Friday, December 2, 2016

Sour Cream Noodle Bake

Pioneer Woman's Sour Cream Noodle Bake

A couple of months ago I started stocking my freezer with things I could pull out for easy meals. When you’re following a low sodium diet, finding quick meals can be a challenge. Grabbing something from the grocery deli is out. Same with picking up a pizza. What’s the answer? Having a well stocked freezer and pantry.

I’ve always frozen dishes that made a lot of servings  ‒ like soups, stews, pulled pork, etc. And I’d freeze leftovers from 9 x 13 casseroles. But all the casserole freezing was after-the-fact. It only happened when I realized we weren’t eating something fast enough, and I didn’t want it to go bad.

This time around, I wanted to try out some casserole recipes specifically for freezing. So I went searching online and discovered Pioneer Woman’s Sour Cream Noodle Bake. It immediately caught my interest because it uses cottage cheese, and I often have a tub of NSA cottage cheese in my fridge. Same with sour cream. So I gave the recipe a whirl and modified it for low sodium. Instead of using a 9 x 13 pan, I made two 8 x 8 casseroles. One for immediate consumption and one for freezing.

Freshly Baked 8 x 8 Pan
I used disposable foil casserole pans, following the general directions for assembling the casserole, but dividing everything to accommodate two pans. We got 4 servings from each 8 x 8 casserole. Last week (2 months later) we finally got around to eating the frozen casserole, and it was just as tasty as the freshly made one. So this recipe was a winner. The only changes I made were to use all low sodium/NSA products, add some extra seasoning, and save the grated cheese for the top. Also, I used 1 cup grated cheese for each casserole.

Sour Cream Noodle Bake

1¼ lbs ground beef, chicken, turkey, or pork
One 15-oz can NSA tomato sauce (or two 8-oz cans)
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tbsp low sodium Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp dried savory (or favorite dried herb/NSA herb blend)
1 - 2 cloves minced garlic
8 oz egg noodles (I used bow ties)
½ cup sour cream
1¼ cups NSA cottage cheese
Pinch red pepper flakes (optional)
½ cup sliced green onions (or less to taste)
1 cup grated sharp Cheddar (I used ½ cup cheddar and ½ cup Swiss; I also sprinkled 1 cup cheese on each 8 x 8 casserole)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Brown the ground meat in a large skillet. Drain the fat, and then add the NSA tomato sauce, black pepper, low sodium Worcestershire sauce, dried savory, and minced garlic. Stir, and then simmer while you prepare the other ingredients.

Cook the egg noodles until al dente. Drain and set aside.

In a medium bowl, combine the sour cream and NSA cottage cheese. Add a pinch of red pepper flakes, if desired. Add the sour cream mixture and green onions to the noodles and stir.

To assemble, add half of the noodles to a baking dish. Top with half the meat mixture, and then sprinkle on half the grated cheese (I saved all the cheese for the topping). Repeat with noodles, meat and then a final layer of cheese. Bake until all the cheese is melted, about 20 minutes. (I sprinkled all the grated cheese on top.) Do not over-bake.

To freeze: Assemble the Sour Cream Noodle Bake in a disposable aluminum oven-proof pan and seal the top of the container with the lid or heavy foil. Seal the edges to prevent freezer burn and place in the freezer. (I also covered the casserole with a couple layers of plastic wrap.)

To cook from frozen: Place directly in a 375-degree F oven and bake, covered, for 35 - 45 minutes. Remove the lid and bake until cheese has melted and casserole is heated through, about 10 - 15 minutes more.

Note: Because I was using foil pans, I baked the casseroles on cookie sheets to provide stability.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Condensed Cream of Mushroom Soup Clone

Homemade Low Sodium Cream of Mushroom Soup
Condensed Cream of Mushroom Soup is a product that a lot of people miss when eating low sodium. It’s understandable. The soup is used in so many recipes, especially casseroles. It also makes a quick and easy gravy for chicken and pork. So, what’s the problem? Unfortunately, it’s packed with sodium. There are four (4) versions of the soup available for purchase. Here’s the breakdown:

Each can holds 10½ ounces and about 2½ servings.

Regular Condensed: 870 mg sodium/.5 cup (contains MSG) = 2,175 mg sodium/can
25% Less Sodium: 650 mg sodium/.5 cup (contains MSG) = 1,625 mg sodium/can
Healthy Request: 410 mg sodium/.5 cup (contains potassium chloride) = 1,025 sodium/can
Ready to Serve Low Sodium: 45 mg sodium/can (watery and bland ‒ needs a lot of doctoring)

Ingredients: Water, Mushrooms, Vegetable Oil, Modified Food Starch, Wheat Flour, Contains Less Than 2% Of: Salt, Cream (Milk), Dehydrated Whey, Soy Protein Concentrate, Monosodium Glutamate, Yeast Extract, Flavoring, Dehydrated Garlic.

Recently a pal from the “Shakin’ the Salt” Facebook Group linked to the Salad-in-a-Jar recipe for homemade COM soup. I wanted to give it a try.  But before I did, I studied other copycat recipes and looked more closely at the ingredient list on the Campbell's label. Because milk/cream was down near the end of the ingredient list, I decided to use only 1/2 cup evaporated milk and 1/2 NSA veggie broth instead of all milk. To boost the umami flavor contributed by ingredients I wasn’t going to use, I added a teaspoon of low sodium soy sauce.  

I also used Ultra Gel as a thickener instead of cornstarch. It's one of my favorite products ‒ a GF modified starch that thickens both cold and hot liquids directly (no slurry or roux needed) and instantly. Plus it doesn't break down with reheating, refrigeration, or freezing.

For super duper convenience, I used Giorgio NSA canned mushrooms from Healthy Heart Market. Finally, I used my hand-held blender stick.
Hand-Held Blender Stick
It all came together easily and quickly, and that was my goal. I figured the best thing about cream of mushroom soup was its convenience. It’s thick, creamy, and, in most cases, avoids the need to make a from-scratch bechamel. (Yes, I know that sauteing fresh mushrooms in butter would boost flavor, but I was hoping to match the convenience and speed of the canned product.)

Honestly, I was quite pleased with the end result. (I used it last night in “creamed” peas.) I really like that it can be made with items I usually keep in my pantry. That makes it especially quick and easy.

The sodium content for the entire recipe came in under 300 mg. I know that the “Ready-to-Serve” COM soup is lower, but it’s so thin, watery, and tasteless, that it requires a lot of doctoring. As far as I’m concerned, it’s not worth fiddling with. This clone, however, is actually easier to prepare and the end result is thick, creamy, mushroomy in flavor, and super low in sodium. Here's my modified recipe:

Condensed Cream of Mushroom Soup Clone

¼ - ½ tsp onion powder
⅛ tsp garlic powder
Pinch sugar
1 tsp low sodium soy sauce (I use Chinatown)
2 tbsp cornstarch (I used Ultra Gel)
1 tbsp vegetable oil
Couple grinds white pepper
½ cup NSA broth (vegetable, chicken, beef)
½ cup evaporated milk (regular or 2%)
1 small can NSA mushrooms, drained (or 3/4 cup fresh mushrooms, sliced)

Put all ingredients except the mushrooms in a blender/food processor and pulse until smooth. Add mushrooms and pulse until mushrooms are coarsely chopped.

Pour into a 2 qt microwaveable bowl. Cook on HIGH for 3 minutes, whisking well after 2 minutes and again at the end of cooking time. If not thick enough, add 30 seconds and whisk again. (Because I used Ultra Gel, it thickened almost immediately. So I only cooked it for 1½ -2 minutes.)

Sodium Content: Amounts are approximate, numbers dependent on specific products used.
Evaporated Milk: 140 mg sodium
Low Sodium Vegetable Broth: 68 mg sodium
Low Sodium Soy Sauce: 48 mg sodium
NSA Mushrooms: 40 mg sodium
TOTAL: 296 mg sodium/recipe

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Scottish Oat Scones

Maple Pecan Oatmeal Scones

I made some maple/pecan/oatmeal scones for my husband's breakfast. He gets up about 2 hours earlier than I do, so I like to have an assortment of things in the freezer for him.  I used my favorite scone recipe from Quaker Oats.

I like that particular recipe for several reasons. For one thing, it contains old fashioned rolled oats. So the scones make a very substantial breakfast, a good way to start the day. Also, they’re not too sweet. Neither one of us likes overly sweet stuff, so I omit the cinnamon sugar topping and don’t put on a glaze. Finally, they’re leavened with baking powder. I use Hain Featherweight sodium-free baking powder. I’ve been using it for over 10 years and have found that it works just as well as regular baking powder. (I avoid recipes that call for more than ½ teaspoon to 1 teaspoon of baking soda. When I first started baking low sodium, I tried sodium-free baking soda but was not pleased with the taste and texture of the baked goods. So I quickly reverted back to using regular baking soda, when necessary.)

The oatmeal scones are neutral in flavor, so they lend themselves to any number of variations. Add some vanilla, or orange peel, or almond extract. Maybe maple flavoring. Use brown sugar or maple sugar instead of white. How about some cinnamon or cardamom? Add nuts instead of dried fruit. Or change the dried fruit every time you make them. Celebrate Autumn and use apple pie or pumpkin pie spice. Add some finely chopped crystallized ginger. Use your imagination because the sky’s the limit!

I usually make the scones with either dried tart cherries or Craisins. Sometimes I’ll add orange peel (dried or fresh) and a bit of orange oil. This time, however, I was hankering for maple and pecans. So I added a ½ tsp of maple extract, ½ cup of toasted chopped pecans, and brown sugar. Delicious!

Tart Cherry & Orange Oatmeal Scones

Scottish Oat Scones

1½ Cups all-purpose flour (I use 1 cup AP flour & ½ cup whole wheat pastry flour)
1 Cup oatmeal (quick or old fashioned, uncooked)
¼ Cup granulated sugar
1 Tablespoon Baking Powder (I use Featherweight)
8 Tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into pieces
½ Cup currants, diced dried mixed fruit, dried cranberries, or dried blueberries
⅓ Cup milk
1 Egg, lightly beaten

Topping (Optional):
1 Tablespoon granulated sugar
⅛ Teaspoon ground cinnamon

Heat oven to 400°F. Lightly grease cookie sheet or cover with parchment paper. In large bowl, combine flour, oats, ¼  cup sugar, and baking powder; mix well. Cut in butter with pastry blender or two knives until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in currants. In small bowl, combine milk and egg; blend well. Add to dry ingredients all at once; stir with fork just until dry ingredients are moistened. (Do not overmix.) Turn dough out onto lightly floured surface; knead gently 8 to 10 times. Roll or pat dough into 7 - 8 inch circle about ½ inch thick. Sprinkle with combined remaining 1 tablespoon sugar and cinnamon. Cut into 8 wedges; place on prepared cookie sheet. Bake 12 to 15 minutes or until light golden brown. Serve warm.

I combine the flour, sugar, and baking powder in my food professor. I cut the butter in cubes and also process them until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs ‒ with some larger chunks of butter still visible. Then I mix the oats and flour crumbs in a large bowl and add the liquid ingredients. I try to avoid over mixing, so I don’t really knead the dough other than to combine ingredients. If the mixture seems too dry, I’ll spritz with water from a spray bottle.

I pat the dough into a 7 or 8 inch circle and cut into 8 wedges. I place the pieces on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and put them uncovered in the freezer for 20 - 30 minutes. King Arthur Flour recommends freezing scones and biscuits before baking. They claim that “…30 minutes in the freezer relaxes the gluten in the flour, which makes the scones more tender and allows them to rise higher. It also chills the fat, which will make the scones a bit flakier.” While the scones are chilling, I preheat the oven. I’ve been doing the freezing step regularly for quite a while now, and I think it makes a difference. I start with chilled butter and cold liquid ingredients, but sometimes just combining the ingredients warms the dough and overworks the gluten. Also, sometimes I’m interrupted and the ingredients lose their chill.

Usually I brush the scones with heavy cream. I bake for 12 minutes on the middle rack, and then 2 - 3 minutes directly on my oven stone (I dislike undercooked scone, muffin, bread, cookie, pie bottoms).