IN­SPIRED COOK­ING

Gold Coun­try-in­flu­enced pic­nic fare

The Review - - News - By Jackie Bur­rell jbur­rell@ba­yare­anews­group. com

Sonya Keis­ter may say she was once one of the worst cooks in Amer­ica. We’re hav­ing trou­ble be­liev­ing it. Keis­ter, the voice be­hind the Gold Coun­try’s Rus­tic Fork blog, does cook­ing demon­stra­tions for Sacramento, Cal­i­for­nia’s KCRA-TV. She runs a cot­tage in­dus­try food com­pany and her self-pub­lished “The Sa­vory Gourmet Cook­book,” is go­ing into a sec­ond print­ing. Worst cook? Re­ally? “I think peo­ple can re­late,” Keis­ter said. “I re­ally did start out as one of the worst cooks in Amer­ica. My fam­ily can at­test to that. But if you have that pas­sion for bring­ing peo­ple to­gether, any­one can get to the stage I am.”

Keis­ter calls her­self a mag­a­zine- taught cook. Bit­ten by the en­ter­tain­ing bug — “I har­bored a se­cret burn­ing de­sire to host amaz­ing din­ner par­ties,” she said — Keis­ter quickly re­al­ized that her culi­nary skills didn’t ex­tend much be­yond can-opener op­er­a­tion. So she turned to the pages of Bon Ap­pétit and be­gan work­ing her way through, page by page, month by month.

Soon she’d rented a com­mer­cial kitchen in Plac­erville and was mak­ing Rus­tic Fork sauces. “I sold them at farm­ers mar­kets, a cou­ple small gro­cery stores and winer­ies,” she said. The blog fol­lowed and then the cook­book “to get some of my recipes — things peo­ple have asked for — out there in a tan­gi­ble for­mat.”

We first spot­ted the cook­book at the Chateau Davell win­ery tast­ing room in Camino, the ap­ple or­chard- cen­tric town near Plac­erville, Calif. Then we spot­ted Chateau Davell on the cover of the cook­book.

“That’s us,” wine­maker Eric Hays said, point­ing to the im­age of a long, fes­tive ta­ble set on the win­ery lawn. “And this,” he said, quickly pag­ing through, “is the car­rot-gin­ger soup we served to more than a thou­sand peo­ple re­cently.”

Keis­ter laughed when she heard about the en­counter. “Eric’s a fab­u­lous cook him­self,” she said. “He’ll call or text cook­ing ques­tions. I think they al­tered (the soup) a lit­tle bit, made it ve­gan. But I def­i­nitely rec­om­mend it with pancetta and crème fraiche.”

Noted. Keis­ter may live in Fol­som, Calif., but Camino’s Ap­ple Hill or­chards and Amador’s winer­ies are home turf, too. “If I’m ( here) with friends, I go wine tast­ing,” she said. But when she brings her kids, ages 8 and 10, the or­chards beckon. “High Hill Ranch (www.high­hill­ranch1.net) has a lake. That’s a great spot for the kids. They do hay rides in the fall and kids can go fish­ing. And Rain­bow Or­chards (rain­bowor­chards.net) for the ap­ple-cider dough­nuts.”

And if she’s wine-tast­ing with her fam­ily? “We en­joy go­ing to Boeger (www.boegerwin­ery.com). They have beau­ti­ful grounds and they al­lowyou to bring food,” Keis­ter said. “Chateau Davell (www.chateau­dav­ell.com) is so kid­friendly. They have a play set for the kids. And if we’re in the Amador area, Hel­wig (www.hel­wig­win­ery.com) is beau­ti­ful. The set­ting is gor­geous.”

So what’s in her pic­nic bas­ket? “Two of my most pop­u­lar recipes are cros­tini,” she said. “An ap­ple, brie and blue cheese pesto cros­tini and a roasted tomato and goat cheese BLT you can prep ahead and as­sem­ble on­site. And that soup is a great makea­head. It’s good cold, too, and it’s re­ally healthy be­cause it has so many veg­eta­bles. The crème fraiche and pancetta are nice, but if you’re pic­nick­ing, you don’t have to —” she in­ter­rupted her­self mid­sen­tence and re­verses di­rec­tion, with a laugh. “Cook the pancetta or ba­con ahead, crum­ble it up and bring it.”

And fin­ish that pic­nic on a sweet note, she said with Salted Peanut Brit­tle Peanut But­ter Cook­ies. You’ll find that recipe and more at www.therus­tic­fork.com.

PHOTOS COUR­TESY OF SONYA KEIS­TER

Roasted Tomato and Goat Cheese BLTs make fab­u­lous party hors d’oeu­vres. They’re also won­der­ful for wine coun­try pic­nics. Prep the com­po­nents ahead of time and as­sem­ble the BLTs at your pic­nic site, says Rus­tic Fork food blog­ger Sonya Keis­ter.

This Car­rot Gin­ger Soup cre­ated by Rus­tic Fork food blog­ger Sonya Keis­ter is de­li­cious served hot or cold, and makes great pic­nic fare packed into a ther­mos.

Pack­ing a pic­nic for the wine coun­try? Ap­ple Brie Cros­tini are served with a driz­zle of blue cheese pesto in this recipe by Rus­tic Fork food blog­ger Sonya Keis­ter.

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