Quatorze juillet

It just so happens that July is my favorite month of the year. There are many reasons behind this, but it is mainly because my birthday is in July. I have always been secretly smug that I don't have one of those birthdays that is celebrated in the freezing cold. Now that this secret is out, it will probably rain on my special day, but there it is, I've said it. I remember a fantastic pool party my Mom threw for my 16th and every picture I have of childhood parties include me blowing out my candles in a cute little sun dress.

Well, my birthday isn't until later this month, and I'll be turning a not very exciting, over 30 number, so I don't think the party dress and hat will be donned this year. Having said that, I've just found one more reason to love July- Bastille Day.

Okay, I'm not French and my husband is English, but we just so happened to be invited by Philippe (a Frenchman) to his Bastille Day celebration party. I knew this called for some homemade pate.

The party was complete with Merguez sausages, from Algeria, that were grilled and stuffed into baguettes with spicy harissa sauce, and of course, plenty of cheeses and croissants. For dessert, one of the guests brought lovely little homemade chocolate macaroons with a homemade nutella flavored filling. I must get that recipe from her.

The piece de resistance was Philippe and Alethea's Omelette a la Norvegienne that had homemade ice cream perfectly frozen in the middle. It arrived from the kitchen with sparklers, much to the delight of the children looking on.

This is a tale of two pates because I could not decide upon which one to make. I opted for a smooth parfait rather than a country, course version. If you're going to make pate and you don't have a ton of time to spare in the kitchen, both of these are easy to make. They make a special treat to start any party.

I wasn't overly excited about handling chicken livers, but I am never squeamish and I found their slipperiness to be quite exhilarating.

I have been waiting to try this first pate ever since my sister-in-law, Helen, took me to a wine tasting in London several years ago. I remember it was paired with a gorgeous sparkling Shiraz from Australia. I wish I could find that again. I also recall drinking all of my samples at the tasting too quickly and having to sip on Helen's glasses to do the real swirling and savoring.

You can see that I overfilled the jar, hence the ring around the top. Second time round was the charm.

Chicken Liver Pate with Chilli and Lemongrass
Adapted from a recipe at Vinopolis
Serves 4

225 g chicken livers, trimmed of fatty membranes
200 g unsalted butter
3 slices of smoked bacon, diced
1 onion, finely chopped
1 clove of garlic, crushed
1 red chilli, finely chopped
2 tsp finely chopped lemongrass
1 bay leaf
2 thyme sprigs
dash of brandy
sea salt and ground black pepper for seasoning

Fry onions and garlic in 100 gms butter with bay leaf and thyme until soft and golden. Add diced bacon, add chopped chilli, add lemongrass. Fry gently. Add the chicken livers and cook for about 5 minutes until golden on the outside and just cooked through in center, still a little pink. About half way through add a dash of brandy and let it cook off and remove the good stuff from the bottom of the pan. Season liberally with salt and pepper.

Remove the bay leaf and let it cool slightly. Blitz in a food processor until smooth. Place in a bowl or le parfait jar (pictured) and smooth the top. Melt the remaining butter and pour over pate to seal. You can tell with this one, I filled the jar too far and it made a ring around the edge. Pop the jar in the fridge and let the butter start to set. Once it's almost set, finely chop another chilli and sprinkle them on top for decoration. I like to scoop the chillies into the first few bites.....mmmm!

This next version is somewhat smoother and more refined than the first. Most likely, it's because it's from one of my more classy and sophisticated cookbooks, Living and Eating by John Pawson and Annie Bell. My friend Liz gave it to me one year (one of many books she's given me) for my birthday, and I had just bought it a few days before. Great minds think alike.

Chicken Liver Parfait
Adapted from Living and Eating by John Pawson and Annie Bell
Serves 4

225 g chicken livers, trimmed of fatty membranes
200 g unsalted butter
1 bay leaf
2 thyme sprigs
1 shallot, peeled and finely chopped
1 garlic clove, peeled and finely chopped
2 tbsp Calvados or brandy
1 tbsp creme fraiche
freshly grated nutmeg

Melt 25 g of the butter in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add the chicken livers, herbs and seasoning. Saute for about 5 minutes, turning halfway through, until the livers are golden on the outside but still pink in the middle. Discard the herbs and tip the chicken livers with any pan juices into a food processor.

Melt another knob of butter in the pan and add the shallot and garlic. Sweat for a few minutes until glossy and translucent. Add brandy and simmer until it's disappeared. I added a teaspoon of green peppercorns from a jar in brine, but these are completely optional.

Add shallots and garlic to the food processor. Puree with the creme fraiche until smooth. Leave to cool for 20 minutes. Dice the remaining butter and add to the processor. Process until it's completely creamy. Add a grinding of nutmeg at this point and adjust the seasoning. I found it needed quite a lot of seasoning.

Spoon it into a bowl or le parfait jar, smooth the top and melt some butter to pour over the top to seal. Again, you can seal this and put it in the fridge to let the butter set halfway before you lay a fresh bay leaf on the top.

Serve both pates with melba toast, french bread slices, toasted walnut bread and plenty of cornichons.

I think I may have mentioned that pickles, gherkins, cornichons, whatever you want to all them, are one of my favorite foods. I even have a treasured gherkin Christmas ornament. I can't imagine pate without them.

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