Thursday, January 28, 2016

Low Sodium Sandwiches

Some Low Sodium Sandwiches
“I want an egg sandwich for lunch,” my husband announced a few days ago. No problem. Most sandwiches are part of a “Pull Out” meal —  Pull Out of Pantry, Fridge, or Freezer. If I’ve got the right stuff on hand, I can put together a pretty good sandwich lunch or dinner in no time at all.

That’s why I try to keep an arsenal of low sodium products specifically with sandwich based meals in mind. Here’s what I usually have squirreled away:

From the pantry — cans of low sodium tuna (Trader Joe’s, Bumble Bee, Starkist, or Chicken of the Sea); freeze dried chives (Penzeys, Spice House, or Litehouse); unsalted potato chips (Kettle or Tim’s Cascade); an assortment of spice blends (dill weed; curry powder; Penzeys Forward, Mural of Flavor, & Sunny Spain); canned fruit (in juice); California Lavash Whole Grain (90 mg./sheet)  

Some Low Sodium Sandwich "Fixings"
From the fridge —  eggs, Kraft mayo (70 mg. sodium/tbsp.); Westrbrae Stone Ground NSA* Mustard; Healthy Heart Market No Salt Dill Pickles; low sodium jarred salsa (Trader Joe’s Fire Roasted NSA*, Frog Ranch mild [40 mg. sodium/2 tbsp.], or Newman’s Own mild [65 mg. sodium/2 tbsp.]); low sodium sliced Swiss cheese (Primo Taglia Lacy or Sargento [each 35 mg. sodium/slice]); deli sliced low sodium ham/turkey/beef; Lucerne NSA* Cottage Cheese

More "Fixings"
From the freezer —  hamburger patties; homemade sliced bread and sandwich buns
Produce —  fresh seasonal fruit; cherry tomatoes; celery; baby carrots; cucumbers

Leftovers make good sandwich fillings too. Things like meatloaf, roast chicken or turkey, roast beef or pork. Nothing beats a meatloaf sandwich. Or a chicken salad sandwich flavored with curry or dill. How about roast beef or pork with a touch of mustard and horseradish.

More Sandwiches
With all these goodies on hand, I can get a decent low sodium meal put together rather quickly. This is important when following a low sodium regimen. We all have days when we’re not feeling well,  we’re tired, we’re pressed for time, or we simply don’t have the motivation. Complicated meal preparation is not going to happen. But we really don’t have the option of sending out for pizza, driving through the nearest fast food joint, picking up take-out from a nearby restaurant, or even just grabbing some ready-to-go food at the grocery store. Too much sodium! So having a goodly supply of low sodium sandwich-ready items is a real boon.

*NSA=No Salt Added

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Quick Low Sodium Chili

In my last post I compared Mrs. Dash Chili seasoning mix to homemade Quick Chili, but I didn’t give a recipe for the DIY version. Homemade Quick Chili is one of those “Pull-Out” meals — Pull Out of Pantry, Fridge, or Freezer. If you’ve got the right stuff on hand, you can get this meal on the table in no time at all.

What do you need?

1 pound ground meat: It can be ground beef, chicken, turkey, or pork. (If it’s frozen, thaw it in the microwave while you’re getting everything else ready to go.) It can even be chopped up leftovers like pot roast, meatloaf, hamburgers, roast chicken, etc. You get the idea.

Quick Chili in a Bread Bowl
(with leftover roast pork, corn, hominy, & no salt Rotel)
3 cups liquid: You can use all low sodium broth or any combination of broth and a low sodium tomato product (sauce, diced, whole). The broth can be homemade, canned, or even dry granules.

1½ cups chunky vegetables: Low sodium canned pinto or black beans (rinsed and drained), no-salt-added canned corn (drained), frozen corn, canned hominy (rinsed and drained), etc. Leftover chunks of sweet potato, butternut squash, or zucchini squash could also be added.

Seasonings: I like to use Penzeys or Spice House Chili con Carne seasoning blends because they include tomato powder, onion, and garlic along with the chili powder. I don’t have to juggle several jars of seasonings. I start with at least 2 teaspoons and add more if i think it’s needed.

Helpful Pantry Spices
If I’m not using a con Carne spice blend, I’ll put in 1 teaspoon each of regular chili powder and ground cumin to start with. I’ll also add a teaspoon of dried or freeze-dried onion (or ½ teaspoon of onion powder) and ¼ teaspoon of garlic powder.

Thickening: You can add a couple of tablespoons flour to the ground meat while it is browning. Then add the liquids and combine. You can also thicken at the end: flour slurry (2 tbsp. flour to ¼ cup water); cornstarch slurry (1 tbsp. cornstarch to 2 tbsp. water); or my favorite, masa slurry (1 tbsp. masa harina to 2 tbsp. water). Of course, you can choose not to thicken the chili at all. That’s the easiest and quickest option.

Toppings: Low sodium salsa. Pico de Gallo. Chopped cilantro. Avocado chunks. Low sodium ripe olives (rinsed and drained). 1-2 tablespoons shredded cheese. Dollop of sour cream. Chopped green onion. Crushed low sodium/ unsalted tortilla chips. Crumbled cornbread or low sodium crackers. Chopped tomatoes. Just keep in mind that the whole point of Quick Chili is that prep work is kept to a minimum. So use what you’ve already got available and nix anything that requires too much fussing.

Quick Chili with Several Toppings
DIRECTIONS: Brown ground meat. Add liquid, vegetables, and seasonings. Bring to boil, lower heat and simmer for 20 minutes. Taste and add more seasoning or liquid if needed. Add thickener of choice if desired and adjust seasoning again. Add toppings of choice. Ready to serve!

What can you do with Quick Chili?

Serve it in a bowl with low sodium crackers. Ladle it over cornbread, toast, or biscuits. Spoon it over baked potatoes. Spoon it over low sodium/ unsalted tortilla chips. Use a slotted spoon to plop a hefty portion onto a bowl of greens for a quick “taco” salad. Use a slotted spoon to fill a burrito or taco. Spoon it onto an omelet. Poach a couple of eggs in it. Serve over rice. Add more liquid and turn it into a soup.

JUST A REMINDER: Quick Chili is NOT to be confused with any long simmered chili. There’s no comparison. Quick Chili has a definite chili flavor but doesn’t require long prep or cooking. It is what it is, but it’s pretty darn good when you need something fast and tasty.  

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Quick Chili: Mrs. Dash Mix vs Homemade

We all have days when spending a lot of time fixing a meal is just too much. Whether it’s illness, exhaustion, not enough time, or just plain lack of motivation — It happens to the best of us. Especially when you do a lot of “from-scratch” low sodium cooking. That’s why I’m always on the lookout for low sodium products that can help with short cuts in the kitchen.

Mrs. Dash Seasoning Mixes
Mrs. Dash has a slew of seasoning mixes to help the harried low sodium cook. From sloppy Joes to tacos to pot roast and meatloaf. I haven’t used seasoning mixes for years and years, but recently I decided to try the Mrs. Dash Chili seasoning just to find out how it tasted and determine how much time it really saved. (You can find Mrs. Dash seasoning mixes online at Healthy Heart Market and Amazon, and most grocery stores now carry a small assortment.)

The directions are simple enough: Brown 1 lb. ground meat; add seasoning mix; add approximately 16 oz. (2 cups) tomato product (sauce/diced/whole); and add one 15 oz. can of undrained low sodium beans. (I never use undrained beans in anything. I always rinse them first and then add about ¾ cup of broth, if necessary.) Bring to a boil, and simmer for 10 minutes. Done!

There’s enough wheat flour and cornstarch in the mix to thicken the chili quickly. So there’s no need to simmer for a long time. In fact, if you go beyond the 10 minutes, you may scorch the chili. (The sugar in the mix and the canned tomatoes are the culprits.) After it has thickened, you can add more liquid and turn the heat on very low, but you’ll need to remember to stir it frequently to avoid burning the chili.

How does it taste? It’s not bad. Strong tomato flavor and very, very mild chili flavor. I’ve made it twice now, and each time I added a teaspoon each of chili powder and ground cumin for a slight improvement. There’s no way to get around it. This is a quick mix, and you’ll never get the complex flavor of long-cooked chili. But it could be useful if you’re really pressed for time and already have canned tomatoes and beans in your pantry, along with ground beef ready to go.

Now comes the 2nd question: How does Mrs. Dash Chili mix compare to homemade quick chili? Well, you’d still need a pound of ground meat, about 3 cups of liquid, and approximately 1½ cups of vegetables (beans, corn, hominy, etc.). You’d also need some chili powder.

Both Penzeys and Spice House carry salt free Chili con Carne seasoning blends. The Chili con Carne blends include chili powder, tomato powder, onion, garlic, and all the spices required to make a tasty (and quick) chili. The Spice House blend also contains arrowroot, a thickener.
Chili in a Bread Bowl
(made with leftover pork roast)

The difference between using the Mrs. Dash seasoning mix and using the Chili con Carne blends is flavor. The blends make chili  that tastes like chili is supposed to taste. (Of course, you can use regular salt free chili powder and add a bit of dried onion, garlic, and cumin. The advantage of the blends is that everything is already included.) If you want a stronger tomato presence, then you can add a can of tomato sauce to the chili. If you don’t, you can use all beef broth.

To get the best taste without long cooking, simmer the flavored meat for at least 20 minutes. If desired, thickening can be accomplished by sprinkling a couple of tablespoons of flour over the ground beef and sautéing briefly just before adding the liquid. Or making a cornstarch slurry to add at the end.

CONCLUSION: Mrs. Dash Chili mix is a great product to use when you want to get a quick meal on the table. It cooks up super fast. The downside is that the chili flavor is lacking, it has a very strong tomato flavor, and it thickens so quickly that you have to be careful to avoid scorching it.

Homemade quick chili takes a little bit longer to cook but has a much better flavor. It’s almost just as easy as Mrs. Dash if you use one of the Chili con Carne blends from Penzeys or the Spice House.

CAVEAT: Quick Chili is NOT to be confused with any long simmered chili. There’s no comparison. Quick Chili is simply something with a distinct chili flavor that can be made lickety split. The labors of love with chunks of beef simmered for hours in a strong chili sauce are for another time.