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Low-sodium dinner with ‘OMG’ cookies to follow

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Simmered Chicken Meatballs
Suggested menu:

Simmered Chicken Meatballs
Rice or pasta of your choice
small green salad
Start to finish: 40 minutes
Yield: 12 servings
    
Ingredients
1 jar (26-ounce) low-sodium marinara sauce
32 ounces low-sodium chicken broth
2 slices hearty whole-grain sandwich bread, cut in small cubes
1/2 cup low-fat milk
1 large egg
1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
1 pound premium ground chicken (see Cook's Note)
1/4 cup flour, for dusting
Salt and pepper to taste
    
Directions
In a large skillet, pour the marinara sauce and chicken broth together and stir to mix. Cover and heat on medium-high to bring to a boil.
Meanwhile, in a medium-to-large bowl, combine the bread, milk, egg, parmesan, Dijon mustard and Italian seasoning, mixing well. Crumble the ground chicken over the mixture and then stir well. Divide the mixture into balls slightly larger than a golf ball.
Pour the flour into a small bowl and shake to distribute. Drop each ball first into the flour, gently tossing to coat, and then into the boiling sauce mixture. Repeat until all the balls are formed, floured and placed into the sauce.
Cook, covered, for 10 minutes, and then uncover and cook for another 10 minutes. Nudge meatballs so they will freely turn in the boiling sauce. Stir occasionally. Serve as desired.
(Cook's Note: Ground chicken can be one of those hidden sodium sources. Check to make sure your ground chicken has not had a sodium solution injected into it before packaging. Often those labeled "premium" do not. But check the nutritional content to be sure, and ask your grocery store manager to stock sodium-free and reduced-sodium products.)

Approximate values per serving: 145 calories, 4 g fat (1 saturated), 51 mg cholesterol, 14 g protein, 10 g carbohydrates, 1 g dietary fiber, 190 mg sodium.

Small Batch Heath Bar Cookies
Start to finish: 15 minutes preparation time, 30 minutes refrigeration time, 12 minutes baking time
Yield: 20 cookies

Ingredients
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
4 finely chopped Heath Bars
1/2 cup chopped pecans
    
Directions
In medium bowl, sift together flour, salt and baking soda. Set aside.
In the large bowl of an electric mixer, mix together the butter and sugar until light and creamy, about 2 minutes on medium-high. Add the egg and vanilla and mix to incorporate. Turn off the mixer and stir in (by hand) the candy bars and pecans. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 20 to 30 minutes, or until the dough is nice and firm.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Drop each cookie dough scoop about 2 inches apart onto a parchment-lined cookie sheet. Bake for 12 minutes or until lightly browned on the edges. Cool on cookie sheet for 5 minutes and then transfer to a cookie rack to cool completely. Store covered.
    
Approximate values per cookie: 142 calories, 8 g fat (3 g saturated), 20 mg cholesterol, 2 g protein, 16 g carbohydrates, 0.5 g dietary fiber, 142 mg sodium.

Salt is sodium, but not all sodium is salt. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website:
"Most of the sodium Americans eat comes from packaged, processed, store-bought and restaurant foods. Only a small amount comes from salt added during cooking or at the table. In fact, most Americans already get more daily sodium than recommended before they ever pick up a salt shaker."
Furthermore, according to the Food and Drug Administration, in general, Americans should not consume more than 2,300 mg of sodium per day; for others, who are "more sensitive to the effects of salt," they should limit their intake to 1,500 mg.
Thank goodness there are more and more low-sodium ingredients available, so I'm not compromising convenience for health when I'm cooking. Even though I'm not on a doctor-ordered low-sodium diet, I appreciate the health benefits. Like many of us, I am genetically predisposed to high blood pressure and other cardiac complications. So watching what I eat is crucial to heart health.
How do we reduce our sodium intake? Limit the use of highly processed foods. Cook more often at home, and use as many low-sodium and reduced-sodium ingredients as possible. Add salt at the table to individual portions only after tasting. Careful, though -- you can easily over-salt your dish if you go wild with the shaker. Stop, taste, and salt incrementally, pouring it into your hand, then sprinkling with your fingers. Your heart will thank you.
SHARE THESE EASY 'OMG' COOKIES WITH FRIENDS
I really should call my recipe for Small Batch Heath Bar Cookies my OMG ("Oh my God!") cookies instead, because that has been the response from everyone who has eaten one lately. Ironically, this is a recipe I found handwritten on a card in the bottom of my file cabinet, which had a smiley face on it -- the old-school version of OMG. (Obviously, I had the same response to the cookies and copied the recipe from a friend.)
    Seriously, these will not disappoint the most discerning cookie connoisseur. You have a hint of chocolate, the chewy goodness of toffee and the sure presence of pecans surrounded by butter-sugar dough that is delicious by itself. I've sized the batch to make 20 cookies, which is helpful when you don't want to be tied to the oven for over an hour baking tray after tray. For a small household like mine, there are still enough to enjoy and share without tiring of them.
    As always, let me know what you think at kitchenscoop.com. In the meantime, whip up a batch of these cookies. (I'll be listening for the OMGs.) Enjoy!
Alicia Ross is the co-author of "Desperation Dinners!" (Workman, 1997), "Desperation Entertaining!" (Workman, 2002) and "Cheap. Fast. Good!" (Workman, 2006). Contact her at Kitchen Scoop, c/o Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106, or send email to tellus@kitchenscoop.com. Or visit the Kitchen Scoop website at www.kitchenscoop.com.