Vegan Grated Parmesan “Cheese”

Lactose-intolerant but can’t live without cheese?  Vegan and need a cheese substitute?  Well, it’s your lucky day!  For just $19.99, you can make your own batch of  non-dairy, vegan grated parmesan “cheese.”  Wait, there’s more!  If you act now, you can make not just one batch, but plenty more, all for just $19.99!

Sprinkle this onto some popcorn.

You.
Won’t.
Regret.
It.

Vegan Grated Parmesan “Cheese”

1/2 cup nutritional yeast flakes
1/3 cup raw cashews
1 tablespoon salt

In a food processor, pulse the raw cashews to a fine powder. Add the nutritional yeast flakes and salt, and pulse a few more times. Store in an airtight container.

Makes approximately 3/4 cup.

Spaghetti with Italian Turkey Sausage, White Wine, and Fresh Tomatoes

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What not a better way to celebrate the summer then by incorporating the fruits of our labor (no pun intended) into yummy summer-y recipes?  Our vegetables plants have been providing us with steady bountiful “crops” of tomatoes, as well as basil.  I didn’t want to repeat last year’s terrible bout of laziness, in which ALL of the vegetables were not harvested.  Not one tomato.  It all went to waste, especially after all the time, effort, and money that I invested to set up drip lines. This year is going to be different.

And for the past several years, I’ve been telling myself to just buy one tomato plant because we end up with way too much tomatoes (and it usually goes to waste).  I even told my partner to stop me from buying two plants.  But sure enough, I left the nursery with TWO tomato plants again.  After I harvested a very large bowl of tomatoes, I told my partner to remind me to buy only one tomato plant next year.  Her response, “I told you this year, but you were too stubborn to listen.”  Ugh.  She’s right.  I was too stubborn to listen.  And now we have way too many tomatoes.  You know what’s funny?  I’ll probably be too stubborn to listen next year and many years after.  I don’t think I’ll ever learn my lesson.

My partner did say that she LOVES pasta when we first started dating.  So guess what we’ll be having for dinner for the next many weeks to come?

You guessed it!…

Spaghetti with Italian Turkey Sausage, White Wine, and Fresh Tomatoes

4 large garlic cloves, roughly chopped
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
1.5 links sweet Italian turkey sausage, remove from casing
1.5 links hot and spicy Italian turkey sausage, remove from casing
1 (15 ounce) can fire-roasted diced tomatoes
1 cup fresh tomatoes, diced
3/4 cup Sauvignon Blanc
1/2 teaspoon dried red hot chili flakes (optional)
Salt and pepper, to taste
1/4 heaping cupful grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for garnishing
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
Fresh basil leaves, chiffonaded
Whole wheat spaghetti pasta

In a medium sized bowl, mix together the sweet and hot turkey sausages until well combined. Set aside.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat.  Add the whole wheat pasta to the boiling water and cook according to the package directions for al dente.  Drain the pasta in a colander and return to the pot; cover with a lid to keep warm.

In a separate skillet, heat extra virgin olive oil over medium high heat.  Add the garlic and onions and saute until the onions are translucent, about 5 minutes.  If the garlic is browning too quickly, turn down the heat to medium.  Add a dash of kosher salt to the onions to help it sweat a little bit.  Set aside.

In a large skillet, heat extra virgin olive oil.  Add the ground turkey sausage to the pan and saute until browned and no longer pink over high heat, about 6 to 8 minutes.  Be sure to crumble/break up the sausages while it is cooking in the pan.

Once the sausages have browned, add the white wine to deglaze the pan and dissolve/scrape the browned bits that have crusted to the skillet.  Cook for about two minutes over high heat.  Add the cooked garlic and onions, crushed tomatoes, red chili flakes, and bring sauce to a boil and then reduce heat to simmer for 5 minutes.  Adjust seasoning with salt and fresh cracked black pepper.  [Do not over salt the sauce as you will be adding grated parmesan to the dish.]

Add the drained pasta to the skillet and toss until well-coated.  Add the grated parmesan cheese and toss again until it has been thoroughly incorporated.

Serve on a big platter family style or on individual serving plates.  Garnish with fresh basil leaves, cherry tomatoes, and extra grated parmesan.

Makes 4 servings.

Watermelon and Feta Salad

watermelon feta salad

What a delicious sweet and savory combination! Who knew watermelon and feta paired so well together! When I first saw this combination on one of the food competition shows, I thought it sounded and looked strange. I didn’t get it. But I also didn’t get the sweet and savory combination back then either. And mind you, this was many, many years ago before I became a glutton for food. We’ve been buying seedless watermelons at the farmer’s market for the last month, and it finally dawned on me to try this salad tonight! OH EM GEE, why did we not try this salad sooner?!

Watermelon and Feta Salad

1 (2 to 3 pound) seedless watermelon, rind removed
1 large block of feta
2 cups good quality balsamic vinegar
Extra virgin olive oil
Fresh cracked black pepper
1 bunch fresh basil leaves

Special equipment: 2.5 inch cake ring

Place the vinegar in a heavy-bottomed, non-reactive pot. Heat on low, so that you have a light simmer. Reduce until syrupy, or to desired consistency, about 2 to 2 1/2 hours. Be careful not to burn the balsamic reduction. Once cooled, store at room temperature.

Using the 2.5 inch cake ring, cut out watermelon rounds and cut it in half horizontally. Set aside.

Depending on the size of your feta block, cut into 3/4-inch thick layers. Using the 2.5 inch cake ring, cut out feta rounds. Set aside.

Arrange the salad with the watermelon slices on the bottom, followed with the feta rounds, and then two fresh basil leaves. Repeat until all the watermelon and feta rounds have been used. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and balsamic reduction, and finish with fresh cracked black pepper.

Grilled two cheese pizza with prosciutto, arugula, and lemon vinaigrette.

Grilled two cheese pizza with prosciutto, arugula, and lemon oil.  Now that’s a mouthful of tasty goodness.  Today was a lazy Sunday, and I didn’t feel like spending an entire afternoon cooking in the kitchen.  I needed to catch up on my “So You Think You Can Dance” shows!  It was four shows behind!

So luckily, we had all the ingredients for our favorite pizza, fired up the grill, and voila!  Dinner was ready in 15 minutes.  It was the perfect lazy meal.  In fact, do you know how lazy dinner really was?  We bought ready-made pizza crust (not dough, just crust) a few months ago and kept it on hand in the freezer for days like these.  And now I’m sitting on my couch, typing this post, and catching up on my DVR’ed shows.  Life is good :)

1 homemade or store bought pizza dough (or ready-made pizza crust)
8 ounces of smoked mozzarella, cut into 1/4 thick slices
4 cups arugula leaves, packed (it seems like a lot now, but it gets wilted down during the cooking process)
8 slices of prosciutto
1/3 cup goat cheese, crumbled
2 tablespoons lemon juice (about 1 lemon)
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 lemon

Preheat grill. Brush grates with vegetable or corn oil.

In a small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil. Place arugula leaves into a large bowl, and dress it with the lemon vinaigrette. Toss to mix well. Set aside. [I know it may seem like a lot of arugula at this point, but it will wilt down during the cooking process.]

Roll out pizza dough according to your recipe or store bought instructions. Once the grill is hot (you can hold your hands an inch over the grates for no more than 2 or 3seconds), carefully place the pizza dough onto the grill. Grill for about two minutes on one side. The pizza dough will also immediately puff up. Flip the pizza dough onto the other side and grill for another two minutes. Remove from grill onto a cookie sheet with tongs. Close the lid of the grill to retain its heat. [If you are using a ready-made pizza crust, cook it for two minutes on each side to get the grill marks and flavor.]

Place slices of smoked mozzarella around top of the pizza crust. And then in this order, spread all of the arugula leaves around, layer with prosciutto slices, and top with crumbled goat cheese.

Place the cookie sheet onto the grill and close the lid. [This allows for the toppings to cook without burning the pizza crust.] Cook for about five minutes, or until the cheese has melted, the arugula has wilted, and the prosciutto has crisped up a little. Carefully remove the cookie sheet from the grill. Using tongs, slide pizza onto a cutting board. Squeeze some lemon juice over the pizza. Using a sharp knife or pizza slicer, slice the pizza and enjoy!

Ghee that made me glee!

I hadn’t cooked in over a week and a half and I was feigning like a heroin addict looking for his next fix.  It was 8:00 a.m. and I was desperate.  I didn’t have much in the refrigerator or pantry that would satisfy my need, my craving.  I almost grabbed my keys and headed to the grocery store for a quick fix.  I didn’t even know what I wanted to make, nonetheless what to eat.  So I dug around the refrigerator some more hoping to find something, and there it was.  Light emanating from a box in the back of the refrigerator, just like in the movies, only it’s not butter.  And it clicked… ghee.  I felt inspired.  Indian food.  Something that I had been wanting to make for so long, but was too intimidated.  Especially after my several failed attempts at making Thai food.  I knew that ghee was the perfect place to start.  It would also serve as a sign.  If I successfully made ghee, then I was going to set out to make Indian food that day.  If I failed, well, then I wasn’t destined to make Indian food.

So guess what?  I made ghee, and it turned out wonderful :)

Ghee

2 sticks good quality unsalted butter, cut into 1 inch squares
Coffee filter

Bring butter to a boil in a heavy saucepan over medium low heat. [Make sure it's not boiling violently because you'll burn the butter.] The butter will begin to foam. Move some of the foam aside with a spoon to see the bottom layer. The butter should become transparent in the middle layer, while the top layer is foamy and the bottom layer has protein curds that have settled. The butter will be bubbling and make a snapple, crackle, pop noise. [It was music to my ears.]

After about twenty minutes, the foam will thin out and the noise will subside. Pay close attention from this point on because it can go from a nutty aroma so fragrant to a burnt butter smell very quickly.

The milk solids on the bottom of the pan will begin to brown, and the middle layer will turn a deep golden to amber gold. The top layer will also begin to brown. Remove the saucepan from the heat when the milk solids have turned a deep reddish brown. Pour the clarified butter into a coffee filter-lined container to to strain out solids. [Don't use a cheesecloth. I did and ended up having to restrain it because there were micro solids floating around.]

Store in an airtight container, refrigerated for up to 3 to 6 months.

You’ll find many uses with ghee… you’ll want to dip everything into it. Even apples. Okay, maybe not apples. But you get the point :)

How to make paneer, and a quick tip on OTC pain-relieving medications.

My dad’s knee was hurting a few weeks ago.  It hurt him so bad that he had to cancel the one thing that he enjoys most… golfing with my mom on their only day off of the week.  I asked if he took some Tylenol, but said it didn’t work.  To which I responded with trying Advil.  He said that he didn’t like Advil, and used Motrin instead, which helped alleviate some of his pain.  I sighed, and mentioned to him that those were the exact same medications.  My dad stared at me confused.  So I sat down and explained to him the similarities or differences between the OTC analgesic (aka, pain-relieving) medications.

When I first started working in the emergency department, I felt sort of disconnected from the retail world of pharmacy.  Patients would come in with medications that were completely foreign to me because they were the latest and greatest drugs.  Working in a hospital setting, we don’t have the luxury of stocking the newest drugs on the market mainly because of cost.  So I felt like I needed more experience and exposure to those new drugs, so I picked up a second job as a per diem pharmacist at a local retail pharmacy chain.

I actually enjoyed working there from time-to-time because I felt like I had more contact with the patients.  It was a great opportunity to improve my patient consultation skills.  One question that I often received aside from cold and cough preparations, was over-the-counter (OTC) pain-relieving medications.  And more often than not, a lot of the patients I spoke with didn’t know there was not a difference between the majority of those types of medications.  But why would they know?  It’s confusing when you have a whole aisle of OTC analgesic medications to choose from.  I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but it’s true.  Motrin = Advil = Ibuprofen.  Aleve = Naproxen.  Tylenol = Acetaminophen.  Aspirin = St. John’s = Bayers.  And I’m sure there are many other different names out there that I’m forgetting or have never come across.

You see, it’s all the different drug manufacturing companies trying to vie for the market shares over the next drug manufacturing company.  So you have the brands versus the generics, and the brands versus the brands.  It’s too confusing for the consumers.  And it may also lead to unnecessary overmedicating.  All drugs carry risks for side effects, even the OTC medications.

So before you buy an OTC drug product, make sure to double check the active ingredients so you aren’t buying duplicate therapies.  Or speak to your local pharmacist who can help clarify any questions and/or confusion.  Hey, that’s what we’re here for… we’re the legal drug dealers (and experts)! :)

Did you know there was not a difference between many of these OTC analgesic medications?

Paneer

1 gallon whole milk (not 2%, 1%, or nonfat milk… gotta use the real thing)
6 tablespoons lemon juice
Cheese cloth

Line a colander with a double layer of cheese cloth. Place colander in a bowl large enough to fit.

Boil milk in a thick bottom pan. Stir it from time to time to keep it from sticking at the bottom. Once the milk is boiling, add the lemon juice. Simmer for another two to three minutes until the milk has completely curdled. Continue stirring.

Remove from heat, and pour the contents of the pan into the cheese cloth-lined colander.

Once the whey has completely drained out, wrap the cheesecloth over the paneer. Place some heavy weights over this to make a firm block of paneer. First, place a plate over it so that it gets uniformly pressed down. Follow that with a heavy pan, and then add what ever weights you can think of to weigh it down from your kitchen pantry. Or, use a few foil-lined bricks placed on top of the plate.

Leave the weights on for about two to three hours. Remove the weights, and plate. You are now left with a beautiful block of fresh paneer. [Yum.] Refrigerate the block of paneer for one to two hours, before cubing.

Eggplant Parmesan with Smoked Mozzarella

We’ve been trying to practice what we’ve learned from watching Food, Inc., a few weeks ago and have been trying to buy local things.  So we’ve been dedicating our Saturday mornings to buying produce from our local farmer’s market.  We have two farmer’s markets on Saturday mornings… one downtown and one in the more posh side of town.  The problem with the latter is how ridiculously expensive the items are.  I might as well go to Whole Foods if I want to pay that kind of price.  And the thing is that it’s not even organic.  I think people are paying more for the location, and the idea of buying from a farmer’s market.  There are also too many stands that only sell chocolate, coffee, pastries, and honey.  Now, don’t get me wrong, there isn’t anything wrong with that.  In fact, it’s great to be able to purchase those items, but what I want are more produce stands!!  Because in the end, I still end up at a grocery store to finish off my grocery list.  It’s also too overcrowded.  People bumping into you without saying “excuse me.”  People pushing you aside to grab the plentiful squash that you are picking through.  Large crowds irritate me.

So we found a downtown farmer’s market that has really, really fresh produce for way lot less.  The stands offer a large variety of produce.  And it isn’t too crowded.  It’s FABULOUS!  We walked away with 3 pounds of tomatoes, 3 pounds of apricots, a flat of strawberries, 4 large bunches of spinach, 2 pounds of squash, 6 lemons, 6 limes, 3 green chiles, 4 pounds of small cucumbers, 1 ginger root, 4 large eggplants, and 1 pound of sugar peas for $20.  Yes.  That’s a good deal.  And the only thing that I needed from my grocery list that I couldn’t purchase at the farmer’s market was cumin seeds, and green onion.  That made me happy.

Eggplant Parmesan with Smoked Mozzarella

1 large eggplant
1 1/2 cups flour
1 egg
2 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon salt
3 cups panko
1/2 cup parmesan cheese, grated
8 ounces fresh smoked mozzarella cheese, sliced
6 cups homemade marinara sauce
Fresh basil leaves

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Lightly grease a baking sheet with cooking spray.

Slice the eggplant horizontally into 8 thick slices. Sprinkle a little a salt onto both sides of the eggplant slices. Place it on a rack over a baking sheet to draw out excess water, about 30 minutes. Rinse eggplants, and pat dry with a paper towel. Set aside.

Place flour and one teaspoon of salt on a shallow plate, and combine well. In another shallow plate, pour the panko onto it.

In a separate shallow dish, whisk together the egg and water.

Take one eggplant slice and lightly dredge each side in flour. Next dip it in the egg, and then to the panko. Generously coat the eggplant with panko. Place panko’ed eggplant onto baking sheet. Repeat for the remaining seven slices of the eggplant.

Place baking sheet into the oven and bake for about 6 to 8 minutes, until the panko has turned golden to golden brown and the eggplant is soft. Flip onto the other side, and repeat the same baking process. Turn the broiler on, and remove the baking sheet from the oven. Sprinkle each slice with parmesan cheese and top with sliced smoked mozzarella, and place it back into the oven. Allow the cheese the melt and brown a bit before removing from oven, about 2 minutes. Pay close attention to the eggplant and cheese so that it doesn’t burn. Remove from oven.

Ladle 1/3 cup of your favorite marinara sauce onto a small plate. Place one slice of eggplant on top of the marinara sauce, then spoon a little marinara sauce over it. Repeat with a second layer of sliced eggplant, and spoon over a little marinara sauce. Top with fresh basil leaves. Repeat entire process with the rest of the sliced eggplant.

Makes 4 servings.

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