Monday, March 31, 2014

Bremer Fettuccine Alfredo Frozen TV Dinner (Aldi)

RED FLAG: When "Made with real Half & Half" is a main selling point.
There was a time, several years ago, when I was a bachelor, that I virtually lived off of TV dinners.  They were cheap, they were quick and easy to prepare, and there was just the right amount of fat, cholesterol, and processed additives in them to make them surprisingly tasty.

Thankfully, my days of relying on them as a main source of nutrients are long gone, but I’m not against grabbing some every now and again.  Not so I can relive my glorious bachelor days, but simply because they make a good snack (What can I say?  I’m a health nut!), or a good dinner substitute in case my wife doesn’t feel like cooking, or we both get too lazy and there’s no food in the house.

It is with this mindset that I purchased a couple Bremer Fettucine Alfredo frozen dinners from a recent trip to Aldi.  After all, the national brands that I had years ago where rich, creamy and really pretty good, so I figured that Bremer’s version would have no problems stacking up to those memories.  I was wrong.

First of all, there didn’t seem to be a whole lot of sauce.  In the past, I remembered having way too much, and here you get a small puddle that might be enough to lightly coat your entire serving of noodles, but certainly not enough to drown them in.  I mean let’s be real here:  These things exist in a world where words like ‘healthy’ and ‘nutritious’ have no value, so I at least expect enough alfredo sauce to make me die a happy man should I suddenly collapse of a heart attack in mid-meal.

But then again, this thought process took place before I actually tried the sauce…one bite in and not only was I wishing there was less, but I was wondering where Bremer, and by extension Aldi, could go so terribly wrong.  The main taste in the sauce is…salt.  Salt.  Out of all the unhealthy yet delicious ingredients in a typical alfredo sauce (heavy cream, butter…parmesan cheese for God’s sake!), and they have to overload it with something that’s not even in a typical fettuccine alfredo recipe.  Give me a break.

While we’re complaining about things, I would also like to direct your attention to the front package, which proudly exclaims “Made with real half and half!”  Well, that right there explains why this sauce is nowhere near as rich and creamy as it should be, and maybe why massive amounts of salt is needed to give it any type of flavor.  It’s also a perfect example of what irks me with packaging nowadays, where products feel the need to tout the only real ingredient in the entire thing.  Even if it is something as pointless and underwhelming as half-and-half.

Overall: 3.5/10.  While it’s not THAT offensively terrible, I will admit that I had some relatively high hopes for Bremer’s Fettuccine Alfredo, and it didn’t even come close to matching them, let alone exceeding them.  So my ensuing disappointment has been factored into the score.  Some good-looking egg noodles are destroyed by an overly salty (?) alfredo sauce that’s proudly “made with real half and half”, as the box hilariously declares.  Seriously, let’s focus on that for another second.  You really want to mention that instead of heavy cream, your terrible sauce was made with a coffee creamer?  Anyway, I ate it because I was hungry, but it was nowhere near satisfying.  This is one of the rare times I’ll say avoid this stuff and go with any national brand.  They’re also usually on sale for a few nickels cheaper anyway.

Bremer Frozen Fettuccine Alfredo (Bagged)

BREMER FROZEN FETTUCCINE ALFREDO (BAGGED)

(sadly, no picture available)

Fettuccine alfredo has, and probably always will be, one of my favorite foods.  The heavy cream sauce, the thin noodles, the feeling that you can drop dead at any time from all the cholesterol…mmmmmm, just a match made in heaven!

Of course frozen entrees can never match the ‘real’ thing, and Bremer’s attempt at alfredo is certainly no different.  The most notable surprise for me are the noodles, which go for a thicker, home-made style, rather than the thin fettuccine noodles that I’m used to.  While these noodles are much thicker, and somehow make the meal feel heartier, they totally negate my preferred method of eating by spinning them around on the fork, which kind of depressed me a lot more than it should have.

The sauce is more or less what you would expect from a frozen meal, and my wife summed it up almost perfectly by referring to the taste as “garlic milk”, something it also resembled as it was super-thin, even after sitting for a while (but I’m going to chalk that up as a mistake during the cooking process and give the fine folks at Bremer the benefit of the doubt).  There is definitely some garlic in there, and it has a slight hint of richness in it, but it almost seems as if heavy cream was substituted for skim milk…the usual ‘punch’ of a really good sauce is nowhere to be found.  I also detected no parmesan.

I also take umbrage to the serving sizes, which (no offense to anyone) always seem to be aimed at dieting women.  The bag boasts four servings, which for $5 isn’t bad at all.  Except that as a growing young man, I only got two servings out of it.  $2.50 per serving still isn’t bad, and is way cheaper than you will pay at a restaurant, but I just thought I should mention that you might not be getting as much as you think you are.

That’s not to say any of these quibbles are surprising--they’re more or less exactly what I was expecting as I picked it out of the frozen case at my local Aldi store.  It’s not bad, nor is it anything to write home about; it’s fettuccine alfredo made safe for the majority, like every other mass-produced, heavily-processed food out there.  If you’re looking to throw together a quick meal for a decent price, this could definitely be an option for you.

Overall: 5/10.  I wasn’t a big fan of the “home-made” style thick noodles, which aren’t as conducive to twirling them around a fork like the thinner fettuccine noodles.  The sauce is just typical pedestrian stuff, a thin blend of garlic and cream that, like many frozen foods, strives only to appeal to the masses.  There’s nothing to write home about here, and nothing that stands out, but if you’re just looking for a quick meal to whip up, this could be for you.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Nature's Nectar Peach Orange Mango 100% Juice (Aldi)

Not quite as good as the Pineapple Orange Banana varietal, but a tasty juice in its own right.
I am not really a fan of mango.  I had the fruit once, and that was enough to know I would be fine if I never tried it again.  Yet for some reason, I don’t mind mango when it’s an ingredient in certain things, especially juices.  I’m not exactly sure how that works, but that’s how it works.

Well enough about my random mango intro.  I didn’t mince words in my review of Nature’s Nectar’s Pineapple Orange Banana drink, calling it ‘my favorite of all Nature’s Nectar juices’.  Like that one, their Peach Orange Mango is also a Special Buy, which means that it is only available for a limited time throughout the year, and while I can’t say this did as much for me as the Pineapple Orange Banana, it’s still a very fine addition to the Nature’s Nectar juice line.

Much like POB, POM is also made up of 100% juices with no sugar added, which definitely gives it a very fresh, authentic taste (though there are a few other added juices beyond the three titular stars, such as apple, grape, and pineapple that are used to round out the flavor).  But for those that might have been off-put by the sweetness of the Pineapple Orange Banana, this version puts orange a little higher up the ingredients list, meaning this juice is much more tart than sweet.  This probably helps to explain why they are generally offered during the same Special Buy cycles, as each one covers a different palate and focuses on the different tastes of the consumer.

Despite the name, which puts peach in the front, it definitely seems to have a much stronger orange flavor, with the remaining fruits revealing themselves later.  Even though I would say it’s fairly well balanced, I didn’t find it as smooth as the Pineapple, as with the orange comes the extra acidity, as well.  However, the mango and peach do their best to soften out the orange with their respective sweetness, and the end result is a very drinkable juice beverage that, if it weren’t for the Pineapple, I would definitely get a lot more often.

Overall: 7.5/10.  Though, in my humble opinion, not quite as smooth or well-balanced as their Pineapple Orange Banana juice, Nature’s Nectar’s Peach Orange Mango juice is an excellent addition to their line, and one I would definitely recommend.  The orange seems to take center stage here, but the peach and mango are still noticeable, edging out the tartness with their respective sweetness.  Unfortunately, this is only available occasionally as a Special Buy, but would make a very refreshing beverage come spring or summer.

Nature's Nectar Orange Pineapple Banana 100% Juice (Aldi)

NATURE’S NECTAR ORANGE PINEAPPLE BANANA JUICE
Dee-licious.

A word for the wise for those that may be new to Aldi:  Their Nature’s Nectar brand juices are always good and provide serious bang for your buck, often tasting very similar to the national brands but for a fraction of the cost.  Thankfully many of them, like their fantastic V8 knockoffs (Blendz, which knock off V8 Fusion, and Splash, which, not ironically, are similar products to V8 Splash) are available year-round, along with the typical suspects (apple, orange, grape, etc.)

Unfortunately, their best offering, the ne plus ultra of Aldi juices; a ridiculously delicious concoction of pineapple, orange, and apple juices, along with banana puree,  is only available occasionally as a special buy.  Like the national brand on which this is based (it’s even in a very similar container), Aldi’s version of Pineapple Orange Banana juice is made up of 100% juice, and it’s evident from the first sip; every single one of its flavors is evident from the moment it hits your tongue; the tartness of the orange gives way to the sweetness of the pineapple, and the entire thing is finished off with the perfect dose of banana that brings the level of sweetness down a notch or two.

I must confess that this is probably not a drink for everyone:  While, in my opinion, the banana and the orange do a great job of neutralizing the very sweet pineapple, I could still see it being way too sweet for those opposed to such drinks (though in the interest of full disclosure, I should also mention my wife, who generally is opposed to my super-sweet drinks, still ended up liking this a great deal, to the surprise of both of us).  I did think the sugar content was kind of high (25g per 8 oz. serving), but when you’re mixing the juice of several different fruits, that is probably unavoidable (the package does claim there is no added sugar).

This is a beverage that deserves a permanent spot on Aldi shelves, at least during the spring and summer seasons; the fact that it has been a Special Buy twice in consecutive months (January and February 2014) might be a hint that they are looking into doing just that.  It’s a very refreshing drink that stands among the best of what Nature’s Nectar has to offer.  If you ever stumble on it at your local Aldi store, you should definitely pick it up and give it a try!

Overall: 10/10.  My favorite of all Nature’s Nectar juices, which is saying quite a lot as I have never been disappointed with anything from that line.  The individual juice flavors are very well balanced and, in my opinion, not too sweet.  As with a lot of juice drinks, the sugar content is fairly high (25g of sugar per 8 oz serving), but that is also to be expected when you’re mixing the juice of several fruits.  Overall, if you have even a passing interest in any of the three fruits featured in this drink, there should really be no reason not to give it a try.  The only downside:  Get it before it’s gone, because it’s a limited-time Special Buy that deserves a permanent place on Aldi shelves.