Sorry, couldn’t come up with a more original title for this post. You’re probably wondering where in the world I’ve been these past few weeks … no? Well it’s really been a daze of food, fun and family. I somehow ended up with waaay more time off than should be legally allowed and my last day in the office before January 3 was December 16. What have I been up to in the meantime?

My vacation started off with dropping off food and gifts for the Boston College Adopt a Family program – B and I coordinated the program this year and our local alumni chapter was able to adopt 5 families and provide food and gifts for 37 people this year!

After the drop off, gathering with some of the volunteers

After the drop off, B and I headed to NY to spend Christmas with my family. Not before spending a few days in NYC first to visit friends and family and sightsee! As you may know, most of my family (grandmother, aunts, cousin, brother, uncles) all live in NYC so each visit I tend to spend time with family, and not have time to visit the sights. So B and I decided to take the train down and spend a few days walking around Manhattan, stopping by Brooklyn to get an amazing dinner with my uncle (SO mad I didn’t get a picture of my awesome Italian meal of grilled octopus and calamari!), getting lunch with my great-aunt at a Mexican restaurant in Murray Hill, visiting my brother at Columbia, and doing touristy thing like eating tons of bagels with lox cream cheese (my fave!), walking by Rockerfeller Center (but not touristy enough to take a photo of the tree), checking out Eataly, walking around Central Park, running through Riverside Park, window shopping at the outdoor Christmas markets, and checking out the window displays on 5th Avenue.

NYC at dusk

Visiting my Grandma's Sister, Aunt Glad

In addition to our fun times in the city, we got to spend Christmas with my family. Never a dull moment in the Koski household, this year’s Christmas festivities included:

  • Lots of cookies
  • Even more tissues and cold meds as I had the longest and stuffiest cold of my adult life
  • Walking Queenie … and then scarily witnessing her have a seizure a few days later
  • Decorating the tree … and then it falling down, leaving me to hold it up while B and my dad attempted to trim some branches off the bottom so it’d better fit in the tree stand
  • Seeing two movies (Sherlock Holmes AND the new Mission Impossible) in the theater and watching Love Actually with the family for their first time (possibly my 10th)
  • Lighting the menorah for Chanukah and going to Christmas morning mass
  • One clogged toilet and a Christmas-day call to a plumber so we could once again use the water in our house … which has become a sad tradition
  • Impromptu dance parties to All I Want for Christmas Is You with my aunt and mom
  • Reconnecting with one of my bffs, Jane, and recounting who from our high school was pregnant, who was divorced, who had bought a house, and how old we are getting
  • Lots of reading (almost made my way through the awesome book Cutting for Stone)
  • Getting lots of amazing Christmas and early-birthday gifts from my wishlist! My favorites being my new Hunter boots (thanks B!), my new awesome laptop  bag/carry all purse (thanks Mom/Dad!) and new running shoes (which already have about 20 or so miles on them 🙂 )

You should be seriously jealous of these hot Christmas sweatshirts

holding the tree while B and my dad cut the branches

The Menorah on Christmas Eve

All in all, it was a great time with my family and of course I was sad to leave and drive back to Ohio. How did you spend your holidays?

Super Easy Peasy Tuxedo Cookies

Growing up, the week before Christmas meant 3 things – baking, baking and more baking! In our house each year my mom went crazy before the Koskis all arrived (my dad’s family comes up to Albany for a visit each Christmas and spends 3-4 days/nights sleeping and eating in my parents’ house…yup, that’s about all that we do), baking sugar cookies, butter cookies with jam, rugelah, oatmeal butterscotch cookies, peanut butter blossoms, almond snowball cookies, banana and zucchini bread, shortbread cookies, ricotta cookies and cheesecake, lemon cake, and so on. As the years have passed, some cookies have lasted longer than others (sadly, the ricotta cheesecake lost its spot in our home a few years ago) but one cookie that has stayed since its inauguration in the Koski household is the Tuxedo Hug Cookie. Why? Three reasons. 1- It’s  a tradition for my brother and me to make together (though lately his involvement has dwindled to the placement of the Hugs), 2 – My grandmother, a chocoholic, loves them and 3 – They are SO easy.

They are honestly so easy that I feel guilty sharing these with you. But they look cute, and Grandma loves them – so hopefully you’ll be able to share them with your family someday as well!

easy tuxedo cookies = chocolate hug cookies

Tuxedo Hug Cookies

(stolen many years ago from the bag of the Hugs bag)

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • One box of brownie mix that includes fudge packet (the box should say it includes a fudge pack… i use Hershey’s Original Supreme Brownie Mix with Hershey’s Syrup pouch)
  • 1/4 c. vegetable oil (I always use Canola oil)
  • 1/4 c. water
  • 1/4 c. unsweetened cocoa
  • 1 egg
  • One package of Hugs! (the white chocolate / amazing version of Hershey’s Kisses)

Here’s what you’ll do:

  • Grease cookie sheet. I usually spray Pam and then lightlyscatter flour along the cookie sheet to prevent sticking.
  • Combine brownie mix & syrup pouch, cocoa, water, oil and egg in medium bowl until well blended. That’s it! Really! That’s your cookie dough!
  • Drop by teaspoons onto prepared cookie sheet. They’ll look small, but beware- they spread!
  • Bake in 350 degree oven for about 8 minutes. Remove from oven and cool 1 minute. Call your younger brother and have him press candy into center of each cookie. We ran out of Hugs this year, so we also used some of those those chocolate/regular chocolate swirled baking chips and they looked marvelous!

Cookie Exchange! Snickers (not snickerdoodle) Cookie Bars

Recently, our office held our annual (alright, second year in a row) holiday cookie exchange! If you know me, you know that baking is one of my favorite pastimes. If you know me REALLY well, you know that cookie bars are what got me hooked on baking – not, as you may think, cupcakes. I used to bake all the time in high school and most often made chocolate chip cookie bars to bring in during our post 3rd period snack time. What, you didn’ t have snack time in high school? (it was actually officially called Mid-morning and was a 10-15 min break where people could buy bagels, breakfast, etc. but it’s much cooler to say “snack time” in my opinion. It was between 3rd and 4th period, unless of course 8 took 3rd then it was between 8th and 4th periods..make sense? Public schools rock.) Well, we did and nearly once a week when I wasn’t bringing in my Kashi for breakfast (again, yes, I was eating Kashi in high school – I was that cool) I was bringing in blondies for my friends.

Anyway, long story short, I fell in love with baking, and especially cookies and bars, and was excited to bake some awesome bars for our holiday cookie exchange. Ever since I spotted these bar online and pinned them, I’d been excited to bake them … AND even more excited to share what was an AWESOME* recipe with you!

*note: this recipe is so awesome, it may make your taste-testers cry. No joke, a coworker who shall remain nameless started crying (of joy, naturally) when she bit into her first taste of cookie.

My cookies: Apologies – the photo was taken before I chopped them into triangles.

Snickers Cookie Bars … a.k.a. Chocolate Caramel Peanut Butter Blondies

(adapted from Bettycrocker.com)

Here’s what you’ll need:

For the bottom layer:

  • 1  bag of sugar cookie mix (I told you it was easy!)
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1 egg
  • 10 Reese’s Peanut Butter cups, chopped into small pieces
  •  1/2 c. Peanut butter chips

For the middle layer:

  • 36 caramels (I used Werther’s creamy caramels)
  • 1 can (14 oz) sweetened condensed milk (not evaporated)
  • 1/4 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 1/2 cup peanuts

For the top layer:

  • Your favorite homemade chocolate frosting recipe (or store-bought and make it even easier)
  • 1/2 cup chopped peanuts, lightly salted

Here’s what you’ll do:

For bottom layer:

  • In large bowl, stir cookie mix, butter and egg until soft dough forms. Stir in Reese’s and peanut butter chips. Try to refrain from eating all the Reese’s before chopping!
  • Press dough in bottom of greased (or in my case, sprayed with Pam) 13×9 cooking pan.  Bake 18 to 20 minutes at 350 or until light golden brown.
For middle layer:
  • While first-layer cookie is baking (or another day … I made my bottom portion ahead of time and made the other layers the next day) in 2-quart saucepan, heat caramels and condensed milk over medium heat, stirring constantly, until caramels are melted.
  •  Stir in peanut butter. Heat to boiling. Cook 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove from heat; stir in 1/2 cup peanuts. Spread over warm cookie base with a heat-resistant spatula. Try to refrain from licking the spatula or you’ll burn your tongue (trust me, it may have happened!).
  •  Cool completely, about 2-3 hours OR about 35 min in the freezer. I chose the freezer method.

For top layer:

  • While cooling, making the top frosting layer (or use your own store-bought chocolate frosting).
  •  Spread frosting evenly over filling. Sprinkle with peanuts. Refrigerate about 2 hours or until chilled.
  • For bars, cut 9 rows by 4 rows. Then cut each bar on a diagonal, making cute bite-sized triangles.
  • Enjoy! Share with coworkers who will cry when they first bite into them.

Some of the cookies from our cookie exchange: