Archive for November, 2007

Restaurant Review: Oishi Sushi, Hazlet, NJ

So after hearing a few complaints about my negative restaurant reviews and too many recipes from Cooking Light from some of my colleagues (you know who you are Mr. Old Spice) who subscribe to The Average Cook, I promised them a positive review (and some non-Cooking Light recipes to come…).

Sushi is one of my husband and mine favorite cuisines. I could seriously eat sushi everyday if one, it wasn’t so expensive and two, not recommended to eat raw fish that often. When we first moved to Monmouth County, NJ we tried several sushi places but none of them were great. None were bad, but none were phenomenal. I’m not sure what made us try Oishi Sushi but I do know it had a very good write-up in The Asbury Park Press. It’s a tiny little place, that’s never that crowded, located in a small strip mall off Route 36. The many times we’ve been there, I’ve noticed that the delivery guy is constantly in and out of there (they offer free delivery to a few towns in the area).

Every time we’ve dined here the service was impeccable. They are extremely polite and attentive. They also always take off 10% of the bill, a coupon you can easily find on the take-out menu located at the front desk or on Restaurant Passion’s website (where you can also order on-line, see the menu and restaurant pics).

I’ve never taken any pics while we’ve dined in because I didn’t want to get the weird “Why is that lady taking pictures of her food?” look. However, our most recent dining experience was take-out. I stopped by one night after working really late and having no ambition to cook dinner. When I arrived I placed our order and while I was waiting, the staff insisted I sit at one of the empty tables while they served me tea. How many places will do that?

We started with the Avocado Salad, avocados and flying fish roe on green salad. This was served with your standard ginger dressing. This was a perfect start. The salad was crisp and fresh and the avocados were ripe and buttery, no browning. The ginger dressing has just the right consistency and flavor of ginger.

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I had the Sashimi Appetizer which I specifically requested tuna and salmon. It is super fresh and buttery and flavorful. I’ve had tuna and salmon sashimi at many different places and it’s easy for it to be bad. I’ve had soft, squishy, flavorless, fishy, and mushy sashimi. But at Oishi Sushi it tastes like they just reeled it in.

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My husband had the eel roll and the shrimp tempura roll (my absolute favorite). He loved both and I can stand-by the shrimp tempura roll. It’s crispy and warm with big hunks of shrimp. And by request, they always put the spicy mayo on the side for us, because it’s a tad bit too spicy for me. I also had a salmon avocado roll. Again, nothing but freshness and flavor.

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(Shrimp Tempura Roll on left, Salmon Avocado Roll top right, Eel Roll bottom right)

This place keeps us coming back so often it was starting to hurt the checkbook! But we do try to get here about once a month and always look forward to eating here whether it’s in the restaurant or take-out. I highly recommend this tiny little place if you are in the area.

Banzai!

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Pasta with Vodka Cream Sauce

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I love pasta with Vodka cream sauce so much that a few years ago I had made it so often trying to perfect my own recipe my husband banned it for dinner. So I’ve slowly had to reintroduce it into the menu and I think I’ve seriously only made it twice in about two years. But that’s also because it’s not exactly a health conscious meal.

I hadn’t actually anticipated making it but saw a recipe in the September 2007 issue of Cooking Light and figured I try it out (even though my own recipe is fantabulous). I didn’t tell husband I was making it until it was served so I wouldn’t get any objections. This recipe is very similar to my own secret recipe (promise to post it one day…).

I used whole wheat penne for this as we typically only eat whole wheat pasta in our household. I also used crushed San Marzano tomatoes instead of the no-salt added diced tomatoes as suggested. I just cannot make a tomato sauce using any other type of tomatoes. Because I used crushed tomatoes I didn’t need to place the sauce in the blender. Instead, for a few seconds, I used my hand-held mixer in the saucepan. I also added a wee bit of diced pancetta (one of my secrets for my own recipe).

The sauce did turn out quite watery at first, but still good. When we had it the next night for leftovers, it had thickened significantly and clung to the pasta better. I would probably just stick to my own recipe but this one is a very good recipe for vodka cream sauce and I would definitely recommend it if you are looking for this recipe. Best served next day!

Overall rating – 3.5 stars

Pasta with Vodka Cream Sauce


Nothing coats pasta quite like whipping cream. Although the dish uses canned tomatoes and broth for convenience, it tastes fresh because of the basil stirred in at the end.


1/2 pound uncooked penne pasta
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1 teaspoon salt, divided
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 cup vodka
1/4 cup fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
1 (14.5-ounce) can no-salt-added diced tomatoes, undrained
1/4 cup whipping cream
3 tablespoons thinly sliced fresh basil
Cook the pasta according to the package directions, omitting salt and fat. Drain and keep warm. Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion to pan; sauté 4 minutes or until tender. Add 1/4 teaspoon salt, pepper, and garlic; sauté 1 minute. Add vodka; bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer 3 minutes or until liquid is reduced by about half. Stir in 1/2 teaspoon salt, broth, and tomatoes; bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer 8 minutes. Place tomato mixture in a blender. Remove center piece of blender lid (to allow steam to escape); secure blender lid on blender. Place a clean towel over opening in blender lid (to avoid splatters). Process until smooth. Return tomato mixture to pan; stir in cream. Cook 2 minutes over medium heat, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Stir in cooked pasta, remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, and basil. Serve immediately.Yield:  4 servings (serving size: 1 cup)CALORIES 354 (25% from fat); FAT 9.9g (sat 3.9g,mono 4.1g,poly 0.6g); PROTEIN 8.5g; CHOLESTEROL 20mg; CALCIUM 36mg; SODIUM 662mg; FIBER 3.1g; IRON 1.2mg; CARBOHYDRATE 48.6g Cooking Light, SEPTEMBER 2007

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Restaurant Review: It’s Greek to Me, Holmdel, NJ

This past Saturday night because I was over Thanksgiving leftovers I just wanted to go out for dinner. We have a list of restaurants we want to try in the area and because it was the closest, we decided on It’s Greek to Me in Holmdel, NJ. I believe this is a chain restaurant with two other locations in Northern NJ. I had eaten here once before with a work luncheon and thought it was pretty good so I wanted to give it another shot. The husband had never eaten here and he’s game for any food.

The decor is Mediterranean with a lot of blue. Very simple, clean, nice. We were immediately seated as there were quite a few open tables. It was about 8:30 p.m. by this time so the lack of diners didn’t bother me as much as it usually does. We had immediate service from the wait staff who remained consistently attentive throughout the night.

For starters we ordered the Grilled Feta with Fresh Tomato and Sweet Pepper for $8.50. This was served with warm pita bread. I love feta so there was nothing here to not like. I will point out that the tomatoes were the kind I loathe in restaurants. Very pale, pink, and flavorless. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. There is no excuse, especially in NJ for a restaurant to not be serving awesome tomatoes! I can still get beautiful, juicy red tomatoes at my grocery store and Costco.

For our main meal, the husband order the Lamb Gyro Combo served with tomatoes, onions, and tzatziki sauce for $10.50. It was a massive portion and he enjoyed it very much.

I ordered the Shrimp Souvlaki platter served with Greek fries, grilled sweet pepper, grilled tomatoes, tzatziki, onion & parsley for $17.95. Ever the picky one, I did not enjoy mine. The “Greek” fries were regular fries with some “special” seasonings. Whatever. Some of them weren’t even cooked all the way through. The shrimp souvlaki was about a dozen or so small to medium size shrimp that appeared to have been on a kebab with onions. The shrimp, while it did have some flavor, was mostly overcooked and had the delicious, rubbery taste I just so adore. I thought it was overpriced for what they offered.

Before I said something, worrying my husband would want to come back here again since he loved his gyro so much, he said as we got in the car, “Well, that’s one place I don’t have to go back to.” Thank goodness. Overall, I think it’s overrated as I’ve heard many people rave about this place. The food is decent at best. The service and atmosphere were good but again, FOOD brings me back.

I guess I should have just stuck with the Thanksgiving leftovers that night….

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Yankee Pot Roast

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As the weather becomes cooler, every Sunday for the last few weeks, I’ve been making some sort of comfort food, something that I would only make in cold weather. Those recipes that take a few or several hours to make while filling your home with heavenly aromas. As I still making my way through the tagged recipes in the September and October issue of Cooking Light, I decided to go for the Yankee Pot Roast. Pretty ambitious on my part, considering I’ve only made it once before. But as always, with cooking, I’m up to the challenge.

The only memories I have of pot roast growing up was the occasional one my grandmother would make. However, I can’t remember if I actually liked it. My husband, on the other hand, loves it and his mother makes it quite often and always saves us some. I like pot roast, I don’t love it. I think it has the potential to be disastrous because of the cut of meat, which is very fatty. This time, I did in fact, cut off a lot of the fat, which I know would make some people cringe because that’s what helps give it flavor as it cooks. But alas, we are trying to be healthy, so fat begone!

I substituted the rutabaga with more potatoes as I read that it was overpowering in the recipes and I’m really not a fan in the first place. Other than that, I followed all other directions of this recipe. We both really enjoyed, it was very flavorful and moist, despite the fat removal beforehand. I do think it was a little salty for my taste and I didn’t even add as much salt as it called for. I would definitely recommend this recipe and would make it again for a family dinner. The two pictures I’ve posted show one before I cut up the meat and one after.

Overall rating – 4 stars
Enjoy!

Yankee Pot Roast


Root vegetables add a touch of sweetness to this savory stew. Yankee cooks traditionally add the vegetables partway through the cooking process, which helps keep them from breaking down.


1 teaspoon canola oil
2 pounds boneless chuck roast, trimmed
Cooking spray
1 cup chopped yellow onion
4 cups fat-free, less-sodium beef broth
1 tablespoon whole-grain Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried sage
2 bay leaves
2 1/2 cups (1-inch) cubed peeled rutabaga (about 1 pound)
2 1/2 cups (1-inch) cubed peeled parsnip (about 1 pound)
1 1/2 cups (1-inch-thick) slices carrot (about 8 ounces)
2 cups (1-inch) cubed peeled baking potato (about 1 pound)
Fresh thyme sprigs (optional)

Preheat oven to 300°.Heat oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add beef to pan, browning on all sides (about 8 minutes). Remove from pan. Coat pan with cooking spray. Add onion to pan; sauté 5 minutes or until beginning to brown. Stir in broth, scraping pan to loosen browned bits. Reduce heat; add mustard and next 5 ingredients (through bay leaves). Return roast to pan; bring to a simmer.

Cover and bake at 300° for 1 1/2 hours. Stir in rutabaga, parsnip, and carrot. Bake, covered, 1 hour. Stir in potato; cover and bake 30 minutes or until roast and vegetables are very tender. Discard bay leaves. Garnish with thyme sprigs, if desired.
Yield: 8 servings (serving size: about 1 1/4 cups)

CALORIES 325 (28% from fat); FAT 10.2g (sat 3.3g,mono 4.6g,poly 0.7g); PROTEIN 28.7g; CHOLESTEROL 79mg; CALCIUM 72mg; SODIUM 642mg; FIBER 5.8g; IRON 4.3mg; CARBOHYDRATE 29.3g

Cooking Light, OCTOBER 2007

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Happy Anniversary to Me!

One year ago this month I officially launched The Average Cook. I had no idea when I started this blog that I’d still be writing it a year later. In celebration of my year anniversary, as you can see, The Average Cook has a new look, thanks to my wonderful husband who designed it. Thanks to all of the loyal readers throughout the year and hoping to even more new readers. Thanks to all of the feedback and comments left over the last year. And thanks to all of my fellow bloggers I’ve discovered through my own site.

I hope you continue to enjoy the blog and like the new fabulous design. Thanks again!!

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Roast Chicken with Onions, Potatoes and Gravy

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And I’m back with a recipe! Considering next week is Thanksgiving, I thought a post on Roast Chicken seemed fitting. Roast Chicken is fabulous is so many ways. It’s a relatively easy dish to make and if it comes out juicy, moist and flavorful, it’s a hit (and let’s not forget the endless possibilities for leftovers…).

I love making Roast Chicken with vegetables and I would say the only reason I don’t make it more often is that I get slightly nauseated trying to get that bag of whosits and whatsits out of the neck cavity. Thank goodness they are in a bag. Not good when that bag rips open as you’re trying to pull it out. Yes, it’s happened to me. blech.

This particular recipe was in the September 2007 issue of Cooking Light. Yes, I’m still trying to make my way through the recipes I’ve tagged in the September and October issues before even opening the November issue. This was noted as their “best chicken dish” and had first printed in the May 2005 issue.  The recipe comes from Chuck Williams, as in Williams-Sonoma (loooovvveee that store).

Now I had some issues with this chicken. My darn stove. I don’t think it’s working like it should. This chicken should have taken about an hour and a half to make. It took more like three hours for that little white thing to pop up. I wasn’t making a 20 pound turkey here. It was a seven pound chicken. By that time, I had no desire to make the gravy part of the meal. We just wanted to EAT it. After reading the reviews on Cooking Light, the gravy wasn’t necessary and I’d agree. It tasted fine as is. However, the chicken did seem to be getting dried out while cooking and there was little liquid to baste it with. So I did end up throwing a can of chicken broth in there.

Overall, all the work of stuffing that chicken for the flavor was lost in the dish. While it did come out very moist and tasty, was it the best recipe I’ve made for Roast Chicken? No, but it was very good. The vegetables were also very good, as expected.

Overall rating: 3 stars

Roasted Chicken with Onions, Potatoes, and Gravy

 

1 (4-pound) roasting chicken
1 1/4 teaspoons salt, divided
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
4 oregano sprigs
1 lemon, quartered
1 celery stalk, cut into 2-inch pieces
Cooking spray
2 tablespoons butter, melted
2 pounds medium yellow onions, peeled and each cut into 8 wedges
2 pounds small red potatoes, cut into (1-inch) wedges
1/4 cup all-purpose flour (about 1 ounce)
1 (14-ounce) can fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth, divided
Lemon wedges (optional)
Fresh oregano sprigs (optional)
Preheat oven to 425°. Remove and discard giblets and neck from chicken. Trim excess fat. Starting at neck cavity, loosen skin from breast and drumsticks by inserting fingers, gently pushing between skin and meat. Combine 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper; rub under loosened skin and over breast and drumsticks. Place oregano sprigs, quartered lemon, and celery pieces into body cavity. Lift wing tips up and over back; tuck under chicken. Tie legs together with string. Place chicken, breast side up, on the rack of a broiler pan coated with cooking spray.Combine 1/2 teaspoon salt, remaining 1/4 teaspoon pepper, melted butter, onions, and potatoes in a large bowl, and toss well to coat. Arrange onion mixture around chicken on rack. Place rack in pan. Bake at 425° for 20 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 325° (do not remove pan from oven); bake an additional 1 hour and 10 minutes or until onions and potatoes are tender and a thermometer inserted into meaty part of chicken thigh registers 165°. Set chicken, onions, and potatoes aside; cover and keep warm.Place a zip-top plastic bag inside a 2-cup glass measure. Pour pan drippings into bag; let stand 10 minutes (fat will rise to the top). Seal bag; carefully snip off 1 bottom corner of bag. Drain drippings into a small saucepan, stopping before fat layer reaches opening; discard fat. Combine remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, flour, and 1/2 cup chicken broth in a small bowl, stirring with a whisk. Add flour mixture and remaining chicken broth to saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium; cook 5 minutes or until gravy thickens, stirring frequently with a whisk. Carve chicken; serve with gravy and onion mixture. Garnish with lemon wedges and oregano sprigs, if desired.

Yield:  6 servings (serving size: about 4 ounces chicken, 1 1/3 cups onion mixture, and 1/3 cup gravy)CALORIES 430 (24% from fat); FAT 11.6g (sat 4.5g,mono 3.8g,poly 2g); PROTEIN 36.9g; CHOLESTEROL 113mg; CALCIUM 71mg; SODIUM 753mg; FIBER 5.2g; IRON 3.4mg; CARBOHYDRATE 43.7g Cooking Light, SEPTEMBER 2007

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Vacation Restaurant Reviews Part Seven

Our last day of vacation…how sad. We got up bright and early and stuffed our luggage into the fabulous, stinky rental car and made our way over to the Polynesian Resort. This was painful as I had to view from afar the Magic Kingdom, knowing I wouldn’t be stepping a foot in there.

We had reservations for the Kona Cafe at 10:30 that morning. The Polynesian Resort is one of my favorites at WDW, even though I’ve actually never stayed here. I always make a point to visit this resort, even if it’s just to walk around and grab a cup of Kona coffee at the coffee bar. We’ve eaten at the luau here which was good and a lot of fun and we had a character meal breakfast last year at Ohana’s which was also good.

This was our first time eating at the Kona Cafe, which is a table service restaurant that serves all day. One of the Disney message boards I frequent, www.disboards.com, has numerous, positive posts about this place and in particular, Tonga Toast – a banana-stuffed french toast coated in cinnamon sugar, served with a strawberry compote and ham, bacon or sausage.

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We were seated immediately and there was quite a crowd here. I immediately ordered a cup of Kona blend coffee. The regular Kona was in a press pot and I heard it was super strong and there’s no way I could handle it. Hubby ordered a cafe mocha, despite not liking coffee. I loved my coffee and he, surprisingly, liked the cafe mocha. I took a sip and thought it was very yummy.

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Hubby ordered the Big Kahuna. If you can see from the menu above is French Toast, Macadamia-Pineapple Pancakes, Eggs, Homefries, Ham, Bacon, AND Sausage. Did I mention he is a big eater? Waitress brought out eggs, home fries and ham. Ummm…where’s the rest…She didn’t hear him order the Big Kahuna. Not sure, what she heard but she decided to bring out half of his meal. She quickly brought out the rest though. He ate the WHOLE thing and loved it. The Macadamia-Pineapple Pancakes were actually regular pancakes with pineapple on top and macadamia nut butter. The butter was awesome though.

I ordered the Tonga Toast with sausage. Again, something missing, no strawberry compote. But I actually didn’t want it, so I didn’t say anything to the server. This was good but I didn’t love it. Fellow DISer’s don’t hate me, lol! The portion was HUGE and there was no way I could finish it. I thought the sausage was very tasty too. I’m glad I tried it but I wouldn’t order it again.

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Overall, the meal was good, HUGE, and tasty. The service was somewhat shoddy but it wouldn’t keep me from going back here. I hear they have some great wings for dinner! We took a spin on the monorail after the meal and had a tour of the Grand Floridian Resort before heading to Downtown Disney and eventually the airport… 😦

And that’s all folks! My vacation reviews have come to an end, sniff sniff…

I’ll be back to posting some recipe reviews very soon. Hope you enjoyed the recap!  

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