(This guest post is brought to you by the talented Abby Clay Turner, mastermind blogger behind The Cupcake Project.)
Prep-Time: 2 hours
Cook-Time: 25 minutes for cupcakes; 25 minutes for each batch of wings & tots
Skills Required: Mixing, frosting, craftiness.
1 box red velvet cupcake mix
3 large eggs
1/2 cup cooking oil
1-1/3 cups water
2 cans whipped cream cheese frosting
Green cupcake wrappers
Assorted green food coloring and colored frosting
5 bottles of assorted ranch dressings
2 bags of re-heatable buffalo wings
1 bag of tater tots
Assorted dipping vegetables
This is an idea that I implemented in celebration of my son’s first birthday. The theme is Very Hungry Caterpillar, the classic kid’s book by Eric Carle. This is age-appropriate, and multi-generational, since many of us grew up reading this book. Only two babies will be attending my son’s party, so I needed to add some adult allure: enter the blind ranch-taste test! The idea: Present five different ranch salad dressings without labels and plenty of foodstuffs appropriate for dipping, and allow guests to compare flavors and choose their favorite ranch dressing. Here’s how I did it.
Step 1: Make the Cupcakes
My idea was to make cupcakes, color them green, and lay them out in the shape of the very hungry caterpillar. The web is full of photo inspiration in addition to how mine turned out. A few months ago I was listening to a debate on the perfect recipe for red velvet cake, which, ironically, was my inspiration to choose red velvet cupcakes–from a box! I used Duncan Hines, followed the instructions on the back of the box, and carefully measured three tablespoons of batter into each cupcake wrapper. (I wanted to get perfectly-shaped cupcakes! Unfortunately, my husband came in to “help” by pouring random amounts of batter into a second tray of wrappers… GRR!) The three tablespoon rule works really well–those cupcakes turned out to be the perfect size. Bake according to the instructions on the box. (I did 350°F for 25 minutes on the middle rack.) Allow cupcakes to cool outside of muffin pans before moving on to step two! (I made the cupcakes the day before the party.)
Step 2: Decorate the Cupcakes and Assemble the Cake
First, I colored a few tablespoons of frosting bright red and decorated one cupcake as the “head.” A little green frosting in a pastry bag provided the eyes and nose. Short pieces of sour straw candy made antennae.
I split the remaining frosting into four batches and colored them different shades of green with the food coloring and spread this on the remaining cupcakes. Then I sprinkled green, yellow, and blue sugar on the cupcakes, trying to make each “segment” unique.
Finally, I arranged the cupcakes on the table, decorated with bright green tablecloth and polka-dotted wrapping paper, in the shape of the caterpillar: VOILA! A Very Hungry Caterpillar cake!
Step 3: Prepare the dipping foods
The night before the party, we chopped veggies: celery sticks, cucumber slices, cauliflower florets, and baby carrots. Right before everyone arrived, we placed these on the table. About twenty minutes before the party started, we heated the first batch of wings and tots according to the instructions on the bag. (I lined two baking sheets in foil, spritzed with cooking oil, set the oven to 425°F, and threw in a tray of each for 22 minutes.) We served these in bowls on the table, too.
Step 4: Prepare the ranches
I had five bottles of ranch:
1. Hidden Valley Ranch
2. Kraft Ranch
3. Marzetti’s Ranch
4. Cardini’s Aged Parmesan Ranch
5. Paula Deen’s Cucumber Ranch
We poured each bottle into a bowl and numbered them 1-5 on the food table. We also gave each guest a slip of paper on which to record their impressions of each ranch. The results? People overwhelmingly preferred Cardini’s Aged Parmesan to the other ranches, with Marzetti’s coming in second.
(One guest told me she mixed the two together for the perfect flavor/texture combination.) Paula Deen’s Cucumber Ranch was overwhelmingly despised for the overwhelming flavor of dill. (Sorry, Paula.)
Overall, the party was a hit! We’ve been snacking on leftover ranch and wings for a week now; I hope to see some healthy posts on Mystery Science Kitchen 3000 in the coming days! (Editors note: “not likely!”)