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Menu Monday

October 11, 2010

I want to start a new tradition on this blog – Menu Monday.  This is the day where I will recommend a complete menu for a “special” meal, whether that means a meal fit for company, a holiday menu, or a romantic dinner for two.  The goal is to make it three courses, easy, healthy, and delicious.  Our first Menu Monday features a meal I made for my parents when they came to visit this weekend.   We had a simple green salad with lemon vinaigrette, followed by beef stew and crusty bread, and capped off with a light and flaky apple tart with vanilla ice cream.

The three courses looked a little something like this:


I like to make most things from scratch, but occasionally I think there is definitely a time and a place for taking shortcuts from the store.  I chose to do this mostly with the dessert, and that is because making puff pastry is a serious labor of love.  While I love my parents, I didn’t want to spend the entire day in the kitchen.

The recipes below are enough to serve four.

First Course: Green Salad

I don’t think you really need a recipe for green salad.  I chose to keep it simple and make the dressing the key component, so the salad itself was a simple head of romaine, torn up into chunks.  The dressing was beautiful.

Lemon Vinaigrette:

  • juice of 1/2 large lemon
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • pinch of salt and pepper
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

INSTRUCTIONS:  Combine the lemon juice, Dijon, salt and pepper in the bottom of a large salad bowl.  While whisking, stream in the olive oil until you have a cohesive dressing.  Toss the salad greens directly in the dressing until lightly coated.

Second Course: Beef Stew

I used Jamie Oliver’s beef stew recipe from his most recent cookbook and gave it a couple of tweaks to put my own personality in it a bit, as well as my own earth-conscious spin.   As I mentioned before, I only ever use grass-fed beef.  And you may have discovered that grass-fed beef is rather expensive, but have no fear.  This is stew, people!  We can use the cheapest cut of grass-fed beef there is.  This is a slow-cooked dish, so make sure you start it three hours before you want to serve it.  You can serve with crusty bread, or put it on rice, mashed potatoes, or polenta.

Beef Stew

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 large onion, chopped
  • 2 carrots, chopped
  • 2 celery stalks, chopped
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 pound (more if you want leftovers) grass-fed top round, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1 heaping tablespoon flour
  • 1 bottle of dark beer
  • 1 15-oz. can no salt added diced tomatoes, with juices
  • salt and pepper

INSTRUCTIONS:  Heat the oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat.  Add the onion, celery, carrot, and bay leaf and cook for about 8 minutes, or until veggies are starting to brown a bit.  Add the beef and the flour and stir.  Pour in the beer and tomatoes, and season with salt and pepper.  Bring to a boil, then reduce to simmer and cover the pot.  Let simmer for three hours, removing the lid for the last half hour.  Serve with crusty bread.

Third Course:  Flaky Apple Tart

This is where the store-bought short-cut comes in.  Real butter frozen puff pastry is one of the greatest things on earth, and I encourage you to keep it on hand for fun impromptu desserts like this one.  It is so easy to make.  I made this recipe up as I went along, and it came out fantastic.

Flaky Apple Tart

  • 2 granny smith apples, peeled, cored, and thinly sliced into wedges
  • juice of 1/2 lemon (use the rest of the lemon from the salad dressing!)
  • 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons cinnamon sugar (or a 1:2 combo of cinnamon and granulated sugar)
  • 1 sheet of frozen puff pastry, thawed
  • flour for the board
  • 1 tablespoon real maple syrup

INSTRUCTIONS:  Preheat oven to 400.  Line a baking sheet with parchment.

Toss the apple slices with lemon juice to coat so they don’t turn brown.  Add the brown sugar and cinnamon sugar, and toss it all together.

Roll out the puff pastry on a lightly floured board to an even thickness of your choosing.  Transfer to the baking sheet.  Score a border around the edge of the pastry of about 1/2 inch, then prick it in several places inside the border so it doesn’t puff up too much in the middle.  Brush the maple syrup on the puff pastry with a pastry brush, then arrange the apple wedges in a pretty pattern.   Bake for 10-15 minutes, or until the pastry is puffed up and brown around the edges.  Serve warm with vanilla ice cream.

So there you have it, a simple three-course meal.   It’s perfect for fall, it’s delicious, and it’s good for you (so long as you don’t eat the whole apple tart by yourself!)


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