Thursday, December 19, 2013

A Very ALDI Kind of Thanksgiving!

How long does $25 worth of ALDI goods last during the Thanksgiving season? As it turns out: until damn near Christmas.

For those of you unfamiliar with the ALDI chain of grocery stores, they're basically the Dollar Tree of supermarkets -- the aisles are lined with miscellaneous knockoff goods, everything is being sold at discounted prices and the people who work there are probably on some sort of work release program. It's also a business founded by Nazis, but we're probably all tired of hearing about that little chestnut by now, I'm assuming.

Even though the chain's spaghetti ingredients almost killed me last year, me and my better half decided to celebrate Thanksgiving this year by holding an all-ALDI  produce pre-Thanksgiving meal. Unfortunately, our schedules got all screwy, and we had to abandon our original plans for what, no doubt, would've been the greatest dinner since Jesus's last meal. [Sidenote: Do you ever wonder what Jesus actually ate at the Last Supper? I always meant to ask my Sunday School teacher, but after that time I asked her if Yeshua ever experienced diarrhea, I suppose it was the best if I remained mum from thereon out.]

Needless to say, I purchased a metric ton of food, easily filling up my shopping cart (which are all quarter-operated, by the way) with "Chef's Cupboard" and "Cheese Club" delicacies. Since ALDI don't believe in handing out free plastic bags, I had to take my collection of comestibles and just toss them in the back of my trunk like I was on my way to a Hooverville or something. That's really the best thing about going to ALDI, I believe; it always makes you feel quite a bit more destitute than you were the day before.

All in all, I spent a little under $25 on what was no doubt the largest assortment of groceries I have purchased...well, probably ever. With ALDI-Giving firmly on my mind, I made sure no item, no matter how trivial or minute, was left off my grocery list -- imitation butter, imitation soy milk, brown sugar (which was actually more grey looking than brown, but whatever.) Hell, I even picked up some extra aluminum foil, you know, just in case. This was going to be the feast of a lifetime, without question...or the last one of my lifetime. One or the other.

So, with the sudden cancellation of ALDI-Giving 2013, I found myself with a huge stockpile of foodstuffs. Ever the food-curious sort, I've spent the last couple of weeks trying to dream up the most interesting dishes I could with the ingredients at my disposal. Three weeks later, here are the ALDI meals that have kept me upright and carrying on, amigos and amigo-ettes:

Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes! 

Instant mashed potatoes are pretty much the easiest thing in the world to make. You rip open a pouch, pour your potato dust in a microwave safe bowl, add some milk (or in my instance, soy milk), and a chunk or two of butter, and after about five minutes being radioactively bombarded, VOILA: a fitting, mostly flavorless meal fit for the burliest of hobos.

Shockingly, these ALDI-branded potatoes weren't that bad. In fact, I'd say they wee quite delicious, and relatively filling  considering the price point. Bachelors of the world (as well as those with Bachelor's degrees,) take note: these things might just save your life some day. Or save you a dollar or two. One or the other, really.

Herbes de Provence Stuffing!

First off, I have no idea what the hell "Herbes de Provence" meant. According to the Internet, that's basically nothing more than a fancy way of saying "a bunch of random dried spices mixed together, like basil and thyme." I could've checked the ingredients on the back of the box, but who has time to KNOW WHAT THE HELL IT IS YOU ARE EATING WHEN YOU COULD IN FACT BE EATING IT INSTEAD.

Well, anyway, this stuff tasted pretty bad. The stuffing itself was way too mushy, and the spices were way too subtle. All in all, the dish kinda' tasted like cardboard, and not that good Pizza Hut box kind of cardboard, that has pieces of congealed cheese still matted onto it. Recommended for the malnourished and fans of the frustratingly bland only.

String Bean and Potato Casserole! 

The first two dishes were pretty by-the-numbers, so for ALDI meal number three, I decided to get a little inventive. Green beans and boiled potatoes are generally pretty good on their own, so why not mix 'em together with cranberry white cheese for a microwaved casserole?

...well, uh, I kinda' liked it, but as we all know by now, my tastes ain't exactly the most refined in the world either. Admittedly, the dish itself looks a bit putrid, and that first bite is a little startling, but as you continue to nom your way through, I think you'll come to appreciate the delightful intricacies of the meal nonetheless. It's like eating Ireland, if Ireland was blanketed in a thick sheet of suspiciously fruity-tasting milk curd.

Since we're at the halfway point of the menu, perhaps it's time we take a brief respite, no? Among the finer items you'll encounter at ALDI is their line of in-store colas, all of which appear to be modeled after much more famous soda brands."GT Cola" appears to be their "Coca-Cola" equivalent, and to be perfectly honest, it really isn't that bad of a beverage. The weird thing is, it's taste totally doesn't sync up with its scent at all; while the drink tastes like watered down Coke, the product itself actually smells more like wood varnish. I've never really bought into the anti-soda lobby's scare tactics before, but when something designed for human ingestion smells THAT MUCH like nail polish remover...well, perhaps my concerns aren't all that unwarranted, no?

Pesto Macaroni with Mozzarella Cheese! 

Macaroni and cheese is probably the ultimate comfort food, but I've never really been a fan of that pouch-protected orange dust that Kraft keeps telling us is "cheese," somehow. With that in mind, I decided to spice up this rather average boxed meal by pumping in some pesto and, a very special ingredient...

What you are looking it here is a product that, over the course of the year, has become my White Whale of sorts. Around Casa de Internet Is In America, the above-product is typically referred to as "Ingles Cheese," because a similar peppery and olive oil-enthused mozzarella chunk was marketed at the regional Ingles chains in my neck of the woods for quite some time. And then, right before I planned on purchasing a block, the damn things vanished from the international cheese section, and I've been fairly bitter ever since. Finding this eerily similar product at ALDI definitely made my heart skip a beat, and it's annexation to the macaroni dish certainly made the makeshift meal all the more exciting for me.

As an overall dish, it wasn't too bad. The combination of pouch dust and still-kinda-solid mozzarella didn't necessarily result in the best taste and texture in the world, but that cheese-on-cheese violence was nicely complimented by the ALDI-branded pesto sauce, which in my humble opinion, was actually legitimately delicious. It may not have been fine Italian cuisine, but if you ask me? This wasn't a bad little MacGyvered meal one iota.

Mixed Vegetables with Balsamic Vinaigrette Dressing!

And now we come to the vegetables. This frozen bag of somewhat Asian-styled veggies had a pretty hard-to-ignore selling point, which was the inclusion of same savory balsamic dressing.

Which, by the way, came in the form of a frozen, vacuum-sealed packet that I may or may not have accidentally punctured in my attempt to poke holes in the bag of vegetables. I guess there's not much I can tell you about how mildly thawed carrots and string beans taste, but the dressing was downright superb -- probably, because I am 98 percent convinced that the proprietary sauce was actually Heinz 57.

Pesto Potatoes O'Brien!

And for the grand finale? Pesto-soaked potatoes O'Brien, which was the only product I purchased that had to be legitimately cooked with fire and iron and shit instead of just being microwaved. 

Potatoes O'Brien, for the unlearned, are basically Tater Tots, only with some chunks of onion and pepper chunked in the bag. Yeah, it's basically a frozen container of glorified hash brown wedges, but since when was that a negative, exactly? The pesto, of course, added an unorthodox zing to the dish as a hell, and the overall final product wasn't half bad. Of course, I'm using my own standardized definition of what constitutes "half bad," so for most human beings out there, perhaps you should downgrade my praise to "merely edible" -- you snobby elitists. 

In case you are wondering (and you should), my upfront $25 investment in ALDI produce lasted me pretty close to a month, and I still have a ton of extra stuff left over. As quality foodstuffs go, you pretty much know what you're getting into here; the food is bland to decent, but pending you have a knack for mixing spices and proportioning out ingredients, you could probably make this stuff go a long way.

And if not, just remember these sage words of wisdom, which will probably be etched on my headstone someday: "Just put some pesto on it, and you'll probably be all right."


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