Cookie Party!

It’s our 11th Christmas in NE Tennessee, and our 11th year hosting my nephews and their friends for an afternoon of cookie decorating, followed by pizza, movies, sugar-fueled physical activity and, on occasion, sleep. I am thrilled that The Boys and their friends still enjoy this tradition (but then again, so do the several adults who find themselves here for the event, too).

I am fortunate to have the perfect sugar cookie recipe, thanks to friend – and newly named Director of the Blue Plum Festival – Deanna Hays. I will make 4 or more batches of this recipe over the next few days, will bake them off on Friday, and whip up about 5 pounds of icing to go on them. The icing will be divided, tinted, and put into squeeze bottles (restaurant supply stores sell them for about $1 apiece). The big box of assorted sprinkles will be put out, and the basement kitchen will be filled with kids, adults, sprinkles, music, and laughter.


Sugar Cookies
Makes about 50, depending on the size of the cookie cutters used

2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 eggs, beaten
2 teaspoons vanilla (or half vanilla, half almond extract)
1/2 cup milled flax seed
3-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder (aluminum free)

Cream butter and sugar in stand mixer. Add eggs and vanilla and beat until fluffy.
In another bowl, combine flour, flax seed and baking powder. Slowly add dry ingredients to creamed mixture and beat at low speed until combined.

Chill dough for several hours.

Preheat the oven to 375°F.
Taking a quarter of the dough at a time so the remainder stays chilled, roll out dough on a lightly floured surface to about 1/4 inch thickness. Cut out shapes with your favorite cookie cutters. Carefully transfer cookies to lightly greased or parchment-lined (my preference) cookie sheets. Bake for about 14 minutes, until edges of dough just start to brown. Let them cool on a wire rack, stack them up, and get ready to decorate!


Icing for Sugar Cookies
Make a lot. I use Wilton gel color tints. They have great, vibrant colors and don’t water down the icing. Also, they are much neater than those little squeeze bottles (argh!)

2-1/2 cups powdered sugar
2 Tbsp buttermilk
1 Tbsp unsalted butter, softened
1 Tbsp light corn syrup
1/2 tsp vanilla
Gel food tint assortment

Combine everything except the tints in the bowl of a mixer. Beat until smooth, adding a few drops of water of buttermilk as needed to make the icing spreadable.

Take a portion of icing out into a smaller bowl and tint to the desired color. Place the tinted icing in a clean, dry squeeze bottle for piping and/or a bowl for spreading.

I end up making 6 or 7 colors because I just don’t know when to quit.



Pumpkin Soup Curries Flavor – I Mean – Favor

I will not lie: I love pumpkin. In bread, in muffins, in ravioli. In stuffing, biscuits and of course, pie. But one of my favorite ways to use pumpkin is in a hearty yet tender soup perfect for these wintry evenings. Curried Pumpkin Soup is not only tasty, it’s quick and simple. Six ingredients and 30 minutes, along with a hunk of lusty crusty bread and a simple salad, gets you a perfect weeknight meal.

Curried Pumpkin Soup
2 tbsp olive oil or coconut oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
Your favorite curry blend, to taste (I use about 2 tbsp of Penzey’s Curry blend)
1/2 cup peanut butter, preferably the all-natural, unsweetened kind
2 cups pumpkin purée
32 ounces chicken broth or vegetable broth

Heat the oil in a saucepan. Add the onions and cook over medium heat, fairly gently, until the onions are soft – about 5 minutes. Add the curry powder and peanut butter. Stir for a minute or so to soften the peanut butter and mix the curry powder with the oil and onions.

Gradually add the broth, whisking as you add it, to break up the peanut butter if it is lumpy. Add the pumpkin and whisk until the soup is smooth.
Heat through until piping hot.

Serve with your favorite bread. Garnish the soup with a little chopped parsley and/or a sprinkling of roasted pumpkin seeds.