Beckerman column: Feeling the pressure

For a long time, I was a dedicated slow cooker fan, which worked well when my kids were little and I could dump everything in the pot in the morning and then pull it out ready to go at dinner time. But once the kids left the nest and I was just cooking for two, it seemed like a good time to give a pressure cooker a whirl.

My friends had been bugging me about it for ages and they all swore that this was the fastest, easiest thing on the planet to use. While they were right about fast, I soon found out that in terms of ease, I was somewhat pressure-cooker challenged.

I should mention about now that I am the person who routinely sets off the smoke alarms in the house when I’m cooking. I have been known to ruin rice and will often present a dish as “Chicken Surprise” or “Beef Surprise” because it’s a surprise even to me what it is. I have about a 50% success rate which means 50% of the time we have a pretty good dinner, and 50% of the time the dog does.

Naturally, the pressure cooker came with directions, but I thought the machine looked pretty straightforward to use and decided to forego reading how to use it because that had worked so well in the past when I didn’t read the directions and blew up the new microwave, toaster oven and coffee maker.

I looked up what I thought I didn’t know online, but I soon realized I didn’t know what I didn’t know. There were many posts about “venting,” which I assumed was about not holding your anger in. I decided I was pretty good at that already, so I skipped those parts. There were some other posts about making sure your pressure cooker was locked, but I didn’t see a lock function on my model, so I figured it was self-locking. All of this was probably covered in the manual, but I’d already used that to help mop up the latest “Chicken Surprise” I’d ruined, so I decided to just wing it.

I picked a pretty easy recipe, followed the directions and went through all the steps. I was terrified that I would overcook the food, but when the timer dinged, I discovered the food wasn’t overcooked at all.

It was raw.

I tried going through the whole thing again, and 30 minutes later it was still raw. Thinking I had it on the wrong setting, I decided to switch from steam to sauté, and within minutes the pressure cooker started screaming at me that the food was burning.

“What? Is it raw or is it burning?” I yelled at it as I unplugged it from the wall and gave it a dirty look so it knew I was angry. “See, this is me venting!” I looked at the dog, who nodded sympathetically as he waited at my feet for something raw or burnt to drop to the floor.

“This is too stressful for me,” I said. “I’m having Pressure Cooker PTSD.”

I took a deep, cleansing breath and looked online to see if I could figure out what I was doing wrong.

As I read some troubleshooting info, it soon became clear that I was neither venting the steam nor locking correctly.

I gave it another go and on the third try … the food was still raw.

A few hours later my husband came home and found me on the sofa in a heap and the pressure cooker in the trash.

“Why is your new pressure cooker in the trash?” he asked.

I narrowed my eyes.

“It’s venting!”

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