Sunday, January 29, 2012

Spicy Asian Slaw

This recipe was something I threw together to use some random odds and ends from the fridge. It was good enough to be my new recipe of the week. We'll definitely make this again. Super fast and easy! If you don't have all the ingredients, this recipe is flexible enough to make substitutions with similar foods. I chose this particular mix partly because I had the onion, jalapeno and cilantro left over from a burrito meal, and the cabbage was left over from another recipe. The only thing I had to buy was the cucumber.

Spicy Asian Slaw (serves 4)

2 T rice vinegar
2 T vegetable oil
1 T sesame oil
1 t low sodium soy sauce
1 t sugar
freshly ground pepper
2 c. shredded cabbage
1 cucumber, peeled, quarted lengthwise, seeded and chopped into 1/4" slices
2 T chopped onion
1 fresh jalapeno, seeded and chopped fine
2 T fresh cilantro, chopped
1 T sesame seeds, toasted

Whisk first six ingredients together in a bowl until well blended. Fold in remaining ingredients, stir to combine with liquid sauce, then refrigerate for about an hour prior to serving.

40 mg sodium per serving (or omit the soy sauce to remove all but trace amounts of sodium)

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Spicy Shrimp and Peppers with Orzo

A recipe conversion. Serves 4.

This was one of my first attempts at converting a former favorite recipe to low salt back in June, and I really made a mess of it. My first try was way too spicy, with an amateur idea to have heat replace the salt. It didn't work. The dish just tasted hot as hell, with no other discernible flavor to redeem it, and we couldn't even taste the shrimp. And it still tasted like it needed salt. Total fail!

This version was savory, shrimpy tasting, not overly spicy, and best of all did not seem lacking in salt (at least not to my altered taste buds). If you are not on a sodium restriction, this would be great as is but with some salt shaken onto your plate just before you eat it. That was all Marty needed to enjoy his portion and just about lick his plate clean. I was OK with some freshly ground pepper and Mrs. Dash lemon pepper seasoning on my plate.


8 oz orzo, cooked and drained (we cooked ours without salt in Wyler's no sodium chicken flavored instant broth for added flavor) - this can be cooked concurrently with the shrimp dish and will be ready together.
4-5 cloves garlic, minced
3 T white wine
2 T low sodium organic chicken broth
4 T olive oil
1/4 t salt
1 t crushed red pepper flakes
1 lb shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 red, orange, or yellow bell pepper, cut into 1/2" squares
1 vidalia onion, diced
1 t cornstarch
1 lemon, cut in half


1. Combine garlic, wine, broth, 3 T olive oil, salt and red pepper flakes in a medium bowl and blend with a whisk. Add shrimp and toss to coat. Set aside to marinate at least five minutes.

2. Pour 1 T olive oil into a skillet and heat over medium high flame. Add onion and cook ~2 minutes until translucent. Add peppers and cook 1-2 minutes more, stirring often.

3. Spoon out about 2 T of the liquid marinade and mix with cornstarch in small bowl, set aside. Add the shrimp and remaining marinade to the pan. Cook shrimp, covered, stirring about every minute or so, until opaque pink through and curled, about 2-3 minutes.

4. Uncover and add reserved liquid and cornstarch mixture. Stir to combine. Cook about 1 more minute uncovered, stirring constantly until sauce thickens. Turn off heat. Squeeze in the juice from one lemon (using a strainer to catch seeds) and stir to combine.

5. Serve shrimp and sauce immediately over drained orzo.

Sodium content ~300 mg per serving, mostly from the shrimp. You can reduce this by about half by leaving out the salt altogether, but that 1/4 t really does add a lot to the flavor.

Recipe conversion secrets - not a whole lot really. We greatly reduced the added salt, and made up for it by adding the lemon juice at the end to brighten the flavor. We also increased the amount of garlic and red pepper flakes (but do not consider this a "spicy" recipe by our high standards). Also by cooking the orzo in the Wyler's "fake chicken broth" that has zero sodium we add flavor that would normally come from salted cooking water. If you can't find this product, you could add flavor with unsalted butter in the cooking liquid.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Prime Rib for Two with Asparagus

This week's New Thing was a prime rib recipe in the Cooking for Two section of Cook's Country magazine (Dec/Jan 2012 issue, page 5). This was a 2.5-pound bone-in rib eye steak that was browned on all outside edges over medium high heat in an enameled cast iron skillet, and then finished very slowly in a 200F oven until medium rare in the center (about 122F on the meat thermometer). After resting, it was cut on the bias for serving. Since we did not make any significant changes to this recipe I refer you to the magazine for details. We won't do much differently the next time we prepare this meal other than to brown the outside of the meat a little longer and take steps to make the sauce a bit thinner and more like a classic jus.

The "prime rib" from this recipe was accompanied by asparagus that we cooked with lemon juice, shallots and garlic. We sauteed for a few minutes and then added a dash of water and cooked covered until just crisp-tender. Simple and delicious.

Good meal for week three!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

French Style Onion & Mushroom Soup

This week we adapted a low sodium French onion soup recipe to our tastes by adding mushrooms and changing up how the bread and cheese are used in the recipe (because I don't dig soggy bread). The soup was rich, tasty and surprisingly filling. Here is how we made it:

RECIPE: French Style Onion & Mushroom Soup (4 servings)
Sodium = 325 mg/serving

For the croutons --

1/2 french bread loaf (about 6-8 slices), slightly stale, cut into cubes
4 T unsalted butter
1/2 t dried thyme

Preheat oven to 425F. Melt butter in baking dish in hot oven. Add bread cubes and thyme, toss to coat evenly. Bake, stirring often, until light golden brown and crisp. Remove from oven, set aside to cool.

For the soup --

1 lb onions, sliced into half rings
8 oz mushrooms, sliced
4 T unsalted butter
4 cups organic low sodium beef broth
1 T Worcestershire sauce
1 t low sodium soy sauce
dash of hot sauce (optional)
1/4 t No Salt (KCl)
freshly ground black pepper
4 oz Swiss cheese, shredded
Croutons (see recipe above)

Melt butter in dutch oven on medium heat. Add mushrooms and onions, stir. Cover and cook on medium low for about 15 minutes on medium low heat, stirring occasionally. Uncover and reduce liquids for about 5 more minutes. Add beef broth, Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce and hot sauce, KCl and black pepper, then bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 5-10 minutes. Preheat broiler while soup simmers.

To serve --

Ladle soup into oven-proof bowls. Layer with croutons and top with shredded cheese, then place under broiler for a couple of minutes, until cheese is melted and just starting to become spotty brown. Handle hot bowls with care, placing them on a plate for transport. Serve immediately.

Friday, January 6, 2012

The Mother of All Recipe Conversions: Spicy Pasta Bake with Sausage

This used to be one of our favorite "go to" recipes for winter comfort food. It was tasty, filling, and not much trouble to prepare. Unfortunately, it was also the one recipe we had been completely unable to alter enough to bring the sodium down to a reasonable level. The original recipe (from the Feb/March 2008 issue of Cook's Country) had five significant sources of sodium. Here they are in order, along with our lower sodium substitutes:

1. The sausage. Big, big problem, no matter what variety you choose. The recipe calls for one pound of chorizo, but we also used to make it with andouille or other smoked sausages. The amount of sodium in one pound of smoked sausage varies widely, but the range would be 3200mg on the low end to 5500mg on the high side. This was the toughest ingredient to substitute. We cut the sodium by a factor of 10-15 (yes!) by making our own andouille sausage using a recipe found in Dick Logue's 500 Low Sodium Recipes cookbook. This homemade version contains just 330mg of sodium from the pork meat itself. If you aren't feeling ambitious enough to grind your own sausage (although it is not difficult), you could also substitute Trader Joe's chicken Italian sausage, which only has 787mg/pound.

2. The cheese. We used to grate 8 oz of pepper jack cheese to add to this dish, which contributes 1440mg of sodium. I have not been able to find a lower sodium version of this type of cheese, so I cut the amount of pepper jack to 4 ounces and substituted 4 ounces of grated swiss to cut the cheese contribution down to an even 1000mg of sodium while keeping the flavor and texture the same. Swiss is the lowest sodium variety of hard cheese.

3. Low-sodium chicken broth. Yep, even the "low sodium" variety has 450mg/cup. This is better than the regular kind, which has about 760mg/cup, but since we need 3 cups this adds 1350mg to the pot. Fortunately you can easily find organic low-sodium chicken broth that has only 80mg/cup, bringing this ingredient's share down to 240mg.  If you really wanted to get stingy, Wyler's makes an instant chicken flavor broth that doesn't have any sodium (and probably doesn't have any real chicken either, but still tastes pretty good in recipes). Sometimes we use it half and half with real broth.

4. Next up is the 1/2 teaspoon of salt. That adds 1180mg to the total. We ended up reducing the sodium level enough with our other substitutions that we were able to leave this in for flavor, but you could also substitute KCl salt, which contains zero sodium. I added about 1/4 teaspoon of KCl to bump up the salty flavor.

5. The last problem child is the 10 oz can of Ro-Tel tomatoes, which contains 1040mg of sodium and has no low sodium alternative from the same manufacturer. We got around this by using a 14.5 oz can of Eden Organic Diced Tomatoes "Just Roma Tomatoes" that we purchased at Whole Foods and adding hot peppers into the recipe as a separate item. It contains only 20mg of sodium. If you can't find this product, most grocery stores carry no-salt-added diced tomatoes that contain 175mg for the whole can.

So... how did we do? The original recipe states that it serves 4, although in practice we usually get 6 meals from it so I will divide everything into 6 portions. The dish as made in the past contains anywhere from 8340mg to 10640mg of sodium depending on what sausage is used, which works out to 1390mg - 1773mg per serving. Way too high! Our version as cooked last night contained 2820mg in the pot, which is 470mg per serving. (If you use the Trader Joes's chicken sausage and regular no salt added diced tomatoes this would become 572mg per serving, which is still quite respectable.) I seasoned my plate with Mrs. Dash Table Blend and about a tablespoon of Hillside Orchard Farms Habanero hot sauce (add 43mg to my serving for that).

Bottom line - this conversion was very challenging, but I would call it a success. The texture and taste were nearly identical to the original recipe, although it definitely tastes less salty and needs more of the other seasonings to compensate.


1 lb homemade "andouille" sausage (Logue, page 412)*
1 T vegetable oil
2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and diced fine
3 habanero peppers, seeded and diced fine (optional, but we like it extra spicy)
1 onion, diced
5 cloves garlic, minced
3 cups organic low sodium chicken broth
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 14.5 oz can no salt added diced tomatoes
12 oz penne pasta
4 oz swiss cheese, shredded
4 oz pepper jack cheese, shredded
4 scallions, sliced thinly
1/2 tsp salt - optional
1/4 tsp potassium chloride ("NoSalt" or other brand) - optional
freshly ground black pepper to taste

Preheat broiler. In a large dutch oven, cook sausage in batches until browned. Remove to a paper towel lined plate and set aside. Add the vegetable oil to the pan, then cook the onion and hot peppers until they begin to brown. Add the garlic and stir until fragrant, then add the sausage back to the pan.

Pour in broth, cream, tomatoes and pasta and bring to a boil, stirring frequently. Add salt, KCl, and black pepper to taste. Cover and simmer until pasta is done, stirring often. This should take about 15 minutes.

Turn off heat and stir in the swiss cheese. Sprinkle the pepper jack cheese on top, then place pot under broiler for a few minutes until the cheese is spotty brown. Place into serving bowls and top with a handful of scallions.

*A worthy substitute is Trader Joe's chicken Italian sausage, if you do not wish to make your own andouille flavored sausage from scratch. If you decide to make the sausage yourself, we followed the Logue recipe for the most part, but we prefer to grind our own pork in a food processor rather than purchasing ground pork because you can control the fat content by selecting an appropriate cut of meat - Boston butt works well, but you can use other cuts. Pork tenderloin is not recommended because it is too lean.

**RECIPE UPDATED 5/3/12 because it just isn't the same without real Andouille sausage. We found a way to make it work. Hooray! Changes are detailed here: Cheesy Pasta Bake, Revisited.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Project: 52 New Recipes for 2012

We're five days into 2012, and while I don't do resolutions, I do enjoy a year-long project. This year's new venture is food related -- namely to cook one "new" recipe every week this year.  This could mean trying one of the low sodium recipes from our cookbooks, converting an old favorite into a low sodium version, or inventing something entirely new. The only rule is that the meal has to meet my sodium restriction and must be something that we haven't made before in its current form.

I will post recipes that we have created (or modified substantially enough to call them our own) here on the blog. If we make something straight from a book or other copyrighted source I will indicate where you can find the recipe. First up is a winter comfort dish that formerly clocked in at 1400-1800 mg of sodium per serving, depending on what kind of cheese and sausage was used (and how much of each we threw into the pot). We used to make this dish a few times a month and I have really missed it. Stay tuned...