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5 Side Dishes, 5 Ways

continued (page 2 of 3)

Mashed Potatoes

The basic ingredients: Boiled potatoes, milk, and butter

The upgrades:
1. Blue Cheese and Scallions: Thanksgiving is a day of indulgence, and these potatoes are a tribute to that tradition. Creamy, sharp, and salty blue cheese adds rich flavor, while scallions add a crisp freshness. Mix in 2 tablespoons crumbled blue cheese and a 1/2 tablespoon finely sliced scallions per 1 cup of mashed potatoes. We recommend using bold blue cheeses like Roquefort, Gorgonzola, or Stilton.

2. Pancetta and Parmesan: For many families, lasagna is a staple at the Thanksgiving table. Take the Italian theme a little further by incorporating two of Italy's greatest ingredients in your spuds. Pancetta is available in whole pieces from the butcher, and chopped pancetta is also available in packages at many supermarkets. Cook the chopped pancetta in a pan over medium heat until the fat is rendered out and the pieces are golden brown and crisp. Drain the pancetta and reserve the fat. Add 2 tablespoons each cooked pancetta and freshly grated parmesan per cup of potatoes. Then, forget butter, and boost the pancetta flavor by incorporating some of the drippings from the rendered pork.

3. Chives and Crème Fraîche: This light and elegant combination gives hearty potatoes a sophisticated flair. Stir 1 to 2 tablespoons each (per cup of potatoes) finely chopped fresh chives and crème fraîche into the mashed spuds. Reduce the amount of milk you add to prevent the potatoes getting too liquidy or thin.

4. Cauliflower: Sneaking cauliflower into rich, homey mashed potatoes is a great way to trick the kids into eating their veggies. But, it also adds a nice, mild vegetal flavor to an otherwise very plain dish. You can boil equal amounts of potatoes and cauliflower and mash them together. Or, steam small cauliflower florets and stir them into smooth potatoes for a chunkier texture.

5. Paprika and Sour Cream: Add international appeal to your holiday meal with this Hungarian-inspired take on mashed potatoes. Mix in 1 teaspoon paprika and 2 tablespoons sour cream for each cup of potatoes. Be sure to reduce the amount of milk in your recipe. Sweet and smoked paprika are both great for this preparation. If your family tends to like spicy, bold flavors, opt for the smoked version. If you prefer a milder mash, go for the sweet. For a lighter version, try reduced-fat or fat-free sour cream.

Green Beans

The basic ingredients: String beans or haricots verts

The upgrades:
1. Sliced Almonds: Green beans and almonds are natural companions. The nuts add even more crunch to the already crisp vegetables. Simply toast the almonds and sprinkle them over the cooked beans. Not a fan of almonds? Try chopped hazelnuts instead.

2. Fried Shallots: This elevated version of green-bean casserole is even tastier than the original. It employs lightly crisp, frizzled shallots instead of the usual canned fried onions. Thinly slice shallots (about 4 to 5 shallots total for one medium-size casserole) and dredge them lightly in flour or cornstarch. Heat one inch of vegetable or canola oil to 350° in a medium-size pot over medium heat. Fry the shallots in batches so you don't overcrowd the pot. Cook for about 2 to 4 minutes until crisp and golden brown. Drain on a paper towel, and season lightly with salt. Top your cooked green bean casserole with the shallots and serve.

3. Bacon: You can never go wrong with bacon. Smoky, salty pork will perk up the flavor of your plain green beans. Sprinkle crisply cooked, crumbled bacon over green beans before serving. To amplify the flavor, save the bacon drippings and sauté the beans in the reserved flavorful fat.

4. Mushrooms: These fabulous fungi will add earthy flavor and meaty texture to simple green beans. Use one type of mushroom or a combination. We recommend shiitake, oyster, cremini, and/or maitake mushrooms. If these varieties are not available, plain white button mushrooms will taste great, too. Clean the mushrooms, remove the stems, and slice. Sauté the mushrooms (about 1/2 cup for each cup of beans) in a little butter until browned. Season them with salt and pepper, toss with the cooked beans, and serve.

5. Roasted Red Peppers: An unconventional but surprisingly tasty flavor combination. Roasted red peppers add a burst of color and a mildly sweet, lightly smoky flavor to the beans. You can use jarred red peppers or roast your own. If using jarred, dry them thoroughly before chopping. Add the chopped peppers (about 1/4 cup per cup of beans) to the beans about 2 minutes before they are done, just to warm through.

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