Monday, July 27, 2015

Low-Sodium Scratch Biscuits

A few weeks ago, i made scratch biscuits. Afterward, I calculated the amount of calories and sodium. (I used salted butter for the fat option and did not reduce the added salt.) I was surprised by the amount of sodium. The amount of sodium in the batch of 14 cut biscuits was 4600 mg (329/biscuit). The FDA provides information about salt consumption and methods for lowering it. Note: "The amount of salt in a food is listed as “sodium” on the Nutrition Facts label that appears on food packaging."

I found some ways to reduce sodium in a future recipe.
  • Reduce or eliminate sodium in baking powder.
  • Reduce added salt when taking salted butter into account.
  • Use the finer granularity popcorn salt—thinking that it might dissolve more quickly and completely in dough than table salt—more flavor bang.
Common in many scratch biscuit recipes is using three teaspoons of baking powder. Almost all baking powders have 60 mg sodium per 1/8 teaspoon—1440 per biscuit batch, about 100 mg per biscuit. Hain Pure Foods Featherweight Baking Powder uses potassium instead of sodium. This product is more expensive and not as readily available as regular baking soda. Amazon reviews are helpful for product satisfaction, quantity substitutions, and availability at Whole Foods.
Salt info websites:
Fats called for in biscuits include salted butter, unsalted butter, margarine, shortening, and lard. Various recipes list a choice of salted and unsalted fats without addressing sodium adjustments. By personally perusing nutrition tables, I noticed that most salted butters and spreads would add about 720 mg of sodium to the recipe (~51 mg/biscuit) without regard to additional salt.

Various websites state that unsalted butter tends to have fresher ingredients than salted butter. In any case, if you choose to use salted butter in recipes, you should reduce the amount of added salt. For the biscuit recipe, I called for a conservative 1/2 teaspoon of popcorn salt. If you use salted butter, maybe use only 1/4 teaspoon salt.

Shortening and margarines have trans fats, in case you want to avoid them. Some margarines list 0 grams of trans fats. Note that all these fats list 1 tablespoon is one serving, and that if the amount of trans fats is less than .4 gram, companies can round off and show 0 to be the amount.

If you are a vegetarian (not a vegan), you can, in good conscience, consume butter. Related article: "12 Seemingly Vegan & Vegetarian Foods That Really Aren't"

Near the bottom of this article, look for calorie and sodium stats for ingredients.
My pixstrip shows five main image areas:
  1. Implements
  2. Ingredients
  3. Start of the process that is common to both drop and cut biscuits (milk excluded)
  4. Process continuation—1/2 amount recipe, drop biscuits
  5. Process continuation—1/2 amount recipe, cut biscuits
  • Group 1
    • Cups to measure with
    • Medium mixing bowl
    • Plate (optional for grating butter onto)
    • Forks for tossing grated butter into the dry ingredients
    • Pastry blender
    • Measuring spoons (various sizes as needed)
  • Group 2 (Item to cut or grate butter with—I used my salad shooter. Using a cheese grater is OK.)
  • Group 3 (bowls for separate drop and cut biscuit doughs—unnecessary if making only one kind)
  • Group 4 (baking pans)
  • 2 C all-purpose flour
  • 4 t no-sodium baking powder
  • 1/2 t popcorn salt
  • 1/2 C unsalted butter
  • Milk (1 C if drop biscuits, 3/4 C if cut biscuits)
Instructions, Initial
  1. Preheat the oven to 400°.
  2. Measure and pour the dry ingredients into the main mixing bowl, stirring them together with a pastry blender.
  3. Grate the butter into the dry ingredients (plateful of grated butter shown in pixtrip).
  4. Use two forks to toss the items together thoroughly, avoiding warming the butter.
  5. Use the pastry blender to fine-blend the mixture.
Instructions, Drop and Cut Recipe Differentiation
  1. Divide the dough evenly from the previous step into two bowls.
  2. Note: The pixstrip shows separate sections for 1/2 recipe each for drop and cut biscuits. If making only one type, don't bother dividing the dough.
  3. Use pastry blender to blend in milk.
    • □ Half-recipe drop biscuits, 1/2 C
    • □ Half-recipe cut biscuits, 3/8 C
    • □ Full-recipe drop biscuits, 1 C
    • □ Full-recipe cut biscuits, 3/4 C
  4. Continue steps for biscuit shapes as desired.
Shaping, Drop Biscuits
  1. Use the forks to collect and shape dough balls onto the pan(s).
  2. Bake for about 10-14 minutes.
Shaping, Cut Biscuits
  1. Place dough into lightly floured pan(s). Sprinkle flour on top, press to ~1/2 inch thick, fold; repeat at least three times. (I encountered some recipes that called for up to 10 times of similar kneading.)
  2. Cut shapes with biscuit cutter, cooky spatula, drinking glass, or other means and arrange on the pan. (Some recipes called for cutter diameters from 2" to 3". A plastic shape I used had once held icing from a tube of Pillsbury refrigerated cinnamon rolls.)
  3. Bake for about 10-14 minutes.
Post-Recipe Thoughts
The biscuits came out paler that I expected. Maybe the next time, I'll raise the temperature or bake longer. (I didn't want to overbake and dry by adding 4 minutes.) And although not as salty as I might have wanted, I could always spread salted butter.

I'm not sure that using popcorn salt, with its finer granularity, is more effective than ordinary table salt. Sure, it's more expensive, as is the potassium baking powder. The table shows, however, that the butter is the costliest ingredient. In the big picture, homemade biscuits are way cheaper than refrigerated biscuits or getting them from a bakery or eatery.

Contrasting Costs of Biscuits Using Regular and Specialty Baking Powders and Salts
low-sodium $ reg ingred $
Potassium baking powder

Regular baking powder
Popcorn salt

Table salt
Unsalted butter
Nonfat milk (1 C, drop)
Nonfat milk (3/4 C, cut)
Full batch of 14

The drop biscuits are way easier and require less effort and time to make than the cut ones. The difference in calories between drop and cut biscuits is negligible, about 2 or 3 calories each biscuit.

Regarding sodium, using a recipe that calls for 3 teaspoons of regular baking soda and a teaspoon of salt instead of my recipe adds 2640 mg sodium per batch, about 189 mg extra per biscuit. And who eats only one biscuit per sitting? :-)

Stats for Calories and Sodium
Ingredients Calories Sodium (mg)
flour (2 C)
potassium baking powder (4 tsp),
Hain Featherweight
popcorn salt (1/2 tsp),
Kernel Season's
unsalted butter (1/2 C)
milk 1 C, for drop biscuits
3/4 C, for cut biscuits

Biscuit Quantity Shape Calories Sodium (mg)
Full batch of 14

Further Considerations
Potassium and sodium balance: "The trade-off for no sodium is every teaspoon of this baking powder has 500-600 milligrams potassium. That could be a problem for people with kidney disease whose potassium is running high, or someone taking blood pressure medicines that save potassium in the body."

Grating butter: Most biscuit recipes call for cutting the fat into the dry ingredients. I saw two recipes that called for grating cold butter—one for drop, and one for cut biscuits. Grating makes sense to me for easier and more thorough blending of ingredients. My salad shooter did a decent job of grating and also preventing butter warming from hand contact.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Frequently Used Electrical Long-time Kitchen Items

Do you have kitchen gadgets or appliances that you you've had for a long time and still frequently use? I previously wrote about non-electrical kitchen items. This time, I talk mostly about electrical appliances, such as my popcorn air popper and salad shooter.

Wearever Popcorn Pumper 72000
This hot-air popcorn popper is listed as vintage, and having come out around late 70s, before microwave popcorn. This model has the butter warmer at the base rather than at the chute (73000). Looking at a webpage of poppers for sale, some people state usability for roasting coffee beans.

Works great still, and I use it several times a month. Instead of the included butter warmer, I microwave butter in a glass cup with a piece of wax paper covering the top. Yeah, more work, but I prefer to not put the aluminum warmer in the dishwasher.

Presto Salad Shooter
This appliance works like a portable food processor with a lot less bulk. I use it pretty much weekly, since the early 90s. It's great for slicing carrots for salads and multiple veggies for making veggie pasta.

Although the shooter has multiple cutting and grating cones, I use the slicing one the most often. Over the years, I'd put various cracks in the original slicing cone, Read my article for details of finding and buying the replacement cone (good purchase experience).

GE Hand Mixer
I've had a few mixers over the years. This one is maybe 10 years old; the previous one had a plastic free-rotation stand. This appliance gets the job done. It has only two speeds, and the beater blades sometimes don't lock easily. (I've never felt the urge to get a high-end muscly machine.)

Osterizer Blender
Hooboy! It's been in my household since the 70s! Over the years, I've used it weekly, but sometimes I've neglected it for long periods of time (years?). I used to use it frequently for pureeing chunky salsas. (I'm not wild about chunky salsas or similarly chunky pico de gallo. I've used it for chopping up ice and also blending hot butter into egg yolks for hollandaise sauce.

Maybe 15 years ago, the blades wouldn't rotate. Maybe I didn't fully dry the blade unit after handwashing it. I reluctantly bought a replacement, not thinking it sensible to buy an entire new blender.

GE 700-watt MIcrowave Oven

Yes! Only 700 watts! I've had this oven for about 25 years. It's so low- powered that most microwave meals list instructions for 1000 to 1100-watt ovens. Pretty much, if I'm doing a frozen meal, I add about 50% more time. A couple of the rack brackets are gone or broken, so I don't use the rack anymore. The lack of a full set of brackets don't seem to affect heating performance or make the oven unsafe to use.

Do you have appliances that you've had a loooong time that you still use regularly? How about sporadically? Eh, I have some electrical and non-electrical items that I use very infrequently or still haven't tried, but I'm not going there. :-).
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