Friday, October 23, 2009

Under Pressure - Split Pea Soup

So, it’s Scout night…I usually do something quick and easy for the boy so he can get to his meeting, and then something a little more slow and easy for the hubby and me…but all of a sudden I am reminded that this is a “Court of Honor” meeting…where all the boys are awarded the badges and recognition they get for their last 3 months work…and it’s a 6 month Court, which means the leadership roles the boys play also changes…so it’s important that we are THERE…but wait, I’ve not only not thought about how to feed all of us the same thing, but it’s my son’s birthday…so I quickly look to the pantry…it’s always a good thing to have a well stocked pantry, but more on that later..split peas…k…we all like split pea soup…onions, carrots and celery are a staple…ham hocks in the freezer…k DINNER.  But I only have an hour…so…pressure cooker to the rescue.

“Pressure cookers are scary”…this comes from the tales of kitchen lore, the days when the lid BURST off of the pot, spraying hot food everywhere.  “What’s that on the ceiling Mom?”  “Dinner” she replies.  Well, it is true, sort of.  In the “olden days” before the days of litigation and safety standards; pressure cookers didn’t have the safety features they do today.  Early pressure cookers only had a basic primary safety valve and if poorly maintained; the pressure could not be properly released.  Modern cookers (and I say modern loosely, I bought my pressure cooker at the LA County Fair over 20 years ago) typically feature two or three independent safety valves, as well as interlocks to prevent the opening of the lid while it’s internal pressure exceeds atmospheric pressure.  Proper maintenance is still important to keep the cooker working the way it’s supposed to, keeping food particles out of the valves and keeping the rubber gaskets free of dried foods to allow it to properly seal and set.  So use some common sense and check the valves and gaskets before you start to cook.  Another thing you want to avoid is over-filling the pot with liquid, never fill more than 2/3 to 3/4 full, check the manual on your model for details.

There are a lot of advantages to cooking in a pressure cooker.  While boiling water cannot exceed 212 degrees F, when trapped inside a pressure cooker the steam under the locked lid can reach temperatures up to 250 degrees F and can be maintained at 15 pounds of pressure.  Cooking at 15 pounds of pressure cuts most cooking times by 1/3…from the moment you put on the lid, until you release the pressure.  You can use less water since the liquids are “trapped” AND less energy. Steaming vegetables can be done in as little as 3 minutes, potatoes, 15.  And by using the steamer basket, the vegetables retain more of their nutritional values.

Releasing the pressure is important.  Generally, if you are cooking something delicate or something that can easily be quickly overcooked, such as vegetables, use the “quick release” method.  When the food is cooked, take the pressure cooker to the sink and run cold water over it, the pressure will be quickly relieved.  For stews and heartier dishes allow the pot to sit for 10 or 15 minutes and let the pressure drop on it’s own.

I love my pressure cooker.  I love it better than my crock-pot.  And there’s a few reasons why…

1. It’s a great “last minute” tool.  With a crock-pot you have to think of dinner in advance.  Most of us have to go to work, so that means that you have to either prepare your ingredients in the morning, or have them done the night before.  And if I decide I want beans with dinner, I can make them, in about 1/2 hour…no pre-soaking needed.  (Just add 1 tablespoon oil for each cup of beans to the water to keep them from foaming up and yes, clogging that important valve thing).

2. Most of the time, you need to brown the meat and the vegetables before putting them in a crock-pot…just another dirty pan to clean.

3. Many crock-pot recipes overcook in the time you are at work.  I’ve had a couple chicken dishes where the chicken fell so apart, that the tiny little back bones were so mixed in with the meat…well, dodging bones when I eat is not my idea of fun, or good eats.

4. I find that many times when cooking in a crock-pot, the long, slow cooking process makes everything taste kind of alike.  Mucks up the flavors.

Now I don’t want you to think I don’t have, and use a crock-pot, I just like the way food tastes and the time control I have with a pressure cooker.

LindySez: Step out of your comfort zone for just a minute; look at your pressure cooker’s manual for general information and then give it a spin.  Here’s a few great recipes to get you started.

Under Pressure Split Pea Soup

Pretty Darn Good Chili Verde

Beer Braised Beef with Onions

Once you do it, I think you’ll love it.

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