I set out to make what seemed a fairly ambitious dinner in an hour. I did this because (a) I’m still bothered by the “nobody has time to cook” meme, and (b) I looked up at the clock and said to myself, “Whoah, dude!” and I was too stubborn to change my menu in light of the sudden discovery that, yes, time flies.
I figured that an hour for Sunday supper would be reasonable. I dropped the ball; it took an hour and a half. Here’s the plan:
- goat cheese and crackers
- shiitake mushroom risotto, prepared with home-made chicken stock
- home-smoked pork tenderloin, sauce Robert
The great thing here is that, aside from the tenderloin, everything is is a staple or a leftover. So it’s a nice dinner, but it costs surprisingly little. There’s nothing green, admittedly, but it is Sunday and it’s not summer here in the North.
I'd prepped slightly: this morning, I dumped two frozen chicken carcasses in a pot, filled it with water, brought it to simmer, and stuffed it in a 200° oven. Other than that, this was a standing start.
I tried to get everything done in an hour and, yes, it took and hour and a half. In retrospect, there was no way around it: the vegetables in the stock need to simmer for an hour, and then the stock goes into the risotto which takes at least 17 minutes. So it’s 90, not 60.
- The risotto is cooked in chicken stock. Who wants to buy chicken stock, when you can make it by leaving some old chicken carcasses from the freezer in a pot of water and throwing it in your oven while you do other stuff? I started that in the morning.
- On the clock, I started by adding some tasty vegetable goodness to the stock. I chopped an onion, a couple of carrots, and some celery. They went into a hot sauté pan with some olive oil until softened and slightly brown. I preheated the oven, which takes forever to get hot. I praise myself for thinking of this right at the start.
- While the vegetables were browning, I tied two strips of really good bacon to the Niman Ranch tenderloin and threw it in the stovetop smoker. I used applewood, because that was the first container that came to hand.
- While the smoker got hot, I dumped the vegetables in the stock, and let them simmer at a lazy boil for the next hour on the (wait for it...) back burner.
- I’ve got two burners going now and nothing to do. So, I chopped some onion and garlic for the risotto. (I should have gone for saffron into the risotto, but I didn’t. Oh well.)
- I mixed up the paté a choux for the profiteroles. A half batch -- 2oz flour, 2oz butter, and 4oz water, 2 eggs, a little salt, a little sugar. Boil the water and butter, add the flour, sugar and salt, stir. Cook it just a little, and let it cool before adding the eggs. Meanwhile, the smoker is smoking and the vegetables are simmering
- Eek! I preheated the oven first thing – to wrong temperature. Our oven is terrific, but it handles like a truck. Abandon hope of 60 minutes. Adjust oven, and expectations.
- Slice shiitake mushrooms for the risotto. Sauté the caps for garnish, mince the stems and add to the sofrito. Now the smoker is smoking, the paté a choux is cooking, the stock is simmering, the mushrooms are sweating, and the oven is preheating. I am cooking with gas.
- Self-congratulation soon palls, and I have nothing to do. Time to jump on that sauce Robert. Chop and sauté a shallot, add some white wine, salt, and some vinegar, reduce, strain. Grab some ice cubes of demi glace from the freezer, and mix them into the sauce. Put that on the other back burner on very low heat.
- I’ve now got all four burners going, so its time to pipe the paté a choux onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. This means you put it in a plastic bag, snip off a corner, and squirt it out into long strips. Calling this “piping” sounds salty as hell. These blobs will go into the oven when the oven is hot, and when they come out they are (surprisingly) eclairs.
- Start risotto by cooking the onions and mushroom stems in olive oil, and then the rice. Add a cup of white wine, reduce.
- At this point I notice that my simple Sunday supper now has sauce on one burner, risotto on one burner, stock cooling next to it because it no longer has a burner, a smoker on one burner, mushrooms on one burner, and that the oven is racing to get to baking temperature for the dessert. Shake head. Reach for the white wine; apply liberally to the cook.
- Filter stock through cheesecloth. Ladle it into the risotto.
- Tenderloin out of smoker. Heat a big skillet, and sear each side over substantial heat, then into the oven to finish.
- Start adding stock the the risotto. Put the profiteroles into the oven. Find bowls and plates. Grab silverware, set table.
- Linda finishes her Sunday writing. We talk about her course on the history of capitalism. She grates some Parmesan.
- More stock into risotto. I grab some slightly out-of-date strawberries from the refrigerator and purée them. Whip some cream left over from this morning’s breakfast scones with the immersion blender, which (it turns out) is not the right tool.
- Heat the risotto bowls in the oven. Take out the profiteroles, let them cool, split them in half. The whipped strawberry cream goes between the halves. Plate and refrigerate.
- Sit down and amuse wife with goat cheese and sauvignon blanc, hoping she won't notice that dinner is late. Dinner isn’t really late. We’re eating, right?
- Risotto still not done. But now the bowls are hot. Really hot. Take out bowls, perform acrobatics to amuse and distract patient and increasingly hungry spouse. Tell story of Covent Garden jugglers.
- Finish the sauce, adding a little mustard and swirling in a pat of butter.
- Serve risotto. High time.
- Serve tenderloin.
- Serve profiteroles.
That’s lots of steps, but (fortunately) they overlap, so you can so two or three at once. Also, I made lots of extra risotto (which means risotto cakes later this week) and there was plenty of extra tenderloin, so one could argue that this counts for two dinners.
The key here is something I did learn in the Chemistry lab: keep several burners busy and divide your attention between them. Get some prep (like the chicken stock) out of the way early, and do last-minute prep while keeping an eye on your the rest. Multitasking is your friend.