Thursday, May 31, 2007

Memorial Day: Homemade Preserves

What could be more all-American than making homemade fruit preserves on Memorial Day? Here at orenji catering we imagine that in between sewing the stripes on the American flag, Betsy Ross spent a great deal of time canning and preserving fruits and vegetables... so why shouldn't we? Of course, we took a traditional recipe, and "updated" it with some of our favorite flavors!

On our recent trip to Peru and Bolivia, we had the pleasure of eating many breakfasts of locally baked breads and rolls, laden with delicious local butters and preserves. Our favorite were the peach preserves, and since our return home, we have been searching for the perfect jar. But, alas, if you want something done right, sometimes you have to do it yourself! And that's what we set out to do... and we're going to tell you how we did it.

But first, a quick definition: Preserves are considered by most to be fresh fruit cooked with sugar and pectin (a fruit derivative that aids in thickening). Preserves differ from jams and jellies in the fact that the chunks of fruit are moderate to large in size, as opposed to the consistency of thick puree or clear gelatin.
To make our preserves, we started with some beautiful locally grown peaches, purchased at our farmer's market.

And then we decided to balance the sweetness of the peaches with some other favorite flavors-- infusions of Indonesian vanilla beans, sweet lemons, and Hawaiian lavender.

The sugar, lemon juice, vanilla and lavender steeped for a while before we strained it and added our thickly sliced peaches. The syrup was heavy with vanilla and lavender scent, and the test kitchen smelled delicious! After a brief time, we removed the peaches, dividing them amongst our European glass jars that seal with rubber rings and clips, rather than screw tops. The clips allow steam from inside the jar to escape, while preventing moisture during the canning process to enter inside.

After the syrup reached the appropriate temperature, it was divided among the jars and they were sealed, processed in a water bath to sterilize them, and removed to cool.

After a day of rest in the refrigerator (the preserves, not us!), we enjoyed our creation with some crusty whole wheat bread and creamy neufchatel cheese, alongside some freshly ground French press Over the Rhine Blend (see December 2006 posts for ordering information) coffee.

They turned out a beautiful peach-orange color, with vanilla beans and lavender seed dotting the surface! And as much as we enjoy eating our fresh peach, vanilla, and lavender preserves, they will make a perfect gift for our friends!

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

orenji on the road: eating cuy in lima

Guinea pigs are a staple of Peruvian cuisine. Originally domesticated in the Andes, due to the small amounts of space necessary to raise them, the rapid reproduction rates, and their high-protein meat, guinea pigs (or "cuy" as they are called) are still eaten to this day. In fact, they are so much a part of Peruvian culture, the cathedral in Cusco, Peru contains a large painting (painted in the European style of the time, but by local artists) depicting the 12 disciples of Christ eating cuy at the last supper!

Once used primarily for ceremonial purposes, guinea pig is now served regularly in homes and restaurants alike. Cuy is baked, fried, stewed, and made into soup or casseroles. Our experience with guinea pig (pictured to the left) was 'cuy al horno'-- roasted, served with potatoes, local salad, and some corn and chili pepper fritters.

The cuy we ate was stuffed with a local herb prior to roasting-- huacatay. Huacatay is sometimes known as Peruvian mint, although it is more closely related to the marigold flower. While this herb is most often ground up to make a rub or paste, in the cases of our cuy, the whole herb was used to fill the body cavity prior to roasting, giving the meat a deliciously refreshing taste.

The guinea pig, as you can see from the photos above, is served whole (quartered), with the head (and claws) still on. The meat itself was rather thin, stringy, and earthy, much like the dark meat on a chicken or duck-- but enjoyable nonetheless.
Below, a picture of a typical "cuy pen" where tomorrow night's dinner might come from!

We experienced a number of other local foods, including alpaca, local potatoes, large-kerneled white corn, local fresh cheeses, and fruits while in Peru. More importantly, perhaps, we tried many local beverages as well. We will discuss some of these in our next 'orenji on the road' blog!

Sunday, May 27, 2007

figs re-imagined...

A few months back we posted about a refreshing candied fig, Meyer lemon, mascarpone cheese, and bittersweet chocolate tart in a rosemary-cornmeal crust. At that time, we began experimenting with candying figs in our test kitchens, which we have continued to do from time to time (The photos on the left and below are golden Turkish Calimyrna figs that we candied for the above-mentioned tart).
So, when we were asked to create an "after-dinner" confection for the birthday party we recently blogged about (see "a golden birthday cake" which highlights a classic Italian genoise, as well as hand-modeled chocolate roses), we immediately thought of figs. Starting with fresh mission figs, we oven-dried overnight, and then reconstituted them in a vanilla infused syrup until they were plump and chewy.

For the confection itself, we wanted to pair the sweetness of the mission figs with chocolate-- Belgian bittersweet chocolate, or course. But somehow that didn't seem to be quite good enough for this particular party... so we added a third flavor: ruby port wine. After reducing a bottle of port, we gently combined it with Belgian milk chocolate and cream, creating a whipped truffle center which was piped into each whole candied fig. Following their filling, they were dipped in bittersweet chocolate and drizzled with white chocolate for accent.

The figs were surprisingly complex in taste and texture, with the whipped truffle center exploding through the chewy candied fruit, and the crisp bittersweet chocolate shell. Dense and rich, and just enough for one bite, these are a confection long in creation, but even longer in enjoyment. We're sure that we haven't seen the last of these sweet treats!

Friday, May 25, 2007

orenji on the road: lima, peru (part 2)

We continued our culinary tour of Lima, Peru with a quiet dinner at what may be the best restaurant in Peru-- even South America. According to Gourmet magazine, Lima is one of the up-and-coming culinary cities in the world, with Astrid y Gaston being the restaurant at the forefront of the culinary movement. When we read that assertion prior to our trip, we knew we couldn't go to Lima without experiencing this restaurant!

While the external facade of the building is unassuming, the cuisine, service, and atmosphere we found inside were anything but...
Dark walls heavy with art, a well-polished bar, white tablecloth-shrouded tables, and a modern kitchen behind glass (complete with a visibly fresh herb garden) greet the diner upon leaving the busy streets of Lima.

Dinner started with a basket of freshly prepared breads (already mostly demolished in the picture below) with a deliciously fresh fruit and yellow tomato relish.

(Unfortunately, due to some unforeseen technical difficulties, we were unable to take pictures of all the delicious foods we consumed.) However, some of the highlights included locally harvested tiger shrimp prepared three ways, served as an appetizer.

Our Entree highlights included a deliciously tender 3 week old suckling pig, braised and then crisped, and served with pureed legumes and local greens.

Another favorite was a deliciously tender lamb shank, braised, and served with a wine reduction, mash of local root vegetables, corn crisp, and potato-chili pepper fritter.

Desserts were spectacular, loaded with homemade ice creams and local fruits (like cherimoya). To finish the meal, the table was provided with homemade chocolate truffles and candied maricuya (a berry which grows in the Peruvian rain forest). The tartness of the fruit was nicely complimented by the sweet caramelized sugar.

It was an incredible meal-- the culinary fine dining highlight of a 16 day trip through Peru and Bolivia. Keep checking back for other culinary experiences on our Peruvian adventure!

Monday, May 21, 2007

making ume-shu うめしゅ(梅酒)

Ume-shu [うめしゅ(梅酒)] is a Japanese liqueur made from green Japanese plums (ume), rock sugar, and Shōchū (a clear alcohol distilled from rice). It is prepared by steeping green ume in shōchū for extended periods of time. In fact, patience is the most important ingredient in the classic ume-shu recipe! Traditionally made in the springtime, during the harvest time for green plums, the finished product is not drinkable until the cold autumn months (at the earliest). In fact, most ume-shu is stored in a dark place for at least one year prior to drinking. The longer the steeping process, the darker the color, the sweeter and more intense the flavor. Like most things in cooking, patience is rewarded!

On the right, ume-shu that has steeped for two years. On the left, unsteeped Shōchū:

To make ume-shu, only a few ingredients are required:

1) Rock Sugar (pictured above, left)
2) Shōchū (Korean variety pictured above, back left; Japanese pictured below, left)
3) Japanese Green Plums (pictured below, right).

The ingredients are combined together in an air-tight container, and allowed to steep in a cool, dry place...

Of course, many varieties of "shu" can be made. In the past we have made grapefruit, cherry, pineapple, asian pear, and ginger. This year, not only did we make ume-shu, but also lemon-shu.

We used sliced fresh lemons, as well as some peeled lemons (removing the pith from the fruit to decrease bitterness).

This year we further augmented our previously steeped ginger-shu with the fresh aromatics of lemongrass. To do so, we added more rock sugar and fresh sliced lemongrass to the existing ginger-shu. We can't wait to see how our experiment tastes!

Traditionally, shu is served on the rocks or with various mixers (soda, tonic, etc.) Of course, for the adventurous, shu can be made in fantastic martinis or other mixed drinks.

As they say in Japan, kanpai! [かんぱい!(乾杯)]... that is, cheers!

Sunday, May 20, 2007

a golden birthday cake

We were recently asked to prepare a special birthday cake for a dear friend's surprise birthday party. The cuisine at the party was to be traditional Italian, and we thought the cake should match... so we embarked on a creative journey which resulted in the cake pictured to the right.

The cake itself is a brown butter genoise-- a traditional Italian cake which is thought to have originated in Genoa. Genoise cake does not use any leavening agents, but rather relies on the air trapped in the beating process to give the cake its traditional sponge-like texture. When making a genoise, the baker whips the whole eggs to incorporate air, as compared to more traditional French or English sponge cakes in which the egg yolks and whites are beaten separately. The resulting texture of a genoise is slightly drier, which lends itself well to soaking in liqueur-infused syrups.

In preparation of this particular cake, we baked our genoise in sheet pans, and soaked them in a simple syrup infused with Chambord raspberry liqueur and vanilla.

Knowing our friend, and in speaking with her husband who was throwing the elaborate surprise party, we felt it necessary to incorporate fruit into the cake. To that end, we decided upon pears and raspberries. We slowly poached the pears in Italian dessert wine and spices, chilled them, and thinly sliced them on a mandoline. The poaching liquid was reduced to the consistency of caramel, and then used to flavor a traditional egg-based Italian buttercream. Fresh raspberries and vanilla paste were slowly cooked to the consistency of preserves, strained to remove the seeds, and chilled.

To assemble the cake, we cut the soaked genoise into strips, layering on the raspberry-vanilla preserves, poached pear slices, and caramel buttercream. The strips were then set on their sides, and rolled into a spiral so that when the cake was cut, the layers appeared vertical.

The cake was covered with a bittersweet chocolate ganache, and topped with a bouquet of hand-modeled bittersweet and white chocolate roses and leaves. The leaves themselves were brushed with edible gold dust, to give them a celebratory sheen as well as create some contrast against the dark canvass of ganache.

As a prelude to dessert, following dinner, we also prepared some hand-candied mission figs which we enrobed in bittersweet chocolate... but more on those in a future post!

Saturday, May 19, 2007

orenji on the road: lima, peru

After a long hiatus, we are back to our old blogging ways! Too busy to blog over the last few months, you ask? We would have to answer, 'yes!', which is a good thing. You can expect the posts to resume, including five blogs about our recent trip to Peru, recent events and creations, and some fun photo essays of events from the past.

We started our tour of Peru and Bolivia with a "culinary tour" of Lima. Lima is a bustling city rich in history-- both local and imported European. The cuisine reflects the abundance of locally available fruits, vegetables, meats, and seafoods, oftentimes influenced in preparation by the varied cultures and groups who occupied the area throughout its rich history.

Our first stop on the culinary tour was a delightful, semi-outside "cebicheria" named La Mar. It was explained to us that it "never rains in Lima" due to its elevation and micro-climate. Therefore, the restaurant is relatively open, affording a pleasant breeze and feeling of spaciousness, even as the diners crowd in to sample the fresh fish.

Our meal started with a bucket of fried plantain and vegetable chips, served with three delicious dipping sauces: cilantro and mint, roasted pepper, and chili.

We also sampled some deliciously refreshing (and strong!) local drinks... but more on those in a future post.

La Mar is known primarily for it's treatment of the Peruvian delicacy cebiche, made from freshly caught fish (as the daily inscribed chalkboards pictured above suggest). From wikipedia: "Cebiche is a form of citrus marinated seafood salad that originated in the Viceroyalty of Peru. One theory suggests that it got its name from the Quechua (which is a locally spoken native language) "siwichi"; another theory suggests the name is derived from the Arabic term "sibesh" (acidic aromatic food) due to the participation of Moorish women that came to Peru during the viceroyalty.

The marinade used in cebiche is citrus based, with lemons and limes being the most commonly used. In addition to adding flavor, the citric acid causes the proteins in the seafood to become denatured, which pickles or "cooks" the fish without heat. The result tastes more like a cooked dish and less like raw fish preparations such as Japanese sashimi. Old style cebiche was left up to 3 hours for marinade. Modern style cebiche usually has a very short marinating period. With the appropriate fish, it will marinate for as long as it takes to mix the ingredients, serve and carry to the table.
We tried a sampling of five types of cebiche, served in delightfully long-stemmed martini glasses, each delicious in its own right. Some were flavored simply with citrus, while others had the warmth of chili peppers, the sweetness of coconut milk, or the bite of red onions. In the last picture, you can see the large kernels of Peruvian corn which were both sweet and chewy, while adding a starchy texture to the cebiche. We tried shrimp, bay scallops, squid, octopus, tuna, and some local white fishes.

Next on the menu was a sampling of causitas-- mini Peruvian causas. The causa is a starchy and thick casserole, made from mashed sweet, yellow, or white potato flavored with various local products including chilis, lime, onion, and oil. The causitas were made into small dumpling-shaped bites and topped with a variety of ingredients including avocado, traditional hard-boiled egg and olive, flaked tuna, crab salad, and a variety of raw and pan-fried fish.

Following cebiche and causitas, we relied on our guides to suggest some additional local delicacies to sample...even though we were getting full at that point! We sampled some delicious broiled scallops with local cheese, pan sauteed calimari salad with peanuts and frizzled ginger, and stuffed and fried crab with roasted tomatoes and bok choy. We finished the meal with a delicious pumpkin ravioli (not pictured).

Alas, there was no room left for dessert. Then again, it was just our first stop on the culinary tour! Check back for our future food adventures, including a visit to the open-air markets, trying cuy (guinea pig)--a local favorite, a review of Peruvian drinks, and our fine-dining experience at Astrid y Gaston-- the finest restaurant in Lima. Buen Provecho!