The big one

​One of the best things about hosting a party in Paris is how impressed your guests will be if you've spent any more time in the kitchen than it takes to slice up a few saucissons. It's absurdly easy to pick up any sort of prepared dish from your local traiteur, and you don't even have to pretend you made it yourself. However delicious and time efficient this option may be, for me, the whole point of entertaining is to share home made food. Call me a purist, or a show off. I'm obviously not French, in any case. Yet.

This week we were celebrating a certain big birthday and unwittingly ended up inviting the same number of people as there would be candles on the cake. Which is a lot. (Even though DS had vetoed candles. And the singing of joyeuse anniversaire, for that matter. But who was I to silence the voices of the cocktail fuelled crowd once the lights were dimmed?).

I had prepared a reasonable spread and was rewarded with many a gasp of appreciation and an indistinct French exclamation. Considering I'd nipped to London the day before for a wedding and had done all the preparation in a day and a half, it wasn't too bad. DS had demanded a casual evening so I didn't want to make anything too fancy. Something convivial to help soak up a bit of the booze and which wouldn't break the bank.

So, the menu. Simple starters of hummus (a new recipe inspired by my recent trip to Palestine) and a beetroot and feta dip with plenty of fresh crudités. Then slow roast pulled pork with apple sauce in baps. I had to ask a girlfriend to bring the baps from the UK, which caused much hilarity. It's surprisingly difficult to find a good soft white bap in the land of the crunchy baguette. I picked up a few hunks of cheese from the market and crowned the evening with a mountain of gooey brownies. Plus candles.

The pulled pork trend hasn't quite hit France yet. You can find it in the hippest of hip spots, but it's irritatingly overpriced and comes with a long, bearded queue. Pulled pork PLUS apple sauce was a double novelty ("So British") and possibly a first for the majority of the guests. One lady congratulated me on the delicious chicken, perhaps after one too many a glass of bubbly. I made some BBQ sauce for the more conservative, and some people even went for a dollop of beetroot dip as a condiment, which was apparently delicious, though hazardous without a plate.

We offered a minimal but punchy bar of sparkling Vouvray (freshly delivered from the Loire valley), negronis and a vodka punch. Simple but effective.

RECIPES

Hummus

Makes a few bowls, takes 10 minutes

perennial / nothing fancy / easy peasy / ready in a jiffy / party / vegetarian / vegan / gluten free / dairy free / starter / detox / date night / on a budget / baby

No two hummus batches are the same. I make mine according to my mood - some days I want more lemon, sometimes I add olive oil, or cumin, sometimes less tahini. Here is a basic recipe which you can play around with.

This particular recipe gives as close as I can get to a bowl I once wolfed down at Afteem's, the hummus Mecca of Bethlehem. "Make hummus, not war" was graffitied on to the nearest part of the dividing wall between Palestine and Israel. My thoughts exactly.

* Chickpeas - large can (560g)

* Tahini - 200g

* Lemon juice - 4 tbsp

* Salt - 1 tsp

* Garlic - 1 clove, peeled and chopped

* Olive oil - to serve

Drain the chickpeas, reserving the liquid. Place all the ingredients, along with half of the chickpea water, in a blender. Blend until smooth. If the mixture is too thick, add extra cold water, little by little, until you reach your desired consistency. Add lemon or salt to taste. Serve with a drizzle of olive oil and a selection of fresh crudités.

Beetroot and feta dip

Makes two bowls, takes 10 minutes

perennial / quietly smug / easy peasy / ready in a jiffy / party / vegetarian / gluten free / starter / detox / date night / on a budget / baby

This was a zingy and colourful experiment which turned out good.

* Cooked beetroot - 4 large, about 700g (if you have raw beets by all means boil them yourself)

* Feta - 140g

* Lemon juice - 4 tbsp

* Coriander stalks - of a bunch

* Olive oil - a few glugs

* Zatar - 2 tbsp

* Cayenne - 1/2 tsp

* Salt - 1 tsp

Blend the beetroot, feta, lemon and coriander in a mixer until smooth. With the machine running, slowly add the olive oil until the texture thins slightly and you have a more 'dip-like' texture. Add the salt, zatar and cayenne and mix to combine. Serve with a drizzle of olive oil and a couple of sprigs of coriander.

Slow roasted pulled pork

Enough for forty. Whoops, gave it away. Takes ten minutes, plus overnight marinating and eight hours oven time

perennial / showing off / easy peasy / party / gluten free / dairy free / main / on a budget

This is one of many ways to pull a pork. It's so easy and perfect for a party. As a rule of thumb, 1kg on the bone feeds about ten people as part of a spread. The important thing is to marinate the meat overnight in the fridge. Then you pop it in the oven for a day and that's that. I like serving it with chinese steamed buns, BBQ sauce and some cucumber slices. Baps and apple sauce are also a strong option.

Spice rub

* Fennel seeds - 4 tbsp

* Star anise - 4

* Red peppercorns - 2tbsp

* Salt - 2 tbsp

* Madagascan pepper - 2 tbsp (I just happen to have this at home. Black peppercorns will do, I suppose)

* Olive oil - a couple of glugs

* Pork shoulder - 4kg, on the bone

* Chicken stock - 1 litre

Pummel the ingredients for spice rub, apart from the olive oil, in a pestle and mortar. Add enough olive oil to make a course paste. Rub the mixture all over the pork, making sure to get into all the nooks and crannies. Cover the pork and place in the fridge overnight.

The next day, preheat the oven to 220 degrees C. Place the pork in a large roasting tin and pour the stock over the meat. Cover the whole thing with a lid or with tin foil and place in the oven. Immediately turn the temperature down to 150 degrees and cook for 7 hours. Remove the lid and cook for a further hour, which will give you a crispy crust.

Remove and discard any pieces of star anise and let the meat rest for half an hour. Pull the pork off the bone using two forks. Serve with your chosen buns and sauces. And a napkin.

Apple sauce or compote

Makes one large bowl, takes 40 minutes

A simple apple sauce which is scrumptious with pork. You can use the leftovers as a compote in the morning.

* Apples - 5, peeled and cored. I used French Elstsars, but any sweet apple will work.

* Star anise - 1

* Cinnamon stick - 1

* Vanilla pod - seeds of half

Roughly chop the apples and place them in a saucepan with a spoonful of water. Add the spices, cover and cook for half an hour on a low heat, stirring occasionally. Once the apples are completely soft, use the back of a wooden spoon to pass them through a course sieve into a bowl. This will remove any pieces of spices and give you a smooth sauce.

BBQ sauce

Makes about 300ml, takes 45 minutes

A tangy and sweet sauce for any type of burger. Inspired by Tom Kerridge and CB.

* Red wine vinegar - 250ml

* Ketchup - 250ml

* Coca Cola - 50ml

* Rum - 75ml

* Cumin - 1 tbsp

* Paprika - 1 tbsp

* Tabasco - a couple of drops

Boil the vinegar in a large saucepan until the volume has reduced by half. Add the rest of the ingredients, bring to a boil and simmer for at least half an hour, stirring occasionally.

Vodka punch

Makes 5 litres, takes a few minutes

This is a refreshing and not too alcohol-heavy cocktail.

* Vodka - 1 litre

* Good quality Apple juice - 2 litres

* Fizzy water - 2 litres

* Ginger cordial - 500ml

* Slices of Apple - to serve

Keep all the ingredients chilled in the fridge for several hours in advance. Combine everything in a large punch bowl and serve with an ice cube and a slice of apple.

Negroni

Makes 3 litres, takes a few minutes

The most lethal of cocktails, and worrying easy to make.

* Gin - 1 litre

* Campari - 1 litre

* Martini Rosso - 1 litre

* Orange slices - to serve

Chill the alcohol for several hours in advance in the fridge. Mix the three alcohols together in a large bowl and decant into serving jugs or bottles. Serve chilled with an ice cube and a slice of orange.

Gooey gluten free brownies for a crowd

Makes 50 small brownies, takes 15 minutes plus 15 minutes oven time

dessert / gluten free / easy peasy / quietly smug / perennial / party / hands free / ready in a jiffy / baking

This is a repeat recipe from back in July, skipping the unseasonal blueberries and doubled for a party portion. They’re ultra good and easy to make in a large batch. Feel free to add nuts, dried coconut or dried cranberries for a little variation. Again, napkins are ESSENTIAL.

* Unsalted butter - 240g

* Soft brown sugar - 1 1/2 cups

* Dark chocolate - 600g, roughly chopped

* Vanilla extract - 2 tsp

* Eggs - 6, beaten

* Cornflour - 8 tbsp

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C.

Start by melting the butter and sugar in a saucepan. Next stir in the chocolate until completely dissolved. Leave to cool slightly so the eggs don’t curdle, then add the rest of the ingredients. Stir vigorously for thirty seconds, until the mixture is smooth and glossy.

Pour into a large baking tin lined with baking parchment and bake for 25 minutes. The brownie should still be very gooey.

Leave to cool and then transfer to the fridge to set. Cut into bite sized squares to serve.

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