Pan Sauce Gravy Basics–YUM!


You’ve got meat—beef, chicken, maybe a nice pork chop. You want it to go beyond Good into Delicious territory. Congratulations—you’re ready to make a pan sauce!

Pan sauces are an art, not a science. You can vary the ingredients, play around with them, innovate. Here are the basics, though.

Fat from meat. Sear the meat you’re going to use. Perhaps you’ll sear the meat with a little olive oil, or some canola oil, or clarified butter, or a combination of butter and oil. Sear the meat and pour off the excess fat from the pan. You want about 2 tablespoons of fat. Cook the meat to your desired doneness and remove from heat.

Liquid. You want to add some liquid to the remaining fat in the pan. This could be wine, broth, bouillon, you name it. For beef or pork, use beef broth or bouillon or red wine. For poultry, use chicken broth or bouillon and red wine or light red wine (maybe a nice rose?)

Aromatics.  You don’t want a boring sauce! Add something to kick it up a notch—fresh herbs, dried herbs, garlic, mustard, you decide. The Stinking Rose (aka garlic) is the house brand around here, but I keep spices handy. If I want a Tex-Mex flair, I might use chili power or cumin. If I want a nice Italian flavor, I have Italian seasoning herbs at hand.

Thickening. Who wants a runny sauce? You can thicken it two ways—by reducing it with heat or by using a roux. To thicken it using heat, just mix together the ingredients above, turn up the heat, stir frequently and monitor carefully. The sauce will eventually thicken, but there will not be as much of it. Still, it’s delicious!

Thickening with a roux. For a long time I was intimidated when cookbooks mentioned a “roux”. I shouldn’t have been, though. A roux is just flour and butter mixed together and plunked into the sauce. Melt 2 tablespoons butter and add 2 tablespoons flour to it. Stir it till the texture is uniform. Plunk the mixture into the sauce, stir well, keep stirring, and watch it thicken. Trust the chemistry—it works

Final touches. Melt a tablespoon of butter into the sauce for a decadent taste and texture. Another option: Flavored oil. Pour the sauce over the meat and serve immediately.

Add it back. Either pour the sauce over the meat and serve immediately, or add the meat to the sauce, stir to coat, and then serve.

Bon Appetit, chef!


Weekend Cook-Ahead: Absolute Best Spaghetti Sauce


Okay, so it’s more labor intensive than opening a jar–but it’s also far, far richer in flavor, more nuanced in seasoning, and it will fill your whole place with an incredible aroma that will leave you hungry long before it’s ready.

This spaghetti sauce will be used to make lasagna tonight (about half of it, anyway) and then the rest will go on pasta for a quick meal this week. Bonus score: the leftover lasagna makes an excellent lunch or re-heat for Refrigerator Review.

Best news yet: no preservatives or weird chemicals. Be sure to compost the onion skins and garlic peels, if you use fresh garlic.


Recipe: Absolute Best Spaghetti Sauce

2 TBS Olive oil

2 onions, chopped

1 LB ground beef

¼ LB sausage

8 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced OR 1 tsp garlic powder

2  28 Oz can of diced tomatoes or tomato sauce (or  1-28 oz can of each)

1 tsp dried Italian seasoning

1 tsp dried parsley

¼ tsp dried basil

½ tsp dried oregano

1 TBS sugar

Heat the olive oil in a large pan over medium heat. Peel and dice onions, add to the oil, and add garlic. Cook for about 3-5 minutes, until the onions are soft but not brown. Add the meat and brown it in the garlic/oil for about 10 minutes, or until all pink is gone. Drain the excess oil.

Put the meat mixture into a slow cooker (or, if you wish, use a very large pan on the stovetop for one-pot cooking). Add the tomatoes/tomato sauce and the spices. Stir to mix and cook on low for 6-8 hours. If you’re cooking it on the stovetop, check it and stir it every hour or so to be sure it’s not burning or sticking. If it’s in a slow cooker, don’t open it!

Enjoy it with pasta, in a meaty lasagna, as a stuffing for ravioli or stuffed shells, or strain the meat and use the tomato sauce for chicken parmesan, reserving the meat and some sauce for super-meaty pasta.



Return of the 5-Tip Roundup



Thrift-Store Shopping Tips

  1. Bought a bread machine or another small appliance? Look online for the owner’s manual.
  2. Décor items are cheap, easy to find, and occasionally completely fabulous at a thrift shop.
  3. Wooden furniture (real wood) can be bought cheaply at the thrift store and painted or refinished, then sold to put some cash into your pocket.
  4. Costume jewelry. It’s a thing.
  5. I rarely buy art at the thrift store, but I’ve been known to buy the painting or poster for the frame that surrounds it.



Health Savings

  1. Take your vitamins—being sick is no fun and going to the doctor is expensive.
  2. Your body needs both aerobic exercise, like walking or running or riding a bike, as well as anaerobic exercise like weightlifting. You do not, however, have to pay to use a gym to do either or both.
  3. Look for lightly-used exercise equipment on Craigslist and save big bucks over buying new.
  4. Allergic? Buy and use handkerchiefs rather than shelling out money for tissues all the time.
  5. A Health Savings Account is an excellent idea—pre-tax dollars to make your high-deductible health care plan more bearable.



Cooking Tips:

  1. Cook enough dinner tonight to have leftovers for lunch tomorrow.
  2. Meatless meal night once a week saves you cash.
  3. Discover day-old bread and never buy croutons, breadcrumbs, or stuffing mix again.
  4. Make as much food as you can from scratch; your grocery receipt will thank you.
  5. Check out online sites for recipes for frugal meals.


Driving  and Car Care Tips

  1. Use Gas Buddy or a similar app to find the best gas prices near you.
  2. Consult your owner’s manual for information on how often you need to service your car, then follow the service schedule faithfully.
  3. If you can stagger your commute to avoid rush hour, you’ll save money on gas as well as saving time.
  4. Keep your tires properly inflated for the best gas mileage.
  5. Save money on road trips by packing a picnic. This old-school tip saves you money and gives you a nice break from the drive.



Gift and Giving Ideas

  1. Often an experience is a better gift than an item. My dad raves about the time all his kids wrote letters at Christmas with the theme, “The Best Advice Dad Ever Gave Me” in a way he never raves about all the neckties we’ve given him over the years.
  2. Buy gift wrap and greeting cards at the dollar store. You can make a gift look amazing without breaking the bank.
  3. Give your beloved a bouquet and she will have roses for a day; give her a rosebush and she will have roses for the whole season.
  4. Regifting only works if you keep scrupulous records.
  5. Teach children to budget for gifts, not just for their own interests. Bonus points for raising awesome human beings!


Friday Frugal Challenge: Shameless Copycat Edition


Your challenge this week: Become a shameless copycat!

I love the Cheddar Bay Biscuits at Red Lobster. (Who doesn’t? And if you don’t, I don’t want to hear about it because I just don’t need that negativity in my life!)

You can find hundreds of copycat recipes on the internet for your restaurant favorites. You adore the Alice Springs chicken quesadilla from the Outback? There’s a recipe for that at . You want to surprise Mom in bed with an enormous Cinnabon fresh from the oven? Check out this page at Top Secret Recipes.

As for me, I’ll be following this recipe from

This week, your challenge is to try a copycat recipe of a meal you like to eat out. Let me know how it turned out for you!