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Old 09-18-2006, 10:55 AM   #1
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Pairing Main and Side Dishes

Hi All,

I'm becoming more and more enamored of preparing fine meals and, as my wife loves to entertain, have the opportunity to do so for guests.

I have recently picked up a book called "What to Drink with What You Eat", which has been a great book for picking a wine to go with dinner.

The next thing that I want to start to learn about is how to match apps, sides, salads and desserts with the main dish. Does anyone have any suggestions on books or other resources I can use?

I don't want a cookbook that tells me this particular side goes with this particular main, but something that will help me learn on a more basic level so that I can decide for myself.

Any and all suggestions are appreciated.


A Novice Cook


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Old 09-18-2006, 11:13 AM   #2
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Hi mattheux! (love the spelling of your name - I lived at the Canadian border in Vermont and am quite familiar with names ending in eux!!!!)

First, let me say that your other two posts were removed as this one fits the forum better. Well, actually - FIRST let me say welcome to the site!!!!!

Let me give it some thought about what sides go with what entrees. Someone may know if there is a cookbook that gives some sort of guidelines or suggestions. I, as probably do most people, just go by what I think goes well together. I'll do some searching to see if there is anything actually written to help.

Just be sure and check back here to see if someone can give you more support than I did!!


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Old 09-18-2006, 11:24 AM   #3
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I can't recommend any books, but I can offer a few suggestions. I've been cooking for nearly 50 years, so I have a bit of experience.

First, think visually. Eating satisfies the eyes as well as the palate and stomach. Presentation is a large part of a meal. Think color and balance and what things naturally pair with each other. For example, pork/ham (pinkish) look good with orange (sweet potatoes) and yellow (squash). When it comes to balance, watch out for overdoing carbs - and, no I don't mean for dietary reasons. There should be a nice balance of protein with carbohydrates. In other words, if you're serving baked ham with a sweet potato dish, it is best not to serve noodles or rice as another side. You see what I mean.

Poultry (chicken, duck, turkey, Cornish hens) are all great friends with fruit. One of my favorite ways to prepare Cornish hens is with a wild rice-pineapple stuffing. A nice side with this would be steamed whole green beans that are inserted into "rings" of steamed yellow squash. Again, lots of nice colors and a good balance.

As for appetizers, if you have a rather flavor intensive or heavy meal planned, go light on the appetizers. Remember that the purpose for an appetizer is to get your diner's taste buds eager for a meal.

Desserts should be a nice finish to your meal. And, as in the case of appetizers, try to make the magnitude of the dessert fit the meal. If your meal is a light one, you can go a bit more gangbusters with the dessert. You don't want your guests driving home feeling as if then couldn't believe they "ate the whole thing." It's that balance thing again.

I think instead of buying books to guide you, check your existing cookbooks for menus. Many cookbooks have a section in them with suggested menus. These will give you some idea of what goes with what. Use these as a springboard for your own menus.

One thing I've learned from preparing and serving "fine" meals is that, if you are still learning, start with something you prepare well. Experiment with side dishes. These are generally easier to prepare and less intimidating to a novice cook. Also, serving a meal like this to guests is more likely to be received well. This success will give you the confidence to become more adventuresome and more apt to try more complex dishes. Build a good foundation first.

I believe anyone can become a fine cook if they take the time and read, read, read. Always read a recipe completely through before thinking about preparing it. If there's anything unfamiliar in it, look it up or ask someone. The only stupid question is the one you DON'T ask. When you have spare time, pick up a cookbook and actually read it. This will enable you to become familiar with ingredients, cooking terms and techniques.

And lastly, have fun. If you have a boo-boo, laugh about it and order delivery pizza. Life in the kitchen goes on.

Best wishes.

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Old 09-18-2006, 11:40 AM   #4
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When planning a meal, there are several aspects to consider.
For one thing, you don't want a lot of different strong flavors that compete with each other, ie. shrimp scampi with rosemary roasted potatoes
Nor do you want too much of a good thing, like having garlic/herb/parmesan bread with Italian spaghetti.
You should also consider textures. For instance, if you're serving a baked chicken and noodles, you don't want green bean casserole to go with.
Lastly, consider the esthetics of your meal...how it looks on the plate. Try to use several different colors of foods, and don't be afraid to garnish.

Here are some combos to use as an example:
Pan-seared or grilled salmon with baked potato, asparagus spears & dill sauce.
Scalloped chicken and noodles with braised broccoli florets & baby carrots.
Sliced baked ham with scalloped potatoes and pan-fried green beans.

I hope I helped!
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Old 09-18-2006, 11:41 AM   #5
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"Culinary Artistry," by Dornenburg and Page is a wonderful book that delves deep into what flavors work with what foods and what the outcomes will be as well as what goes with what. I think you will find it to be a fabulous reference. Many people on this site keep it right beside their most dogeared cookbooks in the kitchen! Pros and home cooks alike!!!
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Old 09-18-2006, 12:17 PM   #6
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Thanks for the suggestions, they have been helpful.

As recommended, I have been doing some experimintation with mixed results. It never hurts to have some direction before starting out and will take all I can get.
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Old 09-18-2006, 12:18 PM   #7
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Now I'm curious - what pairings have you done that didn't work? I love to hear about people's experiences with food.

"Count yourself...you ain't so many" - quote from Buck's Daddy
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Old 09-18-2006, 12:20 PM   #8
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And don't underestimate your sheer instinct... you would be surprised it works more often than it doesn't!
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Old 09-18-2006, 12:36 PM   #9
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I was going to recommend Culinary Artistry also! When I want to get new ideas of flavors to go with something, that is the book I go for!
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Old 09-18-2006, 12:45 PM   #10
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The biggest mistakes that I have made is with the flavors. I can't list any one thing, its just that when I could read and follow a recipie and actually have it come out the way it is supposed to, I started picking dishes that appealed to me without thought of how they would taste together. So, albeit fewer times now with a little experience, I would pick dishes that competed with each other so that the tastes drowned out one another.

Hence the post to try to avoid this in the future.

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