I was invited by the “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter” folks to participate in a toast-themed recipe contest. (Little did they know, I mastered the art of cooking toast 50 years ago.) What follows is my entry. Wish me luck….
Toast! Is there a more satisfying, instantly gratifying, totally tranquilizing comfort food on the planet? Forget chicken soup, friends. Toast is the cure for what ails you:
Cough due to cold? Take toast with gobs of honey and call me in the morning. Touch of the tummy flu? A slice of lightly buttered toast will fix you right up. Jilted by the man of your dreams? I’ll be right over with plenty of toast, tea and sympathy.
I savor toast in every form: French toast with cinnamon raisin bread, BLT’s on toasted sour dough, grilled cheese on, well, anything… even PBJ’s on toasted wheat. (I adore the way the warm toast melts the peanut butter into the jelly.)
But, to a nostalgic baby boomer raised in the late 50s/early 60s, there is one dish that says toast like no other: Welsh Rarebit, the comfort food of my childhood and, arguably, the ultimate ode to toast.
For years, I called it “Welsh Rabbit,” because no one bothered to set me straight (so much for “Parents as Teachers.”) The thought that I might be eating bunny meat (aka Thumper) gave me pause, but not enough to dissuade me from gobbling down the cheesy goodness at every opportunity.
Of course, there’s no rabbit in rarebit. It’s simply toast smothered in a velvety, tangy sauce made from cheddar, dark beer, mustard powder and seasonings. Like fondue without the scary little pitchforks.
My maternal grandmother introduced me to the dish. Weekends at Kiki’s would often feature luncheons of Welsh Rarebit and bottomless glasses of ice cold Pepsi-Cola (her weakness, along with Camel cigarettes.)
Mom would occasionally make Welsh Rarebit for our family of seven as Sunday night supper, with a tossed salad or vegetable on the side. Her rarebit was the frozen kind, heated in the oven and served over toasted white bread. (Yes, children. Back in the day, we didn’t even know what whole grain was!)
For some reason, Welsh Rarebit slipped off my culinary radar for decades. I am sad to report that my kids – now in their twenties – never had it for Saturday lunch or Sunday dinner. I brought it back to my table – with a personal twist – after seeing a recipe in an old cookbook that was stored away during our recent kitchen remodel.
The dish originated in Wales but, with apologies to Welshmen (especially you, Tom Jones), my version uses local ingredients from the Sunflower State. You can use cheese, beer and bread from wherever you live and it will be just as delicious. My recipe also includes an easy strawberry-rhubarb sauce on the side for a hint of sweetness and a surprisingly tasty complement to the sharp cheddar.
|The finished product|
Welsh Rarebit: Kansas style
4 to 8 slices Great Harvest Sunflower seed/whole grain bread
I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter, for spreading
8 strips applewood-smoked bacon (optional)
2 T. flour
2 T. I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter
1 T. mustard powder
½ t. cayenne pepper powder
¾ c. Free State Brewing Co. Oatmeal Stout (or other dark, strong beer)
2 T. Worcestershire sauce
1 c. Alma sharp cheddar cheese, grated
Sauce on the side:
3 T. local strawberry-rhubarb jam (or plain strawberry jam)
1 T. balsamic vinegar (I used violet-infused balsamic)
Fry bacon strips on griddle until moderately crisp. Drain on paper towels. Set aside.
Mix strawberry-rhubarb jam with balsamic vinegar in a small bowl. Store covered in refrigerator until fifteen minutes before serving.Melt ICBINB in a saucepan over medium heat. As it melts, stir in flour. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in mustard and cayenne, then whisk in beer and Worcestershire sauce until smooth.
When combined and heated through, turn heat to the lowest setting and gradually add cheese, again, stirring until smooth, about 5 to 15 minutes, depending on stove. (Do not get impatient and turn up heat or cheese will curdle....believe me.) Remove from heat.
Toast bread at medium to medium-high setting in toaster. Lightly smear with I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter. Pour warm mixture over 1 or 2 slices of toast. Top with bacon strips and add dollop of strawberry-rhubard sauce on the side. Serve immediately with vegetable, fruit or green salad.