Tuesday, March 1, 2011

I have a new lover, but don't tell my husband...

Okay, you can tell him, because he already knows. In fact, he and I are both madly in love with this new object of our affection. We take turns with it, declare our love for it at least once a week, and have even used it at the same time.

Before you start worrying about our marriage, our new lover is not a person (and not an animal either). We really aren't kinky like that. What we are in love with is....our new pressure cooker! Oh, baby, has this stainless steel beauty made the dinner hour much more freedom and freed me (at least a bit) from being chained to the stove top.

For a while now I had wanted to break my addiction to canned beans. I didn't like the waste of the cans, though they can (in theory) be recycled, and I also didn't like that BPA is present in all cans (with the exception of Eden Organics beans--not their tomatoes, though). Canned beans can also take up a whole shelf in a bean-lovin' vegan pantry. I am a hummus fanatic and usually make a big batch at least once a week, and I would use at least two cans of chickpeas each time. Now that I have a pressure cooker, I have forever broken the canned-bean habit, and I am FREE! =)

Beans really taste better from a pressure cooker! My neighbors, who are of Mexican descent and own a taqueria, LOVED my refried pinto beans. The wife even said they are better than her husband's from the restaurant. Now, that's a compliment!

The true beauty of the pressure cooker is the time and energy that's saved. I bought the Presto 8-Quart Pressure Cooker from Amazon. I first got interested when I read an article about pressure cookers in Vegetarian Times magazine a few months ago, and then began doing some research on Amazon. The model I bought looked the best for my family. I nearly got a smaller size, but then realized that I'd like the option to make large amounts of food at a time. (I'm big on doubling recipes so we can eat what I've made for at least two meals.)

I never use a regular old pot for soups anymore, because the pressure cooker is just so darn cool! I don't have to stir its contents to prevent them from burning like I'd do if I was cooking soup, etc the traditional way, and it's so fast! I also have grown to like the loud hiss that emits from the pressure cooker while it cooks at high-pressure because it can drown out the noises my children are making! LOL!

I throw just about anything in there to make a soup. I now subscribe to a service that delivers fresh produce from local farms and I get so many veggies a week that I can barely contain them in my fridge! I find that throwing just about any veggies (think greens such as chard or kale along with carrots, celery, onions...) and some soaked dried beans into a pot with some veggie broth or bouillon cubes and seasonings, and I have a soup that my whole family will eat--and most of the time, even enjoy! No, really my kids are often excited by my crazy soups and they end up eating a lot of veggies at once that's otherwise hard to fit into one meal. And, best part? Reheating the soup the next night couldn't be any easier-only one pot to clean! Woo hoo! It's one purchase I've made that my husband hasn't complained about because it's actually NOT collecting dust.

Speaking of the pressure cooker, I'd be remiss not to mention the source of my beloved beans. For the basic variety (think chickpea, black and pinto) I get them from the bulk section of our local Whole Foods, but I've also been buying them online from an awesome website and semi-local (to me) distributor, called Rancho Gordo. Every bean I have tried from them is amazing, and I love the names and colors of the beans! They're gorgeous! Some I've tried and enjoyed are: Good Mother Stallard, Yellow Eyes, Christmas Limas, and Runner Cannelinis. They are heirloom organic beans and are just so fun to make. Some are tiny, some are HUGE and they are just so beautiful. (Yes, I think I'm now in love with beans and pressure cookers!) Rancho Gordo sells other things, like spices and chiles, and I highly recommend checking them out if you're at all curious.

I'll leave you to ponder whether the addition of a pressure cooker is right for your family while I give you one of our fave recipes. My kids absolutely LOVE butternut squash soup, and so do I! It couldn't be easier to make (even without a pressure cooker)! Here is my basic recipe for the beautifully orange soup: (This is a loose recipe, meaning that I never measure anything and I always make it with differing amounts of veggies, depending on what I have on hand or feel like chopping.)

2-3 cloves of garlic, minced or chopped
1 yellow onion, chopped
1 or 2 large butternut squashes (start with one if this is your first time trying it so you can gauge how much your family will eat), peeled, seeded and cut into 1-inch chunks
3-5 large carrots (you can use more if you're using more than one squash and the squash is particularly large. I think the more carrots the better, because they deepen the orange color of the final product), sliced
2-3 stalks celery, sliced
2-3 vegetable bouillon cubes, crumbled (try salt-free or low-sodium) OR vegetable broth, enough to cover veggies in pot
salt and pepper to taste

Saute garlic and onions in a few tablespoons of water in pot (or pressure cooker WITHOUT lid on if using pressure cooker) until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, you can heat water in a teapot to add to soup pot in a few minutes if you'd like to cut down on boiling time when the soup starts cooking.

Add squash, carrots and celery to pot. Cover with either WATER or VEGGIE BROTH until butternut squash is NEARLY covered, but not quite. If you leave a little of the veggies out of the water (perhaps 1/2 to 1 inch sticking out) you will have a thicker, creamier soup after it's pureed. If you are using water and not broth, crumble 2 or 3 bouillon cubes (two if only one squash is being used) into the water and stir into water/veggie mixture.

If using pressure cooker, cook on high pressure for 5 minutes, then turn off heat. (Pressure can be released a few minutes after the 5 minutes of cooking time are up if desired.) If cooking soup in a pot, cook in covered pot on medium-high heat, checking for tenderness of the squash after 40 to 45 minutes. Squash should be able to be pierced easily with a fork, but not be falling apart. Puree in pot with an immersion blender (another of my FAVORITE cooking tools) or blend in small batches in a blender, waiting until soup has cooled a bit. Transfer back to pot, if necessary, and season with salt and pepper. If soup needs extra flavor, you can crumble another bouillon cube in it and stir it up a bit.

I think you will love this soup as much as our family does! Even my 21-month old snooty eater will eat it. YUM!


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