Each new survey shows the amount of time that cooks are willing to spend preparing dinner is shrinking.
The current range is from 20 to 45 minutes for weeknight meals. If that trend continues, people will eat a carrot and a handful of nuts and call it quits.
But before we get to that squirrel existence, there are alternatives - even for singles and twosomes who seem especially disinterested in devoting much time to cooking.
Pasta, boneless chicken breasts, hamburgers, fish fillets and carryout are the obvious choices for quick meals. However, for those times when you recall the pleasures of cooking and miss the deep, mellow flavor of a simmered dish, you can make delicious, hearty Veal-Sage Stew with Mushroom-Barley Pilaf and not sacrifice the evening.
Veal stew meat doesn’t require as long a cooking period as does tougher beef. And the recipe that follows doesn’t call for root vegetables that could also slow things down.
If you’re a single-minded cook, you can make the 45-minute deadline. If you’re a leisurely cook, you aren’t watching the clock anyway.
Still, I would recommend starting the barley pilaf first. Once the grain is simmering it doesn’t need any attention and the veal can be started.
Now, to find a way to shave five minutes off cleanup.
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 shallots, peeled and minced
3/4 pound veal stew meat, cut into bite-size pieces
2 tablespoons flour
1/4 to 1/3 cup dry vermouth
1/2 cup chicken broth
Grated peel of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh sage
1 teaspoon lemon juice
Heat olive oil in medium, heavybottomed pan. Add shallots and saute over medium heat 1 to 2 minutes.
Dust veal with flour seasoned with salt and pepper. Add veal to shallots and brown on all sides, 5 to 10 minutes. If there is any leftover seasoned flour, sprinkle over veal and stir in. Pour in vermouth and stir up browned bits from bottom of pan. Add broth and lemon peel.
Cook, covered, over low heat until veal is tender, about 30 minutes. After first 15 minutes of cooking, stir in sage. Just before serving, stir in lemon juice and adjust salt and pepper to taste.
Yield: 2 servings.
Note: If desired, substitute pound boneless, skinless chicken thigh meat, cubed, for the veal. Reduce total cooking time to 15 to 20 minutes.
1 strip bacon
1 cup sliced shiitake mushrooms
2/3 cup pearl barley
1 bay leaf
2 cups beef broth
Salt, freshly ground black pepper
Cut bacon into 1-inch strips. Fry in medium pan until crisp, about 5 minutes. Add shiitake mushrooms and saute in bacon fat until tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in barley and saute 1 minute. Add bay leaf and beef broth. Bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook, covered, until barley is tender and liquid absorbed, about 40 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Discard bay leaf.
Yield: 2 servings.
MEMO: Bev Bennett is food editor of the Chicago Sun-Times and author of four cookbooks.