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Try roasting local chestnuts

by: Barb Randall,

Ho, Ho, Ho, friends! Time to go through your recipe boxes and books and find that recipe that simple shouts Party! The Review and Tidings are pleased to announce the third annual community-wide Best Kept Holiday Secret Recipe contest. All ages are encouraged to enter the fun!

Categories include Desserts, which includes pies, cakes, candy, cookies, etc., and Hors D'ouevres.

Entry deadline is noon on Dec. 4. Foods should be brought to the Lake Oswego Review-West Linn Tidings office at 400 Second St. between 9 a.m. and noon. A copy of the recipe should be included with the entry or can be e-mailed to Barb Randall at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . Contestants may also include a cost sheet, which will be used to determined most cost-efficient dish in case of a tie.

Judging will be based equally on holiday presentation/eye appeal, originality, taste and overall food quality.

Entrants are asked to bring their foods on disposable plates rather than family heirlooms.

Prizes will be awarded and include newspaper subscriptions and items from In Good Taste Cooking School and Store.

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'Chestnuts roasting on an open fire … Jack Frost nipping at your nose. Yuletide carols being sung by a choir and folks dressed up like Eskimos ...'

Chestnuts - the name alone conjures up images of people bundled up around a cheery fire, cheeks pink from the winter chill and hands wrapped for warmth around steaming mugs of hot toddies. The fragrance of the roasting chestnuts is enough to keep the chill at bay. Chestnuts could very well be nature's comfort food in the shell.

They grow here in Oregon, you know. Chestnuts grow on trees like other nuts, but the flesh is softer, more like a bean or a potato than a nut. That fact earns chestnuts the moniker of 'tree potatoes.'

Justy's Farm in Clackamas County was one of three farms in the area advertising chestnuts this fall. Their farmstand in Milwaukie was loaded with chestnuts and other great produce. I took a bag home to experiment.

From research on the Internet, books and through the county extension service (always call them with food questions) I learned that the nuts need to cure, or dry, for a short time before you can roast them. They are very hard when first picked, evidently due to a high water content. You can tell that a nut has cured if you can feel it give when you squeeze it between your thumb and forefinger.

Chestnuts, like popcorn, have water trapped in the shell. To avoid the chestnut exploding like popcorn, you need to cut a slit or an x on the bottom of the nut. Cutting the shell was easier than I thought because the shell is softer than a traditional nut shell.

There are two techniques for cooking chestnuts. You could either boil them in a pan of water or place them in a roasting pan, cut side up, in a 425 degree oven until the shell peels back, 20 to 30 minutes.

After either cooking method, you need to wrap the hot chestnuts in a kitchen towel and squeeze gently to further loosen the shells. Let them stand, wrapped, for five mintues. Then shell and serve immediately.

You have to work quickly to remove the smooth outer shell and the inner rougher lining. If the shell hardens before you can get the nut out, reheat the nut briefly in the microwave.

I decided to try both methods.

The roasted nuts smelled delicious and the smooth shell and textured inner shell came off easily. The nuts for the most part,came out whole. This is my preferred method of cooking the nuts.

The boiled nuts not only lacked the enticing aroma, but I had to dig the flesh out of the shell and at the end, I had a pile of meal, rather than whole chestnuts.

With the nuts shelled, I was ready to proceed in preparing the dish for which I had roasted them, or eat them.

In the store you will find canned chestnuts and chestnut meal and for a short season, whole fresh chestnuts. You can freeze shelled chestnuts for later use, which may be a good idea as they will get harder to shell as they age.

Chestnuts can be used in a variety of sweet and savory dishes. Today's recipe is for a soup and it won't matter if your chestnuts come out whole or as meal from the shell - you will puree the mixture anyway.

Bon appetit! Try something new!

Chestnut Soup with Chicken

Serves 6

1 pound chestnuts, shelled and peeled

1 small onion, finely chopped

1 teaspoon sugar

2 teaspoons grated lemon zest

1 teaspoon salt

freshly ground black epper to taste

Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg

2 ½ cups chicken stock or broth

5 cups milk

1 cup heavy cream

1 large egg yolk, beaten

½ cup minced cooked chicken

In a large saucepan, combine the chestnuts, onion, sugar, lemon zest, salt, pepper, nutmeg and stock. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for 35 minutes or until the chestnust are tender.

Transfer the mixture to a food processor, reduce to a puree, and return it to the saucepan. Add the milk and cream and heat, never allowing to boil. Quickly whisk a little of the soup into the beaten egg yolk, return the mixture to the pan, stir in the chicken and heat well, never allowing to boil.

Adapted from The French Country Kitchen, The Undiscovered Glories of French Regional Cuisine by James Villas.

Randall welcomes your food questions and research suggestions. She can be reached at 503-635-8811 ext. 101 or by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .