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How To: Use Vending Machine Snacks in Home Cooking

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Whether or not we like to admit it, we've all been there. Probably sometime between 3:30 p.m. and 4 p.m..

Lunch is a distant memory and dinner is still a way away, but the snack attack has hit and you're hungry.

If you haven't had the time or inclination to pack an afternoon (after-school) snack, you'll likely find yourself in front of your dorm or office vending machine, gazing into that treat-filled tower and clutching your one dollar bill until you have finally decided how to spend it.

As you stare at yourself in the plastic reflection of the vending machine and attempt to rationalize choosing the deliciously crunchy Goldfish or chewy, red Swedish Fish over the bag of Trail Mix, remember that it is A-OK to splurge on those salty, sweet snacks, especially if you have just a few handfuls of them now and save the rest for later. (Though, I'm of the camp that it simply is impossible to eat just one Dorito. Or M&M. Or Sour Patch Kid. Who can do that?) If you manage to save a handful or two of your favorite vending machine snack, bring it into the kitchen with you, and incorporate it into your everyday dishes.

Really.


How To Use Vending Machine Snacks in Your Home Cooking

Sweet and Savory. Salty snacks that are featured in or on top of typically sweet desserts are all the rage right now in New York City. Get in on the fad by experimenting with your own sweet and savory combos. Work a few crushed potato chips (plain flavors likely would work best) into your favorite chocolate chip cookie or brownie batter and notice how the salt complements the richness of the recipe.

Crush and Crust It. If you can crush it, you can probably coat just about anything with it. Take pretzels, for example. Very often they are pulverized (or kept at a slight crumble if you're looking for crunch) and used to dredge lean chicken breasts or pork chops. Try crushing Cheetos then coating chicken tenders with them; baked and served with a blue cheese dipping sauce, this cheesy chicken dish will taste similar to a buffalo chicken wing.

Chocolate Bar Sauce. Slowly melt that leftover half of a Hershey's bar, and serve along with fresh strawberries, incorporate into Greek yogurt or drizzle atop smooth vanilla ice cream. To create the ultimate Vending Machine Sundae, mix a slightly-melted scoop of your favorite ice cream flavor with any and all crushed leftover candy. This Cold Stone Creamery-style bowl is an easy weeknight dessert.

Soup and Salad Add-Ins. If you decided to go healthy(ier) at the vending machine today, toss your leftover almonds, Craisins Original Dried Cranberries, or sunflower seeds (yes, these do exist in some vending machines) right into your salad. They'll offer contrasting flavor to your classic salad ingredients -- like mixed greens, vegetables and cheese -- and add distinct texture to your plate. A sprinkling of Goldfish or crumbled Cheez-Its finishes a warm bowl of meaty chili or creamy tomato soup.

The Drink Machine. If you hit up the drink dispenser instead of the snack machine, mix that beverage with your liquor of choice for an easy, no-fuss cocktail. Let's talk tequila, commonly featured in lime margaritas. Bursting with lemon-lime goodness, Sprite and 7-Up are two pops (or sodas, for you non-Midwesterners out there) that work well as tequila mix-ins when you don't have the time to mess with margaritas. Is vodka more your style? Mix in lemonade or iced tea (or both!) for a refreshing summertime sipper.

Maria Russo is a senior at Barnard College and prefers salty snacks over sugary ones any day of the week. Read more...

—Maria Russo for Small Kitchen College

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