Saturday, December 14, 2019

Winternacht Peanut Clusters with Milk Chocolate (Erdnussberge) (Aldi)

Quite possibly the most addicting boring product ever made.
If candy and Christmas go together like turkey and Thanksgiving, then chocolate candy is the green bean casserole of this analogous Thanksgiving feast—sure, you can technically have a holiday without it, but why the hell would you want to (unless you’re lactose intolerant, of course)? With very little chocolate in our house, and feeling the warmth of the holiday season, I decided to see what delicious confectionary treats Aldi was offering up this year! And somehow, someway, after perusing the aisle for no less than 5 minutes, I settled on Winternacht’s Peanut and Chocolate Clusters.

I’m really torn here, because this simple treat has caused a plethora of conflicting, complex emotions from deep within me. Once again, I became a victim of my own lack of attention-to-detail, because upon quick glance of the packaging, I thought these were more akin to “turtles”, that delectable mix of chocolate and peanuts, with the addition of ooey-gooey caramel. Instead, these are actually boring as shit: peanuts and chocolate. That’s it. And it doesn’t even look like good chocolate…it’s just standard milk chocolate, and standard peanuts.

Despite this, though—and despite my complete awareness concerning just how boring these are—I couldn't stop eating them, and I cannot for the life of me figure out why. Maybe the teeny clusters look more appetizing on a subconscious level. Maybe it’s a sign my life is completely devoid of anything resembling happiness and these are attempting to fill that hole. Or maybe what I thought was its weakness, is actually more of a strength: the almost alarming simplicity of it all, which flies in the face of today’s “more is more” ideology. At any rate, these are good, even though there is nothing at all that is even remotely outstanding about them.

While those two things (boring vs. addicting) cancel each other out, there is one big hit that isn’t offset by any positives: the price. When I forked over $2.99 for this 8.82 oz. package, I was still under the assumption I’d be getting “turtles” with my hard-earned cash. Instead, getting the cheapest, most basic of all nuts, along with some non-rich, non-melty, “rugged” German chocolate, doesn’t really feel like a winning value proposition to me.

And that is why, despite the inexplicably addicting nature of these, I probably won’t ever buy them again.

Overall: 6/10. It’s rare that I find a product as divisive as Winternacht’s peanut and chocolate clusters: on one hand, it’s $2.99 (per 8.8 oz bag) and comprised entirely of just what the title implies; on the other hand, despite the fact it’s neither an outstanding example of peanuts or chocolate, I downed this whole bag in about three days, pretty much entirely by myself—I couldn’t stop eating them once I started. It’s almost like a psychological test to figure out which side “wins out”, but at the end of the day, the price is too high for me to justify it. The chocolate is neither rich, nor particularly great, and the peanuts are…well, peanuts. For the same price, or even less, you can get much better chocolate treats, especially around this time of year, or you could save the cash and just make a batch of your own for a fraction of the cost.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Little Journey Organics Pear Blueberry Spinach Baby Food Puree Pouch (Aldi)

Like a cold-pressed juice in baby food form...and I don't mean that in a good way.
Well, I've tried many of Aldi's baby food pouches—I'm ashamed to say more than our three-year-old son has had—and have been pretty impressed with a majority of them. Here we have a flavor that isn't always available: a combination of pear, blueberry, and spinach, which is for sale in limited quantities as a special buy.

Although the combination doesn't really sound good to me, I've learned that you can't always judge a pouch by its contents: some of the weirder ones (such as the apple and sweet potato, which might not be all that weird to others, but is to me because I hate sweet potatoes) have ended up surprising me, or at least, have exceeded my expectations, no matter how low they may be. With that in mind, let's see how this odd combination of tastes fares.

Hmm…not really sure about this pouch overall, which probably isn’t a good thing. On the good side, the mix between “sweet” and “not” is balanced pretty well, with the pear and blueberries offering just enough of it to offset the “savory” flavors of the spinach. It’s certainly not a sweet pouch overall, but there’s enough hints of sweetness to make it more palatable to children than a straight-up spinach pouch would be.

The flavor, though, leaves quite a bit to be desired. Rather surprisingly, each flavor is strongly represented here, but I think the main issue is that this just isn’t a great combination of flavors to begin with. As I mentioned earlier, there have been plenty of other mixtures in the Little Journey line that I’ve thought that about, but this is one of the few that misses the mark just as much as I was expecting from the outset.

You definitely get the tanginess of the blueberries, and a little hint of sweetness via the pear. It also finishes off with a “savory” spinach flavor that really reminds me of the grassy taste of a cold-pressed juice, only it's not chilled, it's in a pouch, and aimed mainly at children. Depending on their tolerance for spinach, they might take this pretty well, but there's definitely plenty of that leafy green taste that I don't think it's going to win over any child who doesn't already like it. The usual “wins” apply here: it's only $.79 per pouch, and certified organic, which is always a great thing for the line, but the taste just isn't quite up to par with some of their other offerings.

Overall: 5.5/10. This isn't a case of false advertising, because all the contents are clearly listed right in the name of the product; instead, this is more a case of “too-real advertising”: all of the titular flavors are clearly there, and in abundance. It's just that it's not really an appetizing combination to begin with. The blueberry offers up some tartness, the pear something sweet, while the spinach just adds a grassy finish that reminds one of a cold-pressed juice, but in a form more akin to a smoothie. While the profile is technically well-balanced (it's certainly not too sweet, but also not too savory), the taste itself is just...uninspiring. It probably won't win any children over that don't already like spinach, and will probably turn away just as many kids who like fruit. A very “meh” combination for me, although it is helped along by the organic certification and $.79 price tag.

Mama Cozzi's Four Cheese Take and Bake Calzone (Aldi)

If you can get past the bland bread, these things are delicious.

About a year ago, when these were relegated to special buy status, I tried the pepperoni version, and liked it a lot. Now that these seem to be part of their permanent stock, it's given me enough time to get intimately acquainted with the other available option: four cheese.

We'll cut straight to the chase here: these are very nearly just as good as their meated counterparts. The cheese here is in overabundance, with the potential for stringiness, especially when they are hot right out of the oven (or, as in my case, microwave). The four cheese blend (which actually seems to consist of five, according to the packaging: provolone, mozzarella, ricotta, parmesan, and romano) gives a nice blast of cheesy flavor that really carries the whole package.

There is the same weak link as the pepperoni variety, and that’s the bread: don’t let the seasoning fool you: it’s dry and boring as shit. It’s the same (or pretty darn close) to the bread they use in their strombolis, but whereas strombolis have sauce to help offset the blandness of the bread, the lack of sauce here makes it all-too-obvious. Since the cheese flavor is really good (and in abundance), it might be a good idea to have some sauce on hand to dip these in, unless you’re eating something else with it.

That’s a shame, because these have become one of my go-to meals for nights when I’m on my own, or even as a quick option for work lunches when I don't have the time to pack something proper. Our child has also taken a liking to these, which is odd considering he’s pretty darn picky about what he eats; that’s just another reason to have at least one of these on hand at any given time. And thanks to the $1.99 price tag and 2 minute prep time (cook for one minute, then let sit for another), getting them is both affordable, and convenient.

Overall: 7.5/10. I initially thought this one might be better than the pepperoni, but the further in I got, the more its weakness becomes apparent: despite the appearance of seasoning, the bread is boring and bland as hell, taking what could be a virtually flawless store-bought calzone down a couple pegs. However, add in the quick prep time and $1.99 price tag and it's still a great combination of value and convenience. Add some sauce to dip these in, and that takes the flavor up yet another notch. A great buy no matter how you look at it, but one that could be even better with a better exterior.

Monday, December 9, 2019

Benton's Blueberry Breakfast Biscuits (Aldi)

They're very sweet, fake as hell...and delicious.
The first few times I picked up Benton’s breakfast biscuits, more or less at the urge of my wife who had tried the name brand and really enjoyed them, I always stuck to the brown sugar and cinnamon flavor. It was a safe choice (how can you go wrong with that combo?), but also the only one that I was sure I would like; I’ll take risks on lots of different foods, but apparently breakfast biscuits are not one of them.

Then my wife tried the blueberry and went on and on about how great they were. I was still pretty skeptical—after all, who would know my own tastebuds better than me?—and ignored her advice for a while, positive that I would not enjoy them as much as the standard, but deliciously sweet and tempting, combination of brown sugar and cinnamon.

Eventually, I finally gave in, and now it's my previously preferred kind that's the distant memory. She was right: these things are delicious.

I guess I just figured that there’s only so much you can do with blueberry, and that the flavor would be boring. But the taste in these really jump out, with a strong, blueberry taste heightened by the appearance of what I’m just going to assume are actual pieces of the fruit. It will probably be too much and too fakey for some, but as someone who likes blueberries, I’m definitely not complaining. It’s also very sweet, completely eschewing the tartness that blueberries are known for, which will be another knock for some. Again, not for me.

There are some knocks against it though: they’re dry. I know that it’s by design, because a crunchy wafer can’t really be moist, but these things seem to sop up every ounce of spit I have in my mouth at any given time, lest I take them with water or other liquids (which I don’t always have handy when I’m eating these on the go at work). And, perhaps most depressingly, the blueberry flavor is mostly of the “natural flavor” variety, essentially meaning that most of the flavoring is “enhanced” in a lab. Hence the reason for the over-the-top candy-style sweetness. (Although the dehydrated blueberries are real; try one, though, and you'll see it's mostly for show as they don't really add much to the flavor.)

Despite those downsides, I still really like these, and get them whenever I'm in the mood for breakfast biscuits. The fact that four come in each package (with five total packages) and for under $2 means the value is pretty solid; the biggest downside is that my wife and child like these just as much as I do...

Overall: 7.5/10. They're dry, and the flavor is more candy-sweet than accurate to the tartness of an actual blueberry, but if you don't mind either of those potential qualms, these are fantastic biscuits for the price. I actually like the over-the-top, lab enhanced blueberry flavor, which is way more addicting than it should be. Even better yet: each box contains five packages of biscuits, with 4 biscuits per package...and all for under $2. There are certainly worse ways to start the day!

Friday, December 6, 2019

Sobisk Blueberry Breakfast Biscuits (Dollar Tree)

These have a weird taste that can best be described as "sinister".

I had actually just reviewed the Aldi brand version of these not too long ago, when I saw this similar product on the shelves of a Dollar Tree store. Could these possibly stack up to the name brands, for just $1? While mathematically, it was a possibility (you do get fewer biscuits here for the money), I still never really have high hopes for Dollar Tree foods. Nevertheless, all I had to lose was $1, so I figured why not give them a chance?

Each packet of these contain 2 blueberry biscuits, which are about the same size as the national brand. I was kind of confused at first, because while the packaging clearly states that there are 6 packs inside, it didn’t specify just how many biscuits were in each one. Armed with this knowledge, we now know your hard-earned dollar gets you 12 total biscuits, which is less than the 24 you get with the “full-sized” name brands, and putting a dent in the value department.

They smell like a blueberry crime scene…there’s a very strong, very artificial blueberry scent in the forefront, almost like a blueberry candle. But then there’s almost a…”sinister”, for lack of a better term...finish in the aroma department that seems to hint at something that isn't quite right. It’s hard to explain, but it's certainly a change from other brands, which smell like straight-up blueberry without any unidentifiable scents whatsoever.

The flavor actually matches up almost exactly to the scent, with an initial burst of (incredibly fake) fruit, giving way to a finish that…just doesn’t really fit. Almost like a cardboard-y taste that gradually starts to get worse and worse the more bites you take. The blueberry flavor itself is already a little bit off, and not quite as enticing as they are in other brands, but it's still palatable; if it stayed within this flavor profile, these would be pretty decent biscuits for the price. Unfortunately, the taste detour certainly takes it from “questionable” to “off-putting”. They're not so disgusting that I couldn't finish them, but they are bad enough that I didn't really want to.

At least there’s an upside to this, should you find yourself with a box of these at home that you don’t want to waste, for some ungodly reason: 10g of whole grain per serving (which is one packet of 2 biscuits). That’s a pretty healthy serving for a dollar store product, though I wonder if that's at least part of the reason that they taste so weird.

Unfortunately, there’s no way I can even remotely recommend these. Those on a budget could grab the similar product from Aldi for less than a dollar more, and get twice as many biscuits (with a much better, less creepy flavor), along with a much better flavor. The fact that I had those fresh in my mind certainly didn't do Sobisk's biscuits any favors, but this would be a lackluster product even if I'd never had them before. Thoroughly disappointing in virtually all regards.

Overall: 3.5/10. I suppose you could do worse within the walls of a Dollar Tree store, but these blueberry biscuits unfortunately miss the mark, offering up an initial blueberry taste that's already “off”, and then adding in a dash of unidentified flavor that takes it from merely being “off” to “off-putting”. In other words, these are nothing like the national brand in terms of flavor. Each box contains six packs of two biscuits (for a total of 12) which doesn't even offer much in the way of value, considering Aldi's blueberry biscuits retail for less than a dollar more, and include twice as much product. The biggest upside is the 10g of whole grain per pack, which is a pretty solid amount for the price, but certainly not a persuasive enough reason to ever grab these again.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Whole & Simple Korean Inspired Beef Grain Bowl (Aldi)

Fantastic.

Well, talk about something I wouldn’t typically get! This Whole & Simple grain bowl wouldn’t be a likely candidate for me for a number of reasons: for example, it’s Korean, and I’m not typically attracted to Korean food. It’s also a “grain bowl”, which usually means “a bunch of healthy shit thrown into a bowl without regard to texture or flavor that we can charge five times more for." And if there's something I'm going to pay more for, it's probably not going to be anything of nutritional substance.

But then I read the box, and my mouth actually started to water a little bit. While it might be Korean (“inspired”, but still Korean), none of the ingredients would be out of place in American cuisine, which set my mind at ease. Each bowl contains brown rice, barley, red quinoa, carrots, shiitake mushrooms, kale, spinach, bamboo shoots, and sesame seeds…pretty much the same things you'd find in American "power bowls". I was already leaning toward getting it, and then my eyes wandered up to the price: $2.99. Three dollars for all of this stuff? That’s basically the cost of a typical frozen meal, yet I was getting loads of perceived "superfoods", or "power morsels", or whatever keywords marketing execs are tossing around these days. Considering any "power food" usually goes for $5 or more, I was sold, and ended up taking it to work with me the next day.

You don't have to go to a douchy, overpriced restaurant for this!
Aaaah yeah, this stuff is delicious as hell. See? This is why we should try new things instead of just relying on the same ol’ thing time and time again. The meat somehow doesn’t look creepy (until you read the ingredients list and realize they’re called “Seasoned Beef and Modified Food Starch Strips”, which certainly don’t sound very appealing at all), instead looking like a well-cooked steak, sliced down into bite-sized chunks.

My wife and I looked (briefly) on the front of the box for information on the sauce, and could find nothing about it…we figured that maybe it was just in its own juices, or maybe even without a sauce altogether. Thankfully, that is not the case: the sauce here is strongly reminiscent of a something you would find in Chinese food, with a soy sauce base that adds some heat, and a touch of sweetness, to create an inviting blend. The meat and veggie combo would already taste good on its own, but the sauce really takes the flavor to the next level, preventing you from feeling like you’re eating something healthy, even though—for all intents and purposes—it’s healthier than your average frozen meal.

This seemed to be a Special Buy (I’m still getting acclimated to the layout and new products at our newly-remodeled Aldi store), and was dwindling in numbers. If this is the case, I’d be rather upset, considering this is a great alternative to the typical foods that I get for lunch, and one that I would at least get every month or so to take a break from my usual.

I’m not typically one to remark on the packaging, but there’s also something inviting about the food set against the white background that really makes it stand out, while also making it look slightly more upscale than similar offerings. This is a fantastic frozen meal for a great price.

Overall: 9/10. This is a fantastic frozen food…especially for the price! A delicious combination of veggies and a spicy brown sauce combine to form a delicious meal that I wouldn’t have expected to like half as much as I did! Given all the healthy ingredients, I expected the price to be through the roof---and was pleasantly surprised by the relatively meager $2.99 price tag (for 10 oz. of food). Unfortunately, it seems to be a special buy, so if you happen to stumble on it, grab it before it disappears again! 

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Choceur Milk Chocolate Bar (Aldi)

If this image doesn't make your mouth water, you've never tried it.
My wife and I returned from a visit to her parents, who live out in the hills of Tennessee, with some leftover marshmallows and graham crackers, but no chocolate. We had made s'mores out in their backyard, browning the marshmallows in a fire pit, and it made me remember exactly why those are one of my favorite desserts ever...they're so simple to make, yet somehow so full of decadence. Anyway, the package of chocolate always seems to go faster than the rest of the ingredients, and so we were left with just two-thirds of a tasty treat.

The problem was further compacted by my wife's insistence on only getting the name brand chocolate bar. Normally, she's willing to try just about anything that Aldi offers, but she is steadfast in her commitment to two products: ketchup, and chocolate. The curious thing about this, though, is that she has had Aldi's chocolate before, and really likes it...just as far as s'mores are concerned, nothing will do for her except the kind that's manufactured in Hershey, PA.

Now, I was a little hesitant to get this because of the package mentioning that it is made with “hazelnut paste”. If that's just an ingredient, then obviously I don't care, but I didn't want my chocolate tasting of hazelnut, especially if its main use was going to be as the center of a tasty s'more. I opted to grab it anyway, considering a bar retails for under $2, so I didn't stand to lose too much even if it disappointed.

These taste pretty darn good straight up, with a sweetness that is also counterbalanced with a slight bittersweet flavor that prevents it from going too deep over the “sweet” spectrum, which some chocolates can do. For me, though, the texture is where it's at: whereas I've always found the main chocolate brand to look like plastic straight out of the wrapper, Choceur's looks much softer; just as you think it will, it starts to melt in your mouth almost the moment you put it in. It's loads better than the national brand in any conceivable measure, and also much cheaper, with a 5.29 oz. bar coming in at $1.69...really a good price for chocolate that tastes like this.

Now for the question I know everyone is dying to know the answer to: how did this perform in s'mores? Personally, just as I found this chocolate to be better on its own when compared to the national brand, I also thought it was way better with marshmallow and graham crackers. Since it has the propensity to melt in your mouth, it also melts quicker in the microwave (no room for fire pits in our cramped suburban home), and gives you a much creamier s'more with all the drippy goodness. I was absolutely certain my wife would agree (and am very rarely wrong in these scenarios), but I must say her stubbornness and thick skull won out over me on this day—she agreed the chocolate was delicious, but said it didn't come anywhere close to s'mores made with her preferred confection brand...a very disappointing thing to hear, considering I thought it was a night and day comparison, but to each their own.

I rarely buy chocolate from anywhere, simply because I don't want to be tempted by a house full of sweets, but I really do need to explore Aldi's chocolate offerings more. In fact, word seems to be getting out about how they offer some excellent chocolates at inexpensive prices—a couple ritzy people I know even go to Aldi just to stock up on them. And if these are any indication of what I can expect from the rest, well...I may become a chocoholic before long.

Overall: 10/10. A virtually flawless chocolate bar that melts in your mouth almost immediately upon entering, and has the appearance of a more upscale offering...yet this is Aldi's "low-end" bar. It has a nice chocolate taste that's as sweet as the "milk chocolate" descriptor would indicate, but is offset by a slight bitterness that doesn't come off as too sweet. Coming in at just $1.69 per 5.29 oz. bar, it's depressingly affordable, meaning it will take some willpower to prevent me from throwing in a whole box of these on every future shopping trip. There are certainly better chocolates out there, but not many in this price range.