Monday, 16 September 2013

Back to School, Busy Night Casseroles, and a Basic White Sauce



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
dash salt

In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt butter.  Whisk in flour until smooth and well combined.  Gradually pour in milk, whisking constantly.  Season, add more milk as needed until desired consistency is reached.  That's it!

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97 comments:

  1. Yes, what you said. I am not fond of Fall. You have a lovely family.

    Madonna/aka/Ms. Lemon
    MakeMineLemon

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  2. Now that I am getting back into the swing of things from holidays I, too, have noticed that the mornings are dark :o but am also welcoming the routines of fall.

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    1. It's always an adjustment, this shift in seasons. Thanks for stopping by :)

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  3. Wonderful shots Jenn! I love casseroles and I see that you are creative in making them. Have a great week.

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    1. Thanks Judy, hope you've had a lovely week!

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  4. I'm mourning the end of summer too. It's not easy for me. The simple white sauce is one of my favorite recipes. I feel like I use it as more than a sauce. I kinda use it as a fondue dipping thing for bread too!

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    1. That sounds good, I would dip bread into almost anything!

      I'll eventually love autumn, just not quite yet :)

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  5. You gotta teach those boys how to do laundry too! One day your future daughters-in-law will thank you for it.

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    1. You're absolutely right! The older boys can find their way around a kitchen, but a little laundry room knowledge wouldn't hurt.

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  6. I only have the one but there still seems to be piles of washing!

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    1. It never ends does it? Thanks for stopping by Em!

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  7. Fab photos I love Autumn time the food looks tempting yum

    Have a tanfastic week ;-)

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    1. Thanks Steve, glad you popped by :)

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  8. Thanks for sharing photos of your family and food! I know how you feel about it being dark outside in the mornings. When we got back from summer in Florida, our kids had to start waking up at 6 am to be at school before 7:30 am. It was winter over here in South Africa and dark and very cold in the mornings. What an adjustment!

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    1. Wow, 7:30am... that's an early start! It's always an adjustment when the days get shorter, and I'm just not good at it. The worst is mid winter when it's dark on the way to work/school AND on the way home.

      Thanks for stopping by!

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  9. I love the pictures of your boys!! I need these quick and easy recipes too!!

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    1. Thanks Paula, so glad you stopped by!

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  10. Great tips, Jenn, and you made me chuckle more than once, so I'm your newest follower. Have a great week!

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    1. So glad you stopped by June, thanks for following!

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  11. I've been in a funk too..bleh! and I LOVE making roux-based sauces! delish!

    http://www.homeofohm.com/2013/09/wordlesswednesday-oh-starbucksw-linky.html

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    1. Hoping to find my autumn groove soon, lol... thanks for visiting!

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  12. I can't tell you how many times my white sauce has curdled which definitely takes away from the charming look.

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    1. Ohhh... that doesn't sound good. More whisking and less heat maybe?

      Thanks for visiting!

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  13. It is so hard to let go of the summer routine and get back on a schedule, although I personally do so much better with a schedule. Otherwise I'm just plain lazy ;)

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    1. Agreed! I prefer to refer to myself as a champion procrastinator :)

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  14. My kids get scowly too when they're older and it's school pic time. They loose that excitement about starting school, I guess. ;)

    Casseroles ROCK ROCK ROCK for busy nights!

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    1. So true :) And yes they do rock!

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  15. I am very much with you on the 'end of summer funk' - really hate to see and feel it go...

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    1. It's sad isn't it?

      Thanks for visiting Claudia :)

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  16. Glad to know I'm not the only one who eats the Costco parmesan out of the container:) Stopping in from DYWW!

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    1. It's just too good NOT to eat out of the container! Thanks for visiting :)

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  17. I agree about getting up in the dark!
    Going to pin this recipe. Thanks for sharing at the hop! :)

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    1. The worst is mid-winter... when we're going to work and coming home in the dark!

      So glad you popped by, thanks for hosting...and pinning!

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  18. Love the recipe! Thanks for sharing!
    Thanks so much for linking up with us today!
    http://thediaryofarealhousewife.blogspot.com

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    1. Thank you Jennie, and thanks for hosting!!

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  19. I LOVE casserole weather! thanks so much for linking to wake up wednesdays

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  20. looks yummy! so easy for weeknight dinner! Thanks for linking up at Share your Stuff Tuesdays!

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    1. Thanks Erin, and thank you for hosting!

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  21. Looks delicious and I can't believe the kids in our school system have been back to school for a month already!

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    1. Time really does fly doesn't it?

      Thanks for stopping by Nancy!

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  22. Stopping by from The Project Stash - had to take a look at your meal ideas. With football practice a couple nights a week, I need all the help I can get with easy dinner ideas. Thanks so much! Pinning!

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    1. Thanks for visiting Erin! I hope you find some quick and easy football night favourites!

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  23. This is awesome! I hate the price of sauce anymore, especially when they're so easy and cheap to make. Pinning this for later!

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    1. Thanks Chelsey, so glad you stopped by!

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  24. Lovely blog, the meals look yummy :) Just stopping by from the Friendly Friday Blog Hop xx

    Emma
    Handbags To Change Bags - Mummy & Lifestyle Blog

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    1. Thank you Emma, and thanks for visiting!

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  25. What lovely pictures! It's nice to settle into the back-to-school rhythm isn't it? Thanks for sharing your white sauce recipe. You have some great pairings here!

    Wishing you a lovely day.

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    1. Thank you Jennifer, and thanks for visiting!

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    1. Easy Peasy! Thanks for visiting :)

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  27. I love casseroles, and I really love it that you posted a basic white sauce! We all need less sodium, and I want to kick the canned soup addiction, too!!!

    LOL Sometimes you get what you wish for....clean rooms AND the added bonus of eleven loads of laundry. Yikes!

    I'm happy to know that I'm not the only one in an End of Summer Funk!!! But routine is good, too.

    Thank-you so much for linking-up to My Happy List!!! You have made my day!

    xo,
    RJ

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    1. This new routine quite obviously hasn't helped me keep up with responding to comments!

      Thanks so much for your kind words :)

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  28. Stopping by via the #FriendlyFriday link-up!

    Love the food in this post. I really look forward to getting to do some more cooking when I move to the U.S. in two weeks! Love cooking for my Hubby!

    Molly xo

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    1. Thanks Molly, so glad you stopped by... and happy to see you've finally landed on this side of the pond!

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  29. Visiting you from Friendly Friday blog hop. Casseroles are one my go to meals. Thanks for sharing your ideas
    Ann

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    1. Casseroles rock :) Thanks for visiting!

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  30. I laughed at the photos of your (beautiful) kids - mine are getting older too and my 9yo is getting more scowly by the year when I whip that camera out!

    Great recipe ideas! They look uber yummo! I must try! Thanks!

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    1. Glad mine aren't the only scowly ones around a camera, thanks for visiting!

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  31. Such creative casseroles. I will have to include them in my meal plans. Thanks so much for sharing them with our Let's Get Real readers. I do like fall, but I always mourn the passing of summer. I much prefer spending the weekends in my flip-flops and bathing suit to my winter parka and snow boots. It's coming! Your children are beautiful. I recognize that scowly face as one I often see on my son. They do smile, just rarely. LOL!

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    1. No talk of parkas and snow boots yet! Thanks for popping by, sharing your kind words... and sharing this post on your blog. Much appreciated!

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  32. Pinned the sauce recipe! Thanks for sharing at Food on Friday!

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  33. I am sometimes surprised at how many people don't know how to make a basic white sauce. I couldn't survive without it!!! Thanks for sharing your recipes. Going to try that quinoa one.

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    1. It really is so simple! Thanks for visiting!

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  34. Okay Jenn, first of all I'm over here salivating at your food, lol! I know what you mean about Fall, that's the one downfall...less daylight! Too funny about the laundry, kids are funny aren't they! Yours are adorable, btw. I'm sure they would love to hear me say that...yeah right, lol! Thanks for linking up, have a wonderful weekend!

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    1. OK Michell, first of all, how sad is it that I'm just getting to replies now? Thanks for taking the time to comment, I'm finally making my peace with the change in season :) I'm sure your kids love to hear how adorable they are too, lol.

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  35. I am with you about the summer ending. Would be nice if it kept going a bit more. Alas... it must end at some point. The recipe looks good, though I think I'd rather the seafood version you mentioned. Maybe without the veggie...haha. (stopping by via the link you left on my Blogger's Pledge linkup)

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    1. There's never quite enough summer is there? Thanks for stopping by :)

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  36. That white sauce looks simple enough! Might have to try that! Enjoy the last of the summer days. :)

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    1. Thanks Mary... I've come around to the idea of autumn :) So glad you stopped by for a visit!

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  37. The chicken and broccoli one is my favorite - I'm going to have to give it a try! Maybe my son won't notice the broccoli if it's white and not green...

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    1. Ah yes, veggies in stealth mode... my favourite :) Thanks for visiting Dana!

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  38. I love casseroles, although I don't make them very often...mainly because I like to stay away from canned soup. I think I will try it with some seafood.. just bought some shrimp and lobster.. Will be perfect. Thanks for sharing on Foodie Friends Friday and I hope that you join us again next week.

    PS.. sorry to say this but I am loving that Fall is finally here :)

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    1. Mmm, shrimp and lobster sounds wonderful... and I'm sure I'll be loving fall soon enough :)

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  39. It is taking me a while to get back into a routine and now the darker nights :( Yumm lovely food and pictures of your family :)

    Thanks for sharing at the weekend blog hop,,,

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    1. I always have mixed feelings about this time of year, and I really struggle with the shorter days!

      Thanks for stopping by :)

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  40. Great sauce recipe. So versatile. Thanks for linking to What'd You Do This Weekend?

    Wishes for tasty dishes,
    Linda @ Tumbleweed Contessa

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    1. Thank you Linda, so glad you stopped in for a visit. Thanks for hosting!

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  41. Wow, a lot of great ideas here, Jenn! I'll be making lots of delicious sauces this winter -- thanks for linking to More the Merrier Monday.

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    1. Thanks Vanessa, so glad you popped in for a visit!

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  42. Thanks for sharing your post on my What Are You Doing Blog hop! I decided to feature your recipe for this week's hop. (Should be up within the hour.) Congrats!

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    1. Wow... thanks Sara! I'll go put on my best party dress for my 5 min of fame :)

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  43. Thanks for sharing at the Weekend Show Off Party! I am always trying to come up with something to feed my super picky family, and I am not a fan of cream of mushroom. This also kind of reminds me of my mom's gravy, that she would make whenever she made fried chicken. I am definitely going to have to give this one a shot! Have a great week!

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    1. Even the pickiest in our crew can manage to choke some of these combinations back! Thanks for stopping by!

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  44. Yummy! Thanks for linking up to my Pin Me Linky Party!

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    1. Thanks Diana, so glad you stopped by!

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  45. Hi Jen,
    What a great post, sure brought back some memories for me. Your Casseroles look awesome! Hope you are having a fantastic weekend and thank you so much for sharing with Full Plate Thursday!
    Miz Helen

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    1. Thanks Miz Helen, always happy to have something to share at your link-up. So glad you stopped by for a visit!

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  46. Did you know that if you do half chicken broth and half milk for the roux you have a substitute for a can of cream of chicken soup? Or if you sautée some mushrooms before adding flour you get cream of mushroom? Same for cream of celery :) I use these a ton on those dreary days!

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    1. I have a bunch of turkey stock that I just made... will definitely try this. Thanks! And thank you for stopping by!

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  47. Great recipe! I love knowing basic recipes like this because, once you do, the possibilities are endless.

    Thanks for sharing at the Pinworthy Projects Party!

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    1. Thanks Shannah, it's so true... and thank you for stopping by :)

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  48. Hi Jenn, this is a great dish, looks easy and delicious. Thank you for sharing on Foodie Friends Friday Noodles and Pasta Party this week. I've pinned and shared.

    Looking forward to seeing you again soon,
    Joanne/Winelady Cooks

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  49. G'day and YUM!
    Thanks for including the FFF badge!
    Thanks for sharing at the Foodie Friends Friday Nothing but Noodles Pasta party!
    Cheers! Joanne

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  50. Like you, I miss summer, once fall begins. While I love the dark, I don't care much for getting up before dawn, as we must this time of year. There's something wonderful about getting up just as sunlight peeks through the blinds. I've been making white sauce (or rather beige sauce, since I make it with whole wheat flour) since we stopped by food in cans due to BPA. It's so much easier than I thought it would be! Thanks for sharing the different ways you use yours.

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