The Beauty of Change

“Beauty begins the moment you decide to be yourself.”

Coco Chanel

Pumpkin spice lattes may not be available yet, but that hasn’t stopped me from decorating for fall a little early this year. It’s August and I have been out looking for pumpkins. Usually, I don’t start pull out the fall decorations until at least September, but I have a good reason to decorate sooner. A local magazine is going to be featuring our home for their October issue. So, I have been busy cleaning and trying to touch up a few of the move lived in spots in our home. Two little girls and a puppy create lots of messes along the way. Along with it comes a few other exciting projects. I am going to be a columnist for our local paper The Hinsdalean and I will also be writing a monthly food and garden column for a local magazine called Life in the Woodlands. I am excited about the possibilities and a chance to write and share more.

 

Things are also changing as the new school year starts tomorrow. My oldest daughter will now be in school for a full day. When we first moved to my girls were little and now they are more independent. I now have a little time to take on a few more projects of my own.

I began writing this blog when we moved to Chicago as a creative outlet. I had left my career as an attorney to spend more time with my daughters. Overwhelmed by change, I found joy in writing. I always loved to write, but before I began blogging, most of my writing had been for work or school. Moving as hard as it was, gave me a gift, the opportunity to see things differently. In ways I hadn’t realized, I had allowed my job to define who I was. Suddenly at home with my two girls I began to pour myself into what I really love. What would you do for the pure joy of it? I have always loved cooking, but what that took me be surprise was how much I enjoyed writing about it. I will admit that writing my first post was scary, but once I began to write and share more my worries began to fade.

Never underestimate the power of kind words. I want to thank all of my readers who have encouraged me along the way. It’s given me the strength I needed to write and share more. There is great beauty in owning who you are and doing what you truly love.  So thank you for being a part of that!

I’ve been busy creating a fall look with some faux pumpkins. On the upside the squirrels seem to not be as temped as they are with the real ones.

 

Pulled Chicken Sandwich with Southwestern Carrot Slaw

Chicken Sandwich with Carrot Slaw

I cook with a sense of adventure and fun. Never one to make just the same rotation of dishes I am always trying to push the flavor boundaries and create something different. Sometimes I never know where my inspiration will come from. I was sitting in a waiting room looking at a magazine when I saw a picture of a pulled chicken sandwich. Inspired, my mind began to swirl with ideas about creating my own ultimate version. My recipe is a twist on your traditional roasted chicken with a lime and smoky cumin flavored slaw.

These sandwiches are the perfect Sunday night dinner. Roasting chicken takes just under an hour; however, the hands on cooking time isn’t much. If you take a little help from the store by buying shredded carrots and barbecue sauce, then it makes a fun and easy dinner. Add a side of macaroni and cheese or, a pasta or potato salad and you have a delicious meal.

Pulled Chicken Sandwiches -Serves 4

  • 3 bone in skin on chicken breasts
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temp
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 cup barbecue sauce (I use a brand called Head Country)
  • 4 brioche or bakery quality burger buns, toasted

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.

Next make your flavored butter for roasting your chicken. In a small bowl add the softened butter, salt, garlic powder, onion powder, cumin and chili powder. Evenly mix the spices into your butter using a rubber spatula or spoon.

Next line a roast or sheet pan with aluminum foil, for easy clean up. Then place your chicken breasts on the pan. Then take your flavored butter and place one third of the mixture under the skin of each chicken breast. To do this you need to carefully lift up the skin and create a little pocket to spoon in your flavored butter. You want to avoid making a whole on the bottom or sides.

Roast your chicken for 45 to 50 minutes depending on the size of your chicken breasts. A very large chicken breast could take up to 55 minutes.

Then let you chicken cool in the pan for about 5 minutes until it is cool enough to handle. Next peel off your skin and while holding your chicken over a medium sized bowl to catch all the flavorful drippings. Then discard the skin and shred your chicken off the bone using a fork. Once you have shredded all of your chicken take about 1/4 cup of the pan drippings and mix it into your chicken along with 1 cup of barbecue sauce. (The chicken pan gravy is what makes this chicken so delicious.)

Southwestern Carrot Slaw

  • 3 cups of shredded carrots (You can save some time by using a bag of pre-shredded carrots from the store)
  • 1 cup shredded red cabbage
  • 3 green onion sliced on the diagonal
  • 1/4 cup cilantro leaves
  • 1 lime zested
  • 1 tablespoon of lime juice
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon of honey
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

In a medium sized bowl mix together your carrots, red cabbage, green onions and cilantro.

Then in a small mixing bowl whisk together the lime zest and juice. Then add in apple cider vinegar, honey, cumin and salt. Whisk until it is well combined. Then add your dressing to your carrot slaw and toss to combined.

To assemble your sandwiches spoon some shredded barbecue chicken on the bottom of each bun and top with a spoonful of the Southwestern Slaw.

Outrageously delicious these big mouth sandwiches were a hit in our house. They would be a great dish to share with friends because you can make the pulled chicken ahead of time, even the day before. They would also work well as sliders for a tailgating party. The big flavors and crunchy slaw make theses a swoon-worthy sandwich and supper.

Greek Chicken Skewers

Chicken Souvlaki Recipe

Late summer is a fabulous time to cook. So many vegetables and fruits are in season and the flavors are amazing. I love making big salads that use all of the gorgeous summer tomatoes, corn, cucumbers, berries and peaches. Although salad might be enough for me my family loves a little protein. So these greek inspired lemon chicken skewers are one of my summertime favorites.

Skewers or kebabs are a great way to cook chicken on the grill because they cook quickly and evenly. The lemon garlic marinade is a fast way to add flavor. These skewers have become a favorite in our house. Serve them with a large side salad like my Chopped Greek Salad and add some hummus with good pita bread or naan and you have a quick and delicious dinner.

 

Greek Chicken Skewers – Serves 4

  • 1 1/3 pound boneless skinless chicken breasts (2 large chicken breasts)
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 2 Tablespoons lemon juice (about 1 large lemon)
  • 1 garlic clove, grated
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper

First get your grilled prepared and ready to cook the chicken on direct medium high heat

Then prepare your chicken by cutting it into one inch pieces. A quick tip, if your chicken breasts are large then I like to cut mine in half horizontally and then cut them into pieces.

Next make your marinade. In a medium sized bowl whisk together your lemon juice, zest, garlic, oregano, olive oil, salt and pepper. Then place your chicken and the marinade in a large gallon sized ziplock bag. Let your chicken marinade in your fridge for at least 10 to 15 minutes. You can let them marinade a bit longer, but I wouldn’t let it sit longer than an hour because of the acidity from the lemon juice.

Next thread your chicken onto your skewers. you can use metal or wooden skewers, but if you are using wooden skewers let them soak in some water while you are marinating your chicken. It will keep the wood from getting charred on the grill.

Then grill your chicken for 4 to 5 minute on one side and then flip them and cook them for an additional 4 to 5 minutes on the other side until they are cooked through. If you don’t have an outdoor grill you could also use an indoor grilling pan.

These Greek chicken skewers are an easy and healthy dinner that are perfect for those summer nights when you want to eat well but not spend all of your time in the kitchen. Hope you enjoy this summer grilling favorite.

Celebrating Every Day

Purple Birthday Cake

The moment I take my red mixer out of the top cabinet, my girls come running. “What are you making?” We love to bake together, but mention the word cake and and they begin shouting with joy. They are running to pull chairs up to reach the counter and help.

Birthday cakes are a fun tradition in our house. I let everyone pick their own flavor and theme. This year my daughter decided that she wanted a Princess Sofia cake with flowers. She helped pick out all the little details. When you are five, the more purple icing and sprinkles, the better the cake. So we had fun decorating and planning a small family celebration.

This week we have had more than just a birthday to celebrate. My daughter also completed her physical and occupational therapy which has been a part of her life since she was two months old. She was born with torticollis and muscle weakness  that made reaching basic physical milestones like rolling over, crawling, walking, seeing a ball and even swallowing a challenge. She has worked hard to build strength and learn how to do all the basics that I certainly took for granted. Watching and helping her has given me a deep appreciation for all of the small things.

Working at physical therapy when she was three months old.

We are grateful for all of the therapists who have worked with her along this journey. We are also thankful for our family who have supported us with all of the challenges along the way. There were days where I know it was painful and tough, but throughout it all she has had the best attitude. Even when something doesn’t go her way, she is quick to smile and say “I will try again.” She is not one to let anything stop her and I know that smile and attitude will take her far.

So this year I am reminded that we are celebrating more than just a birthday. It’s a time to look back and be grateful for all the days that have gotten us here. Our little five year old is now running and jumping with joy and watching that is truly amazing.

Strawberry Ice Cream

Homemade Strawberry Ice Cream

Summer days as a kid were made for swimming, playing outside and eating ice cream. I remember going to visit my Dad’s parents every summer. I used to look forward to helping my granddad with his garden. We would pick fresh tomatoes, green beans and cucumbers for dinner. Then we would head out on the back porch to make homemade ice cream. We would help him layer the ice and rock salt and watch as the ice cream churned. The the best part, getting a taste.

I got an ice cream maker for my birthday last year. All those memories of summer ice cream as a kid made me want to share the tradition with my girls. Ice cream machines may have changed a bit, but the joy and excitement of making your own ice cream was as great as I remembered.

This week my youngest daughter and I went to the farmers market to buy strawberries, her favorite. Then we came home and my girls pushed their chairs up to the counter to help me measure and mix it all together. They eagerly watched and waited for a first taste. The cold, sweet strawberry ice cream was a wonderful treat on a hot summer day. So here is the recipe that had us all smiling and thinking about seconds.

Strawberry Ice Cream – Serves 8  (makes about 2 quarts)

  • 3 cups strawberries, hulled and sliced
  • 1 cup sugar, divided
  • 1 1/2 cup whole milk or half and half
  • 2 cups whipping cream
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt

First prepare your ice cream maker according to the manufacture. Make sure that if your are using a newer electric model that you have chilled the bowl ahead of time.

In a medium sized bowl mix together your strawberries and 1/2 cup of sugar. Then cover your bowl and let your berries and sugar sit in the fridge for 30 minute to 1 hour to allow the berries to macerate or form their own syrup.

Then in a food processor or blender puree you berries until they are chopped into small pieces.

Then in a large bowl mix together the strawberry puree, milk, cream, the remaining 1/2 cup sugar, vanilla and salt.

Pour your strawberry mixture in your ice cream maker and allow it run until your ice cream is frozen. The ice cream setting on my Cuisinart is 25 minutes.

Then spoon your ice cream into a freezer safe container and allow it to freeze and firm up for an additional 2 hours.

So scoop up some summer fun with strawberry ice cream. This homemade treat is still fun to make and delicious on a hot summer day.

Homemade Strawberry Ice Cream

Colorful Summer Doors

White House with Yellow Door

It’s hard to think about Chicago summers and not talk about color. The winter snow is now a distant memory and the trees and grass are all a deep summer green. Doors and walkways are adorned with colorful pots and the window boxes are overflowing with flowers. Summer is here and I have been out taking in the view and photographing some of my favorites.

I love photographing doors. I have shared a few posts on the subject before. Whether I am on vacation or just out walking I like to linger a moment to admire  the architectural details or an interesting color that makes certain doors and homes stand out.

This little garden cottage has a cheerful touches of yellow against the crisp black and white exterior.  The woven letter box and those wicker chairs look like a lovely place to sit and enjoy a view. I like the colorful window boxes and all the neatly trimmed boxwoods.

The contrast of this light pink door against the deep navy siding is eye catching. The brass light fixtures and lanterns add a polished finish that ties in the colors from stone stairs. Then little bird house detail adds just the right touch of fun.

This stately colonial looks fresh and up to date with this Tiffany blue door. The bright color draws the eye in and makes you notice the transom window and columns.

This coastal inspired home is one of my favorites. The contrast between the soft gray shingles and a robin’s egg blue door is so pretty. I like the weathered metal planters and the boxwood. It’s a city home that make you feel like you might be on the beach.

This tangerine door is something I saw while on vacation in Michigan. The preppy orange against the turquoise haint ceiling made this small home feel like it had a larger than life personality.

This classic victorian had me stopping to enjoy the view.  The gorgeous coral door with the brass hardware makes you take notice of the leaded window sidelights and the detailed trim work. The metal urns of coral geraniums and ivy add a touch of color to the yard.

Finally, a craftsman styled home with a welcoming tomato red. The lighting and house numbers add a finished feel to the craftsmen look. I love the metal barn star. It adds a patriotic touch that feels like summer in Chicago.

Sometimes it’s fun to just stop and take in the beauty of a summer garden and a doorway or two. The bright colors and landscaping details add character and charm to all of these memorable homes.

Blueberry Crumb Pie

Blueberry Pie

“Pies make everyone happy.”

-Laurie Halse Anderson

Do you have a favorite pie? Or does picking a favorite seem like an unfair question? There are after all so many good choices. So maybe one should think about it seasonally or just narrow it down to a smaller list of seasonal favorites. When it comes to summer, I happen to be partial to berry pies. This week I was walking down the row at my local farmer’s market when a table filled with beautiful blueberries caught my eye. When I saw them I  knew I wanted to take a few pints home. As I was walking back with a bag full of berries, I immediately began to think about the mixed berry crumb pie that I had on a trip to Michigan this spring. So inspired, I set out to create my own blueberry crumb pie.

Crumb pies are one of my favorites types of pies because they have all the best parts of eating both a pie and a cobbler or crisp. The buttery crust with a sweet berry filling and a crunchy oat strudel topping is summer pie perfection. I spent some time in my kitchen testing recipes to create the ultimate crumb pie. Baking with fresh berries is wonderful, but it helps to have a few baking tricks up your sleeve when dealing with juicy berries and pies crust.  So I am sharing my recipe and all my tips to ensure your crumb pie is crisp and delicious.

Blueberry Crumble Pie – Serves 8

  • One pie crust, plus extra pie dough from a second if you want to add decorative cutouts. My favorite recipe for a double crust is featured at the link above, but if you are running short on time you could use store bought dough

Blueberry Pie Filling

  • 4 cups blueberries, washed and then well dried out on some paper towels
  • 1 lemon, zested
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup of flour

Crumble Topping

  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup oatmeal
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 stick butter, cold and diced into small pieces

First, preheat your oven to 375 degrees.

Then prepare your pie crust by greasing the bottom of your 9 inch pie plate with cooking spray and then fold over the edges of your dough. I like to roll my dough into a 12 to 13 inch circle and then I fold the extra dough over to create a thicker crust edge. Then flute the edges by pressing your thumb into the inside of the dough while holding the outside edge with your index and pointer fingers. Then if you would like, you can make some additional pie dough cutouts as a decoration for the top. Make sure to cut thicker pieces for your decorations so they don’t brown too quickly while your pie bakes.

Then you want to blind bake your pie crust before you place your filling in it. This step is important because crumb pies have lots of moisture from the topping and fruit filling. Blind baking your crust first will ensure that you don’t end up with a soggy pie bottom. (I tried a version without blind baking and it was a soupy mess.)

In order to blind bake your crust cut a circle of parchment paper that is 2 to 3 inches larger than your pie plate. Then place the parchment in your unbaked pie shell and fill it with pie weights or plain dried beans or rice will work too. You just need something that will allow your pie crust to keep its shape and not puff up while you bake it.

Here you can see I used some pinto beans that I keep on hand for pies. They are cheaper than pie weights and they work just as well.

Then bake your crust for 10 minutes with the weights. Then carefully remove the parchment paper and weights and return your unfilled pie to the oven for 5 more minutes. This will ensure that the crust is well cooked and crisp.

While your crust is baking you can make your filling and crumb topping.

In a medium sized bowl mix together your blueberries, lemon zest, sugar and flour maker the flour and sugar are well mixed to coat all the berries.

Next make your crumb topping. I used a food processor, but you could also use a fork or pastry blender. In a medium sized bowl or in the bowl of your food processor mix together the flour, oatmeal, brown sugar, sugar and cinnamon. Then add in your butter pieces using the food processor or a pastry blender or fork. You want to cut the butter into the flour mixture to create a crumb like topping.

Then pour your blueberry mixture into your blind baked pie crust and then top it with an even layer of the crumb mixture. Add on any pie dough cutout and brush them with a little melted butter and a sprinkle of granulated sugar.

This is my pie before I put it back in the oven for it’s final bake.

Then to protect the edges of your pie crust and keep them from getting to brown use a pie shield or create your own with a long  folded piece of foil.

Bake at 375 degrees for 30 minutes. Then remove your pie shield or foil and continue to bake for an additional 10 minutes. (Total baking time is 40 minutes.)

Then let it cool a bit before you serve it. The blueberry mixture will firm up to create a pretty slice if you let it rest for a couple hours, but it’s delicious no matter how you serve it. I like to add a little vanilla ice cream on top.

The amazing blueberry smell coming from your oven is reason enough to make this pie. My husband even had a slice for breakfast. Because is there ever really a bad time for pie?

Summer Corn

Summer Creamed CornRecipe

Summer is off to a fast paced start in our house. We have what feels like a full line up of classes and we have been out exploring the city with out of town company. All of this full speed fun has left me with a little less time for cooking, so I am sharing one of my favorite quick recipes. This corn is a well loved recipe of mine because it’s a delicious and versatile side that goes well with so many summer dishes. It pairs nicely with grilled chicken, fish or steak, but add just a touch of lime juice and a pinch of chili powder and it’s the perfect side for tacos. It takes just 10 minutes to make so if summer has you busy, then this corn recipe is just what you need to finish out a quick dinner.

Summer Corn – Serves 4 to 6

  • 4 ears of corn, cut off the cob
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 lime zested
  • 1/4 cup cream
  • 1 tablespoon cilantro, finely chopped (you could also substitute chives)

First, use a sharp knife to cut the kernels off of the corn discarding any remaining silks.

Then in a medium sized skillet melt the butter and add your corn  and season with salt, garlic powder and pepper. Sauté your corn over medium heat for about 5 minutes until your corn turns bright yellow and is tender.

Then add in your lime zest and cream and cook for an additional 2 minutes until the cream has reduced down. Then remove your corn from the pan and add your cilantro.

For My Mexican Street Corn Variation:

Simply add in 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of chili powder depending on how spicy you like it and the juice of 1/2 of a lime. Just add them in while you are seasoning your corn with the salt and other seasonings.

Fresh corn is sweet and crisp and absolutely one of summer’s finest. This recipe is one of my favorite ways to cook it. So fire up the grill and enjoy all the best of summer.

Brisket Tacos With Mango Salsa

Brisket Taco Recipe

Summer is here and with it comes gorgeous seasonal fruits and vegetables and hopefully some time to relax just a bit. When it comes to summertime cooking I love an easy recipe that gets me out of the kitchen, so I can enjoy my time outdoors. This is also a dinner that you can prep completely ahead of time since you use the crockpot which makes it great for entertaining or for any busy day.

Brisket is a Texas favorite, that I sometimes have to order from the butcher’s counter here in Chicago. However, there is a reason Texans love it. It’s a great cut of meat that lends itself well to lots of dishes including tacos. The slightly salty brisket with the sweetness of the mangos and just a touch of acidity from the lime juice and tomatoes definitely makes this one incredible bite. So here is one of my all time favorite dinners: brisket tacos with mango salsa.

Crockpot Brisket Tacos – Serves 4 to 6

  • 1  2 1/2 pound brisket
  • 2 Tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 Teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 Teaspoon of garlic powder
  • 1 Teaspoon cumin
  • 1/2 Teaspoon pepper
  • 1 Teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 large sweet yellow onion sliced into long strips (about 2 cups)
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 2 (12 oz) bottles of beer (I like to use Shiner Bock or Samuel Adams)
  • 2 (20 oz) bottles of your favorite BBQ sauce (With these Tacos my favorite sauce to use is Head Country)
  • 2 Tablespoons worcestershire sauce
  • 12 flour tortillas
  • Sour Cream (optional)
  • Shredded Cheese (optional)

First in a small bowl mix together your brown sugar, salt, garlic powder, cumin pepper and chili powder. Then rub the sides of your brisket with this spice rub. Then in a large skillet heat 2 tablespoons of oil on medium high heat. When the oil is hot add the brisket and sear it until each side gets golden brown about 2 to 3 minutes a side.

Then get your cock pot ready and pour in your beer, 1 bottle of your BBQ sauce and the Worcestershire. Next add in your seared brisket making sure it is fully covered by the liquid. Then finally add in your sliced onions. Place your crock pot in a safe area. Put the lid on it and turn it on to the low setting. Let it cook on low for eight hours.

Then once your brisket has cooked carefully move it to a large cutting board and discard the onions and cooking liquid. Then slice your brisket on the diagonal against the grain removing any extra fat. Then chop those slices into small bite sized pieces. Pour about 1/2 of a cup of your extra barbecue sauce and mix it together with your chopped brisket.

Then take your tortillas and add in a couple of spoonfuls of the chopped brisket top it with the mango salsa and if you want add some shredded cheese or sour cream.

Mango Salsa

  • 1 mango peeled and diced
  • 3 medium vine tomatoes diced
  • 1/2 cup of finely diced sweet yellow onion (I like Vidalia onions or Texas 1015s)
  • 1/4 cup of cilantro finely chopped
  • 1 lime, juiced
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

First dice your mangos. If you haven’t cooked with mangos before then there are a few tips that you should know. You want to pick a mango that is ripe. You will know it’s a good one by its color. You want to find one that is red and yellow and you want it to be soft to the touch, but not overly mushy. The main thing is stay away from the hard green ones; they aren’t ripe yet. Then you need to peel them before you slice them. The other thing you need to know is that mangos have a hard pith or core that you will not be able to eat or cut through, so I slice around it on all four sides and then dice those large pieces.

Here you can see the hard pith center that I cut around and my diced mangos that are ready for the salsa. As long as you know these tips mangos are easy to cook with.

Next chop your tomatoes, onions and cilantro and mix them together in a medium sized bowl.

Then stir in your lime juice, salt and garlic powder. You can make your salsa ahead if you like and then store it in your fridge until you are ready to serve.

This salsa is so good that I make it as a stand alone dip or I also love eating it as a topping on my Black Bean Soup.

So dive into the fresh flavors of summer with this recipe add a quick side of black beans or if you want something more then try my Avocado and Black Bean Salad.  Add some tortilla chips and some Mexican beer or margaritas and you have all you need for an easy summer party.

Frosting That Makes The Cake

How to Frost A Cake

The creamy sweet taste of homemade frosting is simply the best. It’s what has my girls hovering in the kitchen waiting and begging to get a spoonful or two. But, if you have ever set out to decorate a traditional round birthday cake that sweet delicious frosting can begin to feel like its suddenly not your friend once it comes time to frost those sides of your cake.

Even celebrated pastry chef Christina Tosi stopped frosting the sides of her cakes. After spending hours in culinary school trying to achieve the perfect cake, she said it felt more like “pottery class” than cake decorating. I have certainly had my own moments trying to get those darn sides just right, but I still love frosting. Although I do like making “naked” cakes without frosting the sides, there is still something so pretty and delicious about a frosted cake. So over the years I have learned a few tips and tricks that make decorating those sides much easier.

This tulip cake was something I baked recently for my birthday. Instead of letting the sides of this four layer cake feel like an afterthought I made them the feature of the cake. Why should the top of the cake be the only part that gets decorated? I added fondant cutouts that were inspired by mosaic art and my garden.

So what’s the secret to smooth cake sides? The answer is Viva paper towels and making sure you get your cake layers evenly stacked.

Once my cake has cooled I trim off any unevenness on the top of each layer using a serrated knife. Then I stack them with frosting in-between ending with the flat bottom side of the cake as my top layer. If it’s a tall cake then I make sure it stays stable by using paper lollypop sticks as dowels. You can find these thick paper like dowels at any craft store in the cake or candy aisle. They are easy to cut, food safe and they will keep you layers from shifting on you. The key is to cut them at least a quarter inch shorter than your cake so you can frost over them easily.

Then once you get a final thick layer of frosting as even as you can manage let your cake chill in your fridge for about 10 minutes. Then you can take it out and press the sides of your frosting smooth using a Viva paper towel. Viva’s have a smooth cloth like finish unlike other brands, so when it comes to cakes only Vivas will do.

Here is a picture of me using this trick on a birthday cake I made for my daughter. If you have any stubborn spots especially on the top you can also heat your knife or separated spatula with hot water. Once the metal is hot quickly wipe it dry and the watch as the heat helps smooth your frosting.

Then any other imperfections can be covered with fun fondant cut outs. Pre-made and even pre-colored fondant is easy to find so add your own artistic touch to the sides of your cake. I happen to be a fan of polka dots. I used different sized spice bottle tops to cut these dots above.

Another pattern I love is squares cut and placed on an angle to look like a harlequin or argyle pattern.

An early cake I made before I knew much about food photography.

If fondant is more effort than you have time for then use sprinkles, shaved chocolate, finely chopped nuts or crushed candy.

They add a layer of flavor and texture, while dressing up those tricky cake sides. Because the best part of any homemade cake is eating it. Buttercream is too delicious to let a little thing like those sides of the cake get in the way.

So bring on the buttercream because your frosting skills don’t have to be perfect to make a pretty cake.