Food Traditions

6 Holiday Recipes Chefs Always Serve Their Families

From a beloved cheese ball and whole-roasted cauliflower to beef bourguignon and the best almond brittle you’ll ever bite into, here’s what the pros serve at their holiday table.

Originally Published: 
Ariela Basson/Fatherly; Getty Images, Courtesy of Ken Oringer and Tyler Malek
Traditions Of The Holidays

Food is the language of the holidays. And few traditions trigger such nostalgia and warmth as tucking into that once-a-year family classic. Be it a plate of grandma’s molasses cookies, those bacon-wrapped dates your uncle always serves as an appetizer, the full holiday spread with all the fixings, or some new meal tradition you’re trying to get off the ground in your own household, everyone has that food the season wouldn’t be the same without. And it’s always fun to hear what must-have meals others needs at their table. That’s why we asked six professional chefs to share the recipes they always prepare for their families. From a spiced, whole roasted cauliflower and Dominican fish stew to a Neapolitan Bucatini dish and beef bourguignon, here’s what needs to be at their table.

1. Chef Akhtar Nawab’s Whole Roasted Cauliflower

Chef Akhtar Nawab is the acclaimed chef behind the Mexican restaurant Alta Calidad in Brooklyn, New York, as well as CEO of the food hall management group Hospitality HQ. Come holiday time, he often finds himself putting creative spins on vegetables for his family (think: a sweet potato puree with ginger, cardamom, and cornflakes for a textural crunch; paper-thin butternut squash gratin with sage, rosemary, and parmesan). His daughter is especially fond of his take on whole roasted cauliflower. Chef Nawab paints the surface with a mixture of caramelized onions, aioli, tahini, the Turkish spice urfa biber, and lemon juice before layering on thyme and roasting it in a donabe — a Japanese lidded casserole dish. (A Dutch oven works just fine, too.) The resulting dish is fragrant and beautifully caramelized (stick it under the broiler for 15 minutes after cooking if you want more color) and served cut into pie-like slices.


  • 1 head cauliflower trimmed of green leaves
  • 2 tsp clarified butter
  • 1 large onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 shallots, thinly sliced
  • 1 tsp minced ginger
  • 2 cloves minced garlic
  • 3 tbsp tahini
  • 2 tbsp garlic aioli — 1 egg yolk, 1/2 cup olive oil, 1/2 juice lemon
  • 1 tsp urfa biber
  • 1 tsp sumac
  • 10 sprigs thyme
  • 1 each donabe with a lid/dutch oven/heavy pot with a lid


  1. In the donabe or dutch oven heat the clarified butter and add the shallots, onions, ginger, and garlic. Cook until soft and gently season with salt.
  2. When tender, turn the onion mixture into a bowl and add the tahini and aioli and stir to combine. Season to taste.
  3. Add the cauliflower and carefully cover the surface of the cauliflower in the tahini mixture so that it's fully covered.
  4. Season with the sumac and the urfa biber, liberally scatter the thyme, and cover.
  5. Cook at 400 degrees for 25 minutes and turn heat to 350 for 20 minutes.
  6. Serve, slicing it into wedges, making sure that the onion mixture stays intact on the surface.`

2. “Mom’s Cheese Ball” By Jeff Scardino

As the founder of Dips Kitchen in Atlanta, Jeff Scardino spends his days conceiving an international array of crowd-drawing dippable foods, from Moroccan spiced carrot spread to a hot chicken dip. The venture was inspired by his family’s all-dip Christmas Eve tradition. Every year, they gather together to share stories and open presents around a selection of food that can be spread, dipped, and dunked: jalapeño and pimento dip, pepperoni balls with marinara sauce, a cookie cream dessert with cookie dippers. The main attraction of the meal is always his mom’s famous cheese ball. Molded from a combination of cream cheese, sharp cheddar, and smoked gouda, it’s studded with roasted jalapeños before being rolled in chopped walnuts and served with crackers.


  • 24 oz cream cheese
  • 8 oz sharp cheddar cheese 5 oz smoked gouda cheese
  • 1/2 cup roasted jalapeños
  • 2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts, for rolling


  1. In a large bowl, add the cream cheese, cheddar cheese, smoked gouda, roasted jalapeños, lemon juice and Worcestershire sauce. Knead by hand until well blended.
  2. Spread walnuts into an even layer on a clean surface or cutting board.
  3. Take the cheese ball mixture and form it into three balls.
  4. Place each cheese ball onto the chopped walnuts. Use your hands (or some plastic wrap) to gently roll the cheese ball around in the walnuts, coating it completely.
  5. Refrigerate for 24 hours to let them set before serving.

3. Chef Anthony Mangieri’s Neapolitan Bucatini

It’s not a special meal at Anthony Mangieri’s house unless there’s pasta on the table. Come holiday season, the chef and owner of the beloved Neapolitan pizza joint Una Pizza Napoletana located on the Lower East Side, in New York City, and founder of the frozen pizza company, Genio Della Pizza, always makes a Bucatini with escarole, Southern Italian black olives, golden raisins, freselle, and pine nuts. “This is a very Neapolitan combination especially around the holidays, and a quick and easy dish that my family loves,” he says. “At Una Pizza Napoletana each year around Christmas I do a special pizza with these flavors plus Buffalo mozzarella on our pizza dough. We have regulars that wait for it every year.”


  • 1 lb Bucatini
  • 1 head escarole, washed and torn into bite-sized pieces
  • 1 cup Southern Italian black olives, pitted
  • 1/4 cup golden raisins
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts (preferable real Italian)
  • 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 freselle (Italian biscuit), or coarse homemade bread crumbs
  • Pecorino Romano cheese
  • Coarse Sicilian sea salt
  • Extra virgin olive oil


  1. Heat a few tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil in a pan on medium heat and add garlic and crushed red pepper flakes. Once it starts to sizzle, add the olives to the pan and use the back of a fork to break them up a bit in the oil. After a minute, add the escarole, stir and cover.
  2. Check on it every few minutes, and once it's cooked down, remove the cover, stir in the pine nuts and golden raisins and turn off the heat.
  3. In the meantime boil a large pot of water. After boiling, add a few tablespoons of sea salt and once it comes back to a rolling boil add the bucatini and stir.
  4. Once the bucatini is al dente, drain and toss in with the escarole. Add more olive oil (at least another few tablespoons) and toss to coat and mix everything together. Then top with bread crumbs (or grate the freselle on top of the bowl so you get some fine and coarse pieces that fall off) and grate plenty of Pecorino Romano cheese on top. Add sea salt to taste.

4. Angelo Sosa’s Flaked Bacalao Stew

Every Christmas and New Year’s chef Angelo Sosa prepares Bacalao for his family. The popular Dominican fish stew’s main ingredient is a salted, dried codfish that is rehydrated before being added to the broth. Sosa grew up cooking Dominican dishes with his father and the meal not only maintains that tradition but also serves as a potent analogy. “We eat it to symbolize the transformation of the year, hence taking dried fish turning it into this fragrant stew,” he says. Well-known for his appearances on Top Chef and Top Chef All Stars and many award-winning restaurants, Sosa recently opened two new concepts at the JW Marriot in Phoenix: Tía Carmen, an homage to his aunt and modern southwestern cuisine, and Kembara, a concept dedicated to the cuisines of Southeast Asia. His recipe for Flaked Fish Stew features an herby tomato broth and is served over rice.


  • 1 ½ pounds of salted codfish
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, thinly sliced
  • 4 garlic cloves, smashed
  • 1 ½ pounds of vine-ripened tomatoes, roughly chopped
  • 1 medium green bell pepper, chopped
  • ¼ cup chopped cilantro
  • 2 fresh or dried bay leaves
  • 3 tbsps white vinegar
  • Kosher salt


  1. Soak the salted codfish for 2 to 4 hours, then drain.
  2. In a large pot, heat the oil over medium-high heat. When it’s hot, add the onion and garlic and cook until slightly softened, 2 to 3 minutes. Reduce the heat to low, add the cod, and cook for about 5 minutes, using a wooden spoon to break the fish up as it cooks.
  3. Add the tomatoes, bell pepper, cilantro, bay leaves and 1 cup water and cook over low heat for another 15 minutes. If the stew looks too dry, add up to 1 more cup of water.
  4. Add the vinegar and season with salt. Raise the heat to medium-high and bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for another 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Serve it over brown rice or in crisp lettuce leaves.

5. Ken Oringer’s Beef Bourguignon

Come holiday season, James Beard Award–Winner Ken Oringer treats his family by making a low and slow French cuisine classic: Beef Bourguignon. “It's a family favorite,” he says. “It's so rich, satisfying and has a special feeling to it when I make it every year during the holiday season for my family and friends.” Oringer says his two kids especially love this dish, “as it reminds them of the times we traveled together in Paris and ate the dish at Chez Joséphine.” The recipe below is from Cooking with My Dad the Chef, which Oringer wrote with his daughter and offers gluten-free recipes — and easy-to-understand instructions — for young cooks. It makes enough to feed 6-8 people.


  • 3 lbs boneless beef short ribs or chuck flap, cut into 2-inch cubes
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • ½ tsp pepper
  • 2 tbsps extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 slices bacon, cut into small pieces
  • 3 carrots, washed, trimmed, and cut into 2-inch chunks
  • 2 onions, peeled and chopped
  • 3 tbsps tomato paste
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
  • 3 cups red wine
  • 3 cups beef broth
  • 1 tbsp gluten-free tamari
  • 2 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
  • ¼ cup water
  • 2 tbsps cornstarch


  1. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees. Line large plate with double layer of paper towels and place next to stovetop.
  2. Pat beef dry with more paper towels. Sprinkle salt and pepper evenly over all sides of beef. Wash your hands.
  3. In Dutch oven, heat oil over medium heat until shimmering, about 2 minutes (oil should be hot but not smoking; see page 18). Add bacon and cook, stirring occasionally with wooden spoon, until browned, about 5 minutes. Turn off heat. Use slotted spoon to transfer bacon to paper towel–lined plate.
  4. Increase heat to medium-high. Carefully add half of beef to now-empty pot. Cook until well browned on first side, 2 to 4 minutes. Use tongs to flip beef and cook until well browned on second side, 2 to 4 minutes. Transfer beef to medium bowl. Repeat browning with remaining beef, and transfer to bowl.
  5. Reduce heat to medium. Add carrots and onions to now-empty pot and cook, stirring often with wooden spoon, until lightly browned, about 5 minutes.
  6. Add tomato paste and garlic and cook for 1 minute. Stir in wine, broth, tamari, thyme sprigs, and bay leaves, scraping bottom of pot with wooden spoon. Carefully add browned beef and bacon. Bring mixture to simmer (small bubbles should break often across surface of mixture). Turn off heat. Cover pot with lid.
  7. Ask an adult to place pot in oven. Cook until beef is fork‑tender and falling apart, 3 to 4 hours.
  8. Ask an adult to use oven mitts to remove pot from oven, place on stovetop, and carefully remove lid. Place oven mitts on handles so you remember that pot is very hot. Use tongs to remove and discard bay leaves and thyme sprigs.
  9. In small bowl, use spoon to stir together water and cornstarch. Stir cornstarch mixture into pot and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium and cook until sauce has thickened to consistency of heavy cream, 6 to 8 minutes. Turn off heat.
  10. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve.

6. Grandma’s Almond Brittle by Tyler Malek

Since it opened in 2011, Portland-based Salt and Straw Ice Cream has wowed customers with such creative flavors as Strawberry Honey Balsamic with Black Pepper, Pear and Blue Cheese, and Salted, Malted Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough. To date, founder Tyler Malek has created more than 1,500 flavors. Despite all the choices, one of his all-time favorites remains his Almond Brittle with Salted Ganache that the shop makes every year for the holiday season. It’s inspired by his grandmother’s almond brittle, which was the first recipe he ever made with her and something he still makes for his family every year. “While the brittle is still hot, my grandma would put chocolate chips on top until they melt, then finish with a heavy dash of finishing salt,” he says. “It’s become a tradition that I’ve carried on for my daughters.” The recipe makes three cups of brittle. You’ll want to make more.


  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • ⅓ cup light corn syrup
  • 8 tbsps (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into approximately 1-inch pieces
  • ½ tsp kosher salt
  • 1¼ cups sliced almonds
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • ½ tsp vanilla extract


  1. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.
  2. Combine the sugar, corn syrup, and ¼ cup water in a medium saucepan and stir until all of the sugar looks wet. Set the pan over medium heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until the syrup comes to a simmer, about 3 minutes.
  3. Continue to cook, this time covered and without stirring, until the mixture has thickened slightly, about 3 more minutes. Add the butter and salt, and stir well. Attach a candy thermometer to the side of the pan and continue to cook, gently and constantly stirring, until the mixture registers 290°F on the thermometer, 8 to 10 minutes.
  4. Remove the pan from the heat, and quickly but thoroughly stir in the almonds, baking soda, and vanilla (watch it all bubble!), doing your best to distribute the nuts throughout the sticky mixture. Immediately (like, super quick!) pour the mixture onto the lined sheet pan and use a butter knife or a metal spatula to spread it out to a relatively even layer that’s just under ¼ inch thick. Let the brittle sit uncovered until it has cooled to room temperature, about 1 hour. Then use your hands to break it into irregular bite-size (about ¼- to ½-inch) pieces.
  5. Store them in an airtight container in the freezer until you’re ready to use them as a mix-in (or to simply eat them) for up to 3 months. There’s no need to defrost the pieces before using them in the ice cream.

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