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Holiday Food Traditions

Created January 10, 2017
From Swiss fondue and lefse to Italian cookies and eggs Benedict on Christmas morning, our editors share their families’ signature holiday fare.
Danish Meatballs

Frikadeller (Danish Meatballs)

Pronounced frika della—go ahead, laugh!—these meatballs are a standard in Midwest families with strong Danish lineage. My Madsen grandparents, Elsa and Knud, both immigrated to the United States from Denmark and met in their teens when their families were living in the popular Danish settlement in Elk Horn, Iowa. These meatballs are just one of the many food traditions they passed down to their children and us grandkids (aka their “Danish dynamite”—yes, we had t-shirts), and something we make by the dozens whenever we’re together. To make a couple dozen of our frikadeller, you’ll need: 1 pound ground beef; 1 pound ground pork sausage; 2 eggs; 1 tablespoon each of flour, milk and minced dried onion flakes; and 1 teaspoon allspice. Mix everything together—we do this with freshly washed hands—forming golf ball-sized meatballs then setting on a parchment-lined half sheet. Once the meatballs are at room temperature, start panfrying six or eight meatballs at a time over medium heat, flipping as needed to make sure each side gets a nice sear and is cooked through (about 10 minutes). I use a cast-iron or nonstick skillet and plenty of butter and olive oil so the meatballs get a nicely browned, crusty exterior. We eat them hot or cold, for breakfast, lunch or dinner—and every snack in between. In the Madsen family, anytime is the right time for frikadeller! —Erin Madsen, executive editor


Swiss Fondue

After college, in the midst of the Vietnam War, my mom, Judie, moved to Germany to teach first grade at an army-base elementary school. During her three-year stay, she picked up some pretty sweet domestic skills, fondue-making being one of them. For as long as I can remember, my family has gathered around the fondue pot on Christmas Eve, swirling hunks of crusty bread in the bubbling cheesy goodness. The meal isn’t complete without shrimp cocktail, fresh veggies, sweet dark cherries and a couple of bottles of Riesling on the table. It’s a tradition I treasure and can’t imagine the holidays without. (While I’m not yet ready to part with my mom’s signature recipe, this five-star cheese fondue of Betty’s is dang-near close.) —Meghan McAndrews, senior editor

Eggs Benedict

Eggs Benedict

Christmas morning is everything. Sure, Christmas Eve has its magic, but I never really feel the holiday settle in until I smell eggs Benedict on Dec. 25 at approximately 11 a.m. My family—with my mom, Meg, acting as kitchen traffic controller—makes eggs benny every year, plus tons of fresh fruit, scones and, of course, mimosas. The allure of the dish is pretty obvious, isn’t it? A delicate, fluffy poached egg perched atop thick-cut Canadian bacon and a crispy English muffin? I can’t think of anything better. And the hollandaise! Oh, the hollandaise. I wish hollandaise sauce was served with everything, but drizzled on top of an egg, ham and bread is downright perfection. I think my family makes the best eggs Benedict around, so when I set out to recreate their holiday magic during a day cooking in the Betty Crocker Kitchens, I was terrified. With a little help from one of our stellar kitchen experts, I learned a cool trick—poaching the eggs in separate custard cups in a stock pot of near-boiling water—that didn’t require the egg poacher my parents purchased a few years ago to make our Christmas-morning tradition easier. It was beyond simple, and each egg came out so perfectly and effortlessly that I consider it an early Christmas (culinary) miracle. —Claire Davidson, associate editor



If you’re Norwegian and from the Midwest, it goes without saying that you love lefse. I’m both and as such, I come dangerously close to eating my weight in these tortilla-like soft flatbreads every year. Lefse has a place on our family Thanksgiving table, Christmas table and if no one finds where Mom hid it in the freezer, our Easter table too. Oddly enough, growing up, no one in my family ever made lefse, choosing instead to rely on the good women of Hope Lutheran Church in Surrey, N.D., and their annual holiday bazaar, whose tables overflowed with homemade lefse. These women meet the first Saturday of November every year and turn 100-plus pounds of day-old mashed potatoes into thousands of rounds of lefse—no easy feat! When I was 13, they outfitted me with my very own lefse stick and taught me all of their secrets. But just like Italians and their spaghetti sauce, no two Scandinavians have the same recipe for lefse. Some swear by ricing the potatoes, while others claim Betty Crocker Potato Buds (honest—that’s not just a product plug!) are the only way to go. Truthfully, I can’t tell the difference. Once I’ve slathered on butter and far too much sugar (uff da!), all I taste is home and my heritage. —Kayla Knudson, managing editor

Italian Cookies

Italian Cookies

The telltale sign that the holidays were approaching in my family was when every surface in Nana’s house was covered with cookies. All different shapes, colors and flavors—each tempting you at every turn. Nana was a true master of the cookie tray, and we always had two at every holiday celebration: one of all of Nana’s cookies—and one for everyone else’s. No cookies hold as much meaning and love as Nana’s, and not just for me. I’m pretty sure every person she knew got a cookie plate ever year, and I’ll never know how she managed it (unless she had some cookie elves hiding out somewhere)! As a lifelong vegetarian, I’ve always found holiday meals in our very Sicilian household a little unsatisfying—despite my wonderful family’s best efforts—but was always glad to save room for the time in the evening when the dinner is cleared and my parents’ entire kitchen table would be rearranged with countless desserts. Everything you could possibly desire was there, and yet I always headed straight for Nana’s Italian cookies with simple, yet perfect, icing. They seem so unassuming, so plain. But a hint of vanilla and a dash of almond extract bring out the best in these light, cakey cookies. Even though she’s no longer alive, we still make Nana’s cookies every year, because it just wouldn’t be the holidays without them. And despite our best efforts, we still can’t make them quite as perfect as she did. Must have been all that love. —Angie Sheldon, community manager (aka Ms. Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram and Twitter!)