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From the Kitchen: Only 5 days 'til Christmas!

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By Elli Rarick

If anything like mine, kitchens everywhere have had a steady stream of baking and cooking going on during this entire month. This year I am finished early with all the baking of treats that Jim likes to have around and that we give as gifts. My big table is cleared and everything put away for another year and now I am going to enjoy the remaining days leading up to fixing Christmas dinner.

I spoke to our youngest daughter this past weekend and she was deep into her Christmas baking project as she is every year. She is a working mother of three young school-age children, so her time is limited to one weekend that she sets aside to accomplish this task. I recall those days well! We shared about what we had baked this year and that much of our creations would make up gift plates for special people. She also seemed quite surprised that I still make fruitcake! As I stated in another column, I doubt that this tradition will be carried on past me in our family. Considering that most of the next generation of our family does not even like fruitcake; there will be no reason for anyone to continue making it. I doubt, however, that the baking of Christmas cookies and other favorites will end anytime soon. Interestingly, our conversation revealed that she is following the traditions of baking that she grew up with.

Since everything tends to cycle itself back into existence and popularity; I will pass along the family fruitcake recipe because one day a grandchild or great-grandchild may just decide to try making it, because it came from a distant grandmother, and discover they like it.

Traditions are a wonderful connection to the past and to the memory of those we love who are no longer with us. Over the many years of hosting Christmas dinners I have enjoyed blending dishes that came from parents and grandparents to the traditions I have begun for our family to carry on and add to.

The Christmas dinner table does not have to be tradition-laden with turkey, ham, goose or duck to provide a festive meal. One year a son and daughter-in-law fixed lasagna for Christmas dinner. Although it broke with any tradition, it was delicious and enjoyed by all! I especially liked having two of Santa's helpers take over the kitchen, from start to finish.

This week's recipes were taken from 2007 Taste of Home "Best Holiday Recipes" and offer ideas for festive beef entrées.

Involve members of the family or friends whether you are fixing the traditional or trying something different for Christmas dinner. Enjoy friendships and relationships as you celebrate this wonderful time of the year and I hope you are blessed with as many of Santa's helpers as I have been. Merry Christmas!

Corn-stuffed Crown Roast

Dorothy Swanson, St. Louis, MO

1 pork crown roast (about 7 pounds and 12 ribs)

one-half teaspoon pepper, divided

1 cup chopped celery

1 cup chopped onion

1 cup butter

6 cups crushed corn bread stuffing

2 cups frozen corn, thawed

2 jars (4 one-half ounces each) sliced mushrooms, undrained

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon poultry seasoning

Place roast on a rack in a large roasting pan. Sprinkle with one-fourth teaspoon pepper. Cover rib ends with small pieces of foil. Bake, uncovered, at 350 for 2 hours.

In a Dutch oven, saut celery and onion in butter until tender. Stir in stuffing, corn, mushrooms, salt, poultry seasoning and remaining pepper. Loosely spoon 1-3 cups into center of roast. Place remaining stuffing in a greased 2 qt. baking dish.

Bake roast 30-60 minutes or until a meat thermometer reads 160 and juices run clear. Cover and bake extra stuffing for 30-40 minutes. Transfer roast to serving platter. Let stand for 10 minutes. Remove foil; cut between ribs to serve. Yield: 12 servings.

Festive Beef Tenderloin

Leann Meeds, Klamath Falls, OR

4 beef tenderloin steaks (about 1-one-half inches thick)

one-fourth cup crushed saltines

one-fourth cup mayonnaise

2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley

2 teaspoons prepared horseradish

one-fourth teaspoon pepper

Broil steaks 3-4 inches from the heat for 8 minutes on each side. Meanwhile combine the cracker crumbs, mayonnaise, parsley, horseradish and pepper. Spread over steaks.

Broil 2-6 minutes longer or until meat reaches desired doneness (for medium-rare, a meat thermometer should read 145; medium, 160; well-done, 170). Yield: 4 servings.