Monday, December 9, 2013

Candy Christmas: Moser Roth Milk Chocolate Truffles (Aldi)

We're reviewing the item on the left here.

Aldi consistently has some excellent chocolate offerings.  From their Choceur line, which is more akin to Hershey’s in terms of flavor and price-point, to their more exotic Moser Roth line, you generally can’t go wrong with purchasing any of them from your local Aldi store.

That certainly holds true with Moser Roth’s Fine Truffles, which are available in both dark and milk chocolate versions.  These are basically knock-offs of Lindt’s Lindor truffles, with a very similar “bag”-style packaging that contains individually-wrapped chocolates inside, but it won’t quite set you back as much as their national-brand counterparts.

True to such form, these truffles consist of a ball-shaped, hollow outer shell of chocolate, that gives way to a soft chocolaty center.  Both parts are ridiculously creamy, with the outer shell melting in your mouth almost upon contact, leaving the rich center to do its thing.  One of my only complaints is that the soft chocolate core tends to come out entirely on the first bite, which ruins my planned tactic of eating them in equal halves.  But obviously this is just a minor quibble.  Another minor complaint is that they do not offer a white chocolate version, as, in my opinion, those are the best out of all of Lindt’s varieties.  Still, Moser Roth’s truffles provide some pretty decent value, making what should be a splurge, into an almost necessary buy (a bag of these, which consist of 17 truffles, will only set you back $2.49).  The only major downside is, much like the national brand, it’s only available during the holiday season, as these would make great treats year-round.

Overall: 9/10.  These are almost pitch-perfect knock-offs of Lindor truffles, with a tougher outer shell of chocolate that hides a rich, soft chocolate center.  The only difference is you won’t have to pay an arm and a leg to get them, as a bag of 17 truffles is a mere $2.49 (prices may vary by location).  I highly recommend these to anyone who enjoys chocolate.  Just be sure to stock up on them when you go, since like many of Aldi’s best products, these are only available around the holiday season.  Note that they are also available in a dark chocolate version.

Candy Christmas: Belmont Candy Cane Pie

NOTE: It would appear this product has shamefully been discontinued. This one might be worth starting a petition on of the best items Aldi has ever carried.
Words like "heavenly" don't even come close to accurately describing this.

I can’t hold it in, so I‘m just going to come out and say it:  This pie is perfect.  It’s hands-down the best frozen pie I’ve purchased anywhere.  When I first stumbled on it at Aldi a little over five years ago now, I immediately fell in love with it; its ridiculously soft and creamy mint center, its light and fluffy whipped cream, those perfect chocolate candies on the top, that ridiculously necessary fudge layer toward the bottom, the chocolate cookie crust…all come together to form a slice of heaven.  Jesus couldn’t make a better pie…it’s that freaking good.

Available at Aldi and only around Christmastime, I made the vow right then and there that this would become my holiday tradition.  Sure enough, it has remained that way, even to this day.  Unfortunately for me, thousands of people also seem to have picked up on these in the time since my first fateful encounter, because every year they seem to get harder and harder to get, assuming you fail to get them the week they are first offered as a Special Buy. 

Wanting to share in the wealth, I’ve even taken these over to my parents’ house, as well as my in-laws, and now both of them ask me when these are available every year.  No joke.  It’s pie perfection, and the fact that they are only occasionally available make it that much more addicting, as the cravings have too much time to fester and grow.  Now, it’s to the point where I only have to see them in the Aldi ad, and my mouth immediately starts watering.  That flawless mint flavor…those chocolates…that silky-smooth texture…I’m sorry, I just can’t help it!

It’s interesting that this is one of the very few Aldi products that, at least to my knowledge, aren’t a knockoff of a major brand.  In fact, I’m not sure of any other stores carrying anything like this.  A quick internet search has revealed that school fundraiser Market Day is the only other place to sell this product, and it seems to be the exact same thing, which is kind of bizarre…why haven’t other stores jumped on top of this?  Has no one ever tasted this thing?  If you’re reading this, turn around, jump in your car, go to your local Aldi store, and buy one now.  Then you can go ahead and thank me in the comments later.

Overall: 10/10.  The best frozen pie I’ve ever had, Belmont’s Candy Cane Pie is a perfect mix of mint, chocolate, and whipped cream that‘s so good, I really don‘t think there are words that can accurately sum up just how great it is.  Ever since I first tried it a little over a half-decade ago, I vowed it would become my own personal holiday tradition (it‘s only available at Aldi‘s around Christmastime), and it has remained that way ever since.  It has also received rave reviews from family members I’ve let try it, and they continue to ask me every year when this is available.  Seriously, if you like mint and chocolate together, there is almost a 100% chance you'll love this.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Clancy's Baked Cheddar and Sour Cream Ripples

A picture of a bag of this stuff, cowardly stolen from the internet.
In the world of chips, I much prefer the fatty, greasy, fried potatoes as opposed to the lighter, “healthier” baked options.  But for the sake of variety, I like to switch things up every now and again, which is what lead me to Clancy’s Baked Cheddar and Sour Cream Ripples potato chips.  Since ripples are my favorite style of chip, and cheddar and sour cream is my favorite flavor, I thought ‘What could go wrong’?  Hindsight is 20/20...

I was first off-put by the smell, which I guess is pretty much what you would expect out of a product that somehow has fifty ingredients--it pretty much smells like a factory.  There’s nary a hint of cheddar, or sour cream in the scent profile, which is never a good thing when that’s the flavor of chip you’re about to eat.  It just smells…processed.  Bitter.  Take your pick; it’s anything but inviting.  But hey, there are plenty of things that smell terrible that still taste good, so this is just a small knock…right?

Thankfully the looks put my fears at ease, at least temporarily.  A lot of the chips are absolutely covered in cheese powder, which is something I was not at all expecting.  Far too often baked chips skimp out on the flavor, giving you a light sprinkle of flavoring in an effort to once again remind you that you’re eating something semi-healthy.  One thing you can say:  Clancy’s is definitely generous with the cheese…it’s all over the place!  Now with a rejuvenated interest in the processed product, I hunkered down and took a bite…

The chips have a satisfying crunch, which is about the only positive thing I have to say about the taste aspect.  And don’t think that I’m holding these to the standards of a normal greasy, fried chip; I have had some very good baked chips in my day, even from Clancy themselves.  Like Alexander’s bad day, these are terrible, horrible, and no good.  The cheese powder does give you a flavor that slightly resembles cheese, but I had a hard time detecting even the slightest bit of sour cream, unless that was the nasty, processed aftertaste that lingered in my mouth for far too long.  Speaking of taste, for this being a ‘potato’ chip, I couldn’t even detect the slightest bit of potato, as the chip base tastes more akin to a cracker, than a chip.

I packed these for my lunch at work all week, and whereas I usually have no problems sticking to what I packed, I kept trying to find excuses to buy food rather than force these things down my throat.  About a quarter of the bag ended up in the trash, and I honestly can’t remember the last time I didn’t finish a bag of chips.  They single-handedly took the fun out of lunch, and that is the first time I’ve ever had anything like that happen.  In case you can’t tell, this is something I will never buy again, and if you’re in the market for baked chips, I strongly advise you to find an alternative.

Overall: 2/10.  The chips do get some marks because of value (a full-sized bag goes for under $2), and the chips are absolutely smothered in cheese powder, but those are about the only positives I can even dig up.  If the scent doesn’t turn you off, the flavor will, which tastes pretty much as you’d expect from potato chips made in a factory; there’s nary the taste of sour cream to be found, and the chip itself tastes more like a cracker.  One of the few Aldi products I can say with utter certainty that I will never buy again, so I highly recommend you look elsewhere, too.

Specially Selected Gouda Cheese Bites (Aldi)

A tasty alternative to standard potato chips.
The “Specially Selected” line seems to be Aldi’s “premium” collection, so I tend to jump at the chance to try the items that are, shall we say, cheaper.  Honestly, I’m not really sure how much these were, as they were unmarked (and I’ve since tossed the receipt), but they looked pretty cheap, and that was good enough for me.

These Gouda cheese bites are light, fluffy potato crisps that are cutely made to resemble Swiss cheese, which is kind of weird if you think about it, because these have nothing to do with Swiss cheese.  Still, I somehow liked the unnecessary touch.  They get their Gouda flavor through the use of “Gouda cheese powder”, according to the ingredients (one of three powders, including just straight-up “cheese powder” and “butter powder” that are also listed).

Let me be honest here: I have no idea what Gouda cheese tastes like.  But if it tastes like these chips/crackers, I could probably learn to like it.  The flavor in these crisps starts off heading for “white cheddar” territory, then somehow veers off before it gets too strong, ending with a creamy, buttery flavor that’s actually kind of addicting.  The light texture doesn’t make you feel like you’re eating greasy potato chips (which you’re not), while the aforementioned lighter taste makes it come across as something that’s almost…healthy (which it's not).

As I said, these are pretty addicting, so it’s easy to eat more than you plan to.  I found myself eating one of these cracker/chip hybrids every few seconds for a few minutes one day when I was bored, so keep yourself entertained while you eat them to prevent overeating.  This isn’t a snack that I could keep around the house all the time, but seeing as how this is a once-or-twice-annually Special Buy from Aldi, that means it’s really not an option anyway.  This is something I could definitely see myself getting again.

Overall: 7.5/10.  A nice, light texture and a creamy cheese flavor combine to make this pretty delicious and surprisingly addictive snack.  A quick search on the ‘Net has also revealed these things are only $1.49 per 4.4 oz. package, which makes them even more enticing.  If you stumble on them, and are in the mood for something a little different, I would definitely suggest you check them out.  Chances are, you won’t want them around all the time, but seeing as how they’re only available a couple times a year from Aldi, that will give you plenty of time to build up your next craving!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Crane Sports Men's Cycling Shirt (Aldi)

Ignore the pajama bottoms.  We're focusing on the shirt here.

Let me preface this review by saying that I am neither a cyclist, nor an outdoorsman.  In fact, I’m about as far from it as you can possibly be.  So then what business do I have buying compression and cycling shirts?  Well, I do play hockey, recreationally.  Quite a bit of it.  I played three years of roller hockey, year-round, as often as four nights a week, and made the jump to ice almost two years ago.  I wanted some Under Armour-ish undershirts, but couldn’t nearly justify spending Under Armour-ish prices…both because I couldn’t really afford them, and because I knew there had to be cheaper alternatives. 

So, on a trip to Aldi around the summer of 2009, I picked up a short-sleeve cycling shirt from Crane Sports, for about $5, with the sole intent of using it as an undershirt for my goalie gear during the warmer Ohio months.  All I can say about it, is that it is absolutely fantastic, and well worth the price.

Again, I want to reiterate that I have no idea how well it performs for cycling, so for all I know, they may suck for their intended usage (though I‘m sure they‘d be just fine).  But my short sleeve shirt has been washed and thrown on underneath a heavy chest protector, what has to be over a hundred times now, and not a single stitch is out of place.  In fact, the only problem up to this point, which again, has no bearings on my use of it, is that the reflectors on the back have all just about fallen off.  I’m not sure if most of it was because they were rubbed off, or just from the repeated washings, but the process probably started a few months after I bought it.  The shirt itself is incredibly lightweight, and does a great job of keeping me fairly dry underneath all the gear, even during really hot days.  This was an investment that has paid off in spades.

To top it all off, it’s very lightweight and comfortable, so I don’t feel like I’m fighting it while I’m playing.  Just to test it out, I even opted to play a couple games without an undershirt at all, thinking that would make me cooler and/or lighter, but I actually noticed I just got hotter a lot quicker.  In other words, it really does do a great job of wicking the sweat away from the body, which in turn helps you feel a lot cooler, even while you're staying active.

If you happen to stumble on these things at your local Aldi, as they tend to come up around springtime, do yourself a favor and buy one.  Or two.  My biggest concern when I bought them was just how long a $5 shirt could possibly last, especially when the name brands can be almost ten times as much.  But that was four years ago, and while I’ve cut back to just one night of ice hockey a week, and also bought a couple more similar shirts to take some of the pressure off using this one all the time, it’s still in constant rotation and is hands-down my favorite such shirt. 

Overall: 10/10.  While I do not use the shirt for outdoor sports, it has performed very well as undergarments to my ice and roller hockey gear.  Even after dozens of washings and just as many uses, there is not a stitch out of place, and though I‘ve added cheaper undershirts since then (think Goodwill), it is still a consistent part of my undershirt rotation.  The price may suggest a lower-quality item, made to only last a season or two, but in my experiences, they are every bit as reliable as the bigger name brands, only at a fraction of the cost, making it an outstanding value for the price.  Highly recommended.

Circuit Slim Jewel Cases (Dollar Tree)

Underneath that packaging, there's probably five broken jewel cases.
I feel like I’ve been giving Dollar Tree the shaft.  Even though I love the place, most of the few reviews I’ve posted about them have been overwhelmingly negative…so I guess the old adage that people are more apt to write about a bad experience than a good one is true.  So I’ll make a note to myself to start reviewing more positive products from the Tree.

However, in the meantime, here’s another negative review, because these slim jewel cases are absolute crap to the point that they should immediately be taken off the shelves because they serve no justifiable purpose whatsoever.  If they don’t all break as you’re ripping off the cellophane wrapper, then they’ll just break the moment you open them.  Seriously.  Out of the first five I purchased, all but one ripped in half the first time I opened them, and I even made sure to open them gently.  I know that even standard jewel cases fall apart some times, and it’s just a matter of setting it back on its plastic hinge, but that’s the problem--it’s the hinge that rips off, with little to no force required at all.

I honestly can’t think of a reason why you should even buy these.  I bought a few because I’m burning some DVDs for a friend, and I didn’t have an extra spindle handy, nor did I want to just give them a handful of unprotected discs.  I guess they will at least manage to protect the bottom from scratches, so that’s a plus, but I have a feeling most won’t even make it to their intended recipient with a top cover.  It’s a shame, because if these were even halfway decent, they would have been a good value.  As it stands, if you really need a slim jewel case, go to your local big-box office retailer, and just purchase their store brand.  Or if you have some time to kill, just look for similar products on Amazon or eBay.  I’ve seen high-rated cases go for about the same price per piece.  Shipping will hike it up a bit, but at least you’ll be paying for something that you can actually use.

Overall: 0/10.  A terrible, terrible product.  A vast majority of these fall apart after being opened for the first time, making them pretty much useless, unless you never plan on opening them.  So bad, they should immediately be pulled off the shelf.

NOTE: Since this review, they now offer these in 4-counts instead of five.  While I suppose they could have removed one to make a higher quality product (as it's now 25 cents per piece instead of 20), I just have a feeling their costs went up so they removed one to maintain the dollar price point.  If anyone checks out the four counts and has anything positive to say, please let me know.  I know I won't be taking the chance again.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Specially Selected Strawberry Cheesecake Dessert Cheese Bites (Aldi)

They aren't lying...these things do kinda bite.
I’m still not really sure what to make out of these things.  When we purchased them, we expected a bite of strawberry cheesecake rolled up in crushed graham cracker bits, which sounded delicious.  Instead, it’s a bite that almost resembles cheesecake, but at its peak another flavor interferes that tastes just like…butter.  Sure enough, “butter cheese” is second only to “cream cheese” on the ingredients list, which definitely makes some sense.

As I admit I’m not really into cheeses, a quick internet search has revealed that “butter cheese” is a slight variation of a cheese known as “butterkase” (which translates, literally, to “butter cheese“), a soft cheese generally made in Germany and Austria.  The American version is often made by the Amish, and is prevalent in the Midwest, namely Ohio, Illinois, and Indiana.  It gets its name because, even though it contains no butter, it tastes very similarly to the dairy product.  Hmm…fascinating.  Since Aldi is a German company, I’m assuming it probably uses the “butterkase” variety, though I guess it would also make sense if they used an American supplier for their U.S. stores.

Wherever the cheese comes from, it seems to be the overwhelming flavor in this dessert, to the point that it’s very hard to detect a taste of strawberry at all (though you can smell it somewhere in there).  While the inside is rich and creamy, the graham cracker pieces the “cheesecake” is rolled in have a similar consistency to Rice Krispies that have been left to sit out for a day…that is to say, they are very soggy.  The main problem with this is the graham cracker adds so little to the overall flavor that their off-putting texture becomes more of a hindrance than a help.

If you are a huge fan of cheeses, you may enjoy this product a lot more than me (although I will say that my wife is a pretty big fan, and hated these way more than I did).  Or you may appreciate them more if you understand what you’re getting--and as the problem for us was, what you‘re not--as we just picked these up spur-of-the-moment expecting a delectably-sweet cheesecake treat.  As the title suggests, the focal point is the cheese, rather than the “cake”, so while there’s definitely some sweetness in the bite, it probably won’t be enough to satisfy a full-on sweet tooth. 

Overall: 5/10.  As the title suggests, this is cheese as a dessert, so don’t go in expecting something that‘s going to satisfy a craving for something really sweet.  You can pick out the taste of cheesecake, but there’s an even stronger taste of butter that ends up overpowering this small bite, while the strawberry is nowhere to be found.  Might be worth a shot if you are in the mood for something different, but not recommended if you’re in the mood for something that strongly resembles actual cheesecake.

Clancy's Wavy Potato Chips (Aldi)

A stock photo of Clancy's Wavy Potato Chips.
Can we talk about the price of potato chips for a second?  I don’t know how something made largely of potatoes, something I can buy in multi-pound bags for under $5, can be so damn expensive.  Adding insult to injury are the bags, which seem to just be puffed full of air to give the illusion that you are getting more than you are actually getting.

Enter Clancy’s Wavy Potato Chips from Aldi, which are just what they sound like.  The chips have a satisfactory crunch, a delicious potato flavor, and consist of only three ingredients: potatoes, sunflower oil, and salt.  But best of all?  They’ll only set you back $1.29 for a 10.5 oz. bag.  You usually can’t even find name brand chips for that price on sale!

There is one drawback, though it’s one that seems to effect most chips:  They are pretty darn salty.  You may not notice it if you just pop a few in your mouth as a snack, but the more you eat, the more the taste becomes apparent.  I’m kind of surprised they don’t offer these in a lower-sodium version, as I feel cutting back on the sodium would not only lead to a healthier snack, but also a tastier one.

You can believe what you want about “private labels”, and discount grocers like Aldi, and their inferiority in product quality compared to similar products found in supermarkets, and I definitely agree that there are some national brands that are so good, they cannot be touched.  However with that comes brands, and products, that are marked-up simply because the public purchases them for inflated prices without problem.  Potato chips are one of those categories, and places like Aldi prove you don’t have to pay an arm and a leg just to get a satisfying snack.

Overall: 8/10.  These chips deliver in spades in value and flavor, proving you don’t have to pay inflated prices for some dried, salted potatoes in an over inflated bag, as a 10.5 oz. package is only $1.29.  However, these chips are still pretty salty, something that becomes more and more evident as the snacking session goes on.  They are excellent for dipping, especially in Aldi’s own ranch dip, which I previously reviewed.  If these were to be offered in a reduced-sodium version, I honestly feel this would be pretty close to the perfect chip.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Fusia Mandarin Orange Chicken Frozen Entree (Aldi)

Another solid "take-out" quality frozen entree from Aldi.

I probably shouldn’t have to tell you this, given the focus of my blog has “budget food” in the title, but I’m all about quick and cheap.  I do not cook, so on nights when my wife is out at the gym, or hanging out with friends, I need something that I can just toss in the oven and be done with.  Thankfully, Aldi has an entire line of frozen Asian cuisine (under the brand name "Fusia") that is generally pretty good.  These range from single serve meals (like Sweet and Sour Chicken), to egg rolls, crab Rangoon, wontons, and just about everything in between.

So on my latest trip to Aldi, I decided to try something I’ve never had before…orange chicken.  And when I say I’ve never had it before, I mean it quite literally--not only have I never tried Aldi’s version, but I’ve never even tried the dish at an actual Chinese restaurant, so just this whole idea is rather new to me.

Unlike some of Aldi’s other Asian-style offerings, all that comes in the bag is the chicken (and quite a bit of it) and two large packets of sauce--rice is not included.  While it should be relatively obvious from looking at the package, I mention it because other similar entrees in the Fusia line come complete with rice, so you’ll need to pick some up or make sure you have some on hand for this one.  Cooking it is so simple even I can do it…simply thaw out the sauce in hot water, put the chicken in the oven, microwave a little instant rice, and you’re set.

The first thing I noticed is that the chicken is surprisingly crunchy, courtesy of its tasty outer breading.  I definitely was not expecting that from a frozen dinner.  As for the chicken…well, let’s just say that it looks and tastes like chicken, something I can’t even say for some Chinese restaurants I’ve eaten at.  All joking aside, it’s actually pretty good.  Again, it’s definitely nothing premium, but it’s comparable to, and in my opinion even a little better than, mall food court Chinese, or places like Panda Express.  And considering the good amount of chicken you get in the package (I believe the packaging says that it serves four, but if you eat like I do, you’re not going to get more than two lunch-size portions out of it), it’s definitely cheaper than eating out.

But my favorite part is the sauce.  I was a little nervous to see the role that orange would play in it, expecting it to possibly be even bitter.  Instead, think sweet and sour with a light, but noticeable, undercurrent of orange, and you’re on the right track.  Making it even better is the fact it has a nice kick of spice that wakes up the taste buds, but that’s light enough that even those that aren’t tolerant to a lot of heat in their foods, shouldn’t have a problem with it. 

Overall: 7/10.  While it’s not going to be confused for anything above carryout or “express” Chinese, it will definitely satisfy your craving, and is very quick and easy to prepare.  The chicken is surprisingly crispy with good flavor, while the sauce, which tastes like a mix of sweet and sour with a dash of orange, steals the show.  You really get a good amount of food for the price (which is currently $4.99 here in Ohio)…I was able to get two satisfying, lunch-size portions out of it that were filling, but not overly so.  Just be sure to get some rice to go along with it, as it does not come with any.  But even with the added rice, it comes out to less than $3 a serving, which isn’t bad.  Recommended.

Fusia Beef with Broccoli Frozen Entree (Aldi)

The very definition of "meh".

Where I live, we have a lot of average (and below) Chinese food restaurants.  Our go-to one, which I had been going to for the last decade, recently changed owners and the good food went with it, which has really left a little void in our lives.  And it’s a void I’m trying to fill with Fusia’s Beef with Broccoli frozen meal, which is a special buy at Aldi (in fact, by the time I finally get around to posting this, it will probably be gone already).

The one thing I use to gauge a Chinese food restaurant is its beef.  At cheaper Asian restaurants it is often soft and chewy, doesn't really even look like beef, and the taste can run the gamut from “something resembling beef”, to “something that doesn’t even come close to resembling beef”, which is probably how the cliché about runaway dogs and cats ending up in Chinese food has come about.

The beef in Fusia’s frozen meal is pretty much a perfect example of the whole questionable beef thing:  The cuts of “meat” here more closely resemble meat-colored sponge, than anything approaching the actual stuff.  It’s an almost sickly-looking light brown hue that had me scrambling for the bag to see what it was called in the ingredients.  Surprisingly, “beef”.  Sound unappetizing?  It is.  Taste-wise, it’s a little bit closer to what you’re expecting, though it won’t be confused for anything short of take-out as it‘s disturbingly chewy and very unmemorable.

Mystery meat aside, the rest of the meal isn’t too bad.  One thing I love about the Fusia line is they generally include two bags of sauce with their meals, which really puts you in control of how you want to use them, and the Beef with Broccoli is no different.  This sounds a little corny, but most frozen dinners I’ve had really skimp in this department, so it’s great to have the option to put in a lot, a little, or to save the extra bag for the leftovers.  Here, the sauce isn’t anywhere near as good as it is in the Sweet and Sour or General Tso’s offerings, but it’s definitely edible.  It’s just a middle-of-the-road, generic brown sauce that thankfully at least doesn’t taste too salty.  Meanwhile (read: sadly), the broccoli becomes the star of the show, as it’s pretty well-cooked and, while it doesn’t taste fresh, at least looks and tastes like broccoli.

It’s lucky I was starved, or half of it would have probably ended up in the trash can.

Overall: 3.5/10.  Aldi’s Fusia line, which specializes in Asian cuisine, usually ends up being really good for what it is (frozen Chinese), but this is the first entrée I’ve had that has truly disappointed.  The sauce is decent, you get a lot of it, and the broccoli is good, but the sickly-looking, spongy-textured meat is definitely a huge misstep.  At $4.99, and not including rice, we can’t even talk value, as chances are you live near a take-out Chinese place serving rubbish like this for just a couple dollars more.  While it rises above being truly inedible (slightly), it’s still not a pleasant experience.  My advice to you:  Stay far away from this one.  Even within the realm of budget frozen foods, you can do a lot better than this.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

American Breakfast's Fruiti Rings Cereal (Dollar Tree)

Want something with better flavor? Throw some sand in a bowl and mix it with milk.
I am not a picky eater, but I am pretty picky about my cereals, and the brands at Dollar Tree have never really piqued my interest.  Most of the boxes just look rather simple and depressing, following the typical color schemes present in the national brands, but not having enough money to really dress it up any further than that.  But I really wanted to give Dollar Tree’s own cereal brands a fair shake; who knows, maybe it would turn out to be a diamond in the rough.  So even though there were plenty of small bags of Malt-O-Meal for sale (which just may be the best cereal company out there), I decided to go for a box of American Breakfast’s Fruiti Rings cereal.

Based on looks, American Breakfast really has this thing down.  The rings are full of color, and just like the national brand, vary slightly in size.  Surprisingly, it’s a very welcome sight.  Even the colors pop like they should, making it look very delicious.  Now, they maybe don’t look as well-sugared as most brands, but hey, I’m willing to forgive them a little bit at this point.  After a pretty solid first impression, I have to give them some pretty solid marks for appearance.

Now on to the smell:  Nothing but cardboard.  Can’t really even smell the cereal as it’s sitting in the box, which is a little depressing, as I was hoping at least the gentle scent of incredibly artificial fruit.  I poured the cereal into the bowl, took another whiff…and again, not much.  Granted, my sense of smell is not very good, but I had to virtually put my nose into the bowl just to get any kind of smell, and even then it was weak, and nowhere near inviting.

After dousing it in lots of milk, I took a bite…and discovered that it pretty much lives up to the smell.  There’s an ever so faint taste of sweetness somewhere in there, but for the most part it tastes like they either forgot to add sugar, or ran out of it the day they made this box.  I don’t know if I would go so far as to say the taste is “offensive”, as I did finish the bowl with very little problems (though it wasn‘t enjoyable), but no kid would possibly ever confuse this for a box of the “real” stuff, nor would I ever get it again.  It’s just way too bland, especially for a cereal that’s supposed to be very sweet, and you‘ll find yourself crunching on tasteless corn chunks for most of your eating time. 

Unfortunately, even for those on a budget, I cannot recommend American Breakfast’s Fruiti Rings.  If you really do need to pinch every single penny, I would suggest picking up a box (or bag) of Malt-O-Meal cereals, which are frequently available at Dollar Tree stores.  Even though the box may be a bit smaller, Malt-O-Meal does provide a good ratio of flavor to value that is very tough to beat.  Aldi also carries some very good cereal options (including a much better knockoff of this cereal), though it will cost you about three extra quarters.  Do yourself a favor and stay away from this one.

Overall: 3/10.  Though it gets high marks for appearance, American Breakfast’s Fruiti Rings cereal fails where it counts most:  taste.  Barely sweet, it will not be confused by anyone for even being a solid knockoff of the national brand, and it also leaves a rather gross aftertaste in the mouth long after its been eaten.  I did finish a bowl with relative ease (at least this cereal is simply bland, rather than flat-out bitter or disgusting), but I seriously question as to why I’d even want to finish the rest of the box.  Even within the walls of a Dollar Tree, there are much better cereals out there (see: Malt-O-Meal).  Or for a little less than a dollar more, you can end up with a decent store or private label brand elsewhere (like Aldi).

Breckenridge Farms' Scrambled Eggs, Hash Browns, and Sausage Frozen Breakfast Platter (Dollar Tree)

Available in Dollar Tree freezers everywhere.
Seeing as how I have to be at work at 6 in the morning, and never get up in enough time to actually pack my lunch, anything I bring has to be made quick, as we only have twenty minutes to eat during our break time (the hour long lunch is reserved for a nap).  So while I generally just bring a whole loaf of bread to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on the fly, sometimes I get sick of the same ol’ same ol’ and want to mix things up a bit.

Which is why, sadly, I’m almost a connoisseur of frozen breakfasts.  But one place that I haven’t really delved into was Dollar Tree, which offer a couple varieties of typical American breakfasts, including French toast, pancakes, and this one, all in frozen single-serve portions (assuming your local Tree has a cooler section, that is).  The reason I opted for the scrambled eggs, and not either of the other two is pretty simple:  You can’t even get this one at Aldi for a buck, making this a very budget-friendly choice.  Well, assuming it tastes good.

For those unfamiliar, the setup of Breckenridge Farms’ Scrambled Egg breakfast is simple, and exactly the same as other brands:  You get two small sausage links, a decent sized hash brown patty, and some scrambled eggs, all tossed into the same carton and unseparated from one another.  To prepare it, you simply toss it in the microwave for 2-3 minutes, let it cool off, and you’ve got an instant breakfast.  Preparation wise, it’s simple enough.

The eggs, which are the overwhelming scent, smell like real eggs, which can be a huge accomplishment in a dollar-store breakfast, and make the platter seem rather inviting.  The hash browns just lay there, soggy, as the microwave never allows them to crisp up, which is kind of a bummer, but this is the same across all brands.  The smell of the hash brown seems to be slightly off from what you would expect, but it’s not repulsive.  The sausage links looks and smells just like a typical link that you would get anywhere.  Now for the tastes.

The eggs taste just like eggs, and as can probably be assumed, are rather greasy.  In fact, everything in the container is rather greasy, which accounts for its whopping 126% daily cholesterol content.  I think something so ridiculously unhealthy should be outlawed, but I guess in moderation it can be okay, and it obviously hasn’t stopped me from eating them several times (though only occasionally) over the course of the last few years.  The main drawback is the hash brown…just as its appearance is almost sickly, its pretty dry and doesn’t taste as good as I was expecting, but it’s more than edible, and works pretty well if you mix it with the other flavors.  The sausage, which is actually the weakest “link” (horrible pun sadly intended) in the national brand, with a terrible off-putting flavor that doesn’t even come anywhere close to actual sausage, is rather spot-on right here.

Though I’m hesitant to try most of Dollar Tree’s other food items, thanks to their terribly disgusting packaging, I must say that Breckenridge Farm’s Scrambled Egg breakfast provides good taste with some rather solid value.  Not even at Aldi can you get this variety of breakfast for a dollar, making this the cheapest option.  Just beware the excessive cholesterol content.

Overall: 7/10.  There’s nothing gourmet about it, but Breckenridge Farm’s Scrambled Egg breakfast not only holds its own against the national brand, but surpasses it, thanks to sausage links that actually taste like sausage.  Though the hash brown patty doesn’t taste great on its own, and could benefit greatly from being crispy, instead of the lifeless sickly-looking thing it ends up in the microwave, it’s fine if you mix it with bites of the other flavors.  The scrambled eggs are pretty thick, and delicious.  Its main drawback is the excessive grease and cholesterol content…one package takes up 126% of your daily recommended cholesterol intake, so proceed with caution.  But there’s no denying its value, as a package of a similar product at Aldi (which tastes almost exactly the same), is twenty cents more expensive, and the national brand is pushing $1.50.  Definitely recommended if you’re into this sort of thing.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Home Collection 70"x72" Vinyl Shower Curtains (Dollar Tree)

You get what you pay for...
I was surprised to see that Dollar Tree carried these, as I would have thought the size alone would have required more than a dollar’s worth of materials, but I guess I was wrong!

This is one of the many things at “The Tree” where you get what you pay for, and that is not necessarily a bad thing (at least in this case).  For a dollar, do you really expect to get a rugged shower liner that can withstand pulling and tugging?  If so, you’re exactly the kind of person that should never shop there.  Obviously, these things are pretty fragile, and aren’t meant to put up with a lot of resistance or wear and tear.  As should be expected for the price, the rings are not enforced with metal, so it doesn’t take much to rip it, and any kind of tear is going to spread rapidly.  So if you have children, or are pretty hard on your shower curtains, I probably wouldn’t even waste the money on this.  But for households like mine (which is just made up of the wife and me), or especially if you’re just going to use it in a spare bathroom, or one that doesn’t see much traffic, then this should definitely be worth the cost.

I’ll admit we hung onto this thing way longer than we should have, as it was falling apart a long time ago, but I’d say we got a good four-to-six months of solid life out of it before it started to crap out.  That means a rate of about $2 per year, which doesn’t seem like a bad investment to me.  Sure, we could get a more expensive one that could be washed and kept for several years, but those generally cost at least $10, and there’s no guarantee they will last that long.

Overall: 6.5/10.  You get what you pay for, which in this case is a dollar vinyl shower curtain liner.  So it’s not going to be tear resistant, or made to withstand rugged abuse, so if you have a house full of children (or rowdy adults), then this will not be for you.  But for a smaller family, or especially a guest bathroom, this is a nice, cheap alternative that with proper care should get you a few months of solid use.  Recommended.  At a dollar, you might as well give it a shot to see if it’s right for your household.

Mister Plumber Drain Opener (Dollar Tree)

If you're not using this, you're paying too much.

I was skeptical using Mr. Plumber for the first time a while back to treat a tough clog.  But like everything else in Dollar Tree, I justified it with a simple, “Well if it sucks, it was only a dollar,” which come to think of it, should actually be their motto.  (I can only imagine the number of times per day people use that as a reasoning to try one of their products, but I digress.)  I mean, all the major brands cost upwards of three-to-four times as much, and those prices seem to keep steadily rising, so how was this going to compete?

Well let me tell you, this is one of those Dollar Tree staples; a product that works so well, you can just toss the national brands out the window, and never use them again.  It’s one of those excellent products that keeps Dollar Tree on the map, and helps give them the reputation of offering quality products.  To put it plainly, this stuff is phenomenal.  The only time it ever failed me?  Well guess what, so did the national brand.  Turns out the clog was so tight and fierce, that it required a human plumber.  Other than that one time, this stuff has bailed me out of everything.

Directions are the same as pretty much any drain opener:  Slowly pour in a half-bottle, wait at least fifteen minutes, then run hot water.  Voila, that’s it.  Repeat those simple directions if necessary.  But I can’t recall a time I’ve ever needed to use more than one bottle.  In fact, the times I’ve had to even use more than half are few and far between.  Nevertheless, this is one of those products I make sure to have on hand at just about any given time.  You can spend more for the “pipe snake”, or “drain monster”, or whatever gimmick the big companies dream up next, but honestly, I have not found that they work any better. 

I will say that I cannot find any indication that this stuff works in standing water situations, so you may need to look elsewhere if your drain is completely stopped.  But the good news?  Even if it doesn’t work, just like the national brands, your satisfaction is guaranteed, so you can get your whole dollar back, you penny-pinching fool.  So besides negating my great motto idea, it means you really don’t have a reason not to try it!  This stuff really works.  I’ll stake my nonexistent reputation on it!

Overall: 10/10.  The only drain opener you’ll ever need…unless it’s standing water, in which case the jury is still out.  But in all my years of using this product, I’ve never had to use more than one bottle, and that’s including situations where I’ve been ankle-deep in my own filthy water after a five-minute shower.  In fact, more often than not, all it takes is a half-bottle.  But best-of-all, besides the measly $1 price tag, is the fact that your satisfaction is still guaranteed, so if it doesn’t work, you can get your dollar back!  It’s a guarantee that most of Dollar Tree’s products should carry…