Favorite family holiday recipes

During the winter months, holidays take center stage for most families. They get us through the darker days and longer nights, and give us something to look forward to.

Living in Minnesota during the six—OK, eight—months of winter can be grueling, but nothing makes winter more tolerable than getting together with family and friends, sharing a glass of wine and some great conversation, and stuffing ourselves silly. In our neck of the frozen woods, we are fortunate to have several stellar food establishments that welcome residents in from the cold with steaming bowls of soup or luscious desserts that make you almost forget the 12 feet of snow outside.

Ever wondered what the chefs at your favorite local eatery like to whip up for their families during the holidays? Here, a few local purveyors share their favorite holiday recipes and why they love it.


Italian stuffed shells

Elizabeth Tinucci, partner owner Colossal Café, 2315 Como Ave.

A favorite family recipe for the Tinucci family, owners of the Colossal Café, is the simple yet elegant Italian stuffed shells. This recipe is fun to make together as a family, or easy to prepare ahead for a quick weeknight dinner, according to owner Elizabeth Tinucci.

Makes 30 shells.

• 30 jumbo pasta shells
• 1/2 cup butter
• 1/2 cup chopped onion
• 2 cloves minced garlic
• 2 lb. ground Italian sausage, mild or spicy
• 4 lb. fresh spinach, blanched and chopped
• 1 cup ricotta cheese
• 4 eggs
• 2 Tbsp. salt
• Parmesan cheese
• Mozzarella cheese
• 16 oz. tomato sauce (homemade or quality purchased marinara)


Sauté butter, onion and garlic. Add ground Italian sausage and brown, then remove from heat. Add spinach, ricotta cheese, eggs and salt. Cook and drain pasta shells according to package instructions. Fill each shell with heaping tablespoons of filling. Place in buttered casserole dish. Pour tomato sauce over shells. Sprinkle with shredded parmesan and mozzarella cheeses.

Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

These stuffed shells freeze well. Prepare as directed; you may freeze them completely assembled or leave off the sauce and cheese and add those later.


Chocolate mascarpone-filled pizzelles

Tim Cheesebrow, owner Underground Music Café, 1579 N. Hamline Ave.

Krumkaker, Norwegian cookies made popular in the Midwest by Norwegian immigrant descendants, are traditionally made in preparation for Christmas as a light dessert after the traditional Christmas Eve dinner. Underground Music Café’s owner Tim Cheesebrow has perfected the Italian version, called Pizzelles, and likes to share this gorgeous chocolate mascarpone version with friends. You will need a special tool to make these: a pizzelle maker.

Makes 2-3 dozen pizzelles.

• 3 large eggs
• 3/4 cup sugar
• 1 stick unsalted butter, melted and cooled
• 1 Tbsp. vanilla extract
• 1 3/4 cups of flour
• 2 tsp. baking powder

Cream eggs and sugar in a mixing bowl. Add butter and vanilla extract. Stir in flour and baking powder. Bake 1 Tbsp. per mold in pizzelle maker until golden brown, about 45 seconds, then remove. While they are still hot, quickly bend them into a cone shape and cool on rack.

Chocolate mascarpone filling

• 2 cups Mascarpone cheese
• 1 cup dark chocolate chips
• 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
• Pinch of salt
• Sweetened coconut flakes

Heat chocolate chips in a microwave-safe bowl with cream until just melted; be careful not to burn the chocolate. Add the cheese and pinch of salt and blend carefully. After the pizzelles have cooled, fill each with a generous scoop of filling and sprinkle with sweetened coconut flakes.

If you’re feeling really adventurous, take the rest of the cream, add some powdered sugar and whisk vigorously to form fresh whipped cream. Add cinnamon or espresso powder and top your pizzelle with a dollop of flavored whipped cream.


Maple pecan caramel rolls

Pat Trotter, owner Trotter’s Café, 232 Cleveland Ave. N.

The good folks at Trotter’s Cafe have been serving these addictive sweet rolls for more than 25 years. In the early years, owners Pat and Dick Trotter would close up shop over New Year’s and head up north with their young son to Camp du Nord, taking with them frozen unbaked maple caramel rolls from Trotter’s. On New Year’s Day they would bake the rolls for a sweet start to the New Year. The restaurant no longer closes on New Year’s Day, thanks to dedicated staff, but Pam and Dick still go up north with their extended family, and everyone still enjoys those warm caramel rolls fresh out of the oven each Jan. 1.

Makes 1 dozen rolls.


• 6 Tbsp. warm water
• 1 Tbsp. yeast
• 2 oz. butter
• 6 Tbsp. sugar
• 3/4 cup milk
• 2 eggs
• 1 tsp. salt
• 3 1/4 cups white flour
• 1/2 cup wheat flour

Mix yeast with warm water (95-105 degrees) and wait until yeast begins to activate. While waiting, heat milk. Add beaten eggs, butter and sugar to the warm milk (milk should be 95-105 degrees). Add milk mixture and then flours to the yeast. You can knead by hand or with a standing mixer. Knead 5 minutes. Place in greased bowl and cover. Let rise until doubles in size, 15 to 20 minutes or longer, depending on the temperature in your kitchen.

Maple smear

• 4 oz. butter
• 1/2 cup brown sugar
• 2 Tbsp. pure maple syrup

Whip all together until smooth.


• 3/4 cup pecan halves
• 1 Tbsp. butter, softened
• 1/2 cup brown sugar

Place maple smear in the bottom of a 9×13-inch pan. Top with pecan halves. Roll out dough into a 9×12-inch rectangle. Spread butter and brown sugar on dough and roll up. Slice into 12 rolls and place in pan. Let rise again until rolls double in size. Bake at 350 degrees for about 20-25 minutes. Caramel should be bubbling. Invert immediately onto a platter.


Grandma’s custard pie

Christine Finnegan, owner Como Park Grill, 1341 Pascal St. N.

When Como Park Grill owner Christine Finnegan bought her first home, her grandmother gave her the recipe to Finnegan’s favorite childhood pie. Her grandmother made the pie for special occasions or holidays and insisted that the secret to a perfect pie was to use a ceramic pie pan instead of metal or glass.

“The paper she hand-wrote the recipe on years ago is torn and tattered,” Finnegan said. “But I couldn’t bring myself to rewrite it so I laminated it. I hope it lasts another 25 years.”

This Thanksgiving, Finnegan plans to make this special dessert for her dad. “The best part is that it doesn’t refrigerate well so you have to eat the entire pie in one day,” she explained. “What a shame!”


• 1 2/3 cup graham crackers crushed fine
• 3 Tbsp. brown sugar
• 1/2 cup melted butter

Mix together ingredients. Save 3 Tbsp. for topping. Pat the remainder into pie pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 8 minutes. Cool.


• 3/4 cup sugar
• 3 Tbsp. flour
• 2 cup half & half
• 1 tsp. vanilla
• 3 egg yolks (keep whites for meringue topping)

Mix sugar and flour together then stir in egg yolks. Heat half & half in double boiler, then just before boiling, add the sugar, flour and egg mixture slowly to the hot cream. Stir consistently to avoid lumps. Cook until it thickens and coats the back of the spoon. Remove from heat, add vanilla and pour into the pie shell. Let stand to cool down.

Meringue topping

• 3 egg whites
• 2 Tbsp. sugar

Beat egg white (from 3 eggs) until stiff. Add sugar and beat again until peaks are formed. Spread the meringue gently over custard (meringue will be about 1 to 1 1/2 inches thick). Sprinkle reserved 3 Tbsp. of graham cracker mixture over the top. Bake pie at 325 degrees for 25 minutes until meringue is golden brown. Serve cool.

White bean soup with white bean tomatillo relish

Jack Riebel, executive chef Paddy Shack, 1013 Front Ave.

Soup has always been a staple in Jack Riebel’s family. One of his fondest childhood memories is the Christmas time trek to his grandparents’ home in Redwood Falls, Minn., where his grandmother would have lunch prepared upon their arrival. The family would enjoy a relish tray complete with homemade pickles, followed by bean and ham soup, his grandpa’s favorite. There was always enough food for all who made the journey, and for anyone who might stop by unannounced.

“As a chef I have continued this tradition for the love of soup, not just for my personal love, but the nourishment of others,” said Riebel. “This type of hospitality stays with me today. As a chef I make sure there is always enough food. A tradition endowed onto me and one I am happy to pass on, one pot of soup at a time.”


• 2 lb. white beans, soaked overnight
• 1 ham hock
• 2 cups onions, sliced
• 1 stalk celery, sliced
• 2 cloves garlic, mashed
• 2 Tbsp. bacon fat or lard
• 1 bay leaf
• 2 Tbsp. sherry vinegar
• Salt and black pepper
• Favorite hot sauce, optional

In a large pot, sauté onion, celery and garlic in the bacon fat. Add beans, ham hock, bay leaf and sherry vinegar and cover with water. Cook until done, 2 to 2 1/2 hours, or until beans are tender. Remove ham hock and 1 cup of beans and reserve for relish. Blend remaining soup with immersion blender or transfer to a blender. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add hot sauce if you like.


• 1 cup reserved cooked white beans and ham hock meat
• 1/2 cup tomatillos, diced small
• 4 pieces of scallion, sliced small
• 1 small clove garlic, minced
• 1 Tbsp. sherry vinegar
• 1 Tbsp. virgin olive oil
• Salt and black pepper
• Hot sauce, optional

In a bowl place reserved beans and pulled meat from ham hock, mix in other ingredients and stir to combine. Season aggressively, using salt and cracked pepper and hot sauce if desired. To prepare, warm your favorite soup bowls, add the bean soup and garnish with a heaping spoonful of the bean relish. Serve hot with saltine crackers or crusty bread and butter.

Potato pancakes

Matthew Ellison, executive chef Muffuletta in the Park, 2260 Como Ave.

Makes about 10 pancakes. As a young child, Matt Ellison spent many hours in the kitchen with his Polish grandmother as she made potato pancakes for the holidays. She always kept the recipe very simple since that was all she could afford, Ellison explained, but he suggests adding fresh herbs like thyme, a kicky whole-grain mustard or even parmesan cheese to spruce up the dish a bit. With a timeless recipe like this, the possibilities are endless.

• 1 and 3/4 cups strained, dried grated russet potatoes
• 2 eggs
• 1 cup flour (more might be needed, depending on the moisture in the potato)
• Salt and pepper to taste
• Canola oil

Grate the potatoes and place in a strainer to let the water drain out. Press on them a few times to dry them as much as possible. Mix together the potato, egg, and flour. Adjust flour until the batter looks thick enough to hold together. Form into patties about 5-6 inches around and 1/4 inch thick. Get a tray ready and fry the pancakes two or three at a time in canola oil until golden brown on both sides.

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