Sunday, March 1, 2015

Clancy's Onion Rings; Clancy's Sour Cream and Cheddar Rippled Potato Chips (Aldi)

Guess who once again neglected to take his own picture of the product!  I'm reviewing the one on the left.
The national brand “onion ring” chips are one of my favorite snacks, but I rarely get them because, when they’re not on sale, they’re approaching $4 a bag.  Thanks, but no thanks; no processed snack is worth that much money.  And since I rarely shop at the big supermarkets, I never really think to see if they are on sale.  So even though I like them a lot, I tend to live without them.

Aldi has offered knockoffs of these onion ring snacks for as long as I can remember.  But when I first tried them, around eight years ago (if memory serves me right), they were absolutely terrible; they tasted nothing like the national brand, and didn’t even taste good as an alternate to those snacks.  Needless to say, it would be a few years before I would give them another shot.

And that brings me to today, when I decided it was time to see if anything had changed.  For starters, just out of the gates, I noticed a big difference; Clancy’s Onion Rings look a lot more similar to the national brand onion ring snacks.  When I tried them years ago, they were all much smaller, much thinner, and more uniform in size, as if they were trying to exist as something different.  They also smell very similar to the bagged “fun onion ring” snacks available at supermarkets.

The taste, you will be happy to know, is much more in line with what you would expect; assuming you‘ve had “fun onion rings“ before.  In fact, I actually found them to be a little too onion-y, courtesy of a very heavy onion powder that I believe is more overwhelming than the national brand, which, from my memory, doesn‘t even have a seasoning on them.  The texture is also a little different, as Clancy’s is much softer; these snacks almost melt in your mouth.  While that may sound enticing, I’ve found that I actually prefer the heavier crunch of the name brand snack.

But don’t think Clancy’s Onion Rings are a lost cause; for starters, the taste has certainly come a long way, and is a lot closer, than they used to be.  Secondly, a similar-size bag to the national brand is only $1.19, which is more than $3 off the regular price.  Even on sale, you’d be hard pressed to find “fun onion rings” for that inexpensive.  I guess you can say what Clancy’s is lacking in flavor, they more than make up for in price.

Overall: 7/10.  While I would prefer the national brand onion ring snack, at least in terms of texture and flavor, Clancy’s version has come a long way since I first tried them several years ago.  They do seem to be overly doused in onion seasoning, which I found to get old pretty quick.  The texture is also a lot softer, so that these melt in your mouth; I could see that appealing to some, and while I didn’t mind it on its own, I prefer the much larger crunch of the original onion rings snack. Marks must be given for value, though, as a bag of Clancy’s Onion Rings are only $1.19, far cheaper than the name brand even when it's on sale.  In short, if you’re a fan of the original, the savings alone could make you prefer the Clancy’s version, so I suggest you give them a shot.

Guess who once again neglected to take his own picture of the product...
I think I’ve mentioned this in a previous review for a Clancy’s product, but my main gripe with the brand is the distinct lack of quality control:  The chips in some bags I get are absolutely smothered in seasoning, while other bags have just a slight dusting throughout.  In other words, you really don’t know what you’ll be getting when you open the bag, which almost makes me hesitant to buy certain kinds.

With that in mind, these were so under-seasoned that it should be a federal crime.  There’s probably barely a full tablespoon of seasoning in the whole bag.  Sure, you can taste the cheddar and sour cream on each chip, but it’s very weak; almost as if the flavoring was just tossed in as an afterthought.  Only, it’s supposed to be the headliner; the main star.  I know it’s impossible to have every chip covered in sour creamy goodness, but upon opening the bag, I at least expected to see at least half of them bright orange, insinuating that they are bursting at the seams with rich cheddar flavor.  Instead, all I got were some that were slightly orange, but more that looked like a normal potato chip with slight patches of the titular ingredients.

Maybe I’m just spoiled by typical Aldi quality, but even though these were only $1.19, I feel like I was gypped.  Of course, I could return them and get something else, but at that price point, it’s enough to make such a trip nothing more than a waste of gas.  Plus, it’s just a bag of potato chips; hardly anything to get that worked up over.  Still, it’s pretty inexcusable.

To bring this whole review full circle, the problem I have is that the bag right next to it might have been covered in deliciousness; in fact, maybe I got the only bad batch out of the whole case.  Maybe if you went to Aldi and grabbed a bag, you’d hit the jackpot, find one with so much cheddar and sour cream that it’d make your head explode, and you could leave me a comment telling me how terrible this review is and that they are the best cheddar and sour cream chips you’ve ever had.

Unfortunately, as long as getting the “right” bag is little more than a game of luck, there is no way I can possibly recommend these.

Overall: 2/10.  Clancy’s needs some quality control.  Like some of their other varieties (the baked barbecue chips come to mind), the amount of seasoning you get in each bag is completely hit or miss.  And I’m not just talking a slight, but noticeable difference; some bags are glowing with orange, sour cream and cheddar goodness, while others look like normal potato chips with a little bit tossed on as an afterthought.  Can you guess which one my latest bag was?  In the end, even for $1.19, I don’t feel that they are worth it.  Grabbing a good bag of chips shouldn’t come down to a casino-style game of luck.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Medion Akoya P53002 19" Widescreen LCD Monitor; Kitchen Living Digital Scale (Aldi)

A faithful companion for seven years.
When I first bought my HP computer (after ruining my Sony VAIO desktop) about seven years ago, I happened to have a super-old, bulky monitor from the ‘90s.  Refusing to join the modern age, when that one died, I frantically searched used computer stores for the cheapest replacement I could find, opting to spend $10 on a similarly-bulky, and awkwardly heavy replacement.  Part of this was out of necessity--my wife and I had just gotten married, and she had a terribly low-paying job at a popular coffee chain, so we couldn’t afford much--but it was also out of my notorious love of penny-pinching.

Flash forward about a year; Aldi was selling a 19” Medion widescreen monitor for $150.  While even back in 2008, this wasn’t a spectacular deal, it was decent enough to capture my attention, and I thought long and hard about buying it to finally replace my unreliable old-school monitor for Aldi’s slim LCD.  But there were a couple things that made me hesitate.

Unlike private-label foods, where many of them are created in the same factories as their name-brand counterparts, private-label electronics can be a little harder to make heads-or-tails of.  Sure, some of them are also made in factories owned by the bigger brands, but you especially have to be careful, especially if it’s really cheap, because you might be getting some thrown together crap from China, that will fail before you even have time to realize what‘s happening.  To combat this, I always research potential purchases online, to see what other users of the product thought about it.  Well, that’s where things got a little more interesting, as I couldn’t find any information on the monitor whatsoever, and could barely even find info on Medion, the company, as a whole.

Ultimately, I decided to take the plunge and give it a shot, mainly aided by their 2-year warranty.  Hey, at least I knew, worst-case scenario, that I wouldn’t have to buy a monitor for another two years!  Well, I’m happy to say it has far exceeded that:  About seven years later now, and it’s still holding up just as well as it did the day I brought it home.  To be perfectly honest, I’ve never had a problem with it at all, and there’s no reason not to believe it can’t last at least a few more years.  The picture is crisp and clean, and not even a single pixel is out of place.  I can’t really vouch for all Medion products simply based on this one (though I almost did buy a Medion computer to go along with it), but in this day and age, where it seems everything is made to fail right after the warranty expires, I have to say I’ve easily gotten my money’s worth, and then some.

Overall: 9/10.  I’ll admit, I took a leap of faith when purchasing this monitor, as there was no information on it available online, and barely even any information on Medion as a whole.  But this has far exceeded my expectations; going on seven years later, and this thing still works like a charm.  Not even one pixel is out of place, and the picture is still every bit as crisp and clean as the day I bought it.  I wouldn’t hesitate to purchase another Medion-branded item in the future, especially since finding out they were acquired by Lenovo in 2011.  Definitely worth the asking price, though Aldi stores in the U.S. don’t seem to carry electronics very often.

Kitchen Living Digital Scale in its natural habitat: Our candle workroom.
As I think I’ve alluded to in previous posts, my wife and I started a candle business a couple of years ago.  Since our business is very small “scale” (pun intended), we decided that we just needed a basic kitchen scale to measure out our wax.  Lo and behold, Aldi happened to be offering one just when we needed it!  Without much hesitation, we decided to pounce on it.

Their Kitchen Living scale retails for $10, and works well for us.  While I haven’t had this nearly as long as I had the monitor featured in my previous review, I can say that after a year, it’s still holding up very well, and has given us no problems; the digital readout is clear and very easy to read, and the weights are very accurate, allowing us to make candles with very little wax waste.

Really, all I needed was a very basic kitchen scale, and this even goes beyond that.  For its price, it has quite a few features, including weights in ounces or grams, a mode for weighing milk (in ounces or milliliters), and a separate mode for weighing water (also in ounces or milliliters).  I never stray from ounces in the “weight” mode, but it’s good to know that if I ever needed to weigh something else, it would have me covered.

There is a 7 lb. weight limit, which is just about the only downside, though in all honesty, I’ve never even come close to exceeding that.  This means that if you’re looking to weigh heavier objects, this probably won’t be for you, although if you know you’re going to be weighing heavier items, you’re probably not looking at kitchen scales to begin with.  Once our business picks up, we’ll probably have to look at other options, but for right now this one is perfect and gets the job done well.  The fact that the top is made of glass could also be a problem, at least in households with children, or clumsy owners.  That being said, the glass top also makes it very easy to keep clean, which is another plus.

Overall: 8.5/10.  I’ve only owned this for a year, but it gets some pretty consistent use, and has not faltered.  The digital readout is very clear, and easy to read, and most importantly, the weights are very accurate, allowing us to make candles without a lot of wax waste afterwards.  It has several modes, allowing you to weigh in ounces, grams, or milliliters, and it even has separate “milk” and “water” modes.  I probably could have gotten away with an even more no-frills scale, but for $10, this one has been worth its “weight” for us (pun intended).  Highly recommended.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Mama Cozzi's BBQ & Beer Brat Take and Bake Pizza; Dip-N Strips Pizza (Aldi)

It's not nearly as bad as it sounds.  I promise.
I have a confession to make:  I’m kind of a food masochist.  The grosser something sounds, the more excited I am to try it (within reasonable limits).  So when I saw Mama Cozzi’s BBQ and Beer Brat take and bake pizza in the latest Aldi ad, I knew I had to try it.  But not because it sounded good; not by any stretch of the imagination.  Instead, I wanted to try it because the combination sounded so heinously awful that it had to be better than what I was picturing.  At least, that’s what I hoped.

Really, this pizza can best be described as Aldi‘s take and bake Hawaiian pizza, only with brats (?) substituted for pineapple.  Oh, and no ham.  So I guess they’re not so much alike after all.  But I know the question that’s on your mind:  How in the world does a brat taste on a BARBECUE-based pizza?  Perhaps surprisingly, pretty damn good, to the point that I’m giving serious thought to the logistics of adding barbecue to a brat sometime.

If you’ve had their aforementioned Hawaiian pizza, then you’ll know what this sauce tastes like…it’s the exact same kind.  It’s pretty sweet, but I didn’t think it was overly so, making it the perfect companion to the salty, shockingly flavorful brat.  The brat slices are pretty thick, and there’s plenty of them on top of the pizza, so you won’t have to ration them out to make them last.  I’d say on average, there were three large brat pieces per slice of pizza, which should be plenty for most people. 

Then again, for what you’re paying, there better be lots of meat:  Coming in at $6.99 for a 14” pizza, this is one of the more expensive (if not thee most expensive) take and bake pizza options I’ve seen Aldi offer (for those unfamiliar, most of their 16” extra large pizzas are $6 or less).  While that’s still in the ballpark of similar supermarket take and bake offerings, it might be a little much for what will amount to little more than an experiment for some people.

Overall: 7.5/10.  I’m going to say that if you like brats, and you don’t mind barbecue sauce on a pizza, you should probably go ahead and give it a shot.  The vegetables play a nice supporting role to the main star (who I heard can be a real “brat”, haha…sorry), and the sauce provides a nice bit of sweetness to the saltiness of the meat.  This is not something I would care to eat very often, but you can only have so many pepperoni and cheese pizzas before you want something different, and this definitely provides plenty of the “different”.  For what it’s worth, we wouldn’t hesitate to purchase this pizza again the next time it’s offered.  The biggest downside:  At $6.99 (for a 14” large pizza), this is one of the most expensive take and bake pizzas I’ve seen Aldi offer; that might be a bit too steep to encourage those on the fence to make the leap.  But if you’re curious, and can afford it, I’d say go for it.

A stupid, unnecessary idea that actually tastes really good.
 One thing I can’t stand about products these days, is many of them seem to be geared toward making life almost too easy.  Thanks to technological “advances” like smartphones, you can literally control the lights in your house, turn on the television, order a pizza, watch movies, etc., all without leaving the couch.  And then we wonder why everyone’s getting fatter, but that’s an entirely different story altogether.

Speaking of getting fatter, this trend seems to be spreading to our foods.  Case in point, Mama Cozzi’s Pepperoni Dippin’ Strips (the cheese is pictured above, but they're really both interchangeable).  Now why is such a product necessary?  Probably because it takes too much effort for the average American family to pick up a pizza cutter, and manually slice the pizza into semi-even slices, or at least that’s the thought process from some corporate bigwig.  But that’s an entirely different story altogether.

Anyway, you just toss these in the oven for about twenty minutes, pull them out, and the pieces pull apart.  It’s really that simple.  And for all my bleak rambling about how computers are taking over the world (they are), I have to say that this is a really delicious pizza, at least for what it is.  While there’s not a  lot of pizza sauce on each slice, the box also comes with two dipping sauces:  A delicious, sweet marinara, and a Papa John’s-style butter garlic, so you can fill in the blanks with your favorite sauce.  Both are absolutely fantastic, go great with the strips, and unless you like more sauce than actual pizza in each bite, there should be plenty of sauce to go around for the whole thing.

The crust gets crispy around the edges, but the middle part is almost alarmingly soft.  I don’t know that I would call it “doughy”, because it clearly gets cooked, but it’s fluffy and light and doesn’t feel like there’s much substance there.  It didn’t really bother me, but it almost feels like you’re eating cheesesticks more than an actual pizza.  That being said, there’s a lot of pizza here, and it should comfortably feed a family of three with little problem.

My only complaint is that $5, at least to me, seems like a slightly excessive price for this, especially with Mama Cozzi’s take and bake pizzas dropping down to the same price range.  This is just pepperoni and cheese on a crust…aside from the enclosed dipping sauces (which can’t cost more than pennies per box to produce), there’s nothing different from any other frozen pizza on their shelves.  It might be a tad bigger, but not substantially enough to justify the price hike.  If the price would come down even just a dollar, I feel like it would be more in line with similar products.  That’s just a minor gripe, because these things are way better than they should be, but I think it’s still a valid concern.

Overall: 8/10.  I didn’t know that pizza slices were so large and cumbersome that we had to replace them with strips, but these are actually pretty darn good.  The inner crust is very soft, while the edges bake up nice and crispy, which is kind of an odd combination, but it works.  There isn’t a lot of pizza sauce on each strip, but that can be changed by dipping them into one of the two included dipping sauces, which consist of marinara, and butter garlic.  Both are very delicious, with the marinara treading lightly into “sweet” territory, while the butter garlic tastes like a standard butter garlic, which is perfectly fine for me.  The only downside is the $5 price tag, which does seem a little high for what you get.  Still, if you like pizza, this is worth a shot…it really is surprisingly delicious.
NOTE: I was going to write up separate reviews for the cheese & pepperoni versions, but they're so similar (same included dipping sauces, same texture, etc.), it's not worth taking the time.  Both versions are really interchangeable, so if you prefer cheese pizzas, or just don't like pepperoni, you can't go wrong picking that one up instead.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Mama Cozzi's Mini Sausage Calzones/Chicken Wyngz (Aldi)

"Honey, I shrunk the calzones!"

As just about anyone who even semi-regularly reads this blog can attest, I’m a big fan of Mama Cozzi’s take and bake line.  They have a habit of making things that sound disgusting delicious, and things that sound delicious phenomenal.  And the prices are even better…where else can you get an extra large (16”) pizza for just $5?  Or a large (14”)  meat pizza for the same price?  Mama Cozzi’s always seems to strike that rare balance between value, and quality.

In preparation for this year’s Super Bowl, we have Mama Cozzi’s Mini Sausage Calzones, available as a special buy.  These are adorable little things, and they also come with two generous helpings of marinara sauce.  My wife wasn’t a fan of the sauce at all, but I thought it was serviceable; it certainly wasn’t anything to write home about, but I thought it was certainly edible.  It reminded me of a typical jarred sauce that you might find at the supermarket; if you like those, then you should definitely like these.

The calzones themselves were pretty underwhelming, though let the records show that I’m not a huge fan of calzones to begin with.  Call me crazy, but since this was from their take and bake line, I was expecting some semi-fresh cheese blended with some semi-fresh sausage, and that’s not even close to what you get.  Imagine the filling of Hot Pockets, and you’re getting closer…it’s just a mass of processed meat and cheese that is more forgettable than anything else.  No, the taste wasn’t vile--you might even say that, under the right circumstances, it’s even serviceable--but it’s not anything I could imagine anyone actually getting excited to eat.  In other words, look up “meh” in the dictionary, and, assuming it’s actually in there, you’ll find a picture of this right next to it.

Now, normally I can at least count on giving Mama Cozzi products extra points for value, and that usually helps in the rare instances that I’m disappointed with one of their products.  But I found the asking price of $7 for 18 mini calzones to be a little steep.  Maybe if these were “fresher”, or at least had the appearance of being so, they could be given a pass.  But with the heavily-processed filling (seriously, the ingredients go on for a country mile), they end up feeling like a gyp more than anything else.

Overall: 4/10.  The very definition of “meh”.  They don’t taste bad, but the filling reminded me more of Hot Pockets than a fresh, deli-style calzone, and for $7, I was expecting more than a mini Hot Pocket.  The accompanying marinara is certainly tomato-y, but also unremarkable in just about every way.  Even my calzone-loving wife was more than disappointed.  Pick up one of their tasty take and bake pizzas instead.

"Wyngz"?  Really?  Like "wings" is trademarked.
In honor of the “big game”, Mama Cozzi’s is offering up a generous portion of her chicken wings as a special buy at Aldi stores across the nation!

Really, “chicken wings” seems to be kind of a stretch, as they remind me more of chicken nuggets than any form of wing.  Just the smell of these right out of the box seems to suggest a nugget more than a wing, as did my preferred method of eating them, which consisted of dipping the pieces into the accompanying sauces.  To me, a wing already has sauce on them, furthering my own argument with myself.  Lastly, they’re pretty darn small.  I mean, smaller than most boneless wings I’ve seen, and I’m including ones I’ve seen at terrible joints like Buffalo Wild Wings, which is somehow one of the most popular wing places in the U.S., despite charging a premium for wings that are no bigger than the average humans thumb.  But I digress.

I guess we’ve already stumbled on my first negative with these:  Despite the packaging claiming that there are 35 wings in the box, a number that seems to be pretty accurate, the $9.99 asking price seems a little excessive when you factor in the size of each wing.  Some are so small that they’re just breading, with no meat even inside.  Another 50% are one-biters, and are gone before you can even enjoy them, and a majority of the rest will take you two bites to down them.  Sure, they are only $.29 each, but in this case I would much rather go to the bar down the street, and get 25 large wings, smothered in the sauce of my choice, for the same price.

On to the taste:  There’s really not much of it, at least on their own.  The smell is very misleading, as it seems to suggest a complex mixture of seasonings and spices that really is enticing; the buildup to the first bite was more exciting than the bite itself.  Really, they just taste like chicken that’s covered with an overly-generous amount of non-descript breading, something that also further lessens the value, as most wings are more bread than actual meat.  I definitely wouldn’t say that they taste terrible, just bland.  And sometimes that can be even worse.

But it’s not all negatives:  If you’re looking for something positive, let me just focus your attention on the two included dipping sauces.  One is sweet chili, which actually happens to be my favorite flavor of wing at the aforementioned bar I go to, and the other is a standard barbecue.  Only, the barbecue is outrageously flavorful, and deserves a much better fate than being packaged in an otherwise boring collection of chicken nuggets being passed off as wings.  It reminds me a lot of the barbecue found at a certain fast food place featuring a red-headed girl as the logo (who make terrible, terrible commercials that make me want to shoot my television, but again, I digress), but it really does compliment these nuggets very well.

The sweet chili sauce, by comparison, can best be described as a spicy sweet and sour.  I happen to love sweet and sour, and I liked this sauce by itself, but just like the barbecue, it doesn’t belong here, only for a different reason:  It’s too thin and weak.  Flavorwise, it’s pretty incredible, and would taste great in a variety of applications; here, even if you cover the wing in it, it’s so thin that most of it drips off, leaving you with such a light flavor that, somehow, the chicken overpowers it.  (To Mama Cozzi’s credit, I will say they also offer the option of “shaking the sauce over cooked wings”.  If you do it this way, may I recommend covering them in the sweet chili, though I’m not sure how those would taste dipped in barbecue.)

Overall, these are a gyp.  I could get behind such an excessive price tag if: a.) The chicken was a decent size, or b.) The ingredient list wasn’t five miles long, insinuating that what we’re getting for the price is just more heavily-processed crap of which the likes are all over every supermarket.  And that, perhaps, is what leaves the worst taste in my mouth.  Well that, and the ghetto-fied spelling of “Wyngz” on the box.

Overall: 4/10.  Underwhelming in every sense of the word, and at a rather expensive price tag, Mama Cozzi’s Chicken Wyngz (as they are embarrassingly spelled, in an apparent attempt to look “hip” and “cool” and “current”) are actually chicken nuggets in disguise as wings.  The breading overwhelms the actual chicken, yet despite smelling like a delicious blend of herbs and spices, tastes incredibly bland.  The only saving grace in this whole mess are the two included dipping sauces:  The barbecue is thick, rich, and surprisingly delicious, and shouldn’t be in here on account of the fact it makes the chicken taste way better than it has any right to, while the sweet chili tastes amazing on its own, but shouldn’t be in here because it’s too thin and falls right off the chicken.  If you are watching your budget in any form whatsoever, take the $10 you would spend on this, and spend it on something that’s actually worth your while.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Clancy's Four Cheese Focaccia Sticks; Clancy's Hot Fries (Aldi)

Enjoy this nice stock picture.  This review pertains to the item hidden in the back.

I eat potato chips pretty much every day for lunch at work.  I know, I know, not exactly the healthiest thing, but guess what?  We’re all going to die anyway.  So why not eat things you enjoy while you’re awaiting death?  Besides, the mall food court doesn’t really provide many healthy alternatives.

Unnecessarily dark intro aside, since I eat them all the time for work, I’m pretty much potatoed out by the time I get home.  But I still like enjoying a crunchy snack every once in a while, to hold me over between meals, or to help me drown out the sorrow of a terrible work day.  That was the thought process that lead me to pick these up on a recent trip to Aldi.  That, and they were seductively placed by the checkout counter…who can say no to impulse buys?

I’m pretty sure I’ve had these before, but I don’t remember them being this good.  They are addicting on just about all levels.  In terms of appearance, the best way to describe them would be as long strips of croutons, as they have the same crunch and consistency as the popular salad toppers.  In fact, tossing these on a salad (or in a soup) would actually be a stupendous idea, as they would add some fantastic flavor.

In terms of taste, I can best summarize it by saying they taste exactly like Aldi’s own Cheese Garlic croutons (available under the Tuscan Garden brand name), but without the garlic, a fitting flavor for a four-cheese product.  I will say I slightly prefer the Cheese Garlic croutons, because I find the addition of the garlic to give it a slightly more addicting kick, but these are definitely delicious, and I still found it hard to put the bag down.  This is also the only “bread” where I actually looked forward to getting the end pieces…they’re a little smaller, but twice as crunchy, and they’re somehow also loaded with twice as much delicious seasoning.  If only they’d make a bag of just the end pieces!

Overall: 8/10. A very addicting snack that makes a great substitute for potato chips (taste wise…healthwise they’re similarly bad for you).  These would also be great to use in soups or salads.  They’re very crunchy (think croutons in terms of texture), but also packed with a delicious cheese flavor.  Not quite as addicting as Tuscan Garden’s Cheese Garlic croutons (also available at Aldi stores), but I still had a hard time putting the bag down.  Definitely recommended if you like this sort of thing.  And my "this sort of thing", I mean things that are delicious.

If you like the licensed version featuring a comic strip character, you'll love these.
I like me some hot fries, and was pretty excited to see that a private label version was coming to Aldi stores.  The original hot fries are perhaps the best comic character-endorsed snack food on store shelves, and certainly one of the longest-running.  Mr. Capp’s name, at least to me, has become synonymous with a tasty line of “fries”, moreso than his even longer-running comic strip, of which I might have seen twice in my life.

In case you are unfamiliar, Hot Fries are essentially French fry-shaped potato chips with a strong dose of “heat”, which comes in the form of a red powder (much like the flamin’ hot variety of a certain popular brand of cheese curl).  It has actually been a very long time since I’ve had the original, licensed version of these fries, so this review won’t function as a comparison, but Clancy’s version delivers the heat in spades.  Even though the bright-red hue of these should have been a warning, they are a lot spicier than I was expecting, and it didn’t take long before my mouth felt as though it was on fire.

The problem is, putting them down isn’t easy.  Unlike (in my opinion) many products that are focused on burning your mouth, these also taste good.  I mean, really good.  Skip all the unhealthy, processed additives on the label, and you’ll get a good idea of why:  There’s garlic, onion, tomato, and parmesan, romano, and cheddar cheeses in the ingredient list.  Of course, like most mass-produced snack foods, they’re all in the form of powders, but hey, that’s good enough for me.  I don’t have the most advanced palate, so I can’t say I can pick out all of those flavors, but there’s definitely a noticeable dose of cheese right before my mouth starts to go numb.

The original hot fries were always a good snack choice because they were inexpensive to begin with.  So true-to-form, Clancy’s 5.75 oz. bag is just $.99, making it a great choice for value. While the bag size sounds rather small (and is compared to most bags of potato chips), the fries are very light, so there’s plenty of hot goodness in each package. 

Overall: 8/10.  If you like the licensed version of this snack, involving a comic strip character, then you’ll probably love Clancy’s version.  There’s plenty of heat to go around, but even though I can’t take much heat, the flavor is so good I still have troubles putting the bag down, even as my eyes start watering and common sense tells me I should be done.  Best of all, a 5.75 oz. bag is just $.99, which might sound small, but let me tell you there’s plenty of crunchy, burny goodness in each bag.  Only downside:  These things are inexplicably confined to Special Buys throughout the year, meaning they pop up occasionally and, once they sell out, they’re gone until next time. 

Sunday, December 21, 2014

GUEST POST!: Choceur Cocoa-Dusted Truffles; MY POST: Choceur Belgian Seashells (Aldi)

GUEST POST! My wife reviews these!
I do not like dark chocolate.  At all.  Therefore, I think these things taste like turds, and won‘t go anywhere near a box.  But you know what?  I don’t think it’s fair to give low scores to something that I never like.  So I asked my lovely wife, who has a completely different palate than I, to step in and give her own take on these treats, available annually around the holiday season at Aldi.  Her thoughts start below:

When it comes to food and drink, I think I would be considered the man of the family.  My husband’s tastes skewer toward the sweet, to the point that he cannot drink coffee, beer, most wines, or dark chocolate.  They have evolved for the better over the years--I eventually got him to like sauerkraut and bleu cheese--but I can’t see him ever taking a liking to any of the four things I first mentioned.  Oh well, not everyone is perfect.

While he never eats Choceur’s Cocoa-Dusted Truffles, they have become one of my holiday traditions from Aldi; I get them every year.  And since it’s one of the few things he doesn’t like, it’s one of the few things I can look forward to enjoying all by myself.  Now, the inner part of these truffles are actually very sweet, and very chocolatey; think the popular ball-shaped truffles you can get around this time, with the soft, melty chocolate in the middle, and the hard chocolate on the outside.  What my husband takes offense to is the cocoa dusting on the outside, which is certainly a very bitter, very unsweet dark chocolate.  For me, these truffles represent a perfect balance, with the bitter exterior giving way to a very sweet interior.

Like the aforementioned “ball truffles”, these also melt in your mouth, to the point that I usually don’t even chew them, letting them melt slowly on the tongue.  They are also made in Belgium, a fact pointed out by the item’s packaging.  Does that have anything to do with why they are so addicting?  I have no idea.  All I know is, being made in Belgium certainly can’t hurt, as that place is known for some of the best chocolate in the world.

Overall: 9/10.  These are a favorite holiday treat for me, with the super-bitter outside giving way to a delectably sweet, melt-in-your-mouth interior.  It’s not for everyone, like the super-sensitive palate of my husband, but if you don’t require your chocolate to be sickeningly sweet, there’s a good chance you’re going to end up making this one of your own holiday traditions.

Probably the prettiest things you'll eat this holiday season.
This is another seasonal product from Aldi, only available around the holiday season.  I had tried them a few years back, remembered liking them, but for some reason never decided to pick them up again--until this year.  While I won’t go so far as to say I could see these becoming a holiday tradition for me, as the cocoa-dusted truffles are for my wife (I have the Candy Cane Pie for that), I found them to be delicious little treats, whose addiction can be magnified depending on your love for hazelnut.

For starters, and probably the first thing you will notice, is that these things are actually really pretty.  Even though they’re called “Belgian Seashells” (and they are, in fact, made in Belgium, at least according to the packaging), only about half of the designs seem to be seashells; you also get a starfish, and a seahorse thrown in there for good measure.  Each design is very meticulous and surprisingly detailed, at least as far as mass-produced chocolates are concerned.  Adding to the beauty is that they use marbled chocolate, so you get swirls of milk and white chocolates combining to form one delectable little treat.  They really are a sight to behold.

Following the tried-and-true formula of holiday chocolates, the marbled chocolate exterior is hard, while the hazelnut/chocolate interior, which reminds one of Nutella in terms of taste, is melt-in-your-mouth smooth.  Both go together quite well.  I must admit I’m not a huge fan of hazelnut, one of the reasons this will probably never be a required holiday tradition for me, but I did end up liking these a lot more than I thought I would, and they satisfy my holiday chocolate cravings quite nicely.  If you’re into chocolate, and at least have a tolerance for hazelnut, you should give these a shot.

Overall: 7/10.  Marbled chocolate on the outside, melt-in-your-mouth hazelnut filling on the inside.  The designs, which focus on sea life (there are some seashells, along with a starfish and seahorse) are so beautiful and detailed, at least as far as mass-produced chocolates are concerned, that you might be a little hesitant to eat them.  But you’d be missing out, as both layers go together quite well.  I’m not a huge fan of hazelnut, which will probably prevent this from being a holiday tradition for me, but they do a great job of satisfying my holiday chocolate cravings.  If you are a big hazelnut fan, adjust the score accordingly.  If you don’t like it, just stay away altogether.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Deutsche Kuche Baumkuchen; L'Oven Fresh Cinnamon Crumb Cake (Aldi)

This is a weird-looking little cake with some cool packaging.
 Every once in a while, I like trying new things.  And at the risk of sounding like a commercial, that’s what I feel like is one of the great things about Aldi…with their constantly-rotating weekly special buys, and their longer-standing seasonal ones, they always have a few things that I would normally never buy, that end up tempting me.

Then there are products that are so weird, I just have to give them a shot.  A good example would be Meiji’s Chocorooms, which are chocolate cookies in the shape of mushrooms, which Aldi sold a couple of years ago.  Or, there were also the Peanut Puffs, which were also a part of the Deutsche Kuche German line and tasted like Cap’n Crunch with no milk, and all forms of sweetness removed.

Well Deutsche Kuche is at it again, and this time it’s in the form of a cake that looks like it’s a tree!  Well, not exactly at first glance…at first glance it looks more like a children’s toy covered in chocolate.  But slice it open and voila; the inside resembles the rings of a tree.  In fact, baumkuchen literally translates to “tree cake”, information that’s readily available on the packaging, and that I found to be so simultaneously weird and intriguing, that I had to give it a shot.

First of all, you slice the cake as if it was a cake.  That may sound obvious, but if it wasn’t for the packaging, I’m not sure I would have known that.  So you slice it straight down, from the top, to the bottom.  It gets the appearance of “rings” from the manufacturing process:  Each “ring” is actually a very thin layer of cake; layers upon layers are applied until the cake reaches a desired height.  Most baumkuchen’s are made up of 15 to 20 layers, which looks to be around the number of layers we get in this one.

Tastewise, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but the closest American cake I could compare it to, would be a sponge cake; the cake itself doesn’t have a whole lot of flavor, so thankfully it’s all enveloped in a thin layer of chocolate, which acts as the “frosting”, more or less.  At first, it was more of a curiosity, as we didn’t know what to expect.  But once the flavors sunk in, our interest grew, to the point that we both agreed unanimously we would definitely get another one of these.

I mentioned that the cake doesn’t have much flavor, and believe it or not, that’s actually one of the things this product has going for it.  In a world where more is more, and desserts seem to be trying to outdo each other in pure sugar volume, this is a refreshing step in the opposite direction; a light, almost minimalist, dessert that still manages to satisfy without needing to resort to mountains of frosting, or a gooey chocolate center, or anything else of the sort, to be delicious.  The outer chocolate shell is semi-sweet, but not overly so, and it melts in your mouth the way a good chocolate should.  Good stuff.

Overall: 7.5/10.  While not something I could eat very often, this is a refreshingly simple, almost minimalist dessert that’s refreshingly light and delicious.  Layers of cake are smothered in a thin layer of milk chocolate that’s semi-sweet, but not too much so.  While the cake doesn’t have a whole lot of flavor (reminds me a bit of a sponge cake, to put it in American terms), it pairs very well with the chocolate coating.  Never judge a book by its cover, because this weird little cake started off a curiosity piece for my wife and I, but a couple of pieces later, ended up winning us over.

A delicious, delicious thing worth killing someone over.
Back when I was a wee tyke, my mother used to make me boxed cinnamon streusel bread.  Do you know what I’m talking about?  It was cinnamon bread, with a  streusel topping, and it came with a little tube of vanilla icing to squeeze on the top.  She didn’t do it all the time, but that’s what made it more special--I remember waking up to go to school, and having a couple slices waiting for me, complete with a glass of milk.  The only downside, and I don’t know if it was because it came from a box, or if it was my mom’s doing, was that it was pretty dry.

L’Oven Fresh’s (no matter how many times I see that name, I still hate it) Cinnamon Crumb Cake tastes exactly like that boxed bread, only it’s not dry, and there’s actually plenty of vanilla icing to go around.  In fact, not only is it not dry, but it’s surprisingly moist; I’ll bet most supermarket chain bakeries aren’t putting anything out at this level, especially for this price ($3.99), which gives it good value. 

On to the flavor, everything meshes exactly as it should:  The cake, on top of being moist (as we’ve already established) has a very good, light cinnamon flavor, that gives way to the delectable streusel-style cinnamon topping.  Adding to the deliciousness is the vanilla icing, which compliments the cinnamon very well, and there’s a good amount of it drizzled on the top.  In fact, I make sure the icing and cinnamon topping are the last things I eat, as I tend to eat the cake first, then save the best bites for last.  Mmmm…my mouth is watering just thinking about it!

If you need an alternate opinion, my wife is not a big fan of cinnamon anythings at all, but even she really likes this cake.  It’s the perfect option for cold winter’s nights; while I don’t drink coffee (something this tends to be paired with), it goes great with a nice cup of hot chocolate, or if you don’t need warmed up, a nice, cold glass of milk.  If you like cinnamon in any capacity, you should definitely give this a go.

Overall: 9/10.  Bought two of these within a month, and didn’t have a problem finishing them off within a week either time.  A perfect, surprisingly moist blending of cinnamon cake, with a cinnamon streusel and vanilla icing topping that would pair well with coffee or hot chocolate.  All the flavors blend together very well, and the end result is a highly addicting combination that should be available year ’round (as of now, it’s only available as a Special Buy at Aldi stores).  Even my wife, who’s not much into cinnamon at all, really enjoys this.  A must-try for those into this kind of thing.