Save time, money, energy, and eat great
Depending on how old you are, your mother or grandmother probably had one of these: a pressure cooker. (She probably also had a story of one exploding, which may be why they're not so common any more.) They're great tools, though, for quick home cooking. And they don't blow up any more.
This summer I talked my wife into getting a pressure cooker. (She'd heard stories of them exploding from her grandmother as well, so it took a few years.) We ended up getting a Kuhn Rikon Duromatic 3.7-Quart Pressure Cooker, which seemed to have a couple of extra safety features, although I'm sure any modern one would be safe.
I'd wanted one just because I'm a midwestern boy and like my green beans thoroughly cooked, which takes a long time in a pan but only about three minutes in a pressure cooker. Since it was hot this summer, my wife went ahead and used the pressure cooker for a few other dishes--it cooks so quickly, it doesn't heat the kitchen up as much--and we were surprised to find the food turned out better. That prompted me to do a bit of research on pressure cookers.
Quick Physics Lesson
Remember from science class when they mentioned that the boiling point of water was 212°F at sea level? They had to mention the bit about sea level, because the boiling point of water depends on the air pressure. Inside a pressure cooker the pressure doubles, which raises the boiling point to 250°F. Higher temperature equals faster cooking.
Not Just Faster Cooking
A pressure cooker cuts the cooking time by two-thirds to three-quarters, saving time, money, and energy. They also make cheaper food taste great--they even make it healthier.
Besides the energy savings, you can also save money on ingredients. The heat and pressure combine to soften the fibers in foods, so tough cuts of meat come out wonderfully tender.
The energy savings isn't much on a per-meal basis--not enough to balance the energy cost of making a large metal pot--but the cooker is an investment in energy savings. Cook with it day after day, week after week, and the energy savings add up. And there's no reason a pressure cooker can't last a generation or two. This is the sort of thing I was talking about last month when I suggested that you fix energy in tangible form.
As I mentioned, you also don't heat up the kitchen so much on hot days, which saves energy--and money--on air conditioning.
Ever noticed how some foods--stews, sauces, and the like--taste better as leftovers than when they were first served? The flavors just meld better after they're chilled and then reheated. Well, the pressure cooker gives you that flavor for the first serving. The pressure and the higher heat get the melding to happen faster.
Food cooked in a pressure cooker is also more nutritious. It's cooked with less liquid, which helps. Also, sealed in the cooker, it's less exposed to oxygen, so less of the vitamins and healthful pigments are lost in cooking.
My mom and grandmother both had stories of pressure cookers blowing up. Their stories were of accidents of the messy rather than dangerous variety, but they still gave one pause. Happily, the safety of pressure cookers has been considerably improved. (You never hear of them blowing up any more, and it's not just because hardly anyone uses them any more.) They have better valves, backup valves, and the seals are designed to let excess pressure escape rather than hold it in until there's an explosion.
There are plenty of good books on cooking with pressure cookers (and a new pressure cooker will come with a recipe book to get you started), but just a little experience using the pressure cooker will let you easily adapt your own favorite recipes for pressure cooking: Use a little less liquid, use cheaper cuts of meat, don't cook as long, and expect tender, flavorful food.