One thing about Hoosiers is they want to know what to expect: They love the same thing over and over. On Christmas Day, we’ll go to my mom’s with my brother and sister and their families, and she’s served the same thing as long as I can remember: beef tenderloin, horseradish mashed potatoes, and a broccoli casserole. That’s pretty much it. She’ll buy the beef tenderloins months in advance and give them to me to thaw out, and I’ll sous-vide them at home and then bring them over and grill them. I started making a sauce Robert for it and adding little things over the years, but I come from a family that likes pretty simple food. Change is slow to come here; it's happening, but I'm 54 and we’ve been eating this for at least 44 of those years.
Tom Hirschfeld an author, food writer, photojournalist, and a chef. He is currently working on two long-term documentary projects. His kids often accuse him of putting too much onion in the chicken noodle soup, and he’s been known to eat American cheese between doing loads of laundry and dishes.
Not all of us come from Norman Rockwell families, or even charmingly eccentric sitcom families. And if you happen to come from a less-than-perfect brood, the holidays can be an extra-special brand of complicated, if not downright terrifying. The food memories come rushing back before you even book your ticket home, and they might not be attached to the happiest events. Because the moment your family started going downhill can often be traced, with laser accuracy, to a specific meal or dish. (Did mom make the announcement about her desire for a divorce before or after the spice cake was served? Who drank all the mulled wine and drunk-dialed the mayor? Why did we end up eating at Pizza Hut on Christmas Eve?)
For this reason, it’s sometimes a good idea to ditch the old, “traditional” holiday dishes attached to your previous life and create some new ones. I first started making this super-rich Bolognese back when my birth family still managed to gather around a table. Since then, it’s all gone to pot (haha), but I keep making this dish with my new, chosen family because it’s so damn good and they love it and ask for it and eat every single bit of it: no leftovers at all. This recipe incorporates my favorite aspect of several Bolognese recipes: super slow, long cooking time, lots of vegetables and many kinds of meat, and an extravagant richness. It’s a splurge in every way. But remember: no matter what kind of family you have, you deserve it.
On Hanukkah, I’ll make latkes using a trick I learned from the father of one of the Court Street grocers in Brooklyn. When the potatoes and onions are grated, you’ll usually sprinkle them with salt—and the salt leaches the liquid out. So you’re left with a soupy shredded-raw-potato mess. But if you take a handful of raw potatoes and you press them into a slotted spoon, all of the liquid drains out through the holes of the spoon and you’re left with a little latke patty that you can then fry perfectly. And you end up with those crispy little frizzly bits around the edges, too.
My Christmas traditions have to do with my wife’s family. My mother in law makes a pasta salad on Christmas morning that has roasted red peppers and smoked mozzarella and a very garlicky sort of aioli dressing. I’m going to say a scandalous thing: I enjoy that pasta salad. But more than that, seeing Alana and her family enjoy it brings me great happiness.
Josh Cohen is Food52's Test Kitchen Chef. Originally from Brooklyn, NY, he remains optimistic about the Knicks.
I was born in Mexico City, but I learned about Mexican cuisine in Oaxaca, where I lived in the mountains from age 8 to 14 or 15. Our season begins on the last day of October with the Dia de los Muertos, and the celebrations extend through the holidays and into the New Year. It’s unbelievable, the way a country like Mexico celebrates.
I came to the States at age 17, and I came to learn a different culture: American culture. I’ve been blessed to share my holidays with my wife Tracy, who is from Houston, and her family for so many years. She’ll prepare a turkey with cornbread, and next to her turkey is a turkey adobado. I marinate it overnight in adobo, a sharp mixture of garlic, paprika, vinegar and oregano, then stuff it with black bean tamales and bake it whole. I’ll serve it with posole, a hominy and meat stew, and more tamales stuffed with either pork or chicken. On the American side, you have an array of the wonderful things that we cook in the South: pecan pie, coconut pie, egg salad, corn bread. For dessert, some chocolate—followed by mezcal, of course.
Hugo Ortega is the 2017 James Beard Award winner for Best Chef: Southwest, author of two cookbooks and executive chef/owner of four Houston restaurants: Backstreet Cafe, Hugo’s, Caracol and Xochi.
I'd characterize my religious affiliation as festive. Anything that can be celebrated, I'm into. My great grandmother and great-great grandmother were really into documenting things, and they were very crafty. They would make homemade candy—I have these handwritten recipes that my great-grandmother wrote down—and I like to use their recipes as inspiration to make candy every year.
It’s sort of scary, but I’ve gotten it down to a few foolproof ones: I do fudge, some kind of brittle, and candied orange peel, which is not hard but is very time-consuming and I’m never sure people like it that much. It’s not worth doing in small batches, so I’ll do a few dozen oranges’ worth, and I often will use grapefruit, too. You very quickly run out of surface spaces to dry all the peels, so they'll be on the piano, on the bureau. Things get very sticky very quickly, and there's sugar syrup all over the floor, and your shoes stick for a few weeks. But I can't break the chain. I've come too far.
Sadie Stein is a freelance culture writer in New York.
The holidays are a long two, three weeks of crazy business. So for New Year’s Eve, it’s time to relax. My wife usually gets a fancy bottle of champagne from one of her clients, and we crack that and eat caviar for dinner—last year, we ate caviar on potatoes we baked, smashed, and then fried. The night is really just about chilling out—it's a come-down from the craziness of the holidays. It's quiet; we put on the ball in the background, but with no sound. The next day, we’ll do a New Year’s Day brunch, and thirty or so people will come over. That’s when we’ll do the whole Russ & Daughters thing, and we’ll serve caviar on soft scrambled eggs and on quiches and potato latkes.
When you’re buying caviar, the most important thing is to trust your purveyor. Have an idea of what you’re looking for, and then tell them what you want; they’ll be able to tell you what to get, how much you need, and how to serve it. I’m personally sort of adventurous. Blinis are obviously great. One of my favorites is soft scrambled eggs, served on challah toast with little dollops of caviar. That’s nice for entertaining. But my favorite way is the easiest way: with a spoon.
Josh Russ Tupper is the 4th generation co-owner of Russ & Daughters in NYC, as well as the Russ & Daughters Cafe, Russ & Daughters at the Jewish Museum, Russ & Daughters Bagels & Bakery, and the forthcoming Russ & Daughters in the Brooklyn Navy Yard.