, it’s my blog, so I really don’t have to justify it at all.  Ha!

This particular Friendly’s dessert consists of a square-shaped “loaf” of ice cream.  It consists of three layers:  A chocolate ice cream layer on the bottom, a second layer of vanilla in the middle, and then a top layer made to taste like frosting, complete with multi-colored sprinkles.  In between each layer are some “chocolatey crunchies” as the box excitedly declares.

In all honesty, there’s nothing spectacular about this.  The chocolate ice cream is just straight up chocolate ice cream, with no decadent modifications.  Ditto for the vanilla, and between those two layers, you’re looking at upwards of 80% of the whole thing.  But you know what?  Maybe it’s those aforementioned memories talking, or my absolute love of ice cream cakes and desserts, but there’s just something about it that I liked.  Part of it is certainly the frosting-flavored top layer, which is perfectly creamy and sweet and reminds one of a birthday cake from their youth.  The chocolatey crunchies, again, the biggest selling point according to the packaging, are also good, though rather skimpy.

I also like the inspired “loaf” shape, which I think actually encourages smaller servings.  My wife and I, who are both huge into ice cream treats of almost any kind, ended up getting about ten sized servings by cutting them no thicker than a slice of bread, and they ended up being the perfect size to fulfill our ice cream cravings.  That made me feel like we easily got our $5 worth.

Overall: 7.5/10.  There’s really nothing spectacular at all about this treat, with the possible exception of the excellent top layer, which tastes like frosting.  Other than that, you get little more than unmodified chocolate and vanilla layers, with a thin addition of little chocolate crunchies in between.  But you know what?  I enjoyed it, and would get it again in a heartbeat.  Most of that love might stem from childhood memories of eating at Friendly’s restaurants with my mom (they just shut down all of them in Ohio last year, but not before my wife, mom, and step dad traveled an hour each way just to eat there one final time), but for the $4.99 Aldi asking price, my wife and I got about six servings apiece, and they were enough to satisfy our ice cream cravings.  There may not be anything fancy here, but it’s simple, it’s good, and the price is right.  Grab one before they sell out!


BELMONT COOKIES & CREAM ICE CREAM
Has this ice cream fully recovered from the recession? Only time will tell.
I have a massive love-hate relationship with Aldi’s cookies and cream ice cream.  When I first started buying it, which was around 2007, each carton was smothered in delicious cookies, and it had a creaminess that was second-to-none.  Then, the recession hit.  All of a sudden the cartons became 90% vanilla ice cream, with just a few sprinkles of cookie throughout, and I refused to buy them.  Every few months, or so, we would open a carton to see if anything had changed--after doing this a few times, to similar disappointment, I even stopped doing THAT.  I made a mental note never to buy it again, and it was all but forgotten.

On our latest shopping trip, my wife had a sudden craving for cookies and cream ice cream.  This, in and of itself, was pretty out-of-the-blue:  I’m a huge cookies and cream fan, while it’s generally something she can take or leave.  She remembered the desolate, barren cartons that led to us refusing to buy them, but she felt like it was time to give them another chance.  After all, it had been at least three years, and while people often cannot change, can the same be said for cartons of ice cream?

Thankfully, the answer is “yes”, because this latest carton is a return to yesteryear.  The vanilla ice cream (or, the “cream” in the title) is creamy, rich, and full of flavor--in other words, the way it used to be.  There is a generous spattering of Oreo-style cookie pieces throughout (complete with cream filling in some!), but there are also huge chunks at semi-regular intervals, ranging from half a cookie, to almost a whole one.  These cookie chunks are chocolaty and delicious, and have the added benefit of being a little soggy from being hidden inside frozen cream for so long, giving it similar texture to dipping them in a glass of milk.

If you’re even half the cookies and cream fan that I am, you owe it to yourself to pick up a carton.  For well under $3, it’s got a creaminess that’s generally unmatched in its price range; now that the cartons are back to being loaded with cookies, you definitely get your money’s worth in that regard, too.

Overall: 8.5/10.  An old-time favorite is back!  A rich, creamy vanilla is loaded with bits of cookie, and the end result is one of my favorite supermarket ice creams.  At well under $3 for a half-gallon carton, it’s also a good choice for those looking for some sweets on a budget.  The score does come with a bit of skepticism, however, as during the recession, they severely cut back on the amount of cookie in each carton, leaving you with little more than vanilla ice cream--it was that way for at least a couple of years.  At its best, this deserves a perfect score, but I can’t do that until I see consistency out of multiple cartons.