I always get a little nervous making ravioli. Worrying about whether the mix is correct, will it lose flavor after hitting boiling water, will they break open in the process, will they, will they, will they? Procuring fresh pasta sheets locally is not easy.

I couldn’t find any place near me that sold them. What I traditionally used in the past were wonton wrappers. They are extremely versatile and have the same consistency as pasta. The local Kroger carried two different sizes. I opted for the smaller wraps for individual ravioli versus the large sheets that are used for egg rolls.

I wasn’t sure what I wanted to create for the filling. First, I was thinking smoked salmon, cream cheese, and fresh chives but ended up deciding on jumbo lump crabmeat and ricotta. I added lemon zest, lemon juice, and a citrus blend seasoning salt.

For the sauce, I created a beurre blanc using a great white balsamic vinegar, white wine, garlic, bay leaf, basil, heavy cream, and butter. It turned out excellent. I garnished the ravioli with chopped basil Chris brought from his garden and then shaved pecorino tartufello over the ravioli. The cheese has the same consistency as port salut but has bits of truffle in the cheese. It was delicate and didn’t overpower the dish with the truffle flavor.

Chris brought over his great homemade pesto and he created crostini with golden cherry tomatoes, tossed in extra virgin olive oil, salt, and pepper that were oven-roasted and then cooled. He assembled them with a layer of ricotta, the pesto and then topped them with the tomatoes. The combination was superb.

I have to say, this was one of the better dishes we enjoyed and it was fun resourcing the product and creating it. Not to mention the complex flavors.

I was fortunate enough to live in an area that had some of the best Latin American food outside Mexico. Peruvian, Salvadorian, and Mexican Taquerias were scattered all over the San Francisco Bay Area. Concentrated in The Mission District of San Francisco was a myriad of excellent and cheap restaurants that put their heart and soul into their kitchens.

Attempting to find places in the Tri-State area I was told about a restaurant in Covington’s Mainstrasse District called Frida, named after famed Native Folk artist Frida Kahlo. The building is beautiful, spacious and also has a taco window, in case you want to grab a quick bite, then sit at one of the many picnic benches in the park.

This wouldn’t be classified as a traditional Taqueria or even an authentic ethnic restaurant. Their claim to fame is “Latin Street Cuisine”. and has many different influences including American. My guess is this is American-owned but pays homage to different Mexican and South American food trends. In the two visits to Frida, the execution was focused and the food was well presented and very good.

My first visit, I opted for a chicken burrito and a fish taco as seen in the pictures below. The flavors are balanced, the plates were nicely designed, the fish was crispy, seasoned well, and hot! My only gripe is when you put wet ingredients like toppings for the burrito, you are then obligated to eat with a knife and fork which causes the paper that is lining the serving tin to shred throughout the course of the meal, thus leaving you with having to sift through the food you are eating to discard the shredded paper.

In order to not have to navigate another burrito paper lining debacle, I decided on four tacos. Two fish, a beef and a chicken. Each one of them had a unique preparation and the beef resembled almost a braised short rib consistency and was delicious. I also ordered the chips and salsa sampler with a tomatillo, peanut satay, and traditional pico de gallo salsa. The peanut sauce was my favorite.

Each visit was accompanied by their house margaritas. I don’t want to get on a soapbox here, but you can serve a shrug-inducing screwdriver, gin and tonic or greyhound anywhere and get away with it. What you don’t want to fuck up are margaritas. I’ve had some of the shittiest margaritas in my time from places I dined as well as places I worked. It is imperative that you put some effort into this amazing drink or you will lose my business. Frida nailed it. Not heavy on the bar mix, the lime juice shined through and you could taste the tequila. Some spots I’ve been, windshield washing fluid gave these drinks a run for their money. No Bueno!.

I suggest early afternoon on weekdays to enjoy a carefree lunch and afternoon saloon. Both times I went around three o’clock and it was empty. By the early evening, the place was packed. I can see why.

https://www.fridaonmain.com/

You always read comments from people asking “If you were on a desert island, what three things would you bring with you?” Without getting into any personal details on the other two things I’d bring with me, one thing is for sure that would accompany me would be a well-made plate of fried chicken. Yeah, I know what you are saying. This guy is friggin’ nuts. I offer no apologies. It is an admitted weakness. Especially places that can really execute it well.

One of my all time favorite places in Cincinnati that served some of the best fried chicken I’ve ever had was The Hitching Post which was nestled in the little mini strip mall bordering Hyde Park, Oakley and Norwood. You’d never would notice the storefront if you drove by but the smell of that amazing chicken would be like a Siren’s Trance luring you into the deep fried rocks of Nirvana.

Unfortunately, The Hitching Post shuttered thus leaving me flailing for options to satisfy my need for this amazing dish. There were not many options in Pennsylvania so my hunt for a replacement was on!

I’ve heard rumors of a place in Northern Kentucky that was supposed to have a cult-like following in regards to fried chicken. It was call the Greyhound Tavern on Dixie Highway in Fort Wright Kentucky. I’d never been there before but many family and friends swear by the food.

I decided to take a leap of faith and venture out into the unknown as a solo diner. I sat at the bar, ordered a Great Lakes Edmund Fitzgerald. That beer went down as fast as the ship itself. Deliciously malty, smooth and with great carbonation.

I didn’t waste any time with the menu. I never opened it. I knew what I wanted. The bartender looked into my eyes, and could see what my soul desired. Their house-made fried chicken.

The breaded four-piece half chicken came with two sides which I opted for Coleslaw and mashed potatoes with gravy. On Monday and Tuesday, they offer an extra side and a biscuit special for a dollar less but when I ordered the special, it was obvious because of the volume, they pre-fried the chicken then heated it up. This time, I took my Nephew and Brother out for his birthday on a Wednesday, and the chicken was made to order.

I have to say, the Tavern became my new all time favorite fried chicken spot. Perfectly seasoned, moist, hot AF, and the sides were delicious. The mashed potatoes were made in-house, and the gravy was sublime. My brother had the chicken as well and loved it. I highly recommend this place but go early. It fills up after five o’clock and was packed when we left.

This was the special fried chicken night

https://www.greyhoundtavern.com/

As I resurrected my blog after an extended time in limbo, I didn’t think that I would be focused on cuisine that spans from South America to Spain. I’ve always enjoyed the flavor combinations that are derived from fresh ingredients and the spices that make this food patently unique. I picked up some Red Snapper at a local grocery and some simple vegetables. It was to be a quick meal to keep things lite since my diet has been all over the board recently.

I managed to find purple potatoes, which are also called Peruvian purple potatoes. They have the same texture and taste as red bliss potatoes but are bright purple. The colors tend to fade when boiled but still have a nice colorful hue. They are different than the purple Okinawan sweet potatoes which I cannot seem to find anywhere but these worked perfectly for the dish.

The aim was to make a simple has combining fresh-cut corn, potatoes, red onion, , chives and some smoked apple wood seasoning. The combinations were great. Sweet corn flavors with a hint of smoke and some heat.

I used a blackening seasoning for the snapper and seared the fish in a cast-iron skillet. I then decided on a smoked Romesco sauce. It’s a simple Spanish condiment used on various proteins such as fish, chicken, or beef. It’s a combination of roasted peppers, tomato, garlic, chili flakes, red wine vinegar, and in this case I used smoked almonds instead of regular sliced almonds. The result was a deliciously tangy and complex sauce that worked very well with the fish.

In my attempt to find fun ingredients to prepare, I discovered a small grocery store in Hartwell called Country Fresh Market. They offer a variety of dry goods, meats, prepared foods, and a killer beer and wine department. The prices are competitive as well. I managed to get my hands on some beautiful Spring Onions.

I also picked up Pork Loin, Honeycrisp Apples, and other various items that will help compel me to cook versus eating at chain food outlets.

It’s a fairly straightforward dish. I roasted the Spring Onions and Apples with Olive Oil, Salt, and Pepper. I pan-seared the Pork Loin and roasted it with fresh sage. I made a simple Mushroom Couscous and then prepared a Balsamic Pan Gravy which was Beef Broth, Balsamic Reduction, and cracked Black Pepper. I reduced it to a glaze.

I let the Pork Loin repose, sliced half, and then kept the other half whole to give a contrast in texture. The result was a great, balanced meal. The whole process took me about a half-hour. No, there were no leftovers….

Bon Appetit!

When one is met with peculiar family dynamics that have not been encountered before, there are two paths to take, especially when there is potential for conflict. One option is to stand your ground, watch the cortisol levels rise like Mount Vesuvius, and in the end, never accomplish the result you were trying to achieve. The other option is to simply resign to the fact that this is life as we know it for the time being, so just sit back and try to enjoy the roller coaster ride.

I’ve been in this situation for five years with limited access to a home kitchen. My wonderful wife has taken on the arduous task of cooking for three people daily. It keeps everyone fed and the conflicts are minimalized. I for one, love what my wife prepares. She’s a great cook.

This current respite I’m enjoying has allowed me to cook again. Not in a professional kitchen where one can hear this old chef’s bones crack like stepping on celery with every bend, stoop and pivot, but at a home setting where the wine flows like a waterfall and the setting is calm, peaceful and creative.

My friend of almost forty years Chris Mundy came over for a nice, simple dinner collaboration. He in his own right, is an elevated cook with a great palette, a keen sense of creativity who isn’t afraid to push the culinary boundaries that would make most of our family members wince at the very mention of “Chimichurri.”
He was going to his family’s cabin in Michigan and we both had ingredients we wanted to cook that wouldn’t last the week he was in Michigan so we decided on a pot luck dinner. The result was pretty spectacular.

I’ve adjusted my expectations on where to shop while I’ve been back. I haven’t had the opportunity to make the trek to the infamous Jungle Jim’s where you can procure everything from Rattlesnake to a hot sauce that would give the Sun a run for its money. So, until then, I have been relegated to the big box corporate grocery stores that I also encounter where I live. To say the least, the choices were grim.

It makes sense to stock their shelves with items that the residents of that area would purchase. I get it. I was hoping for something a tad more exotic than Strip Loin Steaks. Perhaps even frozen Duck Breast would suffice? Unfortunately, Strip Loin was the only choice.

I purchased some Applewood Smoked dry rub for the steak. I roasted some fresh Cauliflower, Crimini Mushrooms, and Radish with fresh herbs and olive oil. We combined these with fresh Blue Lake Green Beans. I decided on butter basting the steak with fresh herbs and garlic. I love grilling steaks but butter basting creates a rich, yet artery clogging euphoria that grilling seems to miss.

I let the steak repose and sliced it thin and placed it over the vegetable melange and topped it with Chris’s homemade Chimichurri Sauce which is like an Argentinian pesto, made with parsley, oregano, garlic, chili flakes, vinegar, and olive oil. It is used as a condiment on anything from eggs to vegetables. His version was excellent.
We added a Garbanzo Bean salad and we both shared wine. It was an excellent collaboration. It felt good to cook again. I’m hoping to keep this trend up during my stay.

Next stop. Jungle Jim’s. Just don’t tell my wife.

A Pandemic Threnody

June 24, 2021

As I sit here with pen in hand pondering what my next chapter in my life would entail, I was also ruminating about what I would use as a title for my next blog entry. I would not necessarily call it an ode to the dead, but rather a requiem of my life during the last fifteen months of this still ongoing Pandemic. The last year has not boded well with this old chef. I am sure this rings true with many of my friends and family.

Everything we knew about our lives and how we lived them was radically changed and we are all still reeling from the collateral damage this insidious disease has done to us as human beings. We’ve lost friends and family. I lost an Aunt to Covid-19. From my own personal confessional, I for one stopped living. I wasn’t working, I found a permanent home on the couch, arms reach from bad food and lots of booze and way too much time on my hands. The results were anxiety, health problems, and a complete lack of forwarding movement in productivity. Since getting the vaccine, I’m trying to change all of this.

I’ve been given a unique opportunity to spend some time in Cincinnati with friends and family for the Summer. This in itself has created some anxious moments. I haven’t been back to Ohio in almost four years and am taking this journey sans my amazing wife Judy. We’ve been together for almost twenty-five years. This isn’t the first time I’ve gone away to attempt to right my ship. It’s the third time but Judy has been nothing but supportive and it strengthens our relationship which I am forever grateful.

I’m not sure what I am hoping to accomplish being back home. Part of this journey is to reconnect with family and friends. The thought of being alone growing old terrifies me. I’ve seen what it does to people first hand. We are social beings. We need a connection. I have been in a converted garage for almost a year and a half and honestly, my cat is a lousy conversationalist. I intend on changing this.

Another goal is to start seeing the positive things out of life. The last four years have done nothing but encourage my cynical side which doesn’t need much fostering. Waking up every morning and reading the news did nothing but raise my cortisol levels as well as my blood pressure. I’m in a much better space now.

As a once busy chef in Pennsylvania, because of our schedules and home life situation with my mother-in-law, we ate out. Frequently. On a typical week, we’d have dinner at our local haunts consistently three to four nights a week. When the Pandemic hit, that all changed. As I mentioned in my previous post, my wife Judy became an excellent cook. Her imagination shined through with every dish she created. When we were finally able to dine out, the disappointment of our dinner including the cost versus what we enjoyed at home for the fraction of the cost was like a kick in the head. Hey, I still love to eat out and love being connected to my industry folks but I don’t think we will return to the same habits that were familiar to us pre-Covid-19.

Coming back to Cincinnati was an adjustment. Not only demographically have things changed, so has the dining scene. And for the better. I’ve been fortunate to experience some great eateries here in Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky. It was pretty difficult to find places I wanted to eat because there are so many choices but thanks to industry friends, we’ve been able to enjoy some great places.

The search for breakfast restaurants in Cincinnati is hit or miss. Either greasy spoons or corporate cookie cutters like First Watch. I’ve worked in really upscale breakfast/brunch establishments. I know how to recognize good ingredients in menu descriptions. We decided on a breakfast spot in Oakley called The Sleepy Bee. https://www.sleepybeecafe.com/#locations

The place was open-air with high ceilings. It was reminiscent of the Portland breakfast houses we enjoyed. Lots of young kids who seemed to sincerely enjoy their jobs. A well-rounded “scratch” menu. They made their own bread and even served house-made Goetta. For the non-Cincinnati folks, Goetta is a German breakfast meat that is made from Pork, spices, and Pin Oats. We have a similar concoction in Pennsylvania called Scrapple which is a Pennsylvania-Dutch breakfast meat that uses Corn Meal versus Pin Oats. Not everyone enjoys it but damn, this was good. My wife had the Avocado toast topped with Granola and herbed oil and I had a Chorizo scramble. Both dishes were excellent. The coffee was amazing too. The service was top-notch. There is nothing remotely this good where we live.

The next restaurant that was suggested was Bouquet in Mainstrasse in Covington Kentucky. https://www.bouquetrestaurant.com/

It is a farm-to-table establishment that has been in business for over fourteen years. It opened about a year after we moved back to San Francisco. The menu changes daily and they source most of the product from local vendors. I have to say this was one of the best meals we’ve had in years. We decided on the tasting menu which allows you to choose three courses. We started with the savory ramp pancake with sesame seeds, soy ramp & sorghum sauce, and a roasted radish and seared tofu appetizer. Both were cooked perfectly.

For the second course, I had Wagyu beef meatballs Scallion Gremolata, Lemon Caper purée, and Chili oil. The acid from the Lemon Caper puree was a perfect complement to the meatballs. The thought of actually sharing this with my wife almost made me go into a homicidal rage! Yeah, they were that good! But I acquiesced. She loved them damn it! My wife had the Salmon with German hot slaw, Bacon, Sunchokes, and Horseradish. It was cooked perfectly mid-rare. It is had to find places that know how to cook Salmon correctly. Most of the time it is cooked to death and dry. We had a similar dish at home in PA that was so overcooked, it made baby Jesus cry rivers of blood. It was that bad, but this was moist and flavorful.

For the third course, I had the Duck Breast with Fava Bean puree, Fiddlehead Ferns, and root vegetables. The only other chef that could ever cook Duck this well was David Cook of the former Daveed’s. Perfectly seasoned, moist and the skin was crackly and crisp. Stunning. My wife had seared Boga I believe, which is an Argentinian white fish with English Peas and root vegetables and a sauce that resembled Chimichurri. It was moist and flaky. Just like her husband.

We ended the meal with a Cardamom Blueberry pound cake paired with a Sauternes.

The service was professional and courteous. It is a special occasion restaurant but it’s worth the splurge.

The next destination on our short culinary tour before my wife headed back to Pennsylvania was Otto’s in Mainstrasse which again is in Convington Kentucky. https://ottosonmain.com/

This is a cool and funky joint that’s been around for years. They provide both inside and outside dining. Outside can be a bit hectic with seating right on the pedestrian sidewalk adjacent to the street and can be loud at times. We had a good light brunch. My wife had the Brie, Figs, shaved country Ham, Arugula, and Local Honey. Cooked perfectly and well-balanced. We shared the Brussels Sprouts which were prepared with Bacon and Brown Sugar. I enjoyed the dish but adding a little heat like Sriracha would have given the dish more depth. Our dining guests and I decided on the BLFGT which was Bacon, Lettuce, fried Egg, white Cheddar, Mayo & fried Green Tomato on a toasted Croissant. It was light and flaky and not heavy or greasy. A very solid sandwich. The service was prompt and friendly.

Though I didn’t eat at our final stop, we did enjoy a beautiful evening with family on the rooftop of The Gaslight Bar and Grill in Clifton where my friend Kevin Worthington is the Chef/GM. https://gaslightbarandgrillclifton.com/

My Uncle and his wife did have dinner which was a simple grilled burger. I liked the plate composition and both of them enjoyed their meals. He has a great staff and we felt taken care of.

When I need to clear my head, keep that feeling of isolation at arms reach, and being around others, I head to Sitwell’s Coffee House in Clifton. Though they don’t have a website, they do have a Facebook page. https://www.facebook.com/sitwells.coffeehouse/

It’s a funky coffee shop that used to be a pizza restaurant many years ago. Quirky décor, fun and helpful staff, and the coffee is good. I haven’t had a chance to try their food menu yet but what I saw coming out of the kitchen looks very appetizing.

These last two weeks have been an adjustment. I haven’t been without my wife at my side for more than a day in almost ten years. I miss her dearly but she also knows this Pandemic has done a real number on me and wants me to heal. She wants her husband back home whole and not fractured and frustrated. I’m trying hard to do that work and reconnect with family and friends. This blog has been cathartic. I want to continue to write and enjoy what I’ve been doing for over thirty-five years. Welcome back.

The pandemic over the last two months has been a life altering experience. Being laid off then going straight into an extended lock down has not only tested my mental resolve, but how I handle living in a three hundred and fifty square foot converted garage with my wife, cat and caring for her eighty eight year old mother in the other section of the house. We’ve painstakingly ensured that we are sanitizing, cleaning and disinfecting everything to protect her mother from this virus. It’s been rough at times. It’s been frustrating. It’s also revealed things that were passively overlooked.

I’ve been a chef for over twenty five years. I’ve been cooking since I was fifteen years old. This is one of those professions that can be considered a vocation. Who else would subject ones body to twelve hour work days, sometimes weeks in a row without a day off, in an environment where you could easily cut, burn or sear essential body parts if there wasn’t a higher calling to do so? I’ve had to give this up for months now. But it’s also given me time to reflect on my career, my life, relationship with my wife and where we live.

One byproduct of our living arrangement is that I haven’t gained access to her mothers kitchen. I may have prepared meals for them twice in almost four years. She is very particular about who uses her kitchen, so I have stayed away. The result of her mother’s proclivities was that we ended up eating out. A lot. This all came screeching to a halt in March because of Covid-19. We were left with a dilemma. How to meal plan with three people, one who had a palette that was trapped in 1955? Here is where my wife’s visionary talents really shined.

Living in rural Pennsylvania, you still have businesses that haven’t been gobbled up by big box corporate outlets. You can still find local grocers, butchers and farms that offer local product not found in places like Costco or Whole Foods. She meal planned for the next month. I had no idea what was in store.

She was given fresh Spring Ramps which she converted into a Pesto. She pickled the rest. The flavors were sublime. I’ve pickled professionally and only gave her minimal input on vinegar, but her sensibility to herbs, spices and supporting flavor ingredients blew my mind. Complex, not overpowering and subtle. I was floored.

She prepared oven roasted local pork chops with a homemade Apple compote that I would have served in one of my restaurants. Homemade quiche, hand formed flat breads with fresh local Asparagus, Ricotta and that amazing Ramp Pesto. Holy shit I thought! She could make a bologna sandwich sumptuous.

She came up with a Thai Chicken soup with fresh Ginger and Galangal root that rivaled any soup that we’ve ever had at a Thai restaurant. The balance of flavors, her attention to seasoning. She always had this in her. I just needed to get out of the way. Gladly. She also was able to prepare meals that her mother enjoyed as well. Nothing fancy, nothing really special but to her mom’s credit, she did try the Ramp Pesto flat bread and loved it!

The quarantine has also given her the ability to plant. Fresh Lettuces, Tomatoes, Jalapenos and fresh herbs. This is where I was getting excited. I worked with local organic farmers in California for years. I might have to push my way into the kitchen when these start to become available.

I’m not saying I don’t miss cooking in a home setting. I really do. There is a certain bonding we had when we both prepared our meals together and I miss that. It’s been a long time and I want that connection again. I do not believe we would have grown as a family if these challenges were not put in front of us. I believe it’s made us stronger. I do not think there will be a “normal” again. The world is a different place than it was a few months ago. In the meantime, I am more than happy to enjoy any creations my wife comes up with. She is an amazing cook.