I love a cheap and delicious side dish. In fact, since I don’t eat meat myself, the side dish is often my main dish. What I have found, being isolated at home, is just how important meals are. I therefore try to make them special with encore side dishes that do not dent my budget so potatoes, craps of vegetable stems and other cheap produce on sale are the key.
This first recipe I adapted from a recipe I saw on some cooking show. I am forever making potatoes; boiled, mashed, fried, steamed, hashed, baked, microwaved, you name it, my partner loves his spuds. This means I am also forever looking for a new way to make potatoes. This recipe for scalloped potatoes is one I particularly like because it uses a cast iron skillet to bake up thinly sliced potatoes to a creamy delicious conclusion. It also helps use up older potatoes. The second started out as a way to use up broccoli stems but is now so popular in my household that when I buy broccoli, which is nearly every week, my partner thinks I buy it for the stems and the flowerets are now the afterthought. For the third recipe I always wait until frozen corn goes on sale for $0.99 a bag to make it. I also wait for diced green chilies to either go on sale or hit the shelves at the discount grocery store and I stock up then so I have them on hand when frozen corn is on special.
Encore Killer Scalloped Potatoes
4 or so potatoes, russet is the usual pick but any good baking potato will do
1 stick of butter or margarine
1/3 cup to 1/2 cup flour
2 cups whole or skim milk, warmed
2 and 1/2 cups shredded cheese, cheddar or a cheddar mix is the usual pick but fontina, gruyere, jack or any combination therefore is fine as long as it is a good melting cheese
Salt and pepper
Method: Take the stick of butter and generously smear it around the inside of your cast iron skillet to coat using about 1/8 cup of the butter. Melt the rest of the butter and whisk in the flour to make a paste, cooking out the raw flour which takes a few minutes. Whisk in the warm milk and season with salt and pepper. Meanwhile, peel and thinly slice the potatoes (no more than 1/4 inch thick). You can use a mandolin but I generally do this by hand and it takes no time at all. As the white sauce thickens, add 2 cups of the cheese and stir to melt. While the cheese sauce thickens up, line the buttered cast iron skillet with half of the potatoes and season with salt and pepper liberally. Pour half of the cheese sauce over the slices of potatoes. Layer with the rest of the potatoes, season with salt and pepper again and pour over the rest of the sauce. Top with cheese sauce and loosely cover the skillet with a sheet of foil. Bake for 35 minutes in a pre-heated 350-F oven for 45 minutes before removing the foil. Bake for another 15 minutes uncovered before serving.
Variations: You can sprinkle a fist full of in leftover bits of bacon on to each layer of potatoes or mix in a cup of frozen peas right out of the bag, still frozen. You can add in a cup of caramelized onions or use up that leftover diced ham languishing in your freezer. You can also turn it into a main dish by mixing in a pound of cooked, drained ground beef, chicken or turkey. This dish takes on a wide variety of proteins or vegetables, all with excellent results.
Encore Broccoli Stem Slaw
2 thick broccoli stems
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup toasted and diced walnuts
1/2 cup mayo
1/4 cup each white sugar and cider vinegar
salt and pepper to taste.
Method: Run the stems through a food processor using the grating blade or shred by hand using a hand grater. Mix the shredded stems with the dried cranberries and walnuts and set aside briefly. Mix all the other ingredients, whisking well. Pour the dressing over stems mixture and coat well. Serve within two days, makes an excellent picnic salad and I get requests for this so often that I find myself ‘saving’ broccoli stems for this salad on nearly a weekly basis.
Variations: You can swap out the walnuts for any other kind of nut you fancy, almonds are particularly good/ I’ve also used other dried fruit in this salad including dried apricots, raisons, currents and even dried figs but dried cranberries seems to be the family favorite.
Encore Chili Corn Casserole
12 to 16 ounces frozen corn
1/4 cup, small can of diced green chilis, drained
1 cup sour cream
1 1/2 cups shredded Monterey jack cheese
Method: Pre-heat the oven to 350-F deg, Mix all ingredients and bake for 25 minutes until bubbly.
Variations: You can bulk this dish up by adding 2 cups of cooked black beans and increasing the sour cream and chilis to 1/2 cup diced green chilies, 2 cups of sour cream and an additional cup of shredded jack cheese. You can also top this with a handful of sliced black olives and some cilantro or some drained, diced red tomatoes and slivers of pickled red onion.