Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Valentine's Day Treats

My girls absolutely love to help me in the kitchen.  It's one of their favorite things to do. Unfortunately for them, when I'm working on something for a client, they are not allowed near the kitchen for obvious reasons.  So when I'm baking for us (again, unfortunately for them is not as often as they would like), and they're invited in to help, it's like there is a party with rainbows and unicorns and the girls jump for joy!  Aprons on, clean hands and they're rarin' to go!

My husband's favorite dessert is cut-out cookies and the girls like to decorate those, so made up a batch and let them have it.  

(As an aside, my mom used to do this too.  And I followed her lead in making up one batch of cookies, [because we all know cut-out cookies are such a mess!!!] but using the next several holidays' cutters too.  I already have St. Patty's day and Easter done and unfrosted in the freezer.  So, thanks, Mom, for that life hack!)

After a red, pink, white and blue (Maren's favorite color) were mixed up, we began the decorating process.  

Someone's having fun!

I just love 'em.  [The cookie's are good too!] And nothing beats that time in the kitchen with my girls.  

American Girl: Sofia

Sometimes when I'm in the middle of a mistake, I wish I would take a picture of it.  But, the panic is so horrendous that I just want to get out of it so I keep working and working and trying to fix it.  And it always (luckily) turns out okay.  But I wish I had the photographic evidence to support the mistake I made.  Sometimes I get a kid's name wrong on the cake.  Yes.  That has happened.  All but one time I fixed it before the client saw it because I check and double-check and sometimes triple-check the spellings.  

Sometimes I'm about to put the wrong filling in the cake.  Again, a double-check of an email is so beneficial to me.  You see, I'm usually working on my cakes late into the evening.  When my brain is often not completely "on" but tranquil.  Often times I'm heading to bed after 2:00 a.m. because cakes take THAT long to make and decorate.  And the easier the cake looks, the harder it is.  I keep forgetting that though.  

Why am I talking about my mistakes in this blog?  Because this is one that could have been VERY bad, but I fixed it in the wee hours of the night.  Amy requested an American Girl Doll Box cake for her daughter Sofia (who had Kit).  She was having a very American Girl birthday party and wanted a corresponding cake to go with it.  She showed me what she wanted with a picture on her phone and I thought it looked do-able.   (I had the Academy Awards party this last weekend too, but I could certainly squeak this in...she booked me back in October for heaven's sake!)  I was always comforted by the fact that I had Josie's American Girl Doll box to refer to in my hour of need. 

So, I  started working on Sofia's cake.  It was baked, filled and crumb coated and now it was time to work on the frostings.  I brought up Josie's doll box and began making the most beautiful frostings.  Seriously, I wish I had pictures, because I had the frosting PERFECTLY matched to the lavender and hot pink.  Perfection.  I started frosting the cake and then around the 12:30 hour, I started to feel funny about it.  

Hmmm.  This didn't look right.  It should because the colors matched PERFECTLY, but still.  Something was nagging me.  It doesn't look right.  Now, Amy never sent over a picture of what she wanted; she showed me what she wanted on her phone.  But I still decided to do a search for Kit's American Girl Doll Box and up came this image.  Over and over again.  Look at it.  It looks nothing like my daughter's.  [Insert PANIC here.]

Okay.  Inhale.  Exhale.  Inhale.  Exhale.  Stores are all closed.  I can't make any more frosting.  Supplies have been depleted.  Inhale.  Exhale.  Inhale.  Exhale.  I don't think I have any more red food coloring.  Inhale.  Exhale.  Inhale.  Exhale.  Her party, which was originally scheduled for Sunday, was changed to Saturday.  I don't have that "extra" day.  Inhale.  Exhale.  Inhale.  Exhale.  

It's going to be okay.  

Here's where I wish I took pictures of the before cake.  Because you wouldn't have believed the awesome colors I had.  But as I remembered, Josie had a "MY American Girl Doll" and Sofia's was a Historical Doll.  They had different boxes.  Ugh.   Well, I had to to the best I could to fix this.

By some sort of miracle, I found a totally new, unopened bottle of red food coloring in my cake decorating drawer (which is not where it should be, and I don't even know why I was looking there.  Let's give some credit to St. Anthony, shall we?)    So I mixed the lavender and the pink colors that I had already made together and added a lot of red to the mix to come up with the PERFECT shade of red for this cake.  I almost cried because this was surely a miracle.  I was able to get the rest of the cake frosted and decorated and then I added the last detail.  The "doll's" face.  Amy was able to go to our local grocery store's bakery and get a sheet of edible frosting printed with her daughter's face on it.  Sofia's face is actually frosting!  Completely edible!  How cool was that?!

So there's my journey with this cake.  Provided to you in way too much detail than you ever cared to read about.  (Thanks for making it this far!!!)  Most cakes have some level of panic built in to them.  I'm sure most cake decorators can tell you that.  The easier the cake looks, the harder it usually is too.  I have to remember this!

But for Sofia, this was all worth it.  She's a dear little girl and cute friend to my Josie.  I hope she had a wonderful 7th birthday this weekend!

Monday, February 23, 2015

Josie's Oscar Party For Kids

My daughter Josie had a great time planning for her Oscar's party.  She looks forward to the Academy Awards almost as much (maybe even more) than Danny and I.  This year, she wanted to do it up right.

She found a box that she wanted to make into an Oscar that people could pose in.  We though this idea was brilliant!  Her Grandma and Grandpa and Danny helped her make it and it turned out beautifully, don't you think?  

One of her activities was to be a fashion show, where kids could use dress-up toys and walk down the red carpet.  She would be the judge,  mind you.

Don't worry though - everyone was a winner!  She made sure she had certificates for each of the kids.

She used some styrofoam to make a cute popcorn banner.  (Seriously, she's so adorable, it kind of hurts a little.)

Craft time!  The kids could color their own Oscar!

And yes, she'd like to be informed if any of the movies that she's heard about won.


We couldn't be any more proud of our little party planner!

Cake Mama Oscars: 2015 Edition

You know that we love the Oscars in the household (Danny loves them even more and you can discover why by listening to his weekly podcast with our friend Mike).  It's a family holiday and we decorate accordingly.  This year was our 16th annual Academy Awards party (click here to see last year's party pictures) and I think this may have been my favorite one yet.  It was one that I was able to enjoy so much because I feel like I had more time than ever to just sit and socialize.  Usually, I'm in the kitchen with so much prep and clean-up, but this year, I planned ahead and cut away at the party little-by-little each day leading up to the party.  It was awesome.  

We get just about a month to plan our event.  The day the nominations come out, Danny and I sit down and brainstorm for about half an hour on menu items.  From there, the party takes shape.  I've got ridiculous names of dishes to go by, and then it's finding the recipes and some consistency in those recipes to make a meal out of them.  That's my favorite part of the party, mind you.  I love the menu planning.  

Before we get to the menu, I'll show you how we decorated the house.  I took a good three days to decorate and just took my time.  I wanted there to be a little something everywhere you looked, without it feeling overwhelming.  Here's our mantel.  Per usual, we have the banner of the best picture nominees.  On the mantel are the prizes for the night.  We do an Oscar pool and the person who scores the most points (each category is assigned points, with more points given to the technical awards to make it really challenging) wins the pool minus $10.  Second place winner, wins two movie tickets.  Third place and last place win $5.  Each person is awarded this popcorn container also filled with movie candy.  

This year, we really stressed the importance of playing the pool.  Our guests are certainly more engaged in the show if they complete a ballot.  Not to mention, it makes playing all the more fun when the stakes are so high.

We tried a new game this year as well.  I made a dozen nametags with actor nominee names that had the highest likelihood of winning in their category.  I handed these nametags out at the beginning of our party and explained that holding one was sort of like hot-potato.  At each commercial break, our guests who had nametags, had to give their nametag to someone who didn't have one.   At each commercial break until the Oscars were awarded, our guests passed along the nametags.  The person who was holding the Oscar winner from the night received an award from us; a box of microwave Movie popcorn and a box of candy to go along with it.  Winners needed to be present to win, so as guests left, they had to hand their nametag to someone.  This added a fun social aspect to our party and a little more excitement.  I have to admit that Eddie Redmayne and Michael Keaton were two highly coveted nametags, as was Julianne Moore.

Over the years, I've collected actual programs from past Academy Awards shows.  These are always so fun to look through.

My daughter, Josie, was so excited about the Animated Features that they got their own little banner.  Check out how she planned the "kid portion" of our Academy Awards party here.

We usually order the advertising poster for the show, but this year the Academy decided to do something different with their poster.  They wanted to make it a more social.  Viewers had to "share" their favorite poster and the one with the most shares would win the official poster spot.  As a result, they didn't have any posters printed, but will shortly.  So, instead of the poster this year, I made another banner that included many of the fun prints that were up for votes.

Chocolate Oscars are handed out to everyone as they leave.  No one is to leave our party without receiving their very own Oscar.  

I try to leave no space empty and had some fun decorating above the cabinets.   Simple, but effective.

These are two of my favorite Academy Awards posters.  The left is Julie Andrews, the right is Cary Grant.

This was the dessert table.  Before dinner was served, it was set up with fun candies to get us started. Read the corresponding signs carefully.  All of our food is, of course, themed appropriately.  I picked up the red frames from IKEA last year, and love them!

As guests arrived, Danny attempted to have them pose "as" an Oscar.  This was our daughter Josie's idea, and we love it!  My mother and father-in-law helped to create it and I think it turned out wonderfully!

I failed to take a picture of the appetizers which were:  Guacamoleficient and Chips (Guacamole/Maleficent), Selami (Salami Cheese Ball & crackers/Selma), Mark Ruffle-o's (Mark Ruffalo), Imitation Crab Dip (Imitation Game).

Dinner is served!

Benedict Cucumberbatch (Cucumber Salsa/Benedict Cumberbatch)

Julienne More (Julienned Vegetables/Julianne Moore)

Eddie Redemame Salad (Quinoa Salad with Edamame/Eddie Redmayne)

Tangerines & Emma Stone Fruit Tray (Tangerines, Nectarines & Plums and other fruit/Tangerine, Emma Stone)

Mark Buffalo Wings (Buffalo Wild Wings/Mark Ruffalo)

Bird, Man, Eatin' Hawk (More wings, different sauce/Birdman, Ethan Hawke)

Po' Boyhood Sliders (Shrimp Po'Boys/Boyhood)

Ore-Ida Potato Tots and Patricia Croquettes (Tator Tots and Potato Croquettes/Ida, Patricia Arquette)

Big Hero 6 Subs (Subway subs/Big Hero 6)

Now, for the dessert.  I always try to make something special for dessert.  Last year it was Baked Nebraska, I made a wedding cake for Rachel Getting Married, and tried to recreate the house in Up out of cake.  I always like this part of the meal to be fun and whimsical and throw our guests over the edge of fullness.  ;)  So as we were brainstorming, Danny was hesitant to even bring up Mendl's cakes from the Grand Budapest Hotel.   He knew how much work they'd be.  So I asked him to show me what he was talking about and once I saw them, I knew I had to make them.  One for each guest.  It would be magic!!

I would try to recreate this spectacle!

So I made about 100 pata a choux (puffs) in three different sizes; small, medium and large.  I filled them with from-scratch chocolate mousse and dipped them in a color-coordinated glaze.  I did some piping and continued to stack the puffs, which was the most challenging part.  They loved to tip over!

But our 1 degree garage was a Godsend for keeping these preserved for the party.  Once stacked, I left them alone overnight and the following morning, I piped the borders and topped with a piece from a Bridge mix.  

Right before a commercial break, as our guests were watching the show, we filled the dessert table with Mendl's cakes.  At the commercial break, they turned around and saw this spectacle.  I was absolutely giddy with out excited they were.  And these cakes were delicious; a great end to the evening!

As for our winners, here's Dan who won first place!

I came in third place and my Godson, Tanner came in last place.  Nick (who's not pictured), came in 2nd.

We had a GREAT night!  I'm already looking forward to next year!