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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.

Gift Guides

Gift Lab: Can a Fish and a Cat Live in the Same Apartment?

October 1, 2014

Valerie

Product: No Clean Aquarium

Research:
My roommate has been talking about getting a fish for months, but we haven’t had great luck with fish in the past. The first obstacle is our cat, Jack, known to eat a fish or two – and we all have hectic schedules that are not conducive to anything that requires a lot of maintenance (like a traditional aquarium).

Hypothesis:
Described as “Fish Without Fuss” I think the No Clean Aquarium will be a great fit for our apartment. The aquarium is supposed to self-clean, all without batteries or electricity, and most importantly, without a huge time commitment or a need to remove the fish from his environment. We’ll enjoy a new fish addition, Jack will keep out, and maintaining the little guy will be stress free (for the humans and the fish).

Experiment:
I obtained the aquarium and got some rocks for the bottom. My roommate was in charge of getting the fish and a plant. It’s important to note that the No Clean Aquarium is approved only for betta fish. We made plans to set it all up on a night when we’d both get home around the same time. The betta fish was double-bagged from the pet store, and the first thing we did was float the fish bag in a pitcher of water to get the fish acclimated to the temperature. While he hung out in there, we followed the instructions to set up his new environment.

No Clean Aquarium

Setting it all up couldn’t be simpler! The aquarium came with instructions and a diagram, but without any pumps or cords it was really easy. First, we had to rinse all the pieces with water – no soap! The pieces can fit together only one way, keeping confusion to a minimum.

IMG_4037

The instructions recommend using twisty ties to anchor your plants to the mesh piece that sits in the bottom of the aquarium.

IMG_4044

By now the fish had enough time to get used to the temperature of the water, so we poured the water from the pitcher into the aquarium and then added the fish. He looked great inside! We gave him some fish food and watched him explore his new home. We also decided on a fitting fish name – Leonard.

IMG_4048
IMG_4055

Jack became immediately jealous and tried to push the aquarium off the counter, so we had to reconsider its location. We moved Leonard to a safer table and surrounded him with objects. There is a cover on top of the aquarium, and we were pretty confident Jack would not be able to stick his paws inside! He spent the rest of the evening sulking.

IMG_4060

A week went by, and it was time to change the water. We made sure the temperature was just right and poured the clean water in slowly. Sure enough water from the bottom came up through the tube, and emptied into the pitcher. It was definitely filthy water.

IMG_4070

IMG_4072
IMG_4099

Conclusion:
So far, everything is working out as we expected it to – changing Leonard’s water is easy, and he doesn’t seem to mind. We came up with a system to keep track of when Leonard’s been fed – blue card means he ate at night, and yellow card means he ate in the morning. If one of us gets home at night and sees the yellow card, it’s time to feed the fish!

And Jack, well he can’t get into the aquarium. But he did manage to knock it over once. Fortunately, my roommate heard the commotion and was able to rescue Leonard and get everything assembled again in no time. Nothing broke! So, while it’s not completely cat proof, it is still about the most successful aquarium we’ve ever had.

Gift Guides

Gift Lab: Decoding the Perfect Pour

August 26, 2014

Kris, Danny, & HTML Glasses

Product: HTML Beer Glasses

Research:
I first saw UG’s HTML Beer Glasses in our warehouse – a shipment had just arrived and a few units were pulled out for our Receiving team to quality check. I had no idea what they were for. Honestly, my first thought was, “Why would anyone want a beer glass with weird printing on it?” Then one of the guys explained to me that the idea behind the printing is to help create the perfect pour – ah-hah! That made a lot more sense. So, feeling a bit like an idiot, I researched the seemingly-simply-but-actually-intricate-act of…pouring a beer.

HTML Glasses on Instagram | UncommonGoods

Hypothesis:
My initial thoughts: I will likely learn way more about foam than I ever imagined. I will be able to pour a prettier beer, but with little effect on actual taste. I will take regrettable pictures of myself and co-workers “testing” various possible scenarios.

Experiment:
First step – Grab up various coworkers and head to our friendly neighborhood watering hole.
Second step – Make contact with helpful bartender, Mike. Tell him of our educational needs.
Final step – Drink and make merry!

We headed to the Irish Haven in Sunset Park, Brooklyn for their weekly “Taco Tuesday” night. Despite the busyness, Mike was quite cheerful about both discussing our cool glasses and letting us know how they worked. He poured an IPA into one of our HTML Glasses and a Belgian Wheat beer in the other. Both poured perfectly in line with the glass’s indicators, though we were quick to note a difference after the pour.

HTML Glasses Full | UncommonGoods

Taking a tall drink by bar light is great; taking photos by bar light, not so much.

Turns out, given the height and shape of these glasses, they should be used for ales or lagers. The tall, thin style will keep them colder longer, and the relatively light head those beers come with will be well-showcased by the lean shape. Lighter beers will evaporate more quickly. Something like a good quality ale will work fine in this glass, but when you go lighter, like the Belgian we tried, it will evaporate too quickly and the head will be lost. If pouring a “sturdier,” heavier beer, it would make sense to have a wider glass, as this will allow the beer to breathe more. Those beers tend to have heavier foaming characteristics anyway, so one has to worry less about the head evaporating.

HTML Glasses | UncommonGoods

Mike explained that the quality of the beer also matters. The better the beer, the better the pour, the better the taste. If we poured a typical American ale into one of these glasses, it would likely not retain a good amount of foam on top, regardless of the quality of the pour or the quality of the glasses.

Conclusion:
Beer, in all its forms, is wonderful. But if you want to get the perfect pour of high quality lager or ale, these glasses will show you the way with style.

The Uncommon Life

Gift Lab: Boombox Touch Speaker

July 2, 2014

Boombox Touch Speaker | Gift Lab | UncommonGoods

Product: Boombox Touch Speaker, a portable speaker that’s cord free and will blast out your tunes by simply setting a smartphone on top of it.

Research: 
I love to jam out (preferably to Motown, MJ, or the Rent soundtrack ) while taking my morning showers, prepping dinner, or cleaning my apartment. And although I could play music out loud with my iPhone, it’s never quite loud enough. As a temporary solution, I used to walk around with my iPhone in my back pocket and wear headphones in my apartment, but that quickly became a nuisance. So I decided to search for a convenient speaker that I could use with my iPhone. I wanted something that I could easily bring from room to room without a hassle of setting up or constant plugging and unplugging.

Then I discovered the Boombox Touch Speaker while browsing UncommonGoods at work. I have to admit when I heard that this speaker could play music if I just simply placed my iPhone on top of it, I was definitely skeptical. Trust me, I’m usually a glass-half-full type of gal, but I felt like this little tech discovery was too good to be true. The description claimed that there was no need to set up Bluetooth and no cords were needed. For such a great price, what exactly is the catch? Poor sound quality? Needing to download a $3 smartphone app? Will it break easily?

Skeptical and hopeful at the same time, I’ve decided to test it out on my own to get to the bottom of this mystery.

Boombox Touch Speaker | Gift Lab | UncommonGoods

Hypothesis: 
I was sure that the product would work, but definitely with a couple of setbacks. I was expecting to hear a bit of static or that the music wouldn’t be as loud as I would want it to be. (And super loud Billie Jean is always better than I-could-kinda-hear-you Billie Jean.)

Boombox Touch Speaker | Gift Lab | UncommonGoods

Experiment: 
I planned to test out the Boombox Touch Speaker at my neighborhood park for a nice little lazy Sunday. Nothing at the time sounded better than flipping through fashion magazines, snacking on guacamole and chips, and chit chatting with my good friend, Christina, while listening to a few Motown favorites in the background.

When I got the speaker I was immediately surprised by three things: the size, the weight, and the feel. I expected it to be bigger because in my mind “big sound equals big speakers.” But I guess we’re not living in the ‘80s anymore and this doesn’t necessarily need to happen anymore. It was nice to know that I could pop it into my tote bag and still have room for other gadgets and gizmos.

Boombox Touch Speaker | Gift Lab | UncommonGoods

Boombox Touch Speaker | Gift Lab | UncommonGoods

The weight was lighter than I expected as well, even after seeing its small size – I thought it would still be a bit heavier than it was. That was a relief because it would have been a hassle if I had a heavy speaker weighing down on my shoulder during my commute or if I had to complete errands. I hate being slowed down!

The last thing I noticed was the feel of the entire speaker. It’s surprisingly soft, smooth, and easy to hold and carry around. I could place it on my nightstand, fireplace mantel, kitchen counters, or on the shelf in my bathroom. I love that it’s so versatile and doesn’t necessarily need a specific spot to live in my home. So far, I was definitely impressed. (But still skeptical!) I was ready to test the speaker! Off to the park we go.

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The next step was simply to just turn on the speaker. I turned it on from the switch in the back, and a blue light popped up. I was happy I didn’t need to charge it or place batteries in.  I was like a kid opening up her birthday gifts. I wanted the toy to work – no time for other nonsense!

In the photo below I was so excited that the speaker weighed less than the bag of tortilla chips I was holding!

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Now, for the moment I’ve been waiting for! Without reading directions, I placed my iPhone on top of the speaker… and….I didn’t hear one sound come out of the speaker. I knew it! Too good to be true! I turned the switch back on and then off. Tried again. And again. And again. Nothing.

But right when I turned the phone around, I heard good ol’ Marvin Gaye crooning loud and clear, literally. The sound quality was amazing. Success! It was a lot louder than I expected it to be and I actually had to turn down the music through the volume control on my iPhone. (Although, I’m sure others at the park wouldn’t have had any objections to Marvin being a part of their Sunday!)

Boombox Touch Speaker | UncommonGoods

Boombox Touch Speaker | Gift Lab | UncommonGoods

Conclusion: 
I’m glad I was very skeptical of the Boombox Touch Speaker because I feel if I wasn’t, I wouldn’t have been as eager to test it out. I’m 100% happy with it, and would recommend it to any music lover. (AKA: everyone!) My only tip is to make sure that your phone is facing the right way. For the iPhone, make sure the top of the phone sits closest to the speaker, its screen facing up. (Seen in the photo above.)

Now I am able to listen to loud music at home in any room (headphone free!). Also, it’s always a fun to bring out  and show off to my friends on any of our rooftop parties or afternoon picnics. I honestly had three people ask me in absolute awe “How is that even possible?” And just as the description advises to do here, I shrugged and said, “It’s magic.”

Watch me test out the speaker and bust a couple of moves in the video below. Happy grooving!