Monday, May 25, 2009

Chef's Cheese Degustation: course five

Our review of orenji's recently created Chef's Cheese Degustation continues...

As we progress into the middle third of the meal, the flavors, too, begin to progress. As you may recall, we began with cheese, a re-imagined salad, a deconstructed pizza, and then "soup and sandwich"-- each highlighting locally produced produce and international cheeses. Comparatively, however, these initial courses were "light" in the fact that they didn't have a meat or fish as their center, but rather produce and cheese. Course five marks a purposeful transition, introducing meat in the form of duck confit (duck leg poached and cured in it's own rendered fat). Tender, juicy, salty, and flavorful, duck confit is a classic ingredient which we chose to pair with a non-traditional accompaniment-- gnocchi!

Gnocchi are, of course, Italian soft noodle or dumpling traditionally made from semolina or potatoes. In this case, we created gnocchi from local fingerling potatoes and Queso di Mahon (Spain). This firm cheese is made specifically from grass-fed cow's milk, rubbed with paprika, and aged for at least one year. The result is a nutty, spiced cheese with herbal undertones. The cheese's unique flavor and scent permeated the gnocchi, creating a surprisingly delicious gustatory experience.

The gnocchi were served with a ragout of fresh broad beans and grilled baby artichokes, topped with the meaty duck confit and crisp sage. A juniper berry pan jus-- acidic and somewhat astringent-- completed the dish, balancing the richness of the duck and gnocchi without overpowering the fresh produce.

As beautiful as it was delicious, this course begged for a perfect wine accompaniment. We selected an Australian shiraz: Green Point, Shiraz, Victoria, Australia, 2004. Complex and intense, this bright red wine provided a spicy and fruity taste and aroma-- blackberry, licorice and plums, with peppery hints! A perfect match!

Next, we take on the currently popular, but generally much-maligned, pork belly in what was perhaps the surprise favorite course of the evening for many of our guests! Be sure to come back and see what all the fuss is about...

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Chef's Cheese Degustation: course four

Perhaps our favorite course of orenji's recently created Chef's Cheese Degustation was course four: "soup and sandwich." Inspired by the playfully whimsical American chef, Thomas Keller, this course combined the "star quality" of English cheddar cheese with locally grown heirloom tomatoes-- one of our favorite ingredients to work with!

We decided to highlight the tomatoes with two preparations-- each light and acidic-- to counter the richness buttery grilled cheese sandwich! Starting at the left, a light (yet concentrated) consommé of locally grown heirloom pearl tomatoes created the "soup" in our "soup and sandwich." This tomato water consommé is the purest and cleanest manner in which to present tomatoes-- each sip like biting into a ripe, fresh fruit. Peeled pearl tomatoes added a beautifully colorful accent to the smooth broth.

Moving across the plate, we find an heirloom tomato sorbet, again concentrating the delicious acidic flavors of the tomato, but serving it with a contrast in both texture and temperature-- Chilled consommé, frozen sorbet, and sandwich hot off the grill! The sorbet (made from Brandywine and Jubilee tomatoes) was accompanied by a tart slice of Green Zebra.

Lastly, on the far right, the star ingredient of the course-- Cheddar, Westcounty Farmhouse (Somerset, England). This pale yellow, cow's milk cheese (aged a minimum of six months in natural caves) was the perfect foil for the acidic tomatoes. Grilled on freshly baked brioche, with just a hint of duck fat, the crisp bread and melted cheese were an adult's perfect version of the childhood favorite. To complete the course, a pile of butter-fried parsnip chips lightly dusted with sea salt accompanied the sandwich.

Of course, no course is complete without the wine! We choose one of our favorite bottles: Cambria, “Katherine’s Vineyard” Chardonnay, Santa Maria Valley, California, 2005. Rich and oaky, but balanced with fruit and acid (just like this course was, we would like to think), the chardonnay was a perfect match!

In our next post, Spanish cheese and duck confit... We're just crazy enough to try it! Come back and see how it turned out!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Chef's Cheese Degustation: course three

The review of our recently created Chef's Cheese Degustation continues with a focus on our third course: a deconstructed pizza margherita. You may recall from earlier posts that the goal of our degustation was to highlight artisan cheeses from around the world by making them the focal point of each course. This course was no exception.

In considering how to best showcase traditional Italian cheeses-- mozzarella di bufala (Campana) and Parmigiano-Reggiano, sini fulvi (Parma)-- we opted for a traditional preparation: pizza margherita... with a non-traditional presentation.

We first deconstructed the flavors of the pizza-- cheese, tomato, basil, thyme, wheat-- and then the textures-- soft, crisp, chewy. We set out to concentrate these flavors and textures into a series of components that would be evocative of a complete pizza.

Starting at the top of plate, a light and airy foam made from the essence of the Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese was topped with a crisp thyme-infused tuile. Moving clockwise around the plate, medalions of mozzarella di bufala tartare, deeply flavored confit of oven roasted tomatoes, and a cool basil gelée highlighted the various flavors of the constructed dish. A drizzle of fresh basil oil added herbal high notes and richness.

Accompanying the deconstructed pizza we served a rosé-- Châteaux Haut Bailly, Bordeaux Rosé de Haut-Bailly (Bordeaux, France, 2006), specifically. Rich and full-bodied, the wine was dry with a lingering aftertaste and a fresh, vibrant palate impression of raspberries and blackberries. The crisp acidity perfectly balanced the richness of the cheeses, creating a memorable pairing!

In our next post, we take on "soup and sandwich," orenji-style! See you then...

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Chef's Cheese Degustation: course two

Our review of orenji's recently created Chef's Cheese Degustation continues with our take on Caesar Salad (re-imagined). Inspired by American super-chef Thomas Keller, our intent was to highlight the separate concentrated flavors of the traditional components to this all-too-common salad in an uncommon way.

The center of the dish was a smooth and light custard, infused with the sharp flavors of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (Parma, Italy). This cheese, the gold standard for Italian hard cheeses, is an un-pressed fatty yellow cow's milk cheese which is brined and aged until the proper texture and flavor has developed. The custard sat atop a crunchy sourdough "crouton," topped with a garlic and thyme-infused tuile (crispy butter-based "cookie"), chiffonade of hearts of romaine, and freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano. A liberal sprinkling of sea salt and fresh cracked telicherry pepper finished this tower of gustatory delight!

Accompanying the smooth cool custard was a freshly baked round of brioche, grilled with a soft-cooked quail egg-- reflecting the fact that traditional Caesar dressing begins with a base of eggs. A smooth and salty essence of anchovy-- another key component to the Caesar salad, as well as aged balsamic syrup, added deep and bright notes respectively, complimenting and uniting the flavors on the plate.

To compliment our deconstructed Caesar salad, we chose a deliciously refreshing Sancerre (Pascal Jolibet, Sancerre, France 2006)-- with hints of pear and citrus, and a light floral finish, this semi-sweet wine provided the perfect balance to the richness of the custard and anchovy flavors. All in all, perhaps one of the best "salads" we have ever eaten!

In our next post, we turn our attention to pizza... deconstructed! It promises to be interesting...

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Chef's Cheese Degustation: course one

We continue our review of orenji's recently created Chef's Cheese Degustation Menu by turning our attention to the first course. This course was visually challenging-- a juxtaposition of French flavors with Japanese influence and presentation... fusion at it's most interesting!

We began with a savory "cheesecake" of dried Turkish apricots and white Stilton cheese (Nottinghamshire, England). This cheese belongs to the "blue" cheese family (despite it's lack of color, in this case). Unpressed, and made from pasteurized cow's milk, the cheese is injected with veins of mold which create the unique appearance and classic pungent, acidic flavor. Coupled with the sweetness of the apricots, the cheese creates a delightfully balanced and round flavor, creamy from the traditional cheesecake preparation.

We cut the cheesecake into delicious bite-sized rounds, which were rolled in toasted rice and nori seaweed, presentation resembling sushi. Accompanied by a light salad of baby rocket with caramelized pistachios and toasted sesame seeds for textural contrast, a sesame and apricot gastrique provided the light, bright flavors of fresh fruit and vinegar. To finish the dish, a slice of lotus root, pickled with hibiscus flowers, was both palate-cleansing and beautiful.

Accompanying this course, our first course, was one of our favorite wines here at orenji-- Ironstone Vineyards, Symphony "Obsession," (California, 2006). This light, sweet wine pressed from the Symphony grape, is redolent with citrus and floral highnotes. The floral nature of the wine was the perfect accompaniment to the fresh fruit and acidic cheese, complimenting the food and rounding out the course.

In our next post, the orenji take on Caesar salad, re-imagined (of course) to focus on the cheese. Check back, won't you?

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Chef's Cheese Degustation: amuse bouche

We begin our review of our recent Chef's Cheese Degustation with our amuse bouche course. The amuse bouche is considered the "prologue" to any good meal-- small bites which whet the appetite, awaken the taste buds, and prepare the diner for fine cuisine. In conceptualizing our menu, we opted to being with a flight of small bites, each presented in its own hand-crafted Japanese dish-- this allowed the flavors to remain separate, while enhancing the beauty of the presentation.

Starting from the left, our first small bite began with a baby squid, slow-braised in Spanish white wine, aromatics, and smoked paprika. Tender and smokey, we paired the squid with Manchego Campana, Curado (La Mancha, Spain)- a semi-firm, cave-aged (6 months minimum) sheep's milk cheese. The creamy nuttiness was complimented with roasted Marcona almonds and finished with a sweet and acidic quince gastrique.

Second from left, our second small bite highlighted fresh sheep's milk ricotta cheese-- Ricotta Romana di Pecora, Fresca (Lazio, Italy). This soft, pressed yellow cow's milk cheese was creamy and acidic, and unlike the processed ricotta available in most supermarkets. With the cheese, we paired a salty green olive tapenade and a sweet golden raisin water, drawing out both the natural salt and sugar in the cheese. For texture, a toasted black walnut, playing to the cheese's acidity, finished the dish.

Third from the left, a fresh locally-grown Black Mission fig was paired with organic wildflower honey and Brillat Savarin (Normandy, France) cheese-- soft, white-crusted triple cream cow's milk cheese aged for 2-4 weeks. This exceptionally smooth and acidic cheese was complemented by the sweetness of the fruit and honey, and texturally challenged by a fresh rye bread crisp dusted with smoked sea salt. An edible flower salad, tossed with a light and fruity extra virgin olive oil finished the dish, adding a floral and herbal note, echoed by the wildflower honey.

Our last amuse bouche married sweet, caramelized slow roasted red and golden beets with Bucheron (Loire Valley, France)-- a soft, mold-ripened goat's milk cheese aged for 5 - 10 weeks. A vinaigrette of beets and chiffonade of beet greens added both acid and bitterness to the sweet beets and creamy cheese, creating a lasting impression.
For most of the courses served, we also selected a wine pairing. For the amuse, we selected an Italian Lambrusco-- red and slightly sparkling (Albina Canali, Ottocentonero, Lambrusco Dell-Emilia, Tipica, Italy). The sweet yeastiness of the wine, coupled with its sparkling quality helped to cleanse our guests' palates, allowing them to freshly experience each of the unique tastes presented in sequence.
In our next post, we continue our coverage of our Chef's Cheese Degustation with a savory cheesecake. You don't want to miss this...

Friday, May 15, 2009

Chef's Cheese Degustation: the menu

Almost one year ago, we were commissioned to create a delicious evening of cuisine and fine wine for a small group of friends: a chef's degustation menu, if you will. Our plan was to highlight not only locally produced ingredients, but also to focus on a particular type of ingredient: cheese. With so many amazing cheeses to choose from-- from around the world-- we set out to incorporate this enigmatic ingredient into each of our courses. In some cases, the cheese itself was the focal point. In other cases, the vehicle by which the cuisine leaped from the plate. And in some cases, cheese provided the backdrop against which other ingredients took center stage.

All in all, we created twelve delicious courses, incorporating sixteen unique cheeses hailing from France, England, Switzerland, Spain, Italy, the Netherlands, and Japan. With our twelve courses, we enjoyed eleven wine pairings. It was a night that won't be long forgotten!

Guests received not only a menu of the courses, but also a guide to the cheese selections (pictured, above right) they were about to enjoy. Throughout the evening, consultation with the guide allowed guests to explore the regions from which the cheeses originated, as well as some specifics regarding production techniques, source milk, aging requirements, and spice.
We undertake recapping this gustatory experience with eagerness, excited to share this culinary journey with you, our faithful readers. Be sure to come back over the next few weeks to move course by course through a Chef's Cheese Degustation.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Individual Chocolate Espresso Mousse Cakes

We were recently commissioned to create individual cakes for a birthday celebration-- the guest of honor was both a chocolate and a fine coffee lover... so we thought the perfect match would be bittersweet chocolate cake with an Italian espresso mousse!

The cake we created was dense, made with Belgian Callebaut Brut Cocoa powder (the most bitter you can get!), and infused with Godiva White Chocolate liqueur. Moist and rich, we filled our individual cakes with a smooth and creamy white chocolate and Italian espresso mousse. The sweetness of the white chocolate was perfectly balanced by the bitter espresso and a hint of earthy Tahitian vanilla.

We opted to cover the individual cakes with a smooth Bittersweet chocolate ganache, sprinkled with cashew praline "dust." The ground cashew praline added both a textural and visual contrast to the velvety ganache and drizzled white chocolate.

To garnish, we utilized caramelized sugar "glass shards" and white chocolate lattice, as well as delightfully vibrant hand-candied violets. Now that's a dessert perfect for a celebration!

Friday, May 08, 2009

Mother's Day Truffle Brownies...

One of the tasty treats we prepared for Mother's Day was a dense and rich version of our traditional orenji chocolate brownie. This brownie was moist and chocolaty, infused with the smooth and velvety taste of Godiva White Chocolate Liqueur. Given the taste and texture, we consider these "truffle" brownies, capturing the taste and sensation of eating one of our orenji hand-rolled Belgian chocolate truffles- they melt in your mouth!

Drizzled with the highest quality white, milk, and bittersweet Belgian chocolates, these flower-shaped brownies were as beautiful as delicious-- the perfect gift to let mom know how much you care!

Each individually wrapped to ensure freshness, and tied with a beautiful satin ribbon, these brownies were the surprise hit of Mother's Day 2009! They also ship very well, so a delicious treat can still reach far-away mothers with ease!

What's next here on comparing apples and orenji? We will turn our attention to a plated dinner party-- a chef's degustation-- focusing on a wonderful focal ingredient: cheese! You won't want to miss this... be sure to check back!

Monday, May 04, 2009

a tale of two cheesecakes...

We keep ourselves pretty busy, here at orenji. As our faithful readers know, the holidays always get a bit busier, but the kitchen lights keep burning (and the oven definitely stays on) even between holidays! That was the case of these cheesecakes-- the perfect dessert for any occasion, or no occasion at all!
The first of our two cheesecakes is a "black forest cheesecake"-- some might say, a black forest cake, re-imagined... We started with a dark chocolate cookie crumb crust, on which we placed hand-candied Morello cherries and a smooth and creamy white chocolate cheesecake layer. Atop that, another cheesecake layer, this one thick with the smoothest and bitterest Belgian Callebaut chocolate-- the finest chocolate produced, in our humble opinion (and we've tried them all!) To incorporate the layers, we gently swirled them together, creating a beautiful cross-sectional design once cut.
A thick layer of bittersweet chocolate ganache infused with kirsch, more Morello cherries, and just a drizzle of smooth and creamy Belgian white chocolate finished this fantastic cheesecake!
Our second cheesecake is quite different from the first... a recipe we created years ago while living on the East coast, reminiscent of our time in Japan. We start (again) with a bittersweet chocolate cookie crust, atop which is spread a creamy Belgian white chocolate and cardamom cheesecake layer. Smooth and melting, the chocolate and the spice of the cardamom are the perfect foundation for a rich (dare we say, "mossy") layer of of Japanese matcha green tea.

The sweet and leafy tea flavors are mellowed by the white chocolate and cardamom spice, and finished with white chocolate curls-- providing both visual and textural contrast. All in all, this is perhaps our favorite cheesecake, and one for which we receive frequent orders!
So, there you have it... a tale of two cheescakes (although in this case, "it was the best of times, it was the best of times..."). Any time can be made better with a spectacular dessert from orenji!