Monthly Archives: December 2010

Hot Holiday Tamales – Part Dos

Right in time for Christmas Eve (and in advance for New Year’s Day), here is the second part of the low sodium tamale making process – the corn husk wrapping. Get ready to rock and roll up these meaty poppers, and because you’re on the low sodium “good list,” I’ll throw in a few extra dips and sides to give your taste buds something to sing (on high) about.

Happy holidays to you and yours, and remember, be merry, by thankful, and be full.

Chow on.




  • 1 whole pineapple, cut into 1/4 inch cubes
  • 3 tomatoes
  • 2 tomatillos
  • 2 serrano chilies
  • 1 white onion, diced
  • 8 cloves garlic, diced
  • 1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped


1. To prepare the tomatoes, wash and remove the stems. For the tomatillos, remove stems and the outer leaves and wash off the sticky coating. For the serrano chilies, cut off the very top of the chili and then make a slice down one side. This will give you access to the seeds, which you can simply remove by hand. Just remember to wash your hands or else whatever part of your face you touch will be en fuego. Finally, place the tomatoes, tomatillos, and serranos in a rimmed oven pan.

2. Turn on the oven broiler to low and place ingredients from step one on the top rack directly under the flame. Allow them to char on one side for 5 minutes. Turn the tomatoes, tomatillos, and serranos two more times until all the sides have had a good amount of heat (a total time of 15 minutes).

3. Remove from the oven and let cool.

4. Peel the charred skin from the tomatoes, tomatillos, and serranos. An easy way to do this is to put them in a paper bag and rub.

5. In a large pot, heat olive oil over medium flame and add the onion and garlic. Allow the garlic to brown and the onion to become slightly transparent, stirring constantly.

6. Dice the now roasted tomatoes, tomatillos, and serranos. Add them, their roasting juices, and the diced pineapple to the pot.

7. Bring to a simmer and allow the salsa to reduce for 30-45 minutes.

8. Before using, mix in the cilantro.



  • 4 cups masa harina (0 mg of sodium)
  • 1 tablespoon low sodium baking powder (0 mg of sodium)
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, melted (0 mg of sodium)
  • 2 dozen dried corn husks
  • 1 cup of the pineapple salsa


1. Before getting started on your masa dough, soak your corn husks in warm water for 30 minutes to an hour.

2. Put masa flour and baking powder into a mixing bowl and slowly add in the melted butter with mixer on low to medium speed. Add in the cup of salsa. When all the ingredients are combined, the dough should have a spongy texture. Add a little more salsa or water if it is too dry.



1. Drain and dry your corn husks. If there are a few that have split or ripped, go ahead and use them to make ties for your tamales by ripping 1/4 inch width ribbons down the length of the husk. While you do not need to tie your tamales to close them, it does add pizazz to the presentation.

2. Start with the largest and most intact husks. Smooth out the husk with the narrow end facing you and spread a thin layer of the masa over the husk.

3. Place about a tablespoon of pork carnitas filling and a tablespoon of the pineapple salsa in the middle of the masa.

4. Fold the narrow end up and roll the husk from left to right, enclosing the filling. To finish, you can tie the wide end with one of your corn husk strands or you can simply leave it as it is.

5. Fill a pot with 1 cup of water and place a steamer over the water. Bring to a low boil.

6. Line the steamer with the tamales (open or tied end up) and cover with a lid. Water should not touch the tamales. Steam for 30-45 minutes. Tamales are done when the masa easily pulls away from the husk.

7. To serve, remove the husks and top with extra salsa. Fresh guacamole and rice make delicious accompaniments as well.


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Hot Holiday Tamales – Part Uno

As I cleaned out my camera this morning – apparently a year’s worth of food photos had eaten up all the space on my memory card, fancy that – I was transported to the Christmas tamale feast I shared with my family a year ago. Smells of roasted tomatoes and memories of creamy masa made my heart pump and my stomach grumble.

Since I am not able to partake in the festivities this year, I thought it only appropriate to revisit this wonderful two-part adventure of corn husking and rolling. So please, feast with your eyes and if you are so moved or inspired, try this slightly different take on holiday fare. These are recipes that are made with a  lot of hands and a lot of love and the work that goes into each edible present is worth its weight in guacamole.

Enjoy and chow on.

Here we go, everyone. We are about to embark on a journey through the creation of homemade, low sodium, high-kicking tamales. A two-part adventure filled with mouth watering photos and step-by-step instructions will whisk you off to a world where fresh herbs, roasted tomatoes, and a juicy pork butt are transformed into a decadent celebration for your mouth.

For those of you who have never been privy to the fun of these little steamed presents, a tamale, or tamal, is a Latin American dish that traditionally consists of corn husks filled with masa, meat, cheese, chilies, salsa, and sometimes even half of a boiled egg or an olive.

There are many variations of the tamale and this holiday season we decided to venture beyond the comforts of convention and attempt four variations of the classic. My mother-in-law doled out a recipe to each of us from her new tamale book and the assignments were as follows:

  • artichoke and sundried tomato tamales with olive oil and saffron
  • fresh corn tamales with black truffle oil
  • chicken tamales with BBQ masa
  • and pork carnitas, or “little meats,” tamales with pineapple salsa

My mission was the pork carnitas tamales and, although the boy and I had best intentions to stick to the exact instructions of our recipe, a lack of ingredients at the market and dietary restrictions necessitated diversion from the rules. What’s new. I also forgot to mention that not only were the tamales low sodium, they were also pepper and chili free. That’s right, my mom cannot eat peppers or chilies.

No salt. No chilies. No peppers. No flavor? How on earth could these Mexican treats even taste good? Or more specifically, like it should? But with a little creative license, a hot broiler, and a whole bunch of garlic, we were able to create enough complexity in our flavors that no one was in need of anything but a napkin and some elastic wasted pants.

I will admit, I was a bit nervous before diving into this project. It seemed like it would be a lot of work with a lot of room for error. But it is a surprisingly simple recipe, and if you make the filling ahead of time and have a few extra hands on hand for the tamale construction, you can finish these quickly while having a great time.

So part one of our adventure will be the pork carnitas filling and part two (to hit inboxes across the nation next week) will focus on the pineapple salsa, the masa, and the assembling instructions to finish off the dish. Get out your note pad and pen and get ready to roll. Vamos a comer.

Low Sodium Pork Carnitas Tamale Filling


  • 4 tomatoes (or three tomatoes and two tomatillos if you can find them)
  • 1 bunch of chives – you can use a knife to cut these or to make it even easier, use kitchen shears (i.e. scissors that live in your kitchen)
  • 3 green onions, diced
  • 1 small white onion, diced
  • 6 cloves of garlic, diced
  • 3/4 cup of no salt added ketchup (5mg per 1 tablespoon)
  • zest and juice of 1 orange
  • zest and juice of 1 lime
  • 1½ pound of pork butt, cut into 1/2 inch cubes (69mg of sodium per 3oz)
  • 1 teaspoon of olive oil


1. Turn your oven broiler on high and place the tomatoes (or tomato and tomatillos) in a pan on the highest rack so that they are directly under the flame. Watch them carefully; once they get a good char on their top side (about 3-5 minutes), flip the tomatoes over for another 3-5 minutes of direct flame action. Take them out of oven and let cool.

2. Turn off the broiler and heat oven to 350 degrees. Since your broiler was just on, your oven will reach the desired temperature faster than usual. This is a great trick for when you have to heat your oven quickly because guests are about to arrive or when that roast you have been cooking on low for two hours still is not done. It is a lifesaver in a time crunch.

3. In an oven safe dish (like a dutch oven or ceramic casserole with a top), combine your green onions, white onions, garlic, ketchup, lime juice, lime zest, orange juice, orange zest, and chives.

4. Dice the now roasted tomatoes (I did this directly in the pan with a fork and a knife – just be careful not to scratch the pan) and add them to your oven safe dish with all of the other aromatics. Mix well.

5. Add the cubed pork butt to the marinade (above). If you have time, let the pork sit in the liquid for a few hours to a day. The longer it marinates, the more intense the flavor infusion will be. But if you only have a few hours to get the tamales on the table, mix the pork well with the liquid and throw them into the oven.

6. Let the pork cook for 1.5 hours or until the meat pulls apart easily with a fork.

7. Heat a sauce pan over medium flame with the olive oil.

8. Fish out the cubes of pork (spider skimmers are awesome for this, but a slotted spoon or a strainer will be equally helpful) and sauté them in the oil for 5 minutes.

9. Add the leftover cooking liquid to the sauce pan and allow the mixture to reduce and thicken for another 15-20 minutes. And hi ho, your tamale filling is ready for packaging, eating, and enjoying.


Filed under brunch, dinner, recipe box

Green Bundles of Joy

For those of you who have read this blog for a while, you know about my tumultuous relationship with bacon.

I live for the stuff and as a child, weekends and Sunday mornings (before going to temple – isn’t that ironic) were synonymous with the smell of bacon. Even though I had to give the salty-stuff up, I still find myself craving the crisp bite and smoky flavors that define this breakfast treat and for the past few years, I have been determined to find a low sodium substitute. I even went so far as to try and cure it myself, without salt,  as can be seen here. But alas, the results were less than successful and all that I came away with was some fatty pork bits and a bad stomach ache.

Even with these roadblocks, though, my tenacity has not waned. If anything, I have become more determined (as well as more cautious) to find a solution and the bacon brain trust continues to sizzle and scheme.

On a non-pork topic though, there is another culinary query that gives me equal pause: truly delicious vegetable side dishes.  Do they exist?

During the holidays, I cringe at the thought of stewed carrots and overly-steamed green beans. But I find myself stumbling when thinking of other things to serve. What can one feed an army of relatives that retains color, flavor, and texture and doesn’t just turn to mush?

Just as I persevered with my search for the elusive piece of low-sodium bacon, I have become equally resolute to overcome the bland presentation of side vegetables. And this Thanksgiving, I wasn’t going to let my greens play sloppy seconds to the turkey.

After a bit of interweb research, I came upon a gorgeous recipe for prosciutto-wrapped asparagus spears with a prune and walnut purée. It was as if my two worlds of culinary conquests collided. I had a chance to take on the low sodium bacon challenge once again and attempt a recipe for a truly stunning side dish.

It. Was. On.

To make the recipe low sodium (and nut-free), I made the purée by blending 1/4 cup of unsalted sunflower seeds with a 1/2 cup of figs (sliced in half with stems discarded), which were soaked for an hour in 1/4 cup of port with a splash of balsamic vinegar.

To replace the prosciutto, I asked my butcher at Whole Foods to cut very thin slices of pork loin. Genius. I marinated the loin in orange juice and beer for a few hours to make it especially moist and from there, I patted them dry and pounded them out with my fist (and a hammer) until they were thin yet sturdy, resembling the thickness of prosciutto. I then spread a spice mixture of smoked paprika, black pepper, and cumin on the pork to give it a husky flavor.

Quick side tip: to make the pounding process easier, I placed the meat between two pieces of saran wrap. The butcher can also do this part for you if you don’t have the time or fist power to thin the meat out yourself.

From there, I flash steamed two large bundles of asparagus, which had been stemmed and cut in half, and put them in ice baths to cool. When they had chilled a bit and dried, I spread the fig and seed mixture on each strip of pork and rolled them around a bundle of five asparagus spears.

I tied each bundle with cooking twine and seared them quickly (5 minutes each side) in a pan with 2 tablespoons of hot grape seed oil until the meat was cooked and caramelized. And right before serving, I drizzled honey over each bundle and threw them under the broiler for 5 minutes, giving the meat a crispy texture.

And voila, a side dish with flavor and flare.

These low sodium greens can be prepared a day ahead and then cooked right before serving. Their bright color and taste play beautifully with the earthy notes of holiday feasts as well as the lighter fare of spring brunches and potlucks.

So keep these bundles in your back pocket (well, not literally because that would be messy) and the next time you need a show-stopping side dish or a low sodium “bacon” fix, you’ll know exactly what you can make.

Chow on.

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

Pâté Cake, Pâté Cake

Lately I’ve been reading Good Meat, by Deborah Krasner. Part text book, part cook book, Krasner implores readers to give sustainable meat a try and provides the advice, resources, and techniques that will make the culinary adventure worth it.

When I say sustainable meat, I am talking about buying lamb, duck, beef, and poultry in their quarter, half, or full state – not just the the pre-cut packages of ribs, legs, and thighs we are accustomed to. She enthusiastically shares the joys of eating shoulders, loins, and even offal as well as the recipes needed to master these more unfamiliar bits and pieces.

This is how I found myself with a pound of chicken livers. I’ve seen them sitting on the Whole Foods shelves and I’ve looked longingly at them for months. But I didn’t yet have the guts to cook the guts.

As a child, the word pâté made me gag – but so did brussels sprouts – and I could never imagine how smearing blended liver on bread could be decadent. Last year, though, my godmother lovingly made my grandmother’s recipe, sodium free, for me to try at one of my bridal showers. It had a brown-gray color, an unfamiliar stench, and an improbably smooth texture. I timidly dove the knife into the spread and slapped a little on a sodium-free piece of toast.

It was delicious. It was delicate. It was rich and creamy. It was love at first bite.

So this Thanksgiving, with guests aplenty, and with Krasner’s voice ringing loud in my head, I decided to finally give those chicken livers a try. The recipe was simple and the results were magnificent.

The most critical part of the dish is cleaning the chicken livers of the white sinewy parts and any of the darker (almost black-green) pieces on the skin. These can create a bitter taste if left on the livers. While I’m sure you can have the butcher do the dirty work, it is pretty easy to trim them yourself with a small pairing knife. The other piece of advice is that offal smells awful. So be sure to get rid of your trash or compost almost immediately.

I used a couple different recipes to create my own, but the main ingredients tend to be butter, shallots, livers, some sort of cooking liquor (sherry or bourbon), and fresh herbs. I also threw in some figs to give it a bit of sweetness.

This holiday season, dig deep (literally) into your meat comfort zone and try your hand at pâté or even a more adventurous cut to spice up traditional holiday fare. Honey-glazed sweetbreads perhaps?

Experiment and chow on.


  • 1 stick of unsalted butter
  • 1 cup finely chopped shallot
  • 2 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme or 1/4 teaspoon dried
  • 1 teaspoon minced fresh marjoram or 1/4 teaspoon dried
  • 1 teaspoon minced fresh sage or 1/4 teaspoon dried
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1 pound chicken livers, trimmed
  • 2 tablespoons bourbon or sherry
  • 5 figs, roughly chopped
  • Directions:

    1. Melt stick of butter in a large, nonstick skillet over moderately low heat until it begins to brown and gives off a nutty flavor. Add shallots and garlic and cook (constantly stirring) until softened, about 5 minutes.

    2. Add herbs, pepper, allspice, and livers and cook (stirring) until livers are cooked outside but still pink when cut open, about 8 minutes.

    3. Stir in bourbon or sherry, and remove from heat. Let it sit for 5 minutes.

    4. Put mixture in a food processor with the figs and purée until smooth. Then transfer pâté to a small ramekin or other container and cover with saran wrap, pressing it flat onto the top of pâté.

    5. Chill in fridge for at least two hours. Pâté can be refrigerated for up to two days before serving and tends to taste even better the longer it chills.

    6. Garnish with herbs and sliced figs. Serve with small toast points made from low sodium bread.

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    Four Days of Honeymoon and a Funeral


    They are a symbol of life, fragility, wisdom, even your brain on drugs. They represent great successes (like a delicately crafted poach) and challenging disasters (like a carton cracking in the back seat on the way home from the store). They represent the good, the bad, the everyday, and the unexpected. They are life in an egg shell.

    This whole last week has been about eggs, which is my simple explanation for why I haven’t been posting as frequently.

    First of all, I’ve been on my honeymoon. I had, and still have, full intention of writing while I am gone. But for the first time in a long time, I am also giving myself permission to just relax.

    Upon our arrival last Monday, I noticed that the air was cleaner, the pastures greener, and the food even more spectacular than at home. And the eggs were magnificent.

    I truly believe that, until you’ve tasted a real, home-grown yolk nugget, raised in a sustainable manner, you’ve never really experienced the magic hidden inside these shells.

    Lucky for me, I have a few friends in the Bay that have hobby farms from which I have received cartons of eggs, like the ones you see above. I also happen to live in a city where freshly-laid, cage-free eggs are sold in everything from the corner liquor store to the book shop.  So getting my hands on something fresh – and full of what nature intended – is quite easy.

    But recently, I’ve tasted something even better. The yolks are darker, the taste is milkier, the omelette’s fluffier. These eggs are no ordinary eggs. These are New Zealand eggs. And I’ve started every day with a good helping of them.

    As happens in life, though, there was a crack in the plans. And on our first night, after an amuse-bouche of what New Zealand life is like, we received a phone call that my grandfather had passed away.

    In the haze of a twenty one hour time change, flights were booked, accommodations cancelled, and plans were made to return home. It all seemed unreal –  honeymoon high interrupted by loss – but the choice to return home was the obvious one. And after one final omelette was consumed, back we were, threading through customs, until we landed in US soil.

    Here’s the sunny side of it all, though. I wouldn’t have missed the bonding experience that ensued during a time of celebratory grieving for any fairytale getaway. And the kindness shown to us by the Kiwis was far more memorable than treks along glaciers or swims with Dolphins – these sights will all be there for a long time to come. And like me in my few days down under, my grandfather devoured the good things in life and planted many seeds for others to enjoy it with as much fervor in years to come.

    So this is what I takeaway from my four days of New Zealand eggs and the runny break of reality: sometimes the most simple things are the sweetest and make the most lasting imprint in your mind. With its highs and lows, but mostly the intense outpouring of love, this will truly be one of the more memorable weeks of my life.

    So to celebrate life’s twists and turns and delicious memories in between, here are some links to a few of my favorite egg recipes. If you can get your hands on some locally grown gems, please do. And feel free to share the recipes that remind you of loved ones as well.

    As for the rest of December, I’m resuming the honeymoon. Expect at least one post a week (if not a few surprise ones in between) that will cover low sodium holiday fare and past favorites.

    Don’t forget to ask questions, make comments, and retweet like your low sodium breakfast depended on it.

    Chow on.

    Sticky Tummy Bread Pudding

    Egg in a Basket, Toad in a Hole

    Couscous, Sunny Side Up


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