Monday, June 29, 2015

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

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! 

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

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.


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)

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.

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)

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!

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.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Fusia General Tso's Chicken; Sweet and Sour Chicken (Aldi)

This is my third or fourth review of Aldi’s frozen Chinese offerings, and rather than dwelling on how depressing that is, let’s focus on how they can be hit or miss. 

Fusia’s General Tso’s Chicken is definitely more the former, and it’s a good addition to the frozen Asian line.  The chicken, which is cooked in the oven, as opposed to in the microwave or on the stove top, is shockingly crispy, with a breading that suits it well.  A quick sniff gives you the impression that it’s going to be spicy, and this dish definitely has some kick to it.  Of course, since it’s a ‘mainstream’ entrée, and thus must appeal to a wide variety of tastes, you’re not going to get anything that’s going to make your eyes water, but the spices definitely put a little heat in your mouth.

The sauce is a fairly straightforward Americanized Chinese sauce, in that it pretty much resembles a sweet and sour sauce.  But then again, you wouldn’t go in to a frozen supermarket meal expecting anything gourmet now, would you?  Still, it’s good for what it is, and definitely won’t put a damper on your dining experience any more than the fact you‘re eating frozen Chinese food already will.

My main complaint with the Fusia line still pertains here, and that’s that the chicken on the bottom of the bowl gets pretty darn soggy after a while.  It’s like this with every chicken dish I’ve ever tried from their line.  I don’t know if you’ve ever eaten soggy chicken, but it’s about as appetizing as it sounds.  It becomes limp and uninviting, two adjectives you should never want to hear describe your food.

All that comes in the package is the chicken and sauce packet, so you will have to add your rice, but it makes quite a large portion of chicken.  I went in really hungry, and only managed to polish off about half of it before I started feeling full.  And just like takeout, frozen Chinese tastes just as good the next day!  Still though, that means it’s under $3 a serving, and you can’t beat that.  I would imagine there would be enough here to fill up a family of four, assuming they aren’t teenagers or overly starved, so you really get some bang for your buck. 

Overall: 7/10.  If you like frozen Chinese food, you’ll get some mileage out of this.  Since it doesn’t come with rice, all you’re paying for is the chicken and sauce, and for $5, you get a lot of each.  Made in the oven, the battered chicken comes out surprisingly crispy.  The sauce is more a spicy sweet and sour, and while it’s nothing to write home about, it does have a perfect amount of kick and some good flavor.  The standard ‘is it really chicken?’ complaints apply, as something just doesn’t feel quite right about the meat.  But hey, that’s processed food for ya!  Some good bang for your buck, too, as there’s probably enough here to feed a family of four, assuming none are teenagers or overly hungry.  It’s obviously nothing gourmet, but it’s good for what it is, and that’s reason enough for me to recommend it.

Item on the left is what I'm reviewing here, ladies and gentlemen.
I have reviewed at least a couple items from Fusia’s Asian-themed line, and find them to be decent values for the price.  Of course, you’re not going to get authenticity out of any of their frozen dishes; all of them seem to be formulated with American taste buds in mind.  But for what they are, they tend to be on par with cheap Chinese fast food establishments (i.e. Panda Express, and similarly terrible places).

Their Sweet and Sour Chicken entrée is no exception. 

Now, the one thing that confuses me, is sometimes I’ve seen their entrees come with rice, and other times, the rice is absent.  Even more baffling is that the ones that come with rice seem to be $1 cheaper, yet are just as filling.  Anyway, this is one of them that does NOT come with rice, so you’re looking at $4.99 for what amounts to a bunch of chicken, with a generous pouch of sweet and sour sauce.

Out of the oven, the chicken is pretty crispy, though visually it’s just as off-putting and questionable as most Chinese chicken products are.  The included sweet and sour sauce is more sweet than sour, but goes down easy and tastes good.  Just like most mass-produced Chinese dishes (including those from the aforementioned “fast food“ Asian places), the sauce isn’t anywhere near memorable, but it’s not supposed to be; it’s simply made straightforward and safe so as to appeal to the most amount of people possible.

The chicken, by itself, is rather bland, but I guess the whole point is to douse it in the sauce, which certainly makes it more palatable.  As I mentioned earlier, there are generous helpings of the sauce. I tend to eat half of the dish right out of the oven, and then save the rest for tomorrow, and there is always enough sauce leftover to re-douse the rest of the chicken the following day.  Honestly, I feel like this tasted even better reheated a day later, though that just could have been due to my intense hunger.  The main downside to reheating it is that the chicken gets soggy and even more questionable, but at least all the flavors are still there.

Overall: 6.5/10.  It’s filling, there’s lots of food here, and also a generous amount of sweet and sour sauce.  I’m recommending this for people who just want something quick and easy; it tastes good, and can be thrown together in under twenty minutes.  It’s just that this is nothing more than dime-a-dozen frozen Chinese food.  The sweet and sour is more sweet than sour, and reminiscent of millions of Chinese restaurants the world over.  The chicken is questionable to begin with and, the longer it goes uneaten, gets soggy and even more questionable.  It also doesn’t come with rice, like some of the Fusia entrees do, yet costs a dollar more than those.  Granted, there’s a lot of chicken here (I had enough for two servings), and rice isn’t expensive, but still something to be aware of. 

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Red Rain Downpour & Big Jak Iced Energy Drinks (Big Lots)


Why is it called "Red Rain"?  Sorry, just thinking out loud.
Though it’s probably not the best idea, I’ve been getting back into energy drinks lately.  I used to drink them all the time (well, one a day), but then started getting heart palpitations.  Then, I noticed I was drinking so many that they stopped giving me any form of energy whatsoever, so that made the decision to give them up for good pretty easy.

But that was about five years ago.  Since that time, I’ve cut back on overall caffeine consumption immensely, going from at least one soda a day to maybe one a week, on average.  I had been using my hour lunch at work to take naps (did that for the better part of seven years), but between waking up very groggy more often than not, and trying to be more productive, I figured that I’d just drink some for a month or so, just to help me stay awake; as weird as it sounds, quitting seven years of almost daily naps isn’t easy to quit cold-turkey.

Due to my now low tolerance for caffeine, I’ve found that a full 16 oz. can of most energy drinks will last me two full days, and sometimes even three.  This way, I can get the right amount to gear up for the afternoon, without feeling like I’ve gone overboard.  And hopefully, without wearing out the effects of caffeine altogether.

To gear up for my latest work week, I grabbed a handful of various energy drinks from Big Lots.  One that I was most excited for was Red Rain’s Downpour, a cherry limeade-flavored concoction.  My wife bought this several months back, and I really liked the sip I tried; she also really enjoyed it, so my expectations were set pretty high.

Well let’s just say it’s not nearly as good as I remember.  Of course, for $.50 a can, you shouldn’t be expecting any “real” ingredients, so true-to-form, this contains no actual cherry or lime juices.  The scent is fakey and strong, but it’s unmistakably cherry--there’s not much of a hint of lime, at least to the nose.

Flavorwise, the cherry dominates, so the scent does not lie, though lime does poke through slightly in the background.  What I don’t remember from the previous sampling, is just how syrupy it is; it literally reminded me of cough syrup going down, and even goes so far as to leave a mediciney aftertaste.  To sum up, it’s fake as crap, and not really all that enjoyable to drink.  But points must be given because it certainly gave me a boost of energy, and each can is only $.50 at Big Lots, a price point that you really can’t beat.  I’d recommend it for those on a budget as a cheap burst of energy, but it’s certainly nothing special, as far as energy drinks go.

Overall: 5/10.  It did what I wanted it to do (gave me energy), and is very cheap (fifty cents a can), so I’ve got to give it some credit.  But the chemical-induced artificial flavoring (it has no cherry or lime juices) is overly fake, and gives off a mediciney aftertaste to go along with a texture of heavy syrup.  If you need a burst of energy on the cheap, this will give it to you, but if flavor matters, there are definitely better energy drinks out on the market…but not many at this price point.

Boy is Big Lots a great place to get energy-providing beverages!  On the same haul that produced the Red Rain drink featured in the above review, I also found Big Jak Iced which, as the name implies, is an iced tea/energy drink hybrid.

This one also has a very fakey flavor that consists of peach and iced tea.  It really tastes like a bad canned tea knockoff, but it goes down easy and doesn’t have a bad aftertaste, so I have to give it some recognition for that.  I also just realized that it has no sugar, and only 5 calories per 8 oz. serving (or 10 in the whole 16 oz. can).  It’s sweetened with sucralose, which I’m sure is linked to cancer somehow, as every artificial sweetener seems to be, but this at least partially forgives the flavor, as it essentially makes it a diet tea.  I’m actually pretty shocked they don’t make a bigger point of mentioning this anywhere on the can (at least, not anywhere I noticed) as it could be a big selling point these days.

At $.50 a can at Big Lots stores, presumably while supplies last, this is quite a value.  It’s not nearly as smooth as Arizona’s Drive (also available at Big Lots, and for the same price), but where it may lack in smoothness, it makes up for in caffeine:  There’s 120 mg…per 8 oz. serving.  Since there’s two servings in here, that means there’s a whopping 240 mg inside a whole can.  For fifty cents?!  It’s certainly a super-cheap way to get a big boost.  Due to my low tolerance for caffeine (see above), it only took me half a can to get super-hyped, so that took my savings even further, as I only paid a quarter per sitting.  Easily an amazing value in the world of energy drinks!

Overall: 8/10.  I could do without the intensely fake peach flavoring, but the tea part is very good and it goes down easy, with no medicine aftertaste.  There’s a lot of caffeine (240 mg per can) in here for not a lot of dough ($.50 per can at Big Lots stores), so this provides an excellent source of value for those looking to get a nice energy rush on a budget.  It only took me a few sips before I started feeling it, and I only needed half the can to really get going, so it works.  I would get it again, for sure.  It does what it’s supposed to do, does it well, and only costs two quarters…what’s not to like?  Besides the ultra-lame peach flavoring, that is.

 NOTE: Will add picture of this product on my next trip to Big Lots.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Mama Cozzi's BBQ Chicken & Spinach and Feta Take and Bake Pizzas (Aldi)


Do yourself a favor and don't read the ingredients.
Well here we go with the pizzas again, as I apparently have some need to try all of them (with the exception of the recently offered Philly Cheesesteak pizza, which made me gag at the mere thought of it; I couldn’t bring myself to pay $9 just to hate it, so I didn’t).  This one, however, has a bit of history with my wife and I, because it’s one of the few Mama Cozzi’s take and bakes that we absolutely hated.  So why try it again?  That was at least two years ago, and taste buds, as well as Aldi’s recipes change, so we opted to give it another go.

As the title implies, this pizza replaces the typical tomato sauce found on pizzas, with barbecue.  We were absolutely huge fans of this tradeoff for their Hawaiian take and bakes, which we couldn’t get enough of.  Even though this is technically that exact same pizza, only with chicken replacing pineapple, I wasn’t as crazy about it here, though part of it might have been due to reading off the ingredient list before eating it.  Don’t do that, or else you’ll find the chicken in question is chicken rib meat, along with “natural flavors” and “chicken powder”.  That’s disgusting.

Of course, modern science has advanced to the point that it looks, and tastes, just like a normal chicken, but I must confess to being a little disappointed to find that it‘s not.  I was also expecting a sweeter barbecue…it didn’t taste the same to me as the addicting stuff used in the Hawaiian pizza, though to be fair, it’s very possible that the sweetness from the pineapple only added to that.  On its own, with partially fake chicken, I didn’t think it was nearly as memorable.

Those two quibbles aside, the Gouda cheese that tops it all off is really, really good, and compliments everything nicely.  I’m not usually one for cheese, but I could have just eaten nothing but sauce with the Gouda, and that’s saying a lot.  I thought it was really fantastic (a though that my wife concurred with). The crust, which I burned, also tasted better than usual, and the crispiness was a welcome addition to the pizza.   Honestly, these two things really carried the pizza for me, and are responsible for pretty much its entire score. 

So this review is kind of bittersweet in a way:  While it put to rest the godawful memories I had of this pizza, it still wasn’t really all that great.  I would technically get it again in the future, but given the number of excellent take and bake pizzas Aldi offers, both as special buys, and as part of their year ‘round lineups, it’s safe to say this one will probably get lost in the shuffle for a little while.

Overall: 6/10.  While it’s way better than I remember it being, it’s still not one of my favorite of Aldi’s take and bake pizzas, a category that I am sadly becoming an expert in.  The Gouda cheese is fantastic, as is the crust, but the partially fake chicken pieces mixed with an average barbecue sauce just really didn’t do it for me.  Still, if you end up picking this up, you could do far worse.

A nice change of pace from Aldi's normal take and bake options.
This story starts off the way it usually does:  The wife and I at Aldi, looking for something to eat for dinner.  We were about to settle for a frozen pizza, or (gasp) hot dogs, when I remembered seeing an ad for a spinach and feta take and bake pizza in a recent Aldi ad.  We were there a few days before the ad took effect, so I wasn’t sure if they’d have it, but thankfully they did!  Great.

Mama Cozzi’s take and bake pizzas do not have much of a history of disappointing us, and this one continues in that trend.  The spinach is good, and the mozzarella cheese that tops it off tastes even better than usual.  But what really shined, at least for me, is the feta cheese--I couldn’t get enough of it.  I’m tempted to say that I didn’t feel like there was a substantial amount of feta on this pizza, but I don’t know if that’s the truth, or if there was actually plenty, and I just wanted more.  Either way, it was a perfect, and inspired, addition.

I think my biggest gripe is that this pizza actually used tomato sauce.  While it still tasted really good, and combined well with the ingredients, I still feel like this could have benefited from a different kind of sauce, though one I can’t quite put my fingers on.  Perhaps pesto, or a garlic cream?  Or maybe no sauce at all?  I’m just thinking aloud, but I was expecting a lighter sauce to allow the spinach and feta to stand out even more. 

I also wish more of Mama Cozzi’s take and bake pizzas were available in thin crust versions, like this one is.  While they admittedly don’t feel to me like they’re quite as filling (I mean, they have at least a third less crust), the cracker-thin crust cooks up crisp much quicker than those with traditional crusts, and there’s just something about it that makes it more appetizing to me.  I’m not saying get rid of the thicker crusts altogether, but maybe rotating between the two would please fans of both kinds of crusts.

Still, this is a welcome change from Mama Cozzi’s typical take and bake fare, which tend to feature meats of some kind.  While I’m not at all opposed to meat on a pizza, I definitely appreciated just how much flavor could be packed into one without it; this is every bit as flavorful as most take and bakes I’ve had, and though it’s not without its flaws, it still deserves recommendation.

Overall: 7.5/10.  This was a welcome change from Mama Cozzi’s usual pizzas, which always seem to feature meat of some kind.  Here, we have spinach and feta with mozzarella cheese, in a tomato-based pizza sauce.  That’s it, and it’s actually kind of refreshing.  The spinach and cheese are really good, and the feta is top notch…I just wish there were bigger chunks, as the taste seems to get lost in the other ingredients.  I also think the combination could have been better without a typical pizza sauce, instead substituting a garlic cream, or perhaps even a pesto of some kind.  Despite those quibbles, this is a great pizza, and one you should definitely pick up.