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Gift Registry 101 - pressure cookers

Dual handles make it easier and safer like this Mirro 4-quart model.
Dual handles make it easier and safer like this Mirro 4-quart model.

When you're putting together your wedding gift registry, you're probably thinking about a slow cooker. But have you ever considered a pressure cooker?

Make it fast, safe, tasty, tender and easily with a pressure cooker.

In theory, a slow cooker sounds perfect. You put all the ingredients together before you go to work and when you get home the meal is ready. And it's true. It does work that way. However, if you're always dashing out the door in the morning on your way to work, do you really have the extra time to put together all the ingredients for that evening's meal? I suspect that most of you are saying, "Uh, no, not exactly."

Well, then you should consider a pressure cooker.

What do you know about pressure cookers besides the fact that they hiss and make a lot of noise when they're cooking food and the first time you come across one that's steaming away it can scare the heck out of you?

Not much? OK, then here's what you need to know.

  • Pressure cookers are the preferred cooking tool for many chefs and home cooks.
  • They cook food with less energy.
  • They cook foods faster than a microwave and about 50% to 75% faster than conventional cooking methods.
  • Pressure cookers are essential to use for canning fruits and vegetables because they kill bacteria.

Now no one is saying that you should try to grill a steak in a pressure cooker, but if you like to make sauces, stews, pot roast, chili, soups, corned beef or almost anything that needs to cook slowly in liquid, a pressure cooker can be your best friend.

Recipes like pot roast or stew can take hours using conventional methods to make the meat tender. In a pressure cooker, you can cook stew in about a half hour. A pot roast cooked in the oven or on the stove top in a Dutch oven, depending on the size and cut of meat, will take from two to four hours. With a pressure cooker, you can cook the pot roast until it's fork tender in an hour or less . That means you can cook tasty but less expensive cuts of meats and that will save you money.

How does it work?

The liquid in the pressure cooker, when it's properly sealed, gets hotter than boiling so the food literally cooks under intense pressure and heat.

Not only will you cook faster and kill bacteria, but you won't lose important vitamins and nutrients that typically are lost in the cooking liquid.

A pressure cooker can make cooking your favorite dishes more pleasurable because you're not heating up the house. The vapor that's released from a pressure cooker is more like seeing steam released from a hot tea kettle.

Presto and Mirro, a division of Wearever, both make excellent pressure cookers. Presto has been around for more than a hundred years and Mirro also makes a great product and their pressure cookers are generally less expensive.

Pressure cookers are either made of aluminum or stainless steel. Since stainless steel doesn't conduct heat very well, most stainless steel pots will have a copper or triclad bottom. The triclad base simply means that aluminum is sandwiched between layers of stainless steel to improve its heat conductivity.

Also make sure that you register for one that will work on any cooking surface such as a gas, electric or a glass top range.

The pressure cookers generally come in four-quart, six-quart, eight-quart and 24-quart sizes. The largest is generally used for canning.

A six-quart or eight-quart is highly recommended since you should only fill the pot up to half or three-quarters of the way depending on the model. And, with proper care. your pressure cooker should last for years with minimal maintenance, so you'll want it large enough to cook for a future family or for guests.

Many models also come with a cooking rack so that your food won't be on direct heat so your chance of burning it is much less. The rack is also essential when you're sterilizing jars for canning.

Yes, it can be a little scary listening to the pot hiss and rattle the first time you use one, but don't worry, there are so many safety features on today's pressure cookers that you would have to try very hard to get the lid to pop and explode. In other words, as long as you follow the instructions, it makes a lot of noise but the chance of an accident is very slim.

While a slow cooker can be great to have, especially to keep foods warm, take the pressure off of yourself of trying to prepare dinner before you prepare breakfast and put a pressure cooker on your gift registry wish list.