parties

St. Patrick’s Day with Friends

Another year, another great St. Patricks day.  This year I decided to up the food and decoration game big time.  I am not going to lie – this is a pretty prep heavy, time consuming line up, so make sure to have some help.  I imported the best kind from Boston, my sister in law Sara.  I definitely wouldn’t have pulled it off without her – not sure if she has forgiven me yet for nearly killing her by blowing up so many balloons but as you can see it was totally worth it!

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I had seen these kinds of wall ballon displays plenty of times on Pinterest but always figured it was too much of a hassle.  Turns out it is pretty simple (just give yourself time to blow them up!) if you use gaffers tape.  I ordered a bunch of different color balloons and then blew them up (with help) to different sizes to add variety.  Then we just started taping them to the wall, stepping back, adding in more, until we got the desired look.  I had the gold letters left over from the Masters Party and voila!  Everyone loved it and ensured that my guests took lots of pictures.  Of course there had to be a favor (no decanters this year – sorry friends).  I went super simple and did cello bags with Rolos and rainbow ribbon – instant pot o’ gold.  

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On to the important stuff – the whiskey.  Make sure to stock up big time.  We are lucky as our local Costco carries large bottles of Jameson but this is also a place where you can get your guests involved – ask everyone to bring their favorite and you can taste and compare them.  Either way make sure to have plenty and shot glasses as well.  I found these adorable ones at my favorite custom online shop For Your Party.  

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After all that whiskey and Gunniess you are going to need a good spread.  I have found after many many St. Patrick’s parties that the key is heavy food to keep people standing.  I always make the infamous Ina Herb Dip – set it out with carrots and celery to make the Irish flag.  

Herb Dip 

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This year I added a hot dip as well because my girlfriend Erikka lent me her mini crock pot.  I have no idea how I don’t already have one of these – they are perfect for keeping dips hot and so cute!  Pretzels are a natural for cheese dip but really you could put this stuff on anything and it would taste good.

Warm Beer and Cheese Dip 

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Potatoes are obvious – not sure if my husband would come to the party if we didn’t have them.  A couple of years ago we went to the Irish Embassy’s St. Patrick’s Day party and they had these mini stuffed potatoes that were to die for so I wanted to replicate those.  As I said these are really labor intensive, but the good news is you can make them in advance and then warm them in the oven before your guests arrive.

Tiny Twice Baked Potatoes

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If you have read my previous St. Patrick’s posts you know that this rosemary scented brown butter soda bread is a staple.  It makes 2 loaves but it goes fast so you may want to make a double batch – serve with Irish butter of course.

Brown Butter Soda Bread

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Cause this all wasn’t enough I decided to make mini pot pies using the Beef and Guinness Short Ribs I made earlier in the month and froze. Then all you need to do is use a mini muffin pan and frozen pie crusts like Giada does in this mini pot pie recipe.

Last but not least you need to add something sweet to the menu so I made Irish Coffee Bars. They are delicious with whiskey! I hope you have a great St. Patrick’s Day

Chewy Irish Coffee Bars

ACC Parties: Another St. Patricks Day

Another year, another St. Patrick’s Day party at the Costello household.  This year I wanted to really kick it up a notch because my sister in law Sara is going to be in town.  We all know how much I love to give party favors and when I saw a set of glass decanters on Everything But The House (that site is dangerous – you have been warned) I knew they would make epic take home gifts.  They worked out to only be a couple of dollars each and now all of my friends remember this party when they look at their bar cart.

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This is a party I have thrown many times before (9 years with my husband Patrick so at least that many times!) so I have collected a good amount of green gear and a menu that I don’t play with too much.  People get pretty wedded to the dishes I make but I try to mix it up a little to keep people on their toes.  I made Ina’s herb dip that is a must at all of my parties but presented it as the Irish flag.

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Then of course a massive cheese board with lots of yummy Irish cheeses and personalized napkins with Patrick’s favorite Irish toast.  Lots of folks ask where I order my napkins from – For Your Party is hands down the best site I have found.  The quality is so good, the prices are totally reasonable and they have tons of options to pick from.

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I swear even the most casual party instantly feels more classy with special touches like those.  The other dinner size napkins are from Caspari and the cute flatware buckets are a Target dollar section find.

 

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As you may know from my previous St. Patrick’s post this Brown Butter Soda Bread with rosemary is a must have.  I had to make 4 loaves to accommodate the crowd!

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Apologies about the pictures of the food – Irish food may be satisfying but it’s not all that pretty!  I went with Beef and Guinness Short Ribs that worked beautifully in my slow cooker to stay warm all party long.  Your could of course do my Patrick’s Irish Stew instead.

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I actually make Ina’s Sauteed Cabbage a lot in the winter when there are not may fun options in the produce section.  It’s incredible what a little bit of butter will do to make this hated vegetable a winning side dish!

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And of course you can’t have St. Patrick’s Day without potatoes – for a twist on your usual mashed potatoes try this Smashed Red Potatoes recipe.  I love how the creme fraiche gives them a little tang to cut through the rich meat on the side.

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This Chocolate Whiskey Cake from the New York Times is RICH!  Make sure to have coffee and some ice cream or whipped cream with it on the side – I didn’t and it was a bit much.  The leftovers make for a great morning after breakfast though!

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After all that food, Jameson and Guinness you are definitely going to need a cat nap….Happy St. Patricks Day!

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ACC Parties: Oktoberfest

I kid you not – the German outfit koozies I got at World Market is 100% the reason why we had an Oktoberfest party.  How could I not???  Also the idea of a fall party with beer and pretzels was too good to pass up.  This is definitely the kind of party that is perfect for folks that don’t love to cook, as most of the food on this menu is already prepared.  So take your time with displaying the food and enjoying time with friends.  To get people in the mood at my party they were greeted with a mini pumpkin and beer coaster display that I had seen on Pinterest.  I basically stole a whole bunch of random cardboard coasters from bars leading up to the party – shhhh!

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I lit lots of candles and set out flowers in fall colors.  Ideally we would have been outside but it was a grey and yucky day.  Sometimes I think that is more fun because people really hunker in to have a good time.  A couple of my friends have been to beer fests were they give you pretzel necklaces to clean your palate between beer tastings (also presumably to help keep you sober!).  I bought a bag of mini pretzels and just strung them on grosgrain ribbon long enough to put over everyone’s heads.  It was a great favor and helped keep the party going.

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German food can be pretty heavy so I wanted to have a mix of snacky type things as well as a full meal if my guests were so inclined.  On my kitchen island I set out Ina’s famous Green Herb Dip along with endive spears and celery.  Make two batches of this dip – it goes fast!

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It’s not a party without cheese, so I set a whole bunch out on my epic cutting board.  A mix of gouda, cheddar and blue cheese along side some sliced salamis, hearty crackers and grapes give this cheese board a rustic fall vibe.

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You cant have Oktoberfest without beer and once September hits there will be plenty of options in the stores.  I went with a bunch of mixed cases, some actually German and some just fall craft beers.  Make sure to have plenty of water as well (I did a large container so people could serve themselves) and a couple of bottles of wine in case you have some non beer drinkers (!!!).

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Pretzel necklaces was not going to be enough, especially when I live near The Pretzel Bakery (OMG OMG OMG).  So I ordered up a whole mess of them and kept them warm in the oven.  To display them I used a pasta drying rack that has dried exactly zero strands of pasta but was PERFECT for this!

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Stock up on lot of mustard, preferably in a couple of flavors.  Normally I would have put the mustard in ramekins but lets be honest,  it is way more satisfying to squeeze mustard on a pretzel for some reason.

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Oktoberfest means bratwurst so I bought a ton of them and simmered them in beer first – then just throw them on the grill when you are ready.  Set out buns and store bought sauerkraut (because no one ever has needed their house to smell like sauerkraut)  and you are in business.

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I also made a fantastic German potato salad from the New York Times and set out good old potato chips to round out the meal.  But wait – no dessert?  Of course not and what better than German Chocolate Cupcakes.  Or cut out a step and just buy some delicious cupcakes.  That would mean all you have to make is dip, potato salad and grill some bratwurst.  Easy right?  Throw this party to usher in fall or just to justify lederhosen for a beer!

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Southern Fried Chicken Dinner

As I may have mentioned before, my mom’s desert island food is fried chicken (as is mine which would be really convenient if we ended up stranded on the same island) so in honor of her birthday today I thought I would post a menu all centered around my Fried Chicken Perfected – this has your weekend plans written all over it.

For this comforting, Southern themed meal I was inspired to use my vintage oyster cans as decoration.  I have been collecting these for several years – they are a symbol of the oyster industry that used to dominate the Chesapeake bay region.  I have them all over my house year round but they act as great vases for hydrangeas that I gathered from my front yard.  Since they were the center piece, and its almost summer, I figured just pull out all of my nautical gear and run with it.  How adorable is this row boat salt cellar??

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Paper placemats are my jam and great for a casual dinner party like this – I have several nautical themed ones (#ihaveaproblem) like this or these rope ones.  I used these rope napkin rings we got on Nantucket and the rattan chargers remind me of their famous baskets.  Seersucker napkins top off the preppy vibe.

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Curried Cashews

To start with I just wanted a couple of things to nibble on since the dinner is pretty heavy.  These curried cashews are easy to throw together and great with a beer or glass of rose.

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Broccoli Slaw 

I make this broccoli slaw from Smitten Kitchen ALL THE TIME.  It is so healthy and so addictive.  People will think you are nuts, shaving down whole heads of broccoli but they will be converts once they have tried it.  The dried cranberries give a little nod to my New England upbringing at this Southern meal and the slaw is a nice crunchy foil to the fried chicken’s tenderness.

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Fried Chicken Perfected

I can’t say better things about this fried chicken that hasn’t already been said by my friends.  Years of research and lots of mediocre fried chicken (which lets admit is still pretty good) led me to the perfect recipe that I share with you.  Eat it and be happy.

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Smoked Gouda Mac and Cheese

Probably the second most requested thing I make right after the fried chicken so why not pair them together?  The Southern tradition of mac and cheese with fried chicken has been around forever and for good reason.  The velvety cheese sauce some times picks up crunchy bits of the chicken skin on your plate and then you are in heaven.

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Bourbon Peaches with Ice Cream and Candied Pecans

You need a sweet treat at the end of this meal and a nice simple fruit dessert is just the ticket.  I make these bourbon peaches just like I do in my pancake bar post – sauté them with a little bit of butter, sugar and bourbon.  You can use frozen peaches or fresh ones if they are ripe enough.  Either way paired with vanilla ice cream and candied nuts (I had Southern appropriate pecans on hand) they are delicious.

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So happy birthday mommy and I hope you all celebrate this weekend with fried chicken!

Dining Al Fresco

I was just on Nantucket, eating in the lovely back garden of Met on Main, and was so inspired by their blue and white decor that I thought I would pull together some fun pieces with a similar look (stay tuned I will do a longer post on my favorite spots on the island soon).  Slightly nautical, a little french and all style these pieces will have your friend begging to come over all summer!

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Peacoat Beer Garden Set from World Market – These french bistro chairs are all the rage.  I spent the better part of 2014 trying to find some that weren’t ridiculously expensive and finally broke down and got some.  I love mine but these are even better paired with the long dining table and benches.  Our outdoor dining set is from World Market and the quality is really high.

Grey Rattan Outdoor Lantern from Target – I love the grey, almost driftwood like treatment and these would look equally good inside.

Acrylic Drink Dispenser from Crate and Barrel –  When dining outside you don’t want to spend the whole time running inside and out getting people drinks.  I actually have two – one for water to keep guests hydrated and one for a signature cocktail.  This acrylic version is great because it won’t get too heavy when full.

Galvanized Metal Tiered Stand from Pottery Barn –  This can hold drinks, snacks, napkins, shucked oysters – pretty much anything.

Globe String Lights from Amazon –  The easiest way to transform your back yard into a bistro are strong lights – make sure to pick up extra bulbs as I notice we lose a couple every year to wind etc.

Acrylic Wine Glasses from Sur La Table –  I have these glasses and love the way they mimic real glass goblets.  They are great for wine but also for our drink of the summer, the aperol spritz.  Best of all you never have to worry about breaking them!

Dottie Aqua Acrylic Drinking Glasses from Crate and Barrel –  They look like delicate french glasses but are ideal for summer cocktails on the deck.

Rope Melamine Platter from Pottery Barn –  A big platter is a must for outside dining.  Fill it up with grilled veggies and steak and everyone can eat off of it family style.  I love the deep blue and the slight nautical edging.

Indigo Bar Melamine Dinnerware from Pier One –  Can you believe these dishes are plastic?  They look like hand thrown porcelain but are super sturdy – if you buy this weekend they are even on sale!

Chilewitch Mosaic Blue Placemat from Williams Sonoma –  Chilewitch is made for outdoor living.  These woven plastic table “linens” are a little pricey but will last forever and just need to be wiped off.  I use them all the time inside and out.  This pattern almost exactly matches the benches on Nantucket!

Bistro Outdoor Flatware from Pottery Barn –  Don’t hand your guests a plastic knife and expect them to cut through BBQ chicken!  Yes you can use your regular flatware but why when this bistro set matches so perfectly?  Better yet you can keep it in the caddy recommended here and be ready to go anytime the mood strikes to eat outside.

Claude Napkin Set from Anthropolgie –  Fun, punchy napkins brighten up this look and give it a little boho beach look.  Paper napkins are just going to blow away anyways so give your guests a real napkin.

Acaica Flatware Caddy from Target –  Caddies like this are great for a casual look outside. Keep it stocked and just plunk down in the middle of the table for friends to help themselves.

Happy Memorial Day Weekend!!!

 

 

 

A Cinco Taco Party

Happy almost Cinco de Mayo!  I love, love, love, that it is falling on a Friday this year since I already do Fiesta Friday.  It also marks the 2 year anniversary of A Capitol Contessa being born, so lots to celebrate.  If you want to kick your celebration up a notch there are some cute ideas here on how to make your taco night extra special.

First up the margs – those are a given but how cute would it be to serve them in Patron bottles?  The mini bottles are sort of pricey but you can use the tequila inside and then just wash them out and reuse the bottles anytime you want to fiesta.

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You could serve my spicy grapefruit margaritas from my very first post in honor of the anniversary (skip the salt air though as I am not sure how you would get it into these bottles).  If you are pressed for time, I like to cheat with this skinny margarita mix from Williams Sonoma.  I usually HATE margarita mixes because they taste super fake and have way too much acid but this one is great – I just doctor it up with a couple squeezes of fresh lime juice and you are good to go.  Now we need to talk decor – Mexican themed of course.  I like to throw down some serapes as table covers (they are excellent for hiding salsa spills).  I also found these colorful votive candle holders at the dollar section of Target – definitely look around close to Cinco de Mayo and you can find some cute items that you can pull out every Fiesta Friday.

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Since this is a special party I always think favors are the way to go.  You can always do mini tequilas but I found these incredible bags of sea salt for margaritas in beautiful handwoven bags.  A really nice touch and something your guests can use over and over again at their own homes.

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Ok on to the menu – the most important part!  You need a great starter to go with those adorable margaritas so try my queso and poblano dip.  I also set out regular salsa – I love Rick Bayless’s Chipolte Salsa, it’s the only jarred salsa I will eat.

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Then on to the tacos – I went grilled chicken for ease but you could also make my carnitas or my Carne Asada tacos.  I just simply marinate chicken breasts for an hour or so in lime juice, olive oil and grated garlic and then throw in the grill.  Cause really it’s all about the toppings right?

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I like to have as many toppings as possible and lots of them are things you already have in your house.  If all the queso and salsa aren’t gone from earlier set those out for the tacos.  Then chopped red onion, grated cheese (jack is my fave), some sautéed peppers and onions for a fajita type feel, sour cream, chopped tomatoes, shredded lettuce…and on and on – the limit is your imagination!  I had some yummy mole sauce from a local Mexican market that I threw out there – those places are gold mines of inspiration.  Also make sure to set out hot sauces (we have maybe thirty), heat up some store bought tortillas and you have taco night.

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A great side for tacos is my tex mex quinoa salad as it’s a one bowl wonder that has veggies, beans, and quinoa all in a tart vinaigrette.  Also good would be my mexican beans and greens or my mexican creamed onions.

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To finish off the evening make life easy – grab some mango or strawberry popsicles from the store and call them paletas (Mexican popsicles) – especially good served in a glass of mezcal as a night cap!

Thank you to everyone for making A Capitol Contessa even more popular in its second year as in its first.  We had over 7,000 visitors!!!  It really is a joy for me to share my cooking and entertaining adventures with the world.  Raise a margarita and have a great Cinco de Mayo/Fiesta Friday!

ACC Parties: A Spring Menu for Easter

Easter in my family is a big deal and definitely my 2nd favorite holiday (sorry nothing beats Christmas!).  There is something about the little chickies, the pastel candy and all those spring ingredients that make me so happy.  Even if you don’t celebrate Easter the beginning of spring is a great time to gather your family and sit down to a nice meal that celebrates the best parts of the season.  Here is a suggested menu that has a lot of moving parts but actually very little needs to be done the day of, leaving you free to hunt Easter eggs and binge on candy with the fam.  I wanted the table setting to be whimsical, especially with kids in attendance.  I found these super cute carrot utensil holders at the dollar section of Target and paired it with our Vera Wang wedding china, set on chargers that sort of mimic an Easter basket.  Glitter eggs scattered over my homemade seersucker tablecloth and bam, spring is alive.

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I don’t like to have giant flowers getting in the way of conversation so instead I opted for some thyme from my garden staggered down the center of the table in white pots.  How cute is that cabbage serving dish?  I found it for $4 at Home Goods the week before Easter so I knew it had to make it to the table.  I set up our kitchen island as a appetizer and drinks station with a floral Cynthia Rowley tablecloth (also Home Goods!) and some baby’s breath mixed with bells of Ireland for flowers.

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Cheese and Chartucherie Board

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No party is complete without one!  Since both of the aps I was actually making were veggie based I knew I had to get some cheese in here somehow.  Just pick a nice selection and throw some dried apricots or grapes on the plate to jazz it up.

Chilled Sweet Pea Soup with Mint and Cream

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Nothing is more springy that sweet peas (no one needs you know you get em out of a bag!).  This soup is simple and can be made up to two days in advance.  I served it in cute little glasses for sipping but discovered that the texture really wasn’t ideal for that so I would suggest providing spoons for people to eat the soup with instead.  It’s a super light appetizer that adds a nice green punch to the mix.

Za’atar Spiced Beet Dip with Goat Cheese and Hazelnuts

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I had been dying to make this dip since the first time I spotted it in Food and Wine Magazine all the way back in 2012 – goes to show how many recipes I have socked away!.  It’s totally beautiful but I knew it would also be delicious, being the brain child of Yotam Ottolenghi, of Jersuleam (and this post) fame.  Everyone loved the earthy complex flavor and of course the color!

Lamb Kebobs with Minted Yogurt Sauce

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Lamb is the quintessential Easter dish but with grilled lamb kebobs you can make life much easier.  Marinate the lamb up to two days before and then just throw on the grill as you are having appetizers.  I love that it doesn’t hog the oven like a big lamb roast and it also encourages your guests to go outside and enjoy the spring, keeping the grill master company.  This version by Ina is so good though I skipped her sauce and went for my standard mint and yogurt sauce found here.

Make Ahead Polenta

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As described in this post, make ahead polenta can be really done with any kind of polenta recipe you have by just increasing the liquid content.  This was a great side for the lamb and didn’t require me standing over a hot pot frantically stirring the polenta – it was even a hit with the kiddos!

Roasted Asparagus

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Just toss spears with olive oil, salt and pepper and put them on a baking sheet.  During the last 15 minutes of the polenta put the baking sheet in the oven, toss once and voila!  A nice crunchy veggie side with almost zero effort.

Chocolate Cake with Vanilla Buttercream Frosting

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Ok so here is where most of the effort for the meal came in.  I realized when I was planning the menu that I had so many make ahead items that I didn’t really have much to do “day of.”  That can sometimes spell disaster because then I set and reset the table, putter around driving my husband crazy (and myself) before our guests arrive.  So I made an easy layer cake and decided to try my hand at the basket weave frosting on top.  I followed this tutorial from Wilton – it was actually pretty easy once I got the hang of it.  It does take a while and my hand was sort of cramped into a claw for a bit but you can do this first thing in the AM and just keep the cake at room temp (or in the fridge if it’s really warm in your house).  I also got  beautiful edible dried flowers from Terrian and scattered them on top.  I have to say I was really proud of this one but if you don’t have the time or energy a store-bought dessert or even this cake without the fancy pants frosting would be delicious.  Happy Spring to everyone!

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