Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Empanadas, San Francisco, and the Scoop on Rancho Gordo Beans

I love it when I go away from home and find exactly what I need without even looking. That's what happened last weekend when I met my daughter Jennifer who lives in Phoenix and my neice Roxanne who lives in San Francisco. We met in San Francisco for a girl's weekend getaway. Mostly I wanted to disconnect for a few days, relax, and discover something new, and I really wanted to catch up with both of them.

Jennifer and I visited a pet store to get treats for dogs we both left behind. It was this cute little place on Castro street where I bought a small bag of gourmet dog biscuits and a stunning schoolboy outfit for my assistant.

Not far from the store we met Roxanne and we stopped for lunch at this charming little place called Urban Bread. As soon as I spotted the veggie empanadas, I knew I had to have one. I've been trying to create empanadas for a veganized Argentina recipe article for Vegetarian Journal and I hadn't been having great success with the dough. I know veggie anything from Argentina sounds odd, but trust me, there are food options beyond the ubiquitious asado in Argentina.

The empanada was perfect. The outside of the pastry had a shine to it and tasted like an egg white had been lightly painted over it, and the flaky crust crunched ever so slightly in my mouth tasting very rich like puff pastry. The delicate flavor was so good, it had to be loaded with butter. It will be a challenge to make a vegan version, especially if it requires lower fat ratios, but this tasty near perfect empanada gave me a goal to shoot for with my own recipe.

Autumn in San Francisco
I must say we walked, and walked, and walked some more and the weather in San Francisco felt like home with the grey days and all the drizzling rain. It was a little warmer than Seattle and not as windy. The cold here seems to trigger bright fall colors in leaves that fall from trees. If I lived in San Francisco I'd definitely miss all the gold, orange, and red tones we get in the Northwest. Nothing but brown and grey in San Francisco.
I insisted we all visit the Ferry Plaza farmers' market again. (The three of us also got together last year and my request was the same. Who cares about plays or movies? I want to see the markets!) Roxanne says the smaller markets have better prices and more character, but I like touristy things and I wanted to visit Book Passage Bookstore, check out the fresh figs and get more almond butter from Massa Organics.

As we walked, horns blared, trolley cars rattled and there were lone people ranting about politics or chanting about God and the world on various corners. Sidewalks were packed and as we drew closer to the market, street musicians played every kind of instrument.
Rancho Gordo Beans
I was surprised that one of the first vendors outside the market was Rancho Gordo Beans. I knew about these beans from the Veggie Queen. Check out her video on how to cook beans in under 10 minutes. I also read about Rancho Gordo beans on 101 Cookbooks and I became very intrigued.

It used to be easier to buy heirloom beans in Seattle. In the 1990s, PCC Natural Markets stocked many varieties, but through the years the numbers dwindled and now it's hard to find heirloom beans in any natural food store here. (Okay, maybe Delaurenti's near Pike Place Market still has some, but those are definitely not anything locally grown.)
I must have paused at the table starring at the Heirloom Beans book a little too long before moving on to the beans, but about a week ago when I had lunch with my editors at Timber Press, they mentioned a Rancho Gordo book in the works. I remembered the conversation as I flipped through the book, perusing the recipes. I was puzzled: Why Rancho Gordo would have two books?

"Can I help you?" A woman's voice asked.

Startled, I looked up and blurted: "Are you doing another book with Timber Press?"

"Oh that," she replied in a matter-of-fact tone. "It will be really different than this one," she said. "I think the editors changed the focus of the book in the middle of the project, as I recall," she added.

Still, I'm intrigued. If not a recipe book what will it be?

Now there are two books I definitely want to get next spring from Timber Press--one on corn from Anthony Boutard and this Rancho Gordo bean book. This small Northwest gardening press is definitely branching out into the food world in a compelling way.

As I gathered bags of beans, I tried to restrain myself. Lugging heavy bags around San Francisco is not my idea of a fun time, but on the other hand, I could easily have taken one of every variety. That's how excited I was about finding Rancho Gordo beans. I found flageolets for my friend Patty who has had no luck finding these beans in Seattle; I got tepary beans, an heirloom variety from the Southwest that I haven't tasted for years, and best of all I found prepared hominy (dried corn)--another common ingredient in recipes from Argentina.

Sometimes you just get lucky and find exactly what you need.
My Cooking Assistant gets props not only for wearing goofy clothes but for really getting into the act and looking as intrigued as I am by Rancho Gordo beans.


kudzu said...

Steve Sando (Rancho Gordo) provides excellent online ordering and the boxes are always packed beautifully and arrive safely. Go to the R.G. web site for the "catalog". (It's much easier that toting beans around a hilly city!)

Patricia said...

You will LOVE your beans. I found them at the Ferry Bldg. Farmer's Market a couple of years ago and have been a frequent online customer. Just last month we spent a week in Napa, Ca and on the list of places to visit, mixed in with various wineries was the Rancho Gordo Retail Store in Napa. We even were lucky enough to see Steve Sando there and talk about his "bean journey!"

Debra Daniels-Zeller said...

Thanks for the Website update, I'll be sure to order there soon!