Saturday, April 22, 2017

Malt o' Meal Cinnamon Toasters (Big Lots), and Hospitality Cinnamon Squares Cereals (Dollar Tree)

MALT O' MEAL CINNAMON TOASTERS
Quite possibly the best cinnamon squares cereal on the market.

As I have mentioned many times over the course of the five years this blog has been in existence, Malt o’ Meal is, by far, my favorite private label cereal brand. Its mere presence at hundreds of retailers nationwide, from dollar stores, to Big Lots, to supermarkets, might lead you to believe that it’s a national brand--which it very well may be in terms of reach--but its core philosophy, which is to rip-off products from major cereal brands while offering them for much cheaper, is classic private label all the way.

And yet, it’s one of the many cereal products I take for granted, in that I seem to always have some in my cereal collection at any given time, yet I have painfully few actual reviews of them. I guess some things I just get so comfortable and used to eating that I don’t even think of sharing them with my loyal readers (however few or nonexistent that number may actually be). Maybe it’s a subconscious territorial thing, where I just want to keep the secret of how good these are to myself, lest my review goes viral and whips up the population into a Malt o’ Meal-obsessed frenzy, thus creating a nationwide shortage that robs me of my favorite brand. Or maybe I’m just lazy and forgetful.

A couple of years back, I took a look at Millville’s (Aldi) offering of their own cinnamon cereal, and found a brand that was in sharp decline. Their cinnamon-toasted cereal used to be covered in cinnamon sugar, with cereal pieces that were so light and airy that it was almost like eating a cinnamon churro…dessert for breakfast. But as of the last time I had them, the cereal pieces seemed smaller, and all of them were tougher, like they were burnt. I thought maybe it was just a bad batch--maybe they were burnt after all--but another box revealed the same thing, and so I was content with just going without them.

But then I happened onto Malt o’ Meal Cinnamon Toasters at Big Lots one day. I’d had them before, and loved them, but was worried that they had also altered their formula. Thankfully, they had not. That what also a couple of years ago, and as Big Lots has continued to carry them off-and-on ever since then, I have continued to get them. So I can assure you that these are every bit as good today as they were then. The cereal pieces are light and fluffy, and each one is loaded with cinnamon-sugar. The biggest drawback is that since they are so light, it doesn’t take long at all for them to get soggy in milk. I like the flavor enough that I think it overwhelms this little problem, but those that like their cereal to be a little more resistant to liquids might not be as forgiving as I am.

Big Lots often carries these in 10 oz. “trial size” packages for only $1. Since they are in bags, as opposed to boxes, you might be fooled into thinking that there’s not enough here to justify spending a dollar on. But that would be quite a foolish oversight on your part. The “standard” size for the national brand is 12.2 oz., and yet it can cost three times as much! This is an even better deal than the larger bags of Cinnamon Toasters that Big Lots had at the time, so I was sure to stock up on these, as I do on almost every trip when they are available. Definitely one of my favorite cereals out there.

Overall: 9.5/10. I get these quite frequently, when Big Lots has the 10 oz. “trial size” version for a mere $1, and it has quickly become one of my favorite cereals. I used to enjoy getting Aldi’s brand of these, but they’ve since changed their formula, and I find them to be largely inedible. Malt o’ Meal’s version, however, feature light cereal pieces, and each one is coated with a very generous helping of cinnamon and sugar. If you’re not into sweet stuff, this is definitely not the cereal for you. The downside to the puffy cereal is that it gets soggy in milk very quickly, but the delicious flavor makes up for most of that problem. This is pretty close to a perfect cereal, though the amount of sweetness means that I can’t eat it all the time, or else I’d get pretty sick of it. With a price, and quality, like this, it’s one more reason to avoid even looking at the more expensive brands.

HOSPITALITY BUNCH O' CINNAMON SQUARES

If you can finish a whole box, you should be given a reward.

I've only tried cereal from Dollar Tree once, and the experience did not go well. That probably explains why it's been about four years since I bought one—and it probably would have been even longer had they not had this perched on an endcap, cartoon elephant peeking out at me through sad eyes as if begging me to take him home. I waffled back and forth a little bit, remembering how bad the fruit loops I had were, but a couple of things put my mind at ease: 1.) The 7 oz. size. I figured since it was a fairly small box, the cereal could still be pretty good; I'd be terrified of trying a full box for a buck, but places like Aldi have some excellent cereals for $2 or less, and that puts this about in the same price range; and 2.) The picture on the front. I know, I know, pictures can be deceiving, but the cereal pieces looked just like they do in the national brand.

Well, pictures are deceiving, which were my first thoughts after opening this cereal. It looks more like little pieces of a graham cracker-based cereal, rather than the typical, soft pieces that are in the national brand (and pictured on the front box). They're also really small, too, though there did seem to be a decent amount of cinnamon on them. I went from being pretty intrigued, to being a little worried...and it was still downhill from here.

I hate to say it, because I really wanted to like this, but this cereal is terrible. Just awful. The cinnamon sugar tastes nothing like any cinnamon I've ever tasted...it's somehow barely even sweet, almost to the point of being bitter, which is completely uninviting. The cereal bits have a slight taste at the beginning (though not a good one), but once they're doused in milk, all the flavor goes away, leaving tasteless bits of sponge-like material floating in a sea of white.

Even the milk at the end was nearly undrinkable, despite having a ton of visible bits of cinnamon floating in it, thanks to the bitterness. This is not at all what I was expecting, and probably not at all what anyone buying this cereal is wanting...I somehow managed to finish the bowl (I was hungry), but I don't think I'll be able to even force down a second now that I know how bad it is. Spend an extra buck or two to get Malt o Meal's version...then thank me later.
Overall: 2/10. The second cereal I've ever had from Dollar Tree, and pretty much guaranteed to be the last (note I'm talking about weird off-brands I've never heard of...the small Malt o Meal boxes are fantastic), Hospitality's Bunch o' Cinnamon Squares has to be the first example of cinnamon anything that isn't sweet...in fact, it somehow comes off as almost bitter. The cinnamon also washes off the cereal pieces in milk, leaving tasteless masses of cereal floating around. I really wanted to like this, but there are really no redeeming qualities for this junk...spend the extra buck or two and grab Malt o Meal's version from somewhere.


Thursday, April 20, 2017

Paulie's Pasta Shells and Cheese, Snapps Green Bean Fries (Dollar Tree)

PAULIE'S PASTA SHELLS AND CHEESE
Not too shabby for only a buck.

The last time I tried macaroni and cheese from Dollar Tree, it was about four years ago. The shells were just fine, but the cheese was even more neon than the name brand stuff, and its consistency was more similar to paste, than liquefied cheese. In case you were wondering, yes, the taste was just as bad as it looked…why do you think it’s been four years since the last time I tried it? But then I saw smiling, cartoon chef Paulie in the upper left hand corner of this box, and I knew from his convincingly drawn-on smile that he didn’t have anything to hide.

So I ponied up a dollar and bought a box. After all, not even Aldi and their perfected supply chain process can provide shells and cheese for a dollar; if Paulie could pull his off, by golly, this would be an amazing deal. Does he succeed? Well yes, but as it turns out, that rat bastard’s smile really is hiding something after all.

On the side of good: the pasta shells are just what you would expect, about the exact same size as the national brand. There is a good-sized package of “cheese” sauce, as well, which is also what you should be expecting. So far, so good, Paulie! The shells cook up nice and soft, as they should, and the cheese sauce is the perfect texture…I could swear that it’s even slightly thinner than the name brand stuff, but still a perfect consistency. The taste is almost pretty close, though if my memory serves me right, it’s not an exact knockoff. Still, there is no requirement, at least on my end, that private label knockoffs have to taste exactly the same as name brand counterparts--as long as it’s delicious, that’s fine by me. And these shells and cheese are close enough in that department to justify the dollar. Or are they…?

As it turns out, Paulie does have one trick up his sleeve after all, and it’s one that’s pretty common at Dollar Tree stores: he’s shorting us. He’s not just a chef, but a thief--this is an 8 oz. package, whereas the national brand (and Aldi’s Cheese Club version, which I believe is around $1.29) are 12 oz. Considering I ate this by myself, it worked out well, because it saved me four ounces of calories, sodium, cholesterol, and fat. But if you have a family to feed, the four ounces could legitimately make a difference.

So then how’s the value? It’s really not too bad. Subtracting a third from Aldi’s price (because Paulie offers a third less pasta in this package) takes us to $.93, but it’s wholly plausible they would just round that up to a retail price of a dollar anyway. It really all just comes down to the smaller packaging. Again, it didn’t bother me, but if you’re a mother (or father) who has their shells and cheese night down to a science, this is going to throw it off by giving you a third less than what you were expecting.

Overall: 7.5/10. The taste is pretty good, and rivals the name brand while being slightly different (I also thought the cheese sauce was slightly thinner, and had even better consistency than the national brand), but there’s a caveat attached to this; this is for an 8 oz. package. The name brand, as well as most private label brands (Aldi included), offer their shells and cheese in a 12 oz. package. So if you’re a college kid looking for a quick meal, then this should be just fine for you. But if you’re trying to feed a family, you might be getting a third less than what you were expecting, which could be a deal-breaker. I happened to eat it while my wife was away, so it didn’t bother me…had she been here, there might not have been enough to go around.

SNAPP'S GREEN BEAN FRIES
So much better than their virtually inedible jalapeno poppers.
The only other experience I have with Snapps involves their absolutely terrible cream cheese poppers--I first tried those about ten years ago when I lived alone and picked them up because they were a dollar at Kroger. I’ve never forgotten the bland, worthless taste. I bought them again a couple of months ago to see if anything had changed, only to find they’re still the same disgusting pieces of trash that they were so long ago.

It goes without saying that Snapps does not have a good track record with me. Then I saw they were offering green bean fries (and they’re “New!” according to the unnecessarily excited packaging); while they aren’t my favorite appetizer (not even by a long shot), they are different enough that I felt it warranted giving the terrible company another try.

For those unfamiliar, they are essentially just as they sound: green beans deep fried in batter so as to eliminate any and all nutrients (welcome to America!), and served, usually with a side of ranch. I first had them at a chain restaurant several years back. The problem is, appetizers have gotten so ridiculously expensive over the years that, at this current rate, they will be more expensive than the entrée by the year 2030. Either that, or entrees will just keep increasing, meaning eating out at a chain restaurant will cost $100 for a family of two to gorge on microwaved food more befitting of a farm animal than an actual human being.

But anyway, I digress. My point is, if I can get green bean fries for a dollar, then that’s at least five bucks cheaper than most restaurants will offer them. So I jumped at the chance.

The first thing that heightened my anticipation of eating these were the green beans themselves: first of all, many of them were large and healthy-looking (I expected them to be obvious cast-offs that didn’t quite make the cut to be in a national brand can of green beans), and they weren’t covered in batter. It’s kind of disconcerting to see, but there are only clumps of batter on each green bean, aptly spaced out so that you can still see plenty of the vegetable. I was expecting them to be completely covered, with the batter taking over the flavor.

They cook up pretty quickly in the oven; the batter doesn’t get super crispy, but it gets crispy enough. Just as the visual inspection insinuated, there’s an impressive amount of green bean taste in each bite. This may turn off some, but I thought it was a welcome surprise. I won’t go so far as to say the beans taste fresh, but they taste fresher than you would expect, with the bean delivering a decent crunch. The batter is also pretty good, and does just enough to complement the green bean taste, without doing anything to overwhelm it. Dipping these in ranch are the way to go; you can have yourself a tasty little appetizer for a fraction of the price you would pay for it in a restaurant, and that’s more than a good enough reason for me to recommend this.

Overall: 8/10. For a dollar, you get a pretty good amount of green bean fries. The batter doesn’t envelope the entire bean, as I was expecting, which means there’s a decent amount of green bean flavor in each bite. This may turn off some, but I love vegetables, and was expecting the deep fried flavor to overtake everything, so it was a welcome surprise. I dipped them in ranch, which provided me with an appetizer that is pretty close to restaurant quality, for a fraction of the price. If you see these in your local Dollar Tree cooler, you should definitely give them a shot.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Little Journey Organics Apple Mango, and Apple, Pear, Green Pea Baby Food Puree (Aldi)

LITTLE JOURNEY ORGANICS APPLE MANGO BABY FOOD PUREE

A lesser flavor, but still good...can Little Journey Organics do anything wrong?
I’m sensing a recurring theme going through all of the Little Journey Organic offerings that Aldi carries, and that is that all of them (at least so far) feature apple as the main fruit. So far we’ve seen it paired with the likes of apricots, bananas, raspberries, and even some unpredictable vegetables like sweet potato. Well, those lovable oafs from Aldi are at it again, and this time, they have blended it with mango.

In a lot of the previous combinations I’ve had, the apple is the main flavor, with the additional ingredients gradually coming to the forefront (or, in the case of both pouches I had featuring banana, the taste not ever apparent at all). As I was expecting, that is not at all the case with apple mango, where the mango overpowers the apple from the beginning. All it takes is one sniff, or even just a breath anywhere near this, to know that the mango is the prevailing flavor.

Of course, whether or not this is a good thing depends on your tolerance for mango. I like it, but I don’t love it, and so I only liked this kind. The apple does get a little say in there somewhere, but for once it’s the supporting actor rather than the main star—and this is the time I would have preferred it to take the leading role.

Feelings of mango aside, I would definitely get this again, just not as frequently as I would, say, apple banana raspberry, or many of the other ones. The tartness of the mango (which is surprisingly very tart for a kid’s food) is pretty strong, and it doesn’t take much for me to get rather sick of it…to that end, the 4 oz. pouch is a perfect amount that prevents that from happening. As with all the other kinds, too, this one has a bare minimum of ingredients: apple and mango purees, lemon juice concentrate, and ascorbic acid (otherwise known as vitamin C), with all the ingredients certified organic, save for the latter.

Another plus working in its favor is that this has the most vitamin C out of any of them that I’ve had thus far, with a whopping 140% of baby's (or yours) daily suggested amount of vitamin C. It's always good to get your baby some necessary vitamins, and this one is up to the task! It's okay, but not one of the better ones, though your opinion will depend largely on what you think of mango as a fruit.

Overall: 6/10. The overwhelming taste of mango destroys the fledgling taste of apple in what feels more like a flavor battle than an actual combination drink. I don't mind mango, but it's not one of my favorites, and the way it completely dominates the flavor—even over a formidable fruit like apple—is a big turnoff. I would get this kind again in the future, but not very often, and not for a while. There are many better flavors out there, and I would venture to suspect that most kids aren't going to like the intense mango flavor all that much, either.

LITTLE JOURNEY ORGANICS APPLE, PEAR, GREEN PEA BABY FOOD PUREE

Well, I just answered my question from the previous caption.

Heading in to a serving of this latest Little Journey Organics baby food pouch, there were a couple of things that stood out to me. One, obviously, is the flavor. I mean, I’m all for combinations of fruits and vegetables—there are many juices now that prove you can combine both into a tasty beverage—but out of the three things, I love apples, am kind of neutral on pears, and as much as I like peas, it makes me a little nervous to try pea puree inside an otherwise sweet beverage.

It was inevitable, but I have finally found a flavor that’s less than stellar. Well, “less than stellar” insinuates that it’s good but not great…this is actually more toward the realm of “nauseating”. The apple is there to provide some sweetness, and then it’s directly overpowered by a strong pea taste that, obviously, isn’t all that sweet. It’s a curious combination that’s really bad on paper, and even worse in execution, though being the trooper I am, I still managed to force the entire pouch down (hey, sometimes things get better the more used to it you get).

Even more disappointing is that this contains a meager 35% in the way of vitamin C, far and away the smallest amount out of any of the flavors I've tried. It might be easier to forgive the taste if it was at least packing in some vitamins and minerals, but there's really not much to be had in this one. All of the Little Journey Organics have been great up to this point, but this one tastes about as bad as you would expect it to right from the outset. If you're trying to get your child to eat veggies, this is not the way to go about it. Hugely disappointing.

Overall: 2.5/10. Absolutely appalling. All of the Little Journey Organics I've had up until now have been great, but this one is so heavily flavored by the pea, that it's curious how this found it onto store shelves. The taste is neither sweet, nor savory, instead balancing in the no man's land between those two categories...it just feels like a complete flavor clash. There have been some weaker ones, but even they were good enough that I would get them again, at least occasionally, but this one I won't even think twice about anywhere in the near future. And I wouldn't even pawn this off on my kid, either.


Friday, April 7, 2017

Little Journey Organics Apple Banana Strawberry, and Apple Banana Peach Baby Food Puree (Aldi)

         LITTLE JOURNEY ORGANICS APPLE BANANA STRAWBERRY BABY FOOD PUREE
Parent's choice winner AND certified organic, for $.79?! Insane.

Well let’s just keep this Little Journey Organics train rolling, shall we? Now we turn our focus to one that, based on the name and my tastes, promises to be the best one ever: apple, strawberry, and banana, all of which are probably in my top four favorite fruits (watermelon would be number two, just behind bananas).

Oh yeah, this one delivers. The apple is probably the “base” taste, but you can definitely pick up on the strawberry, as well, through a rather strong tartness that comes through. The banana seems to give it most of its texture, but the taste isn’t as strongly defined as the others, much to my dismay. Still, apple has proven time and time again to be a very versatile fruit, and a great “front end” flavor, and it proves that again here…normally I’d be much more disappointed about missing out on the banana, but it doesn’t bother me much at all, since what you do get is pretty darn good.

The last one I looked at had rice in it, giving it a slightly bumpy texture. This one foregoes that, and has yogurt in it instead, which makes it more like a smoothie. It still has the consistency of applesauce—due to this consisting of purees rather than juice—but it goes down easy and smooth.

True to every one of them in the line, all of the ingredients are organic, except for the ascorbic acid. About the biggest difference from a health perspective is that this “only” has 90% of baby’s recommended amount of vitamin C. But then again, is the percentage still assuming a 2,000 calorie diet? If so, then even 90% should be plenty enough for most babies. The $.79 price tag also still applies, making this a rather excellent value, especially considering it’s organic! See, whoever says you have to spend more money to live well hasn’t visited an Aldi store lately!


Overall: 8/10. This delicious blend of apple, strawberry, banana, and yogurt goes down smooth, and is a sweet flavor most kids are going to like...I know I did! The banana is kind of hard to detect, which is a bummer since it's my favorite fruit, but the apple and strawberry combination is solid, while the texture is a little lighter than a smoothie, but thicker than a juice. I'd like it a bit more if the banana was more obvious, but the $.79 price tag and the healthy ingredients still make this one a big winner for people of just about any age.

             LITTLE JOURNEY ORGANICS APPLE BANANA PEACH BABY FOOD PUREE
A great combination.

Well, we’ve already taken a look at “Apple Banana Strawberry”, which is a great flavor, so let’s continue on the “apple banana” trend with this one, which substitutes peach for strawberry, but is otherwise exactly the same.

As is par for the course with these, it contains all the titular ingredients in the form of organic purees, organic yogurt, as well as organic lemon juice concentrate. The only non-organic ingredient is ascorbic acid, otherwise known as “Vitamin C”. We’ve seen varying amounts of the vitamin in the previous two flavors we reviewed, ranging from 90-120%; this one falls somewhere in the middle, with 100% of the daily recommended allowance.

The flavor is very good. Once again, I don’t get much in the way of banana flavor, but the apple and peach stand out here, and the combination is excellent. This variety also has yogurt in the mix, presumably for added texture/thickenss, but this one felt very watery coming out, so I think it’s a little thinner than the previous ones I’ve tried. That’s not to say that it’s a complete liquid—it still has an applesauce-style texture—but if your baby is having problems with thicker purees, this might be the one to start off with. Besides, for $.79 (plus Aldi’s double guarantee if you’re really THAT disappointed), what do you really have to lose? This is but another great entry in Aldi’s consistent Little Journey Organics line.

Overall: 8/10. This one seemed to have a thinner consistency than the others, with more of a liquid base. This was a little surprising to me considering the addition of the yogurt, which usually makes it thicker. Still, though, that does nothing to the flavors, which are excellent here. Again, just like the apple banana strawberry pouch, I didn’t really taste the banana all that much here either, but the apple and peach come out full force and are an excellent combination. I would say this is one of the better ones, but all have been pretty consistently great…Little Journey Organics is a rather impressive line, especially when taking the price point into consideration.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Little Journey Organics Banana Apple Apricot, and Apple Sweet Potato Baby Food Purees (Aldi)

LITTLE JOURNEY ORGANICS BANANA APPLE APRICOT BABY FOOD PUREE

This is an excellent, affordable baby food line right here.


By the time I came to grips with the fact that I was going to be the World’s Most Reluctant Father (I had, for 32 years, scoffed at the idea of children), I learned that Aldi would be carrying its own line of baby items, under the adorable Little Journey moniker. One of the ways my wife and I wanted to prepare for the incoming bundle of joy was to get a little taste of the foods he would be experiencing in his young years. No, I’m not talking about formula, but rather the next step up—baby food.

What kickstarted this interest is simple: Aldi carries no fewer than 10 different flavors of baby food under their Little Journey Organics label, and we wanted to try them all. These don’t appear to be just typical baby foods with an “organic” label on them for the sole attempt to drive up the price—in fact, to the contrary, each 4 oz. pouch is a mere $.79. While that price definitely adds up over time, it’s still comparable to other non-organic offerings in that category, and much cheaper than the brand name pouches.

The ingredient list in this one is sparse, as it is with the other ones I’ve tried: organic banana puree, organic apple puree, organic apricot puree, organic brown rice flour, organic lemon juice concentrate…the only non-certified organic ingredient is the added ascorbic acid, which contributes a whopping 130% of baby’s daily vitamin C needs. And that’s everything in it. Pretty healthy roster of stuff, if you ask me (which no one did)!

The main thing that really stands out to me about everything I’ve tried so far in this line, is that, for the most part, all the different flavors get their chance to shine. A lot of times, food and juice products will list four or five different fruits, but you can only taste one or two of them, while the rest just kind of disappear into the background (or are only included to add color or texture). Take this very one, for example: Just because apricot is listed last in the name doesn’t mean that it’s unnoticeable…it is evenly blended with the banana and apple to form a delicious, sweet combination of all three.

It tastes like it starts with the banana and apple mixture before finishing with the taste of apricot. The latter fruit is nowhere near my favorite, but it does provide a great counter to the very sweet apple and banana purees. The rice flour adds nothing to the taste, instead providing a slight “lumpiness” that probably thickens it up a bit, making it feel more like food than juice.

This one isn’t one of my top choices out of the ones that I’ve had so far, but honestly, you can pretty much pick up any one of them across the board and be pretty satisfied with your choice.

Overall: 7.5/10. The sweetness of apple and banana is matched up with the awkward taste of apricot to deliver a pretty tasty flavor combination. This isn’t one of my favorite offerings from the Little Journey Organics line, but it’s still really good, while the $.79 price tag is affordable on almost every budget, and far less than the name brand baby food pouches. Very few ingredients, too, making it very healthy for growing children (and grown adults). Well worth this if you have a little one, or just want a little snack for yourself!

LITTLE JOURNEY ORGANICS APPLE SWEET POTATO BABY FOOD PUREE

I hate sweet potato. I LOVE this.

I am quite an open-minded individual, especially when it comes to fruits and vegetables, in that there are very few that I don’t like. On the fruit side, you have coconut—and that’s seriously the only one that springs to mind—while on the vegetable side you have…well…sweet potato. I don’t know why, because my mom likes it, and my wife likes it (and her tastes frequently rub off on me), but no matter how many times I try it (and it’s not often), I just can’t even force myself to like the taste. 

So, needless to say, I wasn’t too enthused to come across Apple Sweet Potato in Little Journey Organics’ baby food line. I was dreading it so much, that I almost broke my vow to try every single flavor, just to avoid having to force this down my throat. But you know what? This is America, the land of the free and the home of the brave. And what better way to prove my bravery to the fine people of this country, than by drinking something I normally don’t like?

And boy am I glad I did, because not only is this way better than I was expecting, it’s actually very good. Unlike the other varieties we’ve taken a look at up through now, this doesn’t have an added ingredient like rice or yogurt…it’s just straight up apple puree, sweet potato puree, lemon juice concentrate, and ascorbic acid (vitamin C), all of which are organic, save for the acid. The apple comes through front and center, like one would expect, and about halfway through the sweet potato joins it. But rather than clashing, or at least grossing out my taste buds with the raw taste of sweet potato, it harmonizes really well. You can definitely taste something else in there, but there’s no way I would have known it was sweet potato if I didn’t read the packaging.

The consistency, and the overall flavor, is almost exactly like applesauce, so if you enjoy apples, chances are you (or your child) will really like this. And for $.79, and 110% vitamin C, the value is extraordinary. This might just be my favorite one yet, despite my initial hesitation.

Overall: 8.5/10. I HATE sweet potato, making it about the only vegetable that comes to mind that I don’t like (Just thought of another! Beets). So imagine my hesitation concerning an apple and sweet potato mix. As it turns out, though, it was all unfounded: this is an excellent food…er…drink. The apple takes front and center, while the sweet potato joins in about halfway down the tastebuds; even with the addition, though, it all remains sweet, and you can’t specifically make out that it’s sweet potato (at least I couldn’t). Texture is exactly like applesauce, too, heightening the appeal. Probably my favorite of all the organic baby purees that Aldi offers!

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Little Salad Bar Caesar Salad Kit, Friendly Farms Light Sour Cream (Aldi)

LITTLE SALAD BAR CAESAR SALAD KIT

Without hyperbole, the best Caesar salad I've ever had.

My wife used to eat these quite frequently, often as the main course for dinner.  I never understood why.  What’s so special about a salad?  How can a salad be filling?  As a member of the male species, I refused to try it for the longest time.  Then, one day, I took a bite…and then I understood.

I’m probably going to go into a hyperbolic rant, so please forgive me for a while, but this salad is hands down the best bagged salad I’ve ever had.  It’s ridiculously good.  I’d go so far as to call it “restaurant quality”, only that brings me thoughts of this being served at chain restaurants…it’s even better than that.  It’s a rare occasion that we don’t have at least one bag of this in the house at any given time.

Probably the only “underwhelming” component of this kit is the lettuce, which I guess is pretty understandable, considering the whole point of a salad is to make the lettuce taste good.  As with most such salads, the bag contains a large helping of Romaine.  Next up is the Caesar dressing, conveniently contained in a little pouch with a tear-apart opening.  Now I certainly didn’t have much hope for this, expecting it to be a watered-down, cheap dressing wannabe, but I was blown away…this is a full-flavored Caesar dressing that doesn’t mess around.  It’s almost tart it’s so strong, and it’s what kept me coming back for more bites.  Perhaps most importantly, however, is that there is plenty enough to coat every bit of lettuce in the bag, so you won’t have to deal with dry bites as you get toward the bottom.

The parmesan cheese, contained in a separate pack, was also a surprise.  I expected dried-out cheese, but it somehow tastes fresh.  It would probably be a stretch to say it tastes like freshly-grated cheese, but considering it’s a component in a bagged salad mix, it’s closer than you would ever think possible.  Last up are the croutons, which are usually my favorite part of a salad.  That they are very good, yet somehow end up being my least favorite component, should tell you just how good this salad is as a whole.

It gets full marks from me for taste, but gets just as many for value, as a generous 10.5 oz. bag is just $1.99.  That might not sound like much, but considering most of the kit is made up of lettuce, which is pretty much light as a feather, means you really do get a lot of salad for your money.  I have a pretty big appetite, and even I have problems finishing this by myself.  Also works excellently as a side dish, which is generally the way we enjoy it.  If you’re eating it alone and can drag it out to two servings, that’s only a dollar per serving, which isn’t bad at all.

Overall: 10/10.  Flawless salad perfection in a bag.  The Caesar dressing is super strong and full-flavored, the croutons are delicious, and the parmesan cheese tastes surprisingly fresh.  There’s a lot of lettuce in here, but plenty of the dressing, cheese, and croutons to cover it all.  Making it taste even better is the price:  $1.99 for a 10.5 oz. bag that’s easily enough to feed two adults, or one person over two days.  We also tried the national brand, and it didn’t even come close.  See why this has become a staple in our house, and make it one in yours by giving it a shot!

FRIENDLY FARMS LIGHT SOUR CREAM

About 95% as good as regular sour cream.

Sour cream is delicious.  While I don’t get to use it very often, my wife likes to make tacos every once in a while, and they are a required condiment for those.  I also like to put some on Aldi’s own Mama Cozzi’s Taco Pizza, which is one of the best frozen pizzas I’ve ever had two dozen times.

Like a lot of people these days, though, I try keep an eye on what I eat.  Now this doesn’t mean I won’t down a whole frozen pizza occasionally, or I won’t slather some ice cream with unhealthy chocolate and cookie toppings; it just means I try to at least make up for the extra calories somewhere else, whether it be cutting back on soda, or drinking more water or healthy juice, or cutting back on portions of something else--anything to try to offset the added calories at least somewhat.  But when I stumbled on Friendly Farms' Light Sour Cream, I wasn’t really sure what to expect.  The term “light” always tends to make me very nervous, and other light sour creams that I’ve tried were…well…disgusting, to say the least.  But for the same price as regular, I decided that we could give it a shot.

It’s now all that we buy.  Now, let’s be clear here:  Of course, a lighter sour cream doesn’t mean it’s at all “healthy”, or that you can slather it all over everything with no health consequences; this is still some pretty unhealthy stuff.  But it does manage to cut just about everything back in half; whereas the “full flavor” tub has 5 g of fat per 2 tbsp serving, the light version has just 2.5.  Ditto for saturated fat (3.5 g “full”, versus 1.5 g light), and cholesterol (20 mg “full”, versus 10 for light).  Even calories are cut down by one-third (60 vs. 40) which can be a help to those counting calories.

How does it taste?  I’d love to set up a blind taste test, because it’s so close to the real thing that I’d say it’s virtually indistinguishable.  Others I’ve tried had a gross “diet” taste--you know, that terrible fakey sweetness that is so repulsive, I wonder how people even attempt to drink diet sodas--but Friendly Farms somehow almost packs full flavor flavor into a lighter package.  Now, I did say it’s “virtually” indistinguishable:  I’ll admit that I can taste a bit of a difference just taking a sample straight out of the tub, but I truly hope you’re not just going to be shoveling this into your mouth by the spoonful.  On the other hand, when it’s used as a condiment, I really can’t tell this apart from the “full flavored” version, which is more than enough reason to keep purchasing this.  One of our staples, and a hidden gem!

Overall: 9/10.  While eating it straight out of the tub reveals that the taste is just slightly off from the “full flavored” sour cream, I can’t detect a difference at all when using it as a condiment on, say, tacos.  And who the hell eats this straight out of the tub, anyway? It’s not like this stuff is “good” for you, but it does cut back on the fat, and sometimes every little bit helps. As a result, this has become the go-to sour cream in our household, especially since it's the same price as the regular stuff.  Unless you're a sour cream snob, you probably won't be able to tell the difference!

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Bomba Citrus Energy Drink, No Fear Sugar Free Energy Drink (Big Lots)

BOMBA CITRUS ENERGY DRINK

If you had the classic flavor, then you've had this one, too.

I actually saved the citrus Bomba for last out of the five flavors that were available at my local Big Lots, because it was the one I had the most hope for. Citrus is one of my favorite flavors, and also broad enough in scope that it can cover a wide range of fruits and tastes, from lemon, to lime, to oranges, and a ton more in between. Given the relative deliciousness of Bomba's other flavors (the only one I really didn't like was the coconut), my mind raced with the possibilities of where it would land in the “citrus” spectrum.

Instead, it settles for a flavor that is almost exact to the “classic” flavor, which is itself just a standard flavor for all “regular” energy drinks. Seriously, there's very little to differentiate between the two once it hits your tastebuds...my wife probably explained it best by saying that it tastes like a “sugar free” energy drink, one that is slightly different and maybe slightly smoother, but otherwise so similar to the classic, that there's no reason for both of them to exist. Only it's not sugar free, instead loaded with the same amount of sugar (28g) as all of the other varieties.

At the end of the day, this was by far the most disappointing of all of them. Coconut is technically worse to me, at least flavorwise, but I don't like coconut, so I wasn't expecting to get much out of that flavor. By saving this one for last, I was hyping it up to be the best of the bunch. It would be one thing for it to be bad, but for it to be so completely un-citrus and so similar to another flavor just makes it that much worse. No thanks.

Overall: 3/10. The flavor in this one isn't bad on its own, but it's nowhere near a citrus, and it tastes almost exactly like the “classic” version. In other words, there is absolutely no reason for this to exist. If this is the only kind you stumble on, and you really want to give Bomba a shot, then that's about the only scenario where I can recommend picking this one up—otherwise, just grab the “classic” and call it a day.

NO FEAR SUGAR FREE ENERGY DRINK



Unlike other products that are generally “one and done”, these seem to pop up from time to time at Big Lots stores. I generally avoid them, mainly because the tacky “edgy” graphics are annoying and don’t appeal to me whatsoever, but our local store had been out of energy drinks the last few times I’d gone, and so I felt like I had some making up to do.

Even before I bought one, I was faced with one of my biggest pet peeves: Packaging that gives you no clue as to what the hell the product inside is supposed to taste like. Sorry, but I don’t think a lack of fear has a default flavor, so I hate not knowing what to expect going in. Normally, I just assume it’s going to be a standard energy drink flavor, but oftentimes that isn’t the case. Is it really that hard to summarize the taste SOMEWHERE on the packaging? I’ve noticed this seems to happen with a lot of Big Lots beverages, and I’m wondering if that’s one of the common themes: People don’t buy shit they know nothing about. Let that be a lesson to all you future entrepreneurs and manufacturers.

Anyway, I’ve thankfully done the legwork for you, and my limited palate can tell you the flavor reminds me of standard energy drink blended with raspberry. It even has a dullish pink color that seems to corroborate these thoughts, as well as a strong fruity scent once cracked open. Surprisingly, there is some “fruit juice” in here, but it’s only listed as “for color”, and nowhere does it specify what the percentage is, leading me to believe it’s probably less than 2%.

As dumb as the graphics and “No Fear” label are, this is actually a pretty decent drink, especially for the price ($.50). It does finish more with the standard energy drink flavor, so there’s a bit of weird aftertaste that lingers for a while afterwards, but it’s not all that off-putting compared to others. The fruitiness also provides a welcome change from the norm, with the sparkle of the carbonation making it feel refreshing…paired up with the “standard” flavor, it prevents things from being too sweet, so there’s a great balance on the tastebuds.

Also a plus: it’s sugar free, which eliminates most, if not all, of the typical crash after the energy rush wears off. It did give me a noticeable kick for a little while, which is all I ask of my energy beverages, so I can’t complain in that regard at all. Caffeine content is pretty weak for a drink of its type (140 mg per can…many of the name brands have a minimum of 160), so if you’re looking for something strong, this definitely ain’t it. It’s a good little beverage, but aside from a little fruity kick, doesn’t have much to distinguish it from the rest of its competition.

Overall: 6.5/10. This has a nice fruity flavor (that I think is raspberry, but I might be way off base) that finishes with a more standard energy drink taste: as far as combinations go, it’s pretty good, with the finishing taste preventing the fruitiness from being too sweet, and the fruitiness preventing it from being too standard and boring. It does have that annoying aftertaste prevalent in a lot of “standard” energy drinks, though, which lingers on for a while. Caffeine content is also pretty weak, at 140 mg per can (most of the name brands have at least 160 in them). The main draw here is the price tag: $.50 at Big Lots stores, which makes it a great value, though I would hesitate before spending anything more than that (even a dollar would be pushing it). Overall, it’s just different enough to be acceptable. I wouldn’t be against getting it again in the future.