Whether it's a sleepover or birthday party, it's fun to get children involved in planning and helping to make food to entertain their friends, says Julie Van Rosendaal, co-author with Jan Scott of the cookbook "Gatherings: Bringing People Together With Food" (Whitecap Books).
"Having great sleepover parties is one of the pleasures of childhood," says Van Rosendaal.
"I think there's a swing back to home birthday parties. I think kids birthday parties may have been getting a little out of control in terms of going out to different locations and spending a lot of money, so I think there's a new trend to home birthday parties where you have games and food and cake."
When it comes time to plan a party for adults and kids, it's often easier to gather for a weekend brunch than a Saturday evening. Brunch can be less expensive because people's appetites aren't usually as large at midday and they tend not to drink as much. You could get away with a couple bottles of Prosecco or other sparkling wine.
"I always like to make cinnamon buns because they make people so happy," says Van Rosendaal. "I like the idea of having something cooking when people arrive so the house smells good."
To save time, prep the cinnamon buns the night before and bake in the morning to serve with coffee and fruit.
These recipes are from "Gatherings."
CANDY SUSHI PLATTER
Creating sushi look-alikes with candy is a cinch, and this colourful confection is certain to be popular with partygoers, whether it's a birthday or a casual sleepover. This recipe makes two types of sushi, maki rolls and nigiri-style pieces with faux fish on top, but you can omit the instructions for one or the other and make all of your sushi identical, if desired.
Rice crisp cereal squares (recipe follows)
Assorted candies (gummy fish, gummy worms, jelly beans, brightly coloured taffy, fruit leather, etc.)
To make nigiri-style sushi: Slice regular-sized crisp rice squares into thin rectangles. Place a gummy fish or gummy worm on top, then wrap a thin piece of fruit leather around base of candy and over fish, securing it in place by pressing edges of fruit leather together.
To make maki-style sushi: Flatten a rice square using a rolling pin. Lay it on top of a piece of fruit leather. Cut long, thin slices of red, orange and green taffy and lay lengthwise across rice square. Roll candy up into a cylinder and slice into pieces.
To make pickled ginger: Cut a piece of orange taffy into thin slices and roll it out with a rolling pin. Starting with one end, wind candy into a spiral, leaving a little space between each layer.
To make wasabi: Slice green jelly beans in half and pile together.
Serve with chopsticks. Makes as many as needed.
BROWN RICE CRISP TREATS
This healthier alternative to traditional rice crisp treats is fairly forgiving, so feel free to experiment with other nut butters if you like.
15 ml (1 tbsp) canola oil
150 ml (2/3 cup) natural peanut or almond butter
150 ml (2/3 cup) brown rice syrup or honey
5 ml (1 tsp) vanilla
1.5 l (6 cups) brown rice cereal
Grease inside of a 20-cm (8-inch) square baking pan with oil and set aside.
In a medium saucepan set over medium heat, combine peanut butter, brown rice syrup and vanilla and heat until thick and syrupy, about 2 minutes.
In a large bowl, place cereal and pour syrup mixture over it, mixing thoroughly. Press cereal into prepared pan with back of a rubber spatula or spoon. Transfer to fridge and refrigerate for 1 hour. Cut into squares or rectangles with a sharp knife. Store in fridge for up to 2 days.
Makes 9 large or 16 small treats.
ULTIMATE GOOEY CINNAMON BUNS
Whether you're celebrating Easter or Christmas or just want to make an ordinary weekend morning extra special, this recipe will do the trick. If you anticipate a busy morning (or just don't have the gumption to bake immediately after waking up), prepare these buns the night before, then cover and refrigerate — this will slow the rise, and in the morning you need only set them on the counter for half an hour to take the chill off before sliding them into the oven to bake.
125 ml (1/2 cup) warm water
15 ml (1 tbsp) active dry yeast
125 ml (1/2 cup) sugar, divided
250 ml (1 cup) milk, warmed
2 large eggs
1.25 l (5 cups) all-purpose flour, divided
125 ml (1/2 cup) butter, room temperature
5 ml (1 tsp) salt
125 ml (1/2 cup) butter
250 ml (1 cup) packed brown sugar
75 ml (1/3 cup) Rogers' or Lyle's golden syrup, corn syrup or honey
50 ml (1/4 cup) water
250 ml (1 cup) pecan halves (optional)
50 ml (1/4 cup) butter, melted
250 ml (1 cup) packed dark brown sugar
10 ml (2 tsp) cinnamon (approx)
Dough: In a large bowl or bowl of a stand mixer, place warm water and sprinkle it with yeast and a pinch of the sugar. Let stand for 5 minutes or until foamy. (If it doesn't foam, toss it and buy fresh yeast.)
In a small bowl, mix warm milk and eggs together with a fork. Add to yeast mixture along with 750 ml (3 cups) of the flour and remaining sugar; mix until well blended and sticky.
Add butter, salt and remaining flour and stir or beat with dough hook attachment of stand mixer until you have a soft, sticky dough. Knead for about 8 minutes, until smooth and elastic. It will still be slightly tacky.
Return dough to bowl, cover with a tea towel and let rise in a warm place for 1 hour or until doubled in bulk.
Meanwhile, make goo: In a small saucepan, combine butter, brown sugar, syrup and water and bring to a simmer, stirring until butter is melted. Divide between 2 buttered pie plates, two 23-cm (9-inch) cake pans or two 20-cm (8-inch) square pans, pouring it over bottom. If you like, scatter with pecan halves.
Buns: Divide dough in half and, on a lightly floured surface, roll each half into a rectangle that's about 25 by 38 (10 by 15 inches), or even slightly bigger, even and about 1 cm (1/2 inch) thick. Brush each piece with half the melted butter and scatter with brown sugar; evenly distribute sugar with your hand. Sprinkle with cinnamon.
Starting on a long side, roll dough up into a log and, using a serrated knife, cut it crosswise into thirds. Cut each of those 3 log-shaped pieces into thirds again (you should end up with 9 even pieces).
Place 9 pieces into each pan, cut side facing up, with one bun in middle and rest around it, or in the case of a square pan, in 3 rows of 3. Cover with a tea towel and let rise for another hour, until doubled in bulk. (If you're making them the night before, cover and place in the fridge for a slow rise; remove from fridge and leave on counter for 30 minutes or so before baking.)
When ready to bake, preheat oven to 180 C (350 F). Put a baking sheet on the rack underneath (to catch any drips) and bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until they turn a deep golden. Let cool for 5 to 10 minutes, but invert onto a plate while still warm. (If you wait too long and they get stuck in the pan, slide back into a hot oven to rewarm goo, then try again.) Eat warm.
Makes 1 1/2 dozen cinnamon buns.
Source: "Gatherings: Bringing People Together With Food" By Jan Scott and Julie Van Rosendaal (Whitecap Books, 2014).