Jennifer Ruple

It’s funny the things we do in preparation for the holidays. There are the usual tasks leading up to the big day like decorating, baking and wrapping. And then there are the not-so-usual tasks … the ones where we run all over town in search of those little things that make the holidays extra special for our families.
The year I became the host of our family’s Christmas Eve, I tried to make it an entertaining and comforting visit for my brother and his family who had to travel from out of town. I happened to pick up a movie; I believe it was “Christmas Vacation.”
With a few hours to spare before the dinner festivities, everyone gathered in the living room in front of the fireplace with cozy throw blankets and watched the movie. The movie ended up being the perfect down-time activity for my weary travelers – I think they actually slept through half of it. Ten years have passed since then, and although no one ever really pays much attention to the movie, my nephew and niece, who are now young adults, still ask, “What’s the Christmas movie this year?” It gets harder and harder each year, but I still search for (and sometimes stress about in a funny way) finding another movie. It’s simply one of our traditions, and it wouldn’t be Christmas Eve without it.
Other holiday traditions at our house include a buffet of hors d’oeuvres which we eat around the kitchen island while listening to music, dancing and catching up on the year’s events – no more formal dining room dinners here.
And that brings us to the desserts – my grandma and grandpa’s whiskey cake that my brother swears is worth the trip up from Orlando, an updated version of the scrumptious mini cheesecakes my mother introduced us to in the 80s, and a newer addition, cranberry cookies, always make an appearance on the cookie tray.
How ever you celebrate the holidays, I hope they are filled with love, laughter and all your favorite family traditions.

Whiskey Cake
1 box yellow cake mix
1 box pistachio pudding mix
2 tablespoons sour cream
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup whiskey
4 eggs
2/3 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup maraschino cherries, drained
and halved
1/2 cup chocolate chips
1 cup walnuts
Confectioners’ sugar

Heat oven to 350 F. In a large mixing bowl, combine ingredients through oil. Fold in cherries, chocolate chips and walnuts. Pour into a well-greased Bundt pan.
Bake for approximately 1 hour or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Allow to cool and turn out on to a wire rack to cool completely.
Dust with confectioners’ sugar.
(Recipe from the recipe box of my grandparents, Lucy and Carl Ries)

Cheesecakes with Fresh Berry Sauce
Makes 18 mini cakes
1 1/4 cups graham cracker crumbs
1/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup butter, melted
1 pound cream cheese, softened
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 eggs
Heat oven to 375 F. In a small bowl, combine crust ingredients.
Line cupcake pan with paper baking cups. Evenly distribute cups with graham cracker mixture. With a 1/4 cup measuring cup, firmly press crumbs down. Set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, mix all ingredients until smooth.
Pour filling over graham cracker crusts. Bake for 15 minutes.
Cool completely on a wire rack before freezing or topping with berry sauce. Cheesecakes may also be dusted with cinnamon.
(Recipe by Jennifer Ruple)

Fresh Berry Sauce
2 pints raspberries or blackberries
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Combine all ingredients in a saucepan and cook for about 10 minutes, or until the fruit breaks down.
Add corn starch dissolved in water if a thicker consistency is desired.
To remove seeds, push mixture through a fine mesh strainer.
Let cool and drizzle over cheesecakes. Top with mixed berries.
(Recipe by Jennifer Ruple)

Cranberry Cookies
11 tablespoons butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 egg
1/3 cup milk
3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 cups fresh cranberries, halved
1 cup walnuts, finely chopped
Heat oven to 350F. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper. Set aside.
In a mixing bowl, cream butter and sugars until light and fluffy.
Add the egg and milk. Stir to combine. Scrape the sides of the mixing bowl with a spatula.
Combine flour with the baking powder and salt. Gradually add the flour mixture to the creamed mixture and mix well.
Stir in the cranberries and walnuts.
Using an ice cream scoop, drop cookie dough onto the prepared baking sheets. Bake for 12-15 minutes or until golden brown. Remove cookies and allow to cool on wire racks.
(Recipe from