Napa Food Writer Celebrates Local

As a devotee of seasonal and local food, award-winning food writer Janet Fletcher opened her recent evening at Fresh Starts Chef Events with a plate that made a statement about

Plate of Flatbread with Whipped Feta & Spring Herbs

Flatbread with Whipped Feta & Herbs

spring in Napa Valley.

Her Flatbread with Whipped Feta, Radishes, & Spring Herbs set the tone along with finger-style blues guitar from Henry May and pitchers of iced tea from The Republic of Tea, premier sponsor of the events.

“There is no better place to be a food writer than here in the Bay Area,” she says, speaking from knowledge acquired at the Culinary Institute of America and as a one-time cook in the Chez Panisse kitchen. Her work has won three James Beard Foundation awards.

Janet Fletcher presents at Fresh Starts Chef Events - photo by Neely Wang

Janet Fletcher begins the escarole salad.

Her menu featured recipes from three of her cookbooks: “Eating Local,” “Fresh from the Farmers’ Market,” and “Yogurt: Sweet and Savory Recipes.” Janet has an extensive home garden in Napa, which inspires many of her dishes.

The recipe for Escarole Salad with Avocado & Blood Oranges serves as “a template” she says, inviting guests to substitute frisee, radicchio or spinach as well as papayas or mangoes depending on the season. To toss everything with her vinaigrette, which includes fish sauce as a secret ingredient, she likes “my best implements, my hands, to tell whether it is properly dressed.”

She offered a primer on yogurt, an ingredient she recommends making at home. For purchased yogurt, she says, try straining plain yogurt instead of paying extra for Greek yogurt and use leftover whey for marinades and soups. She uses Plyban to strain it – it’s available online and can be cleaned for re-use, unlike cheesecloth.

Harissa-Roasted Chicken Thigh

Flatbread with Whipped Feta & Herbs

Her main course of Harissa-Roasted Chicken with Chickpeas, Red Onions & Carrots uses bone-in chicken thighs, which are flavorful and hard to overcook. Though the original recipe calls for bell peppers and onions, she used carrots and chickpeas, adding that potatoes would be good, too. She cautions that beginners should start with a small amount of harissa and add carefully – it can get hot.

The dessert of Yogurt Mousse with Orange Marmalade & Toasted Almonds should be made ahead of time, thus a good dish for a dinner party. She suggests the recipe template in this case could substitute lemon peel in

Janet Fletcher talks about marmalade.

Janet Fletcher talks about marmalade.

place of vanilla, fresh berries instead of marmalade, pistachios instead of almonds. She works without electric beaters because, she says, when she’s “in the zone, I love doing things by hand.”

Before dessert, guests helped celebrate six Fresh Starts Culinary Academy graduates who received their certificates and accolades from their instructors. The kitchen crew for the evening included students and graduates from this nonprofit training program who prepared the recipes enjoyed by guests.

With warm weather on the rise, we’re betting everyone will enjoy trying the dessert recipe – “a luscious cheesecake without the crust.” –– Contributed by Carol Inkellis with photos courtesy of Neely Wang.

Yogurt Mousse with Orange Marmalade & Toasted Almonds — Serves 6


3 cups plain Straus whole-milk yogurt
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise and seeds scraped
1 teaspoon powdered unflavored gelatin
1/4 cup sliced almonds
Orange marmalade (see note)


1.    Line a large sieve with a triple thickness of dampened cheesecloth. Set the sieve over a bowl to collect the whey. Gently pour the yogurt into the lined sieve. Cover with a plate or cloth—you’re just protecting the yogurt, not pressing it—and refrigerate. Drain the yogurt until has reduced to 2 cups, about 1 hour.

2.    Scrape the yogurt into a large bowl. If you over-drained it and have less than 2 cups, just whisk in enough of the drained whey to make 2 cups yogurt.

3.    In a small saucepan, stir together 1/4 cup cream, sugar, salt, and the vanilla bean seeds and pod. Sprinkle the gelatin over the mixture and let stand 1 minute to soften.

4.    Bring to a simmer over medium heat, whisking constantly to dissolve the sugar and gelatin. Simmer for 2 minutes, whisking. Strain through a sieve directly into the yogurt. Stir to blend. Cover the bowl and refrigerate for about 30 minutes.

5.    In another bowl, whip the remaining 3/4 cup cream to soft peaks. Gently fold the whipped cream into the yogurt mixture. Divide among 6 glasses. Cover each glass with plastic film and refrigerate until set, at least 2 hours. You can make the mousse up to 8 hours ahead.

6.    Preheat an oven to 325°F. Toast the almonds on a baking sheet or in a pie tin, stirring once or twice so they cook evenly, until golden brown, about 5 minutes. Let cool.

7.    To serve, put a scant 1 tablespoon marmalade on top of each mousse. Top each portion with 2 teaspoons almonds. Serve immediately.

Note: You may substitute another kind of fruit preserves for the marmalade, but I like the bitter edge that marmalade contributes. Bill Corbett, formerly executive pastry chef for the Absinthe Group in San Francisco, shared his original recipe and suggests toppings like granola, fresh berries, fresh orange segments, or cookie crumbs. I prefer my own homemade marmalade, which has no added pectin. Many commercial marmalades have pectin added and may be stiff. To soften, warm in a saucepan with a few drops of water, stirring until it liquefies. Then try a few pulses in a food processor to chop up the thick pieces of orange rind.




About Fresh Starts Chef Events

Fresh Starts Chef Events offers a parade of presentations by celebrity chefs, cookbook authors and artisan producers in The Key Room. Visit the online calendar at for upcoming events. Our list of presenters includes luminaries from the worlds of food, wine and restaurants who share stories, demonstrate techniques and offer tips on making the most of our local bounty. You can register online for upcoming classes or call us for more details at 415-382-3363 x243. Proceeds from our events support shelter and job-training programs at Homeward Bound of Marin; learn more at and
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