Buying Whole Fish plus a Hack for No-Hassle Freezing

If you've been seeing ads from your grocery store or fishmonger offering whole fish for a fraction of the regular retail price but you're not sure how you'd use it, I'm reposting this handy guide.

There is nothing better, or better for you, than fresh-caught, wild, local fish. Fish are packed with Omega-3 fatty acids, high in protein and low in saturated fat, and the American Heart Association advises eating fish twice a week. Trouble is, the usual price per pound for fresh fillets in the butcher case puts it out of reach for most budgets. Plus many commercially available ocean species can be high in mercury, and farm-raised fish are usually fed high doses of antibiotics—think of them as factory farms for finned creatures—due to the crowded pens they're raised in. And don't get me started on the effects of these farms on our waterways.

Very few dinners impress guests as much as a whole grilled fillet.

But those of us on the West Coast are fortunate to have access to some of the most delicious wild fish on the planet in our populations of native wild albacore and salmon. This year the fleet of primarily family-owned boats have been pulling in a supply of albacore from the fishery that stretches from Northern California up into British Columbia. Certified as sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council, these albacore are young—just three to five years old, low in mercury and weighing in at 12 to 25 pounds—and individually caught with a hook-and-line system. (Want more info? Read my post, Albacore A to Z, for details.)

Wild salmon, particularly from Alaskan waters, are in plentiful supply right now, too, with stores advertising tempting steaks, fillets and roasts. But if you want to get a real deal, look for special sales events featuring whole fish.

"Whole fish?" you say. "I don't even know where to start with a whole fish!"

Buy from reputable fishmongers who buy from local fishing boats.

Well, let's talk about where you buy it. Make sure the fishmonger is reputable—recent studies have found that almost 20% of fish sold to consumers are mislabeled, and fish ordered at restaurants are more likely to be incorrectly labeled than fish bought at markets or grocery stores. I recently bought two whole albacore and two whole Coho salmon at New Seasons Market, a regional chain that buys its whole fish from local boats and has several one or two-day sales events per season. Find more places to buy local seafood with the Oregon Seafood Locator Map and Listings.

When you buy whole fish, you'll need to specify how you want it packaged. The fish are already cleaned, and most stores will butcher your fish at no charge, whether you want steaks or roasts or whole fillets. I always ask for the trimmings to be included, since the head, fins and bones make amazing stock for soups, chowders, risottos and paella, among many other uses. (Here's my technique for using those trimmings.)

Make sure the carcass is included—roast it, pick the meat and use the remainder for stock.

And don't believe those online charts meant for chefs that say the yield from a whole albacore, gutted and without the head, is 50 percent of the weight. From the 17-pound fish (head off) that I bought from the store, my yield was more than 80 percent after removing the loins, roasting the carcass (350° for 30 min.), picking off the meat (nearly 2 lbs.) and then making stock from the bones (2 1/2 qts.). The total weight of bones, fins and detritus that went into the compost bin was only two or three pounds. (Kind of tells you about the food waste that happens in restaurants, though, doesn't it?)

If you're not going to throw the fish on the grill right away—always a good idea, and just one good-sized fillet will feed four to six—you'll need to think about how you want to store it. With a vacuum sealer it's a done deal, since properly packaged fish will keep for as long as a year. The idea is to keep air away from the meat to prevent freezer burn, so if you don't have a vacuum sealer, what do you do?

Albacore loins come four per fish and are a cinch to seal and freeze.

I quizzed the fellow at the fish counter when I bought my salmon, and he said that his dad, an avid fisherman, would put a single fillet in a zip-lock bag and submerge it in a sink full of water, holding the closure just above the water line. The water pressure pushes the air out, making an airtight seal around the fish. Not having a sealing machine myself, a little smoothing of the wrinkles in the bag while it was submerged did almost as good a job as the machine. (I found that a two-gallon zip-lock bag will hold a good-sized fillet quite nicely.)

A note: it's good to go over your fish ahead of freezing to check for pinbones or other bones that the butchers may have missed. First, it makes it easier to just throw it on the grill without worrying about biting down on a bone while you're eating and, second, it keeps those pokey bones from puncturing the bag and letting air in. Just hold the fillet and feel for any bones by running your fingers down the flesh, then use a pair of (clean) needle nose pliers to pull out the bones.

All this is to say that you can have more fresh, local, sustainable fish in your diet without paying dearly for the privilege.


Check out this recipe for to-die-for nicoise salad or this one for gochujang-roasted albacore. These salmon cakes will have your family swooning, or try this easy roasted salmon piccata. And you can't go wrong with a classic miso-glazed grilled salmon fillet.

Fresh Inspiration: Gochujang Roasted Albacore and Fried Rice

I don't know about you, but this is the way it goes at our house: I'm browsing through recipes online or reading an article about our local fisheries—it is, after all, part of my job—and I think, "Gosh darn it, we need to have more fish in our diet."

Then I close the window or finish the article and forget about it.

But this summer we've invested in a CSA subscription from Stoneboat Farm, which means I will be picking up our share every Saturday morning for 23 weeks at its booth at the Hollywood Farmers Market. And that just happens to be across the aisle from the beautiful display at Linda Brand Crab which, in addition to the eponymous crab in its name, usually has a plethora of other local, fresh-out-of-the-water fish and shellfish on offer.

Quick and easy roasted fish presents multiple delicious possibilities!

After I picked up our share this past weekend, I glanced across the aisle and noticed some beautiful rosy albacore tuna loins for a very reasonable price. So I picked up a small-ish, three-quarter pound piece and stashed it in the shopping bag with my vegetables, figuring I'd come up with something for dinner that night.

As usual the afternoon got involved, this time with a trip to the garden store for compost, digging it in to amend the dead soil in our raised beds, planting the tomatoes, peppers and ground cherries from Alice at Log House Plants, and suddenly the clock somehow said it was time to make dinner.

Oops. The albacore!

A quick scan of the veg bin—this is where a CSA really comes in handy—made the decision a snap, and with my homemade gochujang and other staples at the ready, I came up with a simple and, it turned out, incredibly delicious solution. Not just a terrific way to supplement a vegetable stir fry, this roasted fish would be great to use with any firm-fleshed fish as a main course with rice and salad, or sliced into cubes it would make a terrific appetizer right out of the oven (or off the grill) this summer.

Plus it makes it easy to fulfill that pledge to include more fish on our table!

Gochujang Roasted Albacore with Vegetable Fried Rice

For the marinade:
3/4 lb. albacore loin, sliced in 1" thick sections
3 garlic cloves, finely minced or pressed in a garlic press
2 Tbsp. gochujang
1 Tbsp. miso (I'm addicted to locally made Jorinji miso)
1 1/2 tsp. brown sugar
1 Tbsp. water to thin

For the fried rice:
4 c. leftover cooked rice*
4 c. vegetables, chopped in bite-sized pieces (I used cabbage, carrots and zucchini)
2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1 onion, chopped in 1/4-inch dice
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 Tbsp. ginger, peeled and grated
2 Tbsp. gochujang
2 Tbsp. miso
1 Tbsp. fish sauce
1Tbsp. toasted sesame oil
1 bunch green onions, sliced into 1" lengths
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes (optional)
1 Tbsp. toasted sesame seeds (optional)

Preheat oven to 400°.

Place a sheet of parchment paper in a roasting pan.

Chop vegetables for stir fry.

In a small mixing bowl, stir together the marinade ingredients. Thickly coat each piece of fish in the marinade mixture and place them on the parchment paper in the roasting pan. Reserve any remaining marinade for the fried rice. 

Place roasting pan in oven, roasting for 10 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside while you cook the fried rice.

In a deep sauté pan, heat the oil over medium-high heat until it shimmers. Add the chopped onions and sauté until it starts to become translucent. Add the ginger and garlic to the onions and sauté briefly, then add the gochujang, miso and any remaining gochujang marinade and cook for 1 minute, stirring to keep it from sticking.

Add vegetables starting with the ones that take the longest to cook (like carrots, then zucchini and cabbage) and sauté until crisp-tender. Add pepper flakes, fish sauce, sesame oil and green onions and heat briefly, then add cooked rice.* Cook for at least 5-10 minutes to heat the rice, then season to taste with more fish sauce, miso or sesame oil if it seems bland.

Cut the roasted fish into 1" pieces and place on top of the fried rice. Serve, sprinkling with toasted sesame seeds if desired.

* It's not necessary to have cooked rice on hand—I've made rice just beforehand with no problem. If you need to cook rice, bring 4 c. water to a boil and then add 2 cups long grain or jasmine rice. When it returns to a boil, turn down the heat to low and cook until all the liquid has been absorbed, about 20 minutes. You can cool the rice at this point, or use it hot.

Spring Salad: Barley, Asparagus and Mint Tabbouli

Points have been deducted from my lifetime hosting score because of my penchant for trying out new recipes on guests. Fortunately very few of them have been complete disasters, and with enough wine and a smashing dessert—the old saying about ending on a high note is worth hewing to—how could anyone complain?

The other night was a prime example. Dave had marinated a whole bone-in pork leg in a pernil-style rub, then smoked it for six hours, rendering it lusciously juicy and with an enviable red smoke ring just inside the crust. I'd gone to the farmers' market for spring lettuces for a salad dressed with my new favorite vinaigrette, and picked up asparagus because, well, duh, it's asparagus season and who can resist?

Arabian barley in the field.

Our guests for that evening were on a low-carb, low-salt regime so a "starch"—I've written before about the "meat, starch, vegetable" rubric that's imbedded in my middle-class, WASP-ish DNA—needed to be something other than the usual risotto or pasta or potatoes.

Fortunately I remembered there was a pound of barley I'd stashed in the freezer, so a grain salad seemed like a healthy solution. Parsley and mint were threatening to take over the garden, and darn it if that asparagus might come in handy, too.

Oh, and did I mention that Dave had made a raspberry sorbet for dessert? High note hit!

Barley, Asparagus and Mint Tabbouli

For the vinaigrette:
1/2 c. olive oil
6 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
1 clove garlic, crushed
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
Salt and pepper to taste

For the salad:
2-3 c. cooked barley, either hulled or whole grain
1 c. coarsely chopped fresh mint leaves
1 c. coarsely chopped fresh Italian parsley
1/2 c. finely sliced spring onions, red onion, or sweet onion
1/2 to 1 lb. asparagus, cut into 1" long pieces and lightly steamed
Salt to taste

If using unhulled barley, soak overnight prior to cooking.

Put 8 oz. uncooked barley in the bottom of a large saucepan and cover with 2-3" of water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to simmer and cook, adding water if it gets too dry, until the barley is cooked through but still has a nice resistance when you bite into it…don't let it get mushy. (Unhulled barley will take longer than hulled barley.) Drain and rinse in cold water to cool. Transfer 2 to 3 cups, depending on how much grain you like in your tabbouli—I like less grain, more herbs—to a large mixing bowl, add remaining ingredients and enough dressing to moisten. Combine and, if time allows, let it sit for an hour or so for flavors to meld. Serve at room temperature.

While the barley cooks, make the vinaigrette. Take any tightly lidded pint container—I often use a jam jar—put all the ingredients into it, screw on the lid and shake like the dickens over the sink in case, as once happened, the lid didn't seal as tight as I thought and I ended up dressing the kitchen instead of the salad. It can be made ahead and stores well for several days in the fridge.


Check out these six salad recipes that will keep you inspired all summer long!

Asparagus Risotto an Antidote to Spring's Chilly Rains

It's spring in the Northwest, which means we're getting two inches of rain in as many days thanks to an atmospheric river deciding to flow directly over the Willamette Valley, dumping its heavy load before climbing over the Cascades. The good news is that spring, being the Janus-like, capricious spirit that it is, will be whiplashing us with temperatures in the mid-70s to mid-80s within the week.

Until that happens, though, we still need to pull on our Muck boots and hooded parkas for another day or two and hit our local farmers' markets, many of which are fortunately opening for their regular seasons this weekend. I managed to make it to two of them, the Beaverton Farmers Market yesterday—a generous sponsor of the blog you're reading—and my intimate neighborhood King Farmers Market today.

Both were brimming with bounteous goods from growers and makers, and among other things I picked up several bunches of beautifully green asparagus to carry us through the week. Ready to go in the oven to roast, chopped into a quiche or frittata, or in a risotto like the one below, these green spears will be equally delicious grilled as is or chopped into a salad when those warm temps get here.

Spring Asparagus Risotto

1 lb. asparagus, tips removed and reserved, stalks sliced into half-inch pieces
2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

3 Tbsp. butter or margarine
1/2 onion, finely diced
1 Tbsp. garlic, finely chopped
Spring onion or green garlic, finely sliced (optional)
2 c. arborio rice

1 c. white wine
4 c. chicken or vegetable stock
1 c. grated Parmesan cheese plus more for the table
Salt to taste


Put half of the chopped asparagus stalks in the food processor and purée (add a teaspoon or so of water, if needed, until smooth). Set aside.

Put stock in a medium saucepan over low heat. In a deep skillet or larger saucepan, heat oil and butter over medium heat. When it shimmers, add onion and garlic, stirring occasionally until it softens, 3 to 5 minutes.

Add rice and cook, stirring occasionally, until it is glossy, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add white wine, stir, and let liquid absorb into the rice. Add warmed stock, 1/2 cup or so at a time, stirring frequently. Each time stock has just about absorbed into the rice, add more.

When you have used about half the stock, add the puréed asparagus, asparagus tips, plus spring onions or green garlic (if using), stirring to combine, then continue to add stock as necessary. In 5 minutes or so, begin tasting rice. You want it to be tender but with a bit of crunch; it could take as long as 30 minutes total to reach this stage. Add the cup of parmesan and stir briskly, then remove from heat. Taste and adjust salt. (Risotto should be slightly soupy.) Serve immediately.

In Season: Spring Fling

While one friend has dubbed the past few weeks "Nov-April" and is calling out the next few as "May-vember," farmers across the state are heralding the official start of spring. Farmers' markets in most communities are opening their regular season schedules this weekend, though in some places they will wait until June, so check your local market website for official dates and times.

Ginger Rapport, market master of the Beaverton Farmers Market, is over the moon in anticipation of spring's bounty. "By their very nature, the early vegetables are light, fresh, and delicate, and the dishes made with them reflect these qualities," she wrote in a recent newsletter.

Spanish calçots are a great excuse for a spring fling!

And I wholeheartedly agree with her pronouncement that the star of the spring show is asparagus. From slender varieties to more robust, meatier stalks, you'll find both green and purple asparagus in abundance at market booths. (Here Rapport reminds market-goers that purple asparagus, like purple pole beans, turns green when cooked.)

From risottos to salads to quiche to pizza, asparagus is almost infinitely versatile. Even simply roasted in the oven with a drizzle of olive oil and a shower of chopped garlic and salt—and sure, throw on some chopped preserved lemon just before serving—it threatens to outshine any main dish in the vicinity.

Alliums, particularly in their springy infancy, are also on display in the form of spring onions, scallions, green garlic and the fabulous Spanish calçots which have entire festivals in their honor in that countrySee my recent post on how to throw your own Calçotada with the traditional red pepper-and-almond salbitxada sauce. And don't forget the curvy whips of garlic scapes, the thin, vibrant green stalks that grow from the garlic bulb and are terrific grilled and chopped for pizza, salads and, well, almost anything!

While local strawberries are only just beginning to appear in markets, and available only to those early birds who grab them before vendors sell out, there are plenty of other stellar finds to make your trip to the farmers market worthwhile.

Tender and delicate spring lettuces are abundant.

On my trip to the Hillsdale Farmers Market last Sunday, I loaded up on the tender redleaf and maple leaf lettuces from Gathering Together Farm that will get a drizzle of my new favorite honey and mustard-infused red wine vinaigrette. I also picked up the cutest bunches of baby bok choy that will get roasted and incorporated into a stir fry, pizza or grain salad in the near future.

Greenville Farms from Forest Grove was full to bursting with stacks of various kinds of raabs and other sprouting greens, from collard to kale to spigarello. I can safely say that next to spring lettuces, these inflorescences are the spring vegetable I most look forward to after the end of my beloved chicory season. Read Ginger's explainer about the various varieties grown locally, along with a recipe for a balsamic reduction that is nothing short of miraculous.

Garlic scapes add zing to spring dishes.

Greens like arugula, spinach and sorrel (see my recipe for a killer sorrel salad) are seeing their day in the spring sun, too, along with local fennel and peas—both sugar snap and snow peas—which should be plentiful through May. Zucchini and other summer squashes like patty pan and the ribbed costata romanesco, all ideal for grilling or roasting, will be around into June.

And don't forget spring herbs like parsley and cilantro, oregano, chervil, thyme and chives are here, too, so chimichurries and other herb sauces are definitely called for. Microgreens and young shoots of favas and peas should also make your list. They will only get more abundant as the season rolls along.

Mmmmm…rhubarb crisp!

And I can't conclude this without mentioning my true heartthrob, rhubarb, that vegetable-masquerading-as-a-fruit, that is one of the first desserts of spring, at least around here. See my version of my Aunt Nell's Rhubarb Crisp below, and be sure to make my spectacular rhubarb syrup for your summer sippers and cocktails.

Excited about spring now? I sure am!

Aunt Nell's Rhubarb Crisp

For the topping:

1 c. flour


3/4 c. uncooked rolled oats


1 c. brown sugar

1/2 Tbsp. cinnamon


1/2 c. butter or margarine, melted

For the filling:


4-6 c. rhubarb, cut in 1/4" slices

1 c. sugar


1/4 c. triple sec, Cointreau or other orange liqueur

2 Tbsp. cornstarch

Mix together dry ingredients in medium sized bowl. Pour in melted butter or margarine and stir with fork to distribute. When well-mixed and crumbly, scatter on top of fruit in pan (below).

Slice fruit into large mixing bowl. Add sugar, water, cornstarch and vanilla and mix thoroughly. Put in 9” by 12” by 2” baking pan. Scatter topping mixture evenly over the top and bake in 350 degree oven for 55 min.

Spring Means Alliums Aplenty: Celebrate with a Spanish Calçotada!

It all started with those little, bright green, lantern-shaped peppers called pimientos de padrón—known more familiarly as "padrons"—that only required a quick blistering in hot oil and shower of salt to melt my knees as soon as I popped one in my mouth. For awhile they were only available from one vendor—the late, lamented Viridian Farms at the Portland Farmers Market—but pretty soon they were being featured on the hottest chef's menus all over town.

A couple of years later I heard about another Spanish delicacy that had appeared on Viridian's roster, a spring onion called calçot (pron. cahl-SOH). In Spain they're harvested from November through April, and festivals known as calçotadas are held in towns all over the region.

Cooked on a hot grill until the outside layer is blackened but not charred and the inside is soft and creamy, the blackened outside layer is peeled off and the remaining onion is dunked in a tangy romesco-like sauce called salbitxada (sahl-beet-SHAH-dah). Then, holding the onion aloft by the greens, the trick is to lower the soft, saucy white part into your mouth and bite it off without having the sauce dribble all over your face. (This video explains it better than I ever could.)

With calçot season upon us, we finally held our own mini-calçotada on the patio. Traditionally served with beer and a variety of grilled meats, for our home version of a calçotada, Dave quickly grilled bone-in pork chops and I made an herbed rice pilaf with chopped tarragon, red-veined sorrel and parsley from the garden…though the drips on our shirts signaled that we may need some more practice on the eating portion of this spring festival.

Calçots with Salbitxada Sauce

For the salbitxada sauce:
4 Tbsp. blanched almonds
4 fresh bitxo peppers (or other mildly hot pepper), coarsely chopped, seeds and membranes removed
8 cloves garlic, peeled
4 ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped
2 Tbsp. chopped parsley
1/4 c. bread crumbs
1 Tbsp. smoked paprika
2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
1 c. olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

For the grilled calçots:
2-3 bunches (20-30) Spanish calçots or very young spring onions with long greens and a very small bulb

Heat oven to 350°.

Place almonds in hot oven to toast for 5-7 minutes. Place in a food processor and coarsely grind.

Mash ground almonds, peppers and garlic into a paste with a food processor. Add tomatoes, parsley and vinegar. Pulsing the food processor, drizzle in the olive oil until sauce becomes thick. Add salt and pepper to taste. (This sauce is terrific with any grilled vegetable. During summer months, consider serving it with grilled steaks or chops.)

To prepare the calçots, simple build a hot fire in a grill. On the grate over the coals, spread out the calçots with the white end facing the center of the grill and the greens extending over the outside edge of the grill (top photo). Grill, turning occasionally, so the outside is blackened but not charred and the whites feel tender when squeezed.

To serve, pull the calçots off the grill and peel off the blackened outer skin with your fingers. Grasping the greens in your hand, dunk the white part in the salbitxada sauce, raise the onion aloft and lower the white into your mouth, biting it off at the top of the white portion. When the calçots are all gone, whomever has dribbled the least sauce (or, I suppose, the most) on themselves is the winner!

Garden Chronicles: Sorrel Puzzle Solved with a Touch of Sweetness

I've been ashamed to admit it, but every spring for years now I've been mocked by the sorrel I planted five or six years ago. Just three little plants, stuck in the dirt at one end of the raised beds that Dave built in the one sunny spot in our very shady yard. Every spring, like clockwork, they push out new leaves, joining the previous ones still hanging around that apparently kept it alive through some brutal winter temperatures and several days of six-inch-thick ice.

The plants have grown larger every year, and for all those years I did my level best to figure out what to do with the abundance of leaves, once trying to pan fry them like other greens, which turned them into a mass of grey, gooey mush, or another time stirring them into a potato-leek soup that made the color and the goo less noticeable.

Chopping a few leaves into a salad was okay, but adding much more than four or five leaves, and their tangy, citrus-y bite overwhelmed the pleasant sweetness of the other greens. A pesto using half sorrel and half of another herb like spinach or parsley or basil worked, pepping up its flavor and giving it a lively greenness. But any of the above only used a smidgen of what the prolific plants were producing.

My epiphany came with my recent adaptation of a sweet red wine vinaigrette that I came up with to dress the lighter, more delicate spring salad greens, a change from the creamy vinaigrettes and Caesar-type salad dressings I use for winter's salads.

Would a sweet dressing counterpoint the bite of the sorrel? Only one way to find out, and my family is always my go-to for experiments, since I can trust their honesty and forthrightness even if it's on the order of "What have you done???"

My first attempt was a simple one, just a chiffonade of sorrel with green olives and crushed hazelnuts with that sweet dressing—it got an enthusiastic thumbs-up around the table. The second (top photo) was more hearty, with the sorrel chiffonade topped with leftover roasted asparagus, tetsukabuto squash and roasted pumpkin seeds tossed with the dressing. Another success!

So I'm passing it on, and with the well-entrenched plants furiously producing new leaves in a pitched battle to defeat the army of snails and slugs chewing holes in them. I'm getting ideas about trying it with a gremolata of hard-boiled eggs, capers, and parsley, among other ideas. Wish me luck!

Sorrel Salad with Sweet Red Wine Vinaigrette

For the dressing:
1/4 c. extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
2 Tbsp. honey
1 tsp. dried Italian seasoning (or a combo of basil, thyme, rosemary and marjoram)
1 small clove garlic, crushed
1 tsp. sea salt

For the salad (see story for more suggestions):
3-4 c. sorrel, cut into chiffonade
1/4 c. hazelnuts, crushed
8 Spanish anchovy-stuffed olives, chopped
1/4 c. raisins or currants (optional)
Salt to taste

Put all dressing ingredients in a small lidded jar. Shake.

In a salad bowl combine sorrel, hazelnuts, olives and raisins (or whatever ingredients you're using). Pour 3 Tablespoons of the dressing over the salad and toss. Add salt and fresh ground pepper to taste, adding more dressing if desired.

 

Mom's Granola: Don't Call It Hippie Food

My mother was about as far from a hippie as you could get, so the fact that I am regularly reminded of her whenever I make her fabulous granola is, well, a little more than ironic.

My mother, circa 1969.

A staunch Oregon Republican—in those days defined as socially liberal and fiscally conservative—she was not in favor of the "free love" espoused by the hippie "longhairs" of the era or much of anything they did (or wore). But when my brother opened a café in Northwest Portland and needed something to offer customers for breakfast that wasn't pancakes and eggs, she jumped in and came up with this recipe.

It features the traditional mix of oats and honey baked on a sheet pan until toasty, but she pulled back on the heavy sweetness of most versions she came across in her research—it was the era of Frosted Flakes and Fruit Loops, after all—and loaded it up with the nuts and coconut she loved. I still make it regularly, and I've found the recipe is almost infinitely mutable according to my whim-of-the-moment or what's available (or not) in the pantry. Switch out the nuts, throw in some cardamom or chopped dates, it's all good.

Thanks, Mom! 

My Mom's Granola

1/2 c. butter or margarine
2 tsp. vanilla
3 oz. orange juice
2/3 c. honey
8 c. rolled oats
3/4 c. brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1 1/4 c. sunflower seeds
1/2 c. wheat germ (optional)
1 1/4 c. flaked coconut
1 c. walnuts, chopped or crushed
2/3 c. slivered almonds
2 c. raisins, currants or other dried fruit

Preheat oven to 325°.

Melt butter in small saucepan over low heat. When melted, remove from heat and stir in vanilla, orange juice and honey.

In large mixing bowl, combine remaining ingredients except raisins. Add honey mixture and stir till moistened. Spread on cookie sheet and bake for 30 min. Remove from oven, reducing heat to 300°, and turn with spatula. Return to oven and bake for 15 min., take it out and turn again. Return to oven for another 15 minutes until toasty. Cool thoroughly, stir in raisins and store in quart zip-lock bags. (I keep them in the freezer until needed.)

Epic Black Bean Chili Fit for a Crowd

Oregon is so incredibly fortunate to have an abundance of pasture-based farms that are focused on animal welfare and the hard work of improving their soil.

There's Chris and Zack Menchini's Campfire Farms in Canby, Michael and Linda Guebert's Terra Farma in Corbett, Ryan Ramage and his family at Ramage Farms in Canby, Jared Gardner's Nehalem River Ranch at the coast, and in the snow-covered mountains and wheat fields of Eastern Oregon you'll find Cory Carman's Carman Ranch and Liza Jane McAlister, matriarch of 6 Ranch—whose tagline "Doing it the hard way since 1884" has this former ad person swooning—among dozens more. (Find where to get the products from local farms and ranches that have adopted pasture-based methods in the invaluable Oregon Pasture Network Guide.)

The artwork that Campfire Farms uses for its branding says it all!

If you follow any of these folks on social media or sign up for their newsletters like I have, you'll find that they'll occasionally post special offerings when they need to make room in their freezers or have extra stock (no pun intended) available. So when I run across a screaming deal on Carman Ranch ground beef or see that Campfire Farms is offering a box of assorted sausages and pasture-raised chicken breasts for a (relative) song, I jump on it.

That was the case when Ryan Ramage posted a photo of a box of beef chuck roasts and short ribs for close to half off the regular price. It did necessitate driving to Oregon City for a not-so-clandestine meetup at Tony's Smoke House and Cannery where Ryan was making a delivery, but he graciously plopped the box in the boot of the Subie and I handed him a check. Done!

A focus on soil improvement, carbon sequestration and animal welfare, like these pasture-raised, grassfed cattle at Ramage Farms, are hallmarks of pasture-based farms and ranches.

One of the chuck roasts was left out to thaw in a tub of cool water and I started the quest for a chili recipe that would assuage my craving for a chile-laced black bean version. Having belatedly stumbled across the amazing collection of videos and recipes of Pati Jinich, a superb cook and passionate activist for authentic Mexican culture and cuisine—watch her moving interview with Mayan women who formed a baseball team and are now national stars—I found a recipe for braised pork with chiles used as a filling to make pork chilorio burritas.

With apologies to Ms. Jinich, I substituted beef for the pork and added some of my roasted tomatoes and black beans to the ingredients. The result was magical. I hope you check out her videos and enjoy this bowl of delicious pastured beef and bean chili!

Epic Beef and Black Bean Chili

Adapted from a Pati Jinich recipe for pork chilorio burritas.

1 lb. dried black beans
3-4 lbs. pastured beef chuck roast, cut in 1" cubes
1 1/4 c. fresh-squeezed orange juice
1 1/4 c. water
1 tsp. kosher or sea salt
5 dried ancho chiles, tops and seeds removed
1 1/2 c. of the chile soaking liquid
1/2 c. onion, roughly chopped
4 cloves garlic
1 tsp. dried oregano
1/4 tsp. ground cumin
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
2/3 c. cider vinegar
2 c. roasted tomatoes
3 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1/4 tsp. salt plus more to taste
Condiments (optional): Grated cheddar or crumbled cotija, sliced avocados, shredded cabbage, sour cream (crema), sliced jalapeños, red pepper flakes, hot sauce(s)

The evening before serving, soak the beans by placing them in a large saucepan and cover with water by two inches. Put a lid on the pot and place on the counter or the back burner of the stove to soak (unheated) overnight.

At least three hours before serving, drain the beans and set aside.

Place meat in a Dutch oven or large pot and pour orange juice and water over it. The liquid should barely cover the meat—if it does not, simply add more water. Add a teaspoon of salt and bring to a boil, then cover and turn down the heat to simmer for 60 to 90 minutes, until much of the liquid is gone. The meat should be cooked but still retain its shape. so once the meat is cooked, pour it into a large bowl and set aside.

While the meat cooks, remove the stems and seeds from the ancho chiles, tearing them into large pieces. (You may want to wear gloves for this step if you're sensitive to their oils.) Place the pieces of the chiles in a heatproof bowl and cover them with boiling water, letting them steep for about 30 minutes. Once the chiles have rehydrated and cooled, place them and 1 1/2 cups of their soaking liquid in the blender, adding the onion, garlic, parsley, oregano, cumin, black pepper, vinegar, and roasted tomatoes. Purée on high until smooth.

Take the pot that you cooked the meat in and heat the vegetable oil over medium heat. Pour in the blended chile sauce and simmer 4 to 5 minutes. Add the meat with its cooking liquid and the soaked, drained beans to the sauce in the pot. Add 1/4 teaspoon salt and let it cook, stirring occasionally, until the beans are tender but not mushy, 45 minutes to an hour. Taste for salt and add more if need be.

Serve as is or with a panoply of condiments as suggested above.


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Braising Weather Calls for Long-Simmered Beef and Vegetables

There's a reason the French love braised beef, simmered slowly for hours until it's just short of falling apart. Whether you call it bourguignon or daube as the French do, or pot roast or beef stew, it's a sumptuous, belly-warming meal that fills the house with its luscious aroma and can feed a crowd or keep a couple in dinners and lunches for days.

It's also adaptable to different seasonings depending on what's in your pantry or still hanging on in your winter garden. A classic Provençale beef daube calls for red wine, tomatoes and herbs, while an Italian stracotto—translated as "overcooked" for some reason—calls for…well…red wine, tomatoes and herbs. One may lean more heavily toward bay leaf and thyme while the other includes rosemary, but it's poh-tay-toh, poh-tah-toh as far as I'm concerned.

Pasture-raised, grass-fed chuck roast is packed with nutrients and flavor.

Same for a beef stew or pot roast. One may include cutting the beef into chunks and browning first in a dusting of flour mixed with salt and pepper, or throwing in potatoes for the last few minutes, but as long as the meat is simmered until it's about to slip the bonds of structural integrity, it's good to go.

Fortunately it looks like the Pacific Northwest will have at least a few more weeks of what I like to call braising weather before spring temperatures begin in earnest, so don't put away your stew pot just yet. The recipe below is for my version of bourguignon, but don't be afraid to sub in other vegetables or herbs.

Pot Roast Bourguignon

This is extremely easy to make, but you'll need to get it in the oven four hours before dinner or make it the day before. Cutting back on the time in the oven makes for a less-than-stellar experience.

4 slices bacon, cut in 1/4" strips
1 3-5 lb. chuck roast
Salt and pepper
1 large onion, chopped in 1/2" dice
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 ribs celery, chopped in 1/4" slices (optional)
4 carrots, sliced in 1/4" rounds
1 lb. mushrooms, halved vertically and cut into slices
1 Tbsp. dried basil
1 tsp. dried thyme
1 Tbsp. minced fresh rosemary (from two 6-inch sprigs)
1 qt. (32 oz.) roasted tomatoes
3-4 c. red wine

Preheat oven to 375°.

Put bacon in a large braising pot that can go in the oven and fry till fat is rendered and it starts to brown. Add onions and garlic and sauté 2-3 min., then add carrots and celery and sauté 2-3 min. Add sliced mushrooms and sauté till soft. Stir in tomatoes and herbs, then add wine. Sprinkle roast generously with salt and pepper add to pot. Bring to a boil, then cover and place pot in oven, baking for 2 hours.

Remove meat from pot and cut in 1/4" slices, then return the sliced meat to the pot, covering with sauce and vegetables. Cover and bake for another 1 1/2 hrs.

Remove to a serving dish. Serve with boiled or roasted potatoes or a rich, creamy polenta.