This week’s frugal roundup
Photo: Eric Martin
The last time I was at my grandpa’s house, I was digging around in his kitchen, and found a pressure cooker. I had seen it when I was a kid, so I started asking a bunch of questions. It seemed like an archaic yet fascinating piece of gear.
I asked a few of my cooking friends if they had any pressure cooker experience.
“Are you kidding? Those things are dangerous! They can blow up your whole house!”
Wow. You had me at dangerous.
So, I had a quest. Find out if I can still buy a pressure cooker, and if so, obtain one as quickly as possible.
Yes, I know. Not the most frugal game plan, but times were different then. In retrospect, the purchase did end up being a frugal buy. The purpose of this site is not only to save money (hence frugality) but to save time and effort (hence painless). So, forgive my impulse buy, but do know that it turned out to be a smart move.
I also believe that cooking is not only frugal, but it is a sport. It is a passion. It is the future. It is history. Learning to cook is one of the few skills that can save your life, get chicks, get guys, save a buck, and lay the groundwork for a lifetime of memories.
The idea of a pressure cooker is that instead of cooking food slowly at low temperature as does its cousin the crock pot, it cooks food quickly using high pressure.
It’s just a heavy cooking pot, with a lid that fastens to it securely, and lets the pressure build. Yeah, scary, but really not. Stick with me.
Before I go any further, let me quickly discuss safety. In looking at my grandpa’s pressure cooker, the only heat escape is via the little hole at the top. The one that is covered by the little valve. If something were to plug that hole tight enough, you could conceivably have beef stew rain down on the entire neighborhood.
With the pressure cooker I found, there were three other places for the built up pressure to escape, should there be a problem. There are two extra valves on the lid, and one on the side. So, in reality, the perfect storm would really need to be more than perfect to blow the place up. I deem them safe.
The pressure cooker adds yet another convenience to your kitchen. Things that normally take a very long time (hours) to cook on a normal stove can be done in about half an hour. This half hour includes all prep and cooking time.
Don’t be taken in by the hype on the box. The box will make claims that your food will cook in ten minutes. It will, but there’s more to it than that. Keep that in mind, and you won’t be disappointed.
The fact that you can cook dishes faster means that you can feel free to cook things during that week that you would normally reserve for a Sunday dinner. Some of the things I consistently cook on weeknights are:
The list goes on and on, but the idea is that hearty one-pot meat dishes are tossed around by the pressure cooker.
Okay, here’s what I did next. Since I have a prime account on amazon, I decided to start shopping there. I started looking around, and found that I had no idea what I was looking at, so it was back to the drawing board. I headed to the public library, and grabbed a few books on pressure cooking. Among my haul was a book by Lorna Sass called Pressure Perfect: Two Hour Taste in Twenty Minutes Using Your Pressure Cooker.
This book proved invaluable in my pressure quest. I checked it out so many times that I was banned from checking it out any further. I bought a copy, and still use it to this day.
To save you a little time, these are the things that I found most important in selecting a pressure cooker:
So, there really isn’t much to it. The one pictured to the right is the one I chose, and have had no complaints. I love my pressure cooker.
This is where it gets exciting. Your best bet is to pick up a few books on the subject. Like I said, the Lorna Sass book is the one I liked best. I would probably steer clear of the internet for at least a few weeks in your quest for recipes. I have found that a great many of the recipes are obviously untested, and make no sense at all when you read them. Once you cook with a good book, you will begin to intuitively see when a recipe makes no sense.
There is a good deal of information housed in those books, and I don’t have the space to repeat it, but I have found a few tips that I learned with my cooker, and they might be useful in your kitchen:
So! I hope this gives you the gist of pressure cooking, and gives you the push to grab a cooker, grab a book, and let ‘er rip!
I should add a few frugal notes here.
The most frugal way to get books is to go to the library. This is what I did. I just found that I liked the book so much, that I had no choice but to buy it.
As for pressure cookers, you can probably find one at a garage sale. The only caveat here is that the seal on the cooker is very important. If the seal does not work, you will not build pressure, and you could get hurt by escaping steam. In this case, for your first cooker, I would definitely buy new.