Sides important to dining experience

Above are the Mini Sweet Potato Casserole Bites, a sweet and savory side that can serve as an appetizer.

The archetypal character of the sidekick in a novel or movie is the hero’s greatest ally and offers help in times of peril. A sidekick often paves the way for the hero. Likewise, the sides you serve for holiday meals are an important part of the overall dining experience; they serve to aid the main attraction. Turkey is not the same without the accompaniment of dressing or stuffing. Mashed potatoes beg for gravy, and bread pudding is a stale loaf without decadent custard sauce. Side dishes balance out the meal and complement the main dish. These side dishes are easy to prepare and use ingredients that are readily available. You will want to serve them again and again.

Creamed Corn

• 1/3 cup butter

• 1/3 cup all-purpose flour

• 1 cup heavy whipping cream

• 1 cup milk

• ¼ cup sugar

• 1 tsp. salt

• Black pepper to taste

• 5 cups frozen whole kernel corn, thawed

• ¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

In a large saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat; stir in the flour until smooth. Gradually add the cream, milk, sugar, salt and a dash of pepper. Bring to a boil. Boil and stir constantly for 2 minutes. Add the corn and heat through. Transfer the corn to a 2-quart baking dish. Sprinkle with the cheese. Broil for 3-5 minutes or until lightly browned and bubbly.

Cheesy Grits Casserole

• 3 cups milk

• 1 cup quick-cooking grits

• 2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese

• 4 oz. diced pimentos, drained

• 3 oz. cream cheese, softened

• ¾ tsp. salt

• ½ tsp. black pepper

• Paprika

Bring milk to a boil in large saucepan over medium-high heat. Slowly stir in the grits and stir constantly for 5 minutes or until thickened. Stir in 1 ½ cups sharp cheddar cheese, pimentos, cream cheese, and salt and pepper until well combined and melted. Place grits in a lightly buttered 1 ½-quart baking dish and sprinkle the remaining ½ cup cheese on top, sprinkle lightly with paprika; bake in the oven at 350 degrees for 8-10 minutes, or until lightly browned.

Broccoli Salad

• 32 oz. bag of broccoli florets, finely chopped

• 2 cups cheddar cheese, shredded

• 1 small onion, finely chopped

• 6-8 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled

• 1 cup of prepared Ranch Dressing

• ½ cup sugar

• 1 TBSP. white vinegar

Combine the first four ingredients in a large bowl. In a small bowl, mix the dressing, sugar, and vinegar; pour over the other ingredients and toss well. Refrigerate for at least 3 hours before serving.

Roasted Vegetables with Cream Sauce

• 1 cup of each vegetable of your choice, sliced or chopped:

• squash, zucchini, carrots, red onion, broccoli, mushrooms, bell pepper and/or cucumbers

• Olive oil

• Cajun seasoning

• Garlic salt

Coat vegetables with olive oil, sprinkle with Cajun seasoning and garlic salt to taste. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil; place vegetables in a single layer on sheet and roast for about 18 minutes at 400 degrees, until tender.

Sauce:

• ½ cup vegetable oil

• ¼ cup red wine vinegar

• 1 ½ TBSP. sugar

• 1 TBSP. hot sauce

• 1 TBSP. Dijon mustard

• ½ tsp. minced garlic

• ½ TBSP. fresh lemon juice

• ½ cup sour cream

• Salt and pepper to taste

Whisk the vegetable oil and red wine vinegar together in a bowl; stir in the sugar and mix well. Stir in the remaining ingredients and mix together until well blended. Serve with roasted vegetables.

Mini Sweet Potato Casserole Bites

• 1 (15 oz.) can cut sweet potatoes, rinsed and drained

• ¼ cup packed light brown sugar

• 2 TBSP. heavy cream

• ½ tsp. vanilla extract

• ½ tsp. cinnamon

• ½ tsp. kosher salt

• 1 (8 oz.) can refrigerated crescent rolls

• ½ cup mini marshmallows

• 24 whole pecans

• 1 ½ tsp. maple syrup

Coat a mini muffin tin with cooking spray. Roll out the crescent dough on a floured surface and pinch seams together; cut into 24 squares and place in the muffin tin cups. In a microwave-safe bowl, heat the drained sweet potatoes for 3 minutes. Remove from microwave and mash until smooth. Add the brown sugar, heavy cream, vanilla extract, cinnamon, and salt. Mix well. Spoon a heaping tablespoon of the potato mixture into each crescent roll cup, then top with one or two mini marshmallows. Bake at 375 degrees for about 14-15 minutes, until golden. Place 24 pecan halves on a plate and drizzle with the maple syrup.

Remove crescent cups from the oven and place a pecan in the center of each; bake 2 minutes more.

— Amy Fischer has worked as an educator and librarian in the Fort Payne City School system the last 27 years. Her column, Set the Table, appears in the Times-Journal Wednesday editions. Follow Set the Table online at https://www.facebook.com/MySouthernTable.

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