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Baking Christmas Cookies

Every Christmas our daughters and I become Cookie Elves when we bake a bunch of cookies and pack them up as gifts--leaving some in the freezer for our own enjoyment, of course. We have our old standby recipes, which I'm including below:


And a few new favorites:

See even more cookies HERE.

Baked Cheesecake with Almonds

Here's a delicious cheesecake our family loves. Serve as is, or top with canned fruit filling of your choice. 

1 cup crushed graham cracker crumbs
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup melted butter

3-8 oz packages cream cheese, softened
1 cup sugar
6 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon lemon juice

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. In a small bowl, combine graham cracker crumbs, sugar, and melted butter. Press the mixture to line the bottom of a lightly greased springform pan to create the crust. 

In a large mixing bowl, beat cream cheese and sugar until smooth. Add eggs; beat on low just until combined. Stir in vanilla and lemon juice. Pour over crust. Bake for 55-60 minutes, until center is almost set. Turn off oven and allow cheesecake to set for 10 minutes. Remove from oven and sprinkle top with slivered almonds. Cool for one hour then chill before serving. Serves 8-10.
Click here for a printable version of this recipe.

Orange Cranberry Cookies

Here's a chewy cookie recipe with loads of flavor.

1 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tablespoon orange rind
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 1/2 cups old fashioned oats
1 cup pecans, chopped
1 cup dried cranberries, chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In large mixing bowl, cream together butter and sugars. Add eggs, orange rind, and vanilla. In small bowl, combine flour, salt, baking soda, and cinnamon. Stir into butter mixture. Add oats, nuts, and cranberries. Place by tablespoonfuls onto prepared baking sheets and flatten with fork. Bake for 8-10 minutes until golden brown. Makes 4 dozen.
Click here for a printable version of this recipe.

Jean Peterson's Elk Chili

Jean Petersen is excited about her January release of her children's picture book, Kind Soup with Little Lamb Books. She recently released The Big Sky Bounty Cookbook-Local Ingredients and Rustic Recipes with Arcadia Publishing and The History Press as a part of their American Palate series with Chef Barrie Boulds this summer, and her first non-fiction children's picture book, Moose Shoes, was released in 2007.

Jean is Colorado State University-Journalism alumni, and has been a freelance writer and weekly columnist for 12 years with Western Ag Reporter covering a host of topics. Her weekly children’s column is called Life on the Ranch with Banjo celebrated 10 years this past spring, and some of her feature articles can be found published in Distinctly Montana magazine and Raised in the West Magazine.

Jean lives near the Beartooth Mountains in scenic southern Montana on her small farm with her husband, four children, and a host of animals knocking at her door, all of whom give her lots of fuel for all her writing. Learn about Jean and her books HERE.

Jean's Latest Book Release - Kind Soup  

Kate and her mom are in the kitchen and their making something delicious-a special soup wrapped in prayer and ladled out with love, composed of the Fruits of the Spirit, Kind Soup is as much a joy to make as it is to share. Release scheduled for January 2019 with Little Lamb Books.

Jean's Elk Chili
Ground elk is great for chili, You don't have to drain the fat because the fat content is so low!

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 pounds ground elk
1 large onion, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 can (15.5 ounces) red kidney beans, rinsed & drained
1 can (15.5 ounces) chili beans
1 can (15.5 ounces) red beans, rinsed & rained
1 can (28 ounces) whole tomatoes, with juice, crushed by hand
1 small jar (about 8 ounces) of you favorite salsa 
1/4 to 1/2 cup grape jelly
3 to 5 cups of water (or to whatever consistency of chili you want)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat the oil in a large pot or Dutch over over medium-high and add elk, onion and celery. Saute until meat has browned and the vegetables are soft, about 10 minutes. Add the cayenne, ground cumin and chili powder and stir for 1 minute. Add the rest of the ingredients, bring to a boil and immediately turn down to low, partially covered, and simmer for 30-40 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. 
Serves 8-12

Smoked Whitefish Spread

This past summer, we had a chance to taste smoked whitefish while traveling through Michigan's Upper Peninsula. It was delicious! Here is a recipe similar to one we tried at Legs Inn. If you aren't able to find whitefish, you might try substituting smoked salmon. Enjoy! 

8 oz. smoked whitefish, skin and bones removed
3 oz. cream cheese, softened
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 tablespoon minced onion
1 teaspoon dill weed
1 teaspoon celery seed
1 teaspoon whole grain mustard
1/2 teaspoon prepared horseradish

In a medium bowl, mash together whitefish, cream cheese, and mayo with a fork. Stir in minced onion, dill weed, celery seed, mustard, and horseradish until combined. Transfer mixture to a serving bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 1-2 hours. Serve with crackers or flatbread. Serves 10-12
Click here for a printable version of this recipe.

Homemade Pizza Dough

Here's a recipe my family loves, but only consider it if you have plenty of time, as it takes an hour for this dough to rise.

1 package dry yeast
1 1/2 cups warm water
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons salt
4 cups flour

In glass measuring cup, dissolve yeast in 1 1/2 cups warm water. Stir in olive oil. In medium bowl, mix together sugar, salt and flour. Add yeast mixture and knead until smooth. Put into a greased bowl, cover with towel and let rise in warm place until double in bulk, about 1 hour. When ready, spray 1 large pizza pan or 2 medium pans and set aside. Punch down dough and roll to fit pan/s. Let stand 10-20 minutes. Bake in preheated 400 degree oven for 10 minutes. Fill with Zesty Pizza Sauce (recipe HERE) and toppings. Bake another 15 minutes until done.

Toppings to consider: chopped onions, Italian sausage, Canadian bacon, pepperoni, chopped onions, chopped green bell peppers, sliced mushrooms and lots of mozzarella cheese!
Click here for a printable version of this recipe.

Gail Pallotta's Polynesian Sweet Potatoes

Award-winning author Gail Pallotta’s a wife, mom, swimmer and bargain shopper who loves God, beach sunsets and getting together with friends and family. Gail’s a former regional writer of the year for American Christian Writers Association, a 2013 Grace Awards finalist and a 2017 Reader’s Favorite Book Award winner. She’s published five books, poems, short stories and two-hundred articles. Some of her articles appear in anthologies while two are in museums. To learn more about Gail and her books visit her website at http//

Gail's Latest Book Release - Hair Calamities and Hot Cash

What happens when a New York stockbroker crashes his car into Eve Castleberry’s North Carolina beauty shop...on the same day the young widow’s defective hair products are causing wild hairdos? Soon Eve finds herself helping the handsome stranger hunt the thieves who stole his client’s cash...and hot on the trail of two of the F.B.I.’s most-wanted criminals! Romance blossoms amid danger, suspense and Eve’s hair-brained plan to get back the money. Buy the book on Amazon HERE.

Gail's Polynesian Sweet Potatoes

This is an easy recipe. If we want to have this dish for dinner on a day we’ll be out and about, I cook the sweet potatoes ahead and then warm them up and add the ingredients when we get home. Sometimes if we use small potatoes, we add a salad, but if the potatoes are large enough, it’s a meal for us. My husband named them Polynesian Sweet Potatoes because I put pineapple in them.

Four sweet potatoes (medium sized)
One container pineapple chunks cut in bite-sized pieces
One package spinach (wilted)
Twelve deli turkey slices (honey or maple)
Butter or margarine to taste
White cheese, such as Colby or fontina (optional)

Bake sweet potatoes at 325 degrees for three hours or until done. Cut in half and add butter, pineapple pieces and wilted spinach to taste. Bake turkey on low heat for five minutes or so, just to warm, and top the potatoes with turkey cut into bite-sized pieces. Sprinkle with cheese.

*Large potatoes could require a longer baking time and additional amounts of ingredients

Springerle Cookies

Last Christmas I made these hard, licorice-flavored cookies for the first time and had such fun learning about the history of them. I hope you will enjoy them as well. You may browse "House on the Hill" Springerle molds HERE.

3 eggs
3 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup salted butter, softened
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon water
1/4 teaspoon anise oil--if using extract, you may want to increase this amount
2 teaspoons grated orange rind
3 3/4 cups sifted cake flour

In a large mixing bowl, beat eggs until thick and lemon-colored, about 15 minutes. Slowly beat in powdered sugar, then the softened butter. IN a small bowl, whisk together baking powder and water. Add to butter mixture along with anise oil and orange rind. Gradually beat in enough flour to make a stiff dough. (May reserve 1/2 cup of flour to use while kneading.) Turn onto floured surface and knead to make a good print without sticking. 

Roll dough 3/8" - 1/2" thick (deeper molds require a thicker dough). Brush powdered sugar on the mold image, then press mold onto dough, working from center outward. Trim cookie and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Repeat for each cookie. (If you press multiple cookies at one time, you may distort the images, so it is best to do each one-at-a-time, and remember to brush molds with powdered sugar each time as well.)

Allow cookies to dry uncovered for 24 hours before baking. Drying preserves the images during baking. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 225-300 degrees. You may want to test your oven temperature on one cookie. The smaller the cookies, the lower the temperature. Cookies may "bubble" while baking. Check once or twice during the baking process and simply press them down. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until barely golden on the bottom. Allow to cool on wire racks and then store in tin containers. They will keep for months this way and improve with age. Makes 12-24 cookies, depending on size of molds. 

*It is said that in the past bakers would make these cookies after Thanksgiving to give as gifts at Christmas, insisting that the cookies are stored in tin containers for at least 2 weeks (1 month was preferred) before allowing anyone to eat them. You will find that the licorice flavor mellows with time as does the hardening "cracker" tops. 
Click here for a printable version of this recipe.

Oat Rolls

Here's a recipe that is one of our family favorites. Easy and soooo good.

2 cups old fashioned oats
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup butter
1 tablespoon salt
2 1/2 cups boiling water
2 packages yeast
1/2 cup warm water (110-115 degrees)
5 1/2 - 6 cups flour

In a large mixing bowl combine oats, brown sugar, butter and salt. Add boiling water and stir. Cool to 100-115 degrees. In small dish, dissolve yeast in warm water. Let stand for five minutes. Add to oat mixture along with two cups of flour. Beat until smooth. Stir in enough remaining flour to form a soft dough.

Turn onto a floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 5-7 minutes. Place in a greased bowl, turning once to grease top. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about one hour.

Punch dough down. Turn onto lightly floured surface. Divide into 20 pieces. Place in greased 13x9 baking pan. Cover and let rise until doubled, about 30 minutes. Bake at 350 degrees for 30-35 minutes or until golden brown. Brush with melted butter. Serves 20.
Click here for a printable version of this recipe.

Thanksgiving Menu Ideas

Here are a few Thanksgiving recipe ideas to serve with your turkey tomorrow. 

Have a Happy Thanksgiving!