Saturday, April 16, 2011

Bountiful Day!

Today was a bountiful day for the Low Sodium Queen, as you can see by the haul she made at the farmer's markets here in her neighborhood!  At the small Saturday market, she found a beautiful head of cabbage and lovely red onions, and met 2 charming Southern lady gardeners that she looks forward to visiting with again! At the big commercial market on Airline she found green and red tomatoes, jalapeƱo peppers. and the goal of her trip:  pickling cucumbers!!

Commercial pickles are loaded with sodium, which is really a shame, since otherwise, they are extremely low in calories, and naturally fat free.  Many pickles are made by fermentation, a time-consuming endeavor that requires a large amount of salt in the process.  Other pickles recipes use a fresh-pack process, where salt is added only as a flavoring, and is not part of the preservation process.  The USDA Guide to Home Canning includes a recipe for reduced sodium dill pickles, and that was today's goal!!  While many people are mystified by the "magic" of home canning, and are intimidated by stories of exploding peaches seething with botulism,  the principles behind home canning are as simple as a science experiment we all did in 5th grade! Heat makes the food expand, forcing air out. When heat is removed, the contents return to their original volume, creating a vacuum that creates an airtight seal.  It's that easy- IF you follow the instructions

So, with cucumbers washed, and sorted by size for even packing, we're ready to start the process!  

All of the miracles take place in a boiling water bath, so getting a BIG pot of water to a boil is the first step.  If you make a huge haul at the farmer's market (or are lucky enough to have a really big garden!) you could keep a canner kettle running all day long! Pickles are considered a high-acid food, so a water bath canner- or a really big stockpot- is all you need for fresh-pack pickles!

The process is pretty logical, once you understand the concept.  Once the water is boiling, place the empty jars, lids, and rings into the water bath to sanitize while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.  According to the USDA, if your recipe processes in a hot water bath for 10 minutes or more, which this one does, the sanitation step is not necessary, but it was in the recipe, so we did it! The lids, which should be new every time, must be boiled to activate the sealant. Rings and jars may be reused, but the lids have to be replaced, since the sealant is designed for a single use.

While the jars and lids boil, we prepare the "pickle juice" in a stainless pot.  Basically a mixture of vinegar, sugar, and spices, this liquid will provide the acidity needed to prevent spoilage. While the "juice" simmers, slice the cucumbers.  Once the juice is boiling and the jars are sanitary,  remove the jars from the water bath, fill with slices and spices according to the recipe, and apply the lids and rings. 

One place where TLSQ varied from the recipe was the inclusion of Pickle Crisp Granules, made by Ball.  Remembering the rather limp and disappointing pickles once made by the Queen Mum,  we decided to give this product a try.  We also left it out of one jar for comparison. Unfortunately, the "control" jar was not labeled, so if the difference is not dramatic we may never know the value of this product!

 When the jars are filled and closed, they go into the water bath for their 15 minutes of magic.  During these 15 minutes, the temperature within the jars will rise enough to kill any living bacteria and expand the contents to expel trapped air.  After 15 minutes of processing, the jars are removed and allowed to cool naturally.  As the contents cool,  the product returns to it's normal volume, sealing the lid against the rim of the jar and creating a vacuum, causing the domed lids to reverse from concave to convex with a satisfying "ping", verifying that the vacuum is intact and the contents are, in fact, sealed.

Pickles require a bit of shelf time to develop their flavor, so we can't offer a taste verdict just yet.  Check back in a week or two and find out the results of "the Great Low Salt Pickle Experiment"!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Any dieter worth their salt substitute knows that beans add great protein to the plate without bringing along a lot of saturated fat.  This recipe for No Salt Added White Chili takes plain beans to the next level by adding spicy flavoring and savory poultry to the mix.  Adjust the peppers and spices to your taste, and choose the cooking method that meets your schedule!

Find the complete recipe here!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

When Turnabout is Not Fair Play!

Those of you who are reading this blog for advice on low-salt cooking may not know what we mean by "turnabout"!

A "turnabout" show is a show, typically a fund raiser, hosted by a club or organization, and features the staff or members , who are not typically performers, onstage dressed in the opposite gender. So now you know!

But today, the Low Salt Queen discovered a situation in which "turnabout" is not appropriate!

This is all getting really confusing, so let's backtrack a bit!

In her quest for low sodium options for her favorite foods,  the Low Sodium Queen has discovered a few of alarming voids in the commercial offerings!

First of all, one of her favorite grocery products on Earth, Ro-tel Tomatoes, does not come in a No Salt Added variety. Sacre bleu!  How will we add that spicy acidic goodness to our low-salt recipes?

Additionally, after extensive research, there does not seem to be a commercially available low salt pickle, at least not in Houston, Texas! If anyone knows of a source, please leave a comment and let me know!!

Finally, even though Whole Paycheck offers a selection of law salt or no salt tortilla chips, there does not seem to be a source for NSA salsa, for The Queens beloved chips and salsa.  So, here are 3 common items that are a Godsend to people on low fat diets, as they are all essentially fat free foods. Still, the commercial varieties are LOADED with sodium and are therefore off limits to coronary patients who are struggling to lower their blood pressure! Quelle dommage!

This led The Queen into an extensive research and shopping frenzy, to determine if it was even feasible to create these products for herself.  

As it turns out, the tomato products are simple to create at home.  Tomatoes, fruits, and other highly acidic foods may be safely and successfully canned in a boiling water bath, which heats the food to 212 degrees and kills any "critters" the acid won't keep in check.  There are many recipes for salsa and tomatoes that may be canned in a water bath, which only requires a pot large enough to submerge the jars below 2" or simmering water.  A large pot will do,  and specialty "water bath canners" are available with a fancy jar rack for less than 50 bucks!

Most vegetables, meats, and mixed products don't contain enough acid to quell bacteria at the boiling point of 212 degrees,  so they must be heated to 240 degrees in order to provide a sanitary seal. Funny thing about water... no matter how high you turn up the stove, it boils at 212 degrees and never gets any hotter! The only way to get water hotter than 212 degrees is to vaporize and pressurize it, and that's where a pressure canner comes in!  With a pressure regulator set a 10 psi, a pressure canner's interior reaches 240 degrees, at which point all bacteria and other microuglies are rendered null and void.

So, back to the whole "turnabout" angle.  As it turns out,  there is no such "turnabout" when it comes to pressure cooking equipment.

The LSQ already owns a pressure cooker, but, as it turns out, a pressure cooker cannot be used for canning.  Because pressure cookers have no gauge to reveal the internal temperature,  there is no way to ensure that canned foods are held at a high enough temp for a long enough time to render them sanitary.

However, a pressure canner can be safely used as a pressure cooker,  since the accuracy of temperature, time, and pressure are not as critical to fresh cooked foods that are to be served immediately.

So, once the canner arrives, the LSQ will put it through rigorous testing to determine its quality, usefulness, and productivity.  The quality and taste of the home made pickles will be the determining factor of whether a pressure canner is a worthwhile investment!

Friday, April 1, 2011

How Does One Deal with TRAVEL?!

For the last 2 weeks, the Low Sodium Queen has been immersed in business travel, and it has not been pretty!!  It doesn't help that she traveled to South Louisiana, where the food is delicious, fatty, and salty!

Really, how do you stick to a low salt diet when travelling?  The Queen hopes to get some advice in the comments here, since she finds it extremely difficult!

Think about it.

Eggs? they'll be cooked with salt in most cases
Bacon? Sausage? Ham?- Hell no!
Cereal?- most are loaded with salt!
Not to mention the fat inherent in all of these foods!

Fast food?  -no way!
Salad?- the dressing will contain your daily intake!
Frozen entree or can of soup?- read the label! Definite no no!


Any advice?