This is another post on how you can save money by cooking at home. In this post, I’ll explore the second device in my holy trinity of kitchen appliances, the food processor.
The food processor was invented in 1971, and the original French design was refined and introduced to the US home market in 1973 and branded as the Cuisinart. Initial sales were slow, but they took off after an article in “Gourmet Magazine” praised the machine.
Within a few years, other small appliance manufacturers were selling their own versions of the device, some of them worked well, others less so.
In its basic configuration, a food processor resembles a squat blender, but it has a much broader base and larger/flatter S-shaped cutting blade. Its design is intended to work with more solid foods, where a blender excels at blending liquid foods.
The primary tool of a food processor is its cutting blade which can be used to chop, blend, puree, and do a variety of other tasks. Also, food processors come with disks that can be used to slice and shred foods. Most household food processors have a bowl capacity between 7 and 14 cups. Processing food is rapid, and in many scenarios, it is simple to do multiple batches in a smaller unit to achieve the desired quantity of product.
A sibling of the food processor is the food chopper. These gadgets look like baby food processors and typically have a bowl capacity of 1.5 to 3 cups. They don’t have the power or utility of a regular food processor, but they are small, inexpensive, lightweight, easy to store, and easy to clean. They are often used to chop softer foods and are great for chopping up vegetables for any dish that calls for them.
A food processor and/or food chopper are an essential small electric appliance in my kitchen, and I have both.
I am continually using my 3 cup Black and Decker food chopper to mince vegetables, nuts, and fruits for recipes. It is small, lightweight design makes it easy to grab from my cabinet, and its 3 cup size makes it very easy to clean. Since it has a limited capacity, it isn’t uncommon for me to run several batches to get the desired amount of chopped product, but since each batch only takes a few seconds, the process is hassle-free. I bought the Black and Decker almost 15 years ago for under 30 dollars. That is less than $2 for a year of use.
A decent food processor is significantly more powerful than a food chopper, and it is possible to perform many additional tasks because of this. Besides, a food processor comes with slicing and shredding disks which add to its utility. On the downside, a decent food processor is more expensive, bulkier, and a bit more challenging to clean than a little chopper. For simple jobs, I pull out the chopper, for larger and more complicated ones I use the food processor.
My history with food processing is long. Fascinated by the prospect of exploring a new gadget I purchased a Sunbeam model (when Sunbeam was still a respected company) in 1978 and quickly set myself the task to exploit the small electric to its full potential. After a few years, I wanted a Cuisinart, which was the state-of-the-art machine at the time. I combined my Christmas and birthday money with a stash of cash that had been saving for the purchase and bought a 14 cup Cuisinart DLC 7 SuperPro. Eventually, I saved for some of the accessory disks to see what they could do. I purchased this gadget when I was a poor medical student. Yes, I really love my gadgets! I used my DLC 7 for all sorts of tasks. In fact, I often used it to knead bread dough so I could have homemade bread.
The number of different processes that you can do in a food processor is impressive. Not only can you chop foods, but you can also make a cake, create nut butters, blend mayonnaise, puree soups, make salsa, shred cheese, slice tomatoes, and the list goes on.
When I married Julie over 25 years ago, we did some kitchen rearranging. She became our principle cook, and my Cuisinart was transferred to a shelf in the basement. After a few years, I bought a smaller Cuisinart 7 cup Classic Pro, which we have used ever since. Its lighter weight made it easier to grab from our lower cabinet, and its smaller size made it less intimidating. It has been a great machine that has served us well for decades.
I use my chopper and processor regularly. In the last week, I chopped up vegetables and shredded cheese. Julie finely chopped lemon peel for a cookie bar recipe. I grated Parmesan Cheese, made homemade biscuits, mixed cornbread, and this morning I blended flour, brown sugar, and butter to make a streusel top for an Easter morning coffee cake. With a food processor, you are only limited by your imagination. In fact, after St. Pat’s day I chopped leftover corned beef, potatoes, and carrots into a delicious corned beef hash.
Below are answers to some questions that I have been asked about food choppers and processors over the years. They may be helpful to you if you are considering purchasing one.
What brand should I buy?
One reviewer may love a particular model, and another one may not. In general, the Cuisinart and Kitchenaid brands seem to be well regarded. If you have the cash, I would stick with a model from these lines.
The Hamilton Beach brand also has good reviews on Amazon and could be a budget option. Many years ago I bought a different Hamilton Beach model for the sole purpose of seeing how it compared with the more premium brands. The model had a large capacity (12-cup) and a high wattage motor. On the surface, it seemed to be the equivalent of a significantly more expensive Cuisinart. I found that it did a decent job at light duty tasks like chopping vegetables, and it was OK at shredding cheese. Cutting fat into flour for biscuits was a bit more challenging, but I did it. When I tried to make a small batch of pizza dough the machine really struggled. For comparison, my 7 cup and lower wattage Cuisinart has no problem doing any of these tasks.
As far as food choppers are concerned I would avoid no-name brands. Expect to pay $20-$30 for a 1.5 cup model and $20-$40 for one with a 3 cup capacity.
What capacity should I get?
Experts recommend a capacity of 10-12 cups for the average family. However, I really love my 7 cup processor because it is smaller and easier to handle. If I need a ton of chopped veggies, I just do them in two batches. With that said, I now used a mixer when I make bread, cakes, and cookies. If my food processor was my lone appliance, I would probably opt for a larger size which would make it easier to make those items.
As far as a food chopper is concerned, I think that a 3 cup size works well for both singles and families.
How many features are needed in a food processor?
A lot less than you think. You can accomplish just about any task with the S-blade and a couple of disks. Some processors will include a dough blade, which is helpful if your processor has enough power to knead bread dough (you can also just use the S blade). The more complicated your processor is to assemble or clean, the less likely you are to use it.
Cuisinart now sells a more budget-friendly line (Cuisinart Essentials) that gives you a lot more extras (like an adjustable slicing disk) than their more expensive models. These units have gotten good reviews, but they are mostly plastic (including the drive shaft) which could make them less durable. Some large capacity units have an additional small work bowl for tasks like chopping garlic. Other units have special and complicated attachments that let you do things like cube vegetables. If these functions are essential for you, go for it. However, I believe in KISS (keep it simple, stupid!).
Many years ago, my sister Nancy purchased an all-in-one kitchen gadget. It could be converted into a mixer, food processor, blender, juicer, and a few other things. I recall the two of us spending an extraordinary amount of time trying to figure out how to assemble the darn thing. The unit had a million little parts, and we kept on having to refer to the written instructions just to put it together. Needless to say, she never used it after its novelty wore off.
What is the most essential control on a food processor?
The one button that you should remember is the pulse button. This control allows you to power the food processor in short bursts. Any kind of chopping should first be attempted using the pulse button.
How many speeds do I need?
My Cuisinart has one speed, which works great. Some machines have a lower speed which is useful if you are new to food processing as you will be less likely to turn soft/wet veggies (like green peppers) into mush. However, once you get the hang of pulsing, one speed will do it. Having many speeds in a food processor just complicates things.
How should I clean my food processor?
Most components are dishwasher safe, but I usually wash them by hand. Always clean the blade/disks by hand as washing in a dishwasher can dull them. Be careful, as they are super sharp.
Can I use my food processor as a blender?
Well… sort of. You can undoubtedly puree soups and the like but follow the machines guidelines. My 7 cup machine can only handle 2 cups of liquid at a time before it leaks its contents all over the countertop. Some newer machines are designed to handle more liquid.
Technically, you could make a smoothie or milkshake in a food processor. However, a good blender would do a better job. If you attempt to do this make sure your bowl is perfectly clean. You don’t want your strawberry smoothie to takes like yesterday’s garlic chicken.
Can I whip egg whites or heavy cream in a food processor?
Surprisingly yes (follow your machine’s instructions). However, you will probably get better results using a hand mixer.
Can I make cookies, brownies, and cakes in a food processor?
Yes, although your method will be a bit different than traditional baking.
Can I knead dough in a food processor?
Yes, but follow your machine’s instructions. My 7 cup machine can easily make dough enough for a pizza. In the past, I regularly made 2 loaves of white bread in my 14 cup Cuisinart. The end results were good, but I now make bigger batches and use different equipment. Lower quality machines will have difficulty with even small quantities of dough.
Are there foods that I shouldn’t process in a food processor?
If a food it too hard to cut with a knife it is too hard to process in a food processor.
Can I make my own breadcrumbs, grated Parmesan Cheese, or cornflake crumbs in a food processor?
We do it all of the time. The resulting product is not only cheaper also but tastes better.
Should I buy a professional unit?
I think cooks often make the mistake of thinking that a professional cooking appliance (stove, fridge, small electric) is better than a residential one. A real professional device is typically designed for durability rather than convenience features. When a manufacturer labels a consumer level product as “professional,” it is done as a marketing strategy that is based on their opinion rather than any standardized specifications. Appliances modeled after professional ones can be a disadvantage to home consumers as they can be cumbersome, difficult to clean, and often take up an enormous amount of counter space.
What are the two biggest mistakes that cause undesirable results?
Overfilling the bowl can cause uneven chops and may even stall the motor. Overprocessing can turn a mince into mush. A food processor is straightforward to use once you get the hang of it. When chopping always start with the pulse button.
I want one, but I don’t have a lot of cash.
A food chopper or starter food processor is not very expensive, but if the cost is too high for your budget consider asking for one as a holiday/birthday gift. Also, remember that the small expense of buying one will be mitigated after a few home-cooked meals.
The secret to making cooking at home a regular event is to identify those tasks that serve as a barrier to doing this. When I’m in a hurry, I don’t want to spend the time preparing food and using a gadget to do this work gets me in and out of the kitchen faster.
An appliance is only useful if you use it. When we moved my original Cuisinart to the basement, it became a hassle to get it, and we mostly did without. If you have counter space, keep your appliance there. If you don’t, find a cabinet spot where you can easily access it. Make it a point to use your food processor, so it can be easily integrated into your daily cooking routine.