Make Friends with a Pressure Cooker

pressure

four of my pressure cookers and a steamer basket photo by vsimon

I know you want to. But it is scary. What if it does not like me back? What if it blows a gasket? Not to worry, modern pressure cookers have many safety features. You will not decorate your ceiling with the contents. And this will be the start of a satisfying, long lasting relationship.

Start with a first date.

Set a date, set aside some time. A half an hour of undivided attention is a great start. First, touch, feel and inspect your cooker. Remove the gasket, put it in again. Fiddle with the pressure gauge. Lock the lid, and feel the secure closure. 

Take that first step. Cook water, just water. You cannot ruin water.

Get to know how your cooker handles pressure. Does a skinny column on the top pop up? Does a purple or yellow button raise? The directions will tell you, and you will know it when you see it.

Find out how little heat is needed to maintain pressure. Try different settings on your burner and see.  Once it is at pressure, you may be surprised how little energy is required to keep it going.

Try several ways to relieve pressure. Turn off the burner, and let it go slowly. Or run cold water over the cooker to drop the pressure quickly. Is there a quick release button? (This is pretty drastic, I avoid these.)

Think about all the things you can create with your pressure cooker. Look below to see a partial list of what I make.

Is there potential here? Was it a great first date?

What are you looking for in a pressure cooker?

Assess your situation and desires. Are you a family of 1 or 10? Do you want to cook beans? Do you want the option of a quick release of pressure?

Recommendations

Based on 10 years of pressure cooking, hundreds of recipes, with 6 different pressure cookers, I have some favorites. A 6 quart, stovetop, thick bottomed, stainless steel cooker is the place to start.

For most, a 6 quart cooker is the best size. I have one 8 quart size, that I use when making a big batch of bean soup. But the 6 quart size works just fine with 1 pound of dry beans or spilt peas. Or up to 4 pounds of meat. A 4 quart cooker is too limiting as the only cooker in a household.

I prefer stove top cookers because they can go to the sink and get a bath of cold water. Pressure drops in just a few seconds.

Electric cookers have their place, and I use one. They can be programmed to cook for a certain time. You load, lock the top, and set the timer. On their own, they come to pressure, cook for the allotted time, then stop cooking. Admittedly, that is easy.

But they cannot take a bath, a serious draw back for me.  That means I cannot cook things that take just a few minutes, then need to cool down quickly. Like potato salad. The potatoes would get way overdone, way too mushy. 

Now to the thick bottomed part of the recommendations. I started with an inexpensive Presto cooker. And burned lots of stuff in it. You cannot stir things in a locked cooker. And a thick bottom makes all the difference.

And invest in a stainless steel model. It can be used on any cook top, including induction. Aluminum cannot. And cooking in aluminum is no fun, sometimes your food turns out gray. 🙁

Details

I have short handles and long handled cookers (see the picture above). Long handled ones are a lot easier to open.

Presto cookers have a noisy, rattley top. It is annoying to listen to when it is up to pressure.

Some cookers come as a set. Additional non-pressure lids are useful, so you can use the cooker as a traditional pot. Even after all these years, I don’t use the little steamer baskets some sets have. I do like a bigger pasta insert though. Not for pressure cooking, but when using the pot unpressured. And I like having several sizes of cookers. But these are not necessary.

You might be able to find pressure cookers locally. Often you cannot. I have a few listed in our Kitchen Store.

I have been happy with Fagor, T-fal, Cooks Essentials, and Kuhn Rikon brands. I have not reviewed specific models available now because they are different than my older versions.

Kuhn Rikon pressure cookers are pricy. But they have great customer service. They come with a 10 year guarantee. After almost 10 years of nearly daily use in our personal chef business, the bottom of my cooker separated. I was not sure I could produce the receipt, and maybe I registered the cooker when I bought it. Kuhn Rikon replaced the whole pot (not the lid) without any difficulty.

And I have replaced gaskets for numerous cookers over the years. They wear out and the cooker won’t hold pressure as well. I order them over the internet.

What do I make in my pressure cookers?

Here is a just a small listing:

Tortilla Soup

Greek Lemon Chicken Soup

White Chicken Chili

Mexican Beef Stew

Brisket

Peninsula Cranberry Pot Roast

BBQ Country Ribs

Pork Chops with Herb Gravy

Pork Chops Marsala

Green Bean and Potato Salad

Fruited Wild Rice

Whole Grain Rice, Chicken and Grape Salad

Split Pea Soup

10 Bean Soup with Sausage

Rice Pudding

Applesauce

And many more dishes, you get the idea. I use my pressure cookers nearly every day. You will too when you fall in love with them.

Please tell us what you make, or would like to make in a pressure cooker. See the poll in the right side bar. Or please leave a comment.

Beets, please.

DSC02863

three kinds of beets photo by lsimon

Aren’t they lovely? I have been enjoying this photo of beets from our garden for a few months now, and I wanted to share it. Last year we grew red, Chioggia, and golden beets. A full packet of seeds for each variety. We love beets, but that is a lot of beets.

We introduced our neighbors to beets, and they liked them. I hope you like them too.

This year we found a packet of mixed seeds. The varieties were not named. They were long and skinny red ones, round red ones, bright red ones, and goldens.

The deep red ones cook up the same rich color. By themselves, the bright red ones turn grayish pink (yuck). They take on the dark red color when cooked in liquid with dark beets though. The goldens are beautiful on their own, or with a blush if roasted next to the reds.

Usually, I can only buy the dark red round beets in the grocery store. And they are very good quality.

Storing fresh beets

The very small beet leaves you see in mixed salad greens are harvested before the root develops.

The greens you get with beetroot are too strong flavored and tough for my liking. Cut off the tops, leaving a few inches of the stems intact. Compost the greens if you are able. 

Store roots in a plastic bag in the veggie drawer of your fridge. They will keep for a few weeks.

What to do with beets?

With a laugh, and the wave of her hand, my mother-in-law would say, “throw them away.” I say, no way.

Most often, we roast or pressure cook them. Then serve them warm or cold, plain or dressed. We cook extra, keep in the fridge, and serve for up to a week.

I have also grated them fresh on a salad. Tasty, crunchy, and very messy.

Simple Roasted Beets

Scrub the beets, leave the stem ends on, and do not peel. Put in an oven safe pan. Add about 1 cup of water and cover with foil. Cook in a 400 degree oven for 30 minutes to an hour.

Small, young beets take less time. “Mature” beets take longer to soften up. Pierce the beets to the middle to make sure they are tender.

When they are tender through and through, cool them enough to handle. Slip the skins off the beets. Cut into wedges, or slices, or dice.

Pressure cooked beets

In the hot summer, I like to quickly cook beets in a pressure cooker rather than heating up the oven for an hour. Start out the same as for roasted beets. Scrub the beets, leave the stem ends on, and do not peel.

Put beets into a pressure cooker, add 1/2 to 1 cup water. Bring to pressure and cook for 10-15 minutes. Here, again, the size and age of the beets will effect how long it takes to tenderize them.

Cool cooker and release pressure. Check for tenderness. If needed, cover again, bring to pressure and cook longer. When done, drain off the water. Cool the beets and proceed as for roasted beets.

Enjoy a fall or winter salad

Layer salad greens, cooked beets, refreshing mandarin oranges, sliced sweet onions, and chopped walnuts. Top with Orange Mustard Vinaigrette.

Or try greens, golden beets, dried cranberries, sliced red onions, pecans and Crystal Dressing.

Nutritionally speaking

See the World’s Healthiest Foods site for all the goodness in beets. P.S. They are loaded with folate.

What do you do with beets?

Garlicky Green Bean Potato Salad

bean and potato salad

garlicky green bean and potato salad photo by vsimon

You know when you have an ah-ha moment and everything works perfectly? This recipe is quick, simple, and successful. Three minutes to cook, can you imagine? In a pressure cooker of course. The stovetop works, but it will take longer, more like 10-15 minutes.

We are a household of 6 pressure cookers. Different sizes, most are stovetop models, one electric. I use pressure cookers all the time, for soups, dried beans, beets, whole grains, bone-in chicken breast, brisket, stews. A pressure is an obvious choice for things that normally take a long time to cook. You can often reduce the total cooking time to one-third the original time.

But I had never thought of cooking diced potatoes and beans in the pressure cooker. It works like a charm. The veggies are tender but not mushy, perfectly done. We enjoyed the salad warm for lunch on a brilliant sunny day on our deck. We saved the leftovers and had them chilled another day.

We loved the garlic and mustard tang of the dressing. I added some chives since they are growing on the deck, and walnuts because I think the world should be a little bit nuttier.

This recipe is from my friend and colleague Jill Nussinow, The Veggie Queen. It appears in her cookbook Vegetables Get the Royal Treatment. Jill also creates vegetable enthusiasm with her blog and a pressure cooking DVD.

I will print the recipe as it is written below. But I did make some substitutions, to use what I had on hand.

We used red potatoes and wide Roma green beans, straight out of our garden. Since we dug up a hill early in the season, we only had about a pound of potatoes. I did not weigh the beans.

This may be heresy, but I used generous dollops of jarred garlic in the dressing, rather than fresh garlic cooked with the potatoes. I also omitted the fresh garlic in the dressing. Cooking the garlic will mellow it, and using fresh in the dressing will give it a bite. I hoped the jarred stuff met in the middle.

If you do not have homemade vegetable broth on hand, Better than Bouillon has a gluten free vegetable base. Just mix about ½ teaspoon with water. Or use plain water and a bit of salt.

Rather than measure the dressing ingredients, I estimated and likely used proportionally more mustard.

It was the kind of dish you eat quietly, because you are enjoying it too much to talk. And it has inspired me to make more potato salads in the pressure cooker.

Garlicky Green Bean Potato Salad

Printed with permission from Jill Nussinow, The Veggie Queen

Makes 8 cups

Jill’s notes: You can substitute wax or purple beans for the green beans in this recipe. The key to having it turn out is to be sure that the potatoes are cooked and the green beans are not overcooked, which is why you put the beans on top of the potatoes. This may be my favorite summer potato salad, and I have many.

ingredients metric measures
1 1/2 pounds potatoes, like 
   Yellow Finn or Yukon Gold
725 grams
1/2 pound green beans 240 grams
8-10 cloves garlic 8-10
3/4 cup vegetable broth 180 ml
2 tablespoons rice vinegar 30 ml
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil 30 ml
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard 10 ml
2 tablespoons vegetable broth 30 ml
1 clove garlic, crushed (optional) 1

Salt and pepper, to taste

Cut potatoes in half lengthwise, and again in half so you have quarters. Then slice into ½-inch thick pieces. Snap stems of beans, and cut into 2-inch segments.

Add vegetable broth to cooker. Lay potato pieces on the bottom. Insert garlic cloves between the potato slices. Place green beans on top. Lock the lid in place. Turn the heat to high. Once the cooker comes to high pressure, reduce heat to low.

Maintain high pressure for 3 minutes. Release pressure with the quick release method. (Note: I run it under cold water and the pressure dissipates within a minute). Remove potatoes and green beans to a large bowl to cool slightly.

Put cooked garlic into a blender with the remaining ingredients. Process until the dressing is creamy. Pour over the potato-green bean mixture. Taste, adding salt and pepper, if necessary. Serve warm or chilled, stir before serving.

“Go ahead honey, it is gluten free!”

I am submitting this to this month’s “Go ahead honey, it is gluten free!” Hosted by Shirley Braden of Gluten Free Easily, thanks Shirley. The theme is Make Me a Happy Camper. The trouble is, I hate camping. Growing up, my family camped across this country. I always got welts from swarms of mosquitoes and pined (and whined) for a comfortable chair to sit in.

And really, where is the fun in bringing your pots and pans with you and washing dishes outside? A bit of dirt in the peanut butter, yeah, that is fun. Can you tell I do not camp anymore?

But a recipe you can do simply at home and enjoy at the picnic table could make it better. So I submit Jill’s Garlicky Green Bean Potato Salad, and will toddle off to the walking path, slathered in mosquito juice.

update 11/4/09 Real Food Wednesday

I have just discovered this blog carnival, and it is easy to support. I choose real food over processed every time. Hosted by Cheeseslave and Kelly the Kitchen Kop on alternating Wednesdays. This recipe seemed like a good fit for the carnival, so I happily shared it.