By Ann Cipperly

Bare branched crepe myrtles line the drive to the country home of Laura and Jason McKay where the front of the house is festively decorated with fresh greenery over the door and windows with wreaths and red bows. Horses roam in the pasture, while the family dog Scout runs to the front yard to check out who has arrived.
The McKays moved to Cusseta seven years ago from Opelika and have embraced farm life. They own Angus cattle with two other families. Jason, who works for J. Smith Lanier, works the farm on weekends. Their son, Jack, 13, helps at the farm during the summer months, while Claire, 11, enjoys horseback riding, as well as helping her mother cook. They both attend Lee Scott Academy.
With a gift for hospitality, Laura has a love for cooking. She is sharing her menus and recipes for Christmas Eve, Christmas breakfast and dinner.
Celebrating Christmas starts early on Dec. 23 with an “ugly Christmas sweater” party for close friends and neighbors. Jason will fry fish for the party at their spacious outdoor pavilion with kitchen equipment, including a grill. A roaring fire in the brick fireplace will keep guests warm. Laura decorates the mantel with fresh greenery.
She also enjoys decorating their home with greenery, bows and pheasant feathers. Tall arrangements on the mantel in their home are accented with pheasant feathers her father brought back from hunting trips. Recently Jason and Jack have been pheasant hunting in South Dakota with friends and have brought fresh feathers back for her to use in decorating.
When Laura was growing up in New Hope outside Huntsville, she learned how to cook from her mother who was a home economics teacher. “I was always in the kitchen with my Mom,” says Laura. “That is why I try to have my kids in the kitchen with me because of those memories.”
During the Christmas season her family went to Eutaw in west Alabama every year for two weeks where both sets of grandparents lived. Since her father was also an educator, they had a two week break at Christmas.
Laura has fond memories of those childhood Christmases. Her grandfather, who was a teacher and farmer, would cut down a huge cedar tree at the farm for the grandchildren to decorate. Many of Laura’s recipes come from Christmases spent at the farm, including her grandmother’s dressing.
While Laura visited grandparents every Christmas, Jason grew up with both sets of grandparents in his hometown of Lanett. “He always got to wake up every Christmas in his own home,” says Laura. “When we got married, he said he wanted his children to wake up in their home on Christmas morning too. That is how our Christmas traditions started.”
Both sets of the grandparents visit on Christmas Day. “It works out great and is special for us having them all here on Christmas,” says Laura.
On Christmas Eve they go to Jason’s parents’ home in Lanett for lunch, and then return home to have Christmas Eve dinner with her parents, who arrive a day or two ahead. “When we started having everyone come here on Christmas Day,” says Laura, “I really wanted the children to have special time alone with each set of grandparents.”
While Laura’s mother helps with the Christmas Eve dinner, Laura will serve ham with her aunt’s Crock-Pot Mac and Cheese, Green Bean Bundles, Sour Dough Bread and Fruit with Mascarpone Cheese, a recipe from her sister, that is attractive and delectable.
On Christmas Eve, they have a tradition of reading “The Night Before Christmas” after dinner. Laura’s father read it for years and then Jason. The last two years, Jack and Claire have read it. Before going to bed, they leave reindeer food out for Santa.
On Christmas morning, Jason’s parents arrive early. Jack and Claire don’t come downstairs until all the grandparents are there and everything is arranged for them.
Before gifts are opened, “The True Night Before Christmas,” which is about Jesus being born, is read. “With that story,” says Laura, “I always want them to be mindful on Christmas Day that it is not just the presents and Santa.”
After the gifts are opened, breakfast is served with homemade biscuits that Jason’s mother brought and Sausage Stroganoff that Laura assembled the day before. The stroganoff is quickly heated on the stove top, which keeps the oven free for the turkey. Fresh fruit completes the breakfast menu with mimosas.
Later in the day, Christmas dinner is served in the dining room, featuring turkey and dressing with assorted vegetable casseroles and bread.
Laura and Claire make cupcakes for Jesus birthday to serve for dessert on Christmas. The cupcakes are offered along with a special pound cake, a gift from a friend, served with whipped cream.
Now that Claire enjoys baking, she is doing most of the desserts and the Sour Dough Bread. Laura had been making Jason’s mother’s recipe for Sour Dough Bread for years that they serve for Christmas Eve and Christmas dinner, and now Claire has learned how to make it.
It is a three day process to make the Sour Dough Bread. Claire made the bread for friends, who enjoyed it so much they ordered 15 loaves for Christmas. Last year Claire won the 4-H competition with a cake she baked. When Laura was growing up, she also won a 4-H contest.
All of the recipes that Laura and now Claire bake for Christmas have been passed down. “I am fortunately that both my mother and mother-in-law are excellent cooks,” says Laura. “I am thankful they have a wealth of recipes to share. Both my husband and I grew up with our mothers cooking a lot. We don’t eat out much because I enjoy cooking.
“At Christmas, I want to be mindful that we are celebrating the birth of Jesus,” Laura adds. “That is number one, and what I want my children to remember. The other part is our family and friends doing things together. We have a great community of five or six families that we do things with over the holidays. I am thankful we get to celebrate Christmas together.”

Ann Cipperly can be contacted at


Christmas Eve Menu
Smoked Picnic Ham
Crock Pot Macaroni and Cheese
Green Bean Bundles
Swiss Vegetable Medley
Sour Dough Bread
Fruit with Mascarpone Cheese
Festive Cocktail

Christmas Morning Menu
Jason’s Mom’s Homemade Biscuits
Sausage Stroganoff
Fresh Fruit

Christmas Dinner
Spinach Dip
Cornbread Dressing
Giblet Gravy
Squash Casserole
Corn and Green Bean Casserole
Swiss Vegetable Medley
Cranberry Salad
Sour Dough Bread
Cupcakes For Jesus’ Birthday
Pound Cake with Homemade Whipped Cream

Crock Pot Macaroni and Cheese
8 oz. macaroni noodles, cooked and drained
16 oz. shredded sharp cheddar cheese, divided
12 oz. can evaporated milk
1 ½ cups milk
2 eggs
1 tsp. salt
1 ½ tsp. pepper
Place cooked macaroni in crock pot that is coated with nonstick spray. Reserve 1 cup cheese; add remaining cheese and mix well. Sprinkle remaining cheese on top.
Cover and cook on low 5-6 hours or until mixture is firm. Do not remove cover or stir during cooking time.

Green Bean Bundles
1 lb. bacon
3 (15 oz.) cans of whole green beans, drained
1 (16 oz.) bottle Italian dressing (This recipe can be done with Catalina or French dressing, but I prefer Italian.)
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Slice bacon in half. Bundle 6 to 7 green beans together and wrap one slice of bacon around the middle of the bundle. You can secure with a toothpick, but I usually don’t.
Arrange bundles in one layer in a baking dish. Pour Italian dressing over all the bundles. I don’t use the whole bottle. I just make sure every bundle is coated.
Bake on 375 oven for 30 minutes or until the bacon is done.

Fruit with Mascarpone Cheese
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
2 tsp. + 4 Tbsp. sugar, divided
½ tsp. lemon juice
½ cup chilled mascarpone cheese
½ cup chilled whipping cream
½ tsp. vanilla
1 pint strawberries, 1 pint black berries or raspberries
Heat vinegar, 2 tsp. sugar, and lemon juice. Boil until reduced.
Combine mascarpone cheese, whipping cream, vanilla and 2 Tbsp. of sugar. Whisk until thick soft peaks form.
Combine berries and 2 Tbsp. sugar in large bowl; drizzle with balsamic syrup and toss to blend. Let stand 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Divide berries and syrup among 6 goblets. Top with mascarpone mixture.

Cape Codder Punch
1 (48 oz.) bottle cranberry juice cocktail
1 ½ cups vodka
1/3 cup sweetened lime juice (Rose’s)
1 (1 liter) bottle ginger ale, chilled
Ice cubes
Stir together first 3 ingredients. Stir in ginger ale just before serving. Serve over ice.

Cranberry Punch
1 (46 oz.) bottle pineapple juice
1 (32 oz.) bottle cranberry juice
1 (12 oz.) can lemonade concentrate, thawed
2 bottles champagne (you can substitute 1 2L bottle ginger ale for non-alcoholic version)
I usually half this recipe. Combine pineapple and cranberry juice with lemonade. Gently stir in champagne or ginger ale just before serving.

Sausage Stroganoff over Biscuits for Christmas Morning
Can prepare a day ahead and reheat Christmas morning. If making ahead, wait to add the sour cream just before serving.
1 clove garlic, minced
2 lbs. sausage
3 Tbsp. flour
2 cups milk
2 large onions, chopped
1 pack fresh mushrooms
2 sticks butter
2 tsp. soy sauce
2 Tbsp. Worcestershire
Salt and pepper to taste
1 pint sour cream
Brown sausage well with garlic. Drain sausage well and dredge with flour. Pour off grease in pan. Return sausage and milk to pan and simmer until slightly thickened. Set aside.
Sauté onions and mushrooms in butter. Add soy sauce and Worcestershire, onions, mushrooms and seasonings to the sausage cream mixture. When mixture bubbles, add sour cream.
I make the mixture the day before and reheat. Once the mixture bubbles I then add the sour cream. Serve over biscuits.

Spinach Dip
1 can (14 oz.) Rotel
2 tsp. chopped dried onion
1 tsp. ground garlic
1 Tbsp. malt vinegar
Heat all the above together in skillet. Simmer 5-10 minutes.
Add 10 oz. frozen chopped spinach (thawed).
Mix in separate bowl:
8 oz. cream cheese softened
½ cup milk
10 oz. shredded Monterey Jack cheese
½ tsp. salt
Stir tomato mixture into the cheese mixture. Bake for 30-35 minutes at 400 degrees. Serve with Fritos or crackers.

Grandmother’s Cornbread Dressing
4 cups crumbled cornbread
2 cups Pepperidge Farm Herb seasoned stuffing
3 ½ cups chicken broth
3 eggs
1 cup milk
2 tsp. salt
½ tsp. pepper
1 cup chopped celery
1 Tbsp. poultry seasoning
1 chopped onion
Mix cornbread and stuffing and add broth. Beat eggs slightly, add milk, salt and pepper. Add to bread mixture. Add chopped celery, onion and poultry seasoning.
Bake in greased casserole at 400 degrees for 45-50 minutes. Let stand 10-15 minutes before serving.

Giblet Gravy
Makes 2-3 cups, so I usually double.
Meat juices and fat from cooked turkey
Cooked giblets from turkey (I just boil.)
2 hard-boiled eggs
¼ cup flour
Remove turkey from roasting pan. Pour meat juices and fat into large measuring cup. Skim off fat and return to pan. Save ¼ cup of juices for 2 cups of gravy.
Stir in ¼ cup flour into meat juices. Blend meat juices and flour. Cook; stir over low heat until bubbly. Remove pan from heat. Add 2 cups liquid (meat juice, milk, or giblet broth) all at once; blend.
Simmer and stir until thickened. Add chopped eggs and giblets.

Cranberry Salad
1 envelope plain gelatin
1 pkg. lemon Jell-O
½ cup cold water
1 ½ cups boiling water
1 small can crushed pineapple
½ cup orange juice
1 cup pecans, chopped
1 cup celery, chopped
1 can whole cranberries
Soak gelatin in cold water. Add lemon Jell-O, which has been dissolved in hot water and stirred until clear. Add strained juices of cranberries and pineapple and orange juice. When mixture begins to set, fold in cranberries, pineapple, nuts and celery. Place in refrigerator to mold.

Cupcakes for Jesus’ Birthday
Prepare boxed cake mix – I use golden mix
Chocolate Buttercream Frosting
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, very soft
1 Tbsp. plus 1 tsp. milk
6 oz. semisweet chocolate, melted and cooled to lukewarm
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 ¼ cups sifted confectioners’ sugar
In a medium bowl, beat the butter until creamy, about 3 minutes. Add the milk carefully and beat until smooth. Add the melted chocolate and beat well. Add the vanilla extract and beat for 3 minutes. Gradually add sugar and beat until creamy and of desired consistency.

Squash Casserole
6 medium yellow summer squash
1 small onion, chopped
1 ½ cups grated sharp cheddar cheese, divided
½ cup mayonnaise
10 soda crackers, crumbled
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 Tbsp. butter, melted
Salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray an 8-inch square baking dish with cooking spray. Slice squash into ¼ inch circles. Place squash and onion in about 2 inches salted water in medium sauce pan. Bring to a rolling boil, then reduce the heat to medium low and simmer until the squash is very tender, about 10 minutes. Drain the squash.
In the same pot, mash squash and onion with a fork; you should have about 2 cups of cooked squash. Add ½ cup cheese, the mayonnaise and crumbled crackers. Stir in the egg and butter. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Pour into prepared baking dish. Top with the remaining cup of cheese. Bake for 25 minutes or until cheese is melted and casserole is bubbly.

Corn and Green Bean Casserole
1 (16 oz.) can French cut green beans
1 (12 oz.) can whole kernel corn ) I use white or shoe peg
1 can cream of celery soup
1 cup sour cream
½ cup finely chopped onion
½ cup grated cheddar cheese
½ cup butter
1 roll Ritz crackers, crushed
Drain beans and corn. Mix together. Place in 9 x 12 inch baking dish. Mix soup, sour cream, cheese and onions. Spread over beans and corn. Mix melted butter and cracker crumbs. Spread over soup mixture. Bake at 350 for 45 minutes.

Swiss Vegetable Medley
1 16 oz. bag frozen broccoli, carrot and cauliflower mixture, thawed and drained
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 cup grated Swiss cheese, divided
1/3 cup sour cream
¼ tsp. pepper
1 (2.8 oz.) can fried onions, divided
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine veggies, soup, ½ cup cheese, sour cream, pepper and ½ can fried onions. Pour into 1 qt. casserole dish. Cover and bake 30 minutes. Top with remaining cheese and onions. Bake, uncovered, 5 minutes longer.