Saturday, October 14, 2017

Vegetable Soup - The Easiest Ever!

Quick & Easy Vegetable Soup
Have you ever got the hankering for soup but didn't have the time or motivation for a 2-3 hour cooking session? That’s what happened to me a few days ago. I wanted to make a soup that was chock full of vegetables, but I didn’t want to spend time and energy peeling and chopping. What to do? Look to my pantry and freezer, that’s what!

I made the soup. It was fast and easy. And it was another Pull Out wonder – pulled out of my pantry and pulled out of my freezer.

I started with frozen mirepoix – a combination of chopped onions, carrots, and celery. My local supermarkets carry store and name brands with the other frozen vegetables. And many stores also offer freshly prepared mirepoix in their produce sections. I sauted about 1½ cups of the vegetables in a couple tablespoons of olive oil.

Once the mirepoix vegetables were tender, I added a 32 ounce carton of no-salt-added chicken broth along with a can of salt-free petite diced tomatoes. For extra flavor, I added some Penzey’s dried minced garlic, a bay leaf, and several whole black peppercorns (in a tea ball). I sprinkled in about ½ tsp. of savory leaves, and I threw in a sugar cube to combat the tartness of the tomatoes.

I let the broth mixture simmer for 15-20 minutes before adding about 2 cups of frozen mixed vegetables: corn, peas, carrots, lima beans, and green beans. I also included one peeled and cubed Russet potato that needed to be used up. (Peeling and chopping the potato was the hardest bit of work involved in making the soup.) Then everything simmered for another 15-20 minutes until the vegetables were tender and the potato was cooked through.

That was it! Vegetable soup in a flash! And, believe it or not, it was quite tasty. We were in the midst of a busy week and really appreciated having a good tasting and good-for-us soup available for quick snacks or meals.

One nice thing is that the soup can be slightly different each time you make it. Use different herb blends to create different flavor profiles. Use different frozen vegetables rather than the traditional corn, peas, carrots, lima beans, and green beans blend. Try an entirely different blend or perhaps just focus on one or two vegetables. Include a bit of pasta or rice instead of the potato. Or maybe use cubed sweet potatoes for an uniquely different flavor. Maybe leave out the tomatoes altogether.

Most grocery stores carry a lot of pre-prepped vegetables in their produce sections. Same with their freezer sections. Experiment. Who knows what tasty combos you might come up with?

For example, this week, I made a fast corn-potato chowder. Same method but without the tomatoes. I flavored the chowder with poultry seasoning. Once I even stirred in a bit of cream just before serving. Next week I plan to make a minestrone style soup using a frozen Italian vegetable medley (Italian green beans, cauliflower, carrots, red pepper, and zucchini) and seasoned with a NSA Italian herb blend.
Jiffy Corn Chowder
Vegetable Soup in a Flash!

1 - 2 cups frozen mirepoix
2 tbsp olive oil
32 oz salt-free chicken or vegetable broth
14.5 oz can salt-free diced tomatoes
½ - 1 tsp sugar (if desired)
Garlic to taste (fresh, frozen cubes, dried minced, powdered, jarred)
Black pepper to taste
1 bay leaf
Herbs or spices to taste (Examples: Italian herb blend, chili powder, poultry seasoning, curry powder, thyme, basil, chives, etc.)
2 cups frozen vegetables of choice

Optional Add Ins:
1-2 cups peeled and cubed potato (russet, red, Yukon gold, sweet, etc.)
1-2 cups packaged coleslaw
Pasta – small, thin shapes that cook quickly in the soup broth (stars, alphabets, pastina, fideo, etc.)
Rice – quick cooking/instant, ready-to-serve, frozen (my local stores carry a couple of brands of fully cooked NSA white or brown rice in bowls/pouches in the pasta aisle and also in the freezer section)
Beans – NSA canned or frozen (my local stores all carry baby limas and black eyed peas along with a few other choices like black beans, garbanzos, and lentils in the freezer section)
Mushrooms – NSA frozen, canned, dried/freeze dried

Saute the mirepoix in olive oil. Once the vegetables are tender, add no-salt-added broth along with salt-free diced tomatoes. Add garlic, bay leaf, and black pepper. Add herbs of choice and sugar, if desired.

Let mixture simmer for about 15-20 minutes before adding 2 cups of frozen mixed vegetables. Add options of choice. Stir and simmer together for another 15-20 minutes until all vegetables are tender.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Tessemae Salad Dressings

Tessemae Salad Dressings
I know that finding good tasting low sodium salad dressings can be quite difficult. Not impossible, but difficult nonetheless. The safest course of action is to make your own. But sometimes it’s really nice to have a bottle of commercially prepared dressing on hand.

The beauty of store bought salad dressings is their keepabiity. I don’t eat salads every day, so I like having a dressing in the fridge that won't go bad in a few days. Homemade dressing made with yogurt, buttermilk, fresh herbs, and fresh aromatics like onions and garlic need to be consumed within a few days. Even vinaigrette dressings. (That’s why when I make homemade dressings and I want to keep them for a couple of weeks, I use dried herbs and garlic.)

With that in mind, I’ve looked for low sodium commercially bottled salad dressings. I’ve tried several only to be repeatedly disappointed. My biggest complaint, with both regular or lower sodium dressings, is the consistency and texture. Way too many emulsifiers and thickeners (lowfat dressings are the worst). And each stabilizer adds a strange taste that must be masked by either sugar or salt. YUCK!
That’s why I was so happy to discover Tessemae salad dressings. This brand has several lower sodium options. As an added bonus, they’re all organic. Several also are dairy free, sugar free, vegan, gluten free and non GMO. My favorites so far are the Balsamic Vinaigrette (65 mg sodium/tbsp), Lemon Garlic (55 mg sodium/tbsp), and Honey Poppyseed (65 mg sodium/tbsp). I’ve found for a side salad, that 1 tablespoon works just fine. For a larger salad, I might use closer to 2 tablespoons. But even doubled, the sodium level is acceptable to me.

The balsamic is a basic vinaigrette featuring balsamic vinegar and can be used in salads or just drizzled on top of vegetables. The lemon garlic dressing is good all by itself and is also a perfect canvas for just about any seasoning additions you’d want. It doesn’t have any overpowering flavor notes, so it could be adjusted to all sorts of cuisines – Mexican, Asian, Italian, and more. I’ve added a spoonful of  salsa and a sprinkle of cilantro for a plain grilled chicken salad. A quick drizzle of soy sauce and sesame oil along with thinly sliced green onions creates an Asian-inspired salad. And, because of the lemon, it's great with a salad featuring any sort of fish, like tuna of salmon.

The honey poppyseed has the sweetness of typical coleslaw dressing. It’s great with cabbage or any salad that would be enhanced by a sweeter, creamier dressing. I also purchased some Creamy Caesar. At 170 mg sodium/2 tbsp, it’s a lot lower in sodium than other store-bought Caesar dressings. It’s got a nice peppery bite too.

Check out the website: Zesty Ranch & Cracked Pepper are both 65 mg sodium/tbsp, while Classic Italian is 70 mg sodium/tbsp. So Far, I've found Tessemae dressings locally at Safeway, Whole Foods, and Raley's. If you check out the website, it actually lists the stores for each separate salad dressing. Just click on the dressing you're interested in, and you'll get a page with the specific nutritional info and a listing of stores that carry that particular dressing.

Tessemae offers quality products with much lower sodium than most store bought salad dressings. They can be found in the refrigerated case of most grocery store produce sections.

Monday, July 3, 2017

365 (Whole Foods) Organic Applewood Smoked Turkey Breast Slices

Whole Foods Smoked Turkey Breast Slices

I know I’m late to the party, but I just discovered this product a few days ago, and what a find! 240 mg sodium for 2 oz or 4 slices. Wow! Compare those numbers to another easily available product such as Hillshire Farms Honey Roasted Turkey Breast at 410 mg sodium/2 oz serving. Applegate Organics/Naturals Smoked Turkey Breast is a lot better at 360 mg sodium/20 oz serving. But that’s still not as good as the 365 Applewood Smoked Turkey Slices.

Boar’s Head is a wonderful source for lower sodium deli style meats. It has a large selection of turkey breast products, including several smoked varieties. Their lower sodium Hickory Smoked Black Forest turkey breast is 390 mg sodium per 2 oz serving. Their Simplicity All Natural smoked turkey breast is only 250 mg sodium per 2 oz serving. Really great numbers! But there’s a problem. Not with the products but with availability. Boar’s Head makes the meats, but not every store carries all the varieties. In my local area, I’m only able to get low sodium plain roasted turkey breast. Don’t get me wrong – it’s a fine product. But it’s the smoky flavoring that I’m craving, and plain roasted turkey doesn’t satisfy that hankering.

I’m able to get packaged Applegate smoked turkey breast slices in several of my local supermarkets. It, too, is a fine product. My only complaint is that the smoke flavoring is very mild.

Only 240 mg sodium for a 2 oz serving (about 4 slices)

The 365 smoked turkey, however, has a more robust smoke flavoring that I really like. Its slices are also a bit thicker than most, making it easier to separate them. Also, 2 ounces adds up to four slices. Since the slices are a bit thicker, I’ve only used 2-3 slices per sandwich, lowering the sodium even more. Even with the reduced serving size, the smoky flavor still comes through.

So far I’ve used the 365 smoked turkey slices in cold sandwiches and salads. It’d also be good in scrambled eggs or omelets, grilled sandwiches, and any application where you’d normally use ham.

Smoked Turkey Sandwich with Summer Tomatoes and Lettuce

I only bought one package just to “test drive.” But next time I’m in Whole Foods, I plan to purchase at least two packages. I’m really happy to have made this discovery.