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Autumn adventure soups

At the trail head, while laces are tightened and daypacks filled, the incense-laden fragrance of the land I love overtakes my senses. Those pesky urban woes, so imperative only hours ago, are no match for the grand old firs and sparkling alpine meadows along the Old McKenzie Highway.

Indeed, autumn in the central Cascades is the ultimate tonic for those who are drawn to the natural world. And whether you’re hiking amongst them, or driving through them, the elegant forests and peaks offer any style of viewing you need to set your soul back on course.

Welcome to the great Oregon outdoors. From a drive through the Cascades to day hikes and cross-country ski expeditions, excuses abound to get outside in this state. And because appetites only expand in the fresh air, familiarity with cuisine that will stand up to the absence of walls is not exactly an optional social grace in these parts.

So all Pacific Northwest outdoor enthusiasts who like to eat well when they get to where they're going have at least one vacuum bottle in their possession. I don't know of a more efficient way to transport a hearty, belly-warming soup to the site where it will be appreciated. This time of year, Thermos meals don't have to be fancy, but they better be hot. And they better be satisfying.

The following recipes meet those minimal requirements: tried-and-true soup creations that have fortified the spirits of all who've shared the road (or trail!) to adventure with me in this wonderful place we call Oregon.

Potato Cheese Soup

Makes 8 servings.

My most requested soup recipe. It’s delectable, hearty-rich and cheesy, so it really hits the spot on these cool autumn-into-winter nights. It's also my hands-down favorite recipe for autumn day hikes in the Cascades, cross-country skiing, and Thanksgiving weekend winery hopping for two reasons: its cheesiness is a natural with wine, and its nose-warming nature really hits the spot when sitting out, enjoying the Oregon countryside this time of year.

1 quart chicken broth (homemade or canned)

2-1/2 pounds potatoes, unpeeled, coarsely chopped

2 cups chopped green onions, whites and about half the green stalks

1 quart light cream

1/4 cup soy sauce (or Kikkoman’s Ponzu sauce or Tempura sauce)

1 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper

6 ounces shredded Swiss cheese

6 ounces shredded Cheddar cheese

1/2 cup good-quality craft beer

In a heavy-bottomed soup pot bring the chicken broth to a boil. Add the potatoes and simmer for 30 minutes, or until the potatoes are very soft. Add the green onions and remove the pot from the heat. Add the half-and-half or milk to the pot.

Puree the potato-broth mixture in an immersion blender, or in your blender or food processor (you will have to do this in batches; when blending, fill the container only half full and cover the lid with a dish towel because the soup "spurts" quite violently as it's being blended). Return the puree to the pot. Stir in the soy sauce and pepper and slowly bring the soup back to a simmer.

NOTE: The soup can be prepared to this point up to 48 hours ahead and refrigerated, or prepared and frozen for 3 months.

When ready to serve or pack into a thermos, proceed with the recipe by placing the pot back on the burner, over medium heat. When the soup begins to simmer, stir in the grated cheeses gradually, a handful at a time. Now gently whisk in the beer.

Susan’s Vegetable Soup

Makes 8 generous servings.

1/4 pound butter or 1/2 cup vegetable oil (optional; or only use desired amount for flavor and browning of vegetables)

3 carrots, sliced and coarsely chopped

3 onions, coarsely chopped

3 potatoes, sliced and chopped into bite-size pieces

2 cups coarsely chopped cabbage

3 stalks celery, sliced

1/4 pound mushrooms, halved or quartered

15 cloves fresh garlic, peeled and minced

1 (28 ounce) can crushed tomatoes with juice

2 tablespoons dried basil (or 1/3 cup fresh, finely minced)

4 whole bay leaves

10 cups chicken broth (or a vegetarian chicken-flavored broth)

1/4 cup tamari sauce (soy sauce)

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup minced fresh parsley

1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger

Salt and additional pepper to taste

If using butter or oil, melt desired amount in a heavy-bottomed soup pot. Add the carrots, onions, potatoes, cabbage, celery, mushrooms and garlic and saute for 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes, basil, bay leaves and broth and bring it to a boil. (If omitting butter and oil, just bring all the ingredients above to a boil.)

When the broth comes to a boil, stir in the tamari, black pepper and ginger. Simmer for 30 minutes, or until the potatoes are soft. Add the parsley, then taste and adjust the seasonings, using additional salt and pepper to taste.

Soup may be made up to 2 days ahead and reheated.

— Recipe adapted from “Sacramental Magic in a Small-Town Cafe,” by Brother Peter Reinhart

Split Pea Soup with Ham Hocks

Makes 8 generous servings.

Ham hocks are one of the true “secret ingredients” of cooking. They impart so much flavor and texture, and it’s amazing that they aren’t more widely used. Great split pea soup can be made without them, but incredible split pea soup is made possible by their inclusion.

18 cups water

4 cups (2 pounds) uncooked split peas, washed and checked for stones

2 pounds smoked ham hocks

4 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 carrot, finely chopped

2 onions, finely chopped

10 cloves fresh garlic, peeled and minced

4 bay leaves

1 tablespoon dried marjoram (or 3 tablespoons finely minced fresh)

1 tablespoon dried basil (or 3 tablespoons finely minced fresh)

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 teaspoons salt, or to taste (the ham hocks are salty, so salt judiciously)

In a heavy-bottomed soup pot, bring 10 cups of the water to a boil and add the split peas. Cover and simmer over low heat for 1-1/2 to 2 hours, or until the peas break down and dissolve. Stir the pot periodically to prevent sticking and burning. If the water seems to disappear, add a little more, enough to cover the peas.

At the same time, in a separate pot, bring the remaining 8 cups water to a boil, add the ham hocks, cover and simmer for 2 hours. Strain the water and add it to the split peas after they have dissolved. Pick the meat off the hocks and discard the bones and fat. Chop the meat and add it to the split peas and water. Continue cooking over low heat.

While the peas and hocks are cooking, heat the oil in a frying pan and saute the carrot, onion and garlic until the onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the bay leaves, marjoram and basil, stir for 1 more minute, and remove the pot from the heat.

When the split peas have broken down, add the salt, pepper, and carrot/onion mixture. The soup should be thick and creamy. Taste, adjust the seasonings, and cook over low heat for 10 minutes. May be served immediately, or prepared up to 2 days ahead, refrigerated, and reheated.

— Recipe adapted from “Sacramental Magic in a Small-Town Café,” by Brother Peter Reinhart

White Bean, Bacon and Potato Soup

Makes 8 to 10 servings.

1-1/2 cups dried cannellini beans, sorted and rinsed

1/4 pound bacon, diced

1 cup finely chopped onion

1 cup finely chopped red bell pepper

1/2 cup finely chopped celery

3 cloves garlic, finely minced

1 cup dry sherry

7 cups chicken broth

2 cups cubed Yukon gold potatoes (cut in 1/2-inch cubes)

2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary

2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme

1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper

Salt to taste

Parmesan cheese for garnish

Soak the beans for at least 24 hours in a large bowl of water; drain.

In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, over medium-high heat, saute the bacon until browned. Reduce the heat to medium-low, remove the bacon pieces with a slotted spoon and set aside, then pour off all but 1 tablespoon of the bacon drippings. Add the onion, bell pepper, celery and garlic to the bacon drippings and saute until the onion is softened and translucent, about 3 minutes. Pour in the sherry and deglaze the bottom of the pot by stirring and scraping the bottom of the pot to dissolve the cooked-on food particles, and cooking until the sherry has reduced by half.

Add the chicken broth and the soaked and drained beans, and cook for 15 minutes. Add the potato cubes, rosemary, thyme and pepper, and continue cooking until the potatoes and beans are tender, about another 20 to 30 minutes. Stir in the bacon and adjust the seasonings by adding salt to taste and additional pepper if needed. Serve with Parmesan cheese.

May be prepared up to 2 days ahead, refrigerated, and reheated before serving, or frozen for 3 months.

Spanish Lentil and Sausage Soup

Makes 8 generous servings.

The original creator of this soup, Br. Peter Reinhart, suggested that it worked particularly well with Bruce Aidell's fabulous Creole sausage. I heartily agree. But if you can't find, it another Creole variety or even a chorizo or linguica style will work.

7-1/2 cups chicken broth

2 cups (1 pound) uncooked green lentils, washed and picked through for stones

2 teaspoons vegetable oil

2 pounds Creole sausage, linguica or chorizo, chopped into small pieces

2 onions, diced

8 cloves garlic, peeled and minced

1/2 cup dry white wine

20 ounces frozen chopped spinach (two 10-ounce packages) or 8 cups tightly packed chopped fresh spinach

1 can (28 ounces) diced or crushed tomatoes with juice

1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper

Chopped fresh parsley for garnish

In a soup pot, bring the broth to a boil, add the lentils, cover and simmer for about 45 minutes, or until the lentils are tender, but not falling apart. Stir the pot periodically to prevent sticking and burning.

While the lentils are cooking, heat a frying pan, add the vegetable oil, and saute the sausage until crisp and brown. Push the sausage to one side, add the onions and garlic, and continue cooking until the onions become translucent. Remove from the heat.

When the lentils are tender, add the sausage mixture with the oil. Stir in the dry white wine, spinach, tomatoes and pepper. Bring the soup to a simmer and cook for an additional 15 minutes to merge the flavors. Garnish each serving with chopped parsley.

— Adapted from "Sacramental Magic in a Small-Town Cafe," by Brother Peter Reinhart

Tomato Bisque

Makes 6 generous servings.

3 tablespoons olive oil

1-1/2 cups chopped yellow onion

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 (28 ounce) can Italian plum tomatoes, undrained

1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil (or 1 teaspoon dried)

1/2 teaspoon dry mustard

1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon white pepper

1/4 cup tomato paste

1/4 cup flour

2 cups homemade or canned chicken broth

1 cup Half and Half

2 to 4 tablespoons dry sherry (optional)

Garnish: For a wonderful flavor and texture contrast, I like to break up rounds of garlic flavored crostini into 1/2-inch pieces and pass around for diners to sprinkle on their soup.

In a deep saucepan, melt the butter and saute the onion and garlic until softened and lightly golden. Add the tomatoes, basil, mustard, salt, pepper, and tomato paste. Simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes.

Whisk together the flour and about 1/2 cup of the flour to form a smooth paste, then stir this into the soup, along with the remaining 1-1/2 cups of broth. Bring the soup to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer, stirring constantly, until the soup has thickened. Remove from heat and puree in a food processor or blender in two or more batches (do not fill the container more than half full). Return the puree to the pot and stir in the cream (note: the soup may be prepared to this point and either refrigerated or frozen.)

When ready to serve, gently reheat it, adjust the seasonings, then add the sherry to taste, if desired.

— Adapted from "Private Collection 2," by the Junior League of Palo Alto

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.