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Food Forum

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Simple white sauce

Years ago, before fast food and microwaves, the kitchen was a magical place.

Simple, delicious meals were whipped up in minutes, and no one ever thought about going to a restaurant for dinner. Going out to eat was just too expensive for most families.

When I was a girl, my mom worked full-time but she knew a million tricks for getting a good meal on the table less than 30 minutes after she walked through the door and tied an apron over her work clothes.

White sauce, a creamy blend of flour, milk and butter, was one of her secrets.

And creamed chicken over wide egg noodles and creamed tuna on toast were two of her quick, delicious dishes that began with basic white sauce.

“I learned to make white sauce when I was in seventh or eighth grade, in home economics,” Mom tells me.

That was in the 1940s, when families that survived the Great Depression shared tips and recipes that stretched their food budget.

In the 21st century, white sauce is not just for creamed chicken or tuna. You can mix cheese tortellini and mushrooms or add leftover salmon chunks to white sauce. My family calls me the Leftover Queen. That’s because I hardly ever throw out food.

My cream dishes begin with a recipe called Quick White Sauce, on Page 342 of my ragged and stained 1975 copy of “The Joy of Cooking.”

“The Joy of Cooking” was first published in 1931, during the Great Depression, and was last printed in 2006, on the 75th anniversary of the cookbook. If you go to, you can read how the fourth generation of Becker and Rombauer relatives are keeping the cookbook going.

Here’s my version, based on their recipe:


2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup low-fat milk
1 tablespoon cooking sherry
Salt and pepper

Melt the butter over low heat. Slowly stir in the flour, a little at a time, using a wire whisk or a fork. The butter and flour will look like a thick paste. Keep stirring for a few minutes.

Measure out the cup of milk and, as you continue stirring, slowly pour in the milk, a little at a time.

Keep stirring over low heat for several minutes until the mixture thickens. Be patient.

When the mixture is smooth and as thick as gravy, stir in the sherry, salt and pepper. Then add 1 to 2 cups of precooked chicken, fish, tortellini or vegetables.

Heat until all ingredients are warm and serve immediately.

I usually use leftover roasted chicken. Fresh mushrooms can be sliced, cooked and set aside before you start making the white sauce.

Frozen peas, cooked and set aside, or leftover broccoli are also good additions.

Serve creamed chicken over toast, egg noodles or rice.

Recipe makes two generous servings and can be doubled.

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