It took Martha Stewart, veal breast and my own foolishness to almost ruin a Christmas Eve dinner. It took a pressure cooker to save it.

A few years ago, a pre-prison, pre-comeback Martha was celebrating her birthday at Le Pain Quotidien in Manhattan and sharing the experience with TV viewers at home. The main course, Braised Veal Breast and Vegetables Alain (named for chef Alain Coumont), looked irresistible. I love veal breast but had prepared it only stuffed and roasted. Here was a recipe that elevated it to an entree worthy of Martha's birthday. Normally I'm the first to warn against trying new recipes when company's coming, but reason took a vacation. I had to make it.

The meat and vegetables were supposed to cook slowly in the oven until the meat was tender and flavorful, a little over 2 hours. Never happened. After 2 1/2 hours, the kitchen was clean, the appetizer, salad and dessert ready and the meat no closer to being tender than my shoes.

The guests were barely an hour from arrival, but my mother-in-law, with whom I have successfully cooked many holiday meals, was hopeful. Maybe another 30 minutes. I was despondent. Thirty minutes? We needed three hours. Then it hit me. My mother-in-law had a pressure cooker.

I pulled it out and transferred the veal and some of the cooking liquid to the pot. After 15 minutes at high pressure, the meat was meltingly tender. I placed it back with the vegetables in the oven to stay warm. If my husband, in-laws and children hadn't witnessed the panic, no one would have known the difference.

The pressure cooker not only saved dinner, it became the only way I cook veal breast -- and is now a go-to vehicle for chicken thighs and chuck, too. Every time, I'm amazed at how quickly it transforms tough to tender.

Now I'd sooner give up my food processor than let that pressure cooker go. It came through in a crisis, and a friend like that should always be kept close by. Who knows when reason might fail me again?