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5 Things You Think You Need in Your Kitchen...But Don't

Photo: Thinkstock

Photo: Thinkstock

By Lynn Andriani

Blender

In an ideal world, you'd...pull it out and make margaritas every weekend.

In reality…you can shake your margaritas using a metal shaker and a pint glass, and serve them on the rocks. Or, if you have an ice cream maker, help it pull its weight by enlisting it to make perfectly slushy frozen drinks. A food processor or Cuisinart Mini-Prep can definitely handle smoothies. If you must have a blender, opt for its smaller cousin, the immersion blender (or hand blender), which is much easier to store and clean up, and purees soups beautifully.

RELATED: 5 Confounding Kitchen Appliances (and How to Use Them)

Electric Grill

In an ideal world, you'd...cook healthier versions of burgers and steaks, thanks to the little tray that catches all that unappetizing-looking grease.

In reality...the grill makes a fine burger, but there's nothing it can do that an outdoor grill or even a frying pan can't. And if it's grill marks you're after, use a grill pan. One drawback to electric grills (in addition to having yet another appliance to store) is that they tend to make food retain moisture, so meat and fish can actually steam instead of grill.

RELATED: 11 Cooking Secrets from a Spa Chef

Baby Food Maker

In an ideal world, you'd...use it to ensure your baby gets the healthiest, least processed version of mashed carrots.

In reality...by the time most of us get the knack of this thing, the baby has moved on to more solid foods. While he is in the pureed foods phase, though, you can cook those carrots in boiling water or a steamer basket, and then use a fork to smash them. Not smooth enough for your tot? Add some of the cooking water and whip them together in a food processor or with an immersion blender until they're to his liking.

RELATED: No-Cook Summer Recipes

Microwave

In an ideal world, you'd...boil water for your morning tea, cook a baked potato for lunch and heat up a frozen burrito for dinner.

In reality...you really only use it to warm up your coffee (which unfortunately doesn't taste very good). We know some people are going to keep theirs no matter what, but considering the space they can take up, microwaves' usefulness is debatable. As anyone who's tried it knows, nuking dinner can be hit or miss, since food cooks from the outside in, so it's often overdone on the edges but still cold (or worse, raw) inside. Try traditional: Reheat food on the stove in a nonstick frying pan, and defrost containers of sauce or soup by sitting them in a pot of barely simmering water. Microwave popcorn isn't only bad for you, it's not so hot for the environment either. You're better off making it on the stovetop instead.

RELATED: 12 Gadgets That Will Cut Your To-Do List in Half

Panini Press

In an ideal world you'd...make prosciutto-and-mozzarella panini just like they would at a paninoteca in Milan.

In reality...this one might be more than just nice to have for some people (and Oprah's one of them). But if your kitchen just can't handle one more appliance, you can certainly make panini without a dedicated machine. In Italy, many presses are actually made with two flat pieces of metal, so there aren't even grill marks. To get the same effect, butter both sides of your sandwich, put it in a frying pan and weigh the sandwich down with your largest, heaviest pot (cover the bottom with foil so it doesn't stick to the bread). Put a kettle filled with water in the pot if you need more weight.

Overcooked chicken? Mushy potatoes? Easy fixes for common kitchen mishaps

By Renee Schettler
photos by Kana Okada

How to salvage overcooked chicken, a crumbly cake, mushy vegetables, and more.

How to Fix Mushy Potatoes

Problem: You intended to boil those new potatoes just until fork-tender. But when you drained them, they collapsed into mush.

Solution: "Make mashed potatoes,'" Rozanne Gold, a chef and author of the 1-2-3 series of cookbooks, says. Not in the mood for a mash, make home fries: Drain the potatoes and fry them in a skillet with a small amount of fat―olive or peanut oil, butter, or bacon drippings―stirring occasionally, until golden and crisp, about 20 minutes.

Related: 10 Recipe Ideas for Potatoes

Next time: Gently simmer the potatoes instead of boiling them. The lower temperature causes the starch in them to swell more slowly. As a result, only a bit of the gummy starch leaks out of the potatoes and into the cooking water, says Shirley O. Corriher, a food scientist and the author of CookWise: The Secrets of Cooking Revealed (Morrow, $30, amazon.com).


How to Fix Stale Bread


Problem: The loaf you brought home from the bakery the day before yesterday is still sitting on the counter, untouched.

Solution: Flaunt the dry bread's finer points and make crostini. Thinly slice the bread and toast it in a 325° F oven until it's crisp throughout and barely golden at the edges, about 5 minutes. Use the glorified toast as a foundation for bruschetta, as garlic-rubbed croutons to float atop soup, or as you would melba toast. If the bread is so dry that it crumbles when you slice it, toss it into a food processor and pulse to create bread crumbs.

Related: 9 Healthy Predinner Snacks

Next time: As soon as you realize the bread won't be used in time, wrap the still-fresh loaf tightly in a couple of layers of plastic and freeze it. To defrost, leave the bread at room temperature overnight. Then unwrap it and warm it in a 350° F oven for about 20 minutes.


How to Fix Tasteless Tomatoes


Problem: Those out-of-season but enticingly red tomatoes that you couldn't resist buying taste insipid.

Solution: Intensify the flavor by removing moisture, Corriher says. Place the tomatoes on a foil-lined baking sheet and sprinkle with salt and, if desired, fresh herbs. Roast in a 200° F oven for about 2 hours. (Large tomatoes should be cut into several thick slices, Romas should be halved lengthwise, and cherry or grape tomatoes should be left whole.) Before serving, drizzle with olive oil.

Related: The Best Jarred Tomato Sauces

Next time: Look for locally grown tomatoes from July through September. (There's a direct relationship between a hot, dry summer and sweet tomatoes; conversely, wet weather brings watery, bland ones.) Outside of peak tomato season, rely on canned or hydroponically grown specimens, or stick with the smaller Roma, cherry, and grape varieties, which tend to be more flavorful.


How to Fix Overcooked Chicken


Problem: You slid some chicken breasts under the broiler and forgot about them until a wisp of smoke reminded you.

Related: The Ultimate Chicken Handbook

Solution: Conceal the burnt edges and the dry interior beneath a simple herb sauce. Stir together some olive oil and coarsely chopped fresh herbs―basil, thyme, tarragon, mint, parsley, or a combination―then add a little salt and pepper. Thickly slice the chicken, fan the pieces onto individual plates, and spoon the sauce over the top. Add some vinegar or lemon juice to the herb sauce, Gold says, and you have a vinaigrette sauce that can dress not just the chicken but also salad greens.

Next time: If "out of sight, out of mind" is a problem for you, cook the chicken in a skillet on the stovetop.

Worst celebrity-owned restaurants


photos 1 – 7 of 11
    • Famous folks whose eateries have tanked, from Eva Longoria and Flavor-Flav to J-Lo
    • Nyla — Britney Spears (New York City)
    • Dive! — Steven Spielberg (LA, Vegas, Barcelona)
    • Irving Mill — Jill Hennessy and Benjamin Bratt (New York City)
    • Alaia — Stephen and William Baldwin (New York City)
    • Pastamania! — Hulk Hogan (Minneapolis)
    • Madre's — Jennifer Lopez (Los Angeles)
photo 1 of 11

Famous folks whose eateries have tanked, from Eva Longoria and Flavor-Flav to J-Lo

Whether owned by athlete or actor, writer or rapper, plenty of celebrity-backed and athlete-owned restaurants go on to be, if not hits, at least moderate to decent successes. And there are occasional stars, like Robert De Niro, who, except for the occasional miss (read: the New York outpost of Ago), pretty much seem to have the restaurant business (or good luck) down pat (Locanda VerdeNobu, and Tribeca Grill). Then there are those big names who are just outright failures at the restaurant game. 

Related: The Daily Meal's Top 25 Celebrity-Owned Restaurants 

Eva Longoria is experiencing the perils of the restaurant business firsthand. Just this week it was reported that restaurant and casino operator Landry's Restaurants Inc. has stepped in to prevent the closure of the Vegas location of Beso, the Latin-inspired steakhouse she opened with Chef Todd English. The restaurant has reportedly been operating in bankruptcy since January, and was forced to close temporarily last month to save money after losing more than $76,000 per month. 

In Pictures: Worst Celebrity-Owned Restaurants 

Be it hubris, poor business advisors, or just the feeling of omnipotence that comes with the extension of celebrities' 15 minutes, the annals of restaurant lore are littered with celebrity-backed restaurant failures. Turns out there's a little more to creating and owning a successful restaurant than coming up with a catchy name, picking the chef, and telling him or her to put your favorite sandwich on the menu. Go figure. 

You'll remember the notorious flops. Nyla, Britney Spears' New York City eatery, is one of the first restaurants mentioned anytime the subject of celebrity-backed restaurant disasters gets raised. No surprise, considering the problems, debts, and issues that accompanied Nyla during Pinky's six-month involvement with it. Others, like Steven Spielberg's Dive!, a submarine concept, are corny fails that, while epically bad, may not as readily come to mind. 

So, because schadenfreude isn't really fun unless celebrity and large amounts of misdirected money are involved, here are ten great examples of why famous people who don't know as much as they think they do about food should stay out of the restaurant business.

Photo by: Flickr/Don Henderson

Top 5 places to eat in the world

TRAVELING FOR TASTE

As any experienced cultural explorer will say, the best traveling is done by truly immersing oneself in the local customs and lifestyle. As common cultural denominators throughout the world, food and drink have long been one of the simplest yet most effective ways to understand and appreciate alternate means of living. Because such great learning experiences may be cultivated around the dinner table, we have, with the help of SmarterTravel.com's Anne Banas, assembled a list of the best food and wine destinations throughout the world.

Related: Homemade Corn Tortillas

First on our list is New Orleans, LA. This location may come as a surprise to some, as the mention of this city generally conjures up images of Mardi Gras festivities rather than exceptionally fine dining. However, says Anne, with its truly unique regional fare that combines "French, Creole, and Cajun cuisines" and a host of fabulously old restaurants, this southern city certainly deserves a spot on the culinary short list. Check out Brennan's Restaurant, where they invented bananas foster, or Antoine's, the oldest family-owned restaurant in the United States and the birthplace of Oysters Rockefeller.

Next up is San Francisco. The addition of this west coast metropolis to the list should come as no surprise considering the consistently positive attention the area gets for its stellar collection of restaurants, vineyards and markets. "San Francisco is really the center of the local food movement," says Anne pointing to such iconic eateries like Alice Waters' Chez Panisse and Thomas Keller's Bouchon. Furthermore, the close proximity to the vineyards of Napa and Sonoma gives visitors a chance to sample America's best known wines at their source.

Related: Cool Cocktails to Beat the Heat

Head a few hours north to hit up the nest spot on our list, Vancouver, Canada. This bustling center of the Pacific Northwest not only serves up some of the freshest seafood and farm-to-table cuisine but also is home to fantastic Asian-inspired places. Anne suggests checking out Grandville Island, with its huge farmer's market and great selection of cafes and restaurants, to sample some of the best Vancouver dining has to offer.

Our next two food and wine hot spots take us across the Atlantic and onto the Continent. First on the list is Italy. As the birthplace of some of the world's most famous dishes, from pasta to pizza to limoncello, this Mediterranean peninsula is a classic choice for the lover of food and wine. Anne suggests traveling around the different regions to get a taste (no pun intended) of the truly incredible variety Italian cuisine has to offer.

Related: How to Travel to Paris on a Budget

Our fifth and last stop is France. Considered by most to be the gastronomic center of the world, this Continental country offers "unparalleled culture," says Anne. From Paris to Provence, the patisseries to the boulangeries to the cafes and brasseries, the French culinary experience is truly unlike any other. Furthermore, Anne says, not only can you sample some of the world's most fabulous cuisine on a food tour, but many chefs offer cooking classes specifically designed for travelers.

Though these five destinations have certainly proven themselves to be fantastic culinary centers, there are also several up-and-coming locales to check out. Spain, Anne says, is home to two of today's most popular food trends, "tapas and molecular gastronomy." Next is Denmark, where the world's top rated restaurantNoma, can be found. Finally, head over to Asia for our final destination, Japan. For many years this place has not been the focus of the food-savvy crowd, however, Anne says, they are really experiencing a culinary renaissance, booming as a top food destination 

With such a diverse array of regional cuisine, local ingredients, and acclaimed restaurants, there is certainly something on the list to suite everyone's palette. From California to the Continent, one is sure to find the perfect place for fabulous traveling and tasting!

Are you getting ripped off on your bar tab?

Cable and mobile phone companies thrive on surcharges for unrecognizable items like air wave rental fees and federal something taxes. Whenever I've inquired into them with the providers, they've repeated the name of the charge to me and explained that's what it is. We're used to accepting stowaway charges at the bottom of our bills, but sometimes a claim is too ridiculous to quietly pay. Eater.com recently featured a billreceived by one of its readers that included a fee for "Due Rounding." The charge in this case added on two cents to a mozzarella-stick bill that brought the total from $6.48 to a much more round $6.50. The restaurant with this bold rounding policy is Ogden Street South, a sports bar in Denver that is now well prepared for the disappearance of the penny.

We've heard of credit cards left overnight at bars getting charged an extra few drinks but this seems differently illegal. The kind of illegal that could accrue a lot of money over time—if it wasn't for the internet.

Do you have a good story about being overcharged on a bill?

Why Do Forks Have Exactly Four Tines?

Source: Why Do Forks Have Exactly Four Tines?

You may have noticed that a fork nearly always has four tines, or prongs, on it. In the several times a day you use this eating utensil, have you ever wondered how it came to look the way it does today?

This wasn't always the case. The fork actually started out in Western Europe as an agricultural tool, eventually evolving to become a kitchenware in the 1500s. Back then, early versions only contained two tines. But according to Bill Bryson, author of the book At Home, two-tined forks caused a lot of pain to diners who accidentally jarred themselves, perhaps after one too many tipples.

To rectify this problem, fork makers experimented with a greater number of tines, but ultimately settled on four as the most comfortable for diners.

Got a burning question? Join the Burning Question group in the YumSugar Community! It's your place to post the most pressing questions about the culinary world.

15 Surprisingly Healthy Fast Food Picks

By: H.K. Jones, RD

Is the drive-thru the fast lane to a heart attack? On the one hand, it's true: One slipup ("okay, sure, I'll take the large fries and apple pie with that") and you can add more than 800 high-in-saturated-fat calories to your takeout. But there is good news. Some of the burgers, sides, sandwiches, and even desserts aren't as bad for you as you might think. In fact, some are downright light! Here are 15 fast-food picks that are all figure-friendly -- unless of course you order them all at once.

Related: "I Lost Weight on a Fast-Food Diet"

McDonald's Picks

  • McDonald's Chicken McNuggets with Sweet 'N Sour Sauce (4 pieces, 220 calories, 10g fat, 2g saturated fat)
The sauce is low in calories and sodium. But since you get only four measly nuggets, go ahead and add a Fruit & Walnut Salad (310 calories, with yogurt dressing) for additional sustenance.
  • McDonald's Hamburger (260 calories, 9g fat, 3.5g saturated fat)
This less-than-two-ounce burger is pretty small, so it's one of the diet-friendliest sandwiches in the biz. Pair it with a Side Salad drizzled with a packet of Newman's Own Low Fat Balsamic Vinaigrette (60 calories total) and a bottle of water.

  • McDonald's Egg McMuffin (300 calories, 12g fat, 4.5g saturated fat)
With its lean Canadian-style bacon and English muffin, this breakfast sandwich is a better choice than the 500-calorie Sausage Biscuit with Egg.

  • McDonald's Vanilla Reduced Fat Ice Cream Cone (150 calories, 3.5g fat, 2g saturated fat)
With their velvety vanilla flavor, McDonald's perfectly sized cones don't taste like they're made with reduced-fat ice cream -- but thank goodness they are!

Related: Healthy Fast Food Lunch Picks



Taco Bell Picks

  • Taco Bell Fresco Style Crunchy Taco (150 calories, 7g fat, 2.5g saturated fat)
When you ask for your meal Fresco Style, you get fresh salsa (packed with cancer-fighting lycopene) instead of fatty cheese and sauce. Pair your taco with a safe but filling side (like beans or rice), so you won't be hungry again before you leave the parking lot.
  • Taco Bell Gordita Nacho Cheese--Chicken (270 calories, 10g fat, 2.5g saturated fat)
Not all our picks come from the healthier Fresco Style menu. This one is smothered in cheese but still manages to squeeze in under 300 calories.

  • Taco Bell Fresco Style Grilled Steak Soft Taco (170 calories, 5g fat, 1.5g saturated fat)
Although red meat does deliver a little fat, it also adds protein, zinc, iron, and vitamin B12.

  • Taco Bell Fresco Style Tostada (200 calories, 6g fat, 1g saturated fat)
A flat corn shell topped with fiber-rich beans, Fiesta salsa, tangy red sauce, and lettuce makes a healthy taco alternative.

Related: 6 Smart On-the-Go Snacks


Pizza Hut Picks

  • Pizza Hut 12" Fit 'N Delicious Pizza with Diced Chicken, Red Onion, and Green Pepper (2 slices, 340 calories, 9g fat, 4g saturated fat)
A dietitian's dream: thin crust, lean chicken, and vegetable toppings, plus half the cheese of the regular Thin 'N Crispy Pizza.

  • Pizza Hut 12" Veggie Lover's Hand-Tossed Pizza (1 slice, 220 calories, 6g fat, 3g saturated fat)
One slice is sometimes just as satisfying as more, as long as it has a thick crust and a full allotment of cheese. Though not quite as light as the Fit 'N Delicious, the Hut's Hand-Tossed pies are still lower in calories than its deep-dish pan pizzas.

  • Pizza Hut Cherry Dessert Pizza (1 slice, 240 calories, 3.5g fat, 0.5g saturated fat)
It's not as virtuous as a bowl of cherries, but Pizza Hut's dessert pie has half the calories and less than a quarter of the fat of homemade cherry pie.

Related: Comfort Foods Without the Calories



Wendy's Picks

  • Wendy's Jr. Hamburger (280 calories, 9g fat, 3.5g saturated fat)
This junior-size sandwich is almost as low-cal as the McDonald's burger. Skip the side of fries and have a Low-Fat Strawberry Flavored Yogurt with Granola Topping (250 calories) for dessert.

  • Wendy's Large Chili (330 calories, 9g fat, 3.5g saturated fat)
Packed with folate-, iron- and fiber-rich beans, the 12-ounce serving will fill you up. Round out your meal with a Mandarin Orange Cup (80 calories).

  • Wendy's UItimate Chicken Grill (360 calories, 7g fat, 1.5g saturated fat)
It has half the fat of Wendy's other non-burger sandwiches, thanks to Honey Mustard Sauce instead of mayo and grilling instead of deep-frying.

  • Wendy's Jr. Frosty (160 calories, 4g fat, 2.5g saturated fat)
Thicker than a milk shake but thinner than a sundae, the four-ounce Jr. Frosty packs plenty of satisfaction into a quarter-pint cup.

Heaven! Red Velvet Pancakes with Whipped Cream and Blueberries

Red Velvet Blueberry Pancakes

Red Velvet Blueberry Pancakes

Could you ask for a more perfect red, white and blue breakfast to celebrate Fourth of July? To be honest I'd love this breakfast any morning but especially on the Fourth of July. It's incredibly whimsical, festive and yes patriotic. Red Velvet happens to be my most favorite cake of all time and now I can enjoy it for special occasion breakfasts too!I found a pre-made red velvet pancake mix which was a time saver and it only required the addition of 1 cup of water. Feel free to use your own recipe if desired.

Related: Dessert for breakfast! 10 ways to start your day off with chocolate

Red Velvet Pancakes w/ Whipped Cream & Blueberries

What you'll need:
  • 1 box of red velvet pancake mix {+ ingredients}
  • whipped cream
  • fresh blueberries
  • maple syrup – optional

What to do:
  1. Mix pancake mix according to package directions.
  2. Spray a griddle with cooking spray and heat over medium-high heat. Place approximately 2-3 tablespoons of batter onto center of pan and cook until pancake edges start to bubble. Using a spatula, carefully flip pancake and cook approximately 1-2 minutes until pancake is cooked through. Continue until you have desired amount of pancakes.
  3. Top with whipped cream, fresh blueberries and maple syrup if desired.

Must-Have Tailgating Gear

By Paige RossEpicurious.com

When it comes to tailgating, either go big or eat at home because no one wants you rolling up to the stadium parking lot with dinky trinkets that look as pathetic as the food they produce. Pre-packed sandwiches simply won't cut it when you run with the big boys. A true tailgate requires volume, pride, heat, and convenience. Throw a remote control into the mix and watch the jaws drop.

See also: Our Ultimate Grilling and Barbecue Guide

Sear your pride into your food with the NCAA Hot Dog Grill Topper ($19.95). These branding irons are available for 44 different teams and can be used on hot dogs or bratwurst. As the name suggests, the grill topper simply sits on the grill until you're ready to brand some new fans. Regardless of who shows up at your tailgate, give everyone the opportunity to taste victory.

Anyone can wear an apron when a winner is printed on the front--and when it includes adjustable straps around the neck and waist. The BBQ Jersey Apron is machine washable and sturdy, so you can talk a dirty game while keeping your clothes clean ($31.95).

Related: The Healthy Side of Grilling

No team wants a quiet fan--unless you're rooting for those other guys--so make your presence known with anEco-Blast Refillable Air Horn ($19.99). This refillable horn includes a mini pump, so you can blast piercingly loud air for as long as your ears can tolerate it. Simply honk, pump, and repeat.

Just when you thought the keg couldn't get more glorious, we've found one that feeds you. Put other grills to shame when you roll up with the Original Keg-a-Que (starting at $59.98). Available as either a Propane or Charcoal grill, this keg-turned-grill can hold 12-14 burgers on its 200-square-inch grill rack. Now all you need is a grill converted into a beer tap, and you'll be set.

Prepare to scoff at anyone who ever dared to call you lazy in the past as the ultimate innovation in drinking technology has just arrived, summoned by a remote control. The RC Remote Control Cooler promotes drinking with ease--because the act was clearly too strenuous before--with a bottle-cap-shaped remote controlling a cooler with room for 12 drinks and ice ($79.99). Having your cold drink battery powered right to your seat, think of all the time and energy you'll save that you can now spend on, well, drinking.

The Ultimate Guide to Starbucks' Secret Menu


photos 1 – 7 of 13
    • A list of the coffee giant's off-the-menu items
    • Green Eye
    • Dirty Chai
    • Zebra Mocha
    • Chocolate Dalmatian
    • Cake Batter Frappuccino
    • Captain Crunch Frappuccino
photo 1 of 13

A list of the coffee giant's off-the-menu items

Frequenters of Starbucks know the situation all too well: You're standing in line, reciting the precise order of the five different descriptors that constitute "your drink," when you hear the person in front of you make a request so foreign sounding it completely throws your concentration. 

Related: Fast Foods Chains' Fattiest Frozen Drinks 

A Zebra Mocha? A Grande Green Eye? A Captain Crunch Frappuccino? Say what? They may sound like a far cry from the standard drip cup or your simple Mocha Frappe, but these drinks are not Starbucks folklore. And really, considering that the coffee giant has in years past boasted offering some 87,000 different drink combinations, that such "secret" items exist should not be too surprising. 

In Pictures: The Ultimate Guide to Starbucks' Secret Menu 

As it turns out, many of your fast-food and restaurant chain favorites have "secret" menus — places like Taco Bell, Wendy's, Subway, Chipotle, and even Jamba Juice. Of course, the one at beloved West Coast cult favorite, In-N-Out, is arguably the most famous. So well-known, in fact, that there's really not much "secret" about it anymore. Starbucks' off-the-menu items are certainly not as widely publicized as In-N-Out's, but they are known enough to the point where you won't get a dirty look from the barista when you ask for a Double Dirty Iced Chai. 

Read on for an in-the-know guide to the "secret" drinks at Starbucks. Just remember that not all of the drink names may be universal so make sure you can at least explain how the drink is made to your barista.

Photo by: Credit: © Flickr/Marco Arment