Cupcake Wars Birthday Party

My daughter loves the show Cupcake Wars.  The bright saccharine colored show always gets her going.  She loves to be grossed out when they put an ingredient like fried chicken in a cupcake.  And she is equally impressed by the beautiful and tasty looking confections piled high with frosting and sprinkles.  She’s been talking about creating her own version of Cupcake Wars for her 7th birthday for months.  She was studying cupcake books (I own 2 books but I went to the library to borrow a few more),  requesting me to make and test various frosting flavors and coming up with new ideas for  judging on a daily basis.  Really when it was about one week before the party I had had it.  I didn’t think I could listen to any more about cupcakes, let alone make them.


But it was actually super fun – for everyone.  She invited three friends over to celebrate with dinner (I made pizza and salad), cupcake wars and a sleep over.  Since none of them had been studying cupcakes like my daughter, or had even seen the show for that matter – we started the party by watching the show.  Thankfully they were very into it.  Cheering for their favorite teams to win and oohing and aahing over the creations.

The day before my daughter and I had a fun time getting everything ready.   Our version had to be more simple (no baking or crazy ingredients involved).  We made lots (over 50) mini cupcakes – half chocolate and half vanilla.  Then we created a tray of sprinkle and decorating options.  It was a large array of choices.  Everything from chocolate chips to shaved coconut, to sugar flowers and pearls to red hots, etc.  My daughter also requested three flavors of frosting – vanilla, chocolate and mint (which I made green).  I was kind of suspicious of the mint, but it was really yummy. (see recipe below).  We also added a tray of blueberries, raspberries, and sliced bananas and strawberries.

After they ate dinner, we set up everything for cupcakes and my daughter set the timer to 20 minutes to decorate and present 6 mini cupcakes for judging.  Once they got the hang out of how to squeeze the frosting bags, we realized 20 minutes was way too long and quickly cut it to 10 (that was even a lot of time).  The more time they had the more elaborate (read “gaudy” and “overdone”) the decorations were becoming.  This also meant more sticky, gooey mess for mom to clean up too.  (Frosting really does harden on tables, chairs and floors quickly!)

When the timer went off it was hands up and decorations down, just like the show.  After much consideration my daughter had decided (with a little coaxing from mom and dad) that the participants (i.e. girls plus big brother) would also become the judges.  That seemed only fair.  We came up with a judges sheet with 5 criteria – from best tasting to most colorful, etc.  Last minute I also came up with prizes…cash.  No, not the $10,000 they give on Cupcake Wars.  Each category would receive a special envelope with a $1 bill.  Oddly enough there were 5 categories and 5 participants and everyone won a category.  Hooray!  Hmmm…. (that might not work next year).


Mint Frosting from Southern Living’s Big Book of Cupcakes (one of my family’s favorite books)

1/2 cup butter, softened

1/4 cup whipping cream

1 teaspoon peppermint extract

2 drops green food coloring

1/8 teaspoon salt

1 (16 oz) package powdered sugar (I like to sift)

Beat first 5 ingredients at medium speed with an electric mixer until creamy.

Gradually add powdered sugar, beating at low speed until blended.  Beat at high speed 2 minutes or until creamy.

Makes 3 cups.



Smash What? SmashBurger comes to Mill Valley


As a food blogger I sometimes get invited to restaurant openings via email.  These are always in New York and Los Angeles so I don’t usually even read them.  However an invitation for a new restaurant in my town of Mill Valley, well that’s hard to pass up.  Although we almost did.  This new restaurant is a burger place.  With 50% of my family not ever eating meat and the other 50% eating it on occasion this didn’t seem like a place to try.  However I checked out the menu online and realized we could go to the opening and everyone could eat something.  Another set-back was the original invitation was on my daughter’s (the vegetarian) birthday. That would just be cruel, so we were passing.  However as the date approached the construction and opening was pushed back a week.  So tonight we went to Smashburger.


For some reason our town of Mill Valley has opened a few new burger places in the last few months.  I’m not really sure why.  Seems people that I know are eating less meat, not more.  But still here they are.  Most just do burgers so the thing that stands Smashburger out is the variety of the menu.  Yes there are creative burgers (arugula, truffle mayo, portobello mushrooms anyone?) with wonderful fresh rolls (ciabatta, egg, multi grain) here but there are also chicken sandwiches, a veggie black bean burger and salads.  Another thing is the drinks.  It’s not just soda.  Hooray!  In addition to sodas there are other drinks for kids such as brewed caffeine free iced teas, Honest Teas, milk and lemonade (although not real).  And there’s beer for mom and dad.


My family tried lots of food tonight.  And we ate more fried sides than we usually would (another reason we don’t frequent burger joints).  Smashfries are tossed with rosemary and olive oil and garlic.  Then there’s sweet potato fries and veggie frites (which are grilled/fried? green beans and carrots – yum!)  Although a chain there are some regional menu items for each location.  I enjoyed my truffle mayo burger.  They likely don’t have that in Texas.  My son liked his plain cheeseburger, although the plain kids’ fries were lacking after trying all the other frite options.  I saw a very generous cobb salad (in a real ceramic bowl – no cardboard or plastic) come out after I finished my truffle burger and immediately had veggie envy.  One disappointment was my husband’s black bean veggie burger.  Kind of flat and a non event.  My daughter ordered a chicken, avocado, bacon and tomato sandwich without the chicken and bacon, of course.  She was happy.  But even happier when they brought around a Haagen-Dazs milk shake sample.


Maybe it’s because we don’t go to a lot of burger places but my family had never heard of SmashBurger.  To our surprise there are over 200 of them and they just started in 2007.  So if you know your burger chains (they don’t like to be thought of as a chain, but hey, let’s face it) this is certainly a growing and popular one.  The staff was very friendly and we realized these were people brought in from other locations for the opening.   This is smart.  And a great way to make a first impression.  Hopefully when they hire locally the same friendly and enthusiastic attitude will prevail.


With such a large menu and non meat options my partially veggie family will likely come back.  It also doesn’t hurt that it’s next to Whole Foods and down the street from my kids’ school and Tae Kwon Do studio (where I spend much of my life).  Smashburger Mill Valley opens to the public this Wednesday, July 10th.