Browsing Tag

Food

Uncommon Knowledge

Uncommon Knowledge: Why is Hot Food Hot Cuisine in Hot Countries?

May 23, 2016

40220_uk52316Mexican, Caribbean, Indian, Thai…if you connect the dots of spicy cuisines around the globe, you’ll find that sizzling seasonings like chili peppers have something in common: they’re found in the favorite foods of hot climates. At first, maybe that doesn’t make sense. If it’s already hot, why eat something that might make you sweat? But then you realize that perspiring is nature’s way of cooling you off. Capsaicin, the compound in peppers that gives them a kick, also raises your metabolism and causes a slight rise in body temperature, inducing sweating. Catch a breeze, and just chill. If that doesn’t convince you to tuck into some pad Thai, vindaloo, or chile rellenos, there’s another reason to spice things up in hot weather: spicy food acts as an appetite stimulant, counteracting the tendency to skip meals in the heat. And for the record, these funky Chili Peppers can make you sweat too.

Hot Sauce Set | $48

Uncommon Knowledge

Uncommon Knowledge: What’s the Gold Standard for Sushi?

May 9, 2016

41752_uk050916As much a fine art as a cuisine, Japanese food can be a pricey proposition. Sushi in particular inspires chefs to go to great lengths, pushing the envelope of freshness, presentation, and…price. Sure, the ingredients can be expensive, and sushi preparation isn’t exactly cooking 101, but unusual and extravagant preparations also add a premium. Take for example the current record holder for world’s most expensive sushi: nigiri prepared by Filipino chef Angelito Araneta at his Manila restaurant. Wrapped in 24-karat gold leaf and garnished with diamonds, these five pieces of sushi will set you back 91,800 pesos, or nearly $2,000 USD. Yes, that’s about $400 per piece. At that price, you could fly from Manila to Tokyo and enjoy the equally famous (and much more traditional), 20-piece tasting menu at Sukiyabashi Jiro (about $300). The tiny Tokyo establishment—subject of the fascinating documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi—is often cited as the best sushi in the world, and President Obama seems to agree after dining there on a state visit in 2014. No gold or diamonds at Jiro’s joint; that would just be fishy.

Sushi Board Set | $75

Gift Guides

Gift Lab: A Salt of the Earth Tastes Our Salts of the World

March 4, 2016

Salts of the World Test Tube Set | UncommonGoods

I’m pushing thirty years old. I know that my favorite type of people are the salt of the Earth, my favorite character in Willy Wonka is Veruca Salt, my favorite hip-hop group is Salt-N-Pepa, my favorite ancient instrument is the psaltery, my favorite town is Basalt, Colorado, and both my favorite taffy and crocodile, are salt water; yet I haven’t the slightest idea what region my favorite salt hails from. One day at the UncommonGoods campus, I voiced this issue over fresh fruit and went back to my desk to find our Salts of the World Test Tube Set. Thanks to the support of my UncommonGoods’ Team, I’m determined to determine the whereabouts of a favorite salt.

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Uncommon Knowledge

Uncommon Knowledge: Do You Have a Taste for Umami?

February 22, 2016

Molecular Gastronomy Kit - Cuisine | UncommonGoods

Many of us in the west grew up believing that our sense of taste had four dimensions: sweet, salty, sour, and bitter. You may recall a day in high school with a diagram of a tongue (probably on an overhead projector) showing a “map” of taste receptor regions (since debunked). Everything we ate was described by some combination of those four dimensions. Culinary case closed, right? Well, chew on this: there’s a fifth distinct taste, called umami in Japanese, long suspected by chefs but only recently confirmed by scientists. Best translated as “deliciousness” or the savory taste, it’s abundant in cured meats, cheeses, mushrooms, and certain vegetables like asparagus. Umami was identified in 1908 by Tokyo University chemist Kikunae Ikeda, who isolated the key chemical, glutamate, from the kelp used in Japanese cooking. Glutamate has since gotten a bad rap thanks to being part of the compound monosodium glutamate (MSG), a flavor-enhancer used in a lot of westernized Asian food. But as western cooks and foodies are embracing umami as the key to a culinary experience that’s more than the sum of its parts, the chemistry of glutamate is key. Glutamate is an amino acid that’s released in food through slow cooking or curing, and scientists think they know why we crave it: evolutionarily, such processes are desirable because they make potentially toxic food safer to eat. And not coincidentally, human milk has the highest concentration of glutamate in the animal kingdom, introducing many babies to the umami taste long before they can appreciate a well-aged Parmesan.

Molecular Gastronomy Kit – Cuisine | $49-65

The Uncommon Life

Gorge on Knowledge: Uncommon Facts About 5 Traditional Holiday Foods

November 26, 2015

Popcorn Bowl with Kernel Sifter | UncommonGoods

Many of us will, thankfully, have multiple opportunities to stuff our faces during the holiday season. We thought you might also like to stuff your heads with a few fascinating facts about some traditional holiday foods.

Cranberries

The cranberry was a staple in Native American Indian diets at the time the Mayflower arrived. The Algonquin called them “sassamenesh;” the Wampanoag and Lenni-Lenape word was “ibimi,” which means “bitter/sour berries.” They were one of the foods that natives taught the Pilgrims to cultivate, enabling them to survive. To European eyes, the pink cranberry flowers that bloomed in spring resembled the head of a crane, so they called them craneberries. The slide from “crane” to “cran” has been lost to history.

This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license. Author: nigel from vancouver, Canada https://www.flickr.com/people/11652987@N03

Sandhill Crane (Grus canadensis), British Columbia, Canada. (This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license. Photographer: nigel from vancouver, Canada)

Stuffing

Soapstone Pot with Copper Handle | UncommonGoods

Cooks have probably been stuffing foods with other foods since cooking began. Recipes including stuffing appear in the first known Western cookbook, the Roman Apicius (c. 900 AD). The Latin “farcire” (gorge, stuff) became the French “farcir” and the English “farce.” The term “stuffing” first appeared in print in English in 1538.

Sometime during the Victorian era, it was decided by refined elements of society that the word “stuffing” was too suggestive. So, just as a leg of poultry became a “drumstick,” thighs became “dark meat,” and breasts became “white meat,” the euphemism “dressing” became preferred over the original term. We have been uncertain about which is which ever since, but they are one and the same.

Chestnuts

Classic Blue Serving Bowl with Felt | UncommonGoods

Chestnuts are mostly thought of as seasonal treat today, but they have actually been a staple food for millennia in parts of Europe, the Middle East and Asia, in mountainous regions where it was difficult to grow grains. The earliest evidence of human cultivation dates to around 2000 BC. Alexander the Great and the Romans planted chestnut trees across Europe to help fuel their empire-building. The chestnut was a major source of complex carbohydrates on the Continent until the introduction of the potato in the 16th century. Highland Italian peasants still survived on chestnuts for part or all of the year even in the 19th century.

Candied Yams

Olive Swirl Ruffle Serving Bowl | UncommonGoods

Thought to be native to Central America, the sweet potato has been cultivated for at least 5000 years. Ipomoea batatas, the species we make into “candied yams,” was commonly grown in the Caribbean and South America by 2500 BC. (It’s not actually a yam, but the misnomer, from the West African languages in which the verb “nyam” means “to eat,” has stuck.) African slaves in the Americas would roast them in the embers of a fire. When the natural caramelization of their sugars gave them a glassy crust, they were described as “candied.” We would probably all be better off if we had just left them that way, and the much later addition of the mass-produced factory marshmallow, perfected in the 1950s, had never happened.

Green Bean Casserole

Sac A Plat | UncommonGoods

The green bean casserole’s origins are not shrouded in the mists of time. It was invented 60 years ago, in 1955, by one Dorcas Reilly, a home economist then employed in the Campbell’s Soup Co. test kitchen in New Jersey, after an Associated Press reporter called asking for a vegetable side dish.

It wasn’t created in a single stroke of instantaneous genius, but went through iterative development. Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom soup came out in 1934 and turned up so frequently in Midwestern casserole recipes–including Minnesota hotdish recipes–that it developed a nickname: “Lutheran binder.” Reilly tried versions of these casseroles with corn, peas, and lima beans, but in the end, the green bean’s supremacy was too obvious to ignore. The “Green Bean Bake” burst forth to a hungry, time-pressed world.

The aforementioned Associated Press reporter wrote it up, and the recipe appeared in an AP feature for Thanksgiving 1955. The casserole is now served as part of the Thanksgiving meal in 30 million homes.

Campbell’s now estimates that 40% of the Cream of Mushroom soup sold in the US is used in green bean casseroles. There are gluten-free and paleo versions now, of course.

In 2002, Mrs. Reilly appeared at the National Inventor’s Hall of Fame to donate the original copy of the recipe to the museum. The now-yellowed 8 x 11 recipe card can be found in its rightful place among inventions like Edison’s light bulb and phonograph and Enrico Fermi’s controlled nuclear reactor.

See Our Serveware Collection | UncommonGoods