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A Cooking Birthday Party

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A home party is not for the faint of heart. It requires a lot of planning and organization, and is a heck of a lot more work than just going somewhere like Build a Bear or Michael’s and having them do it for you. So when Emily started reminding me about my promise that she could have a party for her tenth birthday (something she’s been hearing ever since her fifth birthday party) I was really tempted to just go somewhere. Maybe the Bucks County Zoo? Ararang? Michael’s?

“No,” Emily said. “I want a home party. No one else ever has home parties, so that’s what I want.”

See, I’ve raised my kids to be individuals. Let this be an example as to how brainwashing your kids will backfire on you eventually.

At first I was really dreading it. But then I came across the idea for a cooking party, and Emily loved the idea. Hey, I know I can think up things for a cooking party! And, I thought, I can even brainwash OTHER people’s children while I’m at it, introducing them to homemade food and how much better it tastes than the convenience stuff!

As the details of the party started to come together, I actually started to get excited about it, and Emily was completely stoked. “This will be my best birthday EVER!” (pause) “Or at least one of them.” I’ve also brainwashed my children to be realists, I guess.

So, today was the big day. And here’s how it went.

(After a month of planning, I have to show it off, you know.)

I had a detailed agenda of what was happening when, and the first item on the list was decorating aprons. The plan was that as guests arrived they would sit down at the dining room table which was set with aprons at each place and stencils and fabric markers.
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The first two guests, sisters, were right on time, and they and Emily sat down to their aprons. I loved seeing how individually they were creative, and they all did such a great job!

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While they did this, I waited at the door looking for the other guests. Because, you know, anxiously staring down the street for a car to come makes it happen sooner. The party was supposed to start at 11:30, and now it was 11:50 and three people were still missing. What if they don’t come? Did they forget? Can we have a party with only two guests? Tim told me to chill.

By noon, everyone was there, though, (phew!) and Emily played outside with the sisters while the later ones finished up their aprons.

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What a great group of kids! They’re all really sweet, kind girls....plus Daniel.

After Apron Decorating on the agenda was Pizza Making. I had made the dough and sauce yesterday, and cut the dough into individual sized pieces while the kids were doing their aprons. I had also set the picnic table on the deck with a disposable pie pan and a cup of sauce each (plus two bowls of cheese and some pepperoni).
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After the girls sat down I put a bit of olive oil in their pans and showed them how to swirl it around so that it covered the entire bottom. When they were done they got their dough and I instructed them to push it out, starting in the middle, until the dough met the edges of the pan, and then spread on the sauce, cheese, and pepperoni. While the pizzas cooked, the girls played in the yard. (One of the benefits of a party for 10 year olds is that not every minute needs to be planned like it does for younger ones!) Then it was pizza eating time.

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While they ate their pizzas, I set up the other picnic table we have on the deck to be ready for making icing. This was my big brainwashing activity of the day: showing them that icing doesn’t have to come out of a tub that’s been sitting for months on a grocery store shelf! I put a tablespoon of butter into a bowl for each guest, and added the salt and vanilla. After they were done their pizzas, they all sat in front of a bowl, and I showed them how to add the sugar and milk bit by bit, and they used food coloring to make whatever color they wanted. (Some colors came out rather...interesting.) They each had two cupcakes, which I had made yesterday, and spread the icing on them with a knife and decorated them with sprinkles. (The neighbor boy, who is Daniel’s age and had a guitar lesson during the first half of the party, came and joined us at this stage.)

This, by far, was the highlight of the day. They were really into it, and I heard a few of them exclaim “This is so much better than the other stuff!” Yeah, baby. Mission accomplished.

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Um...nice puke green color?
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When the cupcakes were done, they brought them in to the dining room table and got bowls full of homemade ice cream to go with them. We stuck ten candles in Emily’s cupcakes, sang happy birthday, and then chowed down.

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After cupcakes and ice cream, I had it planned for Emily to open her gifts so that I had time to clear and set the table for the craft. Emily has great friends who really know her and what she likes, and she raked in lots of creative activities, a gift card to Michael’s, and a pillow pet. She was in heaven.

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I don’t have any pictures of the craft, so I guess I kind of forgot about taking pictures at this point. But it was painting wooden spoons. I was inspired by pictures of ornate Russian painted wooden spoons, like a spoon version of Russian nesting dolls or eggs. And, hey, spoons are used for cooking, right? So I got some acrylic paint on sale at Michael’s, and wooden spoons 4-for-$1 at the Dollar Store. I printed out pictures of examples from the internet for the kids to use as inspiration, and let them do whatever they wanted. One girl painted a face on hers and turned it into a person. Two kids simply seemed to put as much paint as possible on them. Several did flowery designs, and one did a rainbow striped design. They were all really into it. This is how Emily’s turned out.

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At the end, they all went home with goodie bags (“take out” bags I found at Michael’s!) that contained a few balloons, a cool long lollypop with a fruit-slice shaped candy, a page of cooking themed stickers, a flexible wooden alligator craft that could be painted (this was a surprisingly big hit. And admittedly has nothing to do with cooking, unless you count that gator jerky Tim got in New Orleans), recipes for all the food we ate today, and a few blank recipe cards. I also gave them the icing bags and star tips that I was going to have them use for the cupcakes but didn’t. (I decided it would be too much fuss for the party).

The party was, basically, a huge success. Several of the kids kept asking to make sure I was giving recipes for the things we ate (especially the icing), so I suppose that means they were at least partially successfully brainwashed? At the least, I hope that they all enjoyed being together, had fun, and learned something while they were at it.

In case any of you big kids would also like recipes for the things we ate today, I’m including them below. I hope some of you try some of these out!

FRESH LEMONADE
2 1/2 cups water
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 1/4 cups fresh squeezed lemon juice

Heat water and sugar in a pot and stir until sugar is dissolved. (this is called a “simple syrup.”) Put the lemon juice in a pitcher with a tray’s worth of ice and then pour in the simple syrup. Add 3 1/2 cups cold water. Serve. (You can adjust the amount of simple syrup to your taste, using less for a more sour lemonade, or making more for a sweeter version. Left over simple syrup keeps in the refrigerator for a long time, and is a useful way to sweeten cold beverages.)

PIZZA
Crust
3 1/4 cups flour
1 tsp salt
1 1/4 cups warm water
1 packet yeast
1 tsp sugar

Mix water, yeast, and sugar together and let sit until frothy. Put flour and salt into a large bowl and pour in the yeast mixture, stirring as much as possible with a wooden spoon. Finish incorporating the flour by kneading it in until smooth and flexible (about 5 minutes) - or simply put it into a bread maker on “pizza dough” setting. Put dough in an oiled bowl and cover. Let rise for 45 minutes. Punch it down, let it rest for 5 minutes, and then spread out on a pizza pan or cookie sheet coated with oil. After pizza is assembled, bake at 425 for 15-20 minutes, until cheese is slightly browned and bubbly. (If adding a lot of toppings, it’s a good idea to pre-bake the crust for 5-10 minutes before adding toppings.)

Sauce
5 large tomatoes
1 small can tomato paste
1 small can tomato sauce
1 small chopped onion
2 cloves crushed garlic
1 tsp sugar
1 Tbsp basil
1tsp oregano
1/4 tsp pepper
(You may add hot pepper flakes if you like a little extra kick)

Briefly dip each tomato into boiling water to loosen skin. (I do this by sticking a fork in the top of the tomato and holding it in a pot of boiling water for about 20 seconds.) Remove skins and roughly chop tomatoes, then put them in a pot with all other ingredients. Simmer for 20-30 minutes, until onions are softened. Pour into a blender and blend until smooth.
(You may substitute canned tomatoes for the fresh. If using canned, omit the tomato paste.)

YELLOW CAKE
2 1/2 cups cake flour
1 1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt
1 1/4 cups sugar
10 Tbsp butter, melted and slightly cooled
1 cup buttermilk, room temperature
3 Tbsp oil
2 tsp vanilla
6 large egg yolks, room temperature
3 large egg whites, room temperature

Preheat oven to 350. Grease and flour two 9-inch round cake pans, or line cupcake pan with papers. Separate eggs, putting the yolks in one bowl, and three of the whites in another bowl. Discard the remaining three whites.

In one large bowl, combine all the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and sugar). In the bowl containing the egg yolks, add the melted butter, vanilla, and buttermilk. Using a mixer, whip the egg whites until stiff peaks form, and add 1/2 cup sugar.

Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients, then mix together with the mixer until completely combined. Use a rubber spatula to stir in 1/3 of the whipped egg whites, then gently fold in the remaining egg whites. (To “fold,” you use the rubber spatula to scoop batter from the bottom to the top and around in a circle motion. The idea is to incorporate the egg whites in a way that leaves the batter fluffier in the end.)

Divide the batter evenly between the pans, or if making cupcakes, fill cups 3/4 full. Bake for 20-22 minutes (less for cupcakes). Test for doneness by gently pressing your finger in the center of a cake. If your finger leaves a depression, then it’s not done yet. If the cake bounces back up, it’s done.

Let cool, then ice.

ICING
1 stick butter, softened
1 box powdered sugar
salt
vanilla
milk or cream

Mix together the softened butter, salt, and vanilla, and then add a little of the sugar. Keep adding sugar a bit at a time until it’s stiff, then add a small amount of milk. Keep alternating sugar and milk until you get the amount and consistency you desire. Remember that it has to be fairly thick so that it doesn’t run off the cake, but not so thick that it can’t be spread. Add food coloring if desired. For chocolate icing, add cocoa powder to desired chocolatey-ness at the same time you add the sugar.

ICE CREAM
(you need an ice cream maker for this)
2 cups heavy cream
2 cups half and half
1 cup sugar
1 Tbsp vanilla

(This is the simplest kind of ice cream. I also do a custard kind of ice cream, which involves cooking cream and egg yolks over a double boiler, then chilling overnight. The custard ice cream is much creamier, but I prefer the vanilla flavor of this simple one better. If keeping the ice cream in the freezer, the custard kind is better, but for immediate eating I like this one best.)

Combine all ingredients in the bowl of an ice cream maker. (I prefer the ice-and-salt kind to the freeze-the-canister kind. The end product is creamier with the ice-and-salt kind.) Run according to the machine’s instructions.



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