Monthly Archives: November 2010

Stuff It

As you probably can tell, I’ve been busy in the kitchen getting ready for tomorrow’s feast. And I can promise, between this family of twelve, the word feast will not be an exaggeration.

But before I sign off for the holiday, I wanted to be sure to give one final tip. So let’s talk stuffing.

Just because there is broth and bread involved – both ingredients which tend to be commercially produced with loads of sodium – there is no need not to make it. And you also don’t have to spend all day baking your own bread and broth either.

Instead, use some Herb-Ox Sodium Free Chicken Broth mix and some no salt added bread to make your breadcrumbs. Add some fennel, mushrooms, onions, brown butter, and a shake or four of ground mustard and voila, problem solved. Stuffing delicious.

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone and for more thoughts on the holidays, check out my guest blog on the LFA website.

Chow on…and a gobble gobble too.

Advertisements

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Hash Mash

What you see above is not ground mustard or white pepper gone bad. Or gold. It is nutritional yeast. But we will have to come back to that in a moment.

First, let’s talk about Thanksgiving and specifically about an important side dish: mashed potatoes. This one’s for you, Michelle.

My mother is quite famous for her creamy, parmesan mashed potatoes. I remember eating them as a kid, scooping seconds and thirds onto my plate, and the only thing I can compare them to is a puppy with a mean streak – they are sweet and fluffy looking with a mean bite.

When I switched to a low sodium diet, however, parmesan and a lot of other cheeses were suddenly off limits. But I quickly learned that the decadence of velvety mashed potatoes didn’t have to be.

There are three things you need this holiday season to create truly outstanding mashed hash that will stand up to (if not outdo) your favorite childhood recipes: 1) technique, 2) special ingredients, and 3) genius dairy substitutes.

TECHNIQUE

When it comes to making mashed potatoes, you have two choices – make it chunky or make it smooth. And just a tip from the chef, neither option involves a blender or a a food processor. That’s how you make glue, not a side dish.

If you do not have any special tools, like a ricer or a food mill, a smashed potato recipe is the way to go. Boil or steam your spuds until they are soft and then use a masher or a fork to break them down. It’s that simple. And most recipes actually call for the skin to be left on, resulting in less work and dish that has a charming, rustic look. For extra flare, you can also pop your tots in the oven for a quick broil before serving. The top layer will become brown and crisp, adding interesting texture to an otherwise simple meal.

If you do have a ricer or food mill (thank you, wedding registry), you can create those silky looking pillows of potatoes you remember from childhood, or famous cookbooks, or KFC commercials. One of my favorite recipes that I’ve seen is from Serious Eats, from Mark Peel, for lump-free, restaurant quality potatoes. Peel steams his potatoes and then passes them through a ricer. And with just a little extra seasoning – unsalted butter and pepper – the potatoes are done and perfect.

SURPRISE

A few years ago, with help from my man friend and brother, I treated my parents to a delicious Thanksgiving lunch (just to warm up for the family dinner) that had all the fixings. While I spiced and rubbed and stewed the meats and veggies, it was really the mashed potatoes that had stolen my heart and my attention. I was determined to make them so delicious and flavorful that there wouldn’t be a drop left for leftovers.

I decided to make them creamy and I also decided to pack them full of unexpected flavors. I browned butter, roasted garlic, and made pesto which were all then blended into or layered on top of the potatoes. I scooped portions of the good stuff into individual ramekins and covered them with grated low sodium cheese. I broiled them to melt the cheese, giving it a nice brown color and crunch, and just because I could, I topped each with a fried basil leaf.

Sure, this first try out of the low sodium gate was a bit overkill – were there even potatoes in there? – but it was a wonderful lesson in all the possibilities available from taking your spuds from simple to simply genius.

Potatoes are a great culinary canvass and they work well with everything from herbs to orange to horseradish and wasabi. So feel free to play around with one or two (or in my case, twenty five) special ingredients to make your potatoes more complex.

DAIRY SUBSTITUTES

And now, we finally get back to where we started. Nutritional yeast. If you haven’t ever tried it before, head to the bins at your local Whole Foods or health store (the crunchier the market,  the more likely you will find nutritional yeast).

Nutritional yeast is deactivated yeast. It is popular in vegan and vegetarian cooking and get this, it is naturally low in sodium -booyah – and high in B12. Apparently, it is quite popular in Australia and New Zealand, so I’ll be on the lookout for it.

I first discovered nutritional yeast when someone sprinkled it on popcorn. I thought, just by the name, that this was going to be disgusting. Yesast does not sound appealing. But in truth, it was delicious. It was nutty, it was umami, it was cheesy – it was the perfect parmesan substitute. And it is a wonderful secret low sodium weapon to have on hand.

Sprinkle a little into or on top of your mashed potatoes, or green bean casserole, or low sodium garlic bread and give your taste buds a parmesan-like treat without the salt. But do be warned, while the product does not contain any MSG it has been known to cause similar side effects in some people, like bad headaches. So do be conscious of how it makes you feel. Full and satisfied is a good thing. Headachey and crabby is not.

Of course, if you are looking for more classic cheese additions for your potatoes, you have a few great low sodium options.

If the recipe calls for ingredients like sour cream or cream cheese, use creme fraiche or mascarpone instead. If it calls for milk, replace it with heavy cream or go completely wild and really defy tradition by using coconut milk and a dash of curry powder. And finally, if the dish requires a melted layer of cheese on top of the potatoes, use a low sodium cheese (like Heluva Good Cheddar – 25mg per serving) or even some crumbled ricotta (just check the label).

If you thought creamy, exciting, mouth-watering mashed potatoes were off the table, think again. Having to make them low sodium does not exclude them from your Thanksgiving feast; it actually forces you to be more creative instead. And while you can’t make your mother’s parmesan mashed potatoes like she did, you will definitely come up with a recipe that is all your own.

As a side-note: with only three days left until Thanksgiving, feel free to send me your cooking questions. Don’t let a low sodium diet stand in your way from stuffing your face until you have to unbutton your pants.

Chow on.

7 Comments

Filed under cooking, food shopping, recipe box, tips & tricks

The Bird and the B

With Thanksgiving creeping (ok, barreling) around the corner, it is time to talk about turkey (the bird) and that other b word – brine.

Here’s the deal: a lot of poultry, especially around the holidays, is already plumped and brined. So when buying your bird, to make sure it is absolutely as low in sodium as possible, you have to do a little research.

The best option is to shop at a butcher or at stores like Whole Foods, which can provide in-depth information about their meat products and the farms on which they are raised. You can explain your situation to the people behind the counter and make sure you have a bird that will work well for you and your dietary needs. If you buy your turkey from a larger grocery retailer, like Safeway, I would suggest contacting the company or looking on their website for information about plumping, brining, or any other pre-packaging treatments.

Another option, which I have used for the last seven years, is to actually not eat turkey at all. I know – Thanksgiving blasphemy.

While I still bake a nice-sized turkey for guests (actually, this year it is a Turducken), I make a nice little Cornish game hen for myself. It’s juicy, it’s birdy, and it’s all mine. And to be completely honest, if you are hosting a small-sized dinner party, it is actually more fun and less complicated to cook Game hens. And you can take it one step further, channeling your inner Martha, and serve a feast of personal proportions: everyone gets a game hen, everyone gets mini ramekins of mashed potatoes, everyone gets a muffin tin of stuffing, everyone gets full. I did this a few years ago for my family and it was a blast.

Once you choose what bird you are going to cook, the next question becomes how you will make your meat as juicy as the brined kind, without the salt. Now, I can’t tell you exactly how brining (wet or dry) really works. But between the salt, some magic, and possibly nuclear physics, it locks the moisture into the bird. And if you want a real answer about the mechanics, read this article by Kenji and the Food Lab on SeriousEats.com.

Even without a salty brine, however, there are a few different techniques you can use to mimic the succulence of a brined bird, keeping the skin of your low sodium Turkey nice and crispy while the inside remains tender.

First, there are butter rubs. A good slathering of herbed butter, under the skin and out, will keep the meat moist and will protect it from overcooking. Mix some unsalted butter with herbs, lemon or orange zest, and spices like black pepper, cumin, and smoked paprika. Then, use the openings at the bottom and neck to loosen the skin from the flesh, expertly maneuvering the butter mixture inside. A spatula will prove quite helpful to push the butter down towards the bottom of the bird. Make sure to rub the bird on the outside as well and then throw it in the oven.

If butter, or touching raw meat, is not your thing, another option is to invest in a flavor injector. Yes, that’s right, a flavor injector. By filling this syringe like utensil with salt-free broth, oil, melted butter, or even white wine, you can inject moisture directly into the bird – much like what brining accomplishes. And don’t be afraid to dapple in dry rubs. This will not help with the juicy-factor of your finished product, but it will add more flavor and texture. Fresh or dried herbs, spices, and zest all work well.

This holiday season, mix it up, whether you go with a Game hen or use a combination of the methods mentioned above. In the end, you’ll have a golden, low sodium entre begging to be gobbled. And if not, couscous cooks up rather quickly.

Chow on.

1 Comment

Filed under cooking, food shopping, tips & tricks

Salt Free My Recipe: Pecan Pie

For two days in a row now, I’ve had pie for breakfast. Sorry I’m not sorry. And sorry I don’t fit into my pants. But as someone that rarely enjoys the lusciousness of baked goods, I’ve been digging into my latest creation with abandon.

Pecan pie. There are two things about this gooey holiday dessert that usually deter me from eating it. First, there are the pecans. I happen to not only be on a low sodium diet, but also quite allergic to nuts. Fun.

And second, there’s the corn syrup, which (surprisingly) happens to be high in sodium – one cup equals around 200 mg.

But even though these two ingredients are somewhat “essential” to a pecan pie, I was determined to make a low sodium, nut-free version that had similar tastes and textures. Which meant taking my food processor down from the top shelf (oof!) and making a mess of my kitchen with flour and butter. A daunting task with an end goal that was well worth the trouble and clean up.

I started by searching for a recipe on Epicurious.com that used maple sugar as well as corn syrup, so that there was less of the salty stuff that needed to be replaced. I then decided to swap pomegranate molasses for the remaining corn syrup, unsure how it would affect the taste and consistency of the pie, but willing to try.

As for the nuts, I mixed some pumpkin seeds directly into the filling batter. But because of their rather small size, I was not yet satisfied. The pie needed to be chunkier. It needed crunch. It needed Whole Food’s 365 Unsalted Pretzels (40mg per 16 pretzels) that I added to the top of the pie fifteen minutes before the baking was done, so that they didn’t get soggy.

The result? Well, I was shocked to say the least. The buttery crust was a dream

and the extremely liquidy filling actually solidified and was even better by day two and three – meaning you can make this pie ahead of your holiday gathering and it will only get better with age. Like a fine wine or Brad Pitt.

My taste testers said that the pie was delicious and slightly tart from the pomegranate molasses, but that it was very rich and sweet. So be prepared to cut smaller slices and maybe even scoop some ice cream on top to cut the sugar rush.

If you decide to give this pie a try this Thanksgiving, be sure to let me know what additions you make. Did you add chocolate chips? Did you dust it with powdered sugar? Did you throw some dried cranberries inside?

Sure, with extras like these, you’ll be traveling farther from the original. But that’s exactly how you’ll create your own signature pie. Pecans are just a starting point and don’t let anyone, or any cookbook, tell you differently.

Dig in and chow on.

Ingredients:

Crust:

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1 1/4 cups unbleached all purpose flour

Filling:

  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup pure maple syrup
  • 1/2 cup pomegranate molasses
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted
  • 1  cup crushed unsalted pretzels
  • 1 cup unsalted pumpkin seeds

Directions:

For crust:

1. Using electric mixer or food processor, beat butter  until smooth.

2. Add sugar and egg yolk and beat until blended.

3. Add flour and beat just until dough begins to clump together.

4. Gather dough into ball and flatten into disk.

5. The original recipe says to “roll out dough on lightly floured work surface to 10 1/2-inch round.” But my dough was so buttery that I immediately transfered it to my 9-inch-diameter pie dish and used my hands to press dough onto bottom and up sides of pan.

6. Pierce dough all over with fork and place crust in freezer 30 minutes before filling and baking.

For filling:

1. Preheat oven to 350°F.

2. Whisk eggs and brown sugar in medium bowl until well blended.

3. Whisk in maple syrup, pomegranate molasses, and melted butter.

4. Stir in pumpkin seeds and pour filling into unbaked crust.

5. Bake tart until filling is slightly puffed and set, about 30 minutes.

6. Add the pretzels to the top of the pie, using a wooden spoon or spatula to pat them into the filling slightly, and cook for another 10 to 15 minutes.

7. Cool, serve, and enjoy. For breakfast, lunch, dinner, or dessert.

5 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Do You Fuyu?

While it may not feel exactly like fall (oh hey, 70 degrees and sunny in November), the market sure looks like fall. Oranges, reds, and tans line the produce aisle and all the fun, cool-weather fruit and veggies are just begging to be eaten.

That’s how we find ourselves with the beautiful fuyu. Persimmon, that is.

There are two types of these golden fruits that you will typically find in the grocery stores and markets: fuyu and hachiya. The fuyu is stumpier and looks more like a mini pumpkin. It can be eaten raw, like an apple, although most people will advise you to peel the skin first. If you have the time. The hachiya, on the other hand, is more oblong in shape and is best when cooked, like in a pie or in a compote that tops some juicy pork chops.

This Thanksgiving, welcome persimmons to the family table and add their bright color and mildly sweet flavor to your cornicopia of treats. The culinary options with these fleshy fruits are endless. Simply cut a few fuyus and serve them plain as an appetizer. Or mix with arugula, apple, and a little balsamic vinegar for a simple, crisp salad to kick off the holiday carb fest. Sprinkle some pomegranate seeds on top and you’ll really have something special.

Or, if you want to get wild, add chopped fuyu to your stuffing (yeah, I said stuffing) for a surprising bite that will have your guests asking, what makes this stuffing so darn good? To which you’ll simply answer, Fu Yu, promptly followed by high fives for everyone at the table.

Persimmons are just another simple way to dress up your low sodium dishes, offering taste buds something different and delicious to munch upon. So if you have yet to fuyu, definitely pick one up the next time you see its orange skin shinning.

Chow on.

2 Comments

Filed under cooking, tips & tricks

Dinner in Delhi

Well, without an ounce of modesty, I have to say that this first foray into Indian cooking was a big success.

Yes, the beef could have been slow-cooked for the entire day in order to achieve a truly melt-in-your-mouth texture. And of course the spices could have all been measured with more precision and toasted for deeper flavor. But all in all, with sixty minutes, some simple instructions, and spices from my cabinet (and not a specialty store), I think I accomplished something that comes close to what you’d find at your favorite neighborhood Indian takeout restaurant, with healthier ingredients and very little sodium.

The red lentils and spinach dish was definitely the star of the evening. It was creamy, hearty, and full of subtle flavors that slowly snuck up on you with every bite. The salt-free transformation was rather simple – all I had to do was leave out the salt and use some plain WholeSoy Yogurt (15mg of sodium per container) – and clean up was even easier. Two pots, some dish soap, and you’re done.

Would I make these recipes again? Yes. Do they hold up well as leftovers? I had them for breakfast. Will other people enjoy them? Absolutely! They are simple and unique and great to have on hand for potlucks, dinner parties, and vegetarian feasts (well, not the beef one, obviously). And they will always be more interesting (and impressive) than a steak and some tossed greens.

So start steaming some rice and enjoy a little trip to India this weekend with these two low-sodium-adapted recipes from Cooking By Numbers: Indian, by Mahboob Momen. And remember, an adventurous culinary experience is just a few shakes of turmeric away.

Chow on.

RECIPE 1: LENTILS WITH SPINACH (Palongsak Dal)

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup red split lentils, well rinsed and drained
  • 1 lb fresh spinach, washed and finely chopped (remember to squeeze out water before chopping)
  • 2 tablespoons plain WholeSoy yogurt
  • 1 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 3 garlic cloves, crushed (use a garlic press or a microplane grater)
  • ½ teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 2½ cups of water

Directions:

1. Place lentils, onion, and garlic in a pot with the water and bring to a boil.

2. Reduce heat to a simmer and stir in the chili powder and ground ginger. Cover and simmer for 30-40 minutes or until the lentils break down and have a soupy consistency.

3. Right before serving, boil rapidly to evaporate any excess water so the the dal (this is what you are making) is fairly thick.

4. Add the finely chopped spinach and stir. Continue to cook over medium heat for another 3 minutes.

5. Stir in the yogurt and simmer gently for 4 more minutes. Adjust seasoning if necessary and serve.

RECIPE 2: BAKED BEEF  (Jhalsano Garur Gosht)

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb of beef stew meat cut into half inch chunks (you can also use lamb for a different flavor)
  • 1 medium yellow onion, sliced
  • 1 medium red onion, sliced
  • 4 tablespoons of sesame oil
  • Juice of two lemons
  • 1 green chili, seeded and finely diced
  • 4 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 2 teaspoons of black peppercorns
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 6 cloves
  • 6 cardamom pods
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 2 teaspoons turmeric
  • 2 teaspoons ground coriander
  • 2 teaspoons chili powder

Directions:

1. The day or morning before serving, put the beef into a bowl with the lemon juice. Cover and marinate in the refrigerator. It will turn grey – don’t freak out.

2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

3. Place half of the onion slices (yellow and red) on the bottom of a medium size, ovenproof casserole dish. Add the marinated meat mixture on top.

4. Heat the sesame oil in a pan over medium-high heat and add the remaining onions. Cook for 5 minutes.

5. Add the green chili, garlic cloves, and all the spices to the pan and stir well. Cook for another 3 minutes.

6. Spread the fried spice and onion mixture on top of the beef and place the casserole dish in the oven. Cover and cook for 1½ hours or until the beef is tender. Turn the meat over occasionally to make sure it doesn’t get dry on top. And as I said earlier in this post, it also would hurt to cook the beef in a slow cooker all day. Deliciousness ensured.

7. Serve over basmati rice and with the lentils.

3 Comments

Filed under dinner, lunch, recipe box

All Dal-ed Up

There is nothing quite like a basket of colorful ingredients to help brighten your day. Or distract you from the long list of to-do’s that seem to be constantly starring you down. I see you, dry cleaning.

This afternoon, I took a nice trip through Whole Foods, picking up red lentils, green chili peppers, some beautiful lamb, and two juicy Meyer lemons.

What was the reason for this vibrant haul? Other than needing some inspiration for dinner, I also wanted to take a quick culinary pause before we dive head first into low sodium holiday meal makeovers.

Today, we’re going to India. And while this has nothing to do with traditional fall dishes, playing with new spices and new ingredients will always come in handy when you finally get to remixing the classics. But on a spoiler alert side note, do get excited for recipes for Fake Honey-Baked Ham, Cheesy-Ish Mashed Potatoes, Rosemary Pan Bread, and some sort of Pie that will hit your inbox in the near future. I cannot promise that curry will not make a guest appearance.

So back to India, or shall I say, off to India we go.

While I’ve made attempts at Americanized versions of chicken curry before, I have never really dabbled in the dishes that make an authentic Indian menu so exciting. And I felt that it was time to finally learn the different combinations of vegetables, grains, spices, and meats that make Indian cooking so flavorful.

For a first pass at this challenge, I picked two simple recipes: Baked Beef (Jhalsano Garur Gosht) and Red Lentils with Spinach (Palongsak Dal).

I choose these two dishes because, first of all, I’ve neither made nor tasted either one of them before. Secondly, they require very little alteration to make salt free. The spices used in Indian cooking are so powerful that the removal of the salt is hardly noticeable. And lastly, because they didn’t require any sort of marinade overnight. I want to eat in two hours, not tomorrow.

So with my new friends – cumin, turmeric, curry, cardamom, ginger, cinnamon, and green chili – by my side, I’m off on a little culinary adventure this evening. Show and tell to come on Friday.

Chow on.

1 Comment

Filed under dinner, recipe box