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The fundamental things apply every Thanksgiving

November 13, 2009|By AMANDA GOLD / San Francisco Chronicle

Thanksgiving is about tradition. Old habits die hard, and when it comes to cooking the holiday meal, many of us return to what we know, even if that calls for topping sweet potatoes with mini marshmallows or scooping jellied cranberry sauce out of a can.

At the San Francisco Chronicle, returning to what we know means breaking out our "Best Way" recipes -- those we've tested, updated and perfected year after year.

Here are some Thanksgiving fundamentals.

STUFFING

The key to a good stuffing is in the bread, but the effort lies in cutting the vegetables. Most stuffing recipes require chopped onions as a base ingredient, even if you're using a boxed mix. If done properly, this can be very simple.

Cut off the stem end of the onion, trim the root end, then halve the onion from top to bottom. This will give each half a flat side to place on the board.

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Leave the root end (which will be tighter than the stem end) intact to hold the onion together, peel off the skin and make vertical cuts along the onion half, spacing them according to the desired thickness of the dice. Don't cut all the way through to the root.

Next make horizontal cuts. With your knife parallel to the cutting board, slice the onion, spacing according to your desired dice size.

Finally, cut the onion cross-wise, releasing the diced onions in each layer as you cut toward the root end. When you've reached the final piece, lay it flat on the cutting board and make cuts in both directions to finish the dice.

WALNUT MUSHROOM STUFFING



o Serves 10

We like the chunkiness of the stuffing when the bread is in 1-inch pieces; for a more uniform texture, cut into smaller pieces. Use quality walnut bread and country French bread from the fresh bread section of specialty markets.

1 pound walnut bread, cut into 1-inch cubes
1/2 pound sweet French country bread, crusts removed and cut into 1-inch cubes
5 tablespoons unsalted butter plus butter to grease pan
3 cups chopped onion, in 1/2-inch pieces
3 celery stalks, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1/2 pound shiitake or other wild mushrooms, stemmed and quartered
1/2 pound brown or button mushrooms, quartered (or pre-sliced)
Kosher salt to taste
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh thyme, or 1 teaspoon dried
1-1/2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh sage, or 1/2 teaspoon dried
1/2 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary, or about 1/4 teaspoon dried
Freshly ground black pepper
3/4 cup currants or raisins
3 cups low-sodium chicken, turkey or vegetable broth

Place the bread cubes in a single layer on baking sheets and let dry overnight. Or, place in a 200-degree oven until very dry but not crispy, about 40 minutes. Let cool slightly.

Preheat the oven to 350.

Butter a Dutch oven, deep casserole or a 13- by 9-inch glass baking pan. (A deeper casserole yields a moister stuffing.)

Put the bread in a very large bowl.

Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and celery and saute until tender but not browned, about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Pour the vegetables over the bread.

Melt 2 more tablespoons butter in the skillet and add the shiitake and brown mushrooms.

Sprinkle with a little salt and the thyme, sage and rosemary. Cook for about 2-3 minutes, until the mushrooms brown slightly, but don't cook long enough for them to begin releasing liquid. Scrape the contents of the pan into the bowl.

Sprinkle 2 teaspoons salt, lots of black pepper, and the currants over the stuffing. Toss together, then slowly drizzle in the broth, tossing well to moisten all of the bread in the bowl. If needed, add enough water so the bread is saturated with liquid.

Place in the prepared pan, dot with remaining butter and cover the pan with foil.

Bake for 30 minutes. Uncover, increase oven temperature to 400 and bake until crusty on top, 15-20 minutes.

MAKING CRANBERRY SAUCE

Sure, you can shake it out of a can. But homemade cranberry sauce couldn't be simpler to prepare, and it can be done well in advance of the holiday.

The fruit is a natural thickener, so 10 minutes in the pot and it's ready to go. Check out the Chronicle classic recipe for Citrus-Cranberry Sauce (below), which blends the berries with orange slices, ginger, cinnamon and clove.

Once the sauce has cooled, it can be stored in the fridge for 3 to 4 days.

CHRONICLE CLASSIC: CITRUS-CRANBERRY SAUCE



o Serves 16

3-inch piece of cinnamon stick
3 whole cloves
3 slices fresh ginger, about 1/8-inch thick
1 orange (skin on), thinly sliced and cut into quarters
4 cups fresh cranberries
1 cup brown sugar

Combine the cinnamon, cloves, ginger, orange pieces and 2 cups water in a 2-quart saucepan. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for about 5 minutes. Remove the cinnamon stick, cloves and ginger.

Add the cranberries and sugar. Simmer, covered, for about 6-7 minutes, until the cranberries pop and the sauce thickens slightly. Do not overcook.

MAKING MASHED POTATOES

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