I have no regrets about taking a kitchen shortcut where I can. Sure, you can find a gadget for almost any task these days (oh, apple slicer, why did I buy you), but the best investments are multitaskers that earn their keep in terms of money spent and kitchen real estate.
If there’s one thing that ticks all those boxes, it’s a food processor.
Food writer and recipe developer Nicki Sizemore is something of a food processor evangelist, so much so that it prompted her to write “The Food Processor Family Cookbook,” as well as prominently feature the appliance in her new book, “Build-a-Bowl: Whole Grain + Vegetable + Protein + Sauce = Meal.”
She became enamored of the food processor after she had her first child and had a kitchen big enough to let her store the processor on the counter.
“It became my sous-chef, and I use my food processor more than any other tool in my kitchen,” Sizemore says.
Whether you are still on the fence about buying a food processor or just need a nudge to persuade you to dust off yours, here are ideas about what you can do with a food processor, along with tips for making the most of it.
It can make quick work of otherwise tedious tasks. Sizemore says food processors are great for chopping, from coarsely broken up to finely chopped. She suggests putting them to work on firm vegetables such as carrots, onions, celery, root vegetables and winter squash. She’s a fan of processing the classic mix of diced celery, onion and carrots — go ahead and say mirepoix, you fancy — that forms the backbone of many soups and stews. Make sure you first break up the vegetables into chunks (1 to 2 inches). Please, no throwing in whole veggies.
Bloody box-grater fingers are no fun, so when you need to make your way through large amounts of cheese, enter the food processor. Whether you want to shred cheese (use the shredding disk, although softer cheeses can be sticky and benefit from a brief spell in the freezer) or grate it (hi, snowy piles of Parmigiano-Reggiano), the food processor can help. The shredding disk is wonderful when you need to shred carrots for carrot cake, too.
Using the slicing disk, you can also create layers for gratins, if not quite as thinly as a mandoline or your knife, and piles of cabbage for slaw in a matter of minutes, or even seconds.
And I can hardly imagine making my pesto any other way.
A food processor has a few unexpected tricks up its sleeve. Chopping is practical and necessary but sure, a bit of a yawn when it comes to neat kitchen tricks. So what else can your food processor do?
Try making a perfectly emulsified mayonnaise. Knead dough (skip the dough blade and just use the regular blade) or mix a cake batter. Pulse together a pie crust without the risk of overworking the dough or softening the butter. Sizemore even does away with the separate bowls for something like muffins by using the food processor to pulse the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients.
Grind meat that is less pasty and possibly cheaper than what you would get at the grocery store. Sizemore makes lots of nut butters (one ingredient: roasted nuts) in her food processor and loves that they come out of the machine slightly warm from the friction. One of my favorite new-to-me food processor hacks is a thick, spreadable and colorful whipped cream from Stella Parks at Serious Eats that is made with freeze-dried fruit.
Know what not to do with it. Save the hot soup for your blender or immersion (stick) blender. It can splash out of a food processor, and even if that doesn’t happen, getting the soup out can be tricky without a pour spout on the bowl. Sizemore recalls an unfortunate incident that resulted in soup all over herself and her counter. “It was not fun,” she says.
Don’t throw things into the food processor that might damage the blade, such as ice or, if you were ever curious, bones. Sizemore doesn’t like using it to chop watery fruits and vegetables, which can break down more than you want or leave behind a pool of liquid. And very soft cheese can just end up forming a paste at the bottom of the bowl.
Use the food processor to be thrifty and reduce food waste. Broken cookies? Grind those for an easy press-in pie or tart crust or an ice cream topping. Sizemore recommends pureeing surplus roasted vegetables into soup. When extra herbs build up, whir together a pesto or salsa verde.
Buy smart. If you’re going to buy a food processor, go big or don’t go home. Small models can be handy for prep work, but to get the most done, try for something that has a capacity in the range of 11 to 14 cups. That means you won’t have to empty the bowl as often, plus you’ll still get the shredding and slicing disks that are so useful. Big machines, in addition to a higher capacity, have strong motors, which is key for things like pizza dough. And don’t worry about finding one with tons of features and accessories: As long as you have a process and pulse button, the slicing and shredding disks and the traditional blade, you’re all set. Sizemore said another nice but not make-or-break feature is snap-on bases and lids. Most machines are assembled by twisting on the bowl, blades, etc., but some work with a simple snap.
Then take good care of it — and yourself. Food processor bowls and lids are fine to go in the dishwasher, but it’s best to hand-wash your blade. (By the way, here’s your reminder about that Cuisinart blade recall from 2016, if you never took care of it.) Sizemore prefers using a brush, because a sponge can snag on the sharp edge. She also recommends not letting a dirty bowl sit around — it will be easier to clean before food cakes on and dries, and that way it’s not a burden hanging over you either.
Think about how to store your food processor and make it accessible. “I think that’s half the battle for people,” Sizemore says. “Make it easy on yourself to get to it.” In a perfect world, it would live on your counter, but we don’t all live in a perfect world with big kitchens. I divide my food processor parts for storage, leaving the heavy base in a cabinet under my counter for easy transport and placing the bowl, blade and disks on a higher shelf. Wherever you keep them, be careful with the blade and disks. A hard-sided container to hold them will help prevent fall-and-catch injuries.
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