Why are people afraid of pressure cookers?

Wed, Mar 18 • 0

Don’t let your grandma’s tale of kitchen terror dissuade you from using this great time-saving device.

(I realize I’ve been talking incessantly about my new toy, so I hope you’ll indulge me a little longer…)

Aside from the rattle of an old-fashioned pressure cooker, and the escaping of steam, there’s really nothing on the face of them that make them any different from a regular pot and lid. Except for the possibility of them exploding. And you might even have some family lore that would justify the fear.

The pressure cooker was invented back in the early 20th century, and was used as a method for industrial canning. They didn’t make it to the home market until the late 1930’s, and were thought to be completely safe. (They were even used on early transcontinental airline flights to provide hot meals for passengers.) Then came World War II, and the US government was hungry for the aluminum that the pressure cookers were made from. Companies that manufactured them were retooled to make military equipment, like airplane engine parts. Housewives were encouraged to donate their pots and pans for the war effort. After the war, the swords returned to ploughshares, and companies retooled once again to make household goods. But the quality of the pots and pans weren’t that great. Production methods favored quantity over quality. Tons of cheap, poorly made pressure cookers hit the market in the late 40’s and early 50’s, and they had the reputation — rightfully so — of exploding under the higher than normal pressures. So if you were a lucky enough cook not to personally experience an in-kitchen detonation, chances are you were wary enough of them to tuck the pots in the deepest depths of your cupboards — only to have them be resurrected by your heirs in the 70’s, who also experienced the same disasterous results.

These days, however, the newer pressure cookers are designed with safety features — pressure regulating systems, and durable, high-quality stainless steel construction. There’s little reason to fear them now.

And there’s certainly no reason to splurge on the electronic gadgetry that mesmerized me recently. Although I’ve used it for some aspect of every meal I’ve made since I bought it — either for the main course, or for a side dish — you can certainly make do with a less expensive, more conventional model. It’ll just require a little more attention and care, but you’ll save a lot on the price. A good 6 quart pressure cookerWhy are people afraid of pressure cookers?   can be had for as little as $40.

One thing I’ve really noticed while working with mine is that pressure cookers seem to eat up garlic. No matter how many cloves of garlic I add, the flavor just vanishes.


Hook, Line and Sinker

Wed, Mar 4 • 0

Ok. So I fell for it.

I watched Jacques Pepin make chili con carne in an electric pressure cooker. I didn’t even know these things existed. I’d been contemplating purchasing a regular pressure cooker for awhile now. I added one to my Amazon shopping cart; I turned down the corner of the page in the Sur la Table catalog … but nothing pushed me over the edge until I watched this cooking show.

He just poured the dried beans into the pot right out of the bag. He added raw hamburger, and water and canned tomatoes and tomato paste and spices. He clamped on the lid, and said that he’d have chili in an hour. (I’ve snipped out just the parts where he demonstrates the chili recipe … the first video is the prep, and the second one shows him serving it. The whole episode is here.)

I looked on the internet, and saw recipes for pot roast in less than an hour. Chicken stock in 40 minutes. I read that this cooker let you brown your meat in it first without making you dirty up another pan. It also has a setting that lets you simmer the contents once the pressure is off, to keep it warm. Contrary to his demonstration, it really doesn’t seem to be designed to let you put the ingredients in, then go off to work or the store, and have it wait, and then turn itself on 45 minutes before you get home. Instead, the timer is more a way to limit the amount of time the food cooks under pressure — the device will build up the pressure, cook for the time you’ve set on the timer, and then shut off. (On re-reading the manual, it’ll cook for the allotted time, and then switch to “simmer” mode — so I guess you could set it up, let it cook, and then it’ll keep warm all day long while you were shopping or at work.)

Hook, Line and Sinker   pressure gadget celebrity Well, of course I had to have one. I had some credit built up on Amazon, so I ordered it.

And then I re-watched the cooking show, and only then realized that the whole damn show is sponsored by Cuisinart, the people who make the electric pressure cooker. What’s more, the unsweetened chocolate he puts in is made by yet another of his sponsors. I realized I’d been bamboozled. Oh, Jacques! How could you? If anyone would resist being a infomercial pitch-man, it’d be you.

So, the cooker showed up this afternoon, and I was tempted to make dinner using it, but then I figured I should wait and try some of the recipes from the little cookbook that came with it, instead of just winging it. I don’t have much buyer’s remorse. I’m still glad I bought it, but the proof will be in the pudding.

Cuisinart CPC-600 1000-Watt 6-Quart Electric Pressure Cooker, $149


Mysterious Food on the Internets

Wed, Dec 10 • 0

Mysterious Food on the Internets   Daily Lunch is a japanese site detailing one obsessive artist’s lunch box, and their artistic creative presentations.

How frozen pizzas are made. What’s in a twinkie?

(Amazing. Twinkies have been around for 78 years! They’ve been around as long as the Chrysler Building, in New York, and Betty Boop. Here are more events from 1930.)


Welsh Rabbit

Wed, Nov 19 • 0

Welsh Rabbit   cheap eats

This was one of my granddad’s favorites. It’s very economical. You can probably make it for less than $5 total provided you have all the seasonings on hand. (Especially if you grab your cheddar from the dairy aisle of the grocery store, instead of the specialty cheese or deli section.) Supposedly the name dates back to early eighteenth-century England, when meat was so expensive that the poor could only eat cheaper cuts, like rabbit, which was the cheapest meat of all. But, as the slur goes, even rabbit was too expensive for the Welsh, and so they were forced to substitute cheese for meat. I’ve always considered this meal to be luxurious.

2 cups (½ lb. or 250g) aged, sharp Cheddar, grated
1 tablespoon (15g) butter
½ cup (125ml) beer
1 egg, slightly beaten
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon dry mustard
pinch of cayenne pepper
sliced bread, toasted

Melt butter and cheese together over low heat; stir in the beer and continue to stir until the mixture is well blended. Remove from heat and beat in egg and seasonings. Arrange several slices of toast in a shallow pan and pour the rarebit over them. Brown briefly under a broiler and serve while still bubbling. Serves 2, or 4 as an appetizer.

Welsh Rabbit   cheap eats

(I really have no idea why Winsor McCay made such a big deal about the hallucinatory properties of this dish, but do let me know if you have any weird dreams after eating it!)

Dream of the Rarebit Fiend. by Winsor McCay, The New York Evening Telegram, May 30, 1908;
Waking Dream of the Rarebit Fiend
, Boston Globe, Oct. 31, 2007;
Dream of The Rarebit Fiend: The Saturdays
Welsh Rabbit   cheap eats , by Winsor McCay.


Great Food Processor, only $100

Wed, Sep 24 • 2

Great Food Processor, only $100   I’m not sure how long this deal will last, but if you need a new food processor, or don’t have one yet, Amazon is selling this Cuisinart food processor for $80 off its list price, a savings of 44%. This is the same model I’ve used since 2005, and I have no complaints about it. It works great, and this is a great, great price.


The Omnivore’s Hundred

Thu, Aug 28 • 1

A foodie blogger in the UK has manufactured a meme and came up with a list of 100 items for people to repost on their blogs to say what they’ve eaten, what they haven’t, and what they won’t. I managed to tick off 71 items, and only indicated 4½ items I wouldn’t ever touch : horse, roadkill, head cheese, a raw scotch bonnet pepper, and a fat cigar (which was listed with cognac, something I’m more than happy to drink).

The VGT Omnivore’s Hundred


Keep reading…


Char-Broil Patio Caddie Electric Grill

Fri, Jul 25 • 0

Not half as good as a real gas or charcoal grill, but considering most apartment complexes won’t allow those on high-rise balconies, this is the best you’re gonna get.

Char Broil Patio Caddie Electric Grill   patio grill electric grill bbq barbecue bar b q I mentioned before that I got an electric patio grill for my birthday earlier this month, and based on some reviews on Amazon, I deviated slightly from the assembly instructions that came with it. Specifically, I added a little mass. Reviewers on Amazon mentioned that the grill just doesn’t get up to any real temperature. So, underneath the heating element, I added a round wire rack and a layer of lava rocks designed to be used with a gas grill. The real payoff with this mod is that the more I use the grill, and the more food juices fall and stick to the lava rocks, the more smoke. And smoke is what gives flavor.

I’ve been pretty happy with this, even though it’s just a glorified electric broiler element in an enameled steel encasement. It gets plenty hot — easily climbing to 500° — and it does it pretty quickly. It did blow the electric circuit when I tried plugging it in on one of the more heavily used circuits in my apartment.

It costs about $200 with shipping (though Amazon will ship it for free if you’re willing to wait a couple extra days), and it’s fairly easy to assemble with a screwdriver and a crescent wrench. Although I can’t say if it will last many, many seasons. If it lasts two or three, I’ll be satisfied.

Amazon : Char-Broil Patio Caddie Electric Grill, $159.


BBQ Beef Ribs

Sun, Jul 20 • 0

The reader Frobozz’s comments to the early June pork ribs post hit the nail on the head in a lot of ways.

He’s right: there’s no need to have coals on both sides of the Weber, a single pile of coals on one side is enough (and don’t use a coal rack or anything like that, just pile them loose. Another tweak (learned from an amazing book called “Mario Tailgates Nascar Style“): after soaking your wood chips for an hour or more (depending on thickness … I sometimes use mesquite chunks I chip myself with a hatchet), put the soaked chips into foil packets and punch holes into the packets before putting the foil packets directly on the coals. Smoke city.

Here are before and after pictures for some beef rib slabs we bbq’d up this weekend.

BBQ Beef Ribs   ribs grill beef bbq barbecue bar b q

Whatever you do, the secret is: use patient low temperature for a long time. In many important contexts (cooking ribs is definitely one of ‘em), slower is better.

Temperature Control: how about putting a thermometer on your cooker? Don’t bother with one of them fancy wireless ones, they aren’t very reliable. A simple Teltru BBQ thermometer such as ones you can find at KCK.com is rugged and will do a great job. You can achieve success without a thermometer of course, but using one is an easy way to tell that it’s time to add more coals (and how many) without opening the kettle.

Be careful not to rely too much on your thermometer. The first (and only) time I cooked a whole hog, I was convinced based on a meat thermometer reading that the old boy was done after about 12 or 13 hours. An old hand gave me good advice: throw your meat thermometer away, just take out a knife and cut into the meat to see. Sure enough, he wasn’t done, he needed another 6 hours.

Lesson learned: technology is fine, but nothing beats experience and common sense.


Chicago Lifts Ban on Foie Gras

Wed, May 14 • 0

Chicago Lifts Ban on Foie Gras   You know, I can understand the outrage of people who think that eating foie gras is evil. The animals are most definitely mistreated in the production of the product… where a tube is forced down the throat of a goose, and they are forcefed their body weight in corn, every day, to the point that their livers are enlarged 10 times their normal size. I can completely understand how, after knowing that, you’d choose not to eat this particular delicacy from our friends in France.

But then I’d also expect you to avoid just about every other meat product on the market, including eggs (where the hens are crammed so tightly in the laying racks in the farm/factory, that they usually lose all of their feathers, and their bodies get bruises all over it) and beef (where steers are hardened off on corn, a food their bodies aren’t made to digest, causing all sorts of infection and diseases that the farmers need to pump them with medicines and antibiotics). And if you did choose to avoid those foods, then I can understand it, completely.

It’s when you decide that I have to avoid those foods, even if I eat them at my peril, that is the flaw in logic. The key for being self-righteous in your beliefs is that “self” is just as important as “right” in the phrase. Your beliefs are yours. Don’t try to force them on the rest of us.

And it’s easy to see why the animal activists would pick foie gras as their beach-head into food policy. It’s an obscure product that only the fringiest of the fringe even cares about. There’s no huge market for the stuff, so Big Industry isn’t going to apply pressure to politicians that are thinking about enacting legislation limiting the consumption of it. Today, foie gras. Tomorrow…?

And while I do have some complaints about the way big Agro-Industry has changed the face of farming in the last 30 years, I prefer to think that there’s more power, long term, in the pocketbook than there is in the lawbook. The ban on foie gras is a perfect example. Any law passed can be overturned. But if enough people rob the industry of the money it needs, that will surely force change. The problem is getting enough people motivated to participate in a boycott.

Anyway, here’s a brief news article describing how Chicago came to its senses and overturned the 2-year-old ban on the delicacy. (For the record, I have sampled foie gras as part of a tasting menu at a ritzy restaurant and, pretty much like veal, I didn’t find it appealing enough to justify the guilt associated with purchasing it.)


Salmon Fritters

Wed, Apr 30 • 0

If you’re feeling rich and extravagant, replace the canned salmon with fresh chopped salmon, or lump crab meat.

Salmon Fritters   pescatarian fritter fish burger

5 green onions, finely chopped
½ sweet red pepper, finely chopped
1t garlic powder
¼c mayonnaise
1 egg, beaten
6 oz. flaked salmon (canned or in those foil packages)
1/3rd c corn flake coating or bread crumbs plus extra for coating
pinch of cayenne
juice from ½ a lemon

Mix all of this up in a bowl, and then make 4 balls, about the size of a golfball. Roll them around in more corn flakes/bread crumbs. Just before frying, flatten the balls to make patties. Fry in butter over medium heat, 3-4 minutes on each side.

Update, May 17 : I just made these for lunch today, using some leftover pan-fried salmon from the other night, and thought they were far superior to the packaged salmon I used last time. I didn’t explicitly point it out, but if you use fresh salmon, you might be able to get away with using it raw, if you chop it into small pieces, but even cooked salmon works well with this recipe.


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