The other day I went to my girlfriend's house for lunch. She was in the kitchen when I arrived, and I was shocked to see that she was making a Spanish style garbanzo bean stew with a pressure cooker! When I asked in wonder if she was using it to reduce the cook time of the stew, she replied that she was. Her statement was quickly followed by an "I use it all the time, more often than you use your food processor." Ever since then, I have become obsessed with pressure cookers and can't stop thinking about them.
A pressure cooker looks like other kitchen pots, except the lid is a bit more elaborate. The heavy-duty lid completely seals the pot and when the liquid inside boils, it is trapped inside. Having nowhere else to go, steam builds up pressure which results in higher cooking temperatures and shorter cooking times.
Cooking with a pressure cooker is kind of like a science project that can result in a kitchen catastrophe. The first and only time I used a pressure cooker I ended up cleaning vegetable puree off the ceiling for the next week. Still, I'm eager to get my hands on one. Today's pressure cookers have at least three valves for safety and will automatically release pressure should it build too high. Different types of pressure cookers have different styles of valves, but if you hear hissing or noise coming from the cooker, it's the valve telling you to check the pressure.
I'll keep you posted on my adventures in pressure cooking and if you've got one lying around the kitchen, take it out, it's time we bring pressure cookers back.