Sunday, November 3, 2013
Something From Nothing #18: Basic Cream Sauce
When I was in junior high school, home economics was one of only two elective classes offered at our school. The other being shop class, which I had no interest in, and even if I did it probably would have taken a school board vote for me to get in. Bear in mind this was back in the day when boys did boy stuff, and girls did girl stuff. Period.
Mrs. Graves was the home ec. teacher at our school. A June Carter Cash look alike, she was just a plain old country girl who was married to the shop teacher. No doubt she and Mr. Graves lived in a little white clapboard house on 10 acres on the outskirts of town with one dairy cow and a stable full of horses. I'm sure he built their house with his own two hands and she grew all the vegetables and baked the bread on their dinner table. Back then they were looked upon as old fashioned country folks. Today we would see them as cool.
Mrs. Graves was a very wise woman. She knew that sooner or later, whether we went to college or not, got married or not, had kids or didn't, we would most likely need to sew on a button, clean our own houses and make ourselves something to eat at some point in our lives. I guess it was this knowledge that kept her from giving up on us despite our youthful antics and frequent disinterest in her curriculum.
Under Mrs. Graves's tutelage, I somehow learned how to read a dress pattern, cut it out, sew it together and make it fit (kind of). She taught us about the right cleaners to use for what chores and how to properly scour a kitchen sink. She also taught us what kitchen ingredients would double as household cleaners in a pinch. I still think about her every time I use vinegar and newspaper to clean glass. All these things may sound pretty simple, but I have used one of the things I learned in her class almost every day of my life.
While very knowledgeable about cleaning and sewing, looking back I realize that cooking wasn't exactly Mrs. Graves's strong suit. I remember towards the end of the school year we showcased our culinary knowledge by preparing meal for ourselves.
All I can really recall about our menu was that the main dish consisted of some type of Bisquick/ground beef roulade with a heavenly, super cheesy sauce poured over the top. It was at this meal that I learned the most valuable cooking rule of all. Kids will eat anything if you douse it in enough cheese sauce.
As unappetizing as this simple meal might sound, I really need to cut her a break. Afterall she was trying to orchestrate a class of fifteen, thirteen year old girls, give them all a part in the meal preparation, eat it,and clean up, all in fifty-five minutes. God bless her.
Even though I've never made that hamburger roulade ever again, I have made that cheese sauce no less than a thousand times. More accurately, I have actually made the simple creamy base to that cheese sauce, over and over and over.
Made with just a few simple ingredients, this recipe is the great beginning of many sauces. Cheese sauce for macaroni and cheese, bechamel for an authentic Italian lasagna, a creamy mustard sauce for baked ham and the creamy goodness inside chicken pot pie, it's all a possible with this recipe.
Basic Cream Sauce
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
2 cups warm to hot milk (I usually just microwave mine for a minute or so)
Salt and pepper to taste
Melt butter in a medium size sauce pan over medium heat, until is starts to sizzle. Whisk flour into melted butter, stirring until a smooth paste is formed.
Slowly pour in the warm milk, whisking vigorously until it is completely incorporated. Continue to cook until it starts to boil. Cook for 1 - 2 minutes, while stirring constantly. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately or stir in additional ingredients as desired.
Whisking vigorously will usually smooth out any small lumps that you might get in your sauce. If this doesn't work, pour the sauce through a strainer, pushing the lumps through with the back of a spoon.
For bechamel sauce, add a pinch of nutmeg.
For mustard sauce, stir in 2 - 4 tablespoons of your favorite prepared mustard or dried mustard to taste.
For cheese sauce, stir in 1 cup grated cheddar cheese or 1/2 cup Parmesan or bleu cheese (or to taste), and a pinch of ground cayenne pepper. If I am using a mild cheese I also like to stir in 1 teaspoon of prepared mustard.
For garlic and herb sauce, saute garlic and shallots in the butter and add your favorite herbs at the end.
Once you get the hang of this sauce, the possibilities are endless.