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Published: Wednesday, December 4, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Keep it simple with apps, soup

So I'm the proverbial pot, calling the kettle black, but here goes: As we teeter on the edge of the holiday season onslaught, let's try to keep things under control, shall we?
By that I mean, we live in one of the most gorgeous awe-inspiring corners of the country. How lucky can we get?
And if you're even luckier, you're living around some mighty darn special folks. So at a time of year when the whole idea is to appreciate the ambiance of the season and reconnect with folks who bring meaning to our life, let's focus on the important stuff.
As I implied already, I haven't earned the crown for queen of the Simple Life Club. My life's insane. But I do plan to make a list -- a very short list -- of who I want to see in the next eight weeks and then plot fun little events to see them.
It could be collecting a few friends for a wine-country tour over the weekend. A simple soup ladled into a Thermos, some really great local bread and cheese, then off you go. A warmhearted memory in the making.
If you're in great shape, then take your pals and the portable fare the other direction. A peaceful hike along a nearby stream. Or a little cross-country skiing up in the Cascades. Find out if there are still some spawning salmon in a stream near you and then take a group to go appreciate this miracle of nature.
At the most simple level of all, consider last-minute gatherings where the meal consists of make-ahead appetizers or soup. The four examples I'm sharing today can all be made ahead while you're still thinking straight, then dipped into at a time when you aren't.
It's that simple, really.
This first recipe keeps for weeks and weeks, so consider doubling or tripling it so you have plenty to dip into throughout the holiday season.
Additionally, this recipe is easy to play around with. Keeping the cream cheese and blue cheese as a soft base, you can substitute a variety of other cheeses for the cheddar to achieve a slightly different flavor: any smoked cheddars or a provolone, for example, or an Irish Dubliner with chives.
Cheese crock
8 ounces softened cream cheese
4 ounces crumbled blue cheese
8 ounces shredded sharp cheddar
A healthy glug of Worcestershire sauce
Crackers and baguette slices (toasted if possible)

Combine the cream cheese, blue cheese, cheddar cheese and Worcestershire in the workbowl of a food processor. Blend until the cheeses are thoroughly pureed. Scrape into an attractive bowl and refrigerate until needed. Serve with crackers and toasted bagette slices.
Makes about 11/2 cups.
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This is a fabulous pate that can be made and refrigerated for up to two weeks. I discovered it through Margy and Dave Buchanan, Corvallis-area hazelnut growers and owners of Tyee Winery.
The recipe has been adapted from one Margy found in a Sunset Magazine cookbook many (many!) years ago. They serve it in the wine tasting room during their annual Thanksgiving weekend open house.
Mushroom hazelnut pate
1/4 cup butter
1 small onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced or pressed
3/4 pound mushrooms, sliced
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1/8 teaspoon white pepper
1 cup roasted and skinned hazelnuts
2 tablespoons vegetable oil (preferably hazelnut oil)
Melt butter in pan over medium-high heat. Add onion, garlic, mushrooms, salt, thyme and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is soft and most of the pan juices created from the mushrooms have evaporated. In food processor puree nuts to form a grainy paste. With motor running, add oil and whirl until creamy. Add mushroom mixture, and continue blending until smooth. Serve with crostini or fresh slices of a crusty baguette ("It's definitely best with thin slices of sourdough French bread," says Margy.). It keeps in the refrigerator for two weeks or longer.
Makes about 2 cups.
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Here's a wonderful recipe from Chef Merlyn Baker, of La Grande, Ore. He owned and operated the city's very popular restaurant, Foley Station, until he closed it last year to start a new life. The town wept, as did I!
Chef Baker used this mostly as a pasta sauce, so keep that in mind when you want a simple-but-tasty meal. But it's also a great appetizer, served alongside a thinly sliced baguette.
Foley Station green olive and hazelnut pesto
1 cup oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, drained well
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup roasted and skinned hazelnuts
1/2 cup coarsely chopped green olives
1/4 cup coarsely chopped black olives
3 tablespoons minced garlic
1/3 cup olive oil

Combine the sun-dried tomatoes, Parmesan, hazelnuts, olives, and garlic in the workbowl of a food processor. Process until the mixture is finely chopped. With the motor running, slowly add the olive oil. If the mixture seems too thick after you have added the oil, add a small amount of water to reach a pesto-like consistency. Adjust seasonings, adding salt or additional Parmesan as desired.
Makes a generous 2 cups.
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This soup can be made several days ahead and refrigerated. It's a wonderful offering to take along on during a weekend of wine-touring or hiking.
Mushroom bisque with leeks and hazelnuts
2 tablespoons butter
2 pounds white or cremini mushrooms, wiped clean and thinly sliced
3 stalks of celery, chopped
2 yellow onions, chopped
1 leek (white part only), washed and chopped to measure about 1 cup
1 teaspoons salt
8 cups chicken broth
11/2 cups full-bodied brown ale (such as Deschutes Brewery's Buzz-Saw Ale or Rogue's Hazelnut Brown Ale)
3-4 medium-sized Yukon Gold or other yellow-fleshed potato, peeled and diced to measure a scant 4 cups
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 cup finely ground roasted and skinned hazelnuts
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup sour cream
1-2 tablespoons heavy cream
1/2 cup finely chopped roasted and skinned hazelnuts
For garnish: about 1 tablespoon dried crumbled sage (or fresh sage leaves), 1/3 cup coarsely chopped roasted skinned hazelnuts
In a heavy 4-quart pot, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter over medium-low heat. Add the mushrooms and saute until the moisture they release has cooked off and the mushrooms begin to brown. Add the celery, onions, leek and 1 teaspoon of the salt and saute for 5 minutes.
Add the chicken broth, ale, potatoes and vinegar and cook until the potatoes are soft, about 20 minutes.
Add the hazelnuts. Puree the soup in batches in a blender or food processor (or directly in the pot with a hand-held blender).
If ready to serve, then return the soup to the pot and warm gently over medium heat (otherwise, refrigerate for up to 3 days and reheat as needed). Thin the sour cream by whisking in some of the heavy cream. Ladle the soup into bowls and garnish each one with a swirl of the sour cream, a pinch of sage (or a whole sage leaf) and a sprinkling of chopped roasted hazelnuts. To make a pretty design with the sour cream, place a dollop in the center of each serving, then draw a skewer through it at several points to create the desired pattern before adding the sage and hazelnut garnishes.
Makes 8 servings.

Jan Roberts-Dominguez is a Corvallis food writer, artist, and author of "Oregon Hazelnut Country, the Food, the Drink, the Spirit," and four other cookbooks. Readers can contact her by email at janrd@proaxis.com, or obtain additional recipes and food tips on her blog at www.janrd.com.
Story tags » Local Food

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