Cooking Dinner Alone and Without a Food Processor

There’s nothing unusual about cooking dinner alone. I cook dinner for myself and my husband (and quite possibly others) pretty much every night of the week. I look forward to getting out of my head and into my hands, getting away from the computer and into foodstuffs. Cooking dinner is never a chore.

Cooking is slow time for me, often alone time.  I don’t usually play music. Maybe, if I need a serious energy boost, I put on a Michael Franti CD.  But the silence is good, too. That is, the sounds of cooking. Water running. Chard draining. The hum of the gas. The thonk of the knife on the board. The sizzle when onions are thrown into a hot pan.  Just the sounds of everyday activities in the kitchen, plus the evening wind in the Oakley Sunglasses cheap trees.  The other night I asked myself, do I think when I cook? Or chatter away mindlessly in my head?  Or is cooking more a quiet meditation?  Sometimes it is the latter, a focused, non-thinking activity, but sometimes I’m thinking, too.  The other night I found myself thinking about how the same day I turned in my book Seasonal Fruit Desserts, my food processor quit.  A part wore out; it’s a rubber ring of some sorts that made the top and bottom cohere. I called the Kitchen Aide people but didn’t get any leads as to a replacement part, so basically I gave it up. I’ve never found a food processor I’ve wanted to replace it with so I’ve done without for the past 2 years.

I was thinking about this because I was going to make a hazelnut frangipane for an apricot tart, which involves mixing together nuts, butter, egg and a few other ingredients until absolutely smooth. The food processor is, in fact, an ideal tool for the job, but since I didn’t have one, I got out my Zyliss cheese grinder and ground the toasted hazelnuts by hand. It was a hot day and the butter softened and eggs warmed up. In the end it wasn’t a big deal to make frangipane by hand, or the tart dough, and dessert was too good for just two people.

Basically, this has been true of everything I used to unthinkingly pull out the food processor for —making pie dough, salsa verde, breadcrumbs.  There isn’t a thing you can’t use a knife, a whisk or another tool for, including your hands, and end up with good results, a bit of a workout, and a lot less stuff to clean.  As I smoothed the cream into the pre-baked tart shell, I realized that I’ve rather enjoyed this stretch of time without the food processor.  My knife skills are probably better and I get a lot more direct contact with my food while slowing down in a nice focused sort of way.  Handwork provides a kind of governor on my kitchen activities, too. I might think twice about making dessert, and that’s not a bad idea. Or if making frangipane was enough of a process, then I’ll skip the tart dough and use it to fill a halved apricot or plum and save a bunch of calories, too.

Hazelnut Frangipane By Hand                                         Enough for or or 2 9-inch tarts or galettes

You can use almonds, but hazelnuts are awfully good, too. Use this with stone fruits, especially apricots and plums, and also with pears. You can use it to line a tart shell, smooth over galette dough, or drop it directly into a halved fruit, which you’re planning to roast. It’s good stuff to have around.

1 cup hazelnuts, toasted and skinned

 1/8 teaspoon salt

 ½ cup organic sugar

1 tablespoon flour

2 tablespoons hazelnut oil

4 tablespoons soft butter

1 whole egg

1 egg yolk

1 tablespoon Frangelico (optional)

Grind the hazelnuts by hand in a nut or cheese grinder to make delicate flakes, then mix them with the sugar and flour. Add the oil and butter and beat with a wooden, then add the cheap oakley egg, egg yolk, and Frangelico, if using. Beat until well blended. Use immediately, or store in the refrigerator to use later in the week. If you just can’t find an immediately use for it, freeze it until you do.

20 thoughts on “Cooking Dinner Alone and Without a Food Processor

  1. Nicolette

    I like to think of cooking as a quiet meditation for myself and the people I am cooking for. I find that the meal usually turns out better that way than when I’m just in a hunger rush. Michael Franti is great cooking music, especially in the summertime. That positive energy goes right into the food. Thanks for the yummy looking recipe!

  2. Joanna

    So interesting to hear that a serious cook can manage without something most of us would consider a necessity. And I’m very interested in your notion that the lack of a mixer means you attempt less at one go, which in turn makes you more frugal. It’s the way to go. No need to fear the demise of my ancient beater

    Thank you for sharing


    1. Deborah

      Joanna – not hard at all! In fact, I’ve never been a big food processor user and haven’t a clue what to do
      with all those blades that came with mine. Still, we do get used to certain tools and before you know it, they’re stitched into our lives.
      I am sticking by my knives and a good food mill, however.

  3. Elissa

    My food processor broke six months ago and we only just replaced it; haven’t used it once yet, but have used my mortar and pestles constantly, as I did last night to smash garlic for the Cold Cucumber and Mint soup from your Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. I absolutely prefer the tactile to the electronic, without question.
    I did convince my partner to give up the microwave last year, and we haven’t missed it at all. Nothing but a big counter hog.

    1. Deborah

      Music to my ears, Elissa. A mortar and pestle is so much more satisfying to use and it’s a dream for garlic, no? In less than a minute you have this beautiful
      creamy puree, not nasty little metallic tasting chunks. I wish everyone knew that! And microwaves – that’s another thing altogether.

    1. Deborah

      Kendra – thank you so much for your review. I just did a class on tarts at the Seed Savers Exchange in Iowa with their resplendent
      berries—no stone fruits there. I find it interesting how each area has its strengths and lacks. I’m sure you must be enjoying wonderful
      berries in New England just now!

  4. Christine

    I loved reading this post. It reminded me that the time I spend in my kitchen is truly a meditation, a time away from the rest of my world where I can just create. I will remember this and give it the honor it deserves.
    Great recipe. One I will save.

  5. Kitty

    Hi Deborah!

    You immediately came to mind as we were looking for a recipe using an abundance of fresh cherries. The dessert must be low fat, as well (unfortunately!). So one of your crumbles may be the answer. And a disk of Putumayo World Music: Arabian Nights as accompaniment!

    May this find you with your hands in the moist earth of your garden!


  6. Lois

    I recently made two batches of your marjoram pesto – one at home using my food processor and the other at a friend’s house using a mortar and pestle. Your recipe instructions used a mortar and pestle, but I couldn’t imagine that it would all fit in my little mortar. Both batches were heavenly, but the gift of slowing the process down and enjoying all the smells and the pleasant fatigue in my arms convinced me that the mortar and pestle were worth the work. I made a much bigger mess of my counter, but it was still easier to clean than the food processor would have been.

    1. Deborah

      Lois —Your comment is music to my ears, truly. Can I quote you?
      It is impressive what can fit in a mortar, even a small one, though a bigger one makes a less of a mess. Still, it’s true about the cleaning up time—it’s less with a mortar and pestle.

  7. Christa

    This story resonated with me so very much: “I look forward to getting out of my head and into my hands, getting away from the computer and into foodstuffs. Cooking dinner is never a chore. Cooking is slow time for me, often alone time. I don’t usually play music. Maybe, if I need a serious energy boost, I put on a Michael Franti CD. But the silence is good, too.” I broke down and purchased a food processor only last year, but to tell you the truth, I’ve used it only once. “There isn’t a thing you can’t use a knife, a whisk or another tool for, including your hands, and end up with good results, a bit of a workout, and a lot less stuff to clean.” Indeed. The only reason I used the food processor only once was to slice/shred Brussels sprouts super-thinly. I so prefer working with food by hand. I always make my pesto using a mortar and pestle, and not only the result but the process of making it is so much more satisfying. Whoever led us to believe that working with food is “work” and a “chore”? Living alone, and cooking usually for myself, I find the process of cooking meaningfully deeply satisfying.

    1. Deborah

      Christa —Thanks for your take on cooking alone and without a food processor.
      I couldn’t agree with you more about the trade offs of using your hands, a knife, a mortar and pestle.
      I’m glad you find cooking satisfying and a valuable part of your life. There are more than a few of us
      out there!

  8. Marion

    Let me play devil’s advocate for the machines in my kitchen: I might not be able to continue cooking without them. Rheumatoid arthritis is in my fingers, wrists and shoulders so much that I rely on not only my food processor, stand mixer, and immersion blender, but I have actually bought and used a battery-powered flour sifter! Mind you, reading the knife section of Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone a few months ago reminded me of the nasty work food processors make of herbs, and so I now chop my parsley by hand, unless I have come home from Sunland Produce with 6 or 8 bunches of flat-leafed Italian (They sell them for 4 or sometimes even 6/$1.00!) and I have to process all of that parsley for the freezer at once.

    I have often considered buying a Mexican stone molcajete set which I can buy in my neighborhood grocery store for next to nothing, but my hands have lost their strength, and the short tejolote (pestle) is just the right size to press on my aching knuckle pads. Now, if I could find the kind of mortar and pestle that Julia Child used in Paris, I ‘d surely use that, assuming I could afford such a tool.

    While I do appreciate that doing it all by hand the slow meditative way is delightful, I am grateful to have the assist of the mechanized and electrified. Getting into the kitchen to slice, dice and cook is one of my great pleasures which I hope to continue despite the progress of my chronic illness.

    1. Deborah

      Marion – I think you’re absolutely right in advocating for machines if using you hands is painful and virtually impossible! And there’s not doubt that the
      food processor and others are great tools for particular jobs or when you’re in a hurry. I don’t have a food processor any more, but I do have a kitchen aide
      and I love it for all kinds of things. Ditto with the blender. I just wanted to make a plea for us humans not to forget the tools we were born with – our
      hands, and if we can use them, it doesn’t hurt to give them a try!

  9. John Sinclair

    I chanced across this post because it came up very high on my googlesearch for “how to cook without a processor”. Liked reading a calm take on non-electrifying the art of mincing. I’ve been cooking for almost 60 years and I’ve gotten good at it without a processor, blender, or a twelve-tool mixer on a stand. I know how to cook pretty much the way cooks and chefs did it before WW II.

    The TV cooking shows all — even Pepin — use food processors now. So, I find myself having to translate their recipes into traditional techniques. You know, make dinner with just a knife and whisk. The old Cordon Bleu way.

    1. Deborah Madison Post author

      I loved this, John. It’s such a refreshing piece to read, especially from a chef. Knife and a whisk – and hands – that’s about it. I
      continue not to miss my food processor at all, and I think it’s been at least 3 years since it last worked, if not 4.


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