Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Blendtec (after 3 weeks of use)

Kids, don't try this at home
Giving a woman a blender for her birthday can result in tears, someone sleeping on a couch, and even broken off engagements.  At least, that's what I was able to garner from Hollywood movies.  But in our family, a blender is not a symbol of outdated domesticity; it's a symbol of freedom.  A good blender means freedom to transform virtually any ingredient into perfect smoothness without the elbow grease of straining through a fine mesh, re-blending, and re-straining.  What can be sexier than that?

The question was not whether I wanted a blender or perfume for my birthday.  The question was Vitamix or Blendtec.  Every molecular gastronomy book I've read endorsed Vitamix.  Every professional chef I knew was happy using Vitamix.  Cook's Illustrated reported that Vitamix was indeed a super-blender and Blendtec choked on ice.  It took me months to decide that a mere blender was worth $400.  But I finally made my decision and asked Jason for a Vitamix.

How did I end up with a Blendtec after all that research?  I saw a demo of it at Costco.  It handled ice with no issues.  Raw kale was pureed smoothly enough that it masqueraded as mint in an ice-cream.  It seemed to do everything Vitamix was doing for $100 cheaper.  The only thing I found disturbing were the electronics and cycle buttons.  I was buying a blender, not a laptop.  From my experience, electronics in the kitchen don't last long.  Besides, who needs "soup," "ice-cream," and "smoothie" buttons?  Can't I just turn it on and adjust the speed?  The good news was that there were normal speed buttons, so I could just ignore the gimmicky cycles.  As far as that LCD screen going toast?  There was a 7 year warranty.  What was the harm in try it?  If I didn't like it, Costco would take it back; and if I did like it, we'd save $100.

After 3 weeks with Blendtec, someone would have to pry this machine out of my cold dead hands for me to part with it.  I love it and I have a confession to make.  Surprisingly, those gimmicky cycle buttons work better than my own speed adjustments.  My first test was a lentil soup.  Any blender can turn butternut squash into a smooth puree, but lentils posed a real challenge with their pesky little skins.  The soup button turned my lentil soup into a puree so smooth, I couldn't find even the tiniest specs of skin.  The parsley puree came out completely smooth with no straining required.  The plum "sorbet" I made with frozen peeled plums using the ice-cream cycle was a huge hit.  So that you don't get your hopes up about making real sorbet or ice-cream with a blender, let me explain.  The texture was like a thick slushy, not really like sorbet, but it was smooth, creamy, and cold.  To help it out in the smoothness department, I removed the skins from the plums before freezing them.  Since the friction of the blade heats up the food, it's good not to give it more than it can chew for cold preparations.  If I was making a plum syrup, I bet I could throw the skins right in.

Blackberries were my next challenge.  I dumped a pint of them into the blender with a bit of agave syrup to make a blackberry sauce.  The blackberry seeds got broken down into tiny pieces but were still noticeable and unpleasant.  After straining, most of the unpleasant grittiness got removed, but some bits were tiny enough to make it through a fine mesh sieve.  At this point the sauce wasn't gritty, but had a slightly muddy texture.  As long as the sauce was used as a garnish, this problem was not noticeable, but I wouldn't call it a perfect puree if I had a large spoonful of it.

The last test seemed a bit crazy, but since this blender should in theory be able to blend credit cards, I thought I'll give fish frames a shot.  I would normally strain them out when making a Provencal Soup de Poisson.  But in the interest of testing the blender and increasing our family's calcium consumption, I left them in.  Blendtec chopped them up into tiny bits making the soup very prickly.  That problem was solved relatively easily by straining through a fine mesh, but getting all those tiny pesky bones out of the strainer was not fun.  I don't think I'll be pureeing any more fish bones.

Any Vitamix owners out there?  How does Vitamix do with blackberries?  I doubt anyone out there is pureeing fish bones, but if you are, drop me a line and we'll start a fish head-to-tail eating club.

A few words about clean up.  Although it does take more space to dry Blendtec than my immersion blender, it doesn't take much more effort to clean it.  Just rinse, fill with 2 cups of water and a drop of soap and blend for 20 seconds or so.  Do that on low speed unless you'd like a soapy explosion on your counter.  Rinse and you are done.  Will I be getting rid of my immersion blender?  No way.  I still want it for tiny quantities of 1/2 cup or less, but for most applications, I am now using Blendtec.

So far so good.  The question is how will the electronics hold up.  I'll try to make follow up posts in 6-12 months to report how my Blendtec is doing.

16 comments:

Florian said...

I've had a Vitamix for over a year and must say it's blended everything I gave it so far. I have blended fish bones (and heads) on a few occasions, and although I don't remember the specifics, I ended up with a smooth soup. I believe the only time the result may not be smooth is when you have very light particles in a very liquid mixture.

Helen Rennie said...

Hi there Florian,

Thanks so much for the info. So you didn't need to strain the soup? That's impressive! My mixture was not very liquid. After blending and straining the soup turned out fairly thick. What's your rule of thumb for how long to puree? I think I did about a minute and a half. Maybe it's not long enough.

Cheers,
-Helen

Sally said...

Ha! I am still vacillating between the two machines, but you can count on one thing. As soon as I do buy one, I will be throwing my credit card into it to prevent me from giving in to yet another one of my domestic longings. Great post, Helen. I will be following your results with interest!

Mike Vrobel said...

Helen,

I just gave in on the high end blender myself - I bought a Vitamix. They're local to me in Northeast Ohio, so I was able to get a deal at their factory outlet store. I've had it for less than a week, and I love it so far. (Actually, my wife and kids love it more - we've had smoothies ever day since we bought it.)

I'll follow up in a few months once I get a feel for how it works.

Helen Rennie said...

Hi Mike,

I am very curious to hear how Vitamix does with blackberries. Do you need to strain? Are there any seeds remaining or is it completely smooth?

Cheers,
-Helen

Karen said...

I received a Blendtec as a gift (I was hoping for a vitamix, but didn't have the heart to say he got me the wrong blender). I love it for soups and other purees but used to love making smoothies with frozen fruit. Unfortunately, the Blendtec is a complete failure with frozen fruit. I still want a vitamix as I've heard it will handle frozen fruit without a problem.

Helen Rennie said...

Thanks Karen! Maybe there is a reason all restaurants use Vitamix. I must say that Blendtec is a lot better than an average blender, but maybe Vitamix is worth the extra $100.

Cheers,
-Helen

Adam at Joy of Blending said...

Two comments from a Vitamix user:
1) I have also been thinking about blackberries seeds because when I put them in smoothies the seeds are noticeable. I had stopped adding them and use berries with less serious seeds, but I recently read a piece of advice about blending berries in smoothies, which is to put them in first and blend them for a while by themselves (plus a little water and ice). I am going to try it and see if the Vitamix can smooth out the blackberry seeds. I guess this is effectively what you did with your sauce, but I will see if the Vitamix is any different.

2) For cleanup, I always run the blender on max speed (with the lid on tight). I would be concerned about some food being left behind if you are just running it on low (it depends on what you're blending of course).

Helen Rennie said...

Hi Adam,

Thanks for the blackberries tip. Since they were on their own, I am guessing the puree was as good as it gets. I just returned Blentec yesterday and got the Vitamix. Will report how blackberries work.

Cheers,
-Helen

ken said...

Is it wrong that I like your gear tests better than your food posts sometimes? :-)

Debbie Dodson Mogg said...

I have owned a Vitamix for a few months now and LOVE it. I recently used it to puree my fresh raspberries for jam. I did strain it due to seeds though. I use my vitamix for juicing, well, I suppose it's not really juicing when it contains the pulp too. I guess I should say blending rather then juicing. I put everything thru my vitamix. My granddaughters were thrilled when I made some peanut butter using 1/2 peanuts and 1/2 honey roasted peanuts. They gobbled it up on celery and couldn't get enough. I have made hot soup in mine, cheese sauce, etc. It's awesome!

Helen Rennie said...

@Ken: why would that be wrong? :)

Debbie: I am with you on straining raspberries and blackberries. I think it's actually helpful to not puree them too much or the seeds get broken down and go through the sieve.

Nika said...

I have the blendtec. Had for maybe a year in a half. Loved it when I was making regular fruit smoothies. Now that I have resorted to freezing most of my fruit, it is horrible. I damn near have to add a gallon of liquid for it to spin. Plus what baffles me is that as it is choking it is very easy for me to stir with a spoon so why can't blendtec handle it. Does anyone have a vitamix? How does it do with frozen fruit. I'm thinking of trading up for that. I'm peeved!

Helen Rennie said...

Hi Nika,

Are you putting in liquid on the bottom? It actually makes a difference how you load it. I don't a Blendtec anymore. When I did, I have tried making sorbet with fruit that I froze for a few hours, and it worked fine, but I don't think this fruit was as big and rock hard as frozen strawberries. Vitamix would work fine with it because of the push stick.

Cheers,
-Helen

Anonymous said...

I have had success using the juice cycle on my blendtec to break up seeds of any caliber, sometimes 1-2 cycles but comes out smoothly. I would love to hear if it worked on fish bones. Also using whole frozen berries in smoothies but adding them after the liquid as someone else suggested. Hope this helps.

Helen Rennie said...

Glad Blendtec is working well for you. I have actually switched to vitamix. I think whether or not they puree berry seeds and fish bones depends on your pickiness. I am just picky :) Both are the best blenders on the market and both work incredibly well for most applications. Vitamix does better with very thick stuff because it has a pusher.