My Cake Decorating Gallery

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Strawberry-Kiwi Salad with Basil

Well it's time again to participate in the Weekend Cookbook Challenge from "i like to cook." This food blog challenge has an excellent purpose - to get you to use those old cookbooks that are taking up space, which you never use! This is my second time participating and the theme this month was Salads. Here is the . WCC round-up for June by Mel's Diner. I first thought of a typical lettuce salad, and there are tons of options with that. I had a hankering for a pear, sugary pecan and goat cheese salad but I didn't have a great recipe in any of my books that I liked. So, I just searched for all salads. This is a really wide spectrum!

I have one cookbook from 1995, some kind of Christmas collection - and they even had jello molds as a "salad." I was tempted, just for the ridiculous-ness of it .. but maybe I'll have to find a Retro-Cookbook food blog challenge or start one myself. Have you ever visited the hillarious website that seriously analyzes some of the disturbing food photos on 1974 WeightWatchers recipe cards? This is a must-read!

Many of my cookbooks are boxed up (I need to install a shelf!) but I thumbed through several -
and finally found my recipe for this challenge in the Cooking Light book. The idea of using some fresh fruit, which is wonderfully in season now, and putting a savory twist on it - with balsamic and basil - really sounded interesting. I decided to go with it because it's nothing I've ever had nor would have thought to try on my own.

I am so happy I tried it - it's totally delicious, refreshing, slightly tangy, slightly creamy, and most of all - fresh! From the first juicy bite all the way down to the last spoonful of dressing. I'd definitely serve this in cute little cups on the side for a summer dinner party, or in a big bowl at a BBQ. I will be making this again, for SURE. ..And will be looking for more uses for this white balsamic vinegar that I now have. :)

Strawberry-Kiwi Salad with Basil

From Cooking Light "best of" cookbook

1/4 cup half-and-half
2 tbsp white balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp sugar
1/4 tsp salt
3 peeled kiwifruit, each cut into 6 wedges
2 cups quartered strawberries (about a pint's worth)
2 tbsp finely chopped fresh basil

Combine 1st 4 ingredients in your bowl. Add in the kiwis and strawberries and toss well. Cover and chill for 1 hour. Stir in basil just before serving.

This made 4 servings (1 serving = 3/4 cups). Also, each serving is only like 90 calories. YUM.
If you're looking for something different and are feeling kinda fruity, try this recipe!

Summer Berry Smoothie

I am so excited that summer is here... all these fresh fruits in the markets have been tantalizing my eyes and making their way into my kitchen. It's taking some effort to not just eat fruit for every meal! For breakfast, I thought - hey I haven't had a smoothie in the while. The Husband is gone, so I felt a little bad knowing he'd be jealous, but... there are overripe bananas... lots of berries. The conditions are perfect!

Smoothies are really easy (with a blender) and you can make all sorts of flavors. I think a good base for any smoothie is a mixture of ripe bananas, a dash of milk, and a dash of juice. On top of that, you just need to add any fruit you can think of! It will be delicious.

We love bananas. I like them with little brown spots or even more ripe than that, without any touch of green. The Husband likes them green! I thought it was crazy but it turns out I keep running into these green banana people EVERYWHERE. Which are you? :) Still, to cook with - for instance in a banana bread or in a smoothie - ripe bananas are tops! I read somewhere that if you notice your bananas are on their last legs but you have no immediate use for them, just peel them and pop them in a freezer back and they will keep in the freezer. This is perfect for the base of a smoothie - it's already cold!

Here's what I had for breakfast.

Summer Berry Smoothie
(I'd say triple, but I really only put in 2 or 3 strawberries just for fun. hehe)
Makes 2 servings

1 very ripe banana
2 cups fresh* fruit (I used 1 of each: fresh raspberries and blueberries, plus 3 strawberries)
* Frozen can also be used, just watch for added sugar if you're trying to avoid that. This is a great use of frozen fruit!
1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup juice (I used pomegranate blueberry, one of my favorites. Orange, apple, cranberry,... they all work here)
1/8 to 1/4 cup granulated splenda until the smoothie is at your sweetness level (sugar obviously works here too!)
4 or 5 ice cubes

In a blender, add all ingredients and blend to desired consistency. Add more splenda if needed.
Pour into a glass and enjoy!!! What a fabulous way to start the day - healthy, too.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

A No-Worry Delicious Summer Menu

I'm not sure why I felt like spoiling The Husband, but he has been talking about a craving for ribs for a few weeks. Finally, I planned on a special dinner that I would prepare while he was out fishing. I think this would be a perfect menu for a summer dinner party and can be easily adjusted to serve many people, though my portions were for four. See my posts below for the details on each menu item:

Everyone loves good ribs, and finally we have a trusted recipe that results in fall-off-the-bone tender ribs every time. It's fool-proof!

For a tasty and particularly unique potato dish, try Hasselback potatoes. I am looking for a recipe that is similar to how Marios does their potatoes, and came across some tasty Hasselback potato recipes, so I combined a few of them and we really enjoyed the results!

Finally, for a veggie - I made veggie skewers using yellow squash slices, red bell pepper chunks, sweet vidalia onions and mushroom caps. Just drizzle with olive oil and throw on the grill. Dress with fresh herbs, salt, pepper, and more olive oil if desired! A steamed fresh veggie like green beans or something else from your summer garden would also be a nice compliment for the two other rich and zippy dishes.

Last but not least, for dessert we have my mom's strawberry pie. This is an incredibly easy dessert to make and it features fresh strawberries which are finally in season in Michigan!

Mom's Strawberry (Cream) Pie

I've had this little dessert several times as it is a favorite of my mom's to take to BBQs and family gatherings. It features fresh strawberries and the creaminess of cheesecake, without any of the work! This is really simple, and if you wanted to make it for a party, you could certainly do a better job on slicing and arranging the berries in a pretty way! I just went with a rustic look.

My mom calls it a Strawberry Pie but there's clearly a layer of cream in there, so .. that's where the this name came from:

Mom's Strawberry (Cream) Pie
This is for an 8x8 or 9x9 square pie dish or 8 or 9in circle pie pan. Double it up if you want to cover a 9x13.

1 pillsbury ready-to-bake pie crust (half of a package), softened
1 8oz package of Philly cream cheese, softened
1 cup powdered sugar
2 packages of strawberries, or I imagine 4 or 5 cups - sliced or halved - however you'd like them.
3 tablespoons of strawberry or raspberry preserves

Yes - only five ingredients! See how easy this is?

Pre-heat the oven to 450. Grease your dish with butter (may not be necessary but this made for easy cutting for me) and place into your pie dish and bake as directed on Pillsbury package - 9 to 11 minutes or until lightly brown. Let cool completely.

Meanwhile, whip the cream cheese with the powdered sugar (maybe add a little at a time to make this easier). Taste to make sure it's sweet and not too tangy - add more sugar if necessary. This is also a good time to add some vanilla, which I had planned but apparently forgot - so feel free to flavor this sweet cream as you want.

When the crust is cooled, spread the sweet cream over the bottom of your pan so that you have a cream layer of 1/4in or slightly more or less - this isn't rocket science and I didn't break out the ruler or anything. Arrange your sliced strawberries on top of the cream layer, in some sort of an attractive fashion (or not).

Heat the preserves in a microwave safe bowl for a few seconds until it is warm and runny. Brush or spoon the preserves on top of the berries to give them a nice glaze.

This is an easy little pie, and it tastes like summer! It would be delicious with all kinds of fruits and berries, so get creative (or not)!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Hasselback Potatoes: Make Potatoes Pretty!

I was thinking about a tasty new potato dish to try and I had Mario's of Detroit stuck in my head. I remember a sliced-up buttery delicious potato with a crisp bottom (though looking back at my post and the pictures, maybe this was in a dream?), so I tried doing a search for such a thing. I'm not sure if it's the same, but nonetheless, I came across recipes for Hasselback Potatoes. It just had a nice ring to it and I decided to take what I learned from 3 or 4 recipes and try it out for myself.

I think these potatoes are very tasty, zippy, and very attractive - so they'd be a nice match-up with a steak for a fancy dinner, or for entertaining.

Hasselback Potatoes
(without the breadcrumbs and cheese.. so if those are required, then call these "pretty fan potatoes")

8 potatoes (can use russet or I used golds that you didn't have to peel)
4 tbsp of butter
1 tbsp onion soup powder / boullion
4 tbsp of chicken stock
2 tsp paprika
3 cloves of garlic

If you use russets, peel the potatoes. You may want to keep the potatoes in a bowl of cold water to keep them from browning, as you're slicing the other potatoes. Since I used the golds that didn't need peeling, I skipped this step!

Working with 1 potato at a time, cut a thin slice on the "bottom" of it so it will rest flat on your cutting board. This is the most time consuming part, but what makes them so pretty: Cut potato crosswise into 1/8th inch or-so cuts, making sure not to cut all the way through. I used the chopstick method but you can also use spoons - lay one chopstick on each side of the potato, and as you cut, your knife will stop at the height of the chopstick. You just have to be extra careful at the ends of the potato which angle up from the counter. I thought of taking a picture of this process, but was too lazy, to tell you the truth.

Grease the inside of a baking pan with butter, and then melt 2 tablespoons of butter and brush on to each potato, on all sides. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste (I was VERY generous with my pepper grinder), and sprinkle with the onion boullion/soup base, and paprika. Splash the chicken stock into the bottom of the pan.

Cover tightly with foil and bake until just tender, 40 to 45 minutes. Remove foil and bake for another 10 to 15 minutes, or until browned to your liking.

Take another two tablespoons of butter and melt in the microwave and stir in 3 pressed garlic cloves. Spoon this garlic butter over your finished potatoes right when they come out of the oven which will lightly cook the garlic with their heat. This make for a zingy strong garlic flavor, which was delicious. If you have some juice in the bottom of your pan, spoon over the potatoes before serving. These potatoes were good reheated the next day and would've been excellent with eggs in the morning!

Hasselbacks must be in the air.. check out Orangette's recent post on her frilly potatoes! It's almost like showing up to a dance with the same dress!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Super Easy and Tender BBQ Ribs

I've used this basic recipe 3 times and I'm not going to try any other method, it has worked out perfect each time. It's totally adaptable to your taste, too -- it would be easy to make them "asian infusion" ribs or some other flavor, as well! The main idea is the cooking method, I think - I bet the rub can be changed around! Try this for tender ribs - it's so easy! Never worry about the threat of tough, chewy ribs again!

Baby Back Ribs (this also worked on spare ribs, as well!)
adapted from several recipes for ribs on plus our own preferences

For 2 racks of ribs (4-6 lbs total)
3/4 cup light brown sugar (i ran out and used some dark - no worries there!)
1 tsp smoked salt (I use liquid smoke plus some salt, because that's what I find)*
* If you have a charcoal grill, there are probably better ways to get smokiness - using soaked wood chips, etc. This is how we folks who bake in ovens and then grill for 5 minutes get smokiness artificially!
1 tbsp garlic powder
1 tbsp paprika
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/8 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tbsp chili powder
salt and pepper to sprinkle on first

For Grilling and Serving: 1-2 cups of your favorite BBQ sauce (We are partial to Sweet Baby Ray's Original)

1. Preheat oven to 300 (or I did 290 because sometimes I think my oven is hot and I haven't calibrated it yet)

2. Remove the tough membrane on the bone side of the ribs. I never knew about this until I saw it on the Food Network, and ever since then, I've only had the most tender ribs. I had some trouble getting it off the second rack but you can see in the picture that it should peel right off easily (as gross as it may look!)
3. Apply the rub all over the ribs on both sides, using your hands. Don't be shy!

4. I've done this two ways, both work fine: Either cut your racks into 4 individual small racks and double-layer wrap in foil to seal in juices (crimp upward), or just lay two pieces of foil down, lay down the two full racks, and lay two more pieces of foil and crimp the edges upward to seal in the juices. Note: Always use the foil shiney side out.

5. Lay the rib package(s) on a baking sheet meat side down and bake for 2.5 hours and fill your house with tasty rib goodness aromas - you should see the meat shrinking away from the bone, and then you know it's done!

6. Let ribs sit 10 minutes and preheat your grill to high. Grill for 4 or 5 minutes on each side of the ribs, brushing on your favorite BBQ sauce for the last minute or two (so it won't burn). Enjoy!!

This would be easy to do for a sugar-free method because you can leave out the brown sugar, I think, and just stick with the other rub ingredients. I think the key comes from sealing the packages and baking at a low heat for a long time. Try it for a no-fail, easy rib recipe! These ribs will be super tender and falling off the bone and will be sure to wow your summer BBQ guests.

Good Buy for Basketcases

The Husband thinks I'm a little dorky, but I couldn't help bring home two 4-packs of these darling little baskets. I found them in the $1 aisle of Target and at 25 cents a piece, I could NOT resist. I am so excited - just think of all I can put in here -- fish and chips - chicken fingers and fries - nachoes - oh the possibilities are endless! The Husband wasn't nearly as excited but I think it was because Mister Moose was over, so he was playing it cool. Haha. So - come on over for a basket lunch! I can serve 8!

That night, we made Dales Burgers with roasted potatoes, so I was extremely excited to break out the baskets for the three of us.
On a side note, here are some burger tips I learned from my Grilling magazine, which I think really made a huge difference. These burgers were totally awesome. We still did the "soak in a little bit of Dales for 20-30 minutes" and seasoned with Montreal Steak seasoning and garlic powder.

1. Only use meat that is at least 20% fat or more
2. For thick burgers, cook slow and low - flip frequently

Friday, June 20, 2008

Kooky Chocolate Cake

So - a birthday cake! This is a classic example of "make lemonade out of lemons" because not much went as I had planned with this cake. Still, it turned out OK! It was my mom-in-law's birthday and I was excited to bring the cake. As usual, I poured over different ideas that I've filed away in my brain as "that would be cool to try sometime" and tried to narrow it down.

The Husband's family has a big tradition of yellow cake with chocolate frosting, so that sounded like a tasty start. The chocolate buttercream frosting is not exactly my favorite, so I decided to try ganache for glazing the cake. It was a good opportunity to see if that worked! Next - for decorations - I narrowed it down to some kind of white chocolate/dark chocolate design and also I couldn't shake the notion of trying spun sugar. So - thus the experimenting began!

On Monday, I read about "spun sugar" - that's when you melt some sugar down and then fling it around your kitchen to make cool, artistic shapes. Then they harden into a caramel candy. I saw some amazing examples online... and then realized that this kind of thing takes PRACTICE and I am not good at it at ALL. I didn't have my camera with me, but here's how Monday's trial worked: Batch 1: Burnt the caramel, Batch 2: Broke my wooden spoon in the pot, and the shapes I made stuck to everything I put it on ("grease lightly" was an understatement). Still, I thought I might be able to try the sugar decorations again, but I was going to wait until Thursday right before the birthday party, as a last chance decoration.

On Tuesday I made the cake layers and at about 11pm while chatting with my mom, for some reason I realized I didn't put any eggs in. So - it's true - you can mess up a box cake! Just leave out some ingredients (yes I know - there's only 3 to add!). Actually the cake tasted fine and made nice level layers - slightly smaller than the batch with eggs, but honestly, not much different. It tasted fine, too --- so for those watching your cholesterol - hey this might be a good idea. In my defense, I was trying to do too many things at once - cook porkchops for dinner, bake a cake, and get stuff out for the chocolate frosting and decorations.

I did whip up some chocolate buttercream but ran out of powdered sugar. Since I needed another cake box, I was going to the store anyway so I was already used to that idea!

On Tuesday, I also melted down some chocolate and spread it into a rough rectangle on some wax paper. I then melted some white chocolate and put it in a frosting bag with a regular round tip and piped straight horizontal lines. I then used a toothpick and drug it through the chocolate perpendicular to the white stripes - once in one direction, and then alternating directions. This is an easy way to make that pretty design that you often see on Napoleon desserts. I let the chocolate harden overnight. I thought the chocolate was the only thing that worked out that I did on Tuesday - but turns out later on, I messed that up too.

On Wednesday, I had to bake another cake but I did upgrade my kitchen with an additional set of cake pans. I had only had one 9in round cake pan and it took double the time to bake 2 layers, which was a total pain. Now I have two of 8s, 9s, and 10s! This will be very handy. Anyway, while the cake cooled I fixed up some chocolate buttercream (by adding the necessary powdered sugar from the day before) and I added a hint of coffee liqueur from my tiramisu.

I had read online that to make the ganache coating a smooth layer, it might help to have a crumb coat on the cake - so that was my plan.

Finally on Wednesday, I tried making the ganache. It was the easiest thing, and I plan to use this for many-o-chocolate cakes in the future. I am a chocolatey kind of person and it was just to my liking! I let it cool a little and poured it over my crumb-coated and filled cake. I used a spatula dipped in super hot water and straightened out the top and sides of the cake (pouring alone didn't make it perfectly smooth).

It was also time to cut up my decorative white/dark chocolate bar. I had envisioned isosceles triangle - all the same size - that I would have spiraling from the center of the cake. Well - when I went to cut long triangles, I noticed that I had dug the toothpick too far into the chocolate and the chocolate hadn't filled that line in. So - it was like a dotted line - the chocolate broke into pieces in that spot. So -- plan B it was. I'd have to come up with some kind of abstract chocolate sculpture for all these... chocolate shards! At least they tasted excellent. Oh - another thing - in most places, the white chocolate didn't sink into the dark chocolate so when hardened, it just feel off. It still left some white so it looked pretty but .. this is not what I had in my head at all. There must be some other way to do this correctly. :) Had I not planned to cut it, it would have been fine, though. So - I recommend this for a topping on your next cake!

I thought the cake needed a little border - especially to cover up my cake board. I wouldn't have used a cake board except I needed something to set the cake on when I had it on a rack, when pouring the ganache over it. I didn't want big clumps of chocolate on the serving plate - so cake board it was! You could see it a little, so I dug into my pantry and grabbed some ... gasp ... store-bought frosting. There's no way I was going to whip up some buttercream just for one little border (I was flat out of the chocolate buttercream).

I thought an elegant border would be the pearl necklace or "dots" look. I piped a few on the plate and realized store-bought frosting is way too soft/thin for that style of piping. However - it did make really cute tiny kisses that had a wispy peak when I pulled the decorator's tip away. I decided to "go with the flow" and make cute little kisses along the bottom. I think that's a darling border and it was very easy!

Thursday rolled around and it was time to finally dream up the abstract design for the top. I bought some fresh raspberries, which I knew if all else failed, would suffice as a topping. I decided to pile the raspberries in the center and have rings of spikey chocolate shards encircling the berries.

It was... odd... but sorta pretty, so it passed.

I tried a new recipe for the spun sugar (not just dry sugar, but sugar plus corn syrup plus water) and since I didn't have a candy thermometer, I just let it boil until it got a tint of brown. It turned out to be OK, while my attemps to make any particular shape blatantly failed, I got a few cute wisps of hardened sugar to have coming out of my raspberry/chocolate thingamajig.

So there ya have it... a sorta odd looking cake but, not too bad I guess. It wasn't what I had in my head, but I really did enjoy trying the new techniques. The spun sugar needs more work and the ganache is sure to be used again and again.

Basic Ganache
as extrapolated from several similar recipes online...

1 12 oz bag of semi-sweet ghiradelhi chocolate
8 oz of heavy whipping cream

Place chocolate chips in a stainless steel bowl. Cook cream in saucepan over medium-high heat until just before boiling - slightly bubbling around the edges. Make sure to stir occasionally to not let the cream burn. Immediately pour over chocolate chips and let sit a few minutes. Use a wisk to mix the cream and chocolate together, until a smooth consistency is reached. I waited 5 or 10 minutes, wisking periodically, until I got a thick consistency that would still pour over my cake. I happened to use a cake covered in buttercream (smoothed out, and chilled in the fridge for 20 min), but you can pour it directly onto the cake.

If the ganache doesn't pour as smooth as you want, use a spatula to smooth it out. As it starts to harden, you can still smooth out the sides and top by taking a glass of extremely hot water, soaking your spatula, drying it with a paper towel, and then smoothing out a few inches of your cake at a time. One of my next purchases will be a turn table, which would also help.

If you want to use ganache as a filling, let it cool to room temperature or even after it has been refridgerated - then whip with a wisk or your mixer - to create a lighter-colored spreadable frosting. If you let it harden, you can also roll this into balls and dip into different things. This is how people make truffles. You can use whatever brand chocolate you like, but I recommend ghiradelli or higher.

Spun Sugar / Hard Caramel Decorations - Dry Method

1 cup sugar

Heat over medium-high heat until incorporated/melted. I found that if you try waiting for it to get thick - it won't - it will just burn and turn darker and darker and then it'll be all burnt. The second time I tried this method, I waited until the sugar was just 100% melted and then took it off the heat and plunged it into a bowl of ice water. This worked out OK - but we're talking a dark amber caramel color here. Grease (with oil) whatever area you want to create your decorations and use a spoon or fork to drizzle the caramel and make pretty shapes. You can grease the underside of a bowl and drizzle over it to make a caramel bowl that will (theoretically) pop off. I've seen people make some beautiful sugar decorations but I need more work. I'll blog about any future successes later...

Spun Sugar - "wet method"

1 cup sugar
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1/4 cup water

These are directions for specifically making a "nest" or that spun sugar look that looks like angel's hair that you can mold into a wreath, ball, etc. If you want swirls or a bowl or something, read above. Prep your area with newspaper or papertowel - we're talking the floor, the cabinets, your countertops. This caramel hardens and you don't want to be on your knees scrubbing the floor. Use tape if necessary. Take 3 or 4 pans with long handles and situate next to eachother so that they're 4 or 5 inches apart and the handles are hanging off of your counter. You will be flicking the hot sugar over these handles, and it will drip down and drape to the floor. This can get messy because you flick the sugar quickly to get the very fine strands. Also, have a big pot or big metal bowl filled with ice water, you will be dipping your caramel pan into this once you get to the right temp - you have to stop the cooking immediately because sugar burns fast. Grease your pot handles with oil liberally.

Once you're prepped for getting dirty, heat up the ingredients over medium-high heat. The directions I followed said something like "boil for 2-3 minutes covered" but they also said keep boiling until you reach 310 degrees... and I didn't have a thermometer. So, I just let it go for a few minutes, waiting for some golden color to come in. The tiniest bit finally did and I was running out of time. It turns out that the sugar turned a caramel color as it cooled, so don't worry if yours still looks clear on the stove. Immediately plunge into your ice water (be careful not to get any water into the caramel!) And start using an open-ended wisk or fork .. (i used a wooden spoon because I had a nonstock saucepan) and begin flicking the caramel strands quickly back and forth above your pot handles. If you get little droplets of caramel, wait for it to cool a little longer.

Feel free to swipe your spun sugar periodically off of the pan handles and shape into the shape you want before it dries and stiffens. You'll find that you can create a wreath, bawl, nest, etc. This might take some practice, I ended up not using my spun sugar nest because it looked knappy. This stuff is best used right away because moisture will break it down / liquify it - so store it airtight if you must store at all. Also, use extremely hot water to clean your pans/spoons - it will eventually come off.

Some day I will get better at this... some other people with food blogs I've seen are quite amazing! Check out Tartelette here: Awesome Corkscrews!!!!! I love that! And I totally failed at those but I'll definitely try again!

Anyway, I had a great time trying these new techniques. Happy Birthday Chris!!!!!! We had a great time at your house! Oh - and I'm really sorry I totally forgot the candles.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

A Taste of Cincinnati

During our marathon weekend (we ran the Flying Pig Marathon in Cincinnati May 4th), we stayed with a college friend Kristiana which worked out perfect - she was able to give us a tour of the city. I'm not sure why, but we didn't know Cincinnati was that nice - it is a really cool city!

There are some really cute neighborhoods, like Mt. Adams, and the downtown was clean and the riverfront was really nice. The Ohio River cuts through and the other shore is Covington and Newport, Kentucky, also cute cities. There are hills galore (As we saw up close and personal during the race), but it makes for a very picturesque background for a big city.

My friend Kris wanted to show us some of what the city had to offer, in the short amount of time we had. Here is our review of the places we were able to make it to!

After touring all around, we ended up at a really cute place called First Watch which was in a strip mall shopping area, but it was excellent! Super fresh ingredients, unique menu, and inexpensive way to have a high-end breakfast, brunch, or lunch. Stopping here, we also were able to drive around much of the Marathon route. Sorry for the lack of pics, but trust me that the food was fresh and tasty.

After our tour, we made plans for our big carb-loading dinner which would focus on pasta. Meeting my in-laws (who awesomely drove down from Detroit just to see us run the race!)
Our carby restaurant of choice? The Old Spaghetti Factory The Old Spaghetti Factory . This was the new location (out by the mall) - apparently there used to be a historical building downtown. Still, it was a nice setting with a trolley-car with booths in it, and an interesting decor. I tried the signature pasta dish "Mizithra Cheese and Browned Butter" - what's not to like? See their website for pictures and more menu items (I didn't take any photos!). They also offer a "complete meal" which includes bread, soup/salad, beverage, and some ice cream. I tried to contain myself because of the impending stress on my body (including digestive system) the next morning at the marathon, but I think everyone enjoyed themselves! I thought my dish was a little salty but good, and when I tasted my husband's dish, it was also fine! It looked like a fun family restaurant with your basic spaghetti fare.

After dinner, pretty much had to head right back to Kris' house and prep for the big race. If you're curious, during the marathon, I fueled myself every 30-45 minutes with a GU. Oh - and lots of Gatorade!

My favorite GU flavors are chocolate outrage and espresso love. I borrowed a Gu belt from a friend and was able to carry what I needed for the whole time I was out there (SEVERAL hours). But, I was never hungry - unlike The Husband who didn't take enough Gu and was digging into the animal crackers that spectators were handing out in big boxes.

After the race and taking pictures, we immediately went to our favorite bar in the area - the Hofbrauhaus in Newport, KY. This is right over the bridge from Cincinnati to Kentucky (the first bridge we ran in the race, too!) and it was the first sanctioned brewery to brew beer in the US from the famous Munich, Germany brewery which was founded in 1589. Yes, it's that old.

The Newport location has an indoor area with big wooden tables often associated with German beer halls, and there is an outdoor biergarten which is fabulous during warm weather months. This time, we frequented the biergarten and both ordered the classic Liter of hefeweizen.

Of course, there was some hunger after a marathon, so The Husband ordered the sausage plate (with sauerkraut of course!) and I ordered some potato pancakes, being the potato-lover that I am.

It's not every day you run 26.2 miles (plus an extra quarter mile because there was a fire), so it was a day (or two, or three, or...) of pure guilt-free eating. So what was on the agenda after a much-needed rest on the couch and toast of champagne (thanks Tom and Chris!)? Dinner at the famous Montgomery Inn for - what else - RIBS.

This is a really nice restaurant that specializes in BBQ ribs - among many other things. The downtown location is right on the river and it has a beautiful row of windows which we were seated next to. I was thrilled to see river boats cruise by as the sun set, it was awesome!

Even though we were stuffed, Kris had talked up the local ice cream parlors - Graeters - and we were hoping to stop in for a taste to one of their shops. We tried waiting in line to get some samples but they were really slow and our legs were REALLY sore, so we took a pint for home, after we had a chance to digest a bit. That didn't actually happen - we put on a movie and totally fell asleep. However we did try to take the ice cream home with us. In its melty state, I tried it and it was quite good. We refroze it but it wasn't quite the same after that, but I still highly recommend this ice cream joint if you're in the area. They also had cute little piggy confections in the name of the Flying Pig Marathon.

(It is named Flying Pig - not because we are all fat runners - quite the contrary - most of them are skinny - but because Cincinnati is known as Porkopolis, because it had a ton of pig slaughterhouses back in the day. They have big pig statues downtown to honor those pigs who lost their lives in the city, and it is part of their heritage!)

So... after tossing and turning due to nerves and then actually running a marathon .. it made for an early night come race day. However, we were (painfully) up and at 'em Monday morning for the achy ride back home. We totally couldn't fit in a visit to our favorite chili stop - Skyline Chili (but no worries - I'm sure I'll blog my recipe for that some time, as its a popular one in our house for the fall!). Chili would just be a bad idea prior to the race, and we already had a full day planned race day. So - we had to move on to our next "must-stop" --- for breakfast.

No road trip or visit to the South (anything in northern Ohio or lower) is not complete without a stop to your local Waffle House (chances are you'll be near one!). It might be that we simply don't have Waffle House in Michigan, but we sure do love it and it's a cheap and delicious breakfast - who can complain?

Waffle House is the kind of place that yells out "Good Morning Ya'll" as soon as you walk in the door, and they also yell out their orders to the cooks manning the grill (which you have full view of in these tiny establishments). They have not updated to any computerized ordering/billing system, and it's a nice touch to keep the "home town diner" feel that Waffle House has (even though there are hundreds of them!)

While Waffle House does have a full menu, I'm pretty sure everyone orders breakfast here. They feature two things that are awesome: Make-Your-Own-Silly-Named Hashbrowns and of course, Waffles. I have had their cheese omelets before, which were fine.

These hashbrowns are "World Famous" and they give you a list of adjectives to choose from regarding your hashbrown order - smothered = with cheese, covered = with onions, chunked = with ham, capped = with mushrooms.... and it goes on and on. Congrats to those cooks who have to keep all these "capped, topped, scattered, smothered" orders straight - they have to listen to the called out orders carefully! Thank god I have a career in computers...

Anyway, try a Waffle House - it's cheap, fast, and their waffles are pretty tasty! I ordered a Pecan Waffle for the first time and I thought it was great!

Cincinnati is a great city to visit - and we had an excellent marathon weekend. Thanks for hosting us, Kris!!!