Ode to a Pressure Cooker

You guys, we've been holding out on you. We've been talking about blogging about our pressure cooker for at least six months, but life kept getting in the way. We were going to post about it last summer when we got it. Then we were going to do a roundup of our favorite kitchen gadgets for the holidays. Then we were going to write a love letter to our pressure cooker for Valentine's Day. Well, life obviously got in the way and we did NONE of those things. Enough is enough, it's time to extol the virtues of our Fagor Duo 8-Quart Stainless-Steel Pressure Cooker. Our beloved Fagor Duo 8-Quart Stainless Steel Pressure Cooker

A lot of you probably think pressure cookers are dangerous. You've heard stories about pea soup exploding all over the ceiling or have memories of your mom or dad taking the pressure cooker outside to open it for fear of an explosion. Well, let us tell you that is no longer the case. Pressure cookers of today are safe, easy to use, and much quieter than those of years past. They have multiple safety mechanisms built in to ensure that nobody ends up with a face- (or ceiling-) full of dinner.

We talked about buying a pressure cooker for months, but didn't take the leap until last summer, when we'd spent time with not one, but two different friends who used pressure cookers to cook dried beans in a fraction of the time it would normally take. Our friends both had old-fashioned pressure cookers, but we wanted to get a new one that ensured safe use. (We're usually all for buying used, but we knew that we'd be way more likely to actually use our pressure cooker if we weren't afraid of it.)

A must-have pressure cooker cookbook. Seriously.

True to form, Kristl jumped head first into researching pressure cookers and decided to go with the one that America's Test Kitchen deemed their "Best Buy," the Fagor Duo 8-Quart Stainless-Steel Pressure Cooker. We also bought their cookbook Pressure Cooker Perfection, after giving it a once over at the library. If When you get a pressure cooker, you should absolutely get this book. Not only does it have a lot of great recipes, but it also goes into the basics of pressure cooking, buying a pressure cooker, troubleshooting problems, and is basically an indispensable reference to have on hand.

How do pressure cookers work? Water usually boils at 212°, but when it's under pressure in a closed environment the boiling point is closer to 250°. This is due to the steam being unable to escape the closed environment, causing the pressure to increase.  The temperature is increased because more energy is needed to boil the water under pressure. When cooking with a pressure cooker, you put the ingredients in the pot (following whatever recipe you're using, of course) and then seal and lock the lid on. If the pressure cooker you're using has two pressure settings, set it to either low or high (we do most of our cooking on high). Turn the heat on high and bring it up to pressure. There's a pressure indicator that shows when pressure has been reached, though you will also hear the steam escaping. Lower the heat to maintain pressure for the specified amount of time. When the time has passed, remove the pressure cooker from the heat and release the pressure. There are two ways to release pressure - quick release, in which you turn the pressure valve to release the steam quickly, or natural release, in which you let the pot sit off the heat until the pressure goes down on its own. Most recipes will indicate which type of release you should use.

Pressure Cooker Parts!

So, what do we make with our pressure cooker? Well, obviously, we make dried beans (in minutes!). We also make amazing stock in an hour (check out this post over on Serious Eats' The Food Lab comparing stock made on the stove top, in a slow cooker, and in a pressure cooker). Some of the dishes we've made include cottage pie, chicken and chickpea masala, pot roast and potatoes, chili, shredded chicken for soft tacos (we did this for our wedding lunch!), braised cabbage, polenta, turkey breast, a whole chicken with lemon and rosemary gravy, and a variety of soups. And you know what? Every single thing has been delicious. EVERY. SINGLE. DAMN. THING.

Have we convinced you yet? No? What if we told you that pressure cookers could save you money? Because pressure cookers cook so quickly, you will use less gas/electricity than you would cooking things the traditional way. You can also buy tougher (cheaper) cuts of meat that will tenderize easily in the high temperature/high moisture environment of the pressure cooker. We already mentioned dried beans, which are significantly cheaper than canned, and also produce less waste. Also, pressure cookers obviously save you time. Time is money, so...you do the math. (Not necessarily monetarily-related, but pressure cookers are great in the summer because you can cook delicious food without turning on the oven AND your stove doesn't have to be on very long.)

Honestly, the pressure cooker has transformed the way we think about certain types of meals.  We are so much more likely to eat beans, we are so much more likely to eat in rather than out, we are so much more likely to make things (like stock) that we might otherwise buy.  If you are one of those people who means well in the kitchen and wants to cook more, but can never find the time (or you always forget to start the crockpot in the morning), the pressure cooker is your jam.  But if you want to make jam, you might need a pressure canner. And that's a whole other post.


As further proof that we've been having a love affair with our pressure cooker for the better part of a year, check out this interview we did with the Windy City Times! We did the interview in September and were already raving about food we'd made in the pressure cooker. We hope you enjoy reading it and learning more about us!

Garden Update: The Setup!

If you have been following us on Instagram, you know we have a lovely 4’x8’ garden plot in Peterson Garden Project’s Vedgewater garden. Vedgewater is at the corner of Broadway and Magnolia and has ~180 plots. The land is on rent from Loyola, and this is their second year in operation. I’m hoping--pretty securely because I’ve seen several groups from Loyola working in the garden--that PGP’s lease on the space will be renewed. This is the closest community garden to our house and it’s almost like having a backyard garden. I started my garden planning back in March. I knew I would be growing things this year, because it was the first time in four years I would not be picking up and moving somewhere else. I got a huge stack of urban/small space/container gardening books out of the library. My favorite of all was definitely Grow Great Grub by Gayla Trail. Briefly, because this was not meant to be a book review post, this book is great because it goes through prepping a raised bed or container garden, the pests you might encounter, and the natural fertilizers you can use. Plus, it has plant-by-plant breakdowns of what you need to know to raise them. It’s super informative, and while I read it cover to cover once, I wanted to reference it so many times after returning it to the library that I just went and bought it.

Check out our seedlings!

Check out our seedlings!

Armed with knowledge, I set about the process of buying seeds and starting seedlings. I got seeds from three sources. First, I found organic heirloom seeds from Kenyon Organics on Etsy. I bought eggplant, cucumber, kale, chard, peppers, broccoli, basil, and three different types of tomatoes. Around the last week of March, I planted tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, and broccoli from seed indoors. I used toilet paper rolls as seedling packs, and filled them with organic seeding soil. I had also purchased a seedling pot maker from Burpee, and used that when I ran out of toilet paper rolls. The toilet paper rolls seemed like an awesome idea; it was re-purposing, biodegradable, and about the right size. However, all the toilet paper rolls developed mold on the outside. They also started to unwind, which made watering difficult because the water would just pour out the top. I recommend the pot maker or just saving the containers from store bought seedlings, which is what I will mostly use next year. Kristl has an Ott lamp for crafting which I used as a makeshift grow light. I wasn’t growing that much, so it was the perfect size.

Back to the story... The peppers and eggplants never came up. The tomatoes all sprouted and grew pretty well, as did the broccoli. We went to the orientation before April 22, when the gardens opened. We got a garden plot assigned to us. We were ready. Peterson Garden Project had a giant plant sale the weekend of Mother’s Day. We bought two more tomatoes, four cucumbers, two eggplants, and three pepper plants. I also got two kinds of lettuce and arugula for our porch plant boxes.

Look at that fresh garden

Look at that fresh garden

It was starting to get warm, so I began to get antsy about planting, even though most of my sources were saying to wait until after Memorial day for transplants. I got Kristl and all the seedlings outside to the garden one evening mid May, and we put everything we had in the ground. Later that evening, there was a huge storm, and it really knocked our plants around. Only two tomatoes and two peppers survived from that initial planting. Our plot belonged to someone else last year, so there were strawberries, oregano, and parsley which were wholly unfazed, but it was back to the start for almost everything we planted. Lesson learned.

Luckily, the farm we have our CSA through--Angelic Organics--sent us an email offering free seedlings out at the farm. I also learned that the Bonnie plants sold at Home Depot are raised organically and they have heirloom varieties. I purchased some organic bush bean, beet, and lettuce seeds from Burpee, and calendula (a flower used to speed healing for burns and cuts) from Seed Savers Exchange. We came home from the CSA farm with beets, corn, green onions, and a couple small tomatoes. We grabbed some kale seedlings from Whole Foods, broccoli from Matty K's on Lincoln, and eggplant, tomatoes, and a jalapeno from Home Depot.

By the first of June, we had planted almost everything except the hot weather plants (peppers, eggplant, tomatoes). I took a beginner class from PGP, and they said to try not to plant those types of plants until it’s good and hot or they won’t thrive. So, I didn't put them in until June 10th.  At the moment, I feel like things are going pretty well. All the plants look relatively healthy and all the seeds I have planted have come up. The strawberries have already given us six impossibly delicious, plump berries. We have had enough kale to serve as a vegetable at dinner, and we've been sprinkling fresh oregano into lots of things.

Our little deck garden really grows

Our little deck garden really grows

The lettuces on the porch are going wild! Kristl had a poached egg and arugula sandwich on her sourdough bread and it looked delicious. The real question now is how these hot weather plants will deal with the persistently cool temperatures. We have had some really discouraging moments so far in this growing season, but the best advice I probably got at my beginner’s class was not to get emotionally attached to the vegetables. If they die because of weather or some hungry critter, that is out of my hands. My job is to make sure they are fed, watered and protected from weeds. If they don't make it, I can always plow them under and start over with something new.

Going forward, I will try to give you a garden update every 2-3 weeks. I want you to keep up with the mistakes and victories I am having on the agricultural front. I’m trying to be conscious of mistakes I may be making. I’m not trying to come off as a master gardener (although I would very much like to become one someday). I’m just an amateur trying to grow some food to fill my kitchen. Hopefully, I will learn some tricks to make the produce produced outweigh the cost of seeds, seedlings, and supplies. And hopefully, it will get into the 80's for a couple months so our big yield, hot weather crops will have a fighting chance!

Until next time, happy growing! And eating!

Everything's lookin' good!

Everything's lookin' good!