First, the salad. I can honestly say that this is my own creation, although I stole the recipe for the dressing from one of Ann Hodgman's cookbooks, One Bite Won't Kill You. If you don't own that, or Beat This, or Beat That, you must immediately order all three.
Napa Cabbage/Green Apple/Walnut Slaw
Don't use regular cabbage for this recipe--it's too bitter. Napa cabbage is much milder and sweeter, but it still has the cabbage characteristic of not wilting in dressing. I first came up with this recipe for the Cherry Creek Chorale picnic that we had at our house back in August, before I started this blog. I wanted something crisp and refreshing and thought of this combination. Napa cabbage tends to come in huge heads, so two of them were enough for an expected number of 50. People don't tend to eat a lot of salad at a buffet, I've found. I pre-shredded the cabbage the night before and stored it in plastic bags in the fridge. I think I ended up wasting too much of it, as I usually don't include much of the ribs, but sliced thinly they're fine. I usually just use the leaves, but next time I'm going to be more frugal. Sometimes when you slice into the cabbage it's all brown in the middle, and there are often brown spots here and there, so you will have to do at least some discarding. Granny Smith apples work well, diced into 1/4" pieces, as many as you like, and some chopped walnuts. The dressing couldn't be easier, with just four ingredients: 1/2 cup mayonnaise, 1/4 cup each of sugar and milk, and 2 tablespoons vinegar. Also a pinch of salt. So you can see that it's a simple ratio, 4:2:1, and very easy to multiply. I like to try to match the vinegar to the salad, so for this one I used cider vinegar. If I'm making the dressing for, say, a strawberry-spinach salad, I like to use raspberry vinegar if I have it on hand. Otherwise red wine vinegar at least makes the dressing pink. I ended up getting someone to help me dice the apples and walnuts at the last minute, but it would work better to do them ahead of time and give the apples a quick dip into some type of acidulated water, with lemon juice or Fruit Fresh, then drain and store in the fridge. Maybe next time!
On to the dessert. I actually had two, this one and my famous miniature pecan pies. I'll write about the pies at some future date, as I make them all the time, but the following is definitely a special-occasion item. I first got the recipe from some magazine or other in an article about a dinner planned by Julia Child. When I went online to check the source I found the exact same thing on the Food Network website by some other chef, so I guess it doesn't belong to any one person. I have changed the assembly to make it easier, as I have very little patience with doing complicated things just for looks. It's called "Gateau Mont St. Michel" because it's supposed to be a "mountain" of crepes, apples and almond cream that's then cut into wedges to serve. But that's just too much work. So here's my version, which I have titled:
1 cup flour
3/4 cup each milk and water
1 large egg
2 egg yolks
1 T. sugar
1/8 tsp. salt
5 T. melted butter
3 T. orange liquer, rum, cognac, or orange juice (I just use the orange juice)
Cook crepes using 2-3 T. batter for each. Since you don't have to worry too much about getting them all the same size or shape, you can just make them on your big griddle that you use for regular pancakes. They can be made ahead, stacked together, and put in a plastic bag.
Burnt-Almond Cream (that's what the recipe calls this, but really, you don't want to burn the almonds! Just toast them.):
2/3 cup sugar
1 1/3 cups toasted almonds, ground with the sugar in a food processor (Original recipe says to use blanched almonds, and it would be easier to see how toasted they are without the skins, but I always end up using the whole natural almonds that I have on hand from Costco. More fiber that way! Toast the almonds spread out on a baking sheet in a 350-degree oven for 5-10 minutes. Watch them carefully and take them out as soon as you start smelling them. Let them cool before you grind them up. Grinding them with the sugar keeps them from turning into almond butter.)
1 stick butter at room temperature
2 large eggs
1/2 tsp. almond extract
1/2 tsp. vanilla
3 T. dark rum (optional)
Once you've ground together the almonds and sugar, add the rest of the ingredients and process until well combined. It'll be kind of thick and gloppy.
About 12 large apples, such as Golden Delicious or Granny Smith (I use Granny Smith)
Juice of 1 lemon, or about 2 tablespoons
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter
(The recipe I got from the magazine said to use "as much lemon juice, melted butter and sugar as you think appropriate. " which isn't very helpful. These amounts are from the FN recipe. You may not want or need to use this much butter.)
Peel and slice the apples and spread them in a buttered jelly-roll or roasting pan. Bake for 20 minutes or so in a 400-degree oven, tossing up several times, until tender.
Assembling and baking the gateau:
Spray a 9x12 glass baking pan with cooking spray and then make layers of crepes, apples and almond cream, starting with crepes and then going from there. You're supposed to end with apples, but it doesn't really matter. This can be completely assembled ahead of time and refrigerated. Try to plan things so that you can take it out of the fridge an hour ahead of time and it won't be icy cold when you put it in the oven. If you do that, then it only needs about half an hour at 350 degrees. Not a bad idea to use your trusty instant-read thermometer to test the middle and make sure it reads 160. It works well to shove this into the oven when you start dinner and let it bake while you're eating, and then you can serve it hot, but warm or room temp is fine, too. I wouldn't serve it cold. Heavy cream poured over it is nice but not necessary. People went nuts over this at the open house. It does have quite a few steps, but you can do it all ahead of time and it's something very different. At least I'm not making you stack it!