Sunday, April 24, 2016

Specially Selected Pancetta & Parmesan, and Rosemary & Balsamic Kettle Chips

SPECIALLY SELECTED PANCETTA & PARMESAN KETTLE CHIPS

One thing that I’ve learned in my lifetime is that it’s probably a good idea to avoid potato chips that are flavored after a meat.  There’s just no accurate way to really translate the flavor of, say, bacon, onto a piece of fried potato.  At their best, meat-flavored potato chips generally omit the titular meat entirely, such as with buffalo wing chips, which merely taste like chips covered in buffalo powder, without a hint of meat.  Ditto that for the hot dog chips I tried, which merely tasted like a mess of condiments.

With that in mind, I was actually against trying these at all, but inspiration came from an unlikely source: my vegetarian wife.  She reasoned that pancetta is a lighter-flavored meat (she went vegetarian about a year ago, so has tried just about all of them at one point or another), and she was convinced that flavor could, conceivably, be somewhat accurately replicated in chip form.

Even after eating them, I’m not sure if she’s right or not, because this successfully follows the aforementioned rule of pretty much omitting the meat flavor entirely.  As I ate more and more of these, a subtle aftertaste seemed to emerge that suggested the pancetta, via a lightly smoky flavor, but it exists more in the background, rather than a marquee flavor.  And trust me, I’m not really complaining about that, because that means that the spotlight belongs to the parmesan, which is much easier to translate to chip form.

And they do a good job of it here, because these chips are pretty good.  The parmesan flavor is fairly strong (which I like), and each chip is given a generous coating of the stuff to ensure just about every bite is even in taste.  They aren’t so good that they’re anywhere near “addicting”, but on the other hand, that’s kind of a good thing considering potato chips aren’t really all that healthy for you.

The one bit of confusion I have is why these are under the Specially Selected label, which is generally reserved, at least I thought, for more “upscale” offerings, rather than under the Clancy’s line, used for chips and snacks.  There’s really nothing here that seems to suggest anything fancy, and even the price, which is $1.79 per bag, is in line with the other chips that Clancy offers.  Maybe by giving it “fancier” packaging they’re hoping to appeal to a certain crowd, but I can’t think that there are droves of meat-lovers craving pancetta on a chip.

This is more of a stray observation than a knock, because these chips are good, and affordable, no matter what label they put them under. I would get these again, and for those that don’t mind the meat-on-a-chip aspect that I’ve more or less been harping about, they are recommended.

Overall: 7/10.  A delicious chip that mainly ignores the pancetta, focusing instead on delivering the parmesan in droves, a task that it accomplishes.  The pancetta does sneak up on you the more you snack on them—the first few chips for me tasted like clear parmesan, until I started noticing a little smokiness entering into the tastebuds—but it doesn’t do much to detract from the overall flavor.  Maybe best of all: a bag is just $1.79, which is pretty good for a “premium” bag of chips, and much cheaper than even plain potato chips of the national brand.  They aren’t so great so as to be addicting, and I won’t say that I’ll ever crave them in between Special Buy cycles, but I would pick these up again at some point in the future.


SPECIALLY SELECTED BALSAMIC VINEGAR & ROSEMARY KETTLE CHIPS


I needed a nice chip for my lunch (just about every single day at work, I eat a sandwich and chips), and was going to settle for one of the more usual flavors that Aldi has, when I opted to wait and see if they had any eye-catching ones as Special Buys.  I was about at the end of the aisle, running out of potential space to find something, when something caught my eye: Specially Selected Kettle Chips.  They were available in two flavors: Balsamic Vinegar and Rosemary, or Parmesan and Pancetta.  I had the parmesan version in my hand, but my mind flashed back to all the meat-flavor potato chips I’ve had, which are sadly plentiful, and after enduring a slight shudder, I opted for the balsamic and rosemary.

I was even more amped when my wife told me that she tried one as she was packing my lunch, and that they were very good.  We tend to agree on foods, so if she likes something, there’s a really good chance that I will, too—part of the many positives to being together with someone for so long is you really learn to adapt to their lifestyles, and vice versa.  I enjoy things that I never did before I met her, and some of my favorite things have rubbed off on her.

I must say that I had totally forgotten exactly what the flavors were in the chip I bought.  I knew rosemary was in there, but I couldn’t remember with certainty what the other one was.  I took a bite.  There was some rosemary and then…holy hell, there was a ridiculous tartness that tasted a lot like vinegar, which, as it turns out, is what it was.  I always thought that balsamic vinegar was a little weaker, and even a tad bit sweeter, than regular vinegar, but maybe I’m just thinking of balsamic glaze.

Anyway, the first few chips took me some time to adapt to.  A day later, I’m still not entirely sure what I think about them.  They have grown on me somewhat, to the point that I like them, but I’m certainly not crazy about them, and I’m not sure about the prospects of me ever buying them again.  On the flipside, my wife loves them, despite disliking rosemary, but she does love salt and vinegar chips, which these remind me of a lot.  The flavor is different enough to set itself apart from those, but have flavor profiles similar enough to widely appeal to fans of salt and vinegar chips.

Overall: 6/10.  The thinking man’s salt and vinegar chip, Specially Selected’s Balsamic Vinegar and Rosemary have enough subtle flavor differences to stand on their own, but also have a similar enough flavor profile that they really won’t appeal to those that don’t enjoy salt and vinegar chips.  I grew to like these, but I definitely don’t love them, and I really don’t think I’ll ever pick these up again.  But for $1.79 per bag, there’s not a lot of monetary investment required to give these a shot to see if they will appeal to you.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Sun Dishwashing Detergent, Dollar Tree Aluminum Foil (Dollar Tree)

SUN POWDERED DISHWASHING DETERGENT
Terrible picture, solid product.

The problem with reviewing dishwashing products is that it can be hard to tell what’s really at fault if a particular dish doesn’t come out clean.  Was it just put in with too much grease or food on it, to the point that no single cycle or single dishwashing product would possibly be able to clean it?  Was it simply put in a bad spot, where water wouldn’t reach it no matter how much, or what kind of detergent was used?  Or is it the detergent’s fault?  It can be really hard to deduce sometimes, even after multiple uses.

Anyway, my wife swears by the expensive “three-in-one detergent packs”, which have dishwashing powder, along with three random pockets of multi-colored gel, whereas I prefer things that are much, much cheaper.  And so we like to go back-and-forth; I use my favorite products when I do dishes, and she sticks to her expensive crap.  Well I was perusing dishwasher products on the Dollar Tree website recently (actually, I was hoping they would have a rinse aid, but to no avail) and saw huge praise from users for their Sun Dishwashing Detergent.  Could this be the product I’ve been looking for?  Could it win my wife and I over, thus saving us a few dollars a year on overpriced detergent packs?

Refer to the opening paragraph.  It can be hard to deduce what is what (though our dishwasher is only about three weeks old, and I’d like to think it couldn’t really be at fault); actually, after contemplating this for a little while, what I really think it boils down to, is that there’s really not much difference between any of the dishwashing products out there.  Did the Sun detergent blow my mind with how wonderfully well it performed?  Not really; it simply did what it was supposed to do:  The glassware was sparkling, with no streaking, just as it is with everything else we’ve ever used, and the bowls came out as they should: Clean.

So while I can’t say it does any better a job of cleaning dishes than any other dishwasher product out there, I will say, at the very least, it performs exactly the same as all the others.  Which should be enough incentive for most to purchase it, as a 20 oz. box retails for a mere $1.  Alas, it won’t be enough evidence for my wife, who will still swear the overpriced detergent packs do a better job, and will continue to pay five times as much just to fulfill her perception but hey, I guess you can’t win them all.

Overall: 8.5/10.  Many reviews I’ve seen state that this stuff does a better job than pretty much every name brand powder in existence, a claim that I did not find to be accurate.  However, I did find it does pretty much the exact same job, for a fraction of the price, which is good enough for me.  Ultimately, in this day and age, I just don’t think there’s that much difference between the cheap stuff, and the more expensive stuff, a sentiment that seems to be becoming truer by the day, as national brand factories, sensing an opportunity to make even more money, produce more and more private labels.  Random thought: Wouldn’t it be funny if they ended up putting themselves out of business?

DOLLAR TREE ALUMINUM FOIL
Here's what a bunch of it together looks like. Avoid this like the plague.


We usually go elsewhere for our foil needs, but during a recent trip to Dollar Tree, my wife realized that we were completely out.  Rather than make a stop somewhere else just to get some foil, we just grabbed some there.  After all, how bad could it be?

The first red flag is that there’s no brand name.  None whatsoever.  All you can tell from the rectangular red packaging is that it’s aluminum foil, and that there’s 40 square feet of the stuff inside; that’s all the information whoever made it is willing to give you.  After we opened it, we realized why:  Words like “sucks”, and “completely worthless” would not be good selling points, yet they are the only words you can use to describe this dreck.

There’s “bad”, and then there’s this.  It’s absolutely terrible.  Even just touching it, you can tell that something’s not quite right; it’s very thin, very fragile, and threatens to fall apart every time you do something as simple as look at it.  Against all common sense, my wife still decided to use it anyway, to cover up a cake she made for Thanksgiving dessert.  Well by the time we got to our destination, the foil was threatening to fall off of the cake, and in simply trying to put it back on, we ended up puncturing it full of holes.

I suppose if you’re going to be keeping something in a refrigerator, where there’s positively NO chance that it can be bumped, or come into contact with any other thing, this might be a good product for you.  But if whatever you’re carrying under this foil is being touched, or transported, I’d spend the extra money and get your foil somewhere else.  Anywhere else, because, quite simply put, even at a dollar, this is more of a hassle than it’s worth.

Overall: 1/10.  If you just need foil for light duty stuff, you may be able to get away with using this junk.  But if you’re going to be covering something that needs transported, or handled, or has any chance of coming into contact with anything else, spend the extra money for aluminum foil elsewhere.  It’s unbelievably thin, doesn’t hold to the sides of dishes well at all, and falls apart so easily, you’d swear it was a defense mechanism.  Some things just aren’t worth it no matter how cheap they are; these need pulled off the shelves immediately.


Sunday, April 10, 2016

Millville Summer Berry, and Apple Walnut Oatmeal (Aldi)

MILLVILLE TRIPLE BERRY OATMEAL
Great option for those that like to overpay for average oatmeal.
I very rarely eat oatmeal, but when I do, my absolute favorite kinds are the cheap little “fruit and cream” varieties.  And best of all, it’s only a couple of dollars for somewhere around eight packs.  There’s just something about fake fruit pieces (or maybe they’re real…hard to tell these days) floating around in a bunch of sugar that just hits the spot every once in a while.

Well, since “natural” oatmeal seems to be gaining in popularity, I guess it only makes sense that Aldi would jump on the bandwagon.  Here, we have a single-serve cup of oatmeal, containing "summer berries", which would consist of strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries.  But unlike the packets, these aren’t little pieces of questionable-looking fruit “flakes“--these are huge, full-sized blue- and raspberries, and large chunks of strawberry that looks pretty darn inviting.

I must say that I was thrown for a loop when I came home one day to a barely-eaten cup of this sitting on the kitchen counter.  It was from my wife, who was the one that made the decision to purchase these; it didn’t take a whole lot of investigating to deduce that this meant she did not like it.  And if she didn’t like it, then chances were probably good that I wouldn’t like it.  And so I kind of put off eating the second, and final, cup that we had purchased, instead relegating it to a dark existence sitting in our pantry.  But it was only a matter of time until I got too lazy to go grocery shopping, got hungry, and needed something to eat.  Naturally, this was easy, and was otherwise serving no purpose, so I decided to go for it.

As can be expected, prep work is easy: Fill up the cup to the “fill line” (which is curiously located on the outside of the container), pop it in the microwave for about a minute, let it sit for a few, stir it up, and breakfast is served!  It gets nice and thick after setting, and is the perfect consistency even for me, and I prefer mine to be pretty watery.  But how does the flavor compare to my little packets?

Honestly, I prefer the little cheapies.  I stirred for a while, and the first few bites were pretty weak in the sweetness department…even the berries themselves are more tart than anything.  As I got down farther and farther into the cup, however, the brown sugar became more and more noticeable, but it wasn’t until the final couple of bites that it was as strong as I like.  I guess I’ll have to spend even longer stirring it up next time.

I did like having the multiple berries, but they don’t really pack a whole lot of flavor.  So what you’re pretty much getting is a slightly flavorful, slightly sweet cup of oatmeal for a ridiculously overpriced $1.19.  I’m sure these are better for you than the packets that I like, but then again, I can get eight of those for the price of just two of these.  And artificial flavors or not, those taste a hell of a lot better.  I didn’t dislike these at all, but the price just isn’t in line with what I’d be willing to pay for a breakfast food that I hardly partake in, and the flavor tradeoff isn’t worth that inflated price, either.  This just isn’t a product for me.  Or my wife, who absolutely hated it.

Overall: 5/10.  It’s not that bad, and I actually liked having “fresh” berries in there, but I am of the opinion that, at $1.19 per single serving cup, there’s just really not much in the way of value.  In fact, I much prefer the taste of the cheap “fruit and cream” oatmeal packets, of which you can get 8 for about the price of two of these cups.  There’s also an astonishing 18g of sugar, even though I barely got any sweetness until I was about halfway done with the cup.  For me, it was definitely edible, it just wasn’t even close to being worth it.  If these dropped in price by at least half, I’d think about getting them again.  Otherwise, I’m fine considering this purchase a one-off.

MILLVILLE APPLE WALNUT OATMEAL
Pretty good stuff, but also pretty pricey for what you get.
MILLVILLE APPLE WALNUT OATMEAL
In my review of Millville’s Triple Berry Oatmeal, I noted, among other things, that the $1.19 price point is pretty excessive.  And it is, especially for what you get.  Even though Apple Walnut sounded a lot better, I would have been just fine going without it had they not been marked down on my next trip, to $.99.  Laugh if you must, but the twenty cent drop made a difference because that is the maximum retail price that I think these should go for; I still didn’t feel like I was getting a good deal, but $1 for a full serving of oatmeal isn’t all that terrible.  Besides, I was looking forward to this one the most, so I wanted to have enough of a reason to give it a shot.

I was hoping that there would be a little bit of cinnamon in this one, because everyone knows that apples and cinnamon go together incredibly well, but slightly to my chagrin, it only has “golden sugar”, which is a combination of sugar and molasses.  As with the triple berry variation, there are some pretty large chunks of real (dried) apples and cranberries in here, on top of the walnut, so I guess that kind of helps to justify the larger price tag.

Tastewise, this one is a lot better than the triple berry.  I still think it could have benefited a bit more with even a little bit of cinnamon, but the molasses/sugar combination does a good job of delivering sweetness throughout the cup.  The cranberry taste wasn’t really noticeable to me, but you can’t miss the apple; the walnuts are rather soft, as you might expect from microwavable oatmeal, but there’s not really enough of them to give off that much of a flavor.  The crunchiness does add a bit of texture for those that don’t like the weird softness of oatmeal, though, and the pieces are pretty big when you do stumble on them.

Basically if you like apples and oatmeal, you’re going to like this.  Again, even at the discounted $.99 I paid for it, it still feels a little overpriced, and unless it gets marked down even more, I won’t pick up either flavor again.  But if you like oatmeal way more than we do, or have a much more disposable income than we do, or find it deeply discounted, then this might be something that should be on your radar.

Overall: 6/10.  It’s a lot like you’re probably expecting: the taste of apples, a little bit of sweetness, and that‘s about it.  The walnut pieces are pretty large, but no matter how much I stirred it up, they always seemed to sink to the bottom.  I didn’t even realize there were cranberry pieces in there until I happened to read the container, and unlike the walnut and apple pieces, the cranberries are really thin; thus, they don’t provide any kind of discernable taste.  I paid $.99 for this because it was marked down--even at that price, it feels kind of hefty, with the regular $1.19 price tag even more ridiculous.  It’s not bad at all, but I didn’t think the end result justified the price; I’ll be fine sticking to the cheap oatmeal packets, no matter how questionable their contents are.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

PurAqua Orange Mango, and Black Raspberry Sparkling Frost Drinks (Aldi)

PURAQUA ORANGE MANGO SPARKLING FROST
Bright orange when full, a letdown when consumed.


My wife had given these a go a little while ago, and dismissed them as being “too sweet”, which is actually what drew me to them.  I was also intrigued by the “sparkling” aspect of these--I don’t drink much soda these days, but am always open to the occasional soda substitute, and thought maybe this would satisfy me.  Even better: these things retail for a scant $.69, which honestly puts them in “you have nothing to lose” territory (though, to be fair, technically all of their products fall into that category, thanks to Aldi’s money-back guarantee), so I grabbed two out of the three flavors--I had to omit the “pink grapefruit” because I’m on cholesterol medicine that reacts to said fruit, and while I’ve broken that rule for a previous review, I don’t like to do it at all.

First we’re going to be taking a look at the Orange Mango, whose bright orange glow makes it look delicious and refreshing.  I must admit, once again, that I didn’t notice this was a zero calorie beverage until literally the moment I was cracking it open--I really need to be a little more observant of packaging before I buy certain products, because this has been happening way too often lately.  In its defense, however, I probably still would have bought it even if I had noticed that it was “diet”, if for no other reason than its price point.

It smells strongly of orange, with a little bit of mango accent, which really had me excited and expecting something delicious…something that the drink itself can’t deliver.  The taste seems like the water and the flavoring weren’t mixed together properly; upon hitting the taste buds right after you take a swig, there’s a strong sweetness hinted at, but swallowing only gives the taste of lightly-flavored water with intensely-fake sweetener.  The aftertaste (and, honestly, the taste itself) only got worse and worse for me the more I tried to give it chances; by the midway point, I didn’t even want to drink anymore because the aftertaste was so chemical and overwhelming.

I don’t like to say “never”, but I don’t see myself getting this kind ever again.  Even around this price point ($.69), Aldi has some other options that I actually like a lot better, like their Fit & Active flavored waters.  No matter how little I’m paying, or how few calories I’m getting, I at least expect it to have a taste I can tolerate, and these don’t come even close to that basic courtesy.

Overall: 2.5/10. It smells great, looks inviting, and the initial taste on the tongue is good, but assuming you’re actually planning on swallowing it, that’s when it all goes downhill.  The taste when swallowing shifts drastically, giving a very weak orange flavor in the back of the throat that slowly dissipates, giving way to a finish that’s little more than just plain sparkling water.  That might be okay enough to appeal to some, and might have been something I could have tolerated, but then there’s an intense, chemical aftertaste that lingers in the throat for a very long time, and tends to get stronger and stronger the longer you drink it…by the midway point of the bottle, even the thought of taking a drink was no longer enjoyable.  Points must be given for value, though--$.69 isn’t a bad price at all, so if you end up liking this, it won’t break the bank. I don’t plan on ever trying them again, short of a total formula overhaul.


PURAQUA BLACK RASPBERRY SPARKLING FROST
Purple when full, and a pretty tasty beverage, especially considering its price.

Having just tried PurAqua’s Orange Mango Sparkling Frost, I was ready to toss in the towel on this one before I even tried it.  But I had already bought it, it was taking up valuable space in my pantry, and so there was really no reason not to drink it.  So eventually I just sucked it up, and figured that no matter how bad it would turn out to be, there was a very good chance that I've had worse.  That’s not too reassuring when that’s the mindset you go into when trying a beverage for the first time!

But on the other hand, that can also work to its benefit, because expectations are so low that, as long as you don’t hate it, it pretty much exceeds expectations and can be considered a victory.  Well I’ve got to say that not only is this not gross, but this is a drink that I would gladly get again.

For starters, even though this is also a zero-calorie drink, it doesn’t have that disgusting bitter taste, or medicinal finish that we saw with the Orange Mango--it has a nice, semi-sweet and authentic black raspberry flavor (mostly made in a laboratory, I’m sure, but it does contain 3% of actual blackberry juice), which gives way to a sweet aftertaste.  Now, the sweetness in the aftertaste is clearly one of the artificial sweeteners (in this case, sucralose), but I’ll take that over the metallic one offered by the Orange Mango.

There is a surprising amount of carbonation in this bottle…I actually got hiccups on my first two drinks (something that I get when downing an overwhelming amount of carbonation).  I can’t recall exactly, but if my memory serves me correctly, I thought there were way more bubbles in this variety, than in the orange mango one, which doesn’t bother me, but might bother those looking for a lighter fizz.  If anything, it gives it a texture more consistent with soda, making this a potential replacement for that sugary stuff, for those looking to kick (or at least lessen) their cola habit.

I’m actually really glad I gave this a shot.  It’s not even near the top of my ‘Favorite Aldi Drinks’ list, but it’s something that I could see myself grabbing during the warmer months--I’d even dare use it as a mixer, with the carbonation giving a liquor some extra zing without adding much in the way of sugars, while the blackberry flavor could soften its alcohol taste.  But even just straight out of the bottle, this is a pretty good little drink, especially at its $.69 asking price.

Overall: 7/10.  Unlike the Orange Mango Sparkling Water, the Black Raspberry version is actually palatable--it starts sweet, with an authentic taste of blackberries, and finishes sweet, as well, with barely any of the typical medicinal tastes that plague many drinks made with sucralose.  It’s nice and refreshing, with a boatload of carbonation that overwhelmed me on my first couple of swigs, which can also make this a semi-healthier alternative to soda.  Value is excellent, as well, with a 17 oz. container retailing for a mere $.69, so it’s well worth a purchase.  I will be getting this again in the future, for sure.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Fit & Active Crinkle Cut Fries; Season's Choice Seasoned Fries (Aldi)

FIT & ACTIVE CRINKLE CUT FRIES
Contrary to your thoughts, these low-fat and low-sodium fries are actually pretty good.
I almost didn’t buy these.  French fries that are 97% fat free and relatively low in sodium compared to their brethren?  Just the idea feels so inherently anti-American.  But I still wanted to give these a fair shot, so I scooped up a bag a few months ago out of curiosity--and then promptly forgot to review them.  So here I was, chomping at the bit for Aldi to offer them again.  And what better time than during the “New Year’s Resolution” health-inspired special buy cycle?  They really have this down to an almost perfect science…

So what did I think of them?  I think the mere reason that I was looking forward to getting them again pretty much tells you that I found them rather enjoyable.  How is it that something as simple as a French fry that simply tastes like potato, is such a foreign concept here in the U.S.?  Sure, compared to most other fries, these would be considered “boring”, but they’re also much healthier; they’re not soaked in grease, and even the sodium content is dialed back a bit.

Do I eat them as is right out of the bag?  No.  I have to admit, I like to dip them in barbecue, and add a small sprinkle of barbecue seasoning on them beforehand.  But you know what?  I do that to all my fries, so the fact there’s not already a ton of unhealthiness on them already, makes me feel a little less guilty about it.  You can also tell there’s not a lot of salt on them, because there’s not a whole lot of flavor besides the potato, but I also generally like things without an overabundance of salt, so that’s a win for me.  Also a win is the price: These are only $1.99 for two full pounds of potato-y goodness; who says health-conscious foods have to be so expensive?

Overall: 8.5/10.  I really like these things, and chances are, so will you!  Sure, there’s not a lot of flavor besides potato, but that also means there’s not all the unhealthy salt and grease content.  I dip them in barbecue sauce and add a little seasoning salt to them to dress them up a bit, but these are things I do to any fry, so it’s nice to not have all that unnecessary crap on them to begin with.  And for only $1.99 for a 32 oz. (2 LB.!) bag, these go a long way for not a lot of moolah.  Highly recommended, but the biggest drawback is that these are only occasionally available as a Special Buy, so stock up on them when you see them!

SEASON'S CHOICE SEASONED FRIES
Fast-food quality, if nothing else, and dirt-cheap to boot!

There are times when a simple fried potato just won’t do: when the crinkle-cuts and shoestrings of the world just sound too darn bland.  When I want something with a little more edginess and flavor.  Those, dear friends, are the times I reach for Season’s Choice Seasoned Fries, available all the time from Aldi stores.

That paragraph might sound like a commercial, but these really are some of my favorite fries, and probably the one I purchase most often from Aldi’s constantly-available inventory.  They may not look like they’re loaded with flavor just by looking at them, with their pale brown hue not really suggesting much actual seasoning, but once they’re baked in the oven they taste just like a good fast-food fry.  There’s a slight burn after eating a few, either from the spices, or from the level of sodium in them, or both, but if you’re eating fries, you’re generally not too concerned with the health impact.

The flavor kind-of-sort-of reminds me of Rally’s fries, if I have to make a comparison, although they don’t get nearly as crispy.  I would actually argue that these fries might be slightly better--whereas fast-food fries tend to be overwhelmingly salty, I actually notice the garlic powder and spices more than straight-up salt.  This is pretty impressive for a frozen fry, especially around this price point ($1.79 per package).

As I hinted at earlier, I don’t like how these things never seem to fully brown.  I guess with their light brown-ish hue, it’s a lot tougher to tell when they’re fully cooked, at least in comparison to the more standard forms of the fried potato.  They seem to take longer than the recommended time in the oven--this last batch, I barely had any fries left, I pulled them out after about 15 minutes, and about half of them were well-cooked, while the other half were slightly mushy.  I guess unsurprisingly, it’s the larger ones that seem to take longer, but I’m usually hungry and just settle for eating them soft.  I don’t seem to have this problem with other fries, so I don’t think it’s user error.  But the taste goes a long way to rectifying that situation...and dipping them in a good barbecue sauce (or your preferred condiment of choice) makes them even better. 

Overall: 8/10.  One of the better fries Aldi carries, Season’s Choice Seasoned Fries pack a lot of flavor into a very inexpensive package of fries.  The garlic powder and assorted spices stand out here, rather than just the salt, which tends to be a concern with a lot of frozen fries.  The biggest downside is that these things never seem to fully crisp up.  I’ve put them in for slightly longer than the packaging suggests, and that only got the small-to-medium fries crispy, while the longer ones were still soft, and if there’s one thing I don’t like, it’s soft French fries.  But the flavor and the price (a mere $1.79 per bag, or about what you would pay for a medium fry at most fast food places) certainly goes a long way toward compensating for that.  Well worth the price, in my humble opinion.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Goodsense 40-Gallon Trash Bags; The Home Store Large Toilet Paper Roll (Dollar Tree)

GOODSENSE 40-GALLON TRASH BAGS
Not nearly as bad as one would think.
A long while back, I purchased an unbranded set of trash bags from Dollar Tree that were absolutely horrendous, and hands down the worst garbage bags I’ve ever had the misfortune of using.  If I recall correctly, I suggested that they be immediately removed from the shelves and never sold again; they didn’t listen, as they can still be purchased online (and probably in stores…I’m programmed to just skim over them if I see them).

However, a short while after that debacle, I purchased the same product, only in the Goodsense brand.  At first, I was a little skeptical that it might be the same product, only with an added brand name, but those fears were quickly allayed after using them.  It’s been four years that I’ve been using them, and I just realized that I have not reviewed them.  So for those of you that might be a little leery of using any trash product from Dollar Tree after reading my review (or after using them yourself), I feel I owe this to you (and them) to show that there are actually some decent trash-related products there.

Now, to be clear, let’s set things straight right off the bat:  These trash bags still aren’t great.  They tear relatively easy, and thus should be ruled out for any kind of “heavy duty” work, including yard work.  But unlike the unbranded piles of junk that I took a look at four years ago, for any kind of low- to medium-duty work, these should get the job done.  I’ve used them to take clothes to Goodwill, filled them to the top, and had no problems with them.  I also use them as standard trash bags, and as long as there’s nothing sharp in them, they’ve been able to handle anything I toss their way.

Surprisingly, weight doesn’t seem to be much of a factor; I’ve filled trash to the very top of them several times, and they’ve taken the weight with no problems.  We live in condominiums and have to travel to the end of our units for the dumpster, so we’re talking at least 50-100 steps (maybe even a little bit more), so it’s not like I just walk them three steps to the garage and call it a day.  They really can withstand quite a bit of weight.

Again, the biggest downfall is that the slightest stab can gut these things open like a fish.  I understand the same can be said for any trash bag, but a lot of the more expensive ones I’ve used are at least semi-resistant to stab wounds--that is, if they do get punctured, the hole is usually limited to where the penetration occurred.  These, on the other hand, if they receive any kind of cut, they’re pretty much done for…it doesn’t take much pressure at all to worsen the cut, and before you know it, you have a completely split and unusable trash bag.

We’ve tried using these in the kitchen, but they tended to rip more often than not up there.  I use these exclusively in my basement--my man cave--where all I generally throw away are empty cans (or bottles) of alcohol and empty paper plates of food, and these have given me zero troubles over the years.  If nothing else, I find these are great to have on hand just in case, and with eight coming in each package, there are plenty to handle all your basic chores.

Overall: 7/10.  These rip a little too easy--anything with even a slight edge is prone to tearing these apart--but for the price, I still have a box of these on hands at all times.  I tend to keep them in my basement, where the only trash are empty alcohol containers, the occasional paper or junk mail, and used paper plates, and have had zero problems with these, even after filling them all the way to the top.  Also used them to donate mounds of clothes to a donation center, and they had no problems supporting the weight.  They’re nowhere near premium, but they represent a reasonable balance of performance and price that makes them a great value.

THE HOME STORE LARGE TOILET PAPER ROLL
Using leaves would be more comfortable and reliable.
Much to my wife’s chagrin, I’m always looking at ways to cut costs.  Even if we happen to have money (a rarity, especially over the course of the last seven months), I just can’t stand feeling like I’ve paid more for something than I really needed to.  Of course, I don’t mind the occasional splurge on some things when our monetary situation allows, but especially on the household staples, I just try to find something that we both like, and then stick to it.

My wife likes the 12-roll packs of toilet paper, but I’ve been hesitant to spend $5+ all at once for that stuff, which pretty much leaves me with the smaller four packs that don’t last as long.  I know, I know, the larger packs are the much better deal, and also last longer, but when the budget comes down to the last few dollars, I still hesitate to cough up that much.  Besides, we still seem to go through any toilet paper we buy ridiculously quick because my wife likes to use up half a roll every time she uses the restroom, no matter what the reason.

So with this in mind, I was at the ol’ Dollar Tree searching for some TP, when I saw a couple choices side-by-side: they had the usual small four packs in plastic packaging, and then a single large toilet paper roll encased in paper.  At first glance, I scoffed at the single roll, thinking there was no way there were as many squares on that as there were in the four packs, until I dug a little deeper.  That’s when I discovered that the large roll did, in fact, have more sheets…about 100 more, to be exact.  I felt like I had just discovered a new way to save money, and happily strutted to the front with two of these (as well as a basketful of unnecessary merchandise) in tow.

Then it all came crashing down.  A couple of days later, my wife--queen of all toiletries--used it and ranted at me afterwards in pure disgust.  All it took was a single glance and soft caress of the roll to see what her fuss was about: it looked about as rough as sandpaper, and felt as thin as a dryer sheet.  At first, I kicked myself for not having paid attention to the “ply”, and thought that I had gotten a severely cheap single ply version, until I saw that there were, in fact, two layers per sheet.  So this is somehow a two-ply toilet paper.

After using it myself, I have to begrudgingly admit that my wife was right: this stuff sucks.  No matter how much of it you grab, it’s so thin that you still don’t feel like you have enough for the job.  There’s also no level of comfort whatsoever…while it doesn’t quite feel like you’re using a barbed wire, it doesn’t feel all that good, either.  Surprisingly, it hasn’t fallen apart in my hands yet, so it might be a little more durable than it first appears, but I will never purchase this again; I know to just stick to the four-roll if I ever find myself in this situation again (although I must say even those are kind of expensive, as Aldi has rolled out their own four-roll “basic” toilet paper for $.59, and many store brands are already at $1, or less).

Overall: 2.5/10.  This stuff is absolute junk.  It’s paper-thin (even though it’s still technically two-ply) and offers no level of comfort whatsoever.  And yet, for some reason, I pity it more than I hate it.  It just feels like a product that served a purpose maybe twenty years ago, but that has sadly fallen behind the times--many store brands offer four-packs of (slightly) softer rolls for $1 or less (Aldi even sells their basic TP pack for a mere $.59).  I don’t know, maybe business owners or hotels load up on these for their public restrooms, but short of that, I can’t see there being much of a demand for this kind of crappy toilet paper; I made the mistake of purchasing it once, but I’ll be sure to never fall for it again.  Credit must be given considering, as cheap and thin as it feels, it's never crumbled or fallen apart in my hands, which is certainly a plus in the world of toilet paper.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Millville Apple Cinnamon Crispy Oats, and Honey Cut Corn Squares Cereal (Aldi)

MILLVILLE APPLE CINNAMON CRISPY OATS
Meh.
Cereal is one of my all-time favorite foods, because it’s so versatile: its use as a breakfast food, of course, is well-documented, but for me, it can also be a snack, a dessert, or even occasionally dinner.  I also love the stuff because it tends to provide many vitamins and minerals that you can‘t always get with just any food, but also not at the expense of flavor--even the sweetest of cereals still have a lot of health benefits to offer.  They might rot away your teeth, but at least the rest of you will be healthy!

Curiously, Millville’s Apple Cinnamon Crispy Oats are available only occasionally as a Special Buy from Aldi stores, along with a “chocolate“ variety.  I add “curiously” because they offer standard and honey nut versions all the time--back when I was a youngster, I always considered apple cinnamon to be a staple offering of the national brand, so I just think it’s a little weird that they don’t offer it all the time along with the other “crispy oats”, but I don’t work for Aldi, so they don’t tend to listen to me.  But they happened to be offering them during my last shopping trip, and so I grabbed them to make sure I got a box before they ran out!

I have to say that I’m completely underwhelmed.  I bought these because I remember them being absolutely fantastic in the past--a perfect combination of cinnamon with some decent apple flavoring, but they weren’t nearly as good as I remember.  The cinnamon stands front and center for a couple seconds, and things get off to a great start accordingly, but then the sweetness gives way to a real fakey, and understated, apple flavor that just didn’t do anything for me.  It also disappears before it really has any time to make a statement, giving way to a neutral aftertaste that has no sweetness to speak of.  I thought maybe my taste buds just needed to get acclimated to these, but sure enough, it was the same exact results throughout the entire bowl.  Come to think of it, the taste is very akin to a rice cake, with enough flavor at the beginning to make you think you’re actually eating something of substance, only to dissipate and leave you with the realization that what you’re eating is actually “healthy”.

This strikes me as odd, because I love their regular Crispy Oats, as well as their Honey Nut variety (which pack the perfect amount of honey flavor to balance out the boring oat flavor), so the big dip in quality from those to these was quite a bit of a letdown.  I’m just not sure of the demographics Millville was trying to cater to: I’d recommend it to those that don’t like their cereals very sweet, but the initial cinnamon blast might be too much for people like that.  Definitely not one of my favorite Millville offerings and, in retrospect, it makes sense why these are only a Special Buy and not otherwise offered all the time.

Overall: 5/10.  Contrary to my memories, this cereal just wasn’t very good.  It delivers wholeheartedly on the “cinnamon” part, with an initial shot of sweetness that manages to be just enough, without being too strong, but the “apple” flavor never really has the chance to materialize.  So by the end, all of the taste just kind of disappears into a disappointing, neutral finish that just doesn’t beg you to take any more bites.  It’s still way cheaper than the national brand, at $1.79 per box, so giving it a shot to see if you would like them more than I did doesn’t require a huge investment, but I’ll just stick to their regular or honey nut versions, which are a part of their permanent inventory.

MILLVILLE HONEY NUT CORN SQUARES
This crop-job is very off-center and kind of annoying.
As we’ve elaborated upon at least a dozen times (the last time being in the above review), I love cereal.  I also love a good Special Buy cereal, which is to say, for those uninitiated to how Aldi works, products that are only offered for a limited time until they are sold out, at which point they are gone until the next time they are offered.  When I’m not in the mood for one of my usuals (Millville Honey Nut Crispy Oats, regular Crispy Oats, Frosted Flakes, or Cocoa Rice), I like to wander over to the Special Buy section just to see what limited-time breakfast foods they might have.

Well, on this particular trip, I discovered Millville’s Honey Nut Corn Squares.  Now, Millville offers their standard Corn and Rice Squares cereals all the time, and now that I think about it, you can add both of those to the above list of my “usuals”.  Either of them are perfect for when I’m in the mood for something a little lighter, and they have a lot of flavor even though there’s not much sugar in them.

Well this cereal certainly isn’t shy about its addition of “honey nut”, because it comes on way stronger than I was expecting.  And that’s a good thing, as far as I’m concerned.  It’s definitely not ultra-sweet in the way lots of kids’ cereals can be, but I’m not sure it would suffice to say that it’s “lightly sweetened”.  It walks right in the middle of that spectrum, which also leads to a nice sweet bowl of milk at the end.  The honey clearly stands front and center, but there’s enough of a nuttiness in the background to justify the title.  In other words, this cereal is damn good, and way better than I was expecting it to be.

The other plus to the honey is that it functions as an extra coating on the cereal, making them less susceptible to milk-induced sogginess.  That’s the main drawback of the regular Rice and Corn Squares--they get soggy real quick.  Now, I eat cereal so often that it doesn’t bother me quite like it used to, but I still like having a crunchier cereal for longer, and am aware that it’s a big drawback for some people.  It seemed like halfway through the bowl, even the fully-submerged pieces were still more firm than most cereals, and I absolutely douse mine in milk.

This just may be my favorite of the Special Buy cereals that I’ve tried (although now that I think about it, their version of Life is pretty stupendous, too).  Again, it’s a wonder why this isn’t offered all the time, since they already carry the rice and corn squares, but I guess that’s the drawback of dealing with a limited inventory--there just simply isn’t enough space to house all this stuff.  I’ve never had these before, so I can’t really speak as to how often they are made available, but I’ll be keeping my eyes peeled for these in the future, that’s for sure.

Overall: 8/10.  A deliciously sweet cereal that’s unfortunately only available occasionally as a Special Buy, Millville’s Honey Nut Corn Squares walk the perfect line between “lightly sweetened” and full-on sugar rush, providing a perfect blast of sweetness without being too strong.  The honey coating also makes them milk-resistant a little bit longer than the Rice and Corn Squares, which is a good thing for those that can’t stand soggy cereal.  I wasn’t expecting them to be this good, but this has vaulted up my list to one of my favorite cereals that I’ve ever had from the discount grocer.