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In the Aldi Kitchen

by Meghann on March 8, 2014

Hello from the Chicago airport! What an amazing whirlwind 36-hours it’s been!  I feel like I’m on information overload and have so much to share.

Yesterday I was up super early to catch my morning flight to Chi-town.

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Yep, that’s the best winter outfit I could come up with. Luckily the greater Chicago area was experiencing a bit of a “heat wave” so I lucked out with sunny skies and highs in the low-40s during my trip. I didn’t even have to break out the Northface puffy coat a friend graciously lent me for the weekend.

My flight went smoothly, I landed early, and had minimal traffic getting to my final destination – an adorable little town just outside Chicago called Geneva.

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The view from my hotel room. I think I was the only one who was really excited to see SNOW all around. It was my first time getting to play in it this winter.

Geneva is where Aldi USA is headquartered.  Well, technically their headquartered in Batavia, but that’s just a hop, skip and a jump away. 😉  

Aldi had invited a handful of bloggers (10 in total) to their test kitchen to learn about their stores and the best business practices that go into keeping their prices low, while not compromising on quality, health, or taste. You may remember I did a shopping trip at Aldi a couple of weeks ago and was impressed with the availability of organic products, fresh produce. and the savings.

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We started in the Aldi Test Kitchen with a “Switch & Save” test comparing the Aldi product with a leading national brand equivalent.

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The blind taste test scenario is very similar to what Aldi buyers conduct when adding products to their shelves. 95% of products sold in Aldi stores are Aldi exclusives and those exclusives come from suppliers that are hand selected by Aldi buyers.  The buyers seek out suppliers who not only have the best deals, but also offer a great, quality product. Blind taste testing scenarios typically have 5-10 products that are sampled side-by-side and scored by a strategic ranking system based on taste, smell, texture, quality, etc.  A lot of decisions about what goes on the shelves are made in this kitchen.

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We compared samples of havarti cheese first.

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At first taste, both cheeses tasted fine to me. It took a couple more nibbles to determine the B sample was just a tad saltier and A was a little creamier.  We compared notes and all came to the same conclusion. While we wouldn’t turn either cheese away at a party, we definitely preferred A.

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So which was which?

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We were all stunned to see we had selected the Aldi option as our favorite choice. Though it would be interesting to see an ingredient comparison as well, it was still nice to see the 44% savings on the cheese we preferred.

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Next up, greek yogurt.

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Immediately I could tell that A and B were very different in texture. B was obviously thicker, while A was on the runnier side. However, the taste and sweetest were comparable.

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Since B had the thicker texture I’m always lusting over in greek yogurts, I went with B as my favorite. The majority of the group agreed and we selected B as our final choice.

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Another surprise, B was the Aldi brand, while A was a leading national brand (Chobani).  Again, we were impressed.

We sampled tortilla chips next, which were a little more obvious that Tostitos were the A option and B was Aldi (I know my chips).

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This was the only Switch & Save that I went with the National Brand only because I thought the Tostito chips were a little lighter and flakier The Aldi chip’s texture was a bit off. However, some folks in the group still preferred the heartier Aldi brand tortilla chip.

For the guacamole choices, I didn’t have an opinion either way. Both were creamy, delicious, and a perfect pairing with a tortilla chip.

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That’s a situation where I would have purchased the Aldi guacamole on price alone.

After the Switch & Save Challenge we sampled a few simple snack recipes developed in the Aldi kitchen.

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Loved the use of cucumbers instead of crackers in the Crunchy Bites. I plan to make something similar the next time I need to make appetizers for a party.

I’m also making the Spinach Romesco Dip.It’s perfect on a slice of bread and would be great with some chicken.

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The crowd favorite was the Blueberry- Lemon Smoothie.

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It tasted just like a loaf of blueberry lemon bread I sampled not too long ago. I would never have thought to add lemon to a smoothie, but it was very refreshing and complemented the blueberry wonderfully.

Speaking of smoothies, we had a fun smoothie challenge among the bloggers. We were presented with a spread of fresh/frozen fruit, vegetables, herbs, nut butters, and dairy and challenged with making a smoothie that was not only delicious, but nutritious as well.

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I’m always nervous creating something on the spot for strangers because I know what I like might not necessarily work for someone else. I also tend to go a little overboard on the creative side, always yearning to think out of the box  and create something unique that no one else would think of. However, I’m also always up for a challenge.

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I was inspired by the fresh herbs and decided to do a berry and herb combo that featured fresh basil and mint.

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Here’s what I ended up with (no measurements, I eyeballed everything):

  • Frozen Strawberries
  • Frozen Blueberries
  • Juice ½ Lemon
  • Fresh Basil
  • Fresh Mint
  • Walnuts
  • Vanilla Greek Yogurt
  • Vanilla Almond Milk

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Like I said, I was seriously nervous this wasn’t going to work, but ended up being fabulous. The lemon added just enough tartness that balanced the sweetness of the berries with the strength of the fresh herbs. I loved it and can’t wait to recreate it at home.

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There were a lot of gorgeous and creative green smoothies on the sample table. I tried as many as I could and they were all delicious. There were some talented smoothie creators in our group, the judges had their work cut-out for them.

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I didn’t take home the prize, but I did sample two of the winners’ creations (Caitlin’s orange and chocolate hazelnut concoction and Jenn’s simple greens and pineapple mix) and both were amazing.

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We heard from Aldi’s registered dietician Sylvia Klinger, who was funny, smart, and had a lot of great information to share.

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What I found fascinating was the statistic on how much fresh food American households waste in a year.

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One of my biggest pet peeves is letting food go to waste in our house, but even my household is not immune to this.  I recently had to throw away an avocado and a head of green lettuce because it went bad before we had a chance to eat it (that’s just one example, I have plenty more where that came from). The bad food was a result of poor planning and being a little overzealous with my food purchases at the grocery store the week before.

A lot of households don’t purchase fresh produce because they’re afraid it’s going to go bad before they have a chance to eat it.  The key to not letting it go to waste is to plan meals and snacks ahead of time and sticking with a list heading to the grocery store. Something I need to get better at.

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Sylvia also shared her 10 “hero foods,” which she believed were the Top 10 foods that everyone should include in their diets for optimal nutritional balance.

Sylvia’s Hero Foods:

  • Black Beans
  • Eggs
  • Lemon
  • Mushrooms
  • Avocado
  • Low-Fat Dairy
  • Kale
  • Blueberries
  • Whole Grain Pasta
  • Almonds

She had a great tip for pureeing mushrooms and adding them to ground beef for taco filling. Mushrooms are full of nutrients so the simple addition not only adds flavors but ups the nutrional profile.

Lemon is another one. The juice of one lemon contains a healthy does of vitamin C, so add the juice to your next meal for a little flavor and vitamin C.

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Finally, it was time to eat. Despite snacking all day, we couldn’t wait to sample the great dishes the Aldi kitchen had come up with. Each recipe is linked below to the Aldi website and 100% worth checking out.

Sunsational Salad 

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Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Cilantro Pistachio Pesto

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Top Sirloin with Balsamic Avocado Salsa 

 

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Lighter Baked Bolognese

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Tilapia with Tomato Chutney

 

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Roasted Broccoli

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Dark Chocolate Cups with Avocado Mousse 

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Frozen Greek Yogurt with Blueberries

 

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My plate with a bit of everything (the sweet potatoes, steak, and salad were my favorites)

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Paired with Aldi wine. Obviously.

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We waddled back to the hotel after dinner and I had a blast staying up late catching up with Caitlin.

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Caitlin was the first blogger friend I made when I moved to Orlando back in 2008. We were pretty much attached at the hip until she moved to North Carolina and I moved to Tampa. Even though we haven’t seen each other since 2011 (whoa!) we still talk online everyday and I consider her one of my very good friends. It was so much fun to catch up with her.

I’ll be back with day 2 from Aldi headquarters. This post is getting a little long winded.

In the mean time, I highly encourage you check out some of the amazing recipes the chefs at the Aldi Test Kitchen come up with HERE. Each recipe is created to be simple and easy to follow. They’re also amazing – I’ve already got a couple bookmarked for dinners next week!

 This post is sponsored by Aldi. As always, all opinions are my own. 

 

{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Michelle @ A Healthy Mrs March 8, 2014 at 2:20 pm

Sounds like such a fun experience!
Michelle @ A Healthy Mrs recently posted..High Five for Friday!

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2 Traci March 8, 2014 at 2:31 pm

It is funny hearing about people being so excited to experience snow. Those of us in the midwest have been suffering through big snow after big snow week after week after week! It’s snowing where I am right now actually, and I’m beside myself lusting after spring. Anyway, I know this is a sponsored experience and post, but I’m really enjoying learning more about Aldi! And the blueberry lemon smoothie sounds amazing, I will have to try that as well.
Traci recently posted..Own Your Dreams

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3 Meghann March 8, 2014 at 2:41 pm

When I was in the security line at the airport there were two college-aged girls next to me discussing how they were excited to go on vacation so they could sit in the grass and not have to worry about wearing gloves or feeling chilled. The whole conversation made me smile. I think it’s all relative. 🙂

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4 Jennie March 8, 2014 at 2:42 pm

Amazing experience! A quick question though, was that a whole lemon or just the juice for the Blueberry Lemon Smoothie? I have a tree full of lemons right now and need some good ideas 🙂

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5 Sara @ LovingOnTheRun March 8, 2014 at 2:56 pm

This sounds like such a great experience! What a great opportunity – glad you got to taste lots of good food and reunite with friends!
Sara @ LovingOnTheRun recently posted..McDavid Compression Recovery Tights Review and Giveaway

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6 [email protected] March 8, 2014 at 3:34 pm

What a great experience for you! I shop at Aldi nearly every week. So far, they have great prices on avocados!
[email protected] recently posted..Back At It After a Half Marathon

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7 Danielle @ Long May You Run March 8, 2014 at 4:01 pm

It’s really too bad Aldi doesn’t do more quality control in their stores. The Aldi where I lived in Charlotte (north of Charlotte, actually) was really dirty and grimy. And the Aldi near me now (I live about 60 minutes north of Chicago) is even worse- the fruit sitting on the shelves is half rotten.
Danielle @ Long May You Run recently posted..Ode to Cottage Cheese

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8 Em March 8, 2014 at 4:29 pm

Did you stay at the Herrington?! I live in Geneva- love that hotel 🙂

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9 Meghann March 9, 2014 at 11:17 am

Yep! Such a gorgeous hotel and adorable little town. 🙂

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10 Danielle @ It's a Harleyyy Life March 8, 2014 at 6:18 pm

Looks like such a great opportunity! I’m surprised the group liked more Aldi stuff than National brands.

The view outside your hotel room is beautiful!
Danielle @ It’s a Harleyyy Life recently posted..10 Things Friday 3.7.14

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11 Luv What You Do March 8, 2014 at 7:47 pm

I work right next to Geneva. Isn’t it adorable?
Looks like an awesome opportunity! Hope you got to explore and play a little too!
Luv What You Do recently posted..2 New Banana Bread Recipes

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12 Jojo @ RunFastEatLots March 8, 2014 at 9:34 pm

All that food looks so delicious! I’ve never been to an Aldi’s before, even though there’s one near me. I might go check it out.
Jojo @ RunFastEatLots recently posted..15 Fun Outdoor Fitness Ideas

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13 Katherine March 9, 2014 at 1:34 am

OMG! I grew up in Geneva, IL. I love that cute little town more than anything. I’m not sure if there could have been a nocer place to grow up.

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14 Ash Bear March 9, 2014 at 3:03 am

Your smoothie recipe sounds delicious! Also I love that shirt Caitlin is wearing in the picture. So glad you all were able to catch up!
Ash Bear recently posted..Silent Saturday: Spring Skiing

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15 Heather @ HeatherRunsFast.com March 9, 2014 at 9:48 am

WOW! What an amazing experience! SO jealous 🙂 I think taste tests are so cool. It’s fun to see how price doesn’t always equal deliciousness, haha. Glad you had fun, learned lots and ate well!
Heather @ HeatherRunsFast.com recently posted..A Girls Lunch Date!

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16 Tiffany @ The Chi-Athlete March 9, 2014 at 9:50 am

Good heavens, I live in Chicago and didn’t even know that was there! What a wonderful time! Your pictures are absolutely flawless and gorgeous. All.that.yummy.food. <3

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17 Rachael March 9, 2014 at 10:29 am

$5 wine?!?!! I live on the east coast of Canada and the equivalent here would be easily doubled.. that shocks me more than any of the other food savings here haha

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18 Jen @ Pretty Little Grub March 9, 2014 at 1:21 pm

That sounds like a great experience. All that food makes me hungry!! Thanks for sharing.
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19 CaitlinHTP March 10, 2014 at 2:34 pm

Loved seeing your face!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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20 Mollie @Sprinkles of Life March 11, 2014 at 10:12 am

What a great experience! I LOVE aldi! Can’t beat their prices on many things!
This summer at HLS we did a similar experience with Wild Harvest. It was so fun to see the behind the scenes and try some amazing food, too!
Mollie @Sprinkles of Life recently posted..Weekend Happenings

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21 Kelly @ Kelly the Culinarian March 11, 2014 at 10:51 am

You were just in my back yard! I love ALDI bunches. I’ve been shopping there for a long time and I’m glad to see more people jump on board.
Kelly @ Kelly the Culinarian recently posted..Expanding our Family

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