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Gift Lab

Gift Guides

Gift Lab: Potato, Potahto, & Two More Potatoes (All Seasoned Differently!)

May 22, 2015

Louise Geller | UncommonGoods

 

Product: Potato Seasoning Set and Potato People

Research:
There is nothing more ubiquitous than the potato when it comes to filling the role of “starch” on a U.S. dinner plate. In fact, the average American eats over 140 pounds of potatoes per year! And yet, despite a centuries-old national love affair with potatoes, our most popular side dish often gets a bad rap, because so many of our 140+ pounds each come to us fried in oil, coated in preservatives, and slathered in fatty or sugary condiments. But it doesn’t have to be this way! When eaten with a more simple preparation (and with the skins left on!) potatoes are a great source of Vitamins C and B6, Potassium, Fiber, and Iron, and the complex carbohydrates are great for keeping your energy up.

I am a firm believer that food is at its most truly delicious when it is prepared simply and healthfully, so when I saw Julie Pederson’s Potato Seasoning Set I was immediately excited to take it for a test ride. Julie Pederson is wonderful at creating food and drink kits to help you explore new flavors and combinations, from herbal tea to baking salts. Since there are over 4,000 varieties of potatoes grown, and the kit has 12 different seasoning mixes, there are seemingly endless ways to play, create, and EAT! Who could resist?

Since I was already going to be playing with potatoes, I also wanted to try out our Potato People, a super fun set of potato nails that use the natural heat conducting power of metal to help potatoes cook faster on the grill or in the oven, and look hilarious while they are doing it.

Continue Reading…

Gift Guides

Gift Lab: How to Stay Cool & Caffeinated with Cold Brew Coffee

May 15, 2015

Abi tests the Cold Brew Coffee Set

Product: Coffee Cold Brew Gift Set

Hypothesis:
Iced coffee is one of my favorite morning treats, so I was super excited to try out the Cold Brew Coffee Gift Set (and drink the coffee in the morning at work). I hypothesized that this set would be a great alternative to spending money at coffee shops.

Research:

The set includes instructions, which I followed to the best of my ability. I am rather impatient, so there were parts that I was tempted to skip, but I stayed faithful to the directions throughout.

Experiment: 
I began by boiling the filter (the instructions say to boil the filter before its first use, to pre-shrink it) in water for 10 minutes. The instructions say that filters “will continue to shrink slightly for the next few uses and will produce the best quality brew from then on.” I don’t have any proof of this yet, but I look forward to tasting all the future cold brew coffee batches to see if taste improves over time.

Boiling the Filter

The provided recipe says to use 2 cups of freshly ground coffee of your choice (the kit comes with two cups ready to go for your first batch).

Coffee Beans

I added the coffee to the fabric filter and “bloomed” the grounds, as per the directions. In this case, to bloom the grounds means to wet them thoroughly and let them stand for 60 seconds.

Grounds

I twisted the neck of the filter, as tightly as I could, and wrapped the tie string around the neck a few times, then slipped the neck of the filter through the glass ring (which is attached to/hanging from the filter bag).

Tightening Filter

Then I inserted the filter into the jar and filled the jar with cold water.

Cold Brew Coffee In The Works!

Luckily I did this at the end of the day in the office, because it takes 12-16 hours to cold brew in the fridge till it’s ready. The next morning, I would get to sample my first batch of cold brew!

Conclusion: 
Fresh Coffee | UncommonGoods

Ta da! I opened the fridge to find some actual cold brewed coffee. It looked pretty good, smelled delightful, and was also tasty. I did feel that it was a little weak, though. I removed the filter, dumped the grounds into the compost bin, washed the filter out, and set it out to dry until I made my next batch.

Finished Coffee

The kit comes with a pouring device that fits inside the lid, which works quite nicely for pouring the coffee once its done.

Drinking Cold Brew Coffee

People don’t naturally look at a camera when they are drinking coffee, but I wanted to show you that I was trying the coffee I just made, and allow you to fully see the expression on my face while I first tasted it. I look pretty strange, but I assure you, the coffee tasted good and I was excited to be trying it out.

Yumzies! |Delicious Iced Coffee with Coconut Milk
Here I am, showing off the final product, in my favorite glass, complete with almond/coconut milk. So yummy!

In case you are wondering (and you really might be curious about this), I do not add sugar to my coffee, unless it tastes completely awful. I did not even consider adding sugar to this batch. I found it very yummy (though, like I said, I would have liked it to be a bit more concentrated).

During my next trial, I filled the filter as much as possible (this was probably almost 3 cups of coffee grounds). It was delicious but quite strong. I think two and half cups is probably the ideal amount of coffee grounds that should be used for this cold brew coffee (at least for it to be just right for me). I’m excited to use the Coffee Cold Brew Set this summer to beat the heat in a very delicious way!

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Gift Guides

Gift Lab: How to Make More Creative Cocktails (Through Science!)

April 6, 2015

Erica gives the Molecular Mixology Mojito Kit a Try | UncommonGoods

Product:  Molecular Mixology Kit – Mojito Set 

Research:
I’m usually a straight whiskey or red wine drinker, mostly due to laziness and complete lack of skill with any drink that requires shaking, stirring, or straining, but I was curious to see if the Molecular Mixology Mojito Kit could help me hone my cocktail skills. My idea of mixing a drink is adding a little Diet Coke to the whiskey, so there’s a lot of room for improvement. To prepare, I watched the product’s Youtube video, which led me to believe that I, too, could create fancy drinks in just a few steps and stocked up on rum and mint leaves.

Hypothesis:
I will be the best bartender since Sam Malone and impress my friends. Besides, Molecular Mixology sounds somewhat hipster, and with my recent move to Brooklyn, maybe this kit could help me better fit in to the new neighborhood.

Experiment: 
Materials Needed:
Molecular Mixology Kit
Hand Blender
Bowls
Mint
Rum
Club Soda
Ice
Sugar
Stove
Pots
Friends

I cut the recipes in half because they make a huge amount of mojitos and it was a school night. Since my mission this evening is to be fancy, I decided to start with the mint caviar recipe. What could be fancier than caviar?

Experiment 1, Mint Caviar:

Step 1:
I first read through the instructions and gathered materials.

Step 2:

Making Caviar Mojitos | UncommonGoods
Impatience won out over the instructions I just read, so rather than bringing the sugar, mint, and water to a boil on the stove, I used an electric kettle to boil the water and poured it over the sugar and mint leaves.

Blending the Mojito Caviar | UncommonGoods
Step 3:
I then blended the mixture together, strained it, and added the Sodium Alginate packet before letting the mixture sit for 30 minutes.

Step 4:
Watch an episode of something on Netflix while the Sodium Alginate mixture sits (for best results, try Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt).

Step 5:
Add Calcium Lactate to a separate bowl of water and stir.

Caviar Dropper | UncommonGoods

 

Caviar Dropper and Bowl
Step 6:
Fill the pipette with the Sodium Alginate mixture and add to the Calcium Lactate bowl in drops. This was by far my favorite part, because the mint caviar formed right away and this step felt the most like I was doing science. Having wine on hand helps the process and is good insurance in case the molecular mixology doesn’t end well.

Rinsing Mojito Caviar | UncommonGoods
Step 7:
Remove the mint caviar from the solution with a sieve and rinse with water.

Step 8:
Put the Caviar in the bottom of a glass and cover with blended ice, rum, and club soda.
Molecular Mojito | UncommonGoods
Step 9:
Stir and sip. This wasn’t the best mojito I’ve ever tasted, mostly because the mint flavor isn’t distributed throughout the drink, so depending on how much caviar you get in each sip, it tastes more or less like the cocktail should. But what it sometimes lacked in consistent flavor it made up for in cool factor, and I would eat those mint caviar drops by themselves. Next time—and they give you enough of the chemical packets for several next times—I would add food coloring to the mint solution so it is more festive and interesting to look at in the glass. I also might try making the caviar for different types of drinks and flavor combinations.

Experiment 2, Mojito Bubbles:

Mojito Bubbles | UncommonGoods
Step 1:
Put Calcium Lactate, sugar, mint, and lime wedges in a high ball glass and crush wish a muddler. Since I have neither a highball glass nor a muddler, I bashed them together with a spoon in a plastic cup. Less classy, but it got the job done.

Step 2:
Add rum and club soda. Mix until the calcium is dissolved and filter.

Mint Bubbles | UncommonGoods
Step 3:
Place mint leaves in the bubble mold and fill them with the liquid mixture. Freeze.

Step 4:
SCIENCE! Dissolve the Sodium Alginate in a bowl and blend. Unmold the iced mojitos into the bowl and stir. Because I didn’t read the directions first to see that they needed to freeze and started these late, I didn’t get to this part until the following morning.

Step 5:
Pick up the spheres with a slotted spoon and rinse them in a bowl of water.

Molecular Mixology - Mojito Bubbles | UncommonGoodsBreakfast of Champions

Step 6:
Enjoy! While slightly more involved, I much preferred these to the mint caviar mojitos. The bubble bursts in your mouth and fills it with an intense mojito flavor. Kind of like grown up Gushers.

Conclusion:
I could see using this kit to make drinks for a special dinner or event, but it was also very fun as an activity for a night in. The directions were easy to follow and provided fun science facts about the process. My friends all really enjoyed the science aspect of the kit, and there was something very satisfying about completing the full process and presenting a beautiful drink rather than just gulping it down. Next time, I might try experimenting with different drinks using the chemical compounds provided. While I won’t be leaving UncommonGoods to open my own bar any time soon, I learned something new and now have a fun activity to use again in the future.

Get the Molecular Mixology Kit!

Gift Guides

Gift Lab: Build Your Own Brooklyn

February 20, 2015

Rocky |UncommonGoods

Product: DIY Brooklyn Skyline Kits

Research:
I think images of artwork are great. But I think videos of artwork being created are so much better. That must mean that GoPro videos from the perspective of the artist creating a piece are the best! At least that’s my theory… which brings us to today’s Gift Lab. I took you out to the beach in my last blog post to demo a product. This time around, you’re going inside my head to see something cool get built from the bottom up.

Hypothesis:
Our DIY Brooklyn Skyline Kits offer the chance for you to craft a mini version of two signature structures in New York, the Kentile Floors sign and your ordinary rooftop water tower. It caught my eye after I saw the two shots of custom designed water towers on our product page.

DIY Watertower | UncommonGoods
DIY Brooklyn Skylines - Watertower | UncommonGoods

Perfect product to test my theory with! First off, these are hot. Nice job Zero Productivity and Atomiko. But more importantly, I can gauge how well we’re able to see something being constructed and designed, without spending hours on hours doing it. I haven’t drawn anything in years. A lot of effort would’ve been needed to produce something that gives my 5-year-old self some competition.

I was also glad to see that two different versions of the kit existed. While doing research on best practices for filming (read: watching GoPro videos on Youtube), I found it difficult to tell which GoPro dock to use for this; chest mount or head mount? So I bought both. I decided that I’d use one mount for one kit and another mount for the other.

Two DIY Brooklyn Skyline kits, two mounts, and one GoPro in hand later… the test was ready to begin.

Testing GoPro with DIY Brooklyn Skyline Kits | UncommonGoods

Experiment:
I started with the Water Tower kit first, for no other reason than wanting to get closer to fantasizing about being a graffiti artist. After I laid all of the cardboard pieces on the table as instructed, I strapped the GoPro chest mount on, pressed record and got to work.

Here’s a closeup of the major pieces made for the water tower.
Build Your Own Brooklyn Watertower | UncommonGoods

Now it was time to design it. I grabbed a pack of Crayola markers and started doodling.

Finished Watertower | UncommonGoods

The first immediate takeaway – Tagging my water tower before building it would’ve been the better idea. The advantage of utilizing a flat surface didn’t cross my mind even slightly; until it was time to record myself doing it. That explains the split between the clips. I had to game plan.

The other thing was the actual video. In order to learn more about using the GoPro, I turned to Wistia.com’s #GoProWeek as a resource. Every day for that week, they shared a different pro tip (no pun intended) for getting the best shot. One of the techniques I used was the time-lapse recording feature that snaps pictures every few seconds, instead of actually recording straight through. I wasn’t a fan of the final result, because the footage came out too choppy. I think I set the timer in between shots too far apart. I decided to make sure to use the other recommended method for the next kit; shooting normally and speeding up the footage in a video editor.

Besides that, the rest of the process was smooth sailing and more fun than expected. The maker’s of the kits provided clear step-by-step assembly directions and all pieces worked as intended. Any edge that needed folding went over smoothly. The laser cut tabs and indents fit perfectly into each other. Connecting the pieces was a snap (that pun, intended). The biggest surprise was the glue; it did not leave a mess on my hands or the table I worked on. It comes already setup in drops that are separated by perforated plastic. When the instructions tell you to grab one, just rip one dot from the pack, peel off the plastic covering, and apply to the marked area. That easy.

Glue Dots

Next up was recording the Kentile Floors sign DIY kit with the GoPro attached to the head mount. You’ll notice that it begins with me filling in the letters first, and then moving on to putting it together.

The simplicity of the structure’s design made assembly much quicker. There wasn’t much of a surface to draw on but filling in the narrow letters required a little bit of time. I really like the point of view that the head cam captured. It feels like you’re actually putting it together rather than observing someone else do it.

Kentile Floors Sign Kit | UncommonGoods

Conclusion:
All in all, I’m convinced that my theory is correct. Watching art creation from a GoPro perspective is a cool experience that helps anyone appreciate the process behind the final result more. It’s amazing to see what goes into pieces, especially from our assortment, I’d imagine. We have a wide selection of uncommon goods that obviously require an uncommon approach to create.

In retrospect, I see where areas for improvement lay. In a future flick, I would:

  • Adjust the speed back to its normal rate at certain points in the video. There are some scenes where it would have made a better experience, such as when I was working on a small detail like applying the glue dots. It also would’ve been a great way to end it so you see the final product as it is just completed.
  • Angle the GoPro camera on the head mount down a few more degrees.
  • Add some background music.

DIY Skyline Kits as Desk Accessories | UncommonGoods

The Skyline Kits made for a great GoPro test run, and I’d definitely recommend them to someone looking for a fun and easy DIY.  What’s even better? I’m left with two new desk additions that visitors can stop and admire. Long overdue, since the Levitron Lamp had been retired for some time now.

 

The Uncommon Life

Gift Lab: Getting Through Winter with the Easy Scoop Ice Cream Server

February 3, 2015

Easy Scoop Ice Cream Server and Dessert Baking Salts | UncommonGoods

Product: Easy Scoop Ice Cream Server 

Research:
I know what you’re thinking. When you peer outside at the slushy streets, you’re more likely to daydream about the Chihuahuan Desert than a chilled dessert. I was right there with you. Commuting by foot in New York City has a way of influencing my food cravings to lean in reverse correlation with the weather. I accepted this as a nonnegotiable truth until I stumbled upon one of our Uncommon Knowledge topics from late November: Can ice cream get you through a cold winter?

I was surprised to discover that the largest consumers of ice cream actually live in Northeastern states! How could this be true when temperatures are less than lovely six months out of the year? It turns out that the fat content in ice cream makes us warmer. Our bodies produce more energy to break down the fat contained in the average ice cream cone, causing a rise in body temperature during digestion.

Armed with evidence that ice cream serves my well-being, I was really excited for the chance to test our Easy Scoop Ice Cream Server. First, I examined my go-to scoop method. Whenever I return from a late-night Americone Dream run, I’m usually too impatient to let my ice cream soften before awkwardly digging in with a secondhand spoon. This vicious cycle ends with me silently cursing as the spoon morphs further and further out of its intended shape.

Easy Scoop Ice Cream Server | Gift Lab | UncommonGoods

This tool is designed to eliminate that waiting time (and rescue those bent spoons). The chrome plated aluminum handle, which is curved to fit comfortably in your hand, naturally conducts body heat and warms the head of the scoop, allowing for a smooth break into the ice cream. According to our product description, “an angled head works with the natural rolling action of your wrist to easily drive through topping-laden or frozen-solid ice cream. And the unique, spade-shaped edge is designed to get to the bottom of containers, letting you spoon out every last bit.”

Easy Scoop Ice Cream Server | Gift Lab | UncommonGoods

Next, I did some background research. I learned that the original ice cream scoop was invented by Alfred L. Cralle in 1897, nearly 118 years ago!  Dr. Karl Ulrich, the maker of this particular model, is a self-proclaimed ice cream geek who has been collecting vintage ice cream scoops for over 20 years. He decided to take a crack at redesigning the ice cream scoop for a homework assignment in his Coursera product development class. How cool is that?

Hypothesis:
Based on the above research, I suspect that this will be the best ice cream server I’ve ever used. However, I think this tool will only be worthy of its price if it truly functions as promised. Being a natural skeptic, I decide to host a mini ice cream sundae party to test the ergonomic properties of this product.

Experiment:
I enlisted the help of two guys who aren’t afraid to push the limits of a sugar coma, my boyfriend Jamie and our friend Dan.

We gathered our controlled gluttonous variables: ingredients for homemade brownies, vanilla bean ice cream from a nearby bodega, chocolate babka from Russ & Daughters, Dessert and Baking Salts from UncommonGoods, and spiked apple cider to wash it all down.

Dessert and Baking Salts | UncommonGoods

The first thing we observed was this product’s beautiful packaging. The server was wrapped in a soft cloth that could easily double as a shining tool. Right away, we all agree that this scoop is an instant conversation starter that should be on display, not shoved in the back of a miscellaneous kitchen drawer.

Easy Scoop Ice Cream Server | UncommonGoods

We whipped up Smitten Kitchen’s homemade brownies, using espresso salt from the Dessert and Baking Salts kit. While those baked in the oven, we decide to heat the babka as a base for our first sundae of the evening.

Easy Scoop Ice Cream Server | Gift Lab | UncommonGoods Easy Scoop Ice Cream Server | Gift Lab | UncommonGoods

Once the babka was warm, the ice cream emerged from my freezer, ready to be scooped.

Easy Scoop Ice Cream Server | Gift Lab | UncommonGoods

Before digging in, all three of us took turns holding the Easy Scoop Ice Cream Server. Though our hands vary in size and shape, it molded very well to each of our palms, making for a sturdy and comfortable grip, just as promised.

Jamie waited a long 30 seconds for me to snap some photos before breaking into the ice cream.

Easy Scoop Ice Cream Server | Gift Lab | UncommonGoodsEasy Scoop Ice Cream Server | Gift Lab | UncommonGoods

Amazingly, there was no resistance. Even though the server didn’t feel hot, the ice cream curled into the scoop like butter.

Thermal conductive properties: check!

Over the next few minutes, we each took turns testing the natural rotation of the server, studying how our wrists moved with each scoop. Luckily, we are each right-handed. (Unfortunately, UncommonGoods does not carry the left-handed model.) As advertised, the natural curve of the server really did work in harmony with our wrists, delivering Instagram-worthy scoop after scoop.

Easy Scoop Ice Cream Server | Gift Lab | UncommonGoods

Easy Scoop Ice Cream Server | Gift Lab | UncommonGoods

Designed for natural rotation of the wrist: check!

Once our first scoops were served, we topped our sundaes with various salts from the kit. Salted ice cream was a first for all of us. Overall, we were each pleasantly surprised by these sweet and savory additions. I highly recommend espresso, vanilla cardamom, and blueberry for extra goodness!

Dessert and Baking Salts | UncommonGoods

Allowing our bodies little time to digest those winter-warming fats, we dug into the brownies to start preparing round two. This time, our main priority was to test how this scoop performed in hard-to-reach areas. Our rectangular carton was perfect for testing the angular head of the server.

Easy Scoop Ice Cream Server | Gift Lab | UncommonGoods

Using the same natural wrist rotation, Jamie found it very easy to scrape extra ice cream out of the corners of the carton.

Though we didn’t finish all of the ice cream that night, we were confident that this tool wouldn’t leave us with freezer-burned remnants once the carton was empty. The corners were already wiped clean!

Easy Scoop Ice Cream Server | Gift Lab | UncommonGoodsEasy Scoop Ice Cream Server | Gift Lab | UncommonGoods

Designed to scoop those hard-to-reach areas: check!

Three intense sugar comas: check!

After staying away from sweets for a few days, Jamie and I decided to conduct an impromptu experiment with cold cookie dough. If you’re still not convinced of ice cream’s seasonal benefits, this scoop also works well to form warm, winter-approved cookies!

Easy Scoop Ice Cream Server | Gift Lab | UncommonGoods Easy Scoop Ice Cream Server | Gift Lab | UncommonGoods

Conclusion:
Dan: “That is the best damn scoop I have ever used!”

Jamie: “Buttery smooth. That is a gorgeous piece of aluminum.”

I couldn’t agree more! I was very impressed. Though this product has a higher price point, I think it’s just as beneficial in the kitchen as a restaurant-quality spatula or ladle. I would recommend it to anyone who is looking for a truly unique gift or a collector’s item. It’s clear that the makers paid close attention to every minute detail of the ice cream scoop experience, from start to finish. I can easily see this become a prized piece in a kitchen, not just as an accessory but also as a showpiece. My only advice is to be mindful of gifting this particular server to left-handed friends. Otherwise, cheers to ice cream sundaes and great design!

Easy Scoop Ice Cream Server | Gift Lab | UncommonGoods