Life is better with a little pressure

I grew up to fear the pressure cooker.

My mother had a giant one that would be placed on top of the gas stove when it was time for canning.

All I remember is that inside it was hot boiling water and glass jars that could cut your hand off, with also a menacing lid that made her sweat when she cranked it shut.

Whenever the pressure cooker was being activated, all of us kids had to leave the house. I don’t know exactly what type of disaster she was planning for . . . all I knew was that it could have catastrophic results.

My phobia was well rooted. It was my understanding that pressure cookers were weapons of mass destruction that should never be used . . . at least by me.

But a few months ago, my eyes were opened and my universe was changed.

The revelation actually came in the form of a cheesy infomercial on a Sunday morning. Two bad actors reading off cue cards were explaining the wonders of the Power Pressure Cooker XL.

It’s lightweight, easy to clean, sits on the counter and is the ultimate tool in the quest for a charmed life.

I became intrigued as the two bad actors threw all kinds of raw ingredients into the cooker’s chamber – things that take a long time to cook.

Dry beans.


Tough cuts of beef.

Frozen stuff.

Then they just threw in some salt, pepper and a little water.

I cringed when they said they were going to turn it on and close the lid . . . after all, I was taught to know this was the stage when the earth could be scourged with fire and brimstone.

But there was no straining or running for cover. With ease, they gently turned the lid to the “lock position” and pushed two buttons.

“In just a few minutes, we will have a fabulous meal,” they proclaimed.

I watched with earnest as they opened the gadget and lo and behold . . . there was a perfect stew of sorts that actually looked good!

Over the course of the next 15 minutes, they created dozens of dishes in the blink of an eye.

And no one lost a limb or had any other sort of injury!

Despite the bad acting and the catatonic studio audience that clapped on cue, I found myself longing for this personal kitchen device. Could it change my life as they promised?

Armed with some Kohl’s Cash and a 30 percent off sticker, I went to find my soon-to-be best friend. Dozens of boxed cookers were piled in an impressive aisle display.

The lady at the check-out counter said she’d seen a large number of people purchase this new wonder.

Hmmm, I thought. Well, if it doesn’t work, at least I won’t be the only sucker.

The pressure cooker made its way to my home kitchen where I timidly removed it from its packaging. I was surprised to see it didn’t look nearly as menacing as the bomb that used to sit on my mother’s stove.

I decided to experiment. What dish would be first? I decided to start with ham and beans – because in a normal slow cooker, it literally takes nearly 24 hours (counting the overnight soaking time).

I threw in frozen ham hocks, celery, carrots, onions, a bunch of hard unsoaked beans, some water, some stock, some seasoning.

I put the top on and simply turned until the “locked” arrows matched and I hit a button that says “beans/lentils.” A timer kicked on and I instinctively felt the need to run out of the building before there was an explosion.

But there was no violence, there were no sirens. There was no sound at all. Just a blissful smell of pork and an unexpected calmness.

I wondered . . . could I leave it unattended? Or would I have to stand by wearing a helmet with fire extinguisher in hand? I opened the user manual to the “most often asked questions” portion. I was pleased to see I was being instructed to “feel free to go about my day, leave the house, it is safe to be left unattended.”

Still riddled with childhood fear, I chose to stay nearby while the pressure cooker did its thing . . . just in case.

After just 20 minutes, there was a slight beep. I saw that the “keep warm” light was on and the pressure cooking was over. It had been completely uneventful in that kitchen, even with the pressure building.

When I opened it, I found a perfect pot of ham and beans. It was nearly miraculous.

Since then, I’ve made all sorts of concoctions – throwing in frozen chicken, raw potatoes, uncooked pasta, wild rice, a roast here, a pile of ribs there. Whatever. It almost doesn’t matter what you throw in — because what you pull out is always good.

It also doesn’t matter if you are in a hurry – somewhere between six and 20 minutes, a fully cooked meal will appear.

It’s like winning a game. And the prize comes in the package of time.

If you buy any kitchen gadget this year, make it the Power Pressure Cooker. It’s a souped up version of a crock pot that helps home cooks regain their will to live.

And have no fear – this ain’t your mama’s killing machine from the 1970s.

Seriously, in this situation, life is so much better with a little pressure.


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