September 4, 2009

Time Saver Recipe #1: Homemade Tomato Sauce

With many of our kids heading back to school this fall, we as adults, tend to seek out "convenience eating" when fatigued or rushed for time. We dread arguing about what to have for dinner, or whose turn it is to cook. It seems much easier to "blue tooth" a pizza delivery service on your way home than it is to get a cart and mindlessly walk the supermarket aisles with a couple of cranky back-to-schoolers. Do you also need food and snacks for lunches? What's in the fridge? How about yourself? What are you eating? And we haven't even touched the surface on how to remedy pure mental exhaustion, usually caused by inadequate diet and stress.

Yep, around the last week of September, we're basically "spent" in more ways than one. No one wants to attempt something homemade like chicken pot pies at 7 p.m. when you have piles of laundry to wash, muddy cleats in the hallway, mail to open and a tearful third grader at the kitchen table asking for homework help. I've been there my friend, many times, and am also guilty of seeking that treasured time saver; the convenience of instant gratification.

I've patronized many a drive-through over the years lugging home cardboard buckets of chicken and mashed potatoes, dozens of red and yellow bags filled with burgers, fries, and unnecessary toys (soon to be lost and forgotten), and sturdy white containers with little metal handles basically filled with oil, MSG and a bit of beef and rice. I've gone to bed feeling guilty of feeding my family grease, additives and sodium, and face the morning mirror looking somewhat like a big, swollen, puffer fish myself.

Maybe you've fallen for the "healthy" product varieties at the store, which are dishonestly labeled, overly priced, and inadequately portioned. Maybe you feel comfortable sticking with what you know, or maybe, possibly, you're ready for a change. A change for the better.
By freezing and packaging your own meals, (which in the end are quicker to prepare than driving out of your way for take-out), you may find yourself actually looking forward to the dinner hour; or better yet, eating together as a couple, or as a family. If you live alone, you can portion these meals for single servings, or invite a few friends for dinner one night and share the love.

Over the next few weeks, I will be posting menus and recipes that will allow you to serve healthy, delicious dinners for your family, and save your heart, arteries and wallets as well. So make room in your freezers, dust off your crockpots, and get ready to feel awesome about a new beginning. At the very least, give it a try!

Tomato sauce goes a long way. There are hundreds of premade canned and jarred varieties, and if you read the labels, they are usually filled with sodium, preservatives and dyes. Once you taste this tomato sauce actually made from fresh, homegrown tomatoes, you'll find it hard to go back to buying premade sauce again. You'll be on your way to knowing what you're feeding your family, and you'll ultimately have control over your desired taste and selection of wholesome ingredients.

Small batches of your own sauce can be reserved for tacos, chili, chicken or eggplant parm, and many pasta dishes as well. The following recipe will fill about 4-5, medium-sized freezer containers. I timed my prep and cooking, and it was less than an hour from start to finish. I now have a stash of at least four future meal possibilities in my freezer. (Fill a few 9.5 ounce sized containers with sauce as well for pizza, calzones and meatball subs.)

Homemade Tomato Sauce
(makes about 8 cups of sauce)

15 (medium to large sized), ripe plum tomatoes
1 large bunch of fresh basil - torn or roughly chopped
olive oil
Two (28 0z.) cans of tomato puree (no additives, just tomato concentrate and citric acid)
pinch of white sugar
3 tablespoons chopped onion
2 cloves of garlic, finely minced
1 pint carton of fresh grape/cherry tomatoes, halved
*optional - 1/4 cup of red wine

Fill a large pot, or dutch oven with salted water and bring to a boil. Wash plum tomatoes, and gently score, or cut an "x", on the top and bottom of each one. Place in a large colander. When water is hot, slowly place tomatoes into the pot. Don't overcrowd, this can be done in batches.
Boil the tomatoes until skins begin to wrinkle and peel back. Remove with a slotted spoon, and place on a plate or back into the colander to cool. Repeat with remaining tomatoes, allowing to cool completely before handling. Using your hands and a small paring knife. peel the skin off of each tomato, discarding skins.
When tomatoes are peeled, cut off the stem tops.Slice lengthwise, and gently remove the tough, meaty part of each tomato. Place cleaned and peeled plum tomatoes in a large bowl and set aside. Now prepare the grape/cherry tomatoes. Sauteing these to the point of caramelization makes them extremely sweet, which adds a wonderful flavor to your finished sauce. Preheat about 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil in the bottom of your large pot. Add chopped onions, minced garlic, and the halved grape or cherry tomatoes. Saute until mixture becomes soft and golden in color; remove from heat and cool.In a blender, add the plum tomatoes, filling about 3/4 full. Puree until desired consistency. If you want your sauce to be completely smooth, puree the sauteed onion/garlic (cherry) tomato mixture as well. I've added additional sauteed veggies to this mixture in the past such as zucchini and carrots. Once they're pureed and added to the sauce, your kids won't even be able to notice they're in there! Don't rush through this process or you will have a big mess on your hands. Take your time and work in small batches if necessary.

Add tomatoes back into the large pot as you puree them. Be sure your pot will be large enough to allow the tomatoes to simmer without splattering too much.
Pour in the two cans of tomato puree, throw in a pinch of sugar and stir. Add a drizzle of olive oil, the chopped basil, salt and pepper to taste. (*Add the wine at this point if desired.) Simmer on medium low heat for about 15 to 20 minutes.
Cool to room temperature, and ladle into freezer containers. Use white freezer tape and a sharpie marker to write the date on the top of each lid.

Wow, that seemed like a lot, didn't it? Let's summarize: Boil and peel 15 plum tomatoes, whip them up in a blender, add sauteed onions/garlic/cherry tomatoes, two cans of tomato puree; simmer and season to taste, then place in freezer containers. See? Not so bad...
"If possible - support your local farmers!"


Natalie said...

I agree with you completely! I don't have children yet but I already know I don't want be a 'convenient' parent, but a smart one.

The sauce looks great also, and very versatile!

"Vanilla and Thyme" said...

Thanks for your nice comment Natalie. I'll be checking out the healthy recipes on your blog as well -

Chow and Chatter said...

this is wonderful and so great to have on hand, love it