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Recipe: White Gravy

December 27, 2023

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I use White Gravy once or twice a week. Being a Minnesotan, I love hotdishes, and being a busy mom and farmer, I love them even more because everything is combined into one family-pleasing dish. But all hotdishes call for some kind of "cream of" soup - which smells bad and does not have a good ingredient list. (Fun fact -
In 1987 they did a survey and there were 3,732 different hotdish recipes in Minnesota at the time. They included recipes like Ketchup Surprise Hotdish, Turkey Weiner Doodah Hotdish, or Organ Meat Cashew Hotdish.) I quit using cream soup about 12 years ago and replaced it with a batch of white gravy. Melt 1/3 cup butter, whisk in 1/3 cup flour (any flour works, I've made this with GF 1:1 replacement flours, whole wheat flours, and all purpose) and 1 teaspoon salt, cook it for about a minute, and then whisk in 3 cups of milk and cook until it’s thick. You can store it in the fridge for 2 weeks. Here are some recipes I regularly use it with.

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*I'm not going to label things as "organic" or anything like that - I don't want anyone to get hung up on the specific ingredients. These recipes will work no matter if you're using conventional or organic or gluten free or soured or sprouted. Just use what your family regularly eats. These recipes are all good filling comfort food, pleasing to children, and made with real food ingredients.*

Every Thursday, we have crockpot beef roast with potatoes and/or carrots. I spread it on top of the raw beef roast before cooking. Sometimes I sprinkle some Frontier Onion Soup Mix on top. I either start the beef roast the night before we eat it, at bedtime, on low, and then add root veggies in the morning, OR I start it at 5 am with everything right away. Usually it can stay on high all day long until supper time, but check it mid afternoon. I have a 7 quart crockpot and cook a 3-4 pound beef roast with 3 pounds of root veggies. If you're making a smaller roast with less veggies, you may want to check it at noon and turn it down to low. I like a beef roast that is so tender it's falling apart, and the long cook time, on high, does that.

You can also mix a batch of white gravy with tomato sauce and hamburger and potatoes and carrots for an easy hotdish. Brown 1 pound of hamburger, mix with 2 cups sliced carrots, 2 medium sized potatoes (diced), 1 recipe of white gravy, and one can of tomato sauce. Bake at 350, covered, for 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

Another one we like is Cowboy Hotdish. This one is layered and it gets deep, so this is best done in a Dutch Oven or an extra deep cake pan. Layer 2 cups of cooked Navy or Pinto beans, 2 pounds of browned ground beef, 2 pounds of thinly sliced potatoes, 2 cups of frozen corn, 2 diced onions, and white gravy. Bake at 350, covered for 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

An older lady from church brought me a meal when I had my 3rd child, and she called it Chicken Divan. One of my toddlers started calling it Chicken in the Barn, so now that is officially the name of this hotdish in our home. The amounts you use will depend on the size of your family - it's easily scaled up or down. For us, I put 2 bags of frozen broccoli down in a 9x13 pan, then I layer 4 cups of cooked chicken, 4 cups of shredded cheddar cheese, and a recipe of white gravy. Then I melt 1/2 cup butter and mix in 4 cups of bread crumbs, and sprinkle that on top. Bake at 350, covered, for 45 minutes then uncover for 15 minutes so the bread crumbs can crisp. You can turn on the broiler for a short time if they haven't gotten crispy yet. You can scale it down to a 10x10 pan for a smaller family, and cut the ingredients in half. 

If you like Chicken Cordon Bleu but don't have the time to pound out chicken and wrap it and fill it, you can make it in hotdish form, similar to Chicken In the Barn. In a 9x13 cake pan, spread out 4 cups of diced, cooked chicken. Top with 2 cups of diced ham. Then a layer of sliced Swiss cheese (a half pound works, but if you like it really cheesy, you can add more). Spread a batch of cream soup on top of that, and lastly a bread crumb layer. Melt 1/2 cup butter and mix in 4 cups of bread crumbs and sprinkle on top. Bake at 350 covered for 45 minutes, then uncover and bake 15 more minutes. Again, you can scale down to 10x10 pan and cut the ingredients in half for a smaller family.

I worked at my local nursing home starting when I was 15, until I finished college. A favorite recipe there was a hotdish they called "Yum A Setta" - the cooks would let the workers have leftovers, if there was any, and the best way I can describe it is like a homemade cheeseburger Hamburger Helper. Cook 4 cups of noodles until they are al dente. Mix with 2 pounds of browned hamburger, 1 recipe of cream soup, and 2 15-oz cans of tomato sauce (or one quart home canned). Spread 1/2 in a casserole dish, cover with 2 cups of shredded cheddar cheese, the rest of the hotdish, and another 2 cups of shredded cheddar cheese. Bake, covered, at 350 for 45 minutes. For a smaller family, cut this in half and cut the baking time to 30 minutes.

I originally found this next recipe on an old blog called "The Family Homestead." I would read it while I was working 12 hour night shifts at the hospital after having almost no sleep during the day while my toddlers were running around. That was the first place I was introduced to the idea that I could indeed be a stay at home mom and quit my job, that the feminist man-hating ideals the public school and media sold me might have been a total load of crap, and that I should start cooking from scratch with more whole food ingredients. I can no longer find the blog or the recipe, but she called it Ranch House Chicken. It's another layered dish. In a 9x13 pan, you layer 2 cups of chicken (when we were really poor, I used 1 cup of chicken and 1 cup of beans to save money and that tastes good also). Then cut up 4 tortillas. I stack the tortillas all together and cut them with my knife in a hashtag pattern to get bite sized squares. Spread the cut up tortillas on top of the chicken layer. Make your white gravy and mix 2 pint-sized jars of salsa with it. Spread half of that on top of the tortillas and sprinkle with 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese. Repeat all the layers again. Bake, covered, at 350 for 1 hour.

You can brown a pound of breakfast sausage and then add the other white gravy ingredients to it. Except I use lard in place of butter here. Once the sausage is browned, add the lard and let it melt. Whisk in the flour and only 1/2 teaspoon salt, cook for a minute, and then add the milk and let it cook until thick. We use it to top sourdough biscuits for breakfast 1-2 times a month.

You can also make the white gravy and add cut up dried beef to it and serve over toast to make the surpisingly tasty US military staple SOS ("stuff" on a shingle). My Dad and brothers, being vets, all know this dish well and it's not a pretty one but it's definitely tasty and comforting, and my family loves it too.

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