Monday, September 10, 2018

Clancy's Buffalo Blue Cheese Krinkle Cut Kettle Chips (Aldi)

If you love buffalo sauce, then these might just be for you.
I have grown to really like blue cheese; for the first quarter of my life, I couldn’t go near the stuff. But through my wife I’ve really grown accustomed to cheeses that I wouldn’t otherwise eat, and now blue cheese has become one of my favorites. Her love of buffalo sauce has not rubbed off on me, however…I’ve never really liked that stuff. It’s not the heat that bothers me so much as the taste…most of them just remind me of cheap hot sauces, and those don’t appeal to me at all. 

So then why would I even waste the time, and money, by getting these? Simple: Chip technology has certainly evolved in the last few years, but it can only go so far. While companies dream up big names and ideas for their chips, you can only be so accurate when you’re dealing with powdered seasonings. For example, a brand of “hot dog” chip I tried tasted like relish and other condiments, with no actual meat flavor to be found. One marketed itself as a bacon cheeseburger slider and tasted more like something you would find in a sewer, missing the mark completely.

Those are bad examples, but there have been some pleasant surprises: One called “jalapeno popper” had no hints of cream cheese to be found anywhere, but did taste like a good jalapeno chip with added cheddar cheese. Alright, so that’s about the one example of an unexpected positive that I can think of off the top of my head, but the point is, I didn’t want to pass up the potential for a new classic simply because I didn’t think it would appeal to me. As the saying goes, “You never know until you try it.” And try them I did.

These chips are absolutely loaded to the gills with powdery seasoning, although a close look at the packaging reveals neither buffalo, nor cheese (of any kind) amongst the ingredients. It’s all “natural flavoring”. The buffalo is pretty spot-on, with the typical kind of buffalo taste that I dislike, but with a background hint of blue cheese that softens the flavor a bit, thus making it slightly more palatable to me. It’s not a bad tasting chip, though I’m pretty disappointed that all of this is accomplished through fake flavors—the Aldi chips I’ve had, and I’ve had many that have cheeses in them—usually at least have one kind of cheese powder, so the fact even the blue is faked is a huge letdown.

Like the other “Krinkle Cut” (their spelling, not mine) chips I’ve had out of Clancy’s line, these are extra crunchy and have a great texture. The price is also in-line with their other offerings, coming in at a very reasonable $1.79 per 8.5 oz. bag, giving you plenty of chippy goodness for the price. Unfortunately, the flavor is nowhere near extraordinary, nor anything of note, and it tends to get old pretty quickly. If you love buffalo, you might want to give these a shot; otherwise, there’s not much here to recommend.

Overall: 5.5/10. Buffalo is certainly the overwhelming taste, and it’s pretty accurate, despite the fact that there’s no actual buffalo or blue cheese in these chips (they’re all made with “natural flavors”, which are anything but). The blue cheese is slightly detectable in the background, and helps to soften the flavor of the buffalo, but I was really hoping for more of a balance between the two. The buffalo does bring a decent amount of heat, and each chip is loaded with seasoning, but as I said earlier, I’m not really a huge fan of buffalo, and with the blue cheese only playing a supporting role, I wasn’t really a big fan of these. The $1.79 price tag is right (per 8.5 oz. package), but it's not something I would personally get again. If you’re a huge fan of buffalo sauce, you’ll probably find more here to like than I did.

Journey to Greece Rosemary & Feta Kettle Chips (Aldi)

There's nothing even remotely Greek about these, but it's a pretty good chip.
As soon as I saw these in an ad, I knew these were down my alley. Rosemary is an underrated herb that I find myself enjoying the more and more I try it, while feta…well, feta’s a cheese, and you really can’t go wrong with most cheeses. You also can’t go wrong with $1.79 per 8.5 oz. bag, so that really sealed the deal. 

Upon first laying eyes on these chips, I have to say, “wow!” One major complaint I have with most of the Aldi chips I’ve bought is that it’s hard to tell if you’re going to get a bag that’s loaded with seasoning, or one that skimps on it—the quality generally seems to be hit-or-miss, especially on the Special Buy’s. Since this is my first bag, I can’t say for sure if this is still the case or not, but this one definitely made a great first impression on me: each chip was absolutely loaded with dehydrated parsley flakes and a ton of cheesy goodness on top. If all the bags come out like this, then you're also getting a lot of flavor for the price.

The rosemary comes through first, along with a helping of salt, and gets things off to a good start. The feta follows close behind, and although it’s not as strong as rosemary, there’s enough of it to be noticed. As with most chips, it’s hard to differentiate between specific cheeses since they tend to use powders and other variances to achieve the flavors—I would classify it more as a “white cheddar” based on taste (though “natural feta cheese flavor”, made with actual feta cheese, is the last ingredient in the list—but that’s not really a knock because it’s quite delicious.

Now, in terms of accuracy, I'm questioning just how “Greek” these chips are: I'm not a culturally-savvy person in the least, and have only had Greek food once (that I can recall). These do not taste remotely Greek at all; in fact, they taste like they were tailor-made for American tastes. I don't think a lot of people really purchase chips in the hopes that they are authentic, but I was expecting there to at least be a unique flavor in there that would challenge my palate, but based on flavor, these are American chips, through and through, though at least different enough to be a welcome variance from the typical barbecues and sour cream and onions of the world.

Overall: 7.5/10. This is a pretty tasty chip, and one that's different from the standard, popular chip flavors that permeate supermarket shelves. However, the “Journey to...Greece” branding is rather curious, because this tastes like a chip that was tailor-made for American tastes (it probably should have been released under the Specially Selected label). The price is pretty spot-on, though ($1.79 per 8.5 oz. bag), and the chips I got were absolutely smothered in dehydrated parsley flakes and cheesy seasoning, so there was plenty of flavor to go around. Definitely worth a try, just don't expect anything actually, you know, Greek.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Season's Choice Country Potatoes with Haricots Verts & Wild Mushrooms (Aldi)

For the uninitiated, "haricots verts" is basically a fancy way of saying "green beans". (I had to look it up, too)
I bought these, as I frequently do with special buy items, on a whim from Aldi a couple months back. And like many things bought on a whim, they just kind of sat in our freezer for a while, being passed over in favor of other things that we knew we would like. Much of my wife’s hesitation stemmed from her dislike of mushrooms, while my hesitation stemmed from a few recent frozen potato purchases not quite living up to expectations. The last few that we’ve had were very dry, and without a lot of flavor, a fatal double-whammy that I figured would end up characterizing these, as well, especially the more and more I put off trying them.

Well finally one day my wife was gone for the night, I needed something quick and easy, and so I threw these in the microwave as a side to my main dish (potato-encrusted cod). Before we go any further, a word to those that may be a little confused: haricots verts (pronounced are-ee-coh vair) is basically French for “green beans”. Of course, there are some slight preparatory differences between the two, like the French tend to cut theirs thinner and cook them a bit differently, but that's the gist of it. So these are potatoes with green beans and wild mushrooms, which checks off with what can be seen in the product image. Why they chose to go French on just the green bean description on the packaging is rather confusing, especially since this dish is neither fancy, nor French, but there you have it.

True to my style, which is a mix of laziness and convenience, I opted to cook these in the microwave instead of the stovetop. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a large enough bowl readily available to make the bag all at once, so I just threw half in a cereal bowl and microwaved them for half the suggested time. In three-and-a-half minutes, I had a well-heated bowl of boring-looking potatoes, although I must confess that there were way more green beans and mushrooms in here than I was expecting (which is a good thing). I also must confess that, despite my own reservations towards mushrooms, this is one of the best frozen potato products I’ve ever gotten from Aldi.

The flavor is very strong, with the flavors of the green beans, and even the mushrooms (which sometimes can go unnoticed in frozen dishes), each standing out on their own. The potatoes also manage to be delicious, partly because they are seasoned with spices, and also because they are swimming in some kind of “sauce” that resembles a broth. It sounds kind of gross, I’ll admit, but it prevents the potatoes from being dry, which is always a plus in my book, while also providing a blast of extra flavor.

Overall: 7.5/10. If you're confused as to what “haricots verts” are, they are essentially French green beans. So this side dish consists of potatoes, wild mushrooms, and green beans. I wasn't sure what to expect, considering I am not fond of mushrooms at all, but this is a surprisingly delicious side dish that can compliment a wide variety of meals. It also avoids the issue of dry potato dishes (see above) by having all of it swimming in a thin broth of juices, which add to the flavor while keeping the potatoes moist and inviting. This is not an item I would typically try, but it's one of the more surprising things I've tried at Aldi, and certainly one I would get again in the future.

Season's Choice Garlic and Herbs Homestyle Wedges (Aldi)

Akin to what eating the Sahara desert would feel, and probably even taste, like.
My wife and I were perusing the Special Buy cooler, looking for something different beyond the usual fries and onion rings to have as a side for our meal, when we found these. They looked good, and the price was right (somewhere around $1.99 if my memory serves me well) so into the cart they went! However, it was not without some slight reservation.

My biggest complaint with just about every kind of potato wedge that I’ve ever had, is no matter how good the seasoning is on the outside, the middle is always dry and boring. And the middle of a potato is the biggest part. So you might have a flavor explosion upon putting it in your mouth, from the seasoning that adorns the exterior, but by the time you swallow, the boring, unseasoned potato innards have now replaced all forms of flavor. Was I right to worry about these, or did Season's Choice have another trick up their sleeve to prevent this from becoming an issue? The answers: I was right to worry about them, and no they did not.

Thankfully, there is a lot of seasoning on the outside, which get things off to a great start. But I still had to dip mine in ketchup to keep any kind of moisture and consistent flavor throughout…on their own, they were completely and utterly bland. As with others I've had in the past, once the flavor from the skin wore off, the middle was just an excruciating exercise in dryness; it was just chewing on grainy potato texture, with no flavor payoff as a reward.

I would maybe (read: probably not) get these again down the road, but not for a while. I would be more apt to use them in some kind of recipe…something that calls for potatoes that might benefit from the extra kick of the seasonings. Come to think of it, dressing these up with some bacon bits and sour cream might have done wonders to give it some extra flavor (then again, you could just get a bag of potatoes for around the same price of these, so that's a comparatively expensive idea). But just on their own, straight out of the bag, there’s not much here to enjoy, or to recommend.

Overall: 4/10. They’re seasoned potato wedges, alright. And just like every other supermarket potato wedge I’ve ever had, no matter how much seasoning there is on the outside (and there is quite a bit), it’s still completely dry and flavorless on the inside. That’s unfortunately the case here; I had to dip them in ketchup toward the end, simply to give them some moisture and consistent flavor throughout. The price is pretty decent, at $1.99 per 22 oz. bag, but it will be a little while, if ever, before we pick these up again.