How old would you be, if you had no idea how old you really were?

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Christmas Cheer

I have escaped the Midwest. Never was too enthused about winter. Grew up with cars that didn’t start in sub zero weather, gas lines that froze. and even, way back, with water pipes and pumps that froze.

And now I live in these Arizona mountains where winter comes in small doses. Not as cold as my native land. The snow here, sometimes a little, sometimes a lot, doesn’t seem to last as long. And I am surrounded by people who love the stuff. So my attitude is thawing a bit. It thaws a bunch when my little grandkids arrive from the flatlands all eager and excited about just seeing snow.

And this looks to be a great Christmas. We have our snow. The roads have been cleared. A good supply of firewood is stacked on the porch. The tree is trimmed, outdoor lights are strung, and this old salt has emerged, just on time, from his garage workshop (heated with woodstove of course) with a great hobbyhorse. Brought it in and tucked it next to the tree this morning. Kids and grandkids are on their way. Old Salt's smiling. Hope young grandson smiles too.

Good to be alive.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

A Hot Time in the Old Town

Aiiii conejitos! Like a moth to a flame I am drawn to it. Capsaicin, my instantaneous path to pain and endorphins. the magic ingredient I ingest in my quest for flavor in a sodium free world. The sun sets I indulge, the sun rises I pay.

Capsaicin, the chemical that makes chili hot, binds to receptors in the sensitive lining of the mouth. That’s obvious. But guess where else it finds a sensitive lining with which to bind. You guessed it. You already knew. You’ve been there haven’t you. These very sensitive receptors also live at the other end of the road.

Yes, I did it again. We went down the mountain, to run some errands, to pick up some things for Christmas stockings, to replenish our stock of fresh vegetables. And lo and behold, what to our wondrous eyes should appear, but a James Bond movie, on the marquee of the one and only movie house in town. But it is four o’clock and the movie doesn’t start until seven. We will have to kill some time, not an easy thing to do in this little town. There are two fast food emporiums, one supermarket, two dollar stores, one “drug” store, no mall, no Tinseltown. It does have sidewalks, and street lights, and, in fact, Christmas decorations. We go to the dollar store. We pick up some groceries. We tour the “drug” store, no ordinary drug store, this one. Yes, you can buy drugs there, and while there you can also buy a gun, and ammunition, and a bottle of Jack Daniels, and a yard or two of fabric, and craft supplies, and a replacement cartridge for your printer, and an ice cream bar. When we finish our tour it is only five thirty.

We will treat ourselves to dinner. Choices include, one oriental, one fussy (open only to a private party tonight), a place called Booga Red’s, the Safire, and a Mexican restaurant. We know and like the Mexican place and it just happens to be open. We are in luck. There is a sign on the door that says they are going to close for a winter vacation. Will open again in February.

Well, the food this Mexican lady serves is all the way off old Wilbur’s scale. Great taste, incredible heat. I loved every bite even though at times my mouth was burning and I was reaching for the water pitcher. When we left my scalp was wet with sweat, one of the things that chilies do for me. Finally it was time to go see what Bond was up to.

The movie house and its equipment are antique, and that includes the ticket machine, the popcorn machine, and apparently the projector. It’s a trip just to go there, no matter what the show. They are open Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Shows at seven and nine, but you better go for the seven, especially in the winter. Less than twelve paying customers and the nine doesn’t happen. Counting the two of us there were eight at the seven. Two of them were teenie boppers, who got a hot cell phone call midstream and departed. The movie was good, though I prefer the classic Bond. This last lacks the humor and gimmicks that made 007 special.

Capsaicin never lets me off easy. This morning I paid my dues.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Notes on the Art of Baking Bread

Bread makes itself, by your kindness, with your help, with imagination streaming through you, with dough under hand, you are breadmaking itself, which is why breadmaking is so fulfilling and rewarding.

Breadmaking is basically not a complicated process. Mix some flour with enough water to form a dough, adding a touch of salt perhaps; shape it, bake, the result is bread in its simplest, most fundamental form: dense, coarse, crusty, robust, spirited, earthy.
From the opening pages of The Tassajara Bread Book

Of the several bread books that I own the Tassajara Bread Book is my favorite. I like the approach, the recipes are simple, the instructions are detailed and well illustrated. And it is easy to move on and improvise once one gets a grip on the basic bread.

Bread is really very basic. We’ve found that we can even make a no-knead bread with just flour, water, and a bit of salt and a tiny bit of yeast. And that bread is so popular that there are hundreds of posts on the internet every day about this one simple recipe.

And in my own experience I’ve found that bread making is easily learned, and the process of making bread is fairly forgiving. I don’t measure much. With very little experience you’ll find that you can just measure the water and the yeast, and of course the salt, and then add flour until the dough looks right and feels right. I pay little attention to the kind of yeast I use. I just keep it refrigerated and try to use it within a couple of months from its purchase. I live in the mountains at 8000 ft but don’t even think about any adjustments for altitude. I just watch the bread rise and when it looks right I bake it. I have also found that bread will rise in fairly cool environments, our house seldom gets to more than 70° F inside, and bread rises just fine.

If you are looking for some help learning how to knead bread there is a pretty good illustrated tutorial on the Internet called How to Knead Bread Dough

For me baking is not a hobby nor an avocation, it is simply a way of getting good healthy bread on the table. But I do enjoy the process. I like kneading bread. I like the aroma in the house as bread is rising and baking. And I can seldom wait to slice off the end of that loaf and butter up a slice.

And for those of us who are fighting the sodium battle every day it is really nice to have a great piece of bread with less that half of the sodium of the breads that we can find on the shelves of the supermarkets and bakeries.

Happy Baking

Basic Bread Recipe - Low Sodium

Here is a very basic bread recipe. It has very little salt, and you can make it with white flour or wheat flour or any combination. I usually use about half white and half wheat. Some times I sweeten it with a healthy dose of molasses.

The recipe starts by making a sponge. You mix about half of the flour for the recipe with all of water and the yeast and the sweetening and let that mixture rise for a while before adding the salt and kneading in the rest of the flour. This first step lets the yeast get to work in the absence of salt, which inhibits the yeast’s functioning.

  • 3 C lukewarm water (85°-105°F - not hot or cold on your fingertips)
  • 1 1⁄2 T dry yeast (2 packages)
  • 1⁄4 C sweetening (honey, molasses, or brown sugar)
  • 6 C approx. flour (whatever kind you like or have on hand)
  • 1/4 C veg. oil
  • 1 t salt

Measure the water into a big bowl. Sprinkle in the yeast and stir to dissolve. Add the sweetening. Then gradually stir in about 3 cups of the flour. Beat about a 100 times until the batter is very smooth. Cover and let it rise in a warm place for 45 minutes (more or less). Warm is better, but our place right now is about 65° and the bread is rising nicely. Altitude probably helps. Not being in a hurry helps most of all.

When the sponge has increased in size and shows some small bubbles, stir in the salt and the oil.

Now add about three more cups of flour. Gradually stir as much of the flour as you can into the sponge. When the batter is too stiff to continue stirring, turn the bread out onto a floured surface and knead the mixture until it is smooth and elastic. If the mixture sticks to your hands work in more flour.

Cover the dough and let it rise until doubled. Knead again, let it rise again. When it has doubled again or is close to double, knead one more time and then split the dough into two equal portions. Shape the dough into loaves and place in 5x9 loaf pans that have been oiled lightly. With a sharp knife make 3 diagonal slashes in the top of each loaf. Let the dough rise in the pans until it is above the top edges of the pans.

Bake in a preheated 350° F oven for 50-60 minutes. Bread is done when it is golden brown. Remove from pans immediately, cool on wire racks.

Yield is 2 loaves. 12 slices per loaf, 100 mg sodium per slice.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Scrambling for taste.

Over the last couple of years I've worked hard at staying within this 2000mg/day salt restriction, sometimes with more success than others. At home it is hard enough, but traveling can be really tough. All the stuff that I love in the convenience stores, is bad for me: chips, pop corn, hot dogs, crackers, I even like those salted prunes you find in Mexican neighborhoods. Some times I just waffle and go for the chips, five sometimes, eight hundred mg of sodium at a shot. Sometimes I buy the chips, the smallest bag I can find and dump about half the bag in the trash before I even start, because there is no way that I am going to stop once I start. A stupid hot dog is about 900 mg. of sodium. I really haven't solved the convenience store problem. I just try to stay away or get in and get out as fast as I can. I do better when we are traveling and can find a big supermarket with more choices.

But at home I am winning the battle. I've found several ways to spice things up that really help. I've always liked hot sauces, every thing from the fairly mild Tabasco to salsas in Mexican restaurants that raise blisters on your tongue and bring tears to your eyes. My favorite hot sauce currently is something called Sriracha Hot Chile Sauce. Lots of flavor, 100 mg of sodium /teaspoon, but you don't use it by the teaspoon, you use it by the drop. Working in El Paso I watched the Mexican kids dousing their popcorn with hot sauce. So I now use this one on my popcorn. Very tasty, so much taste in fact that you forget you aren't salting that popcorn. This hot sauce looks like something you would find in the oriental food shops but I get mine at Safeway. Bottle has a rooster on the front and lots of writing in oriental languages.

Another resource for our neglected taste buds are a series of bottled sauces made by Fischer & Wieser. These are very nice tasty sauces that come in lots of different flavors. Most of them are low to no sodium. My favorite is Chipolte Raspberry. I stocked up on these at supermarkets when I was in Houston and Amarillo, Texas. You can buy them online but you will find them a bit pricey. The supermarket prices were cheaper than on line. If you can find these try 'em. And let us know where you find them.

Friday, December 8, 2006

Chipotle Corn Soup

Aieeee! This is a good one. This soup was my supper tonight, along with the last of a loaf of the No-Knead Bread. Again an adaptation. I started with a recipe that looked really good, but it called for canned creamed corn. I didn't have any canned creamed corn and didn't want to drive 30 miles down the mountain, in the dark, dodging elk, to my not-so-nearby Safeway, so I improvised. I had plenty of frozen corn, and integrated my own white sauce. Try this one.

As always you may want to make your own adjustments. I like it hot so I use a whole chipotle chile (canned), but recommend starting with a half if you prefer something a bit milder. Shouldn't be hard to multiply the recipe if you've many mouths to feed, but don't get carried away with the chipotles until you know what you are doing. For two generous servings you need:
  • 1 T flour
  • 1 T unsalted butter
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 1/2 chipolte chile, minced
  • 1 C milk
  • 2 C frozen corn
  • 2 C low sodium vegetable broth
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Pepper to taste
I start by making a white sauce for thickening the soup. Melt the butter in a small saute pan and then whisk in the flour. Heat the mixture gently for a few minutes until it just barely begins to darken. Watch it carefully, when it starts to brown it can go quickly. Next gradually whisk in the milk until you have a nice smooth sauce. Set this aside and keep it warm.

In a 2 quart sauce pan saute the onions in the oil and butter for about 10 minutes, until transluscent. Add the chile, and heat for a couple more minutes. Next stir in your white sauce. Add the vegetable broth, the corn, and the bay leaf. Season with Pepper. Simmer for about 15 minutes, rescue the bay leaf and serve. Two generous servings. About 350 mg sodium per serving.

Soda Bread Link

Check out the comment on the No-Knead Low Sodium Bread post. Our commenter really liked the bread and immediately went to work to come up with a way to accelerate the process. And on that same author's blog, Carpe Diem, you can find a soda bread recipe. (A bit more sodium in this one, probably about 170mg per slice.) I was in Ireland last march and decided that soda bread is a staple there, second only to Guiness.

Spicy Peanut Sauce

I really do stick to my daily sodium limit (2000 mg), well, most days. And, that often leaves me hankering for something with some real taste. One of the places I’ve found real taste is in Thai Peanut Sauce. Great stuff on steamed vegetables, like a combination of zucchini, yellow squash, and onions. But as might be expected, the off the shelf Peanut Sauce I found had a lot of sodium, 250 mg/T.

So here we go with another of Ms. Duncan’s recipes, a homemade low sodium Peanut Sauce.

You will need:
• 3 T peanut butter, unsweetened, unsalted
• 2 T rice wine vinegar
• 1 T chopped cilantro (optional)
• 1 garlic clove, minced
• 2 t soy sauce, reduced salt
• 1 t light brown sugar
• 1/2 t chile oil
• 2-4 T warm water
Combine all of the ingredients (except the water) and whisk together, adding enough water to make it the consistency you want.

Makes a half cup, which would be 8 Tablespoons. About 37 mg of sodium/T compared to my off the shelf bottle which weighs in at 250 mg / Tablespoon.

That’s the basic recipe, which I always consider a starting point. I’ve lived a big chunk of my life in the southwest and my taste buds have a pretty high heat tolerance, so I up the chile oil to a full teaspoon. This one is quick and easy so it’s no big deal to start experimenting. I really like this stuff and will be tweaking the recipe to suit my own tastes. Let me know how you like it and what adjustments, if any, you make.

Thursday, December 7, 2006

Is it OK to Eat Green Potatoes?

Is it OK to eat green potatoes?

Why should you keep watermelons out of the refrigerator?

Which are more nutritious, raw carrots or cooked carrots?

Harold McGee knows the answers and writes about the science of food and cooking: where our foods come from, what they are and what they’re made of, and how cooking transforms them. He has a huge book, On Food & Cooking: The Science & Lore of the Kitchen, and Bill Buford, author of Heat, will tell you why you should own and read this book. Bills pitch for the book on NPR’s All Things Considered is fun to read and to hear.

I’m not going to buy this book. Too big, to much, can’t afford it, lots of excuses, but I am going to follow what’s going on at CURIOUS COOK exploring the science of food and its transformations with Harold McGee

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

No-Knead Low Sodium Bread

Don’t eat much store bought bread any more. Have become accustomed to the taste and texture, and aroma of home baked bread, and can’t really match that off the shelf at the supermart. So for a long time I’ve been baking bread, and find that the whole bake-your-own bread process is much easier and much more forgiving than I had imagined.

For starters here is a really great no-knead bread with an amazingly simple recipe. You need flour, yeast, salt and water, that’s it. Now this has to be a really old and basic recipe, going back to the days shortly after somebody learned how to mash wheat into flour, but the current version comes from Jim Lahey, at the Sullivan Street Bakery, and is blogged all over the internet. Here is the Murphy low sodium version.

Mix together the dry ingredients
• 3 C flour (I’ve tried white and wheat, liked the white better)
• 1/4 teaspoon yeast
• 1/2 teaspoon salt (1200 mg sodium)
• 1 5/8 C water
Stir until all the all of the flour is wet and sticky

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the dough rise 18 hours in a warm room. The original recipe says a warm room is about 70°F but our place is 60° over night and mid 60’s, sometimes 70° during that day, and this dough rises OK.

Dough is ready when the surface is dotted with bubbles. Dump it out onto a floured surface, dust the top of the dough with flour, cover it with plastic wrap and let it rise about 2 hours.

Put an oven proof bowl, casserole, or dutch oven, with a lid in your oven and heat to 450°F (Original recipe calls for 6 to 8 qt capacity, I get along just fine with an old oven proof 4 qt mixing bowl and lid I bought at the library thrift shop)

When the dough is ready, carefully (450° is hot, real hot. I use my fire place gloves.) remove your pot or bowl from the oven and dump in the dough. Might not look great at this point but have faith.

Cover with a lid and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the lid and bake another 15 to 30 minutes, until the loaf is browned and looks good to you. Cool on a rack.

If you could cut 12 equal slices (which I can’t, because I end up with this really gorgeous crusty round loaf) each slice would contain 100 mg of sodium. No fat, no cholesterol, and about 3g of protein per slice.

Wood Fire and Foodies

Yesterday I let the wood fire go out early. I had a evening meeting in town, about 30 miles down the mountain from here, and didn’t feel like reviving the fire when I got back. So it’s a little chilly in here this morning while I wait for the new fire to start pushing the temperature up into the mid 60’s.

Parked in front of the fireplace with my laptop, thank god for wireless, I popped over to one of my favorites, Maria Duncan’s Blog, Book Reviews for Real People. Maria calls herself a “foodie” and manages to read and review a pretty good sampling of food books, 15 of them to date on her blog. So how have I frittered away a sizable chunk of my morning already? Yep. Reading book reviews about food, and enjoying myself. Next food book on my list is Heat, by Bill Bufford.

Tuesday, December 5, 2006

Quick Easy Low Sodium Tomato Sauce

Here is a basic, tomato sauce for pasta and pizza. It will make about 3 2-person servings, which can be frozen in separate containers. Sodium per serving in this one, very low.
  • 1 28-oz can diced or crushed tomatoes, no salt added
  • 1/4 c finely diced onion
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 2-4 T olive oil
  • fresh pepper to taste
Combine all ingredients except pepper in wide skillet. Simmer for 20-30 min, stirring occasionally. Season with pepper to taste. And . . . if you are yearning for a more spicy version, add another clove or two of garlic, or up the heat with a bit of chili oil, your favorite hot sauce, or a sprinkling of ground red chili.

Total sodium 270 mg. Six servings. 45 mg of sodium per serving

Thanks to Maria Duncan for this one.

Monday, December 4, 2006

Cut Sodium with a Power Juicer

I love pitchmen. You know, the guys who stand up on a platform and demonstrate the wonders of slicers and dicers. They make it look so easy to slice those tomatoes, turn that potato into french fries, and saw right through those packages of frozen spinach.

The guy on the TV who sells the knives is really good. Even though I knew better I bought $45 dollars worth of knives. The pitch was great, the knives were . . . well, hardly worth the money. But there were a lot of them.

And then there is the Jack LaLanne Power Juicer, which sells for about a hundred dollars on TV. Bought that too. And I like it! It really does work just like they show it on TV. It has a chute big enough to pop in a medium size tomato or an apple. It instantly turns celery, carrots, whatever you dump in, into juice and pulp. Drop in a couple of tomatoes, a stalk of celery, and a carrot and you have a great veggie drink. Now spice it up with a dash or two of your favorite hot sauce and you have a veggie drink that competes with that canned spicy V-8 I used to drink. The difference is that 5.5 ounces of V-8, has 290 mg of sodium. (50 mg of sodium/ounce). Your fresh Jack LaLanne Power Juicer drink, about 8 ounces has 100mg of sodium (12 mg of sodium/ounce).

Slight problem with the juicer, that Jack didn’t seem to know about, is that it is a bit awkward to clean. You have to take it apart and scoop out the pulp from several different parts. It’s going to take you at least 10 minutes of steady work to get the thing clean and dry. So far, seems worth it to me.

If you are shopping for a juicer, I’d recommend this one, if you can handle the somewhat tedious cleaning routine. Shouldn’t cost over a hundred dollars. If you have access to Costco, buy it there. ($99) If you don’t like it they will take it back no questions asked.

Yoda Says

“Try not. Do or do not. There is no try.”

Friday, December 1, 2006

Finding a Good Kitchen Scale

If you are serious about following a low sodium diet you will need to keep track of your daily sodium intake. A good kitchen scale will make tracking easier and more accurate. If you are shopping for a scale here’s what you need to find:

• A scale with a digital readout.
• A scale that switches easily from ounces to grams.
• A scale that allows you put a container on the scale and then reset to zero.
• A scale that comes with its own removable easy to clean container.

I am using a Salter electronic kitchen scale that I’ve had for almost 3 years. It has all of the above features and is still using the original battery. I think I paid about $40 dollars for it.

Murphy's Pico de Gallo

When I first started trying to eat and cook without salt I was dying for something that tasted like something. Here is one of my first solutions, a an easy Pico de Gallo, that you can use on a baked potato or as a dip for a few low salt chips or wherever you need a little bright spot for your taste buds.

You need
• One big or two small tomatoes
• A medium to small onion
• About a half bunch of cilantro
• One fresh jalepeno pepper
• One garlic clove
• The juice of one lime

Chop everything in a food chopper and mix together. Adjust the ingredients as your tastes dictate. Let this sit a couple of hours and the garlic will give it a nice kick. Use more or less jalepeno depending on your love for heat.

Now just for fun go to the Nutrition Facts and Calorie Counter and find the individual amounts of sodium for each ingredient. And if that doesn't seem terribly entertaining, I'll tell you that if you eat the whole batch at one sitting, you've only consumed 16 mg of sodium. Essentially this is a no sodium food.