Whether or not you're able to venture home this year, there are a few things you can do to make this holiday feel as festive and familiar as your favorites from the past, and creating, eating, or sharing certain dishes is one of them. You only need to look as far as some signature holiday family recipes to set the mood for the season and get your loved ones — and yourself — in the spirit.
Food and drinks can be powerfully nostalgic. Even just the smell of a turkey roasting in the oven or sizzle of latkes in a frying pan can spark some special memories from holidays of the past. That said, recreating some of your family's individual favorites for celebrating Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, New Year's, or any other fall/winter holiday will make you feel close to them — even if you can't be there physically.
If you need some inspiration for other dishes to try this year, the staff of The Zoe Report took a look back at their own holiday history to recommend a few that are both tasty and totally sentimental. Unsurprisingly more than a few festive desserts made the cut, but there's also something for Latin food lovers, carb aficionados, and NYE traditionalists (read: superstitious). Ahead, find seven that TZR staffers look forward to — plus why they're so special.
Holiday Family Recipe: Pistachio Torte
"Living in Los Angeles for 13 years, my palette has certainly expanded to prefer healthful, seasonal dishes with locally/sustainably sourced ingredients," says staff writer Ashley Tibbits. "That said, I'm a Wisconsin girl deep down and I just have to make an exception for some holiday dishes, like my mom's pistachio torte. It's made with a walnut crust and layers of cream cheese, pistachio instant pudding, and whipped topping. I'm sure there's a version that includes more wholesome ingredients but it's just not the same as the one you make with Kool-Whip and Jello, if I'm honest!"
Holiday Family Recipe: Boiled Custard
"My dad and I make boiled custard as a dessert every year, and it's a tradition I always look forward to," shares staff writer Anna Buckman. "I know, I know — it sounds disgusting — but it's honestly a light, sweet, fluffy delight to drink and I can't have a holiday meal without this at the end. It couldn't be easier to make either (though trying to decipher my grandma's handwritten recipe every year does prove to be a challenge): It just involves milk, eggs, sugar, and flour, and a lot of whipping and boiling."
Holiday Family Recipe: Biscuits With Honey Butter
"I'm not the biggest fan of Thanksgiving food, but one thing I always look forward to is my dad's biscuits," says Aemilia Madden, TZR's Senior Fashion Editor. "They're super basic, but made from scratch and tend to get perfectly crusty and crunchy on the top. My tip for enjoying a buttery biscuit is to go rogue at the dinner table and make honey butter for the family. Soften butter and mix in your favorite honey ahead of time. Then refrigerate the mixture again ahead of the meal. Swipe on your piping hot biscuit and enjoy!"
Holiday Family Recipe: Black Eyed Peas
"My mom either cooked us black eyed peas for New Year's or pointed out every year we didn't eat them — noting that we wouldn't get the good luck they're said to have," explains staff writer Madge Maril. "If you're not meat-adverse, throw in some ham while you slow cook them. The extra fat makes a difference for the basic beans."
Holiday Family Recipe: Tteokguk
"On New Year’s Day, we eat rice cake soup (tteokguk) with my parents at their home in California," says Kathy Lee, TZR's Editorial Director. "Since this year we will be staying put in New York, I started practicing how to prepare this dish, which is actually one of my favorite Korean meals. I follow the recipe from Maangchi, a popular Korean food blog, and the great thing about this dish is that you’re able to create the stock from multiple ingredients (beef, chicken, anchovy, or kelp). This dish is comforting and perfect for a cold winter day."
Holiday Family Recipe: Foolproof Fudge
"We always foolproof fudge using condensed milk during the holiday season," says Dale Arden Chong, staff writer at TZR. "It's one of the easiest things to make, and I've always had such fond memories of making it with my mother and then sharing it with our friends and family. When I moved away from home, making this was the perfect way to feel a warm sense of comfort (plus, who doesn't love chocolate fudge?)." To make this super simple treat, Chong shares that all you need are semi-sweet chocolate chips, sweetened condensed milk, salt, chopped nuts, and vanilla extract.
Holiday Family Recipe: Tamales
"I come from a very traditional Mexican family, so — for us — the holiday season is synonymous with tamale season," Angela Melero, TZR's Deputy Editor, explains. "Every year, the women in my family (grandmother, mother, aunts, family friends) gather for a day of tamale-making — and it is an event in itself. We drink wine, tell stories, laugh and cook up pounds and pounds of the same recipe that's been in my family for at least a hundred years (or more!): corn masa with red chilé-infused shredded beef filling. From November to early January, you can bet tamales will be served at every other meal, including the major holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas. Yes, they're delicious, but I also love that it's become a family ritual of sorts that keeps me connected to the women in my life."