Tuesday, April 25, 2006

It's all about the timing. (cooking).

I'm having steak and mashed potatoes for dinner tonight. I've timed things precisely, so the pan was on one burner pre-heating for the steak while the water came to a boil for the potatoes on the other side of the stove. This morning, before I left for work, I marinated the beef in a little olive oil, smashed garlic, and soy sauce. The potatoes were peeled and sliced and left soaking in water. When I get home, dinner is ready in about 20 or 30 minutes. The steak cooks in a heavy cast-iron skillet; it rests quietly on a plate so the juices have a chance to settle while I finish boiling and mashing the potatoes.

Cooking is all about timing. Not just knowing when the meat is done, or the vegetables are just tender but still crisp, but timing all the other dishes so that everything is ready at the same time. It took me years to learn how to get dinner together for my family, and I still don't always have it down. Sometimes the vegetables overcook while I'm wrestling the chicken into and out of the oven. Or they're done too soon and grow cold on the table. If I were more organized I would take notes on how to time things correctly; some things I've done so many times I don't need to. One of my favorite dishes, pasta with steak and mushrooms, I've got timed perfectly. The water comes to a boil while I chop vegetables and slice steak. The pasta cooks while the beef is quickly seared on all sides, the onions browned, the mushrooms sautéed just until cooked, everything simmered in a splash of red wine and beef broth (if I've got some on hand). The wine thickens, reduces, and the pasta is just shy of al dente. Everything is tossed together, dished out in bowls; dinner is ready and it's time to eat. When there are more people, and more dishes, it's harder. It takes practice. An extra oven set to low heat helps, too.

Dinner was perfect, by the way, the steak crusty and medium-rare, the potatoes buttery and smooth. Everything cooked at the right time, still hot on the plate in front of me. Happiness, I think, is a good steak, with mashed potatoes on the side.

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