Sunday, October 31, 2010


521 Main Street
Covington, KY
tel: 859-491-6678

This family-owned cafe, sandwiched between Bouquet Restaurant & Wine Bar and the Enchanted Florist on Covington's Mainstrasse, offers a friendly atmosphere and delicious, made-from-scratch specials like tomato pie. If the weather is with you, a sidewalk table is ideal for people-watching. During colder, wet weather the cozy cafe's cheery decor can brighten the grayest of days.


Cheery, eclectic decor

Otto's has several unique vegetarian offerings: the aforementioned tomato pie ($8) is one of them. Chock full of cheesy, tomato-y goodness in a homemade pie shell, it's sure to satisfy. According to their menu shingle, it's a Joey Votto favorite!

Specials board

The restaurant also offers a veggie focaccia ($8), and their Greek pasta ($8) is easily made vegetarian by omitting the bacon. My love of tomatoes (and certain Reds first basemen) sealed the deal for me - tomato pie it was.

If it's good enough for Joey Votto...

As you can see from the photo, the pie comes with a side of mixed greens, complete with olives and feta cheese and a tangy-tart balsamic dressing. Very nice.

On another visit I decided to try a couple of their appetizers. While some of Otto's daily soup specials are geared toward the carnivore crowd, their lovely tomato-dill soup is vegetarian and available daily. Other veggie-friendly fare includes salads, sweet potato fries with horseradish 'n honey dipping sauce ($6), baked brie ($10) and fried green tomatoes ($8).

Fried green tomatoes

When I ordered the fried green tomatoes our server informed me that it's the #1 item on their menu. One bite and I understand why. They're by far the best I've ever eaten.

Not to be left out, my friend insisted on taking a photo of the ultimate in (non-veg) comfort food - his Kentucky Hot Brown. He proclaimed it to be the best hot brown he's ever had, and also the largest. It's massive! Consisting of homemade French bread topped with roasted turkey, smoked ham, creamy mornay sauce, and shredded cheese, and finished off with thick slices of bacon and fried green tomatoes.

The gigantic Kentucky hot brown; sweet potato fries; tomato-dill soup and fried green tomatoes

Be sure to save room for dessert. Otto's apricot-banana bread pudding with bourbon glaze won the toss-up, although the carrot cake and flourless chocolate torte also looked fantastic.

Apricot-Banana bread pudding

Otto's is open Monday through Saturday 11 a.m.-3 p.m. for lunch and dinner is served Tuesday through Saturday from 5-10 p.m. Otto's serves up Sunday brunch from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. and reopens from 5-9 p.m. for Sunday dinner.

Otto's Deli on Urbanspoon

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Recipe: Mejadra

I saw this recipe in the Guardian the other day and thought it sounded right up my alley; rice, lentils, sweet spices and fried onion combine for a dish that can be eaten hot or cold. It's delicious, filling and difficult to stop eating once you've tasted it. The original recipe serves four, but I have scaled it down to two servings, and changed the metric measurements to imperial.

Serves 2

8 Tbs sunflower or grapeseed oil, divided
2 medium onions, thinly sliced
1/2 Cup green or brown lentils
1 tsp cumin seed
1 1/2 tsp coriander seed
1/2 Cup basmati rice
1 Tbs olive oil
1/4 tsp turmeric
3/4 tsp ground allspice
3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp sugar
Salt and black pepper to taste
3/4 Cup water


1. Heat 4 Tbs of sunflower/grapeseed oil in a heavy skillet or saucepan. When oil is very hot, carefully add the first sliced onion. Fry for 5-7 minutes, stirring occasionally until onion is golden brown and turns crispy.

2. Transfer onion to a colander and sprinkle with salt. Repeat procedure with remaining 4 Tbs oil, onion and salt.

3. While the onions are frying, put lentils in a saucepan and cover with plenty of water. Bring to a boil and cook for 12-15 minutes, or until lentils have softened but still have a little bite.
4. Drain lentils and set aside.

5. Wipe clean the pan used to fry onion. Add the cumin and coriander seed and place over medium heat for a minute or two, until the seeds release their aroma. Add rice, olive oil, turmeric, cinnamon, allspice, sugar, 1/2 tsp salt and plenty of black pepper. Stir to coat the rice with oil, then add cooked lentils and water. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer on very low heat for 15 minutes.

6. Remove from heat, lift off lid and cover pan with a clean dish towel. Replace lid and let sit for 10 minutes.

7. Tip the rice and lentil mixture into a large mixing bowl, add onion and gently combine.

Enjoy hot or cold!

For printable recipe, click here.

Thursday, October 7, 2010


4785 Lake Forest Drive
Blue Ash
Tel: 513-554-1040

In Indian mythology, Apsaras are beautiful, young, and elegant supernatural women, similar to the Greek muses or English water nymphs. That this rather posh Asian fusion restaurant takes its name from these celestial maidens is apt; everything about Apsara - from the exquisitely carved tables to the hand-forged copper menus to the tinkling waterfalls behind the sushi bar - is breathtaking.


The building was originally built as a large brew-pub, and unfortunately the current incarnation suffers from being too cavernous. It's not that the restaurant doesn't try to make good use of the space - there's a weekly swing dance, and live music on Sundays - but there's a distinct lack of intimacy at Apsara.

Waterfalls and sushi bar

The food is well worth the drive to Blue Ash though. Their vegetarian vegetable soup ($5), consisting of crisp-tender veggies in a clear, delicate broth, was astonishingly good. Each vegetable retained its taste and texture, lending a tender crunch with each spoonful. I'd happily revisit Apsara based on this dish alone.

A rather shaky photo of the delicious vegetable soup

Likewise the Jackfruit Curry: a heady concoction of tart jackfruit, caramelized onion and green chilies in a sweet red curry sauce. I'd never had jackfruit before and am amazed at how delicious it is. It has a consistency similar to cooked chicken but has a tart, sweet taste like an unripened banana.

Jackfruit curry

There were a few glitches - the main one being that the jackfruit curry was supposed to be a spice level of 8, but instead the kitchen neglected to put any spice in it whatsoever. The upshot was that I got to know exactly what the jackfruit tastes like, but I have a feeling that if I'd have gotten it as it was supposed to be prepared with the green chilies, it'd be my new favorite dish.

The restaurant looks like it'd be more expensive than it actually is, although it isn't what you'd call cheap. At $12, my curry was one of the least expensive entrées on the menu, with most ranging from $14-$22 and a few of their specials hitting the $30 mark. I found it to be totally worth the dosh and am already planning a return visit.

Apsara on Urbanspoon

Friday, October 1, 2010

Herb Bread

I used to really struggle with homemade bread; not only were my early efforts inedible, the bread was so hard it couldn't even be sliced. This simple recipe changed all that. I won't go as far as to say that it is fool-proof, but it's transformed me from a breadmaking failure to an old pro.

4 1/4 Cups of all-purpose flour
3 Tbs white sugar
2 (1/4 oz) packets of instant yeast
1 1/2 tsp salt
3 tsp herbes de'provence
3/4 Cup milk
1/2 Cup water
1/4 Cup salted butter
1 egg, beaten
1 Tbs butter, melted


1. In a large bowl, combine 1 1/2 cups flour with the sugar, undissolved yeast, salt and herb mixture.

2. Warm milk, water and 1/4 cup butter to between 120-130 degrees F. Use a candy thermometer to make sure the temperature is correct. This is essential!

The right temperature will activate the yeast

3. Stir milk mixture into dry ingredients.

Add egg and enough remaining flour to make a soft dough.NOTE: You probably will not use all of the flour. I usually have around half a cup left over.

4. Knead on a lightly floured surface until smooth and elastic - about five minutes. Cover; let rest on floured surface for about 10 minutes.

5. Divide dough into three equal pieces.

6. Roll each piece into a rope about 30 inches long.

7. Braid ropes together and pinch ends to seal.

8. Tie a knot into the center of the braid; wrap ends around knot in opposite directions and tuck underneath to make a round loaf. Place on a greased baking sheet; cover and let sit in a warm, draft-free place until it doubles in size, about 40 minutes. I usually put my dough in the oven with the light on, as this provides enough warmth for the dough to rise.

9. After dough has risen, heat oven to 375F and bake for 20 minutes.

10. Remove from oven and brush with melted butter. Cover bread with foil and put back into oven for another 10-15 minutes.

11. After bread has finished baking, place onto a wire rack to cool.


For a printable recipe, click here.