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It’s all about the sides

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It may be called Turkey Day, but on Thanksgiving, the side dishes make the meal
Jim Flint photo Quick and easy and made with only three ingredients, this cranberry orange relish adds a fresh, bright note to the table.
Jim Flint photo This cranberry apple crisp is the perfect balance of tart and sweet with a delicious oat, flour and brown sugar crumble topping. It may become your new favorite holiday dessert.
Jim Flint photo Brown butter with soy sauce and balsamic vinegar takes these roasted green beans with toasted almonds to another level.
Jim Flint photo Balance the richness of the Thanksgiving dinner with a pear, watercress and pecorino salad, dressed with a lemony vinaigrette.
Jim Flint photo. Bake stuffing in muffin tins and get delicious toasty bits with every bite.

Roast turkey, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie may be your go-to basics for Thanksgiving dinner. But if you’re like most people, you’re open to adding a new side dish to amp up the menu.

Many of us include a favorite from our childhood — mom’s green bean casserole, grandma’s oyster stuffing, or Aunt Betty’s candied sweet potatoes. But it’s fun to change it up now and then.

Today, we’ll share new takes on some classics and introduce you to a new dish or two. Yes, there’s butter involved. But it’s Thanksgiving!

As a bonus, we offer a dessert recipe that may become your new holiday favorite.

Buttery Bacon Brussels Sprouts

I’ve been tinkering with Brussels sprouts for about five years and have enjoyed them roasted, sauteed, and raw — shaved in a lemony, crunchy salad. This recipe makes sprouts celebratory. Serves 4-6.

1-½ pounds Brussels sprouts, halved

1 tablespoon olive oil

3 tablespoons butter, divided

½ medium onion, diced

4 cloves garlic, finely sliced

4 strips thick bacon

Juice of half lemon

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Grated Parmesan for garnish

Cook bacon in a large skillet until crispy. Remove to a paper towel-covered plate.

Pour off bacon grease and wipe skillet with paper towel. Melt 2 tablespoons butter with olive oil in the skillet. When melted, swirl to coat pan and turn off heat.

Cut rough ends off sprouts and halve them through the stems. Place in skillet cut side down, then turn on burner to medium high heat. Cook about 8 minutes without stirring until cut sides are golden brown. Flip sprouts with a fork or tongs, scatter chopped onion and garlic, pushing them down between the sprouts with a fork. Add pieces of remaining tablespoon of butter to the pan, turn heat down to medium low, cover, and cook another 5 minutes.

While sprouts finish, cut cooked bacon into half-inch pieces with scissors. Uncover finished sprouts, season to taste with salt and pepper, add bacon to the pan, and toss with two wooden spoons. Grate fresh Parmesan over the sprouts, spritz with lemon juice and serve immediately.

Roasted Green Beans with Brown Butter

Want a delicious change-up from the usual green bean casserole? Roast these in the oven and finish with a luscious balsamic brown butter sauce.

Brown butter tastes so good for the same reason a seared steak does. It’s a process called the Maillard reaction, which describes the breakdown of animal proteins into hundreds of flavor compounds. The soy sauce and balsamic vinegar add a savory complexity. Serves 4-6.

1-½ pounds fresh green beans, rinsed, trimmed and dried

Cooking spray

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

3 tablespoons sliced almonds or pecan pieces

1-½ tablespoons butter

1-½ teaspoons soy sauce

1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

Preheat oven to 475 degrees. Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper. Arrange rinsed, trimmed and dried green beans in a single layer on the baking sheet. Use a second baking sheet if needed to avoid crowding.

Spray beans lightly with cooking spray and toss to coat. Sprinkle with kosher salt and pepper.

Roast beans for 13-15 minutes until crisp-tender and with some browned and seared spots, stirring them once midway.

While beans are roasting, place butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Stir occasionally as it melts and cooks. Take off heat when butter has turned a rich golden brown (5-10 minutes). Don’t let it get past golden. Off heat, carefully add soy sauce and balsamic vinegar at arm’s length (it may splatter) and stir to blend.

Remove the roasted beans to a serving platter. Place almonds or pecans onto a fresh piece of parchment on the baking sheet and roast them for 1 to 2 minutes. Watch closely because at that high heat they will toast quickly and burn easily.

Drizzle beans with the brown butter sauce and toss lightly to coat. Sprinkle with toasted nuts and serve.

Stuffing Muffins

Use your favorite recipe for dressing but cook it in a muffin tin instead of a baking dish.

You end up with cute individual portions that are deliciously crispy around the edges, those toasty, crunchy bits that contrast with the moist dressing.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Generously butter the muffin cups. Spoon a half cup of dressing into each cup and press to compact. Then mound another half cup on top of each filled cup, pressing to help it hold its shape.

Bake until “muffins” are golden, about 25 minutes. Cool in the pan for 15 minutes. Using a knife, loosen muffins and pop out of the pan.

Add Flavor to Dressing

For a delicious dressing with a rustic, country flavor, use your favorite basic recipe with the following changes:

Substitute 6-8 ounces of diced pancetta for the sausage

Add a cup of pecan pieces

Add 1 large apple, peeled and chopped

Substitute day-old cornbread pieces for half your bread (store-bought is OK)

If you don’t see pancetta in the case, your butcher or deli manager can cut a piece of frozen pancetta for you. Pancetta has a distinctly porky flavor without the smokiness of bacon. Thaw in the refrigerator. Dice the pancetta and saute in butter until browned. Add the chopped apple and cook to soften. Then add to your stuffing mixture with the pecan pieces.

If your basic recipe calls for 12 cups of dry bread cubes, use 6 cups of cornbread cubes and 6 cups of bread.

The pecans provide a bit of crunch to the bite. The cornbread adds a toothsome texture to your dressing and a flavor that marries well with the pancetta and apples.

Pear, Watercress & Pecorino Salad

The shavings of pecorino Romano cheese are a perfect contrast to the sweet pear and peppery greens in this salad. This recipe is adapted from one in a 25-year-old cookbook by Michele Scicolone, “A Fresh Taste of Italy.”

Use a swivel-bladed vegetable peeler to get the thinnest possible shavings of pecorino, preferably at room temperature. The delicate flakes have a melt-in-the-mouth quality that balances with the other ingredients. Serves 4.

1 large pear, cored and sliced thinly

2-3 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

2 tablespoons olive oil

Flaky or kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1 large bunch of watercress or baby arugula (about 4 cups) washed, dried and trimmed

1 ounce pecorino Romano cheese at room temperature

Whisk lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper until combined. Add pear slices and gently turn to coat.

Divide the watercress or arugula among salad plates and top with pears, drizzling remaining vinaigrette. Shave thin flakes of pecorino Romano over each salad and serve immediately.

Quick & Easy Cranberry Relish

Please don’t buy a can of jellied cranberry sauce when you can have fresh, homemade cranberry relish in two minutes that will zing your tastebuds with its fresh, sweet and tangy taste.

1 (12-ounce) package fresh cranberries

1 seedless orange

½ to 1 cup sugar, to taste

In a food processor, grind the cranberries, sugar and orange (rind and all). Start with 1/2 cup sugar, taste and add more if you prefer the relish less tart. Refrigerate for a few hours or overnight. It’s a fresh, bright taste on the Thanksgiving plate, and great in your turkey sandwich the next day.

Cranberry Apple Crisp

My mom made the most wonderful pies — pumpkin, apple, berry — with such tender, flaky crusts. I always wished I could duplicate them. But since Karen started making this amazing tart-sweet cranberry apple crisp, I have a new favorite dessert. Thank you, Jane Brody (adapted from her “Good Food Book”). Serves 4-8.

3 cups cranberries (12-ounce package)

2 large apples, unpeeled, cored and sliced thin

½ cup sugar

1 teaspoon cinnamon

¼ cup all-purpose flour, divided

¾ cup rolled oats, regular or quick

½ cup chopped walnuts

3 tablespoons butter, melted

2 tablespoons brown sugar, packed

In a large bowl, combine the cranberries, apples, sugar, cinnamon and 1 tablespoon of flour. Transfer the mixture into a greased, 6-cup, shallow baking dish.

In the same bowl, combine the remaining flour, brown sugar, oats and nuts. Stir in the melted butter and mix well until crumbly. Sprinkle the oat mixture over the fruit mixture.

Bake in a preheated 375-degree oven for 40 minutes or until the crisp is lightly browned. Remove and let stand for 10 minutes before serving, with or without vanilla ice cream. I vote for with.

You can reach Ashland writer Jim Flint at jimflint.ashland@yahoo.com.