The Perfect Side Dish for a Party

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Some side dishes are so beloved that they take on a life of their own above and beyond the main dish: It's hard to imagine a turkey dinner without the stuffing. But the best side dishes are meant to simply complement the entree, create a contrast in texture or flavor, and taste delicious. In a party setting, look for side dishes that are easy to eat, mild in flavor and universally appealing.

Mixed Fruit

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Think beyond the traditional fruit salad, which often gets soggy and withered. Instead, create a platter of fresh fruit skewers with vibrant colors and flavors. Skewers are quick and easy to grab and keep your buffet line moving. Do not use fruits that brown easily, such as bananas and apples; instead, choose seasonal berries, pineapple, grapes, and melon, chopped into uniform sizes. Make the skewers ahead of time and keep them chilled until you serve them. Alternatively, serve fruit slaw. Julienne seasonal, firm stone fruit -- like apricots, peaches and plums. Toss it with minced scallions, grated ginger and a homemade or store-bought sweet vinaigrette.

Party Potatoes

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Make a healthy twist on a beloved American staple -- French fries -- with roasted red potatoes. Scrub the potatoes clean; then dice them into uniform cubes or slices. Toss the cubes with extra-virgin olive oil, salt and pepper; add minced fresh garlic for a little kick. Sprinkle in some fresh herbs, such as rosemary, oregano or parsley. Roast the potatoes at about 450 degrees Fahrenheit for approximately 45 minutes or until lightly browned and serve immediately. Or make a hearty hash brown casserole. Thaw frozen hash browns and combine them with cheddar cheese, condensed cream of chicken soup, shredded cheddar cheese, chopped onion, butter, salt and pepper. Pour the mixture into a greased baking pan and bake at about 350 F for approximately 30 minutes until bubbly.

Ample Apples

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Not everyone eats an apple a day, but with more than 7,500 varieties, as of the time of publication, to choose from, perhaps they should. Apples have a crisp flavor that pairs well with most foods. Choose a sweet variety -- like Gala or Fuji -- and make applesauce. Peel the apples and cut them into slices. Place the slices in a pan and cover them with water; then simmer them until tender and mushy. Add sugar, butter, and cinnamon until blended and mash with a potato masher. Applesauce can be made ahead and chilled until serving. It can also be portioned ahead of time into ramekins or small, disposable bowls and placed on a tray at the buffet for easy access. Or make crowd-pleasing baked apple halves with a tart variety -- like Granny Smith or Pink Lady. Halve and core the apples; then pierce the skin with a fork. Place the apples cut-side-up on a baking dish. Mix brown sugar, butter, raisins and cinnamon in a small bowl, and spread the mixture onto each apple. Pour a small amount of water in the baking dish and cover it tightly with foil. Bake at about 350 F for approximately 40 minutes until the apples are tender.

Bread Sides

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Transform fresh baguettes into specialty garlic bread. Simply slice them in half lengthwise and spread with garlic, butter, olive oil, and fresh parsley, and add other toppings such as olives, diced tomatoes, or a pesto spread. Or make it cheesy -- add shredded jack, provolone, Parmesan or Romano cheese. These baguettes can be prepared ahead of time, but don't bake them until just before serving. Bake them until golden -- approximately 10 minutes -- in a 450 F oven. Alternatively, you can make pretzel rolls. Mix yeast, water, flour, sugar and salt, and knead the mixture on a flat surface for 5 minutes. Roll it into walnut-sized balls; then place it on a greased baking sheet. Brush each ball with a beaten egg. Sprinkle the balls with salt before placing them in a 425 F oven for approximately 15 minutes until golden. These can be make ahead of time and reheated before serving.

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