Saturday, November 9, 2019

Benton's Delights The Original Triple Chocolate Australian Cookie (Aldi)

I may have to take up heroin just to quit these.
I think I've mentioned before that I enjoy trying things from other countries that Aldi carries. Yes, most of them are probably “Americanized” to some degree, but it's still a fun way to try some flavor combinations that I otherwise wouldn't really be interested in trying. It's resulted in some weird things (Deutsche Kuche's Peanut Puffs), some terrible things (Deutsche Kuche's Dominoes), and some good things (Journey to Greece Rosemary and Feta Kettle Chips), but no matter the outcome, I like to think that I'm a better man for having tried the experience.

And so I hesitated only momentarily when I saw Benton's Delights on the shelves of our newly-remodeled Aldi store. A triple chocolate cookie? I'm in. An Australian triple-chocolate cookie? Why, how would that be any different from the junk food that lines our own supermarket shelves? I also noticed the price: $1.99. Seemed a little expensive for some cookies that would probably be pretty standard, but I wanted something sweet, and these were in the right place at the right time. My wife's surprising indifference to them (she's usually more into these kinds of things than I am, and didn't care if we got them at all) gave me yet another moment's pause for thought; I quickly swiped away all doubts and added them to the cart.

Intrigued, and more than a little hungry, I cracked these open the moment I got into my wife's brand new (well, to her) 2013 Nissan Murano. I popped one in my mouth, knowing exactly what to expect...and I got it. And then some.

Holy mother of shit these things are ridiculously delicious. Have you ever had a product that you swear was made solely for you? That's what these cookies are to me. In case you are unfamiliar (as I was before seeing them for the first time), these consist of a cocoa cookie, filled with cocoa creme, and covered in a layer of milk chocolate on the outside. But even though I like chocolate, there are a large number of ways such an overly chocolated product can miss the mark: being too sweet, or having overly cheap, plasticky chocolate are but two of them. Benton's cookies avoid both of those issues, at least as far as my palate is concerned: they're sweet, no doubt, but to me, the semi-sweet cocoa helps to neutralize the rich, melty extra-sweet milk chocolate layer that finishes everything off, effectively preventing it from being too overbearing. (As a counterpoint, my wife did not share the same affection for these as I did, even challenging my own viewpoint by simply saying they were “too sweet”; she's wrong.)

The appearance of the cookie reminds me of double-stacked chocolate covered graham crackers, with an initial taste that's reminiscent of those, before the layer of crème filling adds another dimension of richness. A serving size is two cookies, which might seem a little small on paper, but considering these cookies are actually pretty big, and considering how much chocolate is packed into each one, that will turn out to be just the right amount for most.

The only drawback is that each 7 oz. package has an odd 11 cookies inside, meaning someone's either going to have to sacrifice one cookie from a serving size, or someone else is going to have to eat an extra one. And I'd be pissed if I was the one in the former position.

Overall: 10/10. Dear Lord this just might be an example of a perfect mass-produced cookie, courtesy of our Australian friends. A cocoa cookie is covered in milk chocolate with a layer of chocolate crème in the middle: on paper, sounds like a chocolate overdose...and it is. But it's an overload in the best way possible: the semi-sweetness of the cocoa helps to taper the headstrong sweetness of the milk chocolate coating, perfectly balancing things out. I like cookies and chocolate—there's no doubt about that—but I generally have no problems bypassing them at the store, or limiting myself to one or two pieces when I do get the craving for one. These, though, rank right up there with thin mints and peanut butter cups as examples of sweets that almost possess me once I eat one, forcing me to continue eating them until I either get sick of them, or run out. And at $1.99 for an 11-count package (the odd number being the only true complaint), it's an addiction that's sadly all-too-affordable.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Moiselle Sparkling Moscato Wine (Aldi)

If you like "sparkling" and "sweet" in your wine, then you're probably going to love this.
I like me some occasional wine, but it has to be sweet, or else I’m not interested. If it’s sweet and sparkling, however, then sign me up instantly! Aldi has carried the Moiselle line of wines for quite some time now, consisting of pink and white Moscatos, but we had never noticed their sparkling Moscato offering until recently. Retailing for a mere $5.99 in Ohio (price may vary elsewhere), we just knew we had to try it…and I'm certainly glad we did.

My nose cannot differentiate aromas professionally at all (hell, it frequently has problems detecting anything at all), so please forgive me when I describe the smell as being “similar to just about every other Moscato I’ve ever sniffed". It does smell crisp and inviting; the bottle alludes to "flavors of pineapple and other tropical fruits"…I’m not sure I can specifically detect any of those on the nose, but there’s certainly an enticing, lingering sweetness present. The “sparkling” description is strongly evident right from the pour, as this has a lot of bubbles that's reminiscent of pouring a soda out of a two liter...that’s how many bubbles accumulate at the top. We had this wine for about a week before finishing it off, and expected it to be flat by the last glass; much to our surprise, even the last glass we poured had plenty of bubbles in it. It wasn’t quite as exaggerated as it was after the first couple of days, but there was still a noticeable bit of carbonation on the tongue, which I thought was impressive, considering we had no way to completely seal it back up.

The taste, though, is where this is at. This might be my favorite wine that I’ve ever tried from the German discount superstore. It’s sweet, but never manages to be overly so, and finishes with a little bit of dryness that acts as the perfect balancing component. The tropical flavors dance on the tongue, and immediately made my mouth water; I couldn’t wait to down some more. I usually have no problems stopping after a glass or two of any wine, but I could easily down this entire bottle (and maybe one more) all in one sitting with absolutely no problems (besides maybe a headache afterwards). Quady’s Electra is by far my favorite dessert wine, and while this doesn’t come all that close to matching it in terms of taste (it is a completely different kind of wine, after all), the flavor profile strikes me as very similar, while the price is a third less.

Surprisingly, the wife and I haven’t tried any of the other Moiselle offerings, but just based on this one, we are eager to check out the rest. That is, if we can even bring ourselves to give any of the others a shot, instead of just loading up on these every time we go. It’s an excellent-tasting sweet wine, for a very excellent price.

Overall: 9/10. When it says it’s “sparkling”, it’s not lying: pouring a glass of this is strongly reminiscent of pouring a cup of soda from a two-liter bottle. So many bubbles accumulated at the top of the glass that I even had to wait for them to subside to finish pouring. There were even bubbles (though not as many) a week after we opened the bottle, which was very surprising to us, considering we had no way to seal it up between servings. The taste itself is absolutely phenomenal, though; a magnificent blend of tropical fruit sweetness with just a little hint of dryness in the finish, which prevents this from being too cloying. And at 9% ABV, there's a decent amount of alcohol to be had, too, making it a good wine to pair with food, or just as an after-dinner treat. We haven't tried a whole lot of their offerings, but this one might have become our go-to Aldi wine.

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Clancy's Stackerz Cheddar Cheese Potato Crisps (Aldi)

Tastes as cheap as the cardboard packaging feels.
Aldi has carried the name brand potato crisp snack for quite a while now; so long, in fact, that I have completely started ignoring them. That's one problem I've been noticing with Aldi recently, and that's that they are slowly giving in to more and more “mainstream” American supermarket staples, such as having an increased number of name brands taking up their aisles. I know in the past, they have gone on record saying that the only name brands they consistently carried (special buys excluded) were products they couldn't find a suitable private label alternative for, which is admirable. But lately, in some cases (such as with their excellent "Infuse" sports drink line), the national brand product has actually replaced their own store versions. I read the reasoning for that is that some customers are loyal to certain brands, so Aldi wanted to become more of a "one-stop shop" by including these items in their inventory, to dissuade people from going somewhere else. I get it, and I guess that's smart business, but that doesn't mean I have to like it. And I don't.

Anyway, the Aldi version of the canned chip is called Stackerz. No, that's not a typo, that's just the sign of an out-of-touch company trying to seem “hip” and “cool” in today's millennial-dominated world, another cue Aldi is apparently taking from the competition. There's also something I don't like about the can, and it has nothing to do with the picture of two chips—complete with sunglasses and facial features—sunbathing; in fact, I must admit to finding that picture kind of humorous. Instead, I find the cans to look—unappealing. I don't know if it's the muted, boringcolors they use; or the sloppy, cheap way that the label seems put on, with seams clearly visible in some cans; or the way it feels like it could just fall apart in your hands from the slightest touch; or a combination of all three, but everything about it screams "low quality" to me. It's rare that packaging to a product turns me off to the actual product, but I have to say that this is one of them.

Before I get down to the nitty-gritty, let me preface this by saying DO NOT EXPECT THIS to be a knockoff of the national brand that starts with a “P” and rhymes with “shingles”. I made that mistake, since that's the name brand I was alluding to in the opening sentence of this review, and was rather put-off by the difference in taste and texture. Actually, don't expect it to be a knockoff of anything—I have seen others say that it's more a knockoff of the other name-brand knockoff—the one that starts with “S” and rhymes with “racks”--but I don't even think that's the case. The cheese here tastes old to me, and not in a delicious “aged cheddar” kind of way, but in a “let's just get rid of some expired cheese” kind of way. The texture is also a ways off: the name brands almost melt in your mouth, while these seem thicker and almost grainy as you chew them. It's really an undesirable experience all around, which is a shame, because I'd get these pretty often if the quality was even remotely in the same ballpark as the brands it's ripping off.

The price point ($.99 per 5.5 oz tube) is okay, but you can generally get the (rhymes with) “racks” brand for around the same price; and while those aren't nearly as good as  the (rhymes with)“shingles” brand, either option is still loads better than this. Even our two year old son, who eats pretty much anything, won't touch these things; that might say even more about them than my own personal opinion.

Overall: 2/10. The score feels a little harsh, but I can't think of anything all that positive about the experience of eating these; in fact, on the rare occasions I've bought them, I don't think we've ever finished off a whole can. The packaging looks and feels cheap (minus the semi-cute and slightly humorous picture on the front), the chip's texture is way off, and it tastes like a mix of salt, and post-expiration cheddar cheese. The $.99 price tag might be its sole saving grace, but it's still not even enough to make it worth a purchase. One of the worst products I've had the misfortune of eating in quite a while from an Aldi store. Given their propensity for pulling their own private label brands off the shelves in favor of national brands lately, I can't see why these are still on store shelves.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Dollar Tree Unbranded Energy Shot x2: Blue Raspberry (Dollar Tree)

An absolutely pointless new flavor that tastes just as crappy as the other ones.
I previously covered what used to be the only two available flavors of this energy shot: berry, and grape. But on a recent trip to the ol' checkout line I saw they have added a new flavor to the mix: blue raspberry! I'm not really a fan of blue raz at all, but considering taste is probably the biggest knock I have against these shots, I thought I'd give it a “shot” anyway; after all, it couldn't taste any worse than the others...right?

In a word, no. But in another few words, it certainly doesn't taste any better. I should have gotten a couple different flavors to compare them a little more in-depth, but it has the exact same “watered-down” base taste as featured in the grape and berry selections, only with a moderately sweet added flavor that tastes very similar to the other two: maybe in a side-by-side test, the blue raspberry would be a little more pronounced, but I still don't think I'd be able to tell what it was if it weren't printed on the packaging.

So what was I expecting? Even though I'm a big fan of drinks that land on the “sweet” scale, artificial candy flavors like blue raspberry and watermelon usually end up being too much even for me. However, in this case, I would have welcomed it as a change from the norm, hoping that the added sweetness would at least cover some of the “watered-down” base notes of the other two varieties. I guess I was kind of hoping for something like X-Mode energy shots, which are so ridiculously sweet that it's almost comical, yet they go down pretty smooth. Instead, this one, like the other flavors in the line, merely goes in the opposite direction, keeping the gross, medicine-y diluted foundational flavor and adding in a slight sprinkle of something that vaguely resembles blue raspberry. And the effect is rather disappointing, and more than a tad bit unnecessary.

As ultimately pointless as this new “flavor” is, I still have to give it points in the same areas as I gave the other two options: it's sugar-free—always a good thing to prevent the ensuing sugar crash of heavily-sugared energy beverages—and in terms of energy, it works. Maybe it's psychological, in part due to the diluted flavor, but I still feel like I have to take a little bit more to fully kick in, compared to “stronger” energy drinks. Which brings me to another point: value. Even if you're a seasoned caffeine hog that requires a whole bottle to feel anything (which is a full 4 oz.), it's still only a dollar, which is a great price for an energy shot.

If you're more sensitive to caffeine, and can get a rush on half the bottle or even less, that obviously drops the per-serving price even more—it can be as low as a quarter if you can get by on just 1 oz. at a time. That's just an insane deal as far as energy shots go, which seem to be consistently going up in price while the formulations stay the same (like Aldi's Red Thunder shots, which stayed at $.69 per 2 oz. bottle for a long time before gradually rising to $.99 over the span of about three months).

Still, though, I can't really “recommend” this one over the others, because it still has the exact same notes as the grape and berry, in all its medicine-y glory, albeit with a flavor name that insinuates something much sweeter and saccharine. In other words, it's too similar to the grape and berry to even exist, and something that I'm honestly baffled was even released.

Overall: 5/10. This is kind of a tough one to assign a point value to, because it's technically no worse or better than the other flavors (grape and berry) currently available. It also has the same amount of caffeine, and works just as well. However, as a new, added flavor, especially one that's known for candy-coated sugar rushes, I expected something different, and ended up with the same gross base taste that I've come to expect from these double shots, with a very similar slightly sweet finish found in the others, as well. If you really pay attention, you might pick up on the blue raspberry flavor, but there's just not enough of it to even justify its existence.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Sunbeam Color Changing LED Night Light (Dollar Tree)

If you want a night light that only illuminates things half the time, this is the one for you.
A vast majority of the items I cover in this blog are store brands, simply because those are generally the most budget-conscious kinds of items. But that is just a preference, not a rule, and so here we are taking a look at a night light from Sunbeam, a company known for making cheap shit. Some of their stuff lasts, most of it does not, so let's cut right to the chase.

First things first: This thing feels cheap. Again, though, that was not a surprise to me. I mean, just look at it...it doesn't really scream "well-made". But it's a dollar and something that you're just going to plug into a wall and forget about, so I neither require nor expect it to be built like a tank...it's just offered as an observation. However, I managed to take it out of the package without breaking it, so at least there's that.

We live in a rather small condo, and decided to place ours in the upstairs hallway, which has our room, the baby's room, and the bathroom all within a few feet. It's a very small space that shouldn't require a lot of light to illuminate, and a great place to get a feel for how this light works. As the package (and title) indicate, this is a color change night light, so it alternates between most, if not all, of the colors on the rainbow spectrum. There is also an off-switch that should allow you to turn it off should you not want it on all day, but we will touch more on that later.

Actually, we'll just touch on it now: ours won't turn off, even when the tab is switched to the “off” position. I'm not really going to make a huge deal about that, because I would much rather have that problem than the opposite, but it would certainly be nice to not have to leave it on all the time (or remember to unplug it, which neither of us ever seem to do; it's hardly bright enough to be noticeable in daylight hours).

In terms of light output, it's absolutely frustrating, because the different colors give off such a varying spectrum of light that having to rely on it requires Indiana Jones-style timing. As a real-life example, I use it to put my son to bed, because I don't want to turn the hallway light on while he's tired (for obvious reasons) and I don't want to run the risk of blasting him in the face, or catching his attention, with my cell phone flash. The upstairs gets pretty darn dark at night, so I need it to more or less guide me. If it's not on the right color, namely a shade of blue or green, then I've got to stand at the top of the darkened steps and wait for it to cycle to those colors so I can see where I'm going.

The red is absolutely worthless, as it doesn't even illuminate a foot in front of it, as is the orange. The light is literally mere feet from our bedroom doorway, and there have been several instances where I've woken up in the middle of the night, glanced out, and thought that the light had died because it's so dark. Then, a few seconds later, the blue pops up casting a bright glow, and proving that it's still working. While the wide spectrum of seven or eight different colors is pretty good for a product this cheap, I'd honestly rather they just stick to the two or three that are actually useful for illuminating a small space, where. I suppose if you're just using this as a way to find your way to something in the dark (i.e. the bathroom), and the actual fixture is visible the entire time, then this might work for you. But I feel like most people using a night light are expecting it to give off some sort of light, as the name suggests, and this product only delivers about 3/8ths of the time.

On the plus side, this thing has lasted a surprisingly long time: It's been running non-stop for about ten months now (maybe even longer), without being turned off once, and it still “works” just as well as it did (or didn't) the day we brought it home. It might not be a great product, but at least it'll be a not great product for a very long time. And that has to count for something.

Overall: 5.5/10. I'm torn on this because the price point is cheap, and it delivers a solid number of colors for that price. Our two-year-old son loves to just sit and watch the colors rotate, so it gets some brownie points for that. However, in terms of actually illuminating even a small area at night, only two or three colors get bright enough to actually do that—the others have troubles lighting up even a foot or two in front of it, with no exaggeration. That kind of makes its intended use as a night light rather worthless, at least in the basic sense of the term, as I rely on that light to carry our son up to bed, and literally have to wait for one of the bright colors to illuminate my path. It does come with an on/off switch, but our “off” switch doesn't work, meaning we have to unplug it to turn it off. That's not really a big deal, but we never do so it's been running pretty much non-stop for the better part of ten months; credit for longevity on that front because it's still running with no issues. It's a decent deal for someone in the market for a cheap light, but if you want something consistently and reliably bright—two things most people look for in something called a “night light”--look elsewhere.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Fast Bites Frozen Cheeseburger (Dollar Tree)

Kind of looks and tastes like a cheeseburger, but without the soul of a cheeseburger.

I was inside Dollar Tree, looking for something quick and convenient, when I finally just opted to grab a Fast Bites cheeseburger. I’ve had a couple other items from their lineup before, and found them to be quite hit-or-miss, but for the price point, there’s not really any sort of heavy risk involved. After checking out Dollar Tree’s selection, I opted for their cheeseburger, which I’m not sure I’ve had before.

As with everything in that line, prepwork is almost too easy: open one end of the packaging, pop on a microwave-safe plate (or paper towel, or whatever), and cook for 60 seconds. Once the minute is up, let it sit for a bit, because this sucker is going to be scalding hot—once it cools down a bit, it's ready to eat.

I didn't bring any accouterments, so I instead had to scavenge around the breakroom at work for some kind of condiment that could liven this up a little bit—thankfully, there was plenty of ketchup available. I unloaded a packet of ketchup onto the burger, and dove right in.

Okay, the flavor is actually eerily similar to that of a flame-broiled patty, which is probably due to natural flavoring…it’s amazing how accurate synthetic flavors can be these days. Same with the grill marks, which are obviously added on afterwards as a way to insinuate that you're eating an actual piece of food, instead of a mass-produced science experiment.

As usual, it’s the bun that kind of ruins the whole façade of eating a real burger. It’s not that it’s super-gross—frozen bread technology has apparently come quite a ways from even a few years ago—but it’s noticeably tasteless, with a texture that’s slightly chewier and tougher than a “real” bun. And no amount of sesame seeds are going to make it seem any more legitimate. But, I guess that comes with the territory.

Overall, the taste is fairly decent, and for merely $1 and 80 seconds of microwave time, there’s no doubting its convenience. But in this day and age, you can get something that at least tastes better from virtually any fast food establishment, and for around the same price. It should go without saying that calorie count is high, and that these aren’t good for you, but some categories are actually a lot lower than I was expecting, like there’s “only” 560mg of sodium (24%...I was expecting closer to the 50% range or even higher). Protein is also pretty high, at 16g (29%), and 3g of dietary fiber even make an appearance. (On the flip side, there is 0.5g of trans fat, to go along with 6g of saturated.)

I don’t think many people purchasing a sandwich from Dollar Tree—especially one called “Fast Bites”—is going to expect anything gourmet. Actually, I really don’t even think people buying these are going to expect anything all that good. And that’s what they’ll get: a mysterious food-looking item that looks like a cheeseburger, and tastes like a cheeseburger, but without the soul of a cheeseburger.

Overall: 5/10. Sometimes, all we’re looking for is a quick, cheap bite, and Fast Bites—purveyor of all things fast and cheap—is always at the ready to fulfill those unlofty demands. Here they serve up a cheeseburger, with the appropriate look, feel, and taste, but one that lacks any sort of character. Considering better tasting options are available for around the same price at virtually every fast food establishment, there isn't much here to recommend on a consistent basis, but it fills the void on those days you want something easy, and don't want to leave the house. Which, come to think of it, pretty much sums me up every single day.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Great Value Bacon Breakfast Bowl (Walmart)

It gets kind of old after a while, but it's good while it lasts.

This story starts the way virtually all my stories do: Was in a store—this time, namely Walmart—needed something to take to work but didn’t want something boring like sandwiches. So I went to the frozen section, which has sadly become my go-to place lately. I had nothing specific in mind when my eyes caught this breakfast bowl from Great Value. I’d never had the name brand before, but I did have similar offerings from Aldi, so I had a good idea of what I was getting into.

This looks pretty much exactly like I was expecting it to, having had Aldi’s version of the same bowl, even down to the overly large plastic container, which makes the contents inside seem meager by comparison. Cooking it up in the microwave is quick and simple, requiring just three-and-a-half minutes, with the ensuing meal coming out piping hot within that time.

The taste, at least initially, matches what you would expect from looking in the bowl, which is to say that everything tastes like it’s been coated in a large layer of grease. Seriously, you can feel your arteries clog in real-time after finishing the bowl, with a thin layer of the stuff sinking down to the bottom, where it creates a slick-looking glossy surface that’s almost enough to make you slip and fall just from looking at it. In other words, if you've ever eaten at Waffle House, this is the frozen food equivalent of that experience. (But at least you get a whopping 31g of protein, which is great for people who like to load up on that.)

Once the grease layer dissipates on the tongue, the dish tastes like it’s a mix of scrambled eggs, potatoes, cheese, and bacon, because that’s what it is, and all of those tastes are pretty straightforward. I would have liked the cheese to be spread out a little better (it clumped together in one corner of the bowl, with many bites missing out on the stuff) but that just meant I had a huge glob of it left at the end, which was worth the wait.

Unfortunately, with no accompanying gravies or additional “sauces”, this bowl does suffer from the standard issues of similar frozen breakfasts: It’s pretty dry, thanks to the potatoes and bacon, and as hard as the grease seems to try to prevent that, it can’t quite overcome it. As a result, it gets pretty boring to eat after a little while; it would greatly benefit from something that could give it a little shot of flavor, or other unexpected kick. 

That’s not to say this is a bad product—quite the contrary, I do like it and would get it again—but it’s one that could be easily improved upon with just a couple minor tweaks, that could take it from the good bowl that it is now, into truly great territory. (Something like the sausage and gravy bowl, where the gravy prevents the potatoes from drying everything out, while also adding a much-needed difference in texture.) 

Overall: 6/10. Thanks to the inclusion of potatoes and bacon, things can get a little dry and “boring” after a little while. There's also a rather concerning layer of grease that sits at the bottom, a constant reminder that you will probably die soon after finishing it. Despite these issues, though, it's essentially a breakfast sandwich in bowl form, with a proven combination of flavors that work well together, when they're not drying out your mouth. And the shit-ton of protein (a whopping 31g!) doesn't hurt. It's not the best breakfast bowl out there, but it's quick, inexpensive, and tasty, and one that I would get again in the future.