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Secret Family Recipes

dweber posted this December 18th, 2012

Without a secret family recipe or two in the mix, holiday fare is just regular food dressed in extra butter and cranberry sauce.  You know what we mean – in every family there’s a dish or two that gets busted out just a few times a year and is so crazy good you plan your entire eating schedule around it. Here are three of ours – and feel free to pass yours along… we can’t promise to keep it secret but we can promise to do it justice!

Courtney’s Mom’s Amazing Coffee Cake
This recipe was given to me by someone I worked with about 25 years ago. I made it for Christmas for family and friends and got so many requests the next year that it it became a Christmas tradition. The most I ever made at one time is 25, all mixed by hand. After a couple of years of doing this, I ended up having to have elbow surgery because I developed tendinitis in my elbow from all of the repetitive stirring!! I ended up getting a KitchenAid mixer after that.  I still make coffee cakes every Christmas… just not as many! – Courtney’s mom

Sour Cream Coffee Cake
2 cubes softened butter
2 eggs
2 C sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp almond extract
1 C sour cream
2 C flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda

5 T brown sugar
1 C chopped walnuts (optional)
1-2 tsp cinnamon

Mix together butter & sugar until creamed. Add eggs, vanilla, almond extract & sour cream. Mix together. Add flour, baking powder & baking soda. Mix together by hand (or on low speed if using mixer) until blended.

Pour half of batter into greased springform pan. Top with half of topping. Pour in remaining batter; top with remaining topping. Bake at 350 for 1 hr. 20 min. Let slightly cool in pan then transfer to cooling rack. When completely cool sprinkle with powdered sugar.

NOTE: You can use a bundt pan too, just shave 20 minutes off your cooking time – and double the inside cinnamon/sugar layer if you don’t want to miss out on any sweetness!


Chelsey’s Mom’s Yam Wedges
When I was a teenager, my mom started making these yam wedge “fries” that were irresistible. I started making them as an adult, and over the years I’ve altered the recipe for optimal texture and flavor. It’s pretty much all my friends ever let me make for group dinners year-round. As you’ll see, part of the recipe calls for a mortar and pestle for crushing whole spices, but I used to improvise with a saucer and the backside of a spoon. That is, until a few years ago when I had a roommate who loved them so much she bought me a beautiful wood mortar and pestle. I’ve even officially earned recognition for this recipe amongst my family; on holidays it’s my thing to make— I successfully recipe-jacked it from my mom, which she’s totally fine with! I’ll share it here and you’ll see it’s everything your tastebuds want— sweet, salty, savory, spicy, soft, and crispy.

Yam Wedges
Yams (the kind that are orange inside. I try to buy one yam per person I’m feeding if I want to end up with leftovers, which I always do)
Olive oil
Whole coriander seeds
Whole fennel seeds
Coarse sea salt
Red chili flakes

Cut the yams into small pieces. I usually cut them into what looks like 3-D triangles, maybe about and inch long. This maximizes surface area for a good ratio of spice-coated outside to soft inside. Put them into a big bowl and coat generously with olive oil. For the amounts of spices, I always start with 1 tablespoon of coriander seeds, fennel seeds, and sea salt, and then a little bit less than a tablespoon of the chili flakes and oregano. Crush them all together in a mortar and pestle until you don’t notice many whole coriander balls still intact. Sprinkle the spices over the yams, and stir it around. You may want to do another round of spices until each little yam piece is speckled with spices. Coat a flat pan (or two or three) with more oil, spread the yams out across the pan so that each piece is touching the pan (if they are heaped atop each other they won’t get crispy). I bake them at 375 degrees, checking on them and stirring every 20 minutes or so. They can be done in as soon as 40 minutes. I know they are done when I can pierce through the biggest piece’s center like a soft piece of butter.
***I almost forgot to add— a few years ago my friends and I discovered that dipping in them in plain Greek yogurt added a whole other dimension to eating them. I highly recommend it!


David’s Family Tamale Extravaganza
Oh man… every year we make tamales.  It takes 3 days of cooking, but the basics ingredients are:  meat, chili or cheese, beans, masa (made up of corn meal and lard basically) and corn husks.  We’ve been doing it since I can remember.  At first it was just our extended, large Mexican family but over the years with people moving and dying, it’s now our close family and all of our friends.  We have about 70 people at the house.

First you have to make the meat…basically just boil meat with garlic and salt.  Then we make the chili: boil dried chilies (New Mexico or Anaheim), then blend the chili with garlic, salt, tomato and oregano to make it thick.  Then cook the meat in the thick chili, which makes it super tender.  That’s the first two days.  To actually make the tamales we put an assembly line together along a long table or two.  The first person spreads masa onto the corn husk, the second person puts meat in the middle, the third person rolls the husk up, the fourth person wraps them in wax paper and the fifth person stacks them in a pot.  The tamales are then steamed for an hour or so and taken out to cool.  We usually make close to 100 dozen (100lbs of meat + 100 lbs of masa).  All the while we are eating/drinking/laughing/yelling.  Best time of my life.


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