Here are a few side-dish tips to help time-starved holiday cooks:
· Cook vegetables just until tender, especially if they are headed for a buffet or will sit for a while before being served.
· Whether you're steaming, boiling, microwaving or sauteing, have pots and pans set up and standing by. That will make it easier to slide things onto the stove at the last minute.
· If you're overwhelmed, keep it simple. Compound butters (mixed with seasonings such as salt and pepper, citrus zest, garlic or herbs) can dress most vegetables. Add to still-hot vegetables and toss. The butters can be made days in advance, rolled into logs and wrapped in wax paper or plastic wrap and frozen. Many stores now sell prepared compound butters.
· Toss just-cooked vegetables with fresh herbs and olive oil. The heat from the vegetables will warm the herbs just enough to enhance their flavors.
· Mushrooms, toasted nuts and dried cranberries add a holiday touch to an easy salad of mixed greens. Toss the ingredients in advance; add the dressing just before serving, or decant dressings to glass or ceramic pitchers for the buffet table.
· No need to worry if the vegetables are ready a little early. Reheat them in ovenproof dishes, covered loosely with aluminum foil, in 300-degree oven just until warmed through. Many vegetables are good served at room temperature, too.
-- Stephanie Witt Sedgwick