Thursday, March 13, 2014

Rarebit, Not Rabbit

Yes, I've been to cooking school. Yes, I think about food a lot. But still, on some weeks, I manage to run into the "it's 6 o'clock and I don't know what's for dinner" sand trap. The dinner blues are simply a condition of modern family life. I have many strategies to try to avoid that situation. I plan meals ahead of time, cook on the weekends, and start dishes in the morning. But sometimes, I run out of time or ingredients or both, and suddenly dinner time is staring me down and I have nowhere to hide.

So what to do? Sometimes, takeout. But too much takeout costs, both in terms of dollars and health. I'm not saying we don't do it, I'm only saying I like to use takeout as a last resort. If I can, I pull out an idea from a very small but valuable cache of recipes: the 10-minute meal that uses a few common ingredients. And one of these gems is Welsh rarebit.

What is a rarebit? And why is it sometimes called a rabbit when no rabbit is consumed? Is it really Welsh? Welsh Rarebit a classic British Isles dish with a long history. And even though there are Scottish Rabbits and maybe even Irish Rabbits, the dish comes down to something pretty simple: cheese sauce on toast. There are infinite variations, but cheese and toast must be involved. And that's part of why this dish makes it into our rotation regularly. We are a house that always has cheese and always has bread.

I hesitate to even write about a concept so simple as cheese and toast. It's not like I'm whipping up a roasted veggie lasagna with homemade pasta. But even cheese on toast has you coming out ahead of takeout in terms of both cost and nutrition. In any case, my kids prefer Welsh rarebit to that famed other cheese and bread combos, pizza. The mustard and Worcestershire sauce in the rarebit elevate the flavor, and it's comforting on cold days (which we are still experiencing here in the Northeast).

Welsh rarebit is also an excellent vehicle to move vegetables and leftovers out of the fridge and into the bellys. We've had it with sausage and apples, squash, potatoes, bacon, eggs, steak, and in the most recent incarnation pictured above, roasted cauliflower and green beans. I know I'm not alone in this, but we as a family could stand to eat more vegetables, and if a cheddar sauce helps that process along, I'm all for it.

This recipe is pretty much ripped off straight from my mother, as are so many of my dishes. The traditional version is made with beer, but I make mine with lowfat milk. In terms of process, there is really no way to mess this up. Everyone in my house, including my kids, has their own way of making the sauce, and it always comes out delicious.

Welsh Rarebit
from Carole Brown
Serves 4-6

1 c. cold milk
1 t. dry mustard
1 t. Worcestershire sauce
4 t. cornstarch
pinch of salt
2 c. grated cheddar cheese, packed (about 1/2 lb)
4-8 pieces of bread, preferably whole wheat or sourdough

Optional: cubes of sausage, bacon, or steak; a poached or fried egg; cooked broccoli, cauliflower, green beans, squash, potatoes or apples; carmelized onions.

Put milk in a small saucepan. Add the mustard, Worcestershire sauce, cornstarch, and a pinch of salt. Whisk until combined. Heat mixture until it starts to thicken, about 5 minutes. Add cheese and continue to whisk until cheese is melted, about 1 minute. Remove from heat. Continue to stir every few minutes as you prepare the rest of the ingredients.

Heat or cook any optional toppings. Toast bread to desired toastiness.

Place bread on a plate, add any optional toppings. Ladle sauce over toast and toppings. Eat immediately.