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Rogue-style Thanksgiving

In chef Sandy Dowling’s Thanksgiving spread, only the family-favorite stuffing — simply seasoned with celery, carrots, onions and mushrooms — is sacred.

“I will change up a lot of other things,” says Dowling, co-owner of The Willows Cooking School in Central Point. “And I try to come up with new recipes.”

This year, Dowling is going Rogue with her holiday side dishes and encouraging other cooks to do the same. Highlighting locally grown and produced foods — many abundant in autumn — is one way to put a fresh face on the traditional feast. A class at 6:30 p.m. today at The Willows will feature some of the region’s finest fare in eight festive recipes.

“This is really about the Rogue Valley and where we can source everything,” says Dowling.

Some of those sources are no farther afield that Southern Oregon backyards. Cold-tolerant kale is still thriving in many gardens. It can provide the canvas for a salad with pears, blue cheese, toasted hazelnuts and a honey vinaigrette, says Dowling. Or choose locally farmed baby greens, available at many grocers.

Farmers markets can offer one-stop shopping for many of the meal’s ingredients, including winter squash, wild mushrooms, honey, cheese and herbs. The Rogue Valley Growers & Crafters Market runs through Thursday, Nov. 20, in Medford and through Tuesday, Nov. 25, in Ashland. See www.rvgrowersmarket.com.

Dowling also cites the Rogue Creamery cheese shop, The Butcher Shop in Eagle Point, Harry & David Country Village, Medford and Ashland food co-ops, even Hillcrest Orchards’ and Dunbar Farms’ “honor barns” in Medford as sources for a variety of produce and specialty foods.

“We’re very lucky,” she says of high-quality foodstuffs readily available in the Rogue Valley.

The chef says she believes many cooks are willing to go the extra mile to support businesses close to home, particularly at a time of year when advance preparations can yield more time for enjoying the festivities.

“Holiday meals are always special,” says Dowling. “And you’re cooking (once), so you don’t have to cook all weekend.”

Some of Dowling’s recipes pull double duty. Cranberry-pear-horseradish relish and bacon-honey jam are condiments that belong on the celebratory table and on the next day’s turkey sandwiches. Or dollop either over some cream cheese spread across celery sticks. Her pear-hazelnut tart, made with frozen puff pastry, is a lighter finish than pumpkin pie for the Thanksgiving feast, but it also can start the day on a sweet note, says Dowling.

“We like it for breakfast,” she says. “You can certainly have it for dessert.”

Dowling’s decadent dessert for this Thanksgiving combines goat cheese and cream cheese in a white-chocolate cheesecake with hazelnut crust and blueberry-huckleberry-cranberry coulis. Although all three berries are considered “superfoods” on their own, cooked together with a bit of lavender, they make a really striking sauce, says Dowling. Just as Southern Oregon’s wild huckleberries can be elusive, she adds, cranberries often are overlooked as a regionally significant crop cultivated on the South Coast.

“We have cranberry bogs … not too far away.”

Tackling Thanksgiving as a class topic every year for the past 12 at The Willows, Dowling concludes the evening — typically sold out — with a full meal of all the featured dishes. And just like Thanksgiving with family and friends, she says, guests are encouraged to leave with leftovers.

Baby-Greens Salad With Hazelnuts and Pears in Honey Vinaigrette

1/3 cup rice-wine vinegar

1 tablespoon Rogue Valley honey

1/3 cup olive oil

Pinch of salt

2 firm-ripe pears

1/4 cup butter

10 cups washed, cleaned baby greens (mixture of spinach, radicchio, romaine and red-leaf lettuce)

1/2 cup shelled and toasted hazelnuts, roughly chopped

1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese (preferably Rogue Creamery)

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

In a glass jar, with a lid, combine the vinegar, honey, olive oil and pinch of salt. Cover jar with lid and shake well, then set aside (or refrigerate for up to 2 weeks). Shake before using and bring to room temperature.

The morning before you plan to serve salad, prep the pears by coring, peeling and slicing 1/4 inch thick. Saute in a pan with the butter until just browned on both sides. Pat pear slices dry on paper towels and refrigerate until ready to assemble salads.

To assemble salads, divide baby greens evenly among 8 plates, divide pear slices evenly among plates, and then sprinkle each with some of the hazelnuts. Drizzle 2 tablespoons vinaigrette over each salad plate. Top each plate with a little of the crumbled blue cheese and some of the freshly ground pepper.

Makes 8 servings.

Pear-Hazelnut Tart

1 sheet Pepperidge Farm puff pastry, thawed

1 cup hazelnuts, shelled, toasted (loose skins rubbed off in a kitchen towel) and cooled

1/2 cup granulated sugar, divided

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

3/4 stick (6 tablespoons) cold unsalted butter, softened

2 large eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon almond extract

3 firm-ripe pears, peeled, halved and cored

1/4 cup apricot preserves, heated and strained

Preheat oven to 350 F. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the puff pastry to fit inside a tart pan with removable bottom. Prick all over with tines of a fork, line tart shell with foil and weigh down with beans or pie weights. Bake in preheated oven for 15 minutes.

In bowl of a food processor, pulse the hazelnuts with ¼ cup of the sugar until finely ground, then add the flour and pulse to combine. With an electric mixer, beat together the butter and remaining 1/4 cup sugar at moderately high speed until pale and fluffy.

Add the eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition, then beat in the extracts. Reduce mixer speed to low and mix in nut mixture until just combined.

Spread filling evenly in prepared tart shell. Peel, halve and core pears, then cut lengthwise into 1/4-inch-thick slices, holding slices together to keep pear shape intact. Arrange pears decoratively on filling, fanning slices slightly. Bake in preheated oven until pears are golden and filling is puffed and golden-brown, for 30 to 40 minutes.

Remove tart from oven and brush pears (not filling) with the preserves. Cool tart completely in pan on a rack before removing side of pan.

Makes 8 to 10 servings.

Bacon-Honey Jam

1 pound bacon, cut into small dice

1 medium sweet onion, peeled and diced

1 shallot, peeled and diced

1 to 2 teaspoons chopped chipotle pepper (from a small can of smoked chipotles in adobo)

1/2 cup apple-cider vinegar

1/2 cup packed brown sugar

1/4 cup Rogue Valley honey, more or less to taste

In a deep, 2- to 3-quart, heavy-bottomed pan over medium-high heat, brown the bacon until crispy. Add the onion and shallot and cook in bacon fat until transparent. Pour off excess bacon fat.

Return pan to heat and add the chopped chipotle, vinegar and brown sugar. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to a simmer. Cook, uncovered, at a simmer for 10 minutes. At this point, mixture should be very thick; if not, continue to cook, stirring continuously. Remove from heat and stir in the honey to taste.

Jam is delicious on poached eggs, turkey sandwiches or over a cheese spread with crackers. It keeps, refrigerated, for 2 weeks.

Makes about 3-1/2 cups

Cranberry, Pear and Horseradish Relish

Sandy Dowling’s recipe for this holiday classic can be found in the Mail Tribune’s searchable, online database of more than 3,700 recipes. See www.mailtribune.com/recipes.

Reach freelance writer Sarah Lemon at thewholedish@gmail.com.

local products Mail Tribune / Bob Pennell illustration