Every meal has a star - roast beef, omelet, fried chicken, baked beans - something for the centre of every table from carnivore to vegan.
Then there are the lowly side dishes. If it's all about the steak, maybe it doesn't matter to you what's on the plate next to it, but mushy peas or hard turnip can spoil an otherwise delicious meal for me.
So I gave some thought to the other side of that coin. What would you serve to dress up an otherwise ordinary main ingredient? These are what I came up with.
Green Beans and Carrots in Lemon Herb Oil
Lean and fresh, this dressed vegetable side goes perfectly with an equally lean main ingredient such as fresh cod, but also with a well marbled slab of beef or plain roasted chicken legs.
I can eat a bowl of this divine mixture on its own, come to think of it.
For a completely different but equally delicious flavour, substitute unsalted butter for the olive oil - not quite as good for you, though.
This amount easily serves 6 to 8 people, depending on what it accompanies at the table, but the quantities are estimates and the recipe will halve or double well.
1 lb. fresh green beans, trimmed and cut into 1-inch lengths
1 lb. baby cut carrots
1 tsp. salt
3 tbsp. best quality olive oil
grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
1/4 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
1 tbsp. each chopped fresh thyme and basil
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
Place beans and carrots with salt in a small pot and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer a few minutes, until nearly tender - don't overcook. Drain and keep warm. Put olive oil, lemon zest and lemon juice in the same pot and heat until bubbling hot. Remove from heat, stir in parsley, thyme, basil and black pepper, pour over beans and carrots, and toss well to coat. Taste and add a pinch of salt if needed.
Twice-Baked Over-Stuffed Potatoes
If you're barbecuing, you'll appreciate a make-ahead side that you just have to pop in the oven while the grill is heating up.
This recipe rolls up all your extras into one fabulous dish, but these are decadent in the extreme - unless you're 15 years old, don't eat more than half of one potato - so four should be enough for eight people or four teenagers.
4 large baking potatoes
2 tsp. vegetable oil
1/4 tsp. each salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup butter or margarine
1/4 cup softened cream cheese (light works)
1/2 cup sour cream (low-fat is fine)
1 cup grated Monterey Jack or cheddar cheese (divided)
1 cup chopped cooked broccoli
8 strips bacon, crisply cooked and crumbled
4 green onions, sliced
1 clove garlic, grated or finely minced
Rub potatoes with oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper - this treatment makes the skins crispy and delicious, so they won't be left on plates later. Bake at 400 F for about 1 hour or until tender when tested with a fork. Cut in half crosswise and scoop out the centres, leaving enough of the potato attached to the skins so they hold their shape. While still hot, mash the centres with butter and cream cheese. Stir in sour cream, about 3/4 of the grated cheese, broccoli, bacon, onions and garlic and spoon mixture back into shells - go ahead and pile it on. You can make ahead up to this point - refrigerate until ready to rebake.
Place on a baking sheet and sprinkle remaining cheese on top. Bake at 350 F for 30 minutes or until hot through and cheese is melted.
Garlic Veggie Pasta Salad
Are you sick of gluey, tasteless macaroni salads with rubbery ham and squishy cheese? This recipe is your salvation. Bring it anywhere and serve it to anyone with pride. The trick is to have everything ready to accept the hot pasta right out of the water so it soaks up the maximum flavour. This quantity serves a crowd, but scale it down for Sunday supper with the family.
1 bulb garlic
3/4 cup best quality olive oil
1/3 cup crumbled feta cheese
1/3 cup sherry or white wine vinegar (or any flavoured vinegar you like)
2 tsp. honey
1/2 tsp. each salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 lb. ripe tomatoes, coarsely diced
1/2 English cucumber, coarsely diced
1 red pepper, diced
1 large stalk celery, thinly sliced
1 cup large green olives, coarsely chopped
4 green onions, sliced
1/2 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
2 tbsp. chopped fresh dill
1 lb. bowtie pasta (or whatever shape you like)
Peel garlic cloves and place them whole in a small saucepan. Cover with olive oil and poach over very low heat for about 15 minutes or until soft - do not let them brown. Mash garlic into oil and allow to cool. Whisk in feta cheese, sherry vinegar, honey, salt and pepper. Toss dressing with tomatoes, cucumber, red pepper, celery, olives, green onions, and herbs. Cook pasta according to package directions; drain and toss right away with dressing and vegetable mixture. Spread on a baking sheet to cool quickly and serve warmish or at room temperature.
Cynthia Stone is a writer, editor and teacher in St. John's. Questions may be sent to her c/o The Telegram, P.O. Box 86, St. John's, NL, A1E 4N1.