Friday, December 27, 2019

Simply Nature Apple Cinnamon Squeezable Fruit Blend Pouches (Aldi)

Please pardon the obnoxious light glare.
Is there a better combination than apple and cinnamon? No need to think about that, because the answer is “no”: it’s the perfect combination of sweet, juicy, maybe a little tart, and then back to sweet again. And that's why my eyes lit up when I saw Aldi was selling a multi-pack of apple cinnamon pouches, under their Simply Nature moniker. I actually purchased these for our son, but after they fell by the wayside and were still sitting in our pantry after a couple of months, I decided to try one for myself.

Yep, tastes just as one would expect this to taste like: if baked apples were ground up into a pouch. There’s the taste of apples in the forefront, followed up immediately by a nice kick of cinnamon to bring it all home—to me, this flavor is absolutely addicting, and a textbook example of what this combination should taste like when well-executed.

Adding to the positives is the value: a four-pack of these will run you around $1.89, if memory serves me right, which would put these somewhere around $.47 per pouch...and that's not at all a bad price. These are also pretty darn healthy, with only 60 calories, 5mg of sodium, and 11g of sugar per single-serve pouch...and if a great-tasting, healthy snack isn't something you can feel good about giving your kids, then I don't know what is!

They certainly aren't perfect, though: they're as small as they look, and for this reason are very anti-climactic to give to a child as a snack. Our son is only three years old, and he seems to suck them down the moment I get the lid off; considering they aren't anywhere near filling, he's asking for another one, or something else, immediately thereafter. These might work as a “side” or beverage to another snack or meal, but don't really amount to much on their own.

Despite those relatively minor “flaws”, the flavor is very good, and while the value proposition isn’t as strong as I’d like it to be thanks to the small pouches, it’s still a great snack to have on hand for whatever reason.

Overall: 7/10. The value proposition could be stronger (although you get four for under $2, these pouches are teeny-tiny and can be drained by a three-year-old in under 30 seconds), but these are a pretty healthy, quick snack for parents and kids on the go. They taste great, with a flavor reminiscent of ground-up baked apples in pouch form, but aren't too overly sweet. I won't get them all the time—mainly because our son has other snacks he prefers—but for a good ol' fashioned change of pace, these will fit the bill quite well.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Bake Shop by Aldi Powdered Mini Donuts (Aldi)

Just your basic, standard powdered donut. In other words, delicious.
Aaaah, the powdered donut: one of the most basic of all breakfast staples. There’s just something that’s so unmagnificent about them, and that, I suppose, is one of the reasons they’re so popular: simplicity. It’s just a basic flavor, they’re usually pretty inexpensive, and in almost all cases, even a bad example of a powdered donut is easily edible.

And what we have here is pretty much a basic example of such a donut, with a coating of powdered sugar adorning an otherwise unexciting spherical-shaped cake. There’s a good amount of the powdered stuff, with only a few spots of cake visible. The flavor tastes a lot like powdered sugar, but with something else added that hits the “higher notes” of my taste buds (I can’t really describe it, but there’s definitely more to it than just the confectioner’s sugar). The texture is on par with what you would expect, although I will say the cake here in Aldi’s version is not as smooth or soft as some other varieties, the best examples of which almost melt in your mouth the moment you take a bite. It’s definitely not what I would consider “hard” or off-putting, but it’s neither up there with the best in terms of texture.

Meanwhile, the taste is nowhere near as addicting as Mrs. Freshley’s Delicious Deals powdered donuts, available at Dollar Tree, which are far and away my favorite store bought powdered cake spheres—but I have to confess that I still have a hard time stopping at one or two of Aldi's version, so there’s something that can be said for that. The price is pretty solid, too, with a large plastic container of the stuff going for $2.99. While that might sound a little expensive, there are a lot of donuts in the packaging...it lasts our household of three about a week or so (depending on how overboard my wife and I go with them).

If you're looking for an outstanding example of mass-produced donut brilliance, keep on searching (and let me know when you find it!), but if you want a basic, no-frills donut for a decent price, you can call off your search here.

Overall: 6.5/10. It’s a rather unremarkable example of a powdered donut, but sometimes that’s all you need: even in its “average” form here, the donuts are very tasty and inviting, with a generous coating of powdered sugar adorning each one. The cake isn’t as “soft” as other such donuts on the market, and the flavor has some indescribable taste above mere powdered sugar (maybe natural flavoring?) that makes them slightly less addicting to me than other brands, but I still have a hard time stopping at one or two. A good example of a product that delivers what you're expecting—and nothing more—for a decent price, and proof that pretty much all donuts are addicting as hell.

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Dollar Tree Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream (Dollar Tree)

Far better than you'd expect, though not without its flaws.
Dollar Tree has, at least as far as I can remember, carried various cartons of “frozen dairy desserts” in their freezers, which are basically cheap versions of actual ice cream. Basically, what makes an item a “frozen dairy dessert” versus an actual ice cream comes down to hitting certain government-mandated criteria, such as consisting of at least 10% dairy milkfat. Any product that doesn't hit the criteria—even though it may look a lot like ice cream—must carry the ominous “frozen dairy dessert” designation, a sign that it falls short of the FDA's notoriously high standards (can you taste the sarcasm?). I'm not a snob when it comes to many things, but I guess ice cream is one of them, because I won't (willingly or knowingly) buy anything that can't refer to itself as "ice cream".

Imagine my surprise when I saw Dollar Tree was starting to carry some actual ice cream in their freezers! (Apparently, some stores started carrying them late last year; I swear we are the last to get everything here.) The first time I noticed them, which was in early November, all they had was vanilla and butter pecan, so I took a hard pass. This time, though, I noticed a new flavor had creeped its way in: mint chocolate chip. Ever the skeptic, yet incredibly excited at the same time, I threw the unsuspecting pint in my cart and took it home to face the judgment of both my wife and I.

There could definitely be more chocolate chips in here... (apologies for the Christmas tree lighting)
Things took a surprising turn for the positive the moment we opened the carton...and noticed that it was, in fact, the green kind of mint ice cream! Although many will no doubt frown on that—and I'm sure it's made with the addition of artificial colors and/or flavors—it's a nostalgic thing for both my wife and I, who grew up on the green stuff, a time before food had to be all politically correct and shit. Passing the visual inspection was one thing, but I was sure it would fail the next step: taste. Especially when it was my incredibly strict (on ice cream) wife who went in for the first bite; once her face showed a look of shock, followed immediately by satisfaction, I knew what that meant: I needn't be nervous to take my first bite.

My own taste analysis, which followed mere seconds later, certainly confirmed what my wife tasted: this ice cream is legit. It has a nice mint flavor (pretty artificial, but strong and convincing nonetheless) paired up with the occasional chocolate chip, which do manage to taste like pretty much any other ice cream chocolate chip, from any brand. There's definitely not as much chocolate as I would like (and as many would expect), but there's a decent enough amount spread throughout that you won't have to go more than a bite or two without one. And honestly, the mint is delicious enough that it can carry you to the next chocolatey morsel without any sadness whatsoever.

We both did detect a slight weirdness in the finish—I can't tell if it was our ice cream snobbery coming out in the form of imagined flaws, or legit complaints—but it manifested itself in different ways: she thought there was a minorly bizarre aftertaste, while I thought the flavor just kind of dissipated toward the end, kind of like how many cheap candles are loaded with scent in the store to make you think you're getting a strong-smelling candle, but smell weak once you start burning them. Either way, those minor complaints completely disappeared the farther into the pint that I got, making this a delicious treat for the price, and one I wouldn't hesitate to grab again.

Value is pretty strong, when compared to other pints, which is about the only way to get an "apples to apples" comparison. Every brand raises the per oz. price on pints to a sometimes disgusting degree, in order to "lure" you into buying the larger cartons to "save money". So of course, even at a dollar, buying four of these (which is equal to a half-gallon carton), would cost you $4, which is about the price of a mid-tier ice cream brand on sale--and let's face it, almost all of those are going to taste a bit better than this one.

But, the "pint" certainly has its merits: they're more "portable", more limiting to the health-conscience, and take up less freezer space which, let's be real here, somehow always seems to be an issue, at least at our house. And where else can you consistently get pints for $1, without having to clip coupons, or wait for store sales? I'd easily pick this up again, and am also hoping they might be able to add even more flavor varieties to their collection (cookies n' cream would be ideal, if anyone out there is listening...)

Let's just hope this isn't one of the many products that seem to disappear from "the Tree" immediately after making its first appearance...

Overall: 7.5/10. I wouldn't call it “premium”, but factoring in the price, this is a surprisingly good ice cream. The mint flavor is strong, and while the chocolate chips are a little more sparse than I would like, they taste like the chocolate chips in just about every other brand. Valuewise, where else can you consistently find pints of ice cream for a buck? Sure, some store brands go on the occasional sale, but this is great in that you don't have to clip coupons, or wait for a certain time to buy, and that makes it an enticing backup option, if nothing else. One of the more shockingly good food buys from DT I've had in quite a while.


Thursday, December 19, 2019

Choceur Limited Edition White Chocolate Coins (Aldi)

A disappointing picture of a lackluster treat.
We just took a look at the milk chocolate version of these coins, and were thoroughly disappointed, so now let's turn our attention to the other variety they have available: white chocolate.

Personally, I actually prefer white chocolate to milk (even though I'm aware that white chocolate is technically not chocolate at all), so I had slightly higher hopes for these than I did the milk chocolate. Once again, these are modeled after American coins (with different sizes representing the quarter, and the fifty-cent piece), once again there are a decent number of coins in each $1.99 mesh package...

...and once again we're faced with another underperforming combination of taste and texture. These might melt on the tongue slightly more than the milk chocolate variety, but are still way too “tough” to be anything worthwhile: they also have a very “dollar store” style vibe—but considering these cost $2 at Aldi, they feel a little overpriced, despite the generous quantity. These reminded me a lot of just eating a plain white chocolate bar, which doesn't sound like a bad thing—except that I can get one of those for even cheaper, and without the hassle of basically unwrapping every individual bite.

In a word: "Nah".

Overall: 4/10. About on par with the milk chocolate version—although “double bogey” might be a more fitting analogy. These are just uninspired pieces of leftover white chocolate baking chips, formed into circular shapes and marketed as coins—at least that's the assumption I've come up with based on the standard taste. I suppose I shouldn't be complaining about a “standard” white chocolate taste, but with an equally disappointing texture to boot, these are just a waste, and a very disappointing showing from the usually reliable Choceur brand.




Nature's Nectar Organic Raspberry Blend Cold Pressed Juice (Aldi)

It's good, but much different than typical "cold pressed" juices.
What is the point of a cold-pressed juice? I always thought they were supposed to be "natural" and kept cold at all times to lock in the nutrients, which is a big selling point for the stuff. But apparently now shelf-stable cold-pressed juice is a thing, requiring no refrigeration (until opened), and with a crazy 2-year shelf life. Isn’t it great when massive corporations get their hands on new fads and essentially destroy them?

While we’re on the topic: Where’s the grassy flavor to let you know that you’re drinking something that’s supposed to be healthy? Where’s the floating bits of green stuff that’s supposed to make it look like you’re drinking something natural and minimally processed? Where’s the $5+ price tag for an individual bottle to really drive home the point that this is good for you? This drink is missing all of those things, instead offering up a beverage that looks…well…like juice. And for a price that’s slightly above the typical juice options from Aldi, but still well below a typical example of cold-pressed anything.

And juice is also exactly what this tastes like, for better or worse. The raspberry certainly steals the show, with a strong hit of raspberry flavor blasting your tastebuds before ending in a tart finish that was almost strong enough to make me pucker. Outside of the raspberry (which is provided in “puree” form), there’s also pomegranate and cherry juices stepping in, presumably to add a more “liquid” base; I couldn't really detect the other two specifically within the taste. In other words, if you like raspberries, it will be great for you...not so much if you don't.

In the end, though, I’m honestly wondering what the point of this even is. It tastes nothing like the “ultra-healthy, fresh-pressed, expires-in-20-minutes” kind of cold-pressed juice that even Aldi themselves have carried before. Instead, this just seems like a normal bottle of 100% juice, with an upcharge just because the term “cold pressed” appears somewhere on the label. At $1.99 per 11.2 oz bottle, it's pretty expensive compared to many of Aldi's other juice offerings, and doesn't really seem to provide much more than a standard juice, either. It's good, and I'd get it again when a “portable” juice is required (i.e. for lunches, or just to take on the go) but it won't replace any of the juices I currently get, that's for sure.

Overall: 6/10. It's a cold-pressed juice according to the label...but with none of the actual trademarks of such a juice: It's shelf stable for two years, has no weird bits of anything floating in it, and retails for just $1.99 (per 11.2 oz. bottle). While the taste is good, consisting of a strong and tart raspberry flavor, I just don't get what makes this different from other juices that Aldi carries; it certainly doesn't taste or seem like a “cold-pressed” juice in any other capacity, essentially coming off as a typical raspberry juice, but for an exaggerated price. It's good, but not necessarily for what it is.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Choceur Limited Edition Milk Chocolate Coins (Aldi)

Moreso for fans of "coins" than fans of chocolate.
Every year at Aldi, there are a variety of chocolatey treats that come out just in time for the holiday season. Mostly, they seem to be targeted toward a more “upper class” crowd, such as European chocolate collections, or Belgian seashells, or cocoa dusted truffles. But like any business, you gotta cover as many budgets as possible, and so on the lower end of the chocolate spectrum, we have Choceur's milk chocolate coins, contained in mesh-like packaging for the low price of $1.99.

And, as can be expected, they taste like it, with a very plain, sweet milk chocolate flavor that seems to be targeting little kids, and no one else. It's a stiff, hard chocolate that only slightly melts in your mouth, requiring you to chew it the rest of the way in order to finish it off—and that's not a good sign for chocolate. Seriously, at this price, there's no way I can recommend these based on taste, when the Choceur brand offers plenty of amazing confectionary treats—both seasonal and all year 'round—for the same price (or in some cases, even less).

However, there are a couple of other sensory experiences to be had with these, and they are both much better than the actual product: the “clang” as the coins hit each other in the packaging is oddly satisfying, coming much closer to hitting the actual sound of metal-on-metal than I would have expected; and, the cent-pieces are modeled after real American coins, and feature two different sizes: the quarter, and the old fifty-cent pieces. The latter is more of a nostalgic point for me, because I remember my grandparents giving me those (along with $2 bills) back when I was a kid, because I was always fascinated by the relative rarity of both.

In short, these would be decent for a money-themed event of some sort, where realism isn't really required (and preferably, where eating them isn't, either), but as a standalone, holiday-themed treat? Nah.

Overall: 4/10. Almost a singlehanded slight on the Choceur brand name, these uninspiring, pedestrian coins offer up some sweet milk chocolate, but without the richness of most of the other products in their line. In fact, they have almost a “dollar store” feel, which I suppose can be expected at their $1.99 price point (but which I still had higher hopes for). On the flipside, the coins do make a satisfying sound “clanging” around together in their mesh bag, and there are actually two sizes, matching American currency: the quarter, and the fifty-cent piece. However, I don't suppose most people will buy them just to hit them against each other, and so even with those pluses, there is no way I can personally recommend these.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Winternacht Pfeffernusse Iced Gingerbread Cookies (Aldi)

This ain't the gingerbread I grew up on, that's for sure.
Once again I found myself at Aldi with an inherent need for something sweet,and once again I settled for Aldi's Winternacht brand (which my very weak understanding of German leads me to believe translates to “Winter's night”, but I might be wrong). My previous experience was the inexplicably addicting but overpriced peanut clusters; with that fresh in my mind I decided to go in an atypical direction for me, opting for Pfeffernusse cookies, which are essentially iced gingerbread cookies. I figured even in the off chance I didn't like them, they'd be something new for our son to try, as he'll try any kind of sweet thing—that's the plus to having no real-world experience with anything.

I was really taken aback by these at first, because they are actually super-soft...I don't think I've ever had a gingerbread cookie that was soft. The layer of hardened icing—similar to the icing on iced animal crackers—gives a nice satisfying crunch that leads into the softened interior, giving these an excellent texture overall.

Then there's the flavor, which undoes that texture by being...well...gross. I suppose I'm used to the “Americanized” version of gingerbread, but these taste nothing at all like the cookies that I've had throughout my years, and instead taste like what I'd imagine gingerbread cookies to taste like if they were made from expired batter. Seriously, there's no real sweetness to be had here at all, instead replaced by a licorice taste that seems completely out of place, at least compared to what I was expecting; this is “gingerbread” in the loosest sense of the term, long on ginger and spices, but short on anything that would make that combination palatable, at least to most Western audiences.

Assuming this is your kind of thing, the price is right, at $1.99 per package, which seems fair for what I would consider to be a “Christmas novelty”, at least here in the U.S., where chocolate seems to be the dominant holiday treat. But unless our son picks up the slack and ends up eating these, they'll most likely end up in the trash. And where's the value in that?

Overall: 3.5/10. The price is on par with what you'd expect, at $1.99 per bag, and the texture is excellent, but the licorice-y taste, and almost complete lack of sweetness (save for the hardened icing on the outside) sink what could have been a classic holiday treat. Is German gingerbread that different from the American version? Even my wife, who again has a more refined palate when it comes to sweets (and everything else, really), couldn't stomach these; as a result, it's all up to our three-year-old son to save them from a dishonorable trash can fate. A very disappointing buy, and proof of the negatives that can come from trying to broaden your horizons.

Monday, December 16, 2019

Kroger Black Cherry Fitness Drink Mix Sticks (Kroger)

It's decent.

As is usually the case, I was already at Kroger (where my wife, inexplicably, actually enjoys shopping) when I wanted some kind of magical powder to give water some actual taste. And this here is the only reason that I sometimes don’t mind going elsewhere: variety. I don’t need a thousand of one kind of thing like supermarkets seem to “pride” themselves on, but when I’ve tried pretty much all of Aldi’s offerings, sometimes it’s nice to see what kinds of products other store brands are offering these days.

Surprisingly, I came to discover that Kroger has quite a decent selection of powdered drink mixes for being such a shitty store, and after perusing the aisle for a couple of minutes, I finally settled on this black cherry flavored fitness powder. Was I going to be active enough to justify getting a “fitness” themed powder? I wasn’t planning on it, but I wanted something that was a little different than the standard “fruit punch” and “lemonade” flavors, and one that didn’t have any caffeine in it…and this was pretty much the only one that checked off all the boxes in my search criteria.

I’m assuming it’s free of artificial colors considering it comes out relatively clear, although it does give the water a slightly unappetizing cloudy appearance that would make me pause for thought if I didn’t make it myself and know that's what to expect. It’s also sugar free, as we can expect from both a “fitness” beverage, as well as a powdered mix (which almost all seem to be sugar free these days), and as such comes complete with a very light, sweet flavor that’s definitely more preferable to me than drinking plain water. However, I certainly don’t think I would peg it as “black cherry” if I didn’t already know that’s what it was from the packaging, and it’s not really a “good” flavor overall—this isn’t something I would get with anything resembling monthly frequency, but I could see myself grabbing it a couple times a year, to take a break from my normal flavors.

Value, though, is certainly a high point, with a ten-pack of drink mix sticks costing just $1.29, which is the same price as similar offerings from Aldi. Unfortunately, I can’t remember if this was a sale price, or if it’s the regular retail (I want to say it was on sale, with a typical price of $1.49, which may be wrong), but either way, it’s a pretty solid deal that should help hydrate you for a few days for little investment.

Overall: 6/10. It’s a nice, drinkable powder that’s infinitely more appealing to me than the taste of regular water (although, to be fair, drinking piss would probably be preferable to me), and there’s some solid value to be had, but the light flavor (which only vaguely resembles black cherry) gets less and less inviting the more I drink it. As such, I could never get these on a consistent basis, but it's a different enough flavor from similar offerings at Dollar Tree and Aldi that I would pick these up a couple of times a year just as a break from the norm.

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!