By Jenny Harper [email protected] It’s true — the kitchen is the heart of the home. Ever notice how people always gather there? Whether baking treats, fixing dinner or spending time with family and friends, the kitchen is my favorite place to be.

Since my day job is Senior Culinary Specialist for the Nestlé Test Kitchens, you can bet I love to stir things up. This space lets me pass along to you some of my best recipes, tips and baking secrets. With a chill in the air, it’s the time of year when hobgoblins haunt the neighborhood, begging for treats! This year, make it a ghostly gathering by hosting a Halloween party and calling all witches, warlocks and skeletons together for some spooky fun.

Have a hoot with your crowd by including kids of all ages to share in the fun — costumes strongly encouraged! Ask the kids to scare up some spooky music or soundtracks to set a ghostly mood. To make sure your goblins will be gobblin’ (sorry, I couldn’t resist!), conjure up fixings for the best party ever. Plan a menu of devilishly fun foods — your best pot of chili, plenty of snacks and some great autumn goodies from your kitchen. Bring a cheerful jack-o’-lantern indoors by baking up this Big Pumpkin Cookie ahead of time. Cookie dough is appropriately shaped into a visitor from the pumpkin patch.

Have some of the neighborhood teens help you bake this monster-sized cookie, or perhaps kids can each make their own to prepare for your party. Divide your ghostly guests into teams and have them decorate the cookies into jack-o’-lanterns.

• Provide orange and white icing, and Halloween-themed decorator’s sprinkles.

• Vote for “scariest,” “fanciest,” “most creative.”

• Provide hot apple cider to keep the decorating teams fueled.

• Use a disposable or digital camera for a snapshot of the cookies before they are devoured. Bob for apples (it’s harder than it looks!), have a ghost-story-telling contest, and scare up oodles of fun and tasty treats for the best Halloween yet! And check out some of my favorite autumn treats for baking at www.VeryBestBaking.com.

No tricks, all treats! BIG PUMPKIN COOKIE (Makes 6 servings) 1 package (18 ounces) Nestlé Toll House Refrigerated Mini Sugar Cookie or Mini Chocolate Chip Bar Dough Decorator candies and icing (optional) Melted Nestlé Toll House semi-sweet chocolate morsels (optional) PREHEAT oven to 325° F. Grease large baking sheet.

SHAPE dough into 8-inch pumpkin shape on prepared baking sheet. BAKE 16 to 18 minutes or until light golden brown. Cool on baking sheet 2 minutes; carefully loosen cookie with spatula. Cool completely on baking sheet on wire rack.

DECORATE as desired. Nutrition Information per Serving: 90 calories; 30 calories from fat; 3.5g total fat; 1g saturated fat; 10mg cholesterol; 70mg sodium; 14g carbohydrate; 0g fiber; 7g sugars; 1g protein Jenny Harper is Senior Culinary Specialist for the Nestlé Test Kitchens and VeryBestBaking.com.

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