Friday, February 19, 2016

Cooking our way to a great party


My DD knew exactly what she wanted as the theme for her 10th birthday party (just like she has known since her 3rd birthday party).  After my son’s thirteenth bday party in December, we were still having post-birthday party syndrome. That was a game truck party and a definite success.  I will write more in detail on that soon. But for today, while it is fresh in my memory, here is our cooking party:

Once we had decided on a cooking party, the first thing we got ready was – the guest list and the invite. I had initially planned on printing out a recipe-type invite and handing it out to her guests but as that proved not feasible to do, settled on an evite instead using one of evite’s free cooking based designs. Evite has been around a long time and I have used it for all my party invites – sometimes it tends to get lost in the spam mails but now with other social media options on evite – like sending invites to Facebook friends or posting on twitter or sending shareable links instead – helps avoid this issue when I don’t see responses from guests after sending out the initial invite. The wordings for the invite were

A dash of laughter,
A sprinkle of fun,
We are having a cooking party
Hope you can come!

Once the invites were sent out, we planned on what we needed for the party itself:
Goody bag items: Aprons and cookie cutters were finally decided upon as the goodies the kids would get to take home and so I ordered those from Amazon.
Aprons: The aprons I ordered were from ChefSkin (Chefskin Lot Apron LOT Chefskin Wholesale Discount (Lot of 15, Assorted Medium (8-12) PLS Email List) and very reasonably priced - I ordered these in different sizes as the guests included chefs  ranging from ages five to thirteen. The sellers send an email promptly and even call to confirm the colors we need for the aprons since I had requested for a mixed color set.  Once I let them know the colors I wanted – a few in every color almost (blues, lavenders, bright pinks, yellows, oranges, reds, whites, and baby pinks as well), the order arrived home very quickly. The colors were as pictured - both the pastels and the brights - and the quality was good.

After all the kids arrived, they were asked to pick an apron in the color of their choice and decorate it with the fabric markers. They  quickly picked spots all around the house to decorate their aprons – my DD had the brilliant idea to have every guest sign their name on her apron and that made her apron a keepsake automatically (this was totally her idea)!
Here she is working intently on her apron.
The cookie cutters were Wilton’s 101 set from Amazon and the plan was to let each kid pick a couple of their choice (and use it during the party – this did not happen though since the chefs forgot to pick up their cutters in the excitement of tie-dye cookies). The cookie cutters are well made, offering a range of shapes and sizes that cover occasions through the year. They are color coded that makes it easy to find shapes easily; and we can use it for not just cookies but for shaped sandwiches, Indian breads. I plan to use the bigger ones for giant cookies and home-made Indian breads - like rotis/naans and the others for cookies and fun-sandwiches. All in all, a purchase that is worth it.

Decorations: We used an easel we had (the one with a blackboard on one side and white board on the other) to write down the name of the restaurant ‘Sweet S….Savory Shoppe’ on the blackboard, while the whiteboard had the menu for the day. We had a welcome plaque by the door that said ‘Welcome Chefs’. Colorful balloons and a colorful table cloth set the mood for the party.
Other preparations: Ingredients for pretzels and utensils/bake ware set out. Cookie dough prepared and ready to use chilling in the refrigerator.  Don’t forget to have the oven preheated and ready to use as everything in this party involved the oven; the matches, candles, plates, cups, forks and spoons and other such items were also set out ready for use along with the aprons/fabric markers/cookie cutters appropriately.
The Menu: After reading through many ideas across the web, and recalling many Tasty videos and other videos shared on Facebook, we finally decided on the following dishes that the kids would make:
Pretzels  - the idea was to have all the ingredients ready and let the kids work on the pretzels from scratch all by themselves. The recipe I used was from PBS Kitchen Explorers. The kids had lots of fun getting the dough ready and shaping it as well. And the end result – surprisingly good for a first attempt (yes, I had not tried this earlier at all).

Cookies – we decided to let the kids make tie-dye cookies and stuffed cookies or stuffed-tie-dye cookies as they chose.  I prepared the dough before hand and kept it in the fridge to chill for use. The recipe used for the basic sugar cookie dough and the idea for the tie-dye cookies were both from Baked Bree and it was super easy and super delicious.
When it was time to have the kids bake the cookies, the dough came out in all its colors, the kids picked the colors they wanted and each was given a small amount of the different colored cookie dough. They worked those together to make 2 to 3 cookies each and picked the stuffing of their choice – mini-Oreos or marshmallows or none at all and the cookies went in to the oven ready to bake. Some of the kids chose to leave the marshmallows on top which meant we had caramelized toppings on the cookies but that worked out well too as they tasted great

Since a couple of the kids had special dietary needs – I had two sets of pretzel dough getting prepared – one regular and one gluten-free.  (same for the cookies)
In addition to the above, we had also included frozen jalapeno poppers and spring rolls from costco which also spent their time in the oven while the girls prepared the pretzels and the cookies for baking. So everyone had something to munch on while cooking. We ordered pizza and had a crunchy kale salad for anyone who wanted it and ended it with yummy mango mousse cake and a chocolate mocha cake – both super delicious and  definitely something we will order again – from a local bakery – La Patisserie Bakery.


The games: During the two baking times – for the pretzels and the cookies – the kids played a cooking game. The game they played was a memory game with food as the theme –the first player says ‘ I went to a picnic and took an apple with me’; and the next one adds to the picnic basket saying ‘I went to a picnic and took an apple and a banana with me’ and so on (and the alphabetical order of the foods is just coincidence – the kids did not play it that way though that can be an added challenge to make it more fun or difficult)
All in all, the party was a success and the little chefs had loads of fun – they got to take their aprons home and I am sure those will last a long time. As they left, they picked a couple of cookie cutters of their choice from the set we had ordered and were given a mini-cook book that included the recipes they had made during the party (with attributes to websites they were taken from included as well).
The recipe booklet was made using a cookbook template available in Microsoft Word – though it can be easily made as a set of recipe cards and put together with ribbons or putting them into small photo albums (also included as part of their take home goodies). Here is a screenshot of the pages that I printed out.

One main thing or tip I want to share out of this experience is to Go With the Flow. So when things went a little not according to plan, like burnt marshmallows, or the girls choosing to make a movie on the iPhone rather than playing the second and third cooking game I had planned for them or when the music was not loud enough for them to dance since they were all talking as well, just go with the flow and join in the fun. It makes it all worthwhile when you see a smile on the face of the one you are doing it for and when you hear that 'Thank You, Mommy, it was the best birthday party ever'!

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