Archive for December, 2006

Arroz con Pollo


Deliciousness. This word best describes Richard Perry’s The Good Home Cookbook’s  recipe for Arroz con Pollo. I recently received this cookbook after reading on his blog that he was giving away free copies of his new book (sorry folks, offer is over). Who doesn’t love something free, especially if it’s cooking related for me! What arrived was this awesome cookbook with hundreds of classic recipes. It has a very vintage feel to it with retro-looking graphics and little anecdotes. I’ve even enjoyed just reading through this book. Anyhoo, Arroz con Pollo or “Rice with Chicken” was one of the very first recipes I made from this book- and I was not disappointed. And to top it off, this was one of the few recipes I did not stray from the original instructions (ok, I did use dried cilantro instead of fresh)! The result was one big pot of delicious, delicately-flavored chicken with saffron-infused rice and sauteed onions, peppers, garlic, tomatoes and peas. This meal was filling, delicious, and filled the house with pleasant aromas. The best part of this was it tasted even BETTER the next day. I recommend this dish for a cold, winter night where you can snuggle on the couch, pop in a good movie and have a big scoopful of Arroz con Pollo in a bowl.

P.S. Author/Chef Richard Perry was gracious enough to provide me with several electronic copies of his recipes I’ve made from his book. Thanks Richard!

Overall rating: 4.5 stars

Arroz con Pollo


Serves 4 to 5

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite-size pieces

Salt and pepper

2 tablespoons oil

1 medium onion, diced

1 medium green bell pepper, seeded and diced

2 cups long-grain white rice

1 teaspoon minced garlic

3 cups chicken broth (page 119)

1/4 teaspoon saffron threads, crushed

4 medium tomatoes, seeded and diced, or 2 cups canned diced tomatoes, drained

1 cup frozen peas

1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

1. Rub the chicken with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chicken and sauté for 2 minutes. Add the onion, and bell pepper. Sauté until the vegetables are limp and the chicken is white and firm, 6 to 8 minutes. Add the rice and sauté for another 3 to 5 minutes, until toasted. Add the garlic and cook for 1 more minute.2. Stir in the broth and saffron. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce the heat to maintain a gentle simmer, and cook until the liquid is absorbed, about 15 to 18 minutes. Turn off the heat and let the rice stand, covered, for 10 to 15 minutes.3. When the rice is cooked, fluff with a fork. Stir in the tomatoes, peas, and cilantro. Cover and cook over low heat for 3 minutes, until the peas are cooked through. Taste and season with salt and pepper as needed. Serve at once.TIP: You can substitute 1/4 teaspoon turmeric for the saffron. The flavor will be different, but it will give the rice its characteristic yellow color.


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Restaurant Reviews

For the last seven or so years, my husband and I try to get down for one weekend in December to Cape May, NJ. For those of you who aren’t familiar with this quaint , Victorian seaside town, it’s the most Southern place in NJ. We love it there so much we even got married there last year. It’s a great place for couples, families, whoever. In the summer, it’s the typical NJ shore town with beautiful, old Victorian buildings, tons of B&B’s, and lots of great shopping. But in December, it’s a whole other experience. Cape May in December IS Christmas to me. The Victorian houses with the charming decor, the trolley and horse and carriage parading down the streets, the smell of the fireplaces- I recommend experiencing this for yourself if you can.

Enough about the town though! Cape May is considered by many, the dining capital of NJ. There are a ton of restaurants for every taste- American, seafood, French, Italian, Caribbean, you name it, you can find it somewhere in Cape May. This trip we visited three old haunts and tried one new one. We had some good and okay dining experiences…

One of our traditions when we arrive in Cape May on a Friday evening is to head to the Washington Street Mall, an outdoor pedestrian mall filled with speciality shops and restaurants. In December, you can often find Dickens carolers or a brass band playing holiday classics. Once we get there, we head straight over to The Ugly Mug. It’s half tourist, half local bar with pretty good food. It’s been around for over 60 years and hanging from the ceiling are mugs of all of the members of the bar. The ones facing the sea have passed away. It’s also a family friendly spot. This year, my husband and I were joined by my 13-year old sister, a teenager who appreciates good food like her big sis. At the Ugly Mug, little sis ordered a Chili Cheese Burger, hubby ordered a Fried Flounder Sandwich, and I had a Crab Cake Sandwich. All three meals were delicious and hit the spot after a long drive down. I particularly enjoyed my Crab Cake, it was fried golden brown and had tons of lump crab meat inside. I’ve had the Fried Flounder before and tasted my husband’s and it was good as always, not greasy, flavored right, and lots of tender, flaky fish inside.

Ugly Mug Fried Flounder

Ugly Mug Crabcake

Ugly Mug Chili Cheeseburger

The next day for breakfast we headed over to the popular Mad Batter Restaurant inside the Carroll Villa hotel. We’ve been going here since our first trip down and have had scrumptious breakfasts, lunches, and dinners every time. We like this particular place so much, when we got married, we had our rehearsal dinner here. The Mad Batter is perhaps one of the most popular places for breakfast and usually there is a short wait, but it’s worth it. My husband had oatmeal pancakes (hearty and filling), while my little sis had buttermilk blueberry pancakes (bursting with berries), and I being the most adventurous of the group that morning had the Croustade- scrambled eggs with roasted peppers, garlic, green onions, sausage crumbles and Pepper Jack cheese served over Texas toast. I’ve had this before and it is creamy, flavorful, and really filling. In fact, I’ve noticed the same item on another restaurant’s breakfast menu….



For lunch that day, we headed over to The Bella Vida Cafe in West Cape May. It’s a family-run “diner”, very small and quaint in a tiny, yellow building. You’d almost miss it, if you weren’t looking and that would be sad 😦  We discovered Bella Vida a few years ago and this place has some great home cooking with huge portions, low prices, great service, and always an open table. This is definitely a local place. Little sis had some crispy, gooey mozzarella sticks, husband had the Happy Thanksgiving Wrap (turkey, cranberry, coleslaw) which he loved, and I had an ABLT (a BLT with avocado). My sandwich was served on the most delicious wheat bread with fresh avocado. I wasn’t too hungry because of breakfast and this small, light sandwich was perfect. Little sis and I also shared a Creamy Crab Chowder that was ultra thick and creamy and filled with huge chunks of tasty crab. Hubby had some French Onion soup topped with some gooey melted cheese he loved.





Later that night for dinner we tried a new place, The Blue Pig Tavern in Congress Hall hotel. Congress Hall is one of the larger hotels in Cape May and one of the oldest and most beautiful. I like to compare it to the Short Hills Hilton but with a Victorian flair. The Blue Pig Tavern was quite cozy, dimly lit with a beautiful fireplace. The service was pretty good, the food was just okay. I don’t think we’ll return here in the future. For appetizers, we had Crispy Ginger Shrimp Wontons which were just okay, the ginger was underwhelming. We also had the Crab, Caramelized Onion and Fontina Tart. We were told this would take awhile and I figured it was because it was an individual tart. Turns out, we received a lukewarm slice from a larger tart but it was actually quite delicious. For our main course, my husband had the fish and chips, which was very tasty. My little sis and I had the Saturday night special, Prime Rib and baked potato. I usually get Prime Rib when it’s on the menu, but this one was just too fatty. And worse, the potato was undercooked. Sadly, I cannot recommend this place, there are just far too many more fabulous restaurants in Cape May.




The next morning, we headed back to Bella Vida for breakfast.  We all decided to be boring that morning and get the same thing, scrambled eggs, home fries, bacon or ham, and a short stack of pancakes. Simple but tasty!!!

If you do venture down to Cape May, you’ll have a wide selection for every taste and every budget. If you ever need any feedback feel free to comment here about any Cape May restaurants and I’ll respond if I am familiar with them. We’ve been to many so we may be able to help!


P.S. Let me know how you like the pics! A co-worker, (MS-you know who you are…) said my pictures weren’t too good and that’s putting it nicely!

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Merry Christmas to All!

I just wanted to take a moment and say Merry Christmas (a few days late!) to all who read The Average Cook! Been so busy with the holidays and well, cooking, that I haven’t had time to write. But I promise more posts to come! I have several from even before Christmas, including a trip/restaurant review to Cape May, NJ as well as several Christmas recipes coming your way, so stay tuned all!!! Happy Holidays! Buon Natale!

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Mashed Potato Gratin


Hi folks! Sorry for the two-week hiatus! I do have plenty to write about I just haven’t had a moment with the holidays upon us. I’ll not only be reviewing a few recipes this week but also a recent weekend trip that had some gastronomical adventures complete with pics!

About a week or so ago I made Cooking Light’s Mashed Potato Gratin from their November 2006 issue. I honestly can’t remember what I made with it. I can assure you that they were a side dish, although I could make a one-bowl meal out of the right mash. If there’s one thing I L-O-V-E, it’s mashed potatoes, a little lumpy, seasoned right, creamy and buttery, sometimes with some creamy horseradish. This recipe was just okay. I think it had to do with my choice of cheeses. While I did use fontina, I couldn’t find Gruyere. Instead I substituted with some provolone and cheddar. These three cheeses DO not work well together. But I did like sprinkling the cheese on top and letting it broil. That was pretty good. Would I make again? Nope, I rather stick to the basic mashed potatoes I like.

Rating: 2.5 stars

Mashed Potato Gratin

From Cooking Light
Although Yukon gold potatoes give this cheesy gratin extra buttery flavor and color, russets also will work.

4 pounds Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 2-inch chunks
1 cup (4 ounces) fontina cheese, shredded and divided
3/4 cup (3 ounces) Gruyère cheese, shredded and divided
1 1/2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup warm 1% low-fat milk (100° to 110°)
Cooking spray

Preheat oven to 400°.Place potatoes in a large Dutch oven. Cover with water; bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer 15 minutes or until tender; drain. Return potatoes to pan. Add 3/4 cup fontina cheese, 1/2 cup Gruyère cheese, butter, salt, and freshly ground black pepper to pan; mash with a fork or potato masher until well combined. Add warm milk to pan; continue mashing potato mixture until desired consistency. Spoon into a 13 x 9-inch baking dish coated with cooking spray; sprinkle evenly with remaining 1/4 cup fontina cheese and remaining 1/4 cup Gruyère cheese. Cover with aluminum foil lightly sprayed with cooking spray. Bake at 400° for 20 minutes. Remove from oven; remove and discard foil.

Preheat broiler.

Broil gratin 5 minutes or until cheese is brown and bubbly.

Yield: 14 servings (serving size: 1/2 cup)

CALORIES 188 (29% from fat); FAT 6g (sat 3.6g,mono 1.7g,poly 0.4g); PROTEIN 6.9g; CHOLESTEROL 20mg; CALCIUM 134mg; SODIUM 276mg; FIBER 2.3g; IRON 0.4mg; CARBOHYDRATE 27.1g

Cooking Light, NOVEMBER 2006

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Exciting News!

For those of you in NJ, you may be familiar with The Star-Ledger newspaper and The Artful Diner is a restaurant critic for both the newspaper and the website in addition to having his own site (which is listed here on my blog). I’ve always enjoyed reading his reviews and posts on the restaurant forum on He visits Cape May quite often, one of my favorite haunts, and I’ve always found that I’ve agreed with him. I let him know about the blog and he listed it on his own weblog!! Check out my little shout-out here!

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Beer Cheese Soup

When I first saw the recipe and article for Beer Cheese Soup in the November issue of Cooking Light I was eager to make this. I love Disney World, I love Epcot, and I LOVE the Canadian restaurant Le Cellier. They have the most incredible Cheddar Cheese Soup. I have the recipe from there but have never made it as it was very fattening and had some difficult ingredients to find. So when I saw a similiar recipe in Cooking Light I had to give it a try. What a mistake. An awful mistake. However, the fault also lies partially with me. Besides that the soup was just too watery, despite having pureed potatoes, and flavorless, I used the wrong beer. It didn’t say what kind of beer to use and since I am not a beer drinker, I used what I had in the fridge- a bottle of my husband’s Guinness. The result was a very dark colored soup (as you can see in the picture from the link it should have been very light) that was completely overpowered by the Guinness. I am not including a picture because it looked horrible but I am including a link to the recipe (if you reeaaaalllyyy want to try it) to Cooking Light. There  you’ll find the recipe, a picture, and surprise- several very bad reviews, so I wasn’t the only one who didn’t like it (but I am sure the only one who used Guinness).

Overall rating: 0 stars

Cooking Light’s Beer Cheese Soup recipe

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Thanksgiving Re-cap

lasagna.jpgpumpkin-pie.jpg cranberry-orange-tart.jpg

I know, I know, Thanksgiving was two weeks ago! But of course I had to write about what I made! We went to my mother’s this year for Thanksgiving and had the typical (typical for us) holiday fare: turkey, ham, stuffing, mashed and sweet potatoes, corn, chestnuts, breaded broccoli, and lasagna. For dessert, pumpkin, apple, and pecan pie, carrot cake, and my cranberry orange tart. I made the lasagna using the Ronzoni noodles that you don’t have to pre-cook, they go in the pan just as you take them out of the box. I think this makes the lasagna hold up better because the excess water, if you don’t dry the noodles off good enough, makes it limp and not solid. I didn’t really follow a particular recipe. I was going back and forth between the recipe on the Ronzoni box and the recipe on the ricotta container. I did however, make my own gravy (sauce sorry!) for the lasagna. This, is one recipe, I don’t share! I will tell you I believe the secret is keeping it simple and using the best tomatoes. I also like to throw a little red wine in there.  I also made a pumpkin pie, using the recipe on the back of the Libby can. To add my own touch I sprinkled the top with some pumpkin pie spice and I think it gave it a nice, spicy (spicy as in cinnamon, nutmeg) taste. The recipe I will share with you was my Cranberry-Orange Tart from Cooking Light. I found this recipe in the new hardcover holiday cookbook they just published. I am by no means a baker, so I improvised and used Pillsbury pie crust for this as well as the pumpkin pie. I used pecans instead of walnuts and I sprinkled the top with some brown sugar to take away some of the tartness. The result, I think looked better than it tasted. It was very pretty but soooo tart. I actually did enjoy it but you must like cranberries to like this. Overall rating: (for Cranberry-Orange Tart) 3.5 stars


Cranberry-Orange Tart

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons chilled butter, cut into small pieces
1/3 cup ice water
Cooking spray
1/3 cup orange juice
2 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup orange marmalade
2 tablespoons chopped walnuts, toasted
1 tablespoon grated orange rind
1 (12-ounce) package fresh cranberries
Preheat oven to 425°.To prepare crust, lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour, 2 tablespoons sugar, and salt in a bowl; cut in butter with a pastry blender or 2 knives until mixture resembles coarse meal.Sprinkle surface with ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time; toss with a fork until moist and crumbly (do not form a ball). Gently press mixture into a 4-inch circle on plastic wrap. Cover and chill for 15 minutes.Slightly overlap 2 lengths of plastic wrap on slightly damp surface. Unwrap and place chilled dough on plastic wrap. Cover dough with 2 additional lengths of overlapping plastic wrap. Roll dough, still covered, into a 14-inch circle. Place dough in freezer 5 minutes or until plastic wrap can be easily removed.Remove plastic wrap; fit dough into a 10-inch round removable-bottom tart pan coated with cooking spray. Fold edges under or flute decoratively.To prepare filling, combine juice and cornstarch in a large bowl; stir well with a whisk. Add remaining ingredients; stir well. Pour mixture into prepared pan.Bake at 425° for 20 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350° (do not remove tart from oven); bake an additional 35 minutes or until crust is lightly browned. Cool completely on a wire rack.Yield:  10 servingsCALORIES 274 (27% from fat); FAT 8.2g (sat 4.4g,mono 2.2g,poly 1.1g); PROTEIN 2.5g; CHOLESTEROL 19mg; CALCIUM 14mg; SODIUM 105mg; FIBER 2.2g; IRON 1.1mg; CARBOHYDRATE 49.4g Cooking Light, NOVEMBER 2002

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