Cookie Baking – Christmas 2015

It would not seem like Christmas without just a few of our favorites – cookies and a Christmas tree. So last Monday I made all the batters for several types of cookies and Tuesday it was marathon baking.

On Monday I did sneak in a few batches of the bar cookies and baked the Black Bottom Cookie Bar and Triple Layer Cookie Bar.

12.21 (11)I also made something I have never tried before. These are made with vanilla cookies on the bottom, covered in caramel, baked and then topped with chocolate chips sprinkled with chopped nuts.  Fast and easy and the kids will love them. All chocolaty and sweet.

12.21 (10)Then I made Crane House Pumpkin Breads.

12.21 (14)Here are some of the batters chilling in the refrigerator. These are the Cherry Nut Cookies in the foreground and the Italian Cookies in the background.

12.21 (13)Here are the final cookie trays ready to go

12.26.2015It was a very Merry Christmas.

Italian Anise Cookies

I really love this  – it’s the best of all the cookies that I make – first it is wonderful with a cup of coffee and they can last a good while in a tightly closed container plus if you put some of the batter in the freeze a month later you can have fresh cookies.

Italian Anise Cookie

  • 6 Eggs
  • 1 1/2 C Margarine
  • 1 C regular sugar
  • 3/4 bottle of Anise 1/2 oz. *see note below
  • 8 T Baking Powder
  • 6 C Flour

Dip fingers in oil and roll dough into meat ball sized balls.
Bake ungreased cookie sheet 12-15 minutes 375 – 400 f


  • 1/2 bag confectionery sugar
  • add a bit of hot water, start with 1 tablespoon
  • 1/2 bottle of anise flavoring 1/4 oz. or to taste
  • add food color as desired

Mix well

Right after the cookies are baked dip just the tops in glaze – let cool on a wire rack.  Store in an airtight container.

This year I am making a batch with almond flavoring in both the batter and the glaze.  I don’t think kids like the anise flavoring so I am trying something a bit different.

* I have not found anise flavoring on the store shelves here so I have taken star anise and add them to vodka – let stand for a week and strain though a coffee filter or cheese cloth.  This is a good substitute for store-bought anise flavoring.

Let’s put on a pot of coffee and get this party started!

Holiday Cookie Baking

The holidays are upon us sooner than I would like to admit. And with that, decisions need to be made about what cookies I will be baking and who will be getting “cookie care packages”. Each year I have a very hard time making up my mind about the cookie recipes, number of batches and finally how to pack and who to give them to. I love the baking part but totally dislike trying to find the right container to pack them in. I think I found some great containers this year with the biggest cookie recipients being the children’s Christmas party. This party is being given to our neighborhood children and will be held on Saturday, December 26th.

I love bar cookies, they are quick easy and one tray takes the place of standing in the kitchen for hours. The standard size oven here is much smaller that a standard oven in the states so bar cookies make my job faster.

salinas-12-18-2010-012This picture is a few years old but it has most of the standards that I make each year. I have all the ingredients so Monday and Tuesday will be cookie days. Wish me luck!


Home Made Anise Flavoring

Another item not easily found here is Anise Extract. A dear friend from Florida, Joe,  brought me three bottles a few years ago when he visited but the long-term answer is not bringing it from the states but to make it yourself.

To that end, my son-in-law, Isaac gave me this recipe. Clean and serialized a jar then fill with vodka and a few star anise pods. Let the pods sit in the vodka until the anise flavor is infused, this took several weeks but will last indefinitely.

12.20.2015 (1) I have read where it is better to keep in a dark bottle and not a clear one as it protects the potency of the extract.  It actually worked and I will be trying it with my first batch of Italian Anise Cookies. Thanks Isaac!

12.20.2015 (2)

Our 1st Christmas in San Clemente

Today a group of expats gathered at the home of Mary and Lou Defrain for a lovely Christmas feast hosted by Mary and John McDonald and Mary and Lou Defrain.  What a special affair it was.

When I spoke to my brother John and sister Linda in Pennsylvania this morning they had gotten a light coating of snow but it was bright and beautiful looking out onto my brother John’s patio, what did we ever do before SKYPE and an IPad.  Here we had the sun shining, the breeze was blowing off the ocean and the temperature was in the  80’s. Just perfect for an outdoor gathering.

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Upon our arrival Lou offered to make us a drink and then we would be on our own for the next. He had a beautiful bar set up with a great looking rum punch that looked to pack a heck of a punch, red and white wines, a selection of liquors and mixers of your choice. Out on the deck we found a huge trashcan filled with ice and beer…an ice cold Pilsener, that hit the spot for Joe and I.

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A beautiful platter of sliced salami and several different cheeses with crackers was set out to whet our appetites.

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Then we were invited into the house to find the entire counter filled with delectable treats. After a beautiful blessing over the food given by John McDonald we found a veritable feast including beautiful roasted turkey along side smoked tenderloin of pork. Let the feasting begin as you followed the counter to the end you found a variety of salads, my favorites were the broccoli and the linguine, well maybe you will need to fit in the cole-slaw and the quinoa OH I just can’t make up my mind, they were all fantastic.

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After most of us needed to unbutton that top button on our pants, well maybe that was just me, desserts were set out. Again, they looked fabulous and I did try a few, like the fruit kabobs, oh my, and the lemon squares…we sure do have some wonderful chefs here in San Clemente. This also was a very difficult decision because everything looked so wonderful and well I couldn’t fit too much more at that point.

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The conversations covered a multitude of topics and all seemed entertained just visiting with this eclectic group of people.

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It was a wonderful afternoon visiting with friends, meeting new friends and just having a great time.

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It is very difficult especially this time of year to be so far away from family, I want to take this opportunity to thank Mary and Lou and Mary and John for making all of us Expats feel like we were with family. Thank you for opening up your home and your hearts to give all the Expat community in San Clemente and San Jacinto a very Merry Christmas indeed. And Jackie – great picnic table!

Making Fudge the Martha Stewart Way

I admit I must have been a bit bored! How can that be?  To take on making fudge and of all recipes Martha Stewart’s that calls for fudge pulling!  What the heck is fudge pulling? I had never heard of such a thing in all my years. But here it was when I looked up Chocolate Fudge using heavy cream and found this recipe (my other recipes call for milk and what we usually have in the fridge is cream so……).

You will need a clean work surface, such as a marble slab or buttered baking sheet, on which to pull the fudge.
                          Martha Stewart Living             

  • Yield Makes about 3 pounds


  •                     4 1/2 cups sugar
  •                     1/2 cup Dutch-process cocoa powder
  •                     1 1/2 cups heavy cream
  •                     1/2 cup (one stick) unsalted butter, plus more for fingertips
  •                     3 tablespoons light corn syrup (a substitute for corn syrup is honey)
  •                     1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  •                     1 1/2 cups chopped nuts, such as pecans or almonds (optional)


  1.                     Line an eight-inch square baking pan with wax paper. In a heavy medium saucepan, whisk together sugar and cocoa. Add cream, butter, and corn syrup; cook over medium-high heat, stirring, until bubbling around the edges, about five minutes.
  2.                     Continue cooking, without stirring, until mixture reaches the soft-ball stage on a candy thermometer (238 degrees to 240 degrees), 12 to 15 minutes; wash down sides of pan with a pastry brush dipped in water to prevent crystals from forming.
  3.                    Remove pan from heat; let mixture rest in pan, undisturbed, until it has cooled to 160 degrees, about 40 minutes.
  4.                     When temperature reaches 160 degrees, quickly pour fudge onto surface, using a rubber spatula to gently empty pan while holding pan very close to surface to prevent spattering. Spoon vanilla extract over fudge; let cool until fudge is almost at room temperature, about 15 minutes.
  5.                    Using a long offset spatula, being pulling fudge in a figure-eight motion, moving from the bottom right, then up and over to the top left, before pulling back down to the right. Repeat, moving from the bottom left, then up and over to the top right, before pulling back down, pushing fudge onto itself.
  6.                     Continue in this manner until you see a sudden change in appearance of fudge, from glossy to matte, 12 to 15 minutes. Sprinkle with chopped nuts, if desired, and stir well to combine.
  7.                     Spread fudge onto a wax-paper-lined baking sheet; flatten with lightly buttered fingertips. Cover with wax paper; let stand at room temperature until set, at least four hours or overnight. Cut into squares before serving.

I made one minor mistake and continued to stir after it started to bubble – it may have made my recipe a bit crumbly. Don’t make the same mistake.

Here is my technique in pulling the fudge on the counter. I do not own an offset spatula so I used a wide paint scraper and it worked beautifully.

Like I said it is a bit crumbly but excellent flavor and like so many other fudge recipes I have tasted this does not have any crunchy bits of sugar in it, making it very creamy and delicious. This was the test to see if I am going to make it for Christmas, it looks like I will if I can get more almonds for the recipe.