The virtues of homemade marinara sauce

I love to make marinara sauce. I have done it routinely for a number of years now, but really started in earnest last year when I decided to give processed foods the boot. I made a HUGE vat of it today. Every time I make marinara sauce I am amazed at how easy it is to make and wonder why I ever used store bought before.

Here is my recipe:

Julie's From Scratch Big Batch Marinara (makes 22 cups)

24 C chopped tomatoes (fresh or no salt added canned*)
3 medium onions, chopped fine
1 large head of garlic, chopped fine
3 T olive oil
1/4 C dried parsley
1 T dried Italian seasoning blend
1 T salt
1 T pepper
1 t red pepper flakes (optional)

Lightly saute onions in olive oil to soften, about 3 minutes. Add garlic and cook one minute more. Add tomatoes and bring to a boil. Turn heat to low and add remaining ingredients. Simmer, covered, for one hour. Puree with hand blender to desired consistency.

I used to buy Hunts Traditional, so I decided to run my recipe thru an analyzer to see how they compare. Hunts contains the following:

Tomato Puree (Water, Tomato Paste), High Fructose Corn Syrup, Salt, Corn Syrup, Soybean Oil, Dehydrated Onions, Sugar, Tomato Fiber, Spices, Citric Acid, Natural Flavor.

My recipe:

Nutrition Facts
Serving Size 125 g
Amount Per Serving
Calories : 36
Calories from Fat : 14
% Daily Value*Total Fat: 1.5g 2%
Cholesterol : 0mg 0%
Sodium : 223mg 9%
Total Carbohydrates : 5.5g 2%
Dietary Fiber : 1.6g 6%
Sugars : 3.4g
Protein : 1.1g
Vitamin A 19%
Vitamin C 26%
Calcium 2%
Iron 2%
Nutrition Grade A
* Based on a 2000 calorie diet


Nutrition Facts
Serving Size 126 g
Amount Per Serving
Calories : 50
Calories from Fat : 10
% Daily Value* Total Fat 1g 2%
Saturated Fat : 0g 0
Trans Fat :0
Cholesterol : 0mg
Sodium : 620mg 26%
Total Carbohydrate : 10g 3%
Dietary Fiber : 2g 8%
Sugars : 8g
Protein : 2g
Vitamin A 8%
Vitamin C 25%
Calcium 2%

My sauce wins on calories, sodium, overall carbs, sugar and vitamins A and C. They win on calories from fat and dietary fiber (only marginally on both counts). I will let you be the judge, but I call mine the winner (and BTW, it tastes really good).

* Use fresh whenever possible. Apparently we now have to worry about BPA in our canned goods and tomatoes, due to their acidic nature, cannot be packaged in a non-BPA can. (BPA has been linked to obesity, infertility, premature puberty, among other things {sounds like these folks have been reading my medical records!}). I am trying to source out non-canned tomatoes for future use.

A very useful article on shopping

I read this article about a year ago. It was very helpful in relearning how to shop. This is now second nature to me, but I thought you might all enjoy it.

I have more to say on their Dirty Dozen list, but I am swamped tonight. More on that later.

A Cautionary Word on Agave Nectar

I discovered Agave Nectar very early on in my research on low gi / whole foods way of eating. As far as I can tell, agave is as close to the perfect sweetener as you can get. I have tried other sweeteners: brown rice syrup, honey, date sugar, maple syrup, stevia, aspartame, but they all have some drawback. Some taste great, but were refined. Some have a bitter aftertaste. And other, while natural, cause my blood sugar to soar. Then came agave. Hallelujah!

Agave is low on the glycemic index scale (around 27), tastes good and you can use it in almost anything. Baking with agave can be a challenge because it does not give a good crumb to baked goods as does refined sugar (for instance, if you make chocolate chip cookies with agave, you get soft and chewy instead of crispy) and you must remember to reduce the amount of liquid in the recipe. But, if you can get past these obstacles, it is wonderful stuff.

The reason that agave is the perfect sweetening choice for me (and anyone with diabetes or other sugar related issues) is that is has a high fructose to glucose ratio. Fructose is digested slowly by the body as compared to other sugars and it therefore does not cause the immediate sugar surge into the bloodstream. This is what I want to avoid at all costs. However, just because the glycemic response is low to agave nectar does not make it a health food. Here's why.

Most carbs that we eat are glucose. When we eat that glucose, it enteres the bloodstream and the body releases insulin to regulate it. Fructose is not processed in the bloodstream, hence the reason for the slow glycemic response to eating it. Sounds great huh? Well, yes and no. Fructose gets processed in the liver. If too much fructose enters the liver, the liver struggles to process it and what it can't process it converts to fat. That fat then gets sent off into the bloodstream as the dreaded triglycerides. Oh no.

The upshot of this is that while low on the glycemic index, agave nectar is not a "free" food. As with any sweetener, we should be judicious in how we use/eat it. I wouldn't recommend eating a whole pan of brownie receipe that I shared last night (although you might want to) because your liver will surely have a hard time processing it.

Knowing all that I do about agave nectar, it is still my sweetener of choice. I use about 1/2 t in my coffee every morning, use in in place of honey in savory recipes, and I substitute it for sugar routinely in baking. However, I don't bake a lot. I try to avoid sweets altogether. But, as in all things, I strive for balance (I am SUCH a libra) so using agave in the occassional pan of brownies is the way to go for me. Now that you know when I know about agave, I will let you all draw your own conclusions.

While the cats away, the mouse will make BROWNIES!

So my husband is traveling, again, and I am craving something sweet. I decide that this is the perfect time to try something for desert that he would be dubious about. So tonight I made brownies. But not any brownies; I made Black Bean Brownies.

I can almost hear the air being sucked out of the room. Did she say Black Bean Brownies? GROSS! Nope, I swear they are anything but gross. They were actually pretty freaking amazing if I do say so myself.

I made this from a new cookbook, Baking with Agave Nectar, by Ania Catalano. Santa brought it for Christmas and so far, it rocks.


4 oz unsweetened chocolate
1 C butter
2 C soft cooked black beans, drained well
1 C walnuts, chopped
1 T vanilla extract
1/4 C instant coffee powder
1/4 t sea salt
4 eggs
1 1/2 C light agave nectar

Preheat oven to 325. Line 11x18 baking pan with parchment and spray lightly with cooking spray. Set aside.

Melt chocolate and butter in microwave for 1 1/2 - 2 minutes. Stir with spoon to melt chocolate.

Place the beans, 1/2 C walnuts, vanilla and a few spoonfuls of the chocolate mixture into a food processor. Process on high for 2 minutes or until thick and smooth. Set aside.

In a large bowl, mix 1/2 C walnuts, remaining chocolate mixture, coffee powder and salt. Mix well and set aside.

In another bowl, beat eggs with electric mixer until light and creamy, about 1 minute. Add agave nectar and beat well. Set aside.

Add the bean mix to the coffee mix and stir until blended well. Add the egg mixture, reserving 1/2 C. Mix well. Pour batter into prepared pan. Using electric mixer, beat the remaining 1/2 C egg mixture until light and fluffy. Drizzle over brownie mix. use a wooden toothpick to pull the egg mixture through the batter, creating a marbled effect. Bake for 30 - 40 minutes or until set. Let cool in pan completely before cutting into squares (they will be soft until refrigerated).

Why write a blog anyways?

I got an email a few days ago from a friend urging me to write a blog. Why write a blog I though? Who in the world would care about what I eat and how I feed by family other than those who know and love me? Well, apparently my posts on Facebook about our way of eating were enough to inspire her and she thought I should share with the world. Will anybody want to read my ramblings? Who knows, but I am putting it out there.

Here's my story: I am Julie Anne, a 41 year old SAHM with two active boys and a husband who works hard (and a lot, I might add). In October of 2008 I turned 40 and it blew me out of the water. Its not like I didn't see it coming, but I was really blown away by what it meant. My husband, great guy that he is, whisked me away for a celebratory vacation to Lancaster County, PA. As we usually do, we snapped loads of photos. When I got home, I had a good look at those photos and was mortified at what I saw.

Now, for those of you who don't know me, I have been heavy my entire life. Varying degrees of heavy, to be sure, but always heavy. Well, when I looked at the photos of my 40th birthday I realized that I hadn't been this heavy since before my first child was born. I looked old, tired and fat. Delightful.

Still reeling from the sting of my birthday photos, my doctor suggested a blood panel as I was now officially in my 40's. Being the good patient that I am, I submitted and had the blood drawn. No surprise, I had massively elevated insulin, borderline high fasting glucose and, despite my overall low cholesterol, high triglycerides (in ratio that is). Combine that with the high blood pressure that I developed when I was pregnant with my second child, the doctor politely told me that I was a ticking time bomb.

Now, I am not so stupid to not realize that someday, sometime, youth would no longer be on my side and I would start to feel (and see) the effects of my seemingly unhealthy relationship with food. But, I had no idea it would happen this fast. It sounds so cliche, but really, where did the time go? How did this happen? Well heck, it HAS happened. Now what? I certainly cannot die right now. I have two small kids at home. Something has to change, but what?

For the next three months, I read, read, read and read all I could about food science and nutrition. Then I looked at my diet, honestly assessing what I was eating. From what I could see, I ate no more than anyone else that I know (thin or not). OK, so if it is not how much I was eating, obviously the problem was what I was eating. I was eating a standard American diet - cereal for breakfast, sandwich for lunch, pasta or potatoes and meat for dinner. It seemed to me that every around me ate exactly the same sorts of things that I did, but I was (literally) twice the person that they all were. Obviously my body doesn't act like everyone else's.

In my research, I came across something called the Glycemic Index. This measures the effects on the breakdown of carbohydrates on blood sugar levels. I will spare everyone the details (Google it and you will find loads of information) but the upshot is that with people who have elevated insulin (me) have much better control of that insulin (or insulin response really) when eating foods that are low on the GI scale. Moreover, some recent studies have suggested that eating low GI can help to reduce the risk of Type 2 Diabetes (which is coming next for me, for sure) and coronary heart disease. Other studies have shown that eating high GI carbohydrates is associated with increased risk of obesity. Hmmmm....maybe this low GI thing is worth checking out.

In addition to learning about the Glycemic Index (and its cousin, the Glycemic Load - again Google it), I did a lot of reading on our food supply in general. I was shocked to learn how much of our food contains non-food (specially chemical additives, sugar, stabelizers, etc.) Reading a grocery food label these days is akin to taking a science exam. What in the heck! I had no idea. I felt like I had been duped. Not only was the diet that I grew up on intrinsically bad for me, but the food that I purchased at the grocery store wasn't even food at all. OMG, something has to change and it has to happen now.

So now, here we are, 1 year in to a low glycemic, whole food eating experiment. It hasn't been easy, but you know, it hasn't been all that hard either. A word of caution (or explaination really). I am not on this diet (and by diet, I mean way of eating) to lose weight. If I happen to lose some weight (which I have), that's great. If I don't, that is OK too. I know that either way, I am doing something good for myself by chosing to eat in this manner. With this blog, I hope that I can inspire you with what we as a family have done to better our health. I am not crazy-militant about it, but I try as best I can to feed myself and my family good, honest, healthy meals, but, if we eat processed foods occasionally, that is OK. I don't beat myself up about it. I simply understand that last year at this time we would have been eating almost all processed foods and know how much better off we are now. I strive for balance. I strive to honor my body and those of my family. I know that we are on a path to good health and hope that I might, in some small way, help you to get there too.

(BTW, here is my disclaimer: I am not a doctor, scientist, or medical professional. Any information on this blog should be interpreted only as those of my un-scientific personal opinion. Before you change your eating habits, please consult your physician.)