Food Processors – Too Much of a Good Thing?

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15 Oct Food Processors – Too Much of a Good Thing?

I’ve been sitting on this post for a few days, not sure what to say. I had planned a feature-by-handy-feature appliance review, but feel I should issue a PSA instead.  You see, I broke down and bought a food processor a couple of weeks ago. Since then, I find myself embroiled in a fervent love-hate relationship. The love goes out to the machine which shreds carrots without endangering my knuckles, chops vegetables faster than I can peel them and even makes my beloved pate sucree pastry less messy.

The hate? That’s all for me.

Not because I spent $200 on an item I once shunned (in my defense, it was a $400 machine on sale) but because of what it’s doing to me. It’s the $112 ice cream maker all over again, only without a frosty treat at the end. I’m so determined to prove my purchase was worth the money  and the dedicated counter space my brand new 97-pound stainless steel chopping wonder requires that I’m overusing it. Sometimes with disastrous results.

First FPD (Food Processor Disaster)? A presumably fool-proof Anna Olson recipe. I ignored her instructions to stir the condensed milk into the mixture and merrily poured the required 2 1/2 tablespoons of sweet, thick dairy product into the voracious machine with the blade running full tilt. Instead of producing a silky smooth filling, the mixture separated into disconcerting lumps interspersed with greasy oil patches. No amount of blending would smooth it out. In an attempt to salvage the dish, I added extra cream cheese. “More cream cheese!” you say. “What a great idea. What could go possibly wrong?”

Think who you’re talking to…

I kept adding cream cheese, spoonful by spoonful, until the filling was smooth. In saving the filling, I essentially doubled the cream cheese requirement, thus altering the taste and texture. The results were okay — more cheesecakey and less Reese’s Peanut Butter Cuppy. But, as luck would have it, the dessert was for someone who’s loves peanut butter cups a lot and isn’t so keen on cheesecake. Hey, Murphy. If you’re still around drop by. We’ve saved you a slice.

Second FPD? Not content to merely chop onions, I decided to test drive the shredding disk. Taking full advantage of the extra-wide mouth, I fed the food processor a whole Spanish onion, one over-sized half at a time. The machine devoured the onion like a wood chipper. And anyone who’s seen Fargo knows no good can come from wood chippers. The machine hurled tiny onion pieces into its bowl and potent, tear-inducing onion fumes into the air. Within seconds I was grabbing fistsful of tissues, opening every window in the downstairs and cranking the hood vent to high. For half an hour everyone — even the cats — streamed tears.

Now, I’m not a complete idiot. From a disappointing Christmas dinner years ago, I learned you can’t make mashed potatoes in a food processor. You can only make hot potato glue.  I’m sure there are other nuggets of food processor wisdom out there just waiting to be shared. If you have a food processor, tell me: What do you use it for? What don’t you use it for? I need to know.

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26 Comments
  • The Diva on a Diet
    Posted at 12:20h, 15 October Reply

    Oh, Charmian, I couldn’t love you more! Having a personal chuckle over the “hot potato glue” … a million years ago, my dad gave my mom a food processor for Christmas. Naturally, she decided to use it for mashed potatoes for Christmas dinner. We all know how that turns out. The funny part is that my brother liked the gluey mash so much, he kept asking for them over and over again. Let’s just say he’s “unusual”. 😉

    I’ve had a food processor for almost 20 years and, to be honest, I use it maybe once or twice a year – usually for making gazpacho. Other than that, I really do prefer to slice and dice myself. I’m pretty fast with a knife, so I don’t feel like the processor is a time saver for me – and I hate having to wash extra dishes.

    The one thing I do use more often is the mini 4-cup processor. Usually for chopping nuts.

    • Charmian Christie
      Posted at 18:11h, 15 October Reply

      @The Diva on a Diet, great story about your brother liking the gluey mashed potatoes better. Oh man, if your mom’s were anything like mine they were a killer to clean!

      My food processor has a small bowl which I use fairly often for things like nuts. I used to have a mini-chopper, which I used a lot, and this replaced it.

  • Lana
    Posted at 13:21h, 15 October Reply

    I adore our machine and I don’t knowk how I lived without it. (Before I owned it, I didn’t have a blender and my stick blender had died… I was chopperless)

    Our 5 biggest uses:
    – making bread crumbs
    – mashing bananas for breads
    – applesauce
    – grating carrots
    – grinding oats into oat flour

    Not the sexiest jobs… but so useful.

    • Charmian Christie
      Posted at 18:13h, 15 October Reply

      @Lana, efficient is the new sexy in my books! Great list. I’d have never thought of making my own oat flour. Wonderful to know for gluten-free recipes.

  • George B
    Posted at 14:38h, 15 October Reply

    Charmaine –

    It’s all about the right tool for the job. Need to dice a clove of garlic? Forget your Tim-The-Toolman food processor. A knife and cutting surface will do, thanks. But if the menu calls for a couple of kilos of chopped carrots, bring on the atom smasher.

    I make a lot of soups and stews in the fall – veg are still abundant and the cool weather calls for hot meals. It’s an ideal situation for some mechanical help to process significant amounts of potatoes, carrots, sweet potatoes, celery, parsnips and so on.

    Mine is tucked away most of the time. Accessible, but off the counter. It’s big, takes up a lot of space, makes noise, and is a lot harder to clean than a chef’s knife. But when you need the heavy artillery…

    Cheers,
    George

    • Charmian Christie
      Posted at 18:15h, 15 October Reply

      @George B, you are the voice of reason and raise excellent points. Sometimes the food processor is the right tool. Sometimes (as I have proven more than once) it is not.

      My old processor sounded like a bus. This one is very quiet, so I don’t mind using the small bowl for little jobs. I’m sure I’ll fall into a more comfortable rhythm with it once the novelty wears off.

  • Kathe
    Posted at 15:51h, 15 October Reply

    I must confess that I don’t use my food processor that often either. I tend to get into a Zen state where chopping vegetables with a knife on a board perfectly reflects my mood. I use my hand blender a lot and love the way it goes directly into the soup pan.

    I have a Moulinex that I got on sale to finally replace my original Cuisinart, circa 1975.

    • Charmian Christie
      Posted at 18:19h, 15 October Reply

      @Kathe, I like chopping vegetables, too — sometimes. A lot depends on volume and time.

      I had a food processor years ago and found I used it in spurts. A dozen times in a short span and then nothing for months. I’m fickle that way.

      Love my immersion blender, too. I use it for soups all the time. I wouldn’t puree soup in the processor but I can see me chopping onions or shredding the carrots…

  • Robin Smart
    Posted at 19:27h, 15 October Reply

    If I ever need a food processor I’ll come to your house. Meanwhile I’m very happy with an immersion blender and an electric mixer. I cook in 12 quart batches when I do soup, but don’t find the chopping too onerous. I’m more likely to cut myself cleaning the blades on the food processor.
    I’ll definitely eat anything you make in it.
    Cheers.
    Robin

    • Charmian Christie
      Posted at 00:03h, 20 October Reply

      The immersion blender is far too handy to give up. I can’t imagine making soup without one. As for the food processor blades, I just rinse them under running water. They’re too sharp to wipe!

  • Jacqui
    Posted at 03:35h, 16 October Reply

    I’m about to get one, charmian, and I’m so excited. Cabbage salad and gazpacho and pastry crust, here I come.
    Thanks for the words of warning, though. I’ll try not to repeat your mistakes :)

    • Charmian Christie
      Posted at 00:02h, 20 October Reply

      I can practically hear you revving the motor now, Jacqui. Have fun with it. And you’re far too smart to make my mistakes in the first place.

  • badness jones
    Posted at 07:26h, 16 October Reply

    You CAN use it to make guacamole if your avocados aren’t quite soft enough to mash with a fork, but be very careful and just use the pulse function.

    • Charmian Christie
      Posted at 00:01h, 20 October Reply

      Ah, the pulse function. I tend to just let ‘er rip. I’ll use that feature more. Good call.

  • Foodelf
    Posted at 12:54h, 16 October Reply

    I almost don’t remember what life was like before I had a food processor. I use mine almost daily and would pass on a microwave before I’d be without my FP – I use it probably more frequently than a wooden spoon.

    I don’t make pastry any other way anymore; slicing vegetables & fruits (e.g., apples for a tart), grating volumes of cheese, coleslaw prep., onions for soup, breadcrumbs, nuts, etc., etc.,

    • Charmian Christie
      Posted at 00:00h, 20 October Reply

      Thanks for the great usage suggestions. Apples for tarts wouldn’t have occurred to me.

      Interesting how some people use their food processors daily and others can live without them. I didn’t use my old one daily because it was just a big bowl, but the mini-chopper feature on my new one is so handy I think I’ll join you in the FP over microwave camp. Still sticking to my wooden spoons, though. :-)

  • Sally
    Posted at 13:29h, 16 October Reply

    There is something soothing about the unglamorous, repetitive tasks in the kitchen and if you have the time hand chopping even large amount of vegetables is great. But when the numbers you are feeding start to rise or the time gets tight they can be great. I use mine for:
    potato gratin – lovely thin even slices of potato, then a large amount of gruyere grated in seconds.
    breadcrumbs
    whole tinned tomatoes (to chopped tinned toms)
    Spice blends like Thai (transforms ginger, lemongrass, garlic and herbs into a fantastic paste
    Soups where a stick blender just won’t do (i.e. you need really silky)
    Crumble topping
    NOT for mashed potato (a potato ricer is the gadget for me)
    pastry – I’ve decided if I have to use a machine the Kitchenaid paddle is better
    Enjoyable post though – we all get a bit hung up on gadgets don’t we.

    • Charmian Christie
      Posted at 23:50h, 19 October Reply

      Great points, Sally. I hadn’t thought of Thai curry paste. I admit I buy mine, but will have to change this! Interesting to hear you like the paddle for pastry.

      Of course, now I want a potato ricer! Not sure if I’d ever use it, but I want one :-)

      • Sally
        Posted at 05:38h, 20 October Reply

        @Charmian Christie, It does make the best mash – honestly!

        • Charmian Christie
          Posted at 08:52h, 20 October Reply

          @Sally, I hear they’re also the secret to a fabulous gnocchi. Oh, darn you and your great suggestion! Putting a potato ricer on my Christmas list…

  • Dan @ Casual Kitchen
    Posted at 14:42h, 16 October Reply

    Really interesting to hear a general consensus to NOT use food processors. I think it’s a question of scale. If you’re cooking for twenty-five, a processor can be a life-saver–especially if, like me, you enter the *opposite* of a Zen-state when cutting up veggies. (Kathe, what is your secret??)

    But if you’re cooking for three or four it may not be worth it for most kitchen tasks. After all, hauling it out of the cabinet, using it, cleaning it up, etc., can collectively be more work than whipping out a knife and a cutting board.

    Charmian, I bet in just a few more meals you’ll find exactly where you stand with your food processor. Mostly love. :)

    Dan
    Casual Kitchen

    • Charmian Christie
      Posted at 23:48h, 19 October Reply

      I, too, am interested in hearing who doesn’t use a food processor. So many recipes assume you have one, I thought I was behind the times.

      I’m getting the handle on mine slowly. I love the small bowl (which replaces my mini-chopper, which I used a lot). I think I’ll use it a lot at Christmas, but sporadically in between large family gatherings. Time will tell…

  • Kathryn
    Posted at 10:38h, 18 October Reply

    I don’t use my food processor as much as I probably should, but I do use it. Mainly, I tend to think of the food processor when I am making large batches (tomato sauce for freezing and make-ahead cabbage salad comes to mind).

    I do, however, turn to the food processor for: pastry (sweet & savour); pizza dough; certain breads; and a white sauce (recipe from Norene Gilletz’s _Food Processor Bible_).

    My food processor does not take up prime counter real estate, but sits below the counter in a ‘lazy susan’ corner cabinet.

    Enjoy,

    Kathryn

    • Charmian Christie
      Posted at 23:46h, 19 October Reply

      Thanks for the feedback, Kathryn. Food processors are great for large batches. I haven’t used it for pizza dough or bread, but will look into it.

      Mine’s too heavy to lug in and out of cupboards, so it’s taking up some counter space. Fortunately, it’s not as big as my previous version (from the ’80s) which was the size of a Buick.

  • Andrew Magerman
    Posted at 14:53h, 03 January Reply

    another good use is pasta dough. My Kitchenaid starts struggling with the really tough dough, but the food processor loves it.

    homemade hummous (it’s a chickpea, sesame seed, and lemon paste)

    homemade peanut butter

    flavoured butter – over here we usually serve grilled meats with butter which has been mixed with garlic and herbs. put a full slab of butter (250g), 2 cloves of garlic, lots of pepper, some salt, and two handful of fresh herbs (rosemary and thyme are good ones here, don’t put the stalks in). Process into a paste, then make a sausage of the butter by wrapping it up in a baking sheet. Refrigerate, then slice, then freeze. Brilliant, and a fraction of the cost of the prepackaged ones.

    • Charmian Christie
      Posted at 18:15h, 03 January Reply

      @Andrew Magerman, super suggestions! Your pasta note surprised me. I thought KitchenAids were tough enough to plough earth, but I guess even they have their limits.

      Wonderful suggestions. I’m glad you mentioned herb butter. I adore it but rarely make it. Your detailed instructions are perfect. I’m sure you just inspired a few people to make some butter “sausages”.

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