The Austin Chronicle

Santa's Big Cookbook Bag

Reviewed by Anna Toon, December 6, 2013, Food

by Tara Mataraza Desmond
Andrews McMeel Publishing, 240 pp., $24.99

Feuding mother-in-laws, bickering sisters, and combative uncles – if holiday planning has your apron in a bunch because choosing sides is as difficult as breaking bread, then 'tis seriously the season for a judicious spread of side dishes. After all, if a problem can't be solved over a pear, some Gruyère, and ham puff pancakes, it may not be worth solving.

Tara Mataraza Desmond offers a straightforward approach to choosing and preparing side dishes for any occasion by focusing on creating simple, well-balanced meals. In eight chapters, Desmond answers the inevitable question, "What goes with this?" She covers brunches and luncheons, breads for any occasion, salads and dressings, weeknight dinners, warm weather cookouts, intimate gatherings, potlucks and parties, and holiday feasts. The introduction includes a chart organized by main entrée, letting readers know what to pair with chicken, beef, fish, lamb, pasta, pork, and turkey, as well as which side dishes can be utilized as a main course when building a vegetarian meal.

Each side dish recipe also features an "Alongside" list, a rundown of suggested main course pairings. Though the recipes for suggested main courses are not included, the recommendations are relatively standard, leaving hungry readers one Google search or recipe box perusal away from a complete meal. Andouille frittata bites can be paired with a Cajun spice-rubbed salmon; a turnip and rutabaga gratin works well with garlic prime rib with béarnaise sauce; a timely cornbread dressing featuring pork sausage and apples pairs nicely alongside oven-fried buttermilk herb chicken, an alternative to the standard holiday turkey. The perfect gift for the consummate hostess or devoted foodie, this cookbook showcases a diverse array of side dishes designed to complement any main course.

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