“Placer County Real Food” dinner and book signing


How about a slow-roasted pork roast with peppers, pink-eyed peas with Italian sausage and tomatoes, and then some roasted figs, peaches and raspberries with creme fraiche for dessert? Still not hungry?

Grange Restaurant & Bar will host a dinner/book signing Aug. 18 with Joanne Neft and chef Laura Kenny, authors of "Placer County Real Food: Recipes and Menus for Every Week of the Year," where they will serve the above dishes and others, all prepared with ingredients from Placer County’s farmers’ markets.

Neft and Kenny spent 2009 hosting dinner parties every Monday evening where they treated guests to dishes prepared with local, seasonal ingredients.

Neft has been involved in Placer County’s local food scene for 20 years. She opened the first Foothill Farmers’ Market, and helped start the Mountain Mandarin Festival in 1994 – attended by 40,000 people in 2008. This cookbook was a natural next step for her, according to her and Kenny’s website.

Kenny was trained at the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco. She worked there and in San Diego in restaurants, as a caterer and as a personal chef. She moved back to Placer County in 2006 where she worked at Lincoln Produce Market for a year and a half before becoming chef of Persimmon Cafe, where she and Neft worked together.

The economic troubles of 2008 forced the cafe to close, and late that year Neft and Kenny were wondering what their next move would be.

Kenny said a friend of Neft’s recommended the idea of doing a cookbook of recipes made from local, seasonal ingredients in December, 2008. On Saturday morning, Jan. 3, they met at a farmers’ market to buy ingredients for their first dinner party.

The dinner parties started with four guests. By February they decided to up that number to eight. Word of the dinners spread by mouth and e-mail, and they had the entire year booked by March.

"My own grandmother didn’t get in until the second week of December," Kenny said

There was no charge to attend the dinners, but Neft and Kenny did ask for $20 donations to help finance the project. They were social affairs, with Neft and Kenny soliciting the opinions and recommendations of their guests afterward.

Kenny said that because they were focusing on what was in season and local, they kept their recipes from eight to 10 ingredients, with a few exceptions.

"We wanted to make it so that the readers can cook at home and have everything ready in the pantry," she said

Two of Kenny’s favorite recipes from the book are a lamb neck sliced stew – something she calls "The Best Stew Ever" – and a vanilla bean ice cream. She said that because of the variety of food available in the region, they were able to write enough recipes to last one year.

Although the book focuses on Placer County, she said Sacramento and other areas would have no problems replicating the process.

"It’s an idea that can easily be adapted to any county," she said. "Sacramento County is so blessed with agriculture."

Kenny said the response from the public has been positive.

"(It was) mid-August (2009), and we didn’t know if anyone wanted the book," she said.

But at $28, the book has sold 9,000 copies and is in its second printing. You can purchase the book online and at a number of retail locations. It will also be available at Grange Wednesday night.

For the book signing, Neft and Kenny will be preparing the food with Grange chef Michael Tuohy. Kenny has never worked with Tuohy before, but she said she is excited for the opportunity.

You can view some recipes and photos from the book here.

The dinner/book signing will start at 5:30 p.m. Tickets are $45. For reservations, call 916-492-4450.

Photos courtesy of Placer County Real Food.

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