Salted Caramel Oatmeal Cookies

I don't like cookies.

It's one of my most unpopular opinions, but I stand behind it. Why have a wafer of crumbly sugar dust when you could have pie?

But these cookies. Ahhhh. These cookies. They almost make me change my mind.

Salted Caramel Oatmeal Cookies taste like fall smells. An oatmeal base (::cough:: whole grain) combines with butter, sugar, vanilla and two secret ingredients. First, you add tiny chunks of caramel to the dough, and then you top the cookies with a sprinkling of kosher salt right after baking.

I mean....

Also, please note: all that chewy goodness sticks like mad to a regular cookie sheet. For this reason, parchment paper is a MUST with these cookies. If you don't line your cookie sheets with parchment, your cookies will glue themselves to the baking sheet and you will end up with crumbs when you try to take them off. Which would turn these magical cookies back into regular cookies. Don't let that happen on your watch.

Salted Caramel Oatmeal Cookies

1 cup butter, room temperature
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup white sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1-1/2 cups flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
3 cups old fashioned oats
1 pkg (11 oz) Kraft Caramel Bits
kosher salt for sprinkling
parchment paper

1. Preheat oven to 375.
2. Cream butter with sugars. Mixture will be fluffy in texture and light in color when combined.
3. Add in eggs and vanilla.
4. Add flour, salt, baking soda and oatmeal. Add caramel bits last.
5. Line baking sheets with parchment paper (or you will be kicking yourself in about 10 minutes). Drop heaping tablespoons of dough onto sheets and bake, approximately 8-10 minutes. Pull the sheets when the cookies are golden brown on the edges and just starting to set in the center. They will continue to cook after you remove them from the oven.
6. Immediately after taking them out of the oven, sprinkle cookies with kosher salt. Allow to cool before removing from parchment paper.

1. That's right. Parchment paper is one of the ingredients. It's THAT important to this recipe.
2. If you are new to baking, you can always sift the flour, salt and baking soda together before you add it to the butter mixture. That ensures no lumps. But honestly, I've baked for decades, and I've never sifted my dry ingredients, and I've never had a lump. (And yes, I'm a questioner.)
3. I'm notoriously bad about letting my cookies bake one minute longer than they should. Then I end up with crunchy cookies. Gross. Don't follow in my footsteps. Pull these babies when they are just starting to set, and you'll end up with marvelously chewy cookies to accompany you throughout your week.
4. If you haven't seen Kraft's Caramel Bits before (#twss), here's a photo to take to the grocery store. I did not even know caramel bits existed until I was introduced to these cookies. Just imagine all the other uses for them.....

Summer Lovin' S'more Bars

What if I told you s'mores could be stored in your fridge? What if I promised you the taste, texture and nostalgia of a s'more but in a portable form? What if I said you don't need a campfire to indulge in one of the best parts of summer?

Because that's exactly what this recipe delivers. Gooey marshmallows, buttery graham crackers, melted chocolate, in a convenient package.

Make these for a weekend with friends at the beach, for that family reunion potluck, for the evening you'd planned a bonfire but it rained instead. Just be sure to hold a few bars back for yourself. Because you can't ever have too much summer.

Summer Lovin' S'more Bars

15 graham crackers
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp salt
10 tbsp butter, melted
16 oz chocolate chips (semi-sweet or bittersweet)
4 cups mini marshmallows

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Crush graham crackers by either pulsing in a food processor or placing crackers in a zipper bag and rolling them with a rolling pin. Your goal is small crumbs. You should have about 2 cups of crumb when finished.
3. In a large bowl, combine crumbs, sugar, salt and melted butter until the crumbs absorb all the butter. Scoop out one cup of the mixture and set aside.
4. Press the remaining graham cracker mixture into the bottom of a 13x9x2 baking dish. Bake for 12 minutes or until golden. Remove from oven and set on a rack to cool.
5. Place chocolate in microwave bowl and nuke on medium for 30 seconds; stir. Nuke again for 30 seconds; stir. Continue at this, in 30-second bursts, until the chocolate is completely melted.
6. Pour melted chocolate over crush and smooth with an off-set spatula.
7. Sprinkle marshmallows over chocolate, pressing gently to adhere.Sprinkle reserved crumb mixture over marshmallows.
8. Preheat broiler and place pan 2” under heat for 30 seconds or until marshmallows are golden. PAY CLOSE ATTENTION TO MAKE SURE THE MARSHMALLOWS DON’T BURN.
9. Cool pan on rack and refrigerate for 30 minutes before cutting.

1. As I said on Sorta Awesome, these are RICH. I recommend you cut them into small squares, versus the normal size bars.
2. PAY CLOSE ATTENTION TO MAKE SURE THE MARSHMALLOWS DON’T BURN. It bears repeating. You look away for five seconds and BAM, those marshmallows are tiny little charcoal pillows on your bars. Stay vigilant.
3. I know it's hard to wait. But do NOT attempt to cut or eat these bars until they are completely cool. They'll disintegrate, and while that pile of crumbs will be mighty tasty, they won't be presentable. I've been known to stick them in the fridge and/or freezer to speed the cooling process along.
4. If your house is warm, or you're taking these bars to an outdoor gathering, you might want to check in on them occasionally. That chocolate layer can get awful melty. That's why I recommend you store them in the fridge, if at all possible.
5. I also like to say "bars" with my best exaggerated Minnesota accent, like I'm an extra in "Fargo." I commend that pronunciation to you.

Creamy Wild Rice and Chicken Soup

January. It's cold, it's dark, the holidays are over. This is the time of year when I have to reach deep to find my love of winter, when I have to replace my Christmas tree with an equal number of fairy lights, when I build fires and light candles and admit the below-zero temperatures do offer a compelling cryogenic nostril cleanse.

This is the time of year when I need soup.

And this soup fits the mid-winter bill. It features a creamy base, nutty, chewy wild rice, enough vegetables to feel virtuous without putting off the kids, chicken - and bacon. Because January demands bacon. And bacon makes all things better. Even, especially, winter.

Creamy Wild Rice and Chicken Soup

4 cups (32 ounces) chicken broth
2 cups water
3/4 cup wild rice
1/2 cup onion, finely chopped
1/2 cup chopped celery
1 cup shredded carrot

1/2 cup butter
3/4 cup flour
2 cups half and half
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1/4 tsp poultry seasoning
2 cups cubed, cooked chicken
8-12 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled
2-3 tbsp sherry

1. In a large saucepan, combine broth, water and wild rice. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer of 20 minutes. At that point, add the onion, celery and carrots, and simmer for another 20 minutes.
2. In a separate saucepan, melt butter. Whisk in flour to from a roux. Once the roux is bubbly and combined, slowly whisk in half and half and spices. Stir until smooth. Let it simmer until thickened, about 10 minutes.
3. Add white sauce mixture to wild rice mixture. Add chicken, bacon and sherry last, just before serving.

1. My kids find the sherry flavor in this soup off-putting. So feel free to leave it out. It's still good. But I do think it adds that extra something, that unnameable umami, that puts it over the top for most people.
2. You want to add more bacon? DO IT. It only makes the soup better.
3. You can substitute milk for the half and half. The soup will just be a little less creamy. I highly recommend the half and half, but if are stranded in a blizzard and you have everything else to make this soup but that one ingredient. Fine. You have my blessing to use milk.
4. If you shop at Costco, buy their packs of cut-up rotisserie chicken for the chicken in this recipe. It's cooked white meat, already in chunks. You just need to go through and cut it into bite-sized pieces, and cut off any skin or gristle that may have gotten mixed in when they were pulling the meat off the bones. Super easy.