Sonoma County cooks featured in 'America the Great Cookbook'

American cuisine has been enjoying its moment in the sun recently as our relatively young country reaps the benefits of the revolution that started more than 45 years ago in the Bay Area when “eat local” maven Alice Waters opened Chez Panisse.

Last year, New York chef Mario Batali published a “Big American Cookbook” as a tribute to his favorite regional dishes, from San Diego Fish Tacos to Boston Cream Pie.

This year, Washington Post Food and Dining Editor Joe Yonan has upped the ante, collecting recipes from 100 food personalities across the country for “America the Great Cookbook: The Food We Make for the People We Love from 100 of Our Finest Chefs and Food Heroes.” (Welden Owen, $40)

This cookbook, ideal for the foodie on your gift list, paints a broad picture of the country’s palate, providing profiles and photos of prominent chefs like José Andrés of minibar in Washington, D.C., and Nancy Silverton of Osteria Mozza in L.A. as well as food writers such as Francis Lam of New York and Nik Sharma of San Francisco.

The do-good cookbook, which raises funds for the Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign, wraps its arms around the melting pot of the country and strives to answer the question, “What is American food?” The answer is often a bit of a paradox.

“American food is native food, and it is immigrant food,” the author states in the introduction. “It is food cooked in a spirit of openness, experimentation and reinvention, but often with a deep attachment to tradition.”

The recipes he presents - from a Santa Fe bean stew to a sweet potato taco from an L.A. food truck, from a hamburger grilled at a Midwest drive-in to a snickerdoodle dusted with matcha in Chicago - are both familiar in their simplicity and fresh in their inspiration. Just like the people who inhabit every nook and cranny of the country.

Among the leading food heroes chosen byYonan for profiles are several Wine Country pioneers at the forefront of their craft, including founder Jennifer Bice of Redwood Hill Farm & Creamery in Sebastopol and Amelia Ceja, president of Ceja Vineyards in the Carneros region of Napa and Sonoma.

The book includes a photo of Ceja with her daughter Dahlia at their Sonoma vineyard, along with recipes for her traditional Chilaquiles dish with eggs and avocado and her Creamy Coconut Old-Fashioned Oats with fresh berries, dates and nuts.

“The beauty of American cuisine is that it is a fusion of foods from all over the world,” Ceja said in a phone interview. “I love this book because it is a glimpse of how we eat in this country at this moment.”

Ceja learned to cook while growing up in Las Flores, an idyllic village in the highlands of Jalisco where her grandparents had a farm.

“My grandfather grew legumes and corn and squash, and my grandmother had an amazing organic garden in our back yard, and they raised chickens, hogs, cows, sheep, goats, turkeys,” she said. “Basically we didn’t have to buy anything.”

When she arrived in the U.S. in 1967 to join her father working in Napa Valley, Amelia missed her family back home but missed the food of her childhood even more. After all, this was the late 1960s, when American cuisine was embracing the convenience of processed food.

Yohan, who is a long-time fan of the Ceja family’s wine, approached Amelia about being in the cookbook because he had once tasted her chilaquiles and was hooked.

“My recipe is pretty fantastic,” she said. “It’s a dish that evolved from leftovers from the day before, like the tortillas, salsas, vegetables and protein … it’s not just for breakfast. I love it all day, every day.”

When the cookbook team told her they wanted to photograph her at sunrise, Ceja decided to also make everyone a hearty bowl of organic, old-fashioned oatmeal with coconut.

“I wanted them to have something warm and hearty, because it was winter and really, really cold,” she said. “The team liked it so much, they said ‘This has to be in the book.’”? In addition to Ceja, the book profiles 99 other fanatical chefs including fellow immigrants such as Charles Phan of The Slanted Door in San Francisco and Lebanese food blogger Amanda Saab of New Boston, Michigan.

“The beauty of American cuisine is that it is a fusion from foods from all over the world,” Ceja said. “Especially now, we need to showcase (that) our country’s strength is due to its diversity,”

This has been a banner year for Amelia Ceja, who was also included in a new cookbook, “Napa Valley Entertaining,” by Blakesley Chappelet.

“It’s a cookbook of Napa Valley vintners, farmers and restaurateurs, and we are profiled in it,” she said. “Eventually I'm going to publish my own recipe book inspired by my village … that is on my to-do list for 2018.”

The following recipes are excerpted from “America the Great Cookbook” by Joe Yonan (Weldon Owen, 2017). The chilaquiles and the oatmeal recipes are from Amelia Ceja.


Makes 4 servings

For salsa:

4 cups water

8 Roma tomatoes, coarsely chopped

2 jalapeño chiles, coarsely chopped

2 dried guajillo chiles, seeded and deveined

4 cloves garlic

3 whole cloves

- Pinch of dried oregano

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 sweet onion, diced

½ cup chopped fresh ?cilantro

- Salt and freshly cracked pepper

For chilaquiles:

20 orn tortillas, cut into small triangles

½ cup plus 3 tablespoons canola oil

1 small yellow onion, diced

- Salt and freshly cracked pepper

6 large eggs, lightly beaten

- Prepared salsa

To serve:

½ cup crumbled queso fresco

1 avocado, pitted, peeled, and quartered

- Handful of fresh cilantro leaves

4 tablespoons crème ?fraiche

For the salsa: In a pot, bring 2 cups of the water to a boil over a medium heat. Add the tomatoes and jalapeño chiles and simmer until cooked through, about 10 minutes. Set aside. In a small pot, bring the remaining 2 cups of water to a boil over medium heat and cook the guajillo chiles until softened, about 8 minutes.

Place the cooked guajillo chiles and their cooking liquid, the garlic, cloves, and oregano in a blender or food processor and process until smooth, ?1–2 minutes. Add the cooked tomatoes and jalapeño chiles with their cooking liquid and process for 10–15 seconds; the mixture should be a little chunky.

Heat the olive oil in a stockpot over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until translucent, about 6 minutes. Add the tomato mixture, bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook for 15 minutes. If too thick, add a little more water and simmer for 5 more minutes. Add the cilantro and stir in. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

For the chilaquiles: Line a large plate with paper towels. Cut the tortillas into bite-sized triangles. Heat ½ cup of the canola oil in a small frying pan. Fry the tortilla triangles, a few at a time, until golden on both sides, 1–2 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and place on the lined plate to drain.

In a large sauté pan, heat the remaining ?3 tablespoons canola oil over medium heat. Add the onion and a pinch each of salt and pepper and cook until the ?onion is translucent, 5–?7 minutes. Add the fried tortilla triangles and mix with the cooked onions. Add the eggs and cook over low heat until set. Add the salsa and continue cooking until the salsa is simmering, about ?5 minutes more.

To serve, divide between shallow bowls and garnish with the queso fresco, avocado, and cilantro. Drizzle a tablespoon of crème fraîche over each plate and serve immediately.

Note: This recipe can be prepared vegan by omitting the eggs, queso fresco, and crème fraîche - it’s just as delicious! Both versions pair well with Ceja Carneros Pinot Noir.

“This dish can be enjoyed hot for breakfast, or cold as a dessert paired with our Ceja Vineyards Dulce Beso late-harvest wine,” Ceja writes. “It can be prepared vegan by substituting almond milk for the milk and will be just as rich and delicious.”

Creamy Coconut Old-Fashioned Oats

Makes 8 servings

3 cups water

2 cups old-fashioned ?rolled oats

1 cup unsweetened ?shredded dried coconut?1 cinnamon stick

½ vanilla bean

4 cups whole milk

2 cups coconut milk

¼ cup turbinado sugar (more if desired)

For garnish:

1 cup fresh berries

½ cup chopped pecans

½ chopped dates

4 bananas, sliced (optional)

In a heavy 3-quart saucepan, bring the water to a boil and add the oats, coconut, cinnamon and vanilla bean. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, stirring frequently, until all the water has been absorbed, 5-10 minutes.

Add the milk, coconut milk, and sugar and stir. Bring back to a gentle simmer and cook, stirring continually, until the ?mixture is cream, ?15-20 minutes. Divide among serving bowlsa nd top with the berries, pecans, dates and banana (if using).

The following recipe is from Amanda Haas, cookbook author and Culinary Director of Williams Sonoma.

S’more Bars

Makes 8 or 16 bars

For Graham Cracker Crust:

1 ½ cups (finely chopped graham crackers (regular or gluten-free)

¾ cup all-purpose or gluten-free flour (such as Cup4Cup)

½ cup firmly packed golden brown sugar

¼ cup unsalted butter, chilled and cut into ½-inch pieces

1 large egg, lightly beaten

For S’more Topping:

2/3 cup heavy cream

¾ pound semisweet or dark chocolate chips

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

2 cups miniature marshmallows

- Sea salt for topping ?(optional)

Preheat the oven to ?350 degrees. Line an 8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper, allowing an overhang of about ?1 inch.

For the Graham Cracker Crust: Combine the graham cracker crumbs, flour, and brown sugar in a bowl. Scatter the butter over the top and cut in with a fork or pastry blender until the mixture resembles fine meal. Add the egg and stir just until the mixture comes together.

Transfer the mixture to the prepared pan and press into the bottom to form a crust. (This is a sticky endeavor. I’ve found using a rubber spatula helps spread the mixture more evenly.)

Bake until the top of the crust is just firm to the touch, 17–20 minutes. Let cool completely in the pan on a wire rack.

For the S’more Topping, place the cream in a heavy-bottomed saucepan and bring to a simmer. Remove from the heat. Add the chocolate chips and whisk until melted and smooth. Whisk in the vanilla, then mix in the marshmallows. Spread the chocolate mixture evenly over the cooled crust. Sprinkle with the sea salt (if using). Cover and refrigerate until firm, at least 2 hours.

To serve, using the parchment paper, lift the square from the pan. Peel back the parchment from the sides. Cut the square into 8 large bars of 4 by 2 inches, or 16 bite-sized bars of 2 by 2 inches.

Staff writer Diane Peterson can be reached at 707-521-5287 or On Twitter @dianepete56.

Diane Peterson

Features, The Press Democrat

I’m interested in the home kitchen, from sheet-pan suppers to the latest food trends. Food encompasses the world, its many cultures, languages and history. It is both essential and sensual. I also have my fingers on the pulse of classical music in Sonoma County, from student mariachi bands to jazz crossover and symphonic sounds. It’s all a rich gumbo, redolent of the many cultures that make up our country and the world.

UPDATED: Please read and follow our commenting policy:

  • This is a family newspaper, please use a kind and respectful tone.
  • No profanity, hate speech or personal attacks. No off-topic remarks.
  • No disinformation about current events.
  • We will remove any comments — or commenters — that do not follow this commenting policy.
Send a letter to the editor

Our Network

The Press Democrat
Sonoma Index-Tribune
Petaluma Argus Courier
North Bay Business Journal
Sonoma Magazine
Bite Club Eats
La Prensa Sonoma
Sonoma County Gazette