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Side Dishes


qwertyy
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I'm charged with cooking the side dishes for Christmas Eve: three people, main dish is New York strip steaks on the grill. But we've got a few limitations.

The kitchen is gorgeous, huge, recently redone. But Dad doesn't cook. Ever. He didn't have any (ANY) spices in his cabinet until last year when I convinced him to please at least buy some salt. (He also bought allspice because he saw the name and figured he wouldn't need to buy any others.) (Sigh.) Also, I'm unsure of what kind of hardware he's got, but I can assume very limited cooking utensils, knives, pots, pans, and the like. Yet it's a special occasion, so I'd rather not just slap down steamed green beans and baked potatoes.

So, all you creative people... got any ideas???

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A dish that pleases nearly everyone is a gratin dauphinois--peeled, sliced potatoes in a casserole with garlic, gruyère cheese, and milk or cream, baked till the potatoes are soft, everything is bubbling, and there's a nice brown cheese crust on top. If you have a mandoline or other slicing device, it's not even much work. It's a great accompaniment to grilled or roasted meats, and it manages to be both dressy and comfort-foody. If you're worried about equipment, take your own.

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I'm charged with cooking the side dishes for Christmas Eve: three people, main dish is New York strip steaks on the grill. But we've got a few limitations.

The kitchen is gorgeous, huge, recently redone. But Dad doesn't cook. Ever. He didn't have any (ANY) spices in his cabinet until last year when I convinced him to please at least buy some salt. (He also bought allspice because he saw the name and figured he wouldn't need to buy any others.) (Sigh.) Also, I'm unsure of what kind of hardware he's got, but I can assume very limited cooking utensils, knives, pots, pans, and the like. Yet it's a special occasion, so I'd rather not just slap down steamed green beans and baked potatoes.

So, all you creative people... got any ideas???

If you are travelling to Dad's house, I recommend packing a good knife, a pepper grinder and a cutting board, if he doesn't have one. Presumably, you can survey the cabinets and larder and do a little shopping prior to this meal. Bring along spices you might want to use.

If you are grilling, the obvious most simple suggestion is to grill vegetables as sides. The best veggies for grilling aren't exactly seasonal, but can be found in most supermarkets: asparagus, zucchini, red bell peppers, eggplant (and onions). Just slice, grill, drizzle with olive oil, lemon juice and salt for essence of veg. Crusty bread, and olive oil and balsamic vinegar to drizzle on everything to taste can make a satisfying meal. Or add this: steam new potatoes until just tender, cut them in half and sprinkle with olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic (fresh or powder), cumin, Spanish paprika and wrap in heavy foil. Cook on grill with steaks, flipping the foil packet a couple of times.

If that seems too casual/summery--does the oven work? Is there a casserole dish of some sort? If not, inexpensive Pyrex baking dishes are not hard to come by. Roast a melange of root veg (steam them briefly before roasting) or brussels sprouts and mushrooms or quartered fennel bulbs. Make a gratin of winter squash or scalloped potatoes or a strata--essentially a savory bread pudding with thinly sliced, lightly steamed winter squash, chopped sauteed shallots. Dry out sliced brioche or challah or white bread sans crusts in a slow oven, but don't "toast" the bread. Butter the casserole. Layer the veggies and the bread with salt, pepper and chopped fresh herbs and cover with a milk/egg batter (add some cream for extra richness). For a dish like this, I generally use a ratio of 2 eggs per cup of liquid. If Dad has a blender, use it to make the custard--no need for mixing bowl, whisk, ladle. Dot top with butter, sprinkle on some parmesan cheese. Let sit for a while to allow the batter to soak into the bread. Bake in a 325 oven for about 30-45 minutes (depends how deep it is). Cover with foil for first 20 minutes or so, so the top doesn't get too brown before the custard sets. I generally make things like this in a water bath, which means an extra, larger casserole, but it can be done without a water bath, if you keep an eye on it and don't let it get dried out.

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If you want to do a different (or additional) starch with cheese, this is from the Mueller's macaroni box. It's my standard mac and cheese. It uses a different technique for the sauce than most other recipes. You'll have to bring or buy dry mustard. I always use the mustard:

Classic Macaroni and Cheese

6 Servings

2 tablespoons cornstarch

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon dry mustard, (optional--I use it)

1/4 teaspoon pepper

2 1/2 cups milk

2 tablespoons margarine (I use butter)

2 cups shredded cheddar cheese, divided

1 3/4 cups Mueller's elbow macaroni, cooked 6 minutes, drained

In medium saucepan combine corn starch, salt, dry mustard and pepper; stir in

milk until smooth. Add margarine. Stirring constantly, bring to boil over

medium-high heat and boil 1 minute. Remove from heat. Reserve 1/4 cup cheese

for topping. Stir in remaining cheese until melted. Add elbows. Turn into

greased 2-quart casserole. Sprinkle with reserved cheese. Bake uncovered in

375° oven 25 minutes or until hot and bubbly.

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There's always Salt Potatoes for when you have NO spices and need something to go with steak. Quarter some red potatoes, fill a pot with water to cover your taters, then add enough salt to make the water milky/opaque. This can be anywhere from a cup's worth to half a cup, depending on your medical history. Boil the potatoes for 25 minutes or until a knife goes in and out without much trouble, drain the water, and throw in a quarter stick of butter to the pot until the potatoes are coated.

Serve with expensive steak.

They actually sell ready-made bags of this at Wegmans, for those who are utterly stymied when adding salt to water.

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how 'bout smashed potatoes of some sort? they're easy. boil potatoes, smash with masher or fork, add butter, milk, salt and pepper. add horseradish, blue cheese, bacon, carmelized onions, roasted garlic or chives (or anything else for that matter) if you want them to be a bit more "up scale." any variation would go great with grilled steaks.

even easier are classic baked potatoes. you really don't need ANY hardware to make those.

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A dish that pleases nearly everyone is a gratin dauphinois--peeled, sliced potatoes in a casserole with garlic, gruyère cheese, and milk or cream, baked till the potatoes are soft, everything is bubbling, and there's a nice brown cheese crust on top. If you have a mandoline or other slicing device, it's not even much work. It's a great accompaniment to grilled or roasted meats, and it manages to be both dressy and comfort-foody. If you're worried about equipment, take your own.
Nice thing with this is that you can prep it ahead of time. Make everything in your own kitchen, put it in your casserole or baking dish, cover with plastic wrap, then stick it in the oven when you get to the 'rents.

Some suggestions:

-Sprinkle in some cripsy pancetta

-I slice the potatoes, boil them until soft, and THEN layer everything in the dish before putting it in the oven. This way I can cook with much higher heat for a much shorter time, and I get a crisper crust - especially if I sprinkle with panko breadcrumbs.

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Nice thing with this is that you can prep it ahead of time. Make everything in your own kitchen, put it in your casserole or baking dish, cover with plastic wrap, then stick it in the oven when you get to the 'rents.
I'm arriving several days ahead, so I won't be able to do this (though I may make some soup and freeze it solid to bring). But the gratin is a great idea; I'm also highly intrigued by the squash bread pudding. Decisions, decisions... The salt potatoes sound interesting too, but I think I'll test those babies out before debuting them on the holiday!

Any ideas for a veg? Maybe a spinach-pine nut-raisin thingy? Some interesting broccolini concoction?

You all are great! I knew you'd come through!

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