Tuesday, December 1, 2009


yes, I did it, I made the move to wordpress for a slightly more professional look.  Sorry blogger, I love you and I love google, but it was time for a switch.  It's me not you, and I really do hope we can be friends.

So check out the new site and add it to your bookmarks immediately.

Better yet, sign up for an email subscription  and receive direct notifications of new SODIUM GIRL posts without ever having to troll the site.

I hope you like the new look - very figure flattering I think - and stay tuned on the NEW site as I hope to have my very own SODIUMGIRL.COM domain running by the end of the week.

Moving on up!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Tips & Tricks: Low Sodium Thanksgiving, Get Stuffed

My tummy is rumbling in anticipation of my favorite day of the year...THANKSGIVING!  And don't be fooled, just because you are limiting your sodium intake this festive season, you do not have to miss out on any of the rich earthy flavors that make this holiday so memorable.

I was reminded again last night, as I was cooking dinner - Moroccan stew, couscous, and a cauliflower salad with apple and fig chutney - for a group of 8 strangers, that it is easy to build rich flavors without salt.  It is the limitation of your ingredients that forces you to become a more creative cook, dazzling your guests with spices and pairings that they do not expect.  The element of surprise will add exponential enjoyment to your sodium free cooking.

This Thanksgiving, whether you are attempting a single sodium-free side-dish or gunning for a full-blown, sodium-free dinner, I challenge you to think not of what you can't eat, but of what you can.  Can't have cheese on your mashed potatoes?  Make them silky with cream or mascarpone and add a kick of flavor with roasted fennel, browned butter, truffle oil, or some eye-popping pesto.  Your masterpieces will have the other guests drooling and who knows, it may be a sodium-free thanksgiving for everyone next year. To get your inspiration engines started, check out these tips and tricks and recipe ideas that will have friends and families colonizing your kitchen.

Tips and Tricks: Foul Play 
Since we (the royal we, that is) often spend the holidays at the homes of others, you will most likely need to bring your own bird, sides, and pies for the evening. Thanksgiving dinner can be a huge undertaking for the hosts and if you want it to be certain that your meal is sodium free and safe, I suggest you spend the time "getting your bird on" in your own kitchen - and if you can cook Thanksgiving dinner, you can cook anything.

I spent many years lugging along a bland piece of chicken breast as my entrée, staring longingly at the crispy, golden skin of the juicy, salt-brined turkey on everyone else's plate.  Clearly, cooking an entire turkey for myself was a little excessive and too big of an undertaking.  If I was hosting the dinner and feeding a handful of other guests, an entire sodium-free turkey would make sense. But for a single plate of Thanksgiving deliciousness (or let's be honest, 3 to 4) a whole bird may be too much...Or not.

Most turkeys, even if you do not brine or salt them, will be injected with some sort of saline solution to keep them moist. So if you are cooking a whole bird, make sure yours is truly sodium-free.

Then, a moment of holiday brilliance, I realized I could substitute the typical turkey for a much smaller piece of poultry: a Cornish game hen.  Besides being easy to cook, these little juicy poultry nuggets also happen to be absolutely adorable and they are just big enough that there is plenty of juicy meat to nibble on the next day.  These birds are rather flexible in terms of cooking technique - you can stuff and roast them, debone and sautée, or plop them on open beer cans and let the fun really begin - look at their posture!

This, year, I will be roasting my little friend next to my Aunt's behemoth bird.  They should get along quite nicely and can be roasted at approximately the same temperature, just a shorter amount of time.

Recipe Box: My Thanksgiving Menu

What you may begin to realize is that even when you are limiting your sodium intake, you can continue to use regular recipes.  All you have to do is be conscious of where sodium may be hiding - butter, broths, brines,seasoning blends, dairy products, pie crusts/doughs/breads, baking sodium and baking powder, and packaged sauces - and then, get creative with your substitutions.  I love using Epicurious for recipe starters and find Cooks Illustrated to be one of the best culinary resources (for every level cook) available.  Christopher Kimball, I heart you and your test kitchen.

Here are some of the recipes that I will using for my sodium free recipes.  I've included my own substitutions, but if you have other flavor twists that you want to share, pass them along to sodiumgirl@gmail.com and I'll be sure to steal them.


  • A spread of sodium free pickles
    • curried, pickled carrots and dill pickled green beans and fennel
  • Sodium free spinach dip and crudite (fancy for raw vegetables)
    • substitute mascarpone, ricotta cheese, or crème fraiche for the sour cream and cream cheese
Starters and Sides:
Main Course:
  • Cornish game hen 
    • Although I will be using an altered beer can chicken recipe - straight up succulent - I like the idea of this cider brine (sans salt).  Although salt is an essential part of the brining process, I think the cider helps denature the protein, making it juicy and more melt-in-your-mouth delicious.  If you can't brine, but want to add an extra juice-assuring technique to your holiday cooking, I would give this a try.  Ply, the gravy recipe also looks good!
  • Sodium-free stuffing with wild mushrooms 
    • I'll will be using sodium-free bread and my favorite sodium free chicken broth to give this crunch and kick and bought a bounty of wild mushrooms to give it a meaty texture
For more low sodium/sodium free Thanksgiving recipes check out Dick Logue's Low Sodium Cooking Newsletter - the Thanksgiving issue.

Happy eating, happy holidays, and I'll see you at the gym...if I can get off the couch.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Tips & Tricks: On the Road Again

Off again on another whirlwind adventure!  I decided to make the most out of my Thanksgiving holiday on the east coast and head out a week early to visit my ladies who left the warmth of sunny California for the fall chill of Boston, DC, NYC and beyond.  And I have to admit, although I am a Californian to the core, the holiday spirit combined with the comfort of bundling up has my heart singing show tunes.

Three plane rides, a train, and endless house visits along the way, I knew I needed to prepare a slightly larger-than-usual snack pack to keep me full and energized throughout the trip.  So I prepped a few perishables: (a) a giant pack of boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cooked in ground mustard and balsamic vinegar and (b) some Heidi's Hens no-salt turkey meat (30mg per serving).  And rounded up a cornucopia of non-perishables as well: (a) dried cranberries, (b) Enjoy Life Cinnamon Crunch Granola, (c) shelled, salt-free sesame seeds, (d) salt-free pop corn to pop, and (e) some delicious fruit leather - remember that stuff?  Like fruit roll-ups without the chemicals.  As an added bonus, I found at a Bostonian Whole Foods a new brand of low-sodium lavash bread that has packed nicely in my bag and remained incredibly soft and fresh for the remainder of my travels.

As for eating out, it has been a breeze. In most kitchens, fish will be left naked (cat call whistles appropriate) until preparation - sans seasoning and sans marinade - and it is a safe bet that you can order a simply grilled or sauteed, salt-free fillet for dinner.  If you have reservations somewhere, though, it always helps to call ahead and ask the chef to set aside some meat or fish for you as well as some fresh veggies that have not been dunked in a pot of boiling salt water.

Perfect example: Rocca Kitchen & Bar.  They were incredibly accommodating and delighted me with a roasted whole Branzino (wowzer) that was steeping in a delicate broth of roasted tomato juice.  Although the flavors weren't overwhelming, I have come to truly appreciate the simple enjoyment of fresh ingredients.  The potatoes also happened to be cooked perfectly - slightly crispy on the outside, fluffy on the inside, and thick enough to soak up the broth like a piece of out-of-the oven bread.

It was delicious and looked a lot more appealing than the bowl of lettuce that the girl next to me ordered - really?  Lettuce?  When you have the opportunity to order this pasta sampler?

All and all, a wonderful trip filled with good eats and lots of fun diversions.  Yesterday Boston, today DC, tomorrow Philly and a fantastic Thanksgiving ahead.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Recipe Box: I made CHEESE

Usually I try to come up with a somewhat intriguing title.  But this time, the subject was so exciting that I had to rush past the presentation and skip to the good stuff.

I made cheese. No seriously, I did it, all by myself.  And most amazingly, it was really easy.  And most surprisingly, people (who usually eat salt, lots of it) really liked it.

So the scenario goes like this: like I said in my last post, I signed up to attend the Jam It session at 18 reasons on Thursday night at which jamming, pickling, and DIY-fooding enthusiasts and professionals would gather to share their recipes and their home-made goods.  I figured that this was a perfect testing ground to see how normal, everyday sodium-freaks would respond to my no-sodium food.  And I feel pretty confident in my pickling ability.  But to kick this conquest up a notch, I decided to risk it all, make cheese, and feed it to the masses.

Two friends sent me paneer and buttermilk cheese recipe - both very similar and simple - requiring the use of milk, lemons, and salt.  For my first attempt, I decided to use hemp milk.  I mean, I couldn't look more like a crazy northern Californian if I tried.  Hemp milk has virtually no sodium in it (5mg per serving), but it also has virtually no ability curdle.  So I threw the tie-dyed cartoon in the recycling bin and decided to use the real deal.

I passed on the whole milk and went with a lower-sodium option: soy milk.  It has 85mg of sodium per serving  and I knew, from an unfortunate previous experiences, that it indeed will curdle (unlike its free-loving substitute).  I bought a quart of unsweetened soy milk  and used half of it for my cheese.  I figure that the majority of the milk was not used to produce the curds and that the end product would be very low in sodium.

The entire cheese-making process lasted about 40 minutes max, with endless hours of eating enjoyment to follow.  I will be bringing this winning recipe to the east coast for Thanksgiving Day appetizers along with some curry carrot pickles and dill and fennel green bean pickles.  You better believe I'll impress the pants off of those Pilgrims.

1.  Heat half a quart of soy milk in a heavy saucepan - but let's be honest, I used a pot.

2.  When it begins to boil and starts to rise, immediately take it off the heat.  Be sure to watch for this, because the milk will rise quickly and if you don't have cat-like reflexes, you will end up with one hot, sticky mess on your stove.

3.  Add 2 tablespoons of lemon juice to the milk and stir for two minutes to help separate the curds from the whey.

4.  Let the curdy milk sit for 10 minutes.

5.  Pour the milk into a colander that is lined with 3 layers of cheese cloth.  When it is cool enough to handle, close the cheese cloth tightly around the curds and squeeze out the extra liquid.

6.  At this point, since there was no salt in the cheese, I added 2 teaspoons of smoked paprika, 2 teaspoons of cumin, 1 teaspoon of cayenne pepper, and 2 teaspoons of fresh dill.  Mix the spices in with the cheese and close the cheese cloth again to remove the remaining liquid.

7.  Place the cheese (still in the cheese cloth) on a plate and flatten to about 1/2 inch thick.

8.  Place another plate on top of the cheese and weight it with your heaviest (or two heaviest) cooking books.

9.  After 20 minutes of flattening, you can refrigerate overnight or use immediately.  If it turns out to be a little more chunky and loose, use it as a spread on some crackers with your fennel relish that you made.  If it is harder, try preparing it like traditional paneer and fry it in some hot oil.

And just for fun, here is a shot early into the 18 Reasons event.  A special shout to Karen Solomon for eating my cheese, liking my pickled fennel relish, and for writing a kick ass book that I can't wait to plow through.  happy chowing everyone.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Recipe Box: Pick a Pickled Pepper

Or carrots.  Or fennel.  Or grapes. On Monday night, I rushed home with vinegar in hand to prepare for the 18 Reasons Jam It event as well as create some down-home gifts for my relatives in Philadelphia.  It's Turkey Time people, and nothing says "thank you" on Thanksgiving like a jar of pickles.  Am I right?  I know I am.

Let me tell you this - sodium-free pickling is not only possible, it is easy and can be even more thrilling than your typically transformed cucumber.  Without salt, you become more creative with your seasonings and spices.  And if you are a nervous to create your own pickling blend, lucky for us, salt-free pickling spices already exist in cute little pre-packaged packages (available at your local Whole Foods).

So put your pot on the stove and get ready to infuse some veggies with sweet and sour tang.  Here are three zippy recipes for mind-blowing treats that can be equally impressive as an appetizer or as an accompaniment in salads, side dishes, and main courses.

Pickled Fennel 
"Licorice never tasted so good" - Me

1.  Take two bulbs of fennel, cut off stems, and slice in to crescent shaped spears

2.  Stuff fennel slices, some of the soft fennel fronds from the stem (packs extra flavor), three cloves of garlic, and two dried chili peppers into a small mason jar

3. Zest one orange and place in the mason jar with fennel

4.  Heat 2 cups of white wine vinegar, 1/2 a cup of sugar, juice from one orange, and a teaspoon of black peppercorns in a pot.  Remove from heat once it begins boiling

5.  Carefully (it's hot!) fill the mason jar with heated pickling liquid (step 4).  The heat tends to reduce the size of the fennel almost immediately, so if you have left over slices, stuff more into the jar

6.  For added punch, slice fresh ginger and put in jar as well.  Once lid is closed, shake it up, allow to cool, and stick it in the fridge.  In two days, it will be ready for munching.

Pickled Grapes 
"Not jam, not wine, just plain delicious" - Me 

As a quick disclaimer: I stole this recipe from Smitten Kitchen who was inspired by Orangette  and tweaked it according to my sodium girl needs.

1.  Pick up some plump, seedless back or red grapes and slice off the belly buttons - the top part where the stem was - of five or six handfuls.  By taking off their tops (get your mind out of the gutter) you will allow the pickling juices to seep into the fruit immediately.

2.  Fill a small mason jar with the grapes, 2 teaspoons of yellow mustard seed, and one stick of cinnamon- or, as in my case, three teaspoons of ground cinnamon because I forgot to buy cinnamon sticks

3.  Heat two cups of white wine or champagne vinegar (how fancy) in a pot with 1 teaspoon of black peppercorns.  Remove from heat once it boils

4.  Let the pickling liquid (step 3) fully cool before filling the mason jar.  This will keep the fruit from becoming too mushy

5.  Shake and shimmy your mason jar and put in refrigerator.  Will be good to go in two days.

BONUS TIP: on my quest to find a good substitute for olives, I realized that a savory grape pickle could do the trick.  I think they could act as a mischievous doppelganger in tapenade and Mediterranean salads, fooling any palate.  I can't wait to test out this theory in the weeks to come.

Pickled Carrots
"Curry in a hurry" - Me

1.  To make this as effortless as possible, buy some pre-washed, pre-peeled carrots.  I went with some beautiful yellow carrots and I think if I had more time, I may have even chosen to go with the more colorful  heirloom variety

2.  Stuff a small mason jar with carrots, three cloves of garlic, teaspoon of freshly sliced ginger, and two dried chili peppers, 1/2 a tablespoon of turmeric, 1/4 tablespoon of curry, and 1 tablespoon of salt-free pickling spices

3.  Heat 2 cups of distilled vinegar,1 cup of water, and 1/2 a cup of sugar.  Remove from heat once it is boiling

4.  Carefully fill jar with pickling liquid, wait until it is cool, and place in the fridge.  Wait 2 days before cracking open and noshing on some healthy and spicy carrot nuggets

Now wasn't that easy?  Just wait until you taste them!