Sunday, December 21, 2014

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

GUEST POST: MY WIFE REVIEWS CHOCEUR'S COCOA-DUSTED TRUFFLES!
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.





CHOCEUR BELGIAN SEASHELLS
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)

DEUTSCHE KUCHE BAUMKUCHEN
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.


L'OVEN FRESH CINNAMON CRUMB CAKE
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.



Sunday, December 7, 2014

Choceur Dark Chocolate Hot Cocoa K-Cups; Choceur Hot Cocoa K-Cup Variety Pack (Aldi)

CHOCEUR DARK CHOCOLATE HOT COCOA K-CUPS
The pinnacle of American convenience.  At least, until single-serve, pre-poured glasses of milk become available.
My wife drinks a lot of coffee, so we got a Keurig for Christmas last year.  I don’t drink straight-up coffee at all.  The only coffee beverage I ever indulge in is the occasional French vanilla cappuccino.   So even though I find owning a Keurig to be unnecessarily expensive (I know, I know, it’s all about the convenience), I still get excited to overpay for products every once in a while just to enjoy stuff that I like.

The latest such product are Choceur Dark Chocolate Hot Chocolate K Cups.  I was actually researching hot chocolate K cups a long time ago, when we first got the machine, and saw that, at least based on reviews, there were really no good options.  This is because all of them used an artificial sweetener, sucralose, on top of sugar, which gave them all a terrible artificial taste (I tried one brand and can definitely verify how terrible it was).  One possible explanation that was given was that there really wasn’t enough room inside the K cup for an adequate amount of sugar to make it taste like legitimate hot chocolate (it sounds good, though I don’t know the plausibility of such a statement).

Choceur’s version is more or less the same, with a mix of real sugar, and fake sucralose, but this is by far the best K cup hot chocolate I’ve had.  The chocolate is rich and tasty, at least, as rich as hot chocolate made out of water can be, and while you can still taste the artificial sweeteners, the chocolate is strong enough that it becomes more of the focal point.  Note that this review pertains to a medium-sized cup…I’m sure if you were to “brew” this into a large cup, it would taste like little more than hot water with a hint of cocoa.

I certainly have a major complaint, so let me rant on for a bit here.  It probably has more to do with the Keurig explosion in general than it does this specific product, but I’m going to vent anyway.  First, is the price.  For 12 of these hot chocolate K cups, it’s $5.  Forty-two cents per serving.  Sadly, this is considered a great deal in the world of K cups, where convenience more or less trumps logic.  But I could (and still will) buy 12 packets of hot chocolate mix, use milk instead of water, and get a much creamier and more satisfying end product for $2 (plus the cost of milk, which still works out to less than $5).  I know, I know, it’s much easier to push a button and forget about it, and that’s what Keurig’s are all about, but it’s not that much harder to rip open a packet, dump it in milk, and stir.

Overall: 6/10.  This review opened me up to a quandary of sorts:  On the one hand, it’s the best hot chocolate K cup I’ve had, and it’s also fairly inexpensive as far as these are concerned.  Yet better hot chocolate can be had for even cheaper using packets of hot cocoa mix, and milk, something the Keurig cannot handle.  So I’m recommending it solely for what it is:  A matter of convenience, which is entirely what those machines stand for.  If you’re a die-hard Keurig user, you can do far worse from giving these a whirl.  As for me, I prefer sticking to the old-fashioned method.

CHOCEUR HOT CHOCOLATE SAMPLER PACK
A great deal for those that own no spoons.
One thing I’ve noticed about a lot of other K cup hot chocolate brands is that they are often “fortified” with artificial sweeteners.  This leads to some chemical-y initial tastes, and some medicine-y aftertastes that are completely off-putting.  A quick glance at the flavors in this Choceur collection revealed nothing but sugar, so I was pretty anxious to give these a try.

This collection is 24 K-cups spread out among 4 different flavors, so let’s see how they fared individually:

MOCHA: This was the first one I tried, and also my favorite.  It has a nice, deep chocolate flavor with some surprisingly deep richness for what it is (a water-based hot chocolate made out of a machine).  Of course, it’s not going to match the rich decadence of a nice packet of the powdered stuff, with milk instead of water, but if you have a Keurig, you probably don’t want to be bothered with having to do any manual labor, like ripping open a packet of powder and stirring.  So as far as convenience is concerned, this bests the hot chocolate of my previous review, and becomes the best hot chocolate I've ever had out of the machine. 8/10.

PEPPERMINT: One of my favorite hot chocolates is Nestle’s mint chocolate cocoa packets, which are generally (at least to my knowledge), only available around the holiday season.  It’s got a smooth richness to the cocoa, and a perfect balance of delicious mint flavor that truly shines in milk.  Since using milk isn’t possible (or, at least, recommended) in Keurig’s, I figured Choceur’s version wouldn’t be as rich, but I was at least hoping it was a lot closer than it was.  The peppermint reminded me more of the peppermint found in peppermint tea, and, at least in my opinion, tasted out of place with the chocolate.  Not a good mix at all. 5/10.

SALTED CARAMEL: This was the most interesting flavor of the lineup, at least on paper, and I really wasn’t sure what to expect heading into it.  What you get is a very strong, super-sweet taste of caramel that’s overwhelming to the point of overkill.  "Salt" may be in there somewhere, but there’s not nearly enough of it to counterbalance the ridiculous sweetness.  Don’t get me wrong, I have a sweet tooth when it comes to beverages, but this took it too far, even for me.  4/10.

IRISH CRÈME:  I actually put this off until the very end because it was the one that made me the most nervous.  I don’t know why, but I just pictured it being way too sweet.  It actually turned out to be one of only two flavors worth getting this collection for.  It tastes like hot chocolate with sweetened, condensed milk added.  But unlike the caramel, the sweetness isn’t so strong that it makes you nauseous--instead, it’s a perfect balance that goes down easy.  I really liked this one. 7/10.

Now that we’ve looked at every flavor individually, let’s take a look at the collection as a whole, and let me re-word the rant I provided in the above review:  For $10, you get 24 cups, which rounds up to $.42 per serving.  For hot chocolate.  That won’t even allow you to substitute milk for water.  And that only fills up about six ounces of a cup.  Sadly, that is actually a really good price.  So for what it is, you get some good value, and convenience in spades.  Personally, while I honestly do like using the Keurig every once in a while, just for the fun of it, I’m not so lazy or so pressed for time that I can’t dump a packet of powder into a cup of warm milk and stir for a minute, a method that results in a much better cup of hot chocolate that no K-cup can ever match.

Overall: 6/10.  For Keurig lovers, there is value to be had here, as each up comes out to only $.42.  I also like that you get four different flavors across the 24 K-cups, which is neat, because variety is the spice of life.  The problem lies in the fact that I was only impressed with two of the flavors (Mocha and Irish Crème), which kind of dampens the perceived value.  Also, you can’t add milk, so you’re paying a premium for water-based hot chocolate, which is pretty lame.  If you’re on the fence about buying this, I’d probably suggest you do, simply because taste is subjective and you might end up liking them more than I did.  But then again, if you don’t, you just wasted $10.  Such is the cruel beast known as life.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Clancy's Ranch and Nacho Cheese Flavored Tortilla Chips (Aldi)

CLANCY'S RANCH FLAVORED TORTILLA CHIPS
If you're a fan of processed junk food, you've gotta try these!
Well it took about a year, and was put off thanks to bouts of forgetfulness, alternated with busyness, but I’m finally getting around to typing up a requested review for Clancy’s flavored tortilla chip line.  Better late than never, right Mike?  Haha.

Anyway, it should be pretty evident from the color of the packaging what product this is trying to emulate, and since it’s a well-known chip, I don’t really feel the need to preface anything, so I’m just going to jump right into the good stuff.

Upon examination, these chips actually look pretty exact to the national brand.  There’s also a generous helping of ranch seasoning on each chip, which is a good thing to see.  Oftentimes, I’ve found the major differences between national brand and private label chips, is that the private labels tend to have lesser flavor, so seeing this definitely upped my expectations quite a bit!

But how does it compare in the most important part:  Taste?  The seasoning itself is pretty spot on to the name brand, with just the right amount of tang mixed in with the cool ranch flavor.  The texture is also pretty darn close, as each bite gives you the nice, big crunch that you would expect from tortilla chips.  The only downside, as far as I’m concerned, is that you can definitely taste the corn of the tortilla chip itself a lot more.  In the national brand, the corn taste is virtually non-existent, and that’s how Clancy’s version starts off.  But the more you chew, the more the corniness becomes prevalent, until it becomes outright noticeable.  Now it didn’t bother me that much at all, nor did it bother either of the two other co-workers of mine that tried them and really liked them, but if you’re a flavored tortilla chip connoisseur, it might turn you off a little bit more.

As great as these things are overall, they get even bigger points for value, as a bag of Clancy’s tortilla chips are under $2.  Even when on sale, you can expect to pay at least $1 more for the national brand, and if you are used to paying full price, then you could be saving upwards of $2 or even $3 a bag.  Hmmm, all of a sudden think you can get used to that corny taste, huh?  That’s what I thought.

Overall: 8.5/10.  A great knock-off of a classic product, Clancy’s Ranch Tortilla Chips provide a generous blast of “cool ranch” flavor, and a nice crunch.  The only downside is that the corn of the tortilla chip peeks through a lot more than in the national brand.  It’s wasn’t that big of a turn-off for me, but it’s certainly noticeable.  Value is also here in spades, as an 11 oz. bag retails for well under $2, saving you big over the national brand.  This is a must-try product.
 
CLANCY'S NACHO CHEESE FLAVORED TORTILLA CHIPS
FUN FACT: That's my wife's arm in the picture.
Well we saw how the ranch version fared, so let’s take a look at their nacho cheese offering.

For starters, a quick visual examination also seconds what we saw with the ranch tortilla chips, and that’s that there is a generous helping of nacho cheese seasoning on each chip.  However, here’s where I feel the whole snack is derailed:  The nacho cheese seasoning, at least in my opinion, isn’t on par with the ranch in terms of being compared to the national brand.  It’s fairly close, but something to me just feels a little…off.  Like it’s missing some kind of cheesy “pop”.  Aside from this, the same complaints that we saw with the ranch, still apply here:  You really get a lot of the corn flavor, which doesn’t happen so much in the national brand.

Now in the case of the ranch, I thought that minor problem was overshadowed by the nearly spot-on ranch seasoning.  But in the case of the nacho cheese, I felt that minor problem was compacted into an even bigger one considering the nacho cheese seasoning isn’t nearly as…smooth (for lack of a better term), as the national brand.  There’s just something about it that’s not quite right, and that, when paired with the overall corny taste, stands out a lot more.

Now this isn’t to say that these are inedible…not by a long shot.  In the interest of full disclosure, I will say that my wife really liked them, which shows you nothing except just how subjective everyone’s tastes truly are.  Regardless, I must also give these extra points for value, as a bag is $2-3 less than the national brand, which are pretty substantial savings.  It’s also a perfect price point to be able to tell if these nacho cheese tortilla chips will hit the spot, like they did for my wife, or if they just end up falling short of the mark, as they did for me.

Overall: 6/10.  While this runs into the same problem as the ranch chips, namely that the taste of the corn clearly comes through, I thought that issue was compacted with a nacho cheese seasoning that just didn’t do it for me.  That’s not to say these aren’t edible, because they are, but to be perfectly honest, I will admit that I prefer the national brand.  Extra points have to be awarded for value, though, as a bag of Clancy’s is $2-3 cheaper than the national brand, giving you a great incentive to find out if you agree with my wife, who really liked these, or me, who wasn’t all that impressed. 

Sorry Mike!  But hey, 1 out of 2 ain't bad!


Sunday, November 16, 2014

Specially Selected Pasta Crackers: Marinara and Garlic & Olive Oil (Aldi)

SPECIALLY SELECTED MARINARA PASTA CRACKERS

Aldi ads are the only store advertisements I receive every week through my email, and I make sure to visit the site every week to see what they are carrying the following week (you can also look two weeks out, which makes it great to be able to plan for meals and Special Buys before most people are aware of them).  So needless to say, I pretty much know everything that will be coming in.

But these Specially Selected Marinara Pasta Crackers totally caught me off guard when I caught them in the store one day, as I did not recall seeing them at all in the weekly ads (I’m sure they were there, but I thought something weird like this would have caught my eye).  According to the bag, they are “Real pasta and Italian-inspired flavor in a thin, crispy chip.”  Okay, that made them sound so unappetizing and pointless, I just knew I had to give them a shot!

Sniffing the bag, you can pick up a faint scent of marinara, but I think I got more garlic and onion than anything else.  The crackers themselves actually look like thin little pieces of pasta, complete with serrated edges, but they also look very delicious, as they are coated with a generous helping of seasoning and parsley flakes, which I guess gives them the Italian look they are wanting.

Tastewise, I’ll admit that I was a little shocked, because these are pretty good.  Now if you were to blindfold me, I don’t think I would ever in a million years guess they had anything to do with marinara, or Italian pasta in general, for that matter, but the seasoning (made up of tomato powder and parmesan cheese, among other things) is tasty.  If you’re looking for something that’s going to overwhelm your taste buds, this is definitely NOT the snack for you, as each cracker is relatively light, in both weight and flavor.  The only downside is that it’s very easy to eat way more than you intended to, as I finished off half the bag the first time I picked it up.

Overall: 7/10.  A delicious, light cracker that is way better than its weird description makes it sound.  The seasoning, while tasting nothing like actual marinara, seems to consist mainly of garlic and onion, and it’s pretty darn tasty.  Don’t be nervous about the texture, either--even though it proudly claims on the packaging that it’s made out of real pasta, the texture is exactly that of a typical cracker.  If you’re looking for a snack that’s going to blow up your taste buds, this isn’t it.  The seasoning is modest, and that’s what makes it work as well as it does.


SPECIALLY SELECTED GARLIC & OLIVE OIL PASTA CRACKERS

Ever wanted a pasta in cracker form?  Here's your chance!
In the above review, I went into what a “pasta cracker” is, so if you need an introduction, head there.  Otherwise, I’m just going to jump right in.

Even though I found Specially Selected’s marinara pasta crackers to taste pretty good, I did mention that there would have been no way I would have been able to detect that they were marinara-flavored if I was blindfolded.  It tasted nothing like it.  So I decided to try their other flavor offering, garlic and olive oil, as it seemed like that flavor profile would be a lot easier to hit in chip form.

My theory proved to be correct, as this definitely is way more accurate than the marinara version.  Olive oil even happens to be second on the ingredients list, and you can tell just from sampling a bite:  I was expecting the garlic to take front and center, but it’s actually the olive oil that does, followed up close behind by the expected garlic.  I also think these are a little bit stronger than the marinara ones, so you’re probably going to want some gum, or at the very least, mints, if you’re going to be talking to anyone right after eating these.

Although I didn’t get a chance to do so, I think dipping these in some French onion, or even some ranch veggie dip would probably take them to an entirely different level.  Maybe someone will give that a try and let me know how it goes.  Straight out of the bag, though, these have a nice, light texture and big crunch that does hit the spot.  The only downside to the stronger flavor, is I seemed to get sick of these a lot quicker than I did the marinara ones.  Then again, I don’t think garlic and olive oil are two flavors that anyone can really pig out on for that long to begin with.

Overall: 6.5/10.  Even though these are more accurate than the marinara pasta crackers, I still think I prefer those.  For starters, garlic and olive oil are a lot stronger flavors than tomato, so these tend to get to be too much after a short snacking session, and I have to stop eating them.  The light texture and crunch is nice, and the $2 price tag (per 5 oz. bag) provides some good value.  On a side note:  They would probably be very good in ranch or French onion dip, something I’ll have to try at some point in the future.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Larry the Cable Guy White Cheddar & Bacon Shells (Big Lots); Goldfish Macaroni & Cheese (Nacho Cheese, Cheddar, and Butter Parmesan) (Dollar Tree)

LARRY THE CABLE GUY WHITE CHEDDAR & BACON SHELLS

Great to keep on hand if you run out of dog food.
Let’s just get this out of the way, because it’s inevitable:  I HATE Larry the Cable Guy.  Hate him.  He’s the perfect example of what’s wrong with American comedy and, if you decided to delve deeper, you could further that by making a case that he’s a good example of what’s wrong with America in general.  His jokes are lower-than-the-lowest common denominator, his accent and redneck appearance is completely faked, and perhaps worst of all, he’s now so popular he gets to put his name on food products and rake in the dough without having to do a single damn thing.

But you know what?  I also love macaroni and cheese and I’ll be damned if I was going to let a personal hatred of a celebrity get in the way of at least giving this a shot.

I totally should have, because now I‘ve found a reason to hate him even more.

This has to be food that was actually made for dogs, but accidentally marketed to human beings.  It’s complete slop.  You’re probably thinking “What did you expect”, and to that, I have no real response.  I guess I should have taken it as a clue that the box declares “Made with real bacon!”, while completely ignoring the cheese, which looks like mayonnaise, and tastes like mayo mixed with a heaping helping of human feces.  In a world full of processed supermarket garbage, this somehow manages to be two notches under “below-average“, which is ironically an exact parallel with the career of the man on the box.

Even if you are a huge fan of Larry the Cable Guy, and I realize there are way more than there should be, do yourselves a favor and pass this up.  Use the savings to buy a Larry the Cable Guy yoyo, or something.  Go to the dollar store and get two Larry the Cable Guy DVD‘s.  Buy two tickets to a Larry the Cable Guy show.  Whatever you do with the two dollars you were going to spend on this product, please just do us all a favor and spend it somewhere else. 

Overall: 0/10.  The only thing worse than Larry’s “comedy” career is this joke of a product marketed to his redneck minions.  But even they will be disappointed by the mayonnaise-y “cheese product” that tastes every bit as horrid as it looks.  But hey, at least that bacon is real!  One of the worst things I’ve ever had the misfortune of eating.


GOLDFISH MAC N' CHEESE
We reviewed all but the Cheesy Pizza, which sounds just absolutely disgusting.
 While the Goldfish name certainly doesn’t evoke thoughts of budget foods, after all it is only one of the most popular snack crackers available, the attempt to cash in on it as a mac n’ cheese line was pretty much dead-on arrival.  As a result, excess stock of the stuff appears to be liquidated to just about every discount store on the face of the Earth, as I’ve seen boxes at both Big Lots, and Dollar Tree, and they were only $.33 per box at each place.

All it will take is a quick internet search to reveal that this stuff did not go over well.  At all.  And they were even sold only in Wal-Marts.  If Wal-Mart’s nightmarish clientele couldn’t even find use for this stuff, then it must be really, really bad.  I mean, from Wal-Mart at $.98 per box, to closeout at $.33 a box just a year later…it’s got to be terrible.  Right?

Well we grabbed each flavor, except for Cheesy Pizza, which both sounds and looks disgusting.  So if you want to try that one, you’re on your own.  But here are my thoughts on the remaining flavors, and some of them might surprise you.

BUTTER PARMESAN
In my opinion, this is by far the worst flavor of the lot.  (Amazon agrees, with users giving this a 1.7 out of 5 stars, not that the rest fared much better).  I was really reluctant to even try it, because just the combination sounds pretty repulsive, but figured it might be surprisingly good.  I don’t know if I just have built up an insane tolerance to mac n’ cheese flavors over the years, because while I would never get it again, I didn’t have a problem finishing the bowl. 

To me, it’s not that the flavor is offensive or repulsive so much as it’s not really there.  Sure, you can taste some butter (probably the butter you added to make it), but I didn’t get much of a parmesan taste at all.  There was a faint sweetness about it, which is fairly disturbing because neither of the titular ingredients are all that sweet, but no real discernible cheesiness at all.  I would avoid this one in the future, even though common sense told me to avoid it in the first place.

Overall: 3/10.

NACHO CHEESE
I am not going to lie…the wife and I actually liked this stuff.  I mean, don’t get me wrong, I realize that it’s terrible for you, and that it’s severely processed, and I even understand that, even by nacho cheese standards, the flavor is incredibly exaggerated and tastes nothing like actual nacho cheese.  I get all of those things.  But you know what, we bought a couple of boxes of this stuff, ate it, and then went back to get a couple more, so go on, keep the judgments coming.

At its original price (which as I understand, was $.98 at Wal-Mart), I would never have given it a chance.  Even now that I’ve tasted it, and can say I like it, I would still say a dollar per box is flat-out robbery.  But for $.33, it’s a decent value, and a “meal” that can be quickly thrown together whenever neither of us actually feel like making real food.  And come on, it can’t be any worse nutritionally than your typical box of shells and cheese, or the national brand's own line of mac n’ cheese offerings, so I don’t get where all this vitriol is coming from.

So while it will never become a staple in our house, I thought the nacho cheese flavor tasted pretty good (in an exaggerated, almost cartoony way), and was a decent alternative to the other heavily-processed mac n’ cheese products out there.

Overall: 7/10.


CHEDDAR
This is the one that’s closest to your “typical” macaroni and cheese.  Like the others, I had to cut back a little bit on the amount of milk used (the 3 tablespoons recommended under the “Classic Prep” instructions resulted in an end product that was way too runny), but the end result still ended up pretty creamy.  The cheese flavor is more or less what you would expect from this kind of product…nothing to write home about, but pretty much on par with other boxed macaroni and cheese products. 

That being said, offering these for only $.33 per box definitely adds some value.  Even though the flavor is similar to other store-bought mac and cheese’s that I’ve had, they cost substantially more than this one, so that’s reason enough to grab this.  Why pay more for something that tastes pretty similar?  My wife and I both liked this one the most, and wouldn’t hesitate to pick up another box of these if we came across them.

Overall: 7.5/10.

PRO TIP: The recipe on the box calls for way too much milk.  I followed the initial instructions for “Classic Prep” (3 tablespoons butter and 3 tablespoons milk), and found it to be way too watery for my tastes.  So from then on out, I cut back to 2 tablespoons of both butter and milk, and the end result seemed to taste exactly the same while being, I guess, slightly “healthier”.  That’s just my two cents.

SUMMARY: I didn’t find most of these to be as bad as I thought they would be.  With the exception of Butter Parmesan, which was terrible all around, the cheese flavors were surprisingly edible, and…dare I say it…even good.  But the scores listed above are assuming a price of $.33 a box--anything more, and the value is pretty much gone.  The 5.5 oz. boxes only make two servings, as opposed to other brands, which give you three servings, and the shortage is definitely noticeable.  If you see these on a clearance shelf somewhere for under 50 cents, pick them up.  Otherwise, spend a little more and go with the macaroni and cheese in the blue box, or even better yet, Aldi's brand.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Vivache Peach Moscato; Block Party Hard Lemonade (Aldi)

VIVACHE PEACH MOSCATO
Old pic I stole from the internet.  The bottle looks different now.  I've really got to get better about taking pictures...
I am not, by any normal sense of the term, a wine drinker.  Sure, I’ve been known to throw some down with my wife, but my only requirements are that it has to be sweet--dry wine, at least to my unrefined palate, is the equivalent of drinking rubbing alcohol with the faint taste of grapes--and it has to be cheap.  I can’t see spending even half of what a typical connoisseur might drop on a single bottle of wine, so I tend to look for offerings that are in the $10 or lower price range.

Even though my wife can go far dryer than I can, her favorite kind of wine is moscato, which as you probably know is a light, sweet, and often sparkling wine.  Obviously, that’s right down my alley, too, so we often buy cheap moscato’s just to give them a whirl.

So imagine our excitement when we saw Aldi was offering Vivache Peach Moscato for just $6 a bottle.  Curious as to the origins of this wine, I discovered it was exported by a Prestige Wine and Spirits Group.  A little further digging through their portfolio revealed they produce a large selection of labels in both spirits and wines, of which I am familiar with exactly zero (I guess that’s what happens when you do most of your alcohol purchases at grocery stores and convenience marts).  Curiously, the brand Vivache is missing from their wine brand list, and a quick Google search only reveals hits from Aldi stores.  Could this be a label made specifically for Aldi?  It sure looks like it.

Anyway, being unfamiliar with fruit-flavored moscato, I was a little nervous as to how this would taste.  How “realistic” would the peach flavor be?  How would it blend in with the existing flavor of moscato?  A sniff right after twisting off the cap revealed a very strong, and very welcoming, peach aroma that is very akin to a wine cooler (sure enough, its label reveals that this is, in fact, a “wine cooler with natural flavor”).  Alcohol content is pretty lame, at 6%, but that's in relation to what you would expect from this kind of beverage, so if you’re looking to get drunk, I would definitely look elsewhere (you’ll probably get a headache from the sweetness before you even get hammered).

But if you’re just looking to sip some wine by the poolside, or out on the deck on a nice warm day, this is the perfect drink for you.  The peach takes center stage, with a mouth-watering flavor that I really didn’t find to be fakey at all, yet you can also taste the moscato hovering just below the surface.  I thought the flavor combination was pretty incredible, and the wife and I unanimously agreed that we wouldn‘t hesitate to pick this stuff up again whenever it becomes available.  Unfortunately, it was gone within a couple weeks after becoming available at our Aldi store, so it seems that we’re not the only one in on this secret.

Overall: 8.5/10.  As with many of the alcoholic beverages I enjoy, this will no doubt be too sweet for some, and true wine drinkers will scoff at the mere recommendation of a wine cooler, but I thought Vivache’s Peach Moscato is an excellent blend of the two titular items.  The peach is pronounced, and is complimented by an equally-sweet moscato background…honestly, the two flavors seem to feed off each other in perfect balance.  The 6% alcohol content is pretty lame, but what you would expect out of a wine cooler, so you can’t really knock it for that.  Value at $5.99 a bottle (in Ohio; it's usually $1 or $2 cheaper elsewhere) is very good, and for those that are just looking for a refreshing summer drink, I can’t recommend it enough.  Act fast; stock was out within two weeks at our store, so if you happen to see a bottle, grab it before it’s gone!

BLOCK PARTY HARD LEMONADE
Another pic I stole from the internet.  I've really got to get better about taking pictures....
When I first started shopping at Aldi very nearly a decade ago (my best estimates peg the year 2005 as the year I first set foot in one), they carried a hard lemonade by the name of T-Dubs.  To put it plainly, it was swill, with a flavor more akin to a lemon cleaning product than the actual tart fruit.  Yet I still bought it anyway, if only for the reason that it was (if my memory serves me correctly) $5 for a six-pack.  Well, I couldn’t have been the only one that found it offensive, as a short while later it was pulled off the shelves, never to return again.

But the only problem was, it wasn’t replaced by anything.  As a non-beer drinker, Aldi’s options are severely limited, to either wine, or the occasional special buy coconut rum or strawberry daiquiri.  I’ll even down a good cider, but for reasons unknown, they never get any of those in, especially considering Trader Joe’s has a fantastic one that could easily (at least in my head) be ported over to Aldi stores.

So imagine my surprise when, after at least seven years, a quick perusal of an Aldi advert revealed--a hard lemonade!  Then imagine my brief letdown when I saw the name: Block Party.  I mean honestly, could they have picked a more ghetto, ridiculously cheesy name than that?  Still, my interest was more than piqued, and I knew that no matter what, I was going to try one.  And I also knew that there was a good chance it was going to be terrible.  After all, this was the same company that thought T-Dubs was fit for human consumption.  So I grabbed the first six-pack at my local Aldi, went home, grabbed one, twisted off the cap and…

…was incredibly shocked.  This is what Mike’s Hard Lemonade strives to be; a refreshing mix of authentic lemon flavor and carbonation that dissipates into a sugary sweet finish.  There’s no bizarre aftertaste or bitter notes, it’s just a very sweet, very refreshing drink for a summer’s day.  Granted, even for someone as in to sweet drinks as I am, a little bit can go a long way, so you probably won’t be downing more than a couple in one sitting, but it’s pretty delicious.

That being said, there are a couple downsides.  As I just stated, the sweetness will be a turn-off for many, as each bottle feels the equivalent of drinking three cups of sugar.  The price is also a little alarming; at $7.99 (in OH; price may vary elsewhere) per six-pack, there’s really little incentive for people to give this a try, as it’s just about the same price as the main brand of hard lemonade. 

Overall: 7/10.  Though it will undoubtedly be too sweet for many, I found this to be a refreshing mix of authentic lemon flavor blended with lots and lots of sugar.  If you’re looking for something to get drunk off of, you’ll probably want to steer clear and look for something else, but as a patio drink on a hot summer’s day, this just might be the perfect beverage.  However, the $7.99 (in OH) price tag is also a little off-putting, as it’s very close to, if not the exact same price, as the national brand of hard lemonade.  I would still recommend this to those that are into this sort of thing, as I am.