To use a 'kitchen' metaphor, we live in a microwave environment.
I have a microwave. I use it about once a fortnight to partially defrost meat and roughly twice a week to 'steam' some treats (e.g. food scraps, sunflower seeds and a little pasta) for my chooks.
For a short time, around 10 years ago, I used it for cooking but, overall, I found that the flavour and texture of microwaved food was second-rate.
This is a personal opinion and, if you disagree, good luck to you.
Over the past decade or so there's been a quiet debate happening about the quality and nutritional value of the food that comes out of the microwave. I'm not pursuing this debate but, if you wish to, 'Google is your friend'.
Partly due to fond memories of my Mum's pressure cooker (which produced such delicious meals from the cheapest cuts of meat), but mostly due to my personal need to eat quality food, I bought my own pressure cooker in 2004.
It's not huge - maybe six litres - but it's thick-gauge stainless steel with a heavy base.
It has a series of safety features - including an idiot-proof interlock on the handle and a special seal - to ensure it can't explode.
This quality of engineering makes it so much nicer than Mum's aluminium unit, which posed a minor threat to our domestic wellbeing every time it was used.
Alongside my rice-cooker, my pressure cooker takes pride of place in the kitchen. Neither is ever 'put away': what's the point, when both are used six days out of seven?
Making best use of a pressure cooker is fairly straightforward. Yes, you can use it to brown meat and caramelise onions. Yes, you can use it to retain the natural nutrients contained in meat and vegetables, rather than 'cooking them off' by using a standard saucepan or frypan.
But, best of all, a pressure cooker offers not only high-quality, tasty food but also quality time with yourself!
One of their traditional selling points is that they 'halve the time' required for cooking meat and vegetables, but this 'feature' doesn't wash with me. Want speedy meals? Use the bloody microwave!
No, what I really like about my pressure cooker is that we work together as a team - at a similar pace.
Preliminary preparations: if you are using chickpeas and/or dried beans they should be soaked in cold, salted water for 24 hours or simmered for at least an hour.
Phase one: Pressure cooker on the hotplate (medium-high) with two or three tablespoons of olive oil; while it heats up, chop up meat, onions, garlic, ginger, chillis, mushrooms, whatever needs browning. Chuck this stuff in as you go and stir vigorously every minute or two.
Phase two: Add water (according to volume required) and turn hotplate down (medium); add slow-cooking ingredients (e.g. pre-softened dried beans, chickpeas) and herbs, spices and condiments; put the lid on and allow to cook for 45 to 60 minutes. (You might need to reduce the stovetop temperature to medium-low to prevent food sticking to the bottom of the pot and burning.)
Phase three: Prepare your 'fast-cooking' ingredients (e.g. fresh vegetables, lentils); open the blow-off valve on the cooker until the lid can be removed; add these ingredients and continue cooking under pressure for around 20 minutes.
As Mum did, I buy budget meat - and I use my own homegrown vegetables whenever I can.
I reckon I eat as well as anyone, and often better … thanks to my pressure cooker.
And, if I prepare enough for three or four days - and refrigerate in-between - I can enjoy 'fast food' most nights; in fact, at successive meals, the flavour of the food improves.
It would be interesting to know 'average' food preparation times in 2008 compared with 30 or 40 years ago …
Why does genuine restaurant food usually taste better than homemade?
Well, most of it doesn't come out of a packet.
It usually doesn't go anywhere near a microwave.
Maybe it's fair to say that, as a general rule, the quality of the food we eat is directly proportional to the quality time invested in making it?
Man! We so busy being busy, aren't we?