Top 5 Reasons to Use a Pressure Cooker + Butternut Squash Risotto Recipe (vegan/gluten-free)

If you’re anything like I used to be, you equate pressure cookers with the 1950’s and a fear of getting hit in the face with scalding steam and a hot lid.  I hear it all the time; “I have a pressure cooker, but I’m scared to death to use it.”  Fear not, my friends! Nowadays pressure cookers have been built with safety features to assure ease of use without scalding, or sky-rocketing lids.  There is definitely a learning curve as it’s a different way of cooking, but once you experiment and get a feel for it, you’ll wonder how you ever went without!


Electric pressure cooker

Stove-top pressure cooker

Stove-top pressure cooker

For those who don’t know, pressure cooking is a method which uses water to create steam that does not escape the vessel while the food is being cooked.  A fraction of the water is used compared to other methods.  Since there is less water to heat, it takes less time for the water/food to reach cooking temperature.  As well, due to the intense pressure and heat, items cook faster than simply steaming, boiling or braising.  And they are easy to use – put your food in the pan, lock the lid in place, turn on the heat, wait until it comes up to pressure, turn down heat and wait.  The units are available in electric and stove top versions, and while some steps differ slightly between the two, the concept is the same. Some dishes such, as green veggies, require you to let the steam out manually, which simply means pressing the valve and allowing steam to flow.  Others, like beans and grains, call for natural pressure release, which means you don’t do anything but wait until all the steam has slowly escaped on it’s own.  If you aren’t yet sold on the beauty of a pressure cooker, let me share some other benefits with you:


  • Time savings – “I don’t have time” is the most common reason I hear for why people don’t prepare more of their own meals at home.  Well, a pressure cooker can help!  Example: brown rice would normally take about 40-45 minutes when boiled.  Using a pressure cooker it will cook in half the time.  Garbanzo beans take 14 minutes of cook time (not excluding the time it takes to come up to pressure, and release naturally).
  • Nutrient retention – Since the food is exposed to heat for a shorter period of time, fewer nutrients are lost in cooking.  As well, vitamins and minerals are not whisked away by water since there is so much less of it.
  • Energy savings – Thanks to shorter cooking times, the fire and/or electricity are used less.
  • No stirring required – If you’ve ever made risotto you know what a drag it can be, stirring and stirring and stirring.  You can make arborio rice risotto in the pressure cooker, at 5 minutes high pressure, without having ever lifted a spoon.  How cool is that?
  • Less water – water is a precious resource that is not as abundant as it once was, especially here in Southern California.  The less water we can use in every aspect of life, the better.

Some typical dishes for which I use my pressure cooker:

Steel cut oats
Beans, chilis and stews
Whole grains such as rice and quinoa
Sweet and white potatoes
Kale and other greens

So basically, pressure cookers are awesome.  They can be used for anything you’d boil, steam or braise.  The tricky part is converting a recipe and figuring out how much liquid to use.  It just takes some experimenting.  In the meantime I wanted to share this yummy recipe with you for Butternut Squash Risotto using brown rice.  Easy and so delicious, without the constant stirring typical risotto calls for.  Also, a wonderful cookbook for pressure cooking is The New Fast Food by Jill Nussinow.  Invaluable, really.  Have fun cooking under pressure, and I hope you enjoy this dish!

Gooey Pumpkin-Oat Bars | vegan, gluten-free, oil-free, flour-free, low-sugar

IMG_9175I’ve said it many times – I.  Love.  Pumpkin.  All things pumpkin, whether it be savory or sweet.  I especially love the spices that are associated with pumpkin flavor – cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger, allspice, etc.  These delicious bars have them all.  The bars are substantial and very moist (hence the name Gooey Pumpkin Bars).  I only used rolled oats so no need for flour here.  The only sugar in the batter is 1/3 cup and I used Sucanat which is minimally processed.  The chocolate chips add sugar, of course, and are optional (but, um, why would you leave them out?). Seriously, you may opt to leave them out if you plan on eating these for breakfast, or leave them in for more of a dessert item.  For gluten-free bars be sure to use certified gluten-free oats.

Mesquite-Lime Hummus

Honestly, I don’t know anybody who doesn’t l like  hummus.  I’m sure they exist but I’ve never met them.  Such a simple thing – chickpeas and a handful of ingredients, whirled through a blender.  And so many ways to eat it: with raw veggies, crackers, chips, on a sandwich or wrap, thinned out as gravy to top greens or grains…so many possibilities.  There are also many flavors of hummus, and this one is really delicious.  I love anything with a smoky flavor and the smoked paprika does a great job here, but the lime really makes this hummus come to life.  I used about 2.5 TBS of lime juice and it’s pretty limey….use more or less depending on your tastes.  Same with the cayenne.  1/8 tsp is quite mild.  Now go make some hummus.  🙂

Oatmeal Breakfast Muffins

Every day for breakfast I have a smoothie filled with all sorts of nutritional goodness from greens, berries, banana, homemade almond milk and flax seeds.  Some days though, I want something different and I will make oatmeal topped with banana, grated apple, cinnamon, a few walnuts, some almond milk and a touch of maple syrup.  Kinda hard to eat a bowl of oatmeal on the run or if you’re in a hurry though, and impossible to eat out of your hand (not that I’ve tried).  So, I set out to make a super healthy muffin that would be like a bowl of oatmeal disguised as a muffin.  These muffins have the same ingredients as my hearty bowl of oatmeal with delicious toppings.  They are dense, hearty and satisfying and best of all – easy to make!


* You need a 6-cup muffin tin for this recipe as it makes larger muffins than the 12-muffin pans. You can purchase here:Jumbo Muffin Tin.  You could use a regular 12-muffin tin and make smaller muffins – just cook them for less time, 30-35 minutes.

* If your bananas are super ripe you can omit the maple syrup as the ripe bananas will add just enough sweetness.

Grilled Pineapple Fried Rice

This rice dish was something I was able to throw together one night, using items I had on hand.  Love it when that happens.

The tofu I used was a packaged, Thai marinated flavor.  Feel free to use any flavor you like, or bake your own.  I was on a mission to make this dish as quick as possible so I used the pre-baked kind.  Nice and easy.

Also, in the spirit of ease and convenience, I used the frozen brown rice you can find at almost any grocery store these days, including Costco.  I separately microwaved 2 bags, and spread the warmed rice out on a large plate in a thin layer to cool.  This is important as the rice can get gooey and clumpy when added to the pan with the other ingredients if not cooled, and the grains somewhat separated.

Make sure to have, as they say in cooking school, your ‘mise en place’ ready (i.e. everything prepared and measured, ready to throw in the pan) as this dish is completed rather quickly.  I served steamed Chinese broccoli alongside this dish.  🙂

Spicy Butternut Squash Soup

Spicy Butternut Squash Soup with Lemon-Maple Brussels Sprouts

Most butternut squash soups are a little sweet for me. Honestly, I’ve got a major sweet tooth but some things, like my soups, I want to be more on the savory side.  So, this soup is still sweet of course, but the jalapeño and cooking sherry (or white wine) create some interesting flavors that help offset the sweetness.  And, while I don’t generally cook with oil, I added a tiny drizzle of truffle oil before serving – YUM.  Since I was a little heavy-handed with the jalapeño (by my definition – remember, I’m a spice wimp), I dumped my Lemon-Maple Brussels Sprouts in the soup to offset the heat.  Delicious!  In the future I will leave the seeds out of the jalapeño – this time I used half of the seeds and the soup was really spicy.

Pumpkin-Spice Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

Pumpkin-Spice Cupcakes. Vegan. Gluten-free. Oil-free*

I know.  It’s getting a little ridiculous.  Another pumpkin recipe.  I can’t help it! I told you I love all things pumpkin.  The season is short – I must embrace it!

So, I made a pumpkin-spice cake for my sister’s birthday this past week.  It was really good.  The next day I tweaked the recipe just a bit and made delicious cupcakes.  The next day I tweaked it even more, making them gluten-free, and a sharable recipe was born!

If you don’t care to make these cupcakes gluten-free, whole wheat pastry flour is fine.  Also, use 1 TBS pumpkin pie spice if you’d rather not bother measuring out the cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, ginger and cloves.

I don’t generally make or eat things that are frosted due to the high fat content of frosting, even if it is vegan, but I’ve managed to keep the fat pretty low on these by only using no more than 1 tablespoon of frosting per cupcake, which is plenty and just right.  Still, these are a treat and not something I’d recommend be eaten regularly.  🙂

*Oil-free if left unfrosted. The cupcake itself is oil/fat-free but Tofutti Cream Cheese is made with oil.

Creamy Cinnamon-Spiced Pumpkin Dressing

Pumpkin Dressing. Vegan. Oil-free. Low-fat. Gluten-free.

As I’ve said before, I’m in love with all things pumpkin.  This savory dressing is no exception.  Other than my Pumpkin Soup, I’d never made a non-sweet pumpkin dish before.  I was very happy with the results.  Start small with the cinnamon and work your way up, tasting as you go.  And, depending upon how much tang you like, start with 1 TBS lemon juice and go from there.  I made this for a salad in which I put pomegranate and toasted pumpkin seeds – delicious!  It would also be tasty on greens like kale, or steamed broccoli and cauliflower.

Chocolate Chip Banana Bites

Chocolate Chip Banana Bites. Vegan. Oil-free. Low-fat. Gluten-free*

A few ingredients and a couple of really ripe bananas is all you need for this easy recipe.  These little bites are dense and delicious!  They’re also wheat free (gluten-free if using certified gluten-free oat flour), and low-fat.  I recently substituted dried cranberries for the chocolate chips for a friend who doesn’t like chocolate (can you imagine?).  They were delicious even without the chocolate chips!

The only problem with these is that they don’t last long when I make them.


*gluten-free when using certified gluten-free oat flour