Total Californian Immersion Project Dinner Party

{This guest post was written by my good friend Teal Pennebaker, who lives in San Francisco and created}

First, some background/disclaimers:

  1. I rarely cook. In fact I just got a kitchen, like, two months ago. Hey, the perils of being 27 and living in the land’o’expensive real estate.
  2. I’m not a details person.
  3. I’m also not an entertainer who notices aesthetics (or “cleanliness”). I fear my friend Danielle would be horrified if she saw the state of my tiny apartment when I have people over.
  4. I was recently given an Alice Waters cookbook and was reminded of how much I admire her cooking but find her unbelievably obnoxious in her elitist message of only eating fresh things and not – God forbid! – microwaving.

My conscience is now cleared. Let the tale of my foray into cooking and entertaining begin.

I’m new to Northern California – I’ve been in Alice Waters’ vaunted stomping grounds a mere 11 months. And as much as I hate being the cliché, I admit that I’ve really taken to the “healthy lifestyle.” Or at least the parts that involve going to farmers markets (i.e. “free sample festivals”) and shamelessly wearing yoga clothes everywhere.

But I often still feel like the new kid, so last week I decided I needed to kick my total California immersion project into high gear. Time to follow my mantra: go big or go home, kids.


I’d been warned before I moved west that San Fransiscoans love their dinner parties. And since I was now the owner of Alice Waters’ cookbook and knew my favorite free sample festival was mere days away, I saw an opportunity. I decided to cook for some friends and actually attempt to commit to this local ingredient business that has made California cuisine famous. The big event – which I termed the “Alice Waters Will Cry Dinner” – would take place on a blistery Tuesday night in San Francisco.

To be extra true to my roots – very Alice Waters – I spent the days leading up to the dinner surfing the Internets, trying to find the perfect recipe for chile rellenos, a staple of my childhood diet. In my homestate of Texas we like our chile rellenos hearty (there’s a reason two of our largest cities always end up on the “fattest places to live” lists), stuffed with beef and/or cheese, deep fried and swimming in ranchero sauce and sour cream. And, also true to my roots, the recipes online either followed the traditional Texan deep frying routine or some weird Midwestern casserole take on the dish.

Cali-healthy these recipes were not. Every other person I know here has a start up  – this would be mine! I’d create a healthy chile relleno. So on Sunday I hit the farmers market and bought a bunch of things that sounded like they’d taste good stuffed in a chile. “Garlic? Sure! Dried kale? Think I’ll pass.”

Not planning social events ahead is another staple of NorCal living. And so a day before the dinner party, I recruited (via email, natch) two of my favorite San Franciscoans, Dan and Chava, to serve as guinea pigs for my Alice Waters Will Cry dinner party. When they arrived on Tuesday, I shoved chips and salsa towards them, and demanded they start snacking and drinking wine (from Sonoma … because Napa, everyone tells me, is the overpriced stuff).

Another disclaimer—I can be a nervous entertainer. No one wants to be known as The Girl Who Poisoned Her Guests or, perhaps worse, That Bland Cook. I figured the drunker my friends, the less discerning they would be. Safety net of sorts.

As Dan and Chava discussed the virtues of working at funky local corporations, I went to task.  I stir-fried, I broiled, I baked, I simmered and I stuffed. (Alice would say that, right?) Oh yes – into the dark green poblanos went a mix of eggs, onion, garlic, tomatoes, corn (canned – sorry Alice!), cilantro, spinach, jalapeno and cheddar cheese. I topped the myriad of gorgeous colors with a ranchero sauce I’d spent the week researching. I’d finally settled on a recipe I’d dug up after extensive Bing’ing, and tweaked it a bit with canned chipotles (again, apologies). I created a last minute side of black beans and leftover stuffing (one thing I love about Danielle’s meals – all the sides – and decided last minute to emulate).


“Friends,” I declared, “dinner is ready.”

Chava had laid out a tablecloth – how much we’ve grown up since our days of eating cold pizza on dorm room floors – and Dan refilled the wine. We clinked glasses and dug in. The colors were gorgeous and the taste was pretty damn good. We plowed through the meal, exchanging stories, laughing, mocking and reloading our glasses.  When our plates had been cleared, I tossed everyone a clementine (very seasonal) and opened a box of Paul Newman’s chocolate coated toffee pretzels (I’m sure Paul and Alice would be friends – liberal! Organic lovers!). “Dessert has been served,” I said.

It was delightful.  For the first time since I moved west, I felt completely at home. It wasn’t just that I’d be able to claim some sort of Alice Waters-inspired moral superiority since I’d used so many damn local and organic ingredients. It was more that things came together perfectly—the company, the flavors, the warmed kitchen on a surprisingly frigid Bay Area night. I finally, contentedly, felt local.

Start Up Chile Relleno

  • 5 poblano chiles
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 onions
  • 5 heads of garlic
  • 1 jalapeno
  • 1 can of corn
  • 6 eggs
  • 7 roma tomatoes
  • 1 bunch cilantro
  • 5 cups spinach
  • 1 cup grated cheese (I like cheddar but many purists would demand jack)
  • 2 cups ranchero sauce or salsa

Set oven to broil. Put poblanos on foil-lined cookie sheet and cook for 10 minutes—flipping peppers over halfway to make sure each side is blistering. Remove from oven and put in brown paper bag to cool. After ten minutes, remove from bag and peel. Please note—peeling is a total pain. Not actually necessary unless you have an aversion to skinned vegetables.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Chop tomatoes. Put in bowl and add chopped cilantro and drained corn. Set aside.

On stovetop cook olive oil, chopped onion and minced garlic. When yellowed, add jalapeno (tweak depending on your spice tolerance level). Once softened, add spinach until almost wilted. Beat eggs separately and add to stir-fry, mixing constantly to avoid sticking to pan.  Remove from heat and stir in tomato/corn/cilantro mixture. Add in ¾ cup of cheese.

Slit poblanos down the side and remove stems and seeds. Put stuffing into each pepper. Coat with ranchero sauce and add remaining cheese. Bake in oven for 20 minutes.

Related Posts with Thumbnails
Email or Share This Post

2 thoughts on “Total Californian Immersion Project Dinner Party

  1. That sounds muy delicioso.

    That’s Spanish for “very delicious.”

    I love the fact that we Texans can hardly go ten minutes in the spotlight without mentioning our nationality. Of course, what would you have to work with in a place like Michigan? Top Ramen and government cheese? Northern California sounds like a great scene too. You can just make me PB&J when I swing through in the spring/summer.

  2. I’d like to try this, but first, a dumb question: how do you get the “inner white” of the sunny-side egg done wuoitht it turning out too runny or drying out the yolk? I’ve tried a cover on the skillet to steam the egg a few times, but this typically results in a dried out yolk by the time the inner yolk has turned white. I’m cooking on a low heat (the “3” or “4” setting on an electric stove – I’d prefer gas, too, but gotta work with what’s I gots). You get all types here at Food Wishes, don’t you?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *