Puzzlement and scorn are the two emotions cooks without food processors frequently feel for cooks with food processors; I know from first hand experience. Cooks who have them and depend on them find that it would be impossible to cook without them - again, first hand experience. Our grandmothers did without food processors. And most of our mothers did too. So what's the big deal?
Food processors do a large number of things well and quickly. Some things are ones no other device can do well. Others are things that can be done with other kitchen tools, but the food processor makes them infinitely easier. The number of things to which it is suited is so large it is miraculous. At the risk of sounding like a Tom Waites song or bad TV commercial - 'it slices, it dices, it cooks your food, it feeds the dog, it does your laundry, it drops your children at day care, it makes you look sexy...' - it really does have an amazingly wide range of uses.
Every time I cook a dish I ask myself "is it possible to simplify the preparation of this dish by using the food processor?" A surprising number of times the answer is 'yes.' So unlike many tools that get used for a while then move to the back shelves, this one gets used more and more frequently. In fact, only my 10 inch omelet pan and my chef's knife get more use in the kitchen. And as I learn to cook better I use a food processor more and more.
It was a great leap of faith I took when I got one but here is a short list of things for which I use it regularly:
How is a food processor different from a blender? After all, they both go around and chop things up. A blender is ideally suited for making crushed ice drinks, but a food processor is not designed to do this. But, use a blender for something else and you are really pushing your luck. I used to use my blender to make smooth soups, but contending with the 'blown top problem' is too much. If you fail to apply about 20 lbs of force to the lid, the force of the spinning soup will spray it all over the kitchen, coating walls and burning exposed skin. You have to hold the top on, but the soup still leaks out, so you have to use a kitchen towel wrapped around the blender lid. And you can do about 3-4 cups of soup at a time.
A food processor, however, will make smooth soups without this problem, but you still have to move the soup into the bowl and back into the pot on the stove. Really the best choice for soup is a hand-held blender. In a pinch one can use a blender to chop nuts. That's all that comes to mind. If frozen drinks are your thing - and there are hundreds of delicious ones to choose from - do buy a blender. For slicing, dicing, chopping, grating, mixing, whipping, pureeing, making mousses, the food processor is the tool of choice.
One is tempted to choose the least expensive model. It will, after all, do the first 8o% of the things you want done. But many of the less expensive models are small - 7 cups or less. And I find that with my own 11 cup model I am frequently wishing for more capacity. It does have a small bowl for chopping tablespoon quantities of things, which I never use. The smaller food processors are less powerful. And in making carob cake I find I can stall my 600 Watt food processor. And smaller ones ship with fewer discs, so you have fewer choices for grating and so on. In fact, some of the original style Cuisinart food processors work primarily as fancy blenders since the feed tube is over the center of the bowl. For these reasons I recommend either the KitchenAid 670 Pro or the Cuisinart DFP -14BC. The former was chosen by an independent testing agency as their favorite, the latter has been introduced since then to address competitive advantages of the former. Both brands are solid and have good reputations among their followers. I've had my KitchenAid for six years, I use it several times a week, and I still think of it as new.
Here are some notes on cooking a few of the things I've done in my KitchenAid. The notes on root vegetable purees are found on a different page.
Buy a dozen small, firm, well colored, locally grown peaches at the supermarket and set them on a window sill where they will get light. Wait a few days until they start to really smell like ripe peaches. Scrub them thoroughly. You need to know that peaches carry more pesticide than just about any other supermarket product - important if you are young, or pregnant, or raising a family. If this bothers you or if you are cooking for children, you may wish to blanch your peaches for a minute and peel them. The skins do, however, add some flavor so I leave them on.
Cut them up. I use the 'four times around' method which produces 12 half-wedges. Here's how; look at the peach from top or bottom. Apply the knife, cutting to the pit. Rotate the peach so the cut goes all the way around. Rotate the peach a third of a turn (60 degrees). Make another cut. Repeat. Now view the peach from the 'equator' make one cut around the peach. Now remove all the twelve pieces.
Place the sliced peach in a 9x13 casserole. Mix two teaspoons of China Cassia Cinnamon with two tablespoons of sugar. Sprinkle over the peaches. Sprinkle the juice of one ripe lemon over the peaches. Add 1 cup apple cider, peach juice, or orange juice.
Place in the bowl of a food processor: 1 cup rolled oats or instant oatmeal, 5 tbs butter, 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1 tsp almond extract. If you want to, add 1/4 cup almonds or raisins or dried cranberries. Pulse five or six times until just well mixed.
Sprinkle the crumble on top of the peaches.
Cook in oven at 350F for 40 min.
At the risk of being assassinated by a real pastry chef for breaking the seventy eight cardinal rules of pie crust, I will introduce my own recipe. This exists because I simply cannot get pie crust right: no matter how hard I try it has major flaws. And because I do not use wheat flour or lard. This is more like a 'tartlet' crust in the sense that it has some mechanical strength. Now those of you who believe that pie crusts must be flaky, just go on to the next section. Better yet, use your own recipe or Those who believe that pie crust should be so easy that you can do the whole thing inside of three minutes, read on. I expect, too, that those who use real high protein wheat flour and Crisco shortening might be able to produce a 'real' pie crust using this same method.
In the bowl of a food processor place 1 cup of rice flour or barley flour, 6 tbs cold butter cut into 6-12 pieces, 3 tbs sugar, 1/8 tsp salt, 1/8 tsp baking powder, 1/2 tsp grated lemon peel. You can, if you like, use egg white for the first two tbs of water. You can use all purpose flour. And you can substitute up to 4 tbs of lard or shortening instead of butter.
Pulse 5-6 times. The texture will be like loose meal with some pea or rice sized lumps. Place an ice cube in a 1/2 cup measure. Add water. Stir. Discard the cube. Add 2 tbs water to the bowl. Pulse a few times. Add 1 tbs water, pulse. Check the consistency - it should cling together. If not, add another tbs water and pulse. When it does cling, remove it, smash it into a ball, place it in plastic wrap, twist until very tight. At this point the right thing to do is to chill the dough for an hour. I always go on and make the crust.
Again, the right thing to do is to roll the dough with a rolling pin. I start with the dough in the plastic wrap and slap it against the counter a few times. The ball spreads out, but the wrap keeps the edges from cracking. After a few slaps it is about six or seven inches across. I place it in the pie plate and flatten it using fingers and a tart tamper. I admit that this is crude, but I have had so much trouble getting crumbly rolled-out pie crusts into pies that this is my method of choice. Again, if you use wheat flour, rolling is probably a better method. Use wax paper to transfer the rolled dough.
If you are just a bit facile with working the material into the pie plate, the whole process can be completed in 3-5 minutes. Place it in the oven at400F for seven minutes. Place 3 cups frozen blueberries into a 1 1/2 quart saucepan over high heat, stirring constantly. Add 1/2 cup sugar and the juice of one or two ripe lemons. Keep heating and stirring until all the berries are thawed and the mixture is uniformly hot. At this point, the crust will be done.
Place the blueberries in the crust and cook 20-25 minutes at 350F. Remove and cool.
This is a carob cake that is not as decadent as chocolate cakes. It is gluten-free, soy free, can be made without sugar. For those who are used to traditional cakes it will fall flat; but those who have lived on sugar-limited diets without chocolate may find some pleasure in it.
Mix 2 cups almonds with 2 cups carob, 3 tsp baking powder, 1 tsp cinnamon, 1 tsp mace, and turn the processor on for just about 2 minutes. This would be enough to turn the almonds into almond paste, but the carob absorbs the oils and keeps things powdery. Dump out the dry mix. Put four eggs, 8 T butter 1/2 tsp vanilla, 1 cup sweetener (Sugar, Splenda, or Honey). Pulse 3 times. Add up to 1/2 cup water (or milk or buttermilk - in which case add 1/2 tsp baking soda). Pulse a few times to mix thoroughly. At this point, the powder and liquid can be mixed together in a stand mixer. Good bakers will probably want to add the flour mix in small batches to a mixer as it is running.
Those going for real cakelike consistency will want to start with the old 'creaming sugar into butter' step that one does in a stand mixer. Then the pulverized almond-carob mixture would be sifted into that. We don't do that here because the almonds bring with them a a quantity of fat. Those who hate the thought of making more kitchen utensils dirty than is absolutely necessary will just mix everything in the food processor. In fact, I just add the liquid ingredients to the dry. The mix gets a little stiff, so I add water until the processor runs smoothly'; and it's usually less than 1/3 cup.
Place in a 9x13 pan and bake at 375F until done, approx. 25 min.
I make this cake with just 1/4 cup honey and it is rather Spartan. But if you live without eating much added sugar, especially if you live without chocolate, sugar, and milk, this is really a good recipe to have around.
I'd never try to do this with a knife. A gratin depends on every slice being exactly the same thickness. It's doable if you have a good sharp grater. A sharp mandoline is better. A food processor with a slicing blade is best; it will zip through the job in less than a minute. Select and install the thin slicing blade, then just drop the potatoes into the food processor - if they are large, you may have to cut them in half lengthwize first. Take the slices out, arrange them in three or four layers in a round casserole. The most simple gratin is made from potatoes sliced and cooked with just a little salt, pepper, and two or three tablespoons of butter. It's best to melt the butter and carefully brush each layer of potatoes with butter. But if you just dot the top with butter and let it ooze into the gratin, this will also work. Bake for 40 - 60 minutes at 375F. The bottom and the top will get golden or lightly brown and crispy. The insides will be soft. It is an incredibly simple dish, but it is compelling. Serve with roasted chicken and peas.
What about cheese? The word gratin promises cheese, but this particular gratin fails to deliver. If one wished to grate some white sharp cheese over the gratin in the last 15 minutes of cooking this would work. Alternatively, one could slice a bit of onion and place it on the top near the start. The onion would caramelize and sweeten the potatoes. What about spices? Potatoes and butter have an affinity for sweet paprika. If you want to sprinkle this on the slices after coating them with butter, it will add a delicate richness to the dish.
For most purposes, the mayonnaise you buy at the supermarket will be better than what you can make at home. There is a particular quality to Hellman's that makes is impossible to surpass. Perhaps it is the small amount of air whipped in. Or the almost perfectly neutral flavorless quality. But sometimes one wishes to make mayonnaise with different flavors. For 3 lb of potato salad, I mix 2 tbs Grey Poupon mustard with 1/2 cup mayonaise. The mixture produces the perfect complement for potatoes. I am very fond of chipotle flavored mayonnaise to go with broiled salmon, but just mixing the spice with the mayo seems primitive and produces a splotchy mixture. Also, if I want the mayo to be more sauce like and less rigid, I have to go about mixing in other things.
But making homemade mayo is so easy that anyone can do it in seconds, and the chipotle powder can be integrated at the start. Separate an egg. Place the yolk in the bowl of the food processor. Add a pinch of salt, 2 Tbs. lemon juice or vinegar, 2 Tbs. Grey Poupon mustard, and 1-2 Tbs chipotle powder. Start the food processor. Slowly add 1 tbs vegetable oil. Wait a few seconds. Now add oil in a very slow stream until you've added a cup of oil. Process just a few seconds longer. Remove seal, and refrigerate. That's it.
This recipe could be adapted. One could buy dried powdered veggies from Baker's Supply and make spinach flavored mayo or red bell peppered flavored mayo. Or one could add yellow mustard powder and turmeric and make bright yellow mustard. Mayo can add flavor and color to any food. This mayo is a little more slippery and a little more liquid than Hellmans, so it is just a bit better for dispensing from squeeze bottles.
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Copyright S.R. Brubaker 2002 - 2006.