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Gift Lab: In-Flight Mixology with the Carry-On Cocktail Kit

January 16, 2015

Emily test's the Carry-On Cocktail Kit

Product: Carry-On Cocktail Kit

Research:
As I knew I would be flying for work and the holidays, I thought it would be a great moment to test  the Carry-On Cocktail Kit. According to the description of the product, it had everything you needed to make an Old Fashioned on the plane. The product claimed to be carry-on size, and contained the bitters, sugar, spoon, and even a cocktail napkin.

Carry-On Cocktail Kit | UncommonGoods

Hypothesis:
My biggest concern about this product is whether or not you could get the true Old Fashioned experience on a plane. I usually would make it with a cherry or orange, which would not be available on the plane. I was curious to see if the drink would be as good without these elements. I was also concerned if it would truly pass airport security, as it does contain a liquid.

Carry-On Cocktail Kit Contents
Old Fashioned Instructions

Experiment:
The Carry-On Cocktail Kit is sized perfectly. It fit easily into the side pocket of the backpack I was traveling with, which made it easy for me to access on the plane. Once I got settled, I ordered Jack Daniels and a cup of ice. The kit has very clear and easy to follow instructions, which I used in my test. I poured in the provided sugar packet and then put a few drops of bitters into the cup. I then poured in the whiskey and stirred with the provided metal spoon.
In-Flight Bourbon Old Fashioned
Cheers!

Conclusion:
Overall, it was really easy to use. The cocktail itself was pretty good, though not as good as it would have been with a cherry in it. It was also a fun activity to do while on a plane. It makes two cocktails, so it would be great if you are traveling with another person.
Carry-On Cocktail Kit | UncommonGoods

Gift Guides

Gift Lab: Adding a Tropical Twist with Gourmet Island Sugar

December 22, 2014

 

Louise Geller | UncommonGoods

Product: Gourmet Island Sugar Set

Research:

I hadn’t heard of Old Salt Merchants until I saw their product on the UncommonGoods website, but their adorable packaging and interesting flavors prompted me to take a closer look. A family-run business out of Seattle, Old Salt Merchants makes a point of sourcing fair trade sugar, keeping their products cleanly and simply made, and focusing on a small product line of the highest quality. These are all values I really appreciate, and as an avid home cook I’m always looking for new ingredients and ideas for my kitchen, so I knew I’d have fun using the Gourmet Island Sugar Set to develop a great meal.

AllSugars

Hypothesis:

Using the Lime Slice, Jamaican Ginger, Rum Soaked and Coconut Breeze sugars, I will develop a full meal where each dish includes one of the flavors. They will elevate my recipes and inspire me to try out new ideas.

Experiment:

My boyfriend Paco joined me in my quest to find interesting ways to use the four sugars. We went shopping on a Saturday afternoon and came home loaded up with ideas and ingredients.

Lime_done

Lime Slice Sugar
We decided to start our evening with a cocktail. All four of these flavors could most certainly be used as cocktail ingredients and for delicious sugar rims, but we chose the Lime Slice sugar to try out with one of our favorite cocktails: the traditional Mojito. Paco muddled fresh mint and lime while I prepared a dish of the sugar and a bowl of water to line the rims of our cocktail glasses. The Lime Slice sugar is made with raw sugar, so the granules are large and have a great crunch. The lime adds a bit of acidity and a bit of bitterness – it’s not so delicious on its own, but I could tell when I taste tested it that it would add a lot as an ingredient.

Lime1

I can’t stand overly sweetened cocktails, so I liked the idea of a sugar rim that would allow me to control when I got a shot of sweetness and when my sips were more focused on booze and citrus. The raw sugar also added a textural element to the cocktail that we both found very pleasing. Our cocktails would have been delicious on their own, but the Lime Slice sugar rim definitely gave them a little something special. Although we were sitting on my couch and it was 39 degrees outside, I could have sworn we were poolside in Miami.

Lime2

After pre-dinner cocktails, it was time to get cooking! For the side dish to our meal, we decided to also use the Lime Slice sugar. It was autumn when we conducted the experiment, and that means brussel sprouts are everywhere. One of our favorite preparations for brussel sprouts is to sauté them in toasted sesame oil, then splash a bit of sriracha on top. This time, when they were almost done, we sprinkled on some Lime Slice sugar to temper the spice. The results were delectable – all the flavors married together with no one element overwhelming any of the others. We agreed that the Lime Slice sugar made a great addition to this dish, and I’m looking forward to making it many more times during brussel sprout season!

Lime2_Done

Lime2_1

Rum Soaked Sugar

There are many meats that work well with the use of sugar in glazes or marinades, but I definitely tend to think of pork products as standing up best to sweetness (eg pulled pork, maple bacon, glazed ham, spare ribs). The richness of the meat can hold its own next to a sugar-based topping. I generally don’t want to put too much sugar on my meat, but I thought a small amount of the Rum Soaked sugar would go a long way. A small taste test made it clear that “rum soaked” is an apt way to describe this sugar – it is obvious that there are no artificial flavors happening here. I mixed some garlic, cayenne, salt and pepper in with the sugar and rubbed it on both sides of the pork, then seared it on the stove before transferring to the oven (the best way to get a tender and juicy pork chop). As soon as the sugar started to caramelize, it was clear we were going to have some succulent pork chops on our hands. They were delicious – the rum blended fabulously with the other flavors, and the sweetness was present but not overwhelming. The chops were rich and juicy, and we made short work of them.

While I’m personally not a vegetarian, UncommonGoods is an animal-friendly company, so keep in mind that this recipe is my own. This sugar would also work well for vegetarian or vegan recipes, for those who don’t eat meat. Portobellos would make a good alternative to pork. Or, you  could also try this recipe with traditional meat substitutes like tofu.  The Rum Soaked sugar would also make nice glazed carrots.  Just remember that you’d need to add some oil or melted butter to the sugar and seasoning mixture for any of those, because they don’t have their own fat.

Rum_Done

Jamaican Ginger Sugar
The moment I saw the Jamaican Ginger sugar, I knew I had to pull out one of my favorite childhood recipes for chewy ginger and molasses cookies. The recipe calls for the cookie dough to be rolled into balls and then coated with granulated sugar before being baked. I figured this could only be improved by rolling them in sugar infused with the flavors of fresh ginger. The Jamaican Ginger sugar is also raw, so I knew there would be extra crunch on the cookies, which is a definite bonus in my book – I’m all about textural pairings, and crunchy + chewy is a winner. The ginger adds so much spice to the sugar that you can feel it in your sinuses when you taste it on its own. We were a little worried the flavors would be too strong, but we needn’t have been concerned – the cookie has enough sweetness of its own that the extra kick of ginger is nothing but a joy. This was a huge success, and I will soon be making these cookies again for the holidays!

Ginger_Done

Ginger1

Coconut Breeze Sugar
It’s getting chilly in New York, so hot chocolate has been on my mind. I never buy hot chocolate mixes; I prefer to make my own using unsweetened cocoa powder and adding sugar (again, I’m a bit of a control freak about sweetness). I’ve always loved the combination of coconut and chocolate, so I thought it would be fun to replace the regular granulated sugar I would typically use with the Coconut Breeze sugar. I am calling it CocoCocoa (feel free to use that).

Coconut_Done

I usually use about a tablespoon and a half of cocoa and a tablespoon of sugar to make my hot chocolate, but this time I used a one to one ratio because I was worried about the chocolate overwhelming the coconut flavor. My dutch process cocoa powder packs a big punch, and I still only got a hint of coconut in the finished product. It was delicious, but I was hoping for a more balanced flavor. Next time, I will probably use the coconut breeze sugar to sweeten my fresh whipped cream – I think that will help the flavor stand out more.

Coconut1

And of course, I can’t possibly enjoy cookies and hot chocolate without breaking out my UncommonGoods Face Mug!

FaceMug

Conclusion:

As I’d hoped, the Gourmet Island Sugar Set led us to a delicious meal that was outside the norm of what we’d usually make. We also came up with additional ideas for how to use the different flavors as we were working (lime sugar/sea salt margarita rim, ginger sugar with soy sauce and garlic as a beef marinade, and coconut sugar topping for banana nut muffins, to name a few). I felt good about using this product, knowing each flavor only had two ingredients, all the sugar was fairly traded, and that I was supporting a family-owned small business. I’m excited to use them again!

 

 

Gift Guides

Gift Lab: A Grand Adventure

November 28, 2014

Daniella | A Grand Adventure | UncommonGoods

Product: A Grand Adventure Activity Set

Research:

Can this Grand Adventure Game be really fun for a 5 year old? I chose to do this activity with my grandaughter on a Saturday afternoon. We did many activities indoors and outdoors, which was a lot of fun. This gave us the opportunity to enjoy activities together and build beautiful joyful memories filled with smiles and laughter. This set of twenty activities will become a treasured keepsake for the both of us.

1

Hypothesis:

I went in hoping that this set will be a fun learning experience that my granddaughter Jailah would enjoy. I was happy to see  many learning activities provided in the deck. I was also looking for activities that could keep her entertained,  rather than buying a new toy knowing that she wouldn’t play with again.

Activities for Grandchildren

Experiment:

First we spread out the 20 activity cards that were designated for “Little G”–AKA Jailah. Then we took turns completing the activities that were provided for “Big G”–ME! We Started with one activity and continued moving on to the next.

Playing A Grand Adventure Grandparent/Grandchild Game

Conclusion:

Being a Mother and Grandmother you are always looking for a way to entertain your children. This Grand Adventure activity was filled with hours of fun and bonding. Her favorite activities were Buggin’ out, Thumbs up, and Have you heard the one about the funny Grandkid?. I enjoyed all the activies that were included in this game and would definitely recommend this as a gift for all grandparents to share the experience with their grandchildren.

Having fun with A Grand Adventure Activity Set | UncommonGoods

 

Gift Guides

Gift Lab: DIY Brunch Ideas (& Recipes!)

November 11, 2014

Laura Frost | UncommonGoods

Product: Itty Bitty Mixer, DIY Butter Kit, Egg Separator

Research:
Brunch on the weekends in Williamsburg, Brooklyn has plenty of great options. But, there are also really long lines for omelets or pancakes or waffles. My boyfriend and I love brunch at home where we can relax in PJs and sip our coffee without food-deprived crowd of folks waiting for breakfast. Only snag is that we usually want different things. He’s not big on the pumpkin craze, and I’m a fan. He prefers waffles and I like light little pancakes. Will we have a happy brunch despite our differences?

DIY Brunch Ideas | Kitchen Tools | UncommonGoods

Experiment:
The two-different-items-brunch menu also gives me the excuse to use the Itty Bitty Mixer! I’m not a huge fan of kitchen gadgets, but this one is pretty great. I love the handcrafted ceramic design. It’s also very practical for making two different pancake flavors, omelets, and dressings. (Seriously, I could do a whole separate blog on small-batch dressings.)

PJ Brunch for Two Menu:

  • Apple Sauce Waffles for Him
  • Pumpkin Pancakes for Her
  • Coffee Required

The night before my planned PJ Brunch I made some fresh butter and roasted pumpkin. I started off with the roasted pumpkin. I cut a sugar pumpkin in half. Sprayed a foil-lined cookie sheet with oil, and roasted them for 40 minutes at 425 degrees. While the pumpkin was in the oven I opened up the DIY Butter Kit so I could have fresh cinnamon-sugar butter for my waffles and pancakes.

The butter kit is really nice to look at, but not the fastest butter to make. Even though I was starting the night before, I didn’t give myself quite enough time. The kit’s butter recipe requires 3 ingredients and 120 minutes (60 of those minutes is just running a mixer). Dilemma: fresh butter is unbelievably good. It’s especially good using it as a spread rather than baking it into something. My waffles and pancakes deserve the best!

I have to confess here, I’ve used a simpler butter kit in the past that required less than 45 minutes, heavy cream, and a jar. I took this route with the butter kit so I still got the awesome fresh butter despite my poor planning.

DIY Butter Kit | UncommonGoods

I had already bought my favorite heavy cream, poured it into the kit’s jar and shook it for about 25 minutes. It’s fun to watch the cream turn into whipped cream then morph into a happy golden blob of fresh butter. The butter then gets rinsed in cold water. That leftover milk in the jar is buttermilk. It’s great to save for pancakes or waffles. (More on that later…)

I divided up my butter so I could make the cinnamon-sugar butter and use the kit to make tomato basil butter, and still have plain butter left over.
Homemade Butter with the DIY Butter Kit

Butter’s done. Pumpkin’s done. Time for bed. Happy brunch in my PJs in the very near future!

Saturday morning- PJ Brunch part one! I want pumpkin waffles with the freshly roasted pumpkin. My guy wants apple sauce waffles with some of the apple sauce I made the previous weekend. I set up shop in the kitchen so I could easily get started. I first made a large batch of batter that I could split for the pancakes and waffles. I put about half the batch into my Itty Bitty Mixer (did I mention I love this thing?!). I then added about a quarter cup of my fresh pumpkin puree. The Itty Bitty Mixer allows the ingredients to blend together quickly and smoothly. It’s also easy to pour the batter out onto my pan.

Making pancakes with the Itty Bitty Mixer

While my pancakes were cooking I put the remaining pancake batter in the Itty Bitty Mixer along with the homemade apple sauce.

Homemade waffles with the Itty Bitty Mixer

The fresh cinnamon-butter was the perfect addition to the pumpkin pancakes and apple sauce waffle.

Homemade brunch with fresh cinnamon butter

Sunday morning-I was on my own for brunch. Not a glum morning, though. I had just enough eggs in the fridge for one omelet!

PJ Brunch for One Menu:

  • Heirloom Cherry Tomato & Basil Egg White Omelet
  • Tomato Basil Butter Crostini
  • Coffee Required

The night before, I was again making butter. This time it was just blending the fresh butter with the DIY Butter Kit’s tomato basil seasoning. I measured out a teaspoon of the seasoning mix and let it soak in ½ teaspoon of warm water as the instructions noted. Then I blended about two tablespoons of the butter using the kit’s spreader. Result: tasty and pretty butter blend.

Homemade Herb and Tomato Butter

Sunday morning and I’m ready for an omelet! I have my Itty Bitty Mixer ready to go along with the Egg Separator also made by Karen & Stephen Steininger.

Egg Separator and Itty Bitty Mixer | UncommonGoods

Ok, so again, I’m not big on the gadgets. When I typically separate egg yolks from whites I just use the egg’s shells, pouring them back and forth until I’m only left with the yolk. Honestly, I usually ruin a fair portion of the eggs when I try this trick. The Egg Separator is ideal, however. The yolk willing hung back while the white slipped right through the gap in the cup. Also, the lip on both the Egg Separator and Itty Bitty Mixer are well-designed for cracking an egg.

Separate eggs easily | Stoneware egg separator

I whipped up airy egg whites in the Itty Bitty mixer and poured them straight into my hot, non-stick skillet. I then added slices of heirloom cherry tomatoes, basil, salt and pepper. While my eggs cooked on medium low heat I toasted my French bread.

Homemade Veggie Omelet

I folded the omelet just to finish it up. Next I put the tomato butter spread on my bread, then plated it all together. Such a happy plate of goodness!

Delicious Brunch

Conclusion:
The tools I used did make for two pretty great brunches. My boyfriend and I got to share brunch, get what we each wanted, and managed to stay away from crowded brunch hot spots. Plus, I had a happy brunch for one the next day. The DIY Butter Kit could be complicated, but does help make some pretty wonderful butter and butter blends. The Itty Bitty Mixer is currently my favorite thing in my kitchen. In fact the design of the mixer and Egg Separator are so nice they’ve both earned a permanent home displayed on my counter.

Recipes:
Apple Sauce Waffles
(Serves 2)
1 ½ cups pancake mix
¾ cup skim milk
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
½ cup chunky apple sauce
½ tablespoon oil (olive oil, vegetable, etc)

In a mixing bowl, whisk together the mix, skim milk, egg, vanilla and oil. Air is your friend. Whisk so mix is smooth without chunks of pancake mix. Whisk in the apple sauce. (You may want to add more milk if the apple sauce does not make the mix into a smooth-pouring batter.)

Turn on your waffle iron to the desired temperature. I crank mine all the way to the “dark” setting for a crispy-on-the-outside waffle. While the waffle iron heats up, your batter needs to rest for a couple of minutes.

Once the waffle iron is at temperature, spray your iron with non-stick spray and slowly pour in your batter. Don’t leave it unattended—the mix might expand. Just open the waffle maker for a second if need be.

Once your waffle is browned and cooked through, pop it out on a plate. Top with happy cinnamon butter and enjoy!

Pumpkin Pancakes
(Serves 2)
1 ½ cups pancake mix
¾ cup skim milk
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
½ cup pumpkin puree
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon nutmeg
(You can most certainly use pumpkin spice instead of mixing your own spices.)

In a mixing bowl, whisk together the mix, skim milk, egg, vanilla and spices. Air is your friend. Whisk so mix is smooth without chunks of pancake mix. Whisk in the pumpkin. (You may want to add more milk if the pumpkin does not make the mix into a smooth-pouring batter.)

While your batter rests for a moment, heat a non-stick pan on medium heat. Just before you pour out your pancakes spray the pan with non-stick spray. When the pancakes begin to bubble and they’re golden brown on the bottom flip them over. Once that side is golden brown remove the pancake. As you plate them top with happy cinnamon butter and enjoy!

Egg White Omelet with Heirloom Cherry Tomatoes and Basil
(Serves 1)
3 egg whites
Olive oil or butter
Heirloom cherry tomatoes (or any tomatoes) thinly sliced
Basil chopped
Salt & Pepper

Heat a non-stick pan over medium low heat. Whisk the eggs whites—air is an omelet’s friend! Don’t let the eggs rest. Go straight from whisking to pouring the eggs into the pan. Season the eggs. As the eggs set gently drag a fork through them so the whites cook. As the omelet is setting, add the tomatoes and basil. Once the omelet has set, with the top still a bit wet, but not runny, fold your omelet. Once heated through plate and serve.

If you have good French bread, toast this up before you start your omelet and use the Butter Kit’s tomato basil butter. Enjoy!

Gift Guides

Gift Lab: How to Make Tasty Homemade Cheese

October 30, 2014

Paul Allison | UncommonGoods

Product: Italian Cheesemaking Kit

Research:
One of my responsibilities here at UncommonGoods is to answer your questions when you want to know more about an item, and what better way than to actually give this a try and hopefully a taste as well!

To prepare for this endeavor I’ve checked out Mad Millie’s YouTube channel and watched her prepare and make her Mozzarella cheese. If there’s one thing I love it would be cheese and Italian cooking. (OK, that’s two things. But two GREAT things!) In addition I’ve managed to locate some non-homogenized whole milk, there’s no question in my brief readings on Wikipedia and the instructions that starting with the right milk is key.

Hypothesis:
Surely fresh, homemade bread is better than store bought bread so I would hope that homemade cheese would be equally as satisfying.

While I am a tad nervous about the results, I feel like the instructions are clear. Although I am super glad I watched the video, so I have a sense of what my goal should look like. I’m generally good about following directions, although when I cook there are times when I can get experimental and deviate from the recipe to add a dash of this or, OOH that’s a pretty color! I’m just going to have to reign in the wild side and stick to the basics–this time around at least.

I feel like the biggest challenges are the ones I can do little about. For those of you who don’t live in New York, you may be surprised by the size of my kitchen; most surfaces are needed for storage so there’s just a limited number of spots to do your mixing and cooking. Oh, and pardon our appearance while we’re in the middle of renovations (at home)! That and I’m concerned about the size pot to use. My current plan is to use our ancient (I think this is older than me) pasta pot.

Experiment:
Well I have everything laid out, and why yes those ARE our Nesting Prep Bowls back there! The instructions say to sterilize your equipment that will handle the milk for 5 minutes. The challenge will be the colander, so let’s get a bunch of pots a boiling. It’s at this point where I wonder why I decided to do this in a heat wave and without air conditioning. My large pot isn’t making it to a boil, and alas, the lid is lost somewhere in a pile of tools. So, I give it a good 10 minutes rather than 5. Thankfully my colander in the smaller pot has reached a boil as that is my greatest concern. I prepare my ingredients, but I don’t see when I add the salt!

1 - Everything Laid Out
Cheese Supplies

The recipe calls for a full gallon of milk, but my local whole foods only sold the milk in half gallons. And here’s where I have my first tip: Shake the milk before pouring it into the pot. I left a lot of good tasty stuff in the bottle. I decided to use the same smaller pot that was already in action, so it’s already warm and we’re just heating the milk up to just under my current room temperature. (Ouch! The thermometer is reading 103, and while the pot is hot from boiling the room temperature is in the ’90s.) And here’s my next mistake. I can only fit a half gallon of milk into this pot! It’s too late to stop going now, so I’ll just have to adjust on the fly.

Making Cheese | UncommonGoods
Milk for Cheese

I squeeze in the calcium chloride. With the stopper it’s not too hard to simply measure half and then the citric acid and decide to add a tablespoon of salt. I’d already mixed in the citric acid to let it dissolve as if I was going to do a gallon batch, so I have to guestimate how much to pour in. I choose to use more than half as I feel it’s likely that it’s not completely mixed. Because of the heat the mix is at the required temperature faster than I expected and before I can really get everything prepared.

Hot Pot

I quickly turn off the heat and it’s time to add the Rennet tablet. It hasn’t really dissolved, but I hope it should in the milk. I stir it in and cover the milk and set my timer for 25 minutes. After 20 minutes of refuge in air conditioning, I’m back in the kitchen and re-reading the instructions. OH NO! You add the salt in the very last step. So needless to say, I’m very nervous at this point and a bit frustrated at myself.

Ice for Cheese

I set up the ice water and I am trying to get the temperature right for the hot water. I started with warm water, from when I was boiling (rather, trying to boil) my tools to sterilize them and I decide to heat a kettle with boiling water and try to get the temperature right. I end up with water that’s just 140 degrees rather than 158, but I go with it. I check on the cheese and it looks like it’s firmed up to me.

My knife goes in and clearly separates the curds. I slice in the cubes and am a bit nervous. Did I allow enough time for the curds to set? It really just seems like a thin skin of what will become cheese. Once I begin to reheat the mixture and gently stir, the answer soon becomes clear. No. I didn’t. I think the key is to really watch the video. I recognized it wasn’t quite the same. This is definitely a case of being close enough is not going to cut the cheese so to speak.

Cheesemaking Kit

I decide to forge on. Once the curds have reached the warmer temperature I begin to scoop the curds into the cheese cloth and colander. As the curds are loose this takes a long long time and I was not able to maintain the temperature. The recipe calls for letting the curds drain for 5 minutes but the process of just getting them out of the pot takes closer to 15 minutes.

Scooping and Straining Cheese

A little forlorn, I begin to scoop up globs of curd and rest them in hot water briefly. They quickly begin to separate, so I simply start to work them quickly and it’s readily apparent that I do not have mozzarella cheese. I still give them a dunk in the ice water, though, and they do hold up better than I expected.

Squeeze the Cheese

It's not mozzerlla but...

At the end of this experiment it appears that while I failed to make mozzarella I did end up with some REALLY tasty Ricotta cheese.

So tomorrow once the kitchen is once again clean and not quite as hot it will be time to make some lasagna!

Conclusion:
When we did make lasagna with my homemade ricotta, it was AMAZING!

I clearly did not make this easy for myself, and as much as I tried to read and prepare myself, I should have started with the goal of making the simpler recipe for the first time around.

I would emphasize that it is a lot of work to make cheese at home, but that the work has much more to do with the preparation and the clean up rather than the cheesemaking itself. I think it would help to have greater counter space and I’m curious what would of happened if I’d had the larger pot to handle the milk.

I WILL make mozzarella, although not this week. Next time I’m going to do a little more research so I can be confident in the ratio of ingredients I’m going to use. I’m also going to have to have a pot of boiling water on hand so that I can properly prepare my curds and they can be stretched into mozzarella. And now that I know the drill, I won’t add the salt until the end! I’m very hopeful that with this adjustment I will be successful.