Friday, May 12, 2017

Biscuits & Sausage Gravy

Biscuits and Sausage Gravy
with Fried Egg on Top
Biscuits and gravy – The all American country breakfast! Crispy biscuits, split to expose their flaky interiors, and then smothered in creamy gravy full of tasty sausage bits. What could be better?

Unfortunately for those on low-so diets, it’s usually a sodium disaster. From the sausage, to the gravy, to the biscuits – there’s no way of getting around it –  a biscuits and gravy breakfast can be prohibitively high in sodium.

But not if you make it yourself. In fact, it’s rather to easy to produce a low sodium version. It just takes a little more time and planning.

First, the sausage.  Everything depends on having flavorful sausage. Start with unseasoned ground pork, turkey, or chicken. But be sure to avoid brined or enhanced meat. Most grocery stores now carry plain, unseasoned ground pork. It’s usually very lean, so you’ll need to add some oil when you brown it. I’m lucky enough to have access to a butcher shop that sells old-fashioned ground pork in one pound packages. Also, my favorite supermarket will grind pork shoulder for me. That’s especially nice when there’s a sale. The downside is that I have to package it up in 1 pound portions myself.

Making Homemade Breakfast Sausage
Lately I’ve been using salt-free Spicely Organic Breakfast Sausage Seasoning. It’s a great product but not available everywhere. Before Spicely, I seasoned ground pork myself. I cobbled together about 2-3 breakfast sausage recipes to create a mixture I’m happy with.
Spicely Salt-Free Breakfast Sausage Seasoning
For the gravy, I use NSA chicken broth for most of the liquid and about ¼ cup cream to finish it off. I like the taste and texture better than using all milk. Another option is using half broth and half milk. I also like to add some finely chopped onion while the sausage is browning. I think it contributes a nice flavor. I leave the sausage chunks fairly large, but that’s just a personal preference. Most of the time, the sausage crumbles in cream gravy are quite small.

Finally, for the biscuits, I use Ann’s recipe from her blog Thibeault’s Table. I like her recipe because it uses milk rather than buttermilk, so I don’t have to worry about dealing with baking soda. I know I could use Ener-G sodium-free baking soda, but I’ve had inconsistent results with it. Not so with Featherweight sodium-free baking powder. It works perfectly for me and no doubling is required. I also use whole wheat pastry flour for half of the flour called for.

When I made biscuits and sausage gravy a few days ago, I shaped the biscuits like scones. I patted the dough into a 6 inch circle and then cut into 8 wedges. It was super easy and a whole lot easier than cutting out rounds of dough.

Put it all together – sausage, gravy, and biscuits – and you’ve got a great tasting breakfast, lunch, or dinner. And low sodium, to boot!
Frying Up Homemade Sausage Crumbles
Breakfast Sausage

  • 1 lb ground pork, turkey, or chicken
  • ¼ tsp ground black pepper
  • ¼ tsp dried sage, crushed
  • ¼ dried tsp dried thyme, crushed
  • ¼ tsp dried rosemary, crushed
  • ⅛  - ¼ tsp coriander
  • ⅛  - ¼ tsp nutmeg
  • 1 - 2 tsp brown sugar
  • ⅛  - ¼ tsp cayenne pepper (optional or to taste)
  • ⅛  - ¼ tsp red pepper flakes (optional or to taste)

Thoroughly combine seasonings with ground meat. (I wear vinyl gloves and mix by hand.) Refrigerate meat mixture at least ½ hour to give flavors an opportunity to meld. (Longer is even better.)

Brown meat in a skillet, breaking up chunks to desired size. (Add 1-2 tablespoons oil to skillet if using lean meat.)

Sausage Gravy
Serves 6-8

1 lb homemade low sodium breakfast sausage
½ onion, finely chopped (optional)
4 tbsp flour
¼ tsp pepper
¼ tsp dried thyme, crushed
⅛ tsp dried sage, crushed
2 - 2½ cups milk (or use part water, NSA chicken broth, or part cream)

In a 12-inch skillet, break up and brown sausage and onion, if using, over medium-high heat until thoroughly cooked. Drain fat, if desired.

Sprinkle flour over sausage mixture. Stirring constantly, add pepper, thyme, and sage. Cook for 2-3 minutes. Whisk constantly and slowly add the liquid(s).

Keep whisking while mixture comes to a full boil. Turn heat down and simmer for about 10 minutes to meld flavors and until thickened. Add additional water or broth until you reach desired consistency. Stir and ladle over warm biscuits.
Biscuits Cut into Scone Shapes
Adapted from Thibeault’s Table
(Ann's blog post includes helpful pictures of how she forms biscuits for baking.)

2 cups of flour (I use half AP and half WW pastry)
1 Tablespoon of low sodium baking powder (I use Hain Featherweight)
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 cup of milk or buttermilk
Note: If using buttermilk, add 1/2 teaspoon low sodium baking soda
Optional: Add a little sugar if you prefer slightly sweet rather than savory

Mix the flour with the baking powder. Cut in butter until it resembles coarse meal. (An easy way to cut the butter into the flour is to use a box grater. The large side of the grater makes the perfect size pieces of butter.) Stir milk into flour mixture. Mix quickly with fork just until dough starts to come together. Tip out onto lightly floured surface. (will look shaggy)   Using hands, gently pat mixture to flatten. Fold dough like an envelope. Turn and fold again.  Do this at least three to four times.  The dough is now ready to pat out. This whole step should only take 30 to 45 seconds.   Do not over-handle.  (Folding forms layers which makes for a very flaky biscuit).

Pat out to about 1/2 to 3/4 inch thick on a lightly floured board. Cut with biscuit cutters and place on a parchment paper lined cookie sheet.  Using your thumb push a little dent into the middle of the biscuit. This helps the biscuit rise straight and prevents it from tipping over as it rises. Brush biscuits with a little milk or cream and bake for approximately 12 to 15 minutes at 450°F. For extra flavor and to keep the tops soft, dip the biscuits, top side down into melted butter after baking.

Note: Consider adding your favorite dried or fresh herbs or spices to the biscuit dough. Parsley, thyme, rosemary, chives, and freshly ground black pepper all contribute extra flavor.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Hormel No Salt Added Canned Chicken Breast

NSA Canned Chicken Breast
I read about this product on a couple of low sodium Facebook groups and was curious. I managed to find it at my local Safeway, in the section with canned tuna. So I bought a couple of cans just to experiment with. I wanted to see if it would be worth keeping a few cans on hand “just in case.”

Only 80 mg sodium per 2 oz serving
The first thing I made was chicken salad. Nothing really special. Just the drained chicken chunks mixed with mayo, freeze-dried chives, celery seed, and some NSA curry powder. I added a bit of broth from the can, so I didn’t need to overdo the mayonnaise. And I added a tablespoon of whipped cream cheese to give a creamier texture. Served with super low sodium whole wheat matzos, it was a pretty easy and good tasting lunch. So, the next time I was at Safeway, I bought a few more cans.

Chicken Salad Spread with WW Matzos
It didn’t take long before I had one of those “just in case” days. I had been busy with all kinds of errands and didn’t plan ahead for dinner. Then, all of a sudden, I realized it was 5:00 p.m. What to do? I didn’t have enough time to thaw anything from the freezer, and I didn’t have the energy to go shopping. Then I remembered I had canned chicken, my homemade “Stove Top” stuffing, and NSA chicken broth in the pantry. A perfect solution! Chicken in gravy served over stuffing. So that’s what I made. It all came together quickly and produced a tasty meal.

Chicken in Gravy with Homemade Stuffing
What’s the verdict? Well, let me be frank. The canned chicken is not as good home cooked real chicken breasts. That’s why I like to roast or poach several at a time and freeze for later. That said, it’s fine for those times when you need some extra help. Those days happen, even to the best of us. I like the idea of being able to quickly pull low sodium meals from my pantry, and the canned chicken will be a welcome addition.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Shopping at Whole Foods: Part II

From Whole Foods - Hot Dogs, Cream Cheese, & Roast Chicken

It was time to make another trek down the hill to shop at Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods. I picked up the usual culprits at both stores. But, I got a few things at Whole Foods that were relatively new finds.
Nancy's Cultured Cream Cheese
Only 35 mg Sodium per 2 Tablespoons

The first was Nancy’s Cultured Cream Cheese. I discovered it at my local grocery store several years ago and even wrote about it (Click HERE). But, as often happens, they stopped carrying it. “Out of sight; out of mind.” I forgot about it until I was in Whole Foods a couple of days ago and re-discovered it. Only 35 mg sodium for 2 tablespoons. I’m happy to have a new source for this fine product. I'll stock up whenever I shop at WF.

Nature's Rancher Uncured Pork & Beef Hot Dogs
250 mg Sodium for Each Link

I also came home with two packages of Nature’s Rancher Uncured Pork and Beef Hot Dogs. As an experiment, the last time I made the TJ/WF trip, I got a package of Applegate Organic Uncured Beef Hot Dogs (280 mg sodium per link) at TJ and a package of Nature’s Rancher Uncured Pork and Beef Hot Dogs (250 mg sodium per link) at Whole Foods. My husband and I liked both brands. But since that shopping trip, Applegate has changed their formulations and their hot dogs are now 500 mg sodium per link. Such a disappointment! I was happy to find that the Nature’s Rancher links hadn’t changed and are still 250 mg sodium per link, so I got a couple of packages. When I got home, I packaged them up into bundles of 4 links each for freezing. Each bundle is perfect for two days worth of hot dog lunches. Another product to stock up on when I shop at WF.

According to its website, Nature’s Rancher products are exclusive to Whole Foods. However, not all WF stores carry all Nature’s Rancher products. The website advises checking with your local WF market’s meat manager for availability.
Whole Foods "Perfectly Plain" Unsalted Roast Chicken

Finally, I bought a Whole Foods hot, ready-to-eat roast chicken — Perfectly Plain. The chickens are supposed to be free from any salted injections, brines, or seasonings. I was shopping around noon, so by the time I got to the hot food section, most of the seasoned chickens were gone. Not a problem for me, though. I picked up a Perfectly Plain chicken, paid for all my purchases, and headed out to the car.

Even though the chickens were supposed to be salt free, I wanted to make sure for myself. So, once in the car, I opened the package, and tore off a leg. One bite confirmed that the chicken, was, indeed, salt free, and I drove straight home. No need to worry about that day’s lunch.

WF "Perfectly Plain" Unsalted Roast Chicken

Although the roast chicken was fairly small in comparison to the 4-5 pound birds I can get at the grocery store, we didn’t eat all of it in one sitting. The next day, I fixed chicken salad with some leftover breast meat. Plus, I saved the all the bones and skin, combined them with some chicken backs languishing in my freezer, and made broth in my electric pressure cooker. So, I sort of got my money’s worth.

The judgment: The WF salt-free roast chicken tastes fine. However, my husband said he preferred my home-cooked roast chicken. Me too. After all, I season our roast chicken with various herbs and spices. Also, a WF bird is quite expensive. Stands to reason – It’s organic and the work is done for you. I can find salt free Foster Farms whole chickens at all my local grocery stores, and they’re often on sale for 79¢ - 99¢ a pound.

Would I buy one again? Probably only if I found myself in a similar situation –— It’s mealtime, I need to get home, and I don’t want to chance anything from the WF deli/salad bar section or stop at a restaurant on the way home.

For more good products from Whole Foods, click HERE.