Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Risks of Culinary School!

***Warning*** Don't read this blog with your morning breakfast!
The best thing I can say about this, is that I keep my knives sharp. Sometimes that is a detriment to myself as my fingernail can attest.

A Brown Roux is the equivalent of molten lava. Get it on your skin, and your skin will grow one of these. I am sure more incidents will be reported in the future.

Gardening 101!

Gardening is by no means my forte, but a recent greenthumb moment has led to the successful birth of these aspiring lettuces. Here you will find an immature baby arugula as it sprouts toward the sun which gives it life.
And here is a baby bib lettuce stretching his young arms out of the soil and into the fresh CO2 of the valley air. These little guys have inspired me to plant an entire herb garden filled with Parsley, Basil, and Cilantro and even a couple tomato and potato plants. I can't wait to report about how good all of these taste in the coming months.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Restaurant Review: Martini House!

The Martini House is nestled right off of main street in St.Helena, CA. It's reputation spreads all the way to my great home state of Arkansas, and pretty much everywhere else in-between. Why might one choose such a nice restaurant for a casual dinner date on a Saturday night? Perhaps for a celebration of sorts?
The ambiance of the restaurant is a little dark, giving it that feel of high-end dining, but in an atmosphere that is highly welcoming. The circa-1920's architecture of the building is a key design element of this Pat Kueleto owned restaurant. Is that some World's of Healthy Flavor attendees I spy? Sure enough it is. Welcome to the economic stimulus impact of The Culinary Institute of America on the Valley economy. The signature appetizer of Martini House is the house Cream of Mushroom Soup with Toasted Croutons and Chives. Chef Todd Humphries has made his name with the use of the infamous, yet delicate and complex mushroom. Being known for his use of mushrooms, I was more than happy to try out the Mushroom Tasting Menu. Thanks go out to Chef de Cuisine Christopher Litts for tantalizing our palates with the above amuse bouche's. His wife is actually the executive chef at the WineSpectator Restaurant at Greystone. Busy Couple!
1st Course: "Pleurotus Eryngii" King Trumpet Mushroom Salad with Shaved Celery, Radish, and Ricotta Salata Truffle Vinaigrette. Enjoy with a Casamatta Bianco, Toscana, I.G.T. Italy, 2007 (90% Vermentino/10% Moscato)
2nd Course: "Lentinus Edodes" Ginger Braised Shitake Mushrooms with Pomelo Sake Mirin Broth, Scallions, and Bok Choy with Steamed Basmati Rice. Tasty with a Gobelsburg ‘heiligenstein' Riesling, Langenlois, Austria, 2006. My motherland does produce a great wine!
Chef's Compliments: Sautéed Nantucket Bay Scallops with Sautéed Winter Mushrooms, Sunchokes and Saffron Gnocchi with Hollandaise Sauce.
Entree Course: “Agaricus bisporus” Portobello Mushroom Burger with Cole Slaw, Tater Todd's and Poppy Seed Mayonnaise. Washed down with Hourglass ‘Blueline' Merlot, Napa Valley, California, 2006.
I don't know what fast food chain uses this slogan, but it is all too true for this burger. "Goodness on a Bun!"
Entree Course: Red Wine Braised Beef Oxtail and Spinach Raviolis with Buttered Rutabaga Puree, Black Trumpet Mushrooms and Parmesan Cheese. Delightful with a Ristow Estate ‘Quinta de la Pedras Vineyard' Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, California, 1999
Pastry Chef Jennifer Archer's Compliments: A delightful play on Cookies and Cream, in a glass of sugar.
“Lactarius rubidus” Candy Cap Bread Pudding with Currants and Golden Raisins topped with Maple Sugar Anglaise. Sweet with your sweets, try the Monte Tondo, Recioto, Soave, Italy, 2003 (Late Harvest Garganega).
Oh yeah, it just so happens to be the Mrs. and I's anniversary of our engagement (not really for sure if this is celebrated or not by the common public?). A year ago, Kristen and I got engaged, and that night we had dinner with Mike and Jacque Martini. Better known as the Martini's house. Now that we are celebrating our anniversary, it is only appropriate that we dine at, you guessed it, the Martini House. Clever, ridiculous, or just plain coincidence. Maybe a bit of all three.
What a year it has been! I would have never dreamed that we would have done some much in 365 days. Let's recount:
1: Visit the CIA Open House in January 2008. Subsequently, Get Engaged!
2. Scott defends M.S. Thesis and passes! Turns in Thesis day before departure.
2. Scott leaves Kristen stranded in America to plan a wedding as he studies abroad in Toulouse, France for 5 months.
3. Kristen graduates from the UofA with her MBA in May. Scott graduates with his M.S. in May and celebrates from France.
4. Kristen comes to visit Scott and a 3-week tour of Europe proceeds. The future Walnofer's meet the original Walnofer's in Austria.
5. We see the Tour de France in person on one of the most famous climbs in all of Tour history.
6. Couple returns to America, only to spend 3-days pulling a UHaul all the way to Napa Valley California.
7. Guests arrive days after bride and groom-to-be and all celebrate a joyous wedding ceremony.
8. Guests hang out and go to San Francisco. Honeymooners cross the 2nd ocean that month and hang out in Hawaii for a week.
9. Old married couple returns to Calistoga and Scott starts school one week later. Kristen finds great job working for a winery 1 mile from our home.
10. Couple lives happily ever after.
The End...........I mean The Beginning!

Monday, January 19, 2009

I still miss France :(

Castle in Castelnou, France or Castello di Amorosa in St. Helena, California?Castle in Castelnou, France or Castello di Amorosa in St. Helena, California?
Castle in Castelnou, France or Castello di Amorosa in St. Helena, California?Castle in Castelnou, France or Castello di Amorosa in St. Helena, California?
Castle in Castelnou, France or Castello di Amorosa in St. Helena, California?Castle in Castelnou, France or Castello di Amorosa in St. Helena, California?
Do you know your France from your Napa? If so, send me your guesses?

Thursday, January 15, 2009

French-American Look A-likes!

We had a celebrity chef book signing the other day at the CIA. Here is Eric Ripert, best-selling author and Executive Chef-Owner of Le Bernardin in New York City. His books include "Le Bernardin Cookbook," "A Return to Cooking", and his new release, "On the Line: The Stations, the Heat, the Cooks, the Costs, the Chaos, and the Triumphs." As I took the picture, I thought, he kind of looks like..................

fellow French-American, Dr. Jean-Francois Meullenet. Brothers, maybe cousins; no, just the French :) Viva la France!

Sweet, Salty, Sour, Bitter

Here is a little inside scoop of what us students learn here at the CIA. Oh yeah, this place looks pretty sweet too!The other day in class, we put a little bit of Sensory science into practice and undertook a flavor balancing exercise.Take 2 Jelly Belly jelly beans (their from Fairfield, CA. Sustainability!), a slice of cantaloupe, and a leaf of radicchio.

Play with adding salt, sugar, lime juice, and even cayenne pepper on both the cantaloupe and the radicchio. It is amazing how your palate can be manipulated when you play with the 5 basic tastes. To test your olfactory system (smelling!), take one of the ultra premium Jelly Belly jelly beans and begin chewing it while holding your nose. Immediately, you get a bit of an unrecognizeable diluted sweet taste. Then you release your nose, and your retronasal passage kicks in and all the sudden you are tasting Strawberry Daiquiri. Amazing are the human senses!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Restaurant Review: Bouchon, Yountville.

The Mrs. and I were looking for some New Year's Eve's plans before the East Coast ball drop back on the TV in Calistoga. We have been fortunate to meet a very talented chef from our church in Napa, who just so happens to be Chef de Cuisines at Bouchon. Chef Tessier has spent over 10 years with the Thomas Kellar Group, and is a recent east coast transfer from Per Se.

Welcome to Bouchon in Yountville, by night. Bouchon is a French bistro concept restaurant with two locations; the other in Las Vegas of all places. The bouchon-style restaurant originated in Lyon, France. With the preparation of simple food and specifically, preparation of all parts of the pig, these restaurants became very popular and created a signature cuisine that has titled Lyon as the gastronomic capital of France. With a little Napa flair, Bouchon is a bit different, but a great representation of the French bistro at its best.
I was excited and ready to send 2008 out with a food bang!The Mrs. was just as excited and we decided to tackle the prix fixe 5-course New Year's Eve dinner and wine pairing menu. This was the best decision of 2008, after deciding to live in France for 5-months, deciding to move to Napa to go to culinary school, and getting married.

1st Course: Nothing says french bistro like a crepe! Crepe a l'Esturgeon Fume (Smoked sturgeon crepe with caviar creme). To wash it down, a nice glass of Pierre Peters, Brut Cuvee Reserve, Grand Cru, Blanc de Blancs MV. That means Champagne!
2nd Course: The Shellfish Platter. Plateau de Fruits de Mer (East and West Coast oysters, Dungeness crab, and bouchots mussels). Bouchon serves three traditional sauces with this platter. They include mignonette sauce, cocktail sauce, and its signature mustard-mayonnaise sauce. A side of pumpernickel bread accompanied the platter and the dry Sancerre, Pastou, Les Boucalts '07 complimented nicely. This was the Mrs. first ever oyster. Needless to say, that and the little mollusks made their way to my plate after she tried one of each. I give her an A+ for effort.
Chef Tessier also sent us out the Potage de Pommes et Celeri-Rave (Roasted apple and celery root soup with foie gras mousse). Out came a Savennieres, Domaine Laffourcade '06 as well. Merci beau coup Chef.
This isn't on the prix fixe course menu, but our church friend Tiffany, who is a cook that was working in the kitchen that night, whipped us up some apple-sauteed foie gras with endive salad and blood orange. My recent adventures in Toulouse, the duck and foie gras capital of France, has left a taste for this delicacy that I was more than happy to accept from the kitchen!
3rd Course: The Boudin de Coquilles St. Jacques aux Truffes Noirs (Maine sea scallops and black truffle boudin with lobster knuckles, brussel sprout leaves, and lobster-truffle consomme). This was the signature entree of the evening and its was mighty tasty. This broth was rich and was worth its weight in wine. Oh yeah, the wine! A Marsannay Rouge, Joseph Roty '04. Very similar to a new world California Pinot Noir.

3rd Course: The meat course! Not just any meat though, Pigioneaux a la Mousse de Marrons (Roasted squab with chestnut mousse, lardons, braised red cabbage, and honey glazed cranberries with natural jus). A Crozes-Hermitage, Alain Graillot '06 from the Northern Rhone Valley washed down this beauty on a plate.
4th Course. Whew! We were slowing down fast, but two plates remained. A french dinner would not be complete without, what else, cheese! Here is some Brillat Savarin with poached prunes, petite lettuces and candied hazelnuts. Out came the Bordeaux-sweetness in a bottle, Sauternes, compliments of another friend, the house manager Brian. We are meeting the right people in the valley for sure! Not to be outdone, a Ramos Pinto "Quinta de Bom Retiro" 20 year-old Tawny Port was designated as our cheese pairing. Do we have any room for dessert?

5th Course: Of course we do! A Bouche de Noel. A cake designed to look like a log with chocolate icing layers, chocolate shavings, and mushrooms made out of sugar meringue. A log of Yuletide cheer if I do say so.
Bonne Annee from Bouchon and the Walnofer's! We had a great and life changing 2008, and can only wait in amazement for the joys of 2009!

Monday, January 5, 2009

Tahoe, Heavenly, Really!

Being that we are only a 3 hour drive from Lake Tahoe, we had to get out of sunny Napa and up to the mountains to get our winter fix. Luckily, our friends the Guerrieri's invited us to their cabin so we took them up on their offer. Their is only one way up to Heavenly Ski Resort. Via gondola! This was my first ever ride in a gondola.
Welcome to Heavenly at Lake Tahoe. This mountain was huge with tons of skiing options. How huge you ask?
One side of the mountain was in Nevada, and the other side was in California! We skied Nevada by morning and California by afternoon.
The view of the lake from Sky Express ski lift.

In between Nevada and California skiing, we had a nice picnic lunch with our snowboarder friends Ben, Lee, and Pat. We felt somewhat alienated from the group since we are skiers, but everyone is welcome at this table when you have homemade Mrs. Walnofer pumpkin bread stored in your jacket pocket. Very California-ish aren't they. That joke is even more funny if you endure countless Arkansas jabbing from life-long Californians.

The Mrs. and I enjoyed our Tahoe experience. Maybe we just might do it again for Christmas next year.......I mean this year. Happy 2009!

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Restaurant Review: Mesa Grille Las Vegas

Welcome to my experience at Mesa Grille Las Vegas during our recent stay in the city of lights. Vegas has become a hot bed for celebrity chef restaurants, but the reputation of these restaurants isn't always the best within the culinary community. I thought I would take this unique opportunity to visit Bobby Flay's signature restaurant and make the decision for myself.
Mesa Grille is categorized as presenting southwestern style cuisine with Flay's characteristic grilling style. You can't expect chips and salsa at Caesar's Palace, so Bobby serves an assortment of savory breads and biscuits for starters. Interesting, and tasty!

In Vegas, you get the brunch menu on Sunday at 1:00pm. Go figure? Here is the spicy chicken sweet potato hash with poached eggs and green chile hollandaise. Executed to perfection but be ready for the heat on this guy.
The Mrs. had the scrambled eggs chilaquiles with roasted tomatillo sauce, white cheddar cheese, and a layer of creme fraiche. These were the best chilaquiles that I have ever layed a fork into. I would for sure recommend Mesa Grille during your next visit to Vegas, but make sure Chef Flay is in the house for the ultimate experience. Also, make sure that they have the homemade grits, because they were out and we were stuck with the southwestern home fries. Common Bobby, nothing screams "south" like grits!