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It's a new year: Open up and overcome your pastry phobia

It would be no surprise to me if about 90 percent of you, upon reading the word "pastry" in this story, have already flipped to a more cook-friendly section of the newspaper. The restaurant advertisements, perhaps. ("What am I making for dinner, my dear? Reservations.")

On the other hand, it might surprise an equal number of you to learn that I sympathize with otherwise capable souls inflicted with the culinary phobia I've come to know as The Fear of Making Pastry. I dealt with the problem for years, myself. So I know that it's not a fear based on an inability to master the art of pie crusts and other such pastry phenomenon. Hey! There are specialty coffee-drink menus more complex than the directions for turning out edible dough.

Nope. I believe most folks' problem with making pastry is simply a time and mess thing. Making pastry does take time. And let's face it, your counter (and in my case, everything within a 5-foot radius) ends up looking like the aftermath of the Pillsbury Bake-Off.

But if you can get beyond those pesky issues, then an entire genre of dinner fare will have opened up to you at a time of year when such creations are particularly tasty. I'm speaking of meat- or vegetable-filled pastries. Savory enclosed pies. Portly pockets.

Indeed, nothing gift-wraps a dish more elegantly than pastry. And every country has its crusty specialties that are traditionally part of its cuisine, from the robust Italian calzone and flavorful Russian piroshki, to the more mild-mannered Cornish pasties.

Here are a few examples. The first, Kraut Kunchen, is a worthy dish I have enjoyed for many years now. It comes by way of Leif Eric Benson, executive chef at Timberline Lodge, Oregon's historic resort at the base of Mount Hood. He has been delighting wintertime guests since the late '70s with his delectable German-style meal-in-a-pastry. It's a very satisfying offering after a day on the slopes. Prepare it full-sized for an entree or mini-sized for delicious appetizers. In either case, a sweet and hot Russian-style mustard would be the perfect condiment.

I'm also sharing my piroshki recipe. These mushroom-laden morsels may take a little more effort to prepare than meat loaf, but if you can find the time, you won't be sorry. A dear friend of the family has been making them for years. Lucky us!

And finally, for those of you not interested in working through your pastry-making issues but definitely dying to get in on the delicious results, I've provided a recipe for calzone that starts with dough that can be purchased from your favorite pizza parlor. What could be more simple? I know, I know ... but humor me and give it a try.

Jan Roberts-Dominguez is a Corvallis food writer, cookbook author and artist. Readers can contact her by e-mail at janrd@proaxis.com.