Come on, the turkey is the easy part.

No decisions there, past whether you'll roast it, fry it or pop it on the grill. Turkey is a given. Turkey is the star.

And the finale is pretty much planned out, too. Pumpkin pie will almost certainly close the show.

But what about the supporting players? What about all that space in between?

You have to decide what else you're going to serve at the most important dinner party of the year.

When it comes to Thanksgiving dinner, the side dishes -- with apologies to Tom Turkey -- actually are the ones that carry the most flavor. So what you serve on the side really matters. And it was proven during a taste testing in our Modesto Bee offices.

A few Bee home chefs cooked up their favorite recipes recently and brought them in for a side dish taste-off.

All the major players were represented: stuffing, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, salads, veggies, rolls and cranberries. Some were family favorites, some were new recipes getting a tryout.

The best part: All are easy to whip up, so you can enjoy the family and friends that make up your annual day of gratitude.

Oh, and the taste-test winner? A decadent, creamy Devonshire corn.

>Cranberry-Citrus-Pecan Stuffing

1 box stuffing mix

Chicken broth

2 oranges

1/2 small onion

4 tablespoons butter

2/3 cup pecans

2/3 cup Craisins

1/4 cup orange juice

Orange zest

Prepare the boxed stuffing per instructions, substituting chicken broth for the water. Set aside

Saute onions, butter, pecans, Craisins and orange juice until the onions are opaque. Add the zest of one orange and squeeze the orange for more juice. Combine with the stuffing and place in serving bowl. Garnish with slices of orange.


>Aunt Polly's Red-Hot Apples

6 to 8 tart apples (Granny Smith, Pippen, Gravenstein)

1/2 cup sugar

1/4 cup Red Hots cinnamon candy

Peel, core and cut apples into eights (or smaller, to reduce cooking time), putting cut pieces in cold water to add moisture and prevent browning.

Put apples in pot with 1/4 cup water. Add sugar and Red Hots. Heat on medium until steam rises, then turn heat to low, cover and simmer, stirring every so often for about 20 minutes or until apples are desired softness.


>Snowy Mashed Potatoes

12 medium potatoes

1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened

1 cup sour cream

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon pepper

1 clove garlic, crushed

1/4 cup chives, chopped (optional)

1/2 teaspoon paprika

1 tablespoon butter

Peel, quarter and boil potatoes until tender. Combine with cream cheese, sour cream, salt, pepper, garlic and optional chives, and beat with mixer on high speed until smooth and light. Spoon into lightly greased round baking dish. Sprinkle with paprika and dot with butter. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Dish can be baked covered (for smooth top) or uncovered (for slight crusting on top).

Note: Potatoes can be cooked and mashed the day before and refrigerated overnight, in which case bake at 350 degrees for 45 to 60 minutes.


>Homemade Rolls

1 package yeast

1 tablespoon sugar

1/2 cup warm water

1 cup milk

1/2 cup butter

1/2 cup sugar

3/4 teaspoon salt

3 eggs

4 cups flour

Mix together yeast, 1 tablespoon sugar and warm water and set aside to rise.

Scald milk and 1/2 cup butter and cool completely, then add in the sugar, salt and eggs. Mix well, then add in the yeast mixture. Add enough flour to create a very sticky batter. Set aside to rise three to four hours

Once risen, turn half the dough on a floured board or cloth, knead and roll out into a circle. Use a pizza cutter to slice the dough into pie/pizza slices. Roll, beginning at the large end, and place on a greased baking pan. Let rise two to four hours.

Bake at 325 until golden brown, about 12 to 14 minutes.


>Devonshire Corn

1 cup milk

2 tablespoons flour

2 (10-ounce) packages frozen corn, thawed

2 tablespoons butter, softened

1 cup heavy whipping cream

1 teaspoon salt

Pinch each nutmeg, cayenne pepper and white pepper

Mix milk and flour together. Combine corn, butter, cream, milk/flour mixture and seasonings in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer five to seven minutes, uncovered.


>Pickled Beets

1 cup water

1 cup vinegar

1 or 2 teaspoons sugar, or enough to take bite out of vinegar

1 (14.5-ounce) can sliced beets, drained.

1 small red onion, sliced

2 hard-boiled eggs, shell removed

In a bowl or jar mix the water, vinegar and sugar until sugar is dissolved. Add sliced red onion, sliced beets and hard-boiled eggs. Let all the ingredients pickle for four days, refrigerated. Stir the mixture a couple of times a day.

To serve, drain beets, onions and eggs. Slice eggs. Serve beets, onions and sliced eggs in a serving bowl. Recipe can be doubled.


>Paisano Squash


Yellow squash

1 or 2 (14.5-ounce -- cans Italian-style stewed tomatoes

Italian seasoning

Freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Wash and slice zucchini and yellow squash into a microwavable bowl. Add water to about an inch deep, then microwave for about eight to 10 minutes, depending upon desired firmness. Drain water and stir in the Italian-style stewed tomatoes and Italian seasoning to taste. Microwave 1 1/2 to two minutes, then top with fresh grated Parmesan cheese.