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Kitchen

Gift Guides

Gift Lab: Tea to Go

May 21, 2014

Tea to Go | UncommonGoods

Research:
Do you know that person who wakes up with just enough time to brush, shower, and dress and barely catch the train? Well that’s me. I’m all about getting things to go, in order to save time – typical New Yorker, I know. Hence the reason I chose the Tea to Go for my experiment, figured it would make the difficulties of staying warm on the go, a thing of the past.

Hypothesis:
I am hoping that this keeps my tea warm without burning my hand, as well as keeping it hot for at least an hour. With public transportation being as unpredictable as it is, this would be a big thing for me.

I’m going into this with no knowledge of how the glass apparatus would hold up against the traditional metal thermos that I’m used to. The plan is to use the Tea to Go all the ways that it has been advertised and to see if it meets the needs of someone who’s the definition of a person on the go.

Experiment:
First, I got everything prepared: a kettle of boiling water, 1 peppermint tea for those frigid mornings, 1 peach tea with ice for the playful days, and some loose White Riesling tea for those sleep-in mornings that you can only dream of.

Tea

The body consists of very a thick glass tube and a heavy duty rubber grip. The inner body includes a small perforated section for the tea, then a long portion where the liquid will flow through. I didn’t realize how tall it was until I put it next to my jar of Linguini noodles and, as you can see, it’s right up there.

Tea to Go | UncommonGoods

According to the instructions, I poured the hot water through the small compartment for the tea bag – that was a no go. The water took really long to fill up the tube and I wasn’t about to wait. It made sense if you had to time to allow your tea seep and brew a stronger tea, which wasn’t what I was going for. Instead, I filled up the tube from the larger side and things went smoothly. After letting it sit for 10 minutes, I gave the bottle a slight tilt to allow everything to diffuse evenly and off we go.

Making Tea | UncommonGoodsHot Tea | UncommonGoods

The rubber grip was hotter than I expected, but definitely manageable. After being out of my house for 20 minutes the tea was still extremely hot, and I had to implement the blow-and-sip method, which worked just fine. After being in public transportation for an hour, my tea kept hot (and this is with me keeping the top off so in order to drink). It didn’t really cool down at all, I still had hot tea after an hour and half – that’s a plus.

Loose Leaf Tea

I also gave it a try with loose leaf tea. From looking at the perforations you can tell that large loose tea leaves are the best choice, so that you don’t have leaf residue floating around. I didn’t take that into account until much later. Even though some of the excess tea got in the drinking tube, it was not a big deal. But it’s just something to keep in mind for those who don’t like things floating in their drinks.

The Tea to Go certainly holds up for hot tea 100%. NY Winter – here we come!

Iced Tea to Go | UncommonGoods

Next I gave the bottle a try with iced tea. I let the Peach tea bag seep in a little bit of boiling water before adding filtered water. The water was still relatively warm so I decided to add some ice cubes, which quickly melted but were able to provide me with a cold drink. Took my book, iced tea and an orange and enjoyed the break from freezing temperatures and read for a few on my stoop.

I came back in after an hour with very little tea gone (Harry is just that captivating!), and I was amazed to find out it was still very cold, like a beverage right out the fridge.

Conclusion:
Being a person who lives in New York and has experienced the wonders of Jack Frost first hand, the Tea to Go has become my accessory for those cold rushed mornings. It’s a pretty simple but effective device that will keep my hands and tea warm.

Not only is it good for those frigid mornings we’ve come to love, but it’s versatile enough to keep tea cool for those strolling days. I’m thinking it’s going to come in handy as summer approaches, since it has officially been added to my morning check list – keys, metrocard, money, and Tea to Go.

Design

An Easy Answer to Olive Pit Etiquette

May 15, 2014

Enjoying olives discreetly isn’t always easy. Where do you ditch the pit? In a crumpled napkin? On the side of your hors d’oeuvre plate for everyone to see? The usual options aren’t exactly attractive. With that in mind, we created the Olive Server.

Olive Server | UncommonGoods

This innovative dish solves the pit problem, holds your picks, and displays those tangy, salty treats in style. To design the Olive Server, our Product Development Team partnered with Paul Brothe, a ceramicist who conceptualized the piece based on his love of nature-inspired ceramics, a modern, lead-free take on traditional Majolica pottery, and the goal of keeping pits unseen.

Sketches

When Brothe first presented his prototype, we loved that it was made of sturdy earthenware painted a natural green color, and provided a way to both serve olives and hide pits. From there, we made a few adjustments to make the Olive Server even more appealing to our customers who want practical serveware with a fun twist.

Original Prototype

While the original design featured a porcine, two-holed opening for depositing pits, we decided to give the pit cavern an oval shape and one larger hole. We wanted to make the piece really pop, but we didn’t want to detract from the realistic olive form, so we chose four colors to accentuate the incorporated shapes.

Process

The fruit-shaped basin is actually two parts. The bowl holds the pits, keeping them in one place for easy cleanup, while the lid keeps them under cover. We chose to line the bowl with a pimento-inspired burnt orange and give the exterior an olive green color. We also added a shade of green to the “leaf” where the olives sit and a branch-hued brown to the pick holder. Now each individually-functional element of the server is uniquely eye-catching, enhancing the look of the all-in-one display.

Olive Server | UncommonGoods

To create the finished servers, each piece is cast from a mold, inspected and trimmed, thoroughly dried, and then fired overnight at a temperature of 2000 degrees Fahrenheit.

trimming_sqfired_sq

Two techniques are used to glaze these bisque fired pieces—dipping and brushing. The glazing is done by hand using special glazes formulated in-house at Brothe’s Jersey City, NJ studio, so the colors are truly unique. The colored servers are then fired overnight one more time, allowing the glazes to fuse together and create a smooth, glassy surface.

Glazing

The result is a high-quality dish that provides an attractive way to serve olives, keeps pesky pits out of sight, and is uncommon enough to stir conversation at any cocktail or dinner party.

Buy the Olive Dish | UncommonGoods

Gift Guides

Gift Lab: How to Make Cocktail Bitters

December 19, 2013

Morgan | Bitters

Research
I’m a devoted whisky (and occasionally whiskey) drinker and usually enjoy my Scotch like I enjoy the top shelf of my dresser: neat. But I was intrigued to see if bitters might prove an opportunity to salvage a liquor I’ve all but quit–rum. The recipe calls for a high-proof rum, so I picked up one of my favorite antiseptics, Bacardi 151. I also bought an aged rum (to test my bitters in later) that I was hoping might change my opinions of the drink. That rum, Plantation Grande Reserve (note the fancy pants name), was a vast improvement over any rum I could remember tasting (in either direction), in my younger days, so I was looking forward to a different experience, perhaps.
Bitters 1

Bacardi 151? Hello old friend.

Hypothesis
I don’t think I’ve ever tried bitters before, but I’m coming in with a semi-open mind. I like bitter things. There’s something smart-sounding about the word “bitters.” As I have a general preference for straight alcohol, I’m not sure how much this will “add” to the experience, but perhaps since I’m less predisposed towards rum, it may make that drink more enjoyable. (Spoiler alert: I cheated and came up with this last line after the experiment.)

Experiment
Preparing the mixture is actually a good bit of fun, adding the composite spices and ingredients as if your high school science teacher were a part-time bartender. (I didn’t see you and you didn’t see me, Mr. Chard.)

DIY Cocktail Bitters | UncommonGoods

Here I am masterfully peeling an apple and not cutting myself, the skins to be mixed into the jar of rum and spices. No blood! Easy enough.

The preparation requires a morning and evening shake of the mixture in its jar, which is a fun way to interact with your little blooming bundle of joy, and to appreciate the visual richness and beauty of the concoction as it does its thing. Eventually you’ll forget to shake it one morning and you’ll feel guilty for the rest of the day. Just let it go–it’ll be fine.

DAY 1 TEST
Finally, after a long and eager wait, 2 weeks are up and it’s time to open my present! Hold on there just a minute, bud–a few more steps before we’re ready for cheers. First we have to strain through cheesecloth (which doubles as gauze if you cut yourself peeling that apple earlier–try to use the clean portion).

Bitters | UncommonGoods

The liquid is separated from the solid ingredients, which are placed on the stove to simmer with water then cool. This is a good opportunity to be extremely impatient, blow on the mixture, and just dump it in hot anyway. (Again, you’re probably fine.)

Bitters in Process | UncommonGoods

After cooling, we strain the mixture once again. OK, this is your exit solids! In the trash you go! We then get started on simple syrup (a sugar and water mixture that is heated and added in equal parts to the rum mixture). Add to dropper bottle then the big payoff.

I decided on bourbon because, well, I like bourbon and it seems to feature in a good number of bitters cocktails. I could make a cocktail, but I’d rather really taste the bitters here just to see how they work with the alcohol. A bit of bitters drip drop into some Buffalo Trace bourbon.

Drinking Bourbon

Unfortunately, it wasn’t doing it for me. Nope. Had I done something wrong? I don’t think so. Was it last Friday when I neglected to shake the bitters? Were they exacting their revenge? Nah – I don’t think bitters hold grudges (although they are called bitters…). I think it was just the combination. The iconic Buffalo Trace flavor now muddled into something indecipherable and a bit all over the place. I added a bit more but that just added to the confusion. My eyes saw the Buffalo Trace and my mouth was failing to compute.

Give up? No way. We’ll try again tomorrow.

DAY 2 TEST
New shirt, new day, new opportunity to drink.

Back on the saddle and off the wagon with something a bit more compatible, perhaps – rum. Yes, my aged rum would make a late-game, surprise guest appearance in a highly unscientific evaluation.

In one glass – straight aged rum
In the other – that same rum with a few drops of bitters.

Bitters and Rum

This one makes sense. The rums obviously blend well, and this time I’m able to actually taste the spiced apple. Not overpowering, but definitely adds another dimension. Yeah – I get it.

Conclusion
I could see this enhancing a mediocre rum or allowing for a drinker to taste a decent one from a different perspective. I imagine you could mix into a number of different cocktails with different alcohols. (The instruction booklet names a few.)

The highlight for me though was the process. Enjoying a drink usually consists of nothing more than opening a bottle and pouring it. Occasionally this might involve stirring in a few extra ingredients–and sure–there are even bitters you could buy. But there was something very satisfying about the process; in the interaction with all the individual ingredients, in the ultimate unification of those flavors. There was something satisfying in the wait. Alcohol is one of those things that can take longer than anything to get right. We buy liquors that have been waiting for years, heck, decades to taste just right, then we sip them and they’re gone.

This kit represents the process, the time, the care that goes into a good drink. This probably won’t change my lineup of standby drinks or undying love of a good straight Scotch, but it was an interesting ride, I learned a bit, and I have something new to taste along with some of my old favorites. Nah, I ain’t bitter.

The Uncommon Life

Gift Lab: Flip & Tumble + Wine Tote + Bentgo: A-leftovering we will go

November 22, 2013

Research

I hate waste. I’m really OCD about it. Disposable shopping bags, takeout containers, and water bottles really bug me. And yet, I do shop, eat on the go, and need H2O. Thus was born my quest for the perfect personal food transport equipment.

3-ItemCollageHypothesis

Our Flip & Tumble Reusable Shopping Bags are light and small and hold a lot. Sounds promising. Our BentGO Lunch Box is good looking. Most of its lunch-toting brethren are decidedly not. It’s also a good size, and except for the lids, microwaveable (for warming up, not cooking), and dishwasher safe. Also promising. Our Wine and Beverage Tote, with its tough canvas outer skin, seems a lot sturdier than fold-up plastic bottles I’ve used before.

Experiment

Step 1: Shopping.

This was mostly accomplished at the Park Slope Food Coop, of which I am an enthused member. A sustainability-minded organization since forever, the coop doesn’t give out shopping bags. Flip & Tumbles are perfect for shopping there. They weigh virtually nothing, open up in a jiffy (faster and easier than any shopping bag I’ve ever used), hold a lot, and are strong and sturdy. The even have a non-slip patch on the inside top of the shoulder strap.

Giftlab food-bags 016-CROPPED

Here’s how they look full of groceries.

Giftlab food-bags 019-CROPPED

Here are most of the ingredients, spread out. (The bags actually held a lot more than this.)

Step 2: Cooking.

I bought a spaetzle maker no less than 6 years ago, and until now, had never used it. Sound familiar, gadget lovers? I saw this recipe in the New York Times, and knew this was what would make spaetzle happen in my kitchen.

To round out the meal, I decided to make mashed sweet potatoes with lime and honey (the recipe calls them yams, but they are NOT; shame on you, Saveur!) with broiled grapefruit for dessert.

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I put the sweet potatoes in a casserole dish and stuck them in the preheated 350 degree oven.

I then sliced the leeks and cabbage (separately) very thinly in the food processor. I melted a bunch of butter in a big frying pan and sauteed the leeks. But I forgot to take photos of all that, so you’ll have to use your imagination.

CabbageCookingCollage

The savoy cabbage, sauteeing on top of the already-sauteed leeks.

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Above is the mixed white all-purpose, whole wheat, and whole rye flour (yes, I ground it from the berries, here’s why), to which I added an egg and whole milk. It’s supposed to end up like cake batter, not bread dough, so you keep adding milk until it feels right. Because I used whole wheat flour, which the recipe doesn’t call for, I used more milk than recommended, because whole wheat flour absorbs more liquid.

11-18-13UG-giftlab-cooking 001

My spaetzle maker in action, at long last. You pour the batter gradually into the white hopper which you then slide along the holey stainless steel part that’s straddling the pot of boiling, salted water. The dough slips through randomly, drops into the pot, and cooks very quickly, rising to the top.

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It’s pasta…it’s dumplings….it’s spaetzle!

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The recipe calls for thyme, which I conveniently have growing in one of my kitchen windowboxes.

Now it’s time for it to be topped with grated Gruyere cheese, put in a casserole dish, and baked. But wait–where’s that dish?!

11-18-13UG-giftlab-cooking 044

Oh yeah, it was baking these. When I took them out, I didn’t bother cleaning it, because sugary, gooey sweet potato ooze can only improve a dish. I did mix it in, though, so it wouldn’t just burn on the bottom.

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The casserole in a state of baking readiness.

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The sweet potatoes, mashed with a fork and mingling with their new BFFs: butter, fresh lime juice, and honey.

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20 minutes after being put into the 425 degree oven: Done.

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Now for the broiled grapefruit. Easiest thing ever: cut in half, top with brown sugar (or not), turn broiler on, pop in citrus.

~An interlude, during which I eat this delicious dinner, and sleep. A new day dawns.~

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The true and ultimate destiny of this food, of course, was being consumed as leftovers. I added some homemade kefir I put into a can that I’d fished out from the recycling and washed (see above re: “OCD about waste;” also, it was the perfect size), because I thought it would go well with both the casserole and the grapefruit.

11-19-13UG-giftlab-cooking 038

Stick a fork in it–it’s done.

Step 3: A) Eating and B) Drinking

A) The spaetzle dish, like most casseroles, was even better the next day. It nuked up beautifully in its spiffy BentGO container. I ate it in about two minutes flat. No, I will not show you what that looked like. My mother might be reading this, and it would make her cry to see that all those years of table manners lessons were wasted on me.

UG giftlab-wine tote 004-CROPPED

B) The Wine and Beverage Tote, alas, was filled only with water, because I was at work. (You think I can write all juiced up? No. I leave that to pros.) For purely scientific purposes, I did fill it with wine the night before. Miraculously, it holds an entire, normal-sized bottle, though you have to make sure the bag is poufed out all the way while (carefully) pouring. I recommend red wine, because the Tote isn’t insulated, so the wine will be at room temperature before long.

I really appreciated its sturdy canvas exterior, because it freed me from the nagging worry that something sharp in my bag might gouge it. If there’d been red wine inside, I would have appreciated it even more–no, not because of the alcohol; because of the potential for mess. (OK, the alcohol, too.) Note that I swapped out the original petite black carabiner with a larger one of my own, partly–but ONLY partly, I swear–because mine is pink.

Recipe links:
New York Times: Rye spaetzle gratin with savoy cabbage, leeks and caraway
Saveur: Mashed sweet potatoes with lime and honey
TheKitchn: Sweet and smoky broiled grapefruit

Gift Guides

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