Category Archives: food shopping

Do You Yuba?

What is a Yuba, you ask? Well to begin, let’s talk about what it is not:

  • A musical instrument that makes fart noises.
  • A new dance craze that consists of squiggly moves and Gumby arms.
  • A cross-breed of a Lama and a sheep, although this would be a great name for that combination. So crazy scientists reading this blog post, take note.

But because “no’s” don’t get you very far in life (and neither do double negatives), let’s move on to what a Yuba actually is.

Yuba is the name for fresh tofu skins. Silky and pliable, they are an amazing ingredient to have in your cooking arsenal. And thanks to Hodo Soy Beanery, they are now available in a neat, little low sodium package (something like 35mg per sheet – and the sheets are huge, like wear them over your swimsuit as a cover-up huge).

I have been buying them recently at the Ferry Building Farmer’s Market and Bi Rite Market, and they are also available at these Bay Area grocery stores and these restaurants. But beware, because they are so fresh and preservative-free, they expire quickly. Luckily, though, they can be used in many creative ways.

This week, I’ve cut them into slivers and snacked on them solo; I sliced them to look like noodles and put them into some mushroom broth soup; I fried them with bean sprouts, Napa cabbage, and other veggies for a meat-less stir fry; and I even put them into some low-sodium pad thai. Oh yeah, I said pad thai.

But one of the best uses I found for them so far was in my low sodium, egg-less egg rolls.

I used a quarter of one soy sheet as the wrapper and filled it with rice noodles, bean sprouts, sliced carrots, and some cilantro that I had on hand.

Then, in a small, extremely hot pan, I heated a dot of sesame oil and added the wrappers. Cue sizzle.

In a moment of maturity, I was actually patient and let the seamed side sit for five minutes, untouched. When I turned it over, the rolls were perfectly glued together and bubbly, looking as if they got a scrumptious third degree burn. I then turned them over to let the other side do the same.

To really impress myself – and yes, I was eating these alone at ten in the morning – I laid them on a white platter over fresh cabbage leaves. I fried some ginger rounds and drizzled more sesame on the plate. And after devouring both of them, noodles slapping my chin and mouth, I sent my compliments to the chef. I really outdid myself this time.

So whether you play the Yuba, do the Yuba, or milk a Yuba, do yourself a favor and grab some of the edible kind and have yourself soy much fun.

I think that’s enough horrible puns for one post.

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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Staying Alive – Herbs

Earlier this week, I tweeted about herbs (see above) and the arsenal of low sodium flavor one can uncover when cooking with them.

As a quick aside … just in case some of you do not know what “tweeting” is – and yes, I realize that is probably .2% of the population – let me explain. I’m not talking about tooting in public or partaking in illegal substances. I’m talking about dispensing advice (or for some, a poetic recounting of the frozen yogurt they just ate) on the site Twitter, using 140 characters or less. It’s like the radio of the future, where anyone can broadcast.

But enough about social networks, servers, and handles (this is computer talk, not a to-do list for your next dinner party). Let’s get back to the basics. Let’s get to the herbs.

Perhaps you actually followed my 140 characters of advice and you picked up a few bunches of aromatic greenery this week. Maybe you snapped up some parsley for a pasta dish or cilantro for taco night. Mmm, taco night. Or maybe, just maybe, you went for broke and you grabbed a bushel of marjoram without even knowing what it tastes like or what it is. I applaud you.

Being the smart cook that you are, you also probably leafed through your pile cookbooks and favorite food sites to find a recipe that really honored your special ingredient. Mint, dill, chive, or tarragon – whatever the herb was, you made it the star.

But a few days later, those bright colors and tastes, that successfully perked up your low sodium foods, started to wilt away in the fridge. Nothing is more depressing than seeing a whole bunch of herbs go to waste. Well, dropping your perfectly cooked Thanksgiving turkey on a dirty floor is a close second, but if no one is looking, you can easily remedy that situation.

So the question then becomes, what do you do with your leftover herbs? How do you keep all that flavor alive? How do you stretch your dollar and your creative mind?

And without you having to ask, here are my answers:

1) Learn how to properly store your herbs. Just throwing them in the crisper is not going to keep them crisp. So unless you like limp basil, check out this breakdown by Real Simple magazine. I think it is great advice, especially the part on drying your leftovers. And this explanation, from Simply Recipes, is also very helpful. Not only will it keep your herbs from the compost bin, it will keep your used Ziploc bags from the trashcan. A win-win for you and the environment.

2) If you know you are going to buy fresh herbs, don’t just look for one recipe; flag two or three for the week. In these tight-wallet times, we have become accustomed to reuse our grains or proteins as leftovers – chicken cacciatore one day, tortilla soup the next. Using herbs shouldn’t be any different, and if you actively plan to use your fresh herbs in as many meals as possible, you might discover new combinations. Mint doesn’t just work well with fruit, it also pairs successfully with peas.

3) Infuse, infuse, infuse! Instead of letting those herbs die, let them live in perpetuity by mixing them with oils or butter. Give your EVOO the star treatment with Alton Brown’s recipe for herb oil, and gussy up unsalted butter with this simple recipe from CHOW (just leave out the kosher salt). The next time you’re making sauteed vegetables, a simple pasta, grilled steak, or pork tenderloin, add herbaceous notes with some of your special, homemade oils and butter.

4) Your turn. I may have the blog, but I know I don’t have all the answers. So it’s your time to shine. Tell us how you turn twigs of unused rosemary into your next masterpiece. What do you do with your leftover fresh herbs?

 

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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.

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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.

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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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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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