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Using a pressure cooker is easy. Really nothing to be afraid of at all. And convenient. So here’s the scene: it’s Scout night…I usually do something quick and easy for my son so he can get to his meeting, and then something a little more slow and easy for the hubby and me…but all of a sudden I remember this is a “Court of Honor” meeting…where all the boys are awarded the badges and recognition for their last 3 months work…and it’s the bi-annual Court of honor, which means all the leadership roles also change…so it’s important that we are THERE. So I quickly look into the pantry…it’s always a good thing to have a well stocked pantry, but more on that later..split peas…k…we all like split pea soup…onions, carrots and celery are a staple…ham hocks in the freezer…OK…we have DINNER. But I only have an hour…so…pressure cooker to the rescue.
“Pressure cookers are scary”…this comes from the tales of kitchen lore, the days when the lid BURST off of the pot, spraying hot food everywhere.
“What’s that on the ceiling Mom?”
“Dinner” she replies.
Well, it is true, sort of. In the “olden days” before the days of litigation and safety standards; pressure cookers didn’t have the safety features they do today. Early pressure cookers only had a basic primary safety valve and if poorly maintained; the pressure could not be properly released. Modern cookers (and I say modern loosely, I bought one of my pressure cookers at the LA County Fair over 30 years ago) typically feature two or three independent safety valves, as well as interlocks to prevent the opening of the lid while it’s internal pressure exceeds atmospheric pressure. Proper maintenance is still important to keep the pressure cooker working the way it’s supposed to, keeping food particles out of the valves and keeping the rubber gaskets free of dried foods to allow it to properly seal and set. So use some common sense and check the valves and gaskets before you start to cook. Another thing you want to avoid is over-filling the pot with liquid, never fill more than 2/3 to 3/4 full, check the manual on your model for details.
There are a lot of advantages to using a pressure cooker. While boiling water cannot exceed 212 degrees F, when trapped inside a pressure cooker the steam under the locked lid can reach temperatures up to 250 degrees F and can be maintained at 15 pounds of pressure. Cooking at 15 pounds of pressure cuts most cooking times by 1/3…from the moment it comes to pressure. You use less water since the liquids are “trapped” AND less energy. Steaming vegetables can be done in as little as 3 minutes, potatoes, 15. And by using the steamer basket, the vegetables retain more of their nutritional values.
How you release the pressure is important. Generally, if you are cooking something delicate or something that can easily be quickly overcooked, such as vegetables, use the “quick release” method. When the food is cooked, take the pressure cooker to the sink and run cold water over it, the pressure will be quickly relieved. For stews and heartier dishes, allow the pot to sit for 10 or 15 minutes and let the pressure will drop on it’s own.
I love my pressure cookers. I love them better than my crock-pot. And there’s a few reasons why…
1. It’s a great “last minute” tool. With a crock-pot you have to think of dinner in advance. Most of us have to go to work, so that means that you have to either prepare your ingredients in the morning, or have them done the night before. And if I decide I want beans with dinner, I can make them, in about 1/2 hour…no pre-soaking needed. (Just add 1 tablespoon oil for each cup of beans to the water to keep them from foaming up and yes, clogging that important valve thing).
2. Most of the time, you need to brown the meat and the vegetables before putting them in a crock-pot…just another dirty pan to clean. All of this can be done in your pressure cooker.
3. Many crock-pot recipes overcook in the time you are at work. I’ve had a couple chicken dishes where the chicken fell so apart, that the tiny little back bones were so mixed in with the meat…well, dodging bones when I eat is not my idea of fun, or good eats.
4. I find that many times when cooking in a crock-pot, the long, slow cooking process makes everything taste kind of alike. Mucks up the flavors.
Now I don’t want you to think I don’t have, and use a crock-pot, I just like the way food tastes and the time control I have with a pressure cooker.
Risotto (7 minutes and no stirring)
My Mother’s Rouladen (German Style Stuffed Flank Steak)
and so much more!
Step out of your comfort zone for just a minute; look at your pressure cooker’s manual for general information and then give it a spin.
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