Monthly Archives: September 2010

Matzo Ball Meatballs

When it comes to Italian women and Jewish mothers, I know one thing to be undeniably true – they always want you to eat more. A desire that can sometimes be as challenging as completing a triathlon, but depending on the meal, can also barely require the a twist of the arm.

And when it comes to these holy moly meatballs you see above – do those suckers look juicy or what? – you’ll never have any trouble cleaning your plate. Or asking for more.

These little rounds of herb-flavored pork you see above are truly as succulent and savory as they look, each bite releasing a flood of  flavor and begging you to grab another. And thanks to the addition of matzo meal, in place of regular bread crumbs, these scrumptious meatballs were also extremely low in sodium. The only thing adding salt to the recipe was the natural salinity in the pork. Now what do you think about that?

But enough kibitzing, let’s get to the point. The recipe is quite simple and requires you to get a bit dirty, gently mixing the meat, matzo meal, and eggs with your hands. So break out the soap and roll up your sleeves, because a little manpower is worth the resulting taste. I also believe that the more fresh herbs the better (you just can’t compete with their pungent smells), but dried herb mixes, like Penzeys Pasta Sprinkle, work perfectly well too.

And to serve, nothing beats fresh spaghetti and a sauce made from oven-roasted tomatoes. But if you don’t have the time to fashion your own Italian fare at home, simply pick up packaged noodles and Muir Glen No Salt Added Tomato Sauce from the store. Or, if you really want to think outside of the low sodium box, skip the pasta altogether and skewer the bite-sized nuggets with toothpicks for appetizer fun. Accompany them with a stoneground mustard sauce on the side and you’ll have a one-stop popper that will satisfy any guests. Even the Morton salt girl.

Get creative. Get meaty. Chow on.

Ingredients:

  • ½ a red onion, diced
  • 5 garlic cloves, pressed with garlic press
  • 1 ½ cups of Matzo Ball Meal no salt added breadcrumbs
  • 1 cup half and half
  • 1 pound ground pork (or you could do half ground pork, half ground beef)
  • 2 eggs
  • ½ teaspoon of freshly grated nutmeg
  • ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • ½ teaspoon smoked paprika
  • ¼ cup of freshly chopped herbs – rosemary, basil, and/or parsley
  • Canola oil

Directions:

1. In a large, nonstick pan, heat a bit of canola oil (1 teaspoon) and sauté the garlic and onions for five to ten minutes.

2. Take pan off of heat, and transfer the now translucent-ish onion and garlic mixture to a medium sized bowl.

3. In a smaller bowl, combine the breadcrumbs with the cream and allow them to soak for five minutes.

4. Add the ground beef, the eggs, the herbs, the spices, and the soaked breadcrumbs to the onion-garlic mixture. Gently fold the ingredients together until all parts have been well distributed. You may find that the breadcrumbs clump into little balls so, while you want to avoid over-mixing the “meat batter,” feel free to break up the clumps by rubbing them between your fingers.

5. Reheat non-stick pan with a few more tablespoons of canola oil. Shape meat into balls that are a little smaller than a golf ball and add them to the sizzling oil. Do not overcrowd the pan and allow the meatballs to brown for five minutes on each side. I found that is easiest to use a fish spatula to turn and remove the meatballs from the pan without breaking them apart.

6. Place browned meatballs on a cookie sheet, and repeat with another batch until all the meat is gone.

7. To finish the meatballs, you have two choices – you can add them to the sauce, where they will continue to simmer  for another 20 minutes. Or, if you are going sauceless, throw them in the oven for 10 minutes on 350 degrees so that they cook through. Then, enjoy.

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Counter Talk

It’s funny how restaurants treat sitting at the counter like a second-class experience – Don’t have reservations? Well, we can seat you at the counter, if you’d like? – but the reality is that counter seating is the hottest spot in the house, especially if you are dealing with low sodium needs or any dietary restriction. Because when you sit at the counter, you have direct access to the kitchen, which means direct translation to really great, low sodium cuisine.

For example, sushi. Thank goodness for fresh, sauce-free slices of sashimi, or else I would be banned from the many delicious sushi houses that grace this great state. No matter what restaurant I choose for my sushi fix, I know that I can always count on low sodium tai (snapper) or hamachi (yellowtail) and a bowl of salt-free, steamed rice to fill me up.

But when I get a chance to sit at the counter, chat up the sushi chefs, and meet the owners, the culinary possibilities suddenly become endless.

The picture above is from a sushi house in Sausalito called Sushi Ran, where they whipped up a platter of sodium-free white fish (including a full fish head for decoration, which strangely made me feel special) with the added bonus of a fresh piece of wasabi root, with shark skin grater, for me to make my own spicy, saltless paste table-side.

This was a treat because most packaged wasabi contains a lot of salt and in skipping this accoutrement, I “flavor” my rice instead with a squeeze of lemon – a good solution, but definitely not as strong of a taste.

But this special Sushi Ran platter made my taste-buds boogie. From sashimi I had never eaten before, like king fish, to the bitter fire of the wasabi, it was a delightfully novel experience.

And at Deep Sushi in Noe (no longer with us…) and Sebo in Hayes Valley, sitting at the counter led to even more extraordinary food, like sodium free tempura, mirin and bonito glazed tofu, hand-made maki, and other traditional Japanese dishes whose ingredients I cannot even explain. This was food that required the instinct of classically trained professionals, and that I could not have begun to dream up in my own kitchen.

So sitting at the counter is truly a bonus. It allows you to get chatty, get personal, and share your needs immediately with the people making your food. And because you are right there – watching every move – it’s almost like you’re at the stove with the team. Which means, if you see something (salt) fishy, you can speak up immediately. But more likely, you’ll only see and eat things you like and discover new tricks that you can take back home. Like watching a cooking show on TV, but with an actual dinner at the end.

And counter talk works wonders for more than raw fish. I’ve had great success devouring Catalan inspired-food at Contigo and a coffee-rubbed steak at Epic Roasthouse. By interacting so closely with the kitchen team, it is easier to make suggestions and work together to come up with creative solutions for a savory, low sodium meal.

So the next time you don’t have reservations and the only seats left in the house are those at the counter, grab ’em. Better yet, request for them in the first place. I guarantee that your meals and your dining experience will be more exciting than canoodling in a back booth. Although that has its perks too. Wink.

Chow on.

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Hot Sauced

First, apologies for my absence on Wednesday. I had the flu (yuck) and thinking about food, looking at food, and most definitely eating food were all too much for my belly to handle. Yes, it was a travesty. But luckily, I’m on the mend and back to dreaming about low sodium cheese. And no, I’m not joking. I really did dream about a block of Helluva Good Cheddar last night. Don’t judge. I’m hungry.

So, to hop back into the low sodium saddle, I wanted to start with something simple, that wouldn’t upset my seemingly quieted stomach. And luckily I had some stock recipes up my sleeve.

A few weekends ago, I happened to be across the bridge at Cavallo Point – my personal heaven – on a day that their cooking school was offering a class called Sauced, which provided instructions on how to master four different rustic and traditional tomato sauces, all while pouring endless glasses of Italian wine. Very clever. Very appreciated.

While I’m saving the more detailed recipes for a later date, one continues to stick out in my mind. It was simple (almost mindless) to make and yet, it packed a boatload of savory, lip-smacking flavor, without needing salt.

What was it? Slow roasted tomatoes. Yes, the gorgeous halves of ruby red, veggie fruit that you see above were simply sprinkled with crushed black pepper, crushed garlic, some herbs (thyme and rosemary), and olive oil. They were then left to roast in a steamy oven (250 degrees) for almost three hours, during which their natural flavors became more robust. Just like a strong, Italian stallion.

The team at Cavallo’s Cooking School suggested that we use these tomatoes as a pizza sauce (merely spreading it into dough), chopped up and added to other tomato sauces (providing a smoky flavor), or laid expertly on top of small toast points for a poor man’s bruschetta (with a super rich taste). Or, in my opinion, you can simply pop them in your mouth and call it a day, because they are nature’s roasted candy and they are delicious.

So if you are harvesting some of summer’s last heirlooms or any other strain of succulent tomato, throw on the oven and get roasting. And don’t be shy. Cook up a huge pan of them and see how many ways you can use them to spice up your meals next week. As I always say, don’t count your chickens before they hatch. But when it comes to tomatoes, roast a big batch.

Chow on.

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I Want My Baby Back

Is that a Jackson Pollock painting? Well I’m flattered, but the answer is no. Although I’ve always been known to have incredible creative talent. See childhood refrigerator.

This masterpiece is in fact a succulent, low-sodium rack of BBQ pork ribs that I made in a flash (cooking confession: the preparation time was about 10 minutes,  the effortless cooking time was an hour and a half, and cleanup took only ten minutes as well) in honor of the 49ers opening day.

In yet another tale of low-sodiu tailgating, I knew I wanted something juicy, smokey, and manly to bite into before the official coin was tossed. And while football was made for grilling, I also knew that I didn’t want to leave the comfort of my kitchen in order to make this hunky dish. Nor did I want to spend hours on it. I may love to eat complex tasting food, but I also love having time and energy to enjoy it.

So I came up with this simple playbook: First, give the ribs a good rub-down. I mean real good. Get your hands dirty and massage those baby-backs with a hearty blend of spices. I used cumin, cayenne, pepper, smoked paprika, a little brown sugar, and some garlic powder. Then, because I was low on ingredients and even lower on time, I made a free-form BBQ sauce, pouring molasses, pomegranate molasses, and a few drizzles of the Ginger People’s Sweet Ginger Chili sauce on top. I wrapped the whole ting in foil, threw it on a cookie sheet, and into the oven(which was on 400), where it sizzled and steamed for an hour and a half.

The result? Meat that literally fell right off the bone. Touchdown.

So whether your going to a game or watching the action from your couch, these ribs will satisfy your hunger. And the recipe is so simple, and requires so little of your attention, that you won’t miss a sack, an interception, or any other game-changing play in order to make them.

Kick off and chow on.

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Salt-Free My Recipe: Lobster-Less Corn Chowder

There is not much that can top the succulent, buttery-sweet taste of ocean’s prized gem, the lobster. But you better bet your low sodium pants that I was determined to try and find an unbelievably close substitution.

Now, I want to say, unabashedly, before proceeding that this recipe is not only wonderful for people on a low sodium diet, but great for food-lovers who: (a) do not live near sea-faring towns with exceptional crustaceans, (b) blow up into a histamine-balloon when eating anything with shells, and (c) wish to save their cash for rent and not spend a fortune on a home-cooked meal. So with that, let’s move on to the good stuff.

The trick to making any low sodium substitution is to first lock down the key flavors and textures you want to mimic. With lobster, I knew I needed a fish that was meaty and sturdy enough to hold its shape once it was added to the soup. And in terms of taste, I knew that it had to have a natural, sugar essence that would enhance the sweetness of the butter, corn, and cream in the chowder.

And I discovered that there exists not just one, but three low sodium options: halibut (60mg of sodium per 3 oz serving), monkfish (15 mg of sodium per 3 oz serving), and, if you can eat shellfish, crayfish (60mg of sodium per 3oz serving).

Of all the options, monkfish will be your cheapest. Crayfish will be your most successful in terms of providing a lobster-like experience. And halibut will be decadent and delicious. You really cannot go wrong with any of them.

For this particular test-run, I decided use the halibut because I wanted to make the dish shell-fish free and as silky-smooth as possible. I bought a 3/4 pound filet and coarsely chopped the fish into chunks to look like pieces of lobster meat. The halibut held up incredibly well in the thick broth, even when I reheated it a day later. It did not flake and it melted when it hit my mouth. The halibut also successfully sponged-up the other flavors of the broth, making each bite explode. I mean, just look at this sea of low sodium, creamy goodness.

So with that mouth-watering picture and description, I happily pass onto you my recipe for Lobster-less Corn Chowder (an adaptation of Mark Bittman’s Corn Chowder).

Chow and chowder on.

Ingredients:

  • 4 ears fresh corn, shucked
  • 4 cups of water
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1 leek (white and green parts), cleaned and thinly sliced
  • 1 /4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 Yukon Gold potato, cleaned and cut into bite-size cubes
  • 3/4 pound of halibut, cut into chunks (or monkfish or crayfish with meat removed)
  • 2-3 cups half-and-half (or coconut milk, but warning, it will be very sweet)
  • 1 tablespoon of sweet, smoked paprika
  • 1 tablespoon of ground white pepper
  • 1/4 cup of parsley, roughly torn or chopped
  • A sprinkling of red chili pepper flakes

Directions:

1. Remove the corn from the cob by standing each  ear up in a bowl and use a knife to scrape off the kernels.

2. Put the corncobs and water (and cleaned crayfish shells if you are using them) in a large pot with a tight-fitting lid over medium-high heat (or use the low sodium corn cob broth from yesterday’s post).

3. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat so the water bubbles gently, cover, and cook, checking occasionally, for about 30 minutes. Leave the cobs (and shells) in the pot until you are ready to make the soup, then discard them and save the corncob broth.

4. While your broth is boiling, put the butter in a large, deep stock pot over medium-high heat. Slowly cook the butter until it has browned (it will have a dark caramel color and will smell nutty) and add the leeks. Cook while stirring occasionally, until soft, about 1 minute.

5. Lower the heat to medium and stir in the flour. Cook, stirring constantly with a whisk or a wooden spoon, until the mixture starts to turn golden and the flour no longer smells raw, just a couple of minutes.

6. Add three cups of corncob broth to the pot and raise the heat to medium-high. Stir or whisk constantly until the flour is dissolved and the soup starts to thicken, about 2 minutes.

7. Add the potato cubes to the pot and allow them to cook and soften.

8. In another bowl or blender, puree half of your corn kernels with the last cup of the corncob broth.

9. Stir in the corn puree and corn kernels and bring to a boil. Then lower the heat so that the soup simmers gently.

10. Add the half-and-half (or coconut milk), the white pepper, the sweet, smoked paprika, and the halibut. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the corn is tender and the soup has thickened, 10 to 15 minutes.

11. To plate, ladle soup into large bistro bowls (that you can stick your face into) and sprinkle with parsley and red chili pepper flakes. Enjoy.

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Corn Stalk Stock

As a prelude to the big shebang (and no, I’m not talking about “She Bangs” for you Ricky Martin and American Idol fans, but the reveal of Friday’s Salt-Free My Recipe surprise), I wanted to share with you the essential base to making a delicious corn chowder and a great way to reuse your corncobs one more time before throwing them in the compost bin.

A few months ago, I happened to click through to this adorable video on DailyCandy.com where Miss Sophie Dahl (cookbook writer, model, and granddaughter to Roald…and yes, I’m totally jealous) demonstrates her recipe for asparagus soup. The ingenious moment comes when she uses a lonely parmesan rind to make a creamy and cream-less stock, coaxing out the leftover cheese flavors with a slow simmer.

While this Sodium Girl can’t use Sophie’s parm trick for her low sodium soups, you better believe that I stole the idea to create another kind of recycled, low sodium broth. Leftover corncobs, water, and heat equals delicious.

Now the idea to repurpose previously nibbled corncobs is not novel, and home cooks like Ina Garten, Mark Bittman, and Martha Stewart (you may have heard of them) have all been using this trick forever. But I’m still going to give myself a pat on the back for saving Monday’s oven-roasted treats to make concentrated corn stock for Friday’s soup.

The recipe is crazy simple. You only need kernel-free cobs, some herbs, water, and time. The longer you let this puppy boil, the more developed the corn flavor will be. And when you add your brown butter, fresh corn kernels, softened potatoes, and of course, a fishy topper (to be revealed) to this well-loved stock, the creamy undertones will continue to shine and the fresh corn flavor will remain in the spotlight.

I happen to also be a sucker for a mug of fresh broth – it is a wonderful way to start the morning and beats the stink of coffee breath – and I’ve been sipping on this stock for days, enjoying its rich yet delicate flavor.  Even if you do not plan on making a corn chowder, this recipe is still worth throwing on the stove. The gentle vegetable broth works well in risottos, watery stews like bouillabaisse, and chicken noodle soups and it offers a more diverse taste than the typical carrot, celery, and onion trifecta.

So if you have some cobs on-hand, go ahead and make a pot of this stock to keep in your freezer for 911, low-sodium broth emergencies or days when that fall cold catches you. And if you’re preparing for this week’s big Salt-Free reveal, then get those stalks simmering and get ready to kick it up a few notches on Friday.

Chow on.

Ingredients:

  • 2 to 4 kernel-free corncobs
  • A few sprigs of parsley, fresh basil leaves, or tarragon
  • 5 cloves of garlic, peeled
  • 6 cups of water

Directions:

1. Place corncobs, herbs, garlic and water into a large stock or crock pot.

2. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and once the water is rolling for five minutes, reduce heat to a low simmer. Allow to cook for 45 minutes to two hours (depending on how much time you have). The longer it cooks, the stronger the flavor.

3. When ready, take pot off the heat and strain the liquid so that only the clear stock remains.

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Spice-Rubbed Cob

It’s Corn Week over here at Sodium Girl and to start off this Monday and ramp up this corn fest, I thought it wise to begin with something simple in order to (a) get our corny juices flowing and (b) give me time to actually wake up – I am only two sips deep into my sodium-free coffee and I feel it would be dangerous to talk about anything that requires heavy lifting or sharp knives.

As I described last week, my first foray into corn was eating it in its most traditional form – on the cob. My dad would cook this nobby vegetable according to its color: yellow was delicately charred on the grill and the white variety was typically soaked in a milky bath on the stove. And if you’ve never boiled white corn in milk before, find yourself some low sodium soy or coconut milk and give it a go. It’s outstanding.

But I digress. It wasn’t until I started going to some local festivals, farmers markets, and fairs that I discovered a new way to spice up the classic, grilled preparation. These maize moguls would wrap their corn in foil, grill them, slather it in butter or oil and then – and here is the ingenius part – direct you to a table of spices at which you could sprinkle and spackle the delicious yellow brick road to your tummy’s content.

You don’t need roller coasters and carnival games, though, to get this made-to-order corn treat. It can be easily recreated at home with corn, tin foil, oil, spices, and an oven. That’s it.

And when you’re in your own kitchen, you aren’t beholden to someone’s table of spices (or lack there of). You can get experimental.

Some of my favorite sodium-free combo rubs to use are:

  • A Hint of India: curry powder + cumin + smoked paprika
  • From the Garden: lemon pepper + garlic powder
  • A Moroccan Sweet Treat: curry powder + nutmeg + and a pinch of cinnamon + ground parsley
  • European Getaway: truffle oil (mix a little with some regular olive oil) + an herb blend like Penzeys Mural of Flavor
  • Lazy Girl’s Gold: a mix, like this brand new one from Penzeys Spices called Arizona Dreaming, which will transport your taste buds South of the Border with little to no work on your part

Remember, these are just suggestions. And with a culinary canvas like corn, you really can’t go wrong. Even chocolate powder with some cayenne would probably taste good, like mole on the cob.

So set your oven to 400. Clean your corn of the husk and roll it in oil. Mix your spices and rub away. Package neatly in some tin foil. And let it bake for 45 minutes to an hour.

When the timer is up, you’ll find a steaming package of corn that can be eaten as a snack or a side. And if refrigerated, it will even taste good (cold!) the next day.

So that’s it for day one of Corn Week and remember, you have until tomorrow night to vote for Friday’s recipe. Check out the poll in last Friday’s post and make sure your low sodium voice is heard. Yes we corn!

Chow on.

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