Just like that classic Queen song featuring David Bowie, I often feel under pressure. Pressure to be a good mom, a good wife, keep a clean house, make healthy fabulous food, do a great job at work, and so much more. That much pressure can be overwhelming sometimes.
But, one thing can be good under pressure – cooking. When I’m short on time but want a meal that tastes like I spent all day on it, I break out my pressure cooker.
Using a pressure cooker is a lot like cooking in the crock pot, only its much faster and the flavors are brighter. You can make a lot of things in the pressure cooker, most significantly faster than you would by traditional methods. There is even a recipe for cooking a cheesecake in my pressure cooker, but I haven’t tried that yet.
This recipe combines the cozy flavors of butternut squash, barley and chicken with crisp red peppers and snow peas. It’s really the best of both worlds. And, it comes together in about 30 minutes.
Start by browning the chicken with the onions and herbs first. My pressure cooker has a browning setting so you can do it right in the cooker.
Then add the barley and butternut squash with chicken broth and cook it under high pressure for 20 min. That’s about half the time it would take on the stove top. And, the high pressure makes the chicken so tender it’s like it’s been stewing in the slow cooker all day.
One thing about a pressure cooker, you cannot peek and test and then let it cook some more. Well, you can, but it takes a few minutes to get it back up to pressure, and remember, everything is still cooking during that time. That means some things can get mushy, and overall it will take a lot longer. Because of this, you have to decide how long you want to cook something under pressure and then go for it. If you’re not sure, it’s better to cook it for less time, as you can always simmer it to finish it off. You can’t go back once you’ve overcooked something. I generally start with one-third to one-half the time it takes to cook something traditionally.
Once the barley and squash are tender, about 20 minutes, let the pressure out gradually. My pressure cooker is actually set on a timer; once the time is done, the pressure will come down slowly on it’s own. Depending on what you’re cooking, you may want to release the pressure quickly by opening the valve. If you do that, be really careful not to burn yourself on the hot steam. For this recipe, let the pressure come down on it’s own, which takes about five minutes.
Once the pressure is released, open the pressure cooker, add the red peppers and snow peas and let it simmer without a cover for 2 or 3 minutes. Cooking these delicate vegetables under pressure will turn them to mush, don’t do it! This way they are still crisp and bright tasting.
Butternut Squash Chicken and Barley
5 boneless skinless chicken thighs, trimmed and cut into bite-sized pieces
1/2 large butternut squash, seeded, peeled and cut into cubes
1/2 large yellow onion, chopped
1 cup barley
2-1/4 cups chicken stock or chicken broth
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 tsp ground dried rosemary
1 tsp ground dried thyme
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 large red bell pepper, seeded and cut into bite-sized pieces
1 cup snow pea pods, ends trimmed
Heat oil in pressure cooker. Season chicken with salt, pepper, rosemary and thyme, then brown in the hot oil with onion. Add the barley, butternut squash and chicken stock. Seal the pressure cooker, set it to high pressure for 20 minutes.
Once the timer is done, allow the pressure cooker to release pressure naturally, about five minutes. Mine does this on its own. You may need to open a valve a little bit. Be careful of the hot steam that’s released.
When the pressure has released, open the pressure cooker, stir and add the red peppers and snow peas. Simmer, open for 3 minutes, or until the peppers and peas are cooked to your liking.