The Best of Summer chocolate gift

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GHRI experts pick their favorite sunscreen, grill, digital cameras, and more!

Visitors to the Good Housekeeping Research Institute often ask our engineers, scientists, chefs, nutritionists, and home economists for recommendations. People want to know not only which products tested best, but what our experts use at home, when they've shed their lab coats. Here, the staff of GHRI reveal the summer stuff they swear by.


Oster's Classic Beehive Blender ($60) is one of the few models we've worked with that does everything well -- grinding coffee, chopping nuts, pulverizing ice. In fact, in tests of blenders over the years, it's always creamed the competition. With only one speed and a pulse function, it's a cinch to use. In summer, I keep fresh fruit on hand so my son can make his own smoothies. And I preserve my garden basil by chopping in the blender with olive oil, packing a thin layer into self-sealing bags, and freezing flat. When I need some, I just snap off a chunk. -- Susan Westmoreland, food director


If you'd like to stock the freezer with sweets, try my low-guilt picks: Dreyer's/Edy's Slow Churned Frozen Yogurt Blends in Tart Mango or Tart Honey. They're 100 calories and 1.5 grams of fat per half-cup serving, and deliver tangy yogurt-shop flavor for a fraction of the cost.

For chocoholics: Breyers Smooth & Dreamy reduced-fat ice cream just introduced Chocolate Chocolate Chip, a decadent flavor that's surprisingly low-cal, with 140 calories and 5 grams of fat per half cup. Also new: Strawberry Cheesecake. With 120 calories and 3.5 grams of fat per half cup, it's tasty and even lighter.


Going out for a treat? Here's a scoop: The just-launched Baskin-Robbins Premium Churned Light Ice Cream line includes Aloha Maui Brownie (chocolate ice cream, chewy brownies, and crispy macadamia nut brittle -- mmmm!) and Raspberry Chip (rich, but not overly so, with chips providing a choco-fix). Both are a bit of a calorie splurge -- with 250 and 230 calories per half-cup scoop, respectively -- but have about half the saturated fat of BR's usual flavors. -- Samantha B. Cassetty, M.S., R.D., nutrition director


Griffin Evolve Wireless Sound System ($350) lets me move the party from room to room, or even outdoors. The speakers can be placed up to 150 feet from the base station, which plugs into the wall and has a built-in iPod dock. (Auxiliary inputs allow you to play nearly any audio device, such as another MP3 player, a stereo, or a TV.) The speakers can last for 10 hours, and then rest on the base station to recharge. -- Rachel Rothman, test engineer


My secret to a perfect salad: Drying the greens after washing. Water on lettuce dilutes dressing, which then runs off; adding more is wasteful (and fattening). The Zyliss Easy Spin ($25) whirls away water, removing more moisture than any other spinner I've tried. -- Sharon Franke, kitchen appliances & technology director


Chunks O' Fruti Strawberry Fruit Bars are a smart choice for ice-pop fans like my 5-year-old son. A 90-calorie, fat-free bar delivers 35 percent of daily vitamin C requirements -- along with chunks of real fruit. As a mom and nutritionist, I'm pleased that the pops don't contain the artificial ingredients plaguing many goodies marketed to children.

Baskin-Robbins Rainbow Sherbet was one of my faves when I was a child. Now, my son loves its bright colors, and I love its reasonable 160 calories and 2 grams of fat per half-cup scoop. -- Samantha B. Cassetty


Like any mom, I worry about my kids' getting too much UV exposure, but slathering on gunky lotions isn't their idea of fun in the sun. Neutrogena's Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch Sunblock ($10 to $12) promises a "weightless clean feel," and I think it delivers. Our lab tried the full line, from SPF 30 to the new SPF 100+, and all absorb quickly with no stickiness. It hasn't been proven that astronomical SPFs are needed; the American Cancer Society recommends 15 or higher to defend against sunburn. What's most important, I tell my kids, is reapplying a palmful every two hours and after swimming. -- Birnur Aral, Ph.D., health, beauty & environmental sciences director


With three sons, ages 7, 11, and 15, I'm always looking for toys they can use together (and, I hope, not squabble over). Spalding Rookie Gear balls are the same size as regular youth balls, but weigh 25 percent less -- my youngest can take on his bigger brothers without being at as much of a disadvantage. -- Kathleen Huddy, textiles, paper & plastics director


SunSafe's Beautiful Bucket Hat ($38) is one of the few beach hats I've tried that has a 50+ Ultraviolet Protection Factor, thanks to the tightly woven fabric -- quick-drying, so it's perfect in and out of the water -- and a wide brim that gives good face and neck coverage. The hat fits comfortably and stays put even in the waves. I don't realize I've had it on for hours until one of my sons teases me about it! Also, in our lab tests, it didn't fade or shrink after multiple washes. -- Kathleen Huddy


The space-saving Char-Broil Infrared Commercial Series Urban Grill with two burners ($269) simply sizzles. It cooks evenly with no flare-ups or charred spots. I love that steaks are branded with a beautiful crosshatching, and chicken turns out delectably brown with crispy skin and no burned edges. Though it's compact, the grill can still cook 16 burgers at once. Nice extras include two thermometers (one for each burner) and perforated trays beneath the stainless steel grates that let the heat through but catch bits of food for easier cleanup. A bonus: The grill comes with a custom-fit vinyl cover to protect it from the elements. -- Sharon Franke


The well-made tools in the Carrand SmartNozzle Outdoor Cleaning System ($30 to $60 for multipiece kits) turn a garden hose into an outdoor cleanup machine. The interchangeable brushes and pads are attached to the hose with either the regular nozzle or a Sudser Nozzle, which turns on to dispense detergent or off to let clear water flow. I like that I can wash and rinse my patio and furniture without lugging heavy buckets around. Other attachments are designed for cleaning windows, siding, grills, the garage floor, and even the car. -- Carolyn Forté, home appliances & cleaning products director


Many cameras tout lots of megapixels (MP) for high-resolution shots, but max out at 5x optical zoom. I want both great shots and lots of zoom, especially for shooting from the stands at sporting events. With 10.1 MP and 12x optical zoom, plus a three-inch screen, the Panasonic Lumix ZS3 ($400) has the package I'm after. For $100 less, the ZS1 has the same MP and zoom -- but a noticeably smaller screen. -- Todd Kent, senior test engineer


With its simple controls and one-touch upload button, the JVC Everio GZ-MS120 camcorder ($300) lets me shoot videos of my new son and easily post them on YouTube, so his grandparents can see all his "firsts" almost as they're happening. This model is so small (the size of a wallet) that it fits easily in a purse. -- Stacy Genovese, technical & engineering director


Indoors or out, Evolution Table Linens by Bardwil ($15 and up) look great, even after a big family meal -- spills just bead up on the stain-resistant, water-repellent tablecloth and place mats for easy wiping. Better still, the fabric is made entirely from recycled plastic bottles, yet feels silky smooth. The material retained its color (nine to choose from) after multiple washings and had very little shrinkage. -- Kathleen Huddy