Monday, November 11, 2013

Star Wars Mos Eisley Cantina (Medium)

We decided to recreate Chalmun's Cantina.  This project was fairly easy in terms of the skill required, but challenging due to the scale.  We wanted the Cantina to be appropriately sized for Hasbro figures.  So it's big!

I started by rounding up all of the Hasbro characters that I could find - the boys had some, I found some on eBay, and borrowed the rest. Some of the Hallmark Christmas ornaments also work - I have the Celebration set with Obi-Wan, Ponda Baba, and Baba's severed arm... (how perfect is that!)

I found good floor plan diagrams of the cantina online, and removed most of the interior walls.  I did have "niches" for the band, and (of course) Han and Greedo.  Keeping the curved wall with the dome was also important.  I planned where I would put the figures I had, based on the scene from the movie.

I laid out the floor plan 2 days before the party.   I started with a 33"x33" cake board.  We covered it with a piece of tan plastic tablecloth, then created a foundation for the walls using a 2" strip of stryofoam covered with tan masking tape.   (This added height and also provided a place for skewers to stabilize the walls.) 

I knew I needed approx. 7" for the band, so I scaled the rest from there.  The entire structure is approx. 32"x32", with the bar set 11" in from each side.  (the center of the bar is in the middle of the back part of the structure.  The bar is approx 14" long.  The bar top is 2" deep, with 2" between the bar top and the center island.  The island is also 2" in deep.  This scale worked well with the figures. 

The day before the party, I made rice crispy treats for the walls.  At some point I lost count, but I think I made 9 pans (9x13) - yes 9 - of rice crispy treats.  One batch made the dome.  (Molded that in half of the ever-so-useful Wilton sports ball pan!)  The rest were simply cut into 2" strips and piled on the foundation.  My target wall height was 6", with the dome on top.  The rice crispy strips curved very easily to make the rounded wall.  Be sure to spray the pans liberally with non-stick spray!  For planning, I started around 3 pm and finished around 7:30 or so.

Notice the "gap" in the wall - that's where a snickerdoodle wall gets inserted.



When I was done with the rice crispy treats, I made the dough for the snickerdoodles.  I made a double-batch of dough (see recipes side link) - this was more than I needed, but I wanted to freeze some dough for Christmas baking next month.  I "rolled" the dough into square-shaped logs that we 2" thick, so that I could slice-and-bake the bar structure the next morning.

The morning of the party, I got up early and baked cookies.  I sliced cookies to stack as the bar and for the final bit of wall (the wall behind the bar).  Before I baked the cookies, I used a Wilton large round tip (#12) to cut a hole in the center of each cookie.  This enabled me to stack them on bamboo skewers which I stuck in the foam.  It turned out that I didn't need skewers for bar itself, as it was only 3 cookies tall, but I did use skewers for the exterior wall.  Bake some cookies without holes for the top.  I rolled some additional dough out for the walls, table tops and bar tops.

Once it was all together, I added the Hasbro figures.  I finished up by using some fondant to make the vessels on the bar island and the cups for the figures.  (For the cups, just shape a small tube, then use a skewer to make the hole.) 







Before we served this, we dropped a little MP3 player and tiny speaker in the area under the dome, playing the Cantina band music clip!  I also added a tiny cup with a bit of dry ice and hot water behind the bar to give a smoky effect.  Very fun! 

Here are some shots of the interior:






To serve, just cut apart the walls!  Enjoy!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Sharknado Cookie Cake - Medium



We thoroughly enjoyed SyFy's Sharknado, so I made this cookie cake for my son's birthday.  It wasn't too hard, BUT the tornado is cotton candy, so you cannot make this on a rainy day!  This is a low-humity dessert!

Stuff to acquire before you start:
- 1 or 2 tubes of plastic sharks (the shark head on the cake was the top of one of my tubes)  This gives the dessert it's "movie-quality" appeal!  (The tackier the sharks, the better!) 

- 10 or so plastic floral skewers.  You need 3 of these to help secure the nado, plus one for each shark.  Break them off at an appropriate height, then hot glue a shark to each skewer.  (See picture.) 

- Several bags/tubs of cotton candy - I tried several brands.  The brand from Party City was the worst, the candy had a bad texture and didn't pull apart.  The "Hello Kitty" brand from Toys R Us worked well.  The tub from Publix was also good.  Note that  all the packs had both pink and blue candy, you'll have to separate the blue.  You don't need the pink.

- Florist wire or similar wire - lightweight, but strong enough to hold the candy.

- A toy helicopter.  This was actually the hardest thing to find!  There are RC copters, but they are expensive.  This was a Disney toy from Toys R Us, in the $6 range, but the only non-RC helicopter I found.  If you have time, order a cheap toy helicopter online. 

When you're ready to bake:

1.  Start by making a large cookie cake.   Err on the side of overbaking a bit - you want the cake to be very firm.

Spray round cookie pan with non-stick spray.  (I use a round 9x13 Wilton cookie pan.)  Prepare batch of chocolate chip cookie dough or use 2 tubes of refrigerated dough.  Bake in 350o F oven for approximately 22 minutes or until cookie is set.  Ovens vary widely, so check cookie at 18 minutes and every couple minutes thereafter.  Let cool, then unmold onto tray or serving platter.

2. Once the cake is fully cooled, make a 1/2 batch of buttercream icing (see recipe on the sidebar).  Tint blue or grey. 

3. Make a tornado shape out of the wire.  (It can be pretty loose.  You are going to wrap cotton candy around the wires.)   

4.  Place three skewers into the cake, to hold the wire.  (Position with the tornado, but then remove it.)  Use liberal buttercream to secure the skewers into the cookie. 

5.  Holding the tornado in your hands, and begin to cover the wire with blue cotton candy.  To do this, wrap strips of candy around the wire and squeeze to seal.  (It takes a bit of practice.)  When the tornado is mostly covered, slide it onto the skewers, so the skewers are inside, providing support.  Cover any remaining wire with cotton candy.

6.  Gently insert the shark skewers into the tornado, going between the wires to make the sharks "emerge" from the tornado.   If the tornado is a bit tipsy, these skewers can be strategically placed to provide additional support.   If a skewer is too visible, cover with a bit of leftover cotton candy.

7.  Pipe buttercream message on the cookie - I used a No. 4 Wilton tip.  The Sharknado tag line is "enough said" so that's a good phrase to incorporate.   Position helicopter as desired, along with any remaining sharks.

8.  Pipe buttercream stars or shells around the border to finish. 


Monday, October 29, 2012

Wombat Cake (Easy)

October 22 is Wombat Day. http://www.wombania.com/wombat-day.htm
So, of course, we celebrated with cake!


I made the wombats, Matilda and Norman, in advance out of fondant.  To texture the fur, I pulled a fork across the fondant while it was still soft. (Note - the wombats were dark grey, but they look darker in the pics than they were.  Wombats can be grey, black, brown or tawny.) 




This is a large 11x15 sheet cake (made with 2 box mixes), frosted with buttercream icing tinted green.  I topped the sheet cake with an 8" round cake (make with 1/2 a box mix - use the other half for cupcakes) and frosted the top and sides.  I trimmed an 8" cake round to be about 7", then placed this on top of the round cake, with 3 wooden dowels for support.  (Matilda was pretty heavy!)

I covered the round with a bit of green icing, then placed the wombats on top.  To finish, I added "grass" to the top using the Wilton 233 tip and stars on the base using the Wilton 16 tip.  The text was written using a Wilton 3 round tip.

Happy Wombat Day, Y'all!   

South America Trip Notes



This is bit of a deviation from Star Wars and cakes, but Greg and I did have the privilege of getting to visit South America, and I wanted to share my notes, as thanks for the great advice we got from friends!  Our destination was Punta de Este, Uruguay, for a conference.  We were able to tack on a little sightseeing in Buenos Aires, Argentina and Santiago Chile on the ends.  Very exciting and fun!

Argentina

We flew Delta from Atlanta into Buenos Aires, arriving at 8:15 AM.  Our flight to Uruguay wasn’t until 6:40 PM, so we had several hours to sightsee.  Here’s what we learned.

·        First – US citizens entering Argentina (and Chile) must pay a “reciprocity fee.”  (The same fee is charged to visitors from these countries entering into the US, hence the term reciprocity.)  Today that fee is $160.  You can pay with a credit card.   When you queue up for immigration, US citizens go in a special line where this is collected, so it’s part of the immigration process.  The agent puts a sticker in your passport, good for 10 years.  (If your passport expires, you can bring the old passport along to prove that you have paid the tax.)

·        Argentina is 1 hour ahead of the US East Coast. so 10 AM in Atlanta is 11 AM in Buenos Aires.

·        Buenos Aires has two big airports, Ezeiza (EZE) and Aeroparque (AEP).  We flew into EZE, but our flight out was from AEP.   We arranged a car service to transfer to the other airport.   This is definitely the way to go.  Visit Manuel Tienda Leon online http://www.tiendaleon.com.ar/prehome.asp?flash=N and register.  You can then arrange a bus or car transfer between airports.  The car was approx. $60 US (270 A pesos) for 2 people plus bags, so we did this.  We booked it online.  When we exited customs, there is a MTL counter right in the main terminal, we checked-in there and were immediately taken to a car.  Excellent service. 

Note – MTL provides bus and car service to many different locations in Buenos Aires.  Visit the website for details.   Also, although there is an English version of the site, not everything is well translated.  (E.g., when you register, you need to pick Estados Unidos (or EEUU) as your country.)  But just take your time and you can figure it out.   

·        The MTL car took us to AEP.  The trip took approx. 1.5 hours, with lots of traffic.   It was much too early to check-in for our flight out, but AEP offers bag storage.  To use this, visit the information desk between the arrivals and departures areas.  At the desk, they will complete a form, then call security.  You will go with security to have your bags x-rayed and tagged, then security takes you to the storage room, outside (at the end of the parking payment booths).  It costs approx. $5 (18 A pesos) to store a large bag from 12 hours.   You pay when you pick the bags up.

·        We also obtained some pesos from the ATM, but we probably didn’t need to do this.  In the places we visited across all three countries, US dollars were readily accepted.  For anything expensive, we used a credit card. 

·        From AEP, we took a taxi to Recoleta.  (Tell the cab driver to take you to the cemetario.)  This is a beautiful area to explore and eat. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Recoleta,_Buenos_Aires
  • We explored the Church of Nuestra SeƱora del Pilar, from 1700s.   It’s free to walk around the church, and for a small donation (5 pesos) you can visit the original cloisters, which today house a small art collection.  Very interesting and worthwhile.  Most of the signs are in both Spanish and English. 
  • The Cemetery (from 1822) is the main attraction.  Free tours are available – guides will also give you a little map with directions to the famous crypts.  They will ask for a small donation to charity.   Be sure to find Eva Peron’s crypt.  
  • Walk across the plaza toward the shopping area, and have coffee or lunch at La Biela.  As you walk across the plaza, you’ll see a massive tree.  This tree is reported to be the oldest and largest in Argentina.

  • Our friend also told us that there's a great place to eat at the Centro Cultural Recoleta, which has tables over the balcony.   (It was raining when we were there, so we did not do this.)  There are lots of street-side cafes.

  • On the other side of the church (away from the Cemetery) is a shopping mall, with many restaurants, a Starbucks, and high-end design stores.   Past La Biela are many stores, etc.  We did walk around the neighborhood for a bit, it’s very nice.  

  • You can find many taxis near the main plaza (in front of La Biela) to get back to AEP.

·        Tipping is less common in South America.  For good service in restaurants, add 10%.  Cab drivers, etc. do not expect tips.  (We always up-tipped a bit for exceptional service.)   This is true across the countries we visited.

Uruguay

We flew Buquebus (BQB Airlines) from AEP to Punta del Este airport (PDP) in Uruguay - http://www.buquebus.com/BQBWebV2/web/ENG.Home .  We booked the tickets online.  The website has an “English” option, but it is limited.  Still, it was pretty intuitive and we had no trouble.  

BQB has flights to Montevideo and many other destinations.  (The main airline is Aerolineas Argentinas, http://www.aerolineas.com.ar/arg/main.asp?idSitio=US&idPagina=1&idIdioma=en which also has flights to Uruguay etc.)   Also, it is common to take a ferry across the bay to Montevideo – BQB runs the ferries, so you can book this on the website listed above as well.

·        The BQB plane is maybe a 40 passenger modern propeller plane – at this time of year not crowded.   Be sure to watch the safety video – the words are what you expect, but the video portion is designed to be oddly humorous.   It is a short (50 min) flight to Uruguay.   Note that Uruguay is 2 hours ahead of US ET, so 10 AM in Atlanta is 12 noon in Uruguay.

Our flight was supposed to leave at 6:40 PM, but there were technical issues with the plane as well as weather related delays.   We departed around 10, landed just before midnight.   Because we landed so late, the airport was mostly closed.  We had planned to change our leftover Argentine pesos into Uruguayan pesos, but we were not able to do that.  It didn’t matter.  We never got U pesos and never needed them.  The taxi from PDP to the Conrad in Punta was $35 US.   (Although tipping isn’t customary, we gave $40, due to the late time and stormy weather.)

·        We stayed at the Conrad, as that was the main hotel for our conference.  It’s a nice hotel, but very expensive.  (Punta is expensive for Uruguay, but cheap compared with big US or EU cities.  The Conrad has EU prices!)   A large, full breakfast buffet was included with our hotel room price.  Note – as of fall 2012, the hotel is under renovation, so be sure to get a room away from the construction.  Hotel has great views, is well located and has a casino (which we did not visit). 

·        We were in Punta “off-season” – so many of the restaurants were closed.  Still, there are tons of restaurants – many along the coast with great views.  Our favorite was El Secreto, an easy walk from the hotel.  They have traditional “barbeque” as well as local seafood.  Local beer and wine are excellent.  (Wines from Argentina are inexpensive and amazing.)   Restaurants are not expensive.  A huge 3-course dinner for 2 people at a water-side table with fabulous wine at El Secreto was approx. $100 US.  

·        The main local dining specialty is a barbeque or parrillero – which is a wood fire grill.  You will see “Parrillero” everywhere.  You can order a single grilled meat or the mixed grill, which is different cuts of beef, with chicken and beef sausage.   Beef is the main industry in Uruguay, so you will get wonderful steaks everywhere.  Cows are generally grass-fed, free-range, so the meat is a bit tougher than we have in the US but much more flavorful.  (Food was yummy everywhere!)

·        You can rent bikes in Punta across from the Conrad.  The beach is the main attraction, but there are a number of other sites to visit – see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Punta_del_Este  .  Don’t miss a visit to the piers at the end of the island (near the Yacht Club) – visit around 11 AM or so, when the fisherman are cleaning the day’s catch to see sea lions!  

 
·        There is a boat tour that goes by Los Lobos, the island off the coast that is the home to the largest colony of sea lions in South America.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isla_de_Lobos  We were not able to do this, but it sounded very interesting.  (We did see both the South American Sea Lions and South American fur seals in the harbor.)   There are also whale watching tours, if you there are the right time of year. 

·        We did a one-day bus tour of Montevideo.  It’s a small city, and a one-day tour is enough.  The views of the Rio de la Plata, (or River Plate) are spectacular.   We had lunch in the Mercado del Puerto, Montevideo’s grand 19th-century port market area.  The place is a former agricultural exposition hall that has been converted to contain restaurants and shops.  We ate at El Peregrino restaurant, which was lovely, then walked around to see shops/stands with local crafts, mainly leather and textiles. 

·        We found the shopping for local products to be pretty limited in Uruguay.  There are many stores, but all with US brands.  We did find a “Todos Por Uruguay” store in a mall with beautiful Uruguayan pottery and crafts.  You have to look for local stuff, but it’s worth it!

·        A car from the Punta Conrad to the Montevideo airport is $260 US.  Buses are less expensive but we wanted the flexibility to leave as late as possible.  (If you are at another hotel, I think the car may be less too.) 

·        Uruguay has a departure tax that was included in our plane ticket. 

Chile

We flew from Montevideo (MVD) to Santiago, Chile on LAN.  There are 2 flights per day.  LAN one of the big carriers regionally, known for being more expensive than other carriers but with better service.  We had “premium economy” seats, which is the equivalent of 1st class in the US.  This gave us access to the LAN lounge at the airport and priority boarding.  We also got a full meal during the flight.  The flight was very comfortable.  Try to get a window seat – the views as you cross the Andes are spectacular.

NOTE - when you land in Chile, US citizens must go to a kiosk and pay the $160 reciprocity fee.  It is not collected as part of the immigration process the way it is in Argentina.  If you get in the immigration line and have not paid the tax, they boot you out of line and you have to start over!   In Chile, you have to pay the fee again when your passport expires.

Also, Chile has very strict customs rules.  We were not traveling with any food or wine from Uruguay.  If you are trying to bring gifts of that sort home, be sure to read the rules carefully. 

Santiago is one hour ahead of the US, on the same time as Buenos Aires.
  
·        We spent one night at a very small hotel in Providencia – the hotel had just become an Apart Hotel.   The room was very small, but it had a private bath and was located very near our friend’s home.   Price was around $100 US per night for a double.   (Includes breakfast.)

As with Buenos Aires, we only had a day for sightseeing, so we had to make the most of it!  Santiago is a very cosmopolitan city, with lots of restaurants, museums, sites, shops…  There are also many transportation options, taxis, fixed-route taxis, buses.   We drove to the top of San Cristobal hill (which can also be climbed by foot or bike). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/San_Crist%C3%B3bal_Hill.  There are great views of the city below, as well as cafes at the top.  There is a small local zoo as well. 

·        We also visited the Central Market (Mercado Central), which is a mix of fresh food stands and, inside, restaurants.  The interior space is all wrought ironwork, designed by Eiffel.    Definitely worth seeing.  We had lunch in the market.

·        Local cuisine is heavily seafood influenced, with fish prepared many ways as well as shellfish/crab.  Dishes with crab, shrimp, scallops and cheese are common, and very tasty! 

·        We did not have time to see any of the numerous museums or public spaces, but there is a good guide at Trip Advisor.   Other friends did a winery tour and said it was delightful! 

We flew Delta from Santiago back to Atlanta.  One final note, Delta did a secondary screening of all carry-on bags as we boarded the plane, confiscating all liquids purchased in the concourse.   Items purchased a Duty Free were okay – they were delivered to people on the plane – but if you purchased a coffee or soda, you could not take it on board. 

Monday, September 17, 2012

Jawa Cupcakes - Easy

Blogger JustJenn has some amazing Star Wars baking and party ideas!  (http://justjennrecipes.com/category/star-wars/)  All her stuff is very cool, but best of are all the Jawa cupcakes!  (I don't know how many people sent me the link to these! We do love Jawas!)   I decided to recreate the cupcakes for Dragon*Con 2012, and wanted to share my photos and recipes.

First, cute as her cookies were, Jenn's vegan chocolate cookie recipe didn't work for me.  The dough was way too crumbly; I could not get it to roll properly and it didn't taste right.  If you need a vegan recipe, do some searching online.  But  if you can use a recipe with real butter, that's definitely the way to go.  My rolled sugar recipe is posted in the Cookie and Frosting Recipe page linked to the side bar. I used this, but you can use your favorite rolled cookie recipe, any flavor.

I started by making my standard rolled snickerdoodle cookies, adding a fair bit of brown food coloring to the batter.  I put the dough in the fridge to chill overnight.  (Note - Jenn's cookies are much darker brown, which I like. Using a dark chocolate cookie dough is ideal for color. My kids love snickerdoodles best of all, however, so I didn't do a chocolate cookie.  The price: my Jawas' robes are a bit too light.)


In the morning, I used a box mix chocolate cake (Devil's Food) to make 2 dozen cupcakes.  Make the cupcakes kind of small - you want to minimize the crown as much as possible.  Jawa's like flat-topped cupcakes!  For fun, I used Star Wars cupcake papers from Party City.

While the cupcakes cooled, I rolled and baked the cookies.  As Jenn's blog shows, use the Star Wars jawa  cookie cutter from Williams-Sonoma, place the cookie on the baking sheet, then cut out the jawa's face.  I also dusted the cookies with a bit of cinnamon-sugar to give the robes some texture.




You'll need 24 cookies for the cupcakes.  My recipe makes several dozen, so I made the rest wookies and droids and we just ate those! (The dough was a good color for the wookies!) 

While the cookies were cooling, I made chocolate icing for the cupcake.  Jenn used a dark chocolate peanut better icing, but I wanted plain chocolate.   I used a pre-made dark chocolate icing for D*C, which looked great, but tasted lousy.  For these, I used my favorite homemade chocolate icing recipe, one from Alton Brown (Good Eats) - recipe is in the side linked page.   This icing is spectacularly yummy, but very light colored.  I was okay with that for these.  If you wanted darker icing, either use a dark chocolate recipe or else add brown coloring.

Accent the Jawa with 2 orange nonpareil or sugar eyes. Tip: use tweezers to place the eyes close together.  UUTINI!!!! 

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

To Summer & Beyond (Easy)

This is a set of seven small (mini) cakes that I did for all the kids that had summer birthdays in my son's class.
























Each child got his/her own personalized cake, which they loved! My "theme" was space, with a rocket traveling past all the birthday planets towards the "Jr. High Galaxy" at the other end of the board. Most of the cakes were a made in a 6" pan - Wilton round or small paisley, with the square chessboard cake, Spain, rocket and top of the acropolis cut from sections of a rectangular sheet cake. (For Spain, I printed a picture of Spain, then traced it with a knife to get the shape.) I decorated the cake with tinted buttercream and fondant decorations. See the notes by each picture for more detail. Overall, the cakes took about six hours to finish, but the kids were so excited! Priceless!






Rocket
This was just for fun.  I cut the shape from a larger rectangle of cake, then tapered the sides.  Frosted with large white buttercream stars.  The wings, window and flames are fondant.












Summer in Spain
I cut the shape of Spain out of a rectangular cake and then iced with yellow and red buttercream to mimic the Spanish flag.  I printed a copy of Picasso's Guernica and laminated it using laminating sheets from Office Max.  The little girl is made from fondant. (Note - I fixed the sign to say "feliz cumpleanos" before I served it!)










Camping Trip
The tent is made from graham crackers covered in fondant.  The tree is a sugar cone covered with kelly green stars (using the Wilton #16 tip).  The boy are bear are fondant.  This cake uses the small paisley pan.







A Summer of Baseball
This cake was made with 1/2 of the Wilton sports ball pan.













Chess Camp
Square cake frosted with white buttercream then I overlaid white and black fondant squares (rolled very thin and cut with a ruler) to form the chess board.  I used real chess pieces on top.










Beach Vacation
Round cake frosted with ivory-tinted buttercream.  The sand castle elements are made of fondant - there is a bucket on the other side that you can't see.  I dusted the whole cake with a mix of brown and light sugar to make the sand-effect.  There is a pressed fondant crab on the side.






Summer in Athens (the Acropolis)
This cake was a bit more complex - it's a 6" round cake topped with a rectangle of cake cut from a large cake (that also gave me Spain, the rocket and chessboard).  Covered with white buttercream.  The columns on the Parthenon are white chocolate dipped pretzels.   The top is fondant, with little fondant figures. 


Monday, April 9, 2012

Star Wars Fabrics

Joann Fabrics has a great assortment of different Star Wars fabrics! When I wanted Star Wars fabric for a project last fall, I could not find anything - ended up have to use an odd twin bed sheet - so I was happy to be able to stock up now.

I'm not much for sewing, but I did take a few hours to make my boys PJ pants with one of the fabrics.

This is a very easy project - I have a Singer Stylist portable sewing machine. I used Simplicity "Learn to Sew" pattern 2290. You get patterns for child and adult pants in the package. The instructions were easy-to-follow. I needed to add a fair bit of length for my tall, skinny kids, and the instructions covered that. Be sure to wash, dry and iron your fabric before you start.