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Memories of a Great Party at Alta Baja

Never do today what you can postpone until tomorrow. In my case, never do this year what you can put off until next year. That ends today! I am here to tell you about a great event we had last year in Santa Ana and share a terrific recipe that you'll want to make at home.

Are they buying what I'm selling? I'm not so sure, but I love this gang. Gustavo Arellano (Los Angeles Times), Carlos Salgado (Taco Maria), yours truly, and Delilah Snell (Alta Baja)
All Photos: Cynthia Rebolledo

This was the press release for the event: On Sunday, July 8, Rancho Gordo, renowned purveyor of heirloom beans, will hold its first-ever supper in Southern California at Alta Baja Market in Santa Ana. The special event will feature three courses prepared by some of Rancho Gordo founder Steve Sando‘s favorite SoCal restauranteurs: Delilah Snell and Richard Lu (Alta Baja Market, Electric City Butcher), Evan Kleiman (Angeli Caffe, KCRW’s Good Food) and Carlos Salgado (Taco Maria). Each course will highlight different Mexican heirloom beans offered by Rancho Gordo, recently featured in the New Yorker and beloved by chefs across the world. offered by Rancho Gordo, recently featured in the New Yorker and beloved by chefs across the world.

All Photos: Cynthia Rebolledo

I'm very embarrassed to tell you that I don't remember a lot of the details except that it was a blast. Delilah, the owner of Alta Baja, is a gracious host in the real sense of the word. She cares deeply that her guests are taken care of and looked after. I would never make it in this business. She loves it. And she has a wonderful staff and the place has terrific food, including Rancho Gordo. Delilah's husband, Gustavo Arellano, is one of my favorite writers. He entertained the troops and helped out as needed, clearly in awe of Delilah's powers, like the rest of us.

All Photos: Cynthia Rebolledo

The event happened with two seatings, both selling out almost immediately. They were a benefit for Valley High in Santa Ana and their Dia de Los Muertos event that they host annually on the school grounds. Volunteers from the Valley High School Culinary Program helped to serve the dinner (one of the students is now employed at Alta Baja Market.)

Evan Kleiman (KCRW's Good Food), working the room.
All Photos: Cynthia Rebolledo

Very early in the history of Rancho Gordo, Evan Kleiman asked me to be a guest on her Good Food radio show and podcast on KCRW. I was just starting out and it felt so glamorous to be a guest on the show. I lived in Los Angeles in the mid-1980s and Evan's restaurant, Angeli Caffe, along with her books, kept me sane. Her radio show is one of the few podcasts I have on automatic download. It's like taking a break with a good friend and getting all the gossip and hard information you want about the food scene.

with Delilah, the wildly talented Richard Lu (Electric City Butcher), and Evan
All Photos: Cynthia Rebolledo

I'm sorry that I don't have the menu and I'm hoping one of the guests will post it in the comments section. I do remember being a little star-struck meeting Carlos Salgado. His Taco Maria is legendary. That didn't last long. Carlos doesn't allow that. He wanted to talk about beans and I felt a kinship with him immediately.

All Photos: Cynthia Rebolledo

I haven't mentioned the heatwave but at one point driving in from Napa, just as I finished driving down the grapevine at Valencia, it was 117F. I don't even know what the means or how my tires didn't melt. Good food and new friends can cure that.

with some of the students of the Culinary Arts Academy.
All Photos: Cynthia Rebolledo
Richard and Delilah

I think the guests would all agree that the food was great. I did ask the chefs for recipes, but I know from experience that this is similar to pushing jello up a mountain with your bare hands on a hot day. One day. Chefs love to cook. Documenting it, not so much. Luckily for us, Evan has written cookbooks and knows how much a recipe can mean. She graciously sent this recipe right after the event and it's been resting in my inbox ever since. I think it's a keeper.

Baked Royal Corona Beans

1 pound Rancho Gordo Royal Corona beans
1 onion, peeled and cut in half
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 small yellow onion, peeled and minced
1 peeled garlic clove, minced
1 28 oz Italian-Style tomatoes in juice or 3 cups of your favorite tomato sauce
2 teaspoons Rancho Gordo Mexican Oregano
2 teaspoons sugar
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Soak beans overnight in abundant water. They will double in size so be sure there is enough water to cover them after doubling.

If soaking water is dirty, drain and discard it. Place soaked beans in large pot and cover with water by 3 inches. Add 1 onion, cut in half. Bring beans to a boil. Turn heat down so that the beans simmer and let cook until tender but still holding their shape, about 2+ hours. Add salt to taste just before beans are finished cooking. Beans should be super creamy in texture.

Saute the onion in the olive oil until very soft. Add the tomatoes or tomato sauce, oregano and sugar and black pepper. Bring to a simmer and cook just until sauce begins to thicken. It should still be plenty saucy.

Drain the beans and reserve a few cups of the liquid. Toss the beans and tomato sauce together in a bowl. Place in baking dish adding some of the reserved bean liquid if necessary.

Bake in preheated 350 degree oven for 30 minutes. Serve hot, at room temperature or cold. Excellent with French Feta on the side and some good crusty bread.

We all had so much fun that we thought we might take our show on the road and do benefits for other student causes but life got in the way. Never say never.

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