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Homemade Croutons, Shredded Chicken and Recipe for Red Sauce

One of the things that I love about freezer cooking, or once-a-month cooking as it is often called, is that I can make a multitude of homemade convenience items that are less expensive and healthier for us than their storebought counterparts. Don’t get me wrong, storebought has its place, most definitely.

But, even before we were on this “be-frugal-and-live-debt-free” kick, I made a lot of things from scratch just because they tasted better. When I break down and buy the frozen TV dinner, I’m swayed by the pretty picture, but oh-so disappointed by the taste. Do you know what I mean? If you haven’t done DIY cooking, then there’s no better time to start than the present.

I started out this month’s freezer cooking by preparing three ingredients that we enjoy a lot and use often: croutons, shredded chicken, and red sauce. None of these are difficult nor are they time-intensive. It’s just a matter of gathering the ingredients and spending a little focused time.

Croutons are Easy to Make Yourself

Packaged croutons are often full of preservatives and sodium. My toddlers have always been able to eat a box in one sitting. Not the most nutritious of snacks. And not that I would let them or anything. Nowadays, I make them myself. You’ll be surprised at how easy this is!

I often buy marked-down artisan bread from the grocery store with the specific intention of making croutons out of it. It usually happens that I’m browsing the clearance section of the store and find great sourdough or whole grain breads that are a day or two before their sale-by date. The store wants to move them before they are no longer saleable, so they mark down the price, sometimes as low as 25% of the original price. These are a great addition to dinner, but sometimes bread isn’t the side dish I want to use that night. Instead, I find other ways to use dry bread. Often they become frozen bread cubes.

Recently, I found packages of sourdough rolls as well as larger sourdough rounds for about a dollar each. I brought those home and cubed them. I could have baked them all into croutons right then, but I know that my family would gobble them up in a second. They eat croutons like potato chips. And we’d have none for later in the month when I want to add some crunch to a salad.

So, I cubed all the bread and put the cubes back in the bread bags and then in the freezer. When I want to make croutons, I will pull out a few handfuls of cubes, toss them in olive oil and toast them in the oven, usually alongside our main dish. They cool fairly quickly on the counter and are then ready to sprinkle over salads.

Leaving the cubes in this form also makes it easy for me to make homemade bread crumbs or egg bakes. Much of the work is already done for me if I’ve already cut the bread into cubes.

Cook and Shred Your Own Chicken for a Fraction of the Price of Pre-Cooked

On busy nights and the ones when I forget to thaw dinner, it’s tempting to run for take-out or pick up a rotisserie chicken. But, if I’ve played my cards right, I can instead, go to the freezer and grab a bag of precooked, shredded chicken. We use it in tacos, sandwiches, and salads as a quick protein. (This was one of the first things to disappear from our freezer last month, so what does that tell you about my defrosting abilities?)

Recently my local grocery store had bone-in chicken breast for $0.97/pound. This is about as inexpensive as I’ve seen it. I prefer bone-in chicken breasts in many situations because the meat tends to be more flavorful and doesn’t dry out in the same way as boneless. Plus, I trust Amy’s math that it is the less expensive cut.

I actually cooked this chicken earlier this week. The oven was already heated from preparing dinner. So, I slipped two pans of chicken breast into the oven to bake while we ate dinner. I seasoned it simply with salt, pepper and garlic powder and then baked at 375° for about 45 minutes to an hour. The chicken was done by the time we finished eating. It cooled while I cleaned up the kitchen, and then I shredded it, bagged it and stowed it in the freezer.

DIY Pasta Sauce is a Sure Thing

When FishPapa and I first got married, we had a favorite brand of jarred pasta sauce. Only one. My husband is really sensitive to the taste of sugar in pasta sauces and there are very few prepared brands that aren’t sweet. As you know, brand loyalty can be rather pricey. And once we moved to one income, I knew we needed to economize. I started making my own pasta sauce and haven’t looked back. About once a month I cook up a big batch, divide it into 2-cup portions, cool, and freeze. Yesterday morning I got my crockpot going with a simplified version of my Red Sauce with Meats.

Next up: Foccacia, Butterhorns, Granola, and Mixes

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Comments

  1. In your red sauce recipe, what is a “#10 can” of tomatoes? Can’t wait to try this…thanks!

    • Jessica Fisher says:

      It’s a really big can (100+ oz) that you can find at Costco for super cheap. I think I figured that the whole batch of sauce cost about $3.

      • @Jessica Fisher,

        Jessica –

        Another thing you can do to up the “wow” factor of your sugo (sauce) is to cook meatballs, Italian sausage, and even a few soup bones in it. If you slow cook it for at least 6 hours, this is perfectly safe. And really stinkin’ tasty! I won’t make sauce any other way.

        Although, that jarred stuff is great on pizzas since we like our tomato sauce sweeter here.

        I admire your courage in doing freezer meals – my only excuse is that I am LAZY. That, and I have a husband who really doesn’t like “bakes” and “casseroles”. Doesn’t leave me with much leeway. ;)

        • Jessica Fisher says:

          Yes, Andrea, that is often how I make sauce, but sausages haven’t been on sale. A quick fix is to stir in some bouillion, but I forgot.

          And, I’m sorry, but I’ll have to disagree on the hubby excuse. You can do all sorts of freezer cooking that isn’t bakes and casseroles. Check out this post I wrote last month.

          Now, I guess we just have to work on the lazy part. ;)

        • @Andrea, I disagree! :) We aren’t a casserole family either. I do things a little differently by cooking components: meatballs, cooked ground meat, cooked chicken (sliced, cubed, shredded), marinated meat, etc… I also prep veggies such as slicing carrots, celery, zucchini, chopping onion, peppers (when on sale!) and store straight into the freezer without blanching. I also cook beans from scratch and freeze into dinner portions. Don’t forget about dinner rolls and pizza dough!

          I tried FishMama’s red sauce with meat and portioned it out into 3C servings for spaghetti dinners and pizza nights. It’s worked so well that I’ve bought 2 more 10# cans for this weekends prep! :)

          My hubby loves the fact that our foods are fresh and made from scratch. He also loves that I’m in the kitchen less during the week (less prep, less cook time, less mess…).

          I agree with FishMama too… hehe

        • @Andrea,
          Ohhh, bah! You both caught me. I guess I do a lot of this prep already, weekly – I marinate, chop, wash, etc when I come home from the store every week. I got 7 pounds of boneless skinless chicken breasts for free today (with coupon!), so those went right in freezer bags with marinades, etc. I just never thought of it as “freezer prep” before. Although, I *should* get my roll recipe made up and frozen – my husband gave me puppydog eyes this week when I made a loaf of honey whole wheat bread and asked for “soft white rolls…”. ;) I guess I’m just super overwhelmed by the idea of thawing out a bunch of meat, cooking up meals, etc. I’ll get to freezer prepping tomorrow though! :)

          Jessica – how was the weather there today? My mother in law lives in the mountains of Alpine, and said it SNOWED today. eek!

          • Jessica Fisher says:

            Oh, Andrea. I hope you know I was half-teasing. There’s no law that says, “Thou shalt freezer cook.” However, as you already know, it can really help with time and money and health. And, see? You were already doing it. ;)

            The weather has been chilly and wet for the past couple days. It was in the low 50s yesterday. I know that is the norm for Spring in many places, but not so much in So Cal.

  2. Have you ever made crutons from left over garlic bread? So good!

  3. Funny you mention the shredded chicken. I JUST boiled 4 bone-in, skin-on breasts (bought on sale for 89 cents/lb), cooled, removed bones & skin & put in crockpot with store-bought (free) barbeque sauce. I was just thinking of how I should have purchased more of that bone-in chicken but wasn’t sure it was a good price. Now I know.

  4. Homemade croutons are totally the best. My kids are the same, they’ll eat croutons like there is no tomorrow. Unfortunately I am the only sour dough bread lover in the family, so no sour dough croutons here.

  5. I never thought about cubing up bread to freeze for croutons.

    I’ve been playing around with spaghetti sauce recipes. I think I’m going to try your recipe for this stocking.

  6. You might already know this, but one trick I recently learned is to use the KitchenAid mixer to shred chicken. Just put it in the bowl, use the regular paddle and turn it on low. It’s so quick and easy, especially when you have a large quantity.

  7. I keep reading how much food people make for their families and I have to think we eat a LOT. I am feeding two adults (I’m breastfeeding two kids), a 2-year-old and an 8-mo. old and I make about 2 lbs. of chicken per meal! Beef, 1 – 1.5 lb. That’s in addition to a couple lbs. of vegetables and other stuff! A 24 oz. jar of sauce might last us one or two meals. How much does your family eat per meal? It seems like what most people put away to feed families of 6 – 8 people for 3 – 4 meals would last us (a family of 4) maybe two meals!

    • Jessica Fisher says:

      We feed 8 (2 adults, 12, 9, 7, 5, 3, 1). And it’s about 2 pounds of meat per meal. But, 2 cups of sauce is usu enough because several kids eat their noodles plain. I still cook just one pound of noodles, but do two if I want leftovers. Romaine is $0.50 a head, so I’m trying to make a big salad every night and make everyone fill up on greens at the end. Hope that helps.

  8. Thanks so much for the #10 can tip. I never thought making my own sauce was that much of a money saver if I needed 2 regular cans of tomatoes plus the other ingredients and maybe I’d get a 5% savings but then I’d have to do all the work and take up valuable freezer space. The last time you posted about buying a #10 can of tomatoes to start with I went out to Costco & bought a can of San Marzano whole tomatoes (which are more expensive & tasty). The #10 can cost about what a 28 oz can costs at the regular store. And I got a BIG container of Italian seasoning. I used an onion or two, chopped garlic, S&P, the Italian seasoning & the big can. After simmering it for a few hours on the stove top the tomatoes break down and it turns into a sauce. I still have one more jar in the freezer. I think my sauce cost about $4 (or a little less) and I think it made 5 jars (I used a mix of old sauce jars & pickle jars, I try not to use too many ziplocs so my freezer space isn’t used as efficiently).

    • Jessica Fisher says:

      Yeah! Doesn’t that feel good? (And, I’d put my sauce in containers, too!)

      • I don’t have a Costco membership. Is it truly around 100 ounces? If so I can just buy 5 of the 28 oz cans at the store. I do care about cost but I mostly care about home cooked ingredients! By the way, I LOVE your blog! Thank you!

  9. Heading to Costco tomorrow to look for those 10lb tomato cans! :) Thanks for the recipe, can’t wait to try it. Since I am knew to the OAMC I am going to split the sauce with my mom.

  10. Thank you for linking up to my CrockPot carnival!

  11. Speaking of the Kitchenaid…
    I know you make your pizza dough in a bread machine. Can’t you also make it in a Kitchenaid with the dough hook? Have you ever tried that?

    I made the red sauce today. When you said it makes a lot, you weren’t kidding! When I realized I was going to have more sauce than pot, I got out the 2nd stockpot. I’ve now got 10 – 2 cup containers of the red sauce with meat and 9 – 2 cup containers of red sauce. I see italian meals in my upcoming freezer meals.

  12. I make croutons, too. I often make up a huge batch and throw them in the freezer. I take them out minutes before dinner and mix them in the salad. They defrost very quickly. They get eaten around here quickly, too – by me, unfortunately. :-(

  13. Ooh! I can’t wait to try the croutons and sauce! Hubby loves croutons (eats a whole bag with a couple of salads) and I worry about all the extra junk that is in them. We eat a lot of pasta in the summer so this is a great idea about the sauce. No matter what kind we’ve used though, my one tip is to invest in a couple basil and parsley plants! Fresh herbs can make a world of difference to any sauce for flavor!

  14. Jessica…when you freeze your shredded chicken, which is another brilliant tip I have picked up here, what amounts do you freeze it in? Do you weigh/measure out cups and freeze in small baggies?

    Just curious.

    Thanks!

  15. What size crockpot did you make the sauce in? I’m afraid mine may be too small.

  16. Christy says:

    We’re experimenting with our very first tomato plant, and since I don’t actually care for raw tomatoes, I was hoping to use your red sauce recipe. But I’m not sure how to turn actual tomatoes into a #1o can of crushed tomatoes. Should I crush them and then weigh them? I assume the ounce measurement is weight, not volume. Anyway, any ideas? Or do you know of someone who has a sauce made from non-canned tomatoes?

    • Jessica Fisher says:

      I made tomato sauce from fresh tomatoes a long time ago and what I remember was that A LOT of tomatoes made a little sauce. A number ten can is something like 108 ounces — I think. I guess I would start the way you’re talking, But peel the tomatoes before you weigh them. Cut an X in the blossom end. Submerge in hot water for 60 seconds and the skin should slip right off. I’m sorry I can’t be more help!

      • Christy says:

        @Jessica Fisher, No that’s great! I was going to halve the recipe at least. I thought I might dice the tomatoes, flash freeze, and just keep doing that until the plant stops producing in the fall, and then use all of it to make sauce. Thanks for the tip on peeling!

  17. Hi,
    I was wondering what the consistency of the red sauce is? What I guess what I’m really asking is if it could also be used for chili, where the recipe calls for a can of tomatoes.

    Thanks!

  18. I’m so excited to try this recipe. I’ll use fresh tomatoes too since they are plentiful here (year round!). I’m guessing about 4 kilos of tomatoes to come up with the almost 4 liters of a #10 can. I’ll have to let you know.

  19. I wondered if you do anything in particular to thicken your red sauce? I like my pasta sauce quite thick. Do you find that if you cook it for long enough it thickens or do you need to take the lid off the slow cooker or put it on high? Thanks!

    • Jessica Fisher says:

      @Fleur, it will thicken a little, but if you want it really thick, add less water at the start or simmer, uncovered.

      • @Jessica Fisher, Great, that sounds pretty easy. I am new to slow cookers and am still figuring out the best techniques. It would be terrific if you could post more slow cooker recipes on your site.

  20. Hi Jessica,
    I don’t own a crockpot and am sure I’ll never find it here.. Can I cook it on the stovetop and for how long? Sorry to bother you with something so basic but I’m sure DH will love this sauce and so had to ask:-) Thanks!

  21. Are there any hopes for making a yummy pizza sauce minus the onions? My daughter is allergic to onions. However, my older children (and myself!) love pizza, and we don’t want to stop eating it!

  22. Bobbi Kilbarger says:

    Here’s a tip that makes the shredded chicken even easier while using less energy and not heating up the house:
    Put the chicken pieces, any cut, in the crockpot with about a cup of water the night before you do your cooking day. When you wake up, it”ll be moist and falling off the bones. You also end up with a little bit of homemade chicken stock. This also keeps the oven open for other recipes.

  23. Can I use diced tomatoes? I can’t find a big can of crushed tomatoes at my grocery store. If so, do I use all of the juice from the can?

    • Jessica Fisher says:

      You can, but the consistency and the texture will be different. It will work, just not be the same sauce.

      Alternatively, you can get four 28-ounce cans of crushed tomatoes in place of the ginormous can.

    • I just made this yesterday (for the first time) using diced tomatoes, as that’s what I had on hand. If you like chunks it will be perfect as is. I knew my kids wouldn’t eat it if it had chances of tomato (or onions, for that matter) in it, so I threw a bit of it at a time in the blender. Took a few seconds (keep your hand on the blender lid!) and the consistency is the same as jarred sauce. Still tweaking things to get it to a flavor my kids will like, but I was pretty pleased with how it turned out.

  24. Do you cook the chicken bone-in, or do you bone it first as Amy’s post you linked to?

  25. Has anyone else tried shredding chicken in your KitchenAide? I just did this for the first time after cooking chicken w/stock items to make chicken stock. Removed the vegetables. Put the whole chicken breasts (10lbs worth) all into the KitchenAide bowl & within less than minutes it was all shredded!!! Going to be doing this more often!

    • Jessica Fisher says:

      I have done it a few times per the recommendation of a friend. However, I couldn’t get the consistency to be even. Some bits appeared ground, instead of shredded. Glad it worked so well for you!

  26. Thank you for this recipe!

    What changes should I make to ensure a non-chunky sauce tomato-wise?

    • Jessica Fisher says:

      You can blend it in batches in a food processor or blender, or use a stick blender. I love my stick blender!

  27. Have this simmering on the stove right now…2nd time I’ve made it. Absolutely wonderful!

  28. Hello!

    Thanks so much for these great tips! I am planning to make and shred a bunch of boneless chicken tomorrow and just got a kitchenaid mixer a few months ago but had NO idea I could shred chicken in there! Shredding chicken is one of my LEAST favorite chores! Now I can’t wait to do it tomorrow! :)

    I have one question that you may have answered already but I didn’t see it…what method do you use to store your red sauce in the freezer in 2 cup portions?

    Thanks for all this!
    Blessings,
    Molly :)

    • Jessica Fisher says:

      I have used small plastic containers with lids, freezer-safe canning jars, and quart-size freezer bags. It’s really dependent on your preferences and what you already have.

  29. Hi
    For the tomato sauce have you ever used fresh tomatoes?

  30. Is that ten cans of tomatoes? Or 10 ounces?

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