We've spent the last week in Austin, TX. I gave a talk, we went to the LBJ Presidential Library, and we've tried to get work done. S has given us her house for the week, as she spends most of her time at her partner's place. They're great cooks, so we've happily eaten with them most nights, but last night we got to have them over and show off our own cooking.
Go to the Farmers' Market in Austin, and check out all the meat stands (there are many, especially in winter). Hopefully, you'll find Countryside Farm, where you can pick up a whole rabbit. Defrost it in a bowl of water in the fridge overnight. Also look for broccoli and sweet potato, which are available in February even after a week of frigid temperatures (this week has been in the 70s, but last week saw highs in the 30s).
Main: rabbit baked with orange-honey glaze
A few hours before you're ready to eat, butcher the now-thawed rabbit. We prefer smaller cuts, so ended up with eight pieces: forelegs, ribs, sides and belly, and hind legs. Be careful to find and remove and save the kidneys, liver, and (if you're lucky) heart. Lightly salt and pepper the pieces, and set them in a single layer in an oven-safe pan.
Meanwhile, reduce three cups orange juice to one cup, and then whisk in juice from half a lemon, ¼ cup honey, salt and pepper, and add thyme and four cloves fresh garlic. Pour the hot liquid over the rabbit, and let the meat marinate an hour. Top the meat with sliced oranges and more fresh thyme. The rabbit needs to bake 25 minutes in a pre-heated 400-degree oven.
Sides: mashed sweet potato with ginger and sage; baked broccoli
Cube sweet potato, and boil in salted water until tender, 20-30 minutes. Mince some fresh ginger and lots of fresh sage. Drain the potato, and mash it with the ginger and sage, a little salt and pepper, and some butter. Transfer to an oven-proof casserole with a lid, so that you can warm the potato back up near the end of food-prep.
Cut up some broccoli, pack it into a casserole with a lid (we used a terrine), and add plenty of minced garlic, juice from half a lemon, and some grated or shaved parmesan cheese. Bake 20-25 minutes, covered.
Dessert: pots de creme de chocolat
You should make the dessert first. Preheat the oven to 300°F, and also bring a teakettle of water to a boil.
In a heat-proof bowl or large measuring cup, place 2-3 oz chopped (or chip) milk chocolate. Then scald between 1 ½ and 2 cups cream, and pour over the chocolate to melt. Meanwhile, whisk together 3 egg yolks with ¼ cup sugar and a pinch of cinnamon. Temper the yolks by whisking in a little of the hot cream, and then combine the cream and yolks. Whisking, heat the mixture over medium until it thickens enough to coat a wooden spoon.
Prepare a water bath by pouring the boiled water into a small lasagna tray or two loaf pans, just enough so that with four ramekins set in the water, the level is about 2/3 up the sides of the ramekins. Ladle the thickened egg mixture into four small ramekins, wipe down any spills on the outside, and place in the water bath. Bake 35 minutes at 300°, until centers are still a little jiggly. Cool a little on a wire rack, and then chill in the refrigerator for at least an hour — the centers will firm up the rest of the way.
For serving, whip some more of the cream and dollop on top of the pots de creme. Decorate with mint leaves if you have them.
Set the table lovely with dinner knife and fork on the sides of each plate, salad fork and dessert spoon above the plates, and white and dessert wine glasses. Also set out pads for hot foods. Time the baking so that you can remove everything from the oven a little after the guests arrive, or anyway to bring everything still warm out. (The casserole pans will hold their heat, and you really don't want to overcook the rabbit — it's ok if the meat cools a bit before serving.)
Begin with the meat and veggie sides, accompanied with a nice chardonnay. We discovered that Fall Creek Vineyards, a Texas winery, is quite good, and bottles are under $10.
Once everyone has eaten their full, remove the dinner plates and silverware and the food, and bring out smaller salad plates (we love salad between the main course and dessert; it's refreshing and light). Salad should consist of washed and dried red-leaf lettuce, dressed in something with plenty of minced shallots and just a little salt and acid (white wine vinegar or a while balsamic), with maybe a little honey mixed into the dressing. Salad's a great chance to continue talking, start digesting, and finish a second bottle of chardonnay.
Finally, remove the salad plates and forks to the kitchen. Whip the cream and decorate the pots de creme, and bring them to the table. Open a bottle of Fall Creek sweet moscatel, and enjoy the dessert slowly accompanied by good conversation.