A few years ago on our wedding anniversary, my husband, Drew, gave me a cooking gadget he thought I needed to have, a Cuisinart pressure cooker. This was before the Instant Pot pressure cooker became all the rage. A pressure cooker uses steam for the cooking process.

I tried a roast in it and failed miserably. To be honest, I was afraid of using the quick pressure release and the appliance seemed too complicated for me, so I put the pressure cooker back in the box and it went to a shelf in the basement.

Since then, however, pressure cooking seems to have exploded in popularity. A pressure cooker is the “hot” gadget to own because it promises quick cooking and easy, one pot clean-up.

When Courtney Tevepaugh, Family and Consumer Sciences Extension agent for Wilkes County, sent me a community event for her October lunch and learn class, “Cooking with an Instant Pot,” I decided to attend and just maybe get over my fears about pressure cooking.

Like the classes I took this summer about the Mediterranean Diet, Courtney made her lunch and learn class enjoyable. The dozen or so people in the class were a mix of pressure cooking “newbies” like me and those with more experience. And of course, Courtney cooked a delicious spaghetti lunch for us, which she had made in the pressure cooker.

The main difference in the brands of pressure cooker, Courtney explained, is in what they can do. Some models, like my Cuisinart, have four settings, brown, saute, low pressure and high pressure, while the Instant Pot has special settings for rice, meat, oatmeal, cakes, etc. Others, like the Ninja, have an air frying feature. They all do basically the same thing, she said. Even cheese cake can be cooked in a pressure cooker.

Courtney explained the  parts of the pressure cooker and how to use the settings. She went into detail to talk about the difference between “natural pressure” and “quick pressure.”

With natural pressure,  the food remains in the pot on the keep warm setting until the pressure is released, usually 10-30 minutes. To release pressure the quick way, when the timer goes off after cooking is completed, the pressure valve is moved over with a spoon or something (never touch it or you will get burned) and steam shoots out.  The valve is held open until all the steam is released.

Natural pressure is best for meats and quick pressure is best for foods that might over-cook such as vegetables and seafood. Recipes tell you which type to use.

Until the class, I didn’t understand just how long it takes for pressure to build up in a pressure cooker. If the pot is very full, it can take 15 minutes or longer. This is in addition to the cooking time. Once full pressure is attained, the cook timer starts counting down.

One nice thing about a pressure cooker is you can choose the brown or saute feature and cook meat and vegetables such as onions and celery, right in the pan, without dirtying up another dish. This past week, I cooked a simple, complete meal, “Pesto Chicken with Vegetables,” with chicken, potatoes and carrots, all in one pot. I also tried a more complicated beef stew, which also cooked in one pot.

Even after the class, I’ve had to study the directions on my pressure cooker. I am enjoying this adventure and I’m looking forward to trying new recipes. Below is a recipe for spaghetti from “Kitchn,” similar to the one Courtney used. (Email caroline@journalpatriot.com for the other two recipes.)

Pressure Cooker Spaghetti    

1 T olive oil

1 lb. ground beef

1 tsp. salt

1 tsp. onion powder

1/2 tsp. garlic powder

 2 cups of water, divided

1 24 oz. jar marinara or tomato-based sauce.

8 ozs. dry spaghetti

Grated parmesan cheese for serving.

Saute the beef. Turn pressure cooker to brown or saute to heat up. Add olive oil and beef. Add the spices. Cook until no longer pink. (Drain excess oil, if needed)

Add 1/2 cup water, then sauce. Turn off saute setting and add water to pot. Scrape bottom to remove any stuck-on bits. Add sauce and stir to combine.

Break the dry spaghetti in half and spread strands in one or two layers over ground beef mixture. Do not stir!

Add the remaining water but don’t stir! Rinse pasta jar with remaining 1 1/2 cups water (Pour water in jar, twist on lid and shake gently) and pour water over pasta.

Set pressure cooker to High Pressure and Timer for 8 minutes. Place lid on pressure cooker to locked position. Set pressure valve. Set to cook on High Pressure for 8 minutes. Will take 10-12 minutes to come to pressure.

Use quick release to release pressure and stir. Open pressure valve as soon as timer goes off. Open the pressure cooker (be sure and open lid away from you) and stir spaghetti into sauce. Turn off pressure cooker and remove insert. Serve with parmesan cheese.

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