Nourishing Hero: Tamara Murphy

This is the latest installment in our Nourishing Heroes series, in which we feature the individuals and organizations who inspire us with food that nourishes body, soul and planet. Do you know a Nourishing Hero we should feature? Let us know who inspires you!

It would be easy for Tamara Murphy to rest on her culinary achievements: a James Beard Award, a Food & Wine Best New Chef designation, a shot at “Iron Chef” and over two decades as one of the grande dames of Seattle cuisine. Yet with an unyielding drive to dig deeper and understand our relationship to the food we eat, Murphy has found herself at the helm of a multipronged mission to support local, seasonal, sustainable food and the farmers who grow it.

With her Elliott Bay Café, and an upcoming earth-to-plate eatery (Terra Plata) in the works, she continues a long commitment to supporting local farms. After years of working with the farmers who supply the food she cooks, Murphy knows them and their livelihoods intimately and donates the proceeds from her annual Incredible Feast fund-raising event to the Good Farmer Fund.

She also created Burning Beast, an annual outdoor food fest that brings together local farmers and food producers with Seattle-area chefs, while some very lucky eaters get to enjoy the results. Those of us outside her Seattle realm can sink our teeth into her new cookbook, Tender: Simple Ways to Enjoy Eating, Cooking and Enjoying Our Food (Shin Shin Chez).

When did you start thinking deeply about where your food comes from?

It really started with the pigs. One day I was invited to a party at Whistling Train Farm and saw some piglets running around. I asked if I could buy one. Those were all taken by the neighboring families, but the farmer said I could have one from the next litter.

I was there while the piglets were born. I immediately felt a connection like I had never before. The farmer asked me which one I wanted. I couldn’t decide, so I said I would take all of them. I went down to the farm every week to feed them apples and scraps from the restaurant. It seemed important that I share my experience as it was happening. [The blog] Life of a Pig was the result of those visits.

I’d just signed up to nurture, prepare and eat these creatures. I needed a really good reason why. My newfound connection to something I’d been eating for years took on new meaning. My enlightenment didn’t come from a book; it came from my experience of a firsthand connection to an important food source and a particular farmer. That had been missing from my life. Those little piglets changed my life, and I will be eternally grateful.

What inspires you most about this hands-on intimacy with food?

Even before Life of a Pig, I went out to a farm and picked greens with the farmer. That was backbreaking work—the little mesclun greens, they cut them with a knife at the root. When you start to actually use your hands and experience things that way, the appreciation just becomes so much greater, and obvious.

What are some of the struggles unique to small farms?

One that comes to mind, along practical lines, is the flooding we’ve had recently in our area. On one farm up the Stillaguamish, the river flooded the banks. They had to move the farm and the animals. The water came into her house.

These farmers, they’re doing the right thing, using the right methods, and they don’t get any assistance. They’re not subsidized. That’s what the Good Farmer Fund is for, those unexpected hardships.

Aside from buying local and shopping at farmers’ markets, what else can we do to help ensure a local food supply?

The CSA (community-supported agriculture) program is good. We’re seeing more of that. Because you pay ahead of time, you’re helping the farm get ready for the growing season. They can ensure they’re not just getting money when they harvest and you buy. There are a lot of upfront costs.

What does the title, Tender, mean to you?

Obviously there’s the food relationship, and the price we pay for good food, but I also think about it in terms of the farmers, the ones who tend the earth. All of those definitions fit in our relationship with food and with what the book is trying to convey. It’s about community and the circle of farmers, cooks and eaters.

Food writer and cooking instructor Ginny Mahar currently resides in Missoula, Montana. Read about her mission to bring people back to the table on her blog, The Sunday Dinner Revival.

Meet our other Nourishing Heroes:

My Bittersweet Valentine: An Introduction to Marmalade

I married a marmalade man. This year, as a special treat for Valentine’s Day (don’t tell him!), I’ll be making him a tart, sultry (and dare I say sexy?) blood orange version. In case you want to join me in making marmalade for your sweetheart, here are a few things to know:

What Makes it a Marmalade?

Today, the word marmalade is used to describe a citrus jam containing bits of candied rind. We typically associate marmalade with oranges, but all manner of citrus fruits are good marmalade candidates. Meyer lemons, clementines, Minneola tangelos, grapefruit, limes, and kumquats are just a few of the fruits that can be cooked into excellent marmalades.

The Fruit

When selecting fruit for marmalades it’s best to find organic, unblemished specimens, since in many cases the entire fruit, peel and all, ends up in the jar (conventional citrus is often sprayed with a wax coating that’s time-consuming to scrub off). Overripe fruit is not recommended. The ideal source is freshly picked from a backyard tree, but for the rest of us, store-bought organic fruit will do just fine.

The Sugar

Sugar plays many roles in the marmalade jar: sweetener, thickener, and preservative. The right concentration of sugar deters the growth of micro-organisms. For this reason, reducing the sugar called for in a marmalade recipe is not recommended.

The Pectin

Pectin is a natural gelling agent found to varying degrees in many fruits. With citrus, pectin is most heavily concentrated in the peel, membranes and seeds, decreasing in concentration as the fruit ripens. Many marmalade recipes do not require the addition of commercial pectin to form a gel, relying instead on the high amounts of natural pectin found in citrus, or the addition of other high-pectin fruits, like lemons or apples.

Commercial pectin is a packaged product rendered from high-pectin fruits, often with the addition of preservatives and other agents (like citric acid) that promote the formation of a gel. Marmalades made with commercial pectin require less citrus rind and shorter cooking time, resulting in a spread where sweet often overwhelms the flavor of the fruit. Marmalades made without the use of commercial pectin often contain more peel and require a longer cooking time, resulting in a spread choc-full of tender, candied peel, with an intense citrus aroma and bittersweet flavor.

The Set Point

Identifying the set point, or point at which the mixture forms a gel, is key to making great marmalade without the use of commercial pectin. Gelling occurs when the right concentration of sugar, acid, and pectin is reached. Undercooked marmalade can result in a runny syrup or spread. Overcooked marmalade can result in an overly-dense spread with a caramelized sugar flavor that overwhelms the brightness of the fruit. The easiest and most reliable way to test for doneness is with a candy or deep fry thermometer. The marmalade is ready when the temperature reaches 220 degrees F. Subtract 2 degrees for every 1,000 feet of altitude.

Processing the Jars

Home canning strikes fear into the hearts of many, but with proper knowledge, it can be a safe and wonderful craft. There are a variety of ways to process marmalade safely. One of the best resources for information on home canning is The National Center for Home Food Preservation, an excellent reference to ensure your recipe is up to date with current practices.

So now that you know the basics, let’s roll up our sleeves and make us (and our sweethearts) some marmalade!

Rustic Blood Orange Marmalade

By Ginny Mahar

Chock-full of tender bits of candied peel, this bittersweet blood orange marmalade recipe, adapted from A Passion for Preserves by Frederica Langeland, has a fruit-forward flavor, and is wonderful spread on toasted English muffins or crisp baguette.


Ginny MaharFood writer and cooking instructor Ginny Mahar currently resides in Missoula, Montana. Read about her mission to bring people back to the table on her blog,

Dark Molasses Cranberry Granola

This double batch of spiced mahogany granola is good enough to eat on its own. To turn it into home-cooked gifts, simply package it in paper coffee sacks and a bit of ribbon. For more easy gift ideas, check out our 6 Homemade Spice Blends. We’ve got savory, spicy and sweet options, so there’s something for everyone on your list!

1/2 cup honey
6 tablespoons maple syrup
6 tablespoons molasses
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup canola oil
4 cups rolled oats
2 cups sliced almonds
1 cup raw sunflower seeds
1-1/2 cups sweetened dried cranberries
1/4 cup diced crystallized ginger

Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Grease 2 rimmed baking sheets.

Combine first 9 ingredients in a large bowl. Stir until thoroughly mixed. Add oats, almonds and sunflower seeds, tossing to combine.

 Divide mixture evenly between baking sheets and place in oven on two centermost racks. Bake 45 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes and rotating pans between racks. Remove from oven and toss with cranberries and crystallized ginger. Granola will dry as it cools. Once cool, store in an airtight bags or containers. Keeps for several weeks.

Makes about 10 cups

Give the Gift of Flavor with 6 Homemade Spice Blends

One surefire way to reclaim the true spirit of the holidays is by getting your craft on with some homemade gifts. These six spice mixtures are easy to prepare and don’t require any special preserving knowledge. Make all six in a day, package them the next, and over the course of a weekend you’ll create a cache of long-lasting and affordable gifts. All you’ll need is an assortment of spice and/or jelly jars with labels, some ribbon and an electric spice grinder.

Savory treats

Zesty Seasoned Salt: Sprinkle on sandwiches, burgers, oven fries, avocado, cottage cheese, fish, chicken—just about anything. Toast 2/3 cup coriander seeds, 1/2 cup dill seed, 2 tablespoons black peppercorns, 2 tablespoons allspice berries and 2 teaspoons chili flakes in a dry skillet over medium heat until fragrant and lightly smoking. Cool, and add 1 cup coarse sea salt, 2/3 cup dehydrated minced garlic and 2 tablespoons cornstarch (to prevent caking). Grind to a fine powder. (Fills 6-8 [3-ounce] spice jars.)

Fennel Grill Rub: Great with salmon, pork, poultry, sausages and shellfish. Toast 3/4 cup fennel seed, 3/4 cup coriander seed and 1/3 cup rainbow peppercorn blend until fragrant and lightly smoking. Cool, and add 1/3 cup fine sea salt, 1/3 cup dark brown sugar, 3 tablespoons onion powder, 3 tablespoons dehydrated minced garlic, 3 tablespoons cornstarch, 2 tablespoons sweet paprika and 3/4 teaspoon cayenne. (Fills 6 [3-ounce] spice jars.)

Spicy treats

Roasted Chile Taco Seasoning: Avoid a house full of peppery fumes by toasting dried chiles on a low grill, using tongs to turn frequently until fragrant and lightly browned in spots. (Use 4 ounces dried ancho chiles, 1 ounce dried chipotles (1/2 ounce for milder version) and 1 ounce dried New Mexico chiles.) Cool, and remove the stems and seeds. Tear into small pieces. Toast 1/3 cup coriander seed, 1/4 cup cumin seed, and 2 (3-inch) cinnamon sticks, broken into pieces. Cool, and add 2 tablespoons dried Mexican oregano, 1/4 cup dehydrated minced garlic, 1 tablespoon dark brown sugar, 1 tablespoon cornstarch and 1 tablespoon fine sea salt. Grind to a fine powder. (Fills 6 [4-ounce] jelly jars.)

Garam Masala: This pungent spice blend is used in Indian dishes like Cheryl’s Chicken Biryani. Toast 1 cup cumin seed, 1 cup coriander seed, 1/2 cup whole cloves, 1/2 cup black peppercorns, 2 tablespoons fennel seed and 8 (3-inch) cinnamon sticks broken into pieces until fragrant and lightly smoking. Cool, and add 2 tablespoons ground nutmeg and 2 tablespoons ground cardamom. Grind to a fine powder. (Fills approximately 6 [3-ounce] spice jars.)

Sweet treats

Vanilla Bean Sugar: This easy indulgence is great in baked goods or a cup of joe. Scrape the seeds from 4 vanilla pods into 4 pounds of superfine sugar. Stir with a whisk until the clumps of beans are dispersed. Bury the pods in the sugar, cover tightly, and let sit 2 weeks. Sift through a fine-mesh strainer to remove any clumps or bits of pod. (Fills 10 [12-ounce] jars.)

Chai-Spiced Cocoa: Combine 4 cups powdered sugar, 2 cups cocoa powder, 2 cups powdered milk, 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon cornstarch, and 1 teaspoon each ground cardamom, cinnamon, clove and ginger. Stir with a whisk until powders are blended. Sift through a fine-mesh strainer, working lumps through with back of spoon if necessary. To drink, combine 1 cup hot milk with ¼ cup mix. (Fills 6 [12-ounce] jars.)

Bonus gift idea!

Check out my recipe for crunchy and colorful Dark Molasses Cranberry Granola. It’s easy to make and will be an especially welcome gift on a busy Christmas morning!

Happy Holidays!

4 Pro Steps to a Stress-Free Thanksgiving

With a little planning, the proper tools and some strategic cookery, it’s possible to not just survive this Thanksgiving, but to rock it. But cooking for a crowd is daunting if you don’t do it all the time. Here’s what I’ve learned from my pro cooking gigs, including single-handedly preparing a weekly six-course buffet dinner for 40. These four tips will help you enjoy a successful, low-stress Thanksgiving.

Find your bird

Choosing your turkey begins with the guest list. Depending on the amount of leftovers you desire, allot anywhere from 1 to 1.5 pounds of turkey weight per guest. Next, determine your turkey type. From fresh to frozen to organic to kosher to heritage birds, the choices are many. Some require ordering in advance, so don’t delay.

To brine or not to brine

Somewhere in the turkey equation you’ll need to decide how to prepare the bird. The basic method applies seasonings immediately before and during roasting. Another alternative is to smoke the turkey on the grill, which frees up oven space on the big day.

Brining involves soaking the bird in a seasoned saltwater liquid (usually for 12-24 hours, depending on the size of the bird) ensuring moist turkey with flavor throughout. Pre-salting is also gaining ground as an effective and space-efficient way to deeply season the bird, and involves sprinkling the turkey with salt three days in advance. For hassle-free flavor, kosher turkeys are an excellent option, as the koshering salt used during processing results in a flavorful bird right out of the bag.

Make Your Prep List

You’ll never feel lost in the details if you have a well-written game plan. Start with a brainstorming session that includes lists of:

  • Tasks for guests, from pie-baking to playlist making
  • Tasks for yourself, like counting forks and washing table linens
  • Recipes you’d like to serve (remember to account for special diets)
  • Assigned cooking and serving vessels for each menu item
  • A shopping list including everything you need, from green beans to stemware

Next, map out a prep list by working backwards from meal time. For example, if you want to serve a fresh, brined turkey at 5 p.m. on Thursday, you should be preparing it for the oven by noon, so it should be soaking in brine no later than noon on Wednesday. This means the turkey needs to be picked up, and the brine made on Tuesday, and so forth. Repeat this process for every task and recipe and before long, you’ll be feeling enthusiastic instead of overwhelmed.

Using a frozen bird? The safest, easiest way to thaw it is in the refrigerator, and you’ll need to allow 24 hours for every 4-5 pounds. That means you should move a 20-pound turkey from the freezer to the fridge four days before Thanksgiving, five if you plan to brine it.

Gather the Right Equipment

Among my must-have kitchen tools for the big day:

  • Instant-read thermometer: Affordable, reliable and easy to use, this little tool is the best way to guarantee a perfectly cooked bird, as well as thoroughly heated side dishes. Just insert the rod into the deepest and coolest part of the food, and the temperature gauge will tell you within about 60 seconds, exactly how hot it is.
  • Fat separator: The fastest way to skim the fat from pan drippings, this simple, low-spouted tool looks like a measuring cup with a strainer on top. Simply pour the drippings through the strainer and the fat will rise to the top so you can pour out the flavorful gravy while leaving the fat behind. It will drastically cut gravy prep time.
  • Carving board: If you don’t own a behemoth carving board with a moat, don’t worry. Make do with a cutting board placed within a larger, rimmed baking sheet to catch every drop of juice. Lay a damp dishtowel on the counter to hold the baking sheet in place while you carve the bird.

Writer, poet and chef Ginny Mahar currently resides in Missoula, Montana. When she’s not busy freelancing or posting on her blog, Food-G, you can find her in the mountains, earning her calories.

Wild Rice Salad with Pistachios & Golden Raisin Vinaigrette

This make-ahead salad combines indigenous North American wild rice with the colors of fall. Not only will it save you prep time on Thanksgiving Day, it will add a vegan element to your menu that everyone can enjoy. Prepare the vinaigrette while the rice is cooking. Combine the rice with half the vinaigrette up to a day ahead; prep and refrigerate the remaining ingredients separately and toss them with the rice and remaining vinaigrette up to an hour before serving.


Short Rib and Cremini Ragu

If you love fork-tender ragu, add short ribs to your repertoire. Back home in Missoula, Montana, on the search for local meat, I met Scott Barger of Mannix Brothers’ Grass Finished Beef, a fifth-generation cattle rancher in the Blackfoot Valley. He said that cuts like short ribs often end up going into their ground beef, simply because folks don’t know how to use them. Like many tougher cuts, short ribs require a longer cooking time for the connective tissues to melt. When they do, the meat becomes fall-apart tender, infusing the sauce with an incredible richness. This ragu can be served two ways: with the rib portions intact over our Creamy Corn Polenta, or you can remove the ribs from the sauce, and once cool enough to handle, shred the meat, discarding bones and excess fat. Toss the meat sauce with a long pasta noodle like fettuccine or tagliatelle.


Burning Beast: A Festival that Celebrates the Whole Animal, Sustainably

Sometimes enlightenment comes in the form of a lamb taco. This summer marked my second pilgrimage to Burning Beast, a festival that brings together meat lovers and sustainably raised meat, and which now holds a permanent spot on my annual calendar. After my first year in attendance, I described Burning Beast as a, “bacchanalian meat-lovers picnic,” which is true, in part.

This year, however, my experience of the event tapped into a much deeper level than simple meat-love.

Burning Beast is the three-year-old brainchild of Chef Tamara Murphy, of Seattle’s Elliot Bay Cafe. Each July, Murphy gathers a handful of Seattle’s best chefs and pairs them with sustainably raised “beasts.” The chefs cook outdoors, in a big field at Smoke Farm in Arlington, Wash., using only wood fire and various contraptions of steel, cinder block or bricks.

The scene is artsy and medieval. Folk musicians play and sing, aerialists and trapeze artists swing above the crowd. In center field sits a 20-foot-tall wooden goat, which is ceremoniously burned after the meal. A pig steams in an earth oven, a flock of chickens spin on a rotisserie turned by bicycle pedals, a whole goat is splayed and wired to a steel frame, where it hangs over a smoking bed of coals. All day long the air is filled with the chop-licking aromas of fire-roasting meats and the flavorful smoke of apple, hickory and peach wood.

In addition to meats, there are sea creatures and vegetables, nearly all of which are local and sustainably harvested. Once finished, the foods are crafted into fine creations using the broad palette of flavors familiar to Seattle chefs: smoked rabbit banh mi, lamb tacos with roasted chili and tomato salsa, ballotines of moose meat wrapped in bacon and filled with maple- and blueberry-infused sausage. Guests are asked to bring their own plates and utensils, and when the dinner bell rings they line up for three-bite portions from each chef, bouncing from station to station. It is juicy, delicious meat poetry.

While giving her welcome speech, Murphy said something that forever changed the way I view not just Burning Beast, but the local-sustainable movement. The animals we had been watching roast all day, which many of us were seeing for the first time in whole form, had come from small, local farmers and ranchers. This event, she said, is really about using the whole animal, because if we want the availability of better meat, we need to support the small farmers and ranchers who raise it.

Murphy later explained that these small producers provide meat within a completely different system than the industrial meat empire. She personally has the, “privilege and opportunity” to buy from two small local farms. As she put it, “When the lamb is ready, the lamb is ready, and they need to sell the whole animal. You can’t just order a case of lamb racks every two weeks.” Murphy knows what she’s talking about, having raised, slaughtered and prepared her own pig.

At this point in our changing food system, one of the best things consumers can do is adapt to the needs of the people trying to bring us better animal proteins. Thinking about buying meat in bulk (as in whole, half, or quarter animals), and learning to cook every part of the animal are key to ensuring our own “privilege and opportunity” to buy better meat.

By doing so, consumers can confidently purchase meat from members of their communities who are dedicated to the health of the land, the animals and each other.

Writer, poet and chef Ginny Mahar currently resides in Missoula, Montana. When she’s not busy freelancing or posting on her blog, Food-G, you can find her in the mountains, earning her calories.