Person of the Week
Baltay Uncovers 'A Steamy Affair with a Pressure Cooker: Recipes, Stories & Saucy Suggestions'
Guilford home cook and well-known Branford retired educator Virginia ‘Ginny’ Baltay has just unlocked the lid on her new cookbook, 'A Steamy Affair with a Pressure Cooker: Recipes, Stories & Saucy Suggestions.' She also plans to share her passion for pressure cooking during three Zoom-connected Shoreline Adult Education evening classes. (Photo courtesy of Virginia Baltay )
“When you mention the word ‘pressure cooker,’ people really turn off. But if you talk about in a saucy way, they get a kick out of it,” says Virginia “Ginny” Baltay.
The Guilford home cook and well-known Branford retired educator has just unlocked the lid on her new cookbook, A Steamy Affair with a Pressure Cooker: Recipes, Stories & Saucy Suggestions. The hardcover cookbook, filled with Ginny’s recipes, professional photos, and tricks of the trade just became available to order online at www.pressurecookeraffair.com (Long Cove Press, $29.99). Ginny also plans to share her passion for pressure cooking during three Zoom-connected Shoreline Adult Education (SAE) evening classes coming Wednesdays Oct. 21 and 28 and Nov. 4. Pressure cooker-curious adults from Branford, North Branford, Guilford, or Clinton can register now at www.shorelineadulted.org.
The SAE classes are also a way for Ginny to celebrate the launch of her steamy new cookbook. In the book, she dispels old-fashioned fears and turns the page to praise the huge rise in popularity of stovetop cookers and digital models like the Instant Pot, a foodie favorite. For those who may fear the idea of cooking under pressure, Ginny says rest assured that today’s models have “built-in safety valves that really, really work.”
“With the old ones, you had just the pressure locked down with a weight,” says Ginny.
In fact, she shares a story in her book of a “volcanic” experience many years ago, when, as college students, Ginny and her husband, Charles, tried to improvise after forgetting to bring the weight along with her pressure cooker during a ski trip.
“Of course, there was no way to relieve the pressure, and it blew a volcano onto the ceiling of the kitchen! But that couldn’t happen now, because there’s a mechanism now to blow out the steam. The second it builds, it would blow out the side vents,” says Ginny.
Ginny grew up cooking with a mom who knew her way around a pressure cooker, which was considered a new-fangled kitchen device back in the day.
“I grew up during World War II and my mom, as an avant-garde woman, wanted a pressure cooker throughout the war. And the minute they became available—I think I was 10 years old—she got one, immediately. So my mom and I went through the whole process of learning to cook with it together, and it just became a daily routine,” says Ginny.
That’s about 70 years of experience—Ginny is 82 years young.
“One day, I just did the math, because I’ve raised five children and I’ve entertained a lot, and I calculate that I’ve used the pressure cooker 15,000 times,” says Ginny. “So I put that to test. I said, ‘Who else out there has done that?’”
The question compelled Ginny to begin compiling her cookbook, about five years ago. Because it started out as a legacy for her children and her 13 grandchildren, as well as something to share with friends, Ginny wove in some personal anecdotes—”the where and how” tied to many of her recipes, she explains.
The resulting “culinary memoir,” includes Ginny’s first, favorite recipe (Thanksgiving-worthy coined carrots, enjoyed throughout her childhood in Middletown, New York) and also incorporates what the book’s promotional copy describes as, “modern-day reflections about terrorism, sustainability, and nutrition.”
As her cookbook came together, Ginny began to consider it for wider publication. That got her thinking about the type of hook she might employ to catch the public’s attention about the instant gratification a pressure cooker can supply to create healthy, fast and economical meals. So Ginny added a dash of spicy language, tested it out on her friends, and voila.
“When I included things like ‘The Pressure Cooker Virgin Test,’ my friends just loved it,” says Ginny. “That was my intent—to grab the attention and to hold people to tell the further story.”
A Steamy Affair with a Pressure Cooker dares readers to “begin your affair with an Outrageous O!” (otherwise known as Ginny’s five favorite “outrageous” recipes) and promises going between the covers will reveal “stimulating color photos and more than 100 sexy, simple recipes for main dishes and entrées, soups, veggies, desserts, and more.” The book will also help novice users “find your soulmate” (stovetop or digital pot) using Ginny’s “matchmaker advice”; encourage “experimenting” with fresh, all-natural ingredients; and say “I Do” to the pressure cooker safety/success oath while learning special techniques.
Ginny feels she can help anyone interested in taking up the craft of pressure cooking to “fall in love with your pressure cooker in 20 minutes”—about the time it takes to make some super simple recipes.
“To do a simple soup or simple chili or some light, braised meat is in the order of 20 minutes,” says Ginny.
She also wants to call attention to cooker’s environmentally friendly ability to encourage the reduction of food waste.
“It opens the door to a chef to think for a second, ‘What do I do with leftovers, with bruised fruit or vegetables?’ You can easily turn them into delicious soups and sauces,” says Ginny. “Americans throw so much food in the garbage. A pressure cooker can handle a lot of those things that people overdo.”
As a retired science teacher, Ginny adds, “I understand the science of the pressure cooker,” bringing another layer of assurance to sharing her pressure cooker practices with novice chefs.
Ginny also took some time off from teaching to delve into another career, professional photography, which comes through in her cookbook’s beautiful photos.
Certified to teach in both science and English, Ginny began her teaching career in New York, taught community college at Middlesex and Gateway in Connecticut, and taught science at Branford’s Walsh Intermediate School (WIS) for 14 years before retiring from the teaching field in 2010. Ginny’s past students at WIS well remember her innovative science field trips to Outer Island in Stony Creek, now a part of the Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge.
Shortly after she retired from WIS, Ginny continued to share her science knowledge through environmental outreach work and grant writing as a member of the newly formed Friends of Outer Island. She has served as the friends’ board vice president ever since (about 17 years now), and continues to write grants to support citizen science programs offered to the public at Outer Island.
“I really believe in the value of public space, especially for the people that don’t have advantages,” says Ginny. “Many of the kids who come out to Outer Islands from [a New Haven schools program] have never been on a boat, never been on the water, never been on an island, never touched a crab or a piece of seaweed. There’s giant value in that.”
As her next personal project, Ginny’s considering combining her beautiful photography of Outer Island flora and fauna, together with her educational expertise and knowledge of environmental science, into a new book.
“I have the mind that has to keep going!” she says.
Ginny raised her family in Guilford, where she and Charles, a physicist at Yale University, continue to entertain friends and family with holiday meals and get-togethers featuring quick, healthy, tasty recipes prepared in a pressure cooker.
With her new book and SAE classes, “I’m hopeful that people will get some fun out of it, learn not to be so serious about the word pressure cooker, and take it as a really serious ally in the kitchen,” says Ginny.