Friday, April 10, 2020

Specially Selected Roasted Vegetable Bistro Style Flatbread (Aldi)

If "boring" is your thing, this delivers it in spades.

Let's start this one off with a very uninteresting story: we had actually gotten this one before, and found ourselves underwhelmed on virtually all fronts. But what happens when you send your wife to Aldi, and she thinks she's getting the mozzarella and tomato flatbread? She ends up not paying attention and casually throwing this one into the cart! She was so disgusted with herself that she adamantly refused to even re-try another piece, which meant I had the honors of forcing it all down again by myself.

Even though I'm a meat-eater by trade, I actually enjoy vegetarian dishes from time-to-time, but this one kind of gets everything wrong for me. For starters, I feel like vegetarian dishes especially need some sort of “kick”, or standout flavor, to get my tastebuds excited and hopping. This one delivers a crap-ton of uninteresting and underflavored vegetables just as they are, in all their underflavored and uninteresting glory. There aren't any caramelized onions, to boost the flavor up a bit, or even something cool and unique, like Brussels sprouts, which would at least make it an intriguing failure (assuming it ended up being one). Instead, we get grilled peppers, tomatoes, white and red onions, and grilled zucchini...that line-up is basically what a conversation with Gwyneth Paltrow would taste like, if that were an edible experience.

It does nothing for the texture, either, which simply delivers one semi-mushy bite right after another. The zucchini is probably the worst offender, with large bits of the stuff that deliver soft, juicy bites consisting of almost no flavor, but the others chime in with similar structural profiles, making even the experience of eating it bland and uninviting. Come on, at least throw in some charred cauliflower, or veggie-based bacon bits or something, to give us some sort of crunch! The mozzarella cheese is hardly noticeable, but the Grana Podano PDO and Pecorino Romano PDO cheeses have a crumbly texture that's more akin to feta, and do add a bit of textural interplay with the rest of the mush. (Fun fact: Both of those cheeses have been granted Protected Geographical Status over in Europe; the “PDO” stands for “Protected Designation of Origin” and ensures that both of those cheeses are “authentic” and made in their proper respective European region.)

Capping everything off is that the already-small flatbread has a 1-2” border consisting of thick, raised crust, meaning there's that much less room in the middle for all the ingredients; in this case, I suppose that's a good thing, but it's a curious decision considering most flatbreads don't have a crust at all, instead opting to stretch the toppings from edge-to-edge. In fact, it's not even really a flatbread at all: it's more of an actual pizza crust, just made smaller to give the appearance that it's made of flatbread material. In the lone surprise, the crust honestly happens to be the best part, something I would say even if the rest of it was good, with a buttery flavor that goes down easy on its own, without the need for a sauce to dip it in; coming from me, that's saying a lot, especially for a frozen pizza-type entree.

As you can probably tell, this is simply an underwhelming misfire, from an “upscale” brand that I typically expect more from. And while the $3.49 retail price (which has, rather admirably, stayed consistent since 2016) certainly won't break the bank, it's also about $3.00 more than you'll get in flavor.

Overall: 3/10. A bland failure, delivering an overall mushy texture that's spared only by infrequent bits of crumbly cheese and an overbearing crust that's more “pizza” than “flatbread” (where's the FDA when you need them?). The veggies contained (roasted peppers, zucchini, red and white onions, and tomatoes) are all rather boring on their own, and when combined with one another, simply become more boring. The crust, which is “overbearing” in that it takes up most of the real estate, is actually the best part in terms of flavor, offering up a nice bit of crunch and a buttery flavor that goes down easy on its own, without the need for dipping sauce or other accoutrements, but its contributions are largely lost amidst an endless sea of dull. Even worse: though the flavor strongly hints at “healthy”, the 1/3 flatbread serving size constitutes a whopping 310 calories, with 4.5g of saturated fat and a healthy dose of sodium to round it all out. Sheesh, might as well get a fast food hamburger.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Simply Nature Apple Peach Squeezable Fruit Blend Pouch (Aldi)

An affordable and tasty (almost too) little snack for kids.
I’m quickly learning another great benefit to having a child: raiding their food stash, especially as they get older. I don’t do it all that often (although some of my reviews might make it seem otherwise), but sometimes I’m a little short on “grown-up” food for lunches at work, or I need a quick pick-me-up snack at home, and don't have very many “adult” options. That's when I find it’s okay to snoop around and see what items he’s had sitting in his little section of the pantry for a while…I mean, hey, it’s better than having it go to waste!

The (un)lucky item this time is Simply Nature’s Apple Peach Squeezable Fruit Blend, which are little pouches of what basically amount to flavored applesauce. Aldi sells these four to a pack, for under $2, which is a good deal made slightly less so by the size of each pouch: 3.2 oz. I’ve mentioned it before and I’ll say it again: these are almost too small, as our 3-year-old has them sucked down before I even make it out of the room. But he likes the flavor, and they seem to be pretty healthy, so I don’t mind keeping them on hand.

In fact, the ingredients list is pretty minimal: apples, peach puree, apple juice concentrate, and ascorbic acid, which is reminiscent of their Little Journey line of baby food pouches. The only differences are that Simply Nature’s pouches aren’t organic, and they also pack in another ingredient: those pesky “natural flavors”, which kind of makes you wonder how and where they are used. (If I had to guess, I’m going to say it’s the peach, because the flavor seems to have that “lab-created” intensity to it that I wouldn’t expect to find from a natural peach.)

After digging into one myself, it's easy to see why the little one likes them. Most kids already seem to appreciate the applesauce texture, which is here in spades, while the pouch cuts back on the frustrations of making a mess, or having to coordinate dipping the spoon into the cup. So I guess my biggest frustration—the quick time it takes him to down it—is probably one of the reasons he likes it so much. The strong, sweet flavor also helps, with peach taking center stage, and the apple following close behind. It might be overly sweet for some, but I think it's a pretty good balance, especially for the child demographic that it is clearly marketing itself toward. Also, for the record, I pretty much have the palate of a child.

Good value, great flavor, reduced mess...what's not to like?

Overall: 7.5/10. What we have here is basically a glorified applesauce pouch, and while they're a little more expensive than buying the multi-pack cups (and with typically less applesauce per pouch), the trade-off is the reduced odds of a mess, since it requires no hand-eye-spoon coordination on the part of the child. It does feel a little anti-climactic, considering my son has these downed before I can even leave the room, but it's healthier than some snack items, and with a delicious peach-forward flavor that most kids (as well as myself) will enjoy. Nice to have as a backup snack, if nothing else, and the $1.65 asking price makes keeping them on hand easy, without having to break the bank.

Saturday, April 4, 2020

Benton's Soft Triple Chocolate Chip Cookies (Aldi)

Wonderfully, woefully average.

Fearing that their delectable “Original” Australian cookies were on their way out of permanent inventory (a fear that seems to be unfounded, as they appear to have gotten in another shipment since my previous trip), I actually picked up a pack of these hoping to find a somewhat viable cookie replacement should my preferred option dry up. Hey, as we're learning now, it never hurts to be prepared for any situation!

Excited at the prospect of potential deliciousness, I let my wife try one first immediately after getting home, and was more than a little annoyed when she contorted her face in slight—but genuine—disgust , and declared that they basically tasted like every other pre-made triple chocolate cookie. She’s a self-admitted bakery snob, though, and frequently turns her nose to everything that’s not fresh-baked. “What did she know?” I thought to myself, well aware that she actually knows a lot about making foodstuffs and has a much more refined palate than I could ever hope to achieve.

So I did what I frequently do: completely blocked out her opinion. Instead, I prepped myself for a flavor sensation that my close-minded wife was certainly missing out on...a sensation that never came because, unfortunately, she was right (at least this time). I was initially won over by the soft and chewy texture, which is almost too's like the person who's overly sweet because they're up to no good; it's proof alone that these clearly weren't made by the loving, imperfect touch of a human being, but rather a mechanical cyborg programmed to construct the perfect cookie, every time, and the results are honestly rather off-putting.

Beyond that, my wife hit the flavor profile on the head: there’s nothing special here. She did go too far when she said she’d rather have a crunchy name brand cookie (ahoy there, maties!) as opposed to these (I wouldn’t)), but these are otherwise pedestrian cookies in every regard; a special shame given the inclusion of white chocolate chunks, which don’t seem to get featured in cookies near enough for me. Here, I figured they would provide a perfect sweet counterpoint to the strong cocoa combination of the cookie and milk chocolate chips, but instead, they just seem to get lost in the neverending sea of brown chocolates, offering little more than a pleasant aesthetical counterpoint by being the only light thing in the entire cookie. (Which sounds like a metaphorical allegory of racism, but is genuinely simply describing my preference for white chocolate to dark, or even milk, even though I'm fully aware it's technically not even “real” chocolate. Like a white woman with a large booty. Which now has brought race into it.)

Value is pretty much a wash, in my opinion: they're not too expensive, but they're also not a great deal, with each 7.4 oz. package retailing for $1.99, and consisting of eight cookies. While that might sound like a bargain, they are not full-sized cookies; they are maybe a little larger than the aforementioned “crunchy name-brand cookies”, making them around half the size of one that I would consider to be “full-size”. In other words, this has the attempted look and feel of a premium cookie, but with the pedestrian flavor and eerily-perfect “Stepford Wives”-style consistency of one that's mass-produced. No thanks.

Overall: 5/10. The price tag is decent ($1.99 per 7.4 oz. package), but these are just standard, mass-produced cookies masquerading themselves as something more noteworthy. The triple chocolate flavor is rather pedestrian through-and-through, while simultaneously coming in at about half the size of “real” ones, no less. The white chocolate chips (which is the reason I pulled the trigger on these in the first place) get lost amidst all the abundance of genuine cocoa, and provides little addition to the flavor, while the cookies themselves are almost too perfectly chewy, a sobering reminder that you're eating a mass-produced product made by robotic, automated hands, and not the loving touch of a caring human being. It's almost a perfect example of a wonderfully average product, through and through, but at a cost that insinuates you should be getting more.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

A Rising "Receipt App" With a Great Community: An In-Depth Look at Coinout (Mobile App)


Coinout is yet another receipt-uploading app that pays you money for uploading receipts. Like Receipt Hog, it allows you to upload virtually any itemized receipt from virtually any store; unlike Receipt Hog, which only gives you “coins” (which can then be exchanged for gift cards or Paypal cash) for certain kinds of receipts, Coinout pays you instantly in cold-hard cash. It shot to nationwide attention in 2017, when the founder appeared on the hit show “Shark Tank”, and accepted an offer of $250,000 from one of the judges; despite this, I only heard about it recently.

(A fun fact that I haven't seen mentioned in very many places: its “pitch” on Shark Tank was completely different than the finished product. Originally, it was conceived as a way to avoid receiving coins, with the basic process functioning something like this: you go to a store, pay with cash, and instead of the cashier giving you change back--which you can easily lose or forget about--you would pull up the Coinout app, the cashier at the store would scan a barcode that appeared in it, and the change you would have received would go straight into your CoinOut account. From there, you could do whatever you wanted with it: let it accrue, transfer it to your bank account, invest it elsewhere, etc. It's actually a pretty brilliant idea, and I'm curious as to why that aspect was dropped, or if that is a feature that will eventually be coming down the pike. Either way, whatever.)

This is the ugly screen that you're greeted with.
Quite simply put, the interface of Coinout screams “scam” right from the outset. To be perfectly clear, it's not, but it's very looks like the work of a first-year design student making his (or her) first mobile application.

Honestly, if you were to download this app with no idea what it is beforehand, figuring out its point would be pretty confusing: there are vague “buttons” in the middle of the screen, a large (relatively speaking) banner offering cash back at the top, and then an option to click on “All Badges”. Clicking on any of them will give you more details, but a lot of them are the spammy type of ads found on survey sites, requiring you to get a quote on car insurance, or sign up for a service in order to receive the offered payout (which is generally around a dollar). At least all of their offers are from legitimate companies, however, instead of the shady “Sign Up For a $1,000 WalMart Gift Card”-type offers found on other survey sites (Swagbucks and InboxDollars, I'm looking at you!)

Current savings offers...ouch.
There are also buttons for “Share & Earn”, which offers $.75 for every person you refer to their service, as well as one marked “Savings”, which simply shows you a rotating selection of savings accounts that it “thinks” you may be interested in. They don't seem to actually be targeted to the user specifically so much as just randomized options that are probably just masked advertisements, though to be fair, the options do at least tend to have high percentage yields. It's a pretty weird option to have on the main page, though, because how often do people really shop and change savings accounts? It's also weird considering you often get nothing for signing up.

The only thing most people will need to know is the large button marked “Scan”--this is where (almost all of) the magic happens.

CoinOut utilizes a pretty standard receipt uploading template.
The upload process is very similar to other sites, with markers helping you to align the receipt to the borders. One curious thing about the app that I learned the hard way, is that there are no options to take multiple shots of the same receipt—you have one shot to take a picture of the whole thing. This is weird for longer receipts, but as a workaround, the app suggests folding the receipt so that the name of the retailer, the date, and the purchase price are all displayed. This kind of strikes me as odd, considering many receipt apps want to see the specific items purchased in order to gather details on user purchasing habits, but I'm not going to complain about its simplicity.

In-store receipts are valid 14 days from the purchase date, which is about the average length for non-specific deal apps; it also means people just starting out can make a good chunk right away by uploading whatever receipts they've accumulated the past couple of weeks, which is a good incentive to get started.

Once you're done snapping the pic, just hit the large "Submit" button, wait about five seconds, and your amount will immediately be added to your balance. Sometimes, it will ask you a simple question related to your purchase, or hit you with a full-page ad related to one of their offers, but answering the question or backing out of the ad takes an extra three seconds, and you'll see your updated total right then and there.

The lack of processing time is another oddity with the app; you could conceivably upload the same receipt 50 times, or even something resembling a receipt (like a piece of paper), and get paid each time. Obviously, I'm not at all suggesting you do that - you'll get your account terminated when you go to cash out and must verify your info - but it's just weird that they don't do all those things upfront, and in real-time, the way virtually every other app works. It gives it a kind of laid back feel that's certainly a welcome change from the norm.

First, the good: Coinout's reward system foregoes "points" or "coins" or other fake currency in favor of one that displays the actual amount of money you have in your account at any given time. Thus, you are paid in actual money for every receipt you upload.

Now, the bad/just plain weird: unlike virtually every other “receipt reward” site, CoinOut doesn't have a set rewards system, meaning the amount you make per receipt is completely randomized, ranging anywhere from $.01 on up. This means exactly what you're thinking it means: that you could conceivably make more money from a receipt for a single item from a convenience store than your $348.68 receipt from the supermarket, which is pretty dumb when you think about it. But hey, at the end of the day, all of those pennies add up, and in theory, it should all even out in the long run. There are ways to boost your balance besides receipts, which we'll touch on later, but if you're just relying just on scanning (which I do, so I'm speaking from experience here), then it's going to be a slow slog to any meaningful amount.

Receipt amounts are completely randomized.
The biggest draw that CoinOut has over the competition is that virtually any receipt from a valid retailer is eligible for cash payment. So those gas-only receipts that only get you a sweepstakes entry elsewhere? Upload them here for immediate cash payment. That receipt from a clothing store that would only be good for a "spin on the slots" in other apps? Cash here. Electronics store? Cash. Restaurant? Cash. Thrift store purchase? I'm not entirely sure on this one, but I'm sure that's valid for cash back, too. As a general rule of thumb, as long as it's printed, itemized with a total amount, legible, and has a store name, it can earn you money. The only ones that aren't accepted are the obvious: bills, movie tickets, handwritten receipts, etc. are all invalid, which really shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone.

What is rather surprising is that they even take e-receipts, unlike many of their competitors. The process for claiming them is simple, but also rather bizarre: simply forward the actual receipt (not an invoice or other vague document) to and you're good to go. A verification email will be sent once they receive it (which is generally almost instantly) and is a nice touch that let's you know it's safely in their hands. The first time you submit one, you do have to include the mobile number attached to your CoinOut account in the body section of the email, but after that you're given the chance to fill out a form that makes every submission thereafter automatic (assuming it comes from the same email address, I presume).

E-receipts are paid out in one lump sum every Thursday, and designated, confusingly, as a "gift".
Payout for these, however, is not instant: instead, all e-receipts are processed on Wednesdays, with the money appearing in your account on Thursday morning. There are some more specific rules as to when they must be submitted by in order to be processed that week, so visit the website for full details, but in the worst-case scenario, you'll just have to wait until the following Thursday to get the cash. The same rules as the printed receipts apply: must be itemized, with date, store name, and total clearly legible, but other than that, they'll accept them from virtually anywhere.

The only catch—and it's a fairly big one—is that online receipts must be forwarded to them the day you receive them. The reasoning behind this is unclear, but considering the process is even simpler than uploading receipts, getting into the habit of immediately doing it quickly becomes second nature. I did test this theory and uploaded some receipts a day after receiving them, and they still seemed to go through, but that's something that's liable to change at any time, especially as the user base grows and their rules get more strict.

Like an ever-increasing number of apps these days, Coinout is limited only to mobile devices, with absolutely no computer functionality whatsoever. Some sites will at least let you sign up on a computer, then force you to download the mobile app to actually use it, but you can't even sign up on a PC here, making it a poor option for those without a smartphone or tablet.

It's going to depend on a variety of factors, such as how many receipts you upload, and what your random payout is for each one, but either way, don't expect much. After making over $1 within my first week, it took me close to a month to double that total (and on probably three times the number of receipts), so expect a slow drag that's about on par with payouts on other apps.

As can be expected, there's a daily limit to how many receipts you can submit...but like many other things with Coinout, it's very vague. At one point, it was 25 (per day!) but users on Reddit have claimed that number has been quartered down to roughly six (I can't exactly vouch for this because I rarely, if ever, get that many in a single day). And if you think you'll get a clear answer from the company themselves, their own terms simply confirm that there is a daily limit, but that it varies by day, with absolutely no numbers given for reference. So I guess just keep scanning until you don't earn anything.

For those people into referrals, you can get $.75 for every verified user you add.
For a personal, real-world example, I signed up around mid-July, 2019, and as of mid-March, 2020 (about eight months), I had just shy of $16 in my account. That equates to somewhere around $2 per month, with an estimated average of one receipt per day uploaded. In the grand scheme of things, that's pretty good compared to similar services I've signed up for, and there's a good chance if you're in a bigger household, or get way more receipts than I do, or sign up for their paid offers, that your results will be even better than mine.

Honestly, once the payments dipped down to normal levels, I was seriously tempted to drop the app. And I would have, were it not for the wide variety of supported receipts, as opposed to other ones like Receipt Hog, where certain categories only earn you entries into their sweepstakes, or spins on their slot machine, or some other pointless low-odds jackpot. It's also nice to not have to worry about cashing out “coins” or other fake methods of currency, which can sometimes be a little frustrating to remember how many points equal what, especially when the conversion rates tend to differ across the board.

NOTE: For those people into referrals, click here for my referral link. I get a one-time payment of $.75. You don't get dick.

Beyond the receipts, there are additional ways to make extra cash, with more being added on a pretty frequent basis.

They've jumped on the eBates-style bandwagon by offering cash back on purchases made through certain retailers. I always forget to do this when buying things online, so I can't compare their cash back percentages against similar apps, but they're generally around 3% or less. I can't imagine them being much better than the competition, and the selection of stores is relatively small (around twenty, with many of the stores seemingly offered on a rotating basis), so this probably wouldn't be my first choice for a cash back app, but it's there in case you're in the market for something from one of the places on offer.

Rules for their "online rebates" program.
The downside to these offers are the vague terms of each; since there's only a small square dedicated to each website, that doesn't leave a lot of room for specific notes. Hence, you'll see things like the below picture, which doesn't really give you a whole lot of specific, useful information to go off of.
"Up to 1.2%"? Okay, on what categories specifically? And what are the "excluded items"?
While receipts and rebates are about the only two constants, they do occasionally have Ibotta-style rebates for specific items, cash for completing sign-ups, a cool monthly (or is it twice a month?) trivia, and plenty of contests and sweepstakes that help to keep things fun and interesting. 


Another advantage CoinOut has over the competition are the number of ways to receive your payout—and none of them involve waiting for a paper check to arrive. You can be paid out via bank account, Paypal, or Amazon gift card. Looking over those options might not seem like much, considering there are other places that offer gift cards to dozens of different shops and vendors, but being able to transfer the money direct to your bank account is a relatively rare option among many sites. Even more amazing is that there are no minimum balances for anything except the Paypal option (which is $10): Desperately want to spend the $.57 you have in your account? Transfer away! Want a $2.18 gift card to Amazon? Do it! There really aren't many other sites that give you that kind of flexibility, which is another win in its favor.

To be perfectly honest, I have yet to cash out my winnings (saving up to hit the $20 mark), but I will definitely update this section once that happens.


As is standard for me in this category, I have very little actual experience with support; I guess I'm just an easygoing guy. The only time I did contact them was after signing up to a newsletter that promised $1 payout...and receiving nothing after about a week. Support was very friendly, I submitted photographic evidence of receiving the newsletter in my email, and the money was added to my balance within 72 hours of contacting them. That's pretty solid turnaround, in my opinion.

An example of their newsletter layout; just like their app, it's ugly and simple, but the tone is positive and endearing.
As for the community, I have to confess that their newsletter is the only one I consistently read from any app. It matches the design of their website by being pretty ugly to look at, but its simplicity, straightforwardness and laid-back tone are all infectious: There are no spammy, over-the-top surveys, or other shady, questionable offers that other earning sites bombard you with. Instead, there are usually several contests running that pertain to the time period in question, and that just make the site fun. For example, for fall they had a contest where anyone that uploaded a receipt with the word “Pumpkin” in it somewhere, would automatically be entered to win some extra cash, with the winners randomly selected. For another, people were asked to submit receipts from their favorite local spot, with winners once again selected from the pool and given extra money.

They also have a Coinout Facebook page where they run more fun competitions, as well as a separate "Coinout Insiders" group - run by the founder himself, who also posts and responds to inquiries - with even more contests and chances to win, only for group members. They also seek user-submitted feedback on offers and features, and take the responses into consideration. Say what you will about the app itself, but the people behind it are certainly good at cultivating the feeling of a tight-knit community around the group's users, with newbies received just as warmly as longtime users, and no one jumped on for questions or comments. This is an area where other apps should take notice...hell, this is an area where social media in general should take notice.

What makes the contests fun is that, instead of giving a large lump sum to one winner, there are generally anywhere from 10 to 100 people selected as winners for each contest. This results in much smaller earnings (I don't think I've ever seen anyone win over $10 for one contest), but also increases the odds for everyone to win at least something. I don't know why, but I find their upfront honesty refreshing, and more encouraging to keep going long-term.

But perhaps the highlight of every newsletter is CoinOut trivia, which (I believe) is done about once a month. This is the one contest where there is no set amount given to winners, and where everyone has a chance to win: the trivia consists of about five questions, with all of them having something to do with Coinout. Anyone who gets all of them right splits the pot of money, which is generally around $500, but occasionally reaches as high as $1,000! This is a pretty fun way to potentially earn some cash, while simultaneously learning about the app and company. I've won three times, and while my highest amount was around $.40, it's still fun to do and a cool little boost...look at it this way: that's potentially ten receipts!

PROS (+)
+Instant payment for receipts.
+Accept e-receipts.
+Wide variety of supported receipts; perhaps the widest in the business.
+Fun community, with a supportive Facebook group and a down-to-Earth newsletter.
+Responsive support, at least for me the one time I needed them.
+A wide, ever-rotating number of ways to make extra cash.
+14-day acceptance window for paper receipts.
+Instant cash payments for receipts.

CONS (-)
-Ugly interface.
-No PC functionality (app only).
-Receipt payout amounts completely randomized.
-Limited in-store cash back offers, with sometimes vague terms to boot.
-E-receipts must inexplicably be uploaded the day you receive them to get credit.
-Very few free offers; usually low payouts on paid ones.
-Duplicated receipts are not caught by the system upon upload, and can lead to account termination when you try to cash out.

On its own, CoinOut would probably be pretty worthless; even as it stands it's going to be a slow slog for those that are uninterested in the cash-back offers they rotate out (many of which are for paid subscription services or online bank sign-ups). However, the sheer multitude of receipts accepted (virtually anything that's itemized, dated, totaled and with a store name clearly printed), and the fun laid-back community help to make this an app that's at least worth checking out.

They do dabble in all sorts of cash-back possibilities (eBates-style cash back offers for online shopping, Ibotta-style rebates on purchasing specific items, paid sign-up offers, etc.), which for some apps would come off as a clear lack of focus, but here it gives the appearance of an app that wants to cater to its users as much as possible, in an effort to keep them engaged. Whether or not it has the long-term capacity to do so remains to be seen, but it's gotten consistent use out of me for the last eight months, so that certainly has to count for something.

RATING: 7/10

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Elevation by Millville Double Chocolate Protein Meal Bar (Aldi)

Affordable and pretty good, but beware the "meal" bar designation...

I’ve found that breakfast bars make the perfect snack for me when I’m wasting away in the mornings at work. I usually stock up on the cheap ones (dipped granola bars, etc.) but every once in a great while, I’ll turn my attention to the Elevation by Millville line, which offer up “premium” bars for a comparatively premium price tag. Wanting to get as close as I could to the line between “premium” and “value”, I eventually opted for these protein bars, simply because they were the cheapest ones that had at least 5 bars. After all, I need to get at least a week out of them!

The only other product I’ve tried in the Elevation line were the mint chocolate bars, which are absolutely phenomenal, but still make me pause for thought every time I see the $6 price tag ($1 per bar? That’s some serious shit right there.) These offer up 6 full-size bars for just $4.19, which comes out to a respectable $.70 per bar. I haven't really compared the two all that in-depth, but I am kind of wondering what else the mint bars have that these don't (besides superior flavor), that justify the nearly $2 price increase.

At any rate, these aren’t anywhere on the same plane as those flavorwise, but they are a decent bar in their own right. The chocolate flavor here is definitely more akin to “milk”, rather than dark (thank God), but isn’t too awfully sweet. Meanwhile, the bar’s “guts” are light and crispy, also akin to the mint chocolate bars that I once fell in love with. There’s a slight graininess in the finish, but nothing that’s too noticeable, and certainly not enough to be distracting.

It's a good-tasting bar, with a decent amount of protein and some other necessary vitamins (A, C, D, calcium and iron chief among them), but one thing I don't like is that this is a “meal” bar, insinuating it's meant to replace a meal. Only, it's nowhere near filling, making this come off as more of a “snack” bar. I mean, I don't personally care, because I just use it as a morning snack (which I guess technically makes it "breakfast"), but I can't see anyone being satisfied enough after eating this to be able to skip eating actual food; that whole idea is ludicrous, and a distinction that makes the whole "snack" versus "meal" bar thing a little confusing.

Overall: 7/10. A nice milk chocolate flavor with a delicious “puffy” crisped-rice style interior set the stage for this bar from the Elevation by Millville line. The flavor is pretty delicious, offering up some nice sweet milk chocolate flavor without being too sweet, the price is on point at $4.19 (for six full-size bars), making it one of the more affordable options they have to offer, and there's minimal weirdness in the texture. It's not nearly as outstanding as their mint chocolate bars (which are, to be fair, almost $2 more expensive), nor are they anywhere near filling, making their designation as a “meal bar” (as opposed to just a “snack” or “protein” bar) pretty confusing and pointless.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Benton's Caramel Delights: The Classic Australian Cookie (Aldi)

Not quite as flawless as the chocolate ones, but a delicious treat nonetheless.
I already took a look at the chocolate version, which I adored (and which a couple readers pointed out were knock-offs of a certain popular Australian cookie), and now I’ll be taking a look at the other variety on offer: caramel. Although it’s not normally something I would normally try, I have two reasons: 1.) an unknown commenter, who commented on the review for the chocolate one that I should give the caramel a shot, and 2.) Ben, another commenter who informed me that his store has run out and didn't appear to be replacing them. These, paired up with the knowledge that my own local store has a very dwindling supply, makes me fear that they might be discontinuing them in the very near future. In other words, now was the time to try them!*

As can be expected, the exterior texture (“texterior”?) of the caramel is exactly the same as they are in the chocolate version, except for the middle, where there’s a gooey ribbon of caramel waiting to ambush your mouth hole. I like the combination of caramel and chocolate, but outside of Caramello bars (which I haven’t had in years, come to think of it), I don’t really try caramel things all that often. Would these win me over? Or simply remind me of why I'm prone to avoiding the golden confectionery product?

Oh yeah, these are good. Like, really good. They don't quite reach the perfection of the chocolate ones (how could they?) but they are way better than I was expecting. The caramel flavor hits strong, and pairs up well with the chocolate to deliver an even balance of each that goes down smooth, and begs you to keep going. It was much easier for me to limit myself to just one or two of the caramels, but the melty chocolate coating and chewy caramel is a solid combination that reminded me just how good the two ingredients can be together, in the right setting.

Honestly, as much as I enjoyed these, I will sadly continue to ignore them as long as the chocolate version is on the shelves; but if I ever had a craving and had to “settle”, presumably because the chocolate ones were sold out and these were my only option, I wouldn’t be too disappointed knowing these are what I’d have in store.

Overall: 8/10. These aren’t nearly as addicting (or as flawless) as the chocolate cookies, but they are way better than I expected them to be, and an excellent reminder of what makes the chocolate/caramel combination so potently delicious. The golden confectionery oozes out in ribbons, as if desperately reaching for your tongue, while the chocolaty exterior just melts in your mouth almost immediately upon impact. The chocolate ones are so good that, honestly, I'll continue to bypass these, but as far as fallback options go, these would help to ease the pain should the chocolates ever go out of stock (God forbid).

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Whole & Simple Mediterranean Style Scrambled Egg White Bowl (Aldi)

Yay! The return of actual flavor!
I already took a look at the Salsa Verde Breakfast Bowl, and hated every goddamned minute of it, so now we turn our attention to the other variety available in the same special buy cycle - and with even lower expectations to boot.

Those lowered expectations were obviously as a direct result of the previous dish, but also because this is the one I was least excited about to begin with. And a quick glance of the ingredients reminded me of why: No meat, nothing noteworthy that would seem to bring much flavor, and the same weird “whole grain” concoction of steel cut oats, spelt, buckwheat, and red quinoa that I swear actually sucked some of the flavor out of the breakfast burrito bowl—yeah, this was not headed down a great path.

Well, would you believe me if I told you that this vegetarian option was loads better? Well, maybe “loads” is the incorrect term—it still seems like a lot of the flavor has been drained from each of the individual items, as if only to remind us that we're eating something that's considered “healthy”—but I would probably get this one again, something that can’t be said for the meat-based version at all.

What really shines through here is the “spicy tomato and roasted red pepper sauce” which adds a bit of heat with a delicious tomato-based flavor to boot. And even though the “spicy tomato” gets top billing, it's just a light dash of heat that no one but the most heat-sensitive of individuals will have problems taking. That’s a good thing, too, because that sauce is really the only thing that consistently stands out, giving your tastebuds a nice kick that the other ingredients only seem to hint at. The texture is still the same kind of “slimy” texture present in the breakfast bowl (and with the same cast of whole grains), but when it’s paired up with actual taste, would you believe that it actually becomes a lot more tolerable? Gee, imagine that.

I still feel like $2.99 is a little too much for what you get on the whole, but hey, I'm a cheapskate; either way, I definitely felt like I was getting more of my money's worth here than in the salsa verde variety, and could easily see myself grabbing this again at some point in the future.

Overall: 6.5/10. It’s not fully my cup of tea, and the $2.99 asking price is a little excessive (in my humble, cheapskated opinion), but this one delivers in the taste department. Curiously, the flavors of the individual items themselves are still muted, but the spicy tomato and red pepper sauce that covers the dish packs in a good amount of flavor, with just a touch of spice, making the whole thing easily edible. The feta cheese also packs a good textural counterpoint to the weird whole grain "oatmeal"-style consistency spread throughout. It's not the best value in Aldi stores, but it's pretty tasty and good for a quick bite on the go.