Monday, December 31, 2012

Goodbye 2012, Hello 2013

2012: what a year. It's been filled with challenges and bumps in the road. But those were great life lessons indeed.

It hasn't been easy and I've written vaguely about some parts here. Nonetheless, life experiences are what it is all about. It can't be full of roses all the time, now can it? How would we ever learn to appreciate the good times without the bad not so good times?

It truly is what you make of each experience. Here's to hoping that 2013 has more good experiences than the not so good ones.

Wishing you and yours all happiness and most importantly health in the new year and for years to come!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

What's for Dinner: Cheddar Bay Biscuits

I don't know anyone who doesn't like these biscuits that are originally from Red Lobster. I devour them, and probably fill myself up with them before I am even served my dinner. And then take some home at the end of the night. I love them.

Tonight, I made them from scratch at home!

What you need:
Ingredients for the biscuit:
  • 2 and a 1/2 cups PLUS 6 tablespoons of all-purpose flour (which is the same as 3 cups MINUS 2 tablespoons -- whatever is easier for you)
  • 2 tablespoons of cornstarch
  • 1 tablespoon of baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 2 teaspoons of garlic powder
  • 12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened [cut it into small pieces for your convenience]
  • 2 cups of mild shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1 1/2 cups of (reduced fat) buttermilk
Ingredients for the butter mixture to brush on top:
  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 a stick) of unsalted butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon of garlic powder
  • 3/4 of a teaspoon of parsley flakes
Here's how I made mine:
  1. First, move your oven rack up to the upper or upper-middle position (I kept mine on the second of five racks). Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Line two of your baking sheets with foil for easy cleanup (parchment paper or a Silpat would work too).
  2. In a [mixing] bowl, mix together the flour, cornstarch, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and garlic powder until it is combined well. Add in the cubed [softened] butter and use a fork (or your hands -- hands made it much easier and quicker) to combine the butter into the flour mixture until it resembles coarse meal. You'll end up with some pea size pieces of butter that are visible, and that's all right.
  3. At this point, add in your mild shredded cheddar cheese and mix it well. Pour in the buttermilk and stir until everything is combined.
  4. Scoop your mixture with your hands (you could also use either two spoons or a 1/4 measuring cup, but I found it stuck to the scoop -- hands worked best) to scoop the biscuit mixture onto the baking sheets. Pat them down to make them uniformed, but I'd leave the free-form shape.
  5. Let the biscuits bake for about 12 minutes, and them remove and brush with butter mixture (see step 6), and then bake for an additional 5-6 minutes until the top of the biscuits are golden brown. 
  6. For the topping that you will brush on top of each of the biscuits: take half a stick of melted butter, and add 1/2 a teaspoon of garlic powder and 3/4 of a teaspoon of parsley flakes. Stir it nicely until it is well combined.
The biscuits can be served at room temperature, but are best served straight out of the oven!

The above quantity made 16 perfect biscuits for me. The consistency, texture (inside and out), and taste were matching. I thought it'd taste similar, but I was pleasantly surprised how great they turned out.

I found several recipes online for these biscuits, but they just didn't seem right or had ingredients that I didn't want to use (like shortening or oil). Others called for garlic salt (and I don't like things that are too salty). Many used oregano and I didn't think that was the correct herb to match the taste. I also didn't want to use a biscuit mix like most of them called for. I like shortcuts like everyone else, but sometimes you want to do it right from scratch. Another challenge: most recipes, if not all, seemed to need cake flour. For some reason, neither of the two major grocery stores I frequent seemed to carry cake flour. Not sure what the deal with that is, considering when I Googled it, I was told that most, if not all, major grocery stories had them right by the other flours in the baking aisle. Yeah, apparently not where I live.

So I improvised. Here's a tip for you if you find yourself in the same predicament as me. You can make a substitute for cake flour at home if you have cornstarch and all purpose flour (AP flour). Basically, 1 cup of cake flour equals 1 cup of AP flour minus 2 tablespoons plus 2 tablespoons of cornstarch. Confused much? I hope not. Basically take a cup of AP flour, but take two tablespoons out of it and put it back in your flour container. Then add two tablespoons of cornstarch to the remainder of the flour. A cup of this mixture can be substituted for every cup of cake flour you need for your recipes.

If you are using cake flour as part of your recipe, use a combination of 1 and 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour and 1 and 1/2 cups of cake flour AND OMIT THE CORNSTARCH!.

Check out other things I've made recently:
Open-faced Chicken Parmesan Sandwiches
Oven-Fried Chicken
Homemade Dinner Rolls with Rosemary and Black Pepper

P.S. This post is a part of my "What's for Dinner" series, where I share what I've been cooking and my recipes. Grab and share my button:

Monday, December 24, 2012

What's for Dinner: Open-Faced Chicken Parmesan Sandwiches

Late last week, on Friday, I made open-faced Chicken Parmesan sandwiches for dinner for my family:

I had loaves of Italian bread sitting at home, and I couldn't think of what to make with it.

Here's how I made it:
  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  • Heat a few tablespoons of oil in a skillet.
  • Flatten pieces of chicken cubes or breast fillets (I cut my fillets into tinier pieces today because I thought it would work best. Next time, I'd make them even smaller, bite size perhaps).
  • Marinate your chicken with salt, pepper, paprika, garlic, ginger, cayenne pepper, oregano (about 1/2 teaspoon). 
  • In a large ziploc bag, combine breadcrumbs and about 1-2 tablespoons of parmesan cheese (this will depend on your preference... put as much more as you'd like). Then, in batches, add pieces of chicken into the ziploc bag. Ziploc the bag, and shake well to coat all the pieces of the chicken. Remove the chicken from the bag, and repeat until and the chicken pieces are coated. I do this portion in a ziploc bag for three reasons: a) easy clean up b) I don't spend forever coating each piece of chicken --- a huge time saver c) I always find that the coating is always done better this way and creates a nice crust.
  • In the heated skillet, cook the chicken.
  • You could certainly make your own bread, or use whatever type of loaf/loaves you have at home, but I used store-bought Italian bread for mine.
  • To assemble, on the loaves, spoon in a nice coating of (marinara) sauce. Add chicken on top, followed by more sauce (enough to cover everything). Sprinkle a generous amount of (mozzarella) cheese on top. Top with dried oregano leaves on top.
  • Put your open-faced sandwiches in the oven for about 8-10 minutes to warm up the sauce, and melt the cheese. Just watch the oven, the time will vary depending on the cheese and sauce.
Next time, however, I'd probably do the following differently:
  • Scoop some of the bread out of each of the thirds and use them instead to make fresh breadcrumbs. This way, the fillings and toppings would fit better and wouldn't be so thick. I think it'd be easier to cut too (and the scooped-out parts wouldn't go to waste). Or perhaps just use a different type of loaf (French, maybe?)
  • Cut the chicken into much smaller pieces so they are more manageable to cut and eat.
Check out other things I've made recently:
Oven-Fried Chicken
Homemade Dinner Rolls with Rosemary and Black Pepper

P.S. This post is a part of my "What's for Dinner" series, where I share what I've been cooking and my recipes. Grab and share my button:

Thursday, December 20, 2012

What's for Dinner: Homemade Dinner Rolls with Rosemary & Black Pepper

Today I made homemade dinner rolls from scratch [with rosemary and black pepper]:

Very quickly, I learned that I need a Stand Mixer. That a hand mixer simply won't do. Not going to lie, but it was pretty hard to control the bowl and the hand mixer with the dough using the hand mixer.

But the end result was great, so I guess it was worth it.

Here's what you need:
  • 1 package (2 1/4 teaspoon) of yeast
  • 1 cup lukewarm water
  • 2 tablespoons of oil (plus more for greasing bowl and pan [I used the non-stick spray instead for those two parts])
  • 1 large egg
  • 3 tablespoons of sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon of ground black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons of crushed rosemary leaves
  • 3 and 1/4 cups of flour
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 1-2 tablespoons of melted butter (I would say I ended up using 1 and a half tablespoons)
How I made it:
  1. Add the lukewarm water to your mixing bowl and sprinkle the yeast on top. Let it sit for about 10 minutes or so, until it becomes frothy. Mine didn't become too frothy even by the 15-20 minute mark, but it still ended up fine. Just make sure your yeast hasn't expired -- most are instant these days so the end result will probably still be fine as long as your yeast is still good.
  2. Add your oil, egg, sugar, black pepper, and rosemary to the bowl.
  3. Then add the flour and mix on the low-to medium speed until the dough holds together, which takes just a few minutes. Then, increase speed to medium and knead the dough for an addition 3-5 minutes until the dough is formed.
  4. Cover the bowl with a damp towel and let the dough sit for about 20 minutes. 
  5. Afterwards, add in salt and mix the dough on the low speed for one minute.
  6. At this point, transfer your dough to a large bowl that has been lightly greased (I used the non-stick spray, but you can also grease it with oil or butter). Cover your bowl with a damp towel once again and let it rise in a warm place [I let mine rise in the oven -- KEEP THE OVEN OFF] until it has pretty much doubled, which takes about 1-1 1/2 hours.
  7. Grease the bottoms and sides of a 9-inch baking pan.
  8. Divide your dough in half and break off 7 pieces of dough, each about the the size of a golf ball, from each half.
  9. Roll each piece of dough into rounds and place in the pan about 1/2-1 inch apart (they should fill the pan after the final riser).
  10. Cover the pan with a damp towel and let them rise for another 20 minutes + the time it takes to preheat the oven. The rolls should expand to fill up the entire pan so if you can see more than a couple of spots of the bottom of the pan, let them rise for a little while longer.
  11. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
  12. Brush the rolls with half of the melted butter and bake for 20 to 30 minutes, until they are golden brown [I pulled mine out around 25-27 minute mark]. Remove them from the oven and brush with the remaining butter. Serve immediately or at room temperature.
Side notes:
  • This recipe yields: 14 dinner rolls (1 9-inch pan of rolls)
  • After step nine, you can choose to freeze the dough at this point, if you are making it ahead of time. If you are indeed freezing, wrap the pan tightly in foil and place in the freezer. The day you want to bake the rolls, remove your pan from the freezer and let thaw on the counter - plan on about 2-2 1/2 hours for thawing and rising.
  • I served this today alongside my Oven Fried Chicken [that also had rosemary in them].
This picture above is before I brushed on butter after it came out of the oven.
P.S. This post is a part of my "What's for Dinner" series, where I share what I've been cooking and my recipes. Grab and share my button:

What's for Dinner: Oven Fried Chicken

Here's my take on the Oven Fried Chicken that I made tonight:

I originally wanted to use thyme as the main herb in the recipe, but of course I had none at the moment. I had every other type of herb in my pantry, but of course not the one I wanted/needed. Parsley, Oregano, Basil, Rosemary, you name it... I had it.

Anyways, I improvised. Since I was serving it with the Soft Dinner Rolls that also had rosemary, I decided to use that in the chicken along with basil.

Here's how I made it:
  • I preheated the oven to 425 degrees. Spray your dish with non-stick spray.
  • Meanwhile, I took boneless skinless chicken breasts (would work well with boned-in as well other types of chicken pieces I suppose) and after cleaning them, I didn't let them dry completely (this is important because it gave it the crispiness without using eggs or something else to help create the crust). I marinated it with salt, pepper, paprika, garlic powder, cayenne powder, basil, and rosemary.
  • I seasoned flour with cayenne pepper, basil leaves, and crushed rosemary as well. Coat the chicken pieces in the flour mixture, and transfer them into your dish. At this point, I also sprayed the chicken from the top with the non-stick spray to help give it a crispy crust.
  • Your cooking time may differ depending on the type of dish you use. I used a glass dish, and I cooked it originally for 25 minutes, then flipped the pieces around and let the other side cook for another 20-25 minutes after spraying the bottom of the dish once more with the non-stick spray.
  • Update 1/03/13: when I made it again today, I made the oven fried chicken on a baking sheet lined with foil. The cooking time in this instance was about 20-22 minutes on the first side. After flipping the chicken pieces over, I baked it for another 15 minutes on the other side.
They turned out moist, crispy and delicious... but I'd make sure to serve it pretty quickly after making it to avoid sogginess or them getting tough.

P.S. This post is a part of my "What's for Dinner" series, where I share what I've been cooking and my recipes. Grab and share my button:

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Psychological Issues and the Blame Game

Additional/continuing thoughts after my post from Friday night:

I'm sick and tired of hearing about the psychological issues in the aftermath of a horrendous massacre like this. Why isn't something done before? Why is it gone unnoticed? Psychological issues leave many hints of problems, why aren't they caught earlier? It's not like one day this it is developed, and the next something goes awry. If I'm not mistaken (and correct me if I'm wrong), most are born with it!

I'm not saying that every mentally ill individual will be a mass murderer or do something insane like this, but the bottom line is there needs to be better regulations to prevent tragedies like this. It is always better to be safe than sorry. The sick individual deserves that, and so does the potential public that could be caused harm as a result.

On a side note, as I was watching news coverage earlier this morning today, it was pointed out that there is no evidence that this murderer even had a psychological problem (although it's hard to fathom how a sane person can do something so horrendous...). He was known to have autism and Asperger's Syndrome, but both of these are personality disorders - NOT a mental illness. It is quite important to distinguish between the two! I'm not sure where that puts this scenario.

I've always firmly disagreed that committing a horrendous crime shouldn't automatically classify someone as mentally ill, because they can just be an evil individual with evil motives... but something like THIS -- I don't know if a sane person can be blamed.

I shared this terrifyingly honest blog post (see UPDATE on this post down below) by a mother of a mentally ill child on Facebook and Twitter earlier. If you haven't read it, read it now. It gave me the chills and I don't think I'll be able to forget the words. If enough people read this, maybe that will be a catalyst for change. A change in the stigma of the mentally ill in this country. A change in the healthcare provided for these individuals. A change in the regulations to protect the families involved. It broke my heart that the aforementioned blog post notes that she was advised to press charges against her son and send him to jail as that was the only option she had to have them be taken seriously and get help.

We need to stop playing the blame game. We can't afford to make any more excuses. We can't just say in the aftermath that so and so had this mental illness that caused them to explode and do this and leave it at that. Why wasn't this disease caught on earlier? Why wasn't it treated? WHY wasn't this tragedy prevented?

This time must be different. This time MUST be the time that we say ENOUGH.

Why is the stigma so different for  mental illnesses in comparison to diseases like cancer? Each needs treatment, so why is one ignored and belittled? Especially considering how much damage mental illnesses can cause not only for the individual, but as a result to their family, and the larger public?!

If not now, when? We as a nation deserve better.

UPDATE: So my brother shared this link with me earlier that questions the validity of the first blog post. If it is indeed true that this mother is exploiting her child in such a sick manner, I don't even know what to say about that. At the end of the day, I still do believe that the words written are still true for other families in this country, and should still highlight the changes we need in relation to mental illness (it's stigma, regulations, etc).

Friday, December 14, 2012

Newtown, Connecticut School Massacre

Another horrific massacre.

My heart aches for the family and friends of the 27 deceased that were viciously murdered this morning. Especially the innocent 20 children who suffered and endured what no one should have to go through. Let alone at a school!

It sickens me how evil some people can be. The ache I feel inside of me is indescribable. I can't even imagine what the families of the victims are feeling.

Theaters, malls, schools. Is any place considered a safe haven anymore? What kind of a society are we leaving for the children of the next generation?

Massacres like today's are occurring not only more frequently, but they are also becoming more widespread. Tragedies like today are becoming way too common in our society, and it needs to change. It needs to change NOW!

There are too many evil people in this world. How many more innocent people must die at the hands of a tragedy like this before we stand up as a society and say enough is enough?! It seems like the only time we move one step forward in discussing gun control laws is in the aftermath of a situation like this when we are all emotionally charged. Days later, however, we seem to take two steps back as it seems to go right back to the back burner. The end result being yet another statistic and the tragedy forgotten until another disastrous event strikes.

It must not be forgotten because THEY the VICTIMS must not be forgotten. Don't we owe them that much? We must stop making it about the perpetrator, and instead focus on the victims.

We need better gun control laws and we need them now. Why is it so damn easy to have access to guns in this country? Why in the world are people legally allowed to have access to guns? The murderer in this situation had easy access to FOUR guns because his mother legally owned them.

People always argue "guns don't kill people, people kill people". Well, you know what? Guns sure as hell make it a lot easier.

Those that make ridiculous arguments like "cars kill people so let's ban cars too then": cars are not designed/made to cause harm... or the purpose of a car is not to inflict harm upon others.

For those who say it's too early to talk about gun control laws in the aftermath of a tragedy like this? I beg to differ. I think those directly effected by today's massacre would say it's actually too late.

Will better gun control laws solve everything? No. Will people still find loopholes? Don't they always? Will it make a difference? Hell, yes it will.

We can't feasibly stop everyone. Sick and evil people will always find a way, but we sure as hell shouldn't make it easy for them. People will always find a way around it, but that doesn't mean that as a society we stand by and let things happen. We're better than that and we deserve better than that!

You know what else we need to do? We need to stop playing the blame game and making excuses. Every time something like this happens, we need to stop simply blaming it on a "mental health" issue. Sure, one must be mentally disturbed to do something so atrocious because no one in their right mind can do something so horrendous, but simply pinning the blame on a mental health disease isn't getting us anywhere! It makes me cringe every time I hear "he committed [so and so crime] because he had [insert mental health disease of your choice here]". Whether it is the institution that has failed them, or whatever it is... we can't make excuses anymore. We need to work on solutions, not excuses. Better gun control laws are a part of that solution. Better screenings is a part of that. Changing the connotation of mental health disease and help for them is a part of that.

We need to stand up for what's right. Stand up for each other. Our loved ones. The kids of the next generation. We need to stand up for what's right so what happened today and what has happened way too many times lately doesn't happen again. We need to stand up so another innocent life isn't taken away prematurely.

Call your local politician. Make your voice be heard. Make a difference. Stand up for what's right. You owe it to yourself. You owe it to the future.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

What's for Dinner: Spicy Lemon Shrimp

Today, I made shrimp similar to the one I made a few weeks ago. This time, however, I baked it. In my opinion, it turned out better (in comparison to the sauteed version from last time). I think baking it helped the shrimp cook evenly too.

As always, I kept it really simple- and used the spices I use in pretty much anything [and I mean everything]. I marinated the shrimp with salt, pepper, garlic powder, paprika, cayenne pepper, chili powder, and lemon juice. I baked it in a preheated 400 degree oven for about twelve minutes, turning over all of the shrimp at the halfway point for even cooking.

The outcome? Deliciousness.

Today, I served it with salad, biscuits, and hash browns. Roasted potatoes and rice would work wonderfully as well.
P.S. This post is a part of my "What's for Dinner" series, where I share what I've been cooking and my recipes. Grab and share my button:

Sunday, November 25, 2012

What's for Dinner: Thanksgiving Meal Edition

This is a few days late, but here's a few of the things I made for Thanksgiving this year:

Full chicken with potatoes and peas (because I don't like turkey):
Yummy is the only way to describe this.
I had been wanting to make these for such a long time now, and I finally did -- they turned out great!
Seven Layer Bars:
Absolutely delicious! These were so easy to make and everyone loved it!
Rolo Bars:
These were too chocolate-y in my opinion.
P.S. This post is a part of my "What's for Dinner" series, where I share what I've been cooking and my recipes. Grab and share my button:

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

What's for Dinner? Spicy Sautéed Shrimp with Pomegranate Caesar Salad

P.S. This post is a part of my "What's for Dinner" series, where I share what I've been cooking and my recipes. Grab and share my button:

Monday, November 5, 2012

VOTE Tomorrow!

As always, this is a friendly reminder for you all to go vote tomorrow in the United States as it is finally Election Day 2012!

At the end of the day, I don't care who you vote for, just don't forget to vote and remind your friends and family to do the same. Side note: I actually do care who you vote for, but it's not my opinion, it's yours that matters.

I want to remind you all how important it is that you cast a vote tomorrow, even though you may think your state is "strongly democrat" or "strongly republican" and your vote does not even matter...exercise your right to vote! Not only is the presidency at stake, but local competitions as well.

It always irks me that the ones who don't vote are usually the first ones to complain about everything and when I ask them why they didn't vote - they don't usually have a reasonable answer. Have your opinion be counted tomorrow.

For those of you on the east coast and directly effected by the wrath of Hurricane Sandy: don't let Sandy be an excuse for you not to vote. Instead, it should actually be yet another reason for you to vote! As it turns out, funding for FEMA is one of the topics the two major candidates differ vastly on (Romney said in a debate in June 2011 that he'd cut funding to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and send its power to the states and the private sector). Tell me how a state that is hit and devastated as badly as NJ is currently by Hurricane Sandy is supposed to get by without federal help?

While it may be a bit more challenging than normal for you to vote this year (lack of power, voting locations changed, etc.), take the extra effort and make your voice count. The three hours you stood in line to fill up gas in your car? The time you took driving around to find a place to charge your electronic device because you don't have power at home? Set aside similar time to go and vote tomorrow!

Detrimental issues like healthcare are at stake!!

Not only does your future depend on it, but those of the future generations.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A Storm to Remember

The last few days have been an absolutely whirlwind with Hurricane Sandy hitting us. In all the years we have lived here, we have never experienced anything like it or its aftermath.

If you were lucky enough to not be in its path and/or have never experienced a Hurricane, I can't begin to explain to you how eerie it sounds. Throw in watching the crazy wind outside your window along with rain -- it's scary. Times a million.

At the height of the storm, two trees were knocked down in our backyard. One, at the back of our backyard (our neighbors tree fell into our backyard) following a loud (and terrifying) bang.
Under that fallen tree, is what to used to be our shed (that was collapsed by the tree).

The other: terrifyingly close to our patio door in our family room where we were sitting riding out the storm. Watching this tree sway uncontrollably and knowing it was inevitable was insane. Worse was not knowing what direction it would fall in.

Luckily, it barely missed our house:

Terrifyingly close, but so grateful.

Tuesday morning we took a drive around our area to see the aftermath, and it was devastating:  fallen trees along with downed wires everywhere that were quite hazardous. A couple of houses had trees fall on them (hopefully no one was injured inside!).

We were lucky enough to not lose power until about 8 PM on Monday right at the height of the storm as it was hitting land (others lost it as early as that afternoon). Altogether, we lost power for 40 hours before it was restored in the early afternoon on Wednesday.

In all honestly, the worst part of the power outage was the lack of heating. I am usually always cold on a normal day, so it was especially trying for me (wearing multiple layers and sleeping with just many over me got me through it along with hand warmers).

While this 40 hours of no electricity was no fun and very trying in many ways, it was a good reminder of how much we take for granted on a daily basis. Multiples times I had to remind myself that it is the norm for so many around the world to be without electricity and lack of resources on a regular basis. We have so much to be thankful for, yet we take it for granted. It's been a humbling experience for sure.

Just in this experience alone: we were so fortunate to not too much rain, and therefore flooding wasn't an issue. With Hurricane Irene last year (which was weaker than this storm), we had flooding as a major issue in our area (and in our basement). To see the devastation with the flooding in some areas with Hurricane Sandy, it is hard to fathom what would have happened if we had more rain. A combination of more rain and the downed wires would have been a recipe for disaster.

I was also positively surprised that PSE&G was able to restore our power after just 40 hours. While the 40 hours seemed incredibly long, in the grand scheme of things -- it was barely anything -- especially considering how massive and widespread the storm hit.

I've said it over and again in the last few days: Hurricane Sandy was barely a Category One when it hit us. I can't begin to fathom the aftermath and destruction of anything more, let alone Category Five storms.

Something to smile about:
After all the devastation that hit our area, look at that nest that is still in tact after the storm in our neighbor's yard.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012


A friend of mine who I went to school with, posted a picture of her niece in the costume below on Instagram with the following caption: 'so I asked my niece what she is going to be for Halloween and she comes out wearing this. I asked her what it was and she said "Bando-girl. She is a superhero against bullying." My heart filled with so much love. We need people like my niece and Bando-girl. #inspirational'

We do indeed.

I wasn't sure if this character was real or made up. After I talked to my friend, she told me that her niece had not only invented this character, but what it stood for.

I've never met this little girl, but she brought a huge smile to my face and melted my heart.

I don't know whether to be touched that a girl so young has such a huge heart and wants to fight bullying and bullies. Or to be saddened that a girl so young has already realized how much evil there is in the world.

The optimist in me sides with the first one. That this amazing young girl wants to do her part and make the world a better place.

In this day and age, there aren't even many adults who have her kindred spirit. So when I see something like this: a child standing up for what is right, it makes me wish we lived in a naive and angelic bubble free of evil.

Who am I kidding, right? But don't the children of this day and age deserve that much and more?

All I know is, we need more people like this girl in this world who stand up for what is right.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Central Jersey Heart Walk Follow Up

In just under a month, I was able to raise $360 for the Central Jersey Heart Walk and I want to take a moment to thank everyone that generously donated towards this great cause.

It's been such a humbling experience. Everyone knows someone effected by heart disease, and it doesn't have to be as directly effected as we were as a family.

I'm glad I decided to participate, and I urge you to join in and take part in a similar one in your own community. It doesn't have to be a heart related charity that you get involved in, there are so many great causes out there! Choose one that is close to your heart (no pun intended). One that you are passionate about. You'll be glad you did.

Let me tell you, there is nothing more satisfying then giving back to the community. Individually, we may not be able to bring about much change... but collectively, it's a whole another story.

While the $360 I raised may not seem all that grand to some in the scheme of things (I am proud of it actually), the Central Jersey Heart Walk was able to fundraise over $95,000 collectively. That can and will change lives. More importantly, it will save lives.

The actual walk was today, but with a sudden trip to Canada, I had to unfortunately miss the walk portion of it. Next year, I'll be there for sure.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Chicken Cheesesteak

Don't you just love it  when you are just working with a few basic ingredients, and the next thing you know, you've made something that turns out delicious?

I had chicken to work with and I needed to use up these rolls that I use to make different kinds of sandwiches a lot.

I cut the chicken into bite size pieces, threw in random spices and turned the pan on. Next thing I know, it smelled like the chicken from Chicken Cheesesteaks.

So I turned the meal into that:

For the chicken, I cut boneless and skinless chicken breast fillets into very tiny, bite size pieces. I marinated it with: salt, black pepper [a lot of it], garlic, red pepper flakes, chili powder, cayenne pepper [a lot of it], and oil. I, then, cooked the chicken in a pan on low to medium heat.

Meanwhile, cut strips of peppers. Add them to your pan with the chicken once it is completely cooked through, turning your heat to extremely low heat, and mix the peppers and chicken together. You could add onions, mushrooms, and whatever else you like on your cheesesteak... these are the ingredients my family likes.

To assemble your chicken cheesesteaks::
On the rolls, spread the chicken and pepper mixture, covered with [mozzarella] cheese and put under the boiler for a minute or two until the cheese is melted (this happens really fast under the broiler, so keep an eye on it!)

P.S. This post is a part of my "What's for Dinner" series, where I share what I've been cooking and my recipes. Grab and share my button:

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Presidential Debates

With today being the start of the presidential debates for this election cycle, their validity and importance has been discussed recently.

I have heard, today in particular, that it's nothing but a show of who can best present their prepared lines. [Aside: although I have to admit, that the Onion's article on it is hilarious.]

But you know what? These prepared lines HAVE to include their vision, their stances, and what sets them apart from the opposing candidate in some way or form.

And that's what the undecided voters who are tuning in are looking for, aren't they? The democrats are more likely than not going to vote democrat and likewise for the republicans. It's the undecided voters that will ultimately decide the election.

It's not like the rest of the campaign season where the candidates can just bash their opponent, or sideline from the questions asked about the real issues. I'd like to think that the moderator will hold them accountable during these debates.

Because you know what? The American public deserves answers.

Not just the undecided voters. I am know who I am voting for, but that doesn't mean I know what the next four years will hold or that I don't have questions.

Oh, one last thing. If this election really is going to be based off of the question "are you better off than you were four years ago?" as these news journalists keep emphasizing from the Romney campaign... then, I don't even know what to say. I don't think it takes much more than common sense to realize that four years ago we were dealing with the aftermath of a presidency that left the country in turmoil financially and otherwise. It's not like Day 1 of the Barack Obama presidency is where all the issues started. They have built up over time.

And you what, I AM better off than I was four years ago.

I am still covered under my dad's healthcare plan. Four years ago, without Obama's healthcare plan, that wouldn't be the case. And if it wasn't, I can't even imagine how much in debt I'd be because of the curve balls life has thrown my way this past year.

Now off to watch the first debate, one dealing with domestic issues. As you can imagine, healthcare and employment is on the top of my list of issues I care about.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Everything Happens for a Reason

Everything happens for a reason. I've always been a big believer in those words.

I remember even back in high school having a stubborn debate with a good friend of mine over fate and free will where neither of us were willing to budge from our respective points of views.

Personally, if this last year isn't a validation for me that everything really does happen for a reason, then I don't know what it would take.

I just didn't realize that I was already on this train of thought over two years ago when things just weren't falling into place like they should have.

The amount of times I'm asked why I didn't end up going to law school like I had planned for so long or "do I still want to" is ridiculous. At first, it annoyed me. Now, it saddens me.

Because it has been a dream of mine for oh so long.

Or as if like a light switch, I decided one night that it wasn't an aspiration of mine anymore. If things went my way, of course I'd like to be studying law now and be a lawyer in the near future.

Life just doesn't work that way though.

Yes, I have wallowed about it many times over. Who wouldn't over an ambition they worked towards for so long?

It wasn't until a couple of months ago though, while thinking over this past year, that it clicked for me.

I was assured that yes, things really do happen for a reason.

That law school didn't work out at this given time for a reason. That He knows and plans all.

This past year has been a challenge in ways more than I can explain. But it has reassured me that if I had started law school when I had planned/wanted, it wouldn't have been possible for me to continue.

And while I can't even fathom the fact, I'm sure that it would have been even more devastating to discontinue midway.

But He knew better. I just didn't.

Is it still a dream of mine? Yes. Is it meant to happen? Only time will tell.

Friday, September 21, 2012

What's For Dinner: Homemade Chicken Nuggets

One of the most comforting food for me are chicken nuggets.

And I love making mine homemade.

Here's how I make mine:

Mix the following seasonings: salt, pepper, garlic, ginger, paprika, and cayenne pepper. I use this seasoning as a basis for pretty much everything. And I mean everything.

Those seasonings you just mixed? Sprinkle some of that mixture with flour and mix well. My tip?  Do this part in a Ziploc resealable bag. Not only is it an easy cleanup at the end, but the coating you get this way is just perfect.

Take boneless chicken pieces (cubes or tenders... whichever you prefer) and mix the above seasoning mixture into this. Add whisked eggs. Make sure everything is combined well.

Put some pieces of chicken into the Ziploc bag with the flour mixture. Seal well, and shake the bag to help coat the chicken. Do this in batches, depending on the amount of chicken you are using.

Fry the chicken, and enjoy! Another tip? Make sure the oil is heated through completely before starting to fry to make sure your chicken isn't oily, but instead crispy and moist the way you want it.

Check out other things I've made recently:
Grilled Chicken Pita Pockets
Tilapia (two different ways)

P.S. This post is a part of my "What's for Dinner" series, where I share what I've been cooking and my recipes. Grab and share my button:

Thursday, September 13, 2012

What's for Dinner: Grilled Chicken Pita Pockets

We usually never get pita bread in our house. But a week or so ago, when we ordered takeout from a local Mediterranean place, they also gave us a packet of pita bread with our order for some reason.

I had been trying to think of what to make with it to make use of it. Of course, the first thing that popped in my head days ago was pita pockets. But I don't like how dry and bland they usually are. To make it more tasteful, I added a bunch of spices to the chicken marinade before grilling it and also to the sauce. Surprisingly, it turned out great!

As usual, this was another quick fix! I may love cooking, but by no means do I have the patience for things that take forever to make. Easy, fast, and delicious are the criteria in my book!
How I made it:

I marinated the chicken with salt, pepper, paprika, garlic powder, a little onion powder, chili powder, cayenne pepper and lemon juice. I grilled the chicken and then cut it across the grain.

For the sauce: I mixed yogurt, a dash of water, garlic powder, pepper, chili powder
and cayenne pepper.

To assemble: I mixed coleslaw and cucumbers with the chicken and sauce and put it in the warm pita (which I halved).

Check out another one of my recent recipes:

P.S. This post is a part of my "What's for Dinner" series, where I share what I've been cooking and my recipes. Grab and share my button:

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

What's for Dinner? Tilapia (two different ways)

So for dinner today, I was working with tilapia (my absolute favorite fish!)

I didn't want to fry it like I do usually. I thought about grilling it like I did last time, but I wanted it still to be juicy enough inside (without becoming tough).

I wanted a breaded crust, but I didn't want to use oil (or anything of that nature) and I also didn't want too thick of a crust and didn't want to use egg to coat. I decided to try using those non-stick cooking sprays, but I wasn't sure how well that would work.

So: I tested the tilapia two different ways using the non-stick cooking spray.

I cut each of the tilapia fillets in half, and marinated all of the fish with the seasonings I wanted. I used salt, pepper, paprika, garlic, cayenne pepper, and lemon juice. Besides the lemon juice, I use the combination of the aforementioned things in pretty much everything as a base.

Then, I sprayed the skillet with the non-stick cooking spray (just enough to coat) on medium heat.

Method one: I took the marinated tilapia, and coated it in Italian-seasoned bread crumbs before putting it in the skillet.

When I put it in the skillet, I didn't get the sizzle noise I was hoping for (the kind you would get from frying or even pan-frying).

Method two: I just put the marinated tilapia directly into the warm skillet.

As soon as I put the fish in the skillet, I got the sizzling noise I was looking for. Plus, the fish was moist, juicy and absolutely delicious (and light!)

I did one of each in the same skillet the first time to test it out -- both pretty much had an even cooking time.

The breaded tilapia wasn't dry like I thought it would be (without the sizzle) and the inside was still moist. Surprisingly, the seasoning on the tilapia was more apparent in this version. What I didn't like was that the second side of the fish would start to create a dark crust before cooking through properly (I guess I would need to perhaps spray the skillet when flipping the fish, but I don't know...)

While I ended up liking the method two version better (without the bread crumbs), my mom liked the breaded one better... which is why I ended up making both for dinner!

Because I was working with eight fillets, for both methods, I cleaned the skillet in between every time I put a new set of fish in to cook.

P.S. This post is a part of my "What's for Dinner" series, where I share what I've been cooking and my recipes. Grab and share my button:

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