Monthly Archives: April 2010

Fuel Efficient

So just imagine this scenario: tomorrow is race day.  For the last few months you have been training for  (insert here – a triathlon, aquathon, marathon, or any activity that brings you further than the walk from your refrigerator to your couch) and your muscles, mind, and spirit are set to crush the course.

In the last few hours, before the start whistle blows, you gather all the tools you need to finish this test of physical endurance. You’ve packed the tennies, the padded shorts, the swim goggles, and an extra pair of socks. But don’t forget one of the most important items you need to keep your body moving – fuel.

While there are a bounty of flavors and textures that you can choose from in the sports drink/sport snack department, the majority of them are very high in sodium. A vanilla Power Bar? 200mg of sodium. Chocolate CLIF Bar? 140mg of sodium. And the old standard, orange Gatorade? 270mg of sodium.

To circumvent the high sodium energy snack issue may seem like an impossible feat (worse than climbing that 11% grade, and if you don’t know what that means, your thighs thank you). And packing a bag full of granola isn’t a very practical, or aerodynamic, solution.  Although, I have seen an older gentleman who bikes with three bananas tucked into his jersey pocket every weekend and he looks quite happy. So I guess never say never.

But here’s the great news. For effective, low sodium race snacking, there exist two brands of liquid fuel, which do a great job of keeping you energized, without overloading you with salt. I discovered these energy shots three 4th of Julys ago, when I was taking my first bike ride across the bridge and I had completely underestimated my need for carb loading, or eating anything, before I began. Towards the end of the ride, almost 20 miles later, I suddenly felt my body shut down. There was nothing left to burn and as I looked forward, to the rolling hills ahead, I knew I was done. My bike partner was ready to finish the ride, grab the car, drive over the bridge, and rescue me from my malnutritious state. But I was stubborn (what a surprise) and asked if he had anything I could eat.  All he had were some GU performance energy gels and we both thought that we were out of luck.

But thankfully, we flipped the packet around to see that it only contained 40mg of sodium (less than an egg) and at that point, I needed all the electrolytes I could get.  Within minutes of downing the molasses-like treat, I felt my body perk up and off we went, riding into the sunset and stopping for salt free french fries before we headed home.

So if you really are training for a race, pick up a box of GU or CLIF Shots – two low sodium treats that pack a true punch.  They are also great for camping trips and even to carry with you during travel. When living with a dietary restriction, you never really know where you’ll be able to find your next meal (especially when you are beyond the comfort of your kitchen). And these packets are a great emergency snack to have on hand when you start to feel like your light is burning out.

Now it’s time to really get pumped. There’s a 56 mile ride ahead of me tomorrow. Tonight, I plan to carbo load, get some rest, and as always, chow on.

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Creamy Chicken (no noodle) Soup

What are the chances that two completely different people, with somewhat varying ideas of comfort food, would both decide that Tuesday night was the perfect night for chicken noodle soup?  Apparently, very high.

I had a mad hankering for something hearty, creamy, and full of veggies. And thankfully, so did my dining partner. So on my way home I grabbed a spattering of greens and things and of course, a whole package of newly, de-boned chicken thigh to make the perfect pot of low sodium soup.

As I headed to my kitchen, though, I realized that really, I had never made a true chicken soup before. Sure, I have dabbled in Matzoh balls and of course, I had a week-long syllabus in making low sodium broth.  But I had never attempted to recreate the stuff I remember eating as a kid, when I had a horribly runny nose and needed some homemade food love.

But I do not consider myself a total chicken soup novice.  For I have made chicken pot pie before, which I consider to be the slightly more mature cousin of the chicken noodle soup concept, just with a milkier broth and a doughy hat.  So I decided to stick with what I know and combine the two recipes, mixing the creamy broth of the chicken pot pie with the traditional ingredients of a chicken noodle soup. Sans noodle.  Sans crust. Just soup.

To tell you the truth…It. Was. Good! And I highly suggest this dish for any cold night or night with a cold. It takes a maximum of 45 minutes to make and almost everything can be done in one pot – although, cooking the chicken thigh separately will minimize the fatty greasiness that ends up in your broth. Also, as a note, I used fennel in place of celery as I prefer the taste, but you could really go either way.

This low sodium, creamy chicken (no noodle) soup is truly simple and extremely scrumptious.  And if you want a little extra carbs, feel free to throw in some big noodles. Chow on.

(this recipe makes about 4-6 servings)

Ingredients:

  • 6 chicken thighs
  • 2 teaspoons of olive oil
  • 6 cloves of garlic, diced
  • 1 bulb of fennel, chopped into 1/4 inch chunks
  • 4 carrots, cut into rounds and then cut in half
  • 5 cups of water
  • 1 tablespoon of Herb-Ox No Sodium Chicken Broth
  • 4 yellow potatoes (like Yukon Gold), chopped into 1/2 inch chunks
  • 1 jalapeno, diced
  • ½ cup of mushrooms, chopped (I used oyster mushrooms, but any will do)
  • 2 zucchinis, cut into rounds and then cut in half
  • ¼ cup of cream
  • 1 tablespoon of cornstarch
  • 1 tablespoon of no salt added herb blend, like Herbs de Provence
  • 1 tablespoon of black pepper
  • a few shakes of cinnamon
  • a few shimmies of curry powder

Directions:

1. Heat 1 teaspoon of olive oil over medium heat in non-stick pan.  When hot, add the chicken and allow to cook through, making sure to flip sides.  Should take about 15 minutes.

2. While chicken is cooking, heat the other teaspoon of olive oil over medium heat in a large pot.

3. When oil is hot, add the garlic and the fennel.  Allow to brown and soften for five minutes and remember to stir so that it doesn’t burn.

4. Add carrots, potatoes, water, and no salt added chicken broth to the pot. Increase heat to high and bring to a boil.

5. Once it is boiling for five minutes, reduce heat and allow to simmer. Add spices (black pepper, herbs, curry, and cinnamon) and jalapenos to the pot. Cover and cook for 15 minutes.

6. At this point your chicken should be cooked, so remove from pan and let rest for 2-5 minutes. Then cut into thin slices or chunks.

7. Remove lid from the pot and add the zucchinis and mushrooms – they go in towards the end of the cooking process so that they are not overly mushy – as well as the chicken.

8. The stock most likely has reduced by 1/3 at this point. Take about 3-4 spoonfuls of the broth and put into a bowl. Mix with some cornstarch until smooth and then add back into the pot. This will thicken the stock.

9. Add the cream to the pot and allow to cook for 5 more minutes.

10. Ladle into gigantic bistro bowls and serve. I also garnished with some toasted pumpkin seeds and extra mushrooms to be fancy. Some fresh herbs sprinkled on top (like chive or parsley) would also be very nice.

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A Call to Grate-Ness

Sometimes a recipe calls for garlic. But the prep demands that it is not diced, sliced, nor chopped, but…well…mushed.  I’m not sure what the technical term is for this action, but I’ve watched many chefs take chopped garlic, some rough sea salt, and with their knife, grind it into a fine pulp. It is a superb technique when you desire a dish to merely have an essence of garlic, rather than chunks of it. But clearly, even a sprinkle of sea salt is too much sodium for this Girl. And I’ve often wondered, is there another solution for pulping garlic besides using this natural sand paper?

Now here’s the real rub. After perusing the Food Network, per usual, I happened upon Ms. Rachel Ray dancing about her studio kitchen, balancing absurd amounts of bowls, ingredients, and spices while  chirping about “sammies” and “E V O O.” Admist this culinary circus, there was a shinning moment of brilliance. Ms. Ray was making very juicy hamburgers (yum-O) and was stuffing them with fresh herbs and pulped garlic. But instead of using the sea salt technique, which I’ve seen her use before, she busted out her nifty microplane and grated away.

I know what you’re saying, I have a garlic press already and it practically does the same thing. But I think using a microplane is a much simpler solution and easier to clean. Big bonus.

I’ve already used Ms. Ray’s trick for the Ricotta Crackers I made last week – the garlic simply melted into the dough. And if you haven’t treated yourself to a microplane yet, it’s time.  Zest, grate, get creative and add punch to your food, without much effort. It’s just a simple reminder from me and Ms. Ray to use your imagination when cooking – whether it is with ingredients or with tools – and stretch them beyond their supposed purpose. You never know what kind of mess or masterpiece you’ll end up with.

Chow on.

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It’s a Cracker, Jack

I’ve always been quite jealous, when watching TV cooking shows, to see chefs quickly whip up crispy, parmesan wafers, that add an inexplicable flare and crunch to even the most boring dishes.  Like a Caesar salad.  All it takes is a grater, a block of parm, and a non-stick baking sheet. But due to parmesan’s high sodium content, to make and enjoy this treat also requires a body that is not salt sensitive.

So parmesan wafers were out.  But as usual, when I’m told no, I become even more obstinate and determined to find a solution. It just so happened that I have become recently addicted to ricotta cheese, which is generally quite low in sodium.  The particular brand I have been using is only 24 mg of sodium per 1/4 cup.  Scoops of this creamy concoction have found their way into my risotto cakes, pasta, and weekly frittatas.  Yes, I said weekly.

With ricotta clearly on my mind, and in my fridge, I thought, perhaps I could make a cheese wafer/cracker/biscuit out of this low sodium product.  A little interweb searching landed me on the Food Network’s website and a wonderful recipe for parmesan and thyme crackers by the always adorable, always delicious Ina Garten. From there, I traded ricotta for the parmesan, took out the salt, and added a few more herbs and orange zest to create the ideal low sodium, ricotta cheese cracker. In a mere hour, with very little prep or clean up, I had a set of freshly baked, crackers that were as gorgeous as Ina’s, if I do say so myself.

I cannot wait to make these for my next food gathering. As cheese and crackers are always a staple appetizer at these events, I’m pretty sure you cannot go wrong with a combination of the two. It’s like the culinary equivalent of the spork – great separate, but better when together.

So get cracking.  Have a great weekend and chow on.

Ingredients:

  • ½ a stick of unsalted butter
  • 1 cup of ricotta cheese (approx 120mg of sodium for an entire batch of 56 crackers, which means about 2mg per nibble)
  • 1¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons of herb spice blend, like Herbs de Provence or salt free Mural of Flavor
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon mustard powder
  • 1 clove of garlic, grated
  • zest from one (small) orange
  • juice from half of one (small) orange – you do not want the dough to be too wet

Directions:

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

2. Grate garlic and orange using a microplane.

3. Place the butter and flour in a food processor and mix until creamy. Add the ricotta, herbs, pepper, mustard, orange zest, garlic, and juice and combine.

4. Dump the dough on a lightly floured board.

5. Roll into a 13-inch long log and wrap in plastic wrap.

6. Place in the freezer, yes FREEZER, for 20 minutes to harden. When it is almost frozen, it is easier to slice

7. Cut the log crosswise into 1/4 to 1/2-inch thick slices. Place the slices on a sheet pan and bake for 25 minutes.

8. Put out with your appetizer spread, bring to work for a quick snack, or wrap up in some tissue paper as a gift. These goodies stay good for about 3-5 day.s

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Hot Pot, Hot Spot

This post has been a long time in the making and let me warn you, it is not for the squeamish (or the vegetarian).  There is a lot of undressed, uncooked meat ahead of you.  So please, shield your eyes accordingly.  But I promise, what you see and read will be worth whatever “harm” you endure as the food I am about to show you encapsulates the ultimate dining experience for low sodium eaters.  The mecca of low sodium friendly restaurants.

Hands down, one of my favorite foods to eat is Shabu Shabu.  If I were a betting woman, which I am, I would put money on the fact that most of you have not experienced the glories of this delicious cuisine, originally created by Ghengis Khan way back in the when.  Instead, you may be more familiar with cousins of this dip and eat experience, like Mongolian Hot Pot or the more European, Fondue. While they similarly boast the same play-with-food attitude, they both depend on highly salted broths and cheeses to satisfy customers.  Thus, ultimately, my heart and stomach solely belongs to Shabu Shabu.

Here’s the dish: the menu is simple, offering beef, chicken, seafood, and vegetarian options, made complete with a plateful of veggies and a bowl of rice. Don’t be afraid to ask for seconds or, for that matter, the large order. I never am.

But don’t misread the menu’s slim offerings as a preface to a tasteless meal. Even though the choices are few, the flavor options are endless. Each order comes complete with three dipping sauces, dried chilis, ginger, and diced scallions so you can alter your broth and a steaming bowl of rice to your liking.

Make it sweet, spicy, tangy, or all of the above. And if you are a Shabu Shabu novice, don’t be shy. The friendly staff is more than willing to dish out cooking advice. Your every “swish” is their desire.

You can also usually order off a list of “sides” if you want more meat, veggies, noodles, or fun additions like pot stickers (not for the sodium sensitive).

For someone on a restricted diet, and a low sodium one to be exact, the fact that you have full control over your meal is a huge plus. All I have to do is simply ask for hot water, as opposed to broth, to avoid the sodium from miso or seaweed (which are common ingredients).  And the rest is a sodium safe meal of delicious, fresh meat and veggies.  I use the freshly diced scallions and the chili oil or dried chilies (whichever is available) to confidently add flavor to my water broth and bowl of rice. Lately, owners of Shabu Shabu restaurants have even offered to make me my own “special sauce” with a combination of beer, sesame oil, non-seasoned rice wine vinegar, and some corn starch. I have found that, beyond all else, they want you to enjoy your meal. So make friends and feel free to ask for extra accoutrements that will complete your dining experience.

Shabu Shabu is a stress and sodium free adventure, filled with lots of healthy eats. It is also incredibly affordable.  A very filling dinner for two will cost you a mere $30 bucks and service is always quick. If you’re ready to give it a try, two Bay Area restaurants have my Sodium Girl stamp of approval.  For those in San Francisco, check out Happy Shabu Shabu, tucked away on the busy Fillmore street across from Yoshi’s Jazz Club.  For those a bit more south on the Peninsula, I highly recommend Shabuway, with locations in the heart of downtown San Mateo and Mountain View.  That’s right, Googlers, you’re neck of the woods.

I can guarentee that you will not be disappointed.  Or hungry. So get cooking and chow on.

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Crush It

It’s a question as old as time.  Which came first?  The shiitake mushroom or the shiitake mushroom dust?

Whether or not we ever solve this conundrum, the message is still clear. Dried mushrooms can be manipulated in a variety of ways to add a unique umami flavor to your food.  As we discovered last week, soaking shiitakes in water makes a wonderful low sodium, meat-free broth. But you are not limited to this single application or variety of mushroom – it just happens to be one of the cheapest. Any dirt-loving fungii, dried or fresh, will leech out its flavor if left to soak for long enough.

An equally delicious and even more fun application of dried mushrooms is crushing them to create a crumb or powder.

I was inspired by my friends Erin and Natalie when they made a poricini crusted lamb roast on the Martha Stewart Show/Google Iron Chef competition.  This recipe, and their inventive use of mushrooms, won them fame, notoriety, and a pile of Martha Stewart cookware.

So when cooking for the Mom’s birthday a few weeks ago, Boy and I decided to give mushroom powder a try. Because little Mama cannot stomach a lot of spice, we knew we needed to hit earthy and sweet notes instead.  We put some shitake mushrooms in the cuisinart and gave them a hearty pulse.  Then, before the rack of lamb hit the oven, we drizzled olive oil on the chops and rolled them in a mixture of herbs and mushroom dust.

Don’t expect the mushrooms to form a crispy crust.  Instead, it is almost as if they melt into the meat itself.  It’s a whole lot of yum and goes great with a spoonful of Frog Hollow Farm preserves. If you are looking for more of a crunch, though, add some breadcrumbs to the mix as well.

Dried mushrooms, whole or crushed, are a great flavor tool to keep stored in your cupboard for those days when you want everyday ingredients to taste a little extra special. I have also been known to sprinkle leftover dried mushrooms on sauteed chicken and roasted frittatas. The possibilities are endless. So get crushing and chow on.

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Good Morning America

For many, preparing a hearty breakfast is as easy as snap, crackle, and pop.  But for those on a low sodium diet, achieving a balanced morning meal poses a bit of a challenge.

By the time you’ve hit the snooze button, packed up your gym bag (just in case), and headed off to the day’s first appointment, there’s barely enough time to tie your shoe laces, let alone fry up some scrambled eggs.  As a result, that all important first meal of the day tends to fall into the dine and dash category.  Bagels, cereal bars, and delicious danishes – these pre-made items are perfect for a quick pick-me-up.  But they are all high in sodium.

Yogurt parfait? 200mg of sodium.  Chocolate croissant?  250mg of sodium.  That blueberry muffin?  450 mg of sodium.  And your delicious bagel shmear?  Say hello to over 800mg of sodium, which is almost half of the recommended 2,000 mg of sodium a day (for those who aren’t sodium sensitive).

But don’t pass off sunrise snacks quite yet.  There are some ready-made, low sodium options that will fill you with the metabolism-boosting nutrients you need in no time.  You may have to get a bit creative, but there are easy ways to replicate your favorite morning bites without all the salt. Instead of that chocolate croissant, swap in a slice of no salt added bread (10mg) and some hazelnut spread (15).

For more low sodium solutions, check out this article on ArthritisToday.com for grocery store tips that will help you start your day off on the right foot.  Or at least the right bite.  Eat well and chow on.

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