Saag paneer (aka, palak paneer), and my latest epiphany.

I realized something about myself while cooking Indian food. Music and me don’t mesh well together. The kitchen is where I’m in my zen space. Not my bedroom. Not the shower. Not even the couch. [You'd think it's the couch from all the posts about sitting on my couch watching endless hours of trashy reality TV shows!] It’s the kitchen. I think most of you foodies can relate.

So why was the music even on? My partner was helping me cook and she wanted some music. I didn’t oppose. I thought I’d be nice to have a little background music. She put on some Feist, which I love on any other given day. But not that day. It sounded like someone running their fingernails down a chalkboard. That’s what it felt like. I had a hard time concentrating on what I was doing. I couldn’t think to myself. Every thought was drowned out by the screeching voice of Feist. Ugh. I started to get irritated. I wasn’t enjoying the process anymore. I was also being really short with my partner (which I felt horrible for). I just had it. I walked over to her laptop, and turned off the music. Finally. There was some peace and quiet.

The only sounds in the kitchen was the sizzling of the paneer browning in the skillet and the chopping of the tomatoes. It was music to my ears (no pun intended). Ahh, I was finally back to my tranquil place, as I thought to myself.

How do you like to cook? With music? With the TV on? Or none of the above?

Saag Paneer (aka, Palak Paneer)

6 cups of fresh spinach, rinsed and drained
1/3 pound paneer, cubed
1 small white or yellow onion, chopped
2 medium tomatoes, seeded, and pureed
1 teaspoon fresh ginger, minced
6 garlic cloves, minced
3 green chile peppers, seeded and finely chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons coriander powder
2 teaspoons turmeric powder
2 teaspoons garam masala
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
2 tablespoons nonfat, plain Greek yogurt
Salt, to taste

Boil spinach in a big pot of water until cooked. Place spinach into a food process or blender, and blend until pureed with smooth consistency.

In a large, nonstick skillet, heat one tablespoon of vegetable oil and saute cubed paneer until they become golden and browned on all sides. Remove from heat, and set aside.

Using a mortar and pestle, grind the ginger, garlic, chile peppers, coriander powder, and turmeric powder together to make a paste.

Using the same nonstick skillet, heat one tablespoon of vegetable oil. When oil is hot, add cumins, and saute for a minute. Add onions, and saute until translucent. Add the ginger-garlic paste and garam masala, and saute for another two to three minutes. Next, add the pureed spinach and tomato. Mix well. Cook until the spinach mixture has thickened, and the liquid from the tomato is cooked. Reduce heat to medium low, and continue to cook for five to ten minutes covered. If you think the curry is too thick, add a little water until the desired consistency. Adjust seasoning with salt. Before turning off the heat, add the paneer cubes. Mix them into the spinach, and simmer for two to three minutes, and then turn off the heat. Add greek yogurt, and mix thoroughly.

Serve with naan or pulao.

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.

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