Saturday, August 25, 2012

Low Iodine: Ac-cen-tu-ate the Positive...Swiss Steak

On a very restrictive diet, it's easy to fixate on what you can't have, on all the verboten treats and favorites you've given up. Right now, I'm turning my frown upside-down, finding the silver lining in the cloud, making a silk purse out of the sow's ear, ac-cent-tu-ate-ing the positive...OK, I'm out of cliches. Sometimes, it's good to get jolted out of your cooking rut, is all. I'm pulling cookbooks out that have languished for a couple of years, learning to bake decent bread, and refocusing on canning and preserving.  I'm cooking again and feeling more confident, after giving up on it and myself for a couple of years.

All the cookbook searching is paying off, yielding recipes that I will continue making post-scan. Last night's dinner was a riff on Swiss Steak, that old cafeteria favorite, using Moroccan/Middle Eastern spicing from the cuisines I've been researching. I had made it before, using a recipe from my trusty Fannie Farmer cookbook (12th edition, 1979). Onions, garlic, stewed was OK.  This time, inspired by a box of couscous, I thought of adding warm spices like coriander & cinnamon, and a splash of honey to round the flavors. It was delicious, and the kids scarfed it up and asked for seconds. It's earned a spot in the dinner rotation.

Heather's low-iodine Swiss Steak

1 1/2 lb. cubed steak
1 medium onion, cut in half then sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 t freshly ground black pepper
1/2 t. kosher salt, or to taste
1/4 t ground cinnamon
1/4 t ground ginger
1/4 t ground coriander
2 t honey
2 15-oz cans whole tomatoes, no salt added, crushed & juice reserved
1/4 c. red wine
flour & kosher salt for dredging meat
1 T Olive oil or canola oil
Chopped parsley or cilantro for garnish

Heat oil in a large skillet or electric frying pan over medium heat. Lightly salt the cubed steak, let stand for a minute, then dredge in flour. Add steaks to the pan, and let sit undisturbed for at least 4 minutes. Turn and brown on the other side.

Remove meat from the pan to a large plate. Lower heat to medium-low, and add onions. Cook until softened slightly, then add garlic and stir until it becomes fragrant. Sprinkle in cinnamon, coriander, and ginger, stir to coat the onions in the spices. Pour in red wine and honey and let simmer for a couple of minutes. Add tomatoes and their juice, and mix everything together. Add the steaks back into the pan, nestling them in the sauce and scooping some of the tomato mixture on each. Turn heat to low, cover the pan, and let everything simmer gently until the meat is fork-tender, about 30-40 minutes. Stir the sauce, turn meat over once, and watch it carefully to make sure nothing is sticking to the bottom of the pan. Taste for seasoning, and add more kosher salt and pepper if needed.

Serve over plain couscous prepared with kosher salt & olive oil, and a sprinkle of chopped cilantro

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Low Iodine: Bread, no circus

My thyroid doctor always sends a helpful list of forbidden foods with my appointment list and instructions for the radioactive iodine scan, and it very confusingly says that fresh bread from the bakery is OK, despite the fact that fresh bread from the bakery often contains salt of unknown provenance, and/or dairy of some kind. In the past I've made my own pita & foccacia, and purchased salt- and dairy-free bread from Trader Joe's. This time, I've opted to bake my own loaves using the no knead bread popularized by Mark Bittman in the New York Times. Friends had been raving about how easy this bread is to make, and how good the results are, for years but I dismissed even this simple recipe as too complicated for my already maximally complicated life.

Well, it really is that easy. The instructions: Flour, instant yeast, kosher salt, and water get dumped in a bowl, mixed together, covered and left to sit on the counter for 12-18 hours. After that time, the results are dumped on a floured board, folded over a couple of times, rested for 15 minutes, then shaped into a ball and left to sit for another two. Preheat a dutch oven at 450 for 30 minutes, throw the bread in, and bake covered for 30 minutes, then uncovered for 30 more.

That's it. The result isn't the best bread you've ever tasted, but it's a reasonable facsimile. I mix the dough before I go to bed, knock it down when I get home from work the next day, then bake it after dinner. It's great toasted and brushed with good olive oil, kosher salt & garlic powder, or straight up with some homemade jam and unsalted peanut butter. I'll probably continue baking it even after the low-iodine diet is done.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Low Iodine: Hooray for Hummus!

I went low-iodine shopping at Whole Foods today, mostly for the usual salt-free chips, lots of vegetables, decent olive oil & balsamic vinegar, tahine, salt-free garbanzo beans...blah. Just for kicks I cruised down the prepared food aisle where the dips & spreads are, looking at forbidden goodies - or so I thought. I picked up a container of Cava Mezze hummus & read the ingredients: pureed chickpeas with tahine, lemon juice, fresh garlic, and kosher salt...wait, what? Kosher salt? That means I can eat it! How amazing to find something quick and flavorful that I don't have to make myself.

All of their products specify kosher salt, which I can trust to have no added iodine. Hummus, tabbouli, and a tub of fiery harrissa came home with me. Thank you, Cava Mezze Foods. You made my day, week, and month while I'm on this crazy diet.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Low Iodine: The Night Before

Low-iodine diets starts tomorrow, in preparation for the radioactive iodine whole-body scan on September 14th. I've been cleaning out the fridge/cabinets of stuff I can't eat, and will be shopping for lots of good tomatoes, peaches, corn, and other summer delights. To review, here's a list of what I can't eat for a month:

iodized salt or sea salt
Dairy products (milk, butter, yogurt, ice cream, cheese)
Vitamins (most multis add iodine)
Food and meds that contain Red dye FD&C #3
Egg yolks, whole eggs, or food containing them
Seafood (fish, shellfish, molluscs, seaweed, kelp)
Foods that contain the additives: carragen, agar-agar, algin, alginates
Cured and corned meats
Breads with iodate dough conditioners
Chocolate (milk added)
Soy and soy products (soy sauce, tofu, soy milk)
Potato skins
Some beans (pinto, navy beans, lima beans, red kidney beans,)
Restaurant food, since I can't be certain what's in any of it
Processed foods, since there is no reliable way of knowing what kind of salt is used

One of the first things I will be making this week is a batch of Taratoor Sauce, the sesame/garlic condiment I first encountered at local chain Lebanese Taverna.


1 C. tahine sauce (stir before measuring)
3/4 C. lemon juice
2 T. water, plus more for thinning the sauce
2-3 cloves crushed fresh garlic
1/2 t. kosher salt
1/8 t. ground cumin
1 t. minced parsley

Put all ingredients except parsley in a food processor, and pulse a few times until combined. Scrape it out into a bowl and stir in the parsley. Adjust the thickness with cold water until it reaches the desired consistency.

Will keep for a few days in the refrigerator. Stir before using.