Sunday, November 29, 2015

Snapps Cream Cheese Pepper Bites (Dollar Tree)

A long, long time ago, when I was single and living on my own, I remember buying this product from Kroger and hating it.  But that was literally almost a decade ago, and a lot can change in that time.  So when I saw the same product being offered at Dollar Tree, I figured I would go ahead and give them a shot.

For a dollar, you get around nine tear-shaped morsels that are about half the size of normal ones.  But since they‘re around half the price, that seems to be a pretty fair trade-off.  The breading is even, and they actually cooked up fairly crispy after following the cooking instructions printed on the box.  They looked so good after coming out of the oven, that my hopes for them actually grew a little bit.

The taste varies from bite to bite, but even at its best, none of them are very good.  This is pretty much exactly how I remember them from ten years ago--needless to say, nothing has changed.  The cream cheese plays no role whatsoever…you know it’s in there, because you can see it (though it looks more like mashed potato), and in some bites, you can taste it, but usually you just get the bitter flavor of jalapeno followed by a mild kick.  Even when the cream cheese flavor is noticeable, it’s never the sweet, creamy addition that it is in much better versions of this product.  It’s just kind of there.

Even dipping them in ranch didn’t do much to make these any more enticing, and that’s usually my cure-all for terrible foods.  For what it’s worth, my wife liked these more than I did, though she would also be fine if we never ate these again.  Which we won’t, so that’s a good thing.

Overall: 2/10. The cream cheese looks like mashed potato and somehow has very little bearing on the flavor of this product, which has the overwhelming taste of bitter jalapeno pepper and bland breading.  Even dipping them in ranch didn’t do much to salvage them.  Despite the cheap price (they are a dollar at Dollar Tree stores), they don’t provide much in the way of value, as much better versions can be had for just a dollar more.  I tried these ten years ago and hated them then; some things never do change.

Fast Bites Chili Cheese Hot Dog (Dollar Tree)

Not even the homeless would eat this junk.
Even when purchased in packs, through more “legitimate” means, hot dogs are terrifying products.  Now, to be clear, I like them every once in a while.  But the whole common knowledge of them being more or less a bunch of spare parts ground together to form a meat-flavored log just isn’t the most enticing of ideas.  So then, dear reader, please explain to me why Fast Bites Chili Cheese Hot Dog caught my eye amongst the other pathetic-looking frozen burgers and sandwiches in Dollar Tree’s freezer section.

But it not only caught my eye, but seemed like a good idea at the time.  Even though we had just gone grocery shopping and had plenty of decent stuff at home.  But for a dollar, I reasoned with myself, you couldn’t even get a fast-food or gas station hot dog, so the value seemed to be there. 

I was a little disappointed after heating it up in the microwave (for only 90 seconds) that there really wasn’t much chili or cheese on top, and it was all right in the middle.  I mean, you could basically buy these ingredients separately, and make your own for far less than a dollar, so how couldn’t a company that mass-produces all these ingredients not be able to do that?  Nevertheless, it’s not always about what isn’t there, but what is; I figured if the chili or cheese was good, then I’d just have to do my best to savor them.

The problem is, this whole thing is trash.  The bun gets hard and chewy after sitting for just five minutes, yet is eerily sticky when warm out of the microwave.  The chili is way worse than I was expecting, tasting nothing like even the worst chili I’ve ever had, while the cheese doesn’t really shine through in the flavor, instead tossing itself in the accompanying plastic boat that it’s served in to remind you that it was even there in the first place.  Even the hot dog tastes underwhelming…a hot dog, for goodness sakes.  We’re talking a meat product where the line between good and bad is thinner than most, and this somehow manages to be worse than that.

I was hungry, and did manage to finish it, so it gets some extra points for that.  But even at $1, there’s not much value to be had.  I usually strive for all beef hot dogs, but you can still get eight of those for around $2.50, making them around $.32 each, and then dress them up in cheese and chili yourself for the same price, if not even cheaper.  Either way, it would taste a whole helluva lot better.

I get that these, and all Fast Bites products, are produced solely out of convenience, and sometimes you just can’t toss a homemade chili cheese dog into your lunch, or take one with you wherever you go.  But even by the standards of convenience (or laziness) Fast Bites Chili Cheese Dog just doesn’t come anywhere close to resembling much of an edible hot dog.  Stick to their breakfast sandwiches, which are decent-sized and with a good taste to boot, if you really need to grab something on the go.

Overall: 3/10.  I don’t know how you can screw up a hot dog, itself a parody and the world’s creepiest meat, but those good folks at Fast Bites have somehow managed to do it.  The poor-tasting hot dog is topped with a serious lack of poor-tasting chili and barely-existent cheese, enclosed in a bun that’s eerily sticky when warm, and that becomes a hardened, chewy mess within five minutes.  For some reason, I had fairly high hopes for this, but they were completely dashed after the first bite.  Stay away from this junk.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

New York Style Cheddar Mini Bagels (Big Lots)

I think this is a brand name, but it was at Big Lots and it kinda sucks, so I'm reviewing it anyway.

This is probably a name brand, but I found it at Big Lots, and so I consider it to be fair game.  It’s a 5 oz. bag for $1.30, which I don’t think is too bad at all, and since I was looking for a quick snack on a meager budget, it definitely fit the bill for me.

Nutritionally, what‘s contained inside this bag are potato chips.  The amount of calories and fat per serving are very close, so don’t be fooled into thinking that this is some kind of healthy alternative, just because the word “baked” appears on the front.  That being said, we’re all entitled to splurge on some junk food every now and again, and I was in the mood for fat and salt, so I grabbed a bag just based on its inexpensive price tag.

What I didn’t necessarily stop to think about is, “Why is this product at Big Lots?”  It’s true that there can be a myriad of legitimate reasons.  The product could be a limited edition product, or out of its selling season.  The product could be discontinued, with Big Lots relied upon to sell the last remaining units.  The product could have just been a poor seller, with the manufacturer attempting to liquidate the units.  Or it could just totally suck, and it’s there because everyone knows it sucks and refuses to buy it.

The latter might be a little too harsh, but it’s certainly close:  These things just aren’t very good.  When I first opened the bag, I honestly thought they were there because they put the wrong product in at the manufacturing plant--don’t expect any of the bagel chips to feature a nice orange, cheddar-y hue like is featured on the front of the bag--what’s contained within are white, like typical bagel chips.  My suspicions grew even stronger when I took a bite, and discovered that, despite the ingredient label’s assurance that there are not one, but two different types of cheddar cheese inside (regular, and “modified”, whatever that means) the main flavor is salt.  As I got to the bottom of the bag, the cheese flavor became more prominent and noticeable, but it still wasn’t nearly as cheesy, or as strong, as I was expecting.

Of course, you don’t have to eat these out of the bag:  I suspect these would be pretty good in soups (especially cheddar broccoli), and would probably be good with a solid ranch dip.  But just taking these at face value, with nothing added to them, they’re totally underwhelming.

I will say the $1.30 price tag still gives it some value, which adds some points to the total.  I tend to ignore serving sizes and overeat things, and yet I still managed to get about four or five servings out of it (the bag says there are “about five” in a bag), so that was good.  However, I also think the extra servings were due, in large part, to the disappointing nature of the product itself, which isn’t.

Overall: 5/10.  I didn’t really detect much cheddar, until I got near the bottom of the bag…the rest of the bites just tended to taste like salt.  They do have a nice, solid crunch, and at $1.30 for a 5 oz. package at select Big Lots stores, the price is pretty decent for a quick snack.  I’m also not discounting that these wouldn’t be good as an addition to an existing product (soups, salads, etc.), so they probably have their place in the world.  But right out of the bag, these were hugely underwhelming.

Swurves Savory Corn Crisps (Big Lots)

Not great, but if you see these for under a dollar, they're worth it.
I was at Big Lots one morning, around 11 p.m., when I was hit with a wave of sudden hunger.  Even though it’s probably not the healthiest aisle in the store, I went straight for the chips, to see if I could find something to munch on throughout the day.  Even though their inventory changes weekly, to the extent that their chip aisle looks totally different on a month-to-month basis, they always seem to have the basics:  Tortilla chips, plain chips, usually some kind of organic or bean-based chip…but none of those sounded good.  I did have a bag of off-brand barbecue corn chips in my hand, but decided against them because I didn’t want something so overtly salty.

Then my eyes stumbled on a little blue bag.  I was a little hesitant at first, because the bag was only 3 oz. (and retailed for $.75), but eventually it became apparent that the little rippled potato puffs were clearly the most appetizing option.  So I bought them, and eagerly tore into the bag right when I got home.

If you have ever had Munchos, then you will love these, because flavorwise, that’s exactly what these are.  Visually, these are smaller, almost rectangular in shape, and have deep ridges, but even once you bite into them, they have the same light, airy texture.  There is quite a bit of salt in them, typical of most potato chips, but there’s not a lot sprinkled on top, so you don’t taste a lot of sodium; not sure if that’s a good thing or not, since it’s still there regardless, but at least the salt flavor isn’t overwhelming.

Truth be told, these ended up hitting the spot, and I downed just about the entire bag by the end of the day.  There’s nothing at all spectacular about them, and even if these were a normal product Big Lots carried (as opposed to a closeout, which I’m sure these are), I would probably forget about them before my next trip there.  In other words, I would never seek them out, or get any kind of cravings for them, but for this moment in time, they were a good alternative to the typical potato chip.  Maybe if you’re ever in the same boat I was in, looking for something a little different from the norm, these may hit the spot for you, too.

Overall: 6/10.  These are basically Munchos chips, only in rectangular form, and with ripples.  The taste is very similar to that brand, as is the texture.  I’ll admit they satisfied a craving for something different that I had, and I downed the whole bag in a few hours, but it’s literally been years since I’ve had the name brand…and I could easily wait another few years before getting these again.  Nothing spectacular, but good for what they are.  And they are non-GMO certified, for those that follow the battle for food labeling closely.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Season's Choice BBQ Flavored Onion Rings (Aldi)

A bag after being eagerly dug into.
These were offered as a special buy at the same time as the cracked black pepper onion rings.  I picked them both up, as I have honestly never seen onion rings offered in different flavors (I’m sure it’s a common occurrence, but no restaurant I’ve ever been to has done it, and all the frozen ones I’ve seen have just been standard) and was eager to see what they had to offer.  We’ve seen what I thought of the black pepper, so now let’s turn our attention to exhibit B…the barbecue.

As I was expecting after trying the previous rings, the barbecue onion rings also cook up nice and crispy after about 15 minutes in the oven.  I’m still impressed with the crispiness; these have to be some of the most perfectly textured frozen onion rings I’ve ever had, so this gets some good marks on that front.  I wasn’t really sure how the barbecue would be presented--would the onion rings be glazed in a barbecue sauce?--but as it turns out, it’s just a seasoning that no one would have any idea was supposed to resemble BBQ unless they saw the packaging.  Instead, it’s just a highly salty flavor that does have some spice to it, leading to a slight burn on the tongue, but it goes away rather quickly on its own, or can be contained even quicker with a shot of milk.

I mentioned earlier that I was kind of shocked that no one else is doing flavored onion rings, but now I see why:  There are only so many things you can do with them, and none of them are really interesting.  I suppose you could glaze them in a sauce, but aside from barbecue, I can’t imagine too many other sauces that these would be good with, and I’m not sure how glazed onion rings would keep their flavor after being frozen.  So that pretty much leaves Aldi‘s method of just using different seasonings on them, which can only yield so much.  In this case, it’s a spicy, salty onion ring that, except for the stellar texture and batter on the outside, is basically just an onion ring with extra spices.

Overall: 6/10. They’re not bad, but there’s only about one thing you can do to dress up a frozen onion ring, and that’s to simply cover it in spices.  Which doesn’t lead to many possible flavor combinations, assuming you still want the onion and batter to be the focal points.  So what we have here is an onion ring that tastes pretty much like an onion ring, only with a little bit of heat. I will say the outside texture is perfect, and it cooks up real nice and crisp, but between the black pepper and barbecue onion rings, pick one (I prefer the black pepper) and I’m pretty sure you’ve just experienced the limits of frozen onion ring technology; no need to waste money on both.

Season's Choice Cracked Black Pepper Onion Rings (Aldi)

Crispy and pretty darn delicious.
 This story begins the same way many of my stories do:  With me looking through Aldi’s weekly “Special Buy” ad.  That’s when I noticed they were offering onion rings, something they surprisingly don’t always carry.  But upon closer examination, I noticed that these weren’t just any onion rings…they were cracked pepper onion rings.  I have seen fries go through many iterations, but anytime you see onion rings, they’re typically just typical onion rings.  I guess most places figure that you can’t improve upon perfection, but not Aldi!

The first thing I noticed out of the bag is that these are uniformly large pieces.  I frequently purchase their typical whole onion rings when they are made available, and the size of the individual pieces vary greatly; some are super large, while others are essentially little crisps.  The vast majority of these were large pieces.  The second thing I noticed, besides the large black pieces of pepper generously covering each piece, is that each one looks thicker; just eying them was enough to make my mouth water, as I envisioned the solid “crunch” that each one would make as I’d take a bite out of it!

I must admit, I overcooked them slightly in the oven…somehow, I did not hear the oven alarm go off after they were done.  Needless to say, the crunch I anticipated was all that…and then some.  There certainly is something different about the batter (besides the obvious addition of pepper)…while it doesn’t seem to be any thicker than their normal onion rings, it’s definitely crispier, which is excellent in my book!  As for the black pepper…I honestly didn’t feel like it added much at all.  You can definitely taste it--if you take enough bites, you can even feel a peppery taste sitting on your tongue--but these largely just taste like normal onion rings to me. 

Now, I’m not saying that like it’s a bad thing.  Currently, these are the only kinds of onion rings Aldi is offering, and the extra-crunchy batter, paired up with the whole onions (as opposed to the lamer diced version) make them slightly better than the normal onion rings they carry.  However, I do believe these are a little more expensive (maybe by $.50, or so), and while I didn’t feel like the black pepper added enough to justify the price hike, they are still very good.  I personally wouldn’t hesitate to get these again; Aldi may have failed in their quest to “liven up” the onion ring, but they did prove even failures can be delicious.  Sometimes.

Overall: 7.5/10.  I really don’t think the pepper adds much, besides a peppery taste on your tongue after a few pieces, but let’s be honest here:  Can you really screw up an onion ring?  In this case, I thought the outside cooked up even crispier than their typical onion rings do, giving each bite an inviting crunch.  I also appreciated that these were made with whole onions (as opposed to diced), which always makes a better tasting ring.  If memory serves me correctly, these are about $.50 more expensive than the typical, “regular” rings that Aldi carries, but seeing as how these are the only kinds of onion rings they are offering right now, I wouldn’t hesitate to get these again to satisfy an OR craving.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Cheese Club Carribean Jerk Macaroni and Cheese (Aldi)

"Caribbean Sucks" is more like it.
Can I be up front with everyone for a moment?  I have no idea what the hell “Carribean jerk” even is (besides a person who's an asshole of Caribbean descent).  Sure, I’ve seen jerk chicken advertised in chain restaurants (?), but have never ordered it, and never even been curious enough to ask what it is.  So maybe it’s kind of bizarre that, between Caribbean Jerk or Sriracha macaroni and cheese, both of which are available as special buys in Aldi stores, I went with the former.

My reasoning, beyond simply wanting to try something new, is that sriracha products have completely been overblown as of late.  They’re like the equivalent of zombie movies in Hollywood; everywhere you look it’s sriracha this, or sriracha that.  The whole sriracha craze has exploded, and while I admit to liking the stuff straight out of the bottle, the thought of its flavor being added to something already is a complete turnoff to me.  Nowhere is that more evident than at Aldi this week, where it’s apparently “hot week”:  They are offering a variety of spicy products, and just about all of them have sriracha as an option, from sriracha lime popcorn (?), to sriracha flavored potato chips, to the aforementioned sriracha mac and cheese…so I said “Enough already!”, and went with the road less traveled.

The only problem is, having no idea of what jerk is, or what it should taste like, I have no reference point.  That being said, Cheese Club’s Caribbean Jerk macaroni and cheese is pretty bad.  The problem isn’t with the heat:  Surprisingly, this stuff is pretty spicy.  Granted, I’m not huge into spicy foods, so those that eat it frequently will probably find it to be less hot than I did, but a few bites in and my mouth was burning.  The problem is the taste, which tastes like nothing I’ve ever had, so I can’t compare it to anything, but it’s not a taste I enjoy.  It doesn’t come of as very “cheesy” to me, like I would think macaroni and cheese should be…it’s just kind of salty, maybe vaguely cheesy, and then it’s followed up by a bunch of heat.  Definitely not something I would ever get again, and it honestly makes sriracha mac and cheese sound even worse than it already did.

Overall: 3.5/10.  I’ll admit, I have no idea what “jerk” should taste like, but if this mac and cheese is authentic, then I’m glad I’ve avoided it for all 31 years of my life.  It tastes like severe salt overload, with a little taste of something that vaguely resembles cheese, followed up by a pretty strong blast of heat.  So if you’re in the minority and prefer heat over flavor, then you might like this.  But if you like an equal balance of both, then I wouldn’t even give this a shot.  Its only saving grace is value, with each box retailing for under $.75.  Even then, unless you can find it on clearance for half off (or more), I don’t think it’s worth it at all.

Fresh Finds Premium Shells and Cheese (Big Lots)

Not bad, but not the best deal around.
I loved the name brand shells and cheese dinner when I was a kid, but mainly because it was a treat.  My mom was a single mother and didn’t have much money at all, so usually she would buy the cheap elbow macaroni and cheese stuff.  Don’t get me wrong, I liked that too, but the shells were always so much creamier, cheesier, and delicious.

Well I was in a pinch one night, with no car (it was in the shop) and nothing to eat for dinner, when my wife took me to Big Lots to get a couple of things.  I opted to look for dinner there, too, which is no small feat; aside from fifty different types of noodles, and another fifty different types of pasta sauces, BL doesn’t offer much in the way of comprehensive dinners.  Still, fast food didn’t sound good, and going to the supermarket is one of my least favorite things to do in the world, so I figured I could suck it up and make do for one night.

After looking at the unappetizing all-in-one meals they offered, which were weird combinations of meats and noodles prepackaged in plastic microwavable bowls, I decided to take a look at their macaroni and cheese varieties.  Even though their inventory rotates fairly consistently, they always have a few basic styles of macaroni and cheese on hand, so I knew I could at least buy the name brand in a blue box, if I had to.  That’s when I saw Fresh Finds Shells and Cheese, obviously a knockoff of the more well-known national brand shells.  I had seen that they offered this before, but was kind of turned off by the $1.70 price tag (which is only about $.50 cheaper than the national brand price at most places).  Not seeing anything else even approaching edible, I decided now would be a good time to give it a shot.

Aside from Aldi‘s version, the only other knockoff shells and cheese dinner that I‘ve had (and forgot to review) was from Dollar Tree.  All I can say is, don’t ever buy that; the cheese was so orange it was almost cartoonish, giving off a disgusting orange glow.  Beyond that, it just tasted like salt, with maybe a little bit of cheddar powder thrown in to give the illusion that they were trying.  Still, those thoughts ran through my head as I prepared Fresh Finds’ version.  Would it at least taste similar to the national brand?  Or would it have more in common with the dollar store crap I suffered through?

Thankfully, it’s an almost spot-on recreation of the national brand, from the appearance (size of noodles are very similar, if not exact, as is the consistency and color of the cheese sauce), all the way down to taste.  I did feel like there was a little tang missing in the finish, when compared to the national brand, but the initial taste is virtually exact, and the difference is so slight so as to be rather nit-picky.

So while I did find it to be a good (and slightly less expensive) alternative to the national brand, it still doesn’t hold a candle up to Aldi’s version, which tastes very similar, and is still $.51 cheaper than even Big Lots (making it about a dollar cheaper than the national brand).  For these reasons, Aldi’s Cheese Club brand will be my number one, but if you don’t have an Aldi near you, or if I ever found myself in a similar situation, I’d at least feel confident knowing I have a solid backup.

Overall: 7/10.  Taste and appearance is pretty spot-on to the national brand, and you’ll save a couple of quarters going with Big Lots’ house version; however, Aldi offers a similar product for a couple quarters less than even Fresh Finds (making it about a dollar cheaper than the national brand).  For this reason, I tend to go with Aldi’s knockoff.  But if you don’t have an Aldi store near you, or happen to be in a Big Lots with a craving for mac and cheese, this will suit you just fine. 

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Nature's Nectar Blendz Peach & Mango 100% Juice (Aldi)

I’m a pretty big fan of Nature’s Nectar Blendz line, which consist of 100% fruit AND vegetable juices, a statement that’s based entirely on their strawberry banana version.  The first time I tried it, I was taken aback at how sweet it was, and how accurate the strawberry banana flavor managed to be, even though there were ten different juices in it.  Even though it's one of my favorite juices from the discount grocer, it's not one that I tend to get all the time, instead relegating it to every couple of months when I want something a little bit different from the typical orange and apple juices.

Well on my latest trip to Aldi, I saw that they were offering a new flavor: Peach and Mango!  Now, I love peach, and although I like mango a lot more than I used to (which wasn’t at all), I’m still not sold on being a huge fan.  I went ahead and grabbed it on a whim, as we were getting ready to head to the checkout line and I just remembered that I hadn’t grabbed a juice yet; since this was different, I tossed it into the cart.

It really smells fresh, and the distinct aromas of peach and mango are appropriately front and center.  It’s a very appetizing scent that made my mouth water--and it’s got the taste to match.  This stuff is really fantastic…I have to say it’s one of my favorite juices I’ve ever gotten from the German discount chain.  Its sweetness from the peach is offset a bit by the mango, which gives it a little tartness; as in any great duo, they keep each other in check.  Just as with the strawberry banana one I tried, I’m also impressed with how flavorful and accurate it is even though it’s comprised of juices from four vegetables, and four fruits; I’ve had straight-up juices that weren’t this good.

I’m not sure if these are a constant, or a summer special buy (I’ve only noticed a berry blend being available, along with the strawberry banana, as the only year ‘round options); whether I can pick it up on a regular basis, or have to wait a full year to get it again, I will be getting it a lot in the future.  As much as I like the strawberry banana, I’ve got to say there is a new sheriff in Blendzville!

Overall: 9/10.  A delicious blend of juices from eight different fruits and vegetables that come together to make a surprisingly fresh-tasting concoction that nears perfection.  The sweetness of the peach is counterbalanced by the tartness of the mango.  Easily the best of the Blendz line, and one of the best juices available from Aldi stores…it’s seriously that good.

Nature's Nectar Blendz Strawberry Banana 100% Juice (Aldi)

Who knew vegetable and fruit juices could work so well together?
I’m always into trying new juices, especially now that I’m trying to minimize the amount of soda that I drink.  Of course the down side to this, is juices often have a ton of sugar, sometimes close to the amount found in a serving of soda, but it’s at least counterbalanced with an abundance of vitamins.  That’s a trade-off I’m willing to take (and if I’m not, I’ll just drink water).

Enter Nature’s Nectar Blendz, which somehow purport to blend both fruit and vegetable juices into a drinkable juice blend.  Even on paper this idea sounds pretty preposterous, and not at all delicious, but I nevertheless first decided to try their strawberry banana version a couple of years ago.  Since then, it has become one of my staple juice choices to grab every time we visit Aldi stores.

Why?  At the risk of sounding like a commercial, it’s a great way to combine a servings of fruits and a serving of vegetables (per 8 ounces), only without having to taste the veggies.  Now I’ll admit that I really do like just about all forms of vegetables, so it’s not necessarily all about the taste factor for me, but I also don’t really go out of my way to buy them at the store.  This is a decent way to make sure I’m getting at least a serving or two in my system.

Of course the number one reason, is this stuff tastes pretty good.  Now it’s not really a super-accurate portrayal of strawberry banana juice, but it’s pretty darn tasty when you realize it’s made out of beet, tomato, carrot, sweet potato, grapes, oranges, and apple juices (on top of clarified bananas, banana puree, and strawberry juices, of course).  Even though I can make out some tomato juice if I really pay attention, the blend as a whole still remains very sweet and consistent throughout, so you won’t ever take a swig and taste nothing but, say, carrots and beets.  The strawberry and banana juices really take center stage, so you definitely get more of these than anything else.

For parents, I could also see this as a great way to get finicky kids to get some vegetables in their system.  Though some will probably be off-put by some of the flavor profiles, the fact that it’s sweet and the strawberry and banana manages to stay the focal point could trick some kids into thinking they’re drinking just straight up fruit juice, which can make it a win-win for everyone.  As I said, it’s fairly high in sugar (25g per serving), but there’s no high fructose corn syrup added, and it’s also high in Vitamins A and C, so the trade-off, at least in my opinion, is worth it.

Overall: 8/10.  A fruit juice with vegetable juices added that somehow tastes good?  Sign me up!  While it doesn’t taste exactly like a strawberry banana juice (you’ll get some tomato if you pay attention), it’s still close enough to be one of my favorite juices that Aldi carries.  It’s fairly high in sugar content (at 25g per 8 oz. serving), but that’s balanced out by a high amount of Vitamins A and C, as well as smaller amounts of six others.  This could also be a great option for kids who refuse to eat vegetables, as each 8 oz. glass contains one serving of both fruits and vegetables.  No matter how off-putting you think the combination appears (and I would agree it sounds disgusting), assuming you even remotely like fruit juice, I’d definitely recommend giving this a shot.

Appetitos Fire-Roasted Poblano Bites (Aldi)

A solid, occasional alternative to jalapeno poppers.
I had never heard of a “poblano pepper bite” prior to seeing them at Aldi, but that didn’t stop me from wanting to try them.  While products in the Appetitos line vary from terrible, to really good, their cream cheese jalapenos are some of the best that you can get anywhere, and for a very small price, too.  So that’s what really intrigued me about these…it looked similar to a jalapeno popper, only substitute jalapenos with roasted poblano peppers (of course), corn, and other assorted spices.  At the very least, it would be something a little different.

Cooking is actually ridiculously simple: As with most other frozen appetizers, you can toss them in the oven (our preferred method, as we do not have a deep fryer), but these require less than ten minutes, and you have yourself some fully cooked, and semi-crispy roasted poblano bites.  The breading they use here seems to be the same breading used in their poppers and, by extension, probably their Reuben bites, mozzarella sticks, and every other breaded product in their line.  I’m not complaining, though, because it cooks up nicely in the oven.

The taste is similar enough to jalapeno poppers to appeal to that crowd, but with the peppers and corn, there’s a more “southwestern” kind of taste.  Similar to the jalapeno version, however, this has a surprisingly strong little bite; unless you’re very sensitive to heat, it won’t be enough to require you to keep milk or cold water nearby, but it’s unmistakably there.  The cream cheese helps to offset it with a little bit of coolness on its own--with some dried garlic and onion, it really gives it a pretty tasty flavor that’s different from the standard “popper” filling, and that pairs up well with the peppers and corn contained inside.

For $2.29 (thirty cents more than most of the items in the Appetitos line), you get twelve good-sized pepper bites, making the value pretty solid.  They were a little smaller than the cream cheese jalapenos, but you also get three more of them, so it all evens out.  They’re not incredible, but for something that’s slightly off the beaten path, they’re certainly worth a try.

Overall: 7/10.  There’s nothing that really stands out here, but overall, these are a pretty good change of pace from Appetitos excellent cream cheese jalapenos.  It’s the same idea as those, but with roasted pablano peppers and corn instead.  There’s a good bit of heat, though catered toward mainstream tastes so it’s nothing that most people won’t be able to handle, and the cream cheese helps to cool things down a little bit on its own.  The taste can best be described as a “southwestern popper”, with the corn and pepper blend really giving it that kind of flavor.  For $2.29, we got twelve good-sized poppers, so value is there, as well.  Good stuff, especially for the price.

Appetitos Reuben Bites (Aldi)

These surprisingly aren't bad at all.
I’m not a big fan of Reubens at all, with the sole exception of the ones my wife makes.  Sure, she uses only ingredients that can be found at any supermarket, but there’s just something about her combination that taste way better than the ones I’ve tried from any restaurant.

My wife is a HUGE fan of Reubens, however, so we purchased these Reuben bites the last time they were available as a Special Buy at Aldi.  I remembered liking them a lot, but never reviewed them, so it took no hesitation on either of our parts’ to purchase them again the next time they were being offered.

They look similar to pretty much everything else Appetitos offers--needless to say, they are breaded chunks of fat- and cholesterol-filled goodness.  For the price, you get about eight or nine good-sized bites--there were more than enough there to fill up my wife and I (though we used them as a side dish).  All you do is pop them out of the box, put them on a baking sheet, and bake them in the oven for ten or so minutes; the prep work couldn’t be any easier.

I always require some kind of dipping sauces with my appetizers, and these were no exception--I turned to a bottle of Thousand Island dressing, which I figured was appropriate.  Even without sauce, these things are pretty good, although as you would expect, they’re pretty darn salty.  The meat, while coming nowhere close to the taste of a good Reuben, is pretty good for a frozen appetizer--I would go so far as to say that these are chain restaurant quality (though “chain” and “quality” are often oxymorons); the thing is, you would pay upwards of $8 for these at a restaurant, whereas these are a mere $2.49 (which is fifty cents more than the average product in the line, but still not too expensive at all).  There’s already some dressing inside, but more is always better, so I finished them off by dipping them in some fresh Thousand Island, which honestly took these to a whole ‘nother level.

In short, these weren’t quite as mind-blowingly good as I remember, but for fans of this kind of stuff, it’s still a worthy way to spend $2, and I will still pick these up in the future from time to time when they are offered.

Overall: 7/10. These aren’t as amazing as I remember them, but Appetitos Reuben Bites are still pretty good, especially when dipped in a dressing (such as Thousand Island, which really makes the flavor pop).  On their own, they’re a little salty (par for the course) and not really that close to the flavor of a well-made Reuben, but for a frozen appetizer that costs a mere $2.49, what did you honestly expect?  Given the price, and their only occasional availability as Aldi special buys, these are worth picking up at least a couple of times a year.