Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Arkansas or Bust! Adios California!

So this is where I last left you. The Mrs. and I were all boxed up and we were ready to tackle the 28 hour, 1885 mile drive back to Arkansas. Since we didn't have a wedding (our own) to get to this time, we took a little bit of a more leisurely tour through southwestern America.
Day one: First stop, the Alexander's of Fresno. Allison, pictured here at her lovely home, is my second-cousin. I first met her husband, Patrick, and her son, Spencer in Paris, France. Before that meeting in Paris, I had never met or knew what any of these members of my family looked like.  Luckily, we are now all best friends. Thanks for the stay over and all the treats while we visited!
Day Two: Second stop, the Grand Canyon! This was a first time for both the Mrs. and myself. (Insert obligatory family photo in front of the park entrance sign here).
WOW! If you've seen the Grand Canyon, then you understand that this is the only word needed to describe the Grand Canyon. If you haven't been to the Grand Canyon, you need to put it on your bucket list because it is...................WOW!!!

Day three: Third stop, Santa Fe, New Mexico. We didn't spend much time in Santa Fe, other than to get a good nights rest before a long haul into Arkansas the next day. The Mrs. and I made it to the Plaza to take in the sights & sounds of Santa Fe.............and to grab a bite to eat at the famous local spot, Cafe Pasquals. Travel, food, & leisure at its finest!
Day four: Final stop! Speaking of making it to Arkansas, TaaaDaaaa! This picture is deceiving because we actually drove our car back from California, and had to rent a Uhaul in Benton to haul all of our wedding/things-that-won't-fit-in-a-500sq.ft.-cottage stuff up to our new house in Springdale.
So far, everything has gone smoother than we could have ever imagined. Thanks for all your prayers of safe travels and thank you God for blessing us all along this journey.  We are looking forward to serving you in greater capacity in our new crib up in the NWA!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Tour of California! Oakville Grade!

I was happy to share in the Tour of California fever up here in Northern California. Luckily, the Winter's Criterium was available for us amateur's to get out our aggression before watching the real cyclists come through town.
I spent the entire day in a couple breakaway's gobbling up prime laps. Good thing I did because I came home with a set of Ksyrium rims and a bag of Marini Almonds. I love almonds! They pair nicely with Snapple and cheesy........I mean cheese.
A day later, the Calistoga/Napa crew headed up to Oakville Grade to watch Stage 2 of the Amgen Tour of California.  Happy Birthday Carl! What a terrible day! Not for Carl, but based on the weather.  After weeks of arm tanning sunshine, here comes the famous rain of Napa. Mix that with the steepest climb in all of Napa Valley and it was going to make for some entertaining cycling.
First up the Grade was the remnants of a 5 man breakaway that had been off the front since before Lake Berryessa. I was happy to see how they were creeping up the mountain. It gave me a sense of pride at how slow I have gone up Oakville Grade in the past. One of my favorite riders is bringing up the rear of the breakaway, Mike "Meatball" Friedman from Jelly Belly. Give up now, Mike. I can see Radioshack!
Hot on the heels of the breakaway, is Chechu, Lance, Levi, Horner, and Saxo's own Andy Schleck.
Much further back is none other than Stage 1 winner, the Golden Fleece wearer, and undisputed best sprinter in the world, Mark Cavendish. It's okay Mark, you only have Trinity Grade left to go. Oh yeah, then a quick 4 mile decent down pothole mountain roads.  Good luck with that! Across the road, Michael Raub is scratching his head in disbelief at all the excitement.
Hi Johan Bruneel........bye Johan Bruneel. You know cycling is getting popular in America when the Director Sportif gets as many shout outs as some of the riders. Note the Lucky number 13 being sported by Team Radioshack today.
Speaking of lucky, check out what I returned home to after my nice day chasing the Tour of California. I guess it is official. the Mrs. and I are moving. But don't worry, we have a few fun stops on the way planned before we make it back to Arkansas. Stay tuned.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Living the Dream! CIA Graduation!

Tradition holds at the CIA-Greystone, that every graduating class gets their name written on the Teaching Kitchen Chalkboard. This time, it was AOS 6's turn to go up on the board!
Congratulations AOS 6! Bill, Rick, Caitlin, Shannon, Tyson, DJ, Denise, Grace, Michael, Jenny, Ed, Britny, Shaylene, Courtney, Chris...........and yours truly! Let's do this.
First things first, AOS 6 met down in the Wine Spectator Greystone Restaurant for a little Sparkling Toast to the class of May 14, 2010.  Thanks to Mikey Fojtasek for providing the Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs.
Into the Ventura Center we went and lined up for the graduation ceremony. Props go out to Britny Sundin for delivering a stellar student speech that had all of us and all of our family and friends rolling in laughter........and holding back a few tears (not me, I don't cry).  Thanks also go out to Chef Tom Wong for being our faculty representative and further cementing "Monkey's in a Cage" as our class motto.
Thank you President Tim Ryan.  I graciously accept my Culinary Institute of America graduation cordon.
The Mrs. was able to slip into the group photo with her near-chef-jacket-style coat and we all got a last group shot before we set down for the graduation luncheon. Speaking of lunch, we were treated to a delicious 3-course meal prepared by Special Events Executive Chef David Thader.
1st Course: Crab and Avocado Timbale with Red and Yellow Tomato Concasse, Basil Oil, and Micro Greens.
Paired with a Grgich Hills Estate Fume Blanc, 2008, Napa Valley.
Main Course: Dry Aged Beef Strip Loin Steaks with Yukon Gold Potato and Olive Oil Puree, Pickled Cauliflower, Asparagus, and Truffle Butter.
Paired with Rombauer Cabernet Sauvignon, 2006, Napa Valley.
Dessert Course: Strawberry Rhubarb Tart with Yogurt Sorbet.
Paired with Robert Mondavi Moscato D'Oro, 2008, Napa Valley.
That concludes life at the Culinary Institute of America-Gresystone. I hope it made for some fun reading these past 2 years! I know it for sure made for some fun life experiences and some great friendships and some excess calories and some burns and cuts and some..................anyway, it was great and I am so thankful to have been blessed to have been a part of AOS 6. Good luck to all of you as you pursue the next chapter in your lives! Next stop for me, the real world!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Wine Spectator Greystone Restaurant: Student Experience!

It is amazing to think that we spent the last 12 weeks in the Wine Spectator at Greystone Restaurant. Six weeks were spent learning the skills to become a professional server in the front-of-the-house and the other 6 weeks were spent learning the advanced cooking techniques in the kitchen. Projects came and went and these are the highlights of what AOS 6 put out for the world to see.
1st Course: White Anchovy Brandade Stuffed Artichoke with Heirloom vegetables and Parsley Sauce.
1st Course: Blue Cheese & Prosciutto Terrine with Poached Egg, and Whole Grain Mustard Sauce
1st Course: Quail and Lentil Salad with Tomato Glaze and Black Olive Powder.
Main Course: Grilled Alaskan Halibut with Risotto Arancini, Forest Mushrooms and Crispy Basil.
Main Course: Aged New York Strip with Fingerling Potatoes, Asparagus, Pickled Cauliflower, Brandy-Shallot Sauce, and a Herbed Potato Crust.
California Cheese Course: 1) Marin French Cheese Co. Fried Triple Creme Brie Topped with Honeycomb and Grand Marnier soaked Berries, Grand Marnier Jam, and White Balsamic Vinegar. 2) Redwood Farm Hill Goat Cheddar on House Herb Cracker and Savory Marmalade. 3) Bellweather Farm's Ricotta Cheese Stuffed Piquillo Pepper with Mache and Pine Nuts.
California Cheese Course: 1) Bellweather Carmody with Rhubarb Pickle, Carrot and Mushroom Chip, with Flowering Kale, Chive and Calandula Blossom. 2) Cyprus Grove "Lamb Chopper" with Rhubarb, Apple, and Fennel Compote, Chickpea Cracker, and  Tomato Powder. 3) Redwood Farm's Goat's Milk Housemade Ricotta, with Zucchini Pain Perdu, Microgreens, and Fried Squash Blossom.
Thanks go out to the staff at the Wine Spectator Greystone Restaurant for all their help this past 12 weeks.  It was a pleasure working and learning alongside you and for all of AOS 6, I say Thank You!

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Cuatro de Mayo! Happy 26th Birthday Mrs. Walnofer!

So the Mrs. thought that her birthday celebration was over but little did she know that I had a birthday dinner planned for Cuatro de Mayo! Last year was Mexican, this year would be California Cuisine!
The Mrs. had taken a severe liking to Parmesan Gnocchi so I whipped up a homemade batch, seared off a couple Duck Breasts, sauteed some King Trumpet Mushrooms and Spinach in duck fat, reduced some Cuvaison Pinot Noir to make a Red Wine Jus, and topped it all off with some Bouchon trained perfectly cut Chives and some Blood Micro Greens.  By far the most expensive and the tastiest meal I have prepared in our 72sq.ft kitchen.
Half bottles are the new thing and the Mrs. and I love em!  Just the other day, we did a food/model shoot for Kenzo Estate Winery down in Napa and we were gifted a bottle of their 2007 Rindo. Rindo stands for Japanese Bell Flower which blooms during the same time as grape harvest. Perfect, saves me from needing to buy any flowers for the Mrs.! This red wine is a blend of Cab, Merlot, Cab Franc, and Petit Verdot.  Pairs perfectly with Duck!
Next up on the surprise list was a homemade birthday cake. White cake with Strawberry Filling and Chocolate Meringue Icing. Key to remember next time you are baking a cake in a 72sq.ft kitchen with the oven on full blast and every burner your cake standing in the refrigerator............or else it gets a little melty. 
The next day, I had the priviledge of bringing some b-day cake to Growth Group and went with the 4-Layer 8" cake. Learning from the night before's melting meringue, I made a fresh batch of Itailian Meringue for the long journey down to Napa.  I got a little bit carried away with the strawberry "garnish", but the Mrs. had made a trip to Costco a week ago and they needed to be used. Product Utiliization at its finest! Anyone want to buy us a cake carrier? About 10 minutes later, this cake started to resemble the leaning tower of Pisa and about 5 minutes after that, well........the birthday girl wasn't too happy with her lap cake. Anywho, after a little roadside repair and a roll of napkins for the Mrs., we celebrated Happy 26th for the 3rd day in a row. It is exhausting to be this sweet...........not me.............the cake that is! 

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Restaurant Experience: Cyrus, Healdsburg, CA! Happy Birthday Mrs. Walnofer!

The Mrs. and I had slotted one last fine dining gourmet experience into our To-do-before-we-leave-Napa-Valley-for-the-real-world-List.  This special treat to ourselves just so happened to land close enough to the Mrs.'s birthday that I.........I mean we were able to call it her birthday dinner!
We had the opportunity to dine at the French Laundry, the only 3-star Michelin restaurant on the west coast for our 1-year anniversary, so next on our list was the 2-star Michelin restaurant of Executive Chef Douglas Keane in Healdsburg.
As you can tell, the Mrs. was glowing as she celebrated her 26th Birthday!
The biggest question I had was what wine do we bring to a restaurant that specializes in "contemporary luxury" cuisine while highlighting ingredients from Japan and Wine Country. Luckily, our old friend Dirk Schätzel left us a special bottle of Schätzel Oelberg Riesling Spätlese from his parents vineyard in Germany. Flavors from Wine Country, Japan, and Germany. Sounds delicious!
1st Course: Canapes. But not just any canapes, canapes that are designed to capture the 5 human taste sensations: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami.

Two butter's and two salts. A whipped Goat Butter and a Sonoma Valley Cow's Butter with Hawaiin Volcanic Salt and British Maldon Salt. My favorite complimentary accompaniment to any meal! The Bread. Cyrus serves baked-in-house versions of sourdough epi, sourdough and garlic baguette (watch out!), multi-grain loaf, bacon & cheese scones, and the classic brioche.
The Amuse Bouche. Salmon Roulade with Ginger Crust and Sweet Pea Puree.
Seared Hamachi with Battera Konbu (Seaweed), Radish and Candied Kumquats in Chilled Apple Dashi.
Soup Billi-B with Fennel Puree and Tempura Mussel.
Butter Poached Lobster with Marjoram Spring Onions and Pickled Ramps.
Foie Gras Torchon with Rhubarb, Yuzu and Buckwheat.
Ikejime Tai with Galangal Rice Noodles and Banana Blossoms, Coconut Milk Froth.
Morel and Green Garlic "Ravioli" Poached Bantam Egg and Parmesan Broth.
Hoisin Glazed 52-hour Braised (seems excessive!) Short Rib with Tat Soi and Ginger Bone Marrow Flan.
Lamb Loin Roulade with Green Garlic Risotto and Fava Bean Ragout.
Artisanal and Farmhouse Cheeses Presented Table Side.  Epoisses (Cow), Sheep's, and Ash rind Goat with the Cheese Accompaniments.
Chocolate and Peanut Butter Tart with Carmelized Banana Ice Cream.
Every girl, no matter what age, needs a balloon for her birthday. Look at the excitement on the Mrs. face when she recieved her Pressurized Ballon Shaved Chocolate on top of Chocolate Chip Cookies with Chocolate Milkshake Spritzer.
Mignardises of Apple and Passionfruit Gelee, Honey Truffle, Salted Caramel Truffle, Currant and Cardamon Cookie, and Graham Cracker.
Even if all that wasn't enough, Cyrus sends you home with a little to-go-box of a housemade brownie for you to enjoy the next day. I think the 2-star Michelin rating was well deserved. This was classic service at its finest and I couldn't think of a better way to celebrate the Mrs.'s 26th b-day.  Well, maybe I will make a little something for us to eat on the real Cuatro de Mayo!