Rabbit with provencal herbsNight before last Mark and I cooked up a storm of french food and had some lovely friends over to sample the menu. I made Julia Child’s coq au vin again — taking the advice of Bettunya’s Brioche reader “Johnny” (who is a huge fan of this recipe) and cooked the mushrooms with the chicken instead of adding them at the very end when the dish is being plated.

It was delicious as usual, and definitely added another nice note to the resulting sauce — an earthy one — though I missed the pretty sautéed mushrooms on the side at the end. I’m thinking next time it might work to include some of them during the cooking of the bird, and to save some for the end to brighten up the dish as a side.

Mark took over a lapin aux herbes de provence avec tomates au four (rabbit with provencal herbs and baked tomatoes), which turned out very well (from Anne Willan’s “French Country Cooking”). The rabbit came from Bristol Farms, which does stock the more unusual meats of the french kitchen, though if anyone knows of a less expensive alternative in the L.A. area, please comment. Bristol Farms also has stock bones on hand if you get there early enough. Just talk to the butcher a day ahead.

The rabbit was marinated in white wine, shallots and herbs de provence (usually some combo of thyme, fennel and sometimes rosemary, I think), then braised in a casserole with a stock reduction thickened with a tiny bit of flour.

Lesson learned: when the recipe says to skim the fat off your sauce during the reduction, do it. It is so much easier to skim early in the process then later, after you’ve done some stirring and more of the fat emulsifies.

But the baked tomatoes. These are easy to make, taste incredible and would be an awesome side dish for really any meat or fish. You don’t need many per person — the flavor is very concentrated and lush.

Tomates au Four:

Heat the oven to 250

Brush a grill rack with oil. Core 6 plum tomatoes (roma) and cut each one lengthwise into three thick slices. In a bowl combine tomatoes with 1 tbsp olive oil and a little salt and pepper.

Toss until tomatoes are coated.

Arrange tomatoes on the grill rack and bake them until most of their moisture has evaporated. About 2-2 1/2 hours. Transfer to a plate and cover with foil until serving.

I also made a quick salad and roasted a bunch of potatoes in their jackets with butter and salt.

For dessert, Mark made apple tarte tatin (from Julia Child’s recipe in “Mastering the Art of French Cooking”) in a cast iron pan and a box of Mademoiselle de Margaux chocolate covered cherries circulated the table to oohs and ahs. By the end of the meal, everyone’s teeth were quite purple from the cotes du rhone.

Regarding the tarte tatin (sort of a french apple upside-down pie), I want to point out an interesting note made by Judy Rodgers on the virtues of certain apple varieties over others in pie-making. She says (from “Zuni Cafe Cookbook“) “Use ripe sweet eating apples with tender flesh, such as Sierra Beauty, Gala, Braeburn, or Arkansas Black for the apple tart. Golden Delicious are good as long as they are really yellow-gold ripe. Rough-skinned Golden Russets have great flavor — watch for them. Really hard, dense apples, like Pippins, will turn leathery cooked this way.”

I wish I’d gotten photos of the tomatoes, tarte and more of the dinner table, but it was one of those dinner parties where I was having such a great time, I just forgot.