Things Not to Do: Ingredient Chopping Edition
February 3, 2015 6 Comments
There will be no gory photos in this story. Although many things went wrong, cutting myself was not one of them.
Don’t buy a cheap “as seen on TV” food chopper like the Vidalia Chop Wizard. If you did, don’t try to use it to cut a bunch of different foods that might not work. If you are doing that, don’t use the fine-dicing grid; use the bigger one that is less likely to get jammed up. If you must do this sort of experimentation, don’t do it when you don’t really have time for dinner to go spectacularly wrong and be delayed more than an hour while the whole family gets mad at you. Also, don’t do it when you already have a cut on your thumb from last week’s bagel-slicing mishap, because raw onion juice will sting, and the Band-aid will not protect you but will actually make it worse by holding the onion juice right there in the cut with that nice absorbent pad.
I made all of these mistakes on Sunday–except for buying the chopper in the first place, which I did a little over a year ago; it worked pretty well on onions, at first–and the whole mess resulted from one main Thing Not to Do: Don’t give up on using the kitchen tool that is really appropriate for the job because the baby is sleeping in the dining room. Move the baby to another room, or take the risk that the baby will wake up and need to be held by Daddy for a while but will then go to sleep for the night at a reasonable hour. If baby’s sleep is really so precious at this time that you can’t bear the possibility of disrupting this nap, change your dinner plan to something that doesn’t require chopping. Just, please, don’t put yourself through what I did!
Lydia was napping. I sat at the dining room table happily organizing my to-do list for the week and writing out our meal plan for the next several days, including a double batch of Cheesy Walnut Burgers on Sunday night because Nicholas likes to take leftover ones in his lunch for school. Around 5:15 I went into the kitchen to start making the burgers.
Normally, I would use the food processor’s grater attachment to make breadcrumbs and then to convert the cheese, walnuts (actually pecans this time), and onions into appropriately tiny pieces. That gets it all done in 10 minutes or less. But with Lydia sleeping just 15 feet away, I was concerned about the loud noise the food processor makes. (Did I think about the fact that her older brother and his friend were alternating between building a snowman in the front yard and being some sort of wizards upstairs, and that they kept opening and closing the front door, going up and down the stairs, and talking at normal volume, also about 15 feet away, and that this was not bothering her? I don’t recall that I did.) I put the bread heels in the toaster and prepared to do all the cutting with a knife, except for the cheese which I’d have to do with the box grater, but I was not happy about this. Then I remembered the Chop Wizard, which would surely do the onion, and I had used it once to make little cheese strips pretty successfully, and pecans are soft enough that they’d probably go through it, and hey, maybe it would pulverize the toast into breadcrumbs!
I started with the onion. Why? Because the toast wasn’t ready yet, and because the onion would dice so neatly in this device specifically designed for dicing onions that it would give me a lovely feeling of success with which to begin the project. Normally you have to prepare your onion for the Chop Wizard by removing the ends and the peel, but we happened to have used just a small piece of a large onion in Thursday’s dinner, so the rest of that onion was all peeled and cleaned and in a glass jar in the refrigerator, ready to use! I put it in the chopper and leaned on the lid to push it through.
It moved down about half an inch and then wouldn’t go any farther.
I’d previously observed that the Chop Wizard has trouble getting through the outermost edible layer of an onion, which is a bit tougher than the inside. It seemed that this onion had toughened in its three days of peeled storage, so that all its layers were stubborn. I struggled with it, removing layers one at a time until I could force through the remainder, then cutting the removed part into strips with a knife and trying to make the strips go through sideways. The dicing grid got slightly bent in the process. After about 15 minutes, I had the onion done. I beat the eggs in the mixing bowl and threw in the onion. I threw away my onion-soaked Band-aid and washed my hands until my cut stopped burning.
By now the friend had gone home, and Nicholas was at the computer in the living room, doing research for his fourth-grade science project about the life cycle of the giant panda. He kept calling to me across two rooms, asking for help spelling his search terms, wanting me to see the cute photos, etc. I love pandas, but this was not a good time for distractions!
The crispest parts of the bread did indeed go right through the chopper and turn into breadcrumbs! But the softer middle got stuck. I was working on poking it through with the little plastic claw that comes with the chopper, when Lydia awoke. As I was nursing her, Daniel came to see if he could help dinner along because he was getting hungry. I explained where I was in the process. Daniel was skeptical. He worked at it for a while, producing some more breadcrumbs and some interesting little waffle-like things that wouldn’t go through the blades but could be peeled off the top surface. Lydia fell asleep again, and I came to check on our progress toward 2 cups of breadcrumbs. We had 3/4 cup. Daniel was annoyed with me. I said, “Well, how would you make breadcrumbs?” “With the blender!” “But the blender makes a loud noise, and Lydia is sleeping!” I decided to substitute quick-cooking oatmeal.
Daniel started eating a snack and thus was in the kitchen as I arranged pecans in a single layer, pushed down on the chopper, opened it, and found a gummy mess that had to be pried out with the claw. At this point he got very irritated at my experimentation because it is just not that hard to chop pecans with a big knife! I had to agree. I chopped them and mixed them in with the eggs, onion, breadcrumbs, and oatmeal, while Daniel and I tried to explain to Nicholas why it’s better to use a “primary source” than Wikipedia.
Lydia woke up again. As I went to get her, Daniel said, “I’ll grate the cheese. How much do you need?” “Three cups,” I said, and glanced back into the kitchen to see him looking at me as if I’d suggested that he start by milking a cow. Well, that is a lot of grating–I certainly didn’t want to do it! But now that the baby was awake, we could just use the food processor! Yay!
Except that we both were disgruntled that now the chopper, cutting board, knife, and food processor would all be dirty, and our small kitchen was too cluttered to work in, and Daniel was still really hungry, and I was just failing at everything! He was telling me how he never liked that chopper in the first place, and I was thinking how hard it was going to be to wash it, and finally we agreed to just give up and throw it away. We moved some other stuff from the kitchen counter to the dining room table temporarily, and I got the cheese grated and mixed it into the bowl, while Daniel was standing around holding Lydia and trying not to look daggers at me.
Lydia suddenly wanted Mama. Fine, I would change her diaper while Daniel mixed in the seasonings. I came back to find him taking eggs out of the refrigerator. “I already put in the eggs!” I said. By this point we were so frazzled that we had a brief argument about who said we were up to what point in the recipe, before I realized that that was irrelevant and it was time to just shape the burgers and bake them already, so I got out the cookie sheets with one hand while holding Lydia–this necessitated holding a Pyrex lasagna pan between my knees at one point, to get it out of the way; I had never done this before and do not understand why it made me feel even more unhinged and incompetent, because in retrospect that was a pretty neat trick.
Then the burger mixture would not hold together. “Are you sure you put in the–” “YES! Yes, I definitely put in the eggs! Two eggs for a double batch! The breadcrumbs must have soaked them all up because I took too long getting ready! I’m sorry! This is horrible!” “Well, put in one more egg and see if it helps.” I couldn’t tell whether it did or not. Maybe the oatmeal was the problem? I squeezed and squeezed, trying to make the burgers stick together, and finally decided they were good enough.
After 25 minutes of baking–during which I over-steamed the cauliflower because I was nursing the baby and forgot to ask Daniel to check the cauliflower–we finally sat down to dinner. These were not our most cohesive burgers ever, but only one of them actually fell into two pieces going from the pan to the plate. (Any kind of burger is easier to keep together if you bake them, than if you fry them in a pan.)
Cheesy Walnut Burgers are awesome! But I will never again attempt to make them without using the food processor.
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