Keeping with the theme of Make Your Own, Béchamel, a basic white sauce is something every home cook should have in their culinary back pocket. I have been known to whip it out on unprepared nights when the family is staring at me asking, "What's for dinner?". Pasta, tuna, and veggies in a creamy white sauce - no problem. Homemade mac and cheese - coming right up. Fettuccine Alfredo - simple, set the table.
BASIC WHITE SAUCE
Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add 1/4 cup all-purpose flour and stir 1 minute to cook out raw flour taste. Gradually whisk in 1 cup milk, whisking constantly to prevent lumps. Add 1 teaspoon salt, 1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper, and 1/8 teaspoon grated nutmeg (optional). Add another 1 cup milk and whisk constantly until thick and simmering. Cook until very thick and smooth, 2 to 3 minutes. Makes about 2 cups.
Serve as is with pasta, veggies or whatever you choose; or, use it as a base for other dishes. Add some paprika, cayenne pepper, and a few red pepper flakes to use it a a spicy sauce for sausage and gravy over biscuits.
Throw in 2 tablespoons cream cheese, 1 clove of minced garlic, 1 cup of grated Parmesan. Top with parsley flakes and you have a quick and easy Alfredo sauce. The Chitlins are Alfredo fiends! I have made several versions and I like this one the best because it does not separate when leftovers are stored in the refrigerator. We used to spend over $3.00 on a jar of processed Alfredo sauce. This is so easy to make and tastes waaay better.
CHEDDAR CHEESE SAUCE
After the basic white sauce has cooked and thickened, stir in 1 1/2 cups (6 ounces) shredded sharp or extra-sharp Cheddar cheese, 1 teaspoon paprika, 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard (optional), and 1/8 teaspoon ground red pepper. Makes about 3 1/2 cups. Stir in cooked elbow noodles or shells for homemade mac and cheese. You can leave the mustard out, but it really does taste better with it. I do not even like mustard, but always include it. The Chitlins have never complained about it either. If you want a golden crust, top your mac and cheese with buttered bread crumbs and broil until desired color.
Once you get the basic recipe down, add ingredients to vary dishes to your heart's content. Use what you have on hand. The ingredients needed are almost always already in your kitchen. Save a trip to the grocery store and skip the extra packaging of over-priced processed "food". Béchamel is cheap and easy, the leftovers store well, and you will never have to panic again when someone utters the dreaded, "What's for dinner?".