The ordinary arts we practice every day
at home are of more importance to the
soul than their simplicity might suggest.
The other day my son called up to ask me how I make mac and cheese, so I had the old conversation about your basic white sauce again. He knew how to make one, as he is a wonderful cook and knows much more about classical cooking than I do, but it reminded me that before you can start to improvise in the kitchen you need to know the basics. White sauce can be used in place of any of the "cream of" soups you have and because it is made from the very basic of ingredients you never have to worry about running out of it. So here it is again:
White or Cream Sauce
2 C. milk, scalded (although I usual skip the scalding step)
2. tbsp butter
4 tbsp. flour
salt and pepper to taste
Melt the butter in a saucepan. Stir in the flour until smooth. (this is called a roux) . Slowly stir in the milk, cooking until the sauce is thick. Salt and pepper to taste. All of this is done over a very low heat, of course, so not to scorch the mixture!
To make mac and cheese, I make this sauce times 1 1/2 for 1/2 pound of macaroni. Add 1 tsp. dry mustard and 1/2 tsp. paprika to the flour. Stir in 2-3 cups cheese and a few dashes of Worcestershire sauce, to the sauce and stir until smooth. Combine with the macaroni and put in a buttered 8 inch square pan. Top with crushed Ritz (or Ritz-like wink, wink!) crackers. Bake at a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes.
There are so many variations on the cream sauce. You can substitute the milk for chicken broth and add some chicken compatible seasoning, Stir in some leftover chicken (chopped of course) maybe some peppers, peas, celery, diced cooked carrots, or whatever you please. Serve this over rice for Chicken A La King. That same sauce would be a good gravy for a pot pie.
Substitute the butter for sausage grease and crumble a breakfast sausage into it an you have sausage gravy to serve over biscuits. A bit of dry mustard is good in this too.
Use more flour to make a thicker sauce and make croquettes. An antiquated food that is a fun way to use up meat scraps or some mushrooms found on the '"reduced for quick sale" shelve in your produce market.
Use you imagination and experiment!