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Fear Not the Pressure Cooker

I received a beautiful pressure cooker as a wedding gift four years ago. My parents have one, my grandmother has one, my mother-in-law, and so on -- and everyone raves about them. But how can such tender meat come from a pot after only 20 minutes together? The mystery of how the pressure cooker works, and my irrational fear of it exploding in my kitchen, have prevented me from trying it out -- until now.

My husband loves my mother-in-law's beef tips over pasta, so I decided to give it a whirl. I received the recipe from her (she measured some things in a 'handful' or 'teacup' serving, so I have adapted the recipe to use standard measurements where possible).

The Recipe for Beef Tips over Pasta (Mosxari kai Macaronia, for you Greeks at home)
1 1/2 lbs. stew beef or beef tips
1 small can tomato paste
1 1/2 c tomato sauce OR diced, stewed tomatoes in their juice, totalling 1 1/2 c liquid)
1 c chicken broth, beef broth, OR water (or any combination totalling 1 c liquid)
1/2 c olive oil
1 T dried basil
1 T dried oregano
1 t salt
1 t pepper
1 onion, roughly chopped
3 garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped

Start with your pressure cooker over med-high heat and add 2 T of the olive oil. Add meat and brown on all sides (about 1 minute per side. Add all other ingredients, including remaining olive oil. Cover and lock your pressure cooker's lid with the steam release closed. Bring heat to high.

Once the pressure cooker begins to whistle (after about 5-7 minutes), turn heat to medium-low and cook for an additional 20-25 minutes. Remove from heat and carefully open the steam release to allow the built steam to escape the pressure cooker. The pressure cooker should still be in the locked position at this time.

After all visible steam has released, carefully unlock and open your pressure cooker. Your meat and sauce will be waiting. Take a taste and adjust any seasonings as necessary. This is best served over pasta (rigatoni, spaghetti, and orzo have been taste tested at our house and are all great with this dish). This reheats very well and is a great make-ahead dish too!

The end result? It's love. I'm already soliciting more pressure cooker recipes from friends and family to continue the experimentation.

Pressure cooker tips:
- This is a great opportunity to use less expensive cuts of meat, like flank steak, stew beef, and beef tips. The time in the pressure cooker will tenderize them to melt-in-your-mouth proportions.
- Solid vegetables that you put into the pressure cooker will not come out that way. Vegetables (I primarily use garlic and onions for this) will pulverize in the pressure cooker (buckle under the pressure?) and contribute to a nice thick sauce. For this reason, just a rough chop of the veggies is fine -- you don't need to painstakingly dice them up. The meat will only become tender (it won't disintegrate).
- If your beef tips or stew beef is cut larger, take your kitchen shears and cut them in half, creating smaller pieces. These will cook faster and become more tender.

- You can't mess this up. Whatever you have on hand to contribute to the flavors will be great. I've previously tossed in pre-made pasta sauce, diced tomatoes, soy sauce, teriyaki sauce, tomato paste, red wine, chicken broth, beef broth -- you get the picture. Combining any of these will produce a great, slow-cooked taste.

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