Choose Your Own Adventure Tomato Sauce

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I was fortunate to have inherited my mom's cooking prowess. She was a whiz in the kitchen and could quite literally make something from nothing. I am not nearly as good at it as she was, because she was way more creative than me and willing to take bigger risks, but I'm pretty good and making things up as I go. 

This causes problems for me when I am supposed to be following a recipe. I end up making tweaks here or there and subbing ingredients no matter what. This is great when we don't exactly have all the ingredients needed on hand, but it makes it a challenge to recreate things sometimes.

I know that not everyone is comfortable or willing to experiment in the kitchen, but it's so ingrained in me that I struggle when writing recipes or trying to communicate cooking things to others because I spend so much time just winging it! So, I decided I would share my method and madness (and tons of options) for my tomato sauce to see if I can't inspire you to be a little creative in the kitchen. 

I chose tomato sauce because it's relatively easy, hard to mess up, and mine comes out different almost every time I make it because I just use whatever I have on hand. So here's an un-recipe recipe for tomato sauce that you get to customize to your liking! There's no ingredient list, but I go through the process step-by-step and point out where there are places to make substitutions.

Tomato Sauce

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Start with a big pan and heat some coconut oil (about a tablespoon). Add some chopped onion and saute until translucent, about 5 minutes. How much onion you use depends on how much sauce you are making. I typically use 1/2 of a large onion when making enough sauce for 2 people plus leftovers. 

Once the onion is cooked, add a clove or two of minced fresh garlic (or used garlic powder if that's all you have). If you would like to use bell peppers, this is the time to add them since they take a little bit of time to cook. If you use bell peppers, cook for 5-7 minutes or until soft. If you are not using bell peppers and would like to use meat, add that now. If you did not use bell peppers, add your meat after you add the garlic.

Meat options include ground beef, ground pork, ground turkey, or sausage. I like to use a pound of ground beef and add some sausage if I have it on hand. Add 1-2 teaspoons of salt to the meat and cook until it is no longer pink. After the meat is most of the way cooked, add any other vegetables that you are using - mushrooms, shredded carrots, or zucchini are all good choices. Mix well and cook for a few minutes so the vegetables begin to soften.

Next you are going to add your tomato products. Sometimes I like to add a jar of premade tomato or marinara sauce (because it's easy), otherwise I'll add a can of diced tomatoes and a can of tomato sauce. Season with oregano and basil if you are not using premade sauce. Stir well and cook until the sauce begins to reduce and all the vegetables are cooked (anywhere from 15-45 minutes). If you want to add more vegetables to your sauce, add a couple of handfuls of spinach just as the sauce is done cooking and stir to make sure it wilts. 

As the sauce is reducing, taste it and decide if it needs more seasoning. If you like spicy things, you can add up to a teaspoon of cayenne pepper. Add more salt if needed. I also typically add a couple of tablespoons of balsamic vinegar at this stage just to give it more depth. I have also added lemon juice or apple cider vinegar (again, depending on what I have on hand). 

Serve your sauce over noodles, spaghetti squash, zoodles, rice, or roasted vegetables (I like mine over roasted broccoli and brussels sprouts). 

Share your adventure

I'd love to hear about what you put in your tomato sauce! Leave a comment with your favorite ingredients and tell me how your sauce came out.