Scalloped Potatoes – for so many, the ultimate comfort food. Truly a classic as is (pulled from the oven, beautifully browned on the top, the creamy sauce bubbling) the addition of a little ham and/or cheese (optional, of course) makes this a hearty meal. Scalloped potatoes are more than a meal at our house, they’re a tradition, and this recipe was originally in a 1950’s edition of the Betty Crocker Cookbook.
This is how my Grandmother made scalloped potatoes, and my Mother, as well, and since I’m a Grandmother, too, this recipe has served out family well. (Someday I’ll get a better photo!) These are the same potatoes I had growing up, served at many, many functions from family get togethers to church dinners to funeral luncheons.
We make them every year with a bit of our left over Ham from any Holiday we’ve baked one. See my “Twelve Days of Ham” for some other Ham left over ideas. My kids like this with ham and cheese, an innovation that probably would have shocked my Grandmother, but is truly delicious and comforting.
Always an inexpensive dish, I recently put Scalloped Potatoes with the Ham & Cheese on the table for about $2.25 with some gorgeous fresh broccoli (on sale, of course) for another 75 cents. A beautiful meal for about three bucks…hard to beat.
When I first priced this dish in 2010, it was about $1.62 and I last priced it at $2.21. The difference was the rise in the dairy. Just for fun (oh, do I need a life!) I priced it out without any coupons or sales and the dish came in closer to $5.00. This holds true for most food – shopping carefully generally cuts the cost in half.
Scalloped potatoes come together quickly, especially if you make the sauce as you cut and peel the potatoes and onions (a food processor is great for that) but needs to bake for a good hour to an hour and 20 minutes. I often cook it on days when I’m around the house although you can certainly bake it the day before and reheat. It won’t be as “pretty” as when it first comes out of the oven.
Scalloped Potatoes, six 1 cup servings
- 2 lb of potatoes, peeled and sliced (6 medium)
- 1/2 cup onion, chopped
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 3 tablespoons flour
- 2 1/2 cups 2% low-fat milk (a higher fat milk may be used)
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- If desired, add a cup or so of chopped ham and/or cheese between the layers and/or a cup of shredded cheese to the sauce.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Make the white sauce, first, so it’s ready when the potatoes are cut. The potatoes will oxidize and the dish can be too watery if they’re soaked in water.
For the sauce: In medium saucepan, melt butter. Stir in flour and cook one to two minutes. Pour in milk, whisking nearly constantly until thickened. Use the spoon test: when a spoon is dipped in the sauce, turn it over, rounded side up. Run a finger from the handle to the edge of the spoon. If it leaves a track that doesn’t fill in, the sauce has thickened properly and needs to be cooked a little longer. Turn off heat and add salt and pepper, and cheese if using.
Potatoes and Assembly:
Pare potatoes and slice thinly. Butter a 2 qt casserole dish. Layer potatoes in casserole with onion, and salt and pepper; add another layer of potatoes, sprinkle on the onion, salt and pepper, then top with a layer of potatoes. It’s nice to save enough nicely cut potatoes for the top layer, using the odder cuts in the bottoms layers where they won’t show.
When you get to the top layer, arrange the potatoes neatly, starting around the edge of the dish and slightly over lapping, ending up in the center for a gorgeous presentation.
Pour sauce slowly over potatoes – take a knife and nudge the layers a bit, so the sauce seeps down throughout. Bake, uncovered for one hour to one hour and 20 minutes, until soft and tender all the way through when tested with a knife and lightly browned on top. Let stand several minutes before serving.
Makes 6 one cup servings, or 12 smaller 1/2 cup servings.
- If adding ham or cheese, sprinkle between the layers at the same time as the onion. Don’t add ham or cheese to the top layer, unless you wish to add a little cheese in the last five minutes or so of baking.
- If using cheese, add to the sauce when the sauce is finished, off heat, and stir in.
- The recipe can be halved if you’re looking for something more comparable to the size of a box of scalloped potatoes, just bake for about 30 – 40 minutes.
Let’s talk about how to save money/time on this recipe:
- Use a coupon matching site! One of my favorites in my area is Pocket Your Dollars, but every store has a group of enthusiastic Coupon Matchers. Do not discount the savings! I check their site every week, even if I don’t “need” to go to the store and often find bargains I can’t pass up.
- Follow my 12 Strategies – You’ll see them on the upper drop down menu of every page and how I apply them, below.
- Don’t get discouraged if your prices don’t match mine! Keep shopping at the best prices and your fridge/freezer and pantry will be stocked with sales priced ingredients.
- Read below for additional tips as well as throughout the recipe, for saving time and managing food.
Strategies Applied on the main dish:
- Potatoes: I like to store in a loosely closed paper bag.Don’t know what to do with a large bag? Make what recipes you’d like to, then make Freezer Twice Baked Potatoes with the rest. I often pick out the smaller, misshaped potatoes for mashing and save the more regular sized ones for baking or other recipes. I bought 10 lb for $1.99; my cost 44 cents.
- Onion: They keep well, so try to buy on sale. Aldi’s is a good place to find reasonably priced onions. Always less expensive in the fall/winter months, the pricing in my area runs from 33 to 66 cents a pound. Store them in a dark, cool place but not near potatoes.
- If you’ve bought too many onions to use, don’t let them go bad. Slice or dice them, saute and portion into Ziplocs labeled “onions” and freeze. You’ve just saved yourself a step for next time you make a dish. If you use half an onion, consider if you can sauté the rest and put it in a Ziploc in the freezer. If not store in the door where you’ll see it when you’re cooking next. Cost for this recipe: 10 cents.
- Milk: About $2.50 a gallon in my area on sale, the cost for this recipe runs about 18 cents. Buy on sale – unopened it keeps a bit past it’s “sale by” date – then you can pick up one for the beginning of the week, and another at the end of the week for the week following.
- Be careful with your milk, and even opened it will last a lot longer – pour, lid and put away, don’t bring it to the table or leave it on the counter while you eat dinner or down your cereal and you’ll notice it stay fresh last MUCH longer. We’ve cut way back on dairy, as most health experts suggest – putting it away helps with that, too. Cost for 2 1/2 cups, about 40 cents.
- Flour: Buy around any holiday when it is on a great sale price, especially the winter Holidays. I freeze all flour products when I bring them into my home for three days to avoid any issues. The five-pound bags are often much less expensive than the larger bags and are on sale so often, that it isn’t necessary to buy the larger bags unless one does a lot of baking. Sometimes coupons are available for the brand names during the sales. Cost for three tablespoons, about 8 cents.
- Butter: A bit of a splurge, cost and calorie wise – but for taste and health, I’d rather use real butter than trans fat laden margarine or oils. Yes – they do have trans fat, even if the label says they don’t. Harvard, for instance, says unequivocally: “The key to a healthy diet is to substitute good fats for bad fats and to avoid trans fat.” While butter isn’t a healthy fat, many feel that trans fat is at least twice as bad for you as saturated.
- Buy on deep specials, often around the holidays with store coupons. I shoot for $2.50 a pound and freeze; it will stay fresh for months. Cost for this recipe: 3 tablespoons, 23 cents.
- Ham: Buy an extra every time they are on sale for the Holidays; they keep a long time and freeze well. (See 12 Days of Ham.) Cut off a slice or two before you freeze it or bake it for “ham steaks.” Serve your ham for dinner, then cut up the leftovers and bag in one or two cup portions and freeze for recipes. Ham may not be the healthiest of meats, but a small amount brings home the flavor, and allows you to use just a little in many recipes, like soups and casseroles. Make soups with the bone. My ham usually runs about 69 to 88 cents a pound in this area on sale. A cup adds about another 44 cents to the recipe.
- Cheese: Cheese is an item that I almost always buy on sale. Often with store specials, coupons and special offers from the producers I can get cheese very cheaply, and sometimes at no cost. I’ll stock up then – if it’s not open, it keeps forever. If I have to freeze, I will sometimes do this – it’s ok when used in a casserole, but not very good for eating. I look for a price of a dollar (or less) for an eight ounce block of store cheese. My cheese, if I were to use it would run about 50 cents.
Cal: 240; % of Cal fr 29.1, Tot Fat 8g, Sat fat: 5g, Chol: 23gmg, Fiber 3g, Prot: 7g, Sodium 474mg
Not much better than the Betty Boxed Version at first glance, but this includes the butter and milk, and has more fiber, less salt and certainly not the additives!
Many old recipes like this, recipes that got our families through hard times in generations past, passed on through the years have their places, even today. They do, however, often represent an “old-school” way of thinking about budgeting and cooking. They were developed at a different time, when goals were often to use up, make do, and keep a little meat on the bones in a time when people worked hard, lived without modern conveniences and often went through times of lean and plenty.
When compared to a more balanced meal full of vegetables, light on the meat and starches, Heritage recipes often fall short. While not necessarily “expensive,” Heritage recipes do not necessarily allocate our funds towards the most balanced, nutritious meals we can have for around the same price. Have them now and then, enjoy them, pass down cherished memories – but remember that a Heritage Recipe may not offer the most “bang for the buck” on the nutritional level.
Put Your Own Spin on It:
- A pinch of nutmeg in the sauce gives this “a what is that?” flavor that’s wonderful. White pepper is always a good substitution for black in bechamel sauces.
- Sometimes I add two cups of ham, sliced or shredded and serve as a main dish.
- A sprinkle of chives or finely sliced green onion between the layers gives a bit of freshness.
- Add 4 ounces of grated cheese (about 1 cup) to the bechamel for a cheesy casserole, either to the plain version or the ham version.
- Try skim milk for lower fat and calories.
I have a very inexpensive main dish or side dish that has a big comfort factor. And I know I’m serving a filling, nutritious food with no additives.
Scalloped Potatoes made in March of 2010 was priced at $1.62. Prices have risen a bit since then, mostly the dairy, and was repriced in February 2014 at $2.21.