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Gift Lab: Stackable Lunch Pot

February 22, 2012

Background Research: The Stackable Lunch Pot is a sleek, chic, airtight food porting device comprised of two containers that fit together in a quite nifty manner. The larger of the two holds 18.6 ounces; the smaller, 10 ounces. A fashionable matching spork is included.

Hypothesis: Some people–cough cough (me) cough cough – have trouble restraining themselves in the presence of tasty food, and need help with the dreaded “portion control.” Can the Lunch Pot help me keep a lid (har har) on my appetite despite the temptation of homemade risotto?

Experiment: The first phase of the investigation required the making of risotto that was delicious enough to be a formidable temptation. The following recipe yielded more than adequate results.

Pressure Cooker Brown Rice and Kabocha Risotto
-Notes:
-All measurements are approximate; risotto is very forgiving.
-You can use any winter squash — butternut, pumpkin, or acorn, but the beauty of kabocha is that the skin is edible so you don’t have to peel it.
-Recipe is adaptable to a rice cooker or ordinary pot, but
1) A pressure cooker does the best job of making brown rice become creamy the way Arborio does, and
2) If you don’t use a pressure cooker, you have to pre-cook the squash.

Ingredients
2 T butter, 1 T olive oil
1.5 cup short-grain brown rice (I used sweet brown rice because that’s what I had on hand)
1 small kabocha squash, washed, seeds, pith and stem removed, cut into evenly-sized 1” pieces
1-2 T dried sage leaves
3 ½ – 4 c chicken or vegetable broth
Large handful chopped parsley (Flat-leaf is a stronger taste)
Large handful shredded Parmesan, Romano or Asiago cheese
Salt and pepper to taste

Melt fats over low-medium heat in pot of pressure cooker. Add rice and stir until coated with oil. Add sage and kabocha, stir. Pour in broth, stir. Put lid on pressure cooker and bring to full pressure. Lower heat as much as you can without losing full pressure. Cook anywhere from 18-40  mins (depends on the kind of rice you have; try 18 to start and if that’s not enough, bring up to pressure again and check after another 5 minutes. Lather, rinse, repeat if that’s not enough. Next time you try it, you won’t have to guess).

Turn off heat and let pot sit for 5-10 minutes, then use quick-release method to let off pressure.

Stir in parsley, and salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle individual servings with grated cheese.

The risotto-cooking phase of the experiment having been completed, the next step entailed filling the smaller of the two containers with the tempting substance, and larger one with salad makings (dressing was put in a separate small container from my motley collection).

I should confess that the thought of bringing only the small container of risotto goodness to work caused me some momentary sadness. My lab assistant, Rusty Marmalade, distracted me by conducting a spork inspection.

Despite my misgivings, when lunchtime rolled around at work the next day, the contents of the 10-oz. container were satisfyingly filling. Moreover, the container’s volume limit did, in fact, prevent me from eating too much.

Unanticipated Challenge: The Lunch Pot’s rubber gasket creates a vacuum seal that prevents air from getting in and leaks from getting out. It also prevented me from being able to open it the first time I closed it (fortunately before I put any food in it). There is a cute little instruction diagram inside the lid showing how to open it when the suction is too great for your strength.

However, I didn’t understand it. I tried to pry off the lid by pushing the spork upward, with no results. I tried a metal spoon–no dice. I emailed our vendor. They sent me this helpful video, which didn’t help me.

Finally, pushing the lid up with all my might, I managed to break it. My more intelligent co-worker, Cassie, noticed that the lid was meant to be screwed off. Not pried. Mystery solved.

Gasket Corollary: The green rubber gaskets come off, making it easy to thoroughly wash away any lurking food or bacteria.

Conclusion:
1) The Lunch Pot is a wonderfully-designed device both functionally and aesthetically.
2) The smaller container is the perfect size for a correct portion of any main dish, and the larger, for salad.
3) I am not an engineer. But I can cook all right.

Gift Guides

Gift Lab: Moss Terrarium

February 16, 2012

Hypothesis: I’ve killed every houseplant I’ve ever owned. But the moss terrarium is so green and cute, so I want to give my green thumb one more try. Can I keep this fellow alive and maybe even flourishing?

Experiment:

First off, I need to create my terrarium. I grabbed a mixing bowl, a spoon and a squeeze bottle from my kitchen and got to work. Most everything I needed was included in the kit– dirt, moss, bottle & stand. But it did take a little bit of dexterity to get my terrarium up and running. Some assembly is required!

I activated the moss with in a quick warm water bath.

Gave the dirt a quick mix. Doesn’t this look like the beginning of a cake recipe? I know, I know… you just got totally grossed out. But Martha Stewart’s got a pretty impressive dirt cake recipe

Then I used my mixing spoon to spread out the dirt along the bottom of the wine bottle, and layered the moss on top with the included pair of chopsticks.

Here’s my finished terrarium, hanging out next to the last lonely tendril of parsley.

Results: Since the time this picture was taken, my parsley has since died. But my beautiful moss terrarium has stayed green, and I only need to spritz it with a spray bottle a few times a week. I did move my terrarium away from the window. I missed those instructions to keep it out of direct sunlight, and now that it’s hanging out with my favorite Beatles action figures, my terrarium just might make it through the winter.

Conclusion: If you’re worse at gardening than I am, don’t despair. The moss terrarium kit is a chance to redeem yourself and bring a bit of nature indoors.

The Moss Terrarium Bottle is $38, and you can dress yours up with handmade terrarium creatures, $34.

Gift Guides

Gift Lab: Soup & Sandwich Tray

February 10, 2012

Background Research
The Soup & Sandwich Tray Duo is an UncommonGoods classic with a glowing reputation. Based on photos and reviews, it is the perfect size for a classic tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwich. Customers have left comments describing the innovative meals they have served on the tray such as cereal with a muffin and cake with ice cream.

Hypothesis
My idea of a comforting meal to warm up cold bellies on a January day is an Italian alternative. I hypothesize my favorite meal of spicy tomato & chickpea soup with Stromboli will fit just as perfectly on the Soup & Sandwich Tray Duo.

The Experiment
Sunday January 15, perhaps the coldest day so far since last winter. The wind is howling outside and there is nothing my boyfriend Mark and I would rather do than turn up the heat and have a movie marathon.

In the freezer are two servings of tomato and chickpea soup, a simple crock pot recipe that I made two weeks prior. It’s a thick soup that I spiced up with a lot of cayenne pepper and paprika and saved for such a chilly occasion. I have the ingredients to make my mom’s famous Stromboli– a favorite from my childhood. I roll the Stromboli, put it in the oven and heat the soup on the stove.

While the food is cooking, I take my Soup & Sandwich Tray Duo from its box to clean. I am surprised at the weight of the plate and bowl- it’s very sturdy and larger than I imagined. I especially appreciate that the plate and bowl are not attached and nest on top of each other for easy storage, a huge bonus for this apartment dweller. The bowl is very big and deep, I don’t know if I could ever eat that much soup!

The soup is warm and the Stromboli is baked to cheesy, oozy perfection. Although my Stromboli slices are not the size or shape of a grilled cheese, they fit better on the plate than I predicted. Mark and I sit at the table for a couple of minutes enjoying the convenience of eating soup and Stromboli from the same tray. When it comes time for a soup refill, we are grateful that we can take the bowls and not travel with the entire tray.

We decide it is time to put on The Big Lebowski and take our trays to the sofa. I dread eating on the sofa because it’s usually so messy but the  tray fits so perfectly on my lap, its size and weight make it a sturdy and level table. Since the bowl is so large, it only needs to be filled halfway to provide a healthy serving so spilling is not a concern. We can eat without crumbs or spilling while laughing at The Dude.

Conclusion
My hypothesis proved true, a meal slightly alternative to grilled cheese and classic tomato soup fit on the Soup & Sandwich Tray Duo. In addition, the tray proved to store well in a cabinet and create a spill-free sofa experience. I can’t stop thinking about all of my favorite recipes that can be served on the tray…

Gift Guides

Gift Lab: Baby Carrier Cover

February 8, 2012

Alina Maturu, age 4 months, on assignment for UncommonGoods
As told to Swati Parikh

Gift Lab: Baby Carrier Cover

Background Research:

My mommy and I love to go for walks in our neighborhood. Every day she dresses me in a bunch of layers to keep me warm, straps me into a carrier and we set off on our daily adventure. I love going for walks and falling asleep while we’re out. The problem is that I hate putting on that winter bearsuit

– even though I’m super cute in it, it makes me all hot and sweaty and my mom gets sweaty too. So I whine and cry every time she puts it on me and we struggle to get out the door. And my mommy can’t zip up her coat around me, so she’s cold once we get outside too.

Hypothesis:
A carrier cover is just what we need. It will keep me and my mommy nice and warm and we’ll get to avoid the hassle of putting on a bunch of layers before leaving the house.

Experiment:
It’s been a fairly warm winter this year, but I finally got to see my first real snow storm in January. It was the perfect day to test out the carrier cover. We first watched this little video to figure out how to put it on:

Once we had it in place, with the proper strings pulled tight, we set off for an adventure in the snow to see how warm we would be in the cover.

Results:
It works! As my mom likes to say, the carrier keeps me “snug as a bug in a rug.” All I have to wear is this cute little onesie, pants and a sweater. No bearsuit. No crying. Once we get inside my mommy easily slips it off and I stay asleep the whole time.

My mommy also feels much warmer with the cover and feels like she was wearing another layer but not overheating. Her neck and chest are still exposed to the cold air, but she solves this problem by wearing a scarf with it. The cover is a little bulky, but once she puts her coat on over it we look like a cute cozy pair.

And daddy likes it too. Did I mention he has the coolest job in the world? He works at UncommonGoods.

Alina’s Wardrobe: I Love My Microscope Onesie, $25.

Alina’s Baby Carrier Cover: $69 at UncommonGoods.