Sunday, September 28, 2014

Millville Honey Nut Crispy Oats Cereal (Aldi)

All the box is missing is a cartoon bee.
There are just some nights when I have to have a bowl of cereal.  But since the name brands are so ridiculously overpriced (really, $4 for a box full of corn and sugar?), I’m always looking for alternate options.  Malt O’ Meal is probably my favorite secondhand cereal company, but Aldi’s own Millville line is a close second, offering knockoffs that are generally very close in quality and flavor to the national brands.

Milville’s Honey Nut Crispy Oats are no exception.  Obviously a private label take on Honey Nut Cheerios, Millville’s version offers up a delicious honey kick that is not too sweet, but not too subtle.  For some reason, the taste reminds me of caramel popcorn, but that’s probably just me, so don’t quote me on that.  It has seriously been some years since I’ve last had the name brand, so I can’t really say how it compares to them, but it has an addicting sweetness that has made it one of my main go-to cereals from Aldi.  The corn “O”s are also pretty resistant to milk, so they don’t get soggy as quick as some other cereals do.  This is a good thing, because I tend to hate soggy cereal, or at least ones that have a habit of getting that way almost immediately after you pour the milk on.

And for under $2 a box (for a 12.25 oz. size), it also provides some good value that you won’t find with the national brands, at least short of cutting a bunch of coupons, or buying thirty boxes and mailing in for a rebate.  As we all know, a good deal makes everything taste a little sweeter now, doesn’t it?

Overall: 8/10.  As stated earlier, I have not had the name brand version of this in a long time, simply because they tend to be ridiculously expensive.  Since cereal is a staple in our household (mainly just because of me), I don’t have time to wait, or look around for sales, because I always like to have some on hand, as it makes a great snack and occasional supper substitute.  Specifically, one of my main staples is Millville’s Honey Nut Crispy Oats, which is a perfect blend of sturdy corn “O”s that don’t become too soggy too quickly, a light touch of honey, and a delicious sweetness that’s always seems to hit the spot.  Even better is the fact a good-sized 12.25 oz. bag is under $2, which somehow makes it taste even better.  Whether or not you’re a fan of the national brand, I suggest you at least give these a shot.  With Aldi’s Double Guarantee, what do you possibly have to lose?

UPDATE:  I actually just accidentally bought the national brand, ironically from Aldi, earlier this year.  If anything, I felt that the name brand did have a slightly stronger honey taste, but certainly not enough for me to justify spending the extra $1+ asking price from most retailers.  I’ll stick with Millville, thank you very much.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

liveGfree Gluten Free Brownie Mix (Aldi)

You won't be able to tell these are gluten free. No joke.
When my wife announced she would be making gluten-free brownies, I wasn’t sure what to expect.  While I have enjoyed some items from Aldi’s Live G-Free line, others, like the pasta noodles, have been far less than satisfactory.  At best, I was expecting a decent chocolate flavor with a slightly-sandpaper-ish texture, while at worst I was expecting a crumbling mess of something not at all resembling a brownie, either in taste or appearance.

Right after my wife completed the creation, the first thing I noticed was how…normal it looked.  It looked exactly like a glutenous version of a brownie, and I thought maybe my best-case scenario would be far surpassed.  It even cut like a “normal” brownie, meaning the texture was pretty much spot-on as compared to a “normal” brownie.  But just because it looks like a brownie doesn’t mean it tastes like one…so how do these things taste?

Now I’m not a brownie connoisseur, but if I didn’t know in advance that this brownie was gluten-free, I never would have known.  It’s almost eerily spot-on.  Even though the texture was convincing while it was in the pan, I figured once I popped a piece in my mouth, that the fa├žade would end there, that something would be off just enough to ruin the ordeal.  But nothing like that ever occurred.  The brownie was soft, and almost melted in my mouth, the way a typical brownie does.  The chocolate flavor was surprisingly deep and authentic, which I really wasn’t expecting at all.  When it was all said and done, this was a brownie, plain and simple.

Though I haven’t tried a whole lot of the products in the Live G-Free line, I can say that this is by far my favorite one.  Everything is flawless when compared to the “real thing”, and at $2.99 per box, it’s also pretty affordable, at least as far as gluten-free products go.  I’m pretty convinced that even the most discerning child wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between this, or a gluten-filled brownie, so even parents on the diet that are afraid of subjecting their children to the sometimes “off” textures and tastes of gluten-free products shouldn’t have anything to worry about here.

Overall: 9/10.  If you don’t tell anyone these are gluten-free, no one will ever know.  This package makes a spot-on gluten-free imitation of a brownie that was absolutely delicious.  The chocolate flavor is very chocolaty and rich, while the texture is exactly what you would expect out of a delicious brownie.  At $2.99 a box, it’s also pretty darn affordable, especially as far as gluten-free products are concerned.  Whether you are on the diet, thinking about starting it, or just curious to see what a gluten-free brownie can taste like, this is a shining example of how products can be adapted for just about anyone to enjoy.

liveGfree Gluten Free Pizza Crust Mix (Aldi)

Great way to make a gluten-free pizza.
My wife just started a gluten-free diet not too long ago, and so that means I’ve kinda started one, too.  So now when she makes spaghetti, it’s with gluten-free noodles, and so on and so forth.  While even my unsophisticated palate can detect a taste difference when these items are eaten plain, thankfully, they’re generally covered with enough sauces and/or meats to hide the difference in the finished product.

But even then I must confess to being completely overwhelmed with terror when my wife brought home a box of gluten-free pizza crust mix.  I mean, think of your favorite pizza…chances are, the taste of the crust is at least part of the reason you enjoy it so much.  And since gluten-free products, at least in my opinion, generally have weaker flavors, I was not too excited to see it ruin our tasty homemade pizzas.

Each box of the mix makes two pizza crusts, which I would estimate at around 12” in diameter.  The crusts were very thin and crispy, which thankfully is a style both of us like, so I give it some points for that.  I tasted bits of the crust without anything on it, and must say that, true to form, it was relatively bland.  Really, it didn’t taste like much at all.  But it did have a great crunch and a texture consistent with “regular” pizza crust.  And considering the awful flavors that I imagined at great length while the dough was setting in the refrigerator (it must sit in the fridge for 30 minutes before use), a lack of flavor was actually very welcome in my book.

In the end, we topped it with pizza sauce, mozzarella cheese, ground sausage, onions, and topped it off with some freshly-grated parmesan, and it was seriously one of the better pizzas I’ve had in a long while, either restaurant or otherwise.  Of course, the other ingredients played a bigger role in that, as the crust’s only job is holding all the toppings, but again, the thin crust and satisfying crunch definitely added to the pizza experience.  Even when we heated up the leftovers (that we refrigerated) the next day, the crust lost none of its texture or crunch, and the pizza itself was just as good, if not better, as it was the day before.

We bought these back when gluten-free products were only available as Special Buys, so it's good to see that they have added some of these items permanently in their stores.  Gluten-free products can get very pricey, but most of them that I've tried from Aldi (pasta notwithstanding) have been affordable and pretty tasty.  Hopefully they will expand the line as the months go on.

Overall: 8/10.  While short on flavor, it does what a pizza crust is supposed to do (hold toppings) and does it well.  I also gave it high marks for texture, as it was thin and very crispy out of the oven, giving most bites a nice, satisfying crunch.  I also liked that the box contained two roughly 12” crusts, which allowed both my wife and I to make our own pizzas, and at just $2.99, I didn’t think the price was that bad at all.  In short, I would definitely scoop these up again in a heartbeat, and will definitely be less nervous when trying other items from their “liveGFree” line.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Choceur S'mores Bites (Aldi)

I’m a sucker for anything s’mores, which is an odd thing to say, considering an actual s’more is so easy to make, it makes me wonder why there’s a sudden influx of s’mores products.  Normally if I saw mini s’mores bites anywhere else, I would have taken a pass.  But once I saw these at Aldi, and saw they were in the exact same container as their heavenly peanut butter cups, and made by the exact same brand (Choceur), I knew I had to give them a shot.

As you would probably expect them to be, Choceur’s S’mores Bites are nothing more than marshmallows and a graham cracker cookie, all smothered in rich milk chocolate.  The chocolate coating was actually my favorite part…it’s creamy, melts in your mouth, and is a vast step up from the rest of the ingredients.  The marshmallow, which works in the real thing only because it’s so warm and gooey, here just tastes like a normal, bland marshmallow.  The little graham cracker cookie more or less tastes like a graham cracker cookie.  But without the warm fillings, nothing combines the way they should, and what you’re left with is a poor imitation of the real thing.

To be fair, these things are far from atrocious, and they will definitely fulfill the occasional sweet tooth.  But if you’re looking for something that might match the utter deliciousness, and creamy perfection, of the actual thing, then you’d be doing yourself a major disservice by purchasing these.

Overall: 5/10.  Though they are definitely edible (thanks mainly to the delicious, almost addicting milk chocolate coating), Choceur’s S’mores Bites are so underwhelming as a whole that, if you are buying these because you have a craving for s’mores, you might as well just buy the stuff to make s’mores.  The marshmallow, which obviously isn’t warm, is just a boring marshmallow, while the graham cracker cookie is…well, a graham cracker cookie. Aside from the chocolate, there's nothing outstanding here in the least.

Choceur Peanut Butter Cups (Aldi)

Forget everything you think you know about peanut butter cups...
When you think of “peanut butter cups”, what word comes to mind?  If that word is “Reese’s”, that’s only because you’ve never tried Choceur Peanut Butter Cups, available at Aldi.

These are everything the national brand isn’t, and I mean that in a GOOD way.  You know how the peanut butter in the national brand tends to be a little…manufactured?  How sometimes the chocolate can be a little…flakey?  How it all becomes one jumbled mess in your mouth?  I mean, let’s be honest here…national brand peanut butter cups taste good, but it’s clearly evident we’re not working with world-class ingredients here.  Well Choceur’s product surprisingly doesn’t run into those problems.  For starters, the milk chocolate is ridiculously smooth, and melts in your mouth the way you wish the national brand cups did.  Like most products carrying the “Choceur” branding, it’s got a delicious milk chocolate taste that perfectly combines with the peanut butter.

And oh, the peanut butter.  You know how it’s just a peanut butter mass in most mass-market peanut butter cups?  How it kind of tastes like peanut butter, but doesn’t really look like peanut butter?  Well this is clearly peanut butter.  Just like the milk chocolate, it’s smooth, and it’s rich, and it tantalizingly swirls out of the cup with every bite, as if daring you to stop eating them.

If you like the combination of chocolate and peanut butter, this is something that you must try.  The only downside, which isn’t really much of a downside, is that Choceur’s peanut butter cups are about a third of the size of the “king size” national brand cups.  But that can also be a good thing, as those with incredibly strong willpower can eat a couple to cover a chocolate craving, without taking in a lot of calories.  In other words, these aren’t just worth the $2.49 asking price, these would even be worth an asking price of $5...and that would even be better, because then I’d be less tempted to buy them every time I walk past them.

Overall: 10/10.  Forget the national brand--Choceur’s Peanut Butter Cups are infinitely superior in every single aspect.  The milk chocolate is creamy, smooth, and melts in your mouth.  The peanut butter isn’t a mass of something resembling peanut butter, like it is in the popular version of these cups--this is straight up rich, fall-out-of-the-cup peanut butter that tastes like it’s fresh out of a jar.  And at $2.49 for a 12 oz. container, they are worth every single penny, and then some.  If you have even a passing interest in the combination of chocolate and peanut butter, you simply have to check these out.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Millville Cocoa Rice Cereal (Aldi)

BREAKING NEWS: Cocoa Rice is also gluten free!

I think I mention this every time I review a cereal from Aldi under the “Millville” moniker, but Millville cereals really are where taste and budget merge together.  Very few of the cereals miss the mark versus the name brands, and even in instances where they might not taste as good, their substantial savings really help to even things out, closing the gap between national brand quality versus price.

Millville’s Cocoa Rice is no exception.  As you would expect, these are small, fluffy, chocolate-covered rice bits.  Visually, they look pretty much exact when compared to the national brand, but seeing as how you didn’t buy this stuff just to sit and look at it, I’ll go a little farther.  The smell reeks of straight-up cocoa, which is definitely a little more reassuring.

Taste-wise is where I could easily see this cereal dividing consumers.  For me, the cocoa flavor is spot-on, easily making this one of my favorite of Millville’s plentiful cereal offerings.  Now, when I say it’s “spot-on”, I don’t necessarily mean in comparison to the national brand, which I haven’t had in so long I don’t think I could make an accurate comparison, but it’s just a perfectly light and sweet cocoa flavor that doesn’t try to be too overwhelming.  Which is potentially where the problem lies:  This probably isn’t a cereal for serious chocoholics.  Even the milk at the end, which is one of my favorite parts of eating this kind of cereal, is usually a light brown color, rather than the darker shades I seem to remember downing as a kid.

So if you are looking to have your taste buds decimated with chocolate flavor, then this probably isn’t the cereal for you.  But if you don’t mind a more subdued cocoa, one that is still obvious but not too bold, Millville’s Cocoa Rice is something that will more than likely be down your alley.

Overall: 8/10.  Though serious chocolate lovers might be a little disappointed, I find Millville’s Cocoa Rice to be an addictive cereal, one that offers a generous helping of cocoa flavor, without being too overbearing.  The cereal is also surprisingly milk-resistant, in that it somehow manages to stay crispy for a while even after being drowned in milk.  Overall, one of my favorite Millville knockoffs, and at under $2 a box, it also doubles as an excellent value.

Millville Cinnamon Crunch Squares Cereal (Aldi)

The downside of private label recipe tinkering: This once great cereal, reduced to crap.
One of the interesting things about dealing with private labels, is sometimes the suppliers change.  And when the suppliers change, so too does the recipe.  Since Aldi is comprised almost entirely of private labels (though more and more national brands keep creeping in, much to my dismay), recipes and formulations seem to be altered almost weekly.  Sometimes, it’s for the better:  Their gelatin fruit cups used to be inedible long ago, but they now just taste like del Monte’s.  Other times, it’s not, and this is sadly one of those cases.

If I had been writing this review even three months ago, I would be talking about how the cereal had a perfect amount of cinnamon, while the squares were light and fluffy.  It was definitely one of the best cereal knock-offs in a store full of good ones.  But something changed between now and then, and it has taken a serious nose-dive in quality, to the point that I will never buy it again (something I told myself last time, only to forget they changed the recipe).

For one, the squares have gotten much…well…crunchier.  While I can see some liking this change, I for one preferred when the squares were softer and almost melted in your mouth.  The upside to this, I guess, is that the cereal doesn’t get soggy so quick.  If this was the only change, I’m sure I could learn to adapt.  After all, who cares about a little extra crunch, right?

Well gone is the delectable cinnamon flavor of yester…month, in favor of a much lighter, almost subtle taste.  Whereas the cinnamon used to jump to the forefront and dance delicately on your palette, exciting your taste buds, this new version can best be compared to the taste of a cinnamon rice cake:  You know it’s there, but it leaves you wanting more.  Even the crunchier cereal square tastes like it’s been burnt, which might explain the sudden change in texture.  But before you go around thinking this was just a bad batch, remember, I accidentally bought this cereal a second time, with the same results, and the odds of getting a bad batch twice are probably one-in-a-trillion.  The original’s pleasant aftertaste is also gone, replaced with something that’s much more metallic and uninviting.

This new version is so bad, I’m tempted to build a time machine, track down the person responsible for the change, and off him before he has a chance to mess with my precious, precious cinnamon squares.  But while we’re all holding our breath for that to happen (and while I go to college for 10 years in order to understand how exactly to build a time machine), I’d just go ahead and avoid it.  At least, until they inevitably change the recipe again somewhere down the line.

Overall: 2/10.  There aren’t many products that I can flat-out say I would never buy again from Aldi, especially in the usually-excellent cereal department, but Millville’s Cinnamon Crunch Squares fit that bill.  Replacing a delicious version of this cereal is a new recipe that features crunchier cereal squares that almost taste burnt, a cinnamon flavor that you have to dig for, and a gross aftertaste that won’t leave your mouth as soon as you want it to.  I still must give it some marks for value, as a box goes for under $2, but value can only go so far when the product isn’t even worth buying, let alone eating.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Millville Blueberry Crunch Squares Cereal (Aldi)

Perfect for when you want something sweet and breakfast at the same time.
I tried Millville’s Blueberry Crunch Squares cereal several years back, one of the many times it has been offered as a special buy in Aldi stores.  I was simply looking for something new besides their typical cereal offerings, and I figured a mix of blueberries and lots of sugar couldn’t be so bad.  After just one taste, it immediately vaulted into my top 10 list of favorite cereals, a spot that it has held through to this day.

To be honest, I’m not even sure what product this is knocking off, as I don’t believe I have seen a national brand make a product like this.  Even a quick search on the internet yields nothing.  Yet there are dozens of private labels that offer a cereal like this, ranging from store brands, all the way down to Malt-O-Meal.  Is this one of the very few original private label items that have gained popularity without the benefit of riding on the success of a national brand?

Enough questions.  All I can say is, this is a delicious blend of blueberries (both naturally and artificially flavored, something I still don’t quite understand), and an almost streusel-like sugar topping that really brings it all together.  I’m not sure that it tastes like a blueberry muffin, which I believe (based on other private label versions with names such as Blueberry Muffin Tops, and, at second glance, the picture of the muffin on the above box) is the point, but taken at face value, this stuff is absolutely delicious.

Now, I realize this is definitely not for everyone’s tastes.  As a matter of fact, if you’re over 16 years old, I think it’s safe to say you have probably outgrown this cereal.  It’s ridiculously sweet; think Cinnamon Toast Crunch but with the added benefit of dried blueberries stuck to them.  That alone should tell you whether or not this is something you would be interested in.  Love cinnamon cereals?  Love blueberries?  Then you’re probably going to take to this.  Even though I’m a huge fan of this cereal, and it seems to be offered pretty regularly as a special buy (I‘d say around four times a year), I still have to be in the mood for it, so I usually only end up getting two or so boxes every 12 months.  So it’s probably not something you’ll want to have on hand at all times.  But if you have a sweet tooth, and are looking for something different, then I think Millville’s Blueberry Crunch Squares will be right down your alley.

NOTE: I really feel like this would be a great main ingredient in a dessert of some sort, but that’s definitely not my forte.  If you've ever used this in a recipe, or have an idea for one, please share it below!

Overall: 9/10.  It can be sickeningly sweet, and for this reason it’s probably not something you’re going to want to eat all the time, but Millville’s Blueberry Crunch Squares is one of my favorite cereals.  Think Cinnamon Toast Crunch, only with blueberries, and you’re pretty much there.  It’s an inspired mix, as both of those flavors go together so well, to the point that I’m almost surprised there haven’t been attempts to mix other fruits with the streusel cereal (a Strawberry Crunch Squares springs immediately to mind).  Anyway, it’s one of many products only available for limited times at Aldi stores as a special buy, but seems to be offered pretty regularly.  If you want something different and want to fill a craving for something sweet, grab a box of this and kill two birds with one stone.