Ruby red jewels of cranberry and pearl onions get a boost of interest from ginger and a chili for some heat. You can make this one day ahead of time.
Dorothy Grover-Read/The Commons
Ruby red jewels of cranberry and pearl onions get a boost of interest from ginger and a chili for some heat. You can make this one day ahead of time.

Simple, sensational sides

Save sanity with these holiday recipes

BELLOWS FALLS — No matter the feast, we love a variety of side dishes, and sometimes they even upstage the main event. But we want things simple as well as tasty, and having a few tricks up our sleeves at this busy time of year will definitely reduce the stress factor.

Whenever possible, make those sides the day before, or bring them to an almost-done stage to reheat them quickly and easily. When I'm cooking a turkey, I use the giblets to make a gravy the day before. Just before the meal, I add some of the pan drippings and reheat it at the very last.

The cranberry sauce and squash can easily be made the day before - and the cranberry sauce will actually taste better if you allow the flavors time to merge and mellow.

Homemade Cranberry Sauce with Pearl Onions and Ginger

Homemade cranberry sauce is like a sparkling jewel on the table. This jewel also packs flavor and a bit of warmth.

If you are looking for a really quick side dish to make for the upcoming holidays, but one with a definite wow factor, look no further. One pan, one quick cook, and a little simmering time, and you end up with a lovely sauce that marries well with not only turkey or another big holiday meal, but chicken or even tofu on a weeknight.

In a small saucepan combine:

¶4 cups fresh or frozen cranberries

¶{3/4} cup sugar

¶{1/3} cup brandy

¶{1/3} cup water

¶1 Serrano pepper, finely minced

¶1 heaping Tbsp. fresh ginger, grated

¶Zest and juice of 1 lime

¶Pinch of salt

Toss the lime carcasses in as well. Bring to a boil until the sugar dissolves and reduce to a simmer.


¶10 oz. frozen pearl onions, thawed

Cook until the cranberries have burst, and the sauce is thick, about 15 minutes. Let cool and serve.

Don't like the flavor of ginger? Leave it out, or substitute with horseradish!

Maple-Roasted Delicata Squash

This is hardly even a recipe! It's quick enough for a weeknight but lovely enough for company or holidays. There is just enough maple flavor for interest, but keep a watch on it, because the maple will burn quickly.

Preheat oven to 450 F. Brush a rimmed baking sheet with neutral oil and place in the oven to heat.


¶2 large delicata squash

Cut into 2-centimeter rings, and you don't need to bother to remove the seeds - most people don't mind their texture, and they add a lot of nutrition. But if you don't care for them, just use a paring knife to scrape them out. The skins are always edible and will tenderize.

Mix and set aside:

¶2 Tbsp. maple syrup, dark amber

¶2 Tbsp. olive oil, fruity

Once the oven is hot, remove the sheet and place 1 layer of squash rings on it. Pop them in the oven for 7 minutes. They will have started to soften.

Remove the squash from the oven and turn the rings over, and brush them with the maple mixture. Sprinkle them with salt, pepper, and a little smoked paprika.

Return them to the oven for another 5 minutes, or until they are fully cooked and browned.

Light and Lively Roasted or Grilled Oysters

When we taste an oyster, we taste the sea, pure and simple. There is nothing that can transport us to the shore better than a plump oyster, fresh from the shell, preferably with just a squeeze of lemon. Add a glass of Prosecco and a friendly companion, and all is well in the universe.

But some prefer their oysters cooked, so this is a great way to offer them up, lightly dressed for the oven or charcoal grill, with plenty of flavor. Don't bury the oysters in a cream sauce, or cover them up with stuffing and spinach and bacon! Let the little bivalves shine in their splendor.

Preheat oven to 425 F.

Have ready:

¶2 cloves garlic, finely minced

¶Dry white wine or lemon juice

¶Crushed red pepper flakes

¶2 Tbsp. fresh parsley, finely minced

¶Parmesan, freshly and finely grated


¶1 dozen oysters

The cook deserves a treat, so help yourself to one or two straight up. If you have trouble shucking oysters, ask your fishmonger to do so for you, but mention that you want the liquor as well.

Most of us don't have an oyster pan, but you can crinkle aluminum foil and nestle in the oysters so they are stable and their juice won't leak out.

Sprinkle just a tiny bit of garlic onto each oyster, followed by 1 tsp. or so of white wine, and just a few crushed red pepper flakes. Sprinkle parsley and grated Parmesan over all - minimally, so the oysters shine through.

Broil for 5 to 6 minutes, depending on their size, or until the cheese is melted. Don't overcook! Serve immediately.

Even better: You can also do this on the grill for an additional smoky flavor.

Dorothy Grover-Read's culinary talents can be found on her blog "The New Vintage Kitchen" (, billed as "[a] Vermont innkeeper's collection of classics reimagined for today's kitchen," from which these recipes are gleaned. Her column has regularly appeared in The Commons' Food & Drink and other special sections for years.

This Special section column was submitted to The Commons.

Subscribe to the newsletter for weekly updates