Saturday, January 31, 2015

Kirkwood Boneless Chicken Wyngz (Aldi)

"Wyngz"? Really?! Why not "Bownlisss Chikkin" while they're at it?
In honor of the “big game”, Mama Cozzi’s is offering up a generous portion of her chicken wings as a special buy at Aldi stores across the nation!

Really, “chicken wings” seems to be kind of a stretch, as they remind me more of chicken nuggets than any form of wing.  Just the smell of these right out of the box seems to suggest a nugget more than a wing, as did my preferred method of eating them, which consisted of dipping the pieces into the accompanying sauces.  To me, a wing already has sauce on them, furthering my own argument with myself.  Lastly, they’re pretty darn small.  I mean, smaller than most boneless wings I’ve seen, and I’m including ones I’ve seen at terrible joints like Buffalo Wild Wings, which is somehow one of the most popular wing places in the U.S., despite charging a premium for wings that are no bigger than the average humans thumb.  But I digress.

I guess we’ve already stumbled on my first negative with these:  Despite the packaging claiming that there are 35 wings in the box, a number that seems to be pretty accurate, the $9.99 asking price seems a little excessive when you factor in the size of each wing.  Some are so small that they’re just breading, with no meat even inside.  Another 50% are one-biters, and are gone before you can even enjoy them, and a majority of the rest will take you two bites to down them.  Sure, they are only $.29 each, but in this case I would much rather go to the bar down the street, and get 25 large wings, smothered in the sauce of my choice, for the same price.

On to the taste:  There’s really not much of it, at least on their own.  The smell is very misleading, as it seems to suggest a complex mixture of seasonings and spices that really is enticing; the buildup to the first bite was more exciting than the bite itself.  Really, they just taste like chicken that’s covered with an overly-generous amount of non-descript breading, something that also further lessens the value, as most wings are more bread than actual meat.  I definitely wouldn’t say that they taste terrible, just bland.  And sometimes that can be even worse.

But it’s not all negatives:  If you’re looking for something positive, let me just focus your attention on the two included dipping sauces.  One is sweet chili, which actually happens to be my favorite flavor of wing at the aforementioned bar I go to, and the other is a standard barbecue.  Only, the barbecue is outrageously flavorful, and deserves a much better fate than being packaged in an otherwise boring collection of chicken nuggets being passed off as wings.  It reminds me a lot of the barbecue found at a certain fast food place featuring a red-headed girl as the logo (who make terrible, terrible commercials that make me want to shoot my television, but again, I digress), but it really does compliment these nuggets very well.

The sweet chili sauce, by comparison, can best be described as a spicy sweet and sour.  I happen to love sweet and sour, and I liked this sauce by itself, but just like the barbecue, it doesn’t belong here, only for a different reason:  It’s too thin and weak.  Flavorwise, it’s pretty incredible, and would taste great in a variety of applications; here, even if you cover the wing in it, it’s so thin that most of it drips off, leaving you with such a light flavor that, somehow, the chicken overpowers it.  (To Mama Cozzi’s credit, I will say they also offer the option of “shaking the sauce over cooked wings”.  If you do it this way, may I recommend covering them in the sweet chili, though I’m not sure how those would taste dipped in barbecue.)

Overall, these are a gyp.  I could get behind such an excessive price tag if: a.) The chicken was a decent size, or b.) The ingredient list wasn’t five miles long, insinuating that what we’re getting for the price is just more heavily-processed crap of which the likes are all over every supermarket.  And that, perhaps, is what leaves the worst taste in my mouth.  Well that, and the ghetto-fied spelling of “Wyngz” on the box.

Overall: 4/10.  Underwhelming in every sense of the word, and at a rather expensive price tag, Mama Cozzi’s Chicken Wyngz (as they are embarrassingly spelled, in an apparent attempt to look “hip” and “cool” and “current”) are actually chicken nuggets in disguise as wings.  The breading overwhelms the actual chicken, yet despite smelling like a delicious blend of herbs and spices, tastes incredibly bland.  The only saving grace in this whole mess are the two included dipping sauces:  The barbecue is thick, rich, and surprisingly delicious, and shouldn’t be in here on account of the fact it makes the chicken taste way better than it has any right to, while the sweet chili tastes amazing on its own, but shouldn’t be in here because it’s too thin and falls right off the chicken.  If you are watching your budget in any form whatsoever, take the $10 you would spend on this, and spend it on something that’s actually worth your while.

Mama Cozzi's Mini Sausage Calzones Platter Party Pack (Aldi)

"Honey, I shrunk the calzones!"
As just about anyone who even semi-regularly reads this blog can attest, I’m a big fan of Mama Cozzi’s take and bake line.  They have a habit of making things that sound disgusting delicious, and things that sound delicious phenomenal.  And the prices are even better…where else can you get an extra large (16”) pizza for just $5?  Or a large (14”)  meat pizza for the same price?  Mama Cozzi’s always seems to strike that rare balance between value, and quality.

In preparation for this year’s Super Bowl, we have Mama Cozzi’s Mini Sausage Calzones, available as a special buy.  These are adorable little things, and they also come with two generous helpings of marinara sauce.  My wife wasn’t a fan of the sauce at all, but I thought it was serviceable; it certainly wasn’t anything to write home about, but I thought it was certainly edible.  It reminded me of a typical jarred sauce that you might find at the supermarket; if you like those, then you should definitely like these.

The calzones themselves were pretty underwhelming, though let the records show that I’m not a huge fan of calzones to begin with.  Call me crazy, but since this was from their take and bake line, I was expecting some semi-fresh cheese blended with some semi-fresh sausage, and that’s not even close to what you get.  Imagine the filling of Hot Pockets, and you’re getting closer…it’s just a mass of processed meat and cheese that is more forgettable than anything else.  No, the taste wasn’t vile--you might even say that, under the right circumstances, it’s even serviceable--but it’s not anything I could imagine anyone actually getting excited to eat.  In other words, look up “meh” in the dictionary, and, assuming it’s actually in there, you’ll find a picture of this right next to it.

Now, normally I can at least count on giving Mama Cozzi products extra points for value, and that usually helps in the rare instances that I’m disappointed with one of their products.  But I found the asking price of $7 for 18 mini calzones to be a little steep.  Maybe if these were “fresher”, or at least had the appearance of being so, they could be given a pass.  But with the heavily-processed filling (seriously, the ingredients go on for a country mile), they end up feeling like a gyp more than anything else.

Overall: 4/10.  The very definition of “meh”.  They don’t taste bad, but the filling reminded me more of Hot Pockets than a fresh, deli-style calzone, and for $7, I was expecting more than a mini Hot Pocket.  The accompanying marinara is certainly tomato-y, but also unremarkable in just about every way.  Even my calzone-loving wife was more than disappointed.  Pick up one of their tasty take and bake pizzas instead.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Casa Mamita Original Dipping Cheese (Aldi)

It's not as good as the queso sauce found in restaurant chains, but it's good.

One thing my wife and I both love, is the cheese sauce at the Mexican restaurant chain El Vaquero.  It’s something that we’ve been curious to see if we could replicate, or at the very least approximate at home.  We heard that El Vacquero uses something called “Chihuahua cheese”, which is available at GFS (Gordon Food Supply) stores, and, even though there’s actually a GFS closer to us than an El Vaquero, we still haven’t gone to test that theory.

In case you’ve never been to El Vacquero (or most Mexican restaurants in general), their cheese is a smooth, drippy-yet-not-runny white variation that is not strong, nor spicy, yet somehow manages to pack in a ton of flavor.  I’m no cheese connoisseur, so the fact that there’s a cheese that even I’m obsessed with speaks volumes to just how good it is; the fact my wife, who is a huge fan of cheeses in general, is similarly obsessed with this stuff tells you that it appeals to just about everyone.

In the meantime, I saw Aldi would be carrying a “dipping cheese” themselves, and that got our collective mouths’ salivating.  Could this be the answer we’ve been looking for?  After all, it is branded under their “Casa Mamita” brand, which is the banner used to label their Mexican products, so I knew this particular cheese was going to be in the same vein.  A quick toss in the microwave only got our hopes up more, as it has almost the same not-too-thin-but-not-too-thick consistency from our favorite Mexican cheese; it’s very consistent with the same thickness as a “queso” dip.

The taste itself wasn’t exactly what we were looking for--how could it reach the lofty heights of taste as perfected by a popular chain Mexican restaurant--but it’s still pretty good in its own right.  This one is a mix of monterey jack and cheddar cheeses, and in taste also reminded me a lot of salsa con queso but without the salsa.  It’s light in flavor, and goes down way too easily…my wife and I combined to devour the whole container in just two sittings.  But in our defense, the container is also somewhat small.  At least, that’s what we keep telling ourselves.

Overall: 6.5/10.  If you want some salsa con queso, sans salsa, this is right down your alley.  My wife and I were honestly kind of hoping for something more along the lines of the cheese they serve at El Vacquero, which is addicting, to say the least.  While it certainly doesn’t come close to that, it’s still pretty good in its own right, and we downed it in a couple sittings.  Not sure that I would pay full price for a tub (we got it at a discount when they were trying to get rid of it; it typically retails for $2.29), but for an occasional snack, this gets the job done.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Clancy's Hot Fries (Aldi)

If you like the licensed version featuring a comic strip character, you'll love these.
I like me some hot fries, and was pretty excited to see that a private label version was coming to Aldi stores.  The original hot fries are perhaps the best comic character-endorsed snack food on store shelves, and certainly one of the longest-running.  Mr. Capp’s name, at least to me, has become synonymous with a tasty line of “fries”, moreso than his even longer-running comic strip, of which I might have seen twice in my life.

In case you are unfamiliar, Hot Fries are essentially French fry-shaped potato chips with a strong dose of “heat”, which comes in the form of a red powder (much like the flamin’ hot variety of a certain popular brand of cheese curl).  It has actually been a very long time since I’ve had the original, licensed version of these fries, so this review won’t function as a comparison, but Clancy’s version delivers the heat in spades.  Even though the bright-red hue of these should have been a warning, they are a lot spicier than I was expecting, and it didn’t take long before my mouth felt as though it was on fire.

The problem is, putting them down isn’t easy.  Unlike (in my opinion) many products that are focused on burning your mouth, these also taste good.  I mean, really good.  Skip all the unhealthy, processed additives on the label, and you’ll get a good idea of why:  There’s garlic, onion, tomato, and parmesan, romano, and cheddar cheeses in the ingredient list.  Of course, like most mass-produced snack foods, they’re all in the form of powders, but hey, that’s good enough for me.  I don’t have the most advanced palate, so I can’t say I can pick out all of those flavors, but there’s definitely a noticeable dose of cheese right before my mouth starts to go numb.

The original hot fries were always a good snack choice because they were inexpensive to begin with.  So true-to-form, Clancy’s 5.75 oz. bag is just $.99, making it a great choice for value. While the bag size sounds rather small (and is compared to most bags of potato chips), the fries are very light, so there’s plenty of hot goodness in each package.

Overall: 8/10.  If you like the licensed version of this snack, involving a comic strip character, then you’ll probably love Clancy’s version.  There’s plenty of heat to go around, but even though I can’t take much heat, the flavor is so good I still have troubles putting the bag down, even as my eyes start watering and common sense tells me I should be done.  Best of all, a 5.75 oz. bag is just $.99, which might sound small, but let me tell you there’s plenty of crunchy, burny goodness in each bag.  Only downside:  These things are inexplicably confined to Special Buys throughout the year, meaning they pop up occasionally and, once they sell out, they’re gone until next time.

Clancy's Four Cheese Focaccia Sticks (Aldi)

Enjoy this nice stock picture.  This review pertains to the item hidden in the back.

I eat potato chips pretty much every day for lunch at work.  I know, I know, not exactly the healthiest thing, but guess what?  We’re all going to die anyway.  So why not eat things you enjoy while you’re awaiting death?  Besides, the mall food court doesn’t really provide many healthy alternatives.

Unnecessarily dark intro aside, since I eat them all the time for work, I’m pretty much potatoed out by the time I get home.  But I still like enjoying a crunchy snack every once in a while, to hold me over between meals, or to help me drown out the sorrow of a terrible work day.  That was the thought process that lead me to pick these up on a recent trip to Aldi.  That, and they were seductively placed by the checkout counter…who can say no to impulse buys?

I’m pretty sure I’ve had these before, but I don’t remember them being this good.  They are addicting on just about all levels.  In terms of appearance, the best way to describe them would be as long strips of croutons, as they have the same crunch and consistency as the popular salad toppers.  In fact, tossing these on a salad (or in a soup) would actually be a stupendous idea, as they would add some fantastic flavor.

In terms of taste, I can best summarize it by saying they taste exactly like Aldi’s own Cheese Garlic croutons (available under the Tuscan Garden brand name), but without the garlic, a fitting flavor for a four-cheese product.  I will say I slightly prefer the Cheese Garlic croutons, because I find the addition of the garlic to give it a slightly more addicting kick, but these are definitely delicious, and I still found it hard to put the bag down.  This is also the only “bread” where I actually looked forward to getting the end pieces…they’re a little smaller, but twice as crunchy, and they’re somehow also loaded with twice as much delicious seasoning.  If only they’d make a bag of just the end pieces!

Overall: 8/10. A very addicting snack that makes a great substitute for potato chips (taste wise…healthwise they’re similarly bad for you).  These would also be great to use in soups or salads.  They’re very crunchy (think croutons in terms of texture), but also packed with a delicious cheese flavor.  Not quite as addicting as Tuscan Garden’s Cheese Garlic croutons (also available at Aldi stores), but I still had a hard time putting the bag down.  Definitely recommended if you like this sort of thing.  And my "this sort of thing", I mean things that are delicious.