Archive | December 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!

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:

  • 1 and 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour
  • 1 and 1/2 cups of cake flour**
  • 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, 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

Like my recipes? Click the below link to purchase my cookbook “What’s for Dinner”:

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.

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

Like my recipes? Click the below link to purchase my cookbook “What’s for Dinner”:

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.

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.

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 what I’ve been cooking and my recipes.

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).

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.

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.