Saturday, June 29, 2013

Exploring the Downtown Cincinnati Food Scene

There is a part of downtown Cincinnati called Over-the-Rhine, or OTR as locals say, that feels more like NYC than Cincinnati.   Ok, maybe I'm stretchy a little, not quite NYC, but definitely a little more hip than you expect in southern Ohio.  It is an area very rich in architectural history, in fact is it the most intact urban historic district in the United States.  It was originally a thriving community settled by Germans in the nineteenth century but with time and suburban sprawl it fell on hard times and became a place full of abandon buildings, poverty, and crime.  Since the early 2000's millions have been pumped back into revitalizing OTR and little by little it is making a beautiful come back.  There is still a ways to go, but it now has some of the hottest restaurants in town and a very cool, hip vibe.  On Saturday, we went to one of our favorite brunch spots, Taste of Belgium, with the boys and Payton (our neighbor/almost like a daughter).  Afterwards, we headed to Findlay Market, the oldest running farmer's market in Ohio.  It is foodie central and I'm embarrassed to say we had never been. I was always a little wimpy about the location.. We grew up in Cincy, so the OTR revitalization has taken us longer to get to used to because we know how it used to be, but I can honestly say, Findlay Market knocked my socks off.  It is a part in-door, part out-door, part booth, part actual store front, market with every ethnicity of food represented.  There was live music,  all walks of life, a true visual/sensory overload.  Really incredible.  We're going back soon and we are going back hungry!!

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Chocolate + Raspberry + Vanilla Buttercream Layer Cake

On June 9th, Jimmy turned the big 4-0!  Oh, I had grand plans!  First was to copy my friend Ashley's 40 gifts idea, that she pulled off so effortlessly for her lucky husband. (Over achiever, hmph... :))  I bought 4 presents and darn near exceeded my budget. Ok, really 5 gifts, but one was a pair of sunglasses for me. (I'm terrible.  To my credit I was buying Jimmy a pair and as a result I got $50 off a second pair.  Sucker for a deal.)   Then in a last minute brainstorm I was going to email 40 friends, family members, and colleagues, have them send me birthday wishes that I could print up and insert into 40 helium filled balloons so that when Jimmy came down the stairs in the morning of his big day, bam, surprise!  I only got as far as posting his birthday on Facebook (he doesn't have an account) because I am friends with his friends, old college roommates, and such, so throughout the day I'd say "so and so wishes you a happy birthday". (yes, lame)

BUT!!! Lest you think I did not redeem myself, I did!  I made a mighty fine and fancy dinner (beef tenderloin with a Parmesan, basil, homemade mayonnaise, garlic mashed potatoes, and my secret (really my Mum's) caramelized carrots and shallots, with plenty of Champagne and a really sinful chocolate cake as the crowning finale!  The way to a man's heart, right?

Truth is I really stink at adult birthday's, especially with this one because I felt a certain amount of pressure to deliver some epic production in honor of such a milestone birthday, you know, to welcome him to middle age and all.  In the end though, Jimmy had a really fabulous day.  Porche show, gifts he really liked (Or pretended to.  Just kidding.  I did well.  But a vintage Porche would have been better!  Maybe for the next milestone birthday -- 50?!) and lots of love from his most adoring fans!

The cake was a twist on my favorite chocolate cake recipe. And it was ridiculous.  Ri-dic-u-lous!  It isn't much more effort thanks to store bought raspberry preserves, and it could be made a day in advance (just store, covered, in the fridge and let it sit at room temperature an hour before serving.)  I can hardly stand to look at these pictures and not get an intense craving for another slice.  It's definitely celebration worthy.

Chocolate + Raspberry + Vanilla Buttercream Layer Cake

2 cups sugar
1 3/4 cup flour
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa {I like Ghirardelli}
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 eggs
1 cup milk {I've used 1% and whole with equal success}
1/2 cup canola oil
2 tsp good quality vanilla
1 cup boiling water

Preheat oven to 350.
Prepare batter according to directions.

Butter 4 round cake pans. Place a parchment sheet, cut to fit, in the bottom of each pan and then butter the parchment.  Flour the sides and bottoms of each pan.  Parchment may seem like overkill, it's not.  Trust me. It will make your life so much easier.  These layer are thinner so you want them to come out without any resistance or they may break.

Add 1.5 cups of batter to each pan and make sure they are level.  Bake for about 12 minutes until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.  Let cool for 5-10 minutes, then run knife along sides and invert cakes onto a cooling rack to finish cooling completely.  I left the parchment on until I was ready to assemble the layers.

Vanilla Buttercream
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
8 oz cream cheese from fridge
1 tsp vanilla
4 cups powdered sugar
4-6 TBS heavy cream

Blend butter and cream cheese and vanilla till combined.
Add powdered sugar blend on low till combined, increase speed to medium and beat till fluffy.
Slowly add cream to desired spreadability.
Beat till fluffy.

Raspberry Filling
13 oz jar of Bonne Maman raspberry preserves (don't substitute, it's the best)

Chocolate Buttercream 
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
8 oz cream cheese from fridge
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa
4 cups powdered sugar
4-6 TBS heavy cream

Blend butter and cream cheese till combined.
Add vanilla and cocoa, blend till combined
Add powdered sugar blend on low till combined, increase speed to medium and beat till fluffy.
Slowly add cream to desired spreadability.
Beat till fluffy.

Assembly... Place one layer of cake on a cake stand, top with a generous amount of vanilla butter cream.  You won't use all of it, but more than half.   Save the rest in the mixing bowl for when you make the chocolate buttercream, you will use it all up by the end.  Top with the 2nd layer of cake and spread with raspberry preserves.  Use the whole jar but don't quite spread to the edge, leave about a 1 inch border around the perimeter.  The jam will spread a little when you add the third layer.  Top with the 3rd layer and then spread with chocolate buttercream.  Top with the 4th layer and then ice the rest of the cake.  You could top with raspberries and chocolate shaving too.  There was no room on mine with ALL the candles! Ha! :)  

Monday, June 17, 2013

Summer Road Trip to the "Big City"

Finally, school is out for both boys!  Thursday was the first real day of summer vacation and we spent it driving to Chicago {aka "the Big City," as my nephew, Carter, calls it} to visit my brother and his family.  I promise the boys had an absolutely fantastic time with their cousins, don't be deceived by their delightful smiling faces in the above photo.  Ha ha!!  I took over 600 photos and would love to share a glimpse of our time together here on the blog.  Thanks for looking.

The beaches along the North Shore of Chicago are really beautiful! We had such fun playing in the sand and the boys had fun testing their courage and tolerance for the freezing water.

After lunch and ice cream, the Dads came back from golfing and we returned to beach.  This time Charlie and Carter quickly ditched their clothes and played fearlessly, with abandon.  Cold water?  What cold water?    I, however, went nowhere near the water.  I sat warm and happy on a towel snapping pictures!  I'm wimpy until it is really hot out!

{they sat like this for ages and screamed each time a wave rolled in.}

On Saturday we ventured into the Big City for little shopping, eating and sight seeing.  My boys thought the train ride was pretty cool and by the end our day downtown they were masters at hailing cabs and could tell you the proper toppings for a Chicago Style dog! {I ate my first! It was so good!}

{We stopped at the farmer's market by the train station while we waited for our train to arrive.}

{Do-Rite Donuts.  If in Chicago you must go.  You must order a vanilla bean glazed. Period.  I'm still dreaming about it. }

{I had one store that I wanted to visit.  We are in the market for a new family room sofa.  I have been leaning toward one from Quatrine after several friends raved about theirs, but I didn't want to buy a couch without sitting on it first, especially when it costs a pretty penny.  My gang clearly made themselves right at home.  And they tried every sofa in the showroom!  They didn't all get a thumbs up...}

I thank my brother and his wife, Toni, so much for opening up their beautiful home to us for several days and planning such fun outings so our children can make really special memories together!  They had the best time and look forward to visiting each summer!!  They think their uncle is pretty cool too...

We headed back to Ohio on Father's Day {just what every Dad wants for Father's Day - 5 hours of driving!!  In a car with two kids!}  But before we hit the highway we drove a little further north to Lake Forest to explore a new town and grab a yummy brunch {Truthfully, I was really craving another Do-Rite donut!}.  Lake Forest is absolutely charming!  And the homes {THE HOMES!} are pretty spectacular!

Till next summer!  We love you, Chicago!