Add a French flair for festive holiday menus
There's nothing like a French flair in the menu to turn a traditional holiday dinner into a festive celebration or special buffet for daytime or a late-night party.
Anne Willan, founder and president of the LaVarenne School of Cooking in Paris, has recipes that can add just this kind of extra flair.
While in the United States this fall, Ms. Willan talked to food editors about several menus, including one featuring Cream of Pumpkin Leek Soup; Cranberry Orange Relish; Pasta Salad with Celery, Walnuts, and Red Peppers; Salad of Mixed Greens; and Caramelized Pear and Ginger Pie.
Ms. Willan suggested a Terrine of Turkey with Ham and Pistachios, but an American choice requiring less preparation might well be a hot roast turkey, cold turkey, or a Southern Country Ham.
The flair comes in the dessert, made not in the usual pie pan but instead molded in a skillet. Halved pears are cooked in sugar until golden brown, then baked with a top crust and inverted to display the topping.
Although a mixture of this kind often sticks to the pan, Ms. Willan uses a cast-iron enameled frypan with a nonstick cooking surface, which allows the pears to cook evenly without burning or charring the fruit or the pan. The pie can be baked up to 8 hours ahead and cooled in the pan at room temperature. Caramelized Pear and Ginger Pie 5 pounds firm pears 4 ounces crystallized ginger 1 1/2 cups sugar Pastry dough 2 cups flour 1/2 cup unsalted butter 2 egg yolks 1 teaspoon salt 2 tablespoons sugar 5 to 6 tablespoons cold water
To prepare dough sift flour onto board; make well in center. Add butter, egg yolks, salt, sugar, and 4 tablespoons water. Work with finger tips on one hand until partly mixed. Gradually work in flour, pulling dough into large crumbs using both hands. Add more water if dry. Press dough firmly together - it should be soft but not sticky.
Work on lightly floured board, pushing dough away with heel of hand and gathering with dough scraper until smooth and pliable. Press into small ball. Wrap and chill 30 minutes.
Peel, halve, and core pears, rubbing with lemon to prevent discoloring.
In frying pan cook sugar over medium heat to golden, stirring occasionally. Cool, then arrange pear halves in a circle, propping them up sideways. Set two or three pear pieces in center. Sprinkle chopped ginger over pears. Heat oven to 425 degrees F.
Roll out pastry dough to an 11 1/2-inch circle and set on pears. Bake in oven about 20 minutes until crisp and brown. Cool slightly, then turn out on platter with a rim to catch juices.
Pie can be baked up to 8 hours ahead and kept in pan at room temperature. Shortly before serving, warm pie slightly over burner and invert in pan by slipping onto plate then reversing it back into the pan.
Slice and serve warm with whipped cream or ice cream. Serves 8.