Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Chili Dogs

Chili Dogs Ready to Eat!
My husband and I have always loved chili dogs. Certainly not the healthiest things to eat, but they sure are tasty. Once we went low sodium, we pretty much gave up on them. But, as I’ve said before, “Alway Be Checking.” You just never know what you’re going to find.

The hardest part was finding hot dogs with low enough sodium content to use. That’s why I was so excited to discover Nature’s Rancher Uncured Pork & Beef hot dogs at Whole Foods. They’re only 250 mg sodium/link. That is really good for hot dogs! Once I had the hot dog problem taken care of, putting together lower sodium chili dogs was relatively easy.

(For a list of lower sodium hot dogs, click HERE)

I know finding ready-made low sodium hot dogs buns can be problematic. Some people really like King’s Hawaiian hot dog buns with only 130 mg sodium/bun, but they can be hard to find. Just remember, you don’t have to be tied to a traditional hot dog bun. I’ve used slices of homemade or store-bought low sodium bread for hot dogs. I just mist the bread lightly with water and microwave for about 5-8 seconds to soften it enough to wrap around a frankfurter. Other times, I’ve use low sodium homemade or store-bought flour tortillas. I’ve even used homemade hamburger buns, just cutting the hot dog lengthwise and flattening them a bit before putting into the bun. Of course, you can always make your own hot dog buns. Or you can make an open-face version using just half of a bun and eating it with a fork. And you can even forgo the buns altogether and top a hot dog with chili and all the fixings.

When it comes to the chili, I use my own hamburger/hot dog chili sauce topping. (Click HERE to read the recipe) I make up a pot full at a time. The chili sauce is all meat ‒ no beans, no chunky vegetables, no tomatoes ‒  and is made with all salt-free ingredients.

I’ve found that steaming or lightly simmering these lower sodium hot dogs produces the best texture. The links are kind of skinny, so broiling or grilling can dry them out. I’m not complaining, though. If the links were larger, they’d have more sodium.

Steaming - Almost Ready!
For me, the key to making really good chili dogs is to steam them a bit once they’re all put together. The hot frankfurter goes into a bun and is topped with NSA or low sodium mustard* (I always add a spoonful of low sodium sweet pickle relish* on mine), hot chili, a sprinkle of shredded cheese, and a handful of chopped onions. Then the whole thing is put into a shallow bowl or plate and microwaved for 8 - 12 seconds. When it comes out of the microwave, I cover it all with plastic wrap or a plastic microwave cover. (I’ll put a pot holder over the cover opening to keep the steam from escaping.) Alternately, you can wrap each individual chili dog in plastic wrap. But I find using a plate neater and easier. By the time I’m ready to serve up the hot dogs, they’ve been properly steamed.

Served with salt free french fries or potato chips, some NSA pickles, and you’ve got a great low sodium “fast food” treat.

*Low Sodium Chili Dog Condiments:

Westbrae No Salt Added Stoneground Mustard (Available at Amazon or Healthy Heart Market)

Boar’s Head Yellow Mustard (54% lower sodium – 25 mg sodium/tsp)

Monday, June 5, 2017

Hot Dogs

Or in the case of low sodium hot dogs, “Get ’em while they're available!

Lower sodium franks are out there, but they can be hard to come by. And, as with everything else low sodium, they come and go. A good example is Applegate Organic Uncured Beef Hot Dogs. Not that long ago, they were only 280 mg sodium per link and were available at Trader Joe’s and other stores. Then they changed their formulation and the hot dogs are now 500 mg sodium per link. A disappointment for many.

Something similar happened with Trader Joe’s Uncured Chicken Hot Dogs. They were 250 mg sodium per link but their current status is questionable. I haven’t seen them at any of my local TJ stores, and an online Fearless Flyer article dating back to 2012 states, “Fearlessly Archived—Still a fun read; price & availability may have changed.” Not very encouraging.

Low Sodium Hot Dogs with NSA Mustard
That said, there really are low sodium hot dogs available. Some are offered at nationwide grocery store chains. Some are sold regionally, and some are only available online. Sometimes they’re labelled specifically as a lower sodium product. Sometimes, the company just happens to produce a regular hot dog that isn’t loaded in sodium. Don’t be fooled by brands, though. Just because a specific brand produces one lower sodium hot dog, doesn’t means all its offerings will be lower in sodium. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way.

Below is a list of what I’ve found so far. It’s not exhaustive, by any means. Some  franks are a little higher in sodium content than others. Check out the accompanying links to get more information: nutritional labels, where they’re sold, how to order, etc. And always remember – availability and sodium content may change.

(This the hot dog I purchase at my closest Whole Foods. I don’t make the trek to Whole Foods often, so I buy two packages at a time, and then bundle up 4 links each for freezing. Each bundle is perfect for two days worth of hot dog lunches. 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.)

Coleman Beef Uncured Hot Dogs ‒ 260 mg sodium/link

Sam's Choice Organic Grassfed Uncured Beef Hot Dogs ‒ 250 mg sodium/link (available exclusively at Walmart)

Simple Truth Uncured Beef Hot Dogs ‒ 250 mg sodium/link (available exclusively at Kroger's)

The Buffalo Guys All Natural Buffalo Hot Dogs ‒ 160 mg sodium/link

If you’ve found a resource I haven’t listed, please share it. Your additional information could greatly benefit someone else. And, finally, if you have already tried one of the hot dogs listed, feel free to express your opinion and give us a review of the product.

One last note: Please, no lectures about how hot dogs are devoid of nutritional benefits. I’m not advocating them as an important part of a low sodium diet. They’re an occasional treat – no more and no less. Everyone is free to do want they want with hot dogs. Eat one every couple of months or never let one touch your lips.

As I’ve said before, everyone approaches going low sodium differently. It definitely is not a "one size fits all" proposition. You’re the only one who understands your likes and dislikes, your schedule, your cooking abilities, your finances, what’s available in grocery stores nearby, and what you’re willing to do in order to eat lower sodium. Everyone has different skills, tastes, and levels of motivation. What works for you may not work for others. You are the only one who can develop a lower sodium routine  and regimen that fits your unique personality. You can glean ideas and inspiration from a lot of sources, but everything you do needs to satisfy you and you alone. If hot dogs are out for you — Great! If you enjoy an occasional lower sodium hot dog — Great! After all, it's YOUR low sodium program.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Hot Dog/Hamburger/French Fry Chili Sauce

Homemade Lower Sodium Chili Dogs
You know what I’m talking about! That tasty sauce used on chili dogs et al. Not a lot of meat but with plenty of super thick gravy. It’s not the kind of chili you serve up in a bowl and eat by itself. It’s made to be a topping – for hot dogs, hamburgers, french fries, or nachos. Maybe even mixed with pasta for chili mac. Or how about spooned on top of a bed of polenta for a tamale inspired meal? Or taco-style salads? There’s always chili gravy on cornbread, spooned over a baked potato, or as an omelet filling. The possibilities are endless.

This sort of chili sauce is usually associated with fast food joints. And, if you’re on a low sodium diet, the sauce can be prohibitively salty. But there’s no reason why a low sodium version can’t be made at home. And then you can enjoy your own homemade fast-food type treats.

True confession time. I have always loved chili dogs and chili burgers. In fact, they run in my family. My uncle, Tom Koulax, started a famous Los Angeles area chain of restaurants that specializes in chili burgers and chili dogs. I grew up eating Original Tommy’s very tasty and very messy delights.

Nachos with Low Sodium Chili Sauce
 So, when it came to making a homemade version of chili sauce gravy, I looked for a clone of the Original Tommy’s recipe. I found a pretty good one from Todd Wilbur, the “Top Secret Recipes” guy.

The spices were fine, but I didn’t care for using full fat hamburger and incorporating the fat with 1½ cups of flour. I’m sure the end result is probably more like the real thing, but it wasn’t something I wanted to do. I tried lessening the fat content and flour amount by using Ultra Gel for part of the thickener. That worked fine, as did using all Ultra Gel when making it for gluten sensitive family members. But I wasn’t completely satisfied.

Thick & Tasty!
Then I remembered my mother telling me that her dad, my grandfather, used to thicken homemade chili and beans with crushed up crackers. I thought maybe that’d work with the chili sauce. But instead of crushing whole crackers, I decided to try matzo meal (finely crushed matzo crackers). I can get Manischewitz Matzo Meal at all my local grocery stores, and it’s got zero sodium. I used 1 tablespoon matzo meal for each cup of liquid, and iIt was perfect! I could cook the hamburger meat in the flavored liquid as long as necessary, until it was soft and tender. The matzo meal dissolved into the liquid, and with additional simmering, created a thick, spoonable sauce. I was done tinkering. Hello chili dogs, chili fries, and chili burgers!

(For a list of lower sodium hot dogs, click HERE.)

Hot Dog/Hamburger/French Fry Chili Sauce
Adapted from Todd Wilbur

1 lb lean ground beef
2-3 C NSA beef broth, water, or combination of both*
3 T NSA chili powder (I use Penzeys, the Spice House, or Gebhardt)
1-2 T white vinegar
2 tsp dried minced onion
1 tsp  sugar
1 tsp  paprika
½ tsp  garlic powder
2 tsp  ground cumin
2-3 T NSA matzo meal (1 T per cup of liquid)*
Brown meat in large heavy dutch oven. Crumble meat into very small bits. Do not leave any big chunks.

Add broth/water and seasonings; stir well. Simmer at least 30 minutes or more to tenderize and soften meat.
Add matzo meal and stir well. Simmer on low heat for at least 20 minutes until matzo meal has dissolved into sauce. Stir frequently. Add broth/water as needed to make a thick gravy. (Remember, hot dog/hamburger/french fry chili sauce is not supposed to be meaty.)

*Note: The more liquid you use, the closer you’ll get to the kind of chili sauce served at fast food joints. Their chili sauce gravy is never meaty or chunky.

Optional: If desired, after cooking, whizz mixture a bit with a stick blender for a smoother consistency.
For more of a Coney style sauce:
Use the larger amount of vinegar (2 T)
Add 2 T low sodium yellow mustard
Use 1 (8 oz.) can tomato sauce or 1 C NSA ketchup for part of liquid
Add ½ - 1 tsp celery seed