In my rule book, the sign of a great dinner party is a sink full of dirty plates and a table covered in empty wine glasses. Our dinner last night with Marisa and Steve, the lovely couple behind the erudite food blog Infinite Fress, was that kind of a party.
Self-admitted restaurant regulars (The chefs at Hatfield’s and Jitlada know them by name), Steve and Marisa know good food and aren’t afraid to criticize. Cooking for them would not only need to be good, but also needed to show them who I am as a fellow food blogger via my kitchen.
On their blog Infinite Fress, Steve and Marisa craft their true life food adventure stories and restaurant reviews with the care of a fiction writers. The food blog, built as an amusement for themselves and friends, has begun to collect something of a small cult following of hard-core Los Angeles food bloggers. Despite themselves, Infinite Fress is starting to get noticed.
I read a fair amount blogs (maybe too many, my husband would whisper) so it was rather surprising to realize that Infinite Fress may be one of the few (if only) food blogs out there that 1) doesn’t rely on food porn (or any photography for that matter) 2) has me reaching for a dictionary every few sentences. Infinite Fress may be text heavy, but I never want to miss the meaning of any of Steve and Marissa’s well-chosen words.
Using a favorite Dan Barber cauliflower recipe as a starting point for the evening’s meal, I found complementary ingredients that helped me create a meal that showcased my talents in the kitchen. To start would be a simple salad of fennel*, wild spinach and mixed grapefruit and nutty cow’s milk cheese. For dinner would be black cod, sauteed oyster mushrooms and cauliflower two ways. For dessert I would follow a Cafe Zuni recipe for chocolate pots de creme and put them in antique tea cups. My husband Hans visited the Wine Hotel for some inspired wine collections (thanks Dan! Thanks Paul!) and Steve and Marisa came bearing examples of two of their favorite wines.
The dinner, for the most part (I mistakenly shorted the dessert two egg yolks—creating a low fat and slightly milky pudding) came together without a hitch. The cauliflower steaks and the pot de crème were a big hit, but by far the most winning element of the night was the company. Steve’s hysterical food adventure stories had the four of us weeping in our wine glasses.
I enclose the following two recipes:
Cauliflower Steaks with Cauliflower Puree Recipe
Adapted from a Dan Barber recipe
originally published in Bon Appetit February 2008
Makes 4 servings
The key to this recipe is to heating a heavy skillet on high heat and properly caramelizing the cauliflower. This is a recipe that is easily doubled when having a big dinner party.
2 large heads of cauliflower
3 cups water
2 cups whole milk
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
1-2 tablespoons olive oil for brushing
fresh whole nutmeg, for seasoning
sea salt and white pepper
Preheat the oven to 250˚F. Trim the base of the cauliflower to remove the green leaves and part of the base of the cauliflower. Place the cauliflower root-side down onto the cutting board. Using a sharp knife, make two vertical cuts to cut away two one-inch steaks (cut from top to stem). Put steaks aside.
Cut the remaining fall-away florets into golf-ball sized pieces; this should measure about 6 cups worth. Combine florets, water and milk in a sauce pan large enough to fit the mixture. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil and cook the mixture until the florets are very tender, about 10-15 minutes. Strain, reserving 2 cups of the cooking liquid. Spread the drained florets onto a large rimmed baking sheet. Bake ten minutes until slightly dry. Transfer florets to a blender in batches. Add about a half of cup of warm milk mixture to the blender and blend until smooth. Continue until all of the soft florets are blended to a smooth texture. Return puree to same saucepan. Taste for seasoning. If desired, add a fine grating of nutmeg to the puree for an additional flavor boost.
Increase oven temperature to 350˚. Heat 4 tablespoons of vegetable oil in a heavy, ovenproof skillet over medium high heat. Brush the cauliflower steaks with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place the cauliflower steaks in the heated skillet and cook until each side is golden brown, about 2 minutes on each side. Transfer skillet to oven and bake until cauliflower steaks are tender, about 10 minutes.
Divide puree equally and top each serving with a cauliflower steak.
*This recipe can be made in advance of meal. Re-warm puree over medium heat.
Chocolate Pots (Tea Cups) de Crème Recipe
Recipe adapted from The Zuni Cafe Cookbook
Makes four servings
3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped (save the extra for a garnish!)
1 half pint of heavy cream, ¾ cup for pot au crème the rest for whipping
¾ cup whole milk
2 tablespoons sugar
4 egg yolks
A good bourbon (or Calvados, Frangelico or Cointreau) (Optional)
Preheat the oven to 300˚
Melt the chocolate with ½ cup of the cream in a double boiler (a small metal bowl over a pot of simmering water). Stir occasionally, until the chocolate is melted. Remove from heat and set aside.
Warm the remaining ¼ cup cream, the milk and sugar in a small saucepan. Stir over low heat until the sugar has dissolved. Remove from heat.
In a medium bowl, whisk the yolk, then slowly stir in the warm milk mixture. Pour the mixture (through a sieve) into the melted chocolate. Stir to combine. Stir in a splash of your flavoring liquor of your choice.
Pour the mixture into four china tea cups and place them at least an inch apart in a baking pan or rectangular casserole dish large enough to hold the cups. If you don’t have tea cups use 4- to 5-ounce ramekins or custard cups. Add hot water into the baking dish (be careful not to splash water into the cups!) trying to get the water as high up as possible, without the water overflowing the baking dish. The hot water should come to almost an inch below the top of the tea cups.
Bake until custard is just set at the edges, but still quite soft in the center, about 45 minutes. To check, lift a tea cup and tilt it: the center should bulge. The eggs will continue to cook after you pull the custards out of the oven. The chocolate will harden as it cools. If the custard is already firm when you first check it, then remove the tea cups from the oven and set the cups in shallow bath of salted ice water to stop the cooking.
Cool, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. (They will keep for several days but are best eaten within a few hours of cooking!)
When ready to serve, whip the cream (do by hand with a whisk for a great arm work out or a blender for speed) until soft peaks form. Add a splash of bourbon to taste.
Before serving, sprinkle a pinch of Maldon sea salt onto the top of the pudding (believe me, you’re going to love it!), a hearty dollop of whipped cream and a fine grating of chocolate over the top. Enjoy!
*Marisa claims that this dish converted her from being a fennel hater.