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

November 15, 2013

Anna Moreno | UncommonGoods

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

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

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

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

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

Ooma Bowl | UncommonGoods

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

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

Making Grilled Cheese

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

Italian Grilled Cheese

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

Easy Toaster Grilled Cheese | UncommonGoods

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

Sandwich

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

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

grilled cheese

Toaster Grilled Cheese | UncommonGoods

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

Italian Grilled Cheese | UncommonGoods
Italian Grilled Cheese | UncommonGoods

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

Grilled Cheese Fingers with Tomato Sauce

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

Grilled Cheese Dunk
Noah

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

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

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

Gift Guides

Gift Lab: How to Keep Plants Healthy While You’re Away with the Self Watering Planter

October 23, 2013

Jen | UncommonGoods

Research
I travel a lot and my plants tend to suffer because of it. Turns out it’s easier to find someone to take care of cats than plants – probably because the plants don’t complain as loudly as the cats do. Over the years I’ve tried a bunch of gizmos to get the right amount of water to the plants, but they were all either ineffective, the wrong size for my plant, or just plain old ugly.

Hypothesis
Let me be the first to say that I was skeptical about this planter. It was a good size and attractive, but it seemed too good to be true. The last of my non-succulent plants just died (thanks, cat-sitter), which meant that this was going to be a long experiment. Armed only with slow-drinking succulents, I took a chance on this planter.

Experiment
May 2013: I got my materials together: some succulent planting mix, some decorative rocks, and some new succulents from my favorite store. I took the lid off of the water compartment to check it out, but neglected to put it back on when I started filling the planter with planting mix. Lesson learned: put the lid on because that planting mix goes everywhere and it’s really hard to remove from the water reservoir.

Self Watering Planter With Succulents | UncommonGoods

June 2013: I hadn’t checked the water in a month but the plants looked happy and healthy. The water level had definitely decreased, though it was hard to tell whether this was from the planter soaking up the water and it evaporating, or if the planter was delivering water to the succulents. I filled the reservoir and went on vacation for 3 weeks without leaving watering instructions for the cat-sitter.

Succulents | UncommonGoods

July 2013: I came home to find that (a) the cats were fine and (b) so were the succulents. They were larger than they were when I left and the water was about half gone. I was starting to become a believer.

Growing Succulents | UncommonGoods

August 2013: Baby succulents began popping up – this was the clearest sign that the planter was delivering water as promised. Another sign that the planter was working: the succulents that I hand-watered were all near-dead from over-watering.

Beautiful Baby Succulents | UncommonGoods

Conclusion
1. This planter actually works.
2. The planter has got to be much more impressive with something that needs more water. I’m going to get another one and try to grow some herbs.
3. Put some little plastic feet at the bottom of the planter to raise the planter a bit above the windowsill or table it’s sitting on. I found that the water in the reservoir affected the paint on my windowsill.

Gift Guides

Gift Lab: How to Make Music by Playing Wine Glasses

September 27, 2013
Major Scale Musical Wine Glasses | UncommonGoods

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

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

Musical Wine Glass Packaging | Uncommon Goods

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

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

Playing Music on Wine Glasses

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

'A' Note

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

I poured a taller glass and around I went again.

Major Scale Musical Wine Glass | UncommonGoods

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

'E' Note

Conclusion

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

Musical Wine Glass Toast

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

Gift Guides

Gift Lab: How to Get the Perfect Shave

August 27, 2013

Jeff | UncommonGoods Customer Service

Research
I shave every other day, occasionally back to back days, and end up spending $40.00 to $50.00 using disposable blades such as Mach3 and Proglide. Usually after two shaves the blade does not give a close shave at all. I heard the Razor Pit Sharpener will solve this problem and save me lots of $$$$.
Razor Pit Razor Sharpener

Hypothesis
I am curious to see if there truly is some way to extend the life of my disposables; everything I have heard and read about the Razor Pit Sharpener makes me hopeful this is the tool to use.
Sharpen your Razor

usingpit1

Experiment
Pretty simple stuff here, you can use a squirt of shaving cream or soap to lather up the surface of the Pit. You then push your razor FORWARD–five or six times will do. I found that pushing it once, then rubbing the shaving cream around so it covers the entire surface again, then doing my second push and so on to the fifth or sixth push. Then I ran the blade under COLD water for a few seconds (cold contracts the metal, which is good. My own tip). Then you shave!!!
Jeff Shaving | UncommonGoods

shaving1

Conclusion
No kidding, this is incredible! The four (very old, perhaps a few months) blades I tested on each gave me a shave that is just about the same as a brand new blade. I used it for two weeks, then shaved once more with a brand new blade. I found no difference between the Razor-Pitted blades and the brand new one. While I suppose that I will eventually have to buy new blades, I can certainly see my costs being at least half, so I will have paid for my pit within two months.
sharprazors

Gift Guides

Gift Lab: Keep Your Baby’s Skin Oh-So-Smooth

July 31, 2013

  baby

Research

Baby’s have sensitive skin. The first thing our doctor told us in the hospital after pointing out a reddish rash developing on our newborn’s leg is that we could expect her to have many and varied “disturbances in the force” (as I like to call them.) Fresh out of the safety and sterility of the womb, her baby skin, which should be the protection from the environment around her, reacts to everything from heat to laundry detergent. Our baby got the unfortunate genetic roll of the dice to have parents with skin issues that were passed along before she graced the world with her screams and poop. As a sufferer of eczema myself, I’ve learned that using products with no fragrance, coloring or any “extra” additives is the best way to keep your eczema happy and subdued.

CAM00743

Hypothesis

Pure and gentle products are typically sold for baby skincare. Even no tears formulas are sometimes a little too dry for babies with sensitive skin. The Baby Gift Box formulated by Erbaviva uses organic essential lavender, chamomile oils, and natural ingredients so even the most sensitive of babies won’t suffer from the drying effects of soaps and fragrances.

CAM00728

Experiment

After bringing La Bambina home from the hospital, we had to wait until the remainder of her umbilical cord dried up and fell off before she could have her first bath. A few short weeks of holding our noses as we passed her,La Bambina was finally ready for a bath. We had already used the Erbaviva baby oil to prevent diaper rash every time we changed her and were pleased with the absorption, light citrus scent and moisturizing abilities. Now it was time to use their shampoo and baby cream.

CAM00733

Conclusion

In the end, The Baby Gift Box provides products that make babies and new parents happy at bath time!