Thursday, April 15, 2010

How I learned to save time and love the bomb......

Okay so technically it's not a bomb but all my senses remind me that it's not only a bomb, it's a big and loud one too. We used to have a health food store, market & restaurant up in the mountains of California. The town was called Idyllwild and it was idyllic. One day while the Marinara sauce was being made, something happened and !BOOM! there went the pressure cooker. The building shook, the neighbors ran in and there were curtains of red sauce dripping off the ceiling. It didn't matter how many times it was cleaned, several coats of paints were needed to just cover it up.

Don't get me wrong I think my pressure cooker is the greatest thing and it was one of the first things I bought when we came back to the US (I had them in Mexico too and have always had one or two around). At first, Ricardo was the one to open, check and close it since it made me nervous and it took a while until I was comfortable enough to use it by myself. Call me chicken but I've got a long memory.

Anyway, I got over it and since then we use this little wonder almost every day and for all kinds of things, let me name a few: cooking beans, making long simmering sauces in a flash, making "carnitas", soup, chili, stew, "guisados", curries, for sealing canned food, sterilizing glass jars, frying large batches of food. I've even made cakes and flan in the pressure cooker!

Not only will it save you time but money. This is the healthiest, most nutritious way to cook while saving energy. Plus it can be used on all types of fuels, even on an open fire (just rub soap all over the outside so the soot can be removed easily). Using a pressure cooker makes it possible to use the cheapest cuts of meat and turn them into tender and juicy meals for your family. It will pay for itself in no time flat making it possible for you to cook things you never had time for before due to the time needed for their preparation. You can cut cooking times down and have a beef stew ready in 15 min on a weekday or cook large batches of food one day, using a portion of it right away while freezing the rest in serving quantities (like zip-lock bags) and have them available anytime in no time flat!

I think you get the idea, if you want more info just google "pressure cooker" and see all the ways it can help you and your family. I can promise you will be impressed. I can't imagine living without one, truly. Don't think they cost a lot, they're available everywhere and they last a lifetime.

Going back to basics while saving money seems to be a popular theme these days and I've gotten quite a few mails asking me to elaborate on cost savings methods to feed a family so I'll be mentioning things that have worked for us and how we make our food budget last. Here are some tips and recipes:

If you're cooking any type of bean or legume (dried peas, garbanzo, adzuki, black, pinto, black eye peas - we love "peruanos" they are light yellow and turn into smooth, creamy beans that are great as a side dish or in burritos or anything else) you would cut cooking time even more by pre-soaking in water 4 hrs before cooking, throw out the soaking water and use fresh for cooking. Don't forget to pick through the beans first to make sure there are no stones, straw or anything else there included in them and don't add salt until they're done, but don't leave it out completely either or you won't like their taste. After they're cooked, drain them you can then use a potato masher and some fat (oil, lard, bacon fat.... yes, I know....) and re-fry them. Fabulous!

A general rule for cooking beans is once they're soaked, put in the pressure cooker with about 3 inches of water covering the beans. Close the pot and turn on high heat, wait for the valve to let you know pressure has been reached, lower heat to simmer and then it takes about 30 min to have tender beans. But if you're making peas or lentils you should cut this down to about 5-10 min or you'll have cream of pea soup (which you could do, just throw in a ham or shank bone and Voila! Amazing!). You will have to work with your cooker so you know how it works and what your "times" will be, follow the manufacturer's suggestions and test it out.

Cooking in large batches is practical for everyone, even those that don't have a large family since this will save time later on both on cooking and re-heating. If you're single simply store in individual serving pouches or containers and freeze, once you're ready to use it you can either boil them or "nuke" it and you're done. Sauces are specially suited for this as is anything that has any liquid in it. You can cook on the weekend and save for the rest of the week or even month if you've got the space in the freezer, then you've got your meal ready in a couple of minutes. But don't think you can't cook more than just sauces, this can practically replace the oven and stove top for your meals and it doesn't heat up the house!

Tough meats become fork tender using a pressure cooker and this means savings and flavor for you. Here are some recipes to try:

Short Ribs with Gravy and Vegetables.- A lovely dish you can serve anytime or even for company.

3 tbl prepared mustard
3 to 3-1/2 lb beef short ribs (2-1/2 inch thick), excess fat trimmed
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup olive oil
4 leeks (white part only), sliced and cleaned
1/3 cup chopped parsley
1 cup crushed canned tomatoes (I use fresh, roughly chopped with their liquid)
1-1/2 cups beef broth (or chicken or even water)
1/4 cup sherry (or any wine, red would be best)
1 tbl brown sugar
1-1/2 tsp salt (or to your taste)
1/2 tsp pepper
1 tsp dried tarragon
6 carrots, cut into 2-inch pieces
6 med-size potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch slices (I don't peal mine just wash)
1/4 cup sour cream
1/4 cup butter, softened
1-1/2 tbl flour

Place flour in a shallow dish. Coat with flour, shaking to remove excess.

In a pressure cooker, heat oil. Add ribs and sear in hot olive oil, turning to brown on all sides. Remove and set aside. Add leeks and parsley and fry in hot oil 2 min. Stir in tomatoes, broth, sherry, brown sugar, salt, pepper, and tarragon. Add ribs. Secure lid. Over high heat, develop steam to high pressure. Reduce heat to maintain pressure and cook 18 min. Release pressure according to manufacturer's directions. Remove lid.

Add carrots and potatoes to rib mixture. Secure lid. Over high heat, develop steam to high pressure. Reduce heat to maintain pressure and cook 6 min. Release pressure according to manufacturer's directions. Remove lid. Transfer ribs and vegetables to a platter.

Combine sour cream, butter, and potato starch, blending until smooth. Gradually add to cooking liquid, stirring and cooking over med heat 1 min. This will thicken the sauce. Spoon sauce over ribs and vegetables.

Note: To skim off excess fat, drain meat through a colander after the first 18 min of cooking. Put juices in freezer 20 min. Fat will rise to surface. Skim fat off top. Return juices and meat to pressure cooker and continue to cook to completion.

Do you like "Machaca"? This is a wonderful dish that's a classic in Mexican food that gives you shredded beef to use in burritos, tostadas, salpicon, cold meat salads, taco salads, tacos, enchiladas or it's great by itself. Low calorie, low fat protein made from economic cuts of meat. Cuts preferred for this are Beef Shank Meat, Brisket or any other cut that you can shred the cooked meat that you would prefer. We like the shank because it's high in flavor.

Machaca Nortena.- This shredded beef dish is a Northern Mexico favorite and can become your family's favorite. It's great in Enchiladas and so many other dishes....

3-4 lbs Beef Shank Meat or Brisket
2 garlic cloves, peeled
1/2 onion, cut in half
2 bay leaves
4 tomatoes, chopped
1 onion, chopped
2 tbl cilantro leaves, chopped
16 oz tomato sauce
1 tbl Worcestershire Sauce
1/4 - 1/3 cup light brown sugar (optional)
2 chiles de arbol (or serranos) cut in thin slices (optional)
salt and pepper to taste

Put the meat into the pressure cooker along with the garlic, 1/2 onion and bay leaves. Cover with water and close the lid. Bring up the pressure and once it signals you, lower the temperature and cook at least 55 min. Once you release the pressure, check to insure the meat is tender and can be easily shredded with your fingers, if not, close it up and cook 15 min more until it's ready. Once the meat is ready, cool it so you can shred it. (You will be using a little of the broth but the rest can be saved and used as a base for soup, sauce or for rice).

Put the following into the pressure cooker (it's already dirty so you will only have to clean it once and won't dirty another pan unless you want to) once you've removed the meat and broth. Over med-high heat, put the tomato sauce and the rest of the ingredients mentioned, add about 1 cup of the broth to this and mix well so you have a med loose sauce. Check to adjust seasonings. If you like the sauce, add the meat and let it come to a boil, then reduce heat and let it cook for about 10 min. Turn off heat. Ready to serve.
NOTE: You can save the sauce or not, it will keep the meat moist but the meat is usually used without it. This is also great cold as in "Salpicon" which are cold meat tostadas or salads. Yum!

East Indian Chicken with Spices.- A flavorful way with chicken done quickly that you will love.

1 3 lb chicken, cut up
1 cup water
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1 tbl lemon juice
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp grated fresh ginger OR 1/2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp salt
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp curry powder
1/4 tsp pepper
2 tbl vegetable or olive oil
2 tsp cornstarch
2 tsp cold water

Place chicken in a single layer in a glass or pottery dish. Combine water, yogurt, lemon juice, garlic, ginger, turmeric, salt, paprika, curry powder, and pepper; pour over chicken and marinate at room temperature for 1 hour. Remove chicken from marinade, brushing off as much of marinade as possible (reserve marinade). Heat oil in pressure cooker. Brown chicken,a few pieces at a time; set aside. Return all chicken to pressure cooker. Pour marinade over chicken.

Close pressure cooker cover securely. Bring to pressure. Cook for 10 min. Cool pressure cooker at once. Remove chicken pieces to a warm platter. Mix cornstarch with cold water; blend into hot liquid. Cook and stir until mixture boils and thickens. Pour sauce over chicken.

Texas Barbecue Pot Roast.- A variation on the traditional Pot Roast but it will give you an idea of how to go about it. This one is really great.

1/2 cup catsup
1/2 cup apricot preserves
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
1/4 cup white vinegar
1/2 cup teriyaki or soy sauce (can be lite soy sauce)
1 tsp crushed dry red pepper
1 tsp dry mustard
1/4 tsp pepper
4 to 4 1/2 lb eye of round, bottom round, boneless chuck roast or pork loin roast
1 1/2 cups water for beef OR 2 cups water for pork
1 large onion, sliced

Prepare barbecue sauce by mixing together catsup, preserves, brown sugar, vinegar, teriyaki, red pepper, mustard, and pepper. Place roast and barbecue sauce in a large plastic bag, or glass dish. Refrigerate overnight.

Place water and cooking rack or steamer basket in pressure cooker (you can also use an inverted oven safe dish like pyrex). Cover rack or steamer basket with half of the sliced onions. Remove roast from sauce (reserve sauce). Put roast on onions and cover with remaining onions. Close pressure cooker cover securely. Bring up to pressure, for the following doneness: 8 to 10 min per pound for rare; 10 to 12 min per pound for medium; at least 12 to 15 min per pound for well-done meat. Cook pork 15 min per pound until well done. Let pressure drop by itself until it's gone and you can open the cooker.

Meanwhile, place reserved barbecue sauce in a saucepan and simmer, until reduced by about one-half, stirring occasionally. Remove roast and keep warm. Discard cooking water or use for making soup. Puree onions in a blender or food processor and add to reduced barbecue sauce. Serve sauce with sliced roast.

Portobello and White Bean Cassoulet.- A very filling, nutritious and satisfying dish to have on your non-meat days that will help curve your food budget.

8 oz portobello mushrooms, chopped in 1/2 inch pieces
3 large cloves garlic, chopped
1 14 oz can diced tomatoes (I use 1 cups fresh tomatoes, chopped)
1 tsp dried thyme or 1 tbl fresh thyme
2 tsp dried basil or 2 tbl minced fresh basil
1 tsp fresh or dried rosemary leaves
1 bay leaf
1 medium onion, chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 14 oz. cans navy or great northern beans, drained and rinsed if canned or 4 cups cooked
(these can be cooked in the pressure cooker for about 15-25 min, then drain)

Heat a large non-stick skillet or casserole over medium heat, and stir fry the mushrooms for 1-2 min. When mushrooms begin to loose their juices, add the garlic and continue to cook, stirring, for another minute. Do not allow the garlic to brown. Add tomatoes, mushrooms, thyme, basil, rosemary, and bay leaf. Stir and bring to a boil. Add onions and salt and pepper to taste. Return to a boil, cover and simmer over low heat for 15 min, stirring occasionally. Remove and discard the bay leaf. Mix in the beans, and simmer over low to medium heat until beans are warmed through, about 5 min. Add water, if necessary, to keep ingredients moist. Adjust seasonings and serve.

There is so much out there that relates to Pressure Cookers, they've been around for ages and while the new models are sleek and aerodynamic, you can still find the same ones that your Mom or Grandmother had to use along with all the cookbooks. It doesn't matter if it's long ago or on today's date, pressure cookers can be a wonderful help to busy families who are short on time due to many activities, but then you can add real cost savings that only add to it's popularity. In today's world it's all about conserving energy and living green, pressure cookers are totally in step with all this. Talk about old being new again.... Talk soon....


  1. I was looking around for authentic Mexican recipes and found your blog... thanks so much, esp for the machaca. I've been trying to prepare Latin American food lately and learning Spanish online at ( -- it's been rewarding to learn the language and cuisine in tandem. Gracias....

  2. I hope you look through the LABEL section under "Foods from Mexico" and keep "going back in time to older posts" because you'll find plenty of recipes from around the country that you're sure to find interesting.... keep checking in, I post frequently.