26 March 2011

Weekend Cooking: Do You Feel the Pressure?

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Although I've never met her in person, Lorna Sass has been one of my best friends for over a decade. When I got my pressure cooker in the late 1990s, my life changed for the better. Modern pressure cookers are safe and easy to use, with no worries about explosions of food all over the kitchen. There are even electric models, but I've never used one.

I own close to a dozen pressure cooker cookbooks, but the only ones I turn to again and again for the best recipes, tips, charts, and advice are those written by Sass. I own five of her nine cookbooks. The covers of her pressure cooker books I use are shown here. Sass also has a vegan cookbook, a soy cookbook, another vegetarian cookbook, and two grain cookbooks (not all of these are for the pressure cooker).

I know many of you are vegetarians or vegans or have gluten problems, and Sass's cookbooks have lots of recipes for you, from soups to salads. Even many of the meat recipes have vegetarian variations, so you'll be able to adapt.

Even better, Sass doesn't forget the less confident cook and new cooks. For example, my sixteen-year-old niece is not yet very familiar with herbs, so she appreciates knowing that the Tuscan White Beans with Sage recipe can also be made with either basil or herbes de provence.

Each one of Sass's pressure cooker books comes with great charts and tips, so you are guaranteed success the first time, whether you are cooking beans or grains, chicken or beef. The recipes themselves are appetizing and easy, and her directions are very well written.

Busy cooks will wonder how they ever got along without a pressure cooker and reliable recipes. I can't tell you how many times I've worked late and had very little motivation to start fussing. That's the perfect time to pull out the pressure cooker. In about a half an hour I can have from scratch split pea soup, risotto, cabbage with potatoes and kielbasa, or Mexican beans. In 45 minutes to an hour, I can even have pulled pork, beef chili, or Sass's Armenian Vegetable Stew.

Here are my favorite types of dishes to make in the pressure cooker:
  • Soups and stews of all kinds
  • Beans and legumes
  • Risotto
  • Pot roast and pulled pork
  • Stocks (vegetarian, chicken, beef)
I bought my pressure cooker a while back, and I'm sure there are fancier ones on the market these days. My 7-L Kuhn Rikon, however, has been a workhorse, and I've never had any problems, despite almost weekly use.

If you are planning on buying a cooker, be sure to read reviews and do your research, but don't skimp on size. Note that pressure cookers are not filled to the top because space is needed for the pressure to build. You fill the pot halfway for beans and two thirds for other foods, so bigger is definitely better. You'll also want a quick-release valve so you don't have to take the pot to the sink and run cold water over it.

Instead of copying out a recipe, because I'm not sure how many of you own a pressure cooker, I'm going to direct you to Lorna Sass's website and pressure cooker blog, where you'll find some sample recipes, complete with pretty photographs. Don't miss the great video in which Sass talks about her surprising background.

There is a MR LINKY associated with this feature; if you can't see it, please click on the title of this post to find everyone's links.


Carol @ There's Always Thyme to Cook 3/26/11, 7:20 AM  

I really appreciate this review, Beth, since I've wanted to get a pressure cooker for some time, but was a little wary! Heading over to her website, thanks for the heads up!

caite 3/26/11, 7:22 AM  

I don't own a pressure cooker, have never owned a pressure cooker, have never seen a pressure cooker used. Yes I know the modern ones are safe, not like those old ones that used to blow up and stuff..lol
Maybe I am just not in that much of a rush. ;-)

Kaye 3/26/11, 7:33 AM  

My friend Terry loves her pressure cooker but I'm still leery of them after my mother's cooker blew up. Must have been a traumatic experience, :) because I've been afraid of them ever since.

Dawn @ sheIsTooFondOfBooks 3/26/11, 7:41 AM  

I, also, carry memories of a pressure cooker explosion!

I'm sure the technology has much improved, and there are various new safety devices to insure this doesn't happen :)

Very impressed by what you can cook in less than an hour (that kind of time limit around here might mean "soup and sandwiches."

Jenn's Bookshelves 3/26/11, 8:31 AM  

I don't think that I have a "horror" story to report, but it has been ages since I've seen (or used!) a pressure cooker!

JoAnn 3/26/11, 8:53 AM  

I didn't grow up with a 'pressure-cooker nightmare', but have never considered buying one before reading this post!

Julie P. 3/26/11, 8:56 AM  

Interesting and informative post. I know pressure cookers are making a comeback, but I'm still a little afraid of them.

Peppermint Ph.D. 3/26/11, 9:19 AM  

I don't remember a pressure cooker explosion of any kind but I heard enough warnings from my mom and aunts while I was growing up that I'm a little scared of them too...the old ones used to shoot off that steam and then the little disk on tops would spin like crazy...kinda freaked me out, I think. But there's no better way to cook a bean...purple hull peas, for example in the pressure cooker can't be beat :)

Rikki 3/26/11, 9:55 AM  

I am not a big fan of pressure cookers, but your post made me reconsider. However, top priority is the crock pot now, ;).

Julie Goucher 3/26/11, 10:09 AM  

I was given my mother in law's pressure cooker not long after we married. I was always a bit weary of it and I had never used one before. I agree that they are quick, but after an incident involving some potatoes burn't on to the bottom of the pan I didn't bother replacing the cooker. I can do less damage with a steamer!

TheBookGirl 3/26/11, 10:18 AM  

Beets on the ceiling -- that's my pressure cooker memory from childhood.
My mom has always sworn by her pressure cooker, but I have never used one, too afraid, I admit. I do alot of things in the slow cooker instead.
These cookbooks are very interesting to me; I have a gluten issue, so the fact that some of the recipes are okay for me is great.
Thanks for the heads up on these books :)

Chrisbookarama 3/26/11, 10:21 AM  

I've never used a pressure cooker. They seem scary to me but these recipes look interesting.

Nise' 3/26/11, 10:26 AM  

My parents cooked with one all the time and I remember having to stand back, but we never has an explosion.

Hannah 3/26/11, 10:29 AM  

Lorna Sass is amazing. My mother used a pressure cooker when I was young but never with such creativity. Sadly, mine broke recently and I haven't yet replaced it. Thanks for the reminder!

Margot 3/26/11, 11:30 AM  

I bought a modern pressure cooker about six years ago but I hardly use it at all anymore. You are inspiring me to pull that thing out. I'm amazed at how many things you cook in yours. I'm off to check her website. It's obvious I'll need to check out one of her cookbooks too.

Alex 3/26/11, 11:50 AM  

My mom used to have a pressure cooker and made some great things with it, but I was always afraid of them and I think I still am, which is a shame given you enticing post.

Sheila (Bookjourney) 3/26/11, 12:00 PM  

I know nothing about pressure cooking... the only thing I have used a pressure cooker for is canning... now I am interested in all the other things I can do with my cooker that really is only used in the fall when I am sealing jelly jars. :)

Lisa (Southern Girl Reads) 3/26/11, 12:04 PM  

I've never used a pressure cooker either. I've never really thought about using one but this book sounds very interesting and I can see the draw to using them. Great post!

Marie 3/26/11, 12:26 PM  

Thanks for posting this. I'm a little scared of them, too, but this post is inspiring.

Beth Hoffman 3/26/11, 12:42 PM  

Terrific post! I bought my husband a pressure cooker last fall and he absolutely loves it.

Diann 3/26/11, 12:48 PM  

Nice review Beth. I have been thinking about getting a pressure cooker and still had a little of the hanging on fear of it exploding. LOL I think I will start shiopping for one.

Kim 3/26/11, 7:00 PM  

I get home from work late, and rely on my crockpot a lot. I have never before considered a pressure cooker for making dinner in. I have always just associated them with the canning process. They scare the crap out of me--but I didn't know they made safer more modern versions. This is something I may need to further investigate.

Chinoiseries 3/27/11, 8:20 AM  

I hadn't heard of Lorna Sass before, but now you've introduced her, I will definitely look out for her cookbooks! I already own a vegetarian pressure cooker cookbook, but it's good to know there are more good ones out there :)
Risotto in a pressure cooker, wow, had not thought it possible!

Unknown 3/27/11, 11:49 AM  
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sigrid,  3/27/11, 12:18 PM  

Folks, don't be afraid of today's modern pressure cookers. They are filled with safety devices and are very safe.

As Beth notes, Lorna Sass is a pressure cooker expert and her books are wonderful. I also want to share two other terrific websites devoted to pressure cooking.

The first is done by Laura Pazzaglia. Her blog is called Hip Pressure Cooking. About her blog, Lorna Sass says, "Laura is full of enthusiasm for pressure cooking and is very adventurous. Her photographs are gorgeous, and she's doing a great job of showing her blog readers just how versatile pressure cooking is and why the 'pc' deserves a place in everyone's kitchen."

Hip Pressure Cooking can be found here:

The second is done by Vickie Smith, who's also written a huge book on pressure cooking. Check her out here:

You can also check YouTube and search on pressure cooker and pressure cooking.

Not only are today's pressure cookers "not your mother's/grandmother's cookers" the recipes cooks are using them to make are fabulous.

Nan 3/27/11, 12:22 PM  

I love your enthusiasm, and that of many of the commenters, but I think I'll stick to soaking beans overnight and cooking them in the crockpot! :<)

Catherine 3/27/11, 12:36 PM  

The problem with the crockpot is that is overcooks. All those wonderful vitamins and nutrients are just boiled out. The pressure cooker, however, takes very little time and do not, as a result, "kill" the food.

Crockpots are great for some recipes, but the pressure cooker makes amazing beans - you can soak them overnight and cook them in about 30 minutes, or less, not the whole day, like a crockpot.

Kitty 3/27/11, 1:47 PM  

I have been a pressure cooker user since age 16 or so. Cooking Under Pressure is my go to guide when I can't remember the cooking time for certain things. I use her Lemon Cheesecake recipe a lot. I don't know if that recipe is in the anniversary edition. Wanted to sign up for your email but the link wasn't working for me.

Joy Weese Moll 3/27/11, 2:30 PM  

Thanks for this! I am little by little moving in the direction of getting a pressure cooker. I don't have a slow cooker either, but the pressure cooker might fit better into my style of cooking. So that might be the better first purchase.

Sam 3/27/11, 3:21 PM  

I can confidently tell you, having met Lorna Sass now in person (we hosted her at Omnivore Books), that she would be an *awesome* best friend.

She was hysterically funny, blunt, and had bright red glasses. Love!

Rebecca Rasmussen 3/27/11, 3:54 PM  

I so need a pressure cooker!!!

Lisa@ButteryBooks 3/27/11, 5:50 PM  

I have never used a pressure cooker and I do have this unrealistic fear that it will explode if I try to use one. Someone must have told me a story about one exploding when I was younger and it has stuck with me all these years.

bermudaonion 3/27/11, 7:51 PM  

I guess I heard too many tales of exploding pressure cookers because I'm still scared of them.

Jesse 3/27/11, 10:32 PM  

This was such an interesting blog! I'm both intrigued by and afraid of pressure cookers. Your blog has inspired me to look into them more :)

Unknown 3/28/11, 4:48 PM  

I've never used a pressure cooker myself, cuz, you know, it's going to blow up. haha! Sounds like that's just a fear and not something that really happens anymore. I'll have to check out the books and see if it's something I think we would use. Thanks!

cooks 3/28/11, 11:02 PM  

I've been using pressure cooker since I was 12 while helping in the kitchen with Mom. I am also familiar with herbs of provence, I think one of the world's best. Your blog is nice-looking Beth. I like it.
Cooks -http://www.yoursmartkitchen.com

Swapna 4/2/11, 3:47 PM  

Hearing you talk about your pressure cooker has really made me want one. My mom had one she used often to make Indian food.

Teddyree 4/7/13, 4:24 AM  

I've wanted one for ages, now I really want one. Thanks for all the advise

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