Pick A Side! Potluck Season Prep

A wise chef once told me to never cook a dish for the first time to serve it to others. Make the meal for yourself first to ensure the meal's delectability. Good point. For me, there is nothing better than the smile and happiness that comes from other people enjoying and savoring a tasty, nutritious dish that I provided. This is a true sense of accomplishment - especially when the good food is good for you. 

Fall is a time of abundance and variety. Fruitful harvests across the state make for a colorful table and produce aisles with plenty of variation to choose from. Since we are on the heels of potluck season, I see no reason for anyone to focus primarily on the staple side dishes of one's holiday kitchen but tis' the season to try new recipes and ingredients to bring something new to a friend's table on the needed occasions.

Trying new recipes and working with unfamiliar ingredients can be time consuming, especially when preparing other aspects of a meal like a main dish and other complimentary side dishes. Combine this with the knowledge that a busy work schedule doesn't allow for my (and many of my fellow food lovers) kitchen to invoke the aura of one Julia Childs or Alice Waters on a daily basis, has led me to new strategies. I have been on the hunt for well balanced side dishes that have some depth (variety in nutrients, color, texture and composition) that can be an entire meal, or close to it, for a few dinners each week. 

I do believe that sides should not always be subsidiary to a main course. I know, bold statement. Trust me, I do love my slow cooker one-pot-meals and many a Minnesota throw-it-all-in-there hot-dish, but sometimes a girl just needs a little time away from the token classics of our frosty-season table. Many times I have sat at a restaurant looking over the menu and then realized that I could find nothing better than ordering a few of the side dishes instead of a main course. Caramelized anything will get my attention every time, hands down. Since this has worked so wonderfully when out at dinner, I put together the aforementioned flexible "side" dish idea into the weekly line-up and I have been giving it a try chez moi. The results: deliciousness in variety.

Over the last week, I created a menu of sides for my own dinner that can later be used as offerings for social gatherings in the months to come. Each creation highlighting some of the best that the autumnal term has to offer. As a bonus, leftover side dishes make fantastic and easy lunches. From the line-up, a couple of favorites sifted to the top...first, brussels sprouts with apples, onions and crispy bacon. Second, roasted beets with butternut squash, cipollini onions, thyme and toasted walnuts atop.

 Because they are not an instant favorite for many adults and children, brussels sprouts are often discounted when they shouldn't be! They are delicious and nothing to be feared. These baby cabbages contain nutrients that help in the elimination of carcinogens in our bodies by triggering the livers detoxifying enzymes. A good storing vegetable, brussels sprouts provide plenty of vitamin A, vitamin C, folate and fiber, all of which are essential to the needs of our bodies during Minnesota's colder months. Combined with apples, a local fav from Aamodt's Apple Farm and crispy cut-your-own bacon from Tollefson's Family Farm, via the Minneapolis farmers' market, they create a dish that is not to be missed as well as one that works wonders at a potluck. If eating at home try adding a poached egg to top this off and make it a complete meal.   

Beets have a misleading exterior that may turn some people away, don't let them fool you! Beneath the surface, beets can be sweet or savory and are jam-packed with beta-carotene and folic acid. These are fantastic for your heart, fighting cancer, good vision as well as helping prevent birth defects in expectant mothers. Although the recipe below does not call for the beet greens, do not discount them. They are almost double in folic acid, calcium and potassium than the actual root (bulb) and can be prepared easily in a saute like kale or chard. This dish combined with butternut squash is a nutrient bomb. Butternut squash are high in anti-inflammatory assets, potassium, and vitamin B6 - which is essential support for our immune system. 

Leave the dinner rolls to Aunt Sally and the soda to Terry from IT. Bring something you are truly proud of to this year's gathering. Try one of these or dig up a few recipes that fit your taste and cooking style and test away! Here is a peek at a couple of my runners-up to bring to the tastier (and healthier) holiday table this potluck season:


Brussels Sprouts with Apples, Onions and Crispy Bacon


- 2 pounds brussels sprouts - trimmed and halved

- 3 medium Honeycrisp apples (or other crisp variety) - cut into chunks

- 1 large (2 small) shallots - each bulb quartered 

- 1 red onion - cut into eighths

- 1/3 cup thick sliced nitrate-free bacon or pancetta - cooked and chopped*

- 3 T olive oil

- 1 T balsamic vinegar or fig vinegar, if available

- 2 T maple syrup

- sea salt and black pepper

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. In a large bowl, toss brussels sprouts, apples, red onion and shallots with olive oil, vinegar and 1 1/2 tablespoons maple syrup. Spread the contents of the bowl evenly on a double rimmed cookie sheet. Add 1 teaspoon of sea salt and season with pepper.  Roast uncovered for 25 minutes, toss then add bacon and reminaing maple syrup. Continue to roast until brussels sprouts are tender and browned, about 5 - 10 minutes.  Remove from oven, toss to combine and serve. 

 *If you can, venture to the market and pick up the cut-your-own bacon from Tollefson's via the farmers' market. It's worth it! Clancy's market in SW Mpls also has bacon they will slice for you from locally sourced pigs.

Roasted Beets with Butternut Squash, Cipollini Onions and Thyme


- 4 red beets - washed, trimmed and halved

- 4 golden beets - washed, trimmed and halved

- 1 small butternut squash - peeled, cut into 1 inch cubes

- 4-5 cipollini onions - peeled and sliced

- 3 T olive oil

- 1 1/2 T local honey 

- 2 sprigs thyme

- sea salt and black pepper

-1/4 cup toasted walnuts, chopped into quarter sized pieces

- black lava sea salt, if available for garnish

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place each type of beet in a bowl and toss with a drizzle of olive oil and sea salt and pepper. Transfer into small baking dishes and cover with foil. Roast for about 1 hour. Take out of oven, allow to sit until cool enough to peel. Quarter beets and set aside.

Place squash into a baking dish, drizzle with olive oil and sea salt and pepper. Toss to coat. Roast for about 1 hour or until able to pierce with fork, toss half way through. Toss onions, olive oil drizzle, honey and thyme in a baking dish. Bake until slightly charred and very soft, about 40-45 minutes.

Combine all parts into one serving or transporting dish. Top with toasted walnuts. Enjoy!


Rachel Huntzicker is a writer, practitioner of yoga and clean foodie with an evolving desire to learn more about sustainable whole living and the food-to-mood connection. From her evolving and ever present desire to learn, she came to conclusion that growing her own quarter acre organic garden was a must. Follow her journey on her blog, the Woodland Garden. Her last article for SGT was: Healthy Eating/Healthy Living with Brenda Langton.