It’s September. The kids are back to school and hockey is back on the calendar. The weekend before school started I made the mistake of asking the kids to clean their rooms. I ended up with eleven loads of laundry.
Someone needs to kick my photo-a-day-arse because I've been missing plenty of photo opportunities despite the charming capture of Laundrygate. I managed the obligatory back to school photos, four out of six anyway... although I find as the kids get older they get decidedly more scowly.
I'm getting up earlier to pack lunches, and discovering that it's still dark... which strikes me as the most depressing thing about fall.
I know there's plenty to love about fall, but right now I'm in an end of summer funk.
As hard as it is to let summer go, it’s time to welcome some structure and routine back into our lives. A big part of that is dinnertime. Something nourishing, and on the table shortly after everyone gets home from work and school, yet quick and easy enough for the nights when we’re heading right back out the door. I’ll often throw together some kind of a casserole, combining meat, veggies, and grain or pasta… making it up as I go along. Unfortunately, many casserole recipes call for some version of a creamed soup in a can. I’ve used them in the past, and I’d be lying if I said I’d never use them again (our favourite tuna casserole depends on cream of mushroom soup), but I've come up with a slightly less convenient, healthier option which I have been using more and more often.
I'm sharing it with you, because I know I'm not the only casserole lover out there that wants to kick the canned soup addiction. It's not exactly a recipe... more a basic framework that's easily modified based on what's in the fridge or cupboard.
It's a super simple, basic white sauce. I started making this as a pasta topping when the cost of the fresh Alfredo sauce at the grocery store crept past the $10 mark for the two containers needed to feed eight of us. A simple roux of butter and flour, some milk, seasonings and cheese will give you an amazing multi-purpose sauce.
Use cream and Parmesan with a dash of nutmeg for a cheesy, creamy Alfredo. Or Cheddar for homemade macaroni and cheese. I recently discovered the shaved Parmesan at Costco and I am loving it... I could eat it right out of the container (okay, I DID eat some straight up), it’s that good.
Add generous amounts of basil and garlic, some cooked chicken, steamed broccoli, and cooked rice or quinoa for the casserole that comes in at a close second to our beloved tuna casserole.
This one’s also really good. Lean ground beef and onions scramble fried with Montreal Steak Spice, mix in the white sauce with some steamed green beans, and add a scalloped potato topping. Or skip the potatoes and combine with pasta. Delicious either way.
We do a seafood version too. Sauteed scallops and shrimp are added to the sauce along with a bag of steamed mixed veggies and served over pasta.
The ingredient combinations are limitless, and easy to adapt to personal preferences. Here's how I whip up an easy, multi-purpose white sauce:
Using your favourite whisk, mix up a basic roux with equal parts melted butter and flour until well combined. This it not my favourite whisk, it's my second favourite. My favourite whisk was nowhere to be seen and I later found it in the backyard. I don't want to know why. I'm glad my dishwasher has a sanitize setting.
Once the rue is bubbling and golden, slowing pour in milk, whisking constantly while it thickens. Once you've achieved a nice smooth consistency, add some seasoning. This is the batch that went into the quinoa, chicken, broccoli concoction so it's heavy on basil, with a dash of Worchestire sauce, some minced garlic and a dash of nutmeg.
And here's my beloved Parmesan. Once you've seasoned your sauce you can add the cheese. Your sauce will thicken as the cheese melts, so keep whisking and add milk as needed. I find myself adding milk frequently throughout the entire process as it has a tendency to keep thickening even as it sits.
Basic White Sauce
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp flour
1 cup milk