A Different Side of Holiday Dinner

Dish up alternative sides that can double as a vegetarian entree (looking at you, Spinach and Ricotta Shepherd’s Pie), break away from the usual rolls with Cheddar Garlic Monkey Bread, and more. Plus, apple and pumpkin dessert ideas.
Spinach and Ricotta Shepherd’s Pie


Whether you’re hosting a dinner this holiday season or looking for dishes you can easily bring to share at a get-together, it’s good to have a little something different to bring to the table. Here, the flavors of your favorite veggie lasagna combine with the classic Shepherd’s Pie to not only cover the veggie side dish and the mashed potato craving, but it can also serve as the main course for any vegetarians at the table, says Twin Cities chef and cookbook author Robin Asbell, who created these recipes for Real Food. You can break away from the usual rolls with a pull-apart loaf—made easy with frozen dough—and dress up a spinach salad with cranberries, nuts, and a creamy make-ahead dressing. Plus, there is always room for dessert. Scroll down to link to a roundup of apple and pumpkin treats.

Spinach and Ricotta Shepherd’s Pie

Makes 8 to 12 Servings

This dish combines the flavors of your favorite veggie lasagna with the classic Shepherd’s Pie. Not only does it cover the obligatory veggie side and the mashed potato craving, but it can also serve as the main course for any vegetarians at the table.

2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes
1 cup half-and-half
4 tablespoons (½ stick) unsalted butter
1½ cups shredded Parmesan cheese, divided
1 teaspoon salt, divided
20 ounces frozen spinach, thawed and wrung out
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 pounds ricotta cheese
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon dried thyme
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

  1. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Prepare a 9×13-inch rectangular baking dish by lightly oiling it, and reserve.
  2. Cut the potatoes in large chunks and place in a large pot. Cover with water by 1 inch and place on the stove over high heat. Bring to a boil, and reduce heat to a vigorous simmer and cook until the potatoes are very tender, about 15 minutes. Drain and let cool slightly, then slip the skins off as you put them back in the pot to mash with a masher or a ricer. When mashed, add the half-and-half, butter, ¾ cup Parmesan and half of the salt and mix. When smooth, cover the pot and let stand.
  3. For the filling, wrap the wrung-out spinach in a kitchen towel and squeeze tightly to dry completely.
  4. In a large sauté pan, warm the olive oil over medium-high heat, and add the onion. Stir until they start to crackle, and reduce the heat to medium-low. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes to soften. Add the garlic and stir for 1 minute, then remove from heat and scrape into a large bowl. Let sit until cool enough to handle.
  5. Add the spinach, ricotta, eggs, thyme, and the remaining salt and pepper to the pan with the onions. Reserve ¼ cup of the remaining Parmesan for topping, and add the rest to the spinach mixture. Mix well.
  6. Spread the spinach mixture in the prepared pan and smooth the top. Dollop the potato mixture over the spinach and use a fork to spread it evenly and make an appealing crosshatched pattern.
  7. Bake in the preheated oven for 40 minutes, then sprinkle with remaining Parmesan and bake for 15 minutes.
Cheddar Garlic Monkey Bread


Cheddar Garlic Monkey Bread

Makes 8 Servings

Break away from the usual rolls and make this impressive pull-apart loaf, gilded with sharp cheddar cheese and garlic butter. By using frozen dinner roll dough, you cut the prep time and make it easy to put this golden bread on the table.

2 pounds frozen whole-wheat rolls or bread dough
1 stick butter
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
2 cups (8 ounces) shredded extra sharp cheddar cheese

  1. Have a non-stick Bundt pan ready to go. If using roll dough, remove 16 balls of frozen dough from the bag and place them on a baking sheet, cover with a damp towel or plastic wrap, and let thaw for 2 hours. After thawing, uncover the rolls, place each one on a cutting board and cut in quarters.
  2. In a medium pot, melt the butter and add the garlic and thyme, cook over medium heat for 1 minute, then remove from heat. Let cool.
  3. Brush a little of the butter on the bottom and sides of the Bundt pan. Toss four pieces of dough in the butter at a time, then scoop out with a slotted spoon and drop in the pan. Sprinkle each layer with cheddar cheese. When all the dough and cheese have gone into the pan, tap the pan on the counter a few times to settle the dough into the bottom. Drizzle any leftover butter over the top. Cover the pan with foil and let rise at room temperature on the counter for 1 hour.
  4. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Bake, covered, for 45 to 50 minutes. Use an instant read thermometer to check whether it is done: The center of the loaf should reach 190°F. Let the loaf cool for about 5 minutes on a rack, then place a plate over the pan and invert to drop the loaf on the plate. Serve warm with plenty of napkins.

Cook’s Note: To use frozen bread dough rather than rolls, cover two 1-pound loaves with a damp towel or plastic wrap and thaw in the refrigerator overnight. Cut the loaves into strips and cut those into 2-inch pieces. Proceed with recipe step 2.

Spinach, Cranberry, and Walnut Salad with Bleu Cheese Dressing


Spinach, Cranberry, and Walnut Salad with Bleu Cheese Dressing

Makes 4 to 6 Servings

Dress up a spinach salad with sparkling red cranberries, crunchy walnuts and a creamy dressing that elevates it to special meal status. This is easy to assemble at the last minute, and the dressing can be made up to four days ahead so your dinner will go smoothly.

For the Dressing
½ cup plain low-fat yogurt
¼ cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
½ cup (2 ounces) crumbled blue cheese

For the Salad
5 ounces spinach, washed and dried
2 medium scallions, chopped
½ cup chopped walnuts, toasted
½ cup dried cranberries

  1. For the dressing: In a small bowl, combine the yogurt and mayonnaise and stir until smooth. Stir in the lemon juice, salt and pepper, then stir in the blue cheese, mashing it with the spoon but leaving plenty of chunks. Transfer to a cruet or jar. Makes 1 cup.
  2. To serve, spread the spinach over a platter and sprinkle the scallions, walnuts and cranberries over the spinach. Drizzle with the blue cheese dressing and serve.

Nutrition Information
• Spinach & Ricotta Shepherd’s Pie (Per Serving): Calories 380 (189 From Fat); Fat 22g (Sat. 12g); Chol 98mg; Sodium 628mg; Carb 26g; Fiber 3g; Protein 22g
• Cheddar Garlic Monkey Bread (Per Serving): Calories 475 (218 From Fat); Fat 25g (Sat. 13g); Chol 58mg; Sodium 740mg; Carb 45g; Fiber 6g; Protein 19g

• Spinach Salad with Bleu Cheese Dressing (Per Serving): Calories 266 (173 From Fat); Fat 20g (Sat. 4g); Chol 15mg; Sodium 477mg; Carb 19g; Fiber 3g; Protein 7g

Caramel Apple Pie Bars

Washington Apple Commission

Hungry for More?

Pumpkin pie not your thing? Or looking for additional dessert ideas? Check out these recipes I have highlighted:

Caramel Apple Pie Bars Recipe

Apple crisp meets caramel apple pie in these treats. Plus, chew on apple fun facts and link to more recipes.

Pumpkin Sheet Cake with Broiled Pecan Topping Recipe

Try this easy-to-make cake, and stick around for more deliciously pumpkin-y recipes.

Easy as Pie

Fear not: It’s easier than you think to make delicious pie with tips, tricks, and a recipe from Twin Cities chef and Saint Paul College Culinary Arts instructor Jason Ross: We’ll start with apple.

Mary Subialka is the editor of Real Food and Drinks magazines, covering the flavorful world of food, wine, and spirits. She rarely meets a chicken she doesn’t like, and hopes that her son, who used to eat beets and Indian food as a preschooler, will one day again think of real food as more than something you need to eat before dessert and be inspired by his younger brother, who is now into trying new foods.