Sunday, November 26, 2006

The food mill: Great kitchen tool, or the greatest kitchen tool?

Last night after the Turnip Incident, I made good on my applesauce promise, since we were both wanting dessert and I was hoping to drive the hideous turnip smell from my home. The applesauce turned out delicious, as the Mutsus are full-flavored apples; I added only a bit of cinnamon, a dash of nutmeg, and a little brown sugar.

But the process reminded me of how essential my food mill is to certain recipes, standing in for a food processor at times (for pureeing or ricing), and one-upping a food processor at other times (when, like with applesauce, it both purees and strains the mixture). With the mill, I can cook my apples with their skins on, which adds apple flavor and helps keep them from falling apart; doing so without it would require pressing apples through a sieve, which is much more work and mess.

Most other cooks I know, even those with particularly well-equipped kitchens, don't have food mills, and I, for one, think they don't know what they're missing. When I talked to my mom about this once, she said that they have a reputation (left over from the hippy-parenting '70s) for making homemade baby food and not much else. Too bad - the food mill is perfect for sauces, soups, and purees - and easier to clean up than a food processor.

Yay food mills! On that note, here's how to make homemade applesauce - less a recipe than a guideline:
apples (use a crisp and tart variety; Mutsu or Granny Smith are ideal)
brown sugar

Core apples and cut into wedges, leaving peels on. Place apple slices into a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan, making sure you have at least an inch of room between the top of the apples and the lid of the pan; add enough water just to cover apples. Add cinnamon to taste (I used about 1/2 tsp for 3 lbs. apples), and a dash of nutmeg; stir gently. Bring water to a boil; turn down, and simmer until apples are almost tender, about 20-30 minutes. At this point, taste an apple slice and adjust seasonings; stir gently. Continue cooking until apples are completely tender, drain, and run through a food mill (use the disk with the largest openings). While applesauce is still hot, add brown sugar to taste (I used about 1 tbsp. for 3 lbs., but this will vary with your preference as well as the sweetness of your apples). If you don't have a food mill, you'll have to peel the apples before cooking them; after draining the hot apples and adding sugar, mash with a potato masher.

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