We all have favorite holiday memories, and most of those seem to revolve around food. Not a surprise, right? Food (even your Aunt Dorothy’s overcooked turkey) brings people together; what better way to express your love for someone than to feed them? And along with the hilariously awkward family stories that stem from the holiday table, we cherish the memories of family specialties and recipes passed down from generation to generation. Here, five Chicago chefs share some of their favorite recipes and the stories behind them, giving you an opportunity to create new food memories with your own families. Happy holidays!
Zoe Schor, Split Rail
Now firmly ensconced as owner and executive chef at her hip new West Town place, Split Rail , Zoe Schor previously spent time in the kitchens of all-star chefs Thomas Keller and Tom Colicchio before moving to Chicago to helm the kitchen at DMK Restaurants’ beloved Ada Street . Her favorite holiday recipe? Bread pudding.
“I love making (and eating) it, and as we’re getting into the cooler season, it’s such a great, warming, soul-satisfying dessert,” says Schor.
Zoe’s Bread Pudding
- 3 cups whole milk
- 3 cups heavy cream
- 12 egg yolks
- 1 cup white sugar
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- Approximately 6 cups of cubed toast or stale bread
In large mixing bowl, combine all ingredients except for the bread and whisk thoroughly to ensure they are fully combined. In an oven-safe, 9” baking dish, place cubed bread and cover with the custard, making sure the bread is thoroughly submerged in the custard mixture, and weight it slightly if necessary. Allow to soak for at least one hour (the longer the better). Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Bake the bread pudding, uncovered, until the custard is set, and the bread has taken on a toasty, golden color, about 30 minutes. Serve with ice cream, whipped cream or fruit.
Victor Chong, Imperial Lamian
Victor Chong, executive chef of Imperial Lamian , comes to Chicago by way of Malaysia, which has a mix of many different cultures — mostly Malay, Chinese, and Indian. And though some might consider curry as Indian food, curries are eaten throughout the Far East as well.
“When I was a kid, my father’s restaurant made noodles, and one of their most famous dishes was Curry Chicken Noodle,” shares Chong. “My father left when I was 14, and I can’t really remember the taste of the curry he used to make, but I can remember the smell. Ever since becoming a chef, I have tried to recreate these flavors, and I’ve finally landed on this recipe that makes me think of home.”
Victor’s Malay Curry Chicken
- 1/4 cup meat curry powder
- 3 tablespoons chili powder
- 2 tablespoons turmeric powder
- 3 ounces cooking oil
- 3 tablespoons each minced garlic, shallot and ginger
- 2 tablespoons each finely chopped lemon grass and ginger flower
- 2 curry leaves
- 1 tablespoon pureed red finger chili (or to taste)
- One whole frying chicken, cut up into smaller pieces
- 1 cup chicken stock
- Salt and brown sugar to taste
In small bowl, combine curry, chili, and turmeric. Set aside. In small sauté pan, heat oil; add sauté garlic, shallot, ginger, ginger flower, lemon grass, and curry leaves until light brown. Add in pureed chili and cook for a few minutes to marry flavors. Add curry mixture and stir until it becomes a paste. Set aside.
In a large cooking pot, heat cooking oil. Place all of the cut-up chicken in the pan with the curry paste and stir fry until medium rare. Add chicken stock, stirring to get up all of the crispy bits from the bottom of the pan, and bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until chicken is fully cooked through. Season to taste with salt and brown sugar. Serve with rice.
Kym DeLost, The Gage and Acanto
As the Executive Pastry Chef at two of iconic Chicago restaurateur Billy Lawless’ Michigan Avenue hot spots, The Gage  and Acanto , Kym DeLost firmly believes that pastry should be fun — not fussy — and shared with those you love.
“The holidays are very special to me as it’s the one time of year my entire family sees each other,” DeLost tells us. “Year after year, we devour this fudgy chocolate pecan pie.”
Fudgy Chocolate Pecan Pie
Make one 9” pie
- 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 10 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/2” pieces and chilled, not frozen
- 3 tablespoons ice water
- 1 tablespoon cider vinegar, chilled
- 1 1/2 cups pecan halves
- 2 teaspoons canola oil
- 6 tablespoons browned butter
- 2 ounces dark chocolate, chopped
- 3/4 cup light corn syrup
- 4 large whole eggs
- 1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
- 2 tablespoons bourbon
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
For crust: In a food processor, pulse together flour and salt, then add butter and pulse until coarse and sandy. The butter pieces should be pea size or smaller. Pulse in ice water and vinegar until combined. Turn out onto floured board and bring together by hand quickly, shaping into a disc. Wrap in plastic and chill in refrigerator for at least 1 hour. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. On a lightly floured surface, after removing plastic wrap, roll out dough to a 12-inch circle. Transfer crust to a 9-inch pie plate or tin. Fold over any excess dough and crimp edges. Prick crust all over with a fork. Chill crust for 30 minutes. When dough is chilled, line with parchment paper or foil and fill with sugar. Bake for 25 minutes. Remove liner and bake until lightly browned, 5 to 10 minutes. (Roasted sugar can be saved for another use.) Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees.
For filling: Coat pecans lightly with oil and a pinch of salt. Spread onto lined sheet pan and toast until fragrant, about 15 minutes. Cool and evenly spread into baked shell. In Pyrex cup, heat butter and chocolate in microwave at 30 second intervals until melted. In a separate bowl, stir together remaining ingredients with chocolate and pour into prepared pie shell, arranging pecans over top. Bake pie on a baking sheet for 30-40 minutes, then remove from oven and cool for 2 hours.
Jeff Mauro, Pork & Mindy’s
You probably recognize Jeff Mauro from his popular Food Network shows, “Sandwich King,” “The Kitchen,” and “$24 in 24,” but he also owns the super fun and tasty Pork & Mindy’s  sandwich shops in Chicago.
“My Grandma Kay’s famous Sausage Bread is a giant, doughy, log-shaped pork bomb, freshly baked and served before dinner at all Mauro family parties,” he shares. “No one can quite replicate it, but many have tried.”
Grandma Kay’s Sausage Bread
Makes two 12” loaves
- 2 tablespoons olive oil (plus a little extra for brushing)
- 1 pound sweet Italian sausages removed from casing
- 4 ounces pepperoni, cut into squares
- 4 ounces Genoa salami, thinly sliced and cut into squares
- 8 ounces shredded mozzarella cheese
- 1 1/2 loaves frozen or fresh pizza dough, defrosted, such as Rhodes
Preheat the oven to 340 degrees. Add the olive oil to a medium sauté pan over medium-high heat and cook the sausage until brown (about 12 to 15 minutes). Cool the sausage, transfer to a bowl with a slotted spoon and combine with the pepperoni and salami. Mix in the mozzarella. Roll out the dough into two long ovals. Slice the end pieces off the dough to save for later. Brush the top and bottom of the dough with olive oil, and divide the sausage mixture between the two loaves. Fold the dough over like a calzone and poke holes along the sides with a fork to release the steam as it bakes. Bake until light brown on top (about 20 to 25 minutes); remove from oven and cool slightly. Slice and serve.
Christine Cikowski, Honey Butter Fried Chicken and Sunday Dinner Club
Along with her business partner, Josh Kulp, Christine Cikowski is responsible for two of Chicago’s culinary sensations: Sunday Dinner Club  and Honey Butter Fried Chicken . Here, she — and her mother — share a family recipe for Hoska, a yeasted Czech sweet bread.
“The generations have tweaked the recipe since my dad’s mom brought it with her from Czechoslovakia just before the turn of last century,” says Cikowski’s mom, Kathy Bongratz.
Makes 2 loaves
- 1 packet fast-acting yeast
- 2 tablespoons tepid water
- 1 cup whole milk
- 1 cup sugar
- 3/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon orange or lemon zest (or use both!)
- 3 eggs
- 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
- 4 to 5 cups bread flour
- 1/2 cup raisins
- Egg wash
Scald milk in a saucepan, remove from heat, whisk in the butter and cool mixture to room temperature. Set aside. In a mixing bowl, dissolve the yeast and a sprinkle of flour in the water, and allow to sit for 5 minutes. Place the milk mixture, sugar, zest, salt, and nutmeg in a kitchen mixer bowl fitted with a paddle attachment. Add the eggs one at a time, beating on medium high. Turn mixer down to low, and add the flour 1 cup at a time until just incorporated. Use as much flour as needed to form the dough into a ball, which will be slightly sticky and pull away from the sides of the bowl.
Turn dough out on a lightly floured surface and knead for at least 10 minutes. (You can also do this in the mixer with a dough hook.) Dough should be a bit elastic and not too sticky. Place dough in a large bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and put in warm place until it doubles in size, approximately 1 1/2-2 hours. Punch the dough down, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface, and knead in the raisins. Divide the dough into 2 equal balls, and cover with a kitchen towel. Take 1 piece and divide it into thirds. Roll each third into a long identical strand then braid the thirds together, tucking the ends under the loaf. Place the braided loaf on a parchment paper-lined sheet pan, cover lightly with plastic wrap, and place in warm spot to double in size. Repeat with the remaining dough ball.
Preheat oven to 420 degrees, and place a roasting pan on bottom rack. Add a few cups of water to that pan. Remove plastic wrap from braided loaves and brush the loaves with egg wash. Place the loaves on a sheet pan and bake in the oven for 10 minutes, then turn down temperature to 350 degrees and bake for an additional 25 to 30 minutes until the loaves are golden-brown. (The internal temperature of a finished loaf will read between 180-190 degrees on a digital thermometer.) Place the bread on wire rack to cool completely.
Take the time to create food memories with your family
Did you know that regular family dinners have the capacity to provide a host of important benefits  to you and your family? It’s true! They include:
- Healthier eating habits
- Decreased consumption of sodas, fried foods and trans fats
- Increased vocabulary and literacy skills in children
- Better grades and improved peer relationships at school
- Higher satisfaction in parents’ relationships
- Decreased risk behaviors in teens, such as alcohol and drug use, eating disorders and teen pregnancy
- Lower incidence of depression and anxiety in both children and adults
So share one of these holiday recipes with your own family, and check out these five tips for making regular family dinners a priority !
More from Make It Better:
- 7 Best Chicago Bakeries for Delicious Holiday Desserts 
- 8 Modern Casserole Recipes You’ll Make All Winter Long 
- How These 7 Chicago Chefs Are Making a Big Difference Inside and Outside the Kitchen 
Julie Chernoff, Make It Better’s dining editor since its inception in 2007, graduated from Yale University  with a degree in English — which she speaks fluently — and added a professional chef’s degree from the California Culinary Academy . She has worked for Boz Scaggs, Rick Bayless and Wolfgang Puck (not all at the same time); and sits on the boards of Les Dames d’Escoffier International  and Northlight Theatre . She and husband Josh are empty nesters since adult kids Adam and Leah have flown the coop. Rosie the Cockapoo relishes the extra attention.