YOUR stand mixer lives on the counter; your food processor is stashed on a low shelf; to use the blender, you need to haul it out of an upper cabinet. How nice it would be if one appliance could chop, puree, blend, whip and fold.
Or at least perform all the functions of a blender and a food processor. You'd treat friends to frozen margaritas anytime they stopped by; you'd make salsa at the drop of a hat.
That's why we were excited to hear about the new Oster Fusion, which promises to do both -- and using just one jar. Little did we know that Cuisinart and Hamilton Beach also had combined blender-food processors on the market. All cost $100 or under -- far less than most full-size dedicated food processors.
Could they be as good as they promised? We put the three brands to the test, along with two more ambitious, all-in-one machines made by Bosch, which, while more expensive, include a mixer function and other possible attachments. (The Bosch machines are more expensive.)
The upshot? Although the Oster Fusion was a bust -- performing neither blending nor food processing functions very well -- we found a nice surprise in the Cuisinart SmartPower Duet, which did a pretty good job at a very nice price. The Bosch machines, though not perfect, were also something of a revelation.
The Oster Fusion, the Cuisinart SmartPower Duet and the Hamilton Beach Blender Chef have a similar design: a single base with a motor that accommodates either a standard (4- to 7-cup) blender jar or a small (3- to 5-cup) processor bowl (slightly larger than several of the 2 1/2 -cup mini processors). What sets the Fusion apart is that it uses a single jar for both functions.
WE split our tests into two rounds, first measuring blender and then processor capabilities for power, capacity, operation and ease of cleaning. Using blender attachments, we crushed ice, emulsified mayonnaise and pureed hot soup.
The processor attachments were tested by chopping onions, slicing and grating carrots, processing a \o7pico de gallo \f7recipe and whipping cream.
Of the three dual-purpose machines, there was one that met every challenge: The Cuisinart processed all we placed before it and could still blend with the best of them. The generous 7-cup blender whipped a nice, fluffy mayonnaise, evenly chopped the ice and handled hot soup without blowing its lid. The processor, though smaller and noticeably louder than a regular stand-alone, chopped evenly and processed with ease.
The Oster Fusion and Hamilton Beach each promised more than they could deliver. Although both blenders had ice-crushing abilities that would be welcome at any party, the powerful motors were too much for the mayonnaise (the emulsion broke at every try and scrambled slightly in the Hamilton Beach from the heat of the motor).
The processing capabilities for both were also hit or miss. What seemed at first to be the big advantage for the Fusion -- a single jar for blending and processing -- turned out to be its biggest deficiency: The blender-shaped jar simply could not process consistently. And when we pureed hot soup, the kitchen became a Jackson Pollock canvas.
Container shape also turned out to be the Hamilton Beach's fatal flaw: A well at the bottom of the processor meant some contents were virtually untouched, while others were practically pureed. And the Hamilton does not come with grating and slicing attachment wheels, minimizing its capabilities.
As for the noise factor, both machines were deafening.
Plenty of attachments
THE more ambitious Bosch machines -- the 400-watt Bosch Compact Series and the larger, 700-watt Universal Series Kitchen Machine -- have been available in Europe since 1951 and in the United States since 1968.
They're designed to process, blend, chop, slice and mix (batters and doughs), in addition to countless other tasks, a list rivaled only by that of the full library of Kitchen Aid mixer attachments, though Kitchen Aid doesn't offer blender or food processor attachments.
Both Bosch machines worked well, although they took a little getting used to with their unique construction and unusual attachments. Both offer a wide range of options, including an ice cream freezer, a continuous shredder and citrus juicer for the Compact machine; and a grain mill, pasta maker and fruit and berry press for the larger machine.
The Bosch machines are bulky and foreign looking, but fun to use. Both can handle large quantities -- the smaller machine mixes and kneads four loaves of bread at a time, and the larger one, though it does not handle 10 loaves as promised, works with eight comfortably.
The powerful motors caused difficulty in just one area -- making mayonnaise, which broke repeatedly. (The Bosch instruction booklets carry a nontraditional mayonnaise recipe that includes egg whites and sugar but that worked perfectly.)