Eric Akis: Front and centre with side dishes

Eric Akis

Christmas dinner will be served next week and folks will soon decide what side dishes will accompany the main dish. If you’re looking for suggestions, I have four recipes for you to consider.

One has mashed potatoes whipped with tangy buttermilk until light and airy. During cooking, the potatoes are flavoured with garlic. After they’re whipped, bright green parsley and freshly snipped chives are mixed in. It’s a nice potato dish to serve with baked salmon or a roast, such as turkey, chicken, pork or beef.

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Slender French-style green beans star in my second recipe. After they are blanched, they are tossed with toasted nuts and flavourings, such as orange and balsamic vinegar. Once plated, you can top the beans with your choice of crumbled blue, goat or Boursin cheese.

My third side dish stacks together cooked, cooled slices of yams and sweet potatoes into single serving portions that you bake to reheat. The vegetables are flavoured with lemon, honey, butter and spices. You could serve them, and the green beans, with the same dishes I suggested you serve my whipped potato recipe with.

My last side dish is a twist on cranberry sauce that incorporates blackberries and fresh ginger. It has a deep red/purple hue and can be served with roast turkey, chicken or pork, and even smoky baked ham. You can make the cranberry sauce several days before serving it.

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Light and tangy whipped potatoes are flavoured with garlic, parsley and chives. - Eric Akis

Whipped Potatoes With Buttermilk, Garlic and Fine Herbs

Potatoes are simmered with garlic, mashed, then whipped until light and airy with tangy buttermilk, and subtly flavoured with parsley and chives.

Preparation time: 25 minutes

Cooking time: 20 minutes

Makes: Eight servings

4 lbs. russet or baking potatoes, peeled, quartered and rinsed

5 large garlic cloves, thickly sliced

1 cup buttermilk, warmed (see Note 1)

1/4 cup butter, melted, plus a little for drizzling

• salt and white pepper to taste

3 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley

2 Tbsp snipped fresh chives (see Note 2)

Place potatoes and garlic in a pot, cover with cold water by at least two inches and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat until the potatoes simmer gently (small bubbles should just break on the surface). Cook potatoes until very tender, about 18 to 20 minutes. Drain potatoes well, ensuring the garlic slices stay in the pot.

Transfer potatoes to the bowl of your stand mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment, and mix them until well mashed. Mix in the buttermilk and 1/4 cup melted butter.

Remove the paddle attachment and attach the whip attachment. Whip potatoes on high speed two to three minutes, until very smooth and light (see Eric’s options). Season the potatoes with salt and pepper; mix in the parsley and chives, saving a bit of both to decorate the tops of the potatoes.

Place the potatoes in a serving dish (see Eric’s options). Drizzle and sprinkle the tops of the potatoes with a little melted butter, sprinkle with remaining parsley and chives, and serve.

Note 1: You can warm the buttermilk and melt the butter by zapping them in a bowl in the microwave, or by placing them in a small pot and heating them on the stovetop.

Note 2: Fresh chives are sold in the produce section of most supermarkets, often in small plastic containers. If you can’t find them, finely chopped green onion will also work in this recipe.

Eric’s options: If you don’t have a stand mixer, you could mash the potatoes with a potato masher, then very vigorously mix in the buttermilk and butter. The potatoes won’t be as light as when whipped by machine, but they will still be flavourful.

These potatoes, once prepared and placed in a heatproof serving dish, could be cooled, refrigerated and reheated up to a day later in a microwave. Do the latter in 30 to 60 seconds spurts, until potatoes are hot.

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These slender green beans are accented with toasted nuts and crumbled cheese. - Eric Akis

French-style Green Beans With Nuts and Cheese

Slender beans are blanched, heated and tossed with such things as butter, toasted nuts and orange juice before being platted and topped with bits of tangy cheese.

Preparation time: 10 minutes

Cooking time: About eight minutes

Makes: Six to eight servings

1 (300 gram) bag French-style greens beans (see Note)

1/2 cup pecan or walnuts pieces

1 Tbsp butter

1 Tbsp olive oil

2 Tbsp orange juice

2 tsp balsamic vinegar

• salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

50 grams blue, soft goat or boursin cheese, crumbled

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the beans and blanch them until bright green and just tender, about three minutes. Drain the beans well, cool with ice-cold water, then drain well again (see Eric’s options).

Place the butter and oil in a large, 10- to 12-inch wide skillet set over medium heat. When butter is melted, add the nuts and cook and toast them one to two minutes. Add the beans to skillet and cook and stir two minutes. Pour the juice and vinegar into the skillet, bring to a simmer and cook until they are almost evaporated and the beans are hot, about one to two minutes more.

Arrange the beans on a serving platter, top with your crumbled cheese of choice (see Eric’s options) and serve.

Note: Slender, French-style green beans are sold in bags at many supermarkets. They are often sold with the stem-ends trimmed. If yours are not, trim them before cooking.

Eric’s options: You can blanch and cool the beans up to a day before reheating and serving. Keep them refrigerated until needed. If desired, you could omit the cheese from this recipe. The beans won’t be as rich, but they will still be flavourful.

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Yams and Sweet Potato Stacks can be prepared ahead of time and baked and reheated when needed. - Eric Akis

Yam and Sweet Potato Stacks

Cooked, peeled, sliced yams and sweet potatoes are stacked, flavoured and baked together, into attractive looking single-serving portions. If you are serving these with roast turkey, pop them into the oven when the bird is cooked, out of the oven and resting.

Preparation time: 40 minutes

Cooking time: About 95 minutes

Makes: eight servings (one stack each)

1 medium to large yam (see Note)

1 medium sweet potato (see Note)

1 Tbsp butter

1 Tbsp honey or maple syrup

4 tsp lemon juice

• pinches of ground cinnamon, ginger and clove

• salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

8 pecan halves

8 fresh sage leaves or small rosemary sprigs

Preheat oven to 325 F. Line a small baking pan with parchment paper. Prick the yam and sweet potato a few times with a fork, then set in a baking pan. Bake yam and sweet potato until just tender, about 60 to 70 minutes.

Cool the cooked yam and sweet potato 15 minutes, until safe enough to handle, but still warm. Carefully remove the skin from the yam and sweet potato with a small knife. Cool yam and sweet potato to room temperature.

Trim about 1/2- to 1-inch off either end of both the yam and sweet potato. Save those ends for another use. Slice the trimmed yam into 16 slices, about 1/3- to 1/2-inch thick. Now cut the trimmed sweet potato into 16 slices, about 1/3- to 1/2-inch thick each.

Place the butter, honey (or maple syrup), lemon juice, spices, salt and pepper in a bowl and zap in the microwave a few seconds, until the butter is melted. If you don’t have a microwave, place these ingredients in a small pot, set over medium heat and warm until the butter is melted.

Line a medium sheet pan, or a 13- x 9-inch baking pan, with parchment paper. Set eight slices of sweet potato in a single layer in the pan, spacing them about two inches apart. Brush the top of each sweet potato with some of the melted-butter mixture.

Set a slice of yam on each slice of sweet potato. Brush the top of each yam slice with some of the butter mixture. Top each of those yams with a slice of sweet potato. Brush those sweet potatoes with some of the butter mixture. Top those sweet potatoes with remaining yam slices. Brush the tops of those yams with the remaining butter mixture.

Decorate the top of each yam and sweet potato stack with a pecan half and a sage leaf or rosemary sprig (see Eric’s options).

Bake the yam and sweet potato stacks, uncovered, in a 325 F oven for 25 minutes, or until heated through, then serve.

Note: Buy a yam and sweet potato that’s about eight to 10 inches long, and about 2 1/2 to three inches wide. That size will yield the number of slices you’ll need for the recipe.

Eric’s options: You can get the yam and sweet potato stacks oven-ready a day before needed.

Keep them refrigerated until ready to bake.

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Eric's twist on cranberry sauce incorporates blackberries and ginger. - Eric Akis

Cranberry Sauce with Blackberries and Ginger

This tangy cranberry sauce is richly hued and spiced, thanks to the addition of blackberries and fresh ginger. Serve it with poultry, such as roast turkey or chicken, roast pork, and even baked ham.

Preparation time: 10 minutes

Cooking time: 20 minutes

Makes: About three cups

1 (250 mL) jar blackberry jam (I used Bonne Maman brand)

3/4 cup unsweetened apple juice

1 (340 gram) bag fresh or frozen cranberries

1 cup fresh or frozen black berries

1 Tbsp maple syrup or honey

1 tsp finely grated, peeled fresh ginger

1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

1/8 tsp ground cloves

• pinch salt

Place the jam and juice in a medium pot. Set over medium to medium-high heat and bring to a gentle simmer. Cook and stir until the jam melts and blends with the juice, about one minute.

Add the remaining ingredients and return to a gentle simmer, adjusting the heat as needed. Simmer sauce, uncovered, until the cranberries just begin to fall apart, about 15 to 18 minutes.

Cool sauce to room temperature. Now transfer to a tightly sealing jar or other container and refrigerate until needed. Sauce will keep a week or more.

Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks, including seven in his Everyone Can Cook series. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.

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