Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Pressure Cooker

I remember my grandma and her big aluminum pressure cooker with the old-fashioned gauge on the top. She was always canning relish, tomatoes, or pickles.

As most grandmothers know, pressure cookers aren't just for canning. They cook foods like root vegetables and beans really fast and cook meat very tender.

After reading about pressure cookers on blogs like Fat-Free Vegan, and having several good friends say they use them, I decided to just check them out on Amazon. I found a great deal on a Presto 6-quart model, which is stainless steel. I try to avoid cooking on "non-stick" surfaces or aluminum. I even found a stainless steel rice cooker which I've been very happy with.

I soaked some great northern beans overnight in anticipation that my shipment would arrive. It did. The first thing I did was read the instructions and wash the pressure cooker. Then I spied a recipe for baked beans in the instruction book. It's been a long time since we had baked beans (and we live in Boston!) This recipe was the same as all the others - navy beans, water, molasses, catsup, ham, onion, brown sugar, dry mustard, and black pepper. However, I used my great northern beans, and instead of the catsup (allergic to tomatoes), I used a little sweet garlic-chili sauce from the Asian store. Though we don't usually eat pork, I bought a little nitrate-free ham from Whole Foods and I cut the amount of brown sugar by 2/3. I used pure blackstrap molasses.

I have to admit, I was a little fearful about the using the pressure cooker for the first time. In my mind I'm thinking: what if it boils dry? what if I didn't get the lid sealed on right and the entire thing blows up in my kitchen? is it ok that I made the substitutions?

The beans turned out very nicely. I was a little nervous that the instructions said to cook them for 35 minutes (doesn't count heat up and cool down time), since this was much longer than plain beans, which only take 3-5 minutes. The whole house smelled wonderful, like the smell of baked beans cooking for hours. They didn't turn out as thick, but they were tender and sweet with little chunks of ham.

I made some carrot soup in the pressure cooker tonight, and I made a huge batch. The cooker was 2/3 full. It took about 45 minutes total (about 20 minutes for heat up and cool down, and only 5 minutes at full pressure). The carrots were very tender, sweet and moist. I think that it took so long because I made such a huge batch, for smaller quantities of food the heat up/cool down time seems to go much faster.

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