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!

Earth Day Equals Beef Stock

Happy Earth Day! I think it's a rule somewhere that if you have a blog about sustainability and green living you HAVE to post on Earth Day. Oh, it's not? Well, it should be. We went back and forth about what to post today - recipes? An in-depth look at sustainable shampoo options? An entire entry about how excited we were that our community garden opened today only to find out that the plot they assigned us doesn't exist? (Don't fret, they're working on a fix!) And then, it hit us... A couple of weeks ago we were in Madison visiting some friends and we went to Tornado Steakhouse for dinner. They have local, grass fed beef and all sorts of seasonal fruits and vegetables. We were excited! We ordered the 18oz. prime rib special to share, but somewhere along the line there was a mix-up, so while we did split the salad, we each got our own prime rib entree. That's 18oz. of prime rib PER PERSON. We both did our best, but definitely ended up taking a lot home. We ate what we could, but were left with some really fatty ends that we didn't want to throw away or give to the pets, so we decided to make beef stock.

A quart of homemade beef stock.
A quart of homemade beef stock.

Listen up, y'all, this is the part that may change some of your lives (I mean, it certainly changed ours once we figured it out). We try our best not to waste any of the food we bring into our home. That means eating what's edible and then making use of what is often seen as inedible. We keep three gallon-size freezer bags in our freezer at all times. One is for meat/bones, one is for veggie scraps, and one is for worm food (which we'll get into in a later post). Whenever we get a rotisserie chicken or some sort of meat, we put the skin, bones, and a little meat in the meat/bones bag. All of our veggie scraps go into the veggie scrap bag. We also save the rinds from hard cheeses and throw those into our stocks as well. When the veggie bag is full, we make stock. If we happen to have meat/bones, we'll make meat stock, but we eat way more veggies than meat, so sometimes we'll just make veggie stock. If you don't make stock at home, you should try. It's incredibly easy and is always SO MUCH BETTER than store-bought stock.

So, back to our beef stock. We didn't have any bones, so the stock wasn't quite as flavorful as it normally is, but it was delicious. Unfortunately, once we made it it sat in our fridge for a bit because we don't normally cook with beef broth. I was at the market trying to figure out what food to make for the week when I remembered the beef broth. I knew we had onion, celery, carrots, potatoes, tomatoes, and rice in the pantry, so I decided to make a soup. I picked up some ground beef (I wanted to do chunks, but the ground was the most humane available - grass fed, pastured - so I went with that option) and headed home. A little browned ground beef, sauteed mire poix, and chopped potatoes went into the crock pot, was covered with beef stock, and cooked on low for about six hours. Then we stirred some rice in and let it sit on warm overnight. YOU GUYS. THIS SOUP. I CAN'T. It was perfect for that weird snowstorm we had on Friday. Gotta love spring snowstorms.

Check out our recipes after the jump! Also, we still have 1.5 quarts of stock left. What are your favorite recipes that use beef stock? Let us know in the comments!

Basic Stock

We usually use a 5-quart crock pot for this, but have made it in a stock pot on the stove as well. We don't usually measure what we put in, we just eyeball it and let 'er go.

Veggie scraps

Chicken carcass or other meat/bone combo (optional)

Hard cheese rind (optional)

Water to cover

Vinegar (if using bones)

Put the scraps, meat/bones, and cheese rind into the crock pot. The crock pot should be about 3/4 full, loosely packed.

Fill with water until it's about 0.5-1 inches below the rim of the crock pot.

If you're using bones, add a couple glugs (2-4 Tbsp) of vinegar (we use apple cider vinegar) and let it sit for about an hour. This helps draw out the minerals and will help the stock to gel.

Turn the crockpot on low and let it cook overnight. Your stock should simmer, but never boil, so make sure you keep an eye on it, especially if you're cooking it on the stove.

Strain out the solids and pour into jars.

Let cool before storing in the fridge or freezer.

We usually end up with 3.5-4 quarts.

Beef and Vegetable Stew

1 lb grass-fed, pastured ground beef

6 red potatoes, cubed

3 carrots, chopped

1 onion, large diced

6-8 celery ribs, sliced

4 cloves garlic, minced

2 quarts beef stock

1 cup rice

dash Sage

dash Rosemary

Salt

Pepper

2 pats Butter

Melt 1 pat butter in a large pan over medium heat. Add the diced onions and sauté until translucent. Add the ground beef, sage, rosemary, and a pinch of salt and cook through, stirring every once in a while.

When the beef is cooked, transfer the beef and onion mixture to the crock pot. Put the pan back on the stove, melt the other pat of butter, add the celery and carrots and cook until slightly softened.

Add these to the crock pot as well. Add the potatoes to the crock pot and cover everything with the 2 quarts of beef stock.

Cook on low for 5-6 hours. Add 1 cup of rice, switch the crock pot to warm, and let sit for another few hours (or overnight).

The rice will absorb a lot of the cooking liquid and it will turn from a soup into more of a stew.

If you want more of a soupy consistency, feel free to leave out the rice. Sprinkle with sea salt (we like Sel Gris) before serving.