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Food processors and choppers can be kitchen magicians

Food processors are jacks-of-all-trades that can chop, slice, shred and puree many different ingredients -- sometimes in great quantities -- plus tackle heavier jobs like kneading dough. Mini-choppers are good for lighter work and smaller jobs -- especially useful when you need to prep only a handful of basil or chop some nuts.

Consumer Reports offers this overview.

Thought Process

If you regularly cook for a crowd or like to prepare multiple batches of a recipe, you might appreciate a bigger, 11-to-16-cup processor. But they tend to cost more, sometimes weigh more and hog counter space. A capacity of 7 cups or so is fine for most tasks.

Choppers make more sense for small jobs, such as dicing half an onion or mincing a handful of parsley -- plus they're easier to clean.

Lower-priced models Consumer Reports tested tended to deliver subpar performance in at least one processing task.

Chop Shop: The Major Types

Full-sized processors are usually more versatile -- able to chop and slice foods and knead dough. Mini-choppers look like little food processors, but they're for small jobs like chopping half a cup of nuts or a couple of shallots. Here are the types of food processors to consider.

-- Food Processors. Most easily chop vegetables for soups or stews, slice salad fixings and shred cheese for tacos. Some models can knead bread dough; just know that these models are generally the more expensive ones.

-- Food Choppers. The difference between food processors and choppers: power, capacity and function. Smaller, lighter and less expensive choppers make quick work of cutting up small batches of nuts and herbs that would get lost in a food processor's large bowl. Choppers typically don't have shredding and slicing blades.

Slice of Life: Features to Consider

Standard equipment includes a clear plastic mixing bowl and lid, an S-shaped metal chopping blade (and sometimes a blunt blade for kneading dough), a plastic food pusher to safely prod food through the feed tube and a safety lock.

Consumer Reports suggests considering these additional features:

-- Speeds. Food processors typically have two settings: on/off and pulse. The latter setting runs the machine in brief bursts for more precise control. Choppers typically have one or two pulse settings, high and low. Those are all the speeds you really need.

-- Touchpad controls. Now a common feature, touchpads are easy to wipe clean.

-- Multifunction accessories. A shredding and slicing disk is standard on full-sized processors. Some models come with a juicer attachment or interchangeable blades to handle a variety of jobs.

-- Dough blade. A blunt blade that improves performance in kneading dough.

-- Liquid "max" line. A line or marking on the mixing bowl that shows how much liquid the processor can hold. This helps prevent overfilling, which can cause leaks.

-- Storage case. Some food processors include a storage case, though many do not, even at $200 or more.

-- Feed tube. A wide feed tube saves you the trouble of cutting up potatoes, cucumbers and other large items.

To learn more, visit ConsumerReports.org

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How to clean a dishwasher

The dishwasher is your go-to cleaning machine, especially after a big family meal. Now and then, you need to return the favor by giving your dishwasher a thorough cleaning. This will keep the machine running smoothly and looking its best, while also preventing nasty odors from wafting into the kitchen.

Consumer Reports offers these expert tips.

Step 1: Clean the exterior. If your dishwasher front is made of plastic, use a sponge and hot, soapy water to wipe it down. For stainless steel dishwashers, glass cleaner is effective at removing built-up grime, smudges and fingerprints. Avoid spraying the cleaner directly onto the dishwasher front, since the moisture could damage its electronic controls. Instead, spray the cleaner onto a paper towel or soft cloth, then apply the cloth to the dishwasher.

Step 2: Clear the filter. This step is vital if you have a manual-clean filter, which are common on newer machines. These filters eliminate the grinder on self-cleaning dishwashers that pulverize food scraps and send them down the drain. The result is much quieter operation, but it also means more scraps getting trapped in the filter, leading to funky smells. That's especially true if you follow Consumer Reports' advice and don't pre-rinse dishes; most new dishwashers deliver solid results without the extra water-wasting step.

As for the filter cleaning, once a week or so, pull out the bottom rack and remove the filter system, which usually consists of several interlocking parts. There's often a center cylinder that unscrews, allowing you to lift out the system and take it apart. Clean the parts individually at the sink, using the spray on your faucet or a sponge; Consumer Reports' testers also keep a small brush handy to dislodge coffee grounds and other grainy soil that can clog the mesh filter material.

This is also a good time to check the spray arm for trapped food scraps. It usually lifts off its base with a gentle tug. Rinse the arm under the faucet, inspecting for clogged holes, which can be cleared with a toothpick or wooden skewer. Some spray arms have an additional hole on their underside that's meant to shoot water into the filter, keeping it clean. Check it for clogs before reinstalling the spray arm and filter system.

Step 3: Sanitize and deodorize. Over time, discolorations can form throughout a dishwasher's interior, especially in homes with hard water. Odors will also penetrate the material. White vinegar is a remedy for both issues. Consumer Reports suggests placing a clean bowl with a couple cups of vinegar toward the center of the bottom rack. Run the dishwasher on the normal cycle without detergent. The dispersal of vinegar throughout the cycle should leave your dishwasher sanitized and deodorized.

If the discoloration persists because of severe mineral deposits from your home's hard water, you'll need to switch to a tougher store-bought dishwasher cleaner.

To learn more, visit ConsumerReports.org

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