Before you decide that preparing an elegant three-course dinner, plus signature cocktail, from start to finish in 60 minutes is too good to be true, consider this: Many home cooks make an entire meal in that amount of time most weeknights, deftly and intuitively moving from side dish to entrée and back again, from oven to stovetop to salad spinner. I simply decided to extend those skills to the challenge of the classic dinner for eight.
This isn't to say that a lot of fiddling and retesting didn't go into this menu. It did. We tested the whole game plan three times, tweaking recipes and choreographing to make sure it all came in at less than an hour. I rearranged the order of tasks; I gussied up a few smart convenience products (bagged salad greens, precut potatoes, frozen lemonade); and I introduced bold flavors from pickled Vidalia onions, white truffle oil, and fresh tarragon. The hour zips by, but it's more fun than frantic. The payoff will make your guests linger with delight.
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The One-Hour Game Plan
To make the 60-minute menu, you'll want to study and follow this detailed time line. (Two do-ahead tasks: Thaw lemonade concentrate and chill Champagne and gin.)
1. Preheat oven to 450°.
2. Pickle onions (for salad).
3. Bring water to a boil (for blanching asparagus).
4. Prep berries for dessert—combine with macerating liquid.
5. Prep roast; sear and get in oven.
6. Prep potatoes; place potatoes in oven with beef.
7. Blanch asparagus; drain and rinse with cold water.
8. Combine gin and lemonade in pitcher; chill.
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The One-Hour Game Plan (Continued)
9. Make horseradish sauce for beef; chill.
10. Make vinaigrette for salad; pile greens on top (do not toss).
11. Whip cream for dessert; place in fridge.
12. Remove beef from oven; let rest.
13. Brown the butter; heat asparagus.
14. Add Champagne to cocktails.
15. Toss salad; top with cheese, onions, and berries.
16. Enjoy the meal, and soak in the praise from your guests.
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Lemon-Gin Sparkling Cocktails
Loosely based on the French 75, a classic cocktail of gin, Champagne, lemon juice, and sugar, this welcoming beverage uses lemonade concentrate as a shortcut. Be sure to allow the concentrate to thaw ahead of time. You'll use almost a whole bottle of Champagne; the rest goes into the dessert. If time allows, you can use a quick simple syrup with lemon juice: Combine 3 tablespoons each of sugar, lemon juice, and water; microwave for 1 minute, and cool.
You can whip up the pickled onions this recipe calls for a few days before the party—one less thing to do the day of.
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Beef Tenderloin with Horseradish-Chive Sauce
Lots of black pepper and a good bit of horseradish add zest to lean beef tenderloin.
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Truffle Roasted Potatoes
White truffle oil delivers a powerful flavor punch, more so than black truffle oil. To save money, purchase a small bottle. Use leftover oil for finishing other dishes—drizzle on pizza, risotto, or potato hash.
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Browned Butter Asparagus
A hint of tarragon adds unique, fresh flavor to the dish, but you can use any herb you like.
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Champagne-Soaked Berries with Whipped Cream
Agave nectar is great for dishes like this, where it dissolves instantly. A chilled bowl and beaters will help the cream whip faster.
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More Make-Ahead Options
This menu comes together in an hour. But if you want to get a head start, do a few things a day or two ahead:
Beat whipped cream
Combine gin and lemonade
Make horseradish sauce
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Light & White: Try the zippy Kung-fu Girl Riesling by Charles Smith (2010 Washington State, $13).
Pinky! Keep it simple with a lip-smacker like the Bethel Heights Pinot Noir Rosé (2009 Willamette Valley, Oregon, $22).
Red Delicious: Dark fruit and spice make the Sanford Pinot Noir (2007 Santa Rita Hills, California, $43) a delightful match. —Alexander Spacher
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Time-Saving Covenience Products
Agave nectar: A versatile, ready-made liquid sweetener with a nice, neutral flavor you don't find in honey.
Time saved: 15 minutes.
Bagged salad greens: No need to wash and spin or pat dry—just open the bag and toss with vinaigrette.
Time saved: about 6 minutes.
Lemonade concentrate: Skip the whole job of making and chilling simple syrup, then combining with fresh-squeezed lemon juice. Concentrate does the job for you.
Time saved: about 15 minutes.
Precut potato wedges: Just open a package and pour onto a baking sheet—no scrubbing of spuds and no knife work necessary.