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!

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.

Baked Chicken Taquitos

My brother and I grew up in the back of the kitchen of our family restaurant.  No joke.  We had our own little study/play area.  It was pretty sweet, as I look back in retrospect.  [The play area, that is.  Not growing up in the back of the kitchen.] We had our own 13 inch TV with our old-school Nintendo unit hooked up to keep us entertained, out of trouble, and out of any danger from the kitchen chaos itself.  My parents had very little time to spend with us because they worked all day long.  Well, except for the fact that they still found ways to breathe down our necks to finish our daily homework assignments.  Ahh, Asian parenting.  So quality time was limited in our family.  As I was growing up, I longed for the “normal” family units that my friends had.  But my parents did their best to spend time with us.  My parents would take us to [insert fast food chain] after they closed up the restaurant for the night, order food, and we’d eat in front of the TV.  This was our way of spending quality family time.   So food, albeit it wasn’t always the healthiest, was our way to spend time together.

One fast food chain we used to frequent as a family was Jack In The Box.  Do you remember when Jack In The Box used to serve beef taquitos (and tacos)?  It was probably during the early 1990s when they rolled out with this menu item.  I can’t believe I’m going to say this, and am a little embarrassed to admit this, but I thought they were really, really tasty.  They were the perfect snacky, greasy, finger foods.  I’d ask for an order of taquitos (I think it was five taquitos to a box), and beg my parents to buy the guacamole and sour cream on the side for an additional charge.  I think Jack In The Box was my first introduction to guacamole and sour cream, and possibly even “Mexican” food.  Hysterical, yet pathetic, right?

I don’t know if they still sell them or not, but I do crave them from time-to-time, like I crave french fries from McDonald’s.  Mmmmmmm.  But I haven’t had fast food since 2006, and won’t start now.     So I’m always on the hunt for healthier alternatives…

Baked Chicken Taquitos (adapted from Our Best Bites)

1/3 cup Toffuti cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup salsa verde
1/2 lime, juiced
1 teaspoon chile powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons cilantro, chopped
3 tablespoons green onion, chopped
2 cups cooked and shredded chicken
1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1/2 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
10-12 (6-inch) corn tortillas
Salt, to sprinkle
Cooking spray

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.  Line a baking sheet with foil and lightly coat with cooking spray.

In a medium-sized mixing bowl, combine softened cream cheese, salsa verde, lime juice, cumin, chili powder, minced garlic, cilantro, green onion.  Stir to combine.  Add chicken and shredded cheese, and combine thoroughly.  Season with salt, if necessary.

Heat corn tortillas until soft and pliable, about 30 seconds, on a plate with damp paper towels inbetween and on top of the tortillas to “steam.”   Spoon about 3 to 3 tablespoons of the filling onto the lower third of each tortilla, and roll tightly.  Place taquitos, seam-side down on the prepared baking sheet.  Repeat with remaining tortillas and filling.

Lightly spray the top of the taquitos with cooking spray, and sprinkle with salt. Bake for about 15 to 20 minutes, or until the tortillas are crisp and golden.  Serve with your favorite salsa, guacamole, and greek yogurt.  Yum!

Makes 10 to 12 taquitos.

Quick and Easy Cuban Black Beans Sprinkled with Cotija Cheese

I think Cuban foodie purists would chastise me for using canned black beans instead of the long, tedious process of using dried black beans to make this dish.  What would have taken me 24 plus hours only took me about 30 minutes to make.  I like fast results.   I’m an instant-gratification-kind-of-person.  However, I suppose I would disapprove, too, if I heard of a recipe calling for white rice from an Uncle Ben’s Minute Rice to be made into fried rice.  But I don’t judge… just sometimes.

But hey, we all need some shortcuts in life, right?  Especially for those lazy, I mean busy days when you (and by you, I really do mean I) get too caught up on the couch watching endless reruns of trashy reality TV shows, or just plain busy with life.  My excuse?  I forgot to buy the back beans the day before.  Oh, who am I kidding.  I succumbed to the comfiness of my couch catching up on my DVR’ed Celebrity Apprentice (don’t judge me) shows from the last two weeks.

Quick and Easy Cuban Black Beans Sprinkled with Cotija Cheese(from 3 Guys from Miami)

1 large onion, diced finely
1 large green bell pepper, diced finely
3 cloves garlic, peeled, crushed, and chopped
3 tablespoons mojo criollo sauce or 3 tablespoons vinegar
3 cans plain, unseasoned black beans, drained but reserve the liquid
1 bay leaf
3 teaspoons ground cumin (more or less)
Salt and pepper, to taste
Crumbled cotija cheese
Extra virgin olive oil

Take one can of the black beans, and mash them into a chunky paste.

Make a sofrito by chopping onion and green pepper. Heat extra virgin olive oil over medium high heat in a large skillet, and sauté onions and green pepper until onions are translucent.

Add the garlic garlic and sauté another minute or so.

In a sauce pan over low heat, add the beans, sofrito, bay leaf, mojo sauce (or vinegar), and simmer for about 20 minutes. Add the reserved liquid from the canned beans to adjust consistency of the black beans to your liking.  Add cumin, salt, and pepper to taste.

Sprinkle with crumbled cotija cheese and serve with your favorite Cuban entrees.

Makes 8 to 10 servings.

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