Holiday Rituals Chicago Style

Everybody has at least one or two rituals for the holidays. Families and friends have annual parties, gift openings, buffets and special things they do year after year to make the holiday official. It has occurred to me that I have spent the last 20 winter holidays in Chicago. I lived there for 7 years and go back every year to spend it with friends and family. During this time I have developed rituals mostly around food (no surprise there) with my friends that are noteworthy.

For instance most years the day after Thanksgiving, my friends and I go down to Michigan Avenue to do a little shopping and walk by the windows of Marshall Fields on State Street to see the annual  holiday display. This year all of the displays were constructed of paper, but looked like works of art featuring a holiday story for the children. We end our walk with afternoon tea at the Palm Court in the Drake Hotel. The hotel is decked to the gills with gingerbread villages and towering flocked trees. Afternoon tea is held in the lobby bar, complete with a harpist and a marble fountain in the middle. Festooned with Flowers and decorations, it’s a breathtaking site and puts you in the mood for the holidays. Click here for  a peek at the Palm Court Tea Menu. It’s the stuff dreams are made of for little girls.

This year I had a new tradition with my sister-in-law and girlfriends of dining “under” the big tree in the Walnut Room at Marshall Fields (Macy’s for non-Chicago folks)  The State Street store is the second largest department store in the world and the Walnut Room sits majestically on the 7th floor. It was fantastic to see the store decorated and the tree was over 4 stories tall. The menu is classic fancy lunch fare, heavy with salads and other traditional home style favorites served in a large dining area with dark panel and white tablecloths. It has that retro old school Chicago atmosphere that reminds me where I am.  I was torn between ordering pot pie, meatloaf or the peach nest salad. Our visit was topped off by a visit from the resident fairy dressed in a wedding dress with a halo instead of a train and carried a wand to grant wishes for everyone at your table.

On Christmas Eve, believe it or not, there are very few restaurants open in the city. You have to really look to find a great restaurant because most restaurants give their families the night off. But we found Ann Sather’s Swedish Diner open years ago and have a tradition of going there for their special Christmas Eve Dinner. As you walk in the door, you are greeted by the smell of bakery items coming out of the kitchen. The place is packed and the line is normally out the door. They offer a special Christmas Eve and Christmas Day menu that features a fantastic Swedish Sampler: Duck Breast with Lingonberry Glaze, Meatball, Potato Sausage, Spatzel, Sauerkraut, and Brown Beans. If you are lucky you get a complementary cup of Swedish Glogg to warm you up when you get to your table.  Traditionally, they are only open for breakfast and lunch and are known for their fabulous cinnamon rolls. They now have several locations, but my favorite is the Lakeview location on Belmont Street. At the turn of the century, Chicago had the largest population of Swedes outside of Sweden. Only Stockholm had more Swedes at that time. They originally settled in a neighborhood of Andersonville on the North side of Chicago. Although most of the authentic Swedes have moved on, Ann Sather’s Swedish Diner still carries the traditions and is worth a stop if you find yourself hungry on Christmas Eve in Chicago.

View of our new Lakeview location

Ann Sather’s Recipes
Here is a treasure trove of Swedish recipes from the Ann Sather’s cookbook that was posted on the WTTW  PBS website. There are a lot of copycat recipes out there for Ann’s cinnamon rolls, but this one is from her book.

And how Swede it is! The friendly folks at Ann Sather’s restaurant have generously offered to share a few of their best-loved recipes, from their Ann Sather’s Restaurant 50th Anniversary Cookbook:

Cinnamon Rolls
1 1/4 oz. envelope active dry yeast
1 tsp. sugar
1/4 c. warm water (110* F)
1 c. milk, scalded, cooled
1/4 c. butter, melted
1/3 c. sugar
1-1/2 tsp. salt
2-1/2 to 3 c. all-purpose flour
1/4 c. butter, room temperature
1/2 c. brown sugar
1 T. cinnamon, ground
Powdered-Sugar Glaze, if desired (see recipe below)

In a large bowl, stir the yeast and 1 teaspoon of sugar into the warm water and let it stand for 5 minutes to soften. Stir in milk, melted butter, 1/3 cup sugar, salt and 1 cup of flour. Beat all of this with a spoon or an electric mixer until smooth. Gradually stir in 1-1/2 cups of flour, keeping the dough smooth. If the dough is still moist, stir in 1 tablespoon of flour at a time to make a soft dough. Cover with a dry cloth and let it rise in a warm place until it is doubled in bulk, about 1 hour. Divide the raised dough in half. On a lightly oiled board, roll out (with a lightly floured rolling pin) and stretch 1 piece of dough to make a 12″ by 8″ rectangle. Spread 2 tablespoons of the soft butter over the top of the dough. Sprinkle with brown sugar and cinnamon. Beginning on the long side roll up tightly, jelly-roll fashion. Repeat with the remaining dough. Cut the dough into 2-inch slices. Place on floured and greased baking sheets. Let the dough rise until doubled in bulk, about 45 minutes. Bake in a preheated 350* F oven for 12 to 15 minutes or until golden brown. Take the cinnamon rolls on the baking sheets out of the oven and place them to cool on a wire rack. Top the rolls with Powdered Sugar Glaze immediately, if desired, and cool or serve warm, as you like.

Makes 18 rolls.
(It’s really much easier to buy these at any Ann Sather’s restaurant)

Powdered Sugar Glaze

1/2 c. powdered sugar
1/4 c. margarine, melted
1 tsp. Vanilla

Place all the ingredients into a small bowl and beat until creamy smooth. Glaze the cinnamon rolls immediately after taking them out of the oven. Allow the cinnamon rolls to cool on a wire rack. Serve the cinnamon rolls while still warm or cooled, as you like.

Makes enough to glaze 18 cinnamon rolls.

Swedish Meatballs
2-1/2 lbs. ground chuck
1-1/2 c. (8 slices) white bread, dampened with water
3 eggs
1/2 c. onion, grated
1/4 tsp. nutmeg, ground
1/2 tsp. allspice, ground
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. salt
1 T. beef stock
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp. black pepper

Combine all the ingredients in a mixing bowl except for the meat. Add the meat and mix well. Roll the mixture into 1″ meatballs and bake them uncovered in a lightly greased pan at 300* F for 45 minutes. Serve the hot meatballs with brown gravy.

Makes 25 meatballs

Swedish Pancakes
4 eggs
1-1/3 c. all-purpose flour
1 c. sugar
1/4 c. non-fat dry milk
2 c. cold water
dash of salt
oil or butter

Sift the dry ingredients together in a bowl. Beat the eggs in a separate bowl. Blend the sifted dry ingredients into the beaten eggs and 2 cups of cold water. Heat a large skillet on high heat until a drop of water “dances” before it evaporates. Coat the skillet with some oil or butter and pour one generous ladle of batter (1/2 c.) onto the skillet for each pancake. Flip each pancake when the top bubble and the bottom is brown. Serve immediately with delicious lingonberry jam.

Makes 12 large Swedish pancakes

Swedish Rice Pudding
2/3 c. cooked rice
3 T. butter
5 c. milk
1/2 tsp. salt
2-3 T. sugar
1/3 c. raisins
2-3 eggs, separated
1/2 T. butter
2 T. breadcrumbs

Put the cooked rice into a saucepan. Divide the butter into small portions and stir it into the rice with a fork. Cover the saucepan and leave it in a hot oven at 400* F for about 15 minutes, stirring it often with a fork. Put the rice into a mixing bowl and mix in more cold butter, salt, sugar and raisins. After the rice mixture has cooled, stir in well-beaten yolks and milk. Pour it all into a (2 quart) baking dish that has been buttered, then dusted with breadcrumbs. Bake uncovered in a moderate oven at 385* F for 40-50 minutes. Take the baking dish of rice pudding out of the oven and allow it to cool on a wire rack. Sprinkle the top with cinnamon, if you like, and serve the rice pudding still warm with lingonberry jam.

Makes 12 servings

Swedish Glogg
1 gallon Mogen David Concord grape wine
2 c. dark brandy
1 c. dark rum
3/4 c. sugar
1 pkg. Glogg spices
1/2 c. pure grain alcohol

Put the Glogg spices in a small saucepan. Cover the spices with water and simmer until soft. Combine the wine, the brandy and the rum in a large pot and bring it to a simmer. DO NO BOIL. Add the Glogg spices to the large pot. Put the sugar in a heavy pan. Stir it on a low flame until it turns to a liquid. It will be brown in color. Stir it constantly or it will burn. DO NOT LEAVE IT. Slowly stir the carmelized sugar into the large pot with the wine, rum, brandy and spices. When ready to serve, pour the pure grain alcohol on top of the Glogg in the pot and light it with a match. It will burn off, go out, and be ready to serve.

Makes 20-24 servings

I wish for you this holiday season a life rich with food memories,  for they tell the story of the culinary legacy of your life.

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One Response to Holiday Rituals Chicago Style

  1. Peggy Anderson says:

    Thanks for the great recipes! I just got in the mood to sort out all my recipes. That is a year long project though. I love to cook.

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