Christmas With Family

Gerry Homemaker Known For Cookies

Dianne Franchina has no problem whipping up a counter full of Christmas sweet treats. Pictured left to right: Pumpkin Cheesecake Bread, Mom’s Favorite Spritz, Chocolate Mint Sandwich Cookies, Best Ever Oatmeal Raisin Cookies. Photos by Beverly Kehe-Rowland

This week’s cook, Dianne Franchina, got a very early start.

“I’ve been cooking since I could walk,” she says.

Franchina remembers decorating Spritz Cookies with her grandmother, Nancy Heath, who lived next door to her Kimball Stand home, when she was very young.

“They were the first I remember decorating with my grandmother, the first cookies my kids decorated and the last cookies I baked my mother before she passed away,” she says.

The Gerry homemaker remembers making a complete chicken dinner when she was in sixth grade.

Mom’s Favorite Spritz

“We were a family of eight and I used to cook complete meals,” Franchina says. “No one taught me. I just did it. I did a lot of watching and I could do it.”

After years of baking, she only uses unbleached flour and is never without parchment paper for lining baking pans. She is known for making giant-size cookies.

“Why not make your life easier?”

Her husband, Randy Franchina, gave her a new kitchen with a double oven, for their 25th wedding anniversary.

“She deserves the new kitchen,” he says. “She does all of this cooking and baking. She gave up her career to take care of her family and she does a great job of caring for everyone.”

Pumpkin Cheesecake Bread

Even though her Christmas shopping is finished early, after starting it in September, Franchina saves all of her baking until Christmas week. The decorations go up two to three weeks before Christmas, when she displays 40 snowmen on a counter in her entryway with miniature snowflake lights and artificial snow. More snowmen are interspersed throughout the home.

“When I was little, Christmas Eve was always at my grandmother’s until she became too old to do it. Then it was at my mother’s. After we got married it was at my in-law’s and now it is at our house,” she says.

Franchina prepares a large breakfast on Christmas Day when all of their children come home, but not until the gifts are opened. The youngest to oldest opens gifts one at a time, with the rest of the family watching. A stocking is hung for each family member. The remainder of the day is spent with her siblings and their families when each takes a side dish to her father’s house, where he has a prepared ham and turkey waiting.

“I do a lot of appetizers on Christmas Eve. We always had lasagna on at my grandma’s and my parents’ houses. I’m bringing it back.”

Many recipes appropriate for holiday entertaining are offered by the avid cook.

“Spinach Artichoke Stuffing is always requested for Thanksgiving, but it can be used for Christmas,” Franchina says. “It’s pricey, but it is so good. It is almost like a savory bread pudding. I found the recipe and tweaked it to my liking.”

The baker coordinates the color of the filling of the Chocolate Mint Sandwich Cookies for holiday or the decor of the event.

“They are my husband’s favorite. Everybody wants these. I tint the frosting red and green for Christmas, but have made them teal for a wedding,” she says.

Franchina makes her own pumpkin pie spice for the Pumpkin Cheesecake Bread, which she has donated to several fundraisers and always sells out. She claims the sweet, spicy bread with creamy filling tastes better the second day.

Making Christmas Glass Candy with her own children was a tradition. One year her sister-in-law and nieces and nephews joined in and another sister-in-law came a different year to help make a big batch of the popular candy and a new Christmas memory.

“It’s definitely a tradition of ours. It is so pretty and makes nice gifts.”

Cooking is Franchina’s main interest, but not the only one. She collects miniature tea sets, snowmen and “Little House on the Prairie” memorabilia. Her collection consists of a 1970 Carrie doll in its original packaging.

“I grew up watching ‘Little House’ with my mom and I even know what her favorite episode was,” she says. “I still watch the show every night at 7.”

Her husband surprised her with one of two Linda Sales plates with the image of Pa Ingalls, played by Michael Landon, face woodburned into its surface. The other was owned by Johnny Carson, who once showed it on his TV program.

Franchina is a quality manager at Associated Spring in Corry, Pa. Their family is made up of four children: Joshua, who lives in Buffalo; Kayla in Ripley; Morgan, who is attending college in Missouri; and Zachary, who resides with his parents. Two-year-old Easton, Kayla’s son, holds a special place in his grandparents’ hearts. Three very large rescue cats, with two weighing 15 and 20 pounds, reign over the home. In fact, this is the family’s first year with a cat-proof Christmas tree.

Got recipes? If so and you are willing to share them and your story, we need to talk. Email me at bkehe25@gmail.com.

Mom’s Favorite Spritz

1 c butter

1/2 c sugar

1 egg

2 1/2 c flour

1/4 tsp salt

1/4 tsp almond extract

green sugar

cinnamon imperials

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Beat butter, sugar and egg on medium speed until thoroughly mixed. Add remaining ingredients and combine. Place dough in cookie press and press onto ungreased sheet. Sprinkle with green sugar and place cinnamon imperial in center. Bake 5-8 minutes until set, but not brown. Immediately remove from sheet to wire rack. Cool completely.

Savory Spinach Artichoke Bread Pudding

1/4 c extra-virgin olive oil, divided

3 c spinach thawed with excess water squeezed out

2 c yellow onion, chopped

2 T garlic, finely chopped

1 T Italian seasoning

2 1/2 tsp salt, divided

1 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper, divided

2-14 oz cans quartered artichoke hearts

6 large eggs

3 c heavy cream

2 c milk

2 T fresh lemon juice

12-14 c (about 1 loaf) day-old French bread, cut in 1″ cubes

1 lb Brie, rind removed, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

1/2 c freshly grated Parmesan (reserve 1/4 c)

1/4 c fresh parsley leaves, minced

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease 9” x 13″ baking dish with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onions and cook until golden brown and tender, about 5 minutes. Add garlic, Italian seasoning, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and cook, stirring, until the garlic is fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the artichokes and cook, stirring, another 2 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside. Combine eggs, cream, milk, lemon juice, remaining 2 teaspoons salt, and remaining 1 teaspoon pepper in a large bowl. Whisk to combine. Add the bread, spinach, artichoke mixture, brie, 1/4 cup Parmesan, and parsley and stir to combine. If bread does not absorb all of liquid immediately, let rest until this happens, about 15 minutes. Pour the mixture into the prepared dish. Sprinkle remaining 1/4 cup Parmesan over the top and drizzle with remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil. Bake until firm in the center and golden brown, about 1 hour. Serve warm.


Cheesecake Bread

11/2 c flour

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp soda

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp pumpkin pie spice

1/2 c oil

1 c sugar

1/4 c brown sugar

2 eggs

1 c pumpkin puree

Cheesecake filling:

8 oz cream cheese, softened

1/3 c sugar

2 T flour

1 egg

1 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease loaf pan with nonstick spray. In separate bowl whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and pumpkin pie spice. Set aside. In mixer beat oil, sugar, eggs, pumpkin puree until well combined. Slowly add the flour mixture, a little at a time, until combined.

For the cream cheese mixture combine all ingredients in mixer until well combined.

Pour 11/4 cup pumpkin batter in loaf pan. Spoon cream cheese mixture over top. Spoon remaining pumpkin batter over cheese layer. Bake for 50-65 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Check after baking 35 minutes. Cover with foil tent, allowing room to let bread rise. Remove foil last 5 minutes of baking time. Cool 15 minutes in pan before removing and then place on wire rack to finish cooling.

Amazingly Easy Mac and Cheese

1 lb ziti

8 ounce block sharp cheese, shredded

8 ounce block Muenster cheese, shredded

1/2 c Parmesan cheese

2 c heavy cream



garlic powder

parsley flakes

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray 9” x13″ pan with nonstick spray. Bring pot of water to boil with salt. Boil ziti until al dente. Shred cheese and mix together with Parmesan set aside. Drain ziti and mix with half of cheese and heavy cream. Put in prepared pan and top with remaining cheese. Sprinkle with remaining spices and bake 30 minutes until bubbly.

Buttercream Cut-outs

1 c butter

1 c sugar

2 eggs

1/2 tsp vanilla

1/2 tsp almond extract

3 1/4 c flour

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp soda

1/2 tsp salt

In a large bowl, combine butter, sugar, eggs, vanilla, and almond extract. Beat until light and fluffy with electric mixer set on high speed. In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, soda, and salt. Stir into the butter mixture until combined. Chill dough 2 or more hours.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper. Roll out chilled dough to 1/4 inch thickness. Place 2 inches apart on sheets. Bake 4-6 minutes. Remove cookies to wire rack. Cool completely. Frost with buttercream frosting

Buttercream Frosting:

1 lb confectioners sugar

1 stick butter, softened

1 tsp vanilla

3 T milk

Mix all ingredients with electric mixer until fluffy and creamy. Spread on cookies. Let frosting set before storing cookies.

Best Ever Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

2 c flour

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp salt

1 tsp cinnamon

1 c butter

1 c sugar

1 c brown sugar

2 eggs

2 tsp vanilla

3 c minute oats

1 1/2 c raisins

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper. Cream butter, sugars, eggs and vanilla. Beat until fluffy and color lightens. Whisk together flour, salt, cinnamon, soda and baking powder. Stir into creamed mixture until no flour is visible. Do not over-stir, as this will make a tough cookie. Stir in oatmeal and raisins until incorporated. Make meatball-sized balls and then flatten on cookie sheet. Bake 2 inches apart for 11-13 minutes or until golden. Remove from oven and let sit on cookie sheet 2 minutes before transferring to wire rack to cool.

Christmas Glass Candy

3 3/4 c sugar

11/2 c light corn syrup

1 c water

1-.125 oz bottle LorAnn oil any flavor

10 drops food coloring

Prepare a 15” x10″ cookie sheet, spraying lightly with nonstick spray and set aside. In heavy saucepan combine sugar, corn syrup and water. Cook, stirring occasionally over medium high heat until candy thermometer reads 300 degrees. Remove from heat and quickly stir in flavoring and food coloring. Cool completely and break into bite size pieces.

Tip: I use a tiny hammer to break pieces and then toss pieces in tablespoon of confectioners sugar to keep candy from sticking together.

Apple Cake with Butterscotch Sauce

1/2 c butter, softened

2 c sugar

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

2 large eggs

2 c flour

1 1/2tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp nutmeg

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp soda

6 c tart apples, chopped and peeled

Butterscotch sauce:

1 c packed brown sugar

1 stick butter, cubed

1 c heavy whipping cream

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, cream butter, sugar and vanilla. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Combine flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt and soda. Gradually add to creamed mixture and mix well (batter will be stiff). Stir in apples until well combined and then spread into a greased 13” x 9″ pan. Bake 40-45 minutes or until top is lightly browned and springs back when lightly touched. Cool for 30 minutes before serving. Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, combine brown sugar and butter. Cook over medium heat until butter is melted. Gradually add cream. Bring to a slow boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. Remove from the heat. Will thicken as it cools. Serve on cake. Topped with whipped cream, if desired.

Chocolate Mint Sandwich Cookies

2 3/4 c flour

1 1/4 c cocoa powder

1/2 tsp salt

2 sticks butter, room temperature

1 T vanilla

2 c confectioners sugar

1/2 c brown sugar

2 large eggs


1 stick butter, room temperature

1 lb box confectioners sugar

1 tsp peppermint extract

1-2 T milk

1-2 drops red or green food coloring

Chocolate coating

1 3/4 c semi sweet chocolate chips

1 stick butter

Sift together flour, cocoa, and salt and set aside. With electric mixer, cream butter, vanilla, sugar and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, until combined, Add flour a little at time. Make sure all flour is mixed in well. Divide dough in half and place each piece on a parchment paper-lined cookie sheet. Wrap dough with plastic wrap. Roll each half to 1/4 inch thickness. Chill 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut cookies with a 2-3-inch round cutter. Bake 8 to 10 minutes or until firm to touch. Transfer to rack to cool completely.

Filling- Beat butter, sugar, extract and milk until fluffy and well-combined. Add food coloring and combine.

Put approximately 1 tablespoon of frosting on bottom of one cookie and place another right-side up on top.

Melt chocolate and butter until smooth. Coat top of each cookie with chocolate. Let finished cookies stand until set.


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