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Spectacular Side Dishes

Easy recipes you can make ahead of time for a stress-free holiday meal

Turkey slices with accompaniments for Thanksgiving

— StockFood Creative

This is the season when time seems to speed up. Already, we're thinking about Thanksgiving — and that means the December holidays aren't far behind. With so much looming on the horizon, taking care of things ahead of time is a smart and sensible way to go.

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For big holiday meals, start planning by deciding on what will be the center attraction: a traditional turkey or roast? Perhaps a ham? Once that's nailed down, you can start thinking about side dishes. Here are some tips for figuring out how to offer up a nice assortment of menu items to round out the meal. The best part: You can do this all ahead of time so you won't be totally stressed out when the holidays arrive.

Color: People eat with their eyes as well as their mouths, so an attractive array of colorful dishes will make any dining table or buffet look more enticing. Foods with different colors tend to have different nutritional benefits, so it's a great way to make sure you're serving a well-balanced assortment of foods.  

Variety: To accommodate all sorts of palate, you'll want some dishes that are simple, some that have more assertive seasonings, some that are starch-based and some that are vegetable-focused.

Temperature: Serving some dishes that don't need heating frees up not only the cook but also valuable oven and stove space. And don't forget about the slow cooker and the microwave. They can really come in handy when you can't spare another burner.

Taste: Create a menu with complementary flavors. If your entrée has Mediterranean seasonings, for example, avoid side dishes with intense Asian or Indian flavors. That doesn't mean you need to use the same seasonings in every dish. Just make sure that intense flavors don't compete — and that everything works well on the same plate.

Preparation: Assemble as many dishes as possible before your guests arrive. Have a plan so that you know which dishes will be served on which platters and which need to be heated in the oven or on the stove (and make notes about the timing for each, so everything is done at the same time – or thereabouts). And prepare your garnishes in advance: chop parsley or grate cheese so you don't have any last-minute scrambles to get everything on the table.

To get you inspired, here are seven side dishes that you can make ahead of time and that would be welcome at any holiday meal.

Next Page: Mushroom marjoram bread pudding.>>

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