Dinner under pressure

Back in January (pre-job loss) we realized that we had been eating out way too often, so I started cooking more meals at home and realized that I had to do at least a little meal planning to make sure we had stuff to eat.  Well, one chilly winter’s eve I was in a serious mood for some chili and cornbread.  Hot, out-of-the-oven cornbread with butter and honey right next to a steaming bowl of spicy (but not too spicy) chili was the plan, but as I started cooking the meat I realized that we didn’t have any canned beans.  Drats.  Foiled again.

Any other day, this would have derailed our plans and I would have copped out with spaghetti, but not today.  I had dried beans in the cabinet, but they’ve been in the cabinet for at least a year because they normally take an overnight soak before cooking for an hour and I don’t usually plan that far ahead.

Enter my pressure cooker.  This thing has come in handy more than once, and it saved dinner.  I really don’t understand why they ever stopped being used in modern kitchens, but if you don’t have one and if you ever cook at home be ready for your culinary life to change.  I have literally cooked potatoes from rock hard to smashable soft in a total of 5 minutes.  Add a little milk, butter, salt, and pepper and mashed potatoes are on the table in less time than it takes to get everybody loaded in the car to go out. When there’s a hungry toddler and a hungry husband staring at you from the table, the faster the better!

Pressure cookers are a little intimidating at first, but I cooked my unsoaked beans for about 25 minutes and they came out perfectly al dente.  The chili came out great, all thanks to my pressure cooker.  I used one bag of beans that cost me $0.79 and made the equivalent of four cans of beans that normally sell for $1.19 each.  So, in addition to saving me time, it also saved me money.

If you want to get a pressure cooker there are a few things to keep in mind:

1- Size: Think about what you’re hoping to cook in it and how many people you’ll be feeding, then read the info on the box (or the user manual if you can get to it) to see if they make any recommendations first.  You don’t want to buy one only to get it home and realize that you can’t cook the amount of food you wanted to because you can only fill it so full.  For example, with some types of food you can only fill the pressure cooker half full because of the way things expand when they’re cooking.  A little research can save you a lot of grief.

2- Price: There is a plethora of pressure cookers out there at all different price points.  The price is sometimes connected to the features or actual components of the cooker (mine, for example, came with an attachable strainer so I could hold the cooker with two hands and drain it at the same time), but sometimes the price is more driven by the brand name.  I have a Presto cooker that cost about $26 at a local discount store.  They seem to be making a come back, so if you keep an eye out you’re sure to spot a deal.  They also pop up all over Craigslist and as long as all the parts are there and the seal is totally in tact (no holes, tears, or obvious wear), go for it.

3- Features: As I mentioned already, different cookers come with different features (multiple pressure release valves, the attachable strainer, different pressure regulators), so again think about what you make most that could be sped up by cooking it using the pressure cooker and see if any of the features will make that easier for you.  The strainer is great for when I make beans, potatoes, and a whole variety of other foods.

When you get it home, follow the manufacturer’s instructions for washing it and preparing it for use, and then just make something.  Cut up some vegetables, pull out some chicken, or open a bag of beans and (again, following the instructions provided by the manufacturer), try it out.  I waited at least a few weeks before breaking mine open because I was a little intimidated not having used one before.  It was S.O. E.A.S.Y!!  After the first time I was hooked.

Of course, spread the word that you’re looking for one and someone is bound to rustle one out of the back of a cabinet or a box in the garage.  If you can make a trade for it, then all the better.

Note that a pressure cooker and pressure canner are not the same thing.  A pressure canner actually has a guage that measures the level of pressure in the cooker for canning things like tomatos, carrots, or other food that needs to be canned under a specific pressure due to food safety.  Those are much more expensive than a pressure cooker.

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