The Sides of December


By Ari LeVaux, Contributor

The roast beast may be the main event on most holiday tables and typically, that’s the responsibility of the host. But since on any given night we are statistically more likely to be a guest at the party than the host, it helps to have a few side dishes in the toolbox. Here are three of my go-to dishes for when somebody else is baking the bird.

Roots that Rock

This recipe produces spuds with a pleasing, crunchy skin that swells around the molten potato flesh inside. Drier potatoes, like russets or Yukon golds, will outperform waxy types like fingerlings or reds. My favorite potatoes to roast like this are purples, which blow up like purple puffy blimps full of atomized starchy bliss.


3 pounds potatoes
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
1 tablespoon black pepper
1-2 teaspoons ground cumin
4 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons salt

Optional sauces: fresh garlic and butter for tossing; ketchup, mayo and hot sauce for dipping.

Add 2 tablespoons salt to a gallon of water and bring to a boil. Add the potatoes, boil for ten minutes and drain. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees, along with a tray.

Mix the cumin, black pepper, garlic powder and 1 tablespoon salt and add two tablespoons of this mixture to the still-warm roots and stir them around roughly, to help disintegrate the soft, starchy exteriors. Add the olive oil and stir again.

Spread the potatoes upon the hot tray and hear them sizzle. Put as many pieces on the tray as possible without letting any of them touch.

Bake for 30 minutes. Remove the tray and inspect. Turn each piece so a different side faces down and bake again, removing pieces periodically and testing them, until you decide they are done.
For a tangy, spicy dip, mix equal parts mayo and ketchup and add hot sauce to taste.

For the garlic herb butter dressing, melt the butter in a pan and saute fresh garlic and green herbs, like parsley, sage, rosemary and/or thyme. Toss the roots in the garlic herb butter and serve.


Crispy Brussels Sprouts and Cauliflower 

This is a side dish that will steal the show. The crispy Brussels sprouts and cauliflower are balanced by the piercing notes of a cider vinegar reduction and the spicy richness of a mustard crème fraiche.  Makes 2 servings.


2 cups (8 oz.) Brussels sprouts, evenly sized

2 cups (8 oz.) cauliflower florets, broken or cut into 2 inches or smaller on a side

1 quart fry oil

½ cup (2 oz.) cured pork belly lardons (or 2 slices bacon, cut crosswise into ½-inch wide pieces)

Blanch the Brussels sprouts for about 2 minutes. Transfer immediately to ice water for another 2 minutes, then drain. They should be completely dry before going into the oil.

Heat a quart of oil in a heavy-bottomed pot or deep pan. The oil should be at least 2 inches deep and at least 3 inches from the rim. When it reaches 350 degrees, turn the heat down to hold it there.

Fry the lardons for a minute or two, until they are golden brown. Remove and let drain. Add the cauliflower and Brussels sprouts and fry for about 3 minutes — until the cauliflower is brown and the Brussels sprouts puff up. Remove and drain.

Toss the Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and lardons in salt.

Mustard Crème Fraiche 

1 cup heavy cream

1 tablespoon buttermilk

1 teaspoon cider vinegar

1 teaspoon lemon juice

3 tablespoons Dijon mustard

3 tablespoons ground mustard

Stir the vinegar, buttermilk and lemon juice into the cream; let it sit for four hours. Stir in the mustards. Keep refrigerated until needed.

Cider Vinegar Reduction

1 large onion, chopped

2 tablespoons oil

1 cup sugar

1 teaspoon salt

1 quart cider vinegar

Heat the oil in a pan and “caramelize the crap out of the onions” on low heat for about 40 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the sugar, salt and vinegar and cook until the volume reduces by two-thirds. Let cool and blend until smooth. Strain out the (very tasty) onion sludge. Keep the cider reduction refrigerated until needed.

Crème Anglaise

This rich, luxurious drink will outclass the finest eggnog. The French are spoiled, as they can buy it in cartons at the supermarket. And they love it so much they are loathe to export it. Makes two cups

1 cup milk

1 cup cream

3 yolks

3 tablespoons sugar

2-inch section vanilla pod, split

Combine milk and cream and heat slowly with the vanilla pod. Meanwhile beat the yolks and sugar together.

When the milk is about to simmer, with bubbles forming on the edge of the pot, add it in a very slow, thin stream to the yolks, beating furiously the whole time with an egg beater or immersion blender. You want the yolks to heat up very slowly as the milk is incorporated. If at this point it doesn’t look like scrambled eggs, continue.

Put the mixture back in the milk pan (sans vanilla pod) and heat very slowly, stirring often. Swirl the mixture around in the pot and look at the bottom. As soon as a layer of custard starts to build on the bottom of the pan, turn off the heat, pour it into a vessel and allow it to cool. It only takes a few seconds, and is easy to overdo at this point. Alternatively, wait until it coats a spoon and you can streak it with your finger.

This is the thick stuff, restaurant-grade and it is meant to be poured on top of something similarly decadent. Amazingly, you can make it even richer and thicker by going full cream. And if you want to add some Kalua, I won’t stop you. ‘Tis the season, after all.


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