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Cookbook project praises Placer’s ‘real’ food

By: Loryll Nicolaisen, Journal staff writer
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Joanne Neft and Laura Caballero are in the midst of hosting a yearlong dinner party. Each Monday since the start of the year the duo — Neft is a longtime agriculture advocate and Caballero is a professional chef — creates and serves dinner for eight at Neft’s Auburn home. All dishes feature ingredients available at the Foothill Farmers’ Market, and when the year is over — and 52 meals have been prepared and served — recipes from each week’s dinner party will end up in a 300-page “Placer County Real Food” cookbook. Neft said the idea for the cookbook came from wanting people to know summer isn’t the only time to buy great food at the farmers’ market. “People in the area think there’s nothing at the market November through April. That is absolutely not the way it is,” Neft said. “There is an absolutely fabulous selection fall, winter, early spring.” Neft sent out an e-mail at the start of 2009 publicizing the dinner parties. Within a few weeks, the whole year was sold out, and a waiting list also exists. “Obviously people thought it was a good idea,” she said. “It’s getting an incredible amount of attention because this has never been done.” Neft and Caballero meet at Auburn’s farmers’ market each Saturday to shop for the upcoming Monday’s meal. “We get inspired by the market, and that’s what we fix,” Caballero said. “I usually have a rough idea of what we do. We want to portray the idea that you can make a great meal with what’s in your fridge and what’s at the market.” Says Neft: “It’s pretty simple. If it’s not in the market, we’re not serving it.” “It’s totally local. The idea is, we’re totally local, local support,” she said. “It’s all about community and it’s about farmers and community.” A recent Monday’s meal incorporated chicken from Natural Trading Company in Newcastle roasted with Cippolini onions from Twin Brooks Farm and tomatillos from Penn Valley’s Four Frog Farm. Dessert was a port-poached pear, the fruit grown at Pine Hill Orchard in Loomis, served with crème fraiche and a lace cookie. In addition to promoting the farmers’ market and local food, another goal is to emphasize what great things can be done with just a handful of ingredients. “We try to keep an eight-ingredient-or-less rule because realistically, that’s what people have in their pantries,” Caballero said. Neft has thoroughly enjoyed hosting week after week, and delights in her guests’ reaction to what they’re eating. “Here’s the best thing. There’s a group of people, people who have been here, dinner party sized groups, inspired,” Neft said, noting that she’s spotted past dinner guests at the farmers’ market. Caballero has enjoyed the interaction with farmers — “They’re really open with sharing their recipes, how they serve what they grow,” she said — as well as with dinner guests. “I like to be able to interact with the people who are eating the food. It’s been really helpful,” Caballero said. “Everybody has a different palate. We’ve had people who say, ‘Oh, I don’t eat lamb, ‘but they have local lamb and now their eyes are open to something new.” The 52nd and last dinner is scheduled for Dec. 28, and the cookbook should be complete in spring 2010. Neft said the book will cost $28 plans are underway for a launch party April 18, 2010 at the Blue Goose Fruit Shed in Loomis. __________ Port Poached Pears with Crème Fraiche and Lace Cookies Port Poached Pears 8 bartlett pears, peeled 1 bottle port 1 cup water 1/4 cup sugar 1 cinnamon stick 3 each cloves 1/4 cup crème fraiche In a medium pot, combine port, water, sugar, cinnamon stick, cloves and pears. Heat to a simmer and turn down to low to poach, for about 25 minutes, depending on the size of the pears. When soft, remove from heat. Cool pears in poaching liquid, up to 2 days. Remove pears from the liquid and bring it to a boil; reduce by 3/4 to sauce consistency. To serve, cut each pear in half and scoop out the core and stem. Place one half of a pear in each bowl, place a spoonful of crème fraîche in the center, and lay the other half on top. Top with some of the reduced poaching liquid and garnish with a lace cookie. Lace Cookies 3 tablespoons butter 1 cup brown sugar 4 tablespoons all purpose flour 1 egg, beaten 1 cup ground almonds 1/2 teaspoon almond extract 1 teaspoon vanilla extract Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Beat butter and sugar together. Add flour, egg, almonds and extracts and beat to combine. Place 1 teaspoon of dough on a buttered sheet tray (or use a silpat), 2 inches apart and bake for 8 minutes, until edges are golden brown and cookies are crisp. Let cool on a rack.