Sunday, March 24, 2013

Sunday Dinner: Chicken Casserole + Short-Cut White Sauce

So, I've blogged about this casserole before which takes a can of cream soup.  You realize that cream of mushroom soup can be replaced by a homemade white sauce?  It's just that most people consider it more convenient to open a can than stand over the stove, stirring.  I do.  Making white sauces gets on my nerves.  I just usually avoid recipes that call for cream-of soups because I don't feel like making a white sauce.  Nothing annoys me more than doing a bunch of stovetop cooking with a dish and then baking it as well.  Humph. 


This method (below) of making a white sauce has me so excited because it's foolproof and fast!

My senior editor has been making her white sauces in the microwave for years and it's awesome, especially suited to the casserole application because it lessens the sting (in my mind) of cooking it twice. 

The method:

2 Tbsp. butter in glass measure (I have a 2-cup one that works perfectly)

Get it hot and melted in the microwave.

Add a bit of chopped onion or mushrooms or both.

Microwave for 30 seconds.

Whisk in 2 Tbsp.  flour.  Microwave for 45 seconds or so.

Pour in 1 cup milk and whisk it.  It will be lumpy, but the lumps will dissolve with additional cooking.

Now, microwave in 45-60 second increments, whisking after each increment, until sauce is thick and smooth.  It takes about 4 1-minute increments in my old feeble microwave.  Sure beats standing over the stove stirring stirring stirring!

The benefits, as I see them:

1.  no can of chemical-ly soup
2.  local ingredients
3.  fast (have I mentioned how fast this is?)
4.  the children can do the microwaving and stirring!  They loved being involved like this and there's no open flame to worry about!

the finished Make-Ahead Chicken Casserole

I think I would still make a traditional white sauce with a roux for the flavor if the sauce was going to be the star of the show in creamed spinach, say, or cheese sauce.

So, anyway, besides the chicken casserole, the rest of Sunday dinner was cranberry applesauce, sauteed chard with balsamic vinegar and garlic, and then, for dessert cardamom cake (a Moosewood recipe, like pound cake, only laced with cardamom, walnuts, and cinnamon).  And we all sipped some decaf cardamom coffee, too (just add a pod or two of cardamom to coffee beans and grind them up together).


Dianna said...

Wow, this is a fabulous idea! I've started making my puddings in the microwave and I can't wait to try white sauce.

Margo said...

ooooh, puddings! Give me some tips, please (or did you blog about this and I should check it out there?).

Jennifer Jo said...

Oh, you're funny! I think white sauces are so simple! Why do you stand at the stove and stir? It sounds like your microwave method involves more stirring than what I do, so...maybe I don't make my white sauce the right way? Oh dear!

Did you know we're in the thick of cardamom growing country? On certain streets in town, you can smell the cardamom toasting...

Lisa said...

I'm the same way; if it's going in the oven, I so dislike to be having to do things on the stove to it, too.

Anonymous said...

Oh. My. I love cardamom! I never thought to put it in my coffee grounds before brewing.
Can you share your cake recipe?

I was just telling a friend today how to make a white sauce. I'm definitely going to try out this microwave method. I'm like you. It feels like I have to cook before I can cook.

Thanks for sharing!

AmyK said...

I love home made white sauces. Every time I make one, I feel like I'm beating the food packing industry, making an unhealthy food more healthy, and so I feel justified in eating something rich and creamy. :)

I'm like Jennifer Jo, I don't actually spend much time stirring at the stove. The part I find tiresome is chopping up the onions/celery/mushrooms, etc to go in the white sauce.

Have you ever tried the pre-made white sauce mix mentioned in "More with Less". I haven't so far, but I'm interested in hearing from some one who has.

Margo said...

Jennifer, you must make your white sauces a renegade way (that I would definitely like to hear about)! The classic white sauce means whisking cold milk into browned butter and flour in the pan. Then you stir stir stir over low heat until it heats up and thickens - it can take hours (I exaggerate). My mom taught me to use hot milk, which speeds up the process, but still requires standing and stirring. The microwave method allows for another kitchen project simultaneously - I forgot to mention that benefit in the post.

Margo said...

AmyK, I did use a white sauce mix (from Simply in Season and covered in the post in the link in the first sentence of the post). I found it unwieldy because it used powdered milk, something I don't keep on hand anymore, and I didn't always have enough mix to make the white sauce I wanted, and I still had to heat it up and stir it in a pan.

Here's my question for you and Jennifer: if you're not stirring a lot, doesn't your white sauce get lumpy?

AmyK said...

It doesn't get lumpy. I know I stir in my seasonings, and I stir when I add the flour to the butter/seasoning mixture - just enough to blend everything, and then I stir the liquid in of course - and I tend to pour it in quickly. But what usually happens is that I let it cook on low for a bit after the initial stir and then I come back to it and stir some more, but it never feels like much stirring.

Perhaps I stir more than I think, but I don't mind that part so it doesn't feel like much. :)

I'm curious now. I think I'll be paying closer attention to just how much stirring I do the next time I make a white sauce!

jenny_o said...

I've noticed that if I stir my white sauce too much, it takes much longer to thicken. I'm not sure why this is. However, now I don't stand over it. I shake up flour, milk and salt in a screw-top jar, and add it to melted butter in the pan all at once, and stir every few minutes while I'm doing other things, just often enough that if a sludgy layer starts to form at the bottom of the pot, it can be whisked in before making hard lumps.

I've just recently figured out that it's not the cooking before the baking that I mind so much as it is the washing of the extra pot! (no dishwasher here) So I'm eager to try your microwave sauce, because somehow a glass measuring cup doesn't bother me the way a pot does - thank you for sharing your method.

jenny_o said...

I meant add to my comment that another benefit of homemade white sauce is that the cook controls just how much salt goes into it.

Your dinner looks and sounds so enticing. Now I'm hungry!

Margo said...

Tracysnotebook, the cardamom cake recipe is at this link:

I would have copied it here on my post, but I didn't do anything differently. Enjoy!

Rhonda said...

Thank you for this easy method, sounds just like the best method too.
I made a casserole last week with cream soup and after we ate it, it put us both to sleep. Cream soup was the only non fresh ingredient in the casserole and I think that can of soup had extra msg in it. I was so aggravated, I threw out the other can in the pantry.

Hazel said...

D'oh! I've often seen American recipes with canned soup and it never occur to me to replace them with white sauce...

I don't mind making rouxs, but I have seen Delia Smith say she makes this all in one white sauce-

I haven't tried it but she's famous for recipes that work and it avoids the constant adding and stirring of the traditional roux method.
I know your microwave recipe works for you, but should it break one day, it could be Plan B!