Timed Dinner: Start the Stopwatch

I picked up a groovy new/old cookbook last month. Published in 1948, the premise of Cooking by the Clock by Jean and Clarke Mattimore is actually very helpful—when to start each part of a meal so that you have dinner on the table at 6:30 p.m. I like the idea that it’s a husband and wife duo that put together the book (but I secretly wonder how much the 1940s-style husband worked on the text… I’m guessing he was just the taste tester…).

Because Paul would be subjected to the final product, I let him pick one of 30 menus. He chose Menu 6 which was supposed to be the important occasion dinner, like when the boss comes to dinner. The crowning touch is the pie by which a New York restaurant frequented by famous athletes apparently based its reputation. How coy! Also, the book says, “Your man may not get the raise but it won’t be your fault.” Right. Instead of inviting Paul’s boss for dinner, we asked my sister over. (She acts like the boss of me most of the time… so it kind of worked.)

Stick with me on this because it’s a bit long on the instructions. I also cut out the whole “Have on Hand” part that explained exactly what pot and utensil to use when.

Menu 6

Preparation time: 3½ hours (with plenty of time to knit a sweater)… I swear, the book actually says this. Are they being cheeky or should I have also knitted up a sweater? I know these olden times housewives were models of perfection. And, obviously, this is a weekend meal as I work during the day.

Shopping List

  • 5-6 lb rib or loin roast of beef (I used a 4½ lb roast)
  • 1 lb green beans or 1 package frozen beans
  • 2 lbs small new potatoes
  • 1 small box graham crackers
  • Butter or margarine
  • 2 eggs
  • Milk (I think it quaint that the dairy and eggs are considered shopping items and not staples.)

Staples

  • Sugar
  • Cornstarch
  • Cream of tartar (A staple… really? I had a devil of a time hunting it down in the spice aisle—wedged way in the back where no one looks.)
  • Vanilla
  • Flour
  • Garlic
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Worcestershire sauce
  • Coffee

Step 1: Graham Cracker Pie (9”)

Prepare pie in advance, at least 1½ hours before starting the meal. (OK, I started the menu and just went through it step-by-step… everything still came out fine.) Or make it in the morning and keep in the refrigerator particularly if your oven is not large enough for both pie and roast. (Um, we have bigger ovens now. If you can’t fit a roast and a pie in your oven, you should consider getting a new one.)

Crust:

  • 16 graham crackers (and, they made graham crackers smaller back in the day, because you might need like 10)
  • ½ C melted butter
  • 1 T flour
  • ¼ C sugar
  • Cream filling (see step 2)
  • Meringue (see step 6)

3:00: Roll graham crackers fine (or put in a baggie and crush the hell out of them) and put into a mixing bowl. Melt the butter in a saucepan (or the microwave). Mix the flour and sugar together and add to graham crackers. Stir in melted butter. Put all but 3 T into the pie pan. Press onto bottom and sides of pan. Fill with cream filling, top with meringue and sprinkle with remaining graham cracker mixture. Bake in a moderately slow oven (325°F) for 20 minutes. Cool. Makes 6-8 servings.

Step 2: Cream Filling

  • 3 T cornstarch
  • ½ C sugar
  • ⅛ t salt
  • 2 C milk
  • 2 egg yolks, well beaten
  • ½ t vanilla

3:15: Mix cornstarch, sugar, and salt together in a mixing bowl. Add milk and stir well. Cook in top part of double boiler over boiling water until thickened, stirring constantly. Then cover and cook 15 minutes longer, stirring occasionally. Add egg yolks and cook 2 minutes longer (Whoa! No mention of the go slowly or you’ll get eggy bits? Well, be warned: Go slowly with the eggs). Cool and add vanilla. Do not pour into pie crust until after you have made the meringue as directed in Step 6.

3:45: Step 3: Peel the potatoes (small new potatoes preferably). Allow 2 per person. Cover and cook 15 minutes in boiling salted water to cover. Drain. Set aside until needed. (I used new red potatoes quartered and didn’t peel them.)

4:00: Step 4: Prepare 1 lb green beans for cooking. Wash, string, remove ends, and break or cut with sharp knife into 1” pieces. Set aside in a cool place until cooking time. If you’re using frozen beans, follow the directions on the package and start cooking just before making the gravy.

4:15: Step 5: Preheat the oven to 325°F. Wipe the roast with a damp cloth; rub with salt and pepper. Insert small slivers of garlic into crevices of meat. Place meat on a rack in a shallow baking pan (or use an open roasting pan), making sure that the fat side of the meat is up. If roast is lean, fasten a little suet over the top. Roast 24 minutes per pound for rare (internal 140°F), 28 minutes per pound for medium (160°F), and 35 minutes per pound for well done (170°F). Do not cover. Do not add water.

Step 6: Meringue

  • 2 egg whites
  • ½ t cream of tartar
  • 2 T sugar

4:30: Beat egg whites until foamy (I used an electric mixer); add cream of tartar and beat until stiff (or until whites stand up in a point as you life the beater out). Gradually add sugar and beat until marshmallowy.

Step 7: Put pie together as directed in Step 1 and bake in a moderately slow oven (325°F) for 20 minutes.

5:45: Step 8: Put potatoes in pan with the roast and bake 45 minutes. Turn several times, and baste occasionally with drippings from the meat. (I had to add butter to the pan as my meat did not have a ton of drippings.)

6:00: Step 9: Cook beans, covered, in a small amount of boiling salted water until tender, 15-30 minutes. Drain well and serve with 1 T butter. Season with salt. Do not overcook. (If you cook fresh green beans for a half an hour, that will definitely overcook those suckers. Go for less time.)

6:05: Step 10: Heat water for coffee. Put meat platter, dinner plates, and vegetable dish in a warm place to heat. (OR, if you’re like me, crack open that bottle of wine and set the table.)

Step 11: When roast beef is done, remove it to a hot platter. Keep the potatoes in the oven until serving time. If you wish, you can turn off the oven heat, put beef and potatoes on a platter and keep them hot in the still-warm oven while making the gravy. (I let the meat rest on a cutting board and kept the potatoes in the oven.)

6:20: Step 12: Pour most of the hot dripping or fat from the beef into a crock, leaving about 4 T in the pan. Set the pan on top of stove over low heat. Stir 4 T flour into the hot fat and brown thoroughly. Then add 2 C cold water gradually, and stir until gravy thickens. Boil for 2-3 minutes. The juices which have browned on the bottom will dissolve and flavor the gravy. Season with salt and pepper and a few drops of Worcestershire sauce.

6:30: Step 13: Finish making the coffee.

Results

As you can see by the photo, I like my meat rare. And, this came out quite rare—which was lovely. The potatoes turned out really well. Crispy on the outside and fabulously potatoe-esque on the inside. I didn’t take a picture of the green beans, because well… they’re boiled green beans.

Roast beef and potatoes on a plateNow, let’s talk about the gravy. How kind of ick. Sheeny and weird with very little flavor. As my sister said, “It tastes like thick Worcestershire sauce.” Also, it didn’t heat up so well on the leftovers. The oddest part was that the authors said the gravy would keep indefinitely in a covered bowl in the refrigerator. It’s got meat grease in it. So, I think indefinitely is a bit of an overpromise.

GravyFinally, the pie: This is a very nice custard and crumble pie. I am partial as I so love a browned meringue. This pie is very similar to chess pie, but without the booze. I admit, it is made better by the addition of liquor.

Graham cracker pieOverall, this was just an underwhelming meal. It could stand for the addition of rolls or salad or something else. There just wasn’t that much in the way of food. (Hmmm, maybe this explains the weight problem we have in this country? We’re not used to eating what those skinny Minnies ate 60 years ago.) But, honestly, if you are spending money on a roast (mine cost $50) then you can probably come up with something better than just salt, pepper, and a hint of garlic. While our waistlines have increased, so have our palettes. Tastes like meat and potatoes.

Bonus: I did this in exactly the time that they suggested. (The only cumbersome bit was to make sure your water was already boiling before starting each step that required boiling water.) Other than that bit of bother, this was spot on (unlike the books now that say you can cook a meal in 30 minutes–as long as you know how to chop vegetables like a robot). And, there are other intriguing dishes to be had in this slim volume: Ham in Milk, Pineapple and Nut Gelatin, and a whole back section on cocktails. I’ll definitely be dipping into this one again.

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  1. #1 by Emily (Aunt) (Sister) (In that order) on 12.20.2011 - 5:28 pm

    I request an invitation to the Pineapple and Nut Gelatin portion of your culinary adventure. I do love floating bits in aspic; especially if those said bits are pineapple.

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