Friday, April 16, 2021

Happy Farms Mozzarella String Cheese (Aldi)

An affordably-delicious snack for all ages.

There are foods that everyone seems to have in their lunches in elementary school, and chief among them is probably string cheese. I don't know whose idea it was to make cheese into a peel-able pillar, but more power to them, because it seems to be the food that defies generations and continues to be popular, even as technology improves and makes other fads obsolete. Like many things that youngsters enjoy (cable television, R-rated movies), I was deprived of string cheese as a child. There were no reasons in particular, besides the simple notion that I just never really bothered my mom to buy any. And even though I vaguely remember trying it (and liked it) as a youngster, it apparently wasn't enough for me to request my mom constantly keeping some on hand.

But thanks to having a childish wife (which is used as a term of endearment here) - and then an actual child - string cheese has finally made a more consistent appearance in my life as a thirtysomething! And of course, our trusted provider of the completely unnecessary snack, is Aldi, which offer 12 packs for the reasonable rate of $2.49 per pack. And my go-to kind has been perhaps the only cheese that I have loved since I was a child: mozzarella.

This story starts the same way as most do: we bought a package of these for our son, and I used my parental privileges to steal one for myself. I really can't remember the texture of most string cheeses, but I'd imagine this is pretty much the same right out of the pack: it's soft. I also can't compare the “stringiness” to others, but I'll admit to being a little off-put when I started pulling it apart, only to discover that it looks like a fraying rope. Really, is this what kids find so attractive about string cheese? I thought it pulled apart “cleaner” for some reason, and the only reason it was “string” cheese was because it could be peeled into sections, but it definitely lives up to its literal name.

Aside from that, it's pretty much mozzarella cheese, which is what you should be hoping for when you buy a mozzarella cheese product. I'm not sure the manufacturing process to make cheese stringy, but I'm wondering if it involves rather large quantities of salt, because this seems to be saltier than most regular mozzarella cheeses that I've had. It's not that super-noticeable, but it's definitely there. Other than that, though, it has a nice, mild flavor—maybe a little too mild—yet accurate for the kind of cheese that it is. The taste is close enough that I no longer have to eat shredded mozzarella, where I would risk spilling more all over the floor (or the kitchen sink) than I actually managed to get into my mouth.

It's really the perfect snack for those occasions when you want something to eat that you can also peel, but you're all out of bananas. We don't always keep these on hand (our tastes seem to vary from week to week), but it's one of those items that everyone in the family unanimously likes, so we get them more frequently than I ever have at any other point in my life. I guess considering I rarely got it as a kid, that's a statement that would apply by default, but still...it's good.

Overall: 8/10. It seems to be a little saltier than normal mozzarella, but other than that, this is a pretty tasty little snack. It has a nice, light cheese flavor, and peeling it is a breeze. The price is pretty solid at $3.09 for a 10 oz. package (of 12 individually-wrapped cheese sticks), giving you either a couple of weeks' worth of school lunches, or multiple days' worth of snacks at home. We don't always have these on hand, but considering it's one of the few products the whole family seems to enjoy, we have them more often than not.

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

GUEST POST! Unbranded Unicorn Ice Cream Pints (Dollar Tree)

Want to hear our initial thoughts and impressions of this ice cream live, as it happened? Then have a listen to this episode of our radio show!

It ain't bad, and it's a blowout price for a pint of ice cream.

Once again, I’m not the foremost expert of the family when it comes to flavors of things named after mythical creatures, so I’m going to have my wife fill in the blanks on this one. Again, we already reviewed these on our radio show, so this review just functions as a text recap for those who would rather read than listen. Her words follow, starting...NOW!

It’s got good texture, nice and soft, the way an ice cream should be. It also tastes pretty good for what it is, although I also think the limitations of being a dollar store product hinder it from being anything more than that. It’s just a blue ice cream flavored like cake with sprinkles and little pockets of icing. I would have liked it more if it had actual pieces of cake in there, but that is probably impossible at this price point. Again, it’s good for being a dollar, but no one is ever going to confuse this with an actual premium brand. There’s just not enough there. Oh, and the blue stains your mouth for hours after eating it. I understand if it did that a little bit - and I understand that it might make it even more fun for children - but it’s like they poured an entire bottle of blue food coloring into every pint. I wish they would have toned that down a little bit more, too.

I will say that the value in the ice creams aren't quite as good as the sherbet; you can get full 48 oz. cartons of ice creams for around $2 at places like Aldi and Walmart, at least here in the Midwest (it would take 3 pints and $3 to reach 42 oz., still leaving you 6 oz. short). However, it's a pretty solid price for a pint, which are usually more expensive (per ounce) to get you into buying the larger containers. Like everything else, it all comes down to personal preference. I kind of like the size, since it mostly discourages waste...not that ice cream typically goes to waste in our house, but still. And the pints are definitely a more compact size than the cartons, which take up more freezer space. At any rate, given the low cost, it’s certainly worth a try. And you might want to act fast on that, considering I’m sure they’ll be pretty much consistently sold out all throughout summer.

Overall: 6/10. This one isn’t as much of a cut-and-dry success as the orange sherbet, but it’s definitely better than most of the other varieties. The blue-colored ice cream aggressively sticks to everything (the insides of your mouth will be painted dark blue for hours), and my wife would have liked to have seen actual cake pieces (instead of just icing and sprinkles blended in throughout), but for a dollar, she was impressed with the overall taste. Value isn’t as great as the sherbet (would cost $3 to buy 42 oz. worth of ice cream, which is 6 oz. less than the standard 48 oz. carton size; here in the Midwest, we can get 48 oz. cartons for around $2 at Walmart and Aldi), but it’s still very reasonable. Worth a try if you’re into it, and great as a summertime treat for the kids, but it probably won’t win over any non-fans of unicorn products.

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Great Value Cookies and Cream Ice Cream (Walmart)

Unexpectedly fantastic.

I’m not going to launch into another long-winded intro about why I was shopping at Walmart, and why I rarely shop there, despite their reputation as providers of budget-minded products, much like the ones I review for a living (“Living”? Ha! I wish). I already did that in a previous post, so let’s just jump right into it for once, shall we?

I really didn’t know what to expect when I grabbed a carton of Walmart’s cookies and cream ice cream, which is released under their “Great Value” brand name; this is because I don't recall ever having Walmart ice cream of any kind before. I have to admit I was expecting something "cheapy"...maybe harder ice cream with only occasional cookie pieces throughout. To say that I didn't have high hopes would be...well, accurate. I mean, who has high hopes for anything from Walmart? Usually when you go there you just want something cheap and passable. 

I have to say that it’s good at making first impressions: this looks like a quality cookies and cream ice cream, with a good color, and loads of cookies evident just from a quick glance. However, as we all know, looks aren’t quite everything. There have been many instances of products being “top-heavy” to fool consumers - that is, items that put forth extra effort to mislead consumers by appearing to be full of something at first glance, only to quickly taper off. It’s very common in cheap candles, where the scent is overloaded so that when customers take a sniff in store, it smells strong, but when they actually go to burn it, the scent gets weaker and weaker.

Well, thankfully I can report that Great Value’s ice cream isn’t guilty of false promises: there are rather large cookie chunks all the way throughout, virtually guaranteeing that you won’t go more than a bite without sinking your teeth into delicious chocolate cookie morsels. They taste as you would expect: like the same kind found in chocolate sandwich cookies. Meanwhile, the ice cream itself is surprisingly rich and creamy, two qualities I wasn’t expecting to describe anything from Walmart.

It’s almost in the “churned” style, with a very soft cream that melts rather quickly. The positive side to this is that it can be eaten directly out of the freezer using a plastic spoon; that’s a claim not even many expensive brands can lay claim to. And speaking of price: a 48 oz. container comes in at just $1.97...that’s roughly on price with what you can expect to pay for Aldi’s “standard” ice creams, and, quite frankly, this flavor blows away their cookies and cream. I mean, it’s not even close. If that’s not the very definition of value, then I don’t know what is!

When all is said and done, this is one of the best cookies and cream ice creams I’ve ever had: factor in the price and that just makes it an almost required purchase for fans of this flavor. Pick it up: you won’t be disappointed.

Rating: 10/10. I feel wrong giving anything a perfect score, let alone something from Walmart, but in this case it’s well-deserved: this ice cream is damn near flawless. It’s rich, creamy, and so delectably soft that you can eat it straight out of the freezer with a plastic spoon...that’s not a claim even many expensive brands can live up to. And speaking of price, a half gallon tub is just $1.97, making it one of the cheaper store brands for ice cream. There are plenty of cookies spread throughout too, ensuring you rarely (if ever) go a bite without a mouthful of them. Maybe I just got lucky with a great batch, but it's almost good enough of a reason to go there more frequently. Almost.

Unbranded/Generic Chocolate Fudge Swirl Ice Cream (Dollar Tree)

Want to hear our first impressions about Dollar Tree ice creams live? Click here to listen to this episode of our radio show!

It grew on me a bit since we taste-tested it live, but still far from flawless.

Just a quick rundown in case you’re joining us late: Dollar Tree sells ice cream now! Yes, real ice cream…not that “frozen dairy dessert” crap that they used to carry that’s mostly vegetable oil. And best of all, they’re available in full pints, giving you a good bit of the stuff, for a very attractive, reasonable price. My wife and I reviewed these live on the air in our radio show, but we’re providing these written recaps for those that might not enjoy listening to two people talking into a microphone.

This one both grew on me, then lost me a bit, which I guess cancels each other out? During the recording of the radio episode, my first impressions were that the chocolate was too bitter, and not an ice cream I would typically get. Well, after downing the rest of the pint (in successive days), I have to say that the chocolate ice cream itself is actually very good. My other initial observations were correct: it’s still not very sweet, but it’s got a delicious, inviting texture, and a flavor that balances on the “bittersweet” beam quite well, and that becomes even better the more you eat it.

However, I must also say that digging further into the pint reveals one of the ways Dollar Tree is able to offer these at such a tempting price: there’s hardly any fudge swirls at all. There aren’t many chocolate chips, either, but the ratio between the two certainly favors the chocolate chip side, as there were some small pockets with multiple chips clustered together.

My question, after running into the same problem (albeit worse) in the cookies and cream variety I reviewed: why have they gone and done this? The base chocolate flavor is good enough to function as a chocolate ice cream all on its own, and ditto that for the vanilla in the cookies and cream version, so why try to add extra things in there if it’s too costly to make it good? Obviously, we all know there has to be a limit on what can be offered for a dollar, and I think we’re seeing it being stretched beyond useful means here.

Alternatively, why can’t they offer slightly smaller sizes - like what they do with the name brand candy bar ice creams they sell - and then just load those up with more toppings and goodies? I think that would be more of a win for the consumer than selling pints with barely anything in them. Or, maybe even better yet, offer just plain flavors, but with a little endcap or something nearby with individual containers of toppings, like sprinkles and hot fudge, and little recipe cards suggesting ideas on things shoppers can add themselves, to make their own personal ice cream creations. After all, what could beat having an ice cream bar at home with the family on a hot summer’s day?

At any rate, most of these ice creams, straight from the carton, function as solid reminders that there are limits to just how far a dollar can carry you.

Overall: 5/10. I more or less swore these off in our live radio episode, but after sitting down to the rest of the pint (over two days, mind you) I have to say that I definitely grew to appreciate the bittersweet chocolate flavor of the ice cream a little bit more. And the texture is on par with other “premium” ice creams, offering up a soft, almost creamy finish that can easily be eaten with a plastic spoon, right out of the freezer. Where it fails, however, is in the decision to add more to the chocolate base: there’s barely any fudge swirls or chocolate chips to be had, which automatically takes the end result down a few levels. Why not offer just plain flavors (chocolate and vanilla, at least), along with recipe cards and endcaps full of toppings and add-ins, encouraging patrons to make their own ice cream bars at home, instead? That would be a win-win for everyone involved.


Monday, April 12, 2021

GUEST POST! Unbranded Orange Sherbet Pints (Dollar Tree)

Want to hear our reactions and first impressions live? Then click here to listen to our live audio broadcast, in which we review four of Dollar Tree's ice cream/sherbet pints. 

It's legit.

I don’t really care about sherbet too much at all, so I figured my wife would be the better person to talk to about these pints, available from Dollar Tree. We already reviewed these on our radio show, and have just been incredibly lackadaisical about putting the print version down...oops. This one’s relatively quick because who has time to write reviews? Her words follow starting now:

I don’t know how to go about reviewing these, because it’s a sherbet and it’s orange...I don’t know how (or why) my husband does this. It looks and tastes like orange sherbet should. What does that mean? That it’s a perfect product? I guess. Either way, I would definitely get it again.

Well there you have it: succinct and to the point, as always. One point I would like to add to this - well, two actually: 1.) The fact she would get it again is a pretty big statement coming from her, because she is very picky about dollar store products; and 2.) This is a pretty solid value. It takes three of these to equal the normal 48 oz. carton size, and that size retails for $2.97 (just three pennies less) at Walmart, for their store brand.

So essentially, it’s the same price, which is actually kind of a cool thing, considering smaller quantities are usually more expensive in order to encourage you to buy the larger containers. This way you can get a single serve for the same price, per ounce, without the excessive “pint-size” markup you face virtually everywhere. And this size also reduces the chance that you’ll end up having to throw half the carton away when you get sick of it after eating two bowls...at least, that’s what always seems to happen at our house.

Overall: 10/10. As much as I want to, I’m afraid I can’t really deduct any scores for this one: my wife’s suggestion is right. It looks like orange sherbet, has the same texture as other sherbets, and tastes like orange sherbet...and all that at the same price (per ounce) as most other store brands, making it an excellent value on top of everything else. I mean, how much better can you possibly get? If you see this in your local Dollar Tree’s freezer, pick it up...chances are good these will constantly be sold out as the weather continues to get even warmer.

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Unbranded Cookies and Cream Ice Cream (Dollar Tree)

We also reviewed Dollar Tree pints live on our radio show. Click here if you would rather listen.

It might be made with the finest ingredients...unfortunately "cookie" doesn't seem to be one of them.

Our local Dollar Tree always seems to have empty shelves every single time I go. Anyone else have this problem? I mean, I go at different times and on different days, so it’s not like I just happen to go right after busy nights or weekends, and yet the end result is always the same. Typically, they have rows upon rows of boxes lined up in virtually every aisle, either from restockers who have left, or have yet to come in; it’s rather annoying, if I’m being honest. Moral of the story? Yesterday the shelves were empty, but without boxes everywhere, which I guess was better from a shopping perspective, but annoyed me in a completely different way: So now they’re just not going to stock the shelves? Do they know they’re out of everything? When’s the next truck coming? Haha, I guess they’re damned if they do, and damned if they don’t.

At any rate, I was actually so annoyed at the emptiness that I nearly left without getting anything, but eventually, cooler heads prevailed (along with the realization that I couldn’t really leave since I was also there to get a couple of things for my wife, who would not have been pleased had I come home empty-handed). And speaking of the “cooler”, that’s where I ended up…well, more specifically the freezer.

The Dollar Tree freezer is an enigma. It’s always there, and the products inside are almost always the same, yet I still always trek over there, as if there’s going to be a hidden surprise, or something. I especially didn’t expect anything to catch my eye on a day when the store looked like it was looted during riots…but of course, that’s exactly the time it would be! With several new pints of ice cream flavors!

Dollar Tree has almost always had “ice cream” in their freezers, but outside of name brand bars and other small novelty products, the actual cartons were not technically ice cream after all, but always “frozen dairy dessert”. What’s the difference, you may be wondering? Well, thanks to a quick Google search, the results are in…frozen dairy dessert is made with vegetable oil, while ice cream is not. However, these are not “frozen dairy dessert” impostors, but rather, real life ice cream! It even says so on the top of the lid, lest you think it’s their usual knockoff junk.

Well, today we’ll be looking at their version of cookies and cream, which is currently my favorite type of iced cream (although cookie dough has been quickly rising through the ranks here lately). Oh, right off the bat we run into a little trouble here, and see where the dollar price point seems to be quite a hindrance: there just aren’t many cookies.

We thought maybe the batch just didn’t get mixed well, and there would be a bunch of cookies at the bottom to make up for it, but that was not the case. What we have here is a glorified vanilla ice cream, with little specks of what I would assume to be chocolate cookie all throughout (it’s either that for vanilla bean, but I wouldn’t assume to have that at this price point); interspersed between the small flecks, about every fifth to tenth bite, are slightly larger chunks of cookie.

As with the other varieties, you can tell it’s real ice cream (even outside of the boasting on the lid) because the texture is soft and rather creamy. I thought this would be one of those ice creams that get hard the longer they sit in the freezer, but there was no need to microwave them at all (which my wife does to soften some brands up)...you can even eat it with a plastic spoon right out of the freezer. And, for whatever little it’s worth, the vanilla ice cream is actually pretty darn good. I mean, that’s kind of a moot point, because I didn’t want, nor pay, for just vanilla, but it definitely tastes like legit ice cream, rather than frozen skim milk, like the “frozen dairy desserts” tend to taste like.

Overall: 3/10. Honestly, this might be the most flat-out disappointing flavor I’ve tried from DT, although it might just appear that way because it’s the one I wanted to try the most, and had the highest hopes for. The vanilla ice cream is actually pretty good, and the texture is surprisingly creamy and soft, even immediately out of the freezer, which helps to save this from a lower score. Plus, there’s the whole getting a pint of actual ice cream for a buck thing, which is pretty impressive. However, if you’re actually looking for cookies to go with your cream - as I did, otherwise I would have just bought vanilla - then you’ll either have to buy a pack of our own to crush up into the pint, or if you just want to bypass that unnecessary step, you’ll have to get a better brand - and pay more - elsewhere.

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Savoritz Four Cheese Parmesan Crisps (Aldi)

Warning: may replace your heroin addiction.


Usually I give some semi-long, rambling build-up to the actual review. This is used to "create suspense", I suppose, but also to feel like I’m actually doing work and accomplishing something, as it would only take me 10 or so minutes to type up just the review part. And I feel like you guys deserve more than just a half-assed effort. 

But you know what? I'm going to jump into this one by foregoing all that additional BS and just exclaim right off the bat that these are incredible. You know when you’re cooking (or in my case, when my wife is cooking) something with lots of cheese, and some of that cheese falls over the edge onto the cookie sheet, and turns into a blacked, crispy mess? Do you know the incredible taste of those? Well that’s about what these are: an entire bag of circular, crunchy spheres made up entirely of crunchy clusters of cheese, only without the burnt taste (which I actually happen to like, but to each their own). 

And talk about "all natural": the ingredient list consists of nothing but cheese. And as you can tell from the title, there are actually four of them: aged parmesan, romano, asiago, and provolone. You can’t go wrong with any one of those, but what about all four? As it turns out, you can’t go wrong with that either. Usually white cheeses are known for providing "milder" taste as opposed to many non-white cheeses, but mixing four together obviously heightens their overall intensity. The end result is something that's closer to a "mild cheddar" in terms of flavor profile, but still a horse of its own color, if that's even a saying. Either way, I'd say it's a pretty universal taste that most cheese fans - regardless of their usual preference - are really going to take to. 

Most people put these in salads, or soups, or other things, but I tend to eat them directly out of the bag. This isn’t because I don’t think it would be good in those things - quite the contrary, I think they would be good in virtually everything - it’s just that once I get started eating them, I can’t seem to put the bag down. And on the rare occasions I do make a soup or salad while I have these on hand, I always seem to forget to add them.

Even though this has got to be one of my favorite Aldi products ever, I have to say there’s one rather big hindrance preventing this from earning a perfect score, and it’s rather surprising: price. A 2.11 oz. bag retails for a rather high $2.89. That’s only about a dime savings over buying the name brand version from Walmart!

It’s made to feel even more expensive considering the small bag size. Since these are typically used as “accessories” to salads and other foods, I thought maybe there was a lot more in there than it seemed. But there’s not: according to the serving information, one serving is approximately 19 crisps, and there are approximately 2 servings per back. That means you’re paying roughly $1.45 per serving! On the plus side, that means it’s probably made by the same company as the national brand, but on the other, the savings aren’t even all that worth it over buying the name brand.

Shame on you Aldi...I expect this from other stores, but not you! And why did they even go through all the trouble of making this into a private label product, when they could have just carried the regular brand, at roughly the same price? 

Overall: 9/10. This taste is so incredibly delicious, that this is one of the few things I get addicted to: Once I start eating them, I literally have to force myself to stop...and by the time I do, half the package is usually gone. The cheese flavor is rather strong, but completely authentic, as the four cheese blend mentioned on the packaging are the only ingredients in the entire ingredient list. The biggest drawback is one I wouldn't have expected: price. Each 2.11 oz. container, which contains roughly 38 "smaller than a quarter but larger than a dime" cheese spheres, costs $2.89. That's only about a dime difference over the same size bag at Walmart...for the national brand. Why did Aldi even make this private label in the first place, as opposed to just carrying the regular brand? They're phenomenal, but not very value oriented. 


Wednesday, April 7, 2021

SELLERS' SPOT: An App That Should Be More Well-Known Among Small- to Medium-Scale Sellers: An In-Depth Review of Classadlister (App)

NOTE: This review was originally posted on a separate blog I had a couple of years back, which has since folded. It is being reposted here, as part of a small series on third-party marketplaces, as many readers may sell items themselves, or be interested in starting. And what could be more budget-minded than earning some extra money?!

Also, this app was reviewed on our radio show! If you'd rather listen to me ramble on about it in audio form, rather than read my ramblings via text, click here.
Classadlister Logo
Unfairly ignored.


DISCLAIMER: Based on my love for this app, which I stumbled upon on my own, I did reach out to the developer, and briefly assisted with creating the Classadlister support forums (since defunct) about two years ago; I was neither paid nor reimbursed in any way for my time nor was I ever asked to write a review for it. In fact, the developer was never aware of this blog, or that I even posted it at all.

---

Since I only sell part-time, I initially figured that I didn’t need to invest in anything to help me post and manage my inventory. After all, I tended to only get a handful of items every month, or so, and never saw a point to streamlining any of that. For a little while, when I was only posting to one or two different sites, that theory held up fairly well.

Then I started to expand my reach to as many marketplaces as I could handle, and that’s when the reality of my situation started to set in: I needed help. Posting the same things over and over, manually to multiple sites, might not have felt all that time consuming as I was doing it, but it certainly wasn’t the most efficient way to go about things. So after looking into many multi-channel selling tools, most of them geared toward large businesses and carrying a hefty monthly fee, I finally found what I hoped would be a diamond in the rough: Classadlister.

There wasn't much out there on this app, aside from a couple video reviews and online tutorials—to be honest, I don’t even remember what search string lead me to it on Google—but my thinking was that if it even delivered half of what it promised, it would be a pretty useful tool to help save me some time.

As I alluded to before, Classadlister is a multi-channel listing tool, which means that it helps you to list your items to several online marketplaces. There are no shortage of such programs out there, but there are a couple things that set it apart from the competition: 1.) It’s entirely a mobile-based app (with support for Android only; sorry Apple users), and 2.) It is one of the few such programs that “integrates” with eCrater which, despite its rather negative connotation in the selling community, somehow continues to be my favorite third-party marketplace.

NAVIGATION/APPEARANCE

The main screen. Oof, that's an eyesore.

This isn’t the prettiest app to look at, by far. For starters, the color scheme is pretty atrocious and uninviting. Navigational choices are offered at the top of the app, in the form of icons that can be rather confusing to those that aren’t familiar with it. A three button navigational button in the top right offers some miscellaneous options, such as the ability to use an external scanner, watch a quick-start video, check for updates, or offers support via a message forum. It’s all a one-man show, and it shows.

But as the annoyingly clichéd adage states: “You should never judge a book by its cover,” and this is one of those instances where doing so can be a grave mistake: the functionality is through the roof, a welcome trade-off for a more polished, appealing design. I’ve had this app for over two years now, and it’s the only one I truly swear by, frequently managing my workload around the features of this app.

Navigation can be a little cumbersome at first—it could probably benefit from a main menu of some sort to help organize things—but overall it’s a pretty serviceable setup as-is, and becomes even easier (and more sensical) once you get into the swing of using it.

EASE OF USE



Here’s where the app will technically take some dings, but it’s not necessarily its fault: as with most fully-featured programs, this one is going to take some getting used to. And that’s probably the biggest problem stunting its growth: No one that sells full-time, and who probably already has a selling plan in place, is going to take time away from selling to learn a completely new product from the ground up. I’d say it took me about a solid week before I felt like I had gotten the hang of it enough to comfortably use it, and even though I’ve been using it for over six months now, there are no doubt features and tricks that I’m still using wrong, or not using at all. It’s really a feature-rich app, but with all of those features comes a learning curve that will no doubt be a turn-off to many.

However, there are at least some signs that the app may become more "user friendly": When I first started using it, the most helpful reference was a 50+-minute tutorial video that pretty much just showed you the basics; thankfully, the developer has since simplified the process by shortening it into a 15-minute “quick start” video that should have you up and running in…well…fifteen minutes. They also now have support forums, too, which give the same info as above, along with granting users the ability to ask specific questions. (The forums have since been taken down, with a single 32-page Google Doc document explaining how to set it up replacing it. The app has also been removed from Google Play, and is only available via APK. More on this later.)

Arguably, the most difficult aspect of the app is the one-time setup of eBay API, which just might be the single biggest requirement to getting the most out of the program. Once you get this set up, you will be able to pull information from existing eBay listings, to your own product page, saving you loads of time from having to manually input everything yourself. Setup took me around half an hour, and a few tries, to get everything in working order; those that are familiar with setting these up should be up and running in under ten minutes. Even if you have no technical experience, as long as you can carefully follow instructions, you should be able to do it yourself with little problem.

Once you set up eBay's API, you'll be able to auto-fill results from that site.

There is also an option to set up Amazon MWS, which I would imagine would be very similar to the eBay process; this would allow you to get Amazon search results based on the UPC. If you sell a lot of Amazon items, or sell directly on Amazon, this would be a great feature; however, note that you must be registered as a professional seller on Amazon to use it, which costs $40/month. Since I have no interest in selling there, especially for such an expensive charge, I just go without.

I definitely wouldn’t call it “easy” at first, but like anything else, the more and more you work with it, the more the listing steps become second nature, and the more rewarding it becomes.

FEATURES

Classadlister is certainly feature-rich, to the point that I still continue to learn new things from time-to-time. It’s obvious that it was created by someone who sells himself, because it touches on many different aspects of the selling process. There is no way I could possibly explain everything it can do in a single post, but these are some of the features that I would consider to be most important; obviously, this is subjective, and your opinions may vary.

Just a sampling of the supported sites, which covers almost all the major players.

The app supports posting to sixteen (as of this writing) different sites. This is the way it works, and it works differently than some: You create a product in the Classadlister app, complete with all pertinent information such as product photos, description, weight and dimensions, as well as Google Shopping traits (GTIN, MPN, and Brand). From there, you select where you want to post the item to, the app takes you to that site, autofills in all the fields based on your input, and voila! Listed item! Now, the site does not autolist items—you may have to manually go to the “add product” page of some sites, select categories, and press the “list” button when everything is done—but it does a great job of automating much of the process. (Besides, apps that autopost things are frequently frowned upon and weeded out by online marketplaces, as it can allow scammers to flood them with fake listings.)

For example, the in-camera barcode scanner pulls results from eBay, Amazon, eBid, and Semantics3 (if available), and can autofill the title, description, price, UPC, and MPN. Now, in my experience, the description just auto-defaults into repeating the title, but there are also in-app links to Google Shopping results, which makes it real easy to copy and paste manufacturer descriptions and grab stock photos, if that’s your thing. You can even add site-specific header and footer text, which appears at the top or bottom (respectively) of all posts added to that particular site—and you can have separate header and footer text for each site you sell on.

If you're forced to make a listing from scratch, it's a pretty quick, painless process.

Each item also has a “Listing Journal” at the bottom, which shows you where and when your items were listed (through the app; it can't detect postings made elsewhere), and for how much. This automatically gets updated every time you list something (or, at least, it should; I have noticed it misses some listings occasionally), but can also be manually updated. Obviously, this can help you see where it's been posted, but its usefulness goes beyond listing. Once you sell something, for example, you can list it as “Sold” in the journal, and add the tracking number under the “Value” field. Now you have a mobile record of the tracking number for that product, should any future issues arise. It's a really nice touch that shows you the care and attention that went into creating it.

On the issue of “security” is another area where Classadlister will either succeed or falter, depending on how strict you are in guarding your personal info: Working in its favor, you never have to log in to the app—all of your information is stored on a database file located directly on your device. That means your files aren’t floating around in a cloud somewhere, or stored where other people have access to them—they are on your device only. The flipside to this, is that all your login info is automatically stored in Classadlister (assuming you added it in the “settings” section during your initial setup; it’s what allows the app to autofill login info to save time), so if your device gets lost or stolen, people could, in theory, be able to use the app to auto log-in to your selling sites, or figure out your passwords by finding the “Settings” folder.

One thing I failed to mention: There are a shit-ton of reports and tasks that can be run to help keep you organized.

There are a myriad of other features and benefits that would take too long for me to explain, but needless to say this app covers a lot of ground for the small-to-mid-size seller. Just remember that it is first and foremost a multi-channel listing app, as it alludes to in the title, so don’t go in expecting it to be your all-in-one business solution. And if you only sell in one marketplace, especially if it's one of the hugely popular ones (i.e. eBay and/or Amazon) it won’t save you as much time as an integrated business solution would.

FEES/PRICING

It seems that the fee structure for using the app has changed a few times since its initial release in 2014, and thus is subject to change at any point in the future, but as of this writing, it will only set you back a mere $2.99/month for the full app the fees are on a donation basis. That's right, you basically decide what (if anything) you want to pay. There used to be a footer that ran along the bottom for unpaid members (something along the lines of “This product was posted using Classadlister. Download it yourself!”), but now you get the entire program, completely for free. Obviously, if you get some good use out of it, I'd strongly suggest making a donation, as it's a one-man show, and that would help encourage further support and updates.

This has nothing to do with pricing, but you can even add custom fields for notes to yourself.

Even at the original $3/month price, it was a steal. Multi-channel selling tools are oddly rather hard-to-find, and if you do manage to find one, they are often geared toward large-scale sellers with a hefty monthly fee. It's a shame (and also rather confounding) that it hasn't caught on at all at some point through the years, because it's a wonderful program that covers more bases than it appears to at first glance.

SUPPORT

The support forum.

(UPDATE: The forums have since been taken down, and an email question I sent the developer about the app's current status went unanswered after 24 hours. Thus, I am unable to say whether or not there are plans for him to maintain it. At any rate, as of this writing, the app works as it should across all major platforms...well, at least the three I use.)

This is the department where the app really shines, because the support is second-to-none. Seriously, this guy goes above and beyond the call of duty…sometimes to an annoying degree. Got a marketplace request? He will do whatever he can to add it to the app. Have a feature idea? Suggest it to him, and if he likes it, he will work hard to implement it in a future update. As he has told me in the past, he hates to lose a customer, and will do whatever it takes to make sure that doesn’t happen.

Responses to technical questions are answered quickly, and though I believe the verbiage touting the benefits of becoming a paid subscriber makes it sound like paying members get priority responses, I always received an answer to questions within the hour, even before I started paying the subscription cost. Seriously, if there’s such a thing as “too much support”, this developer would be guilty of that.

As for app updates, they were offered on an almost daily basis when I started using it back in June, 2018, but their frequency seem to come and go in phases. After all, he is a guy with a family and full-time job, so this is something he works on only as time permits. That makes it very understandable, then, that there weren’t many changes during the fourth quarter, a time when the holidays like to consume everyone’s time; there have already been a couple updates since February, as well as the implementation of a brand new retail arbitrage feature geared toward eBay and Amazon sellers (it requires an Amazon seller account, so I won't be test driving it at any point in the near future.)
While it's unfortunate the app isn't more popular than it is, at least this means the developer has more time to answer user questions!

There is also a support forum that has recently been implemented to handle requests/questions. I haven’t used it to see how quickly responses are handled, but I’d imagine it would be pretty quick. And if that doesn’t work, you always have email as a fallback option.

OVERALL

PROS (+)

+Great mobile multi-channel listing solution (one of the only ones that I know of).
+Free version is full version (though it does include ads and a footer at the end of all free listings)
+Great value at just $2.99/month. (Has since gone to a donation-based model)
+Listing support for a growing number of online marketplaces
+Phenomenal email support from developer.
+No sign-ins to remember or accounts to create.

NEUTRAL (+/-)
*Can be used on PC using an Android emulator (such as Bluestacks)
*No Bonanza or OfferUp support (which isn't the developer's fault; it's the way those systems are set up)

CONS (-)

-Android only
-Learning curve that won’t appeal to more established sellers
-Ugly interface
-Some information must still be manually selected/filled in on listing site (such as categories)
-None of the supported sites are “official” partners, so system changes can create unforeseen compatibility issues with this app.
-The no-password login can be a potential security issue.

A search function helps you find products fast.

I could ramble on and on about this app for even longer than I already have--there are a myriad of other features and benefits that would take too long for me to explain and expand upon--but needless to say this app covers a lot of ground for the small-to-mid-size seller, and is a great listing tool for beginners who are looking for an efficient way to list product and maintain inventory.

There are many cons, the main one being the amount of time it takes to properly learn it, but once it's learned, it's a very rewarding tool that definitely deserves more attention than it has gotten. And with excellent, receptive developer support, you just may see one of your suggestions featured in a future update. What major app can you say that about?

RATING: 7.5/10. (No change. Still a great app, but with now-questionable developer support, it makes it a hard recommendation.)

Sunday, April 4, 2021

SimplyNature Apple Banana Squeezable Fruit Blend (Aldi)

 

These are tasty little pouches.

I've generally been impressed with anything in a pouch from Aldi. From their other SimplyNature squeezable fruit blends, to their Little Journey Organics line of baby/toddler foods, if it's a semi-liquid in a pouch, and geared toward little ones, chances are you can't go wrong with it.

Originally, they sold these little 3.2 oz. guys individually at the checkout line for $.69 a pop, as they started to replace the junkier impulse buys (chocolate bars, candy, etc.) with healthier options. I didn't think it was that bad of a price...until they stopped doing that and only started selling them in four packs. That's when I realized not even discount grocers like Aldi are above the sneaky practice of marking up goods in the checkout area, as the four packs retail for a ridiculously low $1.65. That's some pretty solid value!

But now comes the true test: how do they taste?

Oh yeah, this is a fantastic little pouch. One of the problems that I had with the Little Journey Organics line is that I could never make out the banana in most of the flavors with “banana” in the title; that's a shame, because it's probably my favorite fruit (though watermelon gives it a nice run for its money). Since it's only one of two featured fruits here, though, the taste is easily recognizable, and also pairs up nicely with the headlining apple. It's a fantastic pairing that's seemingly underutilized. It is pretty sweet, so those that don't have a particularly strong sweet-tooth should probably steer clear, but considering it's geared more toward children, it's probably to be expected.

I know I shouldn't be comparing the two, because they are two different lines, but there are a couple things I miss about the Little Journey Organics pouches: the simple ingredients (all of them consist entirely of purees of whatever fruits/vegetables are in the title, lemon juice concentrate, and added vitamin C), and as I have just mentioned, the added vitamins. With these, all you're pretty much getting are 13g of sugar, some fiber, and that's about it (there is 4% vitamin C and 2% iron, but those are largely negligible). Now, obviously this is still a way healthier alternative than, say, a chocolate bar, and the flavor is really good, but I'd probably lean toward the LJO products if I ever got a craving for children's fruit blends in pouch form.

Even though this one has banana you can actually taste!

Overall: 7.5/10. A great-tasting little snack that's a pretty solid deal, with four 3.2 oz. pouches retailing for just $1.65. The texture is like applesauce, making it ideal for kids of almost any age, while the apple and banana tastes are both pronounced, and go very well together. In other words, it has a flavor that most kids, and probably even adults, are going to enjoy. Definitely recommended.

Thursday, April 1, 2021

Eat! Homestyle Kickin' Chicken Alfredo (Dollar Tree)

Run far, far away.

Dollar Tree is honestly the worst place in the world to realize that you're hungry. There are some good options, but not that many...and even a majority of the “best”, or most filling options are, well, not all that great. It was with this mindset that I decided to try Kickin' Chicken Alfredo, an addition to their “Eat! Homestyle” line that I had not seen before.

To be perfectly frank, I didn't really have high hopes for this, even from the outset. Alfredo is a delicious, decadent sauce that just doesn't seem to be replicated well in any frozen product, much less one that has to be sold for a dollar (which means it has to be manufactured for even less than that). The main reason, is that a vast majority of them use half and half as a cheaper substitute for the “heavy whipping cream” typically found in real alfredo sauces...and Eat's version is no different. The half and half basically waters it down, which makes it much less thick, which then tends to “fall off” of noodles, rather than sticking to the noodles the way an alfredo sauce should. Plus, it's much less rich to begin with, usually leading to a bland-tasting sauce. And when you've got a dish with “Alfredo” in the name, it should not be bland.

Another strike? The chicken. Frozen meat products are always pretty creepy, and that creepiness certainly doesn't subside the lower you go into the bowels of the frozen food universe. Why do manufacturers always feel the need to put creepy meat products in anything, especially when a vast majority of them would be even better without them? I guess it's so people feel more full after eating them, or think they're getting more food for the price...whatever the reasoning, it doesn't seem to be much of a valid one.

Oh man...right out of the microwave and my stomach is starting to churn. One issue: egg noodles. Yeah, the picture on the front clearly shows you that you're not dealing with fettucine here, but once I saw just how yellow the noodles were, I knew this stood no chance. I like noodles, but for some reason, egg noodles just seem to be one of the worst in the pasta family. Now that I think about it, the main cause of my distaste is because that's what my mom used in her Beef Stroganoff recipe that she would occasionally subject me to growing up; even as a kid, I would eat anything...but that ruined Beef Stroganoff for me, for life. I still won't go near the stuff, and now I'm finding it also ruined egg noodles for me, as well.

But even for those who don't share my un-affinity for egg noodles, the smell is just...out of the microwave, this thing smells like a science experiment gone awry. It doesn't smell like a typical noodle dish, nor does it smell inviting. It smells like...depression...maybe with a hint of failure. There is nothing at all enticing about the scent, nor are there any notes that suggest there's anything edible in it at all. I don't even detect notes of Alfredo, or anything else...it's just bad. Whoa boy.

Yep...one second into my first bite, and that's when I realize this is even worse than I expected. How did this make it through a test kitchen? Was there even a test kitchen? I'm going to have to lean towards “no”...this recipe tastes like it was improvised by some hot-shot chef who was so confident in the recipe that he didn't even bother to try it himself. It doesn't taste like Alfredo at all; it's just...gross. And, on top of having that terrible egg noodle flavor, they're also incredibly slimy, which also tends to be incredibly off-putting.

Sadly, the chicken is the star of the show here. It's spongy, as expected, but actually packs in some chicken-like flavor, which isn't always the case with frozen chicken. One thing that is alarming, though: it's juicy. Very, very juicy. Like you just chomped down on a sponge full of water. I guess they were trying to make it seem “fresher”, but it honestly has the exact opposite effect (you just picture someone in a factory with a syringe labeled “chicken flavoring” injecting each piece as they travel down a conveyor belt). Still, as weird as the whole liquid thing is, it still does manage to be the best part of the dish.

Oh, along with the “spice”...there is a good amount of heat here. I'd say just the right amount, actually: it's not an overly-spicy dish at all, but considering nothing about the pasta or sauce tastes like it should, I'd say having something that wasn't falsely advertised in the title is a small win of sorts.

Overall: 1.5/10. Oh man...where do I even begin? It smells like a failed science experiment, and even tastes kinda like one, with nothing that insinuates “Alfredo” coming through in either the slimy egg noodles, or brownish gravy-like sauce. In fact, the main redeeming quality is the chicken, which is spongy and overly juicy (every bit as creepy as it sounds), yet at least tastes like what chicken should taste like. I don't want to know how, or why, but I'm kind of thankful that it does. The “kickin'” part in the title is also well-earned, with a nice hint of spice that...well, “kicks” your tastebuds from the cacophony of other disgusting flavors. Reviews are typically suggestive, but short of dogs, I honestly can't understand how something like this could be happily eaten by anyone.


Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Custom Made Meals Bacon Wrapped Jalapeno Peppers (Aldi)

A little too rich.

Whoa, whoa, whoa. We don't usually buy the meat special buys (because the store is usually full of so many more things we are interested in) but the instant I saw this in the ad, it became an immediate “must buy”.  I'm a fan of anything cream cheese, and their (frozen) jalapeno poppers are absolutely fantastic (even though they are a completely different line), so I put two and two together and figured there was no way these could disappoint.  

I was wrong.

That's what I'd be saying if they did disappoint, but as it turns out, I was pretty much right: These are pretty fantastic, at least in the flavor department, and at least for a little while.  Think a fresher, more upscale version of jalapeno poppers, and you would pretty much have the flavor down: The bacon blends well with the cream cheese and pepper, all of the flavors combining to form a stomach-bloating combination that's almost overwhelmingly rich.  Eight came in the package, and we each had three before we had to toss in the towel.  I'm not sure these are that great as the side dish that we used them for, but they would be absolutely perfect as finger foods at a party.

The bacon does stay a little limp, which I guess it has to in order to hold everything together, but I was missing that crunch.  My wife did overcook them to try to char them up a bit, but they were still pretty limp and flaccid.  The jalapenos themselves taste pretty fresh, with some nice crunch and even some juices left inside. They provide a nice kick in the heat department, and a noticeable blast of fire right after the first couple of bites, but by the second or third one, my tastebuds had calibrated to it, and the heat didn't bother me.  The cream cheese has the dual role of providing creamy comfort for the heat, while simultaneously offering up its own decadent flavor, and it certainly doesn't disappoint here. But it's also the main reason for its richness: there's so much cream cheese per pepper, that it doesn't take much to sit like a brick in the stomach.  I'm one of those people that never thought there could be such a thing as too much cream cheese, but it's an appropriate critique here. If they would just dial it back a bit, I think these would be a near-perfect snack.

These are pretty pricey, coming in at $6.49 per lb., and aren't actually from an Aldi brand.  Our package was $6.57 for eight poppers...much more than you'd pay for the frozen kind, but also expected, considering these are "fresher". Each popper is also a good size (they take at least two bites to finish off), and pack in a rather surprising amount of flavor.  These were definitely a splurge for us, both in terms of financial and health hits, but it was a digression that I don't regret taking at all.

Overall: 6.5/10. Think a fresher, more upscale version of frozen jalapeno poppers, and you would be on the right track.  All of the flavors combine to form a complex, almost disgustingly rich combination that overwhelms the taste buds...then sits like a brick in the stomach.  There's too much cream cheese (something I never thought I'd ever say), and the bacon stays pretty limp, no matter how hard you try to char them, but they are certainly delicious in short bursts. These would be better suited as finger foods at a party, rather than the side dish we used them for.  They're a little pricey ($6.49 per lb., with most packages hovering around the 1 lb. mark), and aren't actually from an Aldi brand, but you definitely get your money's worth in the flavor department.  Would definitely get them again, though not anytime soon...gotta let my tastebuds (and stomach) recover first.

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Happy Farms Preferred/Emporium Selection Garlic and Herb Spreadable Cheese (Aldi)

Despite not being cream cheese, this still tastes rather good on bagels...


I saw the word “cheese” on the packaging, saw the container, was hungry, and somehow erroneously assumed this was a cream cheese spread. It wasn't until I brought it home that I realized it's just cheese, rather than “cream cheese”, and so it probably wouldn't work very well with the bagels that I purchased to pair this up with; crackers clearly would have been an even better option, a little tidbit my wife unnecessarily confirmed. Oops! (If only I'd have seen the other varieties available, I probably wouldn't have made that same mistake, as the others are all clearly cheeses.)

It seems to be a little thinner than cream cheese, but I’m not complaining too hard about that, because that makes it even easier to spread.  Just going by mere looks, it resembles onion and chive cream cheese, with little flecks of green spread throughout (which, in this case, obviously represents the “herb”). It's an inviting appearance, and even though I'd be putting it on a vessel that it probably wasn't made for, at least eased my mind knowing that it would still probably taste pretty good.

Its similarities to cream cheese are not just visual: It tastes pretty similar to that kind, too.  It’s been a little while since I’ve had the chive cream cheese, so I can’t say with utter certainty how exact it is, but it’s definitely within the same flavor profile.  The herb flavor might be a little more muted here--I tried a small bite right out of the container and didn’t get the flavor explosion I was hoping for--but after spreading just a thin layer on a bagel, the taste really shone through; as you probably would expect, it has a nice savory taste that actually paired surprisingly well with the bagel, but it’s soft enough that it could really work with anything, from crackers, to crisped breads, or anything else you like to dip. 

A 7 oz. container retails for $1.99, which is a little more than their standard cream cheese varieties, but still a reasonable cost, given that it's not cream cheese. I'd get it again, though I would be sure to pair them up with a cracker, or something else that it's probably better suited for. I'd also be interested in trying some of the other flavor combinations (horseradish and cheddar, peppercorn parmesan, and sharp cheddar) which, if I would have noticed, would have given me a much larger clue that these were not suited for bagels.

Oh well, you live and learn.

Overall: 7/10.  This is a pretty tasty cheese spread that tastes very similar to the popular “chive” kinds.  It reminds me a lot of cream cheese (which I somehow confused this for), but it's a little thinner, hence its description as a “spread”; that makes it much easier to put on crackers, breads, or anything else that you may want to lather this savory stuff over.  The flavor is a little weaker than cream cheese, but not by much; I still got a good kick in the taste buds just from spreading a thin layer of this on a bagel.  And at $1.99 for a 7 oz. tub, you really can’t knock the price. I would get this again, but would probably try a different variety, and would be sure to pair them up with crackers instead.

NOTE: These used to be sold under the "Happy Farms Preferred" brand, but are now being offered under "Emporium Selection". It's the same product, and even the same packaging, otherwise.

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Simple Truth Organic Fruit n' Punchy Flavored Water Beverage (Kroger)

There has never been a better case for regular drinking water.


MARKETER #1: I have a great idea for a kids’ drink that I think will take the world by storm.
MARKETER #2: Really? What is it?
MARKETER #1: A flavored water beverage! Most kids don’t like drinking water so this way we can trick them into thinking they’re drinking juice, or something.
MARKETER #2: Brilliant! What’s it going to taste like?
MARKETER #1: That’s easy...what’s one taste that every child likes?
MARKETER #2: Uh...fruit punch?
MARKETER #1: No, think a specific product.
MARKETER #2: Uh...hot dogs?
MARKETER #1: No, think of...who would drink hot dog flavored anything?
MARKETER #2: Well every kid loves a good dog.
MARKETER #1: I’m talking something that would be the perfect base.
MARKETER #2: I don’t know…I give up.
MARKETER #1: (beat) Cough syrup.
MARKETER #2: (coughs) Excuse me? What?
MARKETER #1: Cough syrup.
MARKETER #2: What child likes the taste of cough syrup?!
MARKETER #1: What do you mean? I always have.
MARKETER #2: That’s because you inherited your mother’s Robitussin addiction. No other kid likes cough syrup...I used to want to stay sick just so I didn’t have to force it down.
MARKETER #1: We’ll see, Jackson....we’ll see.

The above reenactment has to have more (simple) truth to it than even I realize, because there’s really no other way to explain how something like this not only gets released into the market, but also how it gets marketed toward kids. KIDS, of all people...you know, those picky little things who always want something sweet or, at the very least, something that tastes good.

Hell, I hate water, and I’d gladly force down a gallon of it just to never have to see one of these pouches again. This is basically the kids version of La Croix, that maligned blend of club soda, with a hint of fruit so small, you’re basically better off just drinking club soda. The only difference is, they do seem to at least try making the shitty cough syrup flavor a little sweeter - you know, for the kids this is marketed toward - so there’s at least some mystical sweetness that was added to the “organic flavors” (that’s seriously a legal ingredient?) on the ingredients list.

We still tried to be good parents and, actually without trying it ourselves first, gave one to our child who made a disgusted face before saying, “I don’t really like that.” Neither do we, bud. Neither do we.

Overall: 0/10. I’ve certainly had worse-tasting products over the years, so perhaps a “zero” seems a bit harsh. Except that this product fails on just about every conceivable level. So, we have a water-based product that tastes like shit and is barely even sweet, so let’s market it to kids. Then, let’s slap an “organic” label on it so we can charge even more for giving kids the pleasure of trying to force it down (because, you know, adding organic lemon juice concentrate to filtered water instead of regular lemon juice makes such a fucking noticeable difference.) About the only reason I’d even think about keeping some on hand is as a form of punishment: “If you don’t calm down right now, you’re getting the berry water.” Hmm...maybe they were on to something after all.


Monday, March 22, 2021

Kirkwood Parmesan Garlic Encrusted Chicken Tenders (Aldi)

An under-the-radar gem.


It had been a while since I tried these things, but even though we didn’t have a whole lot of money, I decided to spend the extra couple of bucks to get these over their (pretty solid) chicken nuggets.  Hey, a guy can only eat the same things for so long before he gets tired of them, you know?  The last time I got these it was easily over a year ago (quite possibly two), but I’ve always remembered the taste…and if you know me at all, you know my memory is absolutely godawful.  But did they live up to my high expectations?

One thing I want to mention before we get too far into the review, is that these are NOT COOKED.  In other words, they are raw.  In yet more words, unlike their chicken nuggets, these are not made to be tossed in the microwave for a “quick meal”; you have to cook them in the oven, lest you want to risk getting seriously sick. So if you're looking for something quick that you can just nuke and eat, you should probably get something else.

The upside to the increased cook time is that you're forced to make them the way they were meant to be made: The breading cooks up nice and crispy, the parmesan and garlic are pretty evident in each bite, and the chicken actually looks like chicken.  I like ripping my strips into smaller, dippable pieces, and these tear perfectly, without any resistance.  The pieces are also pretty generously sized, so you don't need a whole lot to get filled up.

Of course, as can be expected, they are pretty darn salty, so expect to get some sodium burn if you eat too many.  The taste also gets kind of old after a little while, at least to me - even though I was very hungry, I only made three, and that was a perfect amount.  Any more, and I wouldn’t have been unable to finish them, on account of the repetitive flavor (this can be fixed by having a side with it, to give your tastebuds a little break).  But if you’re looking for a change from the usual chicken nuggets – or want to try a different chicken option beyond their semi-famous chicken patties (which are said to be a close knockoff to Chick-Fil-A sandwiches, if prepared the right way) – this should offer you another solid example of Aldi doing chicken right.

Overall: 8/10.  Surprisingly, the parmesan and garlic flavors come through, in a delicious chicken tender that’s restaurant quality (not gourmet restaurant, but easily equal to, or better than, any fast food joint‘s similar offerings).  The breading is tasty, and the chicken also looks and tastes as it should (sad that‘s a plus in frozen foods these days).  The biggest “downside”, if it can be called that, is that these are raw, so they require cooking in the oven; don’t grab a bag thinking you’ll just toss these in the microwave, because they take between 25-30 minutes to fully cook.  The plus side is that the breading is crispy, and the chicken inside is warm and juicy, two qualities you just aren't going to get out of microwaved tenders. These are a nice change of pace from the typical chicken nugget, and while the $5.49 asking price may give you pause for thought, you can easily get three or four servings out of a single bag (even more if these are for kids or people with smaller appetites). Just make sure you serve them with a side, as the garlic is pretty strong, and does get a little repetitive after a while. 


Friday, March 19, 2021

Unbranded (Worthy Promotionals) Oh So Soft Toilet Paper (Dollar Tree)

"Oh So Soft?" More like "Ass-Rippingly Rough".


According to my research (and the packaging), this product is manufactured by Worthy Promotionals, based out of Alabama. I don’t know why a promotional company would be interested in entering the toilet paper business, but I have a reason it might have been in response to the nationwide TP shortage that we experienced months ago...if so, that might explain why four roll packages of their products are being sold at Dollar Tree, for less than their wholesale cost.

Anyway, I picked this package up because the rolls are actually larger than the individual rolls in DT’s “Soft and Strong” toilet paper, which means it should last a while longer. Plus, who doesn’t want a nice cushion for their privates when wiping? As a man, I certainly don’t require it, but it’s a nice luxury to have.

I don’t know what they were comparing their product to in order to designate it “Oh So Soft”, but it couldn’t have been anything less than sandpaper, because this is probably the roughest TP I’ve ever used in my life. I’ve mentioned before that I don’t really have a need for my toilet paper to be super soft (like my wife does), but this is equal to, or maybe even worse than, the stuff they use in gas station restrooms. It's that uncomfortable.

On the positive side of things, it does feel pretty sturdy, which means the only thing tearing will be your asshole when you use it...I guess that constitutes a plus? I mean, if it’s going to suck, the least it can do is not cause other messes. Another “feature” (a weird term for a toilet paper roll) that I actually do like is that the toilet paper sticks to itself until you unwind it from the roll. It’s kind of weird and annoying, but that means if you drop it while you’re using it, the roll won’t leave a trail of toilet paper all over the bathroom as it rolls away from you...not a situation that happens often, but I think we’ve all had it happen to us at one point or another.

There is another hint that these were kind of thrown together on a whim by a company that normally doesn’t deal in toiletries: the plies are very loosely glued together. I didn’t have any completely separate while in use, but there’s clearly a flappable gap between the two plies that hints at a rush job to take advantage of an undersupplied market. I will say that the toilet paper itself is uniformly wrapped pretty tightly around the cardboard roll...some brands look like they’re just haphazardly rolled on there (Aldi Daily Basics, I'm looking at you), but these at least look like they were competently wound.

Unfortunately, the positives are just moot points that merely prevent the score from dropping lower...they aren’t nearly enough to salvage this from the “do not buy” pile. But if you are going to get it, might as well grab it from Dollar Tree instead of CVS, where they are currently retailing for $3.99 ($1 per roll!) I can at least rest a bit easier knowing that I only paid a dollar for it ($.25 per roll!). Also make sure you grab some ointments or soothing creams you can put on afterwards.

Overall: 2.5/10. The “Oh So Soft” moniker is incredibly wrong, because this stuff is some of the roughest I’ve ever used. I’m not a delicate man who requires his toilet paper to be super soft, but I’d at least like to be able to use it without having to check to make sure I’m not bleeding afterwards. The plies are also very cheaply glued together, with noticeable separation apparent as you take pieces apart. At least the rolls are tightly wound and appear to be pretty tough, as I haven’t had any pieces rip or tear during use. And they are much larger than the rolls in other dollar store brands. Don’t buy these at CVS for $3.99 when you can get them at Dollar Tree for $1! But don’t get them there, either. Just don’t get it at all, really.




Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Specially Selected Stone Baked Mushroom, Mascarpone and Authentic Italian Cheese Pizza (Aldi)

Mushrooms aside, this "imported" pizza has a unique flavor all its own.

I'm not even going to try to remember what lead me to even consider this pizza. Actually, I guess I will: my wife loves mascarpone, but hates mushrooms. I don't really care for either of those things all that much, but I guess I just figured my wife might be interested in taking off the mushrooms and eating the rest. She wasn't, but if she was, the mushrooms are large, and don't take up a whole lot of surface space—they'd be real easy to pick off, especially before baking.

The texture is actually a big plus. Well, not so much the mushrooms (which we'll get into more in the next paragraph), but the rest of the pizza features an enticing interplay between the soft, crispy crust; the hardened Italian cheese on top; and the rich, creamy “sauce” that must just be mascarpone. I'd compare the texture to a breakfast pizza, as the sauce is—at the risk of making it sound disgusting—more the texture of a gravy than a typical pizza sauce. Kind of like a crème fraiche, though not quite as rich.

As for the taste itself, it's...interesting. Yep, that's the perfect word for it. Actually, the mushrooms are absolutely gross, and don't belong anywhere near the pizza. While I wouldn't at all consider myself a fan of the earthy fungus, I'd say that I actually have a stronger tolerance for them than my wife, who generally avoids them like the plague. As for me, I tend to avoid them, but if something appeals to me that has mushrooms in them, and it's done well, I don't have a problem eating them. (I'll bore you with a quick story: The best mushroom anything I had was at a restaurant, now sadly closed, in Athens, OH a few years back for our anniversary dinner. It was a creamy mushroom soup that was so irresistably good, I even downed the huge chunks of mushroom that had settled to the bottom of the cup. My wife, on the other hand, still wasn't all that impressed with the dish (but loved the rest of the meal overall).) Here, they don't provide much else other than a slimy texture and the added taste of feet. Seriously, I can't even see mushroom fans appreciating this mixture...it's like they had a leftover vat of the unpopular vegetable, and just chucked it on a random cheese pizza. The flavors clash and don't really flow together at all.

The “rest of the pizza”, however (as apparently the pizza must be judged on two separate sets of criteria), offers up a pretty unique flavor that I would probably get again. Not really anytime soon, mind you, but again. The flavors are all pretty “neutral”, and don't veer off into any flavorable realms of distinction, yet between the texture and the tastes that are there, it creates an intriguing experience that you won't get with any “standard” pepperoni pizza. There are always pizzas that say they're imported, or that look like they're trying to be different, but end up tasting like something created for American palates; the “imported” verbiage is usually merely used as a way to jack up the price, and give the item a sense of heightened, exclusive quality. This one, however, I believe actually was “imported from Italy”, because it has the taste of a completely different culture.

I may not have enjoyed it 100%, but I definitely respect it.

Overall: 6/10. This is a weird pizza that I wouldn't quite say I “enjoyed”, but that is probably one of the Aldi's more memorable pizza offerings. The mushrooms are completely miscast for the role here, providing nothing but their trademark slimy texture, and the taste of feet; the tastes don't “flow” together in any way. No thanks. However, the rest of the pizza makes up for that by offering a unique flavor that doesn't go off into any extreme territory, but it just tastes...different. Even without the mushrooms, which seem to be tossed on as an afterthought. It claims it's “imported from Italy”, a claim I almost always ignore these days, but this one actually tastes like a different culture; it might be a bogus claim like many others seem to be, but it's certainly unlike anything else on the frozen pizza shelf. Just make sure you pick off the mushrooms first.

Saturday, March 13, 2021

Earth Grown Vegan Mozarella Style Sticks (Aldi)

 

Tastewise, they're good, but a snotlike texture knocks them back down to Earth.

Oh man, I don't know why I do these things...vegan mozzarella cheese sticks? Oh wait, excuse me...mozzarella “style” sticks, because there is, of course, no actual cheese in them. Why would I grab a package of these when regular cheese sticks exist? Those succulent, breaded beauties stuffed with delicious cheese...it's enough to make my mouth water. And yet, here I find myself staring at a bag of cheese sticks, only with no actual cheese in them, that I myself purchased with the intent to try. The “why's” just keep slapping me in the face at every turn.

For $3.49, you get a bag containing roughly ten small mozzarella “style” sticks, which seem to be about half the size of mozzarella “actual” sticks. However, these do appear to be a little bit thicker, so that might even things out a little bit. At any rate, it's a price that's higher than most “normal” cheese sticks, but at about the right markup for what you would expect to pay for a vegan version of any product.

I have to say, right out of the bag these actually look pretty good. The breading has the same parsley, or basil flecks that are featured in some of the better mozzarella “actual” sticks that I've had, and that actually got me a little more excited to give these a try. Also cool: these take just 10 minutes in the oven (at 400 degrees fahrenheit), with no flipping required. That's pretty quick! 

Okay, maybe these won't suck after all.

After the ten minutes were up, I pulled them out of the oven, and noticed one had even “exploded”, leaking a white gooey substance that I wanted to believe was actual cheese, from its open cavity. The effect is actually pretty convincing, and I found my mouth was starting to water despite a voice in the very back of my head reassuring me that I was in for nothing other than severe disappointment. “But, it looks so real,” I stammered, trying to not only convince myself, but also the voice lodged in the nether regions of my brain. “So do holograms,” it retorted, in a response that was apt, but not nearly as intelligent as it thought it was. Still, my brain's nether regions had a point...no matter how good these looked, there was no way they could touch the real thing.

And they don't. The star of the show, though, is the breading, which is appropriately crunchy, and tastes like the breading in just about every standard mozzarella “actual” stick out there. I have to admit, at the risk of sounding like a completely ignorant moron, that I have no idea if the typical cheese stick breading is already vegan...if so, that would explain why these taste so on-point. If not, then it's quite an impressive feat.

The same, however, cannot be said for the cheese, which, as expected, is the weakest point. However, the flavor isn't really its biggest offense: that's actually close enough to the “real thing” to earn some points from me, with a taste kind of akin to a white cheddar cheese byproduct—kind of like Kraft white cheddar cheese singles. I know, that's not really a taste you would equate with a $3.49 cheese stick—and it's not something that's going to fool a non-vegan person—but in the world of veganism, just the fact it slightly tastes like real cheese at all is quite a decent feat.

Instead, the most disappointing thing about the cheese is actually the texture: it's kind of slimy, like white snot. I mean, I don't expect the texture of a vegan product to be exact to the “real” thing, but this is almost off-puttingly...well, “off”. Did it have to be slimy? I really would have liked to have been in on tastings in the Earth Grown test kitchen to see what other potential textures there were. Sandpaper? Yes, take that one! Dry? Sure! I would imagine there would have been at least one or two other possibilities that were better than “slug”...and somehow, they decided to go with “slug”. 

Overall: 5.5/10. As someone who really has no interest in vegan products, nor any need to really get them, you can take my opinions with a grain of salt (and probably should). However, I found these to be a pretty decent knockoff of “actual” cheese sticks, with excellent breading that's very close to the real thing, and a cheese flavor that's passably realistic, although not one that will fool anyone. However, the whole facade is partially done in by the texture of the cheese, which is unappetizingly snot-like. I mean, I don't expect it to be as stringy as real cheese, nor did I require it to be the exact same texture, but of all the possibilities, I did not expect it to be slimy. It's not a big enough deal to ruin the entire experience, but it does take what was a surprisingly decent vegan alternative down a notch or two, and makes me second guess the idea of recommending it at all. Unless, of course, you have to eat these for some (likely medical) reason, in which case, they are probably your only option inside Aldi stores.

NOTE: Just to get a second opinion, I asked my wife to try one without giving any verbal or visual clues whatsoever as to what I thought about them (she wasn't even home at the time I cooked them). She took one bite, seemed to enjoy it for a second, then put the remaining cheese "style" stick back on the tray, slightly distorting her face in disgust. The word she used to describe it? "Slimy". She even said if the texture were different, she could have eaten them because the flavor is pretty good overall. So there you have it...opinion validated!