Homemade Marinara Sauce

There are some things that just can’t be eaten without marinara. They just aren’t satisfying without the addition of its slightly sweet, robust flavor. Mozzarella sticks, toasted ravioli  and pizza quesadillas immediately come to mind. Toss it with some cooked pasta and you have an easy entree. However, not all marinara is made the same and those that are truly delicious and flavorful are often rather pricey, even on sale or in bulk. At one point, to save some extra money in my grocery budget, I tried not buying it, but tomato sauce and pasta sauce were poor substitutions. So I set about finding a recipe that I could make at home for minimal cost. Now, let me introduce you to my homemade marinara that will tantalize your taste buds while leaving your wallet pleasantly plump! The entire recipe, which made 3 batches for our family of 6, cost about $3-4 to make and used things I always keep stocked in my pantry. Oh, and last but not least: it cooks in your crock pot while you sleep. You just set it and forget it. Easy, right?

Homemade Marinara Sauce

  • 2 cans of crushed tomatoes, 28 oz ea
  • 1 can tomato paste, 6 0z
  • 1/2 cup of water
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 1/2 tbsp garlic, minced
  • 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar*
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tbsp dried basil
  • 1/2 tbsp dried oregano
  • salt and pepper, to taste

*I make my own brown sugar. To make your own brown sugar simply combine 1 cup  granulated sugar with 1 1/2 tbsp molasses and stir until evenly mixed. I give mine a quick spin in my food processor.

Directions

  1. Add all ingredients to your crockpot and stir well.
  2. Cook on low for 8-10 hours, or overnight. If your crockpot is not airtight or notoriously dries things out, you may want to add more water as a precaution.
  3. Remove the lid, stir well. Remove the bay leaves, and enjoy! Also, do not be alarmed when your sauce is done if it’s bright red color has become darker and browner. You want this. It lets your know that it’s cooked and that the sugars in the sauce have caramelized.

Making your own marinara sauce is that easy! You can enjoy immediately over your favorite pasta, as a dipping sauce, or store for later use. I canned two jars, and froze the rest. To unfreeze, put it in the refrigerator the night before you intend to use it. Then, when it’s defrosted, just heat and eat.

Buffalo Chicken Bake

Being that we have all these boys and seeing as how I am cheap, I try to buy in bulk whenever possible. Notice I said cheap. I’m not even going to try and dress it up and label myself as frugal, thrifty, etc. I’m just cheap. As part of my cost-cutting, we have a membership to Costco and that’s where the majority of our groceries come from. That being said, almost every trip to Costco my kids manage to convince me to buy them lunch, a snack, an ‘I’m going to die right this very minute if I don’t eat’ something from the food court. Their favorite thing to order is the Chicken Bake. So when I came across this recipe for Buffalo Chicken Garbage Bread, I knew they would love it.

Buffalo Chicken Dump Bread

I altered the recipe to the satisfaction of my tastes and those of my cheese-aholics. Notice I also changed the name. I could just imagine if I answered their ‘what’s for dinner’ question with something that included ‘garbage’ in its name. So I didn’t.

Buffalo Chicken Bake

Buffalo Chicken Dump Bread 2

2 cups cooked chicken, shredded or diced
1 tsp. olive oil
1 pizza dough (we used homemade and let it defrost in the refrigerator overnight)
8 oz. of shredded mozzarella cheese
8 oz. of shredded cheddar cheese
1/2 cup of buffalo wing sauce, divided
1/4 cup of ranch

Directions

1. Pre-heat oven to 425°F. Toss chicken with 1/4 cup of your wing sauce. You can add more or less depending on your desired spiciness. Stir to combine, the ranch dressing and remaining 1/4 cup wing sauce.
2. On a floured surface, or counter top, roll out dough into a long rectangular shape. Spread buffalo ranch sauce evenly across the dough. Add chicken and then top with both cheeses.
3. Pick a side and roll the dough up to form a log. Seal both ends (prevents ‘oozing’ while baking) and place seam side down on a non-stick or greased baking sheet.
4. Bake for 30 minutes. Let sit and ‘rest’ for 5-10 minutes before cutting into slices, then serve!

Easy Homemade Pizza Dough

My entire childhood I remember looking forward to Wednesday nights because it was ‘pizza night’. We had Church every Wednesday evening so we needed a quick dinner, and Grandma would just whip up a crust and pop a pizza in the oven. Everything Grandma made was from scratch, so it was crusty, carbohydrate heaven! Now, years later, my kids look forward to our own pizza nights and we pay homage to Grandma every time by using her trusty recipe for easy homemade pizza dough. I’m not sure where this recipe originated from, other than it’s the one that my Grandma used and was written down on an old note card and tucked away in her recipe box. It bakes up into the perfect crust and freezes well. This version makes enough dough for two pizzas. I usually make one pizza for dinner the day I make my dough and then store the other dough ball in the freezer. When I’m ready to use it, I simply let it thaw in the fridge beforehand. WARNING: Baking pizza on your own crust will ruin store bought pizza for you and your kids will beg you for it constantly! Baker beware 😉

Easy Homemade Pizza Dough

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup warm water
  • 2 1/4 tsp. yeast, or 1 packet
  • 1 1/4 cups water, room temperature
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 cups bread flour, plus more for dusting
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • olive oil or non-stick cooking spray for greasing the bowl

Directions

  1. Measure the warm water into a bowl. Add yeast and let stand until the yeast dissolves and bubbles up, about 5 minutes. Add the room temperature water and olive oil and stir to combine.
  2. Add flour and salt to the bowl of a stand mixer and stir until the dry ingredients are combined. Slowly add the liquid ingredients and stir until a cohesive mass forms. Using the dough hook, let the mixer knead until the dough is smooth and elastic. Stop the mixer when the dough starts to pull away from the sides and form a cohesive ball. As best you can form the dough into a ball, put it in a deep, well oiled bowl, and cover with a damp cloth or plastic wrap. Let the dough rise until doubled in size, about 1 1/2-2 hours.
  3. Press the dough to deflate it, remove from the bowl, and turn onto a lightly floured work surface or countertop. Divide the dough into two equal pieces.
  4. Pre-eat oven to 400 degrees. Form pieces of dough into smooth, round balls and cover with a damp cloth. Let the dough relax for ten minutes.
  5. Working with one dough ball and keeping the other covered, shape the dough, and transfer to a non-stick pizza pan of your choice. Top as desired. Bake for 18-20 minutes or until the crust edges are golden brown and the cheese is golden brown in spots. Repeat with remaining ball of dough or freeze* for later use.

*If freezing the dough make sure you wrap the dough ball in plastic wrap before putting it in a freezer bag. Before freezing stops the yeast process, the bread will continue to expand some. It WILL pop through the plastic wrap, but the extra layer will prevent it from busting the freezer bag and offer you an extra layer of protection to prevent freezer burn. This dough tastes just as good after freezing as it does fresh.