With Independence Day just around the corner, The Star talked to local caterers about the best simple sides for any shindig.
Andrea O’Keefe, executive chef for Prime Fine Dining and Catering, recommends keeping it simple and easy with fresh fruit from the farmers market.
“It’s my personal favorite and it’s easy to serve,” O’Keefe said. “Mix fruits that are in-season, such as strawberries, blackberries and watermelon.”
Prime has several popular side dishes for parties, she added. “We do a really great pasta salad with grape tomatoes, penne pasta, red onions and broccoli, as well as an in-house coleslaw.”
At Dad’s Bar-B-Q in Anniston, they don’t share the recipes: “The recipes are secret,” said Rusty Orr, general manager at Dad’s. “I had a lady try to pay me for the spicy ranch recipe the other day.”
But they’re happy to make sides for customers. The Fourth of July is probably the busiest day of the year for Dad’s, Orr said.
At Dad’s catering, the most popular sides are the classics: baked beans, potato salad, coleslaw and macaroni and cheese. Orr said they are open to altering recipes or trying something new, but most customers come for the tried-and-true favorites.
“You have to understand, when people come to us for catering, they want Dad’s Bar-B-Q,” Orr said. “They want the good stuff so they can relax and enjoy the party.”
As for keeping the sides cold and away from bugs, O’Keefe has a few tips.
“If it needs to stay cool, just put the bowl that the side is in inside another bowl filled with ice, and make sure to add ice frequently,” O’Keefe said.
O’Keefe said to pick up a couple of mesh food covers at a local grocery to cover food and keep out pests. And most importantly, don’t ever let food sit out for more than a couple hours.
“The maximum amount of time for the food to still be safe to eat is four hours,” she said.
If cooking sides at home sounds more appetizing, try out one of these easy recipes:
RED, WHITE AND BLUE POTATO SALAD
24 ounces small red potatoes, halved or quartered
24 ounce small purple potatoes, halved or quartered
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
4 tablespoons red wine vinegar, divided
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1/4 cup chopped fresh tarragon
8 ounces goat milk cheddar or gouda, diced
2 cups fresh blueberries
1 cup diced roasted red peppers
Place the potatoes in a large pot. Add enough water to cover the potatoes by 1 inch. Add a hefty pinch of salt, then bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, cover and cook until fork tender, but not falling apart, 12 to 15 minutes. Drain the potatoes, then spread them on a rimmed baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt and black pepper, then sprinkle with 2 tablespoons of the vinegar. Set aside to cool completely.
In a large bowl, whisk together the remaining 2 tablespoons of vinegar, the olive oil, mustard and tarragon. When the potatoes have cooled, add them to the bowl, as well as the cheddar, blueberries and roasted red peppers. Stir gently to coat. Chill for 1 hour.
— Associated Press
DOWN-EAST BAKED BEANS
1 pound (2 cups) Great Northern beans, or white navy beans also work
¼ pound salt pork
½ cup dark, full-flavored molasses
2 tablespoons dark rum
1 teaspoon mustard powder
Salt and pepper, to taste
Pick over the beans, removing any debris or pebbles. Place beans in a nonreactive pot, cover with 3 inches of water and let sit for 6-8 hours.
Place beans and what remains of soaking liquid into a large pot, adding more water if necessary to ensure the beans are covered. Bring this to a simmer, and after 15 minutes, check every 5 minutes until a sharp breath will split the skin of a bean. Then drain the beans into a colander, sitting on top of a bowl to catch the cooking liquid. Return cooking liquid to pot and let simmer on the stove while preparing beans for baking.
Preheat oven to 250 F.
Cut salt pork into bite-sized pieces and pour boiling water over to cover well. Drain after several minutes, discarding the liquid. Mix the salt-pork pieces into the prepared beans and pour them together in a 2-quart bean pot. Stir in the molasses and rum. Dissolve mustard powder in a bit of water and mix this in well. Add seasoning to taste, starting with about ½ teaspoon each of salt and pepper. Pour over just enough of the simmering bean liquid to be visible through the beans.
Turn off heat under the pot of simmering bean liquid. Reserve to add to baked beans as needed.
Cover baked bean pot and put in the oven. Bake beans for 5 hours — taste occasionally, noting texture and seasoning, and add more of the remaining bean liquid — or water — as necessary. When beans are soft and succulent, stir well, uncover and bake ½ hour more to thicken the liquid into sauce. Yields 4-6 servings.
— Adapted from “Serious Pig: An American Cook in Search of His Roots,” by John Thorne with Matt Lewis Thorne/MCT