Holiday foods get a Chicago spin

The holidays evoke certain food memories. We think of yule logs, candy canes, hot chocolate by the fire and other holiday indulgences. These classic holiday foods still have a welcome place at family celebrations. But sometimes it is fun to try a new take on a classic holiday dish or introduce a familiar flavor in an unexpected format.

Here are some updated versions of classic treats to inspire your holiday menu planning.




Cranberries are usually a part of holiday meals, often in canned form. No offense to the canned cranberry sauce devotees out there, but there are better uses for this tart little fruit. Give it a try in a cookie. Joelen Tan, who pens the blog What's Cookin' Chicago, says the red and green hints of color and the flavor of her Cranberry Pistachio Shortbread really capture the holiday spirit. This recipe would be a great option for a cookie exchange.

Cranberry Pistachio Shortbread

Recipe adapted from The Grand Central Baking Book

  • 2 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2/3 cup granulated white sugar
  • 1 tsp. pure vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract
  • 1 cup unsalted pistachios, coarsely chopped
  • 1 cup dried cranberries, coarsely chopped

In a large bowl, whisk the flour with the salt. In the bowl of your electric mixer (or with a hand mixer), cream the butter until smooth. Add the sugar and beat until smooth and creamy. Beat in the vanilla bean paste. Gently stir in the flour mixture just until incorporated. Fold in the chopped pistachios and dried cranberries. (Make sure the nuts and cranberries are evenly distributed throughout the dough.)

Divide the dough in half. Place each half of dough on the center of a 14-inch length of parchment or wax paper. Smooth and shape the dough into an evenly shaped rectangle that is about 10 inches long and 2 inches wide. Then thoroughly wrap the shaped logs in the parchment or wax paper, twist the ends of the paper to seal the logs, and place in the refrigerator to chill for at least two hours or up to three days. (The logs can be frozen for about two months. If freezing, it is best to defrost the logs in the refrigerator overnight before slicing and baking.)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees with the rack in the center of the oven. Using a thin-bladed knife, slice the logs into ¼- to ½-inch-thick cookies. Place the cookies on the prepared baking sheet, spacing about 2 inches apart. Bake for about 15-20 minutes, or until the cookies are just beginning to brown around the edges. Cool on a wire rack.



Whether you are stringing strands of the stuff to hang on the tree or buying flavored tins to give as gifts, popcorn often is a part of the holiday season. Chicago's own Garrett's Popcorn is popular year-round. However, in November and December, folks clamor for a taste of its limited edition seasonal flavors. Popcorn enthusiasts can pick up a tin of Gingerbread CaramelCrisp. The aroma of this seasonal flavor truly evokes memories of holiday baking. Gingerbread CaramelCrisp is available online and at select Chicago store locations and in most tin sizes.


Hot chocolate

Katherine Anne Confections is home to hand-dipped truffles, homemade marshmallows and caramels and drinking chocolates in a variety of unique flavor combinations. Around the holidays, peppermint is king at Katherine Anne's. This confiserie features a peppermint hot chocolate topped with peppermint marshmallows and a sprinkling of crushed organic candy canes. 2745 W. Armitage, Chicago.



No yuletide is complete without a little eggnog for holiday cheer. During the holidays, Mediterranean-inspired restaurant Tavernita features a Spanish-style version of the classic eggnog recipe, featuring almond milk and smoked paprika (and Spanish brandy and dark rum for the adults). You can whip up the recipe at home. 151 W. Erie, Chicago.

Spanish-style Eggnog

Makes 16 servings

  • 8 eggs, divided into whites and yolks
  • 1 cup sugar, divided into two equal parts
  • 16 oz. Spanish brandy (optional)
  • 3 cups almond milk
  • 2 cups dark rum (optional)
  • 2 cups heavy cream, divided into two equal parts
  • Pinch of ground nutmeg
  • Pinch of smoked paprika

Separate eggs into yolk and whites. Beat egg yolk with half of the sugar and set aside. Beat egg whites until stiff and add the remaining half of the sugar and beat until incorporated. Pour the yolks into the whites and mix together slowly. Add the alcohol, if using. Stir in milk slowly. Stir in half of the cream slowly. Whip the rest of the cream and fold into the mixture. Dust each serving with a pinch of paprika and fresh grated nutmeg.


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