Monthly Archives: February 2014

Lego Your Prego – Pasta Sauce

There’s something so deliciously satisfying about serving a meal that you made from scratch. I beam like a little schoolgirl when I place my homemade meal in front of my hubby. He appropriately smiles and ooh’s and ahh’s and I know my act of love has been accepted.

It’s easier than you might think to make things from scratch. But it can seem daunting at first. One of my favorite quick week-night meals is pasta. I make it in a myriad of variations and the possibilities are endless. I once made an Alfredo sauce that was to die for – but knowing how much cream cheese went into it made me worry for our coronary heath. So, that’s a once a year sort of meal. Okay, like three times a year but let’s not get crazy.

A simple red sauce is quite easy to make. From the base you can add cheeses, creams, spices etc. to make it whatever type of sauce you’re craving.  Here is my go to base:

*Please note I am a “by feel” cook and I guestimate most of my homemade meals. Start with a few spices, taste, and add as you desire. The more you do this, the more you’ll get a feel for how much of something to add from the start. 

PREP: 10 minutes         COOK TIME: 10 minutes       SERVES: 4-5*

*(Perfect for hungry hubby, guests, or left overs)

  • 2 8 oz cans of Hunts tomato sauce (Hunts uses steam to peel tomatoes rather than chemicals – GO HUNTS)
  • 1 14.5 oz can of Hunts diced tomatoes, drained
  • 1/2 tsp salt (or to taste)
  • 1 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1 1/2 tsp Italian Seasoning
  • 1/4 tsp Chili powder
  • 1/3 cup diced onion (more if you love onion)
  • 1 clove garlic, minced (substitute 1/4 tsp garlic powder, if needed)
  • 1 summer squash, peeled and chopped
  • 1 zucchini, peeled and chopped
  • 1/2 or 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 1-2 handfuls baby spinach, chopped roughly
  • 1 TBS Olive Oil
  1. Heat 1 TBS Olive Oil in a large sauté pan on medium heat. When shimmering, but not smoking, add the diced onion and garlic into the pan. Stir constantly to make sure garlic doesn’t burn. Saute for about 1-2 minutes or until garlic is fragrant and onions starts to soften. *Note, I throw these in to cook while I peel and chop the other veggies.
  2. Add in chopped veggies – squash, zucchini, bell pepper – and sauté until veggies are tender, about 4-5 minutes. *You can add whatever veggies you like, but these blend well and I hardly know I’m eating veggies!
  3. Add in Italian Seasonings, chili pepper and black pepper, stir to coat all veggies. If you are substituting garlic powder, add it here. Let cook while you open up the cans of tomatoes.
  4. Add in tomato sauce and drained diced tomatoes – you might want to turn down the heat before you do this so the tomato sauce doesn’t splatter all over your favorite white shirt. Experience is a great teacher. 
  5. Add in the salt gently – there’s nothing worse than an over salted dish. But also nothing worse than an under-seasoned one either! Here is where you will add more of whatever spices are needed.
  6. Toss in the chopped spinach and stir it in so it’s under the nice hot sauce. Let it sit there and get nice and wilty while you drain the pasta and get ready to eat.
  7. NOTE: if you are cooking ground beef/pork you can cook that first, set it aside and saute the veggies in the brown delicious bits left in the pan. This really adds flavor. Same if you sauté some chicken and set it aside to rest. Re-add the meat at the end.

HINTS:

  • If it doesn’t taste “pasta saucy” enough, add in more Italian seasoning
  • If it tastes too “tomato saucy” add in a dash of salt.
  • If it’s missing “depth of flavor” try adding some garlic powder.
  • If all else fails, add cheese. 🙂 

VARIATIONS:

  • You can add in some heavy cream to make it a smoother creamy sauce. I do this when I’m feeling fancy.
  • You can add in grated Parmesan cheese – note that this makes it a little lumpy sometimes, but also tastes great!
  • Add cream AND cheese – mind blown!
  • Add a bit of cayenne to heat it up, add in cream, a dash of wine (sherry or the real stuff) and BAM, you have FANCY pasta sauce and your husband will declare “Let’s never eat out again!” and you’ll re-think this whole cooking from scratch thing.

SCALED DOWN VARIATION:

If you’re cooking for one and you don’t want leftovers for a week (who does, really?) here is a fun variation:

  • Spray PAM into a skillet, let it get really hot (smokin’) and toss in half a package of cherry tomatoes. Let them get blackened on all sides – shaking the pan occasionally.
  • When they are bursting, smush them with your spatula (again, avoid wearing a white shirt).
  • Add in the 8 oz can of tomato sauce, 1/4 tsp salt, 2-dashes chili powder, 2-dashes garlic powder, 1/4 tsp ground pepper, 1/4 tsp Italian Seasoning.
  • Add a dash of cream, and a dash of sherry or wine (if you have it, if not don’t sweat it).
  • Chop some spinach and throw it in, add your favorite protein, serve over pasta and enjoy!

There you go – a myriad of pasta variations! I think once you give it a try you’ll be sold – it’s easy, it’s healthy, it’s sugar and preservative free, so really, what’s not to love? And just think how you will impress your friends and family with your mad skills. Amazing.

Just as an FYI here are some quick facts on the top three store-bought pasta sauces and links to their nutrition info:

Happy pasta sauce making!

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Artisan Bread – 5 minute recipe

This is the second post in the series “Sugar Wars.” You can read post 1 here

One of the staples of American fare is BREAD. We love bread with everything. We love bread by itself! But, in the midst of our love affair, we might not realize that most varieties we buy in the store, even the healthy whole wheat ones, contain added sugar. Some sugars occur naturally in foods: fructose, lactose, and glucose as carbohydrate. While other sugars are added: sugar, high fructose corn syrup, etc., and these are what we have to be careful with.

Orowheat Whole Grain Bread for example has 3 grams of sugar per slice (our daily intake should be limited to 24 grams). The third ingredient is sugar, right after whole wheat, and water. Admittedly, there are bigger fish to fry than sugar in your bread, but it’s an important component to understanding how much added sugars we are consuming – especially in our savory foods. 

About 8 months ago I came across a recipe that has changed my view of bread making AND bread buying. It was a post by Frugal Living called “Amazing No-Knead Bread.” Oh how I love this recipe, let me count the ways:

  1. 5 minutes of work – start to finish.
  2. One loaf costs $0.40 cents to make.
  3. Fresh bread smells AMAZING!
  4. I know exactly what I’m eating: Flour-Water-Salt-Yeast
  5. It looks like this:

IMG_20130817_122331_314

I know…you can hardly wait to make a loaf! So let’s get to it!

I have made a few modifications to the method of preparation that Frugal Living describes in order to match our lifestyle and my love of simplicity.

1. I halve the recipe – this lasts me and my husband about a week. We eat some as a snack, along with meals etc. We rarely eat sandwiches so if you eat those daily, you should make the full recipe. Here are the halved amounts:

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp active dry yeast
  • 1 1/3 cups cool water

2. Dump all ingredients into a large bowl and stir until it comes together. It will be sticky.

3. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or towel and set near the stove (or the warmest part of your kitchen).

4. Let the dough rise for 12-18 hours. NOTE – I usually mix it up in the evening after work, then put it in the oven the following evening after work. Thus I let it rise for about 24 hours.

5. After your dough has risen for 24 hours, it will be VERY sticky and bubbly. An hour before you want to bake it, sprinkle flour over the top and mold into a smooth ball, and let rise for another hour.

6. Pre-heat oven with heavy bottomed pot (mine is aluminum) in the oven. Plop the ball of dough in the preheated pot, cover and cook for 40 minutes at 425, then uncover and cook for 10 additional minutes at 425.

7. Take out of the oven, marvel at the beautiful thing you’ve just made, and place on a cooling rack.

IMPORTANT: DO NOT slice until it has cooled 100%. Otherwise you will have a dense block of bread and then you will be sad. Very, very sad.

We store ours in a gallon sized zip-lock bag, because we are classy like that.

This is such an easy recipe, much healthier without preservatives, and you can make it anytime you need it.  We’ve completely gone off store-bought bread and I’m quite happy.

I think you will be too.

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Sugar Wars

Sugar and I have a tumultuous history. As a child my mom would allow me one small cup of chocolate milk (my favorite) per week. And because this treat was so rare and cherished I would often drink part of it then stash the rest away in a secret hiding place to drink later. Being 5 years old and not understanding the concept of heat and bacteria, my treasured chocolate milk would usually be found, curdled, in some cabinet a week later.

My mom was wise and she knew that me + sugar = unruly, annoying, hyperactive, non-cognizant child. No one wants this child. I certainly didn’t want to BE that child. So she restricted my sugar intake judiciously.

Thus my childhood was fraught with conversations such as these:

Me: Mom! Can I have Fruit Loops? My friend’s mom gets them for her.

Mom: *Uproarious laughter that echoes across the grocery store*

Me: Mom, please, can I?

Mom: *Wiping away tears of laughter* “That was a funny joke. Ahh, let’s get some Shredded Wheat.”

As a child this was discouraging, slightly embarrassing, and altogether confounding. But I owe a great deal of my eating habits and taste to my mother who refused to let her child succumb to the sugary madness around her.  That’s what moms are for – to protect us 0-17 year olds against our wills, because let’s be honest, our little wills were still learning what would and would not kill us.

As I grew up I noticed that if I ate too much sugar I would start to break out, and then come down with a cold. As a result I continued to limit my sugar intake much as my mom had. Dorritos on the other hand I CRAVED, but that’s a confession for another time…

Not all of us were raised with mom’s who were in a battle with sugar. Not because they were bad moms or negligent, but simply because they didn’t know. And sugar is just so.darn.good so why would you deprive your child of the delights you enjoy yourself? And let me add here that I’m not advocating that sugar never be eaten, definitely not (let’s not go crazy here) but I do firmly believe that it should be moderated more severely than it currently is in our food culture. The issue, I think, is not that we let our kids eat a cupcake here and there, but that we really understand HOW MUCH sugar is in our daily foods. We’d be shocked. In fact, I was!

My friend, an awesome will-protecting, super-hero of a mom to two gorgeous daughters, recently shared this post by Brooke McLay called 25 Reasons to Stop Eating Sugar. My friend, a sugar lover herself, was challenged by this and determined to change the way she interacts with sugar. In this article McLay sites research that shows the effect that too much sugar can have on our mind and body. I highly suggest you take a moment to read this article, do more research yourself, and then come back if you’re interested in changing your intake.

In short we are recommended to limit our sugar intake to 24 grams (6 teaspoons) per day. But in fact on average we take in 22.2 teaspoons per day (Heart Association FAQ About Sugar). For some shocking amounts of sugar found in things from yogurt to pasta sauce, check out WebMD’s Sugar Shockers: Foods Surprisingly High in Sugar. This will only concern you if you understand the effects sugar has on our bodies. (That means read the 25 Reasons to Stop Eating Sugar – seriously, do it!)

So, in an effort to help my super-hero mom friend, and many others who want to lessen their sugar intake, I have decided to do a blog series on foods we can make at home to help control the amounts of sugar we take in.

While I am not a mom, yet, I would say that 99% of my friends are and as such I have a keen sympathy to the demands you have on your time and energy. I will do my best to share recipes that are actually attainable to the working (in-home, or out) moms and other’s with busy lifestyles.

So, stay tuned for recipes to be flooding your inbox (or coming in at a somewhat moderate pace), as I begin this blog series – Cooking at Home so Sugar Doesn’t Take Over Your Life! Or something slightly less dramatic…

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