published Wednesday, July 9th, 2014

Play with your food: Clever party ideas use fruits, veggies and desserts in unexpected ways

Cupcake high heels
Cupcake high heels
Photo by Dan Henry.

Summer is the season of picnics, outdoor birthday parties, cookouts and other backyard bashes. These parties call for food that’s simpler to make and take, but still keep the spirit of summer fun. So take the ordinary and make it extraordinary with these ideas.

CUPCAKE HIGH HEELS

Are you hosting a Girls Night Out? Put your best foot forward with clever, edible heels made of cupcakes and cookies.

The beauty of these is that they are adaptable to almost any girls’ gathering just by changing the cupcake liners and decorations. Pair leopard-print or zebra-patterned liners with hot pink icing and silver dragees to give the heels some bling.

Planning a wedding shower? That calls for white icing with sugar pearls. Throwing an old-fashioned tea party for your daughter’s birthday? Cupcakes iced in pink and green with multicolored sprinkles will make little girls giggle.

Toni Repko, owner of Sweet Angel Cakes, gives step-by-step directions:

What you’ll need: One package cake mix, cupcake pans and liners, tubes of Wilton colored icing, Wilton piping tips, Pepperidge Farm Milano milk chocolate cookies, rolled wafer cookies (such as Pirouline), a ziplock bag, scissors, paring knife, colored sprinkles, pastel and metallic dragees for decorating.

Instructions: Prepare the cake mix using the package’s directions and bake in lined cupcake tins. Put your icing color of choice into a ziplock bag, cut the corner off with scissors and pipe the icing onto the cupcakes in a swirl pattern. Place a dot on the bottom of the iced cupcake to hold it in place on the work area while attaching the back half of the shoe.

Cut one-third to one-half off the end of a Pepperidge Farm Milano cookie. This should leave the cookie with one straight and one curved edge. Insert the straight edge into the cupcake, leaving the curved edge projecting at a slight angle. This is the foot bed of the shoe.

Cut a rolled cookie to 2 1/2 inches in height, making the cut in an upward angle. This is the heel. Put one dot of icing on the angled end, then attach that end beneath the exposed end of the wafer cookie. Pipe dots or swirls of icing around edge of heel. Decorate the high heel with beads, sugar pearls, sprinkles.

Repko suggests adding a saucy bow at the back of the heel to cover where heel and foot bed attach. Unroll a Fruit Roll-Up, cut a rectangular strip your desired width, and pinch the middle of the strip to create a bow. Place a dot of icing on the back of the bow then attach it at the top of the heel.

Repko reminds bakers that the bigger their cupcakes, the higher the heel you can work with. So for a pair of stilettos, cut the rolled cookie to a 3-inch height.

EDIBLE CENTERPIECES

Swap out a traditional centerpiece of flowers for one that’s just as cheerful and colorful — and edible. Since Edible Arrangements came to town, fruity bouquets are growing in popularity as gifts and focal points on party tables. Let the kids help make yours to get them involved in the party planning.

“Everyone loves pineapple and strawberries,” says Melinda Bone, owner of the Edible Arrangements on Brainerd Road. “Right now, with summer fruit in, people are really gravitating to watermelon and kiwi arrangements.”

  • photo
    This edible arrangement of kiwi, watermelon balls, orange slices, pineapple slices and grapes is called Watermelon Mango Kiwi Festival, from Edible Arrangements on Brainerd Road.
    Photo by Susan Pierce /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

What you’ll need: Basket, sand pail or other container, lettuce, about two dozen plastic or wooden skewers, cookie cutters, melon baller, floral foam, sharp knife and a variety of fruit, such as pineapple, strawberries, seedless grapes, kiwi, cantaloupe, watermelon, oranges, green or red apples.

Instructions: Cut a piece of floral form to fit inside the base of the container. Encircle the floral foam inside the basket with large lettuce leaves. Make sure the leaves sit high enough above the basket to fill empty space beneath the fruit arrangement.

Bone says everything her company makes is made fresh, no canned ingredients. To follow the same plan at home when making pineapple cutouts, you will need a sharp knife and a fresh pineapple. First cut off the stalk, then slice off the top and bottom, leaving both ends flat. Place the remaining portion of the pineapple on its side, and remove the skin by cutting strips off until all the fruit is exposed.

A faster, easier alternative is to purchase a stainless-steel pineapple slicer, which twists down into the fruit, then you simply pull out the core by tugging on its handle. These can be found in culinary supply stores or on QVC ($17 plus tax and shipping).

Once the pineapple has been cored, cut slices about a half-inch thick. Use cookie cutters to punch out shapes from the pineapple slices, such as flowers, stars, sunbursts, butterflies. Slide each pineapple cutout onto a skewer and insert into the floral foam. Stagger their heights. Once pineapple slices are placed, fill remaining space with skewers topped by apple or orange wedges, slices of kiwi, a row of grapes. If desired, dip strawberries into melted chocolate, let dry, then slide onto skewers.

The more color and variety of fruit, the better.

SESAME STREET FACES

Ooltewah resident Ginger Pierce is a Pinterest fan who pins ideas to eight boards she frequently updates. So when she saw a Pinterest photo of Muppet faces made in fruit and veggies, she kept it to use at her son’s Elmo-themed birthday party in May.

Oscar, Elmo, Big Bird and Cookie Monster were the centerpieces of the birthday buffet, and wowed guests for their creativity. Each party tray was accompanied with a set of tongs and a dip. Pint-size party guests loved seeing the Sesame Street gang’s faces – and ate fruit and broccoli without any coaxing.

  • photo
    Elmo requires one pint of strawberries, an orange for his nose and a blackberry smile.
    Photo by Dan Henry.
    enlarge photo

“It took me half an hour to do all four,” she says, adding that she kept the Pinterest picture right in front of her while working for referral.

And wouldn’t you know grouchy Oscar proved difficult to work with? “Oscar was hardest because the broccoli wouldn’t lay as uniformly as the fruit.”

She also found that fresh blueberries would have been better choice for Cookie Monster. Once thawed, frozen berries were a darker shade than Cookie’s royal-blue fur.

• What you’ll need: One flat, round tray for each face. Pierce says she bought disposable acrylic trays at Party City for $2 apiece, but a pizza pan will do in a pinch. You’ll also need one box of white paper Dixie cups, 1 bag of large marshmallows and two snack-pack-size boxes of raisins.

• For Big Bird: Fill tray with 3 to 4 cups chopped pineapple, which can be purchased pre-cut in bags at a grocery, or you can core a fresh pineapple. Slice the back off a banana so it will lie flat and place it in the center of the pineapple. Place one paper cup on either side of the banana beak, fill it with marshmallows (it takes about 4) and push one or two raisins into marshmallows for eyes.

• For Elmo: Slice one pint of strawberries, and cover the tray with slices. Halve an orange, then place one half peel-side-up in strawberries for Elmo’s nose. Beneath the nose, form his mouth in two rows of blackberries (about a half-pint). Place one paper cup on either side of the orange nose, fill each cup with marshmallows and push raisins in for eyes.

• For Oscar the Grouch: Cut florets off three bunches of fresh broccoli and cover the tray with them. Add two Dixie cups for eyes, leaving room above them for Oscar’s eyebrows. Fill the cups with marshmallows and attach raisin pupils. Cut one yellow pepper into strips; place strips at an angle above the eyes to create eyebrows. Use one snack box of raisins to create Oscar’s grimace.

Contact Susan Pierce at spierce@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6284.

about Susan Pierce...

Susan Palmer Pierce is a reporter and columnist in the Life department. She began her journalism career as a summer employee 1972 for the News Free Press, typing bridal announcements and photo captions. She became a full-time employee in 1980, working her way up to feature writer, then special sections editor, then Lifestyle editor in 1995 until the merge of the NFP and Times in 1999. She was honored with the 2007 Chattanooga Woman of ...

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