Julia Child dishes up more helpful cooking tricks in Julia's Menus for Special Occasions
, the second in her four-part retelling of Julia Child and Company
and Julia Child and More Company
. Like its predecessor, Julia's Delicious Little Dinners
, this book centers around six meals. But this time, Julia tackles some of the real challenges of entertaining, such as serving a fancy dinner to vegetarians, making an impressive meal when you don't know how many guests are coming, and feeding dieters. Some of Julia's suggestions border on lifestyle choices. For example, when throwing a cocktail party, she suggests "more cheer for fewer people"--lots of food (served in the kitchen, to promote a casual atmosphere), lots of wine, and not too much booze. Ample color photos make even complex dishes such as Ham Pithviers--homemade puff pastry with ham filling--seem possible (if a bit ambitious for a cocktail party). It's a special occasion indeed when the average home cook will set aside a weekend to make cassoulet, but just reading Julia's recipe is mouthwatering fun. With tips on shopping, presentation, cleaning up, and leftovers, Julia offers graceful solutions to daunting party problems. --David Kalil
1 cup (2 dL) white wine, or half wine or dry white vermouth and water, or water only
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
6 cooking apples (Golden Delicious or others that will keep their shape)
4 or more Tb sugar
½ cup (1 dL) sugar
3 Tb water
Get a steaming rack, now available almost anywhere. It's perfect for most fruits and vegetables, though not for rice. The kind I like doesn't work for pudding, either, since it is lifted out of the pot by a vertical center handle. It's made of stainless steel and consists of a round perforated bottom dish standing on folding legs an inch or so high. Hinged around the circumference of the disk is a series of perforated flaps that fold inward for storage and outward, against the edge of the saucepan, when the steamer is in use.
Into a saucepan large enough to hold steamer and apples comfortably with a cover, put the liquid, vanilla, cinnamon, and several strips of lemon peel, adding water if necessary so you have ½ inch (1 ½ cm) liquid in the pan for the steaming operation. Wash and core the apples, and peel half the way down from blossom (small) end, dropping peel into saucepan with steaming liquid--to give added flavor and body to it for later. Place steamer in pan and the apples, peeled ends up, upon it. Squeeze the juice of the half lemon over the apples, and sprinkle on as much sugar as you think appropriate for the apples you are using. Bring to the simmer, cover the pan closely, and regulate heat so that liquid is barely simmering--too intense a steam will cause the apples to disintegrate--and keep checking on their progress. They should be done in 15 to 20 minutes, when you can pierce them easily with a small knife.
Apples may be cooked a day or more ahead and served cold.
Set the apples on a serving dish or on individual plates or bowls. Remove steamer from pan; boil down the cooking liquid rapidly until lightly syrup, sweeten to taste, and strain over the apples. Decorate each with a maraschino cherry.
Shortly before serving, prepare a caramel syrup. Bring ½ cup (1 dL) sugar and 3 tablespoons water to the boil in a small, heavy saucepan, then remove from heat and swirl pan until all sugar has dissolved and liquid is clear--an essential step in sugar-boiling operations, to prevent sugar from crystallizing. Then return to heat, bring again to the boil, cover, and boil rapidly for a minute or so until bubbles are large and thick, indicating that liquid has almost evaporated. Remove cover and boil, swirling pan gently by its handle but never never stirring, until syrup turns a nice, not-too-dark caramel brown. Immediately set bottom of pan in cold water and stir with a spoon for a few seconds until caramel cools slightly and begins to thicken. It should ooze off the spoon in lazy, thick strands. This is important, because if you put it on the apples too soon, when it's too hot or too thin, it'll just slide off onto the dish. Rapidly decorate the apples with strands of syrup dripped over them from tip of spoon, waving it over them in a circular spiral to make attractive patterns.
To clean the caramel pan and the spoon easily, simply fill pan with water and set to simmer for a few minutes to dissolve all traces of caramel.
The dessert can be made with pears instead of apples. It can be lightened by omitting the caramel, or enriched by passing, separately, a bowl of custard sauce or lightly whipped cream.