I start this review by first alerting the reader that I own the original version of this cookbook. Do not be confused, however, by the general consensus - though I may not own the item featured on this page, I own enough of the material within to tell you that it is without a doubt one of the more excellent specialty cookbooks out there. Here are the reasons why.
Inside this cookbook you will find many a gastronomical delight, which is not surprising considering that one of author Toula Patsalis's mentors was the late great Julia Child. There are a total of 150 recipes in the first edition, spanning from mouth-watering starters to enticing desserts. As the title denotes, all recipes require the use of a pressure cooker so if you're a fan of this handy-dandy appliance, you'll be making hundreds of dinners from here (the spine is pretty worn on mine). If you've never used a pressure cooker before, the enticing array of soups and entrees will be the greatest incentive, as will the reduced cooking time (that's what pressure cookers are best known for).
With today's modern pressure cookers, making meals is a snap and cooking time is reduced by a whopping 70% (brown rice and lentils - 8 min vs the traditional 45, roast chicken - 20 min vs 1 hr). As Patsalis mentions, this advantage makes it possible for the cook with a hectic schedule to take leaner, less-expensive cuts of meat and make them ultra-tender within minutes. Want a beef roast that cuts like butter as if it's been in the oven for hours? Try the Sauerbraten, a German-based dish that takes away the time-consuming process of marinating (traditionally using vinegar) and oven-roasting by fusing a sweet red wine and tomato sauce with savory vegetables and herbs, creating a rich and succulent gravy (with the addition of sour cream) that goes from pot to plate in ONE HOUR.
Need an appetizer for Super Bowl Sunday that will have the guys mooning for more? Make a double batch of Mexichicken Tacos, a rustic taco filling that is spicy (jalapeño salsa), smoky (bacon, chili powder) and savory (sour cream, ketchup, cilantro, onion) all at the same time. The recommended garnishes (sliced avocado, green bell pepper, shredded lettuce, chopped tomatoes, Monterey Jack cheese) make for the ultimate taco and leftovers are no problem - the filling can be frozen for up to 3 months, giving you the opportunity to enjoy some more ultimate tacos another day.
The biggest feature of this cookbook that had me sold the first time I perused its pages is the vast array of one-pot meals. Less mess, less stress and a virtual guarantee of a well-balanced and delicious meal awash with nutrients. Some of my all-time favorites are the following:
Salmon and Vegetables with Fennel Sauce
Elegant and delicious, this dish is bursting with hearty aroma and luxurious flavor. I'm a big fan of salmon due to its strong and distinct taste and this recipe pulls out all the stops for one delicious piece of fish. The combination of the sweet (tomato sauce, carrots, sherry) and salty components (celery, garlic, leeks) are emboldened by the anise-flavored ground fennel that is the central element of flavor and fragrance. The cooking process deeply infuses herbs and vegetables together and produces a pumpkin-colored sauce that you'll be shamelessly sopping up with a nice crusty piece of bread. I highly recommend the use of baby reds as the potatoes called for in the recipe - their richer qualities perfectly compliment the prominent flavor of the salmon and add a little more color and interest to the dish.
Saucy Herbed Pork Chops
We all know pork is the other white meat and this dish combines lean chops in a tomato based-sauce that gets an unexpected kick from crushed red pepper flakes and its aromatics from onion, garlic, fennel and thyme. A nice dose of brown sugar tempers the spice with sweetness and the addition of half-and-half and flour at the end produces a smooth and savory sauce. This dish is expertly paired with either rich egg noodles or white rice.
Chicken Pot Pie with Puff Pastry
I've had chicken pot pie before, but never anything this good (bye bye, Stouffer's). With a menagerie of vegetables (onions, mushrooms, potatoes, peas, celery, carrots) and an expert combination of herbs and spices (garlic, tarragon - indeed at the forefront and the highlight of all the herbs, thyme, fennel, bay leaf, salt, white pepper), the chicken gets a real boost along with the mild tang of sherry and lemon juice. The sauce is enriched by half-and-half, butter (and use BUTTER, not that substitute stuff or margarine) and flour and is topped off with pre-cut sheets of puff pastry and popped into the oven (an additional step in the process but the end result will have you forgetting about the extra work). This last step produces a voluminous and delectable crust that, with each forkful, you'll be using to soak up the steaming delights housed within its flaky casing.
Being of Greek heritage only aids Toula in the creation of unforgettable lentil soup. Rich and hearty, the creamy lentils are paired with classic aromatics (onions, garlic, and celery), the sweetness of carrots, tomato paste and brown sugar and the strong flavors of bay leaf and zesty tarragon. The last minute addition of white wine vinegar gives the soup a flavor unlike anything I've ever tasted and has me going back for seconds and thirds (but beware of the high fiber content of this legume-based dish - if you don't get a lot of fiber and you overload on this, you're going to get a big dose of GI distress the next day).
Originally published in 1994, there is now a revised edition that was released in 2006 containing a whopping 100 additional recipes and a more informative introduction that discusses different types of pressure cookers as well as various features and accessories. I fully intend to purchase the revised edition, not only for the expanded catalog of recipes that I dread missing out on but also the highly informative introduction and metric conversion charts.
Bottom line: If you presently own a pressure cooker or are thinking about purchasing one, make "The Pressure Cooker Cookbook" one of the most valuable additions to your cookbook collection. You'll be thanking yourself many times over when sampling its wondrous wares.
UPDATE 9/9/08: Since the publication of this review, I have had a chance to look through the Revised Edition of this cookbook. Much to my dismay, I found that the first two recipes I gave a description of (Salmon w/Vegetables and Fennel Sauce, Saucy Herbed Pork Chops) have been OMITTED. I'm a little flabbergasted that Patsalis and/or her editors chose to exclude them but I wanted to warn those who plan on purchasing this cookbook based on this review. If you would like the recipes for those dishes, please feel free to email me at email@example.com.