Sunday, October 28, 2018

Mama Cozzi's Take and Bake Pepperoni Calzone (Aldi)

As far as Aldi's non-pizza take and bake offerings go, this is one of the best.
One day while perusing the Aldi ad, I saw that they would be offering some calzones. I made a mental note to be sure and grab those, but it got lost amidst all the other great things they were offering that week, and so I completely forgot (if only there was something invented on which I could take notes of these things so that I wouldn't forget...) They probably would have totally slipped off my radar had we not gone out of our way to a different Aldi other than the one we frequently patronize, in the hopes of finding some fresh sushi they were advertising. We never did find the sushi (bummer), but on the upside, I did happen to see these, which weren't at our usual store. I grabbed the pepperoni, while my wife stuck with the cheese. 

As is the standard way I hear about something, my wife texted me to give me a rundown of her experience with her cheese calzone. First was something along the lines of “I'm making my calzone,” so that I would be aware she was preparing it, followed up by one telling me how she was going to get marinara for it, because there wasn't any inside (?) There was also one in there about how she was worried there would hardly be any filling inside. Finally, she took a bite and raved about the taste, even including a picture of how ridiculously stringy the cheese inside was. We're usually pretty much on the same wavelength when it comes to foods, so that was a good indication that I would like it, but it's certainly not a guaranteed thing. So one day after coming home from work, and in desperate need for a snack, I microwaved this bad boy, threw it on a plate, and added some marinara.

Oh my word my wife was not lying: these things are fantastic. They cook up almost pillow-soft and are easy to dig into with a fork, or with your hands (though I find them too awkwardly-shaped for comfortable handling with fingers). One of our biggest concerns was that it would be 90% bread, with some cheese and meat thrown in as an afterthought, but the inside is absolutely loaded with thick, stringy cheese and delicious pepperoni. A word of note, however: there is NO sauce of any kind on the inside, which I think I mentioned a little earlier. I don't eat calzones very often at all, so maybe I'm wrong on this, but I always thought most of them came standard-equipped with sauce in the middle. Thankfully, we had some pasta sauce on hand, and it worked fantastically with this, giving it the added tomato flavor we were expecting. (EDIT: A little internet research revealed that no, they do not typically come with sauce of any kind in the middle, and are meant to be dipped in marinara; if this is the case, it's curious that there isn't at least a cup of marinara included for dipping.)

I have to admit I was absolutely dreading this experience, because, while Mama Cozzi's take and bake pizzas are mostly excellent, their other take and bake offerings (breadsticks, wings, mini sausage calzones) have largely been awful. I'm not sure if this is singlehandedly enough to restore my faith in all their non-pizza products, but it's a huge step in the right direction; at $1.99, there's also some amazing value. There really is a lot of meat and cheese on the inside, and the whole thing is large enough to fill up someone with a lesser appetite (I ate it as a snack and it held me over until dinner with no problems). If there are any left when we go back, I'll make sure to pick up a couple more because these blew away my meager expectations.

Overall: 8/10. I've had many different Mama Cozzi's refrigerated (take and bake) products, and while the pizzas are largely fantastic, their non-pizza offerings have bordered on the terrible. Needless to say, we did not have high hopes for these at all. Unexpectedly, these things are absolutely fantastic, cooking up nice and pillow-soft, and loaded with stringy cheese and pepperoni. It should be noted that there is no sauce inside the calzone (something I just learned is standard), and none included for dipping, so you'll have to bust out that old jar of marinara sauce you've had in your pantry for months if you want to add to its flavor. Best of all, they're only $1.99, which is excellent value given how loaded they are—it worked perfectly for me as a bridge between lunch and dinner, but for those with smaller appetites, it could easily function as a main entree. Great stuff, but unfortunately relegated to Special Buy status...if you ever see them, be sure to grab them!

Mama Cozzi's Pizza Snacks Combination (Pepperoni & Sausage) Pizza Rolls (Aldi)

This picture is actual size.
Holy hell has it been a long time since I’ve had pizza rolls. Knowing my wife would be working a lot of closing shifts in the coming months, I made sure to stock up on these, as a no-nonsense, quick snack/meal for myself when she wouldn’t be able to baby me with a fully-cooked dinner. The idea came to me right as we were getting ready to head for the checkout, and I saw another customer with them in her shopping cart--it wasn’t until I actually grabbed them that I realized just how long it had been…we’re talking at least five years. Prior to that, it was probably another five years, way back into my single years, when I regularly ate them out of convenience.

Spreading them out on my flimsy foam plate quickly revealed that not much has changed in pizza roll technology over the years--they’re the same dough-covered pouches that they’ve always been. Mama Cozzi’s pizza rolls are pretty decently sized…at least as large as the national brand. They look depressing when frozen on the plate, and don’t look much less depressing after they are cooked. I kind of expected them to change color to a more inviting golden brown, but there they were, as pale and colorless as they were when I loaded their frozen doppelgangers on the plate just 90 seconds earlier.

These combination pizza rolls taste a lot like the pepperoni pizza rolls I used to remember…there’s a lot of sauce taste in there, and maybe a little bit of pepperoni, but I’m not really sure I could detect any sausage at all. Like I said, it’s been years since I’ve had these, but just tasting them for the first time made me feel like I was being reunited with a long lost friend…these taste pretty similar to every other pizza roll I’ve ever had. I guess that’s kind of a good thing, although I was a little disappointed at just how unfilling twelve pizza rolls were…and that’s double the recommended serving. After I was done, I felt just as hungry as I was before I came up with the bright idea to microwave some of these.

While saying they cook up “crispy” would be a massive stretch, the edges did get slightly crunchy after 90 seconds in the microwave, which was actually more than I was expecting. The texture is also on par with the pizza rolls of yore…that is to say, they’re soft and relatively chewy. Quite simply put, if you like the national brand of pizza rolls, you will love these carbon copies, but they won’t win over any new followers.

Overall: 7/10. A throwback to my depressing years as a bachelor, Mama Cozzi’s Combination Pizza Rolls look and taste exactly as I remember them, which certainly functions as praise in that they are close to the national brand. But being reunited with pizza rolls, something I haven’t eaten in several years, wasn’t nearly as gratifying as I thought it would be. Even though these are a half-ounce each (according to the packaging), even eating twelve (double the recommended serving) wasn’t nearly enough to satisfy my apparently abnormal craving for food, and so I was back at the drawing board a few minutes later, with only an extra dose of sodium and fat to show for it. Still, if these are your thing, they’re good for what they are, and at around $2.49 for a pack (that contains about 40 pizza rolls), the price is about as good as you are going to find for these.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Southern Grove Indulgent Trail Mix (Aldi)

It seems to be American culture that, whenever there’s a new health craze or popular healthy item, some company will come along and find a way to turn it into junk food. This way, they can take advantage of people who might not realize that what they are eating is not at all good for them, simply because it bears some resemblance (or shares a title) with something that’s good for you. Case-in-point: trail mix. The original combination of nuts, raisins, and crunchy chocolate candies is relatively plain, but very portable, relatively filling, and packed with energy-providing calories perfect for hikers, children, or really anyone on-the-go that’s in need of a quick snack.

So of course companies decided throw as much unhealthy shit they could think of into a bag, put the word “trail mix” on it, and watch the sales grow.

I wouldn’t have gotten caught up in all of this trail mix BS if it weren’t for my need to GAIN weight. Not to delve too deeply into personal details, but I was losing quite a bit of weight (around 3 lbs a month) taking some medication that was an appetite suppressant (as a side effect, not the point of the medicine, haha) and was desperate to try to find something that I could just shovel down my throat. After initially sucking up the cost, I found that one bag lasted me at least two weeks, even when snacking on it quite frequently, and so I decided to keep a bag around as often as possible to at least encourage a maintaining of weight.

I stuck to just the savory kinds (hot and sweet Cajun, Asian, etc.) because I was just looking for a snack, not what basically amounted to a dessert, until that fateful day my manager brought me a quarter of a bag of Southern Grove’s Indulgent Trail Mix. She was wanting one of the healthier kinds, must not have paid any attention to the packaging, and was off-put by all the extra sweets in it. I took one bite…and that was it. An addiction was born.

This is a phenomenal mix, featuring plenty of everything you could ever want: We’re talking almonds, cashews, peanuts, dried fruit, peanut butter chips, chocolate chips, and white chocolate chips. If that sounds like it would be too much, well that’s because it is. And yet somehow, it’s not enough; each bite brings about a different flavor profile, and I have yet to find one that I don’t like. I’m not usually crazy about dried fruit (or fruit of any kind, for that matter) mixed with chocolate, but here it marries together well, with the chocolate pretty much overtaking the weak fruit flavor, something I will not complain about.

The best thing about it is that they do not cut any corners as far as the chips are concerned. That may be a disappointment to those that are looking for a healthier, or more nut-oriented snack, but it’s perfectly in my wheelhouse: every handful delivers a load of peanut butter and chocolatey goodness that just melts in your mouth and coats everything else in rich unbridled deliciousness. I liked it so much I had two bags going at once in the two areas I most frequent at work, so that I would have some no matter where I was. Is that dedication, or terrifying? I don’t know, but if you have to ask, I can tell you’ve never tried it before.

The biggest drawback is the price tag (a large bag retails for $4.89) but it’s not really a drawback at all when you realize just how much you’re getting. This is a large bag that should easily last you at least a week with moderate daily snacking...if you go through it quicker than that, then you should probably check yourself in to rehab.

Overall: 10/10. Rich delicious goodness in a trail mix disguise. This definitely isn’t the healthiest one for you, but cashews, almonds, and dried fruit combine with peanut butter, chocolate, and white chocolate chips to create a product that, for once, is aptly named. This is the most addicting trail mix I’ve ever had, a perfect combination of ingredients that, although the flavor profile might change with each handful, flows together so beautifully that every bite is delicious and holds unexpected surprises. The chips melt quickly in the mouth, and coat everything else in a delectable sweetness that demands more handfuls. The cost is easily justified considering there are a ton of servings contained within: I tend to get around 2 weeks out of one bag, with snacking consisting of a handful or two a couple times a day. Virtually flawless stuff.

Fit & Active Chocolate Mocha Protein Shakes (Aldi)

A Special Buy item that really needs to be added to permanent inventory.
I love protein shakes. I’m not sure that I really “need” them--I don’t work out excessively or diet, or even use these as meal replacements--but I like the idea that I’m at least getting some vitamins and minerals in an easy-to-drink, delicious chocolate product. Sadly, the only flavors on hand were vanilla (not my favorite) and chocolate mocha (not my favorite, as I hate coffee); but I generally like chocolate flavors, so that was the one I went with.

The one thing I did not think about--I assumed the flavors were artificially created--is that, this being mocha, it might have actual caffeine in it, which it does. I have a certain sensitivity to caffeine, and while the myriad of energy drinks I’ve reviewed certainly indicate I don’t mind drinking it for a good reason (i.e., to stay awake during early morning hours at work), if I would have noticed it sooner, I probably would have just gotten the vanilla instead. I took a couple swigs of this in the early morning after a workout, and having just woken up, there was no way I needed a caffeine or energy burst that early in the morning…that’s what the workout was for.

Onto the taste: As can be expected, this stuff is actually pretty good. There’s definitely some mocha in there, but just as I expected, the chocolate flavor is the dominant flavor, with the mocha simply providing some support. So if you’re a huge coffee fan, you might be a little disappointed. If you’re a chocolate fan, chances are you’re going to really like this. True to form, I only had about half a bottle, and so the 30 or so mg of caffeine I ingested gave me some brief, but noticeable jitters (there is about 65 mg per entire bottle). Of course, if you drink coffee or any other sort of caffeine-filled beverage on a daily basis, you probably won’t even notice such a small amount.

As with just about every meal replacement shake I’ve ever had (which aren’t many), there’s a chalky texture. It doesn’t bother me that much--in fact, I actually kind of like it--but I’m sure some will be put off by it and so it’s worth mentioning. Also like every other meal replacement shake I’ve had, it didn’t replace jack for me…I was still hungry after drinking it, and have even been known to drink one as a beverage with a (small) meal, so if you’re actually wanting this to replace a meal for you, you might also have to add in an extra dose of your own willpower (or it might naturally work…of course; these things work differently for different people).

But whether you enjoy it as just a vitamin-loaded snack, a post-workout refresher, or as a meal in and of itself, it doesn’t really matter, because these taste pretty darn delicious, and at a surprisingly decent price point, too ($3.29 for four 10 or so oz. bottles). I just wish they carried these all the time; I may have to settle for getting their regular diet shakes, which function in a similar way (and have the plain chocolate flavor, which I love).

Overall: 7.5/10. A delicious shake that provides a nice helping of both protein and caffeine, while still delivering in the flavor department. The chocolate is the dominant flavor here, with a slight hint of mocha trailing behind. Value is here in spades, with a four-pack retailing for a mere $3.29...a good price for protein shakes, which seem to be rather exorbitantly priced. A great deal, but unfortunately only occasionally available as a special buy. If you see it, be sure to pick it up!