Monday, December 29, 2008

Ode to the Upchurch's!

Many people have commented on my skill at self-photo over the past year of this blogging stuff. Here is another example of perfection at its best. Here is not an example: Come on Ben. It's called "self-portrait" mode. It centers your face for you, not just your wife's.

Second try. Close. But, the forehead is a necessary facial feature. It makes you look taller.

Oooo soooo close! But, you've got to have that smile ready Ben. Say cheese, say frommage, say 1-2-3. They all work. Apparently Susan is an old pro at this camera thing.

Perfection at last. It was good to see Ben and Susan Upchurch again and I hear they are already planning their upcoming visit out to Napa Valley. Congrats to Cara and Nathan Larimer for hosting this photo shoot at their beautiful wedding reception.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Sin City, Las Vegas!

Over 39.2 million people visit Las Vegas each year. For the first time, the Walnofer's just added 2 more to that list. It is also a fact that tourists and locals consume 60,000 pounds of shrimp a day - higher than the rest of the country combined! While visiting, we consumed zero of those shrimp.
We weren't off the plane for more than 15 minutes when we had our first D-List celebrity sighting. It's Zane Lamprey from the minutely popular Three Sheets. If you haven't seen the show, you probably haven't missed much. Apparently they are trying to save the show. Maybe we will run into them again on the Strip.

But first we need to check in to the hotel. Actually, THEHotel at Mandalay Bay. I think the check-in desk is somewhere down this sexy lighted hallway. Yes, even hallways can seem sexy in Sin City.

After a good nights rest in our hotel suite larger than our cottage in Calistoga, me and the Mrs. hit those slots! Here we are losing all of our taxi cash, $0.01 at a time. But, with a smile while doing it!
And here is bro-n-law and sis celebrating his birthday after winning $4 at the slots! A little birthday luck is all you need in Vegas.It's not all about the gambling, we also took in a little bit of sightseeing. Here is the World of M&M/Mars. Yes, that is every color and flavor of M&M's. You can create your own bag, as you wish, for $7.00 a pound. By day two, we were beginning to question how "real" this Vegas place was.

Paris, France or Las Vegas, Paris?

Paris, France or Las Vegas, Paris?
Venice, Italy or Las Vegas at the Venetian?

Venice, Italy or Las Vegas at the Venetian?
New York, New York or.......................well, I have never been to the real New York so your guess is good as mine on this one. Back to reality, and back to our own little tourist community.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Restaurant Review: Bartolotta Ristorante di Mare at Wynn Las Vegas

I recently took my first ever trip to Las Vegas for a culinary exploration and to strike it rich on the penny slots. After $24, or 2400 pulls of the lever later, I only had my culinary exploration left to look forward to.
And look what I found! Bartolotta Ristorante di Mare located in the Wynn Las Vegas. I didn't quite stumble upon this as it sounds. At the recent World's of Flavor conference at the CIA, I met Chef Paul Bartolotta while helping with my Puglia friends from Italy. Chef was kind enough to give me an interview for the SageThymes newsletter, and even an invite to come see him next time I was in Vegas. Just so turns out that was about a month later.
Wow! Fine dining at its best. Spiral staircase pathway down to our lovely table with an outdoor view of a nice pool reflecting the stars from the crystal clear desert skies. Sorry to set that up as being so romantic and all, but the Mrs. was dining with me this night.
At World's of Flavor, Chef Bartolotta came in with three ice chests overflowing with these guys. I will say, the presentation was quite a bit classier in the restaurant, glass case and all. I remember when Chef Bartolotta gave the Scorpion fish (middle of the bottom row) to Chef Corrado de Virgillo for his Scorpion fish Ragu. Branzino (sea bass), San Pietro (john dory), Rombo (turbot), Pagaro (snapper). Maybe some Astaco (rock lobster) or Cicala Imperiale (slipper lobster). Take your pick?
Pagaro it is! E' bello!

You've got to try some pasta at an Italian restaurant. Spaghetti all’astice. Spaghetti with rock lobster, spicy tomato sauce, and white wine. Molto bene!
Perhaps a symphony of desserts or sinfonia di dolci as the Italians say. Out came one after another as we gazed into the delicious sweet goodness before us. Trio of sorbets (raspberry, coconut, guava), trio of granita (grapefruit, moscato, pineapple), trio of gelato (pistacio, vanilla, thick chocolate), olive oil cake with rosemary gelato, and something else topped with figs, but whose keeping track when you are in a sugar induced coma of goodness.
A tour of the kitchen ensued and an opportunity to reunite with Sous chef Basilan Giesecke. He looked a little bit more cool and calm in his environment instead of the overcrowded teaching kitchen here at the CIA. The back of the house tells a lot about a restaurant and this kitchen was just as impressive as the rest of the restaurant.

What an experience and what a great opportunity to see a celebrity chef in his world instead of in the lights and glamor of a conference at the CIA. Many thanks go out to Chef Bartolotta and Amy Rossetti, the senior food & beverage public relations manager at the Wynn Las Vegas, for making our first trip to Vegas so memorable. By the way, the Wynn is opening a new hotel, Encore, on December 22nd. Just another reason to head back to Vegas and try to win my $24 back.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Tree is Up! Stockings are Hung!

Its Christmas! The tree is up. That's only 2-strands of lights for all your over lighters. We preach and live sustainability in the Walnofer household.
Although Mother-in-law Jessup bought me a stocking (2-years before I married her daughter!!!), it was time for the Mrs. and I to start our own collection. We don't quite have a fireplace, or need one in the Napa desert, but I am sure the fat guy will fill them up with something good. Hey, that wasn't a fat joke about me gaining weight in culinary school was it?
We leave you with the first present that we were able to give this year. Even with all the moving across country, job searching, and high gas prices, God has still blessed us with the opportunity to give to those in need. Our church, Grace Church of Napa, has a wonderful ministry involving purchasing presents for children whose parents are currently in prison. It is an awesome way to display Jesus's love to all those who are in need during the holidays. I challenge you to do anything you can to help those less fortunate this season.

Christmas is Almost Here!

That's right, Halloween came and went, Thanksgiving is over, and Christmas is right around the corner!Even though our house is tiny, we made sure we got a nice big, living Christmas tree to decorate the corner. The Mrs. couldn't quite put the star on the top......... she had to call in the reserves. At a gangly 5'9", I am never gonna make it in the NBA, but give me a 6 foot Christmas tree and I can top it with anything you got. Angels, Santa Caps, and in our case, a Star!
The holidays are always about remembering. Remember when I came home from my internship at Kellogg's Cereal Company in Battle Creek, Michigan to meet my girlfriends parents for the first time.
Remember when they approved of that nice young man, and they eventually let their daughter marry him.
The California Walnofer's remember all their Razorback family back in Arkansas and all the others across the country. Get in the Christmas Spirit before the holiday's are over! Is that Hog eyeballing me? I think I am going to turn him around.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Wine Club: Chateau Montelena

Welcome to the Chateau Montelena vertical tasting at Wine Club. But first, a little history lesson.The world-famous Chateau Montelena was on display at this month's CIA Wine Club. The winery has come back into the public eye via the recently released movie, Bottle Shock.
For those of you unfamiliar with the story, Chateau Montelena was one of the original California wineries that put Napa Valley wines on the world map. The short story is, the winery produced a class-winning wine at the blind Paris Tasting of 1976 that out-classed its French counterparts. This is a replica copy of the Time magazine cover that graced newsstands across the country, and helped build the California wine industry.
Enough of the history lesson, this is wine club. Let's taste some wines. What is a vertical tasting? It is defined as tasting different vintages of the same wine type from the same winery. This emphasizes differences between various vintages. We began tasting the 2004 vintage of Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon, then transitioned all the way to the oldest wine of the session, the 1994 Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon. We progressed from 1994-2000 vintages, noting the sometimes subtle, and other times substantial differences between the years. We finished re-tasting the 2004 and compared our notes for all of the vintages. Word in the kitchen was that the budget for this club meeting was almost $1500! Needless to say, this was the best wine club experience I have had during my short time here at the CIA. I look forward to the many educational opportunities with Wine Club in the year to come. Stay tuned for a 2009 Wine Club experience coming your way soon.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Caviar and Bubbles!

Today we had an Open House presentation with Domaine Chandon and TSAR Nicoulai Caviar. Not a bad afternoon snack after a long day in the kitchen. Caviar and Bubbles!
Chef Andy Wild led the demonstration which included a pouring of three Domaine Chandon Sparkling Wines and two Caviar-inspired tasting recipes. The food tastings were via Yukon Gold Potato Blini's with Creme Fraiche and California Caviar (classic Russian-Style service), and Spaghetti with Sparkling Wine, Leek and Caviar Sauce.
Domaine Chandon, which has a tasting room in Yountville, and is owned by Moet, poured three of their Sparkling wines for us. From Left to Right, Reserve Chardonnay Brut, Reserve Pinot Noir Brut, and their Etoile Brut. All were delish, but I preferred the caviar pairingness of the Reserve Pinot Noir Brut with my blini and creme fraiche. I agree, I am living a spoiled lifestyle as my friend old friend Robin Leach (Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous host) might say.
The TSAR let us taste a little bite of 4 types of California caviar. From left to right, 2-week old fish eggs, 3-week fishy fish eggs, 5-week fishiest fish eggs, and some fish eggs that were 8 months old. I preferred the fish eggs on the left. So I guess it is true in the caviar world as well: Fresh is best! Remember not too long ago when I was reporting about eating at In-N-Out Burger for the first time. I think I still prefer animal-style fries over caviar, but don't tell the chefs.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Black Friday!!!

Yesterday was the biggest shopping day of the year here in America. This is the day in which all the retailers in America, go from the red into the black, due to the insane volume of goods that are sold the day after Thanksgiving. Where did you go on Black Friday?
Did you get up at 4:00 in the morning to go avoid those long lines for the best deal? Here I am at 4:02 a.m...........

......and here I am at 10:04 a.m. All of you people are crazy! Not even a $275 GPS for $99 would motivate me to join that madness. It's called Ebay, and it accepts bidding 24 hours a day.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Our First Walnofer Thanksgiving

Do you remember your first Thanksgiving with that special someone? Have an embarrassing turkey story? Me and the Mrs. decided that our day to create these everlasting memories would be the day after Thanksgiving; with just the two of us. Let's do this thing right and get to cookin! Even though I am in culinary school, this is actually my first turkey to cook. What? I have a grandma and mother that have been doing this for me for years. I will give away two of my newly developed secrets. 1) Brining from a frozen state. This means 4 days of brining with selected herbs (I used rosemary, thyme, and tarragon with equal parts sugar to salt, and squeezed lemons). 2) Cover the breast of the turkey with a double sheet of aluminum foil. This will minimize the heat overexposure that causes the infamous dry turkey breast, all while allowing even cooking.
Table for two, please. Notice the Mrs. has gotten into napkin folding. She even brought out the fine silver. The table looks great, now where is all the food.

An impressive spread for two, if I do say so myself. Lemon-Herb Turkey with apple infused giblet gravy, homemade Nana-inspired dinner rolls, garlic whipped potatoes, sauteed green beans with bacon and crispy shallots, homemade french baguette stuffing with pumpkin puree, and individual W-autographed pumpkin pies. I think we are going to have leftovers.

One of the biggest dilemmas with Thanksgiving dinner is what wine pairs best with a meal with so many drastic, differing flavors. Something white or something red? For our smorgasbord, we went with a 2002 Premieres Cotes de Bordeaux Liquoreux for a little kitchen aperitif and dessert wine, and a 2006 Cuvaison Zinfandel to go with our meal. We had the Pinot Noir on backup, but these wines did nicely.
Sorry family that we couldn't make it back home for this holiday celebration. Our first Thanksgiving together was very memorable and we look forward to making new memories over the years with everyone else. Sadly, no "I burnt the turkey" story here to keep you entertained. Happy Thanksgiving and Thanksgiving Day after!

Thanksgiving Day One!

Our first Thanksgiving out here as a married couple, in California, and away from family was held at our church friends, Phil and Rachel Tessier. It was incredibly nice of them to invite us and it made our time away from family not as difficult as it could have been. Interestingly, our 10-person party didn't include one individual from California, and 6 of the 10 were from the South!
The sommelier, Brian, hooked the group up with this amazing NV Brut Paul Goerg Champagne Blanc de Blancs. Notice their would be a few more of the world's finest beverages to go along with our "ever difficult to pair with wine" Thanksgiving dinner.

Phil just so happens to be the Chef de Cuisines at the world renowned Thomas Kellar restaurant located in Yountville, Bouchon. Kind of makes a culinary student a little nervous when cooking a side item for this crowd. As the host, Phil knocked out the turkey. The thighs were rolled into roasts, connected to the legs, and stuffed with truffles. Ridiculously good dark meat. By the way, check out the chest on that bird. I like white meat.

No post is complete with out a plate picture. From top clockwise, the sides: Sauteed collard greens, sweet potato casserole, green bean casserole, dark meat and white meat turkey with chicken jus gravy, cranberry sauce, cornbread stuffing with Andouille sausage, and garlic whipped mashed potatoes. Not pictured sides include sweet potato casserole soup, fruit salad, mac&cheese, and Bama dressing.

Oh yeah, dessert! Not just any ole pumpkin pie. Rachael just so happens to be a CIA-baking and pastry grad and former pastry chef in New York. This is her gingerbread crusted pumpkin pie. One for me and one for the Mrs. The Walnofer Thanksgiving dinner is on Friday!