Do you use food processors?

Discussion in 'Food & Cooking' started by broncoboxer, Oct 3, 2010.

  1. broncoboxer

    broncoboxer

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    Noob here,

    I barely know the first thing about cooking.  In my short time trying, I've already broken the tips off two fairly inexpensive Chef's knives.  All the same, the knives still work.  Anyway, my question has nothing to do with Chef's knives (though I would like to get a nice one some day--just as soon as I can stop dropping them on the tile floor...).

    My question is about food processors.  Ours is missing the blade--probably got lost while moving.  Plus, it was an old junky GE special from Wal-Mart.  We probably paid $20 for it.  So I'm considering getting a new one.  But since I never cooked much in the past, I have no idea if I'll get much use out of it.

    So, do you guys and gals use food processors much?  Are they helpful?  If so, would you recommend a certain brand/model?

    Thanks in advance.

    --Bronco
     
  2. boar_d_laze

    boar_d_laze

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    The top two brands are Cuisinart and Kitchen Aid.  Both are more than fine. 

    The best size, models and attachment sets depend on how often you'll entertain, and how often you'll use it. 

    Home bakers who use their processors for things like mixing pie and bread dough tend to use theirs more often than those who mix by hand.   Barbecuing families that run through gallons of cole slaw every week can't live without them.  People who throw big parties or cook for big families not only use their processors more but want bigger work bowls. 

    They can be fantastic time savers, or countertop space wasters.  I don't use mine that often through the course of the year, it's been sitting unused for three months right next to the bread box.  But as we swing into the holiday season, I'll run it more often -- so why put it away now?   

    If you think it's hard for you to predict which purposes and how often, it's even harder for those of us who have no idea of what and how you cook.    

    A medium sized Cuisinart or KitchenAid with a basic attachment set would be swell.

    BDL
     
  3. chrislehrer

    chrislehrer

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    Julia Child used to say that you could talk about cooking in terms of BFP and AFP: Before and After Food Processors. Pretty much anything can be done without a food processor, but some things are so awful without one that you'd probably never do it.

    The big thing about a processor, in my opinion, is its ability to reduce a mass of material to a puree rapidly and effectively. A blender requires a good deal of liquid in the mix, without which you'll just get the blades whirling around at the bottom and nothing happening at the top. A processor doesn't need this, it just goes.

    Since it sounds like you are not too deft with a knife, you will probably find that the slicing and shredding attachments of a processor are quite useful when you want to make a lot of equal-sized pieces. For example, you can feed carrots, zucchini, cucumbers, or potatoes into the feed tube with the slicing blade going, and you'll get a lot of fairly thin and mostly even slices very quickly. As BDL says, this sort of thing is a godsend if you make huge quantities of cole slaw, where reducing heads of cabbage to shreds is the work of a minute or two instead of a lot longer with a knife.

    Processors make quick work of purees like pesto or fish quenelles, and you can use them very effectively to make things like mayonnaise and similar sauces.

    One thing to watch out for with processors is that the blades must stay sharp or they will pound the ingredients. They also impart a good bit of heat and air to whatever is running, which can have adverse effects on the flavor; this is especially noticeable with extra virgin olive oil, which quickly takes on a harsh, astringent character.

    On the whole, I'd say get a processor.
     
  4. kathy8185

    kathy8185

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    I have a mini one and only use it occassionally. I do however use a food stick when I need to pulverize things, like when I make hummus. It really does depend on how much cooking you will do and in what quantities.

    personally If I only need to chop and onion it is easier to do it by hand
     
  5. broncoboxer

    broncoboxer

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    Thanks for all the responses, everyone.  You've definitely shed light on the food processor decision.

    BDL made a great point.  It's difficult for you to give me advice when I've told you almost nothing about what I like to cook.  So I'm going to give that a shot.

    I'm in that infancy stage where cooking, in all of its forms (at least the forms I'm aware of), seems mysterious and alluring.  I want to try it all!  So far, I've mostly chopped up proteins and veggies and threw them in a saute pan.  I haven't done much baking yet.  My favorite meat to work with so far is chicken--it seems to go with everything--though when eating at a restaurant I prefer filets, scallops, fish and even some pork.

    My favorite types of cuisine include: Italian (love me some pasta), Indian (saucy and spicy!), Asian (Thai, Chinese, Japanese is the limit of my experience so far), classic American (BBQ, grilled meat & potatoes, etc.).  I am interested in French cuisine, but haven't really tried any.  The point is, I can see myself attempting to create dishes in each of these styles.  Unsuccessfully.  But I would try it all the same.   

    I'm a saucy guy, so I can see myself using the food processor to make homemade sauces.  I also have a 5 month old daughter, so having the ability to quickly and easily puree foods sounds appealing.

    So again, thank you all for the quick responses. 
     
  6. siduri

    siduri

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    I don't have a food processor, and would like one, i guess, but they;re expensive and i don;t have enough room on the counter.  I do LOTS of cooking, i mean lots.  It;s possible to live without one.  I use my kitchenaid mixer really often (there were periods when the kids still lived at home when i'd use it 3 or 4 times a week) and i use my blender pretty often, an immersion blender also pretty often, (once a week?) and the chopping attachment occasionally (when i only need to chop one thing and the cutting board seems too big for it).  I'm good with a knife (and do all my own cole slaw with the knife) and yeah, it;s annoying for the chicken livers or chick peas or whatever to stay at the top of the blender while the blade whirls like crazy in the empty space, but i wouldn;t want that much space taken up by one more piece of equipment.  Babies eat purees for a very short time, and some never eat them at all  so maybe a blender would be fine for that.  If you don;t do much cooking, wait till you see what kind of stuff you like to cook and then decide.  If you have a limited budget, choose well.  I;d choose the kitchen aid mixer any day. 
     
  7. kyheirloomer

    kyheirloomer

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    If you do decide to get one, learn how to use the pulse button. That's probably the biggest secret, and one many home cooks seem unaware of.

    The pulse button gives you control that you'd otherwise lack.

    There is also the question of quantity. When we got our first one Friend Wife would use it to do things like chop one onion. I'm sorry, but it takes longer to break down and clean the machine than it would to chop one onion by hand.

    And therein lies the real tale. If you're going to improve and expand you culinary skills you need to put the time and energy into learning proper knife use and care. If you're dropping knives as frequently as you indicate it tells me several things; one of which is that you are perhaps afraid of the knife (and, thus, gripping it too far back on the handle).

    While other posters have given you good advice in terms of the uses food processors have, frankly I'd as soon see you put the money a good one costs into decent knives, and learn how to use them.

    There are numerous threads, here at Cheftalk, on proper care and use of knives. I recommend you read through a few of them.
     
  8. broncoboxer

    broncoboxer

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    I hear you.  I wouldn't want to go through the hassle of cleaning the darn thing for a single onion.  In most cases, I imagine a cutting board and a good knife is all you need.  While I don't think I'm gripping the knife too far back on the handle, you're right that I'm still knife shy.  I've watched a few videos and read a few articles on knife skills, but I still have a long way to go before I even hit mediocre.

    What do you think the best veggie is to practice knife skills on?
     
  9. amazingrace

    amazingrace

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    A word of warning here:  When you are shopping for your appliance,  do not be misled by the "stated capacity".  While the bowl might indeed hold 7 cups, for instance,  you may not be able to process 7 cups,  especially something with high liquid content.  On most of the bowls,  you will see a "fill line",  which is the suggested maximum volume of food to be processed at one time.  It will be about a third less than the actual capacity of the bowl.  This is true with the Cuisinart Food Processor I bought a couple of years ago.  My first ever FP, and I was "flying blind".  Had I known about this at the time,  I would have purchased one with a larger capacity.  Its footprint was not that much greater,  nor was the price.  I am very pleased with the one I have, even with its limitation. 
     
  10. petemccracken

    petemccracken

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    The "cheapest one" is probably potatoes, maybe carrots or celery or onions, ooo, 2 parts onions, 1 part carrots, 1 part celery = mirepoix, an "aromatic foundation" for lots of dishes!
     
     
  11. Guest

    Guest Guest

    I generally dice my own vegetables, etc., but food processors help out a lot when time is of the essence.  We just keep a little one (I think from the dollar store) that's useful for chopping up some onions or bell peppers before sauteing them.  It's also really useful for chopping up nuts finely for sauces, breading, and garnishing.  Seeing as how you're more of a casual cooker, I'd recommend just getting a little one like that for five to ten bucks. Ours has lasted us for two years, I think.

    If you do decide to go with a larger one, though, you might be able to get more use out of it by taking it out just once a week or so, chopping up some produce, putting it in ziploc bags, and freezing them back.  Of course, you're going to lose a lot of flavor doing that, but it also helps to save a lot of time if you're busy. 
     
  12. kyheirloomer

    kyheirloomer

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    I reckon Pete summed it up, and for all the right reasons.

    I would add that, IMO, potatoes might be a little easier to learn on. But onions would be my first choice, because they're so versatile you will use them up, whereas the spuds might go to waste as you practiced.

    As to holding the knife: Are you cutting by holding the handle or by holding the blade?
     
  13. chrislehrer

    chrislehrer

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    You've raised several questions here, all important.

    1. Knife skills. Yes, you should work on your knife skills, and this is not as simple as you might think. You need to develop a good grip, probably a classic pinch grip, and a habit of clawing your left hand to hold the food steady with your fingers out of the way and the knife cutting such that it's guided by your left hand knuckles. (If you're a lefty, reverse that.) Easiest to learn, probably, is celery, but you must learn to chop an onion quick and clean. I strongly recommend that you watch Jacques Pepin: whatever techniques he demonstrates, whatever knives he might happen to have in hand, he always does everything cleanly in the classical French style.

    2. Processors. A processor should not be used as a replacement for a knife. Until you are comfortable with a knife, certain things in large quantities will be cleaner and faster with the processor, but eventually you will not take it out for this purpose. But making a puree is unquestionably a raving pain in the tail if you don't have automation.

    Somebody mentioned hummus, which is a wonderful example. To make hummus in a blender, you'll have to add quite a bit of liquid and you may end up with wet glop. To make it by hand is a labor of love requiring long pounding with a mortar and pestle such as you don't probably have. To make it in a processor, dump a can or two of high-quality chickpeas in the bowl, add a good squeeze of lemon juice and a good 1/4 cup or more of tahini, possibly a little minced garlic. Pulse and then run the processor until it's smooth. Taste, adjust a little bit as necessary, and it's done. Even with very ordinary canned chickpeas you will get better results than most hummus you can buy, and you won't believe how much cheaper it is. Now wipe out the bowl and do the same thing with roasted eggplant and you've got baba ghanoush.

    Or try this: put four hardboiled eggs and a clove of garlic in and pulse a few times to break them up fine. Add some white wine vinegar, Dijon-style mustard, good pinch of salt and pepper, and a little parsley. You can also add a few anchovies, a bunch of capers, a little hot or mild raw pepper (the vegetable, I mean, not the spice), some shallots or onions, etc. Pulse a few times, then run it full-blast. As it runs, pour in some neutral oil in a thin stream (canola, peanut, corn, etc. oil). As soon as it starts to get thick, stop the motor, scrape it out into a bowl, and then whisk steadily and not too fast while you stream in good extra virgin olive oil. As you keep adding it, the sauce will get thicker and thicker, and eventually will be the consistency of mayonnaise. This sauce, basically sauce Gribiche, is an admirable (and salmonella-free!) substitute for mayonnaise in a great many applications, and believe you me, it is a raving horrible pain to make without a processor.

    One more: Next time you cut up a chicken (a skill you should definitely learn --- saves money and produces great side benefits, like soup and the following), pull out the fat pads at the bottom opening of the chicken --- these are the big yellow wodges of fat around the sides. There might be one up by the neck, so pull that out too. Notice that the liver, which came probably in a little paper packet inside the chicken, weighs about the same as the fat pads. Put the fat pads in the processor and pulse briefly to chop up fine, then scrape them out into a small skillet. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until the fat is basically melted and not hissing (meaning the water has cooked out). Put in the liver, cut into lobes if it's all one big chunk, along with about 1/4 minced onion or better one minced shallot, as well as a generous pinch of salt and a little black pepper. Cook, turning the liver now and again, until the liver is just firm and just barely pink in the center. Remove the pan from heat, wait a minute or so, and scrape everything into the processor. Add 1 Tb butter if you wish (I always do). Pulse until basically chopped up fine, then run until good and smooth, scraping down the sides now and again. Scrape out the mixture and push it through a wire strainer, the finer the better. Pack into a ramekin, cover by pressing plastic wrap right against the surface, and put in the fridge. After 1-2 hours, remove from the fridge, wait about 10 minutes to let the chill off, and then spread on good crusty bread. Cost? Free --- you bought the chicken. Work? Minimal, because of the processor. Result? Excellent chicken liver terrine.

    I could keep going.

    The point is this: you are just learning to cook. You will want to play with recipes, try new things. You will find that there are lots and lots of recipes that involve a processor to transform a hideous chore into a brief zapperooney, as it were. The things just aren't that expensive these days, if you don't buy a really big one, and once you get used to it you'll find it remarkably easy and fun.

    Incidentally, I'm assuming you've got a dishwasher. If not, skip the processor: handwashing the parts of a processor is horrible and potentially dangerous. If you've got a dishwasher, just rinse and whatever under hot water to get it basically clean, then put the pieces in the dishwasher and it's all done.

    Automation, used intelligently, is a good thing.
     
  14. beargy

    beargy

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    That is good advice. I think it's a tough decision but a good one to make. Every kitchen should be fully equipped, if possible, in order to allow for a greater range of potential meals.
    Are there any accessories that you all recommend?
     
  15. kyheirloomer

    kyheirloomer

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    I'm assuming you've got a dishwasher. If not, skip the processor:

    Puleeze!

    One of these has little to do with the other. I don't own a dishwasher and never have. Cleaning a food processor by hand is like cleaning anything else. The blade is handled like what it is---a knife. Everything else is washed like any other cookware; hot, soapy water and a Dobie pad.

    Is cleaning the blade by hand dangerous? Potentially so. But so, too, is cleaning a chef's knife. But putting it in a dishwasher is something nobody with any respect for their tools would every do.
     
  16. french fries

    french fries

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    Cleaning the food processor is super easy if you do it right away. Don't wait for the food to dry out and stick to everything. Or if you just can't do it right away, soak in water. I own a dish washer, but would never use it for the food processor, as to me it's one of the easiest things to clean! [​IMG]
     
  17. kyheirloomer

    kyheirloomer

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    You don't even have to soak it, FF. I find, for those times I can't clean it right away, that a quick rinse with the spray hose flushes away any build-up, and puts it in shape for a proper cleaning when you can get to it. But I agree entirely that if you let the stuff dry out you've got a mess on your hands.
     
  18. french fries

    french fries

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    Hey KYH, that's another option! Quick rinse right after using, deep soap cleaning later when you have time.
     
    Last edited: Oct 4, 2010
  19. chrislehrer

    chrislehrer

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    I dunno. When I lived in Kyoto, I didn't have a dishwasher and washed everything by hand. I had a little food processor, and I found it a tricky, awkward chore to clean it: getting every trace of ground-up whatever out of the hollow stalk with the blade was not so delightful, because I had to work around the blade. The blades on these things are basically durable serrated things, and they're fine in a dishwasher --- I flatly disagree with the argument that putting one in a dishwasher reveals a bad attitude toward tools, and as someone who uses exclusively carbon steel knives, I think I have a fair basis for this. A knife is easy: put it flat on the board, angle up until the blade clicks down, scour gently but firmly with a ScotchBrite that has lots of soap and very little water, run under hot water, and dry. Depending on what I'm cutting, I often just use very hot water and a towel and leave it at that. But handwashing a hollow tube with serrated curved blades sticking out the sides is a chore, however minor. I just rinse in hot water and shove it in the dishwasher, and the blades show no sign of deterioration in any sense.
     
  20. missyjean

    missyjean

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    I got mine (KitchenAid) a year ago and since then, I feel it is a must-have for me.  Aside from it's many uses in baking (I made an awesome ganache in it) it is a huge help in my salad making.  I use the shredding dish for butternut squash to sprinkle in my salads.  Also great for cabbage.  I have a grating disk (which I ordered separately) for grating carrots for carrot cake.  It saves so much time and effort.

    I just made sweet potato and plantain with maple syrup.  After the potatoes and plantain baked, I scooped out the center and put it in the processor..the texture was so smooth

    There are things I, personally, don't like it for..such as, I don't like to use it for a crumb topping. I much prefer to work the butter in by hand.
     
    Last edited: Oct 4, 2010