By this time, you've cast the leading player for Christmas dinner. • You've likely settled on one of the traditional entrees: turkey, ham, beef or pork roast. I suppose some of you might even be doing it up big with a leg of lamb or even a goose. • Now the supporting cast needs your attention and, truth be told, the bit characters can upstage the star. Lots of people love the side dishes more than the roast beasts. • I've got four worthy suggestions if you've got a little wiggle room in the Christmas dinner menu and the fortitude to brave the grocery store. They can be carted to a potluck feast by those lucky enough to have an invitation. I've noted the steps needed to make them perfectly totable. • Pick one for the Christmas table, and make copies of the recipes. Someone will ask you to share, I promise.
n Crispy Potato Roast
This dish is as delicious to look at as it is to eat. Crispy Potato Roast comes from Everyday Food magazine and it definitely has Martha Stewart flair.
I like it for its simplicity, and as an accompaniment for juicy roast beef or pork. The crispy potatoes will soak up any jus that's rolling around on the plate. This side dish is lower in fat than other traditional holiday potato dishes, a nice way to mollify the guilt from overindulgence.
The trick to making the paper-thin potato slices is to use a mandoline, if you dare. I practically took a finger off with one of those several years ago so I used my trusty and sharp chef's knife to slice the peeled russets. Not as paper-thin as Martha's but still attractive and slender enough to get crispy. Keep the slices together as you cut the potato so they can be arranged neatly in the baking dish.
Portability: Can be made a day ahead. Cool and refrigerate. To reheat, bring to room temperature then place in a 350-degree oven for about 15 minutes. Cover loosely with foil if you think the potatoes are browning too much. Don't cover tightly or the potatoes will steam and lose their crispiness.
n Roasted Brussels Sprouts With Pomegranate Seeds
People either love them or hate them, but nearly everyone agrees that Brussels sprouts are better roasted. The dry heat sweetens the wee cabbages, softening their bitter attitude. This is a simple side dish that adds lots of color and flavor to the Christmas dinner menu.
The addition of pomegranate seeds as a garnish turns the sprouts festive. Pomegranates are in season and one fruit yields many more seeds than you'll need here. To use up the crimson gems, add to salads and yogurt or pop them in your mouth and crunch away. (I had a college roommate who used to eat them while watching TV. Healthier than chips, I guess.)
To extract the seeds from a pomegranate, pull apart the leathery outer layer over the sink. The red juice can stain clothes so be careful. You can pick out the seeds or immerse the fruit in a bowl of water and gently pry them out. They'll sink to the bottom of the bowl. Discard the outer layer and the white, spongy part that holds the seeds.
Portability: Brussels sprouts can be made in advance and reheated in the oven or in the microwave on half power. Add the pomegranate seeds right before serving; do not heat.
, Roasted Stuffed Pears and Apples
Are the stuffed, baked fruit halves side dishes or desserts? You are the ultimate judge, but I think they'll stand out on a table of savory sides. They'll get along amiably with any meat you decide to serve. (Or think about serving them warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.)
The pears are stuffed with blue cheese, pecans and dried cranberries, the apples with cheddar cheese, dried cherries and almonds. Both have the same apple cider, port and brown sugar glaze. You could make a selection of each in a 9- by 13-inch baking pan.
Make sure you slice a narrow sliver off the uncut side of the fruit so that the halves sit squarely in the pan. Also, cube, rather than shred, the cheddar cheese for the apples. This prevents the cheese from melting too fast and slipping into the bottom of the pan.
I made these twice, the first time cooking them so long that they looked unappetizing. Don't let them go longer than 25 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature. Once they get cold, the glaze hardens almost like caramel and they are more difficult to eat.
Portability: Plan on serving the same day you bake them. If you are taking them as a potluck offering, under cook by about 10 minutes. Transport them in the baking dish and reheat, covered, in a 350-degree oven for about 10 minutes. Transfer to a platter to serve.
n Yukon Gold Potato and Watercress Mash
This side dish was a happy accident. The original recipe called for the mashed potato mixture to be formed into patties and sauteed in oil to make savory cakes. I liked the idea, and the photo in Fine Cooking magazine, but found the exercise unsatisfactory and, ultimately, unnecessary.
The mashed mixture is wonderful on its own. (I am making this for my family's Christmas dinner to accompany beef tenderloin, but it would pair well with anything.) Wilted, peppery watercress and sauteed onion and garlic mixed with buttery baked Yukon Gold potatoes and thick Italian mascarpone cheese is one of the best savory dishes I've eaten in ages. The sauteed cakes stripped the mixture of its charm and never did look as pretty as the magazine picture. I say forget it.
The most time-consuming task here is picking the watercress leaves from the stems. Enlist some help because it's an irritating job. The leaves are small and tender, and can't be cut from the steams as easily as parsley. It has to be done by hand. Worth the effort, though. You could substitute Italian flat-leaf parsley or even ribbons of fresh, baby spinach leaves. The spinach will change the flavor somewhat, and I would add less of either if I made the switch.
Portability: The potato and watercress mash is best served the day it's made. Prepare it a few hours before serving and keep the bowl or serving dish covered until ready to serve or transport. Reheat gently in the microwave or oven. Do not let it come to a boiling bubble because the high-fat mascarpone will separate, changing texture, look and taste.
Janet K. Keeler can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8586.