Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Laying off the sauce.

Bleatings from EnviRambo.

Cooking from scratch is making me fat. Five out seven meals I make involve some type of sauce. Alfredo sauce, cheese sauce, cream sauce, white sauce, and the occasional spaghetti sauce. Make that six out of seven meals. So. much. cream. and. butter. It's got nothing to do with the lack of exercise, I'm sure. Nope. Cream and butter. Mmm...

Like last night, I made baked mac 'n cheese. I started out by sauteing onions and celery in butter. Then added kale, parsley, and garlic with more butter. Once the kale was tender, I added flour to start my rue. One cup of milk, one cup of heavy cream, and cheddar cheese formed the foundation of my sauce. Then I proceeded to add some butternut squash or pumpkin puree. I'm not sure which. It was orange, so was my cheese. I figured it didn't matter. I had a chunk of Sartori Raspberry Parmesan rolling around in the fridge so that went in too. That cheese is sooo good! It is Parmesan soaked in raspberry ale. I recommend finding it if you can. As if the four tablespoons of butter, cup of milk and cream, and all that cheese were not enough, I topped it off with a dollop of sour cream for good measure. The end result was a velvety-rich sauce with just the right amount of tang. Well it was before I baked it anyway, but that's another story.

As delicious as all this dairy is, it's time to lay off the sauce. Even too much of a good thing can get boring after a while. I'm just not sure where to go from here. I have only been cooking from scratch for about two years. Once I learned how to make a sauce it opened up a whole new world for me. One that I never moved beyond. I stopped buying pre-made sauces, Hamburger Helper, boxed macaroni and cheese, Manwich, Alfredo, and all kinds of other stuff. I do still buy spaghetti sauce, but with all those tomatoes out my front window it is also on my hit list.

I think part of my problem is that we eat A LOT of pasta - and I just can't seem to make it without smothering it in a sauce. The other is that I will need to move beyond my comfort zone. This is probably the bigger problem of the two. Making pasta and a sauce is quick and easy. Thinking of something else is going to take time and work, something Americans really don't want to put forth when it comes to their food. It seems when I make a meal without a sauce it becomes the traditional meat and potatoes. I would like to stay away from the meat. We gave up meat back in March for Lent and have kept it limited since then. I would like to keep it that way. So what do I make? Mister is not going to be satisfied with a big pile of vegetables.

I know there are some vegetable-loving-cooking-from-scratch-without-sauce ladies out there. What are you all cooking?


Diana said...

I would recommend checking out some cookbooks from the library or reading some food blogs for inspiration.

Personally, I make bean tacos at least once a week, and I frequently make Indian curries (which can easily be made with tofu or tempeh. Also, salads don't have to be boring. Trying interesting combinations of ingredients can actually make salads become delicious and healthy meals.
At least, that's my 2 cents.

utahlawyer said...

There is a whole world out there of yummy, healthy, from scratch recipes for you to discover. Really, the possibilities of what to cook are endless.

I have a bunch of recipes on my blog that are healthy and focus of garden veggies. A few of them are have cheese, but most of them are quite healthy. http://greenfornothing.blogspot.com/search/label/recipes?updated-max=2009-08-18T17%3A11%3A00-07%3A00&max-results=20

Also, start looking at ethnic recipes and vegan recipes. There are sooooo many really good things out there that aren't hard or time consuming. Start my checking out Italian, Greek, Middle Eastern, Japanese, and Cuban. I'm sure you will find a lot of things to love.

Dea-chan said...

The first thing I learned to cook was a stir fry -- and I've pretty much not moved on from there. If you give me a random collection of things to cook for dinner, I'll throw it in a wok and make some rice. :-P

Also, Indian food is really easy -- I've been looking into that with an Indian friend.

Chile said...

You don't necessarily need to cut out the pasta or sauces; you just need to learn new ways to make them.

Considering I don't eat much dairy, my mac'n cheese sauce naturally comes out lower-fat than yours. The orange color comes from pureed cooked pumpkin, yams, or carrots. The sauce is made with soymilk, flour, seasonings, and nutritional yeast. You could do a dairy variation of this and use less or a low-fat cheddar cutting out the butter and cream. Just blend the vegetable, flour and milk, and then cook over medium heat, stirring, to thicken like a gravy.

Last night, I made a rich but low-fat spaghetti sauce. Previously, I had roasted some vegetables (onion, eggplant, zucchini, and celery) with just a little oil. I put those in the blender with some tomato sauce and Italian seasoning (herbs). No meat necessary for a tasty meal with pasta.

Other tasty and satisfying meals could include bean burritos topped with a load of salsa and lettuce with Spanish rice on the side; BBQ beans with homemade cornbread and grilled zucchini squash; roasted vegetable sandwiches (currently a summer favorite); stirfry veggies over rice; homemade sushi; homemade pizza light on the cheese and heavy on the veggies; etc.

ruchi said...

I agree that ethnic food is a good idea. There are a lot of great lentil and bean dishes you can make, and the nice thing is that beans often feel very hearty and can satisfy a meat craving.

We do a lot of Indian food, but there is also Mexican food, and East Asian food like stir fries with tofu.

But pasta with veggies is a basic staple that we eat. We just chop up a bajillion vegetables, and add only a small amount of tomato sauce. There is also vegetarian lasagna ... you could do a spinach lasagna with tomato sauce, mushrooms and other veggies, and ricotta cheese. That would be fairly low fat.

And if you are using whole wheat noodles with your pasta you'll be getting more fiber which can also aid in weight loss.

Robbie said...

On the pasta front, I suggest trying marinara sauce, or do pasta with ricotta or pasta with olive oil and garlic. It doesn't have to be high fat.

Or saute' vegetables - always good!

Anonymous said...

In summer, pesto seems to be good with everything - pasta, pizza, warm veggies on top of cold lettuce. We have lots of basil and garlic but if you don't, try parsley. In winter pesto adds zip to your soup.

Green Bean said...

Boy do I feel you!! Cooking from scratch is TOO delicious!

I've been making more stir fry, soup, salsa, that kind of stuff right now and really trying to keep oil and butter to a minimum. Glad I'm not alone.

Alison said...

Time to break out the crock pot! This is my go-to site for a creative and easy meal:


Many feature meat, some feature dairy, but they are all pretty well balanced. And, I've not made a single recipe from this site that was anything but tasty.

Also, my long time traditional easy go to meal is a red beans and rice (vegetarian) with brown rice. I either chop or puree vegetables into the sauce.

Daisy said...

Increase the spices and decrease the sauces, at least the creamy sauces. We've cut the amount of pasta we eat in favor of whole grain rice. I still serve pasta, but not as much, and not often with Alfredo sauce. Even my spaghetti carbonara has more veggies and less parmesan than it used to. Keep at it; you're already feeding the family fewer chemical preservatives.

Kelly said...

try some romesco sauce...lol. i agree, indian is a good way to go- no meat too and look at italian books for the 'dry' style sauces- delicious. use herbs- saute greens in olice oil and tamari as a side to some fish.. blogs are great inspiration. or read some csa blogs recipe sections. baked veg with olive oil and garlic. think like a vegetarian! just a few suggestions.

Toni's Treehouse said...

LOL! We use rice, couscous and beans the way you use pasta. Lots a lot of the time!!

Anonymous said...

I like to add a little hummus to my pasta: creamy-ish consistency plus lots of protein and fiber. You can thin it out with a little milk to make it "saucier".

Also one of my favorite "sauceless" dishes is risotto. The short grain arborrio rice has a lot of starch in it. I will cook some chopped up veggies in a pan with just a touch of olive oil, garlic, and spices. Then you dump the rice in and let it soak up the savory liquid. Then you add in soup stock a cup at a time, let it absorb it and add another cup/ladle and cover. Keep going until it is a nice consistency and stir frequently. The rice naturally releases the starch and makes it super "creamy" but you don't actually have to add any cream. My favorite versions are portobellos/red peppers (I sub a little worchestershire instead of olive oil- low sodium version, and it has way less sodium than soy sauce) and a lemon pepper one. Its easy to experiment and always a crowd pleaser!

Anonymous said...

Also, soups, especially once the weather cools off a bit (though gazpacho is great in summer). Chef on a Shoestring (I think thats CBS weekend morning news that does it) showed a great broccoli soup recipe that i've also used with asparagus and other veggies. Just put in a stockpot, cover with water, low boil until mushy with some onion, garlic, and other spices (salt and pepper to taste), and then use a blender or immersion blender to mix. Drizzle in a little bit of olive oil as you're blending, and juice of a lemon or lime. SOOOO good.

Billie said...

Vegetarian chili or split pea soup are about the only additions that people didn't already mention. Lately, I have been making a potato salad with vinaigrette(gotten from Recipezaar) instead of mayonnaise and adding fresh sliced veggies and corn to go with it. It makes for a nice summer meal.

I have a ton of cookbooks plus I use www.recipezaar.com for inspiration.

susanna eve said...

This time of year, we eat a ton of salads, no sauce and almost no cooking:) Corn on the cob is popular too.
And if you love your homemade sauces, keeping making them just add a salad or steamed veggies on the side and eat a smaller serving of the rich with sauce dish.

Jessica Nichols said...

I would also encourage more stir-fry. You can make stuff with sauce that isn't butter/cream dependent. Soy sauce, sesame oil, chili sauce, (you could even put in a pinch of brown sugar if you want) plus a little cornstarch to thicken it up -- you have a very yummy sauce to go on top of whatever you throw in the wok.

Heather said...

Hi there. I hope this isn't too late! I hear you about the creamy sauces :-)

Another 'class' of pasta sauces that we really like are lentil and tomato ones. Similar to regular tomato pasta sauces, but with lentils for extra protein. They also thicken the sauce and make it richer. I also find them less fiddly to make than a roux.

We usually use brown lentils (which are a whole lentil - kind of flattish and with a skin on) as they have a nice 'meaty' texture and we like their flavour. Sometimes we use the split red lentils, and they sort of disappear into the sauce more. Cook the lentils beforehand in boiling water until tender - 20 minutes or so - with a bay leaf if you feel so inspired. Then fry onions and garlic in a bit of oil till soft. Add tinned tomatoes, the (drained) lentils and any herbs or vegetables you like. We like oregano and thyme for herbs and mushrooms or eggplant for vegetables. Simmer till it turns into a sauce (how long this takes really depends on the tomatoes - we usually only leave it 10 min. or so), season with salt and pepper and serve on pasta topped with a little grated sharp cheese. We find that 1/2 a cup of lentils and a 400g tin of tomatoes feeds 3-4 adults, depending on how hungry they're feeling!

--Heather :-)

Anonymous said...

It's probably a bit late to post this but cooked pasta with a 'sauce' made from fresh basil, olive oil and fetta cheese is usually a winner. Just toss them all over the cooked hot pasta, that's all you need.

Also, I do a 'sauce' of halved cherry tomatoes, basil and spring onions which I saute for a couple of minutes in olive oil. Adding an anchovy to the oil while you heat it gives an amazing flavour as the anchovy will melt completely away. Bacon is also pretty good.

But definitely, try adding crumbled fetta cheese instead of any other cheese.

Anonymous said...

OK just one more thing I learned from Jamie Oliver - when it comes to Italian food, simple with few ingredients is best. Try and complement your pasta with 4 ingredients at most - that's about as much as your taste buds can handle and lets each individual flavour shine.


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