Saturday, February 8, 2020

Specially Selected Truffle Mac & Cheese Bites (Aldi)

Overwhelming.
I'm a fan of fried mac n' cheese, but those flavors usually don't translate very well to frozen varieties...case in point, Aldi's own Appetito's brand bites which, as you can tell from my review, leave a lot to be desired, despite an alluringly-affordable price tag.

Even though I look at the ads every week, I'm pretty sure Specially Selected's Truffle Macaroni and Cheese Balls snuck under my radar, until I happened to see them inside the freezer at Aldi during a quick shopping trip. They also offer a mushroom arancini variety, and while those would probably be good, my wife isn't too keen on mushrooms; and from the way I had to rummage through a couple layers of bags to find this truffle kind, it seems she's not the only one to feel that way. (I took that as a sign that I made the right choice.)

Prepwork is simple: toss these onto a baking sheet, and cook for 12 minutes at 425 degrees—that's it. There's no flipping required (though you probably could at the midway point), and the breaded spheres come out nice and hot, with the exterior getting enticingly crispy. A bag of eight medium-sized bites retails for $2.99, which is kind of high, but the texture certainly works in its favor: these could be served as an appetizer in a restaurant, where it would no doubt cost $8 or $9 for a similar-sized serving. Besides, you can usually expect a higher price for their "Specially Selected" line, which at least are made to look more premium than many of their other lines. At any rate, we were certainly eager to dig in.

In a word, this flavor is...intense. It starts off innocently enough, with the crunchy outer layer giving way to what you think is going to be a light cheddar flavor—until what I presume to be the “truffle” kicks in, offering up a complete garlic-style kick in the tastebuds. Seriously, my wife and I were caught completely off guard the first bite...it's like an assault in your mouth!

Once the shock dies down, and the flavor becomes expected...it's really not quite as great. It's almost too much flavor, and this is coming from someone who's typically a big fan of garlic flavor profiles. The truffle flavor overwhelms everything else to where it essentially becomes “truffle balls”, with the macaroni only providing texture, and little else. What makes this even more of a bummer, is that the taste before the truffle comes in and attempts to obliterate your tongue and surrounding areas, actually hints at something that could be good on its own. The cheese is a little light, but with a boost of some added cheeses rather than the overload that we get, it could have been a pretty tasty little treat.

Overall: 3.5/10. In a word, “overwhelming”, and not in a good way. They cook up nice and crisp in the oven, with an appealing crispy texture on the outside that gives way to a soft, creamy texture on the inside. But the flavor—which starts, innocently enough, with the mild taste of cheese—suddenly explodes into an excessively garlic-like taste that overwhelms everything, and forcefully becomes the center of attention. As a single-bite tapas at an upscale restaurant, something like this could work, as a powerful one-and-done statement; an assault on the tastebuds that's over as quickly as it began. But when there's eight or nine in a bag, once that initial shock wears off and the strong taste becomes expected, it quickly grows tiresome, and we both found ourselves unwilling to grab another one.

On a random note specifically for this product, but one that could work in a variety of different frozen products: That'd be neat if one or two of them tasted strong, with the remainder just tasting like normal mac and cheese bites. The juxtaposition between the strong ones, along with the “weaker” ones, could create an entirely unexpected flavor profile typically missing from boring frozen foods.

Friday, January 31, 2020

In Memory of Beauregard: The Defective Basset Hound With a Heart of Gold

Our basset hound Beauregard passed away on January 2nd, 2020. He was a full-blooded basset that my wife and I got from a local rescue back in July, 2010, way before we ever thought having a child would even be a possibility, much less a reality. When we got him, he weighed around 30 pounds, and was so emaciated that you could clearly see his rib cage; apparently, the rescue group had found him in that state, wandering around the city with no sign of an owner.

We never found out the true backstory as to his origins, but our theory was always that he was bred to be a hound dog, and was then let go by his owners for being "defective"...a theory we surmised because he was seriously an incredibly dumb dog. The breed in general is known for being stubborn, and I don't think "intelligence" is an expected trait in any of them, but one area you can usually rely on a basset to come through is in their senses: they have an extraordinary sense of smell. As hounds, they are excellent hunters, and can track almost anything down using only their nose.

It didn't take long for us to discover that poor Beau couldn't even track down half the treats we threw his way, either wandering around aimlessly until we pointed them out, or continuing to stare at us, thinking we hadn't thrown it yet, even when they were clearly out in the open. He also couldn't keep up with other dogs, thanks to his stubby little legs, leading to some rather humorous visits to dog parks where he would just run around and bark at all the other dogs that were moving too fast for him to keep up with, before eventually just plopping down directly in the middle of their running path so they would have to go around him.

Then our son came along. We weren't sure how he would take being #2 in the family, but it didn't take long for them to forge an adorable little bond. In fact, at the time of his passing, our son had just recently started demanding mama to make him his own little doggie bed next to Beau's so he could relax and lay down with him. If Beau was jealous about no longer being mama's #1 son - and after holding that role for 7 years, it would be virtually impossible for him not to be - he never showed it; he was a gentle soul through and through, and the best big brother role model we could have ever asked for.

No matter what life threw his way - the surgery for ingesting something he shouldn't have after getting into the trash, or the cancerous lump that lead to most of his tail being removed, leaving only a wagging little nub - he was always as upbeat and as happy as can be. It was as if he knew he had found his forever home from day one; the place he was meant to spend the rest of his life, and nothing was going to get in the way of him enjoying every minute of it.

And now, just like that, he is gone, existing only in the everyday sounds we still swear belong to him: the pitter-patter of his paws on our floor; the high-pitched bird-whines that he would emit when excited; the sounds of him moving around and getting comfortable in his bed. He was such a big part of our lives that it's impossible to remember a time when he wasn't there, comforting my wife whenever she needed it, and prancing around with palpable excitement at the smallest of things. Even when he wasn't directly a part of our daily routine, such as the long stretches when he was off sleeping somewhere (a favorite hobby of his, and most bassets), it was always comforting to feel his presence; just to know he was there.

And even though we will never feel his physical presence again, we will carry him with us wherever we go; he will always be a part of our family, running as slowly through our hearts and minds as he did when he was here. I hope that wherever he is, he's been given the things he was stripped of during his time on Earth: a working nose to track down scents, and faster legs to keep up with the other dogs. I hope he's telling them stories about how much fun he had while he was here, and that he knows just how deeply he will be missed, and what a void he has left behind.

RIP Beauregard Centi. This place is certainly a lot quieter without you here.

Too quiet.