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Cooking for One: Simple comfort comes piled high on toast

Thursday, October 18, 2001

By Marlene Parrish

It's not just the cooler weather and the shorter days that have us all wanting to be home, reassured of our safety and counting our blessings and certainties. While we muse over recent events, it helps to eat comfort foods.

These are usually uncomplicated foods associated with Mom and childhood. Coleslaw isn't a contender; neither is kiwifruit. Comfort foods are easy to eat, often served warm and are apt to slide down the throat with little effort, like pudding, ice cream and soup.

When I was a little girl and a picky eater, my mum would make me gravy-bread for supper. Maybe she sneaked a canned peach in there for dessert once in a while, but the meal I remember is just two slices of homemade bread, toasted and covered in, no, soaked with, lots of beef gravy left over from Sunday's dinner. Supper enough.

Foods you can put on a piece of toast are still my favorite comfort foods. Solo cooks appreciate this kind of noncooking because it takes little time and effort. The whole drill is toast bread, top with stuff.

Not to diss pre-sliced, store-bought loaves, but since bread is the supporting player here, make it good, will you? Use rustic or country-style bread, focaccia, baguette, English muffins, naan (Indian flatbread), pita or even biscuits. Here are some things to put on top.

Mushrooms -- Slice as many mushrooms as you want and remember they will shrink by half when cooked. Saute them in butter or olive oil, add a splash of Madeira, Marsala or sherry and let it cook down. Season rather heavily with salt and pepper and a pinch of thyme. Stir in sour cream, if you like.

Cheese -- Melted cheese on toast is the best. Or buy Stouffer's Welsh Rarebit and pour over toast. A Devonshire is easy to do, too: From the bottom up, toast is the bottom layer, topped with slices of rotisserie chicken, topped with Welsh rarebit sauce and finally topped with a couple of slices of crisp bacon.

Beans -- The English are partial to baked beans on toast. I actually saw somebody do that in a London home once. And I have a friend who took baked bean sandwiches to elementary school in Bethel Park, so no sarcastic comments about the Brits, please. An old war holdover, it seems. But if you switch a tortilla for the toast, top with Mexican refried beans, a little cheese, salsa and hot sauce, the result is warm and filling. Not a bad way to go.

Eggs -- Poached eggs are perfect on toast. And a fried egg topped with warmed salsa or taco sauce is always welcome.

Tuna melt -- Who could forget this one? Tuna salad on toast topped with grated cheese or a cheese slice and melted under the broiler.

Chocolate -- Always keep a jar of Nutella on the shelf. The sweet, gooey Italian spread is wonderful on toast. Just don't tell your mother you ate it as an entree.

Open-face sandwich -- Over-achievers love toast-and-topper variations. Here's a good one from long ago at Manhattan's Serendipity 3: Toast a piece of whole wheat, all-grain or raisin-walnut bread. Spread it thickly with lemon curd. Spread the curd thickly with ricotta cheese. Add a layer of peeled cucumber slices, and on top of them, a layer of thin apple slices. Add a wad of any green sprouts and top with toasted pecans.

Other contenders are a bowl of milk over cinnamon toast, any soup over toast and chicken a la king. But I draw the line at SOS.

Welsh Rarebit

1 tablespoon butter
1/2 pound sharp Cheddar cheese, grated
1/4 cup beer (drink the rest)
1 medium egg
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon dry mustard
Sprinkle cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
Toast slices

In a medium saucepan, slowly heat butter. Add cheese and beer. Cook, over low heat, stirring frequently, until cheese melts. Remove from heat.

In a small bowl, beat egg with salt, mustard, cayenne and Worcestershire. Gradually add to cheese mixture, stirring until well combined.

Stir, over low heat, until mixture is heated through and smooth, about 5 minutes. Serve over toast.

Note: To keep rarebit warm, turn into top part of a double boiler. Let stand over hot, not boiling, water until ready to serve. Makes 2 servings.

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