Be Creative: Ambush Dinner

We wanted to get some inspiration and get our creative juices flowing, so Laura Wolford decided to surprise a Studio 5 viewer to show them just how creative they can be in the kitchen with a little Ambush Dinner.

Making a great sauce can be key to making a great meal. The right sauce can make something as simple as meatball, noodles or chicken fingers a dinner sensation. There are simple rules for most sauces.

Three Basic Thickeners


Ingredient quantities consist of 1 Tbl fat (butter, oil, meat drippings, shortening); 1 Tbl flour; and 1 cup liquid (milk, stock, cream etc). Heat fat in a large skillet add flour and cook over medium heat for at least 5 minutes to rid the sauce of a flour flavor. Add liquid and stir until desired consistency. Roux’s are used for many sauces. Commonly known white and brown sauces such as Béchamel and gravy begin with a roux.


Cornstarch should be mixed with a cold liquid (water, stock, soy sauce etc) before adding to the hot liquid. One Tbl cornstarch will thicken 1 ½ cups of liquid. Don’t over whisk a cornstarch sauce it will thin them; stir gently over heat till thickened. Cornstarch is most commonly used in Chinese cooking.


Reduction is when you let a sauce simmer until it reduces by half or until it reaches the consistency you desire. Don’t season your reduction until it has reached its full point of reducing. By doing this your sauce will not be over seasoned. Reduction works well with tomato and wine based sauces.

Basic Chicken Stock

• 8 pounds chicken bones

• 6 quarts cold water

• 4 cups chopped onions

• 2 cups chopped carrot

• 2 cups chopped celery

• 1 bouquet garni (parsley, thyme, bay leaf, celery leaves wrapped in cheesecloth)

• Salt and pepper

Place bones in a large stock pot filled with the water. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Simmer the stock for 4 to 5 hours skimming the surface as needed. Add the vegetables and seasonings during the last hour of simmering. Strain and let cool.

Basic Brown Stock

• 5 pounds each beef and veal marrow bones sawed into 2-inch pieces

• 2 cups tomato paste or 4 cups crushed or diced tomatoes

• 4 cups chopped onions

• 2 cups chopped carrot

• 2 cups chopped celery

• 6 quarts water

• 2 cups dry red wine

• 1 bouquet garni (parsley, thyme, bay leaf, celery leaves wrapped in cheesecloth)

• Salt and pepper

Place bones in a roasting pan and roast at 425 degrees for 1 ½ hours. In a large bowl combine the tomato paste, onions, carrots, and celery. Pour over the bones and return to the oven; continue to roast for 40 minutes. Remove from oven and drain off fat. Put everything into a large stockpot. Add the water and bring to a boil; reduce to a simmer. Meanwhile, place the roasting pan on the stove and deglaze the pan with the red wine; scrape the pan to release the browned bits. Add to the pot and continue to simmer for 5 hours, skim regularly. Add the bouquet garni and seasonings during the last hour of simmering. Strain and let cool.


Prepare white sauce, but use 3 Tbl butter, 3 Tbl flour, and 1 cup milk or ½ cup milk and ½ cup cream. This will make a thick white sauce perfect for lasagna or creaming foods like vegetables. To alter the flavors try adding ½ tsp Worcestershire sauce or herbs such as parsley or chives.

Cheese Sauce

Prepare white sauce, reduce heat and stir in 1 cup mild cheese, season with salt and pepper, paprika; perhaps 1 tsp Dijon mustard or horseradish. For Alfredo add 1 cup Parmesan. Stir until cheese is melted.

Oriental Master Cooking Sauce

Combine ¼ cup soy sauce, ¼ cup rice vinegar, 2 Tbl water or chicken broth, 1 Tbl cornstarch, pepper to taste. To this you can add flavors such as 1 tsp sesame oil, 1 tsp chili oil, 1 Tbl black bean paste. Stir to combine to rid any cornstarch lumps. Heat over medium until thickened. Delicious with stir fry, over fish, chicken and other meats.

Marinara/Spaghetti Sauce

Sauté 1 tsp minced garlic in 2Tbl olive oil. Add 2 ½ cups crushed tomatoes. Stir in 1 tsp Italian seasoning and 1 Tbl balsamic vinegar (optional). Season with salt and pepper. You can add chopped onions, vegetables, and ground meat to make a heartier sauce.


Combine in food processor 1 ½ cups fresh basil, 2 cloves garlic, ¼ cup pine nuts, ¾ cup fresh Parmesan cheese and about ¾ cup olive oil. Add more olive oil as needed to reach desired consistency. Great on pasta, pizza, breads, crackers and with meats and fish.

Canned Soup Sauces

You can thin canned cream soups such as Cream of Celery, Chicken or Mushroom with milk, sour cream or mayonnaise. Season them with salt and pepper, Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco, and other seasonings. Add cheese to create a cheese sauce. Add sautéed mushrooms to help flavor mushroom soup to pour over beef or pasta. Add sautéed onions and green peppers to tomato soup and then simmer with chicken breasts. Mix Cream of Mushroom soup with queso and sour cream for a yummy sauce for enchiladas. Be creative, it’s hard to make a mistake with canned creamed soup as a base.

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