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Kaboom!!!
Just kidding.

Today's second (and third) generation pressure cookers are as safe as any cooking contraption out there. Making tasty, nutritious, fast, and easy food with a pressure cooker is no longer the scarey thing it was in the past. It's time to succumb to the pressure and start pressure cooking!

But first, a full disclosure: I am a pressure cooker newbie. I've only been cooking with a pressure cooker for about four months. While I can attest to the continued cleanliness of my kitchen's ceiling, I always carefully follow the manufacturer's instructions that came with the cooker I use; I (almost) always follow the recipe's instructions about releasing the pressure from the pot; and I always clean and check the pressure cooker's gasket and valve before using it or putting it away.

One final note, this WFD Diary is about the pressure cooker, not the pressure canner. Although they both work by trapping steam and building up pressure inside a pot, [PDF Warning]

[p]ressure canners  are not the same thing as pressure cookers, and it is important to understand the difference.

Pressure cookers or pressure saucepans are used to rapidly cook meats, vegetables and other foods for a family meal. But they may not maintain adequate pressure, and they heat and cool too quickly to use them to safely pressure can foods ....

With that out of the way, let's jump the Great Orange Jiggle Weight and get cooking!

Pressure cookers have been around in some form for a long time (1679!!), but the very safe ones we use today - the Second Generation - have only been available in the US since about 1990. Although less-expensive weighted models are still out there, the newer models with the pop-up spring valve pressure regulators are safer and, IMHO, easier, to use. This website has a lot of really good descriptions of the new safety features.

I inherited my mom's Second Generation Fagor Multirapid stove-top pressure cooker. I think she got it in the late 1990s, so it's not really "new" but it still works like a charm. I replaced the gasket, and gave it a good scrubbing, but that's it. It's 18/10 gauge stainless steel, with a three-ply bottom, and it cooks like a good pot should.

The Third Generation Pressure cooker is simply an electric pressure cooker (w/the spring valve regulator). Some people prefer it because it's programmed and easy to just set and go. Some people prefer it because they have electric stoves and can't control the heat as well so they let the programming do it for them. Some people prefer it because it often comes in combination with a slow cooker - like this one. I have a gas stove so I can control the heat, something that's especially useful for browning. So I prefer a stove top model.

Time for another confession - I am a ditherer. A fearful ditherer, at that. So it took me 5 years to get up the guts to use my mom's pressure cooker. I read the manual multiple times. I searched the Internet for websites and found many - Miss Vickie's website, although clunky at times, is full of excellent information. Hip Pressure Cooking is another great site. The three pressure cooking cookbooks I inherited all have solid sections on how to safely use a pressure cooker.

I am also cheap, so I wanted to use what I had on hand for my first foray into pressure cooking. I found this recipe for Colombian Chicken Stew with Potatoes, Tomato and Onion:

Colombian Chicken Stew with Potatoes, Tomato, and Onion
Ingredients
serves serves 4, active time 5 minutes, total time 30 45 minutes
•    4 large Russet or Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1- to 2-inch chunks
•    1 large onion, sliced into 1/4-inch slices (about 1 1/2 cups)
•    4 medium beefsteak tomatoes, cut into 1- to 2-inch chunks (about 3 cups)
•    1 whole chicken, back removed, cut into 8 pieces (about 4 pounds), or 4 whole chicken legs, cut into thighs and drumsticks
•    2 bay leaves
•    Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Procedures
1.    Combine potatoes, onion, tomato, chicken pieces, bay leaves, and a large pinch of salt in a pressure cooker. Toss with hands to combine. Seal lid and cook under high pressure for 25 minutes. Release pressure, remove lid, season to taste, and serve.
The time shown for this recipe was not accurate - and that was an important thing for me to learn. It takes a while for the cooker to reach pressure, especially if it's full of chicken and potatoes and tomatoes. For this recipe, it takes a good 15 - 20 minutes to reach pressure, then another 20 - 25 to cook at high pressure. I used skinless chicken thighs because that's what I had - in fact, I almost always remove the skin to cut down on the fat. It. Was. Wonderful! So flavorful and so easy! I have made this stew several times, adding garlic, using slightly-drained diced tomatoes, and sometimes using fresh herbs.

The  next thing I tried was Salmon Risotto with Peas:

Pressure-Cooker Salmon Risotto with Peas
Prep Time: 10 min
Cook Time: 20 min
Ingredients
•    1  teaspoon(s) olive oil
•    1  medium onion, chopped
•    2  cup(s) Arborio rice (Italian short-grain rice) or medium-grain rice
•    1/2  cup(s) dry white wine
•    2  can(s) (14 to 14 1/2 ounces each, total of 3 1/2 cups) chicken broth
•    3/4  cup(s) water
•    Salt and ground black pepper
•    1  cup(s) frozen peas
•    1 1/2 teaspoon(s) grated fresh lemon peel
•    1  pound(s) skinless salmon fillet, cut into 3/4-inch chunks
Directions
1.    In 6-quart pressure cooker, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion and cook 5 minutes or until golden, stirring occasionally. Stir in rice and cook 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Stir in wine and cook 30 seconds or until evaporated.
2.    Stir broth, water, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper into rice mixture. Following manufacturer's directions, cover pressure cooker and bring up to high pressure. Reduce heat to obtain gentle, steady release of pressure. Cook 6 minutes, adjusting heat as necessary to maintain constant pressure during cooking.
3.    Remove pressure cooker from heat and reduce pressure quickly, following manufacturer's directions. Remove cover and stir in frozen peas and lemon peel, then salmon. Cover cooker and let stand 5 minutes or until salmon is cooked through.
Notice this recipe states 20 minutes cook time - but only cooks for 6 minutes at high pressure and uses another 5 minutes of standing with the cover on after releasing pressure. Since it took about 10-12 minutes to reach high pressure, the 20 minutes was, in fact, pretty accurate. I thawed the peas, and added some parmesano reggiano. It. Was. Fabulous!

Next I wanted to try to make broth. I used this recipe:

Pressure Cooker Chicken Broth

Adapted recipe by Alton Brown, 2011

Prep Time:
15 min
Inactive Prep Time:
12 hr 0 min
Cook Time:
1 hr 0 min

Level:
Easy

Serves:
2 quarts

Ingredients

3 pounds chicken wings
8 ounces carrots, cut into 1-inch pieces
8 ounces celery, cut into 1-inch pieces
8 ounces onion, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
4 cloves garlic, peeled

Directions

Place the chicken wings, vegetables, salt and black peppercorns into a 7-quart pressure cooker. Pour in enough water just to cover everything. Do not fill above the cooker's "maximum fill" line, or 2/3 full. Cover and lock the lid. Bring to pressure over high heat, about 20 minutes. Reduce the heat to low, so that you barely hear hissing from the pot. Cook for 40 minutes.

Release the pressure using the cooker's release device (read the manual), or cool the cooker by running cold water over the lid for 30 seconds by letting the pressure come down naturally. Do NOT use the cold water or quick release methods. Open carefully.

Set a cheesecloth-lined colander in a large bowl or container and strain the broth. Discard the solids. Refrigerate the stock overnight, or until the fat solidifies. Remove the fat. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days, or freeze for up to 6 months.

Yet another learning experience!  As you will note, I've edited this recipe to delete the cold water and quick release methods. I used the Cold Water release method and it caused the pressure to come down waaaaaaaaaay too fast, causing the liquid to boil violently and escape through not one, not two, but three safety valves. In addition to scaring the bejeebers out of me and my poodle, I lost a good deal of broth down the drain.

There are three methods to release the pressure on a pressure cooker - your recipe should tell you which one to use but, as noted above, recipes can be wrong. The slowest and easiest way to do it is the Natural Method - simply move the pot off the burner and let it cool down until you can remove the cover. This method is good for meats and broths and anything with a lot of liquid -anything that is okay to continue cooking as the pressure is going down. The second method is the Quick Release or Touch Release method - this involves pushing a button or turning a knob on the lid (read your manual!!). It releases quite a bit of steam in a big hurry so it shouldn't be used "for foods that increase in volume, froth or foam, or those that are mostly liquids, like soup or broth because the contents could foam, or boil up and vent through the release valve." The last release method is the Cold Water Release - putting the cooker in the sink and literally running cold water down the edge of the lid/side of the cooker. As with the Quick Release method, do NOT use this method "for foods that increase in volume, froth or foam, or those that are mostly liquids, like soup or broth because the contents could foam, or boil up and vent through the release valve."  

I've made this recipe several times now using the Natural release method. I add about 4 cloves of garlic (peeled) for more flavor. It. Is. To Die For. I call it my Friday Night Broth because I make it on Friday night, strain it into another pot, and by Saturday morning I can lift the fat right off. What I'm left with is a gelatinous heap of golden chickeny goodness. But cheap it ain't. It make about 2 and a half quarts, which brings me to another thing I have learned.

My pressure cooker is a 6 quart pressure cooker. But that doesn't mean I get 6 quarts worth of food. Pressure cookers rely on liquid and heat and space to do their jobs. Your manual that comes with your cooker will tell you the minimum amount of liquid to use. It's not a lot (my cooker needs 1/2 cup!). That stew recipe above doesn't call for any extra liquid, which concerned me, but 4 tomatoes have plenty of liquid in them, as do the meat and the potatoes. As important as the amount of liquid, is the amount of space that's needed - the most you can fill a pressure cooker is two-thirds full. With foods that foam, it's one-half. Don't fill it fuller or you will have a problem.

I am comfortable enough now that I've made pot roast and beef stew and venison stew (wowsa!) and squash soup and beet soup (don't wear white and try to eat this) and chicken soup and pea soup and a turkey breast and two kinds of cheesecake in my pressure cooker. Have you noticed they're mostly one-pot meals? That works perfectly for me because I can cook up something wonderfully tasty after work and it will feed me multiple times during the week. Soups also freeze really well - I freeze them in quart baggies like this.

I will leave you with one more recipe - it's WFD Tonight:

T3: Tomato, Tomato, Tomato Soup! (Pressure Cooker Recipe)

Prep time:  5 mins
Cook time:  15 mins
Total time:  20 mins
SERVES: 4-6

INGREDIENTS

    4 Tbsp. (60g) Butter
    2 pinches Black Pepper
    1 med.Carrot, roughly chopped
    1 med. Onion, roughly sliced
    1 med. Potato, roughly diced
    1, 28oz (800g) can high-quality whole canned tomatoes in their juice
    3 heaping Tbsp. Tomato Paste or Concentrate (2x or 3x strength)
    3 heaping Tbsp. Sun-dried Tomatoes (if in oil, rinsed), roughly chopped
    4 cups or 1L Water
    2 tsp Salt.

For garnish:

    Fresh or Sour Cream or plain yogurt (to taste)

INSTRUCTIONS

    In the pre-heated pressure cooker, without the lid on medium heat, add the butter, pepper, onions and carrots. Stir occasionally until the onions are starting to get softened (about 5 minutes).
    Then, add the potatoes, canned tomatoes, tomato paste, sun-dried tomatoes, water and salt.
    Close and lock the pressure cooker. Turn the heat up high and when the pan reaches pressure, lower the heat and count 5 minutes cooking time at HIGH pressure.
    When time is up, release pressure using the Natural method – move the pressure cooker to a cool burner and do not do anything, wait for the pressure to come down on it’s own (about 10 minutes). If the pressure has not come down in 10 minutes, release the rest of the pressure using the Normal pressure release – push, twist or lift the button or valve to release pressure.
    Using an immersion blender, blend the contents of the pressure cooker until smooth.
    Serve with a twirl of Fresh or Sour cream.

Helpful Hint on this Recipe - Make your Asian Pear and Gouda Grilled Cheese Saandwich while the pressure is coming down.
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