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Thread: How do you choose "go together" meal items?

  1. #1
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    How do you choose "go together" meal items?

    I have great difficulty choosing recipes that go together for a meal. If I have an entree, I don't know what to serve with it or if I have a side dish that I want to try, I have trouble finding something that it will go with.

    How do you choose "go togethers" ? Do you look at seasoning, texture, consistency (ie sauce or not), etc. Please help!

  2. #2
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    Great question Elinor. I too have this problem. I find it difficult to decide on 'side dishes' for my main entree. As a result, I tend to look for recipes that have everything in - i.e. the whole shabang!

    Looking forward to the responses.

    I can only imagine though that it would come with experience and just listening to your tastebuds!

    YP

  3. #3
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    It all depends for me so I don't think I'll be of much help.
    I look at textures....not too many crunchy things or too many creamy/smooth things together.
    I try to have a variety of colors--not too much beige food or everything green
    I also try to make it nutritious...if I have a rice side I won't serve corn because those are two starches--or potatoes for that matter.
    Sometimes it's a mish-mash of stuff simply because I have leftovers to deal with and I don't care if any of the above rules are followed
    Finally, if I don't feel like defrosting something, or if I don't feel like running to the store...we get what we have on hand.

    I've also done searches on the web--here and epicurious because sometimes people post stuff and it gives me ideas too
    Thoreau said, 'A man is rich in proportion to the things he can leave alone.'

  4. #4
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    I think generally, if something you make seems assertive and flavorful, you should have a lighter side. For example, if you make a tomato or creamy pasta dish (which tends to feel heavy) something like a salad is lovely. But if you had something like a grilled tofu or fish dish that's less assertive you could have a heavier side that's say, potato based.

    Or, if you go by flavors, if you had something super spicy (a curry) or super sweet (something teriyaki) with a lot of sauce, plain old simple white rice would be superb to soak up the sauce. That's how the chinese always have it.I suppose simplicity is best, but if you're not sure of the flavors of a dish, you should always try making it and then seeing what familiar flavors you think would work.

    And I think you do have to look at all the elements - texture, aroma, seasonings etc. when choosing because you experience all of them when you're eating. I think the safest thing is to pick out the most prominent seasoning or flavor in a dish and try to mimick it in the side so they don't clash (ie. not sundried tomato something as a side with something honey glazed). I suppose this isn't much of and answer - but I'm Chinese, so I say, when in doubt, white rice usually works.

  5. #5
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    I agree with wallycat about texture and color. Another thing is theme-if the entree is say, oriental, I will go with a starch like noodles or rice and an oriental spiced vegetable. Also I think it is personal taste...just what sounds good with what. Like for us, meatloaf just cries for mac and cheese and green beans. Grilled steak has got to have baked potato in some form and sauteed mushrooms. Some things just seem to go together.

  6. #6
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    I try to have only 1 starch. Have a colorfull plate! It is much more appealing!
    Curleytop

  7. #7
    Aside from paying attention to the nutritional balance of the meal, I'd have to say that one of my primary concerns is flavor. I don't want to serve two STRONGLY flavored elements in the same meal. EVERYTHING shouldn't be spicey... or creamy... or sauteed (you get the idea).

    Similarly, not every dish should be complex. I never want to "glob up" my guests taste buds by serving too many fancy dishes. For as impressive as that might seem, it usually ends up being more annoying than pleasant. Generally, when I serve a very complex main dish (ie many steps and/or ingredients), I'll tend to serve simple sides. It's amazing how an ordinary steamed vegetable changes its character when served with a complex main dish.

    I apply some of the same rules for dessert -- a heavy dinner never warrants a heavy dessert. At the same time, after a spicey meal, I don't want to serve something that will get "lost" or upstaged by the strong flavors of the dinner.
    It's so beautifully arranged on the plate - you know someone's fingers have been all over it. --Julia Child
    BURP! Where Food Happens

  8. #8
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    I'm afraid my side-dish selection is dictated by a) what's in the fridge, b) what's in the freezer and c) trying to have 1 meat dish, 1 veggie dish....



    Not very sophisticated!
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  9. #9

    Cool

    I think Lori put it perfectly (knew there was a reason I liked her.) I don't want Dueling Flavors. I don't want the seasoning of my main course duking it out with the herbs in my side dishes-- the idea is to enhance and compliment each other. Pay attention to what you're served in finer restaurants-- that fish served with the exquisite sauce is often flanked by plain steamed veggies, or an understated starch. Group together too many interesting flavors on a plate and they're vying for attention-- and your star dish gets lost in the shuffle.

    Yes, I agree that certain foods DO seem to cry out for certain accompaniments-- but on the other hand, throwing in an unexpected curve-- like serving something OTHER than rice and beans with enchiladas-- is a refreshing change and can actually perk up a meal.

    Another thing which I may pay attention to is the season. In the summer, I don't even want to LOOK at certain things. For the most part, potatoes are out-- due to their heavy nature. Rice, barley and couscous seem lighter to me and don't require turning on the oven. Roasted foods become grilled or sautéed. Fruit and salads become more prominent.

    Just as a rule of thumb with most of my meals, a complicated entree will be served with a simple side and vice-versa. Heavy foods are complimented with light ones, and sure, I try to take colors and textures into consideration.

  10. #10
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    I am also side-dish challenged! My inspiration usually comes from 1) suggested accompanyments from CL (or the cookbook I'm using - Moosewood, for example, is great at suggesting sides or go-withs), and 2) the weekly menus from BB board menus! I just love that post every week!!

  11. #11
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    I agree with all of the great advice/comments above.

    Also, as you make more menus, you'll discover some things that just DON'T go together, and it will normally be quite obvious to you as to why. For example, one night, I made meatloaf, but then realized I didn't have any potatoes -- our #1 choice for a side dish (we were also having salad). So I made pasta, just linguine, tossed with some olive oil, garlic, oregano, tomatoes and shredded parmesan. Now, that is the way I make pasta all the time and we love it, but the combination of that with my fairly spicy meatloaf (it's my Mexican Meatloaf recipe) was a really BAD combination -- too many competing spices. A few months later, the same thing happened, meatloaf but no potatoes, so I made rice to go with it. Another BAD combination, but I think it was because of the texture that time.

    One last example: I usually serve rice when I make teriyaki salmon, but one night DH begged me to make the pasta described above with it. Against my better instincts, I served the teriyaki salmon with the spicy, vaguely italian pasta. Not a combination I'll repeat either, although DH thought it was great. At that point, I decided that DH would never be in charge of planning the meals.

  12. #12
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    In addition to what everyone's said above, I'll just add that I also look at what appliances I'll need. I don't want to have to bake an entree at one temperature and a side at another at the same time. Or I make sure that the stovetop won't get too crowded, so I'll pick a side that I can stick in the oven or microwave, or that doesn't need to be cooked at all.

  13. #13
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    Thanks everyone for your helpful suggestions and comments. I try to do the same things that everyone mentioned but sometimes it results in a disaster combination as Dewey pointed out. I think that sometimes I want to try a side dish recipe so much that I pair it with something I've already planned on cooking rather find another better entree and frequently it's incompatible. You'd think I'd have learned by now!

  14. #14
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    Similar to the above...

    First I try to make sure I have a meat or protein dish, a grain or potato type dish, and a veggie dish. Then I think about flavors--I too try to avoid dueling flavors or too-similar flavors (garlic and herb pasta, garlic and herb bread, garlic and herb veggies). If the entree I am making is from a certain region of the world, I might use that region to direct me--i.e., an italian pasta salad will be good with Tuscan style chicken or beef. Then I think about colors/textures, to avoid the problems described above. Other times I just have to go with my gut, though. Last night I was making a Moroccan chicken dish with couscous, and I couldn't decide what veggie side dish to serve with it, and I didn't know what types of veggie side dishes would be "regional" either, so I decided some plain grilled zucchini, just sprayed with olive oil and sprinkled with salt and pepper would go fine--it wouldn't compete, in any case--and it did work well. I've learned a lot by paying attention when I eat out, too, looking at what good restaurants do with side dishes.
    "In France, cooking is a serious art form and a national sport."
    --Julia Child

  15. #15
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    I did and still do have problems with this. My solution, especially on weeknights, has been to have only one recipe per meal. If I have a recipe for the entree I will usually just steam some veggies and rice/pasta. Or if its a new side dish I want to try, I'll just saute chicken breasts or whatever else is handy. I usually try to plan out my weeks menus so I have some idea what's happening when. It's not always exciting, but I am getting a better idea of what works. It still ends up all beige sometimes.

  16. #16
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    I'm not great at this, but in reading the thread I see that I do use many of the strategies employed by veteran BBers - so I guess I'm on my way! Also, you guys may have saved me by putting this a little more top-of-mind. Tomorrow I'm making the Italian Meatloaf with Provolone and Fresh Basil and also the Mashed Potato Casserole (or a slight variation on it) -- but was also going to make the Summer Squash and Corn Sauté. I was a little concerned about conflicting flavors, but after reading this thread also wondered about serving potatoes AND corn -- and then noticed that all three recipes are a little heavy on the dairy, even lightened. I'm eager to try the veggie dish, but it will have to wait (if you can suggest a good entrée to go with it --- shoot!). Tomorrow's veggies will be summer squashes with a knob of butter, olive oil, and Fox Point Seasoning. Unless, of course, I get a better suggestion !

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