Frozen & 3 Easier Cake Hacks

| Decorate

Frozen Cake HacksI pretend to be tired of Frozen.  After endlessly watching the movie, reenacting the scenes, and listening to the soundtrack…after stocking a wardrobe with Frozen attire and filling a playroom with Frozen toys… I realize that another dramatic interpretation of “Let It Go” by our beloved 4 year old should send me screaming in search of sanity.  The terrifying truth is… I am not tired of Frozen… or the Little Mermaid, or Tangled, or Beauty and the Beast, or Cinderella.  

I do understand how totally crazy and completely inappropriate so many of these princess stories are for our kids.  I mean – I am desperate to raise well-rounded, competent, compassionate, intelligent, and independent, young women who are prepared to tackle the complexities of a global society that honors and respects equality and social responsibility.  But… I feel the love and really can’t shame the obsession of Disney princesses.    I am so thankful for Elsa and Anna who make me feel a little less guilty about our love of princesses.   

Turns out this may be the strangest intro to… I made another Frozen cake and learned some new tricks to simplify my cake decorating!  

Here are three great cake hacks that helped simplify my cake decorating, so I could get everything done in one night:

  1. Forget the fondant and frost with buttercream (sometimes)!
    I read about the VIVA paper towel method for smoothly icing a cake, but didn’t think it would actually work.  Turns out… those soft, white, pillowy paper towels are just perfect for smoothing out your buttercream!  This was my first attempt and it still needs work, but I can’t wait to try it again, and again, and again!  Frost Me Up has a great video tutorial to get you started!  As a wannabe cake decorator, this frosting method saved me a lot of time and money!  (check out all those exclamation points!)
  2. Pearl dust! (AKA edible glitter)
    Wilton Pearl Dust (available at Michael’s, Jo-Ann’s, Amazon, etc.) is fabulous for adding a little sass and hiding imperfections.  As I mentioned this was my first attempt at the VIVA paper towel frosting method, so it was definitely not perfect by any means.

  3. Not everything has to be edible.
    I love the challenge of making everything on a cake edible, but I am trying to simplify and let’s be serious – no one is actually going to eat a fondant Elsa, a gumpaste Anna, or an Olaf made out of modeling chocolate.  I cleaned our Frozen figurines and topped the cake.  I actually got out two bowls, one with soapy water and one with clean water, and had our 3-year-old Samantha give Anna, Elsa, Olaf, Kristoff and Sven baths, which she thought was pretty much the greatest thing in the world!

Confession of a *wannabe* everything… I’m sure it would be super helpful to see before and after pictures of icing a cake using a VIVA Paper towel, but I blew it!  You can see pretty great documentation of the paper towel trick Frost Me Up.

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Ciao Annie Redesign… Again!

| General, Life

Sunday Morning

Welcome to the new Ciao Annie!

I started this blog several years ago with grand ideas of perfecting and documenting all my favorite recipes, complete with well-written stories, precise recipes and gorgeous photos.  Oh how my life has changed over the past four years!  

I started researching successful blogging techniques and even took a fabulous one day Alt Summit webinar to figure out how the hell to stay motivated, consistent, and actually follow through with the whole idea of posting on a regular basis.   I have scraps of paper with scribbled recipes stashed all over the house, and I don’t dare ask Allen about all the unused photos filed on our computer, but completing an actual post… just doesn’t happen.   The ideas are totally there, but apparently I have no motivation to follow through.  

Upon further research and investigation… it turns out…  for many of my favorite blogs… the writers are single, have no kids and/or do not have additional work responsibilities outside of blogging or staying home with kids.   Initially I felt totally discouraged… and insanely jealous… mostly insanely jealous… blogging as a career… amazing (I realize it is hard work, but from the outside… just amazing)!  It seems like it may be pretty unrealistic for me to start a “successful” blog at this stage in my life, at least according to conventional methods!

  1.  My food isn’t always unique, organic, easy, vegetarian, healthy, decadent, 5 ingredients or less, slow cooked, etc.  My cooking style is all across the board, which makes it difficult to define a particular niche.  I get this.  We all love blogs with consistency.  I love that I know just where to go for great light recipes, vegetarian recipes, dessert recipes, one pot recipes, etc.  I just don’t want to commit to one style, because that is not how I cook or how we eat!
  1.  I don’t want to make the time commitment necessary, at this stage in my life, to consistently create beautiful food, amazing photos, and clever posts.  I do work full time, have two fabulous kiddos, and try (not-so-successfully) to maintain about a million hobbies.   Needless to say, I’m just  not ready to give up my family time, friend time, crafting, party planning, books, or favorite TV shows to focus on cooking.  (Okay, the books may be a stretch, I have been reading Go Set a Watchman for literally (ha… pun pseudo intended) the past 7 months).

I do, however, love the idea of blogging, so what the hell, I’m trying again (for like the 15th time)!  I’m hoping this blog will be my motivation to stop talking about all my great party, recipe and project ideas and get down to business!

While I absolutely love and value my favorite blogs, I am determined to find the middle ground between the over-the-top party plans that require a second mortgage and the simplified party plans that stress ease and simplicity.  While I definitely want recipes that will make my friends and family excited to eat at our place, I am not competing for a spread in Bon Appetit or a show on the Food Network.  As we continue unpacking and organizing (two years later), I want to settle into a comfortable style and personalize our home, but I don’t really need to please anyone except those of us actually living here!  And… there have to be some other moms out there who aren’t always basking in the glow of motherhood or constantly bitching about spilled milk and other unfortunate consequences of crazy kids in the house (unless it is breastmilk… then the bitching is totally warranted).  

My party plans, recipes, crafts and thoughts won’t always be perfect, but let’s be honest… neither is my life!  

Confession of a *wannabe* blogger… While I do hope that others will read my blog, relate, try new recipes, and explore new DIY projects, it turns out the new plan for this blog is self motivation.

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Dark Chocolate Salted Caramel Tart

| Dessert

Dark Chocolate Salted Caramel TartThis dark chocolate salted caramel tart screams Happy Valentine’s Day, at least for me. While my husband doesn’t eat chocolate, I haven’t had trouble sharing this tasty treat with the other Valentines in my life.

Seriously… this is a crunchy chocolate crust, filled with an ooey gooey sweet caramel, topped with a slightly bitter chocolate ganache and dusted with salt. Amazing. There are several steps to this recipe, which each require cool time, but it is definitely worth the effort! Read through the entire recipe to make certain you have plenty of time prior to serving. While the cool times may be several hours, each step only takes a few minutes to complete.

Try this… your loved ones will thank you!

Confession of a *wannabe* foodie… I had every intention of making a special treat for my lovely non-chocolate eating, Allen. Unfortunately, I couldn’t seem to make it happen this week, so not only am I a *wannabe* foodie tonight, I am also a *wannabe* sweet wife. There is always next year, right? (shame)

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Disney Frozen Ice Cream Cake

| General

Frozen Easy Ice Cream CakeWe are in full-on mermaid mode in our house.  I am not sure if our two-year-old is subconsciously dreaming of warmer days to cope with all this snow and cold, but there is not much we can play, read, listen, watch, or color  if it is not  somehow associated with a mermaid!  While I love The Little Mermaid, I was pretty excited that my niece requested a “Frozen” cake for her 5th birthday.  I haven’t actually seen Frozen yet (apparently there are no mermaids in Frozen), so I hit Pinterest for some inspiration.  How amazing is this Frozen cake from Bubbly Nature Creations!

I had to try those blue ice shards!  Seriously.

Turns out simple sugar candy is surprisingly easy and the shards turned out great!  We also created a simple vinyl stencil to put over one of the shards, and then scratched the surface with sandpaper to create the etched 5.  I say “we,” because that was actually both Allen’s idea and execution.
Frozen Easy Ice Cream Cake
I made a simple ice cream cake, frosted with Cool Whip, and then kept the decorations simple to show off the shards.

Fairly simple and definitely fantastic!

You can alter the amount of ingredients in your ice cream cake  depending on how many people you need to serve, available space in your freezer, and the size of your bowl.  I did have a huge bowl, so I just went to town.

Confession of a *wannabe* cake decorator…. Sometimes while brainstorming, you find an idea that is so fantastic, there aren’t many improvements to make! Thanks Bubbly Nature Creations for such amazing inspiration.

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Nutella Brownies

| Dessert

Nutella Brownies

Happy World Nutella day!

It is so cold and snowy in St. Louis these days, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to warm up the oven for these ultimate comfort brownies.

I am always looking for any excuse to bake and celebrate!

These Nutella brownies are a fantastic way to celebrate the merging of two cultures!  Combining chewy chocolaty American brownies, with creamy delicious hazelnut Italian Nutella, is a fantastic tribute to our culinary and cultural histories.  The Nutella flavor is somewhat subtle in these brownies, so don’t forget the chopped hazelnuts to really amplify the chocolate hazelnut goodness!

Bake, eat, share, love!

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Nutella Coffee Creamer

| General

Nutella Coffee Creamer

February 5 is officially World Nutella Day.  World Nutella Day.

Let’s take a minute to let that set in.

One glorious day when the whole world unites to celebrate the smooth, creamy, chocolaty, hazelnut goodness that is Nutella.  One day to look beyond our political, religious, and economic differences to indulge, in solidarity, in one celebrated snack spread.

I will never forget my introduction into the world of Nutella, in 1998, during a spring break trip to Spain to visit my sister.  I shortly thereafter spent an entire year immersed in the Nutella motherland of Italy.  Nutella smeared on crusty bread, Nutella oozing out of warm croissants, Nutella churned into creamy gelato, Nutella encased by pillows of fried dough, oh the delicious Nutella.

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Supper Club: Courtesy of the Character C

| General

Supper Club

Supper Club

Supper Club is the greatest invention on the planet and, while I am obviously biased, I think our supper club is one of the best… seriously.

The plan is simple (other than the collaborating of calendars!). There are 10 of us that participate in Supper Club and we are split into 5 pairs. For each meal, each pair is responsible for a course: drinks, appetizers, soup/salad, main course, and dessert. The host cooks the main course and gets to select the theme. The theme is announced between the main course and the dessert course of the previous supper club.

Our Supper Club been going strong for well over 6 years. If you can imagine, after 6+ years, we have exhausted the standard supper club staples of international cuisines and key ingredients. Fortunately, this is a pretty creative and adventurous club that continues to select unique themes that, while occasionally challenging, are always unique, tasty and delicious.

This past week was our turn to host. Our theme was “Brought to you by the Letter C,” which we quickly adapted to “Courtesy of the Character C.”

While I realize “Courtesy of the Character C” may be a supper club theme that only appeals to those of us with last names that begin with C, here are a few highlights to get you thinking! I love using a few simple standards to sass up a themed event (sorry for the alliteration… still in “C” mode): an invitation, great food, a playlist, coordinating attire, a centerpiece and a photo opp.
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Roasted Lemon Garlic Cauliflower

| General

Roasted Lemon Garlic Cauliflower

Roasted Lemon Garlic Cauliflower

I am a firm believer that pretty much any vegetable is delicious tossed with a bit of olive oil, garlic, lemon juice, salt, pepper and Parmesan cheese and roasted. Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cabbage, and even cauliflower. The theme for our Supper Club was “Courtesy of the Character C,” and I could not pass up the opportunity to serve Crispy Cruciferous Cauliflower with Citrus, Cheese & Chopped Chives!

This roasted cauliflower really is delicious and keeps everyone in our house happy, even our 2 year old daughter.

Confession of a *wannabe* foodie… It is tough for me to willfully choose to roast any vegetable other than Brussels sprouts. I would eat roasted brussels sprouts everyday, if my family would let me. I am happy to be expanding beyond my Brussels sprouts obsession to include other cruciferous vegetables!
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Pork Crown Roast with Cranberry, Apple & Cornbread Stuffing

| General

Pork Crown Roast

Pork Crown Roast

I am seriously intimidated by cooking large cuts of meat indoors. My intimidation definitely comes from my lack of experience. With only two adults at home… a roast is a serious dinner party gamble or left-over meal commitment. We do a lot of barbecuing, pan-cooking, soups/stews, and meatless meals, but it is time…

I realize that I could have started with a pot roast roast, roast chicken, or roast beef, but in honor of supper club and our new dining room table, I decided to conquer a crown roast of pork. I called a local butcher a few days in advance to prepare the crown roast, and had a great experience in St. Louis with Kenrick’s Meat Market.

What a beautiful and impressive presentation of a tasty cut of meat! The crown roast was surprisingly easy to prepare and a great choice for a dinner party. The majority of my work in the kitchen was actually done a few hours before our guests even arrived!
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Cranberry, Apple & Cornbread Stuffing

| Celebrate

Cranberry Apple Cornbread Stuffing

Cranberry Apple Cornbread Stuffing

Ladies and gentlemen, we have a dining room table!  We also have an amazing cornbread, cranberry and apple stuffing that was definitely worthy of the inaugural meal at our new table.

One of the most exciting things about moving into a house with more space was the prospect of comfortably hosting dinner parties with friends and family.  I am not going to say that we ever let a small house stop us from cramming our previous home in the name of a good party, but I anxiously awaited the day to seat friends and family around a large dinner table for a comfy and tasty meal.

As we unpacked our boxes and started to get the lay of our new land, Allen decided that he wanted to build our dining room table.  I instantly agreed and immediately began to romanticize how this table would hold and cherish our family history.  Our friends and family would gather around this table to share amazing food, beautiful stories, and endless laughter for holidays, birthdays, dinner parties, sleepovers, and more for years and years to come.   This table that would proudly be passed down from generation to generation.

I could not wait to get started…. I should clarify…. I could not wait for Allen to get started!
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