Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Christmas Traditions You Can Really Sink Your Teeth into!

For all major holidays, every family in the world as a different tradition when it comes to proper celebration. Maybe your drunk Uncle Larry likes to fall asleep under the Christmas tree every Christmas Eve, or perhaps your grandmother makes a mean spiked 'nog...whatever it may be, if you took it away a piece of that holiday would be missing. I am fortunate enough to have inherited my mother's ability to bake (and also her awesome sense of style), so I can carry on the tradition that reaches back as far as I can remember each Christmas: Spending a ridiculous amount of time slaving over a hot oven to make treats for the family. Every year growing up, my mother would make fields of Spritz cookies, peanut butter Kiss cookies, caramel bars, chocolate fudge-- hell, my stepdad even makes a lemon bar that would make you salivate upon first whiff from the oven. At this point you may be asking yourself if I got Type 2 Diabetes for my 11th Christmas, but my mother has eyes in the back of her head and hearing that is best described as a combination of echolocation meets librarian. If I so much as thought about gliding through the kitchen in one pass to open a Tupperware lid and wait a solid 15 minutes before returning through the kitchen to grab a treat from that Tupperware, she would know. She would be there...waiting. It was something akin to a storyline from all the Ocean's 11 movies. There was no pulling one over on her.
But you can see why I still tried anyway.
2014 is the year of celebrating Christmas early in my family, so I made these treats last week so I could indulge my dad and stepmom with peanut butter Kiss cookies and caramel bars when they began Christmasapolooza '14: The visiting of the family. The cookies are so insanely easy to make, so I'll start with them and work my way to the caramel bars. I thought about making fudge, but the greatest fudge in the world can be mailed to me from Frankenmuth, Michigan, so I decided to pass on that...plus, Derek is still not home, so I cannot be trusted with that mass quantity of dessert.
Standard ingredients- check.
Peanut Butter Kiss Cookies:
  • 1/2 C butter
  • 1/2 C sugar
  • 1/2 C brown sugar
  • 1/2 C peanut butter- Jif, unless you hate your family.
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla (not pictured, was being shy)
  • 1 3/4 C flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 bag of Hershey Kisses
Oh yay, a crappy picture tutorial! You're welcome, reader. Start by creaming together the butter and both sugars. Resist eating bowl of sugar-butter paste.
Add in the egg, peanut butter, and vanilla extract and blend until combined. If you have no quality or zest for life, I suppose you could use Skippy peanut butter, but you're then the one responsible for ruining Christmas.
Once your cookie dough is mixed, you can either shape into little balls (haha) with your hand, or use a cookie scoop. I always opt for the scoop to keep my hands clean. Then take your little balls (haha) and roll them around in a dish of plain white sugar..good name for a crappy Indie cover band. You know they'd be from Dayton or Toledo.
At this point, I forgot to take a photo, but you're going to need to have your oven preheated to 350, and place the little balls..pause for chuckle...onto a baking sheet. You will need two sheets because depending on the size of your balls (c'mon, its funny), this makes 24+ cookies. Bake your cookies for 8-10 minutes depending on the size.
While baking, unwrap however many Kisses there are cookies. Pull out of the oven after 8-10 minutes and smoosh a Kiss into the top of each cookie. This gives me an insane sense of satisfaction, like popping bubble wrap or peeling the goo off  the back of gift cards. I need serious psychological help. Stick back in the oven for 2-5 minutes so the Kiss doesn't completely melt, but gets all gooey and yummy.
Let rest on the cookie sheet for a few minutes, then move to parchment paper to finish cooling. These are absolutely amazing fresh out of the oven, but even better after a day or so when the cookie part gets a hint of crunch while the Kiss stays soft. Such a winning combination!!
 Easy enough? Right? I mean, you even get to eat a few Kisses while you're waiting because you simply deserve it. Now, I want to introduce you to a dessert that will CHANGE YOUR LIFE. I suppose you could even consider it somewhat healthy because it contains oatmeal. Its a stretch, but I'll take it. Ladies and gents, here's how to make my mother's awesome caramel bar recipe...drum roll, please...
So much goodness, so few mouths.
Caramel Bars:
  • One bag of Kraft caramels
  • 5 ounce can evaporated milk
  • 1 C flour
  • 1 C quick cook oatmeal...is there other oatmeal besides Quaker? I mean, this is like the whole peanut butter discussion all over again.
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 3/4 C butter
  • 3/4 C brown sugar
  • 12 ounce bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • Prepare yourself for yet another crappy photo tutorial!!
Start by mixing the flour, oatmeal (uncooked), brown sugar, baking soda, salt, and butter together.
All ingredients should be blended nicely together, but it looks like cornmeal to me at this point.
Oh yes, you get to use the rolling pin for this!!! Take the dough and flatten it out with your rolling pin, or even by hand...you may have had a bad enough week to punch some unassuming dough flat, I'm not judging. Reserve a 1/3 of the dough for later.
In either case, you want it to be thin but not too thin. Like, crust thickness...yes, crust thickness. That's a new measure of thickness you heard hear first.
Again with the pivoting...now, take sections of dough and press them into a greased 9x13 pan...
Until you've covered the whole bottom of the pan. I had some seams in there that I just smooshed together with my fingers. You just don't want stuff to leak through later. Now toss this in your already preheated oven leftover from round 1: the cookies, and bake at 350 for 12-15 minutes until golden.
While your crust is golden..ing, unwrap all of the caramels and dump them into a microwave safe dish. Pour the evaporated milk on top, and microwave together. Try one and a half minutes, then stir, and another one and a half minutes, then stir, and you should have well-mixed milky caramely goodness.
Once the time is up on your crust, remove it from the oven and then sprinkle the whole thing evenly with the bag of chocolate chips. Sorry, no leftovers here. Work quickly to evenly distribute the chips since they melt like an albino on a hot day over that crust.
Pour the caramel mixture evenly over the chips.
I realize that looks like nacho cheese,  but trust me, its not.
Now, take the remaining 1/3 of crust, and top the mixture with it. It doesn't have to be perfect or cover every inch, as it will expand a bit in the oven, and having some caramel seeping through the top makes it look pretty. True fact. Place back in to the oven and bake another 10-15 minutes until nice and golden..y.
And there you have it! These bars aren't the most gorgeous dessert in the world, but my God are they delicious. I would go so far as to say "life-altering" would be an appropriate way to describe them. I mean, my parents have been divorced since I was like 4, and my dad still goes on about these babies. He was more than happy to help finish off half a pan of these in two days. That's a dessert, right there. Since my poor husband is still MIA until Thursday, I took half the cookies and half the bars and froze them. This is the season of giving, after all. I give the gift of calorie-laden treats from my family to yours this year. 'Til next time, my fellow eaters!
That Santa sure is one lucky bastard when he comes down my chimney...

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