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Buying a toaster or toaster oven? Here’s what to consider

Whether it’s an oven, juicer or sous vide immersion cooker (they’re great for eggs), many appliances play a part in creating the perfect breakfast. But no appliance is more synonymous with breakfast than a toaster. If you are shopping for a toaster or toaster oven, you are going to find yourself faced with countless choices. They’ll range from simple “pop-up” models that do nothing but toast and cost under $20, to toaster ovens rife with features that may cost several hundred dollars.

We take toast very seriously. We understand that breakfast, which likely includes toast, can set the tone for the day, and we want to help you choose the toaster that helps get you to the right place. That’s our focus in our latest installment of our series on breakfast. (Did you miss the first two? We covered nontraditional takes on eggs and toast.) As with most appliances, it helps to spend some time thinking about how you’ll use the toaster. For help, we talked to experts at AHAM member KitchenAid for the lowdown on today’s toaster. They offered these suggestions on what to consider before you buy a toaster or toaster oven.

Capacity: How much bread do you toast in a typical morning? Do you have a large family that tends to line up waiting for the toaster? The demand for your toaster will tell you how many slices you need your toaster to handle at once. Most toasters will offer anywhere from two to four toast slots, though you may find a few models offering six. Toaster ovens will also advertise their toast capacity based on the number of slices it can hold at once. They may also describe capacity by using other foods they’re capable of handling, like pizza or meats.

Appearance: Unlike some of your other small appliances, a toaster is likely to live in full view on your countertop and become part of your decor. Make sure you choose a color and style that you like.

Bagel setting: Who doesn’t love a good bagel? Many toasters are built to handle the popular breakfast bread, with wide slots and a bagel setting. When you set your toaster for a bagel, power to the outer elements is reduced so the heat is focused on the bread side of the bagel.

Accessories: Do you need a bun warmer or sandwich rack? Some toasters come with attachments that rest a few inches above the toast slots.

Lift and descent: Some toasters allow you to use the lever to lift the toast a bit higher for easy removal. Other models offer “automatic descent,” a sensor-enabled feature that brings the bread into the toaster after you place it in the slot.

Cooking functions: Toaster ovens offer cooking functions beyond toasting, but the number of functions will likely vary by model. Typical functions you might come across are bake, toast, broil, warm, reheat. Choose your settings carefully if you’re partial to cooking or reheating meals in a toaster oven.

Hungry yet? Read the first two installments of our series on breakfast:

Cook a “shell” of a breakfast with these alternatives to chicken eggs

Toast isn’t just toast: Creative takes on a breakfast standby

Refrigerate and Freeze: Safely storing holiday leftovers

Leftovers are a cherished part of the holiday meal experience. And that’s a relief, since after working so hard to prepare the great holiday feast, the kitchen may be the last place you want to be. Your refrigerator and freezer make it possible for you to enjoy those holiday flavors days, or, if you freeze your leftovers, for months to come.

Food safety is the first thing you should think about when storing that leftover holiday turkey, vegetables, stuffing, side dishes and desserts. The U.S. Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) says leftovers, regardless of the type of food, can be stored safely in the refrigerator for 3-4 days, or for 3-4 months in the freezer. Hot food should be refrigerated within two hours of the time it is cooked or taken out of an oven or other appliance that has been keeping it warm, FSIS says.

Bacteria can still grow on hot food after it is placed in the refrigerator, so it’s important that it cools as quickly as possible. Separate hot foods, like soup, into smaller containers to speed up cooling, FSIS recommends.

Don’t forget to check the temperature in your refrigerator regularly. It should be kept between 34 and 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

Tips on storing leftovers

If you’re hosting the holiday meal this year, you know the leftovers are coming. Plan for them. The Food Network suggests making room in the refrigerator in advance by using up items the week before. Have plenty of containers ready and label them in advance so you’re ready to move the food to the refrigerator or freezer right away. Take stock of your containers and use those that are sized appropriate for your refrigerator.

Cafemom recommends cutting the turkey into smaller sections for storage. Remove any stuffing from inside the turkey. Use gallon-sized food storage bags to store soup and gravy. Put the bag inside another container before you pour in the contents and let it sit for a moment to check for leaks.

Keep food preferences in mind if more than one person will be polishing off the leftovers. Cookstr suggests storing the light and dark turkey meat in separate containers.

Reheating

Just as you would when cooking it the first time, make sure your leftovers reach 165 degrees F when you reheat them. If you use a microwave—the go-to reheating appliance for many—arrange the food neatly on a microwave-safe dish and cover it with an appropriate cover, FSIS says. Bring any sauces, soups or gravy that you’re reheating to a rolling boil. Frozen leftovers can be safely thawed in your microwave or refrigerator.

A professional chef’s advice on organized holiday cooking

It’s Thanksgiving. Or Christmas. Or any large family or social gathering that is built around a meal. The holidays and big events are a time for home cooks to shine, but they’re also times when success can depend on careful planning and organization. The effort you put into planning and organizing can be the difference between a meal that is memorable for the right or wrong reasons.

“It’s crucial,” says Matthew Britt, a culinary instructor and veteran restaurant chef. “It’s probably the most overlooked thing. I’ve seen some awesome cooks struggle at the holidays, and I’ve seen some average cooks crush it. It all comes down to planning.”

Britt, a Johnson and Wales University instructor who worked for years as executive chef overseeing the contemporary Latin American cuisine at Ceiba in Washington, D.C., says certain principles from restaurant cooking are just as applicable in the home kitchen.

“We throw around the words mise en place—everything in its place,” Britt says. “Everything from setting up your station, to setting up what you can the night before.” Successful cooking also takes focus, and your frame of mind—try not to stay positive and not become overwhelmed.

Britt suggests starting your planning a week in advance. Go into the holiday meal prep with a full pantry. “The number one thing to solve headaches while cooking is to have the kitchen stocked,” he says. “It might seem crazy, but spend a couple hundred dollars to have your pantry loaded—spices, oils, condiments. Invest in your pantry, your core ingredients. It’s a little more expensive up front, but it will save you so much headache.”

Set the stage: Gather everything you need—ingredients, accessories and small appliances, and put it in one place. “I put a big tablecloth on the table and put all of my ingredients and equipment on it,” he says. “Have everything laid out in advance so you know where it is. OCD is the friend of any chef. Make everything as detailed and organized as you want it.”

Get a head start: Many chefs and cooks will suggest doing what you can in advance. That’s good advice, but it isn’t a question of just checking off tasks. Consider how far in advance the foods can be purchased and stored without losing their character. And remember that some dishes are just as good reheated as they are freshly prepared. “The holidays are conducive to baking,” Britt says. “Anything you can bake—and casserole—can be made the night before. It’s usually contained in some sort of casserole dish or pot and reheats relatively well.” Stuffing and mashed potatoes are also good candidates for reheating in the oven or microwave. Chop what vegetables you can the night before, too. Store it in labeled bags in the refrigerator. A second refrigerator can provide valuable storage space when you need it, Britt says.

Get ready to delegate: If you’re the one heading up the holiday meal, the kitchen is yours. That doesn’t mean, however, that you have to go it alone. “Put some people you trust to work,” Britt says. “Families, spouses, kids. Give people a title. Say ‘you’re my sous chef this season.’” One valuable way people can contribute is by giving feedback on the menu and meal plan. They’ll let you know if you’re over- or underdoing it, Britt says. While that can be a blow to a home cook’s ego, their feedback and criticism can make your life a lot easier. “It could mean revising the menu or getting input on how to do something,” Britt says. “It could be getting tips on how to cook the turkey from the butcher at the grocery store. It could be [delegating] small jobs like washing dishes. That’s going to save you so much time to focus on the food. At the end of the day, you’re the chef.”

Do a dry run: Now that you’ve stocked the pantry and assigned tasks, it’s time to get your game face on. A walk through the cooking schedule and process the night before can mean smooth cooking on the big day. “Say ‘This is our game plan.’ If you go through the process, move throughout the kitchen, and mark everything out, you’ll be surprised how smooth it will go.”

Clean as you go: This includes any small appliances you’ll use along the way. Don’t let the cleaning pile up. You’ll take up valuable kitchen space and could be setting yourself up for a big cleaning job at the end of a long cooking day. Save oven cleaning for after the holiday.

Are you ready to cook? Stay flexible and be ready to adapt. “If you mess something up, be able to wing it,” Britt says. “Maybe the turkey didn’t come out like I wanted, but maybe I’ll make a banging gravy that covers it up being a little dry.” Optimism is important for successful cooking.

Kitchen essentials

Have you ever wondered what appliances a professional chef keeps in their kitchen? Britt shared a few of his favorites.

Blender: “It’s critical, not only for sauces, but also for drinks,” Britt says. “I use a bar blender as my workhorse.”

Immersion blender: “I love an immersion blender for working with things on the counter,” he says.

Double oven: “It’s the best thing,” Britt says. “You may only use it once or twice a year, but having a separate oven to keep things warm while roasting the turkey is crucial.”

Cook a “shell” of a breakfast with these alternatives to chicken eggs

We’re continuing our series on breakfast with another twist on the traditional (last time, it was toast) with a look at alternatives to traditional chicken eggs. All of these can be prepared in the traditional ways on your cooktop or in your oven—scrambled, fried, etc.—but you may notice a slight difference in color, texture or taste. Consider bringing duck, goose, ostrich or quail eggs to your breakfast table if you’re in the mood for sampling eggs laid by fancier fowl.

Duck: Duck eggs are larger and have a tougher shell than chicken eggs. (That means they’re harder to “quack.” Ha ha ha…) You can cook duck eggs the same ways you’d cook chicken eggs. But since you’re already straying off the beaten breakfast path, why not go a bit more exotic? If you’re into sous vide cooking, ChefSteps recommends serving their sous vide duck eggs over asparagus with olive oil, champagne vinegar, minced chives and chopped black truffle.

Goose: Goose eggs are as big as about three large chicken eggs. They’re likely to be harder to find since geese produce far fewer eggs than chickens. Try this scrambled goose egg recipe from Tastessence, which adds plum tomatoes, girolle mushrooms and chopped garlic for a fresh twist on a breakfast favorite.

Ostrich: Perhaps you’re serving breakfast to a large group of people. Or maybe you’re just really, really hungry. If either one of these is the case, an ostrich egg may be the way to go. And you’ll only need one, because one ostrich egg is equivalent to about two dozen chicken eggs. Are you recovering from a long night out? This ostrich egg omelet recipe, from the Travel Channel, is a traditional hangover cure in South Africa. Ostrich eggs can be tough to crack and you’ll probably need to use a few tools to get the job done.

Try the eggs!

Quail: It takes about five quail eggs to equal one chicken egg, but the speckled shells add a unique splash of color to your breakfast prep. Use a knife or scissors to penetrate the delicate shell. Use your oven to take your morning egg back to the nest with this recipe from JoCooks: quail eggs in hash brown nests.

Good things come in small, speckled packages.

Great eggs aren’t just for the oven and range. Take advantage of your smaller appliances, like your blender and immersion blender when you’re making scrambled eggs. And as always, take the time to follow safe cooking practices.

Have you ventured outside the shell of traditional breakfast eggs lately? What’s your favorite egg alternative?

On the Juice: What to consider before you buy a juicer

A juicer is sometimes the go-to appliance for people who are looking to add more fruits and vegetables to their diet. A quick search will turn up the websites of countless devotees who swear by juicing and credit it for dramatic health turnarounds.

If you are ready to jump into the world of juicing, there are countless models available across a broad price range. They might have different capacity, attachments or speeds. In general, juicers fall into one of three categories depending on the manner in which they extract juice from the fruits and vegetables. centrifugal, masticating and triturating.

While all three types are more than capable of filling your glass, they have different ways of getting there. Here’s a look at some of the pros and cons of each.

Centrifugal 

Pros: They’re easy to use and extract juice quickly. “Less than a minute in most cases,” says Garrick Dee, who runs the juicer review and recipe website Juicing With G. They also don’t require as much prep work, but Garrick recommends looking for one with a wide mouth to accommodate more produce.

Cons: Centrifugal juicers tend to be louder and, in Garrick’s opinion, don’t do as good of a job extracting juice from leafy greens.

Masticating

Pros: Masticating juicers do a good job on leafy greens, are quieter and produce a better yield than centrifugal juicers, Garrick says.

Cons: Juicing with a masticating juicer requires more prep time and takes longer, Garrick says. They also tend to cost more than centrifugal juicers.

Triturating

Pros: Triturating juicers, Garrick says, yield more juice from both fruits and vegetables because of an adjustable cap that controls back pressure. “They’re another great tool for leafy greens.”

Cons: They often are the most expensive option, and they take up a lot of space. They may require some hands-on assembly. “The twin gears have to be assembled in a specific order, so there is a learning curve involved,” Garrick says. And, more parts means more cleaning is involved.

What to consider when shopping

There are three broad questions you should consider when you’re looking for a juicer:

  1. How often will you use the machine?
  2. What type of produce are you juicing?
  3. How much are you willing to spend?

“If you’re juicing lots of leafy greens, you can go with a horizontal auger juicer,” Garrick says. “It won’t clog up like a vertical auger juicer. The pulp ejection port of a horizontal juicer is straight, so there’s very little risk of clogging, while a vertical juicer has an L-shaped port that can clog if you don’t chop fibrous greens like celery.” However, a vertical juicer might work well for you if you’re juicing more fruits, or an equal amount of fruits and vegetables, Garrick says.

Care 

Like any appliance, juicers need regular cleaning and care. “Make sure to wash it immediately after using it,” Garrick says. You might be able to put some parts in the dishwasher, but others may have to be washed by hand. Consult your juicer’s use and care manual for specific cleaning instructions.

Safety 

Dee suggests you look for a juicer with these safety features:

  • Locking arms: “Look for something with a locking arm that locks the blade, bowl and cover in place and will prevent the motor from starting when it isn’t locked,” Garrick says.
  • Overload protection: Some juicers include features that shut off the motor if there’s an overload.
  • Food pusher: “Make sure the juicer has a food pusher that pushes ingredients through the feed chute down to the blade or auger,” Garrick says. “The last thing you want is dangling your fingers in those areas.” 

Other routes to juice

Juicing has countless advocates who swear by its health benefits, and it is one way to add more fruits and vegetables to your diet. Other appliances can help put you on the road to healthier eating, too.

Storm preparation: How to keep frozen and refrigerated food safe

If you’re preparing for a major storm like Hurricane Irma, stocking up on enough food and water should be part of your plan. And it’s also essential to have a plan to keep your food safe to eat during and in the wake of the storm, especially if you lose power.

Eating food that hasn’t been stored properly can lead to a number of foodborne illnesses. Those can be serious under normal circumstances, but the potential lack of access to medical care during a severe storm makes avoiding illness even more important. Additionally, many foodborne illnesses can cause vomiting and diarrhea, which can lead to dehydration. The condition can quickly become life threatening if you don’t have access to sufficient water.

Hurricane season lasts into November, and winter storms blow in soon after. Be prepared to keep your food safe during any serious storm with these important safety tips from the Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

  • Use a thermometer: Monitor the temperatures in your refrigerator and freezer. Refrigerators should be kept at between 34 and 40 degrees Fahrenheit, freezers at 0 degrees Fahrenheit. If the temperature in the freezer is 40 degrees Fahrenheit or lower, the food is safe to eat or refreeze. Any perishable foods that have been refrigerated and kept at temperatures above 40 degrees Fahrenheit for more than two hours should be thrown away. Hint: Look for a thermometer that sends the temperature directly to your mobile device or can be monitored remotely. Otherwise, don’t open the door to check the temperature until the power is back on.
  • Make and store ice: If your freezer can make ice, make as much as you can starting days before the storm is set to arrive. You can use the ice to help keep the food cool if you lose power, or use it in a cooler. You may also freeze containers of water. The ice will help keep food in the freezer cold, and you may also drink the water when it melts if your water supply is cut off. Tip: Buy dry or block ice to keep the refrigerator cold for extended periods. Fifty pounds of dry ice keeps an 18-cubic-foot, fully stocked freezer cold for two days, according to FDA.
  • Move food to the freezer: Leftovers, milk, fresh meat and other foods that can be frozen should be moved from the refrigerator to the freezer. They’ll last longer if the power goes out.
  • Keep coolers handy (and the ice to fill them): Food will stay safe in refrigerators for about four hours after a power outage. Move them to ice-filled coolers if the power is off or is expected to be off for longer.
  • Keep refrigerator and freezer doors closed: Only open them when necessary when a power outage is a possibility, even if you haven’t lost power. This will help keep the temperatures in both down.
  • Keep the freezer full: A full freezer will keep food frozen for about 48 hours if it isn’t opened. That time is cut in half, to 24 hours, if the freezer is only half-full.

What to keep, what to toss

The CDC offers these tips to help you decide what is safe to eat and what should be discarded:

  • Any food that has come into contact with flood or storm water should be thrown away. This includes containers with screw caps, snap lids, crimped caps,twist caps, flip tops, snap-open, and home canned foods.
  • Throw away any food that has an unusual odor, color or texture.
  • Thawed food that still contains ice crystals may be eaten or refrozen.
  • Throw away any canned foods that are bulging, opened or damaged. Cans that have come into contact with flood or storm water should be washed in a solution of 1 cup bleach and 5 gallons of water.
  • Never use potentially contaminated water to wash dishes, brush your teeth, wash your hands, wash or prepare food or prepare baby formula.

Never rely on a food’s smell or taste to determine whether it’s safe to eat. When in doubt, throw it out.

Induction introduction: A primer on induction cooking

When induction cooking first hit the scene, induction was considered a high-end appliance feature. Now, with more models hitting the market, it’s within reach for just about anyone interested in making the switch to induction.

In case you want to give induction cooking a try without installing a full cooktop, portable, one-burner induction appliances or even hybrid surfaces are available.

While the percentage of electric surface cooking units and electric ranges that include induction is still relatively small, it has risen steadily in recent years. According to AHAM factory shipment data, 15 percent of electric surface units included induction in 2016, up from 8 percent in 2010.

The difference: Unlike gas and electric ranges, induction ranges use a magnetic field to transfer heat directly into the pan. Neither the burner nor the air around the burner are heated, meaning what you’re cooking heats up faster. But only the pan, and what’s in it, will get hot. Not having hot burners reduces the potential that nearby materials can ignite while cooking, according to the National Fire Prevention Association. Also, it’s unlikely that the burners will be accidentally turned on, since they won’t heat without the proper cookware on the burner, the NFPA says.

You may need to buy new cookware. Induction burners will only work with cookware made of magnetic metals, such as iron or stainless steel.

Hint: The cookware package will normally state which type of range the cookware can be used with—gas, electric or induction. Cookware with a flat bottom will get you the best results.

Induction also offers more precise temperature control. You can even cook delicate items like dairy or chocolate for long periods, without worrying about fluctuations in temperature. It will take some practice, though, as induction cooking gets you to your desired temperature faster than gas or electric. Water, for example, will boil in about half the time. You’ll need to get used to the faster heating times.

The design of induction ranges, and the fact that they don’t get hot during cooking, can also lend itself to easier cleaning. Since the burners don’t heat up, spills aren’t going to burn onto the cooktop. (Though gas and electric ovens are easy to clean, if you do it right.)

Thanks to AHAM member Viking Range for the information on induction cooking.

Bring culture and creativity to the kitchen July 4th (Pt. 2)

Grilling on Independence Day is a tradition for many. And while the aroma of grilled food wafting through backyards and neighborhoods is a time-honored part of the July 4th experience, cooking outdoors isn’t always an option. The good news is you can still create plenty of culinary fireworks right in your kitchen. We talked with Chef Thomas J. “TJ” Delle Donne, assistant dean of culinary relations and special projects at Johnson and Wales University in Providence, Rhode Island, to get his insights on planning and executing a Fourth of July meal without the grill.

Choosing the Menu

In our last post, we looked at how to prepare traditional July 4th favorites like hot dogs, burgers and barbecue indoors. Delle Donne recommends looking at local cultural influences and ingredients to add a unique twist to your Independence Day celebration.

“We have a vast culture across the country,” Delle Donne says. “At any four corners of the U.S., we can find true, authentic flavors of other cultures.”

“If you’re from Rhode Island, you have a huge Italian and Portuguese influence,” Delle Donne says. “If you’re from down South, you’ll have a Latin American/Cuban influence. If you’re from Arizona, the Southwest, you’ll have a Mexican influence. It’s an American holiday, so we want to stay true to American traditions. But if you’re looking to entertain in a different way, celebrate those traditions as well.”

As you look for local ingredients, you may find you pick up some valuable cooking advice as well. “Get to know the farmers,” Delle Donne suggests. ““You can meet them at any farmers’ market. See what’s out there. Maybe you’ll do a red, white and blue potato salad, a fennel bowl. Sometimes, those farmers are cooks, too, and they can give you some awesome ideas.”

In the kitchen

There’s little you can do on the grill that you can’t do in the kitchen, Delle Donne says. “Grilling has a very unique definition,” he says. “You’re getting flavor and aromatic aspects from a source of fire that’s traditionally wood or charcoal. With a gas grill, you’re getting a radiant heat source and achieving a sear like you’d get in a pan. The effect you’re getting from a gas grill is a sear and a roast. It’s the same thing you have in your house.”

“Your broiler is radiant heat,” Delle Donne says. “It’s grilling upside down. If you think about it that way, you have the same appliance.”

Even outdoor standbys like beer can chicken can be cooked indoors. “Use a high-sided roasting pan and a mirepoix of vegetables to make a flavorful sauce,” Delle Donne says. “You can add some garlic and celery. You can probably get four chicken roasters in the roasting pan. You get the temperature high enough and you’ll have that nice, crispy chicken.”

You can recreate the appearance of grilled food indoors. “You can add grill marks by getting the oven hot enough and using the oven rack,” Delle Donne says. “You’re using your appliance as your grill substitute. The only thing you’re missing is the charcoal.”

The flavor of smoked vegetables can be brought inside as well. “If you have a good hood system in the house, you can smoke on the stove top. Smoked mushroom salad is delicious. You can smoke your sliced summer squash, your corn. I use a four-inch pan, use a steamer-type basket that fits in that pan, soak wood chips and use the perforated pan in that rack. Put it on the range in a low heat and let those wood chips smoke. Have good vents.” Delle Donne doesn’t recommend this technique for meats.

Planning

Plan your menu in advance, Delle Donne says. “I’m a big proponent of mise en place. It means ‘everything has its place, everything in its place,’” If the Fourth is on a Tuesday, spend your Sunday getting things together. Write the menu down. What do you need for each menu item? That’s where a lot of people go wrong. The menu drives everything.”

No grill? No Problem! How to do July 4th cooking in your kitchen (Part 1)

Grilling and the Fourth of July are as tightly wound together as Christmas and snow. But just as it doesn’t always snow on Christmas, sometimes grilling isn’t an option. Maybe it’s a rainy Fourth or you don’t have the outdoor space. Never fear! You can still satisfy your desire for patriotic, culinary summer classics right in your kitchen.

We spoke with chef Gabriel Ross, who teaches culinary fundamentals at

Chef Gabriel Ross

the Culinary Institute of America in New York. As a meat specialist who spent 15 years living in New York City apartments, he’s the perfect candidate to teach a crash course in celebrating America’s independence without a grill.
“July 4 is one of the busiest times of the year for the meat business,” Ross said. “The things people are thinking about are barbecue, like ribs, pulled pork or barbecue chicken. Those are the flavors we associate with the holiday. Those preparations can be accomplished inside.”

Just as with other big cooking holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas, you’ll cut down on a lot of stress by preparing as much as possible in advance. Ross walked us through indoor preparation for a collection of July Fourth favorites:

Barbecue: You can get the same texture of traditional, slow-grilled barbecue chicken or ribs by slow-cooking meat in the oven, Ross says. “It’s harder to get that smoky flavor, but most people will slather it with barbecue sauce. The ribs are tender, the chicken is tender. It’s a pretty good approximation. Most people won’t be able to tell the difference, aside from the lack of grill marks.” Ross recommends cooking the meats covered at 275-300 degrees. “If you’re using St. Louis-style spare ribs, it could take 3-4 hours to get it nice and tender. Baby back ribs are a little leaner and cook faster. They might take only 1.5-2 hours. Once they’re tender, take them out, rub them down with your favorite sauce and throw them under the broiler.”

The slow cooking can be done 2-3 days before you’ll be eating the meats, Ross says. “Store them in your refrigerator, then take them out and blast them in a hot oven or under the broiler. Then you won’t have to spend the whole day cooking.”

Chicken: Chicken will cook faster than pork, Ross says. “I recommend dark meat because the white meat tends to dry out,” he says. “Breast meat tends to cook a lot faster.” Cover chicken legs or thighs and cook them slowly until they’re tender. “They usually only take 45 minutes to an hour,” Ross says. “They’re not going to be golden brown and crispy, but it’s just the first stage of cooking. You can put sauce on and put them back in the broiler and nobody will know the difference.”

Pulled pork: Pulled pork is a major time commitment. It’s typically cooked slowly over a charcoal fire for 6-8 hours. “It’s actually much easier to do inside, especially if you have a slow cooker.” Ross suggests using pork shoulder, picnic shoulder or pork butt. “Those cuts are great for pulled pork,” he says. “The pork butt or shoulder butt is the perfect size to fit in a large slow cooker. You can rub it down, put it in with a little bit of liquid, and cook it slowly until it’s falling apart. Then add your favorite sauce. You can cook it overnight, while you’re sleeping, and serve it right out of the slow cooker.”

Hot dogs: Ross’s New York City roots have made him a fan of the “dirty water” boiled hot dog, which is easy to prepare on your range. “If you want to do a bunch of dogs at the same time, put a pot of water on, add some salt to preserve flavor, keep the water right below boil. You can keep them there as long as you want.” Add sliced onions or beer to the water to add flavor. However, if you’re determined to replicate a grilled hot dog, consider cooking it on an indoor electric grill or a panini press. “Take the dogs, split them lengthwise, and put them on the grill. You’ll get the grill marks and crispy skin.” As a last resort, put the hot dogs under the broiler until they start to blister, Ross says.

Burgers: Attaining the outer crust that comes with a grilled burger is more challenging indoors, but still possible. “Whatever you’re cooking it in has to be very hot,” Ross says. “I recommend, if you have it, a cast-iron skillet. Preheat it until it’s smoking hot. Brown the burgers on both sides. If you want to cook it more, put it on a cookie sheet, in a hot oven until it’s done. You won’t get that smoky char, but you have a little more control and won’t have to deal with flareups or fire.” The faster you brown outside, the more moist the inside will be, Ross says. Make sure you cook ground beef until the center reaches at least 155 degrees Fahrenheit.

Shrimp: Here’s another summer favorite that can be prepared in advance. “A simple shrimp cocktail is easy and straightforward,” Ross says. But if you want grilled shrimp skewers, the broiler makes a fine substitute for the grill. “If you have a cast-iron skillet, you can do the shrimp on there. Get it nice and hot, kind of blister them on that cast iron.”

Vegetables: There’s still room for vegetables on this meat-centric holiday. “If I’m doing sausages or hot dogs, I like to do some peppers and onions to put on top.” Vegetables also make a great side dish on the Fourth. “A nice hot oven is a dream for preparing vegetables,” Ross says. “I’ll cut them into chunks, often with a little oil salt and pepper, put them in the oven until they start to color outside.” Ross is also partial to serving fennel alongside sausages, and roasted zucchini. “Go all the way up—most home ovens will go to 500 or 550,” Ross says. “A lot of people are afraid to do that. Keep an eye on it and know those vegetables will be done within 5-10 minutes. You have to turn them a couple of times.”

Dessert: Keep it simple, Ross recommends. “With all the heavy meats and other foods that go with the holiday, sometimes simple fresh fruit with whipped cream and a little poundcake or sweet biscuit is all you need.”

Ross has recently started to take advantage of the immersion circulator (also known as sous vide), which has given him an easier path to grilled meats. “I cook everything in the circulator,” he said. “I take it out of the bag, get a good hot fire, and basically just mark it up on the grill. It only takes a good minute or two to get grill marks.”

Clearly, a lack of a grill is no reason to skip that tasty, traditional Fourth of July cuisine. From your oven to your slow cooker, your appliances will give you the tools you need to cook up a memorable holiday meal.

Appliances break down barriers to healthy eating

What’s the biggest barrier to healthier eating? Certainly, willpower and determination are factors. But according to Isabel Maples, a registered dietitian practicing in Virginia, the biggest challenge for many is planning.

“The biggest barrier to getting a healthier meal on the table is the

H

thinking ahead,” Maples said. “I can’t tell you the number of times I’ll get to the end of the day and think ‘What is for dinner?’”

Whether you’re preparing fresh meals or storing them to eat later, your appliances can help you get on the path toward healthy eating. We recently spoke with Maples and another registered dietitian, Marina Chaparro of Nutrichicos in Miami—both spokespeople for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics—to get their thoughts on the role appliances can play in healthy eating. Here’s what they had to say.

Think in advance: Dinnertime comes quickly, and you can anticipate those days when you’ll be short on time for planning by having go-to meals that can be prepared quickly. “You need to have at least three on hand that you can get on the table quickly,” Maples said.

Having healthy meals at the ready means you’ll need appropriate containers to make storage in your refrigerator or freezer easy and help control portion size. “Loading up on the right containers will help you have better habits,” Chaparro said. Containers that are divided into sections will make you put some thought into what you’re storing and eating. “It forces you to have three or four different foods with small portions. It’s great to take leftovers to work. It divides it nicely, so you’re forced to include different food groups.”

Blend in the goodness: A blender is a great tool for both adults and children who might not get enough fruits and vegetables in their diet. Chaparro has been pleasantly surprised by a recent small-size blender purchase, which she initially bought to puree fruits and vegetables for her 11-month-old daughter. “I love it, because it’s really small. You can use it to cook up some fast recipes like salsas or smoothies.”

If you’re using a standard blender, consider the size, Maples said. “That controls how much you put in. Don’t make too much or not enough.” Chia or flax seeds can add texture to a blended drink. “It can be as simple as some chocolate milk and a frozen banana,” Maples said.

Sometimes, texture can put family members off from eating certain vegetables. An immersion blender can help. “My favorite small appliance is an immersion blender,” Maples said. “I would use an immersion blender to smooth out the texture. I can add more vegetables and don’t have to be limited to a jar of sauce.” The immersion blender can also add a richer texture to cream-based dishes, but allow you to still take advantage of alternative ingredients, like low-fat milk. “One of my kids liked stew a lot, and that’s where my immersion blender came in. I could throw in extra vegetables.”

Tastier veggies: Vegetables can sometimes be tough to sell for picky eaters. Your oven can make them tastier. “Many people may not know how to make vegetables flavorful,” Chaparro said. “If you use the oven—roasting or baking at 400 degrees for short periods of time—it caramelizes.” Add olive oil and fresh herbs for more flavor. “I find that people who don’t traditionally like vegetables will eat vegetables if they’re roasted. It’s just a different flavor dimension and brings out some of the sweetness in the vegetables.” Maples encourages people who don’t want to take the time to chop the vegetables to buy a food processor for easier vegetable prep.

Try an air fryer: While she doesn’t currently own one, Chaparro said she’s interested in giving an air fryer a try. “It cooks food by using really hot air and leaves it crispy on the outside,” she said. “Some people like their chicken nuggets or french fries. You still get a comparable texture.”

Don’t forget the freezer: Use your freezer to preserve portions for quick meal and ingredient options later. “When my bananas are getting overly ripe, I’ll peel them and freeze them,” Maples said. “They’re great in a smoothie, or I can make banana bread.” She uses an ice tray to freeze fresh herbs in water. “You can pop them out and put them in a freezer bag.”

Keeping a healthy kitchen

Organization and preparation are essential to healthy eating, Chaparro said. “We might just think it’s about food and choosing healthy things, but it’s about creating that environment. Put the healthy things at eye level, especially the fresh fruits and veggies.” Make sure you have the right prep tools as well. Chaparro has her favorites, including a mandolin slicer that she uses to make zucchini, sweet potato chips and beet chips, and a noodle slicer, which she uses to substitute vegetables for traditional pastas.

Keeping healthy options in sight and within reach can even encourage family members to drink enough water, Maples said. That’s why she’s a fan of refrigerator water dispensers. “It makes it accessible,” she said. “If you have ice and there, it’s great and cheaper than using bottled water.” (Note: Make sure you’re changing the filter regularly, and that the replacement is not counterfeit!)

If you’re hungry after reading all of this, try this citrus and herb poached salmon recipe from recipe developer and “real foods advocate” Alyssa Brantley at EverydayMaven, who says her essential appliances for a healthy kitchen are a “good food processor, a good blender and either a slow cooker or electric pressure cooker.”

AHAM will dive deeper into the connection between healthy eating and appliances during our June 29 #AHAMHealth Twitter chat. Join appliance manufacturers, nutrition professionals and others from 2-3 p.m. and tweet using the hashtag #AHAMHealth. See you there!