Can of Casserole – Scratch Style


I have to admit back in the day I called this the Can of Casserole because it involved opening a can of cream of chicken soup, a can of olives, a can of Rotelle, a can of green chile peppers and buying a pre-roasted chicken or poaching a Costco chicken breast while I was opening all those cans. At one point in my life, and I shudder to admit this, I even used crushed Fritos as the base layer.

Boy have times changed. I do still shop at Costco – it’s a great place to buy cases of Northwest wine and beer, Beecher’s or Tillamook cheese, organic sugar and maple syrup. But that’s my consumable limit there.

My challenge since taking this local pledge is to replace as many of my family’s comfort foods with “from scratch” options as possible. In this case that has meant figuring out how to make things like tortillas from scratch and replace canned items with home grown and home canned things.

And while I do generally make all our tortillas from scratch, either using Wardeh’s spelt tortillasor the recipe on the back of the Bob’s masa harina bag for corn tortillas. I even went so far as to nixtamalize dent corn from Oregon last year and grind it in the food processor but I’m trying to take a step back this year and regain some balance in my life so I broke down and bought corn tortillas. I don’t know where the corn was grown or where they were made so it was a bitter pill to swallow but something has to give and that seemed a good place to push this week.

I’ve previously mentioned I like to make build upon meals where one night you roast a chicken (or two or three while you are at it) and successive nights you turn that into new meals lest your family mutiny. I do this not really to save money because sometimes pastured meat costs less than other things you may fortify it with, like local cheese in this case. The chicken was $4.50 per pound but the Beecher’s cheddar, even through Costco was $8 per pound. However, eating cheese and eggs seems more sustainable in the long run to me than consuming lots of meat which it sometimes feels like we do in excess while trying to eat locally.

Just over a year ago we were very close to becoming vegetarian in response to learning the truth about what we were eating. Instead, we decided to learn everything we could about food and only buy it from ethical and local farmers. Surprisingly, meat is one of the cheapest things we eat now. Pastured meat is cheaper even than local, organic legumes!

So build upon meals represent shortcuts for me more than monetary savings, although sometimes they also represent huge monetary savings in the case of bone broth that become the basis of other extremely frugal meals.

The Can of Casserole is one of those meals that can be frugal to make from scratch but can cost a small fortune when you are buying all those cans! I used to buy a rotisserie chicken, use the meat and throw away the carcass ($2.5 for half of the chicken), can of olives ($2.50), can of Rotelle ($3), can of green chilies ($2), can of cream of chicken soup ($2), container of sour cream ($3) and bag of tortillas ($3). I’m just guessing at these prices since it’s been so long now so if you think these numbers are way off feel free to let me know. That totals $18 to make this casserole.

I can now make it for $12 using all local, organic (Beecher’s is not organic in certification but is organic in practice), pastured chicken and home grown food. That represents purchased corn tortillas ($3), 1/3 roasted pastured chicken ($5), 1/4 pound Beechers ($2), home canned green tomato/chili sauce ($1), home cured olives ($.25), milk ($.75) and pennies for 2 tablespoons of flour, butter and odd spices. Not bad for a meal that feeds my family for several nights. You could make this even more frugal (shave off $2) by making the corn tortillas from scratch and omitting the olives since I recognize not everyone wants to cure their own olives. Also I buy local, raw milk which costs considerably more than buying organic dairy pool milk at the store so you could get this down even more by replacing the milk in this recipe (shave off another $.25 that way.)

That means what was costing $18 to make using highly processed ingredients of dubious quality and supporting food corporations I disagree with could cost $9.50 to make using all organic, local, pastured real foods. Granted it takes a little longer to make it this way but in all honesty if you are using leftover roast chicken and buying the tortillas it takes about 15 minutes to make the sauce – not too much longer than it takes to open, empty and rinse out all those cans for the recycling bin. You saved much longer than 15 minutes by not making a last minute trip to the store so you’ve got time to spare.

If you wanted to make this vegetarian you could easily replace the chicken with black or pinto beans but that would change the costs. Buying organic but non-local black beans would bring the cost down even further while buying organic local black beans might raise it.

Now on to the recipe…which is really a non-recipe. That allows you to use what you have in your freezer and pantry which is where things really get frugal. Cooking with what you have is lesson #1 in frugality.

Begin by making a white sauce. Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a sauce pan. Add 2 tablespoons of flour and whisk until they are blended. Cook them for several minutes. The mixture will begin resembling mashed potatoes.


Add 2 cups of milk, whisking to smooth out the lumps and cook for about 10 minutes until the mixture begins to thicken. At that point you can add your spices – roast garlic or garlic powder, cumin, chili powder, oregano, grated cheese and/or home canned chilies or salsa to your taste.


Spread one layer of corn tortillas (or polenta) in a lasagna pan. Over that scatter your cubed or shredded chicken, any corn of other veggies (squeezed of excess water) from your freezer and about 2/3 of your sauce.



Cover that with another layer of corn tortillas or polenta. Top that with the remainder of your white sauce base and a generous layer of shredded sharp cheddar or other cheese. Queso fresco would be great here as well. I like to sprinkle chili powder or paprika on the top cheese layer because I like the added depth it gives to the cheese.


Bake in a 350 degree oven until the sauce begins to bubble and it’s warmed through, about 45 minutes. This is another of those casseroles that you could assemble the night before and pop into the oven day of, or it could be frozen in smaller sizes for a future convenience dinner.


How about you? Do you have any “can of” casseroles? I bet if you used this white sauce as the foundation to replace any of the creamed soups you could convert legacy recipes just like this. In fact, I’m thinking of going to the Rotelle website to get more casserole ideas for my green tomato chile sauce which I canned last summer and to the Cambpbell’s soup website to get more ideas for creamy casseroles like this since my family loves them.

21 Responses to Can of Casserole – Scratch Style

  1. Lots of cream of “x” soup recipes in the recipe file. I recently did a very similar thing converting the traditional “funeral potato” recipe using a white sauce base and also using fresh grated potatoes rather than frozen hashbrowns. Turned out really yummy!

  2. Just an FYI… I’m interested in your blog but my Norton Safety Site says your site has two known security risks. Specifically two Drive-By Downloads. You may want to talk with your provider and get these fixed.

  3. Hi Dave, thanks for the info! I’ll contact them right away. Known wordpress vulnerabilities being preyed upon…

  4. I have several family recipes that have cream of soups listed as an ingredient. I now make batches of homemade cream of mushroom and chicken soups (usually with 1/2 raw milk or cream and 1/2 homemade chicken stock) and freeze them in 1 1/2 to 2 cup portion sizes. So easy to pull out of the freezer as needed!

  5. I love your page, I forgot to mention in a post that I put on my page that I am involved with the Winterschool sponsored by WSU and the Cattlemens assoc. It is the 30th of this month in Stanwood and has classes on local grass fed beef, gardens, forestry, cheesemaking, animal raising and much more. The lunch provided is by a local man – Del Fox Meats and the cost is $55 for a full day of classes and trade show. The trade show also includes local producers/growers. You can sign up online or at the door, the web address is Living Expo/

  6. I make a quick pasta dish similar to macaroni and cheese using a similar white sauce with bay leaf, fresh or frozen thyme and onion. I add in our own fresh chevre to the sauce when it is done cooking and toss it with fresh cooked pasta and steamed veggies, usually broccoli or cauliflower. Then finish it with a couple high dollar items like a handful of pine nuts, kalamatta or green olives, our own sun dried tomatoes or some lemon zest. Sometimes I top it with bread crumbs and shredded parmesan and put it in the oven to crisp the top. It is fairly simple and changes every time I make it depending on what is on hand.

  7. Amazing that you can make a dish like this from scratch, according to your rules, for less than processed food. Good on you!

    Since you’re using homegrown ingredients, would you like to enter this post in our Grow Your Own roundup this month? Full details at

  8. Jen, that is really smart. What are your favorite can of recipes? I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to think of this total no-brainer. Kids love those kind of recipes!

    Beth – that sounds like such a fun day! How often do they have those? I’m on WSU’s small farm mailing list but it seems like most of their things are in Eastern Washington. Thanks for posting about it.

    Emily how lucky to have your own source of goat’s milk but I can’t imagine getting out of bed to go milk them up in Alaska in the winter! What kind of culture do you use in your chevre? I use flora danica but I’m always curious how other cultures might change the flavor.

    Nate, thanks for not forgetting about me. I’m hoping next week to have some extra time to catch up. It seems like all I have time to do is my dark days posts lately!

  9. KFG – somehow missed your note while checking for viruses. What is funeral casserole?

  10. While milking in the winter is not as relaxing as milking in the summer, I do find milking in the cold somewhat exhilarating. As far as cultures I usually use Mesophilic Culture MM 100, I have at some point used Mesophilic MA011, but I can’t even remember the difference. I’d probably need to try them side by side. I have Flora Danica in my freezer and have yet to try it. I also have a couple different yogurt, buttermilk, sour cream and a thermophilic culture for mozzarella. I’ve ordered from The Dairy Connection over the last few years as there is no place local that sells cheese cultures.

  11. I use my homemade cream of soups for tuna and noodle casserole. I make a mixture using a can of Vital Choice Albacore tuna, raw milk, butter, parmesan cheese, sour cream, mushroom soup, salt and pepper. I add in noodles, then put buttered bread crumbs on top and bake. YUM!!!

    We also LOVE chicken and broccoli alfredo. I brown bite size pastured chicken pieces in butter, then stir in mushroom soup, milk, parmesan, pepper, and linguine/broccoli mixture (cooked together). Ironically, this recipe came from Campbell’s, I think, or some sort of add in a magazine, which I now make with real food ingredients. :) It’s really good!

    Finally, I have yet to try a casserole that I used to make all the time, is so simple, but really good! Spread 1 lb. of ground beef (uncooked) in and 8×8 casserole, then spread a “can” of cream of chicken soup on top, then top with tater tots and bake. I plan to top it with homemade hash browns made with real potatoes. I hope it turns out!

  12. P.S. I’d be happy to share the exact recipes if you’d like… just email me. I can tell from your blog that you’re an excellent cook though, so you can probably figure it out from my generic descriptions if you decide to try them. I think the kids would especially love the ground beef casserole, and it’s so easy!

  13. Jen, those are great ideas. It’s funny no matter how fancy you *could* cook those can of casseroles are so comforting. Maybe it’s nostalgia? so how do you make the cream of mushroom soup? Here is a great cream of mushroom soup cassserole:

  14. Oh that mushroom and rice casserole looks so good! I’m definitely going to make that. Thanks.

    I don’t have an exact recipe for the cream of mushroom soup; I wing it. :) Here is the method though, with approximate amounts. Obviously you can scale it up or down depending on how much you want to make.

    1-2 cups chopped mushrooms
    1/4 cup chopped onion
    2 cloves chopped garlic
    butter or olive oil to saute
    6 T butter
    6 T flour (I’ve used arrowroot before)
    1 1/2 cup milk, cream, or half and half
    1 1/2 cup chicken stock
    salt and pepper to taste

    Saute the mushrooms, garlic and onion in butter or olive oil; set aside. Make a roux; melt 6 T butter in a saucepan, then mix in the flour. Cook while stirring a few minutes to get rid of raw flour taste. Slowly add milk/cream/chicken stock while stirring until it thickens to desired consistency. Add in sauted veggies, then salt and pepper to taste. This is usually enough to substitute as 2 cans of soup, plus a bowl to eat.

    I’ve used onion and garlic powder in a pinch, but I like the real thing better. You can also add more stock of milk if it’s too thick.

    My husband absolutely loves this soup. Every time I make it, I have to make enough for him to have a bowl or two, in addition to how much I need to use for a recipe, and hopefully enough to freeze a little extra for next time.

    For cream of chicken soup, I do the same thing, except add cooked, chopped chicken instead of mushrooms. I also add in a little poultry seasoning, or herbs that go well with chicken for additional flavor.

  15. Jen – thanks for posting that! Have you had luck freezing it? That would be so handy…I really want to try to grow mushrooms this spring. I keep looking at the kits and they cost as much $$ as buying mushrooms but the plugs are cheaper. I just need to find some hard wood somewhere since we have none on our lot. Need a felled oak tree…this was my favorite soup growing up. I just loved those little mysterious chewy dark bits…

  16. It’s always been great after freezing! Now we haven’t eaten it just as a soup after freezing. I’ve only used it in casseroles, and it’s been fine. Hmm… now I have to try it as is and see after thawing next time. I say give it a try with a small amount, if you want to eat it as a soup. I freeze LOTS of soups, and they are always great after freezing. Hopefully this one would be the same.

    It’s funny, I never ate cream of mushroom soup plain, ever. I always used it as an ingredient. The homemade stuff is excellent though!

    How fun to grow your own mushrooms!! Good luck finding a tree. Hopefully you’ll blog about it when you try it. I wish we had more room here, but at least I can grow lots of herbs, tomatoes, peppers and a few other things thrown in. Other than that, we rely on our CSA for lots of local, homegrown goodies.

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  18. Hi! I also just received a notice from Norton about security risks at your blog site. Were you able to learn more about this? Thanks! enjoy your site.

  19. shoot, thanks. I’m in the process if migrating to a new host who can help me out.

  20. Hi Debbi,

    Do you remember exactly what the warning said? sometimes those anti-virus software warn you if there are a large number of outgoing links even and I do try to link to recipes if I haven’t changed them significantly to give the original offer credit. I’m wondering if it’s that because I went through all the files on the server and did find some harmless pranks (graffiti style) which I removed. Hoping my new host can update to a more secure version of wordpress for me and that will take care of it.

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