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Gathering at the Table Is Important

Families and friends have been gathering since the beginning of time. We gather to celebrate good news, come together during solemn times to give our support, and we gather based on traditions for special occasions and holidays. Most importantly, we gather because it makes us feel good to share these moments with others.

Traditionally, food plays an important role in gatherings and it doesn’t matter if it’s potluck or someone testing out a new recipe or a recipe passed down for generations. Memorable food paired with loved ones, friends, and co-workers in familiar surroundings brings comfort during the hustle and bustle of the holidays.

Chef Labron Alexander, Executive Chef at Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mississippi looks forward to this time of year. “It’s important to reflect on accomplishments, set new goals, express gratitude, continue traditions and even add new ones to the mix,” said Chef Labron.

Chef Labron and the Blues Café staff are proud to prepare and serve food to hundreds of employees throughout the year. They also offer family-sized holiday entrées and sides called Outtakes for employees to purchase and take home during the holiday time of the year.

“There is something special about the holidays. It brings people together, and we always see an increase in employees fellowshipping and enjoying meals together in the Blues Café, which is so wonderful to see,” said Chef Labron. “Co-workers are the people we spend a majority of our time with during the day, and we are grateful to be able to facilitate the gathering of teams from across the company. I’m also excited to prepare and introduce our employees to eclectic takes on traditional holiday favorites.”

“Nothing makes me think of the holidays like mac & cheese or a winter medley of Brussels sprouts, butternut squash, and, of course, you can’t forget the cranberries,” said Chef Labron. “These are typically side dishes prepared separately, but when you combine them all together through, you get a flavor profile that is robust, earthy, and rustic. These particular veggies and cranberries also offer many health benefits.”

Brussels sprouts and butternut squash are packed with fiber, vitamins, and antioxidants. Cranberries are a holiday staple and this superfood is high in nutrients and antioxidants. We’d love to know if you prepare Chef Labron’s holiday favorites for your holiday gatherings. Tag us in your creations on Facebook @BlueCross&BlueShieldofMississippi and @eatDrinkMISSISSIPPI.

Recipes courtesy of Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mississippi

Sheet Pan Winter Vegetable Medley 1 teaspoon cinnamon 2 tablespoons plus 1/4 cup olive oil, divided 3 tablespoons maple syrup 1-1/2 pounds peeled, cubed butternut squash 2 cups Brussels sprouts (trim root end) 1/2 teaspoon salt 1/2 teaspoon pepper 2 cups of pecan halves 1 cup fresh cranberries Dijon Vinaigrette (recipe follows) Mix cinnamon, 2 tablespoons olive oil, and maple syrup in a bowl. Add cubed butternut squash to mixture and toss. Cut Brussels sprouts in half. Add 1/4 cup of olive oil, salt, and pepper. Place Brussels sprouts and butternut squash on a sheet pan, and bake for 20 minutes in a 350-degree F oven. Toast pecan halves for 5 minutes in the oven. During the final 5-10 minutes of baking, add nuts and cranberries to vegetables. Toss Dijon vinaigrette with roasted vegetables. Serve immediately.

Dijon Vinaigrette

1/2 tablespoon Dijon mustard 2 tablespoon sherry vinegar 1/2 tablespoon diced shallots Salt and pepper, to taste 1/3 cup olive oil

Mix mustard, vinegar, shallots, salt, and pepper together. Emulsify with 1/3 cup of olive oil.

Butternut Squash Mac & Cheese 2 cups cavatappi pasta 1 yellow onion, diced 1 tablespoon butter 2 tablespoons flour 5 cups of butternut squash purée 5 cups vegetable broth 3/4 cups milk 1 teaspoon salt 2-1/2 cups shredded cheese blend Panko bread topping (recipe follows) Boil pasta and set aside. Sweat diced onion in butter and add flour. Stir in butternut squash purée, vegetable broth, milk, and salt. Reduce heat and add shredded cheese blend along with pasta. Place in a 9-1/2x12-inch baking dish and bake in a 350-degree F oven until heated through, approximately 15-20 minutes. Add herbed panko topping to top, return to oven, and allow topping to brown.

Panko Bread Topping 1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs 2 tablespoons butter, melted 2 teaspoons fresh herbs (flat leaf parsley, chives, rosemary) Mix panko with melted butter and add fresh chopped herbs. Kombucha Cranberry Mocktail 1-inch piece ginger, plus some for garnish 1 sprig rosemary, plus some for garnish 4 ounces cranberry juice 24 ounces ginger Kombucha Cranberries

Muddle ginger and rosemary. Add cranberry juice and Kombucha. Stir gently and then strain into ice-filled glass. Garnish with rosemary, ginger, and cranberries.

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