Fast Food Can be Slow Food: Cooking Under Pressure

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Cooking Under Pressure
by Martha Esersky Lorden

The Slow Food movement has issued a challenge to the way we eat. Its premise that sustainable, locally raised plants and livestock can transform this nation’s over-dependance on a globalized, national food industry that markets unhealthy fast food products has everyone rethinking what they eat and how they cook.

In addition, the movement celebrates regional and traditional food products along with the personal history accompanying their preparation. Savoring our food, preserving old food ways and cooking methods and reflecting on how we source ingredients is at the very heart of the movement. So when I tell you that you can still march in the ranks of the Slow Food movement while accelerating cooking time, you might be a bit surprised. In this era of speed reading, speed walking, and even speed dating, you really can speed up the cooking process, yet stay true to the school of Slow Food, with an old-fashioned, ingenious piece of kitchen tech known as the pressure cooker.

In today’s home kitchen, cuisine rapido is an obsession and much needed skill in our overbooked lives. The preponderance of cookbooks promising Quick and Easy, Quick and Healthy, or 1-2-3  meals tells us that we desire tricks for getting simple-to-prepare, healthy meals on the table. The set-it-and-forget-it ease of the slow cooker is certainly an option, but you will find that a pressure cooker delivers a complete, nutritional one-pot meal in minutes that is as good as the long, stewing variety.


History of the Device

In 1679, during the reign of the English King Charles, a French physicist and mathematician named Denis Papin invented a cast metal furnace with a locking lid that raised the boiling point of water from 215º to 250º. The high temperature cooked and softened meat quickly, but this “digester” posed dangers of explosion, given the difficulty of regulating the steam pressure. Eventually, Papin invented a safety valve, but there was still the problem of cracks in the cast vessel. Despite earning him membership in the Royal Society after a successful demonstration of the device to King Charles and Society aristocracy, Papin never saw the complete success of his concept, though the science and application of his invention were established.

The set-it-and-forget-it ease of the slow cooker is certainly an option, but you will find that a pressure cooker delivers a complete, nutritional one-pot meal in minutes that is as good as the long, stewing variety.

The pressure cooker eventually became more than a science experiment. Commercial cast iron models appeared in the 19th century, and small domestic models came later. By the early 1920’s, home cooks employed them, but some dangers still persisted. With the arrival of World War II, as most manufacturers converted production to wartime industries, commercial pressure canners prepared food for hungry soldiers across the seas. With the war’s end, home cooks could enjoy modern appliances at cheap prices as manufacturers capitalized on the “benefits of using a pressure cooker for preparing meals, cooking in just one-third of the time, preserving vitamin and mineral content of food, and saving both food flavor and color.” (Miss Vickie’s Pressure Cooker Recipes)  


But by the 1950’s, the pressure cooker was overshadowed by products such as frozen foods, boxed preparations, and other convenience foods which touted a “modern” and “healthy” approach to food preparation. When the interest for a natural and healthy approach to eating surfaced in the 1960’s and 1970’s, the pressure cooker re-appeared briefly, only to be overshadowed by the arrival of increasing fast food options, the slow cooker crock pot, and the microwave oven. Once again, the pressure cooker retreated to the bowels of the kitchen cupboard. Considered old fashioned and not a major go-to appliance, some women were simply reluctant to use a mechanical device which sent out a plume of steam from a jiggling valve and sputtering top.


Pressure Cooker Advantages

While most Americans kept grandmother’s pressure cooker stored in the cellar, European and Asian manufacturers perfected the device, still found in most homes abroad.

Why is this old-fashioned cooking method suddenly popular again today? New models have improved with the advent of better safety-valve design, nonstick surfaces, low noise, ease of use, and even electric models. Today, these new generation, high-end pressure cookers are being exported to America. The pressure cooker of old that rattled, belched, and steamed on the stovetop is a thing of the past.

The advantages of this cooking method are many:

1) You will eat healthier food in less time. Food cooks in up to 70% less time.

2) You can save money.  A quick cooking time means saved energy by using two-thirds less energy. Eat faster and pay less.

3) Less heat escapes into your kitchen.

4) Cheap cuts of meat can be turned into tender, better tasting dishes by the enhanced flavor.

5) Economical whole foods like dried beans, grains, root vegetables, and rice are quick dishes.

6) Flavors are preserved as the food cooks in its own juices, not diluting liquids, producing a rich gravy.

7) Modern pressure cookers are a multi-purpose pot and not just for steaming. They can be a Dutch oven, sauce pan, or a baking pan.

8) Pressure cookers are a quick way to can or preserve foods.

Cooks can count on making better tasting, nutritious food in the fraction of the time with a pressure cooker.

My mother’s pressure cooker was a slightly bent, aluminum affair with a dimpled surface. I remember the clickety clack of the dancing safety valve as the steam escaped. She still talks about the pot roasts and potatoes she cooked in it. When she offered me the cooker and food-stained manual with recipes, I declined, foolishly. It just seemed too passé, too complicated. But since then, I’ve enjoyed two memorable meals made in a pressure cooker. I once prepared a succulent pork posole with a Pueblo Indian woman at her reservation home in New Mexico. In fact, I was so enamored of this meal steeped in tradition, and so grateful for her day of cooking instruction, that I gifted her a new pressure cooker to replace her flimsy, worn-out model. Frankly, I’d be surprised if she gave up her ailing, tried and true model for the new one. I enjoyed another memorable dish of a tender, rosemary pork roast braised in milk. It was prepared by a Roman woman who hosted me during my first visit to the city. I still can’t get that dish and its sweet, rich and creamy sauce out of my mind, and I’ve included the recipe below.

The popularity of the pressure cooker is, well, exploding. As a cooking technique, it is wonderfully in sync with the emerging, modern food philosophy. With so many excellent models (see What to Look for in a Pressure Cooker, America’s Test Kitchen, to choose from, the convenience of a fast, whole food meal is accessible and easy to schedule into our busy lives. A pressure cooker could just be a modern kitchen’s best kept secret.


Pressure Cooker Pork Loin Braised in Milk à la Romana

This recipe is adapted from The Classic Italian Cookbook by the late, great Marcella Hazan. The dish is excellent served on a base of warm polenta with a sauté of Porcini mushrooms. 

It’s hard to believe this company’s coming dish only takes about 40 minutes to cook, thanks to the magic of the pressure cooker.  


2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 pounds pork loin in one piece with some fat on it, securely tied

2 teaspoon salt

freshly ground black pepper

about 2 ½ cups or ¾ lt. milk


1.In the pressure cooker, with the lid off on medium-low heat, melt butter and oil.

2.When the butter is melted add the meat, fat side facing down first.

3.Brown the roast thoroughly on all sides, and finish on the side where you started.

4.Add the salt, pepper, bay leaf and milk pouring it on top of the roast and adding enough for it to cover the roast by half.

5.Close and lock the lid of the pressure cooker. Turn the heat to high and when the pressure cooker reaches pressure lower the heat and begin counting 30 minutes cooking time at high pressure.

6.When time is up, open the pressure cooker with the Natural release method – move the cooker off the burner and wait for the pressure to come down on its own (about 10 minutes). For electric pressure cookers, when cooking time is up count 10 minutes of natural open time. Then, release the rest of the pressure using the valve.

7.Move the roast to a serving dish tented with tin foil to rest.

8.Let the sauce cool and spoon out the fat, discard the bay leaf and reduce the sauce in the open pressure cooker, if needed.

9.If you do not like the coagulated milk clusters, whisk in some fresh milk or cream or break them up with a stick blender. Taste to check seasoning and add any additional salt, if needed.

10.Slice the roast and arrange on platter. Pour on the warm sauce and serve.

Finger Guards



Deglon Finger Guard Digiclass

If your knife skills are not quite up to par, you might just want to check out the newest gadget to aid the less-than-confident slicer and dicer.

Given that the best tools in the kitchen are attached to the ends of your arms, many cooks want to be sure that their hands and fingers are well-protected.

Deglon, famed upscale French knife makers since the 1920′s, has created a stainless steel finger shield worn as an adjustable finger ring.  Cooks simply attach the guard to their middle finger, place the bottom edge of the shield on top of the food to be sliced, position the knife against the gadget’s edge, and chop away.  The device holds the food in place, thus eliminating the chance for finger slippage or skittering scallions.

The finger guard is dishwasher-safe and is of a superb welded technology designed to be a long lasting and reliable kitchen tool.


Purists may consider using the finger guard cheating, but for many cooks, any device that is well-made, speeds the plow, and builds kitchen confidence is worth it.  The Deglon shield sells for $9.95 and is sure to keep fingers firmly attached.


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When Kitchen Implements Inspire


When it’s time to make a meal, my first inspiration is often not the foodstuffs I have hanging around in fridge and cupboards, but rather the sort of cooking technology I really want to use.

“Time to take my cast iron skillet for a run,” I tell myself.  “It’s been awhile since this baby has laid some rubber on my kitchen stove.”  What I end up cooking is determined by what this skillet has always delivered up well.  It cooks a fluffy frittata, a glistening braised pork chop and caramelized apple dish, and a no-fail lemony chicken piccata.  And I’m off to the races, or the grocery store if necessary.


Another case of how technology shapes what I cook comes when looking in the gadget drawers.  I’m thinking that funky potato peeler with the blade that creates julienne strips has yet to be mastered, though I had some success with it before.  I’ll take on the challenge of the tool with the goal of making a pasta-less dish of strips of zucchini, carrot, summer squash, and sweet potato topped with the pesto I made last summer.  Can’t wait.  (PASTA JULIENNE   from RECIPES, an OTK Featured Column)

zucchini coleslaw_DSC8309

Sure, I’ve fallen victim to some new-fangled contraptions– like most cooks. But these fancy and specialized devices end up as rejected clunkers because I can’t master the mechanics, or I struggle assembling or cleaning all the pieces. In reality,  I lose interest because they simply fail to inspire good dishes.

Cooks look for cutting edge tools, but not necessarily because they are uber-efficient or impressive gizmos.  A truly great piece of kitchen technology invigorates the cook and gets the creative juices flowing. One look at that gorgeous pot or paring knife can coax any cook to turn on the burner and rattle those pots and pans.

What tools in your kitchen inspire your cooking? 

Tell OTK about your go-to kitchen technology and the memorable dishes you have created with it.  

Move Over Edward Scissorhands

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Billed as a new “party fork,” this wearable utensil ought to get the party started. You’ll avoid sticky fingers and dropped cutlery as you efficiently skewer shrimp or veggies for dipping.  No mess and no waste of plastic forks with this wolverine styled picker-upper.

Made of stainless steel and guaranteed to bring some fun to the party, this finger fork will  be a real hit at a buffett, picnic, or party. One size fits all as the Finger Fork is adjustable, and this  technology can be helpful to individuals with compromised hand and finger mobility.  But beware of double dipping.

With the product, you no longer need to fear embarrassing slipping while dipping or avoid shaking hands with greasy fingers from the finger food.  It should only be a matter of time before this piece of wearable silverware is joined by a “digital” spoon and knife.   –-MELorden

Always Be Prepared: Swiss Army Knife Style Measuring Spoons

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No knives were involved in the making of this kitchen gadget.  Made of dishwasher safe plastic, the set of square-shaped measuring spoons is great for hands free measuring. Just lay it flat and pour .

The compact design lets spoons fit nicely into the jackknife sleeve for easy storage (and child safety).

To date, GamaGo has made only one model; there are none with scissors, toothpick, or corkscrew. And at $10.00 a pop, you might not want to be carrying a set of these when you go through airport security.        –MELorden


Talking Measuring Cup



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Hammacher Schlemmer, the high end department store for people with money to burn and an extreme obsession with gadgetry, is now offering a talking measuring cup.  Its unbreakable plastic construction holds up to three cups of whatever you need to measure.

This sophisticated device reads and announces the amount of either wet or dry ingredients in the cup by discerning density and then reports the amount in cups, milliliters, or by weight.

Throw it in the microwave with confidence and into the dishwasher for easy clean up. This user-friendly item sports a flip-up lid and yes, as you probably guessed, requires two AAA batteries to operate.

While the talking cup may seem like a frivolous kitchen gadget for most cooks, it offers advantages to individuals with compromised vision or other disabilities.   What cook wouldn’t want a lovely, soothing female voice as accompaniment to odious measuring tasks?  And if your chatty GPS device is lonely and looking for companionship, why not pick up one of these chatty gadgets for a mere $59.99?  Batteries not included.           


The Kitchen is Open

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Food and its preparation are essential, and so is the cook.

An appreciation of food and cooking is ingrained in our genes as well as our stomachs.

It is basic to our existence, so let’s get busy.

BEST OTK Kit's Kitchen IMAGE

Kit’s kitchen range.

Welcome to,  a weekly magazine blog designed to encourage reflection on the meaning of a most ancient and basic endeavor- cooking. To cook not only brings people to the table but also makes them part  of an activity essential to the human race.   Once you step into the kitchen, you’ll be surprised about what comes outtathekitchen.

Here at OTK  you’ll catch the latest news from the culinary world, experiment with recipes from another era and from today,  share your cooking fun and foibles, get support, and discuss important food-related issues. You can test your culinary knowledge, expand your cooking horizons and skills, and be part of a community of creative and curious cooks like yourself.

Most of all, you can enjoy a good giggle about your own adventures with food as you accompany OTK both in the kitchen and on the road when we get outtathekitchen for some wild food safaris.

Enjoy the weekly featured columns.  And please contribute your voice.  You can leave a comment by clicking the brown postage stamp (Leave A Comment) on the top right of each post. You can also write directly to OTK (see the top menu for Contacts). Glad to have you on board as part of the OTK  community.  Whattaya cooking in your kitchen?              –Martha E. Lorden