Cheap Eat Challenge: Watch as our family of 6 tries (sigh) to eat on $6/day.
Once upon a time my mother-in-law made macaroni and cheese. It was an excellent recipe, which I hope to soon share with you. It contained macaroni, ground beef, tomatoes, cheese, and some mystical and delicious sauce.
I was newly married and eager to expand my recipe box, so I asked her for the recipe.
"Well, you make the macaroni and then you start off with a basic white sauce..."
Oh dear, she'd already lost me. I got the macaroni part, but had to ask her to tell me how to make a white sauce. She looked at me kind of funny. Clearly, there was a home ec class or two that I should have signed up for. Or maybe I should have drilled my mom a little more about how to cook. Not that anything that started with something containing (no, not containing--being) a fat would have made it past my no fat alert in high school anyway.
So my mother-in-law gave me a brief tutorial on how to make a basic white sauce.
I pass it on to you, with several tips about how to use such powerful wisdom and why it is both cheapskate and cook's best friend.
First, what's it good for.
It's good for soups, casseroles, pasta sauces. It's good for anything in which you otherwise might toss a can of cream of somethingorother soup. At it's homiest, it's the basis for a simple broccoli chicken casserole. Dressed up for the evening, it's the basis of an alfredo sauce.
Secondly, why do cooks love it?
*It tastes better than canned soups, for one thing.
*It has less preservatives and you know just what's inside of it.
*Along that vein, you can season it in a multitude of ways. You can go from basic salt and pepper to onion and garlic to thai or indian.
Thirdly, why do cheapskates love it?
*A can of cream of somethingorothersoup is going to run you about $1.00 and more if you want a name brand soup. The same amount of white sauce costs about $.30.
But isn't it just easier to throw in a can of cream of somethingorother soup? Maybe. This sauce takes 3 minutes to make. Three. Minutes. It often takes me longer than that to find my can opener (true, though unfortunate, story).
A few final notes:
1. You can make this thin for pouring over vegetables or starting a soup. Or you can make it thick (ala cream of somethingorother soup) for casseroles and scalloped foods. (This tip is from my friend, Sally--maker of amazing soup and sometimes-cheapskate extraordinaire.) The thick recipe is given below. To thin it, use half as much butter and flour.
2. You can make a white sauce with milk, but you can also substitute chicken broth (or another broth) if you'd like something to have a thick sauce, but not to be milky or creamy.
3. You can even make it lower fat by using skim milk. I'm not advocating this by any means, but it is certainly possible.
4. You can add cheese and make cheese sauces (see how below). My mom used to pour a cheddar sauce over broccoli when I was a kid and it was the only way I really liked broccoli. So, here's to you, white sauce, for keeping me from a life of vegetable dereliction.
Basic White Sauce
Prep and cook time: 3 minutes
(butter: .15, flour: .01, milk: .19)
2 Tbsp butter of other fat (oil, lard, whatever floats your boat)
2 Tbsp flour
1 C milk (or broth)
a few dashes of salt and pepper or whatever crazy seasonings you'd like
Melt butter in saucepan over lowish heat. Whisk in flour (I use a flat whisk) and seasonings. It'll get thick and pasty. Then pour in the milk or broth, stirring as you do. Heat to boiling and let it boil gently for about a minute or until it thickens.
To Make Cheese Sauce: Stir in 1/2 C shredded cheese and 1/4 tsp dry mustard if you've got it on hand and you're feeling fiesty (it won't make it mustard-y tasting; it will just make it good--you can thank Sally for this tip too). Stir until smooth over low heat.