I have said before on this blog that I am no foodie. I enjoy cooking, but I have no real knowledge or experience or even wisdom when it comes to the way of the kitchen. A friend of mine, for example, recently poked fun at me when she learned that I didn’t have a potato masher. I admit to my ears, the utensil sounds like an outrageous extravagance. I can’t imagine why I would need any such implement when there are plenty of other heavy, flat objects in my kitchen that could do the job just as well; a rolling pin, a meat tenderizer, the telephone.
Recently, my status as kitchen novice became obvious once again when a good friend gave me a pressure cooker. (Thank you, Patricia!) I was delighted to have this new cooking tool, but completely unfamiliar with it. I had never used one before in my life. The weeks it took me to get around to reading the instructions might have had less to do with my busy schedule than braving the learning curve I would have to tackle in order to actually make something. But I did it. I boldly took on the new challenge and made Cream of Chicken Soup with Gnocchi Dumplings.
The dish was pretty good, though it is hard to say how close my creation was to the original intended version. I made some mistakes along the way. Without knowing it, I left the air vent open while cooking. It took me an embarrassing length of time to realize the error, and it took much longer than it should have to build up the right pressure. The sound of steam escaping from the cooker might have alerted someone with more experience. But for way too long as I listened from the next room, I assumed the noise was a part of the natural operation of the appliance. By dinnertime, however, all of the ingredients were cooked well enough to satisfy safety requirements and we had a nice meal.
I’m still not entirely sure what makes a pressure cooker work. It has something to do with the pressure that builds when water turns into steam which is trapped inside. The pressure causes the boiling point of the water to increase, allowing the food to cook faster. Modern machines have plenty of safety features – air vents, seals, locks to keep the lid on until the pressure is equal inside and out – that make their use less risky. Still, I find it a little intimidating to cook under pressure.
In fact, it is daunting to do a lot of things under pressure. Sometimes I wish I had a valve on me that would open up and let off steam; release the level of stress until a point of safety is reached. But I don’t have one. None of us do. What we do have are occasions when we have to operate with hazardous levels of tension. Those of us who work in the church are certainly no strangers to it. As the season of Lent approaches, I am looking down the barrel of some extraordinarily busy days. It seems there is no end to the list of things that have to be accomplished as I work to fill the roles of mother, pastor, wife, daughter, individual. I wonder what temperature I will reach before it is all over. I certainly hope I keep my lid on.
As lousy as pressure feels, however, it isn’t all bad. Like ingredients mixed together in a pressure cooker, we can be transformed by the inhospitable, even perilous, surroundings in which we sometimes find ourselves. Pressure changes us. If we are careful, it will be for the better. It can be hard, even excruciating to bear the process. It can be painful. But somehow, in the heat, God can make us into something that we could never become in easier circumstances. I hang on to that hope, and believe that it is worth it.
Cream of Chicken Soup with Gnocchi Dumplings
From Bob Warden’s Slow Fodd Fast, page 33
3 Tbls butter or margarine
1 lb chicken tenders, cubed
3 Tbls flour
2 stalks celery, diced small
4 Tsp chicken based missed with 4 cups water
16 oz dry gnocchi dumplings* (sold in pasta aisle)
1 sprig of fresh thyme or 1 Tsp dried
1 bay leaf
1 Tsp onion powder
1 Tbls parsley flakes
¾ c. heavy cream (may use half and half)
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Heat butter in pressure cooker on high or “brown” until melted.
2. Coat chicken thigh (or breast) cubes with the flour on all sides before adding them and the celery to the cooker, sautéing for 2-3 minutes until chicken is lightly browned.
3. Cover with remaining ingredients, except for heavy cream.
4. Securely lock on the pressure cooker’s lid, set the cooker to high and cook for 6 minutes.
5. Perform a quick release to release the cooker’s pressure. Safely remove lid and slowly stir in the heavy cream. Salt and pepper to taste and serve immediately.
*For firmer, more pasta-like gnocchi, add them with the heavy cream after the pressure cooking process. Switch the cooker to High or “brown” with lid off and boil for 3-4 minutes until gnocchi begin to float.