Sunday, February 26, 2017

Fresh Finds Dippable Tortillas, Harvest Road Flamin' Baked Crunchy Curls (Big Lots)

FRESH FINDS DIPPABLE TORTILLAS

Not even the right goddamned brand, but the chips look similar. I'm just about over this photo shit.
I went to both Dollar Tree and Aldi one day, and completely forgot to buy chips at both of them.  This wouldn’t be much of an issue, had my wife not made (literally) three pounds of pineapple salsa the night before; if you’ve never had fresh pineapple salsa, then you have not lived a complete life.

Not wanting to make the five minute trek back to Aldi, nor the roughly ten minute journey back to Dollar Tree, I instead opted to take a three-minute drive to Big Lots, figuring they would have some form of tortilla chips.  I had only two rules, laid on me by my picky wife: No yellow corn chips (fine by me, as I don’t like them, either), and no round chips (also fair enough, as I tend to equate those with cheap gas station food anyway).  I was really hoping Big Lots would have another option, as I was not going to make a trip anywhere else.

After scanning the chip aisle for a few seconds, I started to get nervous, as I had not seen a single bag of tortilla chips.  Of course, there was the usual collection of misguided chips, and failed experiments, but nothing so straightforward and plain as a tortilla.  Then, right in the middle, I spotted the small section of tortillas.  My options were either a small bag of round tortilla chips, for a dollar, or a larger bag of “dippable” tortilla chips, with the large crater in the middle to hold a generous helping of whatever you‘re going to dip them into.  Since that was the only kind that met my wife’s stringent criteria, I “scooped” up a bag of Fresh Finds Dippable Tortilla Chips, Fresh Finds being, as far as I can tell, Big Lots’ own house brand.

I’ve been pretty impressed with the small handful of Fresh Finds items I’ve tried before, but these chips have to be their best product yet.  They’re surprisingly light and crunchy, with a corn flavor that’s not too strong, but not too light, either.  Even more importantly, they’re not doused in a heavy helping of salt, something that tends to happen with many bargain brands.  Because of this, the chips actually fed off the salsa surprisingly well, by allowing the sweetness of the pineapple to really shine, only throwing in a little bit of sodium to create the perfect counterbalance.  My wife also enjoyed them, to the point that we declared these to be our new go-to tortilla chip.  If that doesn’t say it all, well then I don’t know what will.

Overall: 8/10.  Fresh Finds products are Big Lots house brand, and the handful that I’ve had have all been at least good.  But these are the best of the bunch:  They are surprisingly light, yet crunchy, and don’t compromise the taste of your favorite dips or salsas with an overabundance of salt, like some brands have.  And for the standard Fresh Finds chip price of $1.90, it’s light on the wallet, too.  Give them a try!

HARVEST ROAD FLAMIN' BAKED CRUNCHY CURLS

Can't find the actual fucking photo of these anywhere. Similar product, only redder.

When it comes to private label foods, Big Lots is only a couple notches above Dollar Tree for me--that is to say, I don’t have a lot of confidence when picking up a food item from a brand I’ve never heard of before.  But a man’s gotta eat, and when I saw Harvest Road’s Flamin’ Baked Crunchy Curls for $1.50, I jumped at the chance to give them a shot, even though in the back of my mind, I knew that I was potentially purchasing a bag full of failure.

Well products like these are the reason why I try to go in with an open mind, instead of judging a book by its cover:  These are pretty much exactly the national brand, for a fraction of the cost.  Now, I might be missing some slight differences in taste, namely because my mouth goes numb a few pieces in (I love hot foods, but I do not have the mouth for it), but right before I lose all feeling in my tongue, I do get a strong dose of cheese flavor.  In fact, to me it’s virtually indistinguishable from the national brand, so it gets heavy marks for flavor.

The one problem I have with this, and many other similar products, is that the packaging is so weak that it easily falls apart.  This lead the first bag I bought to go stale within three days, simply because I didn’t realize the bag had torn so far down from me just eating a few pieces.  Even Aldi’s version of this product did the same thing to me.  Would it really increase the costs that much to have decent packaging?  For a product that’s mainly corn, one of the cheapest and most-used ingredients in the world, I doubt the cost of the stuff in the bag even approaches $.50, so I’d like to think a couple extra pennies could be used to solidify the packaging.

Other than that, though, I was heavily surprised by the quality of this product, at least in terms of being compared to the national brand.  I can’t say for sure if this is something that Big Lots will carry all the time going forward (I’ve never seen them before), so if you see these in your local store, and enjoy the national brand, then you can definitely satisfy your craving while simultaneously saving a buck or two.

Overall: 8.5/10. I’m really astonished at how “accurate” the flavor is, when compared to the national brand.  There’s a heavy dose of cheesiness, and the exact same amount of heat, which always causes my mouth to go numb just a few pieces in.  Even its appearance is pretty much exact, with cheese curls heavily coated in the daunting red powder.  At $1.50 per bag, there’s also a decent amount of savings over the name-brand stuff, so it’s definitely worth your while to grab a bag.  I’m not sure if this is a product Big Lots carries all the time, or if it’s part of their rotating selection of closeouts, so I’d recommend getting to your local store quick!


Sunday, February 5, 2017

Stacker Pop Energy Shots: Citrus Soda and Cherry Cola (Dollar Tree)

STACKER POP CITRUS SODA ENERGY SHOT

Genetically engineered to appeal to 1950s tastebuds.

Stacker's “Stacker Pop” energy line is the perfect example of a product that just feels like it's fifty years too late. For starters, there are any number of full-size energy beverages (8 – 16 oz.) that feature carbonation and are in a much better position to replicate an actual citrus soda, if they felt so inclined. Hell, many such energy drinks have citrus variations, or citrus qualities, so there's already no shortage of such drinks on the market, ready to quench the thirst of—and give a nice energy kick to—people whose tastes skewer more toward the sweet.

But apparently the fine folks at Stacker took a look at the energy market, and found that it seemed to be missing one thing: a citrus energy shot. Okay, fair enough, I suppose. I'm sure there are a growing number of people that don't have time, or the want, to down an entire 16 oz. can and would rather just get their stamina boost by quickly downing a 2 oz. shot. Even taking into consideration that shots have absolutely no carbonation whatsoever--so even if they knocked the flavor out of the park, it would still probably just taste like a flat, uninviting soda—there are a number of other odds stacked against this whole idea before we've even cracked it open.

And then there are the problems that you face after you crack it open. Like the fact I would rather drink my own piss than ever get this shot again. You think that's a far-fetched statement, but as it stands in bottle form, it tastes like I'm drinking someone else's, so it's not so exaggerated after all. There is a small taste of something citrus to start off, that lasts just long enough to trick you into thinking that it might be okay after all, until a bitterness sets in and everything just goes straight to hell after that. It reminds me of a poison that's trying to mask its bitter flavor with some terribly fake, and medicine-y, sweet flavor. It's a rather disgusting flavor that has no business existing in 2017.

Which brings us back to my original statement: This feels like something that would have been offered as a “revolutionary” product in the fifties or sixties. It has the same similar way-off taste that could have tricked people back in the infancy of “natural flavors” but that is just inexcusably way off today. I don't know who tasted this and approved it for human consumption, but I guarantee it's some disconnected executive who never actually has to taste this shit.

On the upside, it does actually provide a little burst of energy, as it's supposed to do, so at least forcing down the flavor isn't entirely for naught. But come on, we shouldn't have to pick between flavor AND functionality. Certainly not in the 21st century, anyway.

Overall: 3.5/10. A terrible blend of medicine, citrus, and piss that has no business being on store shelves in 2017. This is the kind of product I would have expected to see in the fifties and sixties, when “natural flavors” were new and consumers were more tolerant of disgusting stuff because it was "new", but in store aisles filled with delicious-tasting energy shots, what's the point of intentionally introducing this junk? It's a failure just in concept: Why would you try to translate a citrus soda flavor into the only kind of energy drink that is never carbonated? It gets points because $1 is a decent deal (though Aldi's vastly superior shots are $.69) and it did give me a little kick...just not enough of one to justify forcing down its terrible flavor. Gross.

STACKER POP CHERRY COLA ENERGY SHOT

For those masochists out there who like to punish themselves.

Well, assuming you read the above review, we all see what the relatively-safe citrus version of this turned out to be like, so now we turn our attention to the cherry cola energy shot, presented by Stacker. Again, I don't understand why a non-carbonated energy shot would attempt to emulate a carbonated beverage, but let's just cast our doubts aside and give this one a shot, eh?

Now, I was even more disturbed at the thought of this, because I can't stand fakey cherry syrup. If I go to a restaurant that offers cherry cola, only to discover it's just cola with cherry syrup, I flat out refuse to even partake in that...way too many syrups are way too over-the-top, and it just tastes to me like I'm drinking a cartoon. With that in mind, here's an energy drink that is made up entirely of chemicals and fake stuff, so that knowledge, paired up with the failure of the previous drink, had me really dreading this one.

As it turns out, it's even worse than I ever imagined. The taste of this one is so bad that it literally makes my stomach turn just thinking about it. There is some fake cherry cola flavor in there at first, but then it's once again replaced with a bitter aftertaste that completely ruins it and not only makes drinking it not enjoyable, but a literal chore: The cherry flavor reminds me a ton of cough syrup I hated as a kid, so I have to force it down while dealing with PTSD-style memories of being sick as a child. The aftertaste hints that there's some alcohol in there, only without the benefit of there actually being any alcohol in there...it tastes like shit just because it wants to, which doesn't even make sense in my book, especially considering a vast majority of these shots actually taste good.

Even within the walls of Dollar Tree, from where I got these, there are no fewer than ten different energy shots available, and all of the others I've tried have been good. Hell, even Stacker themselves offer knockoffs of the national brand energy shot, in both grape and berry flavors, and theirs are very good. Why they felt the need to release this abomination on the world is beyond me.

Just like the citrus junk, I have to give it some points, because it actually does work for what it's supposed to do. In other words, I did get a noticeable increase in energy after forcing some of it down. The dollar price tag is stuck in the middle of Valueland: it's more expensive than Aldi's $.69 energy shots, but much cheaper than the national brands, so there's at least some value to be had. But this just feels like an endurance test, like a prank product where some executive is laughing at the shit we'll shove down our throats just to save a few coins. This flavor is better suited for ipecac rather than energy.

Overall: 2/10.  This somehow tastes even worse than the citrus soda version, with a flat, non-carbonated cola flavor combining with cherry-flavored cough syrup in an attempt to make your stomach turn. At least, that's what I'm assuming they're going for, because you have to try hard to make something this terrible.  It's literally the worst energy shot I've ever had, and quite possibly the worst energy anything I've ever had the misfortune of forcing down my throat. At a dollar, value is decent, and it does actually provide a kick of energy (hence the reasons it avoids a flat-out zero), but there are no fewer than seven energy shot choices from within the walls of Dollar Tree, and the rest are actually really good (including Stacker's own knockoffs of the national brand energy shot), so there's literally no need for this junk to even exist, and even less of a reason for you to buy it.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Wise Barbecue Flavored Corn Chips, Wise Onion Flavored Rings (Big Lots)

WISE BARBECUE FLAVORED CORN CHIPS

A word to the "wise": these are pretty good!

I was craving a junky snack and perusing the Big Lots chip aisle when I came across a 5 oz. back of Wise BBQ Flavor Corn Chips retailing for just a buck.  After much mental debate as to whether or not I wanted to force-feed myself that much sodium for just a snack, I finally relented, and bought a bag.  The following are my thoughts on this particular product.

I didn’t do a side-by-side taste test, but from what I recall, these taste pretty close to the national brand, which is to say that they’re incredibly salty with a slight barbecue tang in there somewhere.  In the realm of all things barbecue, these chips, like the main brand counterpart, are pretty bad; they only slightly resemble the titular condiment.  And yet they’re one of my favorite salty snacks (along with the equally mislabeled ‘Chili Cheese’ version, which tastes nothing like either chili or cheese and yet I can down a bag with minimal effort).  The texture is spot on, and there’s a generous helping of “barbecue” seasoning covering each chip, to the extent that most of them are covered in a red hue.

If you like the national brand corn chip, and stumble upon these at your local Big Lots, I recommend you pick these up.  They’re very similar, and quite a bit cheaper, too, which is all you can ask for in a knockoff.  Wise products also appear at Dollar Tree, and some of their chip offerings can be hit-or-miss, but these are definitely a “hit”.

Overall: 8/10.  A solid knockoff of the name brand barbecue corn chip, Wise’s version is almost exact in every way, from appearance, on down to taste.  Of course, these are pure junk, loaded with sodium and God only knows what else, but they’re one of the few salty things I could eat all day.  And with a 5 oz. bag retailing for just $1 at select Big Lots stores, it’s nice to know that high blood pressure can be so affordable!

WISE ONION FLAVORED RINGS

If you like this kind of snack, you would be "wise" to pick up a bag!

I love onion-ring flavored snack “chips”; growing up, the national brand was my favorite, but it was only an occasional treat because they cost so much.  I’m now 32, and the national brand is still an occasional treat, because they cost so much (come on, I’m not paying upwards of $4 for junk food).  Thankfully, as I’m learning, there are lots and lots of private labels eager to earn the business of hardworking folks like myself, and Wise is one of them.

Wise is actually one of the more well-known brands that I review.  It isn’t a private label, and their foods can be found at a variety of places, from Big Lots, to Dollar Tree.  But while they may not officially meet the criteria for a “private label” brand, their much lower price points p

This particular onion ring avoids taking the “sweet” route, which we have seen from other off-brands; instead, it goes for straight-ahead onion flavor.  It’s a little bit of an overload at first, but assuming you can get used to it--and, assuming you really like onion--it gets a little better the farther into the bag you go.  Unfortunately, what also gets stronger is the sodium content, which kind of takes away from the main flavor, and throws everything off a bit.  In fact, after downing several more than I should have, it wasn’t the onion taste that was lingering in my mouth, but that of salt.  Honestly, I think this problem is also inherent with the national brand too, but I still would have liked to have seen it “corrected”.

Visually, these are kind of similar to the national brand, only these rings are much thinner and smaller; it’s kind of strange, because this seems to be the appearance that the vast majority of off-brands share.  Is it cheaper and less labor-intensive to make these rings smaller, as opposed to the larger, thicker variety in the main brand?  Obviously, the size of the ring doesn’t matter, but I’m just curious and thinking out loud.

Now it’s math time, kids!  I can hear collective groaning, but it’s necessary to see if we’re actually saving any money by opting to go for the cheaper option.  The size of Wise’s Onion Ring bag, which I picked up at Big Lots for a mere $1 (the original retail price is $1.79) is 3.5 oz.  For the sake of comparison, the large bagof the national brand stuff is 6.5 oz., which is slightly less than double Wise’s.  Thus, we can compute that it would take a mere two bags of Wise’s onion rings to cover the size of one bag of the national brand, which would give us 7 oz. for just $2; unless you’re a couponer, chances are you won’t be getting the “actual” stuff for that price.

Wise’s attempt at onion rings aren’t without fault, but they provide a tasty little snack at some excellent value, especially if  you can catch them at Big Lots stores.

Overall: 7/10.  There’s a headlong onion flavor right out of the gates that goes straight for the taste buds, and that can be rather surprising at first, but once you get used to it, it gets a lot more manageable.  The only problem is, there’s also a ton of salty flavor, that eventually manages to overpower the onion taste the more you eat, causing the lingering taste of salt to stick around.  This is a big turnoff for me (even though, if I recall correctly, the national brand also has the same problem).  Value is present, as each 3.5 oz. bag is just $1 at Big Lots stores, meaning you’d just need two of these to cover the size of the large package of the national brand onion ring snacks (with .5 oz. to spare).  This would only cost you $2; chances are, short of couponing, you wouldn’t be able to get the real stuff for that price!  Worth a look.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

White Rain Cool Ocean Wave 3-in-1 Shampoo, Conditioner, and Body Wash; Power Stick 3-in-1, Cool Blue Water (Dollar Tree)

WHITE RAIN COOL OCEAN WAVE 3-IN-1 SHAMPOO, CONDITIONER, BODY WASH

A pretty gross, unappetizing picture of this product.

I don't use body wash very often, instead opting to frequently use bar soap, just as I always have...guess you could call me old-fashioned! But I do keep at least a bottle of “three-in-one” (shampoo, conditioner, body wash) on hand at any given time, either for when I run out of soap and forget to buy more (happens way more often than it should), or for when we go traveling, so I don't have to take three separate products. Other than that, it just tends to sit in the shower for long periods of time to frequent inactivity, and it was having two bottles sitting in there now that made me think to finally do a review of them!

The first one we'll take a look at is White Rain for Men, in the Cool Ocean Wave scent. The smell itself doesn't do much for me...there is a “cool” watery side to it, and it's not terrible, but I think it mostly smells like cheap chemicals. Oh well, it sure smells better than BO, so not having the best scent in the world doesn't bother me all that much. What I don't like is its performance: it's very thin and putters out of the bottle in sad little gel clumps...not exactly my ideal texture in a body wash. Then it gets even worse.

There's very little lather to speak of. I like my body wash to really get nice and lathery with a minimum of product, and I like to think I'm in the majority in this opinion, but this stuff never really gives me that ideal fresh, clean feeling. It foams up a little bit, and for some that will no doubt be enough, but it doesn't even come close to cutting my mustard. I've even tried doubling up the amount of it I use, and it still didn't produce the results I was looking for...then you just get a large amount of partial foam falling all over your bathtub and creating a slipping hazard.

By the same token, I can't really be too hard on it, because a large 15 oz. bottle is merely $1, which is great in a disgusting world where similar products can be (and frequently are) $5 or more. And it gets the job done and beats walking around sweaty, no matter how disappointed I am with the texture. That's why I don't throw it away, because some day I'm sure it'll help me out in a pinch; until then, it's pretty much relegated to backup duty in my shower.

Overall: 5.5/10. It's got a chemically scent, and its texture is very thin, which I don't like. To boot, it doesn't lather up very well, even when I use twice as much product as I normally would, so it never gives me that “ultra clean and fresh” feeling when I step out of the shower. But on the plus side, it does the bare minimum that it's supposed to do, and at only $1 for a 15 oz. bottle, provides some pretty solid value. It's not my favorite stuff in the world, but I keep it on hand as a backup for those frequent times I run out of soap. Okay, but nothing noteworthy.

POWER STICK 3-IN-1 SHAMPOO, CONDITIONER, BODY WASH, COOL BLUE WATER

This stuff is surprisingly, well...excellent.

Here's another 3-in-1 that I've had in my shower for months! It, too, is available from Dollar Tree. Normally, these bottles are 12 oz., making them three ounces less than the White Rain version I reviewed above, but I happened to get lucky and get this when it was a “Bonus Buy”, so I got 16 oz. for the same price! Double win!

That win gets compounded even more with actual performance, because it improves upon White Rain's version in almost every way, at least when compared to my preferences. For starters, it comes out nice and smooth, just like the bottles that cost five times (or more) as much, and it doesn't take much at all to get a nice lather going. It's the standard lather you would expect, with a nice, thick layer of foam arising with a minimum of required effort, and it goes on the skin smooth and easy. It's one of those things that would be a decent deal at even three times the price, so for just a buck, it's a no-brainer!

About the only area where there is no improvement over White Rain's product, is the smell...while I would slightly prefer this one, and the strong chemical scent is missing, it's still a pretty lame, fake “ocean” aroma that I don't find all that enticing. But if a dollar body wash is going to come up short on something—and at that price point, it's pretty much a requirement—I would rather it be in the scent than in performance or anywhere else, so there are no hard feelings on this end.

Even with the standard 12 oz. size (3 ounces less than the similarly-priced White Rain), I would prefer this one by far, as it's the perfect mixture of price and performance.  At 16 oz., it almost comes down to "if you don't pick this up, you're an idiot" territory. In fact, I'll probably pick up a different scent next time just to try it out. They say you can't have your cake and eat it, too, but this gets you pretty darn close to proving that saying completely wrong. A great buy here! And what do you have to lose?  Even if it's not your cup of tea, it's only a buck.

Overall: 9/10. The scent is the only thing that prevents this from getting a perfect score, because Power Stick's 3-in-1 is the perfect combination of texture and lather, all for just a buck! I happened to get a 16 oz. “Bonus Buy”, which makes it even more of a no-brainer, but even in its standard 12 oz. variation, I wouldn't hesitate to pick this up again. On the skin it lathers up real nice and leads to a fresh-skin feeling, while it also feels right at home as a shampoo, easily foaming up in the hair and making everything feel fresh and clean. Great for travel, too, so you can just take one thing instead of three separate products! Excellent buy.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Kroger Sweet and Salty Almond Granola Bar, Kroger Xtreme Trail Mix Chewy Bars: Peanut and Chocolate (Kroger)

I really hate shopping at Kroger, as I do with most large supermarket chains, but certain life events have lead us to go there more often.  For this reason, as well as others, we will now be including their store-branded, private label products amongst our roster of goods here on Budget Food Review.  And speak of the devil, here are two to kick things off!

KROGER SWEET AND SALTY ALMOND GRANOLA BAR

God, I despise the experience of shopping at Kroger. But these are pretty tasty little bars.

My sweet, loving wife picked me up a box of these to take to work as a snack, so I eagerly dug in. Without a big lead-in, let's delve into the details:

I've had the national brand before, but only in the peanut variation...I've tended to stay away from almonds because I'm not really all that into “serious” nuts. Well that was my loss, because this is even better than the peanut version. For starters, that tends to be a nut overload, because the peanut one is dipped in peanut butter, which then leads to a lot of peanut. I really like that one, but I have to be in the mood. This one is still super-sweet, but the almond is joined with a layer of “yogurt flavored coating”. Okay, why they couldn't use something real instead of something made up of "yogurt flavoring" is beyond me, but that's not for me to decide.

Both flavors compliment each other very well. It's very sweet, and don't think for a second it's healthy just because it has “almond” and “granola” in the title, but as a little pick-me-up, it's a great little treat. The almond also seems to be covered in some kind of sweet glaze, so it's not as dry (or healthy) as normal, but I'm not going to complain about that, because I hate plain almonds. I would definitely get these again.

On the flipside, the ingredient list is somehow five miles long, and filled with a plethora of weird ingredients. I'm sure they all serve a purpose, but it's definitely eye-opening, considering oat bars seem to be one of the easier ones to make “all natural”. (Don't you just need oats, toppings, and a binding agent?) There's also a plethora of sugar and fat, with brown sugar (via the oats), sugar, AND high fructose corn syrup appearing relatively high in the list, culminating in a total of 12g for the entire bar. That might not sound like much, and there are certainly things with much more than that, but given the size of the bar, it's not great.

Still, “healthy” isn't always on the list of criteria when selecting something to eat, so despite its weaknesses, I would definitely get these again. If you just want a great-tasting bar that will put something in your stomach to tide you over until you can eat a full meal, this one will help do the trick.

Overall: 7.5/10. It's very sweet, so if you're not in the mood for sweets, stay away, but this blending of granola, almond, and yogurt “flavored” coating is pretty darn tasty. Great texture, too, as it's all so deliciously chewable. Definitely worth a look if you're into this sort of thing; I would gladly get it again in the future. The only unknown variable is the price, as I was not with her when she bought it...assuming these are $1.99 or less, and I'm sure they are, they provide decent value for six bars. Also of note: there is quite a bit of fat and sugar in each bar, so don't think that it's “healthy” just because it has “granola” and “almond” in the title...manufacturer's cleverly try to cash in on health fads by including such keywords in the titles, despite the product being loaded with unhealthy ingredients. But if “healthy” isn't in your criteria and you just want a great-tasting snack to tide you over, this is an excellent choice.

KROGER XTREME TRAIL MIX CHEWY BARS: PEANUT AND CHOCOLATE

I wouldn't wish a shopping trip to Kroger on my worst enemy. Also, these bars are only alright.

I'm not big into trail mix (again, my wife picked these up for me), so you'll probably need to adjust the final score accordingly: if you love the stuff, add a couple points, while if you hate it even more than I do, then stay away.

That being said, this is a decent little bar, which I took to work with me and basically ate as a breakfast in the mornings. The main reason I don't like trail mix is because of the raisins...when I was younger, I was huge into the dried fruit, but ever since I was around 10 years old, I just couldn't eat them much anymore. The flavor of the raisins is strong enough to overpower almost everything else in these bars. I don't appreciate that so much, but again, that just comes down to personal preference.

On the flip side, there are two different kinds of chocolate, which does help to at least neutralize the raisin flavor somewhat. Neither of the chocolates (chips and circular candies) are all that sweet, which is also a good thing, because it prevents it from being almost overwhelmingly so, like the above almond bars. If you like trail mix, chances are you are really going to like these.

The same issues for the almond bars apply however: despite the even simpler setup (there's no coating at the bottom), the ingredient list is incredibly long, and the bars somehow have even higher fat and sugar content than the almond bars! Talk about a surprise! We can expect some fat and sugar to derive from the chocolate, but I wouldn't have expected it to be that much considering the lack of intense sweetness. The sticky binding agent is also a bit of a problem, as it sucks away any feeling that this may be “all-natural” (and is probably the main culprit behind the dozens of seemingly-unnecessary ingredients).
It's a decent bar that once again comes down to price...assuming these are $1.99 or less (again, my wife picked these up so I'm unsure) then I'd consider these a worthy value; anything more and they're completely overpriced. Either way, I probably wouldn't get these again, but they were worth a try.

Overall: 6/10. I'm not really into trail mix, so adjust my score accordingly to your tolerance for the peanut/chocolate/raisin mixture, but these bars are pretty decent for throwing something in your stomach first thing in the morning. I thought there were too many raisins, which was the overwhelming flavor, but there is a good amount of chocolate, thanks to both chocolate candies and chips. The bar feels unnecessarily sticky thanks to the binding agent used, which kind of disrupts the feeling that this might be a “natural”, “healthy” bar (it's not), but it's edible and that's sometimes all I'm looking for in a snack.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Crofton 15-Piece Cookware Set (Aldi)



I'm not quite ready to make a full return to the world of blogging, but I do feel the need to weigh in on this product since they're offering it again this year.  More specifically, I feel the need to urge everyone to completely avoid it, because it's absolute junk.

Last year, my wife and I were in a tight financial situation during Christmastime...she had lost her job back in July, and was just getting settled into a new one, which paid only minimum wage, the week of Thanksgiving. In other words, we did not have the luxury of a "disposable income", and so I wanted to get her something practical for Christmas; since she had been asking for a new set of pots and pans for what felt like ever, I initially jumped at the chance to get these for her when I saw them in last year's Aldi ad.  After all, her current ones were setting off our smoke alarms, as the nonstick coating had almost completely worn off--if that's not a sign that it's time to get new ones, then I don't know what is.  As most of you know, cookware sets are often twice as much as the price Aldi was wanting for this, and so I figured I could fit this into the budget, thereby making both of us happy.

However, I never go into a situation without thorough research, and so research I did.  My main point of contention was the specific mention of "Xylan Plus" coating, which I knew nothing about.  After finding information about it--from the manufacturer's own website, no less--my fears about purchasing this only grew.  The manufacturer of Xylan only gave Xylan Plus a 4-6 rating (out of 10), and basically said it was one of their weaker nonstick coatings.  Initially, I decided that I was just going to pass, and figured I could find a better set for around the same price at a place like Big Lots.  But I kept coming back to the $40 price tag, and eventually talked myself into getting it anyway.  The rationalization was that our finances should be completely in order by the following Christmas, and even a bad set of pots and pans would last a year, at which point I could use our financial gain to buy her an even better set (NOTE: Our finances are still not sorted out, and have gotten even weirder, thanks to the arrival of a month-old newborn to our family...but this is beside the point).

So I bought it for her, and she was happy to receive it.  In fact, it would be the only thing I bought for her for Christmas that year.

Long story short, the coating wore off from the most-used pans in the set within six months of purchasing it--and that's being generous, because according to my wife it was actually closer to ONE month. She might cook a little bit more than the average person, but we're not talking about anything like we own a catering business and were using them fifty times a week, or something--with just standard use (three or four uses per week to start), these wore down incredibly fast. The coating on the large saucepan is now completely gone, and bits and pieces have worn off to a clearly noticeable degree on every other pan in the collection.  Our last set (Rachael Ray) had lasted us around 7 years, with the same frequency of use, so even with the weaker coating, this is inexcusable.

Thankfully, my wife got knocked up and didn't even need to use the pans for the last three months, when she was too big, and tired, to even think about cooking, which has bought me some more time to get her a better set. But even at $40, this is a complete waste, unless maybe you plan on using this as a backup, or rarely ever cook.  Aldi rarely disappoints me, but it completely shit the bed on this one; I don't want to see anyone else get ripped off like we did.

OVERALL: 0/10. A junk collection of shitty pots and pans that literally started wearing down within A MONTH of my wife using them. Now, a little less than a year later, all the coating is gone on the large saucepan, and the others are all missing large, noticeable chunks throughout. I researched these after seeing them in last year's ad and figured even the low-rated Xylan Plus coating would last at least a year, thereby buying me more time to save up for a better set, but the reality was much worse than that. Unless this is going to be an infrequently-used backup, or unless you rarely do any cooking and just want to have a set on hand for when you have to, this set is a complete waste of money at any price. No matter how low your budget is, please, please PLEASE learn from my mistakes and spend a few more dollars on a name-brand set...you'll be glad you did. Hands-down the worst purchase I ever made at an Aldi store.


Sunday, October 16, 2016

SimplyNature Kids Fruit-a-Riffic Punch, and Berry-Licious Lemonade (Aldi)

SIMPLYNATURE KIDS FRUIT-A-RIFFIC PUNCH 
Not for children.  All water, barely any juice.
In case it's not obvious how much of a child I am, I have wanted to try a good number of the items in the SimplyNature Kids line, but have yet to do so. All of their products seem really “fun”, at least in the way advertisements make children's food products seem “hip” and “cool”, even though all you do is eat them, which isn't fun at all. The packaging is also adorable, sticking to a simple color scheme, while not going overboard on the cutesy designs (for example, the bottle to the Fruit-ariffic Punch features a real picture of strawberries, grapes, and watermelon, complete with drawn-on faces and appendages on a couple of them).

I'm honestly unsure of why I have never tried anything, despite always taking an interest in the kids items that are available. A few things have been a little too expensive for me, and of course there have been a couple that just didn't appeal to my tastes, either then or now, but for the most part the products they offer speak to the inner child in me. My wife is the same way, so why she has never asked me to get something from that line is an even more baffling quandary.

At the risk of sounding like a complete pedophile, I'm happy to say that my SimplyNature Kids virginity has finally been taken! As soon as I saw Fruit-ariffic Punch in the Aldi ad, I added it to the shopping list. I mean, the juice of grapes, strawberries, AND watermelons?! Two out of those three are some of my favorite fruits; the fact that it is organic only sealed the deal. I'm not one of those people that are hugely in to organics—I think the price trade-off is ridiculous, especially considering the food corporations themselves are largely responsible for defining what constitutes “organic” in the first place—but if the price is right, I'm willing to give them a shot. This didn't even make it to the fridge before I eagerly dove in...

Kids are going to hate this...hell, I almost hate it. It tastes like how I remember sports drinks tasting when I was younger: all water, with just a hint of juice for flavor. There's almost no sweetness whatsoever. I'm not suggesting that children need a boatload of sugar, but they do seem to like things that have taste, and this barely even registers on that scale. I get that there are no added sweeteners, so added sugars would be out of the question, but maybe just adding a touch of extra juice would have made it a little more palatable. Furthermore, I always make the mistake of assuming things when it comes to “healthier” beverages; in this case, I just assumed it would be 100% juice. It's only 30%, with water no doubt making up the remaining 70%.

There are a few pros (though they don't come anywhere near outweighing the cons in my book): Each 8 oz. serving does get you 100% Vitamin C, which is a good thing, as is the mere 35mg of sodium and 10g of sugar, to go along with 45 calories per serving. The price tag is also somewhere around the $1.99 range, if I remember correctly, which puts it on the more affordable end of organic juices. But in the end, it just feels like a gyp, considering a majority of what you're paying for is nothing more than water.

I think this is a product that's completely mis-branded: there's certainly a niche for this kind of drink with everyone looking to cut back on sugar and such these days, but marketing this toward kids is completely moronic. It tastes a lot like the popular brand of vitamin-infused water; with different packaging to appeal to grown-ups, along with the “organic” and “natural” talking points on the bottle, it could serve a purpose and appeal to a certain demographic. But as a kids product? Not a chance.

Overall: 3.5/10. This stuff is awful as both juice, and a kids' product. It's severely watered down, with hints of organic juices from concentrate all that there is in the way of flavor. What kid is going to drink this junk? It does taste like the popular brand of vitamin-infused water, so I could see it work with a complete re-branding (maybe as an addition to the Fit & Active line, with a focus on the “organic” aspect), and the health benefits are pretty good (only 35 mg of sodium, 10g of sugar, 45 calories, and 100% vitamin C per 8 oz. serving). But as a product marketed for children? I would only use it as a form of punishment.

SIMPLYNATURE KIDS BERRY-LICIOUS LEMONADE
Tastes like this is 90% water.

Well, we're back with a SimplyNature Kids organic juice product, and if you read my review of the Fruitastic Fruit Punch, you pretty much know what to expect this time around.

Once again, this is basically a severely watered-down juice product that I can't see any kid enjoying. The taste is very, very light, and there's virtually no detectable sweetness. Despite all this, though, I will say that I found this one to be better than the fruit punch, because the lightness benefits this one a little more.

Whereas fruit punch is one of my favorite flavors, and should also be—as the name suggests—a collection of powerful-tasting fruit juices, lemonade can sometimes be a little too sour or tangy when full strength. Since the flavor is weaker, this prevents that from ever being an issue. The berries unfortunately also suffer the same fate, and although I would have liked for those to taste much stronger, there's really nothing I can do about it.

Honestly, I'm starting to kind of appreciate these a little bit more, because I can't stand the taste of water, and don't always want to add those drink mix powders, which are made out of chemicals and “natural flavors”. These provide a nice alternative to water, with a mild flavor, a mere 35 mg of sodium, and a scant 10g of sugar (per 8 oz. serving), while also providing 100% vitamin C and 31% juice (weird percentage). It's not something that I can sit back and sip, but I've found myself going to this more and more when I'm thirsty and want something with a little bit of flavor.  Rather than soda or some other junk, I've also been drinking this for dinner quite a bit lately.

That being said, I think I've had my fill of these for the rest of the year, but this is a pretty healthy drink that tastes like I remember sports drinks tasting in the '90s. If you want a throwback to when they were predominantly water, with some flavoring thrown in as an afterthought, here you go.

Overall: 5/10. I still can't see any kid in the world liking this, and still believe that they're catering this to the wrong demographic, but this watered-down juice product is kind of growing on me as a (slightly) more flavorful alternative to water. Whereas the fruit punch disappointed me because I really like the flavor kick of a normal fruit punch, this Berry-Licious Lemonade works better as a diluted juice because, at the very least, it prevents the lemonade part from being too sour. The main drawback to this is that the berry flavoring also suffers the same fate—if that was a wee-bit stronger, this might have been even better. It's decent, but I wouldn't put this anywhere near a normal child, and I can't say that I'll even buy them again at any point in my life.