Thursday, August 7, 2014

Homemade Baking Mix (Bisquick)

Impossibly Easy Pies, Vegetable Fritters, & Fried Green Tomatoes

Sometimes convenience makes all the difference in the world. I always liked having a ready-to-use baking mix in the pantry, especially during the summer. It’s a major ingredient in my favorite zucchini pancake recipe. And although “Impossible” pies don’t really make a crust, they’re a good vehicle for summer vegetables. But most grocery store baking mixes are too high in sodium to actually use.

I thought back to my early years of marriage and motherhood and remembered that I made a whole wheat baking mix with oil. So I figured I should try it once again. But this time using sodium free baking powder and not adding any salt. I used a couple of recipes I found at different sites but finally settled on the one from King Arthur Flour. I’ve made it several times now and am quite happy with it.

Usually, I halve the recipe, just because I don’t use it that quickly. I also use half whole wheat and half all purpose flour. Actually part white whole wheat and part whole wheat pastry flour. Some recipes call for oil and other use butter. I’ve done both but now use Spectrum Organic non-hydrogenated shortening.

So what do I use it for? Well, zucchini or summer squash patties. My absolute favorite way to eat summer squash. Zucchini Impossibly Easy Pie and Spinach Impossibly Easy Pie. Corn fritters. Dredging fried foods. Quick and easy Banana Bread. I even made peanut butter cookies. Basically, I just look up Bisquick recipes and substitute my homemade baking mix.

Here’s the full King Arthur Flour recipe:

9 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
5 tablespoons baking powder
1 tablespoon salt
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 cup vegetable shortening

Here’s the halved recipe that I use:

4 1/2 Cups flour (I use 2 Cups AP, 1 cup white whole wheat, and 1 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry)
2 1/2 tablespoons baking powder (I use Hain’s Featherweight Sodium Free baking powder)
1/8 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup vegetable shortening (I use Spectrum Organic Shortening)
(For a low sodium baking mix, use no more than 1/2 teaspoon salt or omit altogether)

Because I’m making only half a recipe, I mix it all up in my food processor. Some use their hand or stand mixers. And because of the whole wheat, I store the mixture in my refrigerator. I keep it in a plastic container with a tight fitting lid.

The King Arthur recipe includes directions for biscuits, dumplings, scones, muffins, coffee cake, pancakes, and waffles. It also has variations that include other whole grain flours and even whole grain flakes.

I’m really glad I started making this again. I have convenience but without the sodium content. And it’s 50% whole wheat flour too.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Tortellini Soup

Cheese-Filled Tortelllini with Vegetables

I really like tortellini – pasta pillows filled with cheese, meat, or vegetables. Unfortunately, they usually don’t make appearances at the low sodium table. That’s because most of the time, they’re smothered with salty sausage-flavored meat sauce and topped with copious mounds of cheese. But when used in a flavorful soup, redolent with onion, garlic, vegetables, and lots of Italian herbs, you get a similar flavor but without all the sodium. Plus the soup is super easy to put together quickly.

I encountered this soup a few months ago at a local diner and wondered if I could make a low sodium version suitable for my husband. So the next time I went shopping, I spent time in the freezer section checking all the frozen tortellini. I was pretty happy when I found Armanino brand cheese tortellini. The label on the package said a serving size of 25 tortellini was 105 mg sodium. (Note: Some websites show 230 mg sodium per serving. I can’t explain the difference between the package label and the website information.)

I assumed that I wouldn’t be able to pack 25 tortellini into one bowl of soup and figured the final serving would be closer to 10-12 tortellini. So I bought a package and headed home to make soup.

It couldn’t have been easier. I used one carton of Kitchen Basics unsalted chicken stock and a can of no-salt-added petite diced tomatoes. To the pot I added one finely chopped onion, a couple of minced garlic cloves, a bay leaf, two peeled and sliced carrots, two sliced celery stalks, a tablespoon of salt-free Italian herb blend seasoning, and a couple grinds of black pepper. I simmered the vegetables in the broth until just tender. Then I added 20 – 24 tortellini. Once the tortellini was cooked through, I served the soup with some homemade low sodium bread. The soup was everything I had imagined – flavorful with enough chewy and cheesy tortellini to satisfy. As an added bonus it was unbelievably easy to prepare.

I’ve made it several times since that first experiment adding other vegetable with good results – coarsely chopped cabbage, sliced mushrooms, sliced leeks, frozen Italian green beans, chopped zucchini, and chopped fresh basil. (My favorite additions are leeks and fresh/frozen basil leaves.) However, I only use one or two additional veggies. I don’t want to distract from the brothy goodness. And when I have the time, I usually lightly sauté the onion and garlic. If I use extra vegetables, I sometimes use less than one serving’s worth of tortellini. That means even less sodium per bowlful.

It’s now my go-to quick meal when I don’t have anything planned, thawed, or am feeling under-the-weather. I make sure I always have a carton of chicken stock, a can of diced tomatoes, and a package of frozen tortellini ready for a last-minute yet satisfying meal. Leftovers are good the next day as part of lunch, and the recipe can easily be doubled.

Here’s the recipe, if you can call it that. It’s more a method rather than an exacting recipe. Feel free to add vegetables you enjoy. And good luck finding a fairly low sodium tortellini product in your grocery store.

Low Sodium Tortellini Soup
(Serves 2 with leftovers)

32 oz. no-salt-added chicken stock
1 14-1/2 oz. can diced/petite diced no-salt-added tomatoes
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 onion chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely minced
1-2 carrots, peeled and sliced or chunked
1-2 celery stalks, sliced or chunked
1 bay leaf
2 tsp. or more Italian herb blend (no-salt-added)
Freshly ground black pepper
1 package frozen cheese toretellini

Chopped fresh herbs such as basil, oregano, thyme, parsley
Additional vegetables such as coarsely chopped cabbage, thinly sliced mushrooms, thinly sliced leeks, frozen Italian green beans, and chopped zucchini (use only 1 or 2 additional vegetables)

If desired, sauté onion in olive oil until translucent. Add garlic and continue sautéing for another minute or two.

Add broth and tomatoes, bringing to a simmer. Add the vegetables and herbs; simmer until vegetables are just tender.

Add the number of frozen tortellini for one serving or less. Bring soup to a boil; lower heat; and simmer until tortellini is completely cooked.

Serve with an additional dusting of freshly ground pepper, a sprinkle of chopped fresh herbs, and a swirl of regular of flavored olive oil.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Laura’s Lean Uncured Beef Pastrami

I was checking out the deli/cheese section of a local grocery store, when my eye spied some new products from Laura’s Lean Beef. I’d never heard of the brand before and was curious. I noticed, in particular, that there were packages of uncured pastrami and corned beef. I’ve found that sometimes uncured deli meats are a little lower in sodium than cured products, so I gave them a closer look. I singled out the package of pastrami and read its vital statistics: Serving size = 2 oz. and sodium/serving = 280 mg. My initial reaction was, “Whoa! That’s not too bad. Not for pastrami.”

Here's what the package says:
Laura’s Lean Uncured Beef Pastrami
All Natural – Gluten Free – No Nitrates/Nitrites – No Carrageenan
Made with beef raised without added hormones or antibiotics and on a vegetarian diet
Certified by the American Heart Association

But then I thought, I’m not remembering my facts correctly. I’d better compare this to another low sodium brand of deli meat. I picked up a nearby package of Hillshire Farm lower sodium smoked ham. It had the same serving size, 2 oz. But the sodium was 450 mg./serving. Same with the Hillshire Farm lower sodium honey ham. The lower sodium honey roasted turkey was 410 mg./2 oz. serving.

I know that Sara Lee has some good low sodium deli products, as does Boar’s Head. But I have some difficulty finding those products in my local stores. And, anyhow, this was pastrami. My husband’s favorite!

I tossed a package of the pastrami and a package of the corned beef into my cart and finished my shopping. When I got home, we had pastrami sandwiches for lunch. I used my own homemade low sodium focaccia and Westbrae Natural No-Salt-Added Stoneground Mustard.

These deli meats are lower sodium foods, not sodium-free products. So adhering to the serving size is important. 2 ounces. That’s it. You will not end up with a deli style sandwich – 3 inches of meat piled onto a giant roll. If you want a thicker sandwich, you have basically two options: Option 1 – add slices of tomato & onions, some lettuce, and even a sliced no-sodium pickle from Healthy Heart Market. Option 2 – make just half a sandwich. You’ll get more of that “piled on goodness” but with an overall smaller sandwich.

Laura’s Lean Corned beef is higher in sodium (330 mg sodium/serving size), so as long as the pastrami is available, that’s what I’ll be buying. Like many other lower sodium products, it’s not for everyday consumption. But it’s great to know that we can have a pastrami sandwich occasionally, and it won’t throw our low sodium regimen out of kilter.