THE WASHINGTON POST – Hannah Crowley, an executive editor for ATK reviews and co-host of ATK’s Gear Heads on YouTube, recently joined The Washington Post Food staff to field questions about all things edible. Here are edited excerpts.
Q: I have a baby who is about to start eating solids/purées and I would like to make the food instead of buying cans/pouches.
I’m considering the merits of buying a baby food maker vs just steaming food in a pot and (for purées) mixing in a blender or food processor. I’d like to hear any thoughts or recommendations.
There seem to be three categories: blender/food processor only, steamer and food processor in one container, and separate containers for the steamer and food processor functions. Some of latter two can defrost, reheat, and even warm or sterilise bottles with the steam.
Priorities for me would be easy to clean, something I would get real use out of, and of course the ability to make safe food with age-appropriate consistency.
We’re looking forward to giving our little one a good start to a lifetime of eating real food for nutrition and enjoyment.
A: I never went with the separate appliance, for space and financial reasons. I found it easy enough to steam food in the usual ways (pot or Instant Pot) and puree with the multiple other tools I have – blender, immersion blender or food processor. If you have those things, safe and nutritious are achievable with what you have.
Purées also freeze well, especially in a silicone tray or mold, so if you’re hoping to streamline and cut work, make a big batch and freeze portions for later.
A: I totally agree! We tested baby food makers and they all had a tonne of parts to clean. Steaming and using an immersion blender with a cup will be a lot easier to use and clean.
Q: I hadn’t contemplated getting an air fryer until I heard someone say her husband had bought one and everything tasted better cooked in it than any other way, even oil-fried.
I live alone and don’t want to turn over too much counter space or money to a gadget meant for family meals. But if it’s that good, I want it! Is there an air fryer for me?
A: I’m just wondering if you wouldn’t be happier with a higher-end toaster oven. Do you have one at all? If so, does it have a convection or even a super-convection setting, you might be able to use that to get similar results to the air fryer. You can get one with an air-fryer setting as well. This way, you’d be able to use it to bake, roast, broil and air fry. Just a thought. I love my Breville, but it wasn’t cheap.
Air fryers do eat up counter space. That said, most of the ones I’ve seen have smallish baskets that actually work well for smaller portions of food, so, in that way, they’d work well for you.
A: I would think an air fryer would be excellent for a single person household! It takes up some counter space, but it also means you don’t have to heat your whole oven.
They are essentially countertop convection ovens (aka an oven with a fan for faster cooking and better browning, broadly speaking). This opens up a world of things you can do beyond the fries and chicken nuggets you might picture.
Air fryers are cool to the touch, they turn off when they’re done, so they’re more hands off, and they don’t have to preheat, so they’re faster and will keep your kitchen cooler in hot months. I was initially suspect because they don’t really do anything different than your oven, but I’ve realised over the years they’re more like a smaller, easier to use oven, and they can deliver notably crispy results thanks to their convection fans.
Q: What do most people use a blender for? I have a 14-cup Magimix food processor, but I know a blender would be nice for making smoothies, purées, and what else? My husband keeps harping, “I can’t believe you don’t want a blender, you have every other gadget and appliance,” which isn’t entirely true. We have neither an instant pot nor an air fryer. We do cook daily, because we both like to cook, especially me. I’m always trying out new recipes.
So, convince me I need a blender.
A: Blenders are great, in my opinion. Smoothies, for sure. And frozen drinks, of course! You can also make something like horchata, which is fun, and in the summer, I am always using it to make gazpacho. Dressings, too. Even pureeing warm soups.