Tip of the day: Read your food labels!
Here's my philosophy, in a nut-shell. If I have made the food that I am buying at the grocery store, I know what goes in it. Therefore, anything that I did not put in, does not need to be there.
Take tomato sauce, for example. (And I make a damn good one. More on that later.) When I make tomato sauce I need some onions, some garlic, some canned tomatoes, a couple of herbs, a couple of spices and...voila! I have a delicious sauce that I use to cover just about anything with no guilt (think chicken parm, whole-wheat fusilli and cheese for baked ziti, good crusty Italian bread...). And then there are the grocery store brands...do you remember me mentioning sugar in my sauce? Neither do it. Then why do we need things like sugar and (heaven forbid) high fructose corn syrup in our sauce? Tomatoes are in fact sweet! If you like a sweeter sauce, add that yourself but so goodness sake, don't buy a sauce with sweetners. When you get in the habit of reading labels (most importantly the ingredients) you will be shocked by how many brands include unnecessary ingredients. When you see it, put it down! Other ingredients to look out for: anything with corn in the name, maltodextrin, any kind of oil besides olive oil, natural flavors (this is code word for: there are more ingredients in here, but I don't want you to know what they are).
OK, you've waited long enough. Here is my kick-(*ahem*) butt tomato sauce recipe:
1- 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes (plain ol' tomatoes with no sugar, please)
1- 28 oz. can tomato puree (same goes for these)
2 Tbsp. tomato paste (the tubes of paste are super convenient)
5 cloves of garlic, minced
1 large yellow onion, diced (if you like your sauce a bit sweeter, use a Vidalia onion)
1 bunch fresh basil
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
1 cup red wine (dry) -if you don't cook with wine, try using a splash of balsamic vinegar for some depth
IN a LARGE saucepan, heat 3 Tbsp. olive oil over med-low heat. When oil is hot, throw onions in first and top with garlic (this will help the garlic to not burn). Add about 1/2 tsp. of salt and 1/4 tsp. pepper (seasoning to be adjusted later). Stir frequently until the onions are translucent (about 4 minutes). Then, throw in the tomato paste. Let this cook with the onions & garlic for about 1 minute. Continue to stir. Then, pour in the red wine. Let the red wine evaporate until you almost can't distinguish it from the paste. This concentrates the flavor of the wine and will allow it to permeate the entire sauce. When wine has reduced, add both cans of tomatoes as well as the oregano. Stir well and reduce the heat to low. This is when you need patience. The sauce needs time to meld together and reduce for a thicker, tastier sauce. Let the sauce simmer for at least an hour. If sauce gets too thick, add some water. Before you are ready to use the sauce, taste it for seasoning and adjust accordingly (I find it always needs more salt). Then stir in the basil leaves at the last minute. I like to leave them whole, but this is preference.