Saturday, December 14, 2019

Winternacht Peanut Clusters with Milk Chocolate (Erdnussberge) (Aldi)

Quite possibly the most addicting boring product ever made.
If candy and Christmas go together like turkey and Thanksgiving, then chocolate candy is the green bean casserole of this analogous Thanksgiving feast—sure, you can technically have a holiday without it, but why the hell would you want to (unless you’re lactose intolerant, of course)? With very little chocolate in our house, and feeling the warmth of the holiday season, I decided to see what delicious confectionary treats Aldi was offering up this year! And somehow, someway, after perusing the aisle for no less than 5 minutes, I settled on Winternacht’s Peanut and Chocolate Clusters.

I’m really torn here, because this simple treat has caused a plethora of conflicting, complex emotions from deep within me. Once again, I became a victim of my own lack of attention-to-detail, because upon quick glance of the packaging, I thought these were more akin to “turtles”, that delectable mix of chocolate and peanuts, with the addition of ooey-gooey caramel. Instead, these are actually boring as shit: peanuts and chocolate. That’s it. And it doesn’t even look like good chocolate…it’s just standard milk chocolate, and standard peanuts.

Despite this, though—and despite my complete awareness concerning just how boring these are—I couldn't stop eating them, and I cannot for the life of me figure out why. Maybe the teeny clusters look more appetizing on a subconscious level. Maybe it’s a sign my life is completely devoid of anything resembling happiness and these are attempting to fill that hole. Or maybe what I thought was its weakness, is actually more of a strength: the almost alarming simplicity of it all, which flies in the face of today’s “more is more” ideology. At any rate, these are good, even though there is nothing at all that is even remotely outstanding about them.

While those two things (boring vs. addicting) cancel each other out, there is one big hit that isn’t offset by any positives: the price. When I forked over $2.99 for this 8.82 oz. package, I was still under the assumption I’d be getting “turtles” with my hard-earned cash. Instead, getting the cheapest, most basic of all nuts, along with some non-rich, non-melty, “rugged” German chocolate, doesn’t really feel like a winning value proposition to me.

And that is why, despite the inexplicably addicting nature of these, I probably won’t ever buy them again.

Overall: 6/10. It’s rare that I find a product as divisive as Winternacht’s peanut and chocolate clusters: on one hand, it’s $2.99 (per 8.8 oz bag) and comprised entirely of just what the title implies; on the other hand, despite the fact it’s neither an outstanding example of peanuts or chocolate, I downed this whole bag in about three days, pretty much entirely by myself—I couldn’t stop eating them once I started. It’s almost like a psychological test to figure out which side “wins out”, but at the end of the day, the price is too high for me to justify it. The chocolate is neither rich, nor particularly great, and the peanuts are…well, peanuts. For the same price, or even less, you can get much better chocolate treats, especially around this time of year, or you could save the cash and just make a batch of your own for a fraction of the cost.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Little Journey Organics Pear Blueberry Spinach Baby Food Puree Pouch (Aldi)

Like a cold-pressed juice in baby food form...and I don't mean that in a good way.
Well, I've tried many of Aldi's baby food pouches—I'm ashamed to say more than our three-year-old son has had—and have been pretty impressed with a majority of them. Here we have a flavor that isn't always available: a combination of pear, blueberry, and spinach, which is for sale in limited quantities as a special buy.

Although the combination doesn't really sound good to me, I've learned that you can't always judge a pouch by its contents: some of the weirder ones (such as the apple and sweet potato, which might not be all that weird to others, but is to me because I hate sweet potatoes) have ended up surprising me, or at least, have exceeded my expectations, no matter how low they may be. With that in mind, let's see how this odd combination of tastes fares.

Hmm…not really sure about this pouch overall, which probably isn’t a good thing. On the good side, the mix between “sweet” and “not” is balanced pretty well, with the pear and blueberries offering just enough of it to offset the “savory” flavors of the spinach. It’s certainly not a sweet pouch overall, but there’s enough hints of sweetness to make it more palatable to children than a straight-up spinach pouch would be.

The flavor, though, leaves quite a bit to be desired. Rather surprisingly, each flavor is strongly represented here, but I think the main issue is that this just isn’t a great combination of flavors to begin with. As I mentioned earlier, there have been plenty of other mixtures in the Little Journey line that I’ve thought that about, but this is one of the few that misses the mark just as much as I was expecting from the outset.

You definitely get the tanginess of the blueberries, and a little hint of sweetness via the pear. It also finishes off with a “savory” spinach flavor that really reminds me of the grassy taste of a cold-pressed juice, only it's not chilled, it's in a pouch, and aimed mainly at children. Depending on their tolerance for spinach, they might take this pretty well, but there's definitely plenty of that leafy green taste that I don't think it's going to win over any child who doesn't already like it. The usual “wins” apply here: it's only $.79 per pouch, and certified organic, which is always a great thing for the line, but the taste just isn't quite up to par with some of their other offerings.

Overall: 5.5/10. This isn't a case of false advertising, because all the contents are clearly listed right in the name of the product; instead, this is more a case of “too-real advertising”: all of the titular flavors are clearly there, and in abundance. It's just that it's not really an appetizing combination to begin with. The blueberry offers up some tartness, the pear something sweet, while the spinach just adds a grassy finish that reminds one of a cold-pressed juice, but in a form more akin to a smoothie. While the profile is technically well-balanced (it's certainly not too sweet, but also not too savory), the taste itself is just...uninspiring. It probably won't win any children over that don't already like spinach, and will probably turn away just as many kids who like fruit. A very “meh” combination for me, although it is helped along by the organic certification and $.79 price tag.

Mama Cozzi's Four Cheese Take and Bake Calzone (Aldi)

If you can get past the bland bread, these things are delicious.

About a year ago, when these were relegated to special buy status, I tried the pepperoni version, and liked it a lot. Now that these seem to be part of their permanent stock, it's given me enough time to get intimately acquainted with the other available option: four cheese.

We'll cut straight to the chase here: these are very nearly just as good as their meated counterparts. The cheese here is in overabundance, with the potential for stringiness, especially when they are hot right out of the oven (or, as in my case, microwave). The four cheese blend (which actually seems to consist of five, according to the packaging: provolone, mozzarella, ricotta, parmesan, and romano) gives a nice blast of cheesy flavor that really carries the whole package.

There is the same weak link as the pepperoni variety, and that’s the bread: don’t let the seasoning fool you: it’s dry and boring as shit. It’s the same (or pretty darn close) to the bread they use in their strombolis, but whereas strombolis have sauce to help offset the blandness of the bread, the lack of sauce here makes it all-too-obvious. Since the cheese flavor is really good (and in abundance), it might be a good idea to have some sauce on hand to dip these in, unless you’re eating something else with it.

That’s a shame, because these have become one of my go-to meals for nights when I’m on my own, or even as a quick option for work lunches when I don't have the time to pack something proper. Our child has also taken a liking to these, which is odd considering he’s pretty darn picky about what he eats; that’s just another reason to have at least one of these on hand at any given time. And thanks to the $1.99 price tag and 2 minute prep time (cook for one minute, then let sit for another), getting them is both affordable, and convenient.

Overall: 7.5/10. I initially thought this one might be better than the pepperoni, but the further in I got, the more its weakness becomes apparent: despite the appearance of seasoning, the bread is boring and bland as hell, taking what could be a virtually flawless store-bought calzone down a couple pegs. However, add in the quick prep time and $1.99 price tag and it's still a great combination of value and convenience. Add some sauce to dip these in, and that takes the flavor up yet another notch. A great buy no matter how you look at it, but one that could be even better with a better exterior.

Monday, December 9, 2019

Benton's Blueberry Breakfast Biscuits (Aldi)

They're very sweet, fake as hell...and delicious.
The first few times I picked up Benton’s breakfast biscuits, more or less at the urge of my wife who had tried the name brand and really enjoyed them, I always stuck to the brown sugar and cinnamon flavor. It was a safe choice (how can you go wrong with that combo?), but also the only one that I was sure I would like; I’ll take risks on lots of different foods, but apparently breakfast biscuits are not one of them.

Then my wife tried the blueberry and went on and on about how great they were. I was still pretty skeptical—after all, who would know my own tastebuds better than me?—and ignored her advice for a while, positive that I would not enjoy them as much as the standard, but deliciously sweet and tempting, combination of brown sugar and cinnamon.

Eventually, I finally gave in, and now it's my previously preferred kind that's the distant memory. She was right: these things are delicious.

I guess I just figured that there’s only so much you can do with blueberry, and that the flavor would be boring. But the taste in these really jump out, with a strong, blueberry taste heightened by the appearance of what I’m just going to assume are actual pieces of the fruit. It will probably be too much and too fakey for some, but as someone who likes blueberries, I’m definitely not complaining. It’s also very sweet, completely eschewing the tartness that blueberries are known for, which will be another knock for some. Again, not for me.

There are some knocks against it though: they’re dry. I know that it’s by design, because a crunchy wafer can’t really be moist, but these things seem to sop up every ounce of spit I have in my mouth at any given time, lest I take them with water or other liquids (which I don’t always have handy when I’m eating these on the go at work). And, perhaps most depressingly, the blueberry flavor is mostly of the “natural flavor” variety, essentially meaning that most of the flavoring is “enhanced” in a lab. Hence the reason for the over-the-top candy-style sweetness. (Although the dehydrated blueberries are real; try one, though, and you'll see it's mostly for show as they don't really add much to the flavor.)

Despite those downsides, I still really like these, and get them whenever I'm in the mood for breakfast biscuits. The fact that four come in each package (with five total packages) and for under $2 means the value is pretty solid; the biggest downside is that my wife and child like these just as much as I do...

Overall: 7.5/10. They're dry, and the flavor is more candy-sweet than accurate to the tartness of an actual blueberry, but if you don't mind either of those potential qualms, these are fantastic biscuits for the price. I actually like the over-the-top, lab enhanced blueberry flavor, which is way more addicting than it should be. Even better yet: each box contains five packages of biscuits, with 4 biscuits per package...and all for under $2. There are certainly worse ways to start the day!

Friday, December 6, 2019

Sobisk Blueberry Breakfast Biscuits (Dollar Tree)

These have a weird taste that can best be described as "sinister".

I had actually just reviewed the Aldi brand version of these not too long ago, when I saw this similar product on the shelves of a Dollar Tree store. Could these possibly stack up to the name brands, for just $1? While mathematically, it was a possibility (you do get fewer biscuits here for the money), I still never really have high hopes for Dollar Tree foods. Nevertheless, all I had to lose was $1, so I figured why not give them a chance?

Each packet of these contain 2 blueberry biscuits, which are about the same size as the national brand. I was kind of confused at first, because while the packaging clearly states that there are 6 packs inside, it didn’t specify just how many biscuits were in each one. Armed with this knowledge, we now know your hard-earned dollar gets you 12 total biscuits, which is less than the 24 you get with the “full-sized” name brands, and putting a dent in the value department.

They smell like a blueberry crime scene…there’s a very strong, very artificial blueberry scent in the forefront, almost like a blueberry candle. But then there’s almost a…”sinister”, for lack of a better term...finish in the aroma department that seems to hint at something that isn't quite right. It’s hard to explain, but it's certainly a change from other brands, which smell like straight-up blueberry without any unidentifiable scents whatsoever.

The flavor actually matches up almost exactly to the scent, with an initial burst of (incredibly fake) fruit, giving way to a finish that…just doesn’t really fit. Almost like a cardboard-y taste that gradually starts to get worse and worse the more bites you take. The blueberry flavor itself is already a little bit off, and not quite as enticing as they are in other brands, but it's still palatable; if it stayed within this flavor profile, these would be pretty decent biscuits for the price. Unfortunately, the taste detour certainly takes it from “questionable” to “off-putting”. They're not so disgusting that I couldn't finish them, but they are bad enough that I didn't really want to.

At least there’s an upside to this, should you find yourself with a box of these at home that you don’t want to waste, for some ungodly reason: 10g of whole grain per serving (which is one packet of 2 biscuits). That’s a pretty healthy serving for a dollar store product, though I wonder if that's at least part of the reason that they taste so weird.

Unfortunately, there’s no way I can even remotely recommend these. Those on a budget could grab the similar product from Aldi for less than a dollar more, and get twice as many biscuits (with a much better, less creepy flavor), along with a much better flavor. The fact that I had those fresh in my mind certainly didn't do Sobisk's biscuits any favors, but this would be a lackluster product even if I'd never had them before. Thoroughly disappointing in virtually all regards.

Overall: 3.5/10. I suppose you could do worse within the walls of a Dollar Tree store, but these blueberry biscuits unfortunately miss the mark, offering up an initial blueberry taste that's already “off”, and then adding in a dash of unidentified flavor that takes it from merely being “off” to “off-putting”. In other words, these are nothing like the national brand in terms of flavor. Each box contains six packs of two biscuits (for a total of 12) which doesn't even offer much in the way of value, considering Aldi's blueberry biscuits retail for less than a dollar more, and include twice as much product. The biggest upside is the 10g of whole grain per pack, which is a pretty solid amount for the price, but certainly not a persuasive enough reason to ever grab these again.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Whole & Simple Korean Inspired Beef Grain Bowl (Aldi)

Fantastic.

Well, talk about something I wouldn’t typically get! This Whole & Simple grain bowl wouldn’t be a likely candidate for me for a number of reasons: for example, it’s Korean, and I’m not typically attracted to Korean food. It’s also a “grain bowl”, which usually means “a bunch of healthy shit thrown into a bowl without regard to texture or flavor that we can charge five times more for." And if there's something I'm going to pay more for, it's probably not going to be anything of nutritional substance.

But then I read the box, and my mouth actually started to water a little bit. While it might be Korean (“inspired”, but still Korean), none of the ingredients would be out of place in American cuisine, which set my mind at ease. Each bowl contains brown rice, barley, red quinoa, carrots, shiitake mushrooms, kale, spinach, bamboo shoots, and sesame seeds…pretty much the same things you'd find in American "power bowls". I was already leaning toward getting it, and then my eyes wandered up to the price: $2.99. Three dollars for all of this stuff? That’s basically the cost of a typical frozen meal, yet I was getting loads of perceived "superfoods", or "power morsels", or whatever keywords marketing execs are tossing around these days. Considering any "power food" usually goes for $5 or more, I was sold, and ended up taking it to work with me the next day.

You don't have to go to a douchy, overpriced restaurant for this!
Aaaah yeah, this stuff is delicious as hell. See? This is why we should try new things instead of just relying on the same ol’ thing time and time again. The meat somehow doesn’t look creepy (until you read the ingredients list and realize they’re called “Seasoned Beef and Modified Food Starch Strips”, which certainly don’t sound very appealing at all), instead looking like a well-cooked steak, sliced down into bite-sized chunks.

My wife and I looked (briefly) on the front of the box for information on the sauce, and could find nothing about it…we figured that maybe it was just in its own juices, or maybe even without a sauce altogether. Thankfully, that is not the case: the sauce here is strongly reminiscent of a something you would find in Chinese food, with a soy sauce base that adds some heat, and a touch of sweetness, to create an inviting blend. The meat and veggie combo would already taste good on its own, but the sauce really takes the flavor to the next level, preventing you from feeling like you’re eating something healthy, even though—for all intents and purposes—it’s healthier than your average frozen meal.

This seemed to be a Special Buy (I’m still getting acclimated to the layout and new products at our newly-remodeled Aldi store), and was dwindling in numbers. If this is the case, I’d be rather upset, considering this is a great alternative to the typical foods that I get for lunch, and one that I would at least get every month or so to take a break from my usual.

I’m not typically one to remark on the packaging, but there’s also something inviting about the food set against the white background that really makes it stand out, while also making it look slightly more upscale than similar offerings. This is a fantastic frozen meal for a great price.

Overall: 9/10. This is a fantastic frozen food…especially for the price! A delicious combination of veggies and a spicy brown sauce combine to form a delicious meal that I wouldn’t have expected to like half as much as I did! Given all the healthy ingredients, I expected the price to be through the roof---and was pleasantly surprised by the relatively meager $2.99 price tag (for 10 oz. of food). Unfortunately, it seems to be a special buy, so if you happen to stumble on it, grab it before it disappears again! 

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Choceur Milk Chocolate Bar (Aldi)

If this image doesn't make your mouth water, you've never tried it.
My wife and I returned from a visit to her parents, who live out in the hills of Tennessee, with some leftover marshmallows and graham crackers, but no chocolate. We had made s'mores out in their backyard, browning the marshmallows in a fire pit, and it made me remember exactly why those are one of my favorite desserts ever...they're so simple to make, yet somehow so full of decadence. Anyway, the package of chocolate always seems to go faster than the rest of the ingredients, and so we were left with just two-thirds of a tasty treat.

The problem was further compacted by my wife's insistence on only getting the name brand chocolate bar. Normally, she's willing to try just about anything that Aldi offers, but she is steadfast in her commitment to two products: ketchup, and chocolate. The curious thing about this, though, is that she has had Aldi's chocolate before, and really likes it...just as far as s'mores are concerned, nothing will do for her except the kind that's manufactured in Hershey, PA.

Now, I was a little hesitant to get this because of the package mentioning that it is made with “hazelnut paste”. If that's just an ingredient, then obviously I don't care, but I didn't want my chocolate tasting of hazelnut, especially if its main use was going to be as the center of a tasty s'more. I opted to grab it anyway, considering a bar retails for under $2, so I didn't stand to lose too much even if it disappointed.

These taste pretty darn good straight up, with a sweetness that is also counterbalanced with a slight bittersweet flavor that prevents it from going too deep over the “sweet” spectrum, which some chocolates can do. For me, though, the texture is where it's at: whereas I've always found the main chocolate brand to look like plastic straight out of the wrapper, Choceur's looks much softer; just as you think it will, it starts to melt in your mouth almost the moment you put it in. It's loads better than the national brand in any conceivable measure, and also much cheaper, with a 5.29 oz. bar coming in at $1.69...really a good price for chocolate that tastes like this.

Now for the question I know everyone is dying to know the answer to: how did this perform in s'mores? Personally, just as I found this chocolate to be better on its own when compared to the national brand, I also thought it was way better with marshmallow and graham crackers. Since it has the propensity to melt in your mouth, it also melts quicker in the microwave (no room for fire pits in our cramped suburban home), and gives you a much creamier s'more with all the drippy goodness. I was absolutely certain my wife would agree (and am very rarely wrong in these scenarios), but I must say her stubbornness and thick skull won out over me on this day—she agreed the chocolate was delicious, but said it didn't come anywhere close to s'mores made with her preferred confection brand...a very disappointing thing to hear, considering I thought it was a night and day comparison, but to each their own.

I rarely buy chocolate from anywhere, simply because I don't want to be tempted by a house full of sweets, but I really do need to explore Aldi's chocolate offerings more. In fact, word seems to be getting out about how they offer some excellent chocolates at inexpensive prices—a couple ritzy people I know even go to Aldi just to stock up on them. And if these are any indication of what I can expect from the rest, well...I may become a chocoholic before long.

Overall: 10/10. A virtually flawless chocolate bar that melts in your mouth almost immediately upon entering, and has the appearance of a more upscale offering...yet this is Aldi's "low-end" bar. It has a nice chocolate taste that's as sweet as the "milk chocolate" descriptor would indicate, but is offset by a slight bitterness that doesn't come off as too sweet. Coming in at just $1.69 per 5.29 oz. bar, it's depressingly affordable, meaning it will take some willpower to prevent me from throwing in a whole box of these on every future shopping trip. There are certainly better chocolates out there, but not many in this price range.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Great Value Jalapeno Jack Tortilla Chips (Walmart)

Not really my cup of tea in terms of flavor, but still an exceptional value.

I was once again on the hunt for some kind of chip-like product to take to work with me, something I tend to do just about every week. Only this time, something was different: I found myself in unfamiliar territory: With our local Aldi temporarily shut down for a rebuild/renovation, we opted to forego our usual backup plan (Meijer), and instead headed to Walmart for groceries.

I stumbled into the chip aisle, with no specific options on my mind; all I knew is that I wanted something that I couldn’t get at Aldi. With that very broad criteria in mind, my eyes finally settled on a bag of Great Value Jalapeno Jack tortilla chips, a knockoff of the national brand flavored junk food tortilla chip. I never tried the “actual” version of these, so it won't function as a comparison between the two, but rather a look at this on its own merits.

The smell is jalapeno through and through, with no suggestion of sweetness or other flavor profiles; it's a scent that strongly insinuates that it means business. Thankfully, the heat is pretty well subdued, with what I would consider a light-to-medium spiciness that dances on the tongue for a little while, but that isn’t strong enough to cause any real discomfort. In other words, you probably won’t have to have a gallon of milk nearby, unless you’re overly sensitive to hot products, or throw down handful after handful without a break in between.

The taste is pretty good, although it falls somewhere in the weird gray area that many mainstream foods find themselves in: it might be too peppery and straightforward for non-fans of jalapeno, yet it won't pack the anticipated heat for strong fans of the pepper. I'm somewhere in the middle of both of those sides, and personally, I'd say they're pretty tasty at first, but once I’ve had a handful (or two if I’m particularly hungry), it’s pretty easy to put away the bag. And that's not something I can say for other flavors of this chip (particularly the ranch, which I have a hard time putting down once I eat one), although I suppose given the nutritional content (next to none), that might be a good thing.

Also coming from a “casual” fan of jalapeno, I gotta be perfectly honest here: I don't think I'll ever get these again. Again, there's nothing wrong with the taste, it's just too...boring for me, for lack of a better term. I kind of expected an addictive flavor like the ranch (and, to a lesser extent, the nacho cheese), but instead got a more straightforward pepper taste that just didn't hook me like I was expecting. I was hoping the "jack" in the title (an allusion, of course, to "pepper jack" cheese) would provide more to the flavor, but considering it's also a spicy cheese, it just adds a slight cheese taste that just comes off as "more of the same". Again, though, those with more of an affinity for pepperiness will probably enjoy these a lot more than I did.

As underwhelmed as I was on the flavor, what's putting this (slightly) over the fence for me is the value: an 11 oz. bag is just $1. One dollar for a full-size bag, which is even cheaper than the snack size bags from the name brands. At that price, I can't really not recommend it; if you have even a mild interest in jalapeno, it's worth picking up just to try. Even if you dislike it, you won't be out much at all. And that's the way a budget item should be.

Overall: 5.5/10. These are good for a change of pace from the norm, but not something I would probably ever care to get again. The flavor is disappointingly straightforward jalapeno, with no offsetting sweetness or other flavor profiles, which makes them almost disappointingly one-note, especially compared to the ranch and nacho cheese versions. On the other hand, a full size, 11 oz. bag retails for just $1, making it an incredible value, especially for those on a strict budget. That's reason enough for me to recommend at least giving them a shot if you're even the least bit interested, as the low risk is more than offset by the potential of finding a great chip that you might like more than I did.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Kroger Pomegranate Energy Support Shots (Kroger)

Eh...they're very cheap, but they also taste like it.
I have mentioned before that I hate Kroger. It sucks and is overpriced, and is stupid. It's just your typical supermarket, with overpriced items galore, and a good deal every now and again. I just don't get off on places like that. Unfortunately for me, my wife loves it. I really just don't understand. I thought when I turned her on to Aldi years ago, that I would break her of the Kroger habit, but for some reason, she actually prefers going there. Must be the fuel points, where you spend, like, a zillion dollars to save a few pennies on gas. What a reward! (Gas seems to be the one thing people will pinch pennies on without doing actual math. For example, I knew people that would only go to Kroger back in the day just to get the 3 cents off a gallon. Guess what you've just saved? 42 cents on a 14 gallon tank. These are the same people that won't think twice to drop $7 on a small drink at Starbucks. Whatever.)

Anyway, out of the millions of trips that I've taken to the place, I just assumed they never had energy shots. They have never been displayed prominently anywhere, they are nowhere to be found at the front checkouts, and they weren't in the energy drink aisle that I frequent, which is about the only place it makes sense to put them. Long story short, I just discovered, while looking for diet pills with my wife, that they shove them in with the weight-burning supplements. Okay...whatever. No comment.

Yet among the flavors of the national brand shot, I was pretty shocked to find that Kroger has their own brand of shots! Even better: A two-pack (curiously the only size they are sold in) retails for a mere $1.49. That equals, to be exact, 74.5 cents per shot. And there are a variety of flavors, something that Aldi sorely lacks (come on guys, can we get some private label Special Buy energy drinks every once in a while?). I ended up buying none on my trip, but my wife grabbed me a couple of pomegranate-flavored shots the next day, because they were on closeout for $.74...for two. There are lots of flaws I'd be willing to forgive for $.37 a shot...that's an excellent deal no matter how you look at it!

I cracked one open and took a little sip...and it really didn't take long to see why these were on closeout: I'm guessing it's because they taste pretty awful. Immediately after swallowing my swig, I had to double-check the label to see what the flavor was even supposed to be...it tastes nothing like pomegranate at all. In fact, I think my wife summed up the flavor best by saying: “It tastes like something is fermenting in there.” And indeed, it does have a rather odd, almost alcoholic flavor, followed up by a strong tart aftertaste that clings to the back of the throat and refuses to leave, only gaining strength with each passing drink. This is the kind of shot that gives energy drinks a bad name.

They're also relatively weak, as it takes me somewhere around half a bottle to start getting jazzed up. To that end, it would be nice to see Kroger offer “extra strength” versions of some of their shots. But at the end of the day, I only paid $.37 per bottle. Since I tend to only drink about half at a time, that's a pretty solid $.19 per serving. Sure, it tastes like shit and it doesn't really work all that well, but if budget is the name of your game, it's worth a shot grabbing them before they are permanently gone.

Overall: 5/10. These taste like a fermenting fruit of unidentifiable origins, and take around half a bottle to get me going (whereas stronger shots from elsewhere take a quarter of a bottle or less, thanks to my incredibly low caffeine tolerance), but they were a mere $.74 per two pack on closeout at Kroger, so I feel like I can't complain a whole lot. And as bad as these were, I have to say that I will still try other flavors from their unadvertised energy shot selection (which are $1.49 per two-pack when not on sale or closeout, a respectable $.75 per bottle) that I never knew existed because some corporate moron decided energy shots should go in the weight loss supplement aisle, rather than with energy drinks. Whatever. Anyway, they did eventually work, and they weren't so bad that I couldn't force them down, so there's a plus. Not a great shot, but if you need caffeine on a budget, run out and grab these before they are permanently gone!

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Little Salad Bar Chipotle Chicken Salad (Aldi)

A lot better than it has any right to be.
Well here we are again, looking at another variety of Aldi’s Little Salad Bar Chicken Salad. We've already taken a look at their "classic" chicken salad, which easily lives up to its name (and then some) by being one of - if not thee - best store bought chicken salads available. I was going to get the regular version, just because that’s my preference, but they were completely out…it was either get this, or pay $.30 more for their “premium” chicken salads, so I opted to just grab this.

This uses their standard chicken salad as a base, but adds “southwestern” flavors via beans, corn, and whatever it is that adds a slight blast of heat. Sounds pretty gross, doesn’t it? But surprisingly, just like every variety I’ve tried so far (and the only one I’ve avoided is the one with bacon in it), it all flows together cohesively well. The rich and creamy foundation of chicken and mayo is dyed red with what the ingredients bill as a "chipotle pepper sauce", which sounds a little mysterious, but intriguing. Don’t let that make you nervous, though, because it’s not really hot at all—the “chipotle” just comes in the form of the slightest little heat that dances on your tongue before quickly disappearing.

The beans and corn don’t add too much to the flavor, but they do add to the texture, giving it some slight grittiness which works in contrast to the smoothness of everything else. When all is said and done, just like the “original” version, this tastes like it was made fresh in a deli, rather than carelessly thrown together in a factory, and it easily justifies the $3.69 price tag. After all, it would be more than that per pound if you were getting it fresh!

I’d still much prefer the regular chicken salad, and the cranberry almond version, but this is a welcome change from both of those, or as I faced in my last trip, a fine alternative when the one you want is completely sold out. Little Salad Bar hits another one out of the park!

Overall: 8/10. Aldi’s fantastic chicken salad is “upgraded” with chipotle, beans, and corn, giving it a “southwestern” twist on their classic. It might sound a little weird on paper, but if you like their regular version, chances are you will like this: the flavor has changed enough to consider it a different product, but enough of the basic ingredients stay the same to still offer some familiarity in the flavor profile for those accustomed to the original. Great stuff here, with the higher price tag ($3.69) easily justified.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Little Journey Organics Apple Blueberry Banana Baby Food Puree (Aldi)

Tasty.
After trudging through some flavors in the Little Journey Organics baby food line that gave me pause for thought, it’s great to return to one that should—at least in theory—deliver on the promise of deliciousness. That one would be Apple Blueberry Banana, a combination of three fruits, all of which I happen to enjoy.

Now if you read any of my previous reviews for the varieties containing banana, you will notice my sadness in how the fruit is poorly represented in the flavor department (something that I went ahead and verified with my wife, who has far better tastebuds than I do). No matter what order it’s featured in the title (which I’m assuming lists the ingredients in order from most-used to least), the banana flavor is very quaint, if not downright nonexistent. For a huge fan of the fruit like myself, this is rather disappointing, especially considering bananas seem to be the favorite fruit of many babies, if for no other reason than its soft texture allows them to eat it younger than other hard varieties.

Well I am pleased to announce that this one finally rights that wrong, by featuring a banana flavor that’s detectable among the apple and blueberry. In fact, like most of the best offerings from this line, all three seem to be blended together in just about equal measure. You might think this could lead to an overabundance of sweetness, but it's really not at all—I thought it had the perfect amount, with a slight bit of tartness (courtesy of the blueberries) to keep everything grounded.

Upon further inflection, I think I would have liked this one a little bit more without the blueberry (it's really a shame that the banana flavor doesn't really peek through more in the Apple Strawberry Banana variety, as that really should have been its time to shine), but that's more just personal preference. As it is here it's still a very strong, proud entry in the outstanding Little Journey Organics line. Where else can you get this much goodness for a mere $.79?

Overall: 7.5/10. A great flavor, with all three combining equally to form a tasty, but not overly sweet, mixture, and the first one where the banana taste actually comes through! I think I would have liked this a bit more without the blueberry, but that's just a matter of personal taste; as it is here, it's still very drinkable and one that I would definitely get again. The simple, almost-entirely organic ingredient list and excellent value ($.79 per 4 oz. pouch) are also strong, positive factors. Who says these have to be all for kids? You need vitamins too, Mr. or Mrs. Parent!

Monday, November 18, 2019

Make (Very Little) Money Off Your Receipts! An In-Depth Look at Receipt Hog (Digital App)


WHAT IS IT?
Receipt Hog is one of an ever-growing number of apps that pay people to upload their receipts in exchange for “coins”, which can then be cashed out for actual cash once a certain amount is reached. Unlike Ibotta, which only gives cash back on certain items—which you have to seek out and “add” before you upload the receipt—Receipt Hog rewards you for the whole receipt: just upload it and you're done! It's available for both Apple and Android users from their respective app stores; there is currently no PC functionality, which is actually the norm for this type of app.

INTERFACE/NAVIGATION

Navigating the Receipt Hog app is pretty straightforward: The main screen gives you the amount of coins you have accrued and also keeps track of your monthly bonuses—the more consecutive weeks within a month that you upload at least one receipt, the more bonus spins you're awarded on the slot machine (more on this below).

The main dashboard, which has all of your options
rather conveniently laid out.
The main options run along the bottom, and are as easily accessible as they should be: this is where you can see the receipts you've uploaded in the past, launch the camera app to take a photo of a new one, access the slot machine, or see additional reward opportunities, such as surveys or bonuses. This is probably where you'll be spending a majority of your focus, so it's set up pretty well.

The rest of the page is fairly pointless, showing you whether or not your Amazon and email accounts are connected, your current number of sweepstakes entries, and some tiles offering up some tips. It would be nice if this page was configurable, allowing the user to remove the information that isn't relevant to them, but as far as I can tell, it's not; it gets really old seeing the same useless info every single time you start up the app. Especially since you are not actually rewarded for doing either of these things, save for receiving 5 sweepstakes entries for every month your Amazon account is connected.

There's also a little gear at the top right of the screen which will take you to the "administrative" section, where you can access help documents, update your profile, and change a few settings to help personalize the Receipt Hog experience. You can even set it up to automatically open the camera when you open the app, which is a pretty nice touch.

It won't win any awards for outstanding design, but it's an intuitive, straightforward interface that should easily let you find what you're looking for with minimal effort.

REWARDS SYSTEM



Receipt Hog's reward system is a confusing labyrinth of rules and regulations that you should probably read through in order to get a better understanding of how exactly everything works, and if it's something that would even be worth your time. I'll attempt to break the basics down as succinctly as possible, but even this is probably going to translate into a rambling six-paragraph mess (as most of my articles tend to be).

Basically, there are three types of “rewards” you can get based on the type of receipt you upload: coins, a spin on the “Pig Slots”, or a sweepstakes entry. I'm not completely well-versed in what does what, so I had to take a look at the (outdated) FAQ, but to give a very general idea, grocery stores pay out in coins (and a sweepstakes entry), specialty stores (i.e. shops that specifically focus in one category, such as electronics stores, pet retailers, arts and crafts shops, etc.) hand out a spin on the slot machine, while restaurants and cafes (and the like) reward you with only an entry into the sweepstakes.

Rules and regulations, part one.
For the sweepstakes, 5,505 people are randomly chosen to win either 20 coins (5,000 winners), 200 coins (500 winners), or the grand prize of 5,000 coins (5 winners), in a drawing that takes place the first week of every month. Sweepstakes entries are accrued by linking your Amazon account using your email address, which automatically gives you five extra entries per month. You also gain one entry for every receipt that you upload (outside of those that reward only in slot pulls), so the more coins you get, the greater your chances of winning!

That's not all though: certain kinds of receipts are “sweepstakes only” receipts, meaning they only grant you entries into the sweepstakes upon being uploaded, rather than leading to any coin payouts. Receipts from restaurants, bakeries, cafes, and bars all fall into this category. To be honest, I don't even bother uploading those kinds of receipts here. Am I missing out on a chance to win? Perhaps, and it's not like the act of submitting receipts even takes that long, but even if you end up winning the grand prize, 5,000 coins only translates to about $30. Don't get me wrong, while I would never turn down a free $30, the idea of defying lottery-level odds (for reference, as of October 260h, there are almost 675,000 qualified entrants for the November 1st drawing) for that amount just doesn't appeal to me. Besides, receipts that pay out coins also grant you one entry into the sweepstakes, so I'm fine with just relying on those.

As for the slots, there are two ways to gain those: from weekly bonuses, and from “spin only” receipts. Examples of the types of places that result in spin only receipts are including but not limited to: office supply, electronics, apparel, and home improvement stores. Now, keep in mind this is only referring to stores that deal primarily within those selling categories; so, for example, office supply stores would consist of places like Office Max, Staples, etc.; electronics stores would be Micro Center, Worst Buy, etc.; and so on and so forth. If you buy an electronics item from, say, Walmart, you will receive coins, because Walmart is considered a “supercenter”, which is under the coin category. Phew, pretty confusing so far, isn't it?

The rewards system, part two. Study up!
Bonus spins are also granted on a weekly basis based on the consecutive number of weeks in a month that you upload at least one receipt: the number of bonus spins you stand to gain are shown right on your main dashboard after logging in. Keep in mind that if you miss one week, even if it's because you signed up later in the month, you do not qualify for any bonuses going forward for that month, which is kind of a drag.

Lastly, and the most satisfying of all the categories, are the coin receipts. These are the ones that pay you in cold, hard coins, giving you near-instant gratification for all your hard work and spent money. Thankfully, this hits a majority of the kinds of places most Americans shop the most, and include, but are not completely limited to: supercenters, grocery stores, dollar stores (pretty surprising), mom and pop shops (very surprising), and gas stations, which used to be in the “sweeps only” category (and still are, according to their outdated FAQ), but have since switched to coins-and-a-sweep.

Since Receipt Hog seems to want to make things as confusing and curvebackwards (the opposite of “straightforward”...get it?) as possible, the amount of coins granted depend on the amount spent on the receipt: receipts under $10 are worth 5 coins; $10-$50 receipts are worth 10 coins; $50-$100 will earn you 15 coins; and any receipt over $100 brings in 20 coins. In the one instance they make things pretty easy to understand, the total is the complete total, after tax, coupons, and the deduction of all gift cards and government programs.

So we're finally done, right? Not quite: there's a weekly “soft limit” of 100 coins that follow the above rules: for every qualifying coin receipt you upload above the 100 coin limit in a given week, you receive 5 coins (along with the standard sweepstakes entry)—regardless of total--up to the “hard limit” of 20 total receipts. This is never an issue for me, but if you are an avid shopper, or are in a large household where the receipts add up quickly, it's something to pay attention to.

One final thing of note that will be a dealbreaker for some: they do not take e-receipts of any kind. So then what's the point of connecting your Amazon or email accounts? According to them, they monitor your email accounts for digital receipts, to better gain an understanding of purchasing behaviors, in the hopes that they will be able to add e-receipt functionality in the future. In other words, there is currently no point (unless you're obsessed with sweepstakes entries), and considering they've been using that line for at least the year I've been using the app, I wouldn't hold my breath that it's something on the priority list.

PAID ACTIVITIES

There really aren't many other ways to earn coins in Receipt Hog, making it a slow earner for anyone who doesn't consistently get dozens of receipts weekly. But there are two other ways to boost up your account a little bit quicker: surveys, and the “Pig Slots”. The surveys are totally random, and very rare (at least in my opinion), but they are quick to fill out (they can usually be done in under 5 minutes), have no disqualifications, and usually “pay” out an average of about 40 coins. Hey, that's the equivalent of two $100+ receipts in Receipt Hog's world, so that's a pretty big deal!

(In my experience, and it might be complete coincidence, but it seems that I receive most of my survey offers on Saturday mornings, with as many as three popping up at once within that time frame. It's important to remember, though, that surveys are triggered by a specific item you bought, so the more receipts you upload, the greater the chance you will have purchased something that they want more specific information about.)

What are the odds? After not having a survey for two
months, one popped up just for this picture!
The surveys deal with a specific item purchased from a specific receipt you uploaded, so the more receipts you upload, the greater the chance you will qualify for one. If you do, there will be a red notification light on the “Rewards” button located at the bottom right of the main dashboard. Hurry, though, because they apparently go quickly: I once had three on my dashboard, but was out running and figured I'd have time to do them later. When I got home and opened up the app not an hour later, all three of the surveys were gone, screwing me out of the potential for a nice coin payday!

The slots, on the other hand, are a fun way to kill time while not really winning anything, unless you happen to upload a lot of “slots only” receipts, or get real lucky. I generally only get pulls when they are a bonus for either “leveling up”, or for hitting the weekly (and/or monthly) receipt streak, and have never won anything more than 10 coins on roughly 50 or so pulls. I have also gotten them from uploading receipts from craft stores on a couple of occasions: I don't know if it's just the way luck worked, or if it's typical, but I did tend to win more often when playing the slots from craft store receipts, as opposed to the “bonus” pulls.

UPLOADING RECEIPTS

Simple receipt upload template...it really
is the best in the business.
As difficult as they make the process of understanding what your receipts are worth is, the process of actually uploading them couldn't be simpler: click the “Camera” button highlighted in blue at the bottom of your dashboard, line up the receipt to the edge lines, and snap a photo. Got a long receipt? No problem! Just keep going down the receipt, snapping photos of each section, until you're all done, and then click “submit”. Is the photo blurry as you line it up? Simply tap the screen to get it to autofocus. This is by far the most well-implemented picture-taking system across all the receipt apps I've come across: every photo you take moves to the top of the screen immediately after it's taken, allowing you to continue on down until you reach the bottom of the receipt, without having to interact with the screen at all, should you need to take more photos.

From there, it will be processed by the system: if it's a clear photo, the coins are generally updated within minutes, although I've also had a few that have taken several hours, which I assume just depends on the system's workload at any given time. Once you've snapped and submitted it, just be patient, because you'll receive your reward!

There is a generous 14-day acceptance window for receipt uploads, which means you have a whole two weeks from the date shown on the receipt to submit it into the app. This is actually a pretty typical window for similar apps, and is very helpful for those just starting out; it's nice to be able to upload all the receipts you might have laying around all at once to help build up your coin balance right off the bat. You really don't realize how many things you buy, or how much paper you're wasting, until you start uploading them all!

CASHING OUT

Once you hit 1,000 coins—which will be a lengthy process for most—you are eligible to cash out...for $5. Payment can be rendered via Paypal, or Amazon gift card, which should cover the bases for a vast majority of people. If you'd rather build them up, the coins become slightly more valuable the higher up you go: 2,900 coins are worth $15; 4,300 will net you $25; and 6,500 coins are worth $40 in the real world. Somewhat surprisingly, no matter whether you choose Paypal or the gift card, the amounts are the same; this is different than some reward sites, who will give “discounted rates” on gift cards to encourage those over the money. That's a nice touch.

Cashout options, and also proof of
my two cash outs to prove this isn't a scam.
In about six total months of semi-frequent use, I was able to cash out for $10 total, which I added to my Paypal balance. The process for requesting a payout is very simple, although the turnaround time can be a little lengthy: you will receive an email confirmation of your payout request from Receipt Hog, typically within 24 hours. From there, those fine Receipt Hoggers will look it over and either approve or deny your request (presumably they're just double-checking to make sure you're not cheating the system somehow; I've never had a problem getting accepted) within seven days. Once it's accepted, it can take Paypal up to another seven days to actually send the money! So, you're looking at a possible 14 day waiting period, just for a measly five bucks.

From personal experience, the first time I requested payout (on a Sunday), it was approved on Wednesday, with the actual payment arriving in Paypal that same day. The second time, I requested payout on a Monday, and was approved and paid out within 24 hours. I don't know if repeat requesters are given priority, or if I just happened to get them at a good time, but my overall experience cashing out has been pretty positive.

HOW MUCH CAN I MAKE?
All this info is fine and good, but chances are you want to know how much you can make, or rather, how quickly the points accumulate. To put things into perspective, I've been using the app for a total of about five months (started in June, 2018, quit by the end of the month, and picked it back up almost exactly a year later in June, 2019, uploading several receipts per week up through October), and accumulated a “whopping” 2,202 points. Rather than slogging through to 2,900, which I was planning on doing to get $15, I just opted to break it down into two $5 payouts.

Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I tend to upload only coin-qualifying receipts, and very rarely hit the 100 weekly coin threshold, probably averaging somewhere around five receipts per week. So if you have more activity than that in your household, then the coin amounts will fill up much faster. Keep in mind “much faster” is a relative term here: clearly, these sites are just designed to pay out as little as possible, and are never geared toward earning anyone a livable income (otherwise people would just snap receipts and fill out surveys all day instead of getting a job). With a combination of extra effort, a little slot luck, a lot of receipts, and constant checking of the app for survey opportunities, I'd say hitting $5 per month is possible, but let's take a look at what would go into that.

Looking at some quick math here, the most you could get per week from receipt uploads is 175 coins (five $100+ purchases = 100 coins, then 15 further receipts at 5 coins a pop, regardless of amount = 175). So not counting surveys, it would take you six weeks to hit the minimum amount for the minimum $5 payout. And this is a best-case scenario: if you take more receipts than five to hit the 100 coin threshold, then you'll have fewer 5 coin receipts to upload, because there's a hard limit of 20 total. So, for example, if you have a bunch of transactions under $5, it would take you all 20 receipts (at five coins a pop) to hit 100, and you wouldn't be able to add any additional receipts for that week at all.

One more thing of note, and another positive in its favor, is that it's one of the few sites that seem to reward more active users, so the longer you stay committed to it, the more you stand to earn. This is in the form of a “level” system, which grants a one-time bonus every time you “level up”. In the earlier stages (1-11), the bonus is some extra spins on the Hog Slots, but once you hit level 12, it starts paying out a coin bonus. Currently, the maximum level is 40, which pays out 480 coins (although I shudder to think how many years it would take for the average person to work up to that).

Your level is also clearly visible at the top of the screen, right next to your coin total, along with a progress bar underneath that gauges your progress toward the next level. Rather annoyingly, the progress bar doesn't seem to be updated until the end of the week—it would be kind of nice to actively see the fruits of your labor paying off with each receipt you upload, but that might just be more of a personal preference. At the end of the day, it's still nice to see they have something in place to encourage and reward those that grind it out, even though it will still be a slow slog through this hog.

SUPPORT


The fairly new Receipt Hog help desk, courtesy of Zendesk.
I've never had to use Receipt Hog's support, but the general consensus online seems to be that...they're really not that bad. Of course, there are lots of pissed off people on their Facebook page (that's where everyone seems to migrate to these days), complaining that their receipts got denied, or that the system is deleting coins from them randomly, but--and I'm going to be a little ageist here--most of them seem to be from old people who have no idea how to use technology. 

If you do need them, their support system was overhauled in February, 2019, allowing users to open "tickets" for receipt-related issues; most people seem to be satisfied with quick responses. If that fails, you can always reach out to them via Facebook (or Twitter), which usually results in quicker responses. Just be sure to contact them via DM...don't post to their wall, which will get lost in a sea of notifications, and is the number one mistake people tend to do. Direct messages give you notices when they open the message, so it's like "Certified Mail" for email.

OVERALL

PROS (+)
+Get paid simply to upload receipts from any retailer, with no “deals” to clip first.
+Coin payments for uploaded receipts are by dollar amount, which is nice for larger purchases.
+Surveys pay out pretty well if you're lucky enough to get some.
+The “leveling up” idea is cool.
+Cash out options cover all the bases: Paypal, Visa gift card, or Amazon gift card.
+Gas only receipts, which were only good for sweepstakes entries in the past, now pay out in coins.
+Scanned receipts can be used for store returns if original thrown away.

CONS (-)
-Unless you're in a large household with dozens of receipts weekly, this will be a slow slog even for $5.
-No payment options between 1,000 coins ($5) and 2,900 coins ($15).
-Some receipts don't pay coins at all, instead giving you sweepstakes entries, or a spin on the “Pig Slots”.
-Surveys, which pay decently (relatively speaking), are all too rare, and disappear quickly.

It will be a slow slog to the very bare minimum for most people, but used in conjunction with other slow-earning apps, it can at least add up to a slightly worthwhile amount after a few months. I was going to get rid of it after cashing out 2,000 points, but honestly, the payouts are no better or worse than other receipt apps, so unless something better comes along, I'll probably just keep it as part of a tandem of other slow-earners.

On the plus side, the receipt upload process is the simplest and best out of all the receipt uploading apps, and the saved images from scanned receipts can be used to return items even after you throw away the originals. If you get a ton of receipts, this might be more worth your time; otherwise, it's by no means a required app.

OVERALL: 5/10

Friday, November 15, 2019

Chef Ernesto Battered Mushrooms (Dollar Tree)

These are pretty good for what they are...dollar-store mushrooms. (source: ChooseVeg)

I do not like mushrooms all that much, but I do like revisiting such foods every once in a while, just to see if (or how) my tastes have changed. In this case, my acceptance of mushrooms was precipitated by having a bowl of mushroom soup at a fancy restaurant a couple of years ago…the broth the soup was cooked in was so rich and creamy that even when I got to the huge chunks of mushroom at the bottom, I eagerly slurped them down like a homeless man at a soup kitchen. 

A lot of people are turned off by the texture--mushrooms are, after all, often incredibly slimy--but that’s never really bothered me so much as the taste. I just do not like the earthiness, and don’t feel like it pairs well with many things. But then the alternative to a slimy mushroom, like the dry ones offered as a topping at many pizza chains, are too dry, and feel like the equivalent of eating wood shards.

I first caught a glimpse of Chef Ernesto’s Battered Mushrooms a while ago at Dollar Tree. I saw the box, probably made a disgusted face, and then moved on, without contemplating them or giving them so much as another glance. But lately, thanks to my wife who likes to stay away from meat as much as possible, I have a newfound appreciation for vegetarian foods; after trying Chef Ernesto’s Veggie Burgers and absolutely loving them, all of a sudden the mushrooms started looking better and better with each passing trip. Finally, I grabbed them.


The first thing that shocked me were the size and portion of the mushrooms. Given the fact I only paid a dollar, I was expecting small pieces of mushroom outcasts that would have otherwise ended up in the trash can had Chef Ernesto himself not saved them from certain doom. But I was shocked to see that many of them were about the same size you would get if ordered as an appetizer at a restaurant. Beyond that, you get quite a bit of them…easily enough for two people (though the four servings per box allotted on the nutrition label is a bit of a stretch), making it the perfect size for an appetizer.

Cooking was quick and easy: pop them in an oven preheated to 350, wait about ten minutes, and you’re good to go. Honestly, they didn’t get as crisp in the oven as I was expecting after the allotted time, so we broiled them for a couple minutes. That helped a little bit, but there was still no noticeable “crunch”. Maybe I’m just expecting too much from dollar-store mushrooms, but it's still worth mentioning.

Right out of the oven, the first thing I noticed just how greasy they are, which is kind of humorous, considering the back of the box touts them as a “healthy snack” (every 2 oz. serving contains 25% of your daily fat content and 18% sodium, so I wouldn‘t buy that at all). Still, they looked pretty inviting, and I was looking forward to digging in. Since I’m not a fan of mushroom as a rule, I decided to “enhance” the flavor by dipping them in buttermilk ranch dressing (adding to the healthiness).

Wow. I have to say that the combination was very close to restaurant quality. Of course, we’re not talking a high-end restaurant, but if you’ve ever had fried mushrooms from a bar and grill, these will more than likely remind you of those, and for a fraction of the price. Now, keep in mind that this is with the addition of ranch; without it, the combination is somewhat bland: the batter really doesn’t add too much flavor, and as we all know, mushrooms aren’t the tastiest things in the world on their own. But dipping them really took them to a whole ‘nother level, to the extent that I would definitely get these again. Color me impressed.

Another side note: they sit heavy on the stomach. I already felt ten pounds heavier after only eating a few, so these would not make a good appetizer or side for a heavy meal--the grease really does do a number on you. But hey, at least there's no cholesterol! That has to count for something.

Overall: 7/10. I’m not a big fan of mushrooms, but for some reason really wanted to try these. On their own, they’re a little boring (as mushrooms tend to be), but after dipping them in some ranch to enhance the flavor, it really took them to the next level; taste wise, I would seriously say these are close to restaurant quality (low-end restaurant, but restaurant nonetheless). The batter really doesn’t add much flavor, and doesn’t even get that crispy in the oven, but somehow it‘s good enough. You also get quite a bit for a dollar, so there's some value in spades. The main drawback is the grease...there's so much of it, that these really sit heavy in the stomach after only a couple, making it more suited as a snack or accompaniment to a lighter meal. This also relegates it to a very infrequent buy.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Little Journey Organics Apple Pear Spinach Baby Food Puree (Aldi)

Not nearly as disgusting as you'd think...in fact, it's quite good.
Are there any combinations of fruit and veggies that those freaks at Little Journey Organics won’t blend together and put out for sale? There have been some real good, straightforward ones (apple banana strawberry, for example), but then every once in a while they seem to get a little bored, and force things together that shouldn’t be combined at all (who’s swell idea was it to put prune in any of these?!) Would apple pear spinach fall into that category? Or, against all odds, would it actually be palatable?

I’m convinced that this is about as perfect as a combination of these fruits and vegetables, in their natural form, can be. Yes, there are “fruit and veggie” juices out there that add in juices and purees from all kinds of vegetables, but those are generally sweetened to the point that you can’t even tell there is any vegetable concentrate in it at all. This is just straight up apple, pear, and spinach purees, with no added sugars or sweeteners (take that back, there is “lemon juice concentrate”, but those are in all of these varieties, so it's probably used for added tartness).

The end result is…surprisingly neutral in flavor, with neither the fruit or vegetable flavors "winning" by overpowering the other. There is a little bit of sweetness from the apple, which is immediately negated by some tartness from the pear, and it’s finished off by the savory spinach, which brings it all full circle, taking it back into unsweet territory. It never becomes too sweet or too tart, or too “spinachy”…it’s combined at the perfect amount to make it as palatable as possible for everyone. Even if you hate spinach—unless you have an absurd sensitivity to the flavor, or see the packaging nearby—you probably won’t even notice it’s there.

This is fantastic, and a solid flavor that might even be a good way to introduce baby to vegetables and tastes that aren't overly sweet. Also, like many of the other Little Journey Organics pouches, this one has a great amount of vitamin C (150%) which makes it even better. And at $.79 per 4 oz. pouch? For an organic baby product? I don't think you're going to find anything similar for under a dollar anywhere else.

Overall: 7.5/10. It's about as good as a natural combination of all three titular tastes can be, as the flavors run a complete lap around your tastebuds: There's the sweetness of the apple, which is then neutralized by the tartness of the pear, which is then canceled out by the “savory” spinach. The end flavor is...completely neutral, with no lingering tastes of any of them. That can be a good thing, as even those with a hatred for spinach will probably be able to tolerate this, and maybe even (subconsciously?) get acclimated to it. The usual praises of products in the Little Journey Organics line (high vitamin C content, all organic ingredients except for added vitamin C, $.79 per 4 oz. pouch) still apply here, making it an incredible value on top of a surprisingly great taste.


Saturday, November 9, 2019

Benton's Delights The Original Triple Chocolate Australian Cookie (Aldi)

I may have to take up heroin just to quit these.
I think I've mentioned before that I enjoy trying things from other countries that Aldi carries. Yes, most of them are probably “Americanized” to some degree, but it's still a fun way to try some flavor combinations that I otherwise wouldn't really be interested in trying. It's resulted in some weird things (Deutsche Kuche's Peanut Puffs), some terrible things (Deutsche Kuche's Dominoes), and some good things (Journey to Greece Rosemary and Feta Kettle Chips), but no matter the outcome, I like to think that I'm a better man for having tried the experience.

And so I hesitated only momentarily when I saw Benton's Delights on the shelves of our newly-remodeled Aldi store. A triple chocolate cookie? I'm in. An Australian triple-chocolate cookie? Why, how would that be any different from the junk food that lines our own supermarket shelves? I also noticed the price: $1.99. Seemed a little expensive for some cookies that would probably be pretty standard, but I wanted something sweet, and these were in the right place at the right time. My wife's surprising indifference to them (she's usually more into these kinds of things than I am, and didn't care if we got them at all) gave me yet another moment's pause for thought; I quickly swiped away all doubts and added them to the cart.

Intrigued, and more than a little hungry, I cracked these open the moment I got into my wife's brand new (well, to her) 2013 Nissan Murano. I popped one in my mouth, knowing exactly what to expect...and I got it. And then some.

Holy mother of shit these things are ridiculously delicious. Have you ever had a product that you swear was made solely for you? That's what these cookies are to me. In case you are unfamiliar (as I was before seeing them for the first time), these consist of a cocoa cookie, filled with cocoa creme, and covered in a layer of milk chocolate on the outside. But even though I like chocolate, there are a large number of ways such an overly chocolated product can miss the mark: being too sweet, or having overly cheap, plasticky chocolate are but two of them. Benton's cookies avoid both of those issues, at least as far as my palate is concerned: they're sweet, no doubt, but to me, the semi-sweet cocoa helps to neutralize the rich, melty extra-sweet milk chocolate layer that finishes everything off, effectively preventing it from being too overbearing. (As a counterpoint, my wife did not share the same affection for these as I did, even challenging my own viewpoint by simply saying they were “too sweet”; she's wrong.)

The appearance of the cookie reminds me of double-stacked chocolate covered graham crackers, with an initial taste that's reminiscent of those, before the layer of crème filling adds another dimension of richness. A serving size is two cookies, which might seem a little small on paper, but considering these cookies are actually pretty big, and considering how much chocolate is packed into each one, that will turn out to be just the right amount for most.

The only drawback is that each 7 oz. package has an odd 11 cookies inside, meaning someone's either going to have to sacrifice one cookie from a serving size, or someone else is going to have to eat an extra one. And I'd be pissed if I was the one in the former position.

Overall: 10/10. Dear Lord this just might be an example of a perfect mass-produced cookie, courtesy of our Australian friends. A cocoa cookie is covered in milk chocolate with a layer of chocolate crème in the middle: on paper, sounds like a chocolate overdose...and it is. But it's an overload in the best way possible: the semi-sweetness of the cocoa helps to taper the headstrong sweetness of the milk chocolate coating, perfectly balancing things out. I like cookies and chocolate—there's no doubt about that—but I generally have no problems bypassing them at the store, or limiting myself to one or two pieces when I do get the craving for one. These, though, rank right up there with thin mints and peanut butter cups as examples of sweets that almost possess me once I eat one, forcing me to continue eating them until I either get sick of them, or run out. And at $1.99 for an 11-count package (the odd number being the only true complaint), it's an addiction that's sadly all-too-affordable.

Fit & Active Lemonade Flavored Water Beverage (Aldi)

Find water to be incredibly boring? Here's a delicious alternative.
I hate water. I believe I’ve mentioned this in no fewer than five previous posts, but the nonexistent taste just does nothing to entice me into drinking it. Yet, of course, we must get liquids somehow, and while I do try to force plain water down as much as possible, there are days where I just need some kind of flavor. Hell, let me drink out of an old wheelbarrow so I can enjoy the all-natural taste of earthen rust—even that would be preferred to the boring flavor of water.

Enter Fit & Active’s flavored water series, which offer up liter bottles of various flavors, all at a ridiculous $.59 price point. The lot of them are low in calories, low in sodium, and caffeine free, which of course can only mean one thing: artificial sweetener and flavor time! (Well, technically they’re “natural” flavors, which means that the flavor is derived from actual foods, but are still created in a lab and are considered no safer or better for you than artificial flavors.)

I think I’ve tried all of the available flavors in this line at some point, and the lemonade is by far the best one, with the artificial sweetener (and boy is it sweet), perfectly combining with the intense and accurate tartness, to create a flavor that’s pretty darn close to the taste of a lemon shakeup. In fact, both “sweet” and “tart” threaten to go off the scales—I could see this easily being too much of one, or the other (or both) for some. Ironically, I wouldn’t really consider drinking this while being "fit" or "active", because the tartness is not very inherent to chugging: I find that it's better enjoyed in small doses throughout the day, or even as an accompaniment to a meal.

If you’re getting déjà vu reading the comparison between this and a lemon shake-up, it’s probably because I compared one other beverage to the same taste in a previous review…and it was none other than the lemonade flavor of Fit & Active’s Drink Mix Sticks, the powder that you add to bottles of water yourself. Essentially, you’re getting the same flavor here as you do with those, only those are a much better deal, considering you get enough to make ten 16 oz. servings for a mere $1.29, compared to two servings here for $.59. On those grounds, if you like the flavor, you’re much better off getting the pack of sticks to stretch your budget further (even including the price of a 24-pack of PurAqua water, it comes out to around a quarter per 16.9 oz. bottle). But if you just want to give it a shot and see if the intense combination of tart/sweetness is for you, or you just want a quick beverage to throw down while on the go, this is still a great and inexpensive way to do so.

Overall: 7/10. Incredibly tart and sweet in equal measure, Fit & Active’s Lemonade Flavored Water Beverage will probably be too much for some, but I find its combination highly reminiscent of a lemon shakeup (and if you've never had one, head to your local fair immediately). Add to that the $.59 price point for a liter bottle (2 servings), and you have a pretty solid deal. However, it tastes almost exactly like the lemonade flavor of their own drink mix sticks, which come in 10-packs for just $1.29, or about the cost of two of these bottles, and that take the value proposition down slightly. But for people like me who can't stand the boring, unsatisfactory taste of water, these still offer a convenient way to get life's essential liquid, with the added benefit of actual flavor (and loads of questionable chemicals), without the added hassle of having to open up a packet of powder and dump it into a bottle of water. Who has time for that?

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Moiselle Sparkling Moscato Wine (Aldi)

If you like "sparkling" and "sweet" in your wine, then you're probably going to love this.
I like me some occasional wine, but it has to be sweet, or else I’m not interested. If it’s sweet and sparkling, however, then sign me up instantly! Aldi has carried the Moiselle line of wines for quite some time now, consisting of pink and white Moscatos, but we had never noticed their sparkling Moscato offering until recently. Retailing for a mere $5.99 in Ohio (price may vary elsewhere), we just knew we had to try it…and I'm certainly glad we did.

My nose cannot differentiate aromas professionally at all (hell, it frequently has problems detecting anything at all), so please forgive me when I describe the smell as being “similar to just about every other Moscato I’ve ever sniffed". It does smell crisp and inviting; the bottle alludes to "flavors of pineapple and other tropical fruits"…I’m not sure I can specifically detect any of those on the nose, but there’s certainly an enticing, lingering sweetness present. The “sparkling” description is strongly evident right from the pour, as this has a lot of bubbles that's reminiscent of pouring a soda out of a two liter...that’s how many bubbles accumulate at the top. We had this wine for about a week before finishing it off, and expected it to be flat by the last glass; much to our surprise, even the last glass we poured had plenty of bubbles in it. It wasn’t quite as exaggerated as it was after the first couple of days, but there was still a noticeable bit of carbonation on the tongue, which I thought was impressive, considering we had no way to completely seal it back up.

The taste, though, is where this is at. This might be my favorite wine that I’ve ever tried from the German discount superstore. It’s sweet, but never manages to be overly so, and finishes with a little bit of dryness that acts as the perfect balancing component. The tropical flavors dance on the tongue, and immediately made my mouth water; I couldn’t wait to down some more. I usually have no problems stopping after a glass or two of any wine, but I could easily down this entire bottle (and maybe one more) all in one sitting with absolutely no problems (besides maybe a headache afterwards). Quady’s Electra is by far my favorite dessert wine, and while this doesn’t come all that close to matching it in terms of taste (it is a completely different kind of wine, after all), the flavor profile strikes me as very similar, while the price is a third less.

Surprisingly, the wife and I haven’t tried any of the other Moiselle offerings, but just based on this one, we are eager to check out the rest. That is, if we can even bring ourselves to give any of the others a shot, instead of just loading up on these every time we go. It’s an excellent-tasting sweet wine, for a very excellent price.

Overall: 9/10. When it says it’s “sparkling”, it’s not lying: pouring a glass of this is strongly reminiscent of pouring a cup of soda from a two-liter bottle. So many bubbles accumulated at the top of the glass that I even had to wait for them to subside to finish pouring. There were even bubbles (though not as many) a week after we opened the bottle, which was very surprising to us, considering we had no way to seal it up between servings. The taste itself is absolutely phenomenal, though; a magnificent blend of tropical fruit sweetness with just a little hint of dryness in the finish, which prevents this from being too cloying. And at 9% ABV, there's a decent amount of alcohol to be had, too, making it a good wine to pair with food, or just as an after-dinner treat. We haven't tried a whole lot of their offerings, but this one might have become our go-to Aldi wine.