Friday, September 24, 2010

What's for Dinner?

It's 4 p.m. Well, actually, 4:10 p.m. I should be thinking about what to feed my family tonight. Instead, I've spent about 40 minutes playing on Facebook, 10 minutes sorting photos, two minutes thinking that I really should clean the house, and about 30 seconds justifying why I'm not cleaning the house. I mopped our (very) sticky kitchen floor earlier, though. Whew. I'm worn out.

Anyway, I decided that while the kiddos are busy playing outside with friends, I would share with you why I'm not stressing about what's for dinner.

We have sauce. Lots and lots of sauce.

With our abundance of tomatoes this summer, I've been on a midnight sauce-making frenzy. I've decided it's a great method to cure insomnia by making sauce at 11:30 p.m. (Then, sleeplessness is no longer frustrating insomnia, because I'm actively working.) The weird inner dialogues that happen in my brain...

While our overload of tomatoes was one reason for making sauce, the real reason I wanted to stock up is for days like today. Today, I don't have one creative idea of what to feed my family that will not illicit grief from the kids. I thought about risotto, which Peter and I love...but the kids despise. I thought about chicken, but right now, I'm having an anti-chicken phase. (This happens every few weeks, after I've been reading sustainable farming literature. We buy organic chicken, but still...some days, I just can't go there.) So, rather than do our fallback routine of going out, which has become too frequent, too expensive, and too questionable regarding our waistlines...I'm pulling out the sauce.

Everyone eats the sauce.

It's healthy. It's delicious. It's homemade from organically raised produce. Even the garlic is from our garden, which personally—I find very cool. 

Garlic is good. Homegrown garlic is great.

So, because I feel your pain as the dinner hour approaches, I'm sharing my super easy, incredibly scrumptious sauce recipe. Get to the Farmer's Market tomorrow morning, 8 a.m. SHARP. Buy tons of tomatoes, if you haven't grown your own. Tell the farmer that you need delicious, organic tomatoes to make a big vat of sauce, and you might get a price cut. Locally, one vendor sold 25 pounds of tomatoes for $10. Granted, they weren't heirloom, but they were organic. Make sure you select nice, ripe tomatoes.


I am not a chef. I am not even a very good cook. My recipe is one that I found on, and then modified to meet our personal likes. Extra garlic. Extra oregano. Extra wine.

You get the picture.

The beauty of this sauce is that it's fail-proof. It's great on it's own, but it's also fabulous with extra goodies, like mushrooms, sausage, and peppers. I make the basic sauce and then add the extra ingredients later, as we're preparing the meal.

Ready? It's time to get to work!

First, plug your iPod into the dock and line up your favorite tunes. Your hands will be covered in tomato goo for the next hour, so choose your selections wisely. If your teenage son recently downloaded new albums to your iPod, you may want to preview them before you begin. (Our college boy usually selects pretty good albums for me, but sorry—I'm too old for “Elf Power.” Did I really just admit that? Yeesh.)

One of the biggest hassles in making sauce is peeling the tomatoes. Do you know the secret for easy peeling? If not, I'm going to tell you. You will thank me.

Peel tomatoes.
Fill a large pot with water and heat on high to boil. Fill another large container with cold water and ice. Make sure it's near the stove.

After washing your tomatoes,  slice a shallow “X” in the bottom (blossom) end of the fruit. 

When you've “Xed” the tomatoes, add them to the boiling water for about one minute. 

Using a slotted spoon, remove the tomatoes from the pot and plunge them into the bowl of ice water. The ice water stops the tomato from cooking and further loosens the skin.

Remove the cooled tomato. The skin should peel away easily. (FYI—this also works for ripe peaches.) 

Crazy-easy, huh?

De-seed tomatoes.
Really, this is optional. We just don't like a lot of seeds in our sauce. If you're pressed for time, you can skip this step...

Cut the peeled tomatoes through the center of the fruit—not through the stem end. Squeeze the seeds and juice into a bowl. 

DO NOT THROW THIS OUT—just set it aside. You won't eliminate all of the seeds, so don't stress about removing every last one.

Cut tomatoes. Chop, dice, whatever makes you happy.

Remove the stem with your knife. It's hard and nasty—you don't want it in your sauce. Chop the tomatoes. The size isn't too important—the tomatoes are going to cook down, but if you don't like large chunks in your sauce—you'll want smaller pieces. Set aside.

Strain the juice.

I'm not big on kitchen gadgets, but I have to admit—I truly love my food mill for times like this. (A year ago, I didn't know what a food mill was, so don't feel bad if you don't, either.)

The food mill is pretty fabulous. It has legs that support it over a bowl, so while you're pouring seedy juice into it, you don't have to try to balance the food mill at the same time. So—pour in the seeds, juice, pulp...crank the handle of the mill a bit until most of the liquid is in the bowl—and voila! 

Lovely juice without seeds.

If you don't have a food mill, a fine strainer will work.

(Note: you can use the food mill to process the entire tomato, and it will remove the skin, seeds, and everything...but I found it makes the sauce too thin.)

OK. Still there? The hardest part is DONE! YEA! Wash your hands, get the tomato goo out from under your nails, drink a little wine, and get ready to cook!

Onions, garlic, and olive oil, oh my.
Chop your onions and mince your garlic. We like a lot of garlic, so modify the amount to your taste.

Heat olive oil in a large sauce pan. Add the onions and garlic, cooking until soft. (Just a couple of minutes.)

The herbs.
If you have fresh basil and oregano—use it, your hands will smell wonderful! Chop the fresh basil and oregano until fine. If you don't have fresh herbs, dried works fine, too.

The rest.

Add the tomatoes and seed-free juice.... 

...the wine...

...and all remaining ingredients (salt, pepper, sugar, herbs, wine) to the pot. 

Stir well, cover, and bring to a boil on medium-high heat.
Once the sauce begins to boil, remove cover, reduce heat, and simmer for about three hours.

The most important step.

Cut or tear some good bread, and dip into the sauce every hour, just to make sure it's to your taste. You can always add more spices to suit your palate.

And finally—pour a large glass of wine, go sit down, and bribe your husband/significant other/roommate to clean up the kitchen. When he/she smells the sauce, you'll have a kitchen slave. (Except mine was out of town when I made the last batch. Boo.)

Winter days.

The greatest thing about this sauce is that it freezes beautifully. Wait for it to thoroughly cool, ladle the sauce into freezer-safe containers (size dependent on your needs), pop into the freezer—and you'll have the taste of summer all winter long.

And when the witching hour hits, you'll no longer wonder what's for dinner.


 ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Homemade Tomato Sauce
¼ c. olive oil
6 cloves garlic, minced (modify to your taste—we like a lot of garlic)
2 medium onions, finely chopped
20+ ripe tomatoes, peeled, deseeded, and chopped
½ cup dry white wine
2 tsp. oregano
2 tsp. fresh basil, chopped
1 tbsp. sugar
2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. pepper

In a large, heavy pot, heat olive oil on medium high. Add garlic and onions. Saute until soft.
Add all remaining ingredients to pot, mixing well. Cover, and cook until boiling over medium-high heat. Reduce heat, remove cover, and simmer for at least three hours. Stir occasionally.

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