Saturday, October 24, 2015

Clancy's Bold Party Mix (Aldi)

It's BOLD because the bag tells you it is!
Aldi always sells party mix under the “Clancy's” brand moniker, but it’s usually only original and cheddar.  I do not like the cheddar, which features all the party bits covered in a dusting of fake-tasting cheese powder.  No thanks.  I do like the traditional, and actually hadn’t had it in a while, when I saw that Aldi was offering a “bold” version as a special buy.  Craving a salty snack, I grabbed a bag.

And what can you really say about it?  I assume “bold” means “traditional” party mix, but with more salt.  Or maybe there are just more spices…I can’t really say for sure what makes this “bold“, since the basic taste is very similar to the traditional version.  All I know is, my mouth burns after a couple bites of the stuff--but it’s not like a spicy burn, but a burn more akin to when you eat too much salty stuff, hence my reasoning that there‘s probably extra salty seasoning (rhyme intended).

The one thing that Clancy’s gets right, is there seems to be an even distribution of all the individual pieces, at least in relation to their size.  This doesn’t mean you’re going to get just as many rye chips as cereal pieces…that would be ridiculous.  It just means that they don’t skimp on anything, or put too many of one type of item in there.  That might sound like a common sense statement, but most party mixes that I’ve tried seriously overload on the pretzel bits, which are pretty much dry and tasteless; get too many of them in there, and it’s like you’re eating sandpaper.  I’ve downed more than half the bag in about three sittings, and the distribution has been pretty even.  Sure, you get a lot of cereal pieces, but that’s to be expected…it’s a cereal mix, for God’s sake.  But there’s not an overwhelming amount of anything versus another--even the rye chips (my favorite) are in abundance.

Basically, what you get is what you’re expecting to get from a product labeling itself as “bold“: A party mix with some extra kick.  At $2.29 for a 15 oz. bag, there’s quite a lot of snack in here for a pretty minuscule price, so there’s also value to be had.  It’s nothing spectacular, and it’s not out of the ordinary, but if you’re just looking for a cheap way to entertain some guests, or a salty snack to satisfy your savory tooth, it’ll get the job done.

Overall: 7/10.  What you’re expecting to get is what you get: A party mix with some extra “kick”.  I’m not sure if said kick results from different spices, or if it’s just some extra salt, but either way, it delivers.  The usual suspects are here, from the standard cereal bits, to rye chips, pretzels, and little breadstick-looking things, so there’s nothing unique or fancy on display, but the distribution is even (unlike many similar mixes, which tend to overload on the boring, drab pretzels) and it tastes good.  There’s also some value, at $2.29 for a 15 oz. bag.  If you’re craving something salty, as I was, this will definitely satisfy.

Horseradish Cheddar Krinkle-Cut Kettle Chips (Aldi)

Wow. "The Two D's": different, and delicious.
I have a not-sure-if-I-like-it-or-hate-it relationship with horseradish.  I’m seriously not sure how I feel about it.  On the one hand, I like its bite, but on the honor, its flavor can be very hit or miss for me.  Sure, if any ingredient is misused, it can cause problems in a recipe, but with such an aggressive, in-your-face flavor such as horseradish, the line between success and failure is often razor thin.

With that in mind, I purchased Clancy’s Horseradish Cheddar Krinkle Cut Kettle Chips for my lunch at work a couple of weeks ago.  Why would I buy something I’m not sure I’d like?  If this is your first time here, I’ve reviewed chips that tasted (supposedly) like hamburgers and hot wings, for goodness sakes…clearly, I enjoy (if that is the right term) testing the limits of my taste buds. 

Even though these were purchased for my lunch, I admittedly was so curious about the taste, that I dipped into the bag right when I got home.  But that was about a week ago; since then, I’ve had a chance to experience them even more in depth, and I have got to say:  The taste has really grown on me.

From the outset, there was one thing I appreciated:  Every chip is generously covered in both cheddar AND horseradish.  A big complaint for me concerning Aldi-brand chips, as I’m sure long-time readers (do I have any?) have grown accustomed to hearing about, is the inconsistency between batches; from bag to bag, you don’t know what you’re going to get.  I’ve purchased barbecue chips, for example, where every chip is red, and covered in powder, while others just have a slight dashing, like it was just thrown in as an afterthought.  It really makes it hard to rate these when that’s the case.

But these…these chips are absolutely coated, so that was a big plus.  Or was it?  For not knowing whether or not I like horseradish, these were probably not the smartest chips to try; about three seconds after you put on in your mouth, your tongue will burn.  It’s not a lasting feeling--it goes away about the time you swallow your chip--but it’s unmistakably there, and along with it is an intense horseradish flavor.  Seriously, it’s almost brutal how much horseradish there is.

At first, I wasn’t really sure how I felt.  On the one hand, the flavor was pretty good--thanks largely to a generous helping of cheddar, too, which offsets the heat and provides a cooler flavor--but the sheer amount of the other stuff was almost too much to bear, so I put the bag away.  I ate it for lunch the next day, to similarly mixed feelings.  Then I packed it in my lunch the next day, and my mouth started watering early in the morning just thinking about it.  That’s right, my friends:  in the span of about three days, I went from being completely undecided, to actually looking forward to eating them.  I can’t really think of another product off the top of my head that had this kind of effect on me.

Bottom line?  I love these things.  They’re unlike any chip I’ve ever had…well, let me clarify that a little bit:  They’re unlike any GOOD chip I’ve ever had.  This isn’t the typical “let’s load it up on cheddar and throw in a tad bit of horseradish so we can still make it appeal to the masses” that most “mainstream” chip manufacturers would settle for; this is “we threw in a boatload of horseradish, and added in a touch of cheddar and if you don’t like that then don’t go anywhere near this f-ing bag.”

Overall: 8.5/10.  Horseradish isn’t exactly a “friendly” flavor, but these chips are loaded to the gills with the stuff, to the point that you’ll get a slight burn on your tongue as soon as you put them in your mouth.  Thankfully, they’re also softened up, and evened out, a bit by a generous helping of cheddar cheese.  At first, I wasn’t sure if the combination worked, but after my mouth started watering just thinking about them a few days later, I knew they had won me over.  Each chip is LOADED with so much of each ingredient that it’s almost absurd, but it somehow works.  If you like to try new things, and don’t mind horseradish, you should definitely scope these out.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

St. Gisbertus Halloween Sweet Red (Aldi)

Aside from the cool label, I don't get what makes this a "Halloween" wine at all...
Wine is not my forte…generally, the only time I drink it is when I want to get a good buzz on, and there’s nothing else in the house. For that purpose, I can force any kind of wine down…even the dry ones that taste, to me anyway, like they are made out of fermented rubbing alcohol instead of grapes.

But every once in a while, I like to enjoy my wine, and there is no better way to get me to give one a go than to have the word “sweet” on the label. If “Halloween” happens to be on there, then it’s pretty much a guaranteed purchase. And when said concoction is just $5.99 (in Ohio, and a dollar cheaper in just about every other Midwest state) then please, just take my money. And that is the story of how I ended up with this bottle of wine, available as a Special Buy just in time for the Halloween season, from my local Aldi store.

The one thing I did not take into consideration during this whole process, is that red wine, by nature, is not at all sweet. I learned that the hard way after ordering a glass from a chain restaurant several years back, in an amateurish attempt to get drunk. (I was also wondering why it was given to me warm…was the refrigerator broken?) The reason I’m telling you this seemingly unnecessary story is because this stuff might be “sweet” by red wine standards, but it was not sweet enough for my limited wine palate.

According to the bottle, we have a sweet blackberry flavor; I got more of a semi-sweet red wine taste with a bitter finish. This definitely wasn’t what I was expecting going in, and I was definitely disappointed. Even my wife--whose wine preferences skewer more toward the dry--was more than a little let down. I’m also struggling to comprehend why this is marketed as a Halloween wine at all: I figured maybe there would be some kind of mulled spices, or something that would differentiate this from similar wines that can be purchased year round. But all we get are plum and cherry aromas (fruits that don’t exactly scream “Halloween”, or even “fall”, for that matter), and the previously mentioned blackberry flavor (again, not exactly something that one normally equates with the season).

Maybe I’m just missing something--and I’m certainly not denying that’s a possibility, as this is not my kind of wine--but I was left quite underwhelmed with this. Though I would definitely chug it to get a wine buzz if nothing else was in the house…

Overall: 5/10. Maybe I’m missing something here, but how is a wine with plum and cherry aromas, and a sweet blackberry flavor (all information taken from the bottle itself) even remotely reminiscent of fall? Sure, blackberry season and plum season generally end some time in October, but I would consider them more summer fruits. Anyway, this wasn’t nearly sweet enough for my liking, though I suppose it’s much sweeter than most red wines. My wife, whose palate is geared more toward the dry, but who can also appreciate sweet, was similarly let down. I will give it some marks for value, as a 750 mL bottle retails for $5.99 in Ohio, and $4.99 elsewhere, but I’m not sure I’ll be getting this again.

Wicked Grove Hard Cider (Aldi)

I swore I had posted this review already over summer. Oops. Sorry for the lateness, now that it's fall and all.
Finally!  I’d been waiting with bated breath to see when Aldi would finally carry a hard cider, and upon looking through their summer catalog, I finally found my answer, in the form of Wicked Grove Hard Cider, which seems to be available through summer only.  As I believe I’ve mentioned before, I don’t drink beer at all, because it tastes disgusting; for me, life’s too short to acquire tastes.  So I’ve always enjoyed the ciders, which taste great and are perfect for cooling down on a hot summer’s day.

As the title seems to allude to, this is a knockoff of Angry Orchard, as far as I can tell, though its strong sweetness also reminds me strongly of Redd’s Apple Ale.  It tastes strongly of apples, but there’s also an almost overwhelming sweetness/tartness; it’s nowhere near the delicious crispness of Trader Joe’s own Woodchuck-produced Newton’s Folly, but it’s definitely drinkable.  Beer fans can just stay far away from this; while there are some ciders that have a certain dryness that I could see appealing to fans of hops and barley (Strongbow and Woodchuck’s 802 jump immediately to mind), this one tastes more like candy, and would deeply offend those with a strong disposition to beer.  Hell, I love sweet drinks, and there’s no way I could plow through more than two in one sitting, as the sweetness is almost too much to take.

The biggest downside probably has nothing to do with Aldi, and more to do with the State of Ohio…all of Aldi’s alcoholic beverages are $1-$2 more in this state than they are in surrounding states.  So while the price advertised on Aldi’s website is $6.49, it actually retails for $7.49 here.  This makes it $.50 more expensive than the much-better Newton’s Folly, and only $1 cheaper than the average price of the name brand ciders, when on sale.  On the other hand, anything that prevents me from having to go to a chain supermarket is also a plus in my book, so I’ll probably end up picking up a few of these anyway during the hot months, and as much as I prefer Trader Joe’s cider, it’s about fifteen minutes farther away…factor in the cost of gas, and it’s probably a little bit more expensive.

If you like Redd’s or Angry Orchard, you’re going to like this one.  But if you prefer your ciders a little dryer, or don’t like ciders at all, then Wicked Grove is certainly not for you.

Overall: 6.5/10.  Finally!  Aldi carries a hard cider!  While I was hoping it would be more in the vein of Woodchuck (like Trader Joe’s Newton’s Folly, which is produced by the Vermont cidery), I guess beggars can’t be choosers.  Wicked Grove Hard Cider is much more sugary and sweet, more along the lines of a Redd’s Apple Ale or, as the title suggests, Angry Orchard, than anything else.  While it’s definitely drinkable, the $7.49 retail price (in Ohio), means it’s only about $1 cheaper than the national brand drinks, while the sweetness means this isn’t something you can just sip on throughout the day to maintain a nice weekend buzz; in fact, I have a huge sweet tooth when it comes to alcohol, and I couldn’t drink more than two of these in a single sitting.  For all my complaints, I’ll still be picking up at least a few of these six-packs throughout summer, as it’s at least one more reason I don’t have to set foot in a chain supermarket.

NOTE: Since writing this review, the price has actually gone down to $6.49, representing a much stronger value.  Since Aldi prices have been known to fluctuate, I'm keeping the original price and score up for a while, just to make sure the price change is permanent.  If it is, then the score will be raised to a 7, on account of the excellent value--even Trader Joe's Newton's Folly has gone up to $6.99 per six-pack, making this the best private label value cider in Ohio, at least as far as price is concerned. 

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Deutsche Kuche Alpenkrauter Potato Sticks (Aldi)

After falling in love with their “Reiberdatschi” (whatever that means) potato sticks, I eagerly waited until our next shopping trip to pick up the other variety of their Deutsche Kuche brand potato snacks.  But where the Reiberdatschi’s were described as “hash brown style”, I was way more nervous and hesitant going into this one, as the only description is “herbs of the Alps style”.  What does that even mean?  I’ve never been to the Alps, and I have no idea what kind of things grow there--it just sounded way weird.

I am happy to report that my nervousness and hesitance were unfounded, because these are every bit as good as the Reiberdatschi’s, while managing to be original enough to appeal to a slightly different palate.  This one reminded me more of a sour cream and onion flavor, only describing it on such vague terms is doing it a great disservice, because it‘s way better than any sour cream and onion chip I‘ve ever had.  It’s hard to explain, but there’s a complexity here that’s missing from the other variety, which is certainly welcome.  According to the ingredients, on top of the onion powder, which featured prominently in the Reiberdatschi option, this also has garlic and parsley, which I guess are herbs found in the Alps?  I’m still pretty confused about the whole description, but one thing I’m not confused about is just how good they are.

Like the above variety, these also retail for just 99 cents (for a 4.41 oz. bag), so there’s definitely value to be had.  According to the nutrition label, there are 3 servings per bag, and even though I find these things addicting as all hell, that sounds about right…the one cup serving size is definitely generous, considering how small the individual pieces are, so a cup really amounts to quite a bit.  Just as good as the Reiberdatschi’s, but in a different way, and I would also pick these up again in a heartbeat.  Fantastic stuff.

Overall: 9/10.  Wow.  These are every bit as good as the Reiberdatschi version, but also different enough that it can appeal to a different palate.  The bag describes it as “herbs of the Alps” style, which didn’t give me much to go off of, but the ingredients list onion and garlic powders, with parsley as the main flavors.  To summarize the flavor for the masses, the taste kind of reminds me of sour cream and onion, though it’s much better than any sour cream and onion chip I’ve ever had.  One of the few products that I will make sure to buy every time it’s made available at Aldi.

Deutsche Kuche Reiberdatschi Potato Sticks (Aldi)

Forgot to take a pic, and then they were sold out when I went back to do so. Even Jesus is ashamed.
We were approaching the checkout at Aldi one day when I stumbled upon these at the checkout counter.  I peruse the ad faithfully every Wednesday (when I receive them in my email), and so I know when just about everything is going to be made available--it gets me a little more excited than it should when I see something in stores that I don’t recall seeing in the online circular.

I didn’t know anything about these before purchasing, aside from what was on the bag:  These are apparently naturally flavored “hash brown style” potato sticks.  It’s part of the Deutsche Kuche line, which focus on goods imported from Germany (and is the country where Aldi was founded); most of the things I’ve had from the line have been really good, so that helped to put my mind at ease about blindly buying a product that I knew nothing about.

So intense was my craving for a snack that I happened to stumble into the kitchen just as my wife was unbagging these, and I immediately grabbed them and popped them open.  Sure enough, they look just like typical potato sticks, which is certainly to be expected, though there were some hints of seasoning visible.  I eagerly grabbed a small handful, and shoved them in my mouth, not expecting much--and was hit with a blast of flavor that caught me completely off guard (my wife had just about the exact same reaction that I did).  It’s not that the flavor is anything weird, but I just thought these would be kind of straightforward potato sticks with maybe a unique blend of German spices.  Instead, it tastes strongly of onion.

Obviously, your tolerance for the product will depend on how much you like that vegetable, because the onion flavor is neither subtle, nor hidden.  Personally, I loved the taste of these, and I ended up downing half the bag before I realized what I had done.  Even though the onion is in the spotlight, it’s neither overwhelming, nor repugnant; I thought the taste was an good balance of onion and potato. 

Although I find Deutsche Kuche products to have a great track record (as I alluded to earlier), some of the more authentically “German” products (like their peanut puffs, or their baumkuchen layer cake) can have flavors that aren’t quite in line with typical American foods, and thus take some getting used to.  This, however, isn’t one of them.  Right out of the gate it made my mouth water for more, I literally think about eating them when I’m at work, and don’t have access to them, and I would not even hesitate to pick these up again.  The best of their German products I’ve tried yet (and I loved the baumkuchen).

Overall: 9/10.  I literally bought these on a whim, having heard nothing about them before.  All I had to go off was the vague wording on the bag, which simply states that they are “potato sticks” done in a “hash brown style”, which meant nothing to me.  As with the potato sticks of old, I was expecting a taste that was predominantly potato, with maybe a little bit of flavoring thrown in…boy was I wrong.  The flavor was so strong that it just about knocked my socks off.  It’s a very strong onion flavor, but balanced with the potato, it makes for an incredible, and incredibly addicting, snack.  Also, 99 cents a bag.  Well worth it.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Chef Ernesto Vegetable Samosas (Dollar Tree)

If this is a good example of a samosa, then no thanks.
I’ve got to be honest with you:  I have no idea what a “samosa” is.  I’ve never heard of one, vegetable or otherwise.  But I thought it was great that Dollar Tree is offering some vegetarian items, and so, along with their veggie burgers, I decided to give these a shot.

For $1 you get about eight rather small samosas.  Still, I felt it was a generous amount for a dollar.  The outside appearance reminds me a lot of crab Rangoon (or wontons), the cream cheese and/or crab-filled appetizers at most fine Chinese establishments.  The box itself describes them as vegetable-filled dumplings, which I think sounds very disgusting; for some reason, the term “dumpling” just does not sound appetizing to me, no matter how or where it’s used.

While microwaving was an option for preparation, I decided to go the oven route, to make sure that the outside cooked up nice and crisp.  I usually like using dipping sauce for these kinds of things, but I decided to go commando, just because I felt I didn’t have a sauce that was right for this.  Ranch is my go-to condiment, but I was more feeling a sweet and sour sauce, which I don’t have.

The crunchy outside was surprisingly good, as it was so hot out of the oven, that’s all I could get for a few seconds.  Usually, I feel like the exteriors of products like this, especially cheap ones, are just bland, but this actually had a pleasant flavor.  All the pleasantness was gone when I hit the filling in the middle…”ginger” is listed in the ingredients, and I’m pretty sure that’s the culprit that ruins these.  It has a completely unnecessary sourness to it that tastes like the vegetables inside were cooked in human sweat first.  I managed to force down four, in the hopes that I would get used to the taste.  And while I guess I did, in the way that you get used to the smell of baby diarrhea the more you clean it up, or the way a medic kind of gets used to the smell of death after visiting so many crime scenes, I would never get these again.

Overall: 2/10. Gross.  The filling, which is filled with otherwise delicious vegetables, also tastes heavily of ginger, which gives it an unnecessary sourness that makes them pretty much inedible.  This is a shame, because the crunchy outside is actually pretty good, and you get about eight of these in a package; even though they’re small, it’s certainly not bad for a dollar.  I really liked Chef Ernesto's veggie burgers, but I wouldn’t go near these ever again.

Chef Ernesto Veggie Burgers (Dollar Tree)

In a word: surprising.
 First, let’s clear something up for those of you that may be stumbling on this blog for the first time:  I eat meat.  I love meat.  I don’t necessarily like the way the animals are treated prior to ending up on my table, but you know what?  I don’t think about that, the way we all tend to ignore things that we don’t want to deal with.  I like the way they taste, and it would take a lot for me to give that up.

My wife, on the other hand, decided a couple months ago that she wants to be a vegetarian.  At the risk of sounding mean (something I’m not trying to do), she starts and stops stuff like this all the time--she’s been gluten-free a couple times, which only lasted a few months total, and she’s tried diets and quit them before I could even bat an eye--but this is honestly something I could see her stick to forever.  When I heard that Dollar Tree started offering a small line of vegetarian products, I really wanted to try them just as bad as I wanted her to try them.  She was a little off-put at the idea for a while, and I started to become a little hesitant, but I decided now was the time to give them a shot.

Since there’s no meat in them, they’re already pre-cooked, which makes heating them up a snap.  Even though the oven was the recommended method, it takes about ten minutes, which was more time than I wanted to spend on something I wasn’t even sure that I would like.  So I took the easy way out, and microwaved one patty for about two minutes.  I must say that, right out of the microwave, these things smell really delicious.  They don’t smell anything like a burger would, but I guess that’s fine because these aren’t burgers.  But they smell like a mix of spices and vegetables that was really inviting; I went from trying these solely as a joke, to actually looking forward to taking a bite.

I did throw them on a bun, and liven it up a bit with ketchup and mustard, then took a bite…wow.  These things are actually pretty darn tasty.  Now, as I said, I’m predominantly a meat-eater, and these don’t taste like any veggie burger that I’ve had, so take my words with a grain of salt.  But the reviews I’ve seen, from actual vegetarians, don’t help clear up any ambiguities:  I’m seeing reactions range all over the spectrum, from complete and utter hatred, to others that really enjoyed them, so if you don’t believe me, you’re just going to have to try one anyway.

I will say that they taste way more akin to a potato than an actual burger (and sure enough, a quick scan of the ingredients prove that potatoes are first on the list), so if you’re actually looking for a meat replacement product, these will probably turn you off.  However, I thought they were really fantastic, in a totally-different-than-what-I-was-expecting kind of way.  Seriously, I just got done eating a couple of expensive, locally sourced veggie burgers, that my wife was given by her sister, and while they tried so hard to look and taste like meat, the effect was ruined when I would get a sunflower seed, or similarly crunchy piece, in my mouth.  These are super-soft, and the only thing I saw fall off of one was a piece of corn, which I’m totally fine with.

Even if you can’t accept these as a meat substitute, I feel like these could at least be given a shot as a side dish option.  They really remind me of potato pancakes, and would be just as delicious on their own, after being cooked to a slight crisp in the oven.  However you eat them, I was pleasantly surprised.

Overall: 8/10.  Let’s get one thing out of the way:  These potato-based “burgers” taste nothing at all like meat.  Not even close.  So if you’re a vegetarian that likes a similar taste and texture to an actual burger, then you can stop reading now, and move on.  In fact, they taste very similar to potato pancakes, with the added benefit of having corn and some peppers inside!  I just threw these on a bun with some ketchup and mustard, and they were absolutely delicious.  I’m only a part-time vegetarian, but these are better than veggie burgers I’ve had that literally cost four times as much.  And getting two in a box for $1?  That’s some unbeatable value.  Even if you don’t like them as a meat substitute, treat these as potatoes and cook them up as a side dish.  I’d unequivocally recommend these to anyone, vegetarian or otherwise.