Spring has officially begun and for many of us that means more free time outside of work – whether spent at baseball and soccer games, or even perusing the farmers markets on the weekends. It is a time when we want to spend less time slaving over a hot stove and instead take advantage of spring’s bounty of fresh produce. One surprising way to save time in the kitchen, using fresh ingredients and keeping the kitchen cooler, is by integrating pressure cooking into your weekly meal planning routine. I know what many of you are thinking, aren’t those contraptions known for being dangerous? Like many things, technological advancements have significantly improved the standards of current pressure cookers. What has changed? Current models include locking lids, back-up vents, and most importantly, features to prevent you from opening the pot before the pressure has been released. Even with all of the improvements made to pressure cookers, you still reap all of the benefits: Time Saver: Food can cook up to 70% faster. Multi-Tasking Friendly: This is my favorite benefit; once you turn on the pressure cooker you can walk away and focus your time on other important tasks. Vitamin Bonus: More vitamins and essential minerals are retained by the faster cook time. Energy Efficient: With the heat of summer approaching, nobody wants to stand over the stove for hours in a hot kitchen. Pressure cooking allows you to save energy by cooking in less time and from having to turn on the oven. Here is a great recipe from Peggy Under Pressure to get you started with your pressure cooker. Spring Risotto photo credit: Peggy Under Pressure Spring Risotto is an awesome recipe to highlight the benefits of using a pressure cooker. When traditionally cooked on the stove, making risotto is tedious and time consuming. Many people think of using pressure cookers for cooking meat but they are just as excellent at cooking vegetables. INGREDIENTS: 3 large shallots, chopped 3 cups Aborio rice 4-5 cups low sodium chicken stock 1 cup white wine + 2 tbsp white wine for shallots 1 cup frozen peas 2 cups asparagus chopped 2 cups baby spinach leaves GARNISH: Chopped chives Shredded Parmesan cheese COOKING DIRECTIONS: Press the START button on the pressure cooker and turn the setting to the browning function. Pour a tablespoon of olive oil into the pot. Place the chopped shallots into the pot and sauté for 1-2 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste, pour in 2 tablespoons of dry white wine, cooking for 2-3 minutes. Press the CANCEL button on the pressure cooker turning it off. Place 3 cups of Aborio rice into the pressure cooking pot followed by 1 cup of dry white wine and 4 cups of low sodium chicken stock. Stir everything together. Close the lid and lock the pressure cooker into position. Set the pressure valve to Airtight. Depending on your model, you can select the Rice & Risotto button on your machine or manually select the time for 10 minutes. Once cooking is complete, release the pressure by turning the pressure valve to exhaust. Unlock and open the lid. Allow the KEEP WARM function to stay on for this part just for a few minutes. Check the consistency of the risotto. If it’s too sticky and dry, add more stock or wine and give it a good mix. The rice should be tender but retain its shape. Throw in the asparagus, frozen or fresh peas and spinach leaves. Fold them into the rice. Shut the lid and using the warm function to heat and cook all of the vegetables. It will take around 3-5 minutes to cook through. Open the lid and check on the veggies. Once veggies are cooked, sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and chopped chives and serve immediately. — Product Recommendation: If you are in the market to purchase a pressure cooker, I would recommend the Fagor 6 Qt. Electric Pressure Cooker Plus. The control panel features “brown” and “warm” functions, and there is a delay time feature, allowing you to come home from the office to a perfectly cooked dinner.