As I’ve adopted the habit of menu planning, I’ve realized that there are a number of basic recipes that are essential to preparing the meals on my menus. Paramount among these are cheese sauce and cream of mushroom soup.

Essential Recipes - Cheese Sauce and Cream of Mushroom Soup

If I wanted to save a little time and effort, I could use a processed cheese product (e.g., Velveeta) instead of homemade cheese sauce and canned condensed cream of mushroom soup instead of homemade cream of mushroom soup. Unfortunately, these products are highly processed, so my husband and I try to avoid them. Their homemade counterparts are a great option because they really don’t take that long to make and they’re very flavorful (I actually think they taste better than the processed versions).

Cheese Sauce

A suitable substitute for Velveeta and other processed cheese products.

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1 quart (32 oz.) light cream
  • 4 cups shredded cheddar cheese

Instructions

Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over low heat. Whisk in the flour until well blended. Add the cream. While stirring constantly, gradually increase the heat to medium. The sauce will thicken as it heats.

Once thickened, reduce the heat to medium-low and stir in the cheese one handful at a time. Continue stirring over medium-low heat until all the cheese is melted and the sauce is smooth. Yield: about 6 cups.

Notes

You may notice that this is simply a cheesy variation of a béchamel or white sauce. I use light cream instead of milk because I need this sauce to be thick so I can substitute it for processed cheese products. If you’d like a thinner sauce, such as one that will easily drizzle over broccoli or other veggies, prepare this recipe with milk instead of cream. (In order to prevent curdling, which isn’t as likely with high-fat dairy products, you will want to add additional butter and flour when preparing the recipe with a full 32 oz. of milk. If you use only 1 or 2 cups of milk, the 2 tablespoons of butter and flour will be fine.)

I don’t add any seasonings to the sauce because I’ll be putting it into recipes that have lots of herbs and spices in them. However, if you’d like to, you can add seasonings (e.g., salt, pepper, garlic).

I freeze this sauce in 2-cup increments (I use these freezer-safe Pyrex dishes). When I need some for a recipe, I simply pull a dish of the sauce from the freezer and thaw it. I substitute 2 cups of cheese sauce for 16 oz. Velveeta (or a similar product) in recipes. The ingredients for this recipe cost $6.57, which is $2.19 per 2-cup portion.

Cream of Mushroom Soup

A suitable substitute for canned condensed cream of mushroom soup. Adapted from this recipe at food.com.

Ingredients

  • 12 oz. mushrooms, thinly sliced
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 3 cups light cream
  • Several dashes of salt & pepper

Instructions

Melt the butter in a large saucepan over low heat. Add in the mushrooms, onion, and garlic. Cook until the onions are soft.

Quickly stir in the flour, salt, and pepper. Increase the heat to medium-low and add the chicken broth. Stir frequently until slightly thickened. Add the cream and stir constantly until the soup is thick and thoroughly heated. Yield: about 8 cups.

Notes

As with the cheese sauce, I prepare this soup to be thick. If you want a bowl of soup, not a thick version for casseroles and other recipes, you can use milk instead of cream. I freeze 2-cup increments of the soup in the same dishes that I use for the cheese sauce. I use 2 cups of this soup in place of 1 can of condensed cream of mushroom soup in recipes.

The ingredients for this recipe cost $6.18, which is $1.55 per 2-cup portion. The flavor of this soup will beat the flavor of any canned variety out there!

Both the soup and the cheese sauce will have a grainy appearance when you first thaw them from a frozen state. However, once you warm them and stir them, they’ll regain a smooth texture.

What recipes are essential to the meals you prepare?

 

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Shared on the following link-ups: Teach Me Tuesday, Frugal Crafty Home, Living Proverbs 31, The Fun in Functional, Essential Fridays, & Friday!