Don’t just open a can; make side dishes worthy of your special entrees

Published 9:10 pm Monday, May 4, 2015

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Sometimes when I cook, I find myself focusing most of my attention on whatever the main dish is going to be. Some of my friends who cook admit to falling into this same pattern as well.
I think this is partly due to the fact I don’t always have time to make an entire meal from scratch. But sometimes, I think it boils down to tunnel vision. I focus so much on one part of the meal the rest becomes dull.
I remember the family dinners we would have when I was growing up, especially the big dinners at holidays. At those meals, there were always several incredible side dishes.
But nowadays, it can become hard to find the time, or energy, to put out a spread with those kinds of side dishes.
I often find myself going back to old standbys like mashed potatoes, mac and cheese and minute rice or even just opening up some canned beans or corn.
But, there are so many wonderful and tasty recipes out there for accompanying dishes it seems a real shame to not prepare something intriguing from time to time.
To help get myself out of this rut I am challenging myself to add some variety back into our meals. Maybe sometimes I’ll even forgo a “main dish” in favor of a dinner made entirely of side dishes.

Arzella Peas
This recipe was given to my family by a dear friend of my mother’s when I was a child. Her name is Arzella Rasnick. My family has always referred to this recipe as “Arzella Peas” in her honor. This is an easy way to add a twist to an otherwise simple side dish.
2 cans of sweet peas, drained
1 can cream of mushroom soup
4 tablespoons of butter or margarine
1 to 2 tablespoons of sugar (adjust to suit your taste)
Melt butter in a small sauce pan. Stir in cream of mushroom soup and sugar. Once blended, add peas and mix well to coat.
Heat over medium, stirring frequently to prevent the soup mixture from sticking. Bring almost to a boil then reduce heat and simmer. Once the peas are heated all the way through this dish is ready to serve.

Tropical Sweet Potatoes
This recipe combines two things I love ­— sweet potatoes and pineapple.
4 large sweet potatoes
8 ounce can of crushed pineapple
6 tablespoons of butter, melted and divided
3⁄4 teaspoon of salt
pinch of pepper
1⁄2 cup crushed Ritz crackers
2 tablespoons brown sugar
Pinch of ground cloves
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In a large sauce pan, cover sweet potatoes with water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 30 minutes or until tender. Drain and cool.
Once cooled, peel the potatoes and place in a large mixing bowl and mash.
Add pineapple, 2 tablespoons of the melted butter, salt, pepper and mix well.
Transfer mixture to a greased 2-quart baking dish.
Combine crushed crackers, brown sugar, cloves and remaining butter. Sprinkle mixture over top of sweet potato mixture.
Bake, uncovered for 20 minutes

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Onion-Bacon Baby Carrots
A lot of different flavors come together to create this unique dish.
2 large sweet onions, sliced
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 pounds fresh baby carrots, halved lengthwise
1 teaspoon salt
1⁄4 teaspoon coarsely ground pepper
2 tablespoons butter
1⁄2 cup french-fried onions
8 bacon strips, cooked and crumbled
1⁄4 cup chopped green onions
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
In a large skillet, cook onions in oil over medium heat for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown, stirring frequently.
In a large bowl, combine the onions, carrots, salt and pepper. Toss to combine.
Transfer to a greased shallow 3-quart baking dish. Cover and bake for 40-45 minutes, or until tender.
Stir in the syrup and butter. Sprinkle with french-fried onions and bacon. Bake, uncovered, 5 minutes longer, or until fried onions are browned.
Sprinkle with green onions and serve with a slotted spoon.

Baked Corn Pudding
This is a sweet and creamy comfort food dish.
1⁄2 cup sugar
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 eggs
1 cup milk
1⁄4 cup butter, melted
1⁄2 teaspoon salt
1⁄2 teaspoon pepper
1 can whole kernel corn, drained
1 can cream-style corn
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In a bowl, combine the sugar and flour. Whisk in the eggs, milk, butter, salt and pepper. Stir in the corn and cream-style corn.
Pour into a greased 2-quart baking dish. Bake, uncovered, for 45-50 minutes, or until a knife inserted near the center comes out clean.
Abby was born and raised in the Stoney Creek community of Carter County. Her love of cooking grew over the years as she worked in the kitchen alongside her mother and grandmother. Reach her at