I first fell in love with cornbread when I was a young child. My maternal grandmother would make cornbread in a cast-iron “pan” that was shaped like little cobs of corn. Being raised in New England, cornbread was not really considered a staple, however it could easily be called a standard, and for me, it was a real treat whenever it was served. (Hush-Puppies, too!) My Mom was renowned for what she did with leftover cornbread and biscuits. She would crumble them loosely into a small pan and then pour melted butter and maple syrup, mixed with a little cream, over the crumbles to coat them. She would sprinkle a little cinnamon and nutmeg on them and would then bake them in the oven for about 20 minutes. She called them “rag-a-muffins” and they were gooey and sweet and yummy.
My first wife’s mother, who was born and raised in Texas, would make the Southern traditional version. The batter ingredients were from scratch. She used melted butter in the recipe and melted bacon fat sprinkled with cornmeal in the cast-iron “spider” (skillet) to bake her cornbread. I never saw her make a bad batch. It was always perfectly cooked with that deep brown crispy bacony crust on the outside; steamy, moist, and delicious on the inside. (It’s a great technique for cornbread: three musts; 1) cast iron skillet only, 2) about 2-3 tablespoons of bacon grease must be melted in the pan in the oven and must be pretty hot, in order to, 3) foam the cornmeal in the bacon fat, about 2 teaspoons, sprinkled onto the hot bacon fat.)
Be it that wonderful “homey” nature of cornbread; or that textural thrill of crunching through the crust; or the nutritional and health benefits of corn; the history of corn having sustained centuries of civilization; or, that “I-just-plain-like-because-it-makes-me-feel-good-when-I-eat-it” thing, but, I consider cornbread to truly be one of those comfort foods that should be on the list of “The Top 10 Comfort Foods I Would Never Be Without”.
I first tasted this recipe at a well-attended backyard summer birthday party. Our hostesses had set out amazingly copious amounts of foods. There were large casseroles of au gratin potatoes, roasted veggies, peppers and onions, hamburgers and hot dogs on the grill, and crock-pots brimming with sausages and ham. There were bowls and bowls of salads and baskets of bread and rolls; there was a lot of food served…all of it delicious and certainly plentiful. But, nestled in amongst all the goodies, was this aluminum 9 x 13 pan that held the concoction described below. After my first bite of this warm and rich, rustic and artisanal casserole, the aluminum pan that held it seemed to take on this angelic glow, showing me the way, so to speak; a beacon, a marker of comfort food goodness that would not be denied. Yup, I went back two more times to that casserole that night and did not leave the festivities until I had the recipe in hand.
I just had the chance to visit with my sister Jane not too long ago when she and her clan had come to Florida to visit for Easter. During one of those awesome “kitchen-table” conversations, she revealed to me that she makes this recipe at least a couple of times a month, considering it a staple in their family-meal repertoire, after having eaten some at a Thanksgiving dinner at my place several years earlier. I honestly can’t think of a nicer testimony to the value of this dish. It is one of those throw it all in a bowl to mix it up, dump it in a pan, bake it, eat it…pretty simple, amazingly delicious, and great comfort food.
I’m going to give this to you in two versions. I still have the original recipe card that my friend Kim gave me on the night of the birthday party. She called it “Johnnycakes” and it was a single recipe, about big enough for a 9 x 9 pan. I’ll include it at the end of this article. First, though, I’ll give you my rendition. It has, of course, been tweaked. It’s large enough to fill a 9 x 13 pan and can feed the whole crew; usually reserved for holiday dinners.
Corn Pudding Bread (I)
2 boxes of Jiffy Cornbread mix (or enough dry batter from scratch for two recipes)
2 regular sized cans of white kernel corn, drained
2 regular sized cans of creamed style corn
2 pints of sour cream
2 sticks (1/2 pound) of butter, melted
1 ½ cups grated sharp cheddar cheese (optional)
1 medium-sized jalapeno pepper, seeded, and minced (optional)
Preheat your oven to 350°F. In a large mixing bowl, combine all of the ingredients, except for ½ cup of the grated cheese, and mix to evenly distribute the ingredients; but, don’t over-stir, which can give you tougher bread. A few small lumps are OK. Spray a 9 x 13 baking pan (glass or otherwise) with some butter flavored cooking spray, or lightly coat with softened butter. Pour the batter into the pan and bake in the oven for 45 minutes. Remove from the oven and sprinkle the top of the dish with the remaining ½ cup of grated cheese. Bake for an additional 20-30 minutes, or until firm and the cheese is crispy and the edges of the batter are browned and beginning to pull away from the edges of the baking pan. To keep things simple, I serve it right from the dish it bakes in and I simply put a spoon in it and let folks scoop out however much they’d like. This is a recipe that is best left alone. Leave out the cheese and jalapeno pepper, either individually, or collectively, and you will have a reasonable facsimile of the original (un-tweaked) recipe. Serves a bunch and can be halved easily.
Corn Pudding Bread (II)
One regular sized can of creamed corn
One regular sized can of whole kernel corn, drained
1 box Jiffy corn muffin mix
1 stick (1/4 lb.) melted butter
1 pint (8 oz.) sour cream
Mix all ingredients together. Bake in an 8 x 8, or 9 x 9 baking pan for 40 to 45 minutes at 375 degrees until firm. Cut into squares.
My Mom has been making these for at least thirty years that I know of. This wonderful (and flexible) recipe was given to her by a colleague when she was still teaching. Most often spotted during the holidays, these little critters disappear fast; they can be quite addictive. They make wonderful gifts, all nestled in little tins, or baskets, and, you can take this recipe anywhere you would like to go with it, be adventurous! You really have to work hard at screwing these up, honestly, when they are baking, keep an eye on them so that they don’t get too dark. But, experiment with the “done-ness” thing, because you can take them from an almost soft white to a deep caramel in color, as they bake. Remember that from deep caramel to black and burned is not too distant and the rest is like falling off a log…have fun!
1 stick of salted butter
2 egg whites
1 cup of sugar
1 pound pecan halves
Salt, to taste, after baking
Preheat the oven to 300° (oven temperatures vary, these should just be turning a light golden brown after about 20 minutes), melt the stick of butter in a jelly-roll pan (a cookie sheet with sides on it, or else the butter will get all over your oven), spread the melted butter evenly over the pan, beat the egg whites until foamy (about ½ way in between egg whites and meringue) and add the granulated sugar. Mix in the pecan halves and spread in the jelly-roll pan. As said above, bake for about 20 minutes or until lightly browned. Levels of being done at this point vary greatly with each cook who makes these; some like them dark, and some like them light. Just be careful not to burn them and don’t be afraid to experiment. (See below) Salt lightly to taste after they come out of the oven, cool them in the pan and then break them up into bite-sized pieces. Store refrigerated in an airtight container. These freeze well, only needing a little time to thaw before serving and they make great gifts, too!
I’ve seen these made with all kinds of different nuts; this recipe works well with almonds, walnuts, or peanuts (stick to dry roasted varieties and stay away from “skins” (like redskin peanuts for example)), and don’t be afraid to combine two or three different kinds of nuts in one batch. Shoot for a combined weight of about a pound of nut meats
- Go savory with this by omitting all but a couple of tablespoons of sugar and mixing into the egg foam some savory spices, vinegars, and maybe some stuff to provide some heat: Tabasco, cayenne, hot sauces, pepper flakes…just beware that all of your guests may not like stuff as spicy as you do.
- I have made a “tropical” version of this by substituting turbinado sugar (granulated unrefined light brown sugar) for the granulated white sugar and adding an 1/8 tsp each of nutmeg, allspice, ground clove, and cinnamon to the egg foam before I added the nuts.
- Bacon and Maple syrup…oh, my!
- You can basically add just about anything that will hold up to the slow bake…have fun with these and enjoy!
These are a lot of fun! I used to make these for the boys when they were growing up and the variations are as plentiful as the number of flavor combinations you have in your pantries, cupboards, and refrigerators. These are light and “custardy” and, quite honestly, really hard to screw up. What is the comfort food part? If you have never taken the time to cook a fun and tasty Saturday or Sunday morning breakfast for yourself or your loved ones, and then sat down to enjoy the moment for all that it is worth, including simply being able to take a deep breath and be thankful for the gift of the day, then you really should do so at your first opportunity. And, may you find some comfort…
German Oven Pancakes
½ cup all-purpose flour (sifting is optional, if it makes you happy, please feel free to sift)
3 lightly beaten eggs
½ cup milk
2 TBSPS melted butter
1 tablespoon sugar
¼ tsp salt (a pinch will do)
Preheat your oven to 450°F. Lightly beat the eggs in a medium to large sized mixing bowl. Stir in the milk, the melted butter, the salt, and the sugar. Add the flour, slowly, to the mixture, a spoonful at a time, incorporating the flour completely into the mixture. It’s a little bit tricky, in that the more you mix, the “tougher” the pancake will become (less light). But, you want to not have very many lumps either. They just won’t work in the final product. So, don’t stress about it, have fun, and just make the batter as lump free as you can with a minimum of mixing. Again, you really can’t go wrong.
Now you need a pan, ovenproof, and roughly 9” in square or diameter. I like to use a 9” or 10” glass pie pan, but have been known to use an 8”x 8” square metal pan and a 9”x 9” glass pan. Spray it well with baking or cooking spray. You can also wipe some butter on the inside of the pan if you don’t have any spray.
If you were going to make plain German Oven Pancakes now, you could pour the batter into the pan and bake it…but, no, please let me tell you where the real fun comes in. My favorite version of these is a kind of “Bananas Foster” kind of oven pancake. Before I pour the batter in, I sprinkle about ½ cup of brown sugar into the bottom of the pan, slice a banana over the brown sugar, and then dot the bananas and brown sugar with a little more butter. Then I pour the batter over and bake it. What takes place is almost miraculous as the sugar semi-caramelizes and the bananas bake into the caramel and become integral with the bottom crust of the oven pancake. There’s a whole school of thought for what can bake in the bottom of these and the variations are only limited by your imagination. How about some brown sugar, cinnamon, a small handful of raisins, and some apple slices? Any number of jams or jellies, fruits, sugars, honeys, cereals, etc. can be combined to bake into the bottom of these beauties. And, we haven’t even talked about what you can do with the top of them!
Pour your batter into your prepared pan. Bake for 12-18 minutes, checking at the 12 minute mark, until the edges are turning golden brown. Because of the eggs in the batter, these puff up nicely around the edges and make a nice well in the middle that can serve as a receptacle for just about anything that tickles your fancy: raspberries, blueberries, any ripe fruit will do…sprinkle with powdered sugar, drizzle with maple syrup or honey. This batter can be easily split to make two smaller pancakes. Experiment and have fun!
-top with granola
-top with yogurt
-sprinkle with toasted almonds
-dot with fruit butters
-garnish with fresh mint
-drizzle with chocolate syrup or caramel
Coconut Macaroon Pie
While visiting my sister Peg, this recipe of Mom’s turned up and was shared as a favorite. There is something about a good warm Macaroon, with that back taste of coconut, and the chewiness, that is very comforting…and in a pie “format”…a winner for sure…Enjoy!
1 unbaked pie shell (You can keep your life simple and get a prepared one, if you can stand it)
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups of sugar
Pinch of salt
1 stick of butter, softened
¼ cup flour
½ cup milk
1 cup of shredded coconut
Either by hand, or with a mixer, beat the two eggs and gradually beat in the sugar and the salt until well combined. Continue beating until the mixture is lemon colored and thick. Blend in the softened butter and the flour. Stir in the milk and add the coconut. Continue stirring to combine the mixture thoroughly. Spoon the mixture into an unbaked pie shell. Bake the pie for about one hour, or, until the filling has set. Let the pie cool for about 1 hour before cutting.
Since this blog is based on comfort and low stress food preparation, I try very hard not too over-complicate or to feel compelled to insist on too much of anything. However, there are a few basics that you should master and be able to produce with a few simple ingredients that are on hand. A good basic white sauce is one of these items.
Found throughout all kinds of culinary venues and recipes (Macaroni and cheese, tuna noodle casserole, and New England clam chowder to name just a few), a basic white sauce is truly a universal launching point for all kinds of tried and true traditional recipes as well as a launching point from which you can indulge your creative side and be able to experiment with a stable and reliable base.
Adjustable by quantity and by base ingredients, this sauce operates on the premise of equal parts of a fatty substance (butter, olive oil, vegetable oil, shortening, bacon grease, lard) and flour cooked together with liquid added, thickening it. The flour can be cooked to varying degrees of readiness prior to the liquid being added with its cooked color being the indicator for the appropriate time to incorporate it into other liquids or other liquids into it. Most notably are the four basic kinds of roux (pronounced: “roo”) that are used in Cajun and Creole cooking as a thickener in recipes like gumbo and jambalaya. These are classified as white, blond, brown and dark brown rouxs. These are typically made ahead of time and stored for later use in recipes. Usually, the darker a roux becomes the less it is used for thickening (as the cooked flour begins to lose its thickening properties) and the more it is used for flavor.
A few classic white sauces are:
- Béchamel Sauce, which is traditionally cooked with butter, the milk is pre-heated to scalding (just before boiling), and the sauce is lightly seasoned with nutmeg.
- Mornay Sauce, your basic white sauce with cheese melted into it
- Aurore Sauce is a tomato-cream sauce using tomato paste whisked into a Béchamel Sauce, used with eggs, fish, and chicken
- Dijonnaise Sauce is a mustard-based sauce using Dijon style (or other mustard) whisked into a Béchamel Sauce, used with fish and ham
Basic White Sauce
4 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3-4 cups milk (depending upon the final use of the sauce and the desired thickness)
Salt and Pepper to taste
In a medium-to-large, heavy saucepan, heat the butter over medium-low heat until melted. It’s hot enough to add the flour when a pinch of flour added to it bubbles and foams. Add the flour and whisk until smooth. Over medium heat, cook until the mixture turns a light, golden sandy color, about 6 or 7 minutes. Stir as needed and be careful with your heat. I have burned a few of these by not paying attention to my heat. After the 6 or 7 minutes you should not be able to smell a raw flour smell; it should be more of a “nutty” smell.
Add the milk to the butter/flour mixture a little bit at a time, whisking as you go, until smooth. Let it come to a bubbly low boil. Cook for another 10 minutes or so, stirring constantly, and then remove from heat. Season with salt and pepper, and set aside until ready to use. If color integrity is ultra-critical in your end use for this sauce, you will probably want to use a ground white pepper for your seasoning. For a béchamel, try a couple of pinches, about a ½ teaspoon, of nutmeg stirred in at the end, as well. (Fresh grated is much better than pre-ground!)
Have some fun with this sauce. It truly can be considered a first step towards many wonderful comfort-able-food adventures. Enjoy!