Monthly Archives: December 2009

The Squeeze

Well good morrow my low sodium friends. I hope you have all had a pleasant holiday season so far filled with low sodium treats and at least one or two fruit cakes.

I have had a few noteworthy, low sodium cooking adventures myself and come the new year, I will be sharing with you tales of:

  • low Sodium tamales
  • low sodium Chinese chicken salad
  • low sodium latkes
  • low sodium lemon meringue pie
  • and low sodium log cake (a Sodium Girl family tradition)

So sit tight. After the clock strikes midnight on the 31st, Sodium Girl will be back with daily interweb musings, bringing you shiny new recipes, tips, tricks, and advice to make your 2010 healthy and delicious.

In the meantime, I thought I’d say a quick hello and dedicate this post (much needed after a lovely holiday respite) to something light and fresh (much needed after a heavy holiday gorge-fest).

Feast your eyes on the lovely grapefruit, delicately segmented for easy Christmas morning eating.

Amongst the many lessons I’ve learned through living on a low sodium diet, one of the greatest has been to appreciate food in its purest form. And this particular grapefruit was a perfect example of the simple pleasure of naked food. It was sweet, sour, and satisfying on its own – a wonderfully bright palette cleanser – memorable without a dollop of yogurt or even a sprinkling of sugar. I mean, just look at those plump juice pods, just ready to burst in your mouth.

I will admit it, before my kidneys failed I was an over-salter. Without even tasting my food, I would sprinkle the white stuff all over my plate, pretty much addicted to the taste of those little crystals. What I didn’t realize was that in my eager shaker shaking, I was not enhancing the taste of my meals but masking their natural flavors. Steak, green beans, pasta – all of it was becoming a one note of salt and I was actually limiting the potential range of flavors I could experience. It was only when I was forced to eliminate the extra accoutrement that my taste buds were reawakened to the range of sweet, sour, spice, and umami that can exist in each bite of food, on its own. It does take some time for your taste buds to adjust, so be patient. But soon, flavors will become brighter until steamed kale reminds you of candy and the peppery notes in arugula tickle your tongue.

Think I’m talking crazy talk? Well look at it this way. Some professional eaters (aka very lucky people) close their eyes to enhance the experience of eating, blindfolding themselves from any other distractions. Now imagine eating food without the distraction of dressings, sauces, and spices. The intensity of taste is heightened even more. Suddenly a bowl of bald grapefruit bursts all on its own. Not to say that dressings, sauces, and spices aren’t good. I try to make as many of those (in low sodium versions) as possible. I’m just saying, it is good practice to have food in its original form once in a while to really appreciate its full potential. That way, when you do dress it up, you know the exact qualities you want to enhance.

So your homework this week is to enjoy a stalk of broccoli, a freshly sliced pepper, or even a nibble of dark chocolate without anything but your senses. Go ahead. Get intimate with your food and chow on.

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Put a Lime in Your Coconut

It’s the holidays (and my birthday) which basically means I have license to stuff my face with as many sweet treats as possible. An annual chubby bunny experiment of sorts. But low sodium desserts, especially at restaurants, tend to be difficult to find. Caramel, baking powder and baking soda, salted butter… it all kind of gets in the way of a low sodium diet. But thanks to the delicious coconut, new doors of decadence have been opened.

Coconut has recently been a low sodium scene stealer. Its milk (15mg of sodium per serving) makes a wonderful substitute for recipes that include dairy and when mixed with granola and some dried fruit, you have the perfect, tropical breakfast.

As for dessert, coconut made its way to me last night in two different iterations: frozen and cookie’d. Ciao Bella Coconut Sorbet (15mg of sodium per serving) is a freezer staple at my house. It is creamy and has little flecks of real coconut in it. I try to keep my eye out for this option on menus as a cool scoop of the good stuff really ends a dinner on high note.

In even bigger news, I am beginning to see more “ice cream” products with coconut as the dairy substitute, expanding the flavor options to all new levels. Luna and Larry’s Coconut Bliss comes in Chocolate, Vanilla Island, Mint Galactica, and Cappuccino to name a few, all which are around 18mg of sodium per serving.

But sometimes, to top off your ice cold treat, sometimes you need something with a little crunch. Last night, I was served mini macaroons. The perfect low sodium cookie. Cream of tartar, white sugar, egg whites, and coconut – these tiny morsels were low sodium and extremely satisfying. So remember, when your sweet tooth strikes, go nuts with coconut and chow on.

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Egg in a Basket, Toad in a Hole

The Egg in a Basket, also known as Toad in a Hole and Bird in a Nest, is the perfect weekend breakfast for one, two, or twenty. The classic recipe takes mere minutes to complete and offers endless enjoyment in its nutty flavors and playful presentation.

The ingredient list is minimal – low sodium bread, sweet/unsalted butter, and eggs – but you can always spice things up with freshly chopped herbs (chives or parsley would be delicious), a light mustard sauce by combining crème fraiche (0mg of sodium) with dry mustard (0 mg of sodium) or low salt stone-ground mustard (0mg of sodium), or a roasted red pepper sauce (use an immersion blender to combine your roasted peppers of choice with some olive oil and basil for added punch).

On the particular morning that these beautiful eggs were photographed, Boy and I decided to dice up some leftover avocado as a cool afterthought and decorated the dish with red pepper flakes. Keep it simple or get creative – either way this is a charming way to start your day. Chow on.

Ingredients:

Directions:

1. Take a glass/measuring cup/or any other circular implement with an inch diameter and cut a hole from the center of the bread. If you do not have any circular tools lying around, just use a knife and go for it freehand.

2. Heat pan over medium flame and when hot, add two tablespoons of butter.

3. Watch butter carefully and gently swirl it around pan until it has browned.

4. Add the bread and the bread circle to the pan and let it get toasty for 3-5 minutes.

5. Plop your egg into the hole of the bread and let it cook for 3-5 minutes.

6. When ready, carefully flip the toast and egg to cook the other side. Flip the little circle as well. Cook for another 3-5 minutes depending on how runny you like your yolk.

7. Turn off heat and transfer the Egg and Basket onto a plate. Decorate with chosen adornments or just cut into it immediately with your favorite fork. Enjoy.

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Table Manners

To have the best low sodium dining experience, two things are of utmost importance:

1. Be clear as to what you cannot eat

2. But more importantly, be informed as possible on what you can

I’ve spoken before about the basic tips that make dining out a breeze:

  • call ahead of time
  • bring a list of your restrictions
  • frequent favorite spots regularly to build a relationship with the staff and chefs. The more they cook for you, the more adventurous (and comfortable) they will become in making sodium free meals

But let’s get a little more detailed on how your ordering tactics can greatly influence the quality of the food you end up eating.

On a recent trip to Green’s Restaurant, my knowledge of cooking techniques and local food products enabled me to order a generous pasta dinner when it seemed that my dining fate lied solely in leafy, green salads.

Some might think that a vegetarian restaurant would be an ideal place for someone on a sodium restricted diet as we (vegetarians and people like myself) share a common denominator of culinary parameters. But the truth is that, as with most restaurants vegetarian or carnivorous, the vegetables and starches are boiled in salted water earlier in the day. And if you, the restricted diner, forget to call ahead and ask for an eggplant or couscous to be left aside, you will be left with only the raw ingredients.

This particular scenario occurred to me one lovely Saturday evening in October. Our waitress, who was studying for her nursing degree, understood my dietary needs on a personal and academic level. She was truly invested in accommodating my needs, but due to the blanching issue, choices were sparse. After combining forces with the chef, they came up with two lovely, fall salad options – one with figs and endive and the other with tomatoes and arugula.

Usually, I would have been more than satisfied with those choices. I tend to not make too much of a fuss when dining out, especially whenI forget to make a warning call earlier in the day. But that night, I was hungry and I wanted something substantial.

I saw on the list a pappardelle pasta dish, which as you may guess from my previous post, is one of my favorite pastas. The thick noodles can make even a simply diced tomato garnish a satisfying masterpiece. As we placed out orders, I was driven to push beyond the boundaries of my salad options. I asked the waitress if the pasta was made fresh by the kitchen or purchased. She said purchased and again, I pushed on. I asked if she knew which company made the pasta and she replied, the Pasta Shop.

A few months earlier I had met a woman from the Pasta Shop at the Ferry Building Farmer’s Market and I discovered that they had sheets of unsalted spinach dough – perfect for making sodium free ravioli. I also discovered that all of their pasta products without stuffing (now sold in Whole Foods as well) are all sodium free.

Armed with this knowledge, I told the waitress that I could have that pasta and if it was boiled in salt free water and coated with olive oil, garlic, and whatever fresh veggies they had, then I would be one happy Sodium Girl with one hearty sodium free meal. The kitchen did just that and the waitress was impressed by my depth of sodium free food knowledge (no big deal) and delighted to give me a dish that rivaled my fellow compatriots’ plates.

It was an amazing moment of freedom in a limiting circumstance. It demonstrated that, while knowing your restrictions keep your meals sodium safe, knowing your edible options give you a range of choices when there seem to be none. Like the PSA ads with the shooting star always says, “the more you know”…the more you can eat.

Chow on.

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Musings on the Market, Farmer Style

Be fairly warned. This is a miniature photo essay meant to invoke your deepest, most hidden inner chef. So do not be surprised if you end up cooking bok choy and Buddha’s hand for dinner.

Farmer’s markets are a cross between a food library and a botanical garden tour: they are educational and aesthetically enchanting. In attending a farmer’s market, you will be introduced to an array of new vegetables, crop varietals, and artisan products which, if you so choose to take the challenge, will help expand your culinary repertoire. The more familiar you become with the abundance of colorful, shapely, and sometimes alien looking crops available at the market (and more importantly, their seasonality), the more flexible you will become in your kitchen conquests. The quality of the products and their ultimate freshness also guarantee a level of natural flavor that requires little to no additional seasoning to achieve deliciousness. Which, for a sodium free cook, is especially wonderful. Have you ever tasted really good, simply steamed kale? It has a buttery sweetness all on its own, no additional spices necessary.

Added bonus: the knowledge you acquire at a farmer’s market can also help you keep your food shopping costs to a minimum. You may find yourself swapping products with similar tastes or textures to achieve a better budget.

So hold on tight. Off we go on our virtual tour of the beautiful sights and smells that can be experienced Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday at the San Francisco Ferry Building Farmer’s Market. And just so you know, Sodium Girl will be radio silent tomorrow, but back in full force on Monday. Enjoy the weekend and chow on.

LET BUDDHA LEND A HAND

Alter this Chickpea Salad by substituting grated and sliced Buddha’s hand for the lemon.

Lower the sodium by using:

  • Eden Foods No Salt Added Garbanzo Beans (30mg per serving)
  • Dried, sun-dried tomatoes (0mg of sodium) that you can soak in olive oil or water or balsamic vinegar (if you want to be fancy) prior to use

GIGANTIC LEEKS

Serve up a classic winter dish with this Potato and Leek Soup recipe.

Make it sodium free with:

TURN HEADS with WHITE and PURPLE TURNIPS

Let the Pioneer Women take you step-by-step through this delicious Turnip Gratin recipe.

Lower the sodium with:

IT’s HONEY, HONEY

Use locally produced honey in this Griddled Polenta Recipe which will be featured in the food52 cookbook in 2010.

Lower the sodium with:

  • Heluva Good Low Sodium Cheddar Cheese (5mg of sodium)
  • Half and Half (usually 0mg to 10mg per serving) or SO Delicious Coconut Milk (15mg of sodium) per 1 cup)
  • Sweet (unsalted) butter (0mg of sodium)

DRIED FRUITS

End your meal with these chocolate and dried fruit Building Blocks care of Orangette, extraordinary food blogger and food photographer. No low sodium alterations necessary. Now isn’t that nice!

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Pot Roasted Pappardelle

To avoid holiday hostess stress, I’ve come to realize that it is best to prepare dishes that can cook uninterrupted and unattended for long periods of time. Whether in a crock pot or an oven safe casserole dish, your one pot pièce de résistance will simmer, thicken, and marinate on its own while you mingle with guests (and charm them with your wit and wile). And when it’s time to sit down (or stand as is often the case in our San Fran apartment), your meal is ready to be plated and served with little hassle.

Another tip and host/hostess time saver is to purchase fresh, handmade pasta from your local Italian deli or pasta shop.  Nothing compares to freshly rolled and cut pasta and it makes quite a conversation starter as an added bonus.  My favorite neighborhood spot is Pasta Gina on Diamond and 24th.

Sodium Saving Tip: Most handmade pastas are sodium free as classic Italian recipes generally do not add salt to their pasta dough. Many shops also offer flavored pastas like lemon, pepper, herb, garlic, and egg.  Just to be safe, be sure to ask the person working at the counter if they are salt free. Once you’ve picked your flavor and pasta shape, watch them handily cut your noodles on the spot. And when you are ready to get cooking, the noodles will take mere minutes to cook since they are so fresh. No proverbial waiting for the water to boil.

So with these two cooking and shopping tid bits in mind, on Wednesday night, I set out to prepare for my own little dinner party with a time efficient and hostess friendly menu:

Pappardelle Pasta with Pot Roasted Lamb Ragù

To spice up the more traditional recipes I found online and to avoid using store-bought broths, I decided to make these following alterations: I added fennel for a hint of licorice; I substituted white wine for red to create a lighter sauce; I bought a combination of lamb chops and stew meat since the bone supplies a meaty richness; and I chose to use radishes in place of carrots because it is fun to be different.  As the ragù steeps in its own juices, these alternative ingredients help create more complex and rich flavors.

So give this rustic pasta dish a try over a winter dinner party and remember to chow (and chat) on.

Ingredients (serves 4):

  • 2 lamb chops and 1/2 pound of lamb stew meat
  • 1/2 a pound of pappardelle (or ask the counter attendant for the appropriate amount)
  • 1 bulb of fennel, diced
  • 1 small turnip, diced
  • 1 red onion, finely diced
  • 4 cloves of garlic, casually chopped
  • 1 tablespoon of flour
  • 1 wine glass of white wine
  • 3 beefsteak tomatoes (because I find them easier to cut)
  • orange zest from one orange
  • 2 tablespoons of fresh parsley, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons of fresh rosemary, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • ground cumin, red pepper flakes, black or white pepper, and freshly grated nutmeg to taste

Directions:

1. Set your oven to 350 degrees.

2. In your casserole dish, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over medium heat.

3. Once oil is hot, add the onion and garlic and stir occasionally until the onion has softened and the garlic has browned. If it begins to stick to or brown your casserole dish, use some white wine or champagne vinegar to deglaze the pot and steal some of that charred flavor for the sauce.

4. Add the turnip and fennel and continue to cook over medium heat until softened and browned.

5. Add the diced tomatoes, rosemary, wine, cumin, pepper flakes, and pepper, increasing the heat until the mixture begins to boil.

6. In a pan, heat the second tablespoon of olive oil. When hot, brown your pork chops, about 3 minutes on each side, and add them to the ragù stock.

7. In the same pan, brown the lamb stew meat for about 5 minutes and add it to the ragù stock.

8. Cover cassarole and put it in the oven for 1.5 to 2 hours until the lamb can fall right off the bone.

9. About ten minutes before eating, take the lamb ragù from the oven and put back on the stove, low to medium heat. Begin heating a second pot of boiling water for your pasta.

10. In a separate small bowl, mix some of the ragù juice with your flour. Whisk until there are no clumps and add the thickened sauce back to the rest of the pot.

11. Once the pasta water is boiling, put in the pappardelle and cook for 3-5 minutes. Drain and add a little olive oil if the noodles are sticking together.

12. When you are ready to serve, plate the noodles and ladle the sauce on top. Garnish with the fresh parsley and grated orange zest.


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Sticky Tummy Bread Pudding

Let’s start the morning with a shot of some beautiful, homegrown eggs. Cage free and totally enchanting with their varying shapes and colors. They were a most special gift from some good friends who are raising chickens of their own and I could not wait to use them.

Well actually, I had no other choice. I am leaving for a bit of a holiday break and with two dozen eggs, a fresh loaf of no sodium bread, a whole block of Heluva good cheese, and a bunch of fresh kale, I was tasked to use up the goods as quickly as possible. The solution? Some delicious

savory bread pudding

It is a rather easy recipe, but does require that you have the special no sodium ingredients on hand. The dish can be served for any meal of the day, is a crowd pleaser with sodium normal folk, and is great as leftovers. Just don’t broil it the next morning like I did unless you like the taste of charred chard.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 loaf of Alvarado St. Bakery No Salt Bread (10mg of sodium per slice), cubed
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1/4 yellow onion, chopped
  • 1/4 cup leek, chopped
  • 10 large eggs
  • 3 cups SO Delicious Coconut Milk (15 mg per 1 cup)
  • 1 bunch kale, chard, or other braising greens
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 cup fresh parsley, finely chopped
  • 1/2 a block of Heluva Good Chedder Cheese (5 mg per ounce) or farmers cheese
  • 1 teaspoon champagne or white wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon of balsamic vinegar
  • black pepper, ground mustard, chipotle chili powder to taste
  • 9×13 inch pan, well greased

Directions:

1. Set oven to 350 degrees and when hot, toast the diced bread until cripy. Just keep your eye on it. We all make mistakes.

2. In a pan, heat olive oil and cook leek and onion for 3-5 minutes until softened. Before taking the pan off the heat, add a dash of champagne vinegar to the leeks and onions and cook for two more minutes until liquid has evaporated but the flavor still lingers.

3. In a mixing bowl, whisk eggs until blended. Add milk, pepper, nutmeg, ground mustard, and dash of balsamic vinegar.

4. Chop your braising greens and fresh herbs. Add them to the custard mixture from step 3 above.

5. Combine all ingredients in the baking dish so that the custard comes right to the highest piece of bread but does not completely cover it. You will have to do some bread/custard shifting with a spoon or spatula and most of the bread will rise to the top.

6. Bake in oven for 1 hour. Be patient.

7. When eggs have become soft but firm, crumble your cheese on top and put back in the oven for another 10 minutes.

8. Before serving, dust the top with a little more black pepper, more ground nutmeg, and a pinch of chipotle chili powder. Drizzle flavored oil on the top as well, like truffle or blood orange, to give it extra zest.

9. Chow on.

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