Some (OK, most) of us will never have the time or energy to make fresh pasta, chocolate ganache, or cocktails with our own lemon-thyme infused vodka for that fancy dinner we’re planning. But even with a tight schedule and a tighter budget there are a few quick things we can put in our cooking arsenal to impress guests or just to help ourselves eat a little better when cooking for one. Here are three easy sauces that will help you win at dinner forever.
1. Tomato Sauce
Being able to make a good tomato sauce at home is an indication that you’re on your way to Real Adulthood, and it’s worth every minute of the time it takes to make it. Whether it’s a simple marinara or a more hearty meat sauce, making your own is easy and relatively cheap; your pasta (and guests) will thank you. My go-to recipe does not skimp on the sausage and beef and costs about $5 per quart, which is about what you’d pay for the standard store bought sauce but tastes approximately 10,000% better. All you need is canned tomatoes, garlic, spices to suit your taste (basil and oregano are most common), and patience while the whole thing simmers until the smell wafting through your house is too tempting to ignore.
Secret Tip: NUTMEG. The ingredient most pasta sauces are missing and the one I cannot go without. Just a dash or two of nutmeg at the start of cooking will make this sauce so good you’ll actually cry.
Recipe (via The Pioneer Woman Cooks)
2. Pesto Sauce
The key to a good pesto is FRESH basil, so the jarred stuff just isn’t going to cut it, even the fancy organic stuff from the “natural” foods aisle. All you need is a couple handfuls of fresh basil from your garden or the store, olive oil, garlic, pine nuts and a generous helping of Parmesan. A few pulses in your food processor or blender and you’re set. The best part is that pesto freezes incredibly well, so portion out small servings and freeze individually, because a little of this stuff goes a long way.
Secret Tip: Good oil. Going a step up in olive oil quality will take you three steps up in food quality. Always opt for extra-virgin, and try to find a single source if you can (e.g. Spanish, Italian, etc.) so you can guarantee there are no additives. And if you’re lucky enough to have a local farmers market with an oil vendor, it’s worth the bigger price tag to try out an herb-infused olive oil to give your pesto a twist!
Recipe (via The Food Network)
Growing up in the Pacific Northwest the best fresh apples were always available and when I was very young, my grandma taught me how to make applesauce. This one is a bit more expensive than the stuff you get in the store, but there is no substitute for fresh applesauce in my mind. I always core and peel the fruit, but you can leave the peels if you want a more rustic sauce. All you need to do is cut them up and let them cook in a big pot with a splash of water so they don’t scald at the start. Cook for 30-45 minutes on low-medium heat until they start breaking apart, and then mash with a potato masher or put them in your food processor or blender until your desired consistency. You can add a little sugar when using tart apples such as honeycrisp or braeburn, but I suggest using very little or leaving it out when using sweeter varietals such as fuji or gala. If making for guests, at least 2 medium apples per person is a good rule to go by, because this cooks down a lot.
Secret Tip: If you’re hosting a dinner for gluten-free friends, some chunky homemade applesauce served warm over vanilla ice cream with a sprinkle of cinnamon is a ridiculously good alternative to apple pie à la mode.
Recipe (via The Pioneer Woman Cooks)