Labour-intensive dinner?
July 31, 2014 7:48 AM   Subscribe

I have a lot of time on my hands, a love of cooking, and a girlfriend I would like to impress! Any ideas for a home-cooked romantic dinner, given that I have a LOT of time?

My stage manager girlfriend is just finishing her final show of the busy season and it has been entirely too long since we have been on a date. I was originally just planning a regular night of eating out at a nice place and then going for drinks or a movie, but I thought this would be a good opportunity to really work on my ability to make something impressive.

I am currently unemployed but sitting on an adequate pile of money, so I have basically unlimited time and effort to put into this. I find the process of cooking carefully to be very gratifying - even the fiddly stuff that takes hours. I have spent more than one afternoon monitoring the temperature of a pot of warm water to sous-vide sans sous-vide machine.

There is a market that has fresh, local pork/beef available to me three days of the week, so I would like to take advantage and use those meats over chicken or seafood.
posted by one of these days to Food & Drink (25 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
Beef bourguignon is basically not that labor intensive but if you cut the meat yourself, use fancy mushrooms and pearl onions and stuff it will take it to another level. Or cassoulet maybe? This is assuming it's not horribly hot weather where you are. Here in the Midwest US we could definitely do a braised or oven dish.
posted by BibiRose at 7:54 AM on July 31, 2014 [2 favorites]

Make your own tortellini.
posted by steinwald at 7:57 AM on July 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

My favorite labor-intensive meal is short ribs with homemade stock. When I make it, it's a 2-3 day process, starting with roasting veal bones to make an amazing stock, then braising the shortribs and letting them marinate in red wine overnight, then braising them low and slow for hours until they are tender and delicious. I use this recipe.

They are amazing with whipped potatoes or polenta and roasted asparagus.
posted by elvissa at 7:57 AM on July 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

So, not necessarily this particular recipe but this general idea as a side dish.

Looks pretty, takes a bitchass long time to make, particularly with the slicing and stacking and shoving the herbs and whatnot down into each little crevice. I made them a bunch when I was unemployed and had oodles of time.
posted by phunniemee at 7:57 AM on July 31, 2014 [2 favorites]

I made these lamb shanks served with cheesy grits and they were amazing.
posted by bondcliff at 7:58 AM on July 31, 2014

Another idea, especially if it is warm out: make a huge antipasto tray with a lot of different roasted vegetables. The cook the meat simply-- grill a steak or something. Grilling the meat outdoors while you enjoy the antipasti would be very romantic. Then have a cheese platter and some berries macerated with some kind of liquor.
posted by BibiRose at 8:03 AM on July 31, 2014 [2 favorites]

if you have lots of time on your hand, you should pick up a copy of The French Laundry Cookbook. It's a fantastic cookbook in its own right and assuming you do have loads of time, i'd suggest planning out a meal from it. In my experience, many of the recipes required about a day of planning/shopping/making oils, a morning of prep work and an evening composing the meal.

All of keller's other books are great too, ad-hoc is more down to earth home cooking while bouchon is solidly bistro-oriented. You need to make sure that they don't require something like confited lemons because those are easy, but require up-front time of a few weeks.

The main point is all the recipes are fairly accessible too, but they will task all your type-a bits. I have gotten tons of mileage out of the fresh pasta recipe and the semifreddo from the french laundry cookbook.

Finally, take a gander at the Momofuku Cookbook, it's also great and has a strong focus on pork. In particular, there's a pork belly + steam bun recipe in there that's fantastic. the pork belly takes time, the steam buns take lots of effort. but if you've got a local pork purveyor at your disposal, i would seriously consider that.

Have fun! Congrats to you and your girlfriend.
posted by nsfmc at 8:05 AM on July 31, 2014 [4 favorites]

I'd go Mexican and do a cochinita pibil with pickled onions, homemade guac, and homemade corn tortillas. Get some high-quality tequila(s) and make a margarita bar (I recommend Rick Bayless's recent book for a variety of margarita recipes). Appetizer/side could be elotes. For dessert, Mexican pot de creme.
posted by melissasaurus at 8:07 AM on July 31, 2014 [2 favorites]

This lasagna bolognese from Smitten Kitchen takes forever, but is SO GOOD! I did it on my maternity leave and have been wishing I had time to do it again ever since.
posted by goggie at 8:09 AM on July 31, 2014 [2 favorites]

This is my go-to taco recipe when I want people to fawn over how awesome the home-made meal I've made for them is. Takes several hours and you make every part from scratch.

Tacos might not sound very romantic but let me tell you - slow-braised pork with homemade tortillas and salsa verde makes for a frisky evening at my house. Don't be surprised if you find her (or friends, or yourself) hunched over the pot of shredded pork with a fork and large helping of the fresh tomatillo salsa. It happens every time.
posted by dozo at 8:17 AM on July 31, 2014 [7 favorites]

I totally agree that antipasti really is the way to go. Nothing more romantic (because we know where a romantic evening leads) than eating with your fingers. Or your partner's. (My ex and I ate like that all the time and it was fantastic.)

The other bonus being that with a grazing/antipasti meal you'll actually eat less, and the food tends to be lighter, so you're less ummmm.... worn out for later.

You could go with Heston Blumenthal's burgers, if you start now you might be eating tomorrow night. (I think any food that can get you messy/offers your partner the chance to touch your face can be romantic in the right circumstances). That said, I think his spaghetti (from In Search of Perfection) is a superior recipe, even if it's not actually textbook Bolognese.

Take a look here; gorgeous food that in many cases is definitely fiddly.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:24 AM on July 31, 2014

A nice pasta dish. Make your own sauce from scratch using fresh tomatoes. Make your own pasta it is super easy & pasta rollers are cheap or you can do it with a rolling pin. Braised short ribs would also work. Make your own ravioli, its fun, easy but fiddly and looks impressive.

Start with a nice light anti pasto plate, a lovely fresh salad with homemade dressing, the pasta dish then a small but select cheese plate, with dry fruits etc for nibbling while you sit and stare lovingly at each other. Throw in a halfway decent bottle of wine & some candles and you're all set.
posted by wwax at 8:39 AM on July 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

I love this thread! I am a fellow lengthy-involved-cooking-process enjoyer.
An idea: Gumbo takes a long time. I would imagine gumbo with homemade sausage in it takes a lot longer.
posted by Temeraria at 9:36 AM on July 31, 2014

Baked Alaska is time-consuming, impressive as hell, and yummy. Bonus points for you can set it on fire.
posted by Mchelly at 9:43 AM on July 31, 2014

I know you asked for a dinner idea, but if you decide to broaden your scope, consider making some homemade croissants that you can serve for a weekend brunch along with light accompaniment (maybe fresh fruit slices, or a small side of scrambled eggs) and a very good coffee (or in colder weather a good drinking chocolate.)

They're not especially hard if you're at least minimally competent with baking and you can make the dough, form a butter block, and work them into the end product over the course of an idle afternoon (it's the multiple rollings to layer the butter and dough that make this time-consuming -- you have to roll, fold, and chill several times in order to keep the layering right) and then put the dough in the fridge for the next morning. In the morning, when you get up, roll out the dough one last time, divide into triangles, roll out several croissants, brush with egg white, and set on a baking sheet to proof for 1/2 an hour and then bake.

If you don't live in an area where access to good fresh pastries is common, this never fails to wow.
posted by Nerd of the North at 9:46 AM on July 31, 2014 [2 favorites]

Croissants take a little longer than an idle afternoon unless you have a dough sheeter. After each book fold (which you need to repeat 7x), the dough needs to chill in the fridge for a minimum of two hours (if you have a blast chiller, that also helps. But you don't want it frozen!), meaning even after the initial dough, you're looking at 14 hours minimum of work. And it's not really the fun fiddly kind, it's just the "Oh god now I have to go roll this out again" kind.

But if you're going to go there, protip for the butter block: beat it senseless with a heavy rolling pin. It'll make it easier to spread out without softening it too much.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:58 AM on July 31, 2014

My favorite labor intensive meal is Beef Wellington. It's not particularly difficult, just time consuming, and fan-fucking-tastic to eat. I have a great recipe for it. Ask and ye shall receive.
posted by janey47 at 10:13 AM on July 31, 2014

Once a year or so I make a bunch of duck confit. I get four whole ducks, render the fat from the breast skin (this gives you duck cracklins, which are awesome), rub a spice mix on the legs and let them sit for a few days. Then you cook the legs submerged in the duck fat for ~3 hours or so. Cool, allowing the fat to harden, fully encasing the legs. They keep for a few months in the fridge that way. This also gives you a huge quantity of duck fat, great stuff to have around. As well as the duck breasts.

To serve, dig out one of the legs, brown the skin, and serve on a bed of arugula with freshly toasted nuts. Serving it with roasted potatoes is also traditional.

The other thing I like to make that takes a long time is barbecue. Low, slow, 220 F, 8-12 hours for a pork shoulder, 3-5 hours for ribs. Use simple equipment -- just a Weber kettle grill. That way you're "forced" to invite a friend to sit in front of the grill and drink beer with you while you watch the temperature and tend the fire all day long.
posted by ngc4486 at 10:28 AM on July 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

For dessert - marinated fresh fruit [marinate each type of fruit individually and make each "bite" a new fruit] crepes topped in home made marscapone with a Grand Marnier flambe' finish. Don't overcook the crepes.
posted by vapidave at 1:48 PM on July 31, 2014

Despite your "maybe not chicken" clause I came in to suggest coq a vin or mole negro with chicken if you're going for an elaborate sit down dinner. (These are also heavier, richer foods that - depending on the weather/climate where you are - you might not feel like eating.)

But I actually like the previously suggested idea of several, smaller lighter dishes or bites, especially eaten with hands. To that end you could make:
Gougeres or other homemade crackers or crispy flatbread

Homemade thin-crust pizza with fresh ingredients (also fun to do on the grill after laying down and oiling aluminum foil, if you don't want to use the oven.)

Homemade pasta with light sauce (I like to make a sauce with all fresh tomatoes (peeled and diced), garlic, basil, parmesean and nice olive oil -- just toss with warm pasta, no cooking)

Ooh! Fruit pizza for dessert, now that is elaborate and delicious. Cookie/shortbread crust, cream cheese or pastry cream filling, beautifully cut and arranged fresh fruit glazed with strained fruit jelly, heated slightly to become liqueified: apple, apricot, currant all work well.

Fresh Thai/Vietnamese spring rolls

If you have access to an ice cream maker, homemade ice cream always seems special. Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams are all great recipes (check the book out at the library or find some on the internet.)
posted by dahliachewswell at 2:08 PM on July 31, 2014

Making paella takes a lot of time and a lot of ingredients. It's fun to make and yummy to eat. You will have leftovers enough to share with a few people.
posted by CrazyLemonade at 2:15 PM on July 31, 2014

fun to do on the grill after laying down and oiling aluminum foil

Aluminium foil not needed, just nicely oiled dough. Heat barbecue on high to at least 400F with lid closed. Slide your undressed pizza onto the grill, close for 3 minutes (less if you're north of about 425). Check, if nicely marked underneath remove from the grill, turn off middle burners if a three burner, one side if divided that way, and turn the other burners to medium. Flip the dough over and dress the cooked side. Return to cool side of grill, close lid, cook about 4 minutes or until done.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:20 PM on July 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

Elvissa and wwax got it - short ribs, doubly so since you have access to a good butcher. Can I come over too?
posted by WeekendJen at 6:15 AM on August 1, 2014

After seeing the movie Julie & Julia I bought the Julia Child Cookbook and proceeded to make about a dozen or so recipes out of it. Almost everything in it takes 3-4 hours (some are all day). And to make the recipes authentic you'll use these tiny pearl onions that you'll fucking come to hate after making one recipe since it's pealing 3 dozen miniature onions.

The most challenging one is the Pâté de Canard en Crouté which involves: making a large amount of pastry dough, de-boning a whole duck, making a pate, browning the duck, cooking the stuffing in a pan, stuffing the duck, letting the duck cool, sewing the duck, waiting for the duck to cool more, wrapping the duck in the pastry shell, and oven baking.

The linked blog summed it up:
15 minutes making farce
15 minutes for pastry
45 minutes for duck de-boning
15 minutes for trussing
15 minutes for browning
25 minutes for cooling
2 hours for baking
2 1/2 hours for resting

About 5 1/2 hours into Pâté de Canard en Crouté
I've made this once for Thanksgiving 5 years ago and it was a huge hit, but it's very very decadent and will yield a lot of food. If I was to make it again I'd skip the pâté stuffing and go with something more healthy.
posted by wcfields at 2:58 PM on August 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

Croquembouche for dessert, perhaps? (Or really anything from Joe Pastry, he pretty much specializes in fiddly from-scratch bits that take hours--mostly sweet, but there are some savory things in there, too.)
posted by anaelith at 5:52 AM on August 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

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