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The Uncommon Life

Cooking Local Pinterest Contest

September 21, 2012

Do you look to your favorite pinner when it’s time to make dinner? Are you always hungry to share your love for your city or state? Then our latest Pinterest contest is for you. We’re combining fabulous food and hometown pride in the UncommonGoods Cooking Local Contest.

Cook up your best board and leave a link and an email address in the comments below and/or on the original pin in our Cooking Local board and you’ll be entered to win an UncommonGoods prize package featuring designs from CatStudio.

The package includes a Hand-embroidered Pillow, a Geography Apron, and a Geography Towel. We’ll announce the winner on Friday, October 5 on our blog.

Follow us on Pinterest for more updates. Good luck and happy pinning!

 

Entries must be received by midnight on Thursday, October 4.

Open to US citizens only.

Gift Guides

Melissa’s Game Night: ZinZig

September 10, 2012

Hello! My name is Melissa and I am a new buyer over here at UncommonGoods. I look for product for a number of categories, including and especially games and toys. Obviously, for these types of items, the question “is it fun?” comes up every time in our decision-making process. The thing about games is that the ideal way to determine how fun a game is going to be is not in reading instructions and checking it out alone at my desk at work – but rather with friends at home. Shocking and insightful observation, I know.

So, in an effort to do my job better (take note, boss!), make new friends (I just moved out to New York City to join UncommonGoods from sunny California – or, in my case, foggy San Francisco), and generally have fun, I decided to start hosting game nights to test the new product that I’m considering. When we were chatting about this in one of our sample review meetings, someone threw out the idea of sharing the experience with our UncommonGoods community, and Melissa’s Game Night was born.

Up first was ZinZig ™:
“ZinZig is the wine tasting and trivia game that will challenge your mind and palate. So sit back, relax, and sip your wine. You’re in for a Zin-ful good time ™!”

I bribed my friends over with offers of pasta & sautéed Brussels sprouts, convinced them that yes, it is a great idea to play a wine tasting board game on a weekday, and raced out of the office to get set up.
[Disclaimer: since I just moved to NY, my living room looks pretty sparse, I know — hopefully it will continue to get more interesting as these blog posts continue!]

Once I cooked dinner for the boys (note to self: make more female friends), I asked/told one of my friends to read out the instructions and help us get set up. Luckily for him, it was fairly straight-forward and user-friendly: the beginning of the game opens with drinking and testing all of the wines. We also each picked a winery as well as a figure to represent us on the board. We each started on the space of the Winery that we chose – since the board is circular, the location that you are on is not really important (until the end) – it is all about the squares that you land on. On each turn, you get a trivia card and have to try to answer correctly – once you answer, the square you are on determines whether you “Swap”, “Trade”, etc. There are a few wild squares (ie: Corked: Wine spoilage detected. Answer wrong and lose one bottle card), as well as my personal favorite – Sip and Savor – in which you “Sit back, relax, and enjoy your wine” while earning a free card.

Each trivia card has a ‘resource’ printed on the back; the point of the game is to collect one of each resource (barrel, grape, bottle, cork) to start production. Once you do that, you move to the middle of the board and go through the stages of production (crushing, fermenting, aging, bottling) by answering a trivia Card. The first player to complete production is the winner of the game. Even though I am overly competitive, I did not manage to win. The shout-out of victory goes to my friend Mike who came in from last to crush us all.

In terms of game play, I thought the range of the level of difficulty of the trivia questions was well-balanced and on the intelligent side. I am a fairly big wine geek, my friend Alex claimed to know nothing, and everyone else fell somewhere in between. All of us got answers right and wrong, which made it a fun learning experience as well. The game lasted roughly 2 hours, and a good time was had by all. This game was approved and is available now HERE.

Thanks to Barry, Matt, Alex, Gabe, Colin, Erik, and Mike for playing!

The Uncommon Life

A Rockin’ Sinangag (Filipino Garlic Rice) Recipe

August 31, 2012

I had a bunch of leftover cooked jasmine rice in the fridge and a new UncommonGoods gadget I wanted to try, the Garlic Rocker. So I did the math and came up with Garlic + Rice = Garlic Rice. Clever, eh?
Googling “garlic rice” in search of a recipe led me to the discovery that in the Phillippines, it’s a breakfast staple called “sinangag” in Tagalog. Garlic for breakfast?! I was on it like white on rice.
Because fried rice doesn’t require exact measurements–you can judge just by looking how much of each ingredient you want to add to it–I looked at several recipes and more or less winged it from there. (The recipe links are at the bottom of this page.) I also consulted UncommonGoods’ two Filipino software developers, Albert Tingson and Orlando Geronimo.
Orlando (right, in photo) said, “How about if you bring the sinangag to work and we’ll have a good breakfast with some tapa and fried egg. We call it ‘Tapsilog.'” All three of us were enthused about this idea until we remembered that we have no way to cook fried eggs at work.
With any kind of fried rice, you want to get all the elements (except herbs, if you’re using them) cooked and chopped before the “frying” begins (actually, sautéeing in my case, as I used a flat pan instead of a wok).
I put some “fancy” generic store brand frozen peas in a bowl and defrosted/cooked them in the microwave. When they were done, I set them aside.I started scrambling a couple of eggs. The secret to good scrambled eggs is low heat, minimal scrambling, and removing the eggs when they’re still slightly underdone, because they’ll cook a little more from their internal heat. That way, the eggs turn out soft and delicious rather than rubbery and tasteless.
When the eggs were done, I sort of stab/chopped them into irregular, bite-size chunks with the plastic spatula I was using in the non-stick pan. Then I set them aside.I took my leftover rice out of the fridge and broke up the stuck-together hunks so that it’d be ready to be scattered into the pan when the time came. I set that aside, too.Then I cut each garlic clove in half lengthwise so that it would lay flat and stable.Now I was ready to ROCK. I pressed the rocker down onto a nice, fat garlic clove and rocked it back and forth to cut through the whole clove.Oh, how beautiful the results were. Perfect little bullets of garlic that resembled part of a honeycomb. Without bothering to scrape off the “bullets,” I put another couple of cloves underneath the tool and pressed/rocked them, too.Because I’m a garlic glutton, I rocked a few more cloves. Then it was time to sauté the garlic bullets.
I used peanut oil. Chinese cooks normally use it because it has a high “smoke point” – meaning it can get a lot hotter than, say, canola oil, corn oil, or butter, before it starts smoking and burning. Also, its flavor goes better with Asian food than olive oil’s does. (If you live near an Asian grocery, buy it there. It’s a lot more expensive at typical American groceries.)I put maybe three tablespoons more into the pan than I needed for sautéeing the garlic, so that there’d be plenty of gloriously garlicky oil left over to fry the rice with.
I’m an impatient cook and I hate to watch over things, which is why I very often overcook my hamburgers and burn my garlic. Burning garlic ruins it. It tastes really acrid and bad. So I made myself pay attention and kept the heat low-ish. I didn’t ruin it! OK, actually a few pieces were overcooked, but I deleted them.One of the recipes I’d found said to add the rice to the garlic in the pan, but I didn’t want to risk cooking the garlic any longer. Instead, I set it aside with the other prepped ingredients, leaving as much as possible of the now-flavored oil in the pan.
It was time to put together the sinangag. I raised the heat to high and added the rice, stirring it in order to make sure it all got some oil on it. I cooked it for maybe three minutes, not enough to brown it, but sufficient to get it hot and give it some of the character of the hot oil. You can smell when it’s right — it’ll remind you a little bit of popcorn cooking in oil.
I added the peas and eggs and stirred to more or less evenly distribute them in the rice and to get all three elements to flavor-kiss a bit. Then I turned off the heat, added the garlic, and stirred some more. A wave of garlic bliss came over me while putting so much into what was only a couple of servings of rice.And there you have it. In imitation of the photo accompanying one of the recipes I’d found, I pressed it into a little bowl-type thingy (I don’t know what to call it because it isn’t round like a bowl — mini-crock?) and made it look all nice and photogenic.
I served some of it into a bowl that I know is an actual bowl because it’s rounded, added a couple of dashes of soy sauce, and dug in. It was a beautiful, heavenly, garlic symphony, much more than the sum of its humble parts.

Recipe: Sinangag (Filipino Garlic Rice)

Ingredients
(I’m not giving amounts because it’s up to you and how much leftover rice you have.)

Leftover cooked rice (it should be at least one day old)
Frozen green peas
Eggs
Garlic cloves (lots)
Peanut oil
Salt or soy sauce

Preparation steps
1. Break up the rice if it’s sticking together; set aside.
2. Defrost and cook the peas. Set them aside.
3. Gently scramble the eggs; then break them up into small pieces. Set them aside.
4. Peel and cube (or “rock” – but do not use garlic press) the garlic into quarter-inch-size chunks and saute until golden–not dark–brown.
5. Set frying pan or wok on a burner and set heat to high.
6. As soon as oil has a subtle, shimmery sheen (but before it smokes), add rice and cook for about 3 minutes, until the rice is hot and perhaps very slightly browned in a few places, but no more. Turn heat down to medium.
7. Add the peas and eggs and stir to mix; cook for about a minute.
8. Turn off heat; add garlic and stir.
9. Add salt or soy sauce to taste.

Recipe links
Sinangag – Filipino Garlic Fried Rice
Garlic Fried Rice
Sinangag – Eggs and Peas Fried Rice
How to cook fried rice (Sinangag na Kanin)

The Uncommon Life

How To Sweeten Up Any Baby Shower by Kenda of Remaking June Cleaver

July 30, 2012

Well hello there! I’m Kenda, author of Remaking June Cleaver and I don’t know about you, but I’ve been to a lot of baby showers this year! I love all of the adorable decorations and excitement. Mommy’s-To-Be are getting very creative with their party planning – even with the food they serve. I’d like to share with you two unique (and sweet) ideas I’ve seen.

Animal Cracker Fun Dip
I think it’s so cute when even the shower food reminds you of times with your little ones. What better symbol of fun snack times than animal crackers. Using a tasting platter, serve the cookies with several fun ‘dips’ for your guests. Start with whipped cream and then add sprinkles, crushed peanuts or crushed peppermint. Guests can create their own flavor combinations. An animal cracker has never tasted so good!

Ice Cream Sandwich Platter
Having a summer baby shower means you may need a way for your guests to cool off. Pass on the usual sorbet punch and serve up homemade ice cream sandwiches instead. One great tool for serving is a sushi platter – it can be chilled in the freezer beforehand so that your sandwiches don’t melt as quickly and it gives you a perfect spot to pile on the whipped cream for endless dipping. You can add sprinkles, colored sugar and more to make your ice cream sandwiches something to write home about!

Gift Guides

Gift Lab: Mini Ice Cream Sandwich Press

July 25, 2012

Research
Since I am naturally an ice cream mix master (my first job in high school was with Coldstone Creamery!), I chose the Cuisipro Mini Ice Cream Sandwich Press for my experiment. Along with my mastered mixing techniques, I consider ice cream the seventh major food group and live off of the sweet stuff during the summer months.

Hypothesis
I think that I can make homemade ice cream sandwiches to cool off on a hot summer day.

Experiment
I knew this would be a fun project to work on during a hot Sunday afternoon with my brother, Colby. We first brainstormed what cookie and ice cream combinations would be the tastiest. I splurged on an Upstate NY favorite, Stewart’s ice cream. And we cheated a little bit on the cookies.

The first step was making the cookies!

Our little helper needed to take a break during the clean-up.

Once the cookies were out of the oven, we laid them out to cool. Note: I anxiously made the mistake of waiting only five minutes and I had a sloppy mess. You MUST wait for your cookies to be completely cool!

Once completely cooled, we started using our tools. Included in the package are three different sandwich shapes – a heart, a star and a circle. The directions are simple and printed on the back of the box – cut the cookie; scoop up the ice cream; cut the second cookie and twist the handle to press together; twist to release the sandwich.

Conclusion
What a delicious treat! We ended up with lovely heart shaped sugar cookies with black cherry ice cream, peanut buttery overloaded cookies with peanut butter cup ice cream, and star shaped double chocolate chunk cookies with a classic vanilla ice cream. After our sugar crash and hour-long nap from a hard-working afternoon, we went back for seconds!

I come from an awesome sweet-toothed family that celebrates spring with a party full of deserts, and I plan on making these for next year’s event. What a clever treat and fun activity!

Gift Guides

Gift Lab: Molecular Gastronomy Dinner Party

June 21, 2012

Background Research
Wikipedia says that “Molecular gastronomy is a subdiscipline of food science that seeks to investigate, explain and make practical use of the physical and chemical transformations of ingredients that occur while cooking, as well as the social, artistic and technical components of culinary and gastronomic phenomena in general.”

Huh?

I have heard of this food science. I have heard of different restaurants in metropolitan areas around the world, maybe even in not-so-metropolitan areas. I have seen it done on one of those cooking shows. Many friends have gone to wd-50 in NYC and said it was interesting. My friend Stephanie had a 12 course meal of different foods reconstructed at a resort in Mexico. The pictures were awesome. I mean a lemon meringue pie that looks like a SOS Sponge awesome!

Walking at the NY Trade Show I see some fun pictures of crazy foods and then a kit. I can do this at home? Yes please! I couldn’t wait to try out this new product.

Hypothesis
I will be the new Wylie Dufresne, with the help of some friends, and make a meal that will impress the masses. This will all be accomplished in 1 night without a culinary class and with little cooking skills. My most impressive meal is chicken and rice.

Experiment
Materials Needed:
1 Molecular Gastronomy Kit with all its contents
Blender
Roomy Fridge and Freezer
Hand Blender
Lots of Bowls
Stove
Lots of Pots
Friends
Wine (just in case it all goes wrong)
Ingredients for all recipes (frozen chocolate wind, arugula spaghetti, balsamic vinegar pearls, goat cheese raviolis, raspberry raviolis).
Extra ingredients to pair with the yummy food
TV
DVD player
Timer
Scale if you want to be exact

Step 1: I watched the DVD to pick the recipes I wanted to cook and get all the instructions.

Step 2: I Gathered friends and all materials.

Step 3: Watch DVD of all recipes with friends and decide what recipe has the longest cooling time and do that one first. (FYI: Chocolate wind had to cool down in the fridge and then sit in the freezer for about an hour.)

Step 4: Start cooking/ being a scientist.

Goat Cheese Raviolis

Chocolate Frozen Wind

Arugula Spaghetti

Balsamic Vinegar Pearls

Step 5: Make everything look pretty for the cameras.

Goat Cheese Raviolis with tomatoes and basil / Arugula Spaghetti and Balsamic Vinegar Pearls with Tomato / Frozen Chocolate Wind with Raspberry Raviolis

Step 6: Enjoy!

Thanks for your help Nate and Stefanie and Morgan and Sorayah!

Conclusion
The kit has very thorough instructions that walk you through each step by showing you and some great music to keep cooks dancing. It makes the process easy and super fun! And the balsamic pearls and arugula spaghetti looked the best! But maybe I need some more snacks when things are cooling in case guests have not had a snack before the party. I think I just need one more party and a little less wine, and I can open my own restaurant! So fun!

Gift Guides

Gift Lab: Summer Picnic

June 1, 2012

Background

The Picnic Backpack ($40) is a two person picnic backpack. The core of the backpack is fully insulated thermal lined pocket, while the smaller front pocket comes with storage for [also included] two: plates, cups, napkins, forks, spoons, knives. There is also one waiter’s tool bottle opener. It also has a cell phone pocket on the strap and side and front pockets for a bottle and accessories.

It comes just as expected!

Hypothesis

I love to go out to eat or entertain at home. I also like to combine the two by getting a couple friends together for a nice outing in the park (food included, of course!), but there’s always the hassle of lugging my picnic basket which gets way too heavy. The weight of the basket plus its components doesn’t even include my beverages. I usually have to carry an extra backpack with the beverage and utensils. By the time I get to the park–I’m exhausted.

I think having the weight on my back alone would be easier, and this backpack seems to have the right storage for my drink, food, and utensils. I think I’ll be more excited and willing to bring lunch from home to the park, or anywhere for that matter, with this backpack.

Experiment

Instead of picnicking with friends as planned, I opted to take my younger brother Naquan (14 years old) and cousin Mya (2 years old). Taking these two would be perfect in figuring if this product will turn my picnic horrors upside down. My brother willingly (shocker) carried the FULLY packed bag, while skateboarding!

Dealing with a teenager and toddler is not the easiest thing, so I aimed to keep them happy with plenty of snacks and games.

Conclusion

The picnic was a success! With this one backpack, I was able to fit 1 qt. of water, 2 bowls of salad, 2 yogurts, 2 pints of fruit, 2 canned beverages, an abundance of snacks, a full-sized sheet, beach mat, card games, hand sanitizer, a trash bag, iPod, and there’s probably other things I’m forgetting. This backpack kept all of my cold items chilled, and everything I wanted to keep dry dry. According to Naquan, it was easy to carry–even on wheels. It was easy to setup, cleanup, and everyone enjoyed the day out in the sun (well, mostly shade).

In conclusion, picnicking was made fun again and we can’t wait for our next outing!

Design

The Judges, the Lunch and the Winner!

April 25, 2012

 Last week the judges of the Summer Picnic Design Challenge met at Eat in Greenpoint, Brooklyn to discuss the top five voted designs and decide on a winner. Around the table were Candace, the tabletop buyer for UncommonGoods, Ian Yolles from RecycleBank, and Jessica and Emily of Susty Party. The food was farm fresh, the weather had us in the mood for a summer picnic and the judges were ready to deliberate.

Blown Dandelions by Kendall Walker won the popular vote. The design reminded Candace of being a little kid and blowing dandelions in her back yard. Jessica loved the simplicity of the lines yet thought the image had movement.

Jessica loved that Watermelon by Tanya Alexander was such a solid design that would use a lot of ink and look really bold on a cup and plate.

Jitterbugz by Caty Batholomew was a favorite of Candace. She thought it was a great design for a family and had a fun illustrated style. To her it screamed summer and she thought it would get people excited about the warmer months and upcoming picnics.

Bonnie Christine’s Nature Walk- Bird made us all want to “put a bird on it”. Emily thought it was a very pretty design and would look nice on anything, especially sustainable dinnerware.

But the design that stole the judge’s hearts was Danae Douglas’s Bike. Ian loved that Danae’s design promoted sustainable living and made him happy as an avid biker. Emily thought the design made living an eco-friendly lifestyle look very glamorous. Jessica loved the clean, crisp lines and Candace reaffirmed that UncommonGoods shoppers love bicycle designs and thought it would be a big hit.

 We asked Danae about the inspiration behind her design. “I wanted to show a picnic as an opportunity to enjoy the outdoors, as well a chance to travel greenly to get there. Biking is an excellent way to stay healthy, to take in your surroundings, and to get you where you’re going without doing any harm to the environment (and it’s also really fun!).”

To stay creatively inspired, Danae peruses books and magazines in addition to staying on top of local and global issues. “As a designer I think it’s really important to be globally minded and try to take in as many different perspectives as you can.”

Help us congratulate Danae on her victory in the comments below. She won $500 and will see her Bike design stamped onto sustainable cups and plates from Susty Party and sold at UncommonGoods.

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