Every year between Thanksgiving and Christmas, our produce and floral buying office hosts a holiday meal. The tradition started four years ago as an appreciation for the remarkable work we do during the holidays. The idea was also to take some time to sample some of the great product we provide to our customers. Most of the meal we order from the prepared foods team at one of our area stores (we now have three to choose from!) but prior to placing the final order, we put a shout out to everyone in the office to contribute one of their favorite family side dishes. From this practice came a sharing of cultures and family traditions in addition to some great holiday side dishes (and interesting flavor combinations). Most are pretty traditional. Stephen brings in cheesy, garlicky, mashed potatoes that are roughly 20 pounds of guilty pleasure. Maria bakes a homemade macaroni and cheese that is miles beyond any packaged imitation. Not to be outdone by our carbohydrate contributors, Roger prepares a simple greens dish of steamed Lacinato kale and seaweed, while Mary creates a wonderfully simple green bean salad. And I think one of the most interesting and delicious sides is not a side at all - each year Jose brings a giant pot of turkey mole courtesy of his grandmother's family recipe. My contribution is usually mushrooms - by November we generally see an improvement in foraged mushroom availability so I prepare my personal favorite side: ½ pound Chanterelle mushrooms, cleaned and sliced in half 1 pound brown Crimini mushrooms, cleaned and thinly sliced 1 large shallot or cippolini onion, finely chopped 2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped 1 tablespoon fresh thyme, chopped 4 tablespoons olive oil, equally divided 2 teaspoons of butter Salt and pepper to taste Preheat oven to 450°F (broiler mode). Place chanterelle mushrooms in a mixing bowl. Melt butter and combine with half the olive oil, the shallots, thyme and half the parsley. Toss mixture with chanterelles, place in a broiling pan, and add salt and pepper. Place in oven and roast for 8-10 minutes or until the edges of the mushrooms just start to brown. At the same time heat the remaining olive oil in a large skillet, add the sliced Crimini mushrooms and remaining parsley. Sauté until tender. Combine with roasted chanterelles (make sure you keep the pan juices on both). Serves 6-8. Another tradition in the office is to choose our favorite side of the year. The overwhelming favorite last year was Kristy's Baked Sweet Potato Rounds (and yes, you can get natural version of all these ingredients!): 2 cups mashed sweet potatoes 12 large marshmallows 3/4 cup crushed corn flakes 1/2 cup brown sugar 2 tablespoons milk 1/4 cup butter Mold a spoonful of mashed sweet potatoes around each marshmallow, roll in cornflake crumbs and place in shallow baking dish. In a saucepan, bring brown sugar, milk and butter to a boil; pour over potato balls. Bake uncovered at 350° F for 15 minutes. Serves 1 - well, maybe more but I could have eaten them all! This year I may depart from my mushroom recipe and prepare a favorite from outside the office. My buddy George in San Francisco has a side for Roasted Fennel that I have served before and may add to my holiday meal. 2 fennel bulbs, halved 1 ½ cup chicken broth, heated salt and pepper to taste 2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese 2 tablespoons heavy cream Preheat oven to 400°F. In a casserole dish, pour the hot broth over the halved bulbs. Salt and pepper to taste. Place on middle rack in oven and baste frequently until very tender, about 45 to 60 minutes. When fennel is tender, top with cream and Parmesan. Bake until cheese "just" colors. Serve with residual broth from dish. Maybe this will win me the office favorite this year. Have some family favorites perfect for potlucks? Please share. Many thanks to Kristy Jennings and George Yungert for contributing to this post.