Monthly Archives: October 2010

A Pumpkin in the Oven

Last weekend was filled with one huge celebration after another. It was homecoming,my friends got engaged, and five years out of college…we are having our first baby! And by we, I don’t mean my manfriend and I, but my friend Dyani, her husband, and the rest of our girl gang. Baby doesn’t know it yet, but he has ten moms. Lucky boy.

So to ring in the little muffin, we decided to take over our sorority house (sorry ladies and thanks for the punch) and throw Dyani a proper shower. And by proper I mean cakes made from diapers (see Natalie’s blog) and champagne poured from decorated baby bottles (for those of us not with child).

For my contribution, I thought that nothing says “we love your baby” like mini cupcakes. And since the scents of fall have already started wafting in, I couldn’t resist using pumpkin, or a cornucopia of pie spices. With a little help from Epicurious and some low sodium baking supplies, I conquered some itty bitty, pumpkin treats, which for me is a true accomplishment. I actually followed the recipes and used the correct measurements, and lo and behold, the recipe actually worked. Apparently baking is not so bad after all. And apparently you can teach an old girl new tricks.

These little love cakes are great for gatherings, from morning to night. And whether you are celebrating babies, halloween, or the Giants sweeping the World Series, these bites are just right.

Chow on.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon Hain Sodium Free Featherweight Baking Powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon Ener-G Sodium Free Baking Soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 egg white
  • 1/4 cup canned pumpkin puree (check label, most are 10 mg per serving)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, divided
  • Directions:

    1. Heat oven to 350°F.

    2. Mix flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg until combined. Set aside.

    3. Mash granulated sugar and butter in another bowl until combined.

    4. Stir in egg white, then pumpkin, and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla.

    5. Add dry ingredients; stir until just combined. Pour batter into lined mini muffin cups to three quarters full.

    6. Bake until cupcakes spring back to the touch, 10 to 15 minutes.

    3 Comments

    Filed under recipe box, sweets

    Salt-Free My Recipe: Mama’s Enchiladas

    A few weeks ago, I received the following, lovely letter from Sodium Girl reader Cindra Fox:

    Dear Sodium Girl,

    I’m on a low-sodium diet to prevent complications from migraines. I’ve been on it for over a year now and have found a whole new world of food and flavor that I ignored back when I could just grab a burger at the closest drive-through.

    What I miss the most, though, is Mom’s famous enchiladas. I’m half-Mexican and we would make these at least once a week. Now it’s been over a year since I’ve had them.

    But here’s the catch: not only can’t I have high salt, I can’t eat dairy or onions. I’ve found a great cheese substitute (Linsanatti’s soy cheese) and I can have scallions and green onions.

    I’ve seen your skill with recipes. Can you help me out? Or am I stuck never eating Mom’s delicious enchiladas again?
    Cindra.

    Well, Cindra, my answer to your question is loud and clear: you can make your Mama’s Enchiladas and eat them too! Of course, you’ll have to make some nifty low sodium substitutions, and make a lot of things from scratch, but it is entirely possible to make the dish with all the familiar flavors and without the salt.

    This Monday, armed with a few spare hours and a hankering for Mexican food, I took to the enchilada challenge.

    I started by examining the ingredient list in Cindra’s original recipe:

    • 1 large can of red Las Palmas Enchilada Sauce
    • 2 small cans Chicken or Turkey Gravy
    • Crushed red pepper flakes
    • 1 large onion, white or yellow (chopped)
    • 1 large block of cheddar cheese (shredded)
    • 2 pkgs of small corn tortillas, 12 per pack

    Other than the onion and red pepper flakes, everything else contained a high amount of sodium and needed to be replaced. To make-over this recipe, it was clear we needed to stay away from canned products and make similar ones from whole foods.

    Now, I must confess, I took creative liberties with this Salt-Free recipe. I didn’t use cheese, I didn’t make gravy, and I didn’t use the red sauce. But I I stuck to traditional flavors and textures, and I aimed to achieve them with as little effort and clean up as possible. Food can be homemade without being a hassle.

    So with fingers crossed and an apron tied on, I began to craft a crispy dish that blended creaminess, crunch, and spice in perfect harmony.

    Normally, I would have reached for crème fraiche or ricotta to a mimic the cheese. But because of Cindra’s dairy sensitivity, I needed to think of another way to introduce a milky texture to the dish. The answer was corn. I puréed two cups of kernals with a medium sized avocado. This thick, but silky spread acted as a “melted cheese” substitute while also providing a scrumptious, unexpected flavor.

    For the sauce, I made a salsa verde from tomatillos, a poblano pepper, a serrano pepper, and some cilantro.

     

    With an immersion blender in my hand, it took only minutes to whip this up.

    As for the meat filling, I wanted to make sure my chicken was infused with deep flavors. But I also wanted to be able to cook it quickly. So I poached the thighs in a pot full of Tecate (no joke) and the juice of one lime. In thirty minutes, my chicken was drunk and tender enough to be shredded.

    Finally, because corn tortillas (without salt) are not as pliable and tend to fall apart easily, I chose to layer the ingredients like a Mexican lasagna rather then roll. Again, I was clearly taking liberties with the classic preparation, but I think the alteration works well and you still achieve the hug of crispy tortillas wrapped around the ingredients.

     

    Fifteen minutes in the oven and Mama’s Enchiladas were done. Crunchy, creamy, and spicy – the meal was familiar and filling. And I hope you, Cindra, find it to be as delicious as your Mama’s version.

     

    Truly, you can recreate any dish without the salt and most of the time, the restriction will lead you to more adventurous, tasty discoveries that will not only satisfy your craving but will also impress everyone else.

    Chow and enchilada on.

    Ingredients:
    • 4 – 6 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
    • 1 can of beer (like Tecate or Blue Moon)
    • 1 lime
    • 4 cups of water
    • Corn tortillas (no sodium)
    • 1 avocado
    • Kernels from 2 ears of corn or 2 cups of frozen corn (no sodium)
    • 1 cup of roughly chopped cilantro
    • 6 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
    • 1 tablespoon of olive oil
    • 4 tomatillos, with husks removed and washed
    • 1 poblano pepper, with seeds but with stem removed
    • 1 serrano pepper, with seeds but with stem removed

    Directions:

    1. Turn oven to 400 degrees.

    2. In a medium sized pot, bring beer, juice from one lime, and two cups of water to a boil. Add the chicken thighs and cook for 5 minutes with strong bubbles.

    3. Reduce heat to medium and allow the chicken to simmer for another 20 minutes.

    4. In a separate pot, heat the olive oil and sauté the garlic for 5 minutes. Add the tomatillos and 1 and 1/2 cups of water, and bring to a boil. Cook until the tomatillos have softened, about ten minutes.

    5. Add both peppers and cilantro, and cook on low heat for another 5 minutes.

    6. Take the pot off the flame and use an immersion blender to blend the ingredients. You can also transfer the tomatillos, pepper, and water mixture to a standing blender. Purée until the combo is liquidy, but still chunky. If the sauce seems to thin, put it back on the stove and simmer on medium high for 10 minutes to reduce it.

    7. In a pot or a tall cylinder, combine corn, avocado, and 1/2 a cup of water. With the immersion blender (or a standing one), mix ingredients until you have created a thick spread.

    8. Take the poached chicken off the stove and out of the pot. With two forks, pull the chicken apart until it is shredded.

    9. Now for the fun: in an oven safe dish or a cast iron skillet, begin to layer the ingredients. Start with tortillas (tear in half to fit your cooking vessel). Then cover them with half of your chicken, half of the avocado/corn cream, and a generous drizzle of the salsa verde. Repeat with a second layer – tortilla, avocado/corn cream, and generous drizzle of salsa verde – and throw into the oven for 15 to 20 minutes.

    10. When the enchiladas are hot and crispy, remove from oven and scoop big portions onto plates. Enjoy.

    6 Comments

    Filed under brunch, cooking, dinner, improbable eats, lunch, recipe box, tips & tricks

    Garbanzos on a Boat

    This post goes out to all the moms and dads in the house. Holler parental units.

    With the school year well on its way, I thought it would be fun to revisit a classic lunch snack and give it a bit of a Sodium Girl makeover.

    Who didn’t eat Ants on a Log as a kid? Whether it was provided as fuel while hiking through Muir Woods or as a fun treat to enliven that lunch box, Ants on a Log was not only delicious, but fun to put together. It was one of the few childhood moments when you were encouraged to really play with your food, to eat with your hands, eyes, and mouth. It was whimsical. It was creative. It was healthy. It was the perfect after/in-school snack.

    But here’s the issue – celery happens to be higher in sodium than most vegetables. According to the USDA nutritional database, one cup has around 80 mg. Now, this amount is not horrible by any means. The saltiness occurs naturally and it is a welcome addition when developing flavors in stocks (without any salt). But if you are looking for ways to cut out all unnecessary sodium (and use that 80 mg for something more “substantial” in your day), than there is an equally fun low sodium solution: Garbanzos on a Boat.

    The preparation required to fashion these little hummus vessels is quite simple. First, wash and cut a cucumber in half. Use your spoon to scoop out the seeds (and perhaps even save some for making gazpacho later in the week or cucumber consomme). Then, either fill the boats with your low sodium hummus (recipe found here) or provide the hummus in a separate container with a spoon for self-assembly by the budding culinary student (i.e. your child).

    As for accoutrements: if you are making this for diners that barely come up to your knee, then garnish with diced, dried apricots, golden raisins, or even pine nuts. If your audience hovers around eye level though, you can jazz up the dish with some freshly chopped parsley, smoked paprika, a drizzle of honey, and even a few chili pepper flakes.

    Thinking ahead to the holidays, this simple snack is also perfect for pre-Thanksgiving snacking. It’s cool (no oven required), it can be prepared the day before, and it will keep people out of your kitchen.

    Even without the celery, the salt, or the ants, you can create a playful snack that is as nutritious and flavorful as it’s inspiration – no exterminators necessary.

    Smooth sailing ahead and chow on.

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    Filed under cooking, lunch, quick fix, recipe box, tips & tricks

    Sunchoke Salutations

    Happy Thursday everyone! Yes, I know that it is odd to see a post from me today but I have to make up for my lack of one yesterday. I apologize for the delay – I was preoccupied with doctor visits and as much as I wanted to talk about the delicious dish you see above, I just didn’t have the time. Excuses, excuses.

    But this morning, I do. And as I am hopped up on ample cups of caffeine – thank goodness coffee is sodium free – I’m ready to dig into the long-awaited recipe for sunchoke hash.

    Before I go into the dirty details, I must first answer the question I know you’re asking:  what exactly does a sunchoke look like?

    This bulbous bundle of joy looks like a more rotund version of ginger and sometimes has beautiful purple hues towards the tips, like a sunchoke sunset.

    As I’ve explained in previous posts, sunchokes can be hard to find at your typical grocery store, but they are suddenly popping up at Farmers Markets. Tis the season indeed. And if you are a San Fran local, I have been grabbing mine at the Noe Valley Market on Saturdays.

    Sunchokes are slightly expensive – upwards of $5 a pound – but you don’t need to spend too many bucks for a lot of bang. Just one bulb can stretch quite a ways, especially when you pair it with more mild ingredients like cauliflower and potatoes.

    Which brings me to the dish of the day: a sunchoke and potato hash.

    To make, I simply chopped three yukon gold spuds into small cubes and then diced two sunchokes into slightly smaller chunks. After seasoning with white pepper, onion powder, olive oil, and a little paprika, I filled eight ramekins and popped them in the oven to sizzle.

    After an hour at 400 degrees, the potatoes were soft and the sunchokes were silky. I dressed each ramekin with some green onions and a few red chili pepper flakes, and even with these additions, the artichoke flavor still prevailed.

    With an ingredient like the sunchoke, it is easy to create complex flavors without much work – an accomplishment worth the price tag. And it is a great reminder that if you use the right product, the right technique, or the right pairing, your food can jump off the plate without salt, or really any seasoning at all. Whole food is good food.

    This weekend, wake up that traditional Sunday breakfast and treat yourself to a decadent hash with the help from sunchokes, or maybe just a drizzle of truffle oil, and dig into something filling and flavorful.

    As I am off to my 5th year college reunion (where did the time go and where can I buy a time machine), I will not be seeing you until next Monday, but I promise pictures and stories of banana mini muffins and maybe some other fall treat. It is sure to be another memorable baking adventure. Failure or success.

    Be creative, be full, and as always, chow on.

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    Redefining Flavor

    Pardon me as I step on my soapbox. Today, I am excited to announce my first, truly editorial piece on CivilEats.com which explores salt policy and the state of the American palate.

    You may be shocked to hear me say this, but here’s the truth: for most people, salt has a place in the kitchen.

    True, there is a large population of people who, for health reasons, must shake the shaker – myself included. Over 75 million Americans over the age of twenty are currently diagnosed with hypertension. For a great percentage of this group – as well as those who suffer from chronic kidney disease (20 million people over the age of 20), Meniere’s disease (615,000 people currently diagnosed), cirrhosis, diabetes (over 23 million people), and heart failure (670,000 diagnosed each year) – reducing salt has palpable health benefits.

    Recently, however, we are realizing that the population mentioned above is not the only one that must pay attention to the over-salted state of consumer goods (which account for over 75% of people’s daily sodium intake). It was reported that on average, Americans consume 3,436mg of sodium a day, almost 50% more than the recommended 2,300 mg allotment. Which means most people are eating way beyond the healthy limit, salt levels are truly a public concern, and everyone can safely stand to cut back.

    Judging from the rise of obesity in America, low sodium diets will continue to become increasingly more important. Currently, 60% of Americans over the age of 20 are overweight and one third of children are currently diagnosed as obese or overweight – an epidemic of giant proportions. This ever-growing population is at increased risk for diabetes, stroke, and you guessed it, cardiovascular disease and hypertension – conditions that all require low sodium diets. So as obesity rates rise, so will the number of people (young and old) who need to cut salt from their food.

    But even with all these daunting statistics in front of us, I must still stand by my first statement: for most people, salt has a place in the kitchen.

    When used thoughtfully, salt has amazing flavor enhancing abilities – this fact is not up for debate. And let me be so brave as to say that salt is not the main offender in the over-salted food issue. And more importantly, it is not the answer – perhaps it was the singular focus on this one ingredient that created the over-salted state in the first place.

    We will not be able to successfully reduce the salt in prepared foods by simply removing or replicating the flavor provided by salt. It is unique flavor, unlike any other, and what our consumer palates have become accustomed to is a large, overpowering amount of it. We do not crave the taste of food enhanced by salt, but the salt itself.

    Seasoning has become synonymous with salt. Food critiques bash dishes when there is not enough flavor (or salt). And TV celebrity chefs dump handfuls of the crystals on their ingredients before, during, and after cooking. When did our palates become so monotonous?

    Clearly, salt is not the heart of the problem. Our definition of flavor is.

    Whether one is navigating a low sodium diet for health needs or trying to reduce sodium to drop to recommended levels, the switch is much easier when one focuses less on replacing the salt and more on discovering unique, new, interesting flavors.

    Play with anise, curry, fennel, and nutmeg. Or use different cooking techniques to coax the flavors from ripe produce, revealing a complexity that Mother Nature already provides. Before reaching for the salt, release the pepper of mizuna or arugula, the natural salinity in celery or crayfish, and the savory tastes of browned meat. Salt and even its flavor enhancing powers are not necessary when the food and an array of spices are the stars –  a lesson for home cooks and industry insiders alike.

    If we came to love the over-salted flavor of today’s products, we can also re-learn to appreciate the taste of roasted pepper or the tang of vinegars. With aggressive seasoning, fresh ingredients, and thoughtful cooking techniques one can create low sodium meals that retain flavor and exhibit more creativity, diversity, and (gasp) nutritional value than their saltier counterparts. The sodium levels in our daily diets will easily fall and there will be room for a few sprinkles of the stuff at the table, if one even needs it.

    Once we redefine flavor, salt will no longer be such a hotly debated issue and our food (and our palates) will actually become more adventurous and more refined. And our healthcare will be back in our own hands.

    Chow on.

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    Filed under cooking, good living, tips & tricks

    Reader Reader All About It

    With Halloween around the corner, I’m playing a little trick with some treats.

    This post will not be about the lovely, low sodium sunchoke hash you see above. I merely used it to catch your attention – so please forgive me and consider it a lesson in (the lack of) truth in advertising that can exist out there in the wide food world. And, as a more pleasant aside, do keep your eyes peeled for the bulbous bubbles of flavor (i.e. sunchokes) at your farmers markets this weekend. We will be making this hash recipe on Wednesday. Promise. You can low sodium egg my house if we don’t.

    So what is this post about if it isn’t about that scrumptious brunch dish above? Well, it is about you. The readers. The reason I write this blog every week.

    Yesterday, I had a wonderful meet-up with Cheryl Sternman Rule of 5 Second Rule – she’s a writer, a wordsmith, a food warrior. And after an hour of talking about blogging and caffeine addictions, I was reminded of something very important. While it would be nice to grace the pages of Oprah Magazine with a killer low sodium recipe – and I wouldn’t necessarily say no to an offer – this was and is not the point of the blog. I started this site, this collection of thoughts, recipes, stories, and adventures, because it is something I wish I had when I began my own journey seven years ago. I want to show people that you can remove the restrictions from a restricted diet and that anything – from traveling to Thanksgiving turkey – is possible on a low sodium diet.

    Mrs. Rule (and boy does she live up to her last name) reminded me that my most important audience is you – the people who can benefit most from this information. This blog is for you. And the information in it is for your enjoyment. And as I work on a very special project, I want to to make sure that I hear more from you.

    I spend most of my time on this site talking about myself – BORING! And I want to be sure your needs, your questions, your queries are being answered.

    I can’t tell you how exciting it is to hear directly from readers, like when I get a sodium-free recipe request – thank you Ms. Cindra Fox, I’m working on your enchiladas! – and I want to continue that conversation today and get to know you all a little better.

    So, as you are procrastinating the Friday work hours away, waiting for the weekend to arrive, take some time to take this poll and make your low sodium voice heard.

    And feel free to email me at SODIUMGIRL at GMAIL dot COM with any other comments or suggestions or your favorite posts!

    Let’s be friends and as always, chow on.

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    A New Groove

    A low sodium education is a life-long project. Even after seven years of constant research, reading, and experimentation, I still find myself learning about new products (with no salt!) and discovering that others (which I’ve enjoyed for some time) have a higher sodium content than I would expect.

    Case and point: fruit juice.

    Now, a smart lady or gentleman (like myself) would most likely figure that fruit juices – which one assumes contains some fruit – would be virtually low in sodium, if not sodium free. But here’s the surprising truth: (a) many bottled juices do not actually contain real fruit but fruit flavorings and other processed goodies to make them taste “good”, and (b) these man-made flavors can drive the sodium content to surprisingly high levels.

    And is a glass of faux cran apple really worth it?

    When you can sip on something that is more nutrient rich and low in sodium, the answer is clearly no.

    Thankfully, all juices are not created equal and the Bossa Nova Superfruit Juice line is created with thought and care. Oh, and real fruit too.

    I was lucky enough to sample six of the fresh-pressed, wonder drinks – thank you Edelman PR – all of which hover around 25mg of sodium per bottle. Each juice is built upon the power of goji berry, acai, or mangosteen – fruits which provide amazing health benefits – and then other flavors like peach, tart cherry, and mango are added to round out the taste sensation.

    As for the packaging, the bottles are so colorful that you want to collect them all. And they each include an explanation about the super fruit (which is super cute) and a list of ingredients (which are all familiar and easy to read).

    Quench your thirst with these low sodium fruit drinks and simultaneously reduce inflamation, boost your immunity, and protect your heart from cardiovascular disease (and maybe even cupid’s arrow – to be tested). They taste as good as you’ll feel.

    Sodium Girl Note: Because the drinks are all made with at least 80% juice, they are thicker than most watered-down varieties. So if you prefer a thinner texture, I suggest mixing with some sparkling water or using these juices for homemade popsicles. And don’t overlook their potential for low sodium, sweet and savory cooking creations. Reduce one of the many flavor combinations with balsamic vinegar, port, and even some freshly chopped stone fruit or dried cherries. In moments, you have a healthy topper for coconut ice cream or a rich sauce for a glistening pork chop. Antioxidants pair well with meat.

    Keep your low sodium fridge stocked with these super tasty, super fruit drinks and keep your body full of vitamins, energy, and flavor.

    Drink on.

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