Thursday, June 9, 2011

Things I Love: stick/immersion blenders

Every now and then you stumble across something that makes you think "Where has this been all my life?!?", and it's usually something you never thought you needed. I had one of those moments this past Christmas when I unwrapped a package and found one of these inside:

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B's mom gave me a Cuisinart Smart Stick immersion blender in blue. I mentally sighed and thought "Great, where am I going to put this???" We have a very small galley-style kitchen and usable space is precious.

I've always found food processors and blenders to be fairly redundant, with food processors being only slightly more multi-purpose. We had a blender that served it's purpose nobly for the first few years, but when the motor died I decided I didn't want another one. It was bulky, loud and difficult to clean. Instead, I got a food processor (a gift from B's mom, if memory serves... my mom and B's mom have been largely responsible for outfitting most of my kitchen, bless them ;) as I thought it would be more useful. I found it was also bulky, loud and difficult to clean, just with more accessories.

Don't get me wrong, I love my food processor. I love the fact that it can shred/slice a pile of carrots quicker than the Tasmanian Devil. I love the fact I can make dough, hummus and nut butters in it. I love the fact that it spares me having to shred Sunlight soap by hand in order to make my laundry detergent. I love the fact that in French it is a "robot-culinaire"... yes, I'm easily amused. ;) It scares the bejeezus out of the cats, but everything it does, it does quickly and efficiently.

What I don't love is cleaning it. It mainly stays tucked away under the counter with all of its attachments in a bag. When I realize I need it for what I'm about to do, I have a good long think: Is whatever I'm about to use it for worth the hassle of cleaning it? If what I'm making involves oil or fat or sticky sweeteners of any kind, it becomes a very large pain in the butt, and that often prompts me to leave it under the cupboard altogether.

So when I got the immersion blender, I thought it would be more of the same. And really, at no point in my life had I felt I needed one... they seemed like one of those "for the cook who already has everything else" kind of gadgets. Oh how wrong I was... Once I tried it, I was hooked. The Kitchn posted an article about them shortly after the holidays, and I had to throw my two cents in with the other commenters, because I was so impressed by the one I'd gotten. B jokes that it has been the best investment anyone has ever put into a gift for us. Without exaggeration, I think he might be right.  

I've made more smoothies that I can count. The plastic measuring cup that comes with it is the perfect size for a large smoothie serving. I just throw in whatever fruit/juice/veg/extras that tickle my fancy, add some juice or almond milk, give it a few pulses with the blender and pour it into a glass.

When I've had fruit in the fridge that is ripening quicker than I can eat it, I will make a coulis that can keep in the fridge a bit longer. This works well for things like berries, mangoes, kiwis, and so on. You can pour it over desserts (cheesecake, bread pudding, ice cream, etc), pancakes, yogurt. You can make a batch for even quicker morning smoothie-making. You can do it with cooked veggies as well and make baby food.

I'm not a patient person, so I've had my fair share of sauces and gravies that came out lumpy because I didn't whisk enough or added things too quickly. The stick blender fixes that. You don't even have to take the sauce out of the pot or off the stove... simply plug the blender in to a nearby outlet and stick it right in the pot. A few pulses and the gravy is smooth as silk. Un-freakin'-believable.

Same thing for soups... you can cook up your veg (tomatoes, squash, etc) soup and rather than having to put it in batches through a blender or processor, you simply swish the stick blender around in it until it's the consistency you want. I've made some amazing cream of mushroom soup with this thing.

You can make homemade salad dressing, pesto and mayonnaise in seconds flat. No need for the store-bought stuff!!!

And the icing on the cake is the clean up. The bottom half which includes the stainless steel blade simply detaches for easy rinsing/washing. That's it... snap it off the body, give it a quick wash, dry it and snap it back on. *wipes away a tear* It's a beautiful thing.

For someone who is just starting to outfit their kitchen, or to someone that has limited space, or to someone on a tight budget, or to someone who hates clutter, or to anyone else that cooks, I say this:

Food processors are nice, but not necessary. You can generally accomplish the same tasks with a knife, grater or mortar and pestle and a bit of muscle (and time). Blenders are nice, but again not necessary; though a bit more difficult to replace by manual means. A food mill is an option, but not quite as versatile and rather clunky. An immersion blender will take up less space, be less hassle to use and clean, accomplish those things that probably none of us have the upper body strength to do with a whisk, and it will cost you far less (starting around $25 and up). And in my humble opinion, it is worth every penny.

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