Thursday, December 29, 2011

Misadventures in Food Processing

This Christmas I finally received a kitchen appliance that I have hesitated for ten years to buy: a food processor. Many a time have I mused, wistfully, about the things I could do with one. The brilliant pie crusts, the hummus, the home-ground beef, the salsa, O! Excited as I am, I find myself intimidated. Too many recipe possibilities, perhaps? Let's start with an easy one.
To consummate our new appliance, I set about preparing Au Gratin Potatoes. An old family recipe, laden with calories and comfort. The biggest problem with this dish is preparation: potatoes must be peeled and thinly sliced, cheese must be grated, bechamel must be ready. Surely the food processor's slicing and grating superpowers would scale the preparation time down.

Lesson #1: Assume the food processor is on and hungry the moment you take it out of the box. Specifically, assume it is in the "on" position when you plug it in. This way, you will not have to change your pants when it roars to life without you expressly telling it to.

The way the light flashes off the plastic bowl almost distracts you from the fact that you cannot fit much of a peeled russet potato into the feeder tube. Back to the cutting board it went where I trimmed enough lengthwise for the spud to fit in the tube.

Eager to join the legions of foochebags before me, I pressed the "on" button.

And found terror.

Lesson #2: The food processor is a powerful machine capable of turning chuck roast into hamburger. Your fingers are bone-in meat. Keep that in mind.

Lesson #3: If you let a potato slice under its own weight, you will make potato chips. If you are not intending to make potato chips, have the feed tube pusher ready and make like Jack LaLanne and push that spud into the slicer without compunction.

Lesson #4: Think through the processing order. If multiple items need to be sliced, grated, or processed, think about which one is best to do first, then second, etc. Things that become ticking time bombs once cut--like potatoes--should be done towards the end. This is not the procedure you want to follow: start by slicing potatoes, remember that potatoes darken in the air, cut thumb while switching from slicing blade to grating blade, grate cheese, ask spouse or grown-up to switch back to the slicing blade and continue slicing the potatoes.

But what perfect slices! Kristina the Type-A Lunatic approves.

The bits of potatoes made up eight layers where I usually only do three with my mandolin. Eight layers mostly made up of putting a slice of the larger piece of potato next to the slice of the piece of potato I had to cut off to fit it in the feed tube, essentially remaking a whole slice of potato. Rest assured, no irony was lost in the making of this casserole.

Lesson #5: Cooking is just deconstructing food, reassembling it and usually adding heat.

Once the dish made it to the oven, all was right with the world. The food processor calmly returned to its new spot on the counter, switch off, motor quiet, cord loosely wrapped around the sleeping giant. The bowl, feed tube and infernal slicing disk went--thank goodness--into the dishwasher. This beast, this powerful force, I will learn to contain. But for the moment, I remain respectful, distant.

 And optimistic.

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