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The Uncommon Life

A Taste Test with a Twist

August 22, 2014

Aroma Fork | UncommonGoods

You know how sometimes a smell can make your mouth water? How the scent of cookies baking in the oven or a pot of something yummy simmering on the stove can get your stomach growling? That’s because our senses of taste and smell are closely related.

Intrigued by this connection between how what enters our noses affects what we perceive in our mouths, the makers of one of our best-selling products got to work developing a new product that uses science to enhance the eating experience.

Of course, when we heard about this new good, AromaFork™, we couldn’t wait to try it! So, we rounded up a batch of volunteers from around UncommonGoods and offered them a mid-day snack session in exchange for their honest feedback.

Aroma Fork | UncommonGoods

The blog team asked Data Analytics Manager Victoria, Product Development Associate Tiffany, Senior Operations Manager Mary Catherine, and Digital Marketing Manager Zack to don blindfolds and taste test six different treats. After each nibble, they wrote down not only what they thought the food was based on its taste, but also what they smelled.

Aroma Fork Test | UncommonGoods

No blind taste test is complete without at least a bit of attempted trickery, so we made sure to vary our food and scent combinations to include things we thought would go great together and a few more unusual pairings to try to throw our volunteers off.

We sliced grapefruit and added a drop of mint essence to the AromaFork™’s absorbent scent pad first, but this didn’t fool many of our participants. With the exception of Victoria, who guessed that she was eating a tangerine, the tasting team all called grapefruit. They also all got mint right on the nose.

Aroma Fork Scents | UncommonGoods

Our next edible experiment was with sauerkraut and a whiff of black pepper. This one threw most of the group off. Zack figured it out, but the rest of the bunch was certain it had to be kimchi or some kind of pickled pepper. They had different reactions to the flavor, but they all agreed that the pepper scent seemed to subtly change the perceived flavor of the sauerkraut.

The experiment got off to a good start, but we ended up learning even more as we tested the remaining food/scent combinations. To try a couple of our exclusive aromas, we paired marshmallows with the sweet scent of bubblegum and pound cake with the chocolaty-smelling black forest cake oil. To try something a little different we tried unflavored tofu and a drop of cinnamon scent. To confirm whether or not an added aroma could boost an already strong flavor, we paired Gouda and the smell of smoke. Finally, in one last attempt at fooling our friends, we combined baguette with not one, but two unique smells–olive oil and basil.

Aroma Fork Experiement | UncommonGoodsAroma Fork Guesses | UncommonGoods

As expected, the team’s reactions definitely reflected whether they enjoyed the actual food they were eating. The tofu didn’t go over well, but that seemed to be based on the feel of the food rather than the added scent. Marshmallow, on the other hand, was a success. Even Mary Catherine, who says she doesn’t love marshmallows, enjoyed the combination, calling the experimental version “much more fun.”

Also as expected, the complementary scents we dropped on the forks before serving up the pound cake and Gouda “tricked” our testers into guessing that they were eating more elegant versions of each food. They all guessed “cake” and “cheese” but liked how the scents enhanced the sweet and smokey flavors of their respective foods.

Aroma Fork Test | UncommonGoods

Our final experiment, baguette with a drop of basil scent and a drop of olive oil scent, did confuse the panel. They all knew they were eating bread, but all thought they were either smelling licorice or fennel. (To be fair, we didn’t tell them that they were smelling more than one aroma oil.) From this, we learned that combining a couple of scents can be a fun way to play with the senses, but that the combinations might not turn out as planned.

Trying the Aroma Fork | UncommonGoods

The blind taste test was a blast, we all left our conference room full and content, and we all agreed that the AromaFork™ would be a great dinner party activity. Someone also joked that it could be a clever way to trick your kid into eating veggies!

One of the biggest take-aways from our experimentation is that while the included scents can definitely enhance flavors in food, and even seem to cause subtle changes in flavor, they can’t completely trick you into thinking you’re eating something drastically different than you really are. Of course, we’re open to further testing this theory. Who’s bringing the snacks?!

Gift Guides

Gift Lab: Tea to Go

May 21, 2014

Tea to Go | UncommonGoods

Research:
Do you know that person who wakes up with just enough time to brush, shower, and dress and barely catch the train? Well that’s me. I’m all about getting things to go, in order to save time – typical New Yorker, I know. Hence the reason I chose the Tea to Go for my experiment, figured it would make the difficulties of staying warm on the go, a thing of the past.

Hypothesis:
I am hoping that this keeps my tea warm without burning my hand, as well as keeping it hot for at least an hour. With public transportation being as unpredictable as it is, this would be a big thing for me.

I’m going into this with no knowledge of how the glass apparatus would hold up against the traditional metal thermos that I’m used to. The plan is to use the Tea to Go all the ways that it has been advertised and to see if it meets the needs of someone who’s the definition of a person on the go.

Experiment:
First, I got everything prepared: a kettle of boiling water, 1 peppermint tea for those frigid mornings, 1 peach tea with ice for the playful days, and some loose White Riesling tea for those sleep-in mornings that you can only dream of.

Tea

The body consists of very a thick glass tube and a heavy duty rubber grip. The inner body includes a small perforated section for the tea, then a long portion where the liquid will flow through. I didn’t realize how tall it was until I put it next to my jar of Linguini noodles and, as you can see, it’s right up there.

Tea to Go | UncommonGoods

According to the instructions, I poured the hot water through the small compartment for the tea bag – that was a no go. The water took really long to fill up the tube and I wasn’t about to wait. It made sense if you had to time to allow your tea seep and brew a stronger tea, which wasn’t what I was going for. Instead, I filled up the tube from the larger side and things went smoothly. After letting it sit for 10 minutes, I gave the bottle a slight tilt to allow everything to diffuse evenly and off we go.

Making Tea | UncommonGoodsHot Tea | UncommonGoods

The rubber grip was hotter than I expected, but definitely manageable. After being out of my house for 20 minutes the tea was still extremely hot, and I had to implement the blow-and-sip method, which worked just fine. After being in public transportation for an hour, my tea kept hot (and this is with me keeping the top off so in order to drink). It didn’t really cool down at all, I still had hot tea after an hour and half – that’s a plus.

Loose Leaf Tea

I also gave it a try with loose leaf tea. From looking at the perforations you can tell that large loose tea leaves are the best choice, so that you don’t have leaf residue floating around. I didn’t take that into account until much later. Even though some of the excess tea got in the drinking tube, it was not a big deal. But it’s just something to keep in mind for those who don’t like things floating in their drinks.

The Tea to Go certainly holds up for hot tea 100%. NY Winter – here we come!

Iced Tea to Go | UncommonGoods

Next I gave the bottle a try with iced tea. I let the Peach tea bag seep in a little bit of boiling water before adding filtered water. The water was still relatively warm so I decided to add some ice cubes, which quickly melted but were able to provide me with a cold drink. Took my book, iced tea and an orange and enjoyed the break from freezing temperatures and read for a few on my stoop.

I came back in after an hour with very little tea gone (Harry is just that captivating!), and I was amazed to find out it was still very cold, like a beverage right out the fridge.

Conclusion:
Being a person who lives in New York and has experienced the wonders of Jack Frost first hand, the Tea to Go has become my accessory for those cold rushed mornings. It’s a pretty simple but effective device that will keep my hands and tea warm.

Not only is it good for those frigid mornings we’ve come to love, but it’s versatile enough to keep tea cool for those strolling days. I’m thinking it’s going to come in handy as summer approaches, since it has officially been added to my morning check list – keys, metrocard, money, and Tea to Go.

The Uncommon Life

Gift Lab: Flip & Tumble + Wine Tote + Bentgo: A-leftovering we will go

November 22, 2013

Research

I hate waste. I’m really OCD about it. Disposable shopping bags, takeout containers, and water bottles really bug me. And yet, I do shop, eat on the go, and need H2O. Thus was born my quest for the perfect personal food transport equipment.

3-ItemCollageHypothesis

Our Flip & Tumble Reusable Shopping Bags are light and small and hold a lot. Sounds promising. Our BentGO Lunch Box is good looking. Most of its lunch-toting brethren are decidedly not. It’s also a good size, and except for the lids, microwaveable (for warming up, not cooking), and dishwasher safe. Also promising. Our Wine and Beverage Tote, with its tough canvas outer skin, seems a lot sturdier than fold-up plastic bottles I’ve used before.

Experiment

Step 1: Shopping.

This was mostly accomplished at the Park Slope Food Coop, of which I am an enthused member. A sustainability-minded organization since forever, the coop doesn’t give out shopping bags. Flip & Tumbles are perfect for shopping there. They weigh virtually nothing, open up in a jiffy (faster and easier than any shopping bag I’ve ever used), hold a lot, and are strong and sturdy. The even have a non-slip patch on the inside top of the shoulder strap.

Giftlab food-bags 016-CROPPED

Here’s how they look full of groceries.

Giftlab food-bags 019-CROPPED

Here are most of the ingredients, spread out. (The bags actually held a lot more than this.)

Step 2: Cooking.

I bought a spaetzle maker no less than 6 years ago, and until now, had never used it. Sound familiar, gadget lovers? I saw this recipe in the New York Times, and knew this was what would make spaetzle happen in my kitchen.

To round out the meal, I decided to make mashed sweet potatoes with lime and honey (the recipe calls them yams, but they are NOT; shame on you, Saveur!) with broiled grapefruit for dessert.

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I put the sweet potatoes in a casserole dish and stuck them in the preheated 350 degree oven.

I then sliced the leeks and cabbage (separately) very thinly in the food processor. I melted a bunch of butter in a big frying pan and sauteed the leeks. But I forgot to take photos of all that, so you’ll have to use your imagination.

CabbageCookingCollage

The savoy cabbage, sauteeing on top of the already-sauteed leeks.

11-18-13UG-giftlab-cooking 021

Above is the mixed white all-purpose, whole wheat, and whole rye flour (yes, I ground it from the berries, here’s why), to which I added an egg and whole milk. It’s supposed to end up like cake batter, not bread dough, so you keep adding milk until it feels right. Because I used whole wheat flour, which the recipe doesn’t call for, I used more milk than recommended, because whole wheat flour absorbs more liquid.

11-18-13UG-giftlab-cooking 001

My spaetzle maker in action, at long last. You pour the batter gradually into the white hopper which you then slide along the holey stainless steel part that’s straddling the pot of boiling, salted water. The dough slips through randomly, drops into the pot, and cooks very quickly, rising to the top.

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It’s pasta…it’s dumplings….it’s spaetzle!

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The recipe calls for thyme, which I conveniently have growing in one of my kitchen windowboxes.

Now it’s time for it to be topped with grated Gruyere cheese, put in a casserole dish, and baked. But wait–where’s that dish?!

11-18-13UG-giftlab-cooking 044

Oh yeah, it was baking these. When I took them out, I didn’t bother cleaning it, because sugary, gooey sweet potato ooze can only improve a dish. I did mix it in, though, so it wouldn’t just burn on the bottom.

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The casserole in a state of baking readiness.

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The sweet potatoes, mashed with a fork and mingling with their new BFFs: butter, fresh lime juice, and honey.

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20 minutes after being put into the 425 degree oven: Done.

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Now for the broiled grapefruit. Easiest thing ever: cut in half, top with brown sugar (or not), turn broiler on, pop in citrus.

~An interlude, during which I eat this delicious dinner, and sleep. A new day dawns.~

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The true and ultimate destiny of this food, of course, was being consumed as leftovers. I added some homemade kefir I put into a can that I’d fished out from the recycling and washed (see above re: “OCD about waste;” also, it was the perfect size), because I thought it would go well with both the casserole and the grapefruit.

11-19-13UG-giftlab-cooking 038

Stick a fork in it–it’s done.

Step 3: A) Eating and B) Drinking

A) The spaetzle dish, like most casseroles, was even better the next day. It nuked up beautifully in its spiffy BentGO container. I ate it in about two minutes flat. No, I will not show you what that looked like. My mother might be reading this, and it would make her cry to see that all those years of table manners lessons were wasted on me.

UG giftlab-wine tote 004-CROPPED

B) The Wine and Beverage Tote, alas, was filled only with water, because I was at work. (You think I can write all juiced up? No. I leave that to pros.) For purely scientific purposes, I did fill it with wine the night before. Miraculously, it holds an entire, normal-sized bottle, though you have to make sure the bag is poufed out all the way while (carefully) pouring. I recommend red wine, because the Tote isn’t insulated, so the wine will be at room temperature before long.

I really appreciated its sturdy canvas exterior, because it freed me from the nagging worry that something sharp in my bag might gouge it. If there’d been red wine inside, I would have appreciated it even more–no, not because of the alcohol; because of the potential for mess. (OK, the alcohol, too.) Note that I swapped out the original petite black carabiner with a larger one of my own, partly–but ONLY partly, I swear–because mine is pink.

Recipe links:
New York Times: Rye spaetzle gratin with savoy cabbage, leeks and caraway
Saveur: Mashed sweet potatoes with lime and honey
TheKitchn: Sweet and smoky broiled grapefruit

Gift Guides

Gift Lab: How to Make Grilled Cheese (in the Toaster!)

November 15, 2013

Anna Moreno | UncommonGoods

Research
I love a good grilled cheese. The gooey goodness inside reminds me of childhood memories past; always paired with a tomato soup, of course. I first saw the Toaster Grilled Cheese Bags and thought it would be a fun, and super easy, way to make that delicious, buttery comfort food. I’d never heard of such a product before! How simple! Just put it in a toaster! I’m, however, familiar with the iron-grilled cheese approach…enough said. In comparison, that ironing approach is quite barbaric.

Hypothesis
Given my experience with toast, and grilled cheese, I suspect that the sandwiches will be nice and melt-y. However, the warm buttery flavor (that is signature to anything cooked with butter on a frying pan) will be missing.

Experiment
Step 1: Checking out the goods
The Toaster Grilled Cheese Bags are very different than I expected! They’re a silky-papery material. Very tough and pliable. So far, I’m impressed. Three bags are included in the package (wish it was four for those 4 slotted toasters). The grilled cheese in the picture looks really delicious! Nice and golden.

Make grilled cheese in your toaster!
Toaster Grilled Cheese Bags | UncommonGoods

The Ooma Bowl!
I love the clean and colorful look. It’s meant to easily fit into the hand for holding. Overall, the style gets two thumbs up from me. The bowl may also serve as a nice pet food dish? Food on the left, water on the right.

Ooma Bowl | UncommonGoods

Step 2: Assemble the ingredients!
For my experiment I’m making 2 recipes.

First: The Classic. Simple and to the point; white bread, sharp cheddar.

Making Grilled Cheese

Second: Italian Craving–Featuring the Ooma Bowl! Yummy take on the classic done Italian style. My plan is to cut the finished sandwiches into sticks and use to use the Ooma Bowl for easy dipping. Using mozzarella, pesto spread, fresh basil, and sundried tomatoes. For the dipping sauce I’m using my favorite marinara Rao’s Homemade (it’s the best I highly recommend trying it!).

Italian Grilled Cheese

Step 3: Get’m grilled
Attempt Number One:
The Classic. It was pretty simple to get them into the bags. It needed a little maneuvering, but nothing difficult. I have a nice toaster that accommodates bagels. After getting them bagged I put them in, I set the toaster to level 4 and set it into motion.

Easy Toaster Grilled Cheese | UncommonGoods

The end result was not what I was hoping for. Setting 4 didn’t cut it. The cheese didn’t melt, and the bread was not toasted enough. Compared to the picture on the packaging, my sandwich was a total fail. Try again…

Sandwich

Attempt Number Two:
OK, so the setting was too low; I overcompensated by upping the game to a level six setting. Also, I was thinking I would try to add some butter to the bread in hopes of obtaining that nice golden buttery glow. I melted 2 tablespoons and brushed the outsides of the bread with a pastry brush. Drum roll please…

I got the taste spot on and beautiful melted cheese. However, I ended up with burnt bread. It didn’t taste bad, but charred is no good either. Also, the butter made the bags all greasy.

grilled cheese

Toaster Grilled Cheese | UncommonGoods

Attempt Number Three:
I completed my attempts with the Classic recipe and moved onto the Italian Craving. First things first, I washed the bags. They got greasy from the butter and the melted cheese. Washing was incredibly easy. I used a simple sponge with handle and hot water. I hand dried but noticed that the bags held moisture. I didn’t have time to let them air dry, so I continued on with the sandwich making. I made a total of 4 sandwiches; all of which came out a little darker than I expected. I’m not sure what’s to blame. My toaster setting, the moist bags, the butter; I really am not sure. What I do know is that the sandwiches were tasty. (The chef has to taste their food before it leaves the kitchen).

Italian Grilled Cheese | UncommonGoods
Italian Grilled Cheese | UncommonGoods

Step 4: Plate & Taste
Time to eat, drink and be merry. As planned, I cut the grilled cheese into long strips and placed them into the Ooma Bowl. I heated the sauce and added that to the smaller section. Et voila! A culinary masterpiece! (At least for moi, a simple cook.)

Grilled Cheese Fingers with Tomato Sauce

The bowl was easy to hold. Modeled by my fiancé (thank you for your help). Recommended for couch activities such as Sunday sports and Netflix. A delicious end to a full day of ingredient shopping and toaster cooking.

Grilled Cheese Dunk
Noah

Conclusion
Did these match up to the classic grilled cheese? Not completely; however, they were 1. Easy to make and 2. Melt-y and tasty.

Lessons Learned:
1. Don’t apply butter before toasting! It may be good to apply after? Question for thought.
2. The bags need to thoroughly dry before the next use. I later washed, hand dried, and placed on the handle of a frying pan to dry.
3. Toaster settings are key; you need to find the right one. (I have yet to find the right one for my toaster.)

Photo Credit: Moi! Anna Moreno
Model: My fiancé Noah Perkins

Gift Guides

Gift Lab: How to Make Music by Playing Wine Glasses

September 27, 2013
Major Scale Musical Wine Glasses | UncommonGoods

Research
As a developer of the Major Scale Musical Wine Glasses™, my knowledge of the product is quite comprehensive, but this was my first chance to test a random unit straight off the production floor. In developing these musical glasses, we looked for a glass that would allow for a full A major scale, allowing for more versatile music-making. We used a high-quality lead-free crystal glass here to ensure the best resonance we could achieve.

I’m not a big wine drinker, but you’ll find me sneaking a swig of water every now and again – so I’m conducting this experiment with water as an alternative. I try to keep practice on my violin, but I’m much more likely to produce something resembling music with my finger on these glasses than with my bow on strings – so I’m looking forward to the chance to actually hit the right notes for a change.

Musical Wine Glass Packaging | Uncommon Goods

Hypothesis
Due to variations in glass we knew absolute, orchestral perfection was a bit too aspirational, but we have been pleased to find that the fill lines correspond quite nicely to the note indicated. My hypothesis is that I’ll have a pretty happy match today.

Experiment
Fill ‘er up! I poured to the first note – an ‘A,’ moistened my finger in another glass to allow for smooth movement around the rim, and round my finger went firmly in a circular motion. As I draw my finger around the rim, the alternating slipping and sticking creates a vibration pattern in the glass. The speed of vibration, meanwhile, is affected by the volume of liquid in the glass, and different vibrations will produce different notes. The results of my first attempt?

Playing Music on Wine Glasses

A lovely ‘A’ note resonates through the dining room, accompanied by a hypnotic ripple along the surface of the wine. As you can see…a successful ‘A’!

'A' Note

I toast to a successful first pour and continue on my journey through the A Major scale.

I poured a taller glass and around I went again.

Major Scale Musical Wine Glass | UncommonGoods

Crosschecking with another tuner – a direct hit! SuccEss with a capital ‘E’.

'E' Note

Conclusion

Though slight variations in glass will yield somewhat different performance, a random test proved more than satisfactory to my unprofessional, yet music-appreciating ears. Very content and ready to wet my whistle, I toast to beautiful music with my fiancée and Franklin Broccoli, our almost-real pet bulldog.

Musical Wine Glass Toast

To see and hear these uncommon instruments make music with your own eyes and ears, check out this video of me playing Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.