Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Bremer Selects Steak Fajita Skillet Meal (Aldi)

UPDATE (03/2021): This product was somehow given a perfect score upon its initial review. While I stand by my overall opinions of these fajitas, the score has been adjusted in accordance with current standards.
Also available in chicken.
There is nothing like a good fajita.  The simple blend of meats, peppers and onions, paired with some sour cream…oh man, there‘s nothing quite like it.  It’s definitely my favorite Mexican offering, but now, the more I think about it, it may just crack the top 10 overall.  So you can imagine the saliva that was dripping from my mouth as I stumbled upon the Bremer Select Steak Fajita meal at Aldi.

You can also imagine the reservations I had.  After all, I had just discovered a restaurant not five minutes from my work offered shrimp fajitas during lunch for under $6.  I realized there was no way that a frozen dish was going to come close to compare, but I had to give it a shot.  After all, while the restaurant is close to my work, it’s twenty minutes away from my home, so not something worth going out of the way for.  So I bought it, in the hopes that it could fill the empty void of a cheap fajita dinner for a low price, without having to travel all the way across town.

First things first, as the title implies, this is a “meal”, so everything you need comes right in the package.  Included is the steak, the onion and pepper mix, as well as six tortillas…basically everything but sour cream and any other Mexican condiment you might crave.  While I didn’t prepare it, that‘s what I married my wife for, it didn’t take long at all to prepare.  From the opening of the package to the completion of the cooking, it couldn’t have been longer than ten minutes.  So that definitely starts it off on the right foot.  But how would it fare in the most important department of all?

There are two things I noticed right off the bat:  The smell is perfectly reminiscent of those great restaurant fajitas, and the peppers are chopped very finely.  The aroma consists strongly of peppers, but it also smells very sweet.  It definitely smells delicious and, for me at least, got the mouth watering immediately.  As for the peppers, that was merely an observation.  Obviously, to have large vegetable pieces would more than double the cooking time, and no doubt raise the price.

Now onto the taste trials.  It should be noted that I added some sour cream to the finished product, given my theory that no fajita is complete without it!  I slowly raise the stuffed tortilla towards my face, close my eyes, and dive right in.  Immediately, my taste buds are blasted by a very sweet taste, and even though the scent suggested it would be, I was caught relatively off guard.  It’s not so sweet that it’s off-putting; quite the contrary.  It’s just about perfect.  I’ve never had a fajita that’s tasted quite like this.  I would even go so far as to say that it‘s one of the best ones I‘ve ever tasted.  No kidding.

And it somehow seems to get better with very bite.  The sour cream acts as the perfect compliment to the mix of peppers and onions.  I also like the rather small bits of meat…one of my least favorite things about the fajita is the fact the meat chunks are usually so large, that they take forever to chew.  These are the perfect size, and for the price, there’s a relatively good amount of meat in there.  And while the meat itself is rather bland on its own, it feels right at home mixed with tortilla, sour cream, and the sweet veggies.  The tortilla, which I was afraid would be overly dry, is actually pretty moist.  Of course, they’re relatively small, but that should be expected from a kit that offers everything.

The kit ended up making six decent-sized fajitas.  Obviously, there’s not going to be enough to cram each tortilla full of meat and veggies, but you can actually put a good amount in each one.  And I suppose it’s a good thing you can’t put a whole lot in there, as the tortillas are very prone to breaking.  After my first bite, the bottom of the tortilla ripped, and almost sent its contents falling all over my plate.  That might be something to be mindful of.  But that is just a minor quip for something that, at least in the world of frozen food, is almost flawless.  It’s quick to prepare, inexpensive, offers a good amount (it could easily feed two adults, and could probably stretch out across more people if kids are involved), and most importantly of all, has a ridiculously good flavor that I couldn’t possibly have expected to come out of the bag.

Overall: 8/10. Just about the perfect fajita, yet it comes inside a bag!  This kit gets perfect marks for its quick preparation, good quantity, and its flawlessly sweet flavor that still makes my mouth water just thinking about it.  The meat is a little bland on its own, and the tortilla is prone to easy breakage, but these are just minor quips.  The only other downside is that these are a special buy at most Aldi stores, so once they’re gone, they’re gone.  Go out there and get ‘em while you still can!  At $4.99 (for most markets), these are well worth every penny…and then some.

This product was originally given a perfect score. While I still maintain that these are very good frozen fajitas (and at a great price), they are nowhere near a perfect product, so the score has been adjusted accordingly. Note that this does not insinuate a drop in the product's quality; simply correcting an egregious error that has caused me great embarrassment. Maybe now I can sleep at night again. 

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Malt-O-Meal's Honey & Oat Blenders (Various)

A quiet, unassuming box of Malt-O-Meal's Honey & Oat Blenders
Well the purpose of this blog was to focus more on the private label brands within dollar stores and discount grocers.  With that in mind, I’ll admit that I’m bending the rules a little bit, because Malt-O-Meal, while definitely a small-ish brand, is just about everywhere.  It’s in drug stores, convenience stores, supermarkets, dollar stores, and stores that deal in closeouts (Big Lots, I’m lookin’ at you).  It’s also the fifth largest cereal manufacturer in the United States, and was even involved in a movie campaign for The Simpson’s Movie, where they rebranded one of their cereal’s as Krusty-O’s.  So yeah, maybe including this is a bit of a stretch.

But let’s not forget that Malt-O-Meal cereals can be a great buy, and in the end that‘s the main thing this blog is about:  value.  In fact, I’ve long held that it was my favorite cereal brand, because of its almost exacting flavors mixed with its low prices.  They are also the main purveyor of the cereal bag, having acquired that business from Quaker way back in 2002.  And who can’t appreciate getting a ridiculously, unnecessarily large bag of cereal for roughly the price of one box of the national brands?

With that in mind, I present to you Honey and Oat Blenders, the company’s version of Honey Bunches of Oats.  If you’ve been to this site before, or even spent a couple seconds perusing my previous reviews, you may have noticed that I’ve already reviewed Aldi’s Millville brand (Honey Crunch ‘n Oats), and gave it a perfect score.  That brand’s lightly sweetened corn flakes, mixed with the strong, delicious flavor of the honey clusters makes it an absolute winner in my book.  So how do the Blenders fare?  Let’s take a look.

The first thing I did notice is the smell.  There is no doubt in one’s mind that there is honey in that box.  And lots of it.  In fact, I’m beginning to wonder if there’s actually any cereal in there.  In other words, it’s pretty strong.  This is in sharp contrast to Millville’s Oats, which may have a faint honey smell, but otherwise just smell like corn flakes. 

The second thing Blenders have going for it is the color:  Whereas Millville features some pale, colorless corn flakes in a supporting role, Malt-O-Meal’s flakes are bright and colorful.  They just look like they’re covered in honey, and that is definitely an inviting thing, as far as a honey cereal is concerned.  Speaking of which, my only concern is:  Where are all the clusters?  The flakes are so big that the clusters seem to be non-existent.  Right now, Honey Bunches of Flakes seems to be a more accurate title.  Millville’s version has some big, delicious, inviting clusters hidden among the small, sad-looking (but perfectly sweetened) flakes.

Enough about the descriptors…now it’s time for the part that matters most.  Taste.  I dig in to my bowl of Honey and Oat Blenders…and am smashed in the face by the strong taste of honey.  These flakes seem to be triple-dipped in the stuff!  Not bad, not bad at all.  Next bite…honey.  And the next…honey.  Where are all the clusters?  Oh, there’s one.  Hmmm….tastes like honey.  And that right there is this cereal’s main problem:  Every bite tastes pretty much the same.  In fact, I couldn’t even detect a change in flavor whenever I hit one of the oat clusters, which is usually my favorite part of the entire cereal.  Again, this is in sharp contrast to Aldi’s offering, which feature lightly sweetened corn flakes that are a perfect contrast to the sudden flavor explosion of the oat clusters.

Now, this isn’t to say that Malt-O-Meal’s cereal is a failure.  If you have kids, they will probably prefer this.  If you really, really like the taste of honey, you will definitely prefer this.  And let’s not forget, like all of Malt-O-Meal’s offerings, the price is really, really good.  I paid $1.99 for the box, which isn’t much more than what I would pay for Aldi’s version…and I bought the Blenders from a drugstore.  But in the end, while the Blenders are a good bang for the buck, the repetitive flavor is what ends up being its main downfall.

Overall: 7/10.  As always, Malt-O-Meal provides some great value, especially when compared to the national brand.  The smell, which is strongly of honey, is definitely inviting, as is the strong orange color of the corn flakes.  However, it slightly falters in the taste department, in which every bite, no matter what’s on the spoon, tastes like honey.  This might not be a bad thing to you, but I much prefer the muted, slightly sweetened corn flakes and the cluster flavor explosion of Aldi’s brand.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Pull-Tie 30 Gallon Large Trash Bags (Dollar Tree)

What a rip-off looks like.
As I mentioned in my review for Pacific’s multi-color razors (see above), there are certain things I hate buying when I go to the grocery store.  And it just so happens that trash bags are also among them.  Even though a typical $5 trash bag investment will last my wife and I a good few months, does it really cost that much money to make things that are essentially over-sized plastic bags?  Surely they can be had for much cheaper, right?

So on a recent visit to my local Deal$ store (a place that is owned by Dollar Tree, but also has things that are more expensive than a dollar), I looked for some value trash bags.  And hidden among the nearly-name brand items, which were closer in cost to the Glad’s of the world, I found exactly what I was looking for.  A pack of eight 30-gallon trash bags for the ultra-low price of $1.  As an added bonus, they even came with a  drawstring!  Surely they couldn’t be that bad, right?

I’ll just cut right to the chase on this one:  They suck.  Avoid these like the plague.  The first problem arises right when you take the first one out of the box and realize they are not at all made of the same materials that most thirty-gallon trash bags.  For starters, they are not glossy, but rather a dull, matte black.  In fact, just from picking them up you feel like you’re going to rip them, which is not really a reassuring feeling for something that you’re going to be putting uneaten food and liquids into.

The problem is only compounded when you start putting things into it.  If anything even remotely has an edge to it (like an empty frozen food box), chances are it’s going to cut its way through.  In fact, I had to go ahead and double bag the first load before throwing it away because the original bag looked like Swiss cheese by the time I was ready to get rid of it.  And even then I was sweating the long walk from my condo to the dumpster, checking the ground every few steps and praying that what I thought was going to happen, wasn’t really going to happen.  It didn’t, but no product should really leave you with such heavy doubts.

Overall: 0/10.  I’ve found that many times, dollar stores and discounters will at least offer a product that, even if shy of national-brand quality, is at least a valiant attempt to blend quality and value.  This is one of those rare products that, even at a dollar, are a complete rip-off.  The bags rip at the slightest hint of pressure, and often have to be double-bagged just to get them to the dumpster.  As a huge fan of dollar stores, I tend to have a positive bias toward their products, or at least try to find a silver lining in their attempts.  This one is just a blatant misfire that should be pulled off the shelves immediately.  But don’t just take my word for it.  Check out the 1 ½ star rating (out of 5) of them on Dollar Tree's own website. (NOTE: Product has since been removed.)

Pacific Multi-Color Twin-Blade Razors (Dollar Tree)

If looks could cut, these might be decent razors.
There are certain things that I generally hate buying, but that are necessary, and razors are among them.  Back in my younger days, I used to use a Schick Quattro, but found the cost of replacement blades, which were about $2 apiece if memory serves me correctly, to be an unnecessary addition to the budget.  And so I searched for a much cheaper alternative.

This search obviously lead me to disposable razors, which are certainly not a new thing.  I’ve used the brand carried at Big Lots, which are $1.90 for twelve (again, if memory serves me correctly).  Those razors are actually really good for the price.  But like any true “bargain hunter“ (or in my case: broke-ass), I wasn’t satisfied.  What if I could get the same quality disposable razor, or better, for even cheaper?  Well, the hunt took me to the place where I always go when looking for such deals:  Dollar Tree.  And what did I end up with?  A ten-pack of Pacific Multi-Color razors, which retail for, like the name of the store implies, one single dollar.  But how did they stack up to the Big Lots razors?  Keep reading.  I’m getting to that.

The first thing that sticks out about the Pacific razors are, obviously, the colors.  Whereas the blades I was used to were a thin, cheap-looking gray plastic, the Pacific’s are much thicker around the handles, and adorned with beautiful, almost neon colors ranging from purple, to yellow, to pink.  When all is said and done, there are five total colors (green and orange round out the assortment) in each bag, and since you get ten razors in a pack, you get two of each color.

From there, the specs between my normal razor, and the Pacific’s, are pretty much exactly the same:  Both feature twin blades, and both of them have those lubricating strips above the blades.  Now it just all came down to performance…

…and the Pacific’s leave quite a bit to be desired.  I do not have thick facial hair, so when I grow mine out (which I tend to do thanks to laziness and unmotivation), it’s the wiry, almost transparent type that you see frequently being flaunted by those white-trash types, who honestly believe their childish peach fuzz makes them look cool.  Worst-case scenario:  I’ll wait about a week-and-a-half between shaves, and by then I have about an inch facial hair built up.  Even by those standards, my usual razor had no problems cutting through the thick jungle brush all in one sitting.  In fact, I could usually get two shavings in using a single razor, without much of a problem.

The Pacific’s, on the other hand, start off well enough, but usually by the time I get to my neck (the one area, ironically, where hair actually seems to grow with any kind of consistency), the twin blades are starting to sputter; the backed-up hair between the blades weaken the razor’s effectiveness, and it quickly starts to feel rather uncomfortable.  The solution?  Throw away the razor, and take out a new one.  This finishes the job, but at what cost?  Well, now I have gone through two razors in one sitting.  So essentially, I’m getting only five razors for $1.00, which isn’t nearly as appetizing as ten, or even the twelve for $1.90 that I am accustomed to.

To end on a positive note, I will say that the grip is better on the Pacific’s, as they feature a ridged handle for easier control.  But that’s like food that looks good, but tastes like crap--it’s ultimately meaningless.

Overall: 4/10.  It’s a razor, it’s only $1 for ten, and it cuts, so it can’t get too low of a score.  But when you have to go through more than one in a single sitting (for just one area of your body, mind you) when you don’t get much facial hair to begin with, there’s a problem.  The razors are weak, and last a good deal shorter than the ones I am used to.  I would stay away from these if at all possible, though they will work in a pinch.

NOTE: In scouring Dollar Tree's own website, I've found that they also carry the brand carried at Big Lots that I mainly use.  The brand is Personna, and they also retail 10 for $1.  I'll probably give a much more in-depth review of those razors in the future, but it's nice to know there is an alternative to these.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Clancy's Chili Cheese Corn Chips (Aldi)

These are pretty darn good.
I’m a sucker for Frito’s Chili Cheese Corn Chips, one of about two things that make my mouth water at the mere sight of them (the other being Funyuns).  So when I saw an off-brand bag at my local Aldi, I knew I had to scoop it up.  So I did.

The first thing that struck me was the smell.  It’s pretty off-putting.  Whereas Frito’s smells like…well, delicious, Aldi’s smells like it was manufactured in a factory.  I think “rank” might be too strong a word, as it’s not pungent…but “musty” might be a good choice.  Definitely not what I was expecting, and all of a sudden my excitement at trying something new was quickly fading.  But hey, I’ll try anything once, so a crappy smell wasn’t going to entirely dissuade me!

And I’m glad it didn’t, because thankfully these things taste twenty-times better then they smell.  The more and more I eat these things, the closer to Frito’s they become.  They even give you that same “sodium burn” (the burn you get in your mouth after eating way too much salt) after you down half the bag, and are every bit as addicting as the national brand:  It’s easy for me to eat half a bag of Frito’s before I know what even happened, and I found myself doing the same thing with Clancy’s.

Extra points must also be given to value.  A 9.25 oz. bag of Frito’s version retails for $1.99, which in and of itself really isn’t a bad price (especially compared to bags of potato chips, which can go for $3.00 and up).  But Clancy’s can be had for a very reasonable $1.19, and we all know that saving some money can make some things taste just a little bit better.

Overall: 8.5/10.  Its scent is rather off-putting, but taste-wise, Clancy’s Chili Cheese Corn Chips are pretty darn close to the national brand.  To me, Clancy‘s seemed just a little less flavorful at first.  But after inadvertently downing half of the bag in one sitting, I found that they are every bit as addicting.  They even leave you with that “sodium burn” that I’ve come to expect from the Frito’s version.  While it may not be an exact replica of Frito‘s Chili Cheese Corn Chips, Aldi’s version, when paired with its very reasonable $1.19 price tag, is more than a solid choice for those on a budget, or for those that simply want to compare to their own tastes.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Lucky Supersoft Fortifying Shampoo (Dollar Tree)

Not bad for $1, though the competition is rather crowded in that price range at Dollar Tree.

In my previous review, I tackled Silkience Moisturizing Shampoo, which is available from Dollar Tree.  However, I did not like the texture, or its inability to lather in one’s hand.  I was not the only member of my family to find it less-than-desirable…my wife refused to even touch it.  So on an ensuing trip to Dollar Tree, she looked for an equally-cheap alternative.

Lucky SuperSoft Fortifying Shampoo was the end result.  It comes in a clear, plastic bottle, while the liquid itself is blue.  Like everything from Dollar Tree stores, it is also priced at a dollar, putting it in line with such shampoos as Suave and White Rain.  But whereas you get up to 18 oz. for a buck with the latter, and 15 oz. for a dollar with the former, Lucky Supersoft only provides you with 12 oz.  So why not get the national brand if you’re going to be paying the same amount for less?

Scent-wise, Lucky has a sort of strong ocean-y smell.  It’s good, and once again doesn’t have the fake smell that permeates a lot of cheap health and beauty items.  Unlike Silkience, it also pours smoothly into your hands, the way shampoo should, and also lathers up properly.  It also does what shampoo should--I noticed no change in my hair with Lucky…it certainly didn’t make it “super soft”, but it also didn’t dry it out any.

The main drawback here is the quantity for the price; other than that, shampoo is shampoo to me.  Why pay $1 for 12 oz. when you can get Suave or White Rain for equal price, yet greater quantity?  Plus, Suave comes in a variety of delicious smells, whereas Dollar Tree only seems to carry one or two varieties of Lucky.  (It is also rather curious to note that this shampoo is not available on Dollar Tree’s website, either).

I like this stuff, certainly better than Silkience, but it’s still a far cry from a “deal.”  Of course, many girls are picky about their shampoos, and won’t be caught dead spending anything less than $10 for a “salon quality” product.  I don’t think Lucky is going to change that outlook any.  But if you happen to need shampoo, and happen to be in a Dollar Tree store, and the White Rain happens to be sold out (which, ironically, was the case on my most recent trip), then you can certainly do a whole lot worse.

NOTE: Lucky also makes a “matching” conditioner that is also available for a dollar.  I do not use conditioner, so I did not test it, but being able to get a shampoo AND conditioner for $2 might make it a better deal if you are into that sort of thing.

Overall: 6.5/10.  Has the right consistency, feels good in the hair, and it works.  But is $1 for a 12 oz. bottle really a deal, when some competitors (Suave and White Rain, specifically) are selling larger bottles for the same price?  Again, my outlook is that shampoo is shampoo--I really have no specific hair needs.  So maybe if you need a “fortifying” shampoo, then Lucky will fit the bill for you.  For me, it’s just too little product for the price.

Silkience Moisturizing Shampoo (Dollar Tree)

It seems to clean hair, but the thin texture and lack of lather are off-putting.
Yes, the name of this blog is Budget Food Review.  And yes, I understand shampoo is not meant to be eaten.  But I also understand that places like Aldi and Dollar Tree sell so much more than just edible products.  So while the main focus of this blog will remain food-related items, I don’t see a problem with including some non-food related things from time-to-time.  First on that train of thought is Silkience Moisturizing Shampoo, which is available at Dollar Tree stores nationwide.

The greatest thing about this shampoo is its price:  True to Dollar Tree form, one single, solitary buck will be enough to get you 20 oz. of “Salon Formula” shampoo, as the front of the product boasts.  That’s five ounces more than similar-priced offerings from Suave; two ounces more than White Rain.  But how does it stack up to these two more well-known brands of hair cleaner?

Let’s get started with the basics:  The smell is surprisingly good, though not very strong.  I can best describe it as almost a citrus scent with maybe a little hint of bubble gum.  Looking at that last statement, maybe I shouldn’t have described it at all, but needless to say, it’s rather pleasing on the nostrils, without the generally artificial smells of most dollar store beauty products.

The lid, which is plastic, and is supposed to be able to snap shut after each use, is junk--after about two uses, it stayed open and wouldn’t shut.  This probably wouldn’t be a problem in a normal household, but my wife and I are clumsy, so a couple times I found it laying in the shower after having been knocked over, with a good bit of shampoo slowly oozing out.  But hey, it’s a dollar, so you really can’t expect too much.

The main setback of Silkience is its rather off-putting appearance.  I have discovered (I wasn’t born until the mid-’80s) that this stuff was apparently introduced by Gillette in 1979...it wouldn’t surprise me if they used the same formula from back then.  The consistency is not smooth and creamy like most shampoos; Silkience comes out just like hair gel.  Rather than puddling into the hand when squeezed out, it gathers and stays where it’s squirted.  I’ve never encountered another shampoo like it…even the cheapest ones I’ve used have all had similar consistencies to the national brands.

The next step gets even worse:  It doesn’t lather very well in the hands.  At all.  No matter how much product you try it with.  From a dollop, to a large squirt, it just doesn’t foam up, instead just kind of laying on your palms.  Applying shampoo has never been fun, but Silkience almost makes the prep-work frustrating.  Maybe I’m just not open-minded enough to accept a shampoo that looks and lathers very similarly to hair gel, but it’s rather annoying.

I will say that actually rubbing it into your hair seems fine.  Again, it won’t lather up the way most shampoos do, but you can still feel it penetrate to your scalp and coat your hair.  The end results also seem the same:  Since using a full bottle, my hair seems exactly the same as it’s always been.  It doesn’t seem like it’s more moisturized (as the name dictates), but it also didn’t dry it out any.  So I have to give it that it more or less does its job.  At least, once you get it in your hair.

Overall: 5.5/10.  It’s a shampoo, and it does what shampoos are supposed to do…clean hair.  However, its texture and appearance are very off-putting, and those expecting a nice, refreshing lather are in for a surprise as it is impossible to get this stuff to foam up.  I’m giving it a rating slightly above-average simply for what you get for the price--a bottle of this stuff lasted me quite a while when I had longer hair, and for the fact that it works.  For roughly the same price, you can get a more “normal” shampoo that doesn’t feel like you’re cleaning your hair with snot.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Millville's Honey Crunch 'N Oats Cereal (Aldi)

UPDATE (03/2021): While this cereal is fantastic, and still one I buy quite often, it is by no means worthy of a perfect score, something that has been updated down below. 
An empty, battered box of Millville's Honey Crunch 'N Oats cereal.

I am a big fan of cereal.  I’m one of those people that not only enjoy eating it for breakfast, but also find it to be a perfect snack at any point of the day.  The problem is, boxes of cereal are often way in excess of $3.  And like many other things, despite what the serving suggestions lead you to believe, there’s no way I’m getting nine or so servings out of a box.  I’m a man.  I need a BOWL, not a cup, so I get about four servings out of a box.  And to pay $3+ for THAT, is just simply not enticing.

It’s been a long time since I’ve had Post’s Honey Bunches of Oats cereal, and thanks to Aldi’s version, known as Honey Crunch 'n Oats (which is, like all of their cereals, released under the Millville brand name) it’s going to be a whole lot longer.  This is cereal nirvana; a solid mix of good taste, with the added benefit of being pretty good for you.  And with the added, added benefit of being only $1.79 for a 14.5 oz. box.

As you probably know, the cereal is made up of three key components:  They are the crispy corn flakes, the crunchy oat clusters, and the touch of honey that is evident throughout.  All three of these work together like a charm:  The corn flakes are slightly sweet, but aren’t nearly overpowering; the oat clusters have a delicious honey taste that dances on the taste buds, and the honey is plainly there, but never to the point that it becomes sickening.  It really is a perfect balance, a balance that Millville hits right on the nose. 

My only complaint is that the corn flakes get soggy real quick, but that’s just the nature of corn flakes, so I really can’t hold it against the cereal too much.  The counter to that is that the oat clusters stay crunchy the entire time, so I guess it balances out.  And the flavor more than makes up for any complaints about appearance or texture.

Overall: 8/10. Aldi’s cereal is hit or miss (though I will say with more hits than misses), but this one is right on the spot.  While the corn flakes get soggy rather quickly, the oat clusters, which are frequent throughout, give the cereal a nice bit of crunch, and a subdued explosion of honey taste, while the corn flakes themselves are slightly sweetened  And at only $1.79 for a 14.5 oz. box, the price tag helps make this an absolutely delicious deal.  Absolutely recommended.

NOTE: This cereal was originally given a 10 (perfect score). The cereal is fantastic, and still one I buy ten years later, but is by no means deserving of its original tally; thus, it has been lowered. It's nothing personal, nor does it insinuate a drop in the cereal's quality (which actually has stayed pretty consistent over the years); it's simply a correction to an overexaggerated score.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Circle A Ranch Frozen Homestyle Meatballs (Dollar Tree)

Didn't realize this product didn't have an image...and I was just at Dollar Tree this morning! Please accept this placeholder image for the foreseeable future, as I will probably forget all about it again for the next 8 years. It's been 11 and they don't carry these anymore.
I was at a Dollar Tree the other day, when I happened to spot a pack of meatballs in the freezer section.  Upon mentioning this out loud to my wife, she reminded me that we needed some for spaghetti that night.  Lazy, and not wanting to stop at any one of the dozens of places I passed on my way home to get a more “well known” brand of meatball, I decided to “splurge”.  After all, what else did I have to lose besides a buck?

First of all, they should be called “meat shapes”, because very few are really in ball form.  Instead, they’re just little lumps of what appears to be meat (me being the idiot that I am, didn’t even think of looking at the ingredients to verify there was actually meat in them).  They also don’t look very healthy:  Whereas most meatballs I’ve had in my day have a dark brown color, these, even when cooked, came out gray.

Flavor-wise, they are exactly what you would expect from dollar store meatballs.  I’m not one of those people to turn a cheek at dollar store products, but even I was a little skeptical buying what was supposedly an actual meat product.  These have about the same taste as water…only it’s a little more disturbing because you actually have to chew it.  Seriously, there’s nothing there.  I guess this CAN work into its favor, because it takes the flavor of whatever it’s covered in--so theoretically, you can dump it in your favorite barbecue sauce, and it will taste just like your favorite barbecue sauce.  So if you’re looking for an excuse to down tablespoons of your favorite sauce for no reason, then pick up a bag.

But if you’re looking to actually spruce up your favorite pasta with these things, or make a tasty appetizer for your latest party, then I must recommend that you go somewhere else.  And you can thank me later.

Overall: 2.5/10.  I guess no taste is better than a pungent one.  That being said, however, I didn’t pay a dollar just to chew on something…I expect there to at least be a little something there in the way of taste.  I guess sometimes you really do get what you pay for…and nothing else.

Pepsi vs. Summit GT Cola (Aldi): A Random Apples to Oranges Comparison of Two Very Different Sodas

Apparently they've dropped the "GT" from the name, making this look much more generic.
I’ve long felt that Aldi’s GT Cola is one of the best Pepsi knockoffs that I’ve ever tried.  It has a good cola flavor that blows most store/budget brands out of the water, and is incredibly affordable at an unbelievable 59 cents for a two-liter.  But how exactly does the taste stack up to one of the kings of cola? 

Going into the test, it’s only common sense that Pepsi itself will out-Pepsi any competition.  So this is not necessarily a test to see which is “better”, per se, but rather to see if GT Cola really is as close as I thought it was throughout all these years.

I should note this test was pulled off using a freshly opened two-liter of Pepsi, and a two-liter of GT Cola that had been in the fridge for about four days.  Not that I think it causes too much of a difference to the overall test--the GT isn’t flat, and tastes exactly like I remember it tasting four days ago when I opened it--it’s just one of those minor things that should be noted in tests like this.

I’m no name brand connoisseur, so I do not have a preference one way or another in the neverending Pepsi vs. Coke war.  I like both, and drink both, depending on what’s readily available and/or what mood I happen to be in at the moment.  This is also one of those things that should be noted, because some people will either drink one or the other.  So, the Pepsi drinkers among you may not be as easy to satisfy as I am when it comes to a store brand attempting to rip off your beloved drink.

Now, on to the test.  The Pepsi has a very strong bite that I guess I’ve just never paid too much attention to.  It’s got a very vivid cola flavor, and also has a lot more fizz than I remember (I have always thought of Coke, and their products, to be the kings of carbonation).  By comparison, the GT Cola plays out like an ever-so-slightly watered down version of the soda giant:  The main foundation of the flavor is there, and when it first hits the tongue it feels like it’s going to achieve the same flavors, but it just falls a little bit short.  Now, the flavors aren’t so muted that it feels like a diet version of Pepsi--it’s very drinkable--but it just doesn’t hit quite as hard.

Overall, though, it’s hard to argue with a soda that tastes relatively close to the national brand, but can be had for a ridiculous 59 cents.  My only complaint:  GT Cola is not available in a 12-pack, as most of Aldi's sodas are.  Instead, they also sell 24 packs of the stuff for about $4.75, which isn’t a bad deal, but is sometimes more than I want to pay for something that I shouldn’t drink so much of to begin with.

Overall: 8/10 for GT.  It has a very good cola flavor, but doesn’t quite hit the taste buds as hard as Pepsi.  But for 59 cents, what it lacks in taste, it certainly helps to make up for in price. 

UPDATE: I just noticed that, at the time this review was posted, GT Cola was only available in 24-packs, as well as 2-liters.  Since then, they've gotten rid of the 24-packs, and replaced those with the 12-packs I was hoping for, which currently (as of 6/1/2016) retail for $2.25, surprisingly cheaper than the 24-packs from five years ago.  The 2-liters remain an option, but have since gone up in price, to $.79, still making them an excellent deal.  Please, take all pricing with a grain of salt (it can differ from region to region, and fluctuate at any time) as I don't have time to denote every change, but thought it was worth it to mention that 12-packs are now available.

UPDATE #2 (6/9/2019): In retrospect, this is really not an even comparison, as GT Cola has a flavor profile more akin to RC Cola than Pepsi. 

Thursday, March 31, 2011

PurAqua N2 Lemon Lime Flavored Low-Calorie Sports Drink (Aldi)

An empty bottle of N2 Lemon Lime.
Here we have Puraqua's N2 Lemon Lime sports drink.  The "N" in this case stands for "infuse", which is the name of Aldi's sports drink line.  The "N2" is obviously a nod/rip-off of Gatorade's G2 products, which aim to capture all the flavor of regular Gatorade with far fewer calories.  But how does N2 stack up against its national brand namesake?

I do a lot of shopping at Aldi, but there are certain things I will buy at other stores if I happen to be in there, and see them on sale.  Soda is one of them, as Aldi's Summit soda line is rather lacking in certain areas (namely their Sprite and Mountain Dew knockoffs, which don't taste anything like either, and don't even taste good on their own terms).  However, sports drinks are one thing that I refuse to buy anywhere else.  Actually, I just lied, because I do enjoy the rare taste of an All Sport every now and again when I stumble across them (although those aren't even as good ever since they dropped the slight carbonation they used to have several years ago).  But as far as Gatorade or Powerade is concerned, Infuse takes the cake.

First off, is its price:  69 cents.  For the 32 oz. size.  That's a lot of energy to be had for well under a dollar.  Of course, all the savings in the world cannot make up for a horrible taste...but on the contrary, N2's Lemon Lime has a very strong lemon lime flavor that really does wake up the senses, all with fewer calories  I cannot compare it flat-out to Gatorade's simply because it has been so long since I've had it, but I can guarantee there's no way theirs can be that much better, especially when they're charging at least 30% more for theirs (and that's generally on sale).

A quick comparison between labels reveals that G2 has fewer calories per 8 oz. serving (20, compared to N2's 25), less sugar (5g, compared to 7), and less carbohydrates (5g compared to 8).  They are equal in potassium (30 mg) and sodium (110 mg).  Yet Infuse takes it one step farther by including some nutrients that not even Gatorade has, like 10% of Vitamins C and E, 25% Pantothenic Acid, 25% Niacin, and 25% Vitamin B6.  And keep in mind there are four servings per 32 oz. bottle, so guzzle the whole thing, and while you may end up with quite a bit of sodium (440 mg), you also will end up with 100% of your recommended daily intake of three different vitamins.  I'm not going to pretend like I know how this rehydrates my body after a particularly grueling hockey game, but it just sounds good.  And it tastes good.  And did I mention it's 69 cents?

Overall: 10/10.  Beats Gatorade at its own game by boasting incredible flavor with a ridiculously affordable price.  Also gets extra points for not offering an off-brand of Gatorade's ridiculous "G Series".  Do you really need Gatorade before, during, AND after your sporting event?  What the hell ever happened to water?  Are people really buying into this ridiculous marketing ploy?

Sorry for the digression.  Infuse is the best sports drink money can buy.  So buy it.

Friendly Farms Ranch Dip (Aldi)

We'll get it all started off with a review of ranch dip.

Friendly Farms Ranch Dip, $1.09 for 16 oz. at Aldi
Here we have Friendly Farms Ranch Dip.  Like most chip/veggie dips, it is packaged in a 16 oz. plastic container.  When opening it for the first time, it has a rather unpleasant appearance...almost like there's a small sheet of film on top of the dip, or that it is severely dried out...however, this goes away (unlike the Kroger brand ranch dip, which looked dehydrated every time I opened it, and didn't taste very ranch-y to begin with).  Future openings will instead reward you with a small puddle of liquid sloshing about, which is typical of dairy products in general. All it takes is a chip or carrot, and a few seconds worth of stirring, and it goes back to looking delicious.

Opening qualms aside, this is some solid ranch dip, made even moreso by its $1.09 price tag.  It has a delicious ranch smell that is just like the taste:  strong, but not overpowering.  The flavor does remind me of dip made out of those dip mix packets, but maybe that's just me.  And I happen to love dip mixes, anyway.  It goes equally great with chips or veggies.  Hell, it goes great with cheese-garlic croutons and garlic focaccia sticks and pizza crusts--in other words, I'll dip just about anything in this stuff.

Note that, in true Aldi fashion, the flavor has changed within the last few months, so if you haven't tried it in a while, it will more than likely have a different taste.  Despite being fairly knowledgeable on the grocery chain, I'm not exactly sure of its inner workings.  More specifically, their use of private labels can be semi-confusing:  Just when you get used to a certain product "line", they will do one of three things:  Change the company name, change the ingredients (and thus, the flavor), or both.  Sometimes, this can work to their favor, as a few of their products could use a little tweaking.

Other times, the effects are little more than baffling:  Such is the case with their ranch dip, which used to have a stronger (albeit different) ranch flavor, and a much more appetizing appearance, consisting of red and green specks that I will just assume were bits of vegetables.  Whatever they were, it just looked delicious--now, it's nothing but a white plane of sour cream base with smaller, less frequent green flecks.  While the "new" dip is very good (with a much different ranch flavor than before), I don't see why they needed to change the product in the first place, especially so radically.  This isn't just a "tweaking" of their original formula...it's an entirely different dip.

Overall: 8/10.  A very good dip with a strong ranch smell, and an equally appetizing flavor that goes good with just about anything.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Welcome to Budget Food Review!

Hi ya'all!  I'm Aaron Tom, and I'll be your guide through the wonderful world of budget foods!  So what exactly is this blog, you ask?  Well, I'll be reviewing foods purchased from places like Dollar Tree and Aldi...places that largely go ignored by mainstream society while the supermarkets thrive.  Why?  Well, ever since I've been on my own (and was able to set aside the preconceived notions about the food quality in these places), I've learned that you can get foods that are just as good, if not better, than the national brands that are a fraction of the price.  In fact (at least, in the case of Aldi), a vast majority of the products are excellent, despite not having a nationally-recognized brand name on the package.

On the flip side, there are some products that you would probably do best to avoid.

So if you're one of the many that are afraid to set food in an Aldi, or won't dare purchase a food item from Dollar Tree, then you are in the right place.  The reviews will rate each product on a scale from 1-10, 1 obviously being atrocious, while 10 is virtually perfect.  They will compare each product to the national brand (where applicable), but will also be weighted according to price (thus, if an off-brand product tastes close to the national brand, yet is significantly cheaper, then it will get a high score; likewise, if a product tastes like crap, regardless of price, it will receive a low rating).

Since I do a vast majority of my shopping at Aldi, the opportunities for reviews will be almost endless.  However, since I have a full-time job, a wife, and hobbies outside of this (including playing hockey three nights a week), that doesn't leave a whole lot of time for me to write.  Thus, don't expect more than a few posts per month.  However, I do hope to open your eyes to the world of budget foods.  Just because it's cheap, doesn't mean it's bad.  Though, in some cases, it is.

Oh, and I also have ZERO experience with blogs. So it will be very possible that the look and feel of this thing constantly changes, especially over the first couple months, as I learn to grasp what everything does, and what works best for me.  I apologize in advance for any inconvenience this may cause.  Thanks for stopping by!