Sunday, December 31, 2006

happy new year!

In Japan, there is a traditional custom known as "hatsuhinode" in which individuals and families travel to beaches or mountains, from which a good view of the glorious first sunrise of the year is available. As the sun rises, the arrival of the New Year is celebrated, and prayers are offered for good health throughout the coming year.

Here, at orenji catering, we would like to take this opportunity to wish the same to all our faithful friends, family, clients, and readers. May 2007 bring you all good things-- health, happiness, love, friendship, and peace.


jacob and the staff at orenji catering

the 34 cookies of Christmas: day 11

Perhaps the most "simple" looking of the 34 cookies we made this holiday season is the cookie we will discuss on day 11 of the 34 cookies of Christmas. It is a small, brown, rather plain-looking ginger cookie rolled in demura sugar. It is easily passed over, in comparison to the many bright colored, sprinkled, and intricately shaped cookies that share the cookie plates with it... but, for those who do select this hidden gingery jem, they are not disappointed! Nestled inside the brown sugary shell is both fresh and crystallized ginger, Belgian bittersweet chocolate "dust," vanilla, and freshly grated connamon and nutmeg. The cookies are crackly on the outside, moist on the inside, and redolent with holiday spices. You can't stop eating after just one... and suddenly the demura sugar seems to catch the light and glow a little.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

the 34 cookies of Christmas: day 10

The tenth cookie of Christmas 2006 is a vanilla shortbread cookie that we traditionally refer to as "acorns." Of course, they have no acorns in them, nor do they taste like acorns... however, with the ends dipped in Belgian bittersweet chocolate and sprinkled with multicolored nonpareils, these light and buttery cookies take on the classic shape of an acorn. They add both a different shape and color to our cookie trays, and are perfect in their simplicity. For those with less adventurous tastes, they are a delightful gift... and because they are not that sweet, they can be enjoyed at any time of day (from breakfast to after dinner... to midnight snack!) One might even consider leaving cookies like this for Santa on Christmas Eve!

Friday, December 29, 2006

the 34 cookies of Christmas: day 9

Our ninth cookie that we focus on is a non-traditional rugelach. Living in Manhattan for years, we remember seeing mounds of rugelach in Jewish bakeries and delis throughout the city-- cookie pastry filled with various delicious ingredients including raisins, walnuts, cinnamon, chocolate, marzipan, or preserves which are rolled up inside. We undertook to create our own variety-- one which might capture our own tastes and enjoyment of culinary experimentation. After many basic attempts, we arrived at the current version which we are very pleased with. A slightly sweet and dense cream cheese dough is filled with a sweet blend of chopped ingredients including cinnamon, Belgian bittersweet chocolate, demura sugar, vanilla, dried pears, and toasted hazelnuts. It is sweet and nutty, spicy and bitter. These cookies are perfect in the morning with coffee, delightful in the afternoon for tea, and the perfect food to snack on in the evening. They have become a year-round favorite, but an important addition to our holiday cookie trays and platters.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

a cheesecake for the new year!

Here at orenji catering, we are often hired to create desserts for special occasions. New Year's Eve is no exception. This year, a loyal friend and client commissioned us to create a sugar-free cheesecake for an event she was throwing. We were all too happy to oblige.

As the occasion was New Year's Eve, we created a "midnight cookies and cream" cheesecake referencing both the dark espresso color of the cheesecake, and the importance of clock in celebrating the turn of the calendar year. A luscious espresso-infused three pound cheesecake [prepared with Splenda(tm)] was packed full of sugar-free chocolate sandwich cookies, atop a thick chocolatey cookie crust. Lastly, both Belgian white and milk chocolate ganaches were drizzled across the top to give the cheesecake texture and contrast. While these ganaches contained slight amounts of sugar (by nature of the chocolate-making process), the overall sugar content was negligible.

We can't think of any better way to ring in the new year than with a glass of champagne and a slice of cheesecake!

the 34 cookies of Christmas: day 8

The cookie we will highlight on day 8 of the 34 cookies of Christmas are lovingly called "walnut dreams." The original recipe we use was handed down to us by our late dear friend Cheryl (see day 1 for our memorial tribute to her), and whenever we make them, our thoughts are with her. Based upon the original recipe, we made some modifications in our test kitchen, with the results quite enjoyable. A three layer bar, these tempting cookies have been described as "obscenely rich!" Sitting atop a flaky shortbread crust is a gooey brown sugar caramel walnut filling. Already sinfully sweet and rich, we top those two layers with a vanilla infused buttery icing (and holiday decorations, which change annually). The bars are cut into tiny squares, as that is all one needs of these luscious treats. Some people dream of a white Christmas... others dream of 'walnut dreams'...

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

the 34 cookies of Christmas: day 7

Day seven's cookie is one that features a flavor that we grew up with-- maple. I can remember my mother and grandfather telling stories about pouring hot maple sap over snow in the wintertime, watching it solidify into a maple flavored caramel-like candy, and then eating it. We ate maple syrup, maple cream, maple candy growing up... and it only made sense to make a maple cookie at Christmastime. These delicate log shaped cookies are topped with a maple sugar glaze and dusted with toasted and chopped pecans. They are sweet and crunchy, subtle and nutty, and always a crowd pleaser! Each bite brings with it a memory of simpler times-- happy, wintry times surrounded by family. For us, they conjure up winter scenes, like those printed by Currier and Ives. We hope they evoke happy memories for you as well.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

the 34 cookies of Christmas: days 5 & 6

We will showcase two cookies today-- days 5 and 6 of the 34 cookies of Christmas-- as we took yesterday, Christmas Day, off to be with our families.

The cookies we will focus on today share a common "secret": a gooey middle, compliments of a hidden piece of candy baked in the center of the cookie. The cookies on the right are filled with a milk chocolate and caramel candy, surrounded by a dense bittersweet chocolate dough, and rolled in confectioner's sugar prior to baking for a powdery visual contrast. When you bite into these cookies, the caramel stretches melts in your mouth! This cookie has been a "work in progress," with us tinkering with the recipe each year to get just the perfect consistency of dough-- firm enough to prevent the caramel from erupting from inside the cookie, and soft enough to remain chewy. While we feel that we got it right this year, we haven't yet named it... any suggestions?

Our second cookie also has a secret-- a "peanut butter secret" (from which the cookie gets its name). This cookie starts with a buttery, flaky dough packed with brown sugar and peanut butter. Then we carefully mold a small portion of dough around a miniature peanut butter cup candy with milk chocolate, bake until a beautiful golden brown, and drizzle with melted Belgian bittersweet chocolate. This is the ultimate cookie for any peanut butter lover, and is a huge favorite among family, friends, and clients alike!

We hope you had a beautiful holiday, just as we did here with our families... and continue to wish our readers, friends, clients, and supporters all the best for 2007.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

the 34 cookies of Christmas: day 4

Our next cookie is one which was inspired by many trips to the beautiful islands of Hawai'i. A sweetened coconut base (much like a macaroon), is topped with a milk chocolate Hershey's Kiss (tm). Nestled in the kiss is a macadamia nut, adding both a buttery flavor and nutty crunch. We have tried baking these cookies with regular kisses, kisses with almonds, and the special extra dark kisses, but the mac nuts are our favorite... reminding us of good times spent baking with our friends in Hawai'i!

As they might say, "mele kalikimaka!" And we wish you the same!

Saturday, December 23, 2006

the 34 cookies of Christmas: day 3

The third cookie we wish to highlight is a three layer"bar" cookie we tried a few years ago to please our clients with a weakness for apricots. Having tried other apricot bars in the past, we were pleasantly surprised by the flaky texture and sweet taste that these cookies had to offer. The bottom layer is comprised of a flaky butter shortbread. On top of that is a filling made with three kinds of apricots-- fresh, dried, and preserved-- mixed with some spices and a dash of our homemade lemon shu (a Japanese liquor fermented with fresh lemons and rock sugar for over a year). To complete this delictable treat, we top the sweet fruit with an almond studded streusal topping, rich with almond paste and crunchy slivered and toasted almonds. A simple confectioner's glaze adds smooth vanilla high notes, as well as visual contrast to make these fruit bars a surefire crowd pleaser!

Friday, December 22, 2006

the 34 cookies of Christmas: day 2

At orenji catering we love to experiment with different spices and flavors, especially in combination with well-loved preparations and recipes. Some of our favorite "discoveries" include our white chocolate, green tea, and cardamom cheesecake; our bittersweet chocolate and chili pepper truffle; white pepper brown sugar biscotti, and a smooth and silky garam masala and milk chocolate mousse. This last invention inspired a recent addition to our Christmas cookie repertoire, which is highlighted on day 2 of the 34 cookies of Christmas.

These delicate cookies begin with a bittersweet chocolate base which is infused with the aromatic Indian spice mix-- Garam Masala (which is a blend of cinnamon, roasted cumin, cloves, nutmeg, mace, and green cardamom seeds). Dipped in white chocolate at the ends, and sprinkled with red sanding sugar, these subtle chocolate spice cookies are a exotic and enjoyable addition to our cookie trays.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

the 34 cookies of Christmas: day 1

Over then next 34 days, we will be sharing in words and pictures, the many types of cookies we created this year for our clients (as well as our own holiday giving). Each day we will present a different holiday cookie. We have been making many of our cookies for over 15 years, and they have become both holiday favorites and tradition. Other cookies are new, with us trying new flavor combinations and recipes each year. Some are based on family recipes, some are created in our test kitchens, some are modified versions of published recipes. Each has a story and a special place in our hearts. We hope to convey our love for holiday baking through highlighting each of the varieties we created this year.

Our holiday baking was greatly influenced by a very special woman, who we would like to pay tribute to here:


In Loving Memory of Cheryl A. Hanzlian Bevacqua
(October 5, 1955 - January 31, 2005)

For many years, Cheryl and I baked Christmas cookies together. Many of the recipes that have become a tradition for me to bake each year are in large part due to her. She was at first a boss, later a dear friend and confidant, and always a mentor who has had a profound impact on my life in more ways than I can describe. The cookies I have baked this year, and will continue to bake every year, are a simple tribute to an amazingly kind, loving, and talented woman.

"Because I knew you, I have been changed for good"

Vanilla & Cardamom-Infused "Spritz"

Our first of the 34 cookies are a butter cookie made with an old-fashioned cookie press. Growing up. similar cookies to these were made by my mother. Nicknamed "spritz" by our family (due to the action of the cookie-press, perhaps), they were brightly colored and fun to bake. We have modified these cookies from our childhood memory to a more refined and spiced adult version. Infused with vanilla and cardamom, and dusted with vanilla sugar prior to baking, these cookies are crispy and deep in flavor. They retain their bright colors, fancy shapes (trees, snowflakes, stars, flowers, Christmas ornaments), whimsical feel, reminding those eating them of the children within all of us! And with the cookie press, they are still incredibly fun to make.

the perfect Christmas gift...

Every year we look for special food-related gifts to give to those we care about. This year, the gift comes in the form of coffee. One of our favorite musical groups, Over the Rhine, has partnered with the coffee producer "Chuck Roast" to create an organic, fair trade, whole bean coffee. We were pleased to note upon the receipt of ours via priority mail that the coffee had been roasted only days before. The aroma and taste of this coffee is deep, rich, and thoroughly enjoyable. We recommend this product for any of the coffee-lovers on your holiday gift-giving list this year!

From the Over the Rhine website: "This is the coffee we wake up with every morning at Nowhere Farm -- specially blended for artists, writers, musicians, day dreamers, and night walkers!

This fresh-roasted, organic, fair trade coffee bean blend is inspired by our love of good music, good conversation, good laughter, good living, and best kept secrets -- all of which are meant to be shared. This unique blend is fresh-roasted exclusively for Over the Rhine by Chuck Roast and is delivered to you as whole beans so you can grind them yourself."

For ordering information, or to check out Over the Rhine's music (including two amazing Christmas albums), visit their website at

Happy gift giving!

holiday entertaining...

The holidays offer many opportunities for entertaining-- whether it be festive holiday dinners, dessert parties, cookie exchanges, cocktail parties, or other gatherings. Decorating your home and table for the celebration makes an important first and lasting impression on your guests and visitors.

Decorations can be simple, but effective. Well placed Christmas crackers can brighten a table. A favorite centerpiece of ours is a collection of fresh fruits and nuts displayed in attractive containers. Here, we have fresh pomegranates, clementines, figs, seckel pears, and chestnuts arranged with fresh pine greens in depression-era ruby glassware bowls. Accompanied by antique brass candlesticks, the fruit centerpiece is simple, yet beautiful.

Another fun and easy way to brighten your holiday table is to "scent" your own candles. Here, we combined dried fruit peels, whole cloves, star anise, cinnamon sticks, and nutmeg seeds in a clear hurricane with a vanilla candle. After sealing the top with plastic wrap, and leaving the candle for a week (or more, if you plan far ahead!), the candle takes on the scent of the spices. Upon burning, not only is it beautiful, but also fragrant!

Happy holidays... and even happier entertaining!

holiday desserts fit for a king...

The holiday meal is often one of the times each year that friends and family gather around a table and enjoy the warmth of each other's friendship and love. Here at orenji catering, we think special occasions such as these deserve amazing food, especially desserts! What better way to end a meal then with a dessert fit for a king!

This year, we wish to highlight two special desserts created for clients' and friends' holiday meals. The first is the traditional Bûche de Noël-- a vanilla (yellow) génoise filled and frosted with bittersweet chocolate buttercream to resemble the Christmas log for the fire. Topped with traditional marzipan leaves and berries, and meringue mushrooms, the cake is as beautiful as it is delicious. Wikipedia explains the possible origins of the festive French creation: "One popular story behind the creation of this dessert is that Napolean I of France issued a proclamation requiring households in Paris to keep their chimneys closed during the winter, based on the notion that cold air caused medical problems. This prevented Parisians from being able to use their fireplaces, and, thus, prevented them from engaging in many of the traditions surrounding and involving the hearth in French Christmas tradition. French bakers, according to the theory, invented this dessert as a symbolic replacement around which the family could gather for story-telling and other holiday merriment."

The second festive dessert highlighted this year was created for a family holiday gathering. It is a classic French tart with a lemon-almond crust, deep blueberry filling (combining fresh and dried blueberries with lemon), and an almond struesal topping. Together, these varied components create a rich, but refreshing and tart finish to any meal.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

visions of sugarplums...

We were delighted to be hired to create a number of smaller orders of sweets this year. One friend and client distributed our holiday krispie treats to her colleagues at work. Another chose our gourmet peanut butter and milk chocolate popcorn. While not dancing sugarplums in the traditional sense of the word, we know that these festive treats brightened our friends' workplaces in the days leading up to the winter holidays.

For our holiday krispie treats, we prepared a crunchy base of cereal and marshmallows studded with red and green candy coated chocolates. On top of that we poured a thick smooth layer of Belgian bittersweet chocolate, and drizzled white chocolate on top of that. The treats were decorated with red and green Christmas sprinkles or blue and white winter sprinkles. Each treat, cut into a four inch by four inch square was individually wrapped and ribboned for presentation to a lucky recipient!

Our gourmet popcorn starts with freshly popped caramel corn, which we toss with peanuts and a rich peanut butter coating. Milk chocolate and holiday decorations complete this luscious and addictive treat.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

holiday cheer

We love the holidays here at orenji catering... but we have been so swamped with orders for holiday treats (cookies, desserts, confections, gourmet popcorns and krispie treats) that we haven't had a free moment to post anything to this site. Rest assured that this will change very soon. Look forward to posts about our gourmet popcorns and confections, as well as the launch of the 2006 "34 cookies of Christmas" which will chronicle in photos and descriptions the multitude of cookie varieties we prepared this holiday season. It promises to stretch well into January 2007...

As always, we wish you warm and safe holidays surrounded by family and friends.