Sunday, December 16, 2012

Christmas in Chocolate: Specially Selected Chocolate Covered Potato Chips (Aldi)

Proof that two junk foods combined make an even more delicious super-junk food.
Potato chips are addicting on their own.  So is chocolate.  And now I’m happy to say they are both even more addicting together!  I came to this conclusion courtesy of Aldi’s Chocolate Covered Potato Chips, which are available around the holiday season, and are part of their new Specially Selected line of gourmet products.

I’ll admit to being a little disappointed upon taking a sniff inside the 6.5 oz. bag (which retails for $1.99 here in Ohio, but may vary depending on the market), and being reminded of a cheap chocolate bar.  There’s the strong smell of cocoa, sure, but it’s almost bitter, and if there’s one thing I do not like in my chocolate, it’s a bitter taste (hence my disdain for dark chocolate).

But my fears melted away, both literally and figuratively, once I took my first bite.  It takes a second or two to kick in, but once the Belgian chocolate starts melting in your mouth, you’ll really think you’ve died and gone to heaven!  That is, unless you were expecting more salt.  To me, all the chip seemed to provide is a crunch, as I didn’t seem to notice too much of a salty flavor in the initial taste, meaning the chocolate more or less overwhelmed the chip, as opposed to striking a solid compromise between the sweet and the salty.  But really, who cares?  The chocolate is really quite addicting, especially for the price, which makes it a little too easy to take on the whole bag in one sitting.

My only downside, is once the flavor of the potato comes through, it’s generally in the form of a rather unpleasant aftertaste.  My wife didn’t seem to be as bothered by it as I was, so maybe it’s just me, and it certainly didn’t deter me from digging in on several occasions, so it’s obviously just a minor quibble, but worth mentioning.  Also of note, though it should pretty much go without saying since it mixes two terrible junk foods together into a new one, but these are really pretty bad for you.  One serving contains 14g of fat and 6g of saturated fat.  The main problem?  A serving is only 4 chips.  Again, it’s probably to be expected, but these numbers were a little worse than I thought they would be.

Overall: 7.5/10.  A delicious snack that’s perfect for when you’re in the mood for something new!  Even though the chip doesn’t seem to provide much more than a crunch (at least initially), the Belgian chocolate is ridiculously thick and creamy, and is definitely worth the shallow price tag entirely on its own.  The salt (and potato) arrive late to the flavor party in the form of an unpleasant aftertaste, though it’s not so terrible that you’ll ever think twice before digging in.  The bag looks small, but don’t let that dissuade you…there are really quite a few chips in here.  Should also be noted that the fat content is rather high, and the serving size only 4 chips, so if you’re on a diet, you should probably look elsewhere (which probably should have gone without saying, but hey, just thought it was worth mentioning).

Christmas in Chocolate: Friendly Farms Chocolate Mint Milk (Aldi)

Smooth and delicious.
My mind was jumping at the excitement of the possibly delicious taste combinations of Friendly Farms’ Mint Chocolate Milk from the moment I first laid eyes on it in an Aldi advert.  But inevitably, my mind also shifted to the possibility that it would be atrocious.  After all, chocolate mint milk doesn’t exactly appear to be a popular item; a quick check of the internet has revealed that, outside of soy brands, there really isn’t a supplier of chocolate mint milk, either seasonally, or year ‘round (and if there is, they don’t market it very well), though there are quite a few recipes to make it yourself at home.

Initially, I was a little off-put by the rather small size of the carton.  It’s 32 oz. (think half the size of an orange juice carton), for $1.99, which seems a little bit high to me.  But hey, it only comes around once a year, and my curiosity got the better of me, so I decided to splurge on it.

The smell is enticing, consisting largely of chocolate milk (which is to be expected, considering it is the first ingredient mentioned in the name) with a nice background hint of mint.  While scents can certainly be deceiving, it did allay one of my biggest fears, and that was that the mint would be too overpowering.  Eager to dig in, I didn’t even waste time pouring it into a glass, instead taking it straight from the carton.

Not surprisingly, this stuff is silky smooth in texture, given the fact so are Aldi’s half-gallons, also manufactured by Friendly Farms.  Initially, the chocolate flavor comes through, and it tastes exactly like the milk contained in their half-gallons.  But about a split-second later, the mint comes through--and it is a very welcome addition.  The mint is a background flavor that never really comes through full-bore, but that’s a definite plus, as it never even comes close to overtaking the chocolate. 

This allows both flavors to work in almost perfect harmony, making this a simple, rich dessert that can be taken straight out of the carton.  However, let’s not ignore the nearly endless possible combinations for this stuff, as this would make an excellent base for a milkshake, a delicious coffee creamer, a good mixer with a seasonal Bailey’s, a delicious mocha…and that’s only the tip of the iceberg.  And if it’s this could straight out of the carton, I can only imagine what it would add to existing beverage recipes.

Overall: 8/10.  Let’s be honest here:  As amazing as this stuff is, it’s not something I could drink very often.  But for a once-a-year holiday treat, Friendly Farms Chocolate Mint Milk is a delicious, sippable dessert that works very well straight out of the carton.  It’s smooth, rich, and creamy with a perfect balance of chocolate and mint flavors, with the mint wisely taking a backseat.  Would also make an excellent mixer for existing drinks, such as a delicious base for a milkshake, or a perfect twist on beverage recipes that call for milk.  Definitely recommended.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

It's Pumpkininny! Nature's Nectar Sparkling Pumpkin Cider (Aldi)

Sparkling pumpkin cider? Hmm...interesting.
My wife and I actually stumbled on this at Aldi, simply because someone put it in the wrong space.  Since we were in a hurry, I don’t know that we would have seen it otherwise, but after a brief discussion, we decided to give it a shot, not really knowing what to expect.  After all, my only previous experience with pumpkin in liquid form was a six-pack of limited edition Woodchuck Pumpkin cider that we bought a couple years back, the first year they offered it.  We still have two bottles in our refrigerator, if that tells you what we thought of it.

The bottle is rather coolly designed, with a nifty little pop top that can be resecured to seal in freshness.  Honestly, it reminds me a lot of a wine bottle, and I’m wondering why more wine bottles don’t use this technology.  Instead of a cork, it’s a little piece made of plastic and rubber that fits right in the bottle top, and it’s secured shut by pushing down on a piece of metal, which is already attached to the bottleneck.  Not sure how well it keeps in freshness, as I’ve only had the bottle two days, but it’s pretty nifty.

After figuring out how to open it (a process that surprisingly only took us a minute), we immediately took to sniffing the liquid, and I think both of our hearts sank.  It smells rather disgusting; an unflattering mix of pumpkin, with a rather faint aroma of cinnamon and other spices.  After one whiff, we were already second-guessing our decision to buy it.  Nevertheless, we cast aside our reservations, and forced down a drink…

Maybe it just caught me at the right time, but it was much better than I expected.  Now, it’s nothing that I could drink all the time--I doubt I could even drink it twice in a year--but as a little fall-time treat, it’s definitely not bad.  Since it’s “sparkling”, there is obviously some carbonation in there, which I think gives it a little kick that would be otherwise missing in a flat cider.  There is the distinct taste of pumpkin, which threatens to take it into bitter territory, but it is evened out by the cinnamon “and other spices” (according to the label).  Personally, despite the label’s specific instructions to serve chilled, I actually thought it tasted better at room temperature, as to me, the spices seemed to come out more.  Chilled, it was a little stronger, and not quite as good, but that might just be a matter of personal preference.

As I sip it now, it does get real tiring real quick, but the ideas for such a beverage are already running through my head.  It would be interesting to try it heated, or perhaps in a hot cocoa.  Even though it’s carbonated, the carbonation isn’t very strong at all, and I think the fall flavors would work perfectly in such a drink.  Maybe adding a splash in a glass of Disaronno would be a rather interesting way to use it in alcohol.  Thanks to the spices, I really think there could be many applicable uses besides drinking it straight up.

In my last review for Belmont’s Pumpkin Supreme Pie, which under whelmed me, I mentioned that I would have been more satisfied if the pie had tried to be something different, and failed miserably.  This is something that certainly fits that frame of mind, yet the fact it doesn‘t fail at all is just the icing on the proverbial cake.  I wouldn’t doubt that pumpkin cider is widely available at supermarkets this time of year, but this is the first time I’ve ever seen it, and at $1.99 for a 16.9 oz bottle (which, trust me, is more than enough to experiment with) it’s a pretty affordable addition to your fall-time beverage arsenal.

Overall: 6.5/10.  Its mix of spices and pumpkin get pretty old real quick, assuming you just sit and sip it, but as a mixer, the possibilities feel pretty endless.  There’s a nice blend of spices (including cinnamon), along with some apple juice (which I couldn’t really taste, as there‘s nothing sweet about this drink), and a noticeable flavor of pumpkin that really does give it a perfect fall-time feel.  It may not completely replace apple cider as your drink of choice for the season, but this is definitely something worth trying every now and again when you’re in the mood for something different.  The $1.99 price tag (for a glass, resealable 16.9 oz. bottle that looks even larger than that) represents some really good value, as well.  Definitely recommended for those that are in the mood for something outside of the norm for this time of year.

It's Pumpkininny! Belmont Pumpkin Supreme Pie (Aldi)

It's a "supreme" waste of money, but that's about it...
On paper (or, more specifically, on its cardboard box), Belmont’s Pumpkin Supreme Pie sounds like a surefire success:  “Traditional pumpkin pie topped with a spiced pumpkin cream cheese layer, garnished with pecan pieces, caramel drizzle, and whipped topping.”  How the hell can this backfire?  Not only do you get a traditional pumpkin pie, but a layer of what is essentially cheesecake?  Pecans?  Wow, this has to be spectacular, right?  Especially after the brilliance that was their Pumpkin Cheesecake?

Well, first things first: There is nothing really outstanding about this pie.  While the picture on the box seems to insinuate that there is quite a bit of caramel drizzle and pecan pieces, I found the amount of both in the actual product to be quite lackluster.  Even the bites that did have some of each, it didn’t really seem to make it any richer, or any more extraordinary.  And the pecan pieces are so soft from being frozen (and thawed out) that there’s no satisfying crunch, or even any noticeable change in texture when taken with the pie.  So in other words, neither of those things really affect the overall flavor to the extent that one would expect them to.  And speaking of the flavor…let’s talk about it, shall we?

The actual “flavor” of the pie is good, in that it tastes just like a pumpkin pie.  Which is also simultaneously the main qualm I have with it, because, according to the packaging, I did not just buy a pumpkin pie.  I bought a “supreme” version of a pumpkin pie.  If I wanted a regular pumpkin pie, Aldi also sells those, but for half the price of this one.  I expected something mind-blowing, or very good…hell, I would have been really happy with a pie that tried to be something different, and failed miserably.  But instead I got a regular pie, with the slight addition of pecans and caramel drizzle, trying to be passed off as something unique and exciting.  Even the consistency of the top “cream cheese” layer doesn’t feel any different from that of the “traditional” layer, and although you can occasionally get the taste of pumpkin cheesecake in there somewhere, I thought it was overwhelmed by the traditional pumpkin layer.

This is all a shame, because both of these things are good on their own.  The pumpkin cheesecake, in fact, is quite extraordinary, while their traditional pumpkin pie is delicious, as well.  Unfortunately, some things just don’t need to be combined, and although on paper this probably sounded like something worth $7, the reality of the matter suggests that is not the case.  Not at all.

Overall: 5/10.  Like a pumpkin pie, only twice as expensive, Belmont’s Pumpkin “Supreme” Pie apparently boasts two different flavors in one (that of a traditional pie, and what is essentially a pumpkin cheesecake).  The problem is, the traditional pumpkin pie overwhelms the flavor of the lighter cheesecake.  The toppings, which consist of pecan pieces and a caramel drizzle, are much less prominent on the actual product as they are on its packaging, meaning these don’t really factor into the flavor as much as you would expect them to.  In other words, either stick to a traditional pumpkin pie, which is half the price of this one at your local Aldi store, or spend the extra dollar and get their excellent pumpkin cheesecake, which unlike this one, is well worth the money.

It's Pumpkininny! Belmont Pumpkin Swirl Cheesecake

Every bit as delicious as it looks.
I love pumpkin, and I love cheesecake, so when I saw this in the ad for my local Aldi store, I just knew I had to give it a shot.

Right out of the box, the cheesecake looks like a pretty standard cheesecake, aside from a brownish marbling throughout the top (the "swirl" in the title).  I was pretty surprised to discover that the cheesecake is pre-cut into eight generous slices, which is always nice, just to ensure that everyone gets equal slices.  It’s also helpful because you don’t end up with sloppy cuts, or chunks of cheesecake all over the place from a poor cut.  You literally just use a spatula (or your fingers), and it easily pulls right up out of the pan.  The cheesecake is rather, for lack of a better term, “sturdy”, so it holds together really well.  You don’t have to worry about it falling apart, which is a little thing that is magnified by the fact I’m pretty clumsy, and even I managed to plate it and eat it without making a mess.

The consistency is pretty spot on for a rather delicious cheesecake…it’s smooth and creamy as the fork runs through it.  If you haven’t noticed already, this dessert is comprised of two layers:  A small top layer, which looks (and smells) like straight-up cheesecake, and a light orange-ish bottom layer, which is obviously made up of pumpkin.  The consistency of both layers seems to be pretty even from a physical standpoint, as both are light and fluffy, and can easily be cut open with a fork or other utensil.

The taste is also pretty much exactly what you would imagine, which I can’t see being anything other than a really good thing.  Obviously, if you don’t like pumpkin, you are not going to like this.  Same thing if you don’t like cheesecake.  But if you like both, chances are great that you are going to absolutely love this:  Initially, the taste of cheesecake is front and center, but it gradually gives way to a pumpkin flavor that strongly resembles pumpkin pie.  The texture is also flawless, as the cheesecake literally melts in your mouth.  I’m not going to say it’s a perfect cheesecake--I’ve not traveled to New York, or ordered any from high-end restaurants--but as far as frozen, supermarket cheesecakes go, this is one that has to be tried.  The $8 price tag is both a very reasonable price for this type of dessert, and is even two dollars cheaper than other cheesecakes in the Belmont dessert line.

Overall: 9/10.  I can totally see this becoming yet another annual tradition in our household, just as Belmont’s own Candy Cane Pie (hyperbolic review coming later this year) has become.  It has a perfect consistency, which is saying quite a lot considering it’s frozen and from a supermarket, and the seamless blend of cheesecake and pumpkin flavors are almost mind-blowing, with both of them sharing time in the spotlight, but with neither one overpowering the other.  This is a dessert that almost begs you to savor every little morsel.  Of course, if you don’t like pumpkin, or you don’t like cheesecake, it’s pretty safe to say that you’re not going to like this.  But the opposite also holds true.  The $8 price tag is also very reasonable, as it’s $2 cheaper than other flavors in Belmont’s cheesecake line.  Definitely and wholeheartedly recommended.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Clancy's Tomato Basil Garden Veggie Crisps (Aldi)

Decent to start, but the tomato flavor grows tiresome rather quickly.
Here’s a rather unique offering (at least as far as Aldi is concerned):  Garden veggie crisps, which substitute corn as a main ingredient for potatoes, beans, and carrots.  But maybe best of all are the health benefits:  A full serving of vegetables per 1 oz. serving, along with 50% Vitamin A, both pretty solid numbers for a snack.  Sodium and sugar levels are also pretty decent (160 mg and 2g, respectively), though the fat content (7 g) is still surprisingly a little bit high.

These chips are also available in a jalapeno ranch, but since these sounded a little more “healthy”, we opted to grab the tomato basil.  The first thing you’ll notice as you open the bag is a very strong tomato-ey smell that kind of reminded me of ketchup chips.  Not surprisingly, there’s also the scent of basil somewhere in there, though it’s not nearly as strong.  All-in-all, it’s a rather pleasant smell, assuming you don’t get a full nose full of it.

Since these are “crisps”, appearance-wise they have more in common with “tater skins” than they do normal potato chips, though they are much smaller.  They still deliver a nice, big crunch when bitten into, and feel a bit lighter than “tater skins” do, so even texture-wise they feel a little “healthier”.  Though it doesn’t say it anywhere on the bag, they seem to be baked, rather than fried, as I did not get any of the usual potato chip grease on my fingers after digging in, so that’s another plus.

On the taste-front, they are decent, but nothing spectacular.  As hinted from the aroma, the “crisp” delivers a strong initial offering of tomato-ey goodness, which is then paired up with a hint of basil.  While I do like the flavor, I do find the tomato to be a little too strong for my tastes.  So while they are clearly edible, they get rather tiring after a relatively short amount of time, which I guess is a good thing, because it prevents me from eating too many.  I would say it’s a decent little snack to have on hand for the occasional snack attack, but expect to get sick of them rather quick.  Unless you’re like my wife, who doesn’t like them at all.  Oh well, to each their own.

Overall: 6/10.  While better-than-average and offering some decent health benefits for a snack (50% Vitamin A and a full serving of vegetables per 1 oz. serving to name a couple), Clancy’s Tomato Basil Garden Veggie Crisps are too strong on tomato flavor, meaning they get really tiring, real quick.  There’s also some rather high fat content in there, as well, which cancels out at least some of the good.  At $1.49 for a 4.5 oz. bag, the value is pretty decent, as the crisps are small, meaning there are a lot within a bag.  I'd say these are worth a try, but nothing to write home about.

Deutsche Kuche Paprika Chips (Aldi)

What a bag of German potato chips looks like.
I like trying some new things from Aldi, and there’s really no better time than when they have their German offerings.  Just in case you are not aware, Aldi is based in Germany, so it’s neat to get a little taste of their culture, though I wonder if any of it is “Americanized” any to better fit our palettes.

On my latest trip to the discount grocer, I stumbled on paprika chips, which I picked up with no hesitation.  I’m not really too familiar with the spice, but I was just anxious to try a different flavor of potato chip beyond the ‘typical offerings’ (barbeque, sour cream and onion, etc.), and even beyond the ‘atypical but still readily available offerings’ (ketchup, hot dog, loaded baked potato, etc.)  My advice?  If you want to try something new, pick up a bag, because these things are pretty addicting.

By appearance, they look like a typical “regular” potato chip (as in, not rippled), and have a very satisfying crunch when bit into.  There’s also a generous serving of paprika in each bag, with many of the chips offering up a very reddish-hue thanks to its coating of the titular spice.  Also like most potato chips, it’s pretty heavy on fat and sodium contents, so those watching those would do best to find an alternative.

The smell is a little hard to pinpoint…I would state the obvious and say it smells like paprika, but I can’t even say that for sure, because I’m not sure what paprika smells like.  And unfortunately my wife, who is the family cook and has a much stronger sense of smell than I do, is currently sick and unable to smell anything.  So all I’ll say is it has a very spicy smell, but without being too overpowering, and I’ll leave it at that.  Besides, who buys these bags just to smell them?

Taste, however, is something I’m slightly more adept to describe, and I will say that the first thing that grabbed me is the uniqueness of the flavor.  It’s almost like a barbecue, but without the added tangy sweetness.  The paprika on display here is nowhere near overpowering, but is clearly evident in the taste, making it almost depressingly easy to down way too much in one sitting.  The aftertaste is mild, also akin to a typical barbecue chip.

Overall: 7/10.  There’s no way I could eat these all the time, but for an occasional treat, Deutsche Kuche Paprika Chips really satisfy.  They have the same appearance and crunch of most “original” potato chips, making them instantly familiar, yet differ enough in taste to offer up a little originality from the main chips on the market today.  But by no means is the “different” flavor a knock--once I get started, I eat way more than I should.  Their $1.49 price point is also pretty good, and even though the 7.05 oz. bag is somewhat smaller than average chip bags, there are still plenty of deliciousness to go around.  Recommended for those looking for something new.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Global Brands Shake 'n Go Drink Mix: Lemonade

It tastes about as good as the bland, unimaginative packaging and brand name would lead you to believe.
While perusing my local Deal$ store (company owned by Dollar Tree that carries most Dollar Tree products, as well as those with price points higher than a dollar) for powdered beverages to aide in forcing me to drink water at work (how I loathe the clear stuff, unless I’m playing hockey or otherwise active), I came across something I’d never seen before:  Global Brands Shake ‘n Go drink mixes.  While most, if not all, of Dollar Tree’s name brand offerings in this area (Hawaiian Punch, Wyler’s, etc.) all give you 8 packets for $1, Global Brands gives you a whopping 14 (well, normally 12, but this was a bonus pack).  Fourteen servings for a dollar?  Sign me up!  Eagerly, I grabbed a box of the lemonade flavor.

Now, don’t get me wrong:  I definitely had some reservations heading into this purchase.  First off is the company name:  Global Brands.  Wow, there was certainly a lot of thought put into that.  There was also just as much thought put into the packaging, which is a bland illustration of the mix being poured into a water bottle, while pictures of whatever fruit the mix is supposed to taste like (in this case, obviously lemons) right next to it.  In other words, if it weren’t for the very low price point, I would have walked right on by and never even given it any sort of thought whatsoever.

I can just sum up the experience by saying that I will probably never ever buy another Global Brands product again…that’s how terrible this mix is.  The taste is so ridiculously fake that it doesn’t recall fresh lemons as much as it does lemon cleaning products, which is also ironically what it smells like.  Seriously.  Out of the fourteen packets, I think I used three over the course of a couple weeks, trying to give it a fair “shake” (embarrassingly poor pun intended), but I could never even finish drinking one full bottle of the stuff.  Needless to say, the rest ended up in the trash can.

Not surprisingly, ever since I bought this stuff a couple months back, I don’t recall ever seeing it again on repeated trips to Deal$, so maybe they’ve already gotten the hint and pulled it off the shelf.  Either that, or I have selective sight and am just subconsciously overlooking it.  Whatever the case may be, you’d be doing yourself a favor to ignore this stuff, and stick with the name brand drink packets, which offer a great taste:value ratio that this stuff can't even come close to matching.

Overall: 0/10.  Though a zero may seem a little harsh, I really can’t think of a single positive thing about my experience with Global Brands Shake ‘n Go Lemonade.  In fact, the mere thought of the taste is literally enough to make me cringe (and that is honestly not an exaggeration).  The packaging is boring, the stuff tastes and smells like lemon cleaning products, and I couldn’t even finish a single full bottle of the stuff, despite multiple attempts.  Sure, the dollar price point is rather enticing, but if it’s undrinkable, that certainly does me no good.  Skip this and stick with the Hawaiian Punch and Wyler’s drink mixes, which offer much better value (and excellent taste) for the price.

Stars & Stripes Cola 3-Liter Bottle (Dollar Tree)

Stars & Stripes Cola, available at all Dollar Tree locations.

The price of soda is absurd.  Twelve-packs of the major brands have climbed up to about $4 (maybe more) for a 12-pack when not on sale.  Even two-liters, which seemed to be much more affordable when I was younger, are approaching $2.  This is why the wife and I buy mainly only private-label offerings, indulging in the national brands only when a local store is running a 4/$10 sale (and when we have an extra $10 to blow, which is far less frequent than it probably should be…we’re talking once or twice a year).

On top of this, my wife and I have also decided to try to cut back on the carbonated stuff, simply because it really serves no purpose--outside of sugary deliciousness, of course.  But having a hankering for some on a recent trip to Dollar Tree, I decided to grab some Stars & Stripes Cola, which is offered in gigantic 3-liter bottles.  And yes, like everything else in the store, it's only a buck.
Upon first inspection, it looks like any other cola--dark brown, and carbonated.  Even the smell is rather typical, though it does seem to be a little “softer” than similar sodas.  Taste is the most important element, and it also happens to be where Stars & Stripes Cola fails the worst.  I guess it’s not so much that its taste is really THAT disgusting (though the aftertaste is rather bitter until you get used to it)--it just tastes like a diet soda, only it’s not supposed to be (a diet version is available).  It’s a biteless, severely watered down cola that really just isn’t much fun to drink.

Even for those on a budget, I would recommend Aldi’s GT Cola, which is sold in two-liter bottles and will only run you 69 cents.  Liter-for-liter, I guess Stars & Stripes is a little cheaper, but what GT may slightly lack in price, it more than makes up for in delicious cola flavor that, at the very least, isn't watery or bland.

Overall: 4/10.  If you like your full-flavored soda to taste diet, then this is for you…Stars & Stripes Cola is a biteless, watered down version of cola with an aftertaste that starts off bitter, then gradually just shifts to that fakey taste you get with diet sodas.  The value is there, as you get 3-liters for only a dollar, but even in its price range, you can find better (GT Cola from Aldi immediately springs to mind, and will only set you back 69 cents for two liters).  A diet version is also available, which scares me (though to be fair, it‘s surprisingly getting incredibly high marks from users on Dollar Tree’s own website). Purchase and consume this beverage with caution.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

The Home Store Fabric Freshener (Dollar Tree)

Just like Febreze, only not overpriced to the point that it's pretty much a scam.
I’ll admit that, as the laundry man of the house, my schedule is based solely on my hockey schedule.  Since I have to wash my hockey clothes anyway, I figure it’s a perfect time to toss in my work clothes, and anything my wife needs, as well, without having to exert any extra energy.  But especially now that I have cut back to playing only once a week (down from as often as four nights), I definitely don’t wash clothes as often as I should, meaning that having a fabric refresher is a necessity.

Like many people, I found the national brand to be pretty expensive, and knew there had to be a cheaper option, especially considering it’s essentially just air freshener for fabric.  I mean, seriously, it’s not like it kills odors, or fights bacteria…it simply sits on top of your clothes to fool people into thinking that you’re not too lazy to do laundry.  I figured developing a private-label brand that does something similar would not be rocket science.  Not surprisingly, Dollar Tree came to the rescue, offering 33 oz. of off-brand Fabric Refresher for $1.  After previously being made available under the “PowerHouse” label, it has now been rebranded under Dollar Tree’s new “The Home Store” label.  But how does it stack up to the national brand?

It’s the exact same damn thing.  I mean, how can it suck?  It’s just a liquid that makes fabric not smell like shit…that’s kind of impossible to mess up.  Just like the national brand, you simply spray it all over your clothes, dry them, and they come out smelling like you actually washed them.  Only, Dollar Tree doesn’t have the gall to charge upwards of $5 a bottle for something that no doubt costs less than a dollar to manufacture.  If there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s when companies tack on a little more profit by essentially charging extra simply for the "brand name" on the label.  But then again, I guess if people are stupid enough to buy it, why not?

Overall: 10/10.  The Home Store’s Fabric Refresher does the exact same thing as the one-trick-pony national brand, and all for a fraction of the cost (not to mention six extra ounces).  Why wouldn’t you buy it?  You’d technically be an idiot not to, unless of course you want to encourage the one-trick pony national brand to come out with another line of smelly-good things that essentially is just their original product in a different container and with a slightly different scent.  It’s your call.

Hairvitalize Balsam and Protein Shampoo (Dollar Tree)


Never judge a product by its cringeworthy brand name...
Given the number of shampoos I’ve already reviewed, one must think I’m obsessed with my hair.  I assure you that’s not even the case.  In fact, it’s just the opposite:  Since I don’t care, I don’t really have a go-to brand, hence the reason for me jumping around and trying so many different kinds…but now, thanks to Dollar Tree, I might just have my “go-to” shampoo.

You have to be skeptical when approaching Hairvitalize (a brand name that makes me cringe).  At least, I know I was.  32 ounces of shampoo for just a dollar?  Considering I have also reviewed 12 and 20 oz. bottles from the Tree, and was underwhelmed with each one (though for different reasons), I thought for sure this would be another one for the discard pile.  But I was wrong.  This stuff works! 

First things first, it has a proper consistency for shampoo, something that Silkience didn’t have.  Also, unlike that brand, it lathers up pretty well, so you actually feel like you’re cleaning your hair, rather than just rubbing soap in it.  I’ve used this product for probably two full bottles now (and since my hair is generally short, one bottle ends up lasting me at least a month), and my hair is pretty much the same as it always was.  I’m not sure if it really moisturizes all that much, but it certainly doesn’t dry it out, and that’s good enough for me.  And can you really go wrong with 32 oz. of the stuff for a buck?

I will give in and say that the scent pretty much sucks.  It reminds me of straight-up rubbing alcohol, actually.  But even when smelling it in the bottle, it’s so weak, that I highly doubt it has much of a fragrance once it’s in your hair.  I could be wrong, but no one’s ever said my hair smells terrible after I’ve used it, and that’s some information that I know my wife wouldn’t hold back.

In contrast, I will say that while I find it to be a great shampoo, my hair-obsessed wife is less than enthused with this product…in fact, she flat-out refuses to use it, opting instead for some kind of salon-wannabe-bullshit.  So if you treat your hair as if you’re constantly expecting there to be a sudden hair contest wherever it is you’re going, and you want to win first prize, then maybe this isn’t the shampoo for you.  Or if you want your hair to smell like it’s made of strawberries, then you definitely will want to look elsewhere.  But if you just want something that’s going to do what shampoo is supposed to do, and clean your hair, then the retardedly-named Hairvitalize might be just what you’re looking for.

Overall: 8.5/10.  It’s not the greatest-smelling shampoo in the world, and it’s really not going to take your dry hair and turn it into moisture-filled locks of beauty, but if you’re just looking for a product that simply does what it sets out to do, and for a phenomenal price, look no further than Hairvitalize.  It’s easily the best shampoo product I’ve found at Dollar Tree, and it’s also the cheapest, making this a highly-recommended product!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Landmark Confections Duet White/Dark Chocolate Bar (Dollar Tree)

As you can obviously tell from the point of this blog, I am by no means a “high maintenance” guy.  I often shop at Goodwill stores, have no problems accepting clothes and gifts from stores like Wal-Mart, and just generally have an appreciation for the “cheaper” things in life.

That being said, there are some things that generally aren’t well represented in the inexpensive world of dollar stores, and chocolate is one of them.  I can tolerate many things, but cheap chocolates are among the worst of the worst.  They often have a terrible smell, and the same texture as plastic, with roughly the same taste.  As such, I’m hesitant to try any chocolates from a company I’ve never heard of.

Forcing my fears back, I sucked it up and decided to try Landmark Confections‘ Duet White and Dark Chocolate bar, which can be found at Dollar Tree stores.  The bar weighs in at 3.5 oz., and costs only a dollar; to me, this is a believable size-to-price ratio that could lead to a decent hunk of chocolate.  It’s not like you’re getting a pound for a buck.  The package design, while not mind-blowing, is certainly better than some cheapy chocolate bars I’ve had in the past, and definitely helped with my decision to buy it.

The bar itself is divided up into fifteen small-ish squares, with three squares the perfect size for snacking (at least, in my opinion).  Whether you’re smelling the dark chocolate or the white chocolate side, it pretty much smells like the former regardless, which I guess is to be expected, as dark chocolate has a rather strong smell.

Now, here’s where I negate any credibility I ever had in this review:  I don’t really care for dark chocolate all that much.  I find it to be unpleasant and bitter, which are the exact opposite reactions I’m looking for when I get a craving for chocolate.  On the other hand, I happen to love white chocolate, so I just bought it kind of hoping that both tastes would go well together.  So if you are a huge fan of dark chocolate, you can probably add a point or two to the final score to adjust for your taste preference, or you can just toss this review out the window entirely.

I was surprised by the texture.  Some cheapy chocolates I’ve had never really even melted in your mouth, which is obviously a big turn off when dealing with something like this, which should be smooth and creamy.  The chocolate in this bar melts in your mouth pretty convincingly.  I highly doubt that you will confuse this for the silky smooth confection of a Dove bar, but I would liken the consistency to a Hershey bar, more or less.

On to the taste:  At first, I found the taste of the dark chocolate to be rather overwhelming, but after a few little squares, I started to notice the white chocolate quite a bit more.  The white chocolate is basically a standard example of white chocolate…there’s nothing outstanding about it, but then again, what do you expect for a dollar?  The aftertaste, however, is generally strongly of the dark chocolate, with the occasional bite leaving the pleasant residual taste of white chocolate.

Overall: 6/10.  Again, please add a point or two depending on how much you like dark chocolate, as I’m not a fan of it at all.  Instead, I was hoping the mix of dark and white chocolates would create some kind of delicious harmony that was previously missing from my life.  It didn’t.  Instead, it just plays out like a standard ’national brand’ dark chocolate bar meeting a standard ‘national brand’ white chocolate bar, with neither flavor really managing to be anything special.  The aftertaste is primarily dark chocolate.  Definitely edible, so it can satisfy a sweet tooth, and the dollar price tag is also enticing.  But even for a buck, there are so many chocolate options out there that I’m sure you can do better.

NOTE: Could not find any pictures of these items online, and my wife deleted the pics I had taken to make more room in the camera for more pictures of our dog (as if the million we have aren't enough).  So I apologize for the rather bland format this time around.

Belmont Premium Denali Moose Tracks Ice Cream (Aldi)


Aaah, ice cream.  The perfect refresher on a hot summer day…well, let’s be honest: This is a perfect treat year-round.  But, like everything else, the price of ice cream has shot up in recent years.  As much as I enjoy a bowl every now and again, I’m not willing to spend $5 for a tub of the ‘name brand’ stuff, especially when there are some cheaper, and in most cases, equally delicious options out there.

Which brings me to Aldi.  Ice cream, presented under the Belmont label, is definitely a hit-or-miss affair at the discount retailer, something that seems to have been yet another casualty of the oft-blamed recession.  Once, their premium ice creams were filled to the brim with cookie dough, or cookie bits, or whatever the title implied was supposed to be contained within, and they were a steal when compared to the national brands.  Now, however, their cookie dough ice cream has been reduced to a barren landscape of white with the occasional bite of dough; their cookies and cream ice cream also similarly lacking in cookies, but containing plenty of cream.

Belmont’s “Denali Original” Moose Tracks ice cream, however, is certainly the exception to what seems to be becoming a disappointing rule.  Just from cracking it open, I was rewarded with the site of a couple fudge caves, and a few mini peanut butter cups that were almost begging me to dive right in.  Flavorwise, it doesn’t disappoint:  The fudge is enticingly sweet, without being overly so, and strikes a perfect balance with the peanut butter cups, which are also a perfect blend of crunchy milk chocolate and creamy peanut butter.  This is one of those ice creams that, at least for me, once I get started, it’s almost impossible to stop. 

The vanilla ice cream itself, while not as creamy or as indulgent as, say, an Edy’s, still packs a good flavor.  And this brings us to the frozen dessert’s biggest flaw:  There’s quite a bit of the white stuff.  True, the ice cream has a good amount of peanut butter cups and fudge swirls, especially compared to the sad nature of Belmont’s other “premium” ice creams, but they all seem to be confined to the outer edges of the tub, leaving the entire middle to be little more than plain white ice cream with an occasional chocolaty treasure.  This isn’t really a huge deal, as all in all there’s probably just as much as the ‘bigger’ brands, but it would seem a little more consistent if it were mixed throughout, rather than just left to collect around the outside.

Overall: 8/10.  Belmont’s premium moose tracks ice cream contains enough crunchy peanut butter cups and fudge swirls to keep anyone with a sweet tooth happy.  My only problem is that the cups and swirls seemed to gather only around the outside of the tub, leaving the middle to be little more than boring ice cream.  It’s also not as rich or creamy as some of the bigger name brands, but its price manages to offset most of that.  Definitely worth a look to anyone on a budget, as it manages to be one of the better options in the Belmont Premium ice cream line.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

FMF Power Hydration + Recovery: Citrus Lemonade and Fruit Punch (Big Lots)


Good drink, and great value at Big Lots.

I was browsing the beverage aisle in my local Big Lots store (my favorite aisle in the entire store), when I came across this little guy.  I used to be a huge energy drink connoisseur back in the day, but a combination of heart palpitations and warnings from others about how bad they are for your long-term health made me kick the habit well over a year ago.  Needless to say, I no longer drink them daily like I used to, but I don’t see any problems with enjoying them occasionally (as in, once a month, if even that often), especially when you can find a bottle for well under $1.  And especially when you have to be at work at 6 a.m. and are nowhere close to being a morning person.  While I’ve been putting up with it for five years now, there’s no doubt that there are some mornings where waking up is next to impossible to do, so a little jump start is needed.

Big Lots offers two flavors: Citrus Lemonade and Fruit Punch, which a quick internet search has confirmed are the only two flavors that they currently make.  Though I originally was only going to try one, I figured the price tag was low enough that I might as well get one of each to test them out.  Notes follow.

The Citrus Lemonade is light and refreshingly crisp.  The product description says that it’s lightly carbonated, but the carbonation was a little stronger than I expected (for an example of truly light carbonation, I went back to the good ol’ days of All Sport, back before it succumbed to what I’m assuming was all the negative talk that carbonated beverages dehydrated you, rather than the opposite; bad news for what was supposed to be a refreshing sports drink).  This isn’t a knock at all:  I actually found the extra bit of fizz to be rather enjoyable.

As for the flavor, the first second or two reminded me of a Sprite, but then came a flood of richer citrus flavor.  It still has that typical taste quality found in just about all energy drinks (that slight metallic flavor), but there is a solid balance between the citrus and lemonade that makes it pretty refreshing.  I will say that it’s rather sweet.  I happen to enjoy my beverages on the sweet side, but where there’s sweet, there’s sugar, and FMF has quite a bit:  25 grams per serving, with each can holding two servings.  So you’re looking at 50 grams of sugar per bottle, or 3.12 g/oz.  This is actually on the lower end compared to most name brand energy drinks, but it’s still really high, so those watching their sweet tooth might want to stay away.

However, in the world of energy drinks, obviously taste is secondary to--well--actual energy.  On those grounds, I am pleased to say it succeeds really well.  I only downed half the bottle, and got a noticeable increase in energy, signified by some rather random adrenaline bursts.  If I was doing something besides walking around at work, I probably could have put it to better use, but the drink did its job.  As a side note, I don’t drink coffee, and generally have limited caffeine intake, so that no doubt helped to heighten the drink’s effects within a quicker time frame. 

While very similar to the Citrus Lemonade in terms of ingredients and nutrition value, the flavor of the fruit punch reminds me a lot of cough syrup.  Even then, the flavor is more akin to cherry, with a syrupy, artificial aftertaste.  Being a huge fan of fruit punch, this was a huge disappointment for me, as this was the flavor I was most excited to try. 

Overall: Citrus Lemonade: 7.5/10.  Fruit Punch: 6.5/10.  I was pretty impressed with the FMF Power energy drinks, though most of it probably comes down to value.  I’ve always looked for such drinks without taurine and guarana (as I‘ve heard negative things about taking these ingredients in high quantities), but with a high level of B vitamins, and this is actually the first one I’ve found.  The fact that it works so well is just another positive.  As I understand, these bottles retail for around $2.49 each, so the fact they’re currently at Big Lots for just $.60 a bottle (in Ohio; prices subject to vary from location to location) make them a bonafide steal.  The Citrus Lemonade was by far the better flavor, with a strong fruity taste that was refreshing and not too artificial.  The fruit punch, on the other hand, was more reminiscent of cherry cough syrup, with a similar aftertaste.  Both have quite a bit of sugar (though a bit less, on average, than most of the identifiable major brands), but did provide a pretty long-lasting kick of energy.  Definitely worth the Big Lots asking price, though with so many cheaper options out there, I would never pay regular retail for one.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Excitemint Arctic Blast Chewing Gum (Aldi)

Pretty intense flavor while it lasts.
I can’t really pinpoint why, but when I’m at work, I chew gum all day.  I originally attributed it as an alternative to smoking (my mother quit years of tobacco abuse cold turkey by substituting gum, so this is probably where I got the idea), but I don’t smoke all that much, and only get cravings to do so on the rare occasions I drink heavily.  So in other words, whether I chew gum or not, the thought of smoking rarely crosses my mind.

This introduction was not meant to reveal my occasional smoking and drinking habits, but rather to explain that chewing gum is actually a pretty big part of my life.  I always make sure I have some on hand to bring with me to work, and on the rare occasions I forget, I feel naked.  My brand of choice is generally Wrigley’s Doublemint, but every once in a while I like to try something new, so that my main choice doesn’t get old, and in the off chance I might be missing something that’s even better.  So on a recent trip to Aldi, I picked up a three-pack of their Arctic Mint Chewing Gum to see what it was all about.  Some direct notes on the experience follow:

1-5 seconds: I crack into the piece and start to chew.  The flavor is pretty strong and tastes pretty good.
6-15 seconds: Whoa!  Mint overload!  Now, the flavor has crossed the boundary into bitter; all of a sudden, this experience has turned not-so-enjoyable.
15-30 seconds:  The flavor once again dies down to roughly what it was around the first five seconds.  The lingering effects of the mint burst are still contained in the mouth, and it results in a “just brushed” kind of feeling.  This can come in handy when you’ve just downed a tuna sandwich, or ate a whole onion.
31 seconds to 30 minutes:  The flavor gradually starts to lose its power, and also tends to become more “medicine-y” as it wears on.  Generally around the 30-minute mark, it’s time to spit it out and replace it with a new piece.

As you can see, it’s definitely a strong piece of gum, but something isn’t quite right with the flavor.  Even once it dies down, it’s still more bitter than anything, and the fact it reminds me of medicine definitely isn’t a good thing.  The one positive about its strength is that there is no doubt it will cover up the flavor to anything you’ve eaten, so it couldn’t hurt to pop one of these in before a date, or another situation where you don’t want to run the risk of offending someone with foul-smelling breath.  The “fresh mouth” feeling also lasts a little while after you spit it out, which is another plus.

But I’m a little disappointed that its flavor runs out so quick.  Although thirty minutes seems like a decent length of time, I’m a marathon-chewer, and can get over an hour with the same piece of gum in other brands.  In fact, it seems like just about all ‘major brands’ of gum these days have much longer-lasting flavor, making this gum almost obsolete.  And in what can only be chalked up as a matter of personal preference, I always tear pieces of ‘stick gum’ in half, thus effectively doubling the amount of gum and flavor (I tend to get two hours of chew time per stick of Doublemint in this manner).  But since the Excitemint brand only offers “chiclet” style gum, in which the pieces are fairly small to begin with, doing so is rather impossible.

Overall: 6/10.  Did you just down a tuna sandwich and need to cover up your breath fast?  This gum definitely has you covered, but at the expense of flavor, which comes off as a little too “medicine-y” and bitter.  The lingering “fresh breath” aftertaste also lasts a bit longer than most other gum brands, and makes you feel like it’s still working even after it’s been spit out.  But for a casual chewer like me, this gum is just too intense to chew on a daily basis, and the flavor runs out much quicker than most other brands.

Meijer Toasted Oats Cereal (Meijer)

Average at best, average at worst.
Though I do like the place, I rarely go to Meijer.  And when I do go, it’s even less often about groceries.  But while my wife was on a recent grocery expedition with her parents, I asked them to pick me up a box of Cheerios.

What she came back with, was unexpected:  Two dwarfen boxes of Meijer Toasted Oats cereal, which were handed to me along with the information that they were $1 each.  “Not bad,” I initially thought…more on that later.

From the moment you pull them out of the box, you can tell that something is not exactly the same.  Whereas Cheerios, and even other private label brands, appear smooth and almost “airy”, Meijer’s Oats look a little rough.  They are also a little darker, as well, which gives them an even more “menacing” vibe, when compared to the light, inviting look of other brands.  Not that you feel like this cereal is going to attack you, but it definitely doesn’t look quite as appetizing.

But who cares about looks, right?  A food should be all about taste…and even on those grounds, Meijer’s Toasted Oats fall quite a bit short of other private label brands.  While the taste isn’t super far off, it’s definitely noticeable, as it tastes slightly more bitter than other brands (again, not enough to make you pucker, but enough to notice it).  What really gets to me, however, is how far off they are on the texture.  Even if this tasted EXACTLY like Cheerios, the way each piece just falls apart in your mouth is incredibly off-putting.  Rather than the aforementioned “airyness” of other brands, where each piece feels so light that it seemingly just melts in your mouth, these Oats almost “crumble” to pieces in your mouth.  While that may not sound like a big deal, it honestly bothered me quite a bit.

You see, I like eating my Cheerios with a cut-up banana (honestly one of my favorite snacks in the whole wide world), and one of the reasons it works is because of the light texture of the Cheerios matching up almost perfectly with the smoothness of the banana.  Here, you don’t get that.  The unbalanced flavor also did little to compliment the light flavor of the banana, thus rendering my favorite snack rather unenjoyable.

These Oats won’t get any extra points for value, either, so ignore the sales tactic:  Each box is 7 oz. and, like I said, retail for $1 each.  Aldi’s own version of Toasted Oats cereal, which comes in at 14 oz. (hence, exactly two boxes of Meijer’s version) retails for under $2, and tastes infinitely better.  So even if you are brutally broke, Aldi’s is both cheaper and a better deal taste-wise.

Overall: 5/10.  While not horrible by any stretch of the imagination, Meijer’s version of Cheerios has a very bizarre texture and a stronger flavor that seem to go against everything that makes the original cereal so great.  Ignore their sales pitch, too--while Meijer offers 7 oz. boxes for “just” $1, the fact that Aldi offers 14 oz. boxes for under $2, while still maintaining the right taste and texture, negates any kind of points for “value” that this may have had.  My suggestion:  You can do much better elsewhere.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Fusia Cream Cheese Wontons (Aldi)

FUSIA CREAM CHEESE WONTONS

There are few things in this world that can top my love for Chinese food, yet, ironically, cream cheese is one of those things.  I mean, is there anything in the world that you can’t improve my slathering it, or stuffing it, with cream cheese?  Yeah, didn’t think so.

So with that in mind, I sit down to review Fusia Cream Cheese Wontons.  Aldi’s Fusia line is essentially their frozen “Chinese food” line, consisting of lots of different flavors of stir fry, some decent microwavable egg rolls for the lazy side of all of us, as well as some pretty delicious single-serve Sweet n’ Sour Chicken bowls.  For the most part, the line has more hits than misses, but after being severely disappointed with their version of Crab Rangoon (which has no discernible hint of cream cheese, at least to me--but this is a different review entirely), I decided to scale it back a bit and try what is essentially Crab Rangoon without the crab…a delicious wonton stuffed with cream cheese.

The end result is definitely a few steps above their horrid rendition of Rangoon.  The outside is flaky, and delivers a satisfying crunch when bit into.  It should go without saying that you shouldn’t be expecting the same deep-fried flavor that most Chinese food restaurants provide…the flavor here is much duller, comparable almost to a cracker.  The inside is pretty much stuffed with cream cheese, though, which definitely helps offset the rather lacking taste of the wonton. 

Overall: 7/10.  This is a good choice as the side dish to a home-made Chinese meal, or for just a quick snack.  The wonton itself has a good texture, as well as a satisfying crunch, but falls a little bit short on taste, coming off as a rather boring cracker.  The filling, however, helps make up for it as these things are pretty much loaded with some thick, delicious cream cheese.  I would definitely recommend these over Fusia’s Crab Rangoons, which have neither the taste of cream cheese, nor crab.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Choceur Chocolate Crisp Bars (Aldi)

This stuff is delicious.

If there’s one general item carried at Aldi that you can pretty much count on it not disappointing you, it’s their chocolate.  Seriously.  I’ve known this for years, and at first thought I was just in on a “best-kept“ secret.  How can a discount grocer offer chocolate that blows away even most brand-name chocolates?  However, since first laying my salivating taste glands on these chocolates about five years ago, I’ve heard many people echo the same sentiments, with most of these people hauling in two or three times the salary I make (which isn’t hard to do).  You know a discount grocery store is doing something right when you have people that otherwise wouldn’t be caught dead in your store, going there just to buy chocolate.


So, flash-forward to the present.  On a recent trip to the store, my wife decided to pick up a pack of Choceur Chocolate Crisp Bars, which are strategically stashed at the checkout counter.  While these were mainly purchased for her, I’ll admit I was a little intrigued--sandwiched between the top and bottom chocolate layers, are two crispy wafers (hence, the “crisp“ in the title), but hidden between those, is a thin layer of hazelnut.  Thinking back, I realized I don’t really know too much about hazelnut, or its flavor, so I decided to dig into one to check them out.

It only took one bar to realize that these things are just about perfect, but that didn’t stop me from eating just about half the box (these packages contain ten generous-sized “bars”, which recall a shape, and even a slight similarities in flavor, that are reminiscent of a Kit-Kat).  While the hazelnut and crisp middle are certainly an integral part of the candy, and pack a nice added bit of flavor, it’s the chocolate that stole the show for me.  It’s perfectly sweet, which can sometimes be a delicate balance; I hate the bitter taste of dark chocolate, yet chocolate that’s too sweet, or fakey, is also a huge turn-off.  But perhaps its best quality is just how silky smooth it is:  Think of the melty, creamy chocolate of a Dove bar, and you’ll be pretty darn close.  If you are a fan of hazelnut, or even just chocolate in general, you owe it to yourself to let your taste buds absorb in some of this stuff!

Overall: 9/10.  A delicious chocolate bar that seems to borrow its M.O. from a Kit-Kat bar…only to throw in a little bit of hazelnut that adds some delectability to its flavor.  The chocolate here is silky-smooth and melts in your mouth, while the hazelnut comes through between the satisfying crunch of the wafers.  Add in the fact that a ten-pack can be had for under $2, and this makes it a must-try for any chocolate fans.