caramel : chocolate : candy + pretzel rod

joey and i went to college together. for a year and a half. the first half of my junior year before i went abroad and all of my senior year. he was accepted when i was a sophomore. at first i had some concerns about this plan, which is a nice way of saying i totally freaked out and had a self indulgent tantrum into my pillow when i found out because nothing would be okay again ever. i mean, i thought it was the. worst. idea. ever. so how else was i going to respond? i went to a tiny college. it seemed like everyone knew everything about everyone all the time. seriously. all the time. 
the last thing i needed was my little brother around.  GLARBH! a little brother! at college! little brothers weren't supposed to go to college with you. they were supposed to come visit and you were supposed to let them get drunk and make a fool of themselves at a party and it was all supposed to be okay because then on sunday evening they would leave. if joey came to kenyon with me, he would never leave. he would just be there being my disapproving little brother all the time. worst. idea. ever.
i was wrong. very, very, very wrong.
having joey on campus was one of the best things that ever happened.
as it turns out college freshman and sophomore joey was not at all like high school freshman and sophomore joey. he improved immensely over time! he wasn't annoying anymore! he was hilarious and brilliant and kind and supportive and forgiving and fun. and i loved sharing a tiny campus with him. we got to eat lunch together on random weekdays and randomly bumping into him here or there always made me happy. he made his own interesting friends and i liked hanging out with them just as i liked when he came around to hang out with my friends. going to parties with him was equally fun because he's one of the greatest dancers i've ever known. and, to top it all off, he always filled up the gas tank of our car. being at kenyon with him laid the foundation for the extremely close and happy relationship we share today and i don't know if we'd know each other as well as we do if he hadn't been there. that said, sometimes pillow tantrums are okay. 
my senior year i lived in a tiny little house called a bexley and joey used to come and laze around the living room all the time. he frequently came bearing treats, and that was the year he discovered one of the great combinations of all time. pretzel rods and salsa con queso. i ate a lot of questionable things at questionable times when i was in college including, but not limited to, pizza subs made at some extremely late or unreasonably early hour--depending on your perspective--at a gas station called hotrods (all one word) that never closed. HOTRODS. (at least i wasn't eating meat.)
the last time i was awake and hungry at said extremely late or unreasonably early hour was because of my baby, and not, sadly, because i've been up all night drinking and dancing. anyway these days i imagine it would be hard to get someone to agree to go with me to a 24 hour gas station for a sub. and even if i could find someone to go with me i'm sure i'd leave sub-less, guilt and reason having directed me to purchase a string cheese, a granola bar (maybe some chex mix instead of the granola bar if i was feeling feisty), and a very old now and later. though my questionable foods group has grown considerably since my college days, salsa con queso will always have a place in my home. first of all, i have checked the nutritional information and the first three ingredients of the wondrous substance are water, nonfat milk, and monterey jack cheese, which means it was actually probably providing me with much needed protein and calcium when i was in college, and is more than enough for me to consider it wholesome, and anyway the truth is i'd probably still eat it proudly even if i couldn't pronounce the first three ingredients. it is that delicious. joey seems to share my belief that pretzels are as good or better things to dip in other things and i think we learned this from our mom, who taught us that hummus with pretzels is far superior to hummus with pita. joey introduced the pretzel rod to the queso jar, i assume, to avoid a mess. though i very much prefer regular pretzels to pretzel rods, i understand that there is a time and place for them. 
like with salsa con queso.

and caramel. and chocolate. and candy.

caramel, chocolate, and candy covered pretzel rods. 
ingredients for the caramel:
1 14 oz can sweetened condensed milk
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup butter (salted or unsalted, depending on how salty you like it)
1 cup light corn syrup
ingredients for the chocolate and candy covering:
two bags chocolate chips of your choice
candy or cookies of your choice all ground up
little bit of butter
to make:
1. line cookie sheets with parchment paper and spray with cooking spray.
2. mix the caramel ingredients over medium heat and let it boil for five minutes, stirring frequently to make sure it's not burning. when it's done, transfer it to the deepest bowl you have.
3. spread the caramel over the pretzel rod with a spatula leaving about two inches of exposed pretzel at the bottom. place each caramel rod on the parchment paper and let it set and cool for at least 30 minutes. (i actually ended up leaving them in the fridge overnight but that was because i got inspired a little too late at night and by the time the caramel had set i wanted to go to bed.)
4. prepare your candy toppings. i used crushed butterfinger, mini chocolate chips, mini m&m's, a crushed up cookie, little sour gummy things, shredded sweetened coconut, heath brickle, and gold sprinkles. i also used melted white chocolate and peanut butter and melted butterscotch, but those don't have to be ready to go in this step.  (i had almost all of these things in my pantry.)
5. line more cookie sheets with parchment paper, or if you've run out of cookie sheets just line your countertop if you have the space. melt the chocolate in the microwave with a little bit of butter. if the caramel has pooled away from the pretzel roll it either in your (very clean) hands or on the parchment paper to bring it back, then spread the chocolate over the caramel with a spatula and place it on the parchment paper. (the chocolate may spread a little and if you're one of those people who needs things to look perfect then try pouring the melted chocolate into a tall glass and dipping the pretzel rod in the glass to get nice even coverage.)
6. sprinkle your toppings over the chocolate before it sets. if you're going to use melted flavored chips of any kind, melt them and drizzle them over the chocolate, too.
7. let the chocolate and toppings set before moving them. they should set fine on their own, but i put each cookie sheet in the fridge for about 20 minutes (i only had room for one at a time) just to be sure.
in the end i had 30 pretzel rods which i arranged in threes in fancy little baggies tied with bows which i gave people as gifts. they're really delicious.

if i haven't inspired you to make caramel, chocolate, and candy covered pretzel rods, i hope i've at least convinced you that salsa con queso and pretzel rods is a winning combination. 


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