‘Ripe’ in Orange County―Cheryl Sternman Rule Visits Rustic Garden Bistro

It was part garden party, part book-tour stop when Orange County food blogger Kim Burnell of Rustic Garden Bistro welcomed Bay Area author Cheryl Sternman Rule to a dinner and book signing Saturday at her hilltop Santa Ana home. Rule’s “Ripe” (Running Press, $25), with essays and recipes, is an unusual, exceptionally beautiful cookbook with beginnings in the lush photography of Paulette Phlipot. When Rule and Phlipot met at a food writer’s event four years ago, they hatched a plan to work together, resulting in “Ripe”—a book showcasing fruit and vegetables not arranged familiarly by season, but by color, from deep beet-red to turnip-white, each strikingly photographed.

The emphasis on design doesn’t mean the food takes second place, however. At long tables set up in the garden under strings of white lights, a multi-course meal of “Ripe” dishes reminded guests of just how delicious vegetables can be. The book’s fresh recipes are all vegetarian, and were easily adaptable for the two vegans present. Rule and Phlipot aren’t vegetarian themselves—omnivore and pescatarian, respectively—but the book focuses on produce, in words and pictures.

Some of the meal’s ingredients came from Burnell’s garden, including edible flowers on the salad, and Meyer lemon in the welcoming cocktail. Readers of her blog know Kim and husband Barry have a flock of chickens, too, that keeps them in multicolor eggs. (I was lucky enough to snag a half-dozen to take home.) Burnell met Rule, a food writer with an impressive list of credits, at the Camp Blogaway food blogger’s retreat in 2011, and was happy to create an Orange County event for her first cookbook. Rule’s food blog, 5 Second Rule, won the prestigious International Association of Culinary Professional’s 2012 Culinary Blog award. Read more about “Ripe” on the book web site by clicking here, and peruse Phlipot’s photography portfolio here.

The salad recipe from “Ripe” that follows, which includes Greek halloumi cheese, was one of the courses of Saturday’s dinner. It’s representative of Rule’s writing and cooking; the accompanying essay is amusing (you don’t always get funny in a cookbook), and the dish itself is sophisticated and unusual, but not outré—none of which would be relevant if it wasn’t also delicious.

Cucumber Halloumi Salad with Licorice Notes

Toasted fennel seeds and abundant fresh tarragon lend a licorice-y backdrop to this unique salad, which pairs cucumbers with seared halloumi, a Cypriot cheese that can be browned or grilled without melting. You’ll find the interplay of textures, flavors, and temperatures irresistible.—Cheryl Sternman Rule

(Makes 4 servings)

2 teaspoons fennel seeds

4 slices halloumi cheese, each ½-inch thick, blotted dry

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

2 teaspoons sherry vinegar

½ medium garlic clove, smashed and minced

Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper.

1 English cucumber, unpeeled, halved lengthwise

¼ cup loosely packed chopped fresh tarragon

In dry nonstick skillet, toast fennel seeds over medium heat, shaking skillet a few times, until fragrant, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer to a small dish. Crank heat to medium high, add halloumi slices and brown on both sides, turning once, about 4 minutes total. Set aside to cool slightly.

Whisk oil, vinegar, and garlic in a medium serving bowl. Season with salt and pepper.

Run small spoon (a serrated grapefruit spoon works well) along the length of each cucumber half, scraping out seeds. Slice into ½-inch-thick half-moons. Add to vinaigrette along with the tarragon and toasted fennel seeds. Tear cheese into irregular pieces and toss on top.

Toss gently to coat. Adjust seasonings to taste, and serve immediately.

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