Sunday, April 24, 2016

Specially Selected Balsamic Vinegar and Rosemary Kettle Chips (Aldi)

Pretty decent for an occasional change of pace.
I needed a nice chip for my lunch (just about every single day at work, I eat a sandwich and chips), and was going to settle for one of the more usual flavors that Aldi has, when I opted to wait and see if they had any eye-catching ones as Special Buys.  I was about at the end of the aisle, running out of potential space to find something, when something caught my eye: Specially Selected Kettle Chips.  They were available in two flavors: Balsamic Vinegar and Rosemary, or Parmesan and Pancetta.  I had the parmesan version in my hand, but my mind flashed back to all the meat-flavor potato chips I’ve had, which are sadly plentiful, and after enduring a slight shudder, I opted for the balsamic and rosemary.

I was even more amped when my wife told me that she tried one as she was packing my lunch, and that they were very good.  We tend to agree on foods, so if she likes something, there’s a really good chance that I will, too—part of the many positives to being together with someone for so long is you really learn to adapt to their lifestyles, and vice versa.  I enjoy things that I never did before I met her, and some of my favorite things have rubbed off on her.

I must say that I had totally forgotten exactly what the flavors were in the chip I bought.  I knew rosemary was in there, but I couldn’t remember with certainty what the other one was.  I took a bite.  There was some rosemary and then…holy hell, there was a ridiculous tartness that tasted a lot like vinegar, which, as it turns out, is what it was.  I always thought that balsamic vinegar was a little weaker, and even a tad bit sweeter, than regular vinegar, but maybe I’m just thinking of balsamic glaze.

Anyway, the first few chips took me some time to adapt to.  A day later, I’m still not entirely sure what I think about them.  They have grown on me somewhat, to the point that I like them, but I’m certainly not crazy about them, and I’m not sure about the prospects of me ever buying them again.  On the flipside, my wife loves them, despite disliking rosemary, but she does love salt and vinegar chips, which these remind me of a lot.  The flavor is different enough to set itself apart from those, but have flavor profiles similar enough to widely appeal to fans of salt and vinegar chips.

Overall: 6/10.  The thinking man’s salt and vinegar chip, Specially Selected’s Balsamic Vinegar and Rosemary have enough subtle flavor differences to stand on their own, but also have a similar enough flavor profile that they really won’t appeal to those that don’t enjoy salt and vinegar chips.  I grew to like these, but I definitely don’t love them, and I really don’t think I’ll ever pick these up again.  But for $1.79 per bag, there’s not a lot of monetary investment required to give these a shot to see if they will appeal to you.

Specially Selected Pancetta & Parmesan Kettle Chips (Aldi)

One thing that I’ve learned in my lifetime is that it’s probably a good idea to avoid potato chips that are flavored after a meat.  There’s just no accurate way to really translate the flavor of, say, bacon, onto a piece of fried potato.  At their best, meat-flavored potato chips generally omit the titular meat entirely, such as with buffalo wing chips, which merely taste like chips covered in buffalo powder, without a hint of meat.  Ditto that for the hot dog chips I tried, which merely tasted like a mess of condiments.

With that in mind, I was actually against trying these at all, but inspiration came from an unlikely source: my vegetarian wife.  She reasoned that pancetta is a lighter-flavored meat (she went vegetarian about a year ago, so has tried just about all of them at one point or another), and she was convinced that flavor could, conceivably, be somewhat accurately replicated in chip form.

Even after eating them, I’m not sure if she’s right or not, because this successfully follows the aforementioned rule of pretty much omitting the meat flavor entirely.  As I ate more and more of these, a subtle aftertaste seemed to emerge that suggested the pancetta, via a lightly smoky flavor, but it exists more in the background, rather than a marquee flavor.  And trust me, I’m not really complaining about that, because that means that the spotlight belongs to the parmesan, which is much easier to translate to chip form.

And they do a good job of it here, because these chips are pretty good.  The parmesan flavor is fairly strong (which I like), and each chip is given a generous coating of the stuff to ensure just about every bite is even in taste.  They aren’t so good that they’re anywhere near “addicting”, but on the other hand, that’s kind of a good thing considering potato chips aren’t really all that healthy for you.

The one bit of confusion I have is why these are under the Specially Selected label, which is generally reserved, at least I thought, for more “upscale” offerings, rather than under the Clancy’s line, used for chips and snacks.  There’s really nothing here that seems to suggest anything fancy, and even the price, which is $1.79 per bag, is in line with the other chips that Clancy offers.  Maybe by giving it “fancier” packaging they’re hoping to appeal to a certain crowd, but I can’t think that there are droves of meat-lovers craving pancetta on a chip.

This is more of a stray observation than a knock, because these chips are good, and affordable, no matter what label they put them under. I would get these again, and for those that don’t mind the meat-on-a-chip aspect that I’ve more or less been harping about, they are recommended.

Overall: 7/10.  A delicious chip that mainly ignores the pancetta, focusing instead on delivering the parmesan in droves, a task that it accomplishes.  The pancetta does sneak up on you the more you snack on them—the first few chips for me tasted like clear parmesan, until I started noticing a little smokiness entering into the tastebuds—but it doesn’t do much to detract from the overall flavor.  Maybe best of all: a bag is just $1.79, which is pretty good for a “premium” bag of chips, and much cheaper than even plain potato chips of the national brand.  They aren’t so great so as to be addicting, and I won’t say that I’ll ever crave them in between Special Buy cycles, but I would pick these up again at some point in the future.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Dollar Tree Unbranded/Generic 40 Sq. Ft. Aluminum Foil (Dollar Tree)

It travels in packs, as seen here. Do not approach, under any circumstances.
We usually go elsewhere for our foil needs, but during a recent trip to Dollar Tree, my wife realized that we were completely out.  Rather than make a stop somewhere else just to get some foil, we just grabbed some there.  After all, how bad could it be?

The first red flag is that there’s no brand name.  None whatsoever.  All you can tell from the rectangular red packaging is that it’s aluminum foil, and that there’s 40 square feet of the stuff inside; that’s all the information whoever made it is willing to give you.  After we opened it, we realized why:  Words like “sucks”, and “completely worthless” would not be good selling points, yet they are the only words you can use to describe this dreck.

There’s “bad”, and then there’s this.  It’s absolutely terrible.  Even just touching it, you can tell that something’s not quite right; it’s very thin, very fragile, and threatens to fall apart every time you do something as simple as look at it.  Against all common sense, my wife still decided to use it anyway, to cover up a cake she made for Thanksgiving dessert.  Well by the time we got to our destination, the foil was threatening to fall off of the cake, and in simply trying to put it back on, we ended up puncturing it full of holes.

I suppose if you’re going to be keeping something in a refrigerator, where there’s positively NO chance that it can be bumped, or come into contact with any other thing, this might be a good product for you.  But if whatever you’re carrying under this foil is being touched, or transported, I’d spend the extra money and get your foil somewhere else.  Anywhere else, because, quite simply put, even at a dollar, this is more of a hassle than it’s worth.

Overall: 1/10.  If you just need foil for light duty stuff, you may be able to get away with using this junk.  But if you’re going to be covering something that needs transported, or handled, or has any chance of coming into contact with anything else, spend the extra money for aluminum foil elsewhere.  It’s unbelievably thin, doesn’t hold to the sides of dishes well at all, and falls apart so easily, you’d swear it was a defense mechanism.  Some things just aren’t worth it no matter how cheap they are; these need pulled off the shelves immediately.

Sun Powdered Dishwashing Detergent (Dollar Tree)

Terrible picture, solid product.

The problem with reviewing dishwashing products is that it can be hard to tell what’s really at fault if a particular dish doesn’t come out clean.  Was it just put in with too much grease or food on it, to the point that no single cycle or single dishwashing product would possibly be able to clean it?  Was it simply put in a bad spot, where water wouldn’t reach it no matter how much, or what kind of detergent was used?  Or is it the detergent’s fault?  It can be really hard to deduce sometimes, even after multiple uses.

Anyway, my wife swears by the expensive “three-in-one detergent packs”, which have dishwashing powder, along with three random pockets of multi-colored gel, whereas I prefer things that are much, much cheaper.  And so we like to go back-and-forth; I use my favorite products when I do dishes, and she sticks to her expensive crap.  Well I was perusing dishwasher products on the Dollar Tree website recently (actually, I was hoping they would have a rinse aid, but to no avail) and saw huge praise from users for their Sun Dishwashing Detergent.  Could this be the product I’ve been looking for?  Could it win my wife and I over, thus saving us a few dollars a year on overpriced detergent packs?

Refer to the opening paragraph.  It can be hard to deduce what is what (though our dishwasher is only about three weeks old, and I’d like to think it couldn’t really be at fault); actually, after contemplating this for a little while, what I really think it boils down to, is that there’s really not much difference between any of the dishwashing products out there.  Did the Sun detergent blow my mind with how wonderfully well it performed?  Not really; it simply did what it was supposed to do:  The glassware was sparkling, with no streaking, just as it is with everything else we’ve ever used, and the bowls came out as they should: Clean.

So while I can’t say it does any better a job of cleaning dishes than any other dishwasher product out there, I will say, at the very least, it performs exactly the same as all the others.  Which should be enough incentive for most to purchase it, as a 20 oz. box retails for a mere $1.  Alas, it won’t be enough evidence for my wife, who will still swear the overpriced detergent packs do a better job, and will continue to pay five times as much just to fulfill her perception but hey, I guess you can’t win them all.

Overall: 8.5/10.  Many reviews I’ve seen state that this stuff does a better job than pretty much every name brand powder in existence, a claim that I did not find to be accurate.  However, I did find it does pretty much the exact same job, for a fraction of the price, which is good enough for me.  Ultimately, in this day and age, I just don’t think there’s that much difference between the cheap stuff, and the more expensive stuff, a sentiment that seems to be becoming truer by the day, as national brand factories, sensing an opportunity to make even more money, produce more and more private labels.  Random thought: Wouldn’t it be funny if they ended up putting themselves out of business?

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Millville Apple Walnut Single-Serve Oatmeal Cup (Aldi)

Pretty good stuff tastewise, but also pretty pricey for what you get.
In my review of Millville’s Triple Berry Oatmeal, I noted, among other things, that the $1.19 price point is pretty excessive.  And it is, especially for what you get.  Even though Apple Walnut sounded a lot better, I would have been just fine going without it had they not been marked down on my next trip, to $.99.  Laugh if you must, but the twenty cent drop made a difference because that is the maximum retail price that I think these should go for; I still didn’t feel like I was getting a good deal, but $1 for a full serving of oatmeal isn’t all that terrible.  Besides, I was looking forward to this one the most, so I wanted to have enough of a reason to give it a shot.

I was hoping that there would be a little bit of cinnamon in this one, because everyone knows that apples and cinnamon go together incredibly well, but slightly to my chagrin, it only has “golden sugar”, which is a combination of sugar and molasses.  As with the triple berry variation, there are some pretty large chunks of real (dried) apples and cranberries in here, on top of the walnut, so I guess that kind of helps to justify the larger price tag.

Tastewise, this one is a lot better than the triple berry.  I still think it could have benefited a bit more with even a little bit of cinnamon, but the molasses/sugar combination does a good job of delivering sweetness throughout the cup.  The cranberry taste wasn’t really noticeable to me, but you can’t miss the apple; the walnuts are rather soft, as you might expect from microwavable oatmeal, but there’s not really enough of them to give off that much of a flavor.  The crunchiness does add a bit of texture for those that don’t like the weird softness of oatmeal, though, and the pieces are pretty big when you do stumble on them.

Basically if you like apples and oatmeal, you’re going to like this.  Again, even at the discounted $.99 I paid for it, it still feels a little overpriced, and unless it gets marked down even more, I won’t pick up either flavor again.  But if you like oatmeal way more than we do, or have a much more disposable income than we do, or find it deeply discounted, then this might be something that should be on your radar.

Overall: 6/10.  It’s a lot like you’re probably expecting: the taste of apples, a little bit of sweetness, and that‘s about it.  The walnut pieces are pretty large, but no matter how much I stirred it up, they always seemed to sink to the bottom.  I didn’t even realize there were cranberry pieces in there until I happened to read the container, and unlike the walnut and apple pieces, the cranberries are really thin; thus, they don’t provide any kind of discernable taste.  I paid $.99 for this because it was marked down--even at that price, it feels kind of hefty, with the regular $1.19 price tag even more ridiculous.  It’s not bad at all, but I didn’t think the end result justified the price; I’ll be fine sticking to the cheap oatmeal packets, no matter how questionable their contents are.

Millville Summer Berry Single Serve Oatmeal Cup (Aldi)

Great option for those that like to overpay for average oatmeal.
I very rarely eat oatmeal, but when I do, my absolute favorite kinds are the cheap little “fruit and cream” varieties.  And best of all, it’s only a couple of dollars for somewhere around eight packs.  There’s just something about fake fruit pieces (or maybe they’re real…hard to tell these days) floating around in a bunch of sugar that just hits the spot every once in a while.

Well, since “natural” oatmeal seems to be gaining in popularity, I guess it only makes sense that Aldi would jump on the bandwagon.  Here, we have a single-serve cup of oatmeal, containing "summer berries", which would consist of strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries.  But unlike the packets, these aren’t little pieces of questionable-looking fruit “flakes“--these are huge, full-sized blue- and raspberries, and large chunks of strawberry that looks pretty darn inviting.

I must say that I was thrown for a loop when I came home one day to a barely-eaten cup of this sitting on the kitchen counter.  It was from my wife, who was the one that made the decision to purchase these; it didn’t take a whole lot of investigating to deduce that this meant she did not like it.  And if she didn’t like it, then chances were probably good that I wouldn’t like it.  And so I kind of put off eating the second, and final, cup that we had purchased, instead relegating it to a dark existence sitting in our pantry.  But it was only a matter of time until I got too lazy to go grocery shopping, got hungry, and needed something to eat.  Naturally, this was easy, and was otherwise serving no purpose, so I decided to go for it.

As can be expected, prep work is easy: Fill up the cup to the “fill line” (which is curiously located on the outside of the container), pop it in the microwave for about a minute, let it sit for a few, stir it up, and breakfast is served!  It gets nice and thick after setting, and is the perfect consistency even for me, and I prefer mine to be pretty watery.  But how does the flavor compare to my little packets?

Honestly, I prefer the little cheapies.  I stirred for a while, and the first few bites were pretty weak in the sweetness department…even the berries themselves are more tart than anything.  As I got down farther and farther into the cup, however, the brown sugar became more and more noticeable, but it wasn’t until the final couple of bites that it was as strong as I like.  I guess I’ll have to spend even longer stirring it up next time.

I did like having the multiple berries, but they don’t really pack a whole lot of flavor.  So what you’re pretty much getting is a slightly flavorful, slightly sweet cup of oatmeal for a ridiculously overpriced $1.19.  I’m sure these are better for you than the packets that I like, but then again, I can get eight of those for the price of just two of these.  And artificial flavors or not, those taste a hell of a lot better.  I didn’t dislike these at all, but the price just isn’t in line with what I’d be willing to pay for a breakfast food that I hardly partake in, and the flavor tradeoff isn’t worth that inflated price, either.  This just isn’t a product for me.  Or my wife, who absolutely hated it.

Overall: 5/10.  It’s not that bad, and I actually liked having “fresh” berries in there, but I am of the opinion that, at $1.19 per single serving cup, there’s just really not much in the way of value.  In fact, I much prefer the taste of the cheap “fruit and cream” oatmeal packets, of which you can get 8 for about the price of two of these cups.  There’s also an astonishing 18g of sugar, even though I barely got any sweetness until I was about halfway done with the cup.  For me, it was definitely edible, it just wasn’t even close to being worth it.  If these dropped in price by around half (I think $.79 would be a more realistic number), I’d think about getting them again.  Otherwise, I’m fine considering this purchase a one-off.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

PurAqua Black Raspberry Sparkling Frost Sparkling Water Beverage (Aldi)

Purple when full, and a pretty tasty beverage, especially considering its price.
Having just tried PurAqua’s Orange Mango Sparkling Frost, I was ready to toss in the towel on this one before I even tried it.  But I had already bought it, it was taking up valuable space in my pantry, and so there was really no reason not to drink it.  So eventually I just sucked it up, and figured that no matter how bad it would turn out to be, there was a very good chance that I've had worse.  That’s not too reassuring when that’s the mindset you go into when trying a beverage for the first time!

But on the other hand, that can also work to its benefit, because expectations are so low that, as long as you don’t hate it, it pretty much exceeds expectations and can be considered a victory.  Well I’ve got to say that not only is this not gross, but this is a drink that I would gladly get again.

For starters, even though this is also a zero-calorie drink, it doesn’t have that disgusting bitter taste, or medicinal finish that we saw with the Orange Mango--it has a nice, semi-sweet and authentic black raspberry flavor (mostly made in a laboratory, I’m sure, but it does contain 3% of actual blackberry juice), which gives way to a sweet aftertaste.  Now, the sweetness in the aftertaste is clearly one of the artificial sweeteners (in this case, sucralose), but I’ll take that over the metallic one offered by the Orange Mango.

There is a surprising amount of carbonation in this bottle…I actually got hiccups on my first two drinks (something that I get when downing an overwhelming amount of carbonation).  I can’t recall exactly, but if my memory serves me correctly, I thought there were way more bubbles in this variety, than in the orange mango one, which doesn’t bother me, but might bother those looking for a lighter fizz.  If anything, it gives it a texture more consistent with soda, making this a potential replacement for that sugary stuff, for those looking to kick (or at least lessen) their cola habit.

I’m actually really glad I gave this a shot.  It’s not even near the top of my ‘Favorite Aldi Drinks’ list, but it’s something that I could see myself grabbing during the warmer months--I’d even dare use it as a mixer, with the carbonation giving a liquor some extra zing without adding much in the way of sugars, while the blackberry flavor could soften its alcohol taste.  But even just straight out of the bottle, this is a pretty good little drink, especially at its $.69 asking price.

Overall: 7/10.  Unlike the Orange Mango Sparkling Water, the Black Raspberry version is actually palatable--it starts sweet, with an authentic taste of blackberries, and finishes sweet, as well, with barely any of the typical medicinal tastes that plague many drinks made with sucralose.  It’s nice and refreshing, with a boatload of carbonation that overwhelmed me on my first couple of swigs, which can also make this a semi-healthier alternative to soda.  Value is excellent, as well, with a 17 oz. container retailing for a mere $.69, so it’s well worth a purchase.  I will be getting this again in the future, for sure.

PurAqua Orange Mango Sparkling Frost Sparkling Water Beverage (Aldi)

Bright orange when full, a letdown when consumed.
My wife had given these a go a little while ago, and dismissed them as being “too sweet”, which is actually what drew me to them.  I was also intrigued by the “sparkling” aspect of these--I don’t drink much soda these days, but am always open to the occasional soda substitute, and thought maybe this would satisfy me.  Even better: these things retail for a scant $.69, which honestly puts them in “you have nothing to lose” territory (though, to be fair, technically all of their products fall into that category, thanks to Aldi’s money-back guarantee), so I grabbed two out of the three flavors--I had to omit the “pink grapefruit” because I’m on cholesterol medicine that reacts to said fruit, and while I’ve broken that rule for a previous review, I don’t like to do it at all.

First we’re going to be taking a look at the Orange Mango, whose bright orange glow makes it look delicious and refreshing.  I must admit, once again, that I didn’t notice this was a zero calorie beverage until literally the moment I was cracking it open--I really need to be a little more observant of packaging before I buy certain products, because this has been happening way too often lately.  In its defense, however, I probably still would have bought it even if I had noticed that it was “diet”, if for no other reason than its price point.

It smells strongly of orange, with a little bit of mango accent, which really had me excited and expecting something delicious…something that the drink itself can’t deliver.  The taste seems like the water and the flavoring weren’t mixed together properly; upon hitting the taste buds right after you take a swig, there’s a strong sweetness hinted at, but swallowing only gives the taste of lightly-flavored water with intensely-fake sweetener.  The aftertaste (and, honestly, the taste itself) only got worse and worse for me the more I tried to give it chances; by the midway point, I didn’t even want to drink anymore because the aftertaste was so chemical and overwhelming.

I don’t like to say “never”, but I don’t see myself getting this kind ever again.  Even around this price point ($.69), Aldi has some other options that I actually like a lot better, like their Fit & Active flavored waters.  No matter how little I’m paying, or how few calories I’m getting, I at least expect it to have a taste I can tolerate, and these don’t come even close to that basic courtesy.

Overall: 2.5/10. It smells great, looks inviting, and the initial taste on the tongue is good, but assuming you’re actually planning on swallowing it, that’s when it all goes downhill.  The taste when swallowing shifts drastically, giving a very weak orange flavor in the back of the throat that slowly dissipates, giving way to a finish that’s little more than just plain sparkling water.  That might be okay enough to appeal to some, and might have been something I could have tolerated, but then there’s an intense, chemical aftertaste that lingers in the throat for a very long time, and tends to get stronger and stronger the longer you drink it…by the midway point of the bottle, even the thought of taking a drink was no longer enjoyable.  Points must be given for value, though--$.69 isn’t a bad price at all, so if you end up liking this, it won’t break the bank. I don’t plan on ever trying them again, short of a total formula overhaul.