During the hectic workweek, preparing dinner for your family can turn into a race against the clock. That's why people are rediscovering an old timesaving friend - the pressure cooker. Pressure cookers are making a comeback because they cook certain foods, such as pot roasts and poultry, as much as three times faster than conventional cooking, with tender, juicy results. So next time you're caught in a kitchen time crunch, remember the pressure cooker.

- WHY SO FAST? - Inside a pressure cooker, the atmosphere surrounding the food gets much hotter than in other cooking methods. As the cooker traps steam from boiling liquids, the pressure builds up. The mounting pressure produces a much higher cooking temperature than is normally possible, so the food cooks quickly and evenly.- PRESSURE COOKING POINTERS - Before using your pressure cooker, be sure to read the instruction manual that came with it. Your cooker should have a safety lock to protect you. The lock prevents the cooker from being opened until pressure is safely reduced. Once you're familiar with the way your cooker operates, you'll be able to use it for many foods. To convert recipes, use the following guidelines and be prepared to experiment.

- Before every use, check the valves and gasket, and make sure the vent pipe is clear.

- Choose foods that cook well in moist heat, such as stews, pot roasts, poultry and some vegetables.

- To determine the cooking time, start by decreasing the conventional cooking time by two-thirds, to one-third of the original cooking time. You can always add more time if the food isn't done.

- To generate steam, your pressure cooker needs to contain some liquid. You can reduce the amount of liquid from your original recipe because it won't evaporate as much, but be sure to have the minimum amount your instruction manual suggests.

- Never fill the cooker more than two-thirds full. This allows room for steam buildup.

- At the end of the cooking time, either remove the cooker from the heat to let pressure drop slowly or hold it under cold running water to reduce pressure quickly. Turn to your instruction booklet or recipe to see which method you should use.

- To avoid steam burns, tilt the lid away from you when removing it.

- SHOPPING FOR A COOKER - You'll find 4- to 9-quart cookers that cost anywhere from $25 to more than $200. Aluminum cookers are usually the least expensive. Pressure cookers with copper in the bottom (to aid even heating) tend to be more expensive. You'll also find some cookers have a non-removable pressure regulator built into the lid. Others have the traditional removable rocking pressure regulator. All new models should have the safety lock feature.