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How to Host an Easy and Chic Backyard French Dinner Party

“I love an alternative holiday,” Annie Campbell says of the inspiration for her French Independence Day celebration. “Plus, Martha Stewart has the Fourth of July pretty well covered.” The Portland, Oregon-raised, Laurel Canyon-based Campbell has won clients including Emma Stone and Jenni Kayne since launching her business and blog in 2009, thanks to her uncanny knack for setting a cinematic scene and delivering the home-cooked, mouthwatering feast to accompany it.

The intimate Gallic-themed alfresco fete Campbell hosted with her husband, writer and bartender Greg Murnion, was no exception. Yarn-dyed striped runners, French linen Libeco napkins, and white lavender in terracotta pots adorned the couple’s outdoor reclaimed wood table, while the Côte d’Azur-themed menu for 10 included Murnion’s citrus-spiked Lillet and gin cocktail as an apertif, followed by a rosé-fueled feast including nicoise crostini, moules frites and, for dessert, vanilla pots de creme with mixed berries (to pay subtle visual homage to the festive color scheme). Campbell subbed in sparklers for a magical antidote to the traditional fireworks, but the real showstoppers were the culinary kind, so set the stage for your own celebration with Campbell’s and Murnion’s recipes below.

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Ingredients
1.5 ounces Lillet Blanc
3/4 ounce gin (Greg recommends Crater Lake)
1/4 ounce absinthe (Greg recommends Pernod)
1/4 ounce fresh lemon juice
1/4 ounce fresh orange juice
1/2 ounce simple syrup

Shake with ice and strain into a chilled coupe and garnish with a burnt orange peel.

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  • Ingredients
  • The Moules
  • 6-8 pounds of mussels, depending on your guests’ appetites
  • 4 leeks
  • 4 fennel bulbs, trimmed and diced
  • 2-3 medium onions, diced
  • 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons fennel seeds
  • 2 28oz cans of San Marzano tomatoes, drained and chopped
  • 4 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons fresh thyme, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon red pepper flakes
  • 2 cups dry white wine
  • fresh parsley, chopped for garnish, optional
  • salt & pepper
  •  
  • The Frites
  • 8 large russet potatoes, peeled
  • salt & pepper
  • canola oil

 

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1. First clean the mussels by putting them in a large bowl of water (or filling your sink with water) and letting them soak for 20 minutes to dislodge any sand.  Give them a good shake every five minutes to agitate them so they release the sand.

2. Drain the mussels, discarding any mussels that are at all open, and remove their beards (the brown seaweed-like threads where the two shells meet), if necessary.

3. Prepare the aromatics by heating olive oil in a large stock pot over medium-high heat, then adding the leeks, fennel, onions and fennel seeds. Stir for a couple of minutes.

4. Add tomato, garlic, thyme, and red pepper flakes, then season with salt and pepper and reduce heat to medium-low. Cook for 10-15 minutes until vegetables are cooked and lightly browning.

5. Add white wine and bring to a boil, then add the mussels to the pot, stir well, cover, and cook 5-6 minutes until the mussels are cooked (you will know when they have all opened). Discard any mussels that have not opened with the rest!

6. Transfer mussels to a bowl with the broth and aromatics and garnish with parsley. Serve immediately with plenty of crunchy baguette or garlic bread.

Tip: Vegetables and herbs can be chopped 1-2 days in advance and refrigerated. 

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1. After peeling your potatoes, slice them into ¼-inch sticks, either by hand, or by using a mandolin or French fry slicer.

2. Soak fries in cold water for at least an hour, or overnight.

3. Drain really well and pat dry.

4. Using a deep fryer or thick stock pot, pour oil at least 6-inches deep, and heat to 250 F. Fry the fries for 4-6 minutes, then drain and lay flat on a cookie sheet.

5. The fries can now be refrigerated until ready to fry for a second time, right before serving.

6Reheat the oil to 350 F and fry the blanched fries until golden brown, about 2-3 minutes, then drain.

7. Season with fine salt and serve piping hot.

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 Photographs: Andrew Arthur 

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