Holiday dinners can be the same every year, but many are starting to switch it up, making new traditions and getting a new dining experience for everyone at the table. It's not unusual to see sweet potatoes on an Easter dinner menu or lamb at Thanksgiving dinner.
Some people are set in their ways when it comes to a holiday entrée on the table, but switching up the side dishes can make it a new dining experience every time. Choosing them needs careful consideration because the sides must all compliment each other, and the entrée. Having a clash of flavors can completely change the satisfaction of the eaters for the entire meal.
Appetizers should compliment the meal that comes after them. As long as strong flavors aren't pitted against each other it should be alright. Here's some ideas for appetizers that can be bought, saving the chef time. However, home made foods are better and more easily customized.
- Stuffed olives
- A Variety of crackers
- A Veggie plate of 3-5 kinds of bite-size veggies with a dip
- A light risotto
- Toasted points for dipping
- Ranch dip/dressing
- A small crisp salad
- Small cut bread or tiny croissants
- Use 4-6 different kinds of cheeses
- Be prepared to serve 2.5 ounces per person
- Use an assortment of different textures, shapes and colors of cheeses
- Serve a smaller plate that will need frequent refilling; cheeses dry out and discolor
Mild Flavored Cheese
- Baby Swiss
- Mild Cheddar
- Monterey Jack
Mellow Flavored Cheese:
- Medium Cheddar
Robust Flavored Cheese:
- Sharp Cheddar
Here's some ideas:
- Make several, the amount being dependent on the number of guests. For 2-5 people with one kind of meat on the table, three side dishes works best. For 6 or more, add another dish for every three people.
- Make some of them cold dishes and some of them hot dishes.
- Make sure the dishes will look good together. Color variety is good, so is variety in shape and texture.
- Try to balance mild and strong flavors; try to have a couple of each.
- Look for a dish that can be cooked alongside the entrée to free up the top of the stove for other side dishes.
- Dishes that can be done the day or two before are good choices, too.
- Don't forget to use salads and fruit dishes, they usually compliment any holiday meal.
Quick Side Dish Recipe:
Cook green beans, peas, corn, a mixture, or any vegetable. Then, mix these ingredients together:
- ¼ cup dry bread crumbs
- 1 ½ tsp. melted butter
- ½ tsp. dried parsley
- Dash of salt (optional)
Add to the top the veggies. This is one of those things people will think was slaved over and they'll want to know what it is.
Garnishes for the Holiday Dinner
Restaurants put garnishes on plates because it makes them look nice and it appeals to our sense of deliciousness when we're hungry. They're really easy to make and there are so many ways to do it. They don't have to be made from foods that are in the dish it will grace, in fact, it'll look more interesting if they're made from foods not seen in the dish. Anything can be made to look better when garnished, even a bowl of cereal.
Some good soup garnishes - consider the ingredients in the soup first.
- Chopped breen onions
- Fresh-clipped chives
- Chopped fresh parsely
- Shredded cheese of choice
- Sour cream
- Fresh or thawed corn (frozen is best)
- Peapods sliced very thinly the long way
- Fresh diced onion for crispness
Some Plate Garnishes
- A slice of citrus (lemon, lime, grapefruit, orange) - slice the slice from the center out to the edge. Pick the slice up and twist and then rest it on the plate.
- Choose large red radishes, wash and cut off root end and place stem side down (bottom up). Slice the side of the radish (as if cutting off the side), but not all the way down. Leave it attached and turn the radish to do another side. Do this to four sides. Next, carefully cut inside those, making another four sides that aren't cut down all the way. If the radish is large enough, do another layer. Now, put the radish in ice water until the radish 'blooms' (at least two hours). The cold temperature will make the radish separate a little more and it looks like a little red and white rose when done.
- Sprigs of any green look nice, especially mint leaves, pineapple, parsley, a lettuce or small purple cabbage leaf holding grapes, berries, melon chunks, black or green olives, any fruit or veggie combination.
- Get a large strawberry and sit it on it's top, or the green part. Slice down the side of the strawberry without going all the way through; leave it in tact at the bottom. Make slices all across the strawberry. Spread out the layers like a fan and lay on the plate.
A cube of real butter (margarine can be used) should sit out for an hour to make it softer. Put it in a bowl and mush it up and stir it with a fork until creamy.
- Add 1 Tbsp garlic powder (or roasted garlic) to butter, then add:
- 1 Tbsp. Chopped fresh parsley (or dried)
- 1 Tbsp. Chopped (dried or fresh) red chilies (or jalapenos, remove seeds)
- Mix well.
- Put the butter on the middle of a sheet of plastic wrap and roll the butter into a log shape and set it in the freezer. When hardened, remove to set in the refrigerator until time to use it.
- It can be sliced, and if the chef has small cookie cutters they could be used on the slices to make shaped butter pats. While the butter is hard it can be cut into diamonds, triangles and other shapes.
A variety of flavored butters can be made this way; it looks so fancy but is oh so easy. The fat in the butter will draw some of the flavors into the butter itself over time. Store in the fridge. The butter pats can be served on a lettuce- or doily-lined plate, in the shape of a pyramid on a butter dish or aside all the plates for personal butters.
Here's some other ideas that can go into butter.
- Basil, oregano, cumin, hot peppers, cracked black pepper, basically any herb or spice will do.
- Sugar, brown sugar, etc.
- Maple syrup
- Tabasco sauce
- Worcestershire sauce
- Small amounts of fruit preserves or jams
- One or two blackberries (it doesn't take much)
Try to relax and don't stress over the dinner so much. The chef is the only one who's going to notice what's not done, so go at a median pace and start early. But most of all, enjoy the company and the food.