Monthly Archives: January 2011

Queso Fundido

Hello friends, as of late and longtime.

This week we are training for the big event on Sunday – the Super Bowl – and we are starting with a dish that is loosely dedicated to Cheese Heads across the nation. Today, we are making a dip that will satisfy low sodium eaters and salty snackers alike. Today, we are putting the “o.k.” in queso and the “fun” in fundido.

Traditionally, queso fundido is a creamy blend of cheeses that includes tomatoes, chorizo, and peppers and is often served with tortilla chips. So to make it low sodium, I needed to give myself a hefty portion of creative license. And instead of trying to achieve that perfectly smooth fondue texture (which is almost impossible without ordering low sodium cheese online), I decided to set my sights on creating something smoky, spicy, and spreadable (which is easily achieved with salt-free spices).

I chose a low sodium ricotta (by Calabro – only 24mg of sodium per 1/4 cup) as the main ingredient and to add more flavor to the dip, I slowly caramelized half an onion. A little bit of olive oil, a pan on low heat, and forty-five minutes will quickly transform the taste from biting to scrumptiously sweet.

Then, in an oven safe dish, I mixed the ricotta and onions with 1/8 teaspoon of red chili flakes, 1/4 teaspoon of cumin, 1/4 teaspoon of smoked paprika, and some dried basil and fresh cilantro that I had on hand. I roasted the dish for thirty minutes at 350 degrees F, throwing in some fresh tortilla triangles to crisp up as well.

From there, the instructions are quite simple. Serve warm and dip. And don’t forget to chew. Needing to do the Heimlich during a touchdown could get confusing and dangerous.

Of course, if you have some ground pork on hand, feel free to brown it in a pan and throw it in with the cheese, onions, and spices before baking. It may not be chorizo, but it will provide a similar rich, fatty, meaty flavor.

So remember, whether it is for Super Bowl fare or any other kind of cuisine, satisfying low sodium approximations are always possible. And if you find yourself fumbling with a favorite recipe, make a comment below and together we can achieve that low sodium goal.

I’m off to stretch my stomach. Chow on.

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Filed under brunch, cooking, improbable eats, quick fix, recipe box, tips & tricks, Uncategorized

Awesome Bucco and Awards

I think it’s safe to say that this week has left me feeling quite full.

I’m full from a special olive oil tasting I had at Long Meadow Ranch and thrilled by a newfound appreciation for how a little drop of the “good” stuff can make a bite of citrus burst.

I’m full from Wednesday night’s salt-free Mediterranean blogger dinner with Farm & a Frying Pan and Anne Pao (two ladies always up for a low sodium challenge), and my latest recipe for “awesome” bucco (modesty not included).

And I’m full of that giddy, buzzy feeling that comes when you feel like all the long hours and burned pots were worth the effort. And that perhaps, starting this little blog wasn’t such a bad idea after all.

You see, after barely digesting glasses of buttery oil, plates of cara cara oranges, and spoonfuls of melty lamb shanks, I woke up on Thursday morning to find out that I had been nominated for a “Homies” award.

Cue: blushing cheeks, silly grin, and phone call to mom, who immediately asks, “what’s a Homie?”

To answer her question, the Homies are “about discovering, sharing, and honoring the best in Home Blogs.” Winners are chosen by web surfers (like you) and they receive a $50 prize as well as a lot of new eyes on their site. Which equals a few new spatulas and a lot more readers.

But while cash prizes and traffic are great, the honor was a great reminder of why I started this blog in the first place. And since there is so much fresh blog bait finding its way to this homepage, I thought I would take a brief pause and explain what my kind of cooking is all about.

Sodium Girl is a food blog, dedicated to delicious meals, mouth-watering pictures, and recipes filled with creativity and taste. It’s about food that looks and tastes good and that doesn’t require too much fuss to make. All things, I’m sure, blogs have told you before.

However, there is one thing that makes this blog, its delicious meals, mouth-watering pictures, and simple recipes stand out from the rest. On this blog, there is no salt (yes, no salt) and every recipe, from lasagna to banana bread muffins, is created by using a lot of innovation and as little sodium as possible.

Now, before the Morton’s girl comes and raises hell outside of my door with her little yellow umbrella, let me just say that I am in no way trying to stir up a salt revolution. These flavor crystals have their place in the kitchen, on the counter, and in food. They help brighten even the most mild flavors, whether it is a chunk of chocolate or a slender spud. But for many of us, salt (and using less of it) can greatly impact our health. And sometimes, it just takes a little encouragement for someone to give this special diet a try.

I gave up the shaker over seven years ago as a result of Lupus-related kidney failure. I wanted to give my body every chance possible to thrive. And if cutting back on salt was the answer, then I was up for the challenge. Since then, I’ve avoided a kidney transplant and I was also able to go off of dialysis completely. I rely on a strict, low sodium diet and daily medications to remain healthy and strong. And I use a whole spice rack of other flavors to make my recipes delicious and satisfying. Trust me, I’m never going to let dietary needs get between me and good food.

So, if you’ve been told to cut back on sodium, or have someone in your life who needs to make the switch, then you’ve come to the right place. I’m determined that low sodium food can be just as satisfying as its saltier counterparts, if not better.

And if you like what’s going on here at Sodium Girl, feel free to hop on over to Apartment Therapy and give this little lady and her low sodium crusades your vote.

Thank you all — readers old and new — for your time, your mouse-clicks, and your interest in taking on a low sodium diet. And of course, for passing this little web address along to family and friends who might benefit from the advice.

Happy weekend to you all and as always, chow on.

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Product Alert

Here are things I love: fried chicken, french fries, tempura, onion rings, and when it comes to low sodium living, being wrong. Which has nothing to do with being dipped in hot oil…thank goodness.

My great mistake begins with yogurt. For years, I have avoided it since many dairy products are high in sodium. But with my recent travels, I started contemplating the yogurt compromise.

At airports and on-the-road, low sodium food is scarce. I tend to look for things like steamed white rice, fresh fruit, and hard boiled eggs to keep me fueled and my stomach quiet. But often, even these items can be difficult to find and are generally not very satisfying.

Yogurt, however, is pretty much everywhere. Plentiful, if you will. From Walgreens to Whole Foods and all the corner stores in between, you are almost guaranteed to find a carton of the stuff. And after years of giving it the cold shoulder, I decided to take a second look.

Most yogurts (excluding the soy or coconut based products) fall in the 80 to 100mg of sodium per container range, which is why I always left them on the refrigerated shelf. But if you consider that an egg has 70mg of sodium, then suddenly, substituting yogurt for a three-egg omelette (especially when you are in a food pinch) is perfectly acceptable.

Here’s the best part, upon further inspection, there are even some Greek yogurts that fall in the 30 to 40mg of sodium per container range. Less than a third of a can of Coca Cola. And the FAGE brand – shown above – comes in some super exciting flavors, like honey and cherry pomegranate. Low in sodium, not in taste.

So on this Hump Day, as you race around town and realize that you haven’t had anything to eat, do me a favor and skip the banana/coffee “in-a-crunch” lunch – which is what I am eating as I write this and trust me, it is not that exciting. Treat yourself to spoonfuls of yogurt and sugar instead, because, as it turns out, you can.

Chow on.

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Filed under food shopping, snacking, tips & tricks

Maple, Granola Brittle 2.0

Last Friday, I wrote about my own recipe testing adventures for Food52.com and lucky for me (and well, I guess you too) this website also has a few readers who are willing to get their own pots and pans dirty for the good of the team.

If you’ve been following Sodium Girl for a while, you may remember the runny, gooey mess that was my attempt at making Salt-Free Maple, Granola Brittle. This was my first try at being a home-made Willy Wonka and I’m being kind when I say that I wasn’t successful. I not only failed to make the sugary treat, I also broke my mother’s garbage disposal when I dumped it down the drain. Insult. To. Injury.

Even though I said I would revisit the recipe another time, the honest truth is that the whole disaster left me with a bad taste in my mouth. Actually, it left me with no taste at all since I never made anything that was edible. I had no intention of touching this brittle ever again. Not even with a ten foot candy thermometer.

However, this story has a fairytale ending. For despite my spite, a brave soul – with a knack for pretty much anything from hand-sewn tea cozies to, as you will see, sugary treats – rode in on her white horse and picked up the challenge where I left off.

Three emails and five different versions later, my mother’s friend, Joann, had crafted a brittle recipe that she was proud to call her own. Dark and nutty, the brittle had a perfect balance of creaminess and crunch. The smell was intoxicating and the taste was even more addictive. And even though she had made bag-fulls for us to try, it didn’t take long for them all to disappear, landing somewhere between my butt and my thighs.

I am beyond thrilled to revisit the brittle disaster and present to you a truly perfected recipe for home-made, salt-free Granola Brittle. And when your sweet tooth is looking for someone to thank, don’t look at me. All accolades go to Joann and her tireless trials.

So Joann, thanks for your effort (and those four extra pounds). Our hats and fillings go off to you.

Chow on.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup raw pumpkin seeds
  • 1 cup raw sunflower seeds
  • 1 cup old fashioned rolled oats
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • ½ cup Light Karo Syrup (100mg of sodium – seems like a lot, but only slightly higher than 1 egg)
  • ½ cup water
  • ½ stick unsalted butter

Directions:

1. Spread the pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, and rolled oats on a large cookie sheet covered with parchment paper and roast them in a 350° oven for approximately 10 minutes, or until very lightly browned. Remove from the oven and set aside.

2. Meanwhile combine the sugar, syrup and water in a heavy saucepan.

3. Stir until the sugar dissolves over medium heat, then increase the heat and bring to a boil. Wash down the sugar crystals on the sides of the pan with a pastry brush dipped in water. Be sure all of the crystals are washed into the boiling mixture.

4. Continue boiling and insert a candy thermometer into the mixture, submerging the tip but not far enough to touch the bottom of the pan. Boil the mixture until the thermometer reads 360° and is a dark caramel color. Immediately remove from the heat. Remove the thermometer and add the butter, stirring well to mix thoroughly. Working quickly, add the seed mixture all at once and mix well. Pour it onto a well-greased cookie sheet and use a rubber spatula to press it down to a uniform thickness of about an eight of an inch. You can use a small rolling pin or the rubber spatula to make it more even.

5. Set it aside to cool. Once fully cool, turn the pan over and flex the middle of the pan to release the candy onto a clean counter. Break it into smaller pieces…and…chow down!

6. Store it in an airtight container or a freezer bag. Release the extra air in the bag and seal it. The candy will become sticky if it’s exposed to air for long periods, but will keep well if properly stored.

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Filed under recipe box, sweets

Me, You, Blue River Stew

It has been a food education-palooza this week.

I’ve clocked approximately 8.7 hours of watching Food Network competitions and past episodes of Top Chef. I’ve made shrimp-less shrimp curry with fellow blogger and Wiley Publishing author, Allison Fishman, over Skype. And tonight, I’m taking a very prestigious course in chicories (read: free wine and fun Bi-Rite staff) at 18 Reasons. That’s a lot of info-cramming for one low sodium brain.

But of all the didactic shenanigans, I have to say that one of the must fulfilling (and filling) events in these past seven days has been recipe testing for food52.com’s latest contest: Short Ribs.

Quick aside: if you haven’t perused the lively food52.com site yet, leave this page immediately. And then come back. But definitely give it a visit.

Home cooks from all over the world (the WORLD I say!) gather at this interweb address to share their take on a particular ingredient, competing for a place in the second food52 cookbook. While principal creative chiefs, and chefs, Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, pick two finalists every week, they also pick a group of runners-up, affectionately known as “Editor’s Picks.” And since the site and the contests are as much about community as they are about good food, Hesser and Stubbs leave some of the reviewing to be done by the people. Like me.

And this brings me back to stew. For the Short Rib contest, I was not only honored with an Editor’s Pick nod for my Char Sui Short Ribs, but I was also given the opportunity to test and taste escharlie’s Blue River Stew.

A hearty combination of beer, beef, and potatoes, this dish was as simple as pie and as All-American as…well, pie. And because the focus of the dish was meat, I didn’t need to do too much to the other ingredients to make it sodium-free.

So if grandpa winter is hitting your household this weekend, bundle up with a bowl of low sodium Blue River Stew. It will keep you warm and put some meat on your (short) ribs.

Chow on.

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons of ground black pepper and 1 tablespoon of smoked paprika, mixed
  • 4 beef short ribs with the bone in
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 5 Russet potatoes, peeled, chopped into 1 inch pieces
  • 1 cup corn kernels
  • 1/2 packet of Herb-Ox Sodium Free Beef Bouillon
  • 4 cups water
  • 1/2 cup of blonde beer or light ale with citrus hints (Blue Moon is a great choice!)
  • Handful of chopped parsley
  • Handful of sliced purple cabbage for each bowl

Directions:

1. Season the short ribs with pepper and smoked paprika on both sides.

2. Oil a large pot with olive oil and increase heat over medium-high flame. Add onions and garlic and saute until the onions are translucent, 5 minutes.

3. Add the short ribs to the pot and brown on all sides, 5 minutes each side. Stir the onions to the side so they do not burn.

4. Add the beer, water, and beef broth and bring to a boil. When the water is rolling, stir in the corn and potatoes.

5. Lower the heat and simmer until the vegetables are tender, about 2 hours. Add additional water if the stew looks too thick. The meal is ready to eat when the meat easily falls from the bone.

6. To serve, place a handful of cabbage at the bottom of the bowl. Ladle stew on top and then garnish with some fresh parsley. Serve the stew with the bones in or take them bones out – whatever pleases and appeases your palate!

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The Simplest Recipe

As a low sodium eater, lunch is the most difficult meal of the day, especially when you are constantly on-the-go.

Most people eat lunch out, during a busy work day or while ticking off a long list of errands. And for the salty population, there is a plethora of options to choose from: an overflowing turkey sandwich, a bowl of hot chicken soup, or even a slice (or two) of pizza ordered by the office.

But for us, the salt-less crusaders, choices are slim: steamed white rice from the local chinese take-out, a create-your-own salad bar, or maybe the occasional French fry (thank you Frjtz).

While I am thankful for these snacks, I have to be honest – sometimes my belly wants more. Sometimes I want to eat a lunch that will not just keep me full, but one that will make me smile, taste bud to taste bud.

So here’s the most perfect, simple solution: leftovers. In my not very humble opinion, most low sodium dinners fare quite well the second day around (except fish). And by eating that amazing risotto you made last night, again, you not only pay homage to your hard work and save a couple of bucks, but you are guaranteeing yourself a fully satisfying, low sodium meal.

On this hump-day, I give you the simplest salt-free recipe for a delicious lunch. Go ahead and plan that tupperware party, it’s time to pack up some goodies and as always, chow on.

Ingredients:

  • well-sealed plastic container
  • leftovers

Directions:

1. After cleaning up dinner, place leftovers into a well-sealed plastic container.

2. Refrigerate over night.

3. The next day, pack the leftovers in your computer bag or purse (make sure there are no leaks in your tupperware!) and take with you.

4. Wait a few hours and around lunch, take out tupperware, reheat, and eat.

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Filed under good living, snacking, tips & tricks

Fraiche Start

Nothing says “Happy Monday” like a spoonful of fresh crème fraiche sitting atop a crispy fried potato. Taste buds, start your engines.

Thicker (and less sour) than sour cream but richer than mayonnaise, this cloud of dairy velvet is one of my favorite low sodium ingredients. You can find crème fraiche in most markets – from a Safeway to a French épicerie – and most brands have incredibly low sodium contents, landing somewhere around 10mg per tablespoon.

It works as an exceptional substitute in recipes that call for saltier spreads and I love to use it in everything from egg salad sandwiches, to a 7-layer dip, and even as a topper for spicy curry lamburgers.

And because of it’s mild flavor and transformative magic, it works equally well in savory and sweet dishes. It will cool off a bowl of pea soup as successfully as it will sweeten a ripe strawberry.

So the next time you see a recipe that calls for mayo, sour cream, yogurt, or even melted cheese, remember your new best friend: crème fraiche. And with at least eight servings per tub, let your creative juices take over. Oh the places it will go…

Chow on.

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