I'll confess I cheat. I've never been any good at scratch gravy (I'll get it right one of these days!). My mainstay is Tone's Gravy Mixes, which I get at Sam's Club in the really big containers. About $7.50 for a LOT of gravy mix, a huge savings over individual packets.
Mix your gravy thin and pour it over leftovers and noodles, poof, you've got a perfectly palatable casserole. Brown or mushroom gravy and a half cup of sour cream makes instant stroganoff. Any gravy and a can of cream of celery soup makes an awesome pot pie sauce. A little gravy mix can turn soup into stew (so can instant mashed potatoes). Add extras to your gravy - a little onion, a little mushroom, maybe a little garlic or a bay leaf - and it's not the same ol' gravy every time. And gravy can cover up most cooking disasters.
Boullion and soup bases are great tools too. You can fake Au Jus with it, mix it with a little cornstarch for a quick and dirty gravy, or season rice with it. A spoonful of soup base in soup is cheaper than trying to get it seasoned just right. I prefer soup bases to bullion because they are more flavorful and less salty, but bases are more expensive. Don't get bullion cubes, they're a pain to dissolve; looks for paste or granules.
Cheese! Boy, you can get your kid to eat anything hidden under cheese. Rather than buy Velveeta, I discovered that cheese sauce is pretty easy to make. It stretches your cheese, too.
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground black or white pepper
1 1/2 cups milk
1 cup grated cheese, any variety (stronger flavored cheeses work better in my opinion)
Melt butter; remove from heat. Stir in flour and seasonings. Gradually add milk, stirring until well mixed. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until thickened and smooth. Cook for 5 minutes longer; add cheese.
Stir until smooth and well blended. Serve with pasta or vegetables.
Makes 2 cups.
Oh, cream soups. These are a mainstay of the Modern American Casserole. I prefer Cream of Celery, possibly because of an overdose of Cream of Mushroom growing up. I find the celery very versatile. Did you know you can make your own Cream Soup substitute for casserole? It's pretty good. The only place I don't like it is in pot pie. For some reason the "lid" of the pot pie makes the sauce really set up, and it turns quiche-like. I did this a lot when TEFAP was giving us powdered milk.
Homemade Cream Soup Mix
2 1/4 c nonfat dry milk
3/4 c cornstarch
2 tb dried onion
2 tsp celery seed -or- 1 tsp each basil and thyme
1/2 tsp pepper
Combine all and store in an airtight container.
Sub for one can condensed soup: 1/3 c dry mix and 1 1/4 c cold water.
Cook and stir until thickened, or add to recipe. If desired, add 1 tsp of appropriately flavored bullion (chicken, beef, whatever works) per "can" of mix on the fly.
Makes the equivalent of 9 cans of soup.