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!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Scharffen Berger Chocolate Factory Tour

Ummm, Chocolate! Everybody likes chocolate and Berkeley, California is world famous for their dark chocolate at the Scharffen Berger Chocolate Factory. I had the privilege of meeting Brad Kintzer, a Product Development Specialist, when he gave a presentation on chocolate to the students at the CIA recently. So, we made a day trip to visit my former Wal-Mart intern friend Ashley down in Martinez and strolled over to try some chocolate.

The company gives free factory tours which include tastings. Here our tour guide gives us the history of the company, the facts about chocolate, and does it all with a smile. But who wouldn't! She gets to work around chocolate all day. By the way, where is all this chocolate?

Ummm, there it is! Scharffen Berger is world famous for their dark chocolate, but they actually make some of the best semi-sweet and milk chocolate I have ever tasted. The company only sources their cocoa beans from premium farmers around the world and prides themselves on their quality over their quantity.

And it definitely comes through in the flavor of the chocolate!

The cue-tip people were out in full view. Its been a while since I have been in a hair net and in a factory instead of in a kitchen wearing a troupe. Kind of makes me miss my food science days. Soon we will merge these two worlds together!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Peet's, Kona, and Jamaica Blue Coffee!

So I have always been a coffee guy, but the Mrs. has turned me on to her passionate pursuit of tea's. I have found that a good way to experiment with tea drinking is to buy sampler packs, like this one found at Dean & Deluca. Then once you find the one that you really like............. can head down to your favorite coffee and tea shop and pick out a big can of the good stuff. Starbucks is popular world wide, but Peet's is supreme here in Northern California. I think I remember a certain, Lance Armstrong, mentioning that he never left the USA without a bag of his Peet's coffee. Now you know what fuels a Tour de France champion. I agree Mr. Armstrong.But, Starbucks and Peet's can't hold a candle to the arsenal of coffee greatness that I am savoring every morning. After my little honeymoon down in beautiful Kauai, Hawaii, I bootlegged some Peaberry 100% Kona Coffee and have been savoring it every since. Even my cousin Brent and Melissa got in the act when they sent me some 100% Jamaica Blue Mountain Coffee from their honeymoon in Jamaica. Jamaica Blue coffee is considered by some to be the most sought after coffee in the world. Well, that depends if you are from Hawaii or not. Stop buy for your own comparison taste test over at Haus Walnofer next time you are in the Valley.

Restaurant Review: aka Bistro!

We had the privilege of sharing dinner with my friend Eric and his girlfriend Mandy from Arkansas recently. We initially tried to get into Cook in downtown St. Helena, but they were all booked so we headed down the street to aka Bistro.I was feeling a little bit connected to Italy still from my World's of Flavor experience up at school so I went for the Ragu Penna Pasta. I am not for sure, but the penna reminded me of the Barilla penna that Barilla Executive Chef Lorenzo Boni made for his demo and this one didn't quite compare. The pork ragu sauce was good, but the overall impression of the plate didn't leave me wanting to sop up the left over juice with my baguette.
Another pasta dish was the mushroom trenette. I enjoyed this dish more so than the Penne Ragu. The shitake and portabello mushrooms were cooked to perfection and the sauce had a great flavor. More Pecorino please.
Sadly, the Salmon was the least impressive on the menu. Most portions are set right around 4-5 oz's. Five if you get lucky, but we got the tail end cut that was closer to 3.5oz. Even the side garnishes of sauteed potatoes and baby pearl onions where a little too minimal for my appetite. C'mon, I am paying $18, give me a little bit of love. With all this said, the sauce was light and extremely creamy and balanced the fish beautifully.

The big winner of the day was the Cornish Game hen with fried potatoes and sauteed spinach with a Cabernet jus. I think the dish was standing a little too tall though and the plate wasn't big enough for all the madness needed to break down the game hen. But, the flavor was incredible and the hen was incredibly juicy and succulent. Keep this dish on the menu!

You can't go home with out a little bite of dessert. Here is the chocolate fudge torte with peanut butter ice cream topped with peanut brittle. We added a nice 20 year old Tawny Port to compliment our sweet tooth. Overall, I think that one trip to aka Bistro doesn't do justice to its eclectic bistro style menu so I am going to have to give it another try. But their are several restaurants on the St. Helena strop that are yet to be discovered, so look for an upcoming review of Cook coming soon.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Skills I, Done!

Today was the last day for Skills I in the A.O.S Program here at the CIA. Skills I teaches the fundamentals of cooking including stocks, sauces, soups, and knife cuts. Our "final exam," consisted of making a group soup of our choice, serving a Hollandaise sauce, and performing several knife cuts on differing vegetables with a 40 minute time limit. I got an awesome group for the Practical that consisted of myself, Matt Ignacio, Bill Billenstein, and Chris Turyk. Chef Brenda La Noue was our chef instructor who guided us through our 3-week culinary experience. Under the guidance of Bill "the Thrill" Billenstein and "the Culinary Kid" Matt, out came our Butternut Squash Puree soup that tasted about as good as it looks. Notice the attention to detail in using the toasted squash seeds. Nice, eh!
We left the Hollandaise task up to Chris "the Whisk" and myself. Chris worked at a restaurant that made Hollandaise sauces to order so he was the go to man for this one. After reducing our shallots and champagne vinaigrette, we whisked in all of our clarified butter and after a bit of heat and S&P (salt and pepper), out came our Hollandaise. We presented it as Eggs Benedict and this is a direct quote from our chef who has traveled all around the world "that is the best Eggs Benedict I have ever had and I have traveled all around the world." Not bad work. Off to Skills II after the Thanksgiving Break!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Some What-Homemade with the Walnofer's #3

Staying with the theme of my Italian Experience during Worlds of Flavor, I decided to keep it a little Mediterranean tonight. Here you will find a spinach & onion baked salad with grated Pecorino cheese and a seasoned baked egg. This is very simple and just requires sauteing some onions, garlic, and fresh spinach (ringed, canned spinach works too) in good olive oil. Quit buying that Great Value or private label olive oil. Good oil is the easiest way to boost the flavor in your cooking. Then make a slight indention and crack an egg on top and bake at 325 for ~15 minutes. I tried cooking some farro tonight and created a complimentary parsley & olive farro salad. Even the Walnofer baker chipped in and provided some incredible buttermilk biscuits.

Orecchiette and chicken breast pasta with some cherry tomatoes, basil, and parsley. Dust this with some Parmesan Reggiano and throw in a crunchy breadstick and you are in for an Italian treat. Another key in this simple recipe is to enjoy the delicacy of good cheese. This also means straying away from your grated, canned cheese that has been in your fridge since March. Bon Appetit!

When you start throwing a bunch of great Italian cheeses into your dishes, think about washing them down with a nice Merlot. My friends down the street at Cuvaison Estate Winery let me get my hands on their "Wine Club Only" new release, the 2005 Two Estates Merlot. This wine is a fabulous pairing with just about anything with meat and cheese. Primarily Merlot, but it has a high percentage of Cabernet Sauvignion which makes it a powerful on the palate style wine that is still characteristically smooth like great Merlots from the Napa Valley. Cheers!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Thanksgiving Wine Club!

We all know the most famous foodie holiday is just around the corner, Thanksgiving! Here at the CIA, we celebrate by pairing our favorite dishes with our favorite wines, at Wine Club.
The theme of the meeting tonight was to prove all the holiday food and wine pairings that are filling the pages of your favorite magazines this time of the year. Here's the line up from right to left:
1) La Sirena Moscato Azul 2006
2)Saddleback Cellars Grenache Blanc 2007
3) Willa Kenzie Estate Pinot Blanc 2007
4) Chase Hayne Vineyard Zinfindel 2004
5) Sequel Syrah Colombia Valley 2005
6) Ficklin Vinyards Aged 10 Years Tawny Port
The line-up of wines was intended to cover everything from "a kitchen drinking wine" to a "finishing dessert wine," and of course something in-between that pairs well with Turkey!
Some great food magazines provided the recipes and suggestions for our wine pairings.
1) Italian Sausage Stuffing - Epicurious Magazine - Pairing Zinfandel
2) Garlic Mashed Potatoes - Gourmet Magazine - Pairing Pinot Blanc
3) Cranberry/Grapefruit - Chowhoud - Pairing Syrah
4) Roasted Turkey w/ Apple-Cider Gravy - Gourmet Magazine - Pairing Grenache Blanc
5) Pumpkin Butterscotch - Bon Appetit Magazine - Pairing Tawny Port
My favorite table to visit at Thanksgiving is the dessert table. The Pumpkin Butterscotch pie and the Tawny Port let me down though as a "perfect pairing." I felt like the spices counteracted too much and the Port, with its raisiny notes, would have been better with a caramelized dessert instead. Maybe a Sauternes from France or a sweet Muscat. The stuffing was paired with the Zin, but I preferred the Syrah, primarily due to the fact the Chase Hayne Zin was too light bodied and fell flat when overwhelmed by the sausage. Nothing in my opinion paired well with the Turkey, which proves its pairing difficulty, but since I like the white meat the best, I don't think you can go wrong with a great Pinot Noir. My best advice though, is to incorporate some gravy flavoring that best matches your wine of choice. Therefore, you can drink what you like and share a great meal with the one's you love. Happy early Thanksgiving to all, and I challenge you to pick out one thing per day, until Thanksgiving, that you are thankful for this year. I'll start. I am thankful for the blessing of my new, little family. Whose next..............................?

Sunday, November 9, 2008

World's of Flavor IV

The last day of the World's of Flavor conference went out with a bang! After almost 60 volunteer hours, it took a couple extra shots of espresso to make it through this one, but it was well worth it at the end.The Mediterranean produces a lot of Octopus, so one can only imagine the creative uses for this creature. My Italians made an Octopus Ragu out of theirs, but these Spanish guys had another idea. What it was, I am still not sure, but I probably ate it somewhere later on in the day and loved it.

Chef Paul Bartolotta brought his big guns to the show. These 3 ice chests were full of some of the most exotic, and fresh Mediterranean sea creatures. Even my Italian compatriots were going goo-goo gah-gah over this treasure chest of scales, pincher's, and tentacles.

Everybody likes the Hogs and Chefs from around the world are no exception. They just show their love in different ways.

Chef Corrado de Virgillo busted out another demo, this one at the Live Fire Outdoor Oven. Check out the original Crock Pot sitting at the end of the table. These earthenware pots are famous in Puglia, Italy. Each family has one and takes it to the local oven master in their village, who cooks them slowly throughout the day (4-5 hours). Then voila! Mama Mia's Sunday roast is ready for the family after Sunday church. Just like modern-day Walnofer Sunday lunches, but with new-age appliances! Sometimes technology oversteps its bounds.
This is the last demo of the conference. My long-time friend of two days and Iron Chef, Cat Cora concluded the conference and the entire crowd of attendees and volunteers shared a toast to an exceptional week. Next year's conference is themed, Street Food of the World. Better get your fly swatters and bug zappers out for that one because it is going to be quite interesting. Similar to the Super Bowl, the World Series, or the Tour de France, you will have to anxiously await 365 days until the next World's of Flavor entertains us once again. Ciao bye, as my new Italian friends would say. I have some sleep to catch up on.

Worlds of Flavor III

On this episode of Worlds of Flavor, we are going to get out of the kitchen and see what goes on behind the scenes at one of the biggest food conferences in the world. But before we do that, we gotta eat some lunch................................
1. Braised Sea Bream, Wild Greens, and Fennel.
2. Marinated Seafood Salad with Greek Fava.
3. Florina Peppers Stuffed with Manouri, Currants, and Pine Nuts.
4. Marinated Mackerel with Bulgar Wheat Pilaf.
5. Eggplant Pie with Walnuts and Cumin.
6. Greens and Feta Pie with a Cornmeal Crust and Kefalotyri.
7. Baked Beans Served with Buttermilk and Shaved Botargo.
8. Warm Spinach and Orange Salad with Mastiha Oil and Feta.
9. Carob Pita Bread with Tarama and Shrimp.
My Italian friends gave their first demo on the Ventura stage. The sign of a great conference is the ratio of "Lack of Behind the Scenes Glamour" to "On Stage Glamour!" Chef Teresa Buongiorno wowed the crowd under the direction of Chef/Interpreter Domenico Maggi. Entering stage right, Chef Antonio de Rosa. Who doesn't love Italians with names like these!
From upstairs in the Ventura Center, down to the demo in the Debaun Theatre. Chef Corrado de Virgillo and I wheeled our food via the secret tunnel that runs along the Greystone campus to meet up with Barilla Executive Chef Lorenzo Boni and Chef Paul Bortolotta, owner of Vegas restaurant Bartolotta Ristorante di Mare and world renowned for Italian cuisine.
After my chef finished his demo, I noticed his plated dish got whisked away to a secret room. Curious as I am, I followed it, with a fork, expecting to see a group hovering around it devouring every last bit. To my surprise, every dish from the demo's were getting the star treatment and having their picture taken for documentation. You should expect the calendar to be available in early December, just in time for those last minute holiday gifts.
I was feeling a little jealous that I wasn't getting my picture taken so I decided to take matters into my own hands. I happened to walk into the end of a book signing by none other than Iron Chef Cat Cora from the Food Network, and spokesperson for The Catfish Institute. After telling her about the 28 pound catfish that I caught out of the Arkansas River as a kid, and starting a "Who would win in an Iron Chef battle between Cat and Paul Bartolota?" debate, they both stopped laughing and agreed to a photo. Hopefully we will have an upcoming review of Chef Paul's restaurant during an upcoming visit to Las Vegas! Stay tuned.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Worlds of Flavor II

Another day in the fire pit of cooking extravagance which is Worlds of Flavor. The guy on the left is my chef, Corrado de Virgillo. He has many nicknames to us students. They favorite of mine is the "Flying Eagle." Notice the missing gap above the nose and this nickname begins to make sense. The guy on the right is some culinary mac-aroni from Lebanon. Both know how to cook, but I get the lucky opportunity to chase around the man from Apulia, Italy, Chef Corrado. This is the beginning of the day.........................
and this is the end. The barrel room turns into the "Marketplace" and we get to try all the cuisines of the world, in our own little room below the kitchens.

One of my favorite foods I tried was this homemade tortellini. This mother and daughter combo are world famous for their homemade pastas back in Italy.
Ummmm! Throw that in some hot water, please!

Alessandra even has a book showing off her Sicilian-style of pasta making if you would like to request a copy before she returns to Italy. Only two more days left............