Food & Drink

Fight off cold winter weather with comfort food

Salmon croquettes, pan fried in an iron skillet. Food styling by Sharon Thompson.  Photo by Pablo Alcala | Staff
Salmon croquettes, pan fried in an iron skillet. Food styling by Sharon Thompson. Photo by Pablo Alcala | Staff Lexington Herald-Leader

A few months ago, I bought a Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book, published in 1968, at a church yard sale. I didn't need another Better Homes cookbook; I bought it because of the handwritten recipes that fell out of when I opened the book — the kinds of recipes that are shared at potluck suppers, swapped over coffee and passed down through generations of families.

The recipes tucked inside the cookbook, written on yellowed paper and school notebook paper, are a tribute to family traditions.

I have my husband's grandmother's My Better Homes and Garden Cook Book from 1935. It also has dozens of handwritten recipes, some still attached to the pages with straight pins. This particular cookbook means more to me than the cookbook I picked up at the church sale because I remember the late Emma Carpenter preparing many of those handwritten recipes for family gatherings.

"Mamaw's" pecan cake might not have tasted any better than the butterscotch pie recipe found in the stranger's book, but it is the memories that make any recipe a treasure.

As we settle into winter, we begin to crave those comforting foods that we associate with happy times and loving relatives. Whether it's pecan cake, salmon croquettes, tuna noodle casserole, coconut pie or fried chicken, we all have our favorite foods that comfort us when we need it the most.

You don't have to have an old family cookbook to find recipes that bring back memories. Many comfort food recipes can be found in church and regional cookbooks or those from small interest groups.

Also, there are new cookbooks that have updated those great recipes for today's generation of cooks. Here are some recipes that might bring back some memories.


Pineapple upside-down cake is a favorite dessert from childhood. This recipe is from Sew Many Recipes ... Sew Little Time, a collection of recipes from Quilter's Square in Lexington.

Quick pineapple upside-down cake

3 tablespoons butter

1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 can (15 ounces) unsweetened pineapple slices

7 maraschino cherries, optional

1/2 cup chopped pecans, optional

1 package yellow cake mix, without pudding

Melt butter in a large cast-iron skillet. Combine brown sugar and cinnamon, and sprinkle over butter in the bottom of skillet. Arrange 7 pineapple slices over brown sugar. Place a cherry in center of each pineapple ring and sprinkle with pecans, if desired. Set aside. Prepare cake mix according to package directions. Pour batter over pineapple. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 to 40 minutes, or until pick comes out clean. Remove cake and invert onto large plate.

This recipe for salmon croquettes is from The Blue Grass Cookbook, compiled by Minnie C. Fox. The first edition was published in 1904, and reprinted last year by University Press of Kentucky with a new introduction by Toni Tipton-Martin.

Salmon croquettes

1 can salmon

2 eggs

½ cup butter

1 cup fine bread crumbs

1 teaspoon baking powder, in bread crumbs

½ cup cream

¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper

Salt to taste

Mix all together and form into pear shapes. Roll in egg and cracker dust, and fry light brown.

There are thousands of recipes for homemade fried chicken, and no one can make it like your mother or grandmother, but this is a good recipe from Southern Living Around the Southern Table: Coming Home to Comforting Meals and Treasured Memories by Rebecca Lang (Oxmoor House, $29.95).

Real buttermilk fried chicken

1 3½ -pound whole chicken, cut into 8 pieces

2 cups buttermilk

1 tablespoon creole seasoning

1 teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper

3 cups all-purpose flour

9 cups shortening

Place chicken in a large zip-top plastic freezer bag. Add buttermilk, seal and chill 2 hours. Remove chicken from buttermilk, discarding buttermilk. Sprinkle chicken with creole seasoning, salt and pepper. Place flour on a large plate or in a shallow dish. Dredge chicken in flour, shaking off excess.

Melt shortening to depth of 1½ inches in a Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed skillet at least 10 inches wide and 3 inches deep. Heat shortening to 360 degrees using medium-high heat. Fry chicken, in batches, turning often, 15 to 20 minutes or until evenly browned and done. Drain on a wire rack over paper towels. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Crackling corn bread is an old recipe that early cooks made with the crunchy pieces of rendered pork fat. Today the cracklings are sold in specialty markets and in some supermarkets. This recipe is from The Complete Southern Cookbook: More Than 800 of the Most Delicious, Down-Home Recipes by Tammy Algood (Running Press, $26.95)

Crackling corn bread

1½ cups plain cornmeal

¼ cup all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 egg, lightly beaten

2 cups buttermilk

1 cup cracklings

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Place a greased 10-inch cast-iron skillet in the oven to heat while the desired temperature is reached.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, mix together cornmeal, flour, salt and baking soda. Add egg and buttermilk, stirring just until moistened. Fold in cracklings. Pour batter into preheated skillet. Bake 25 minutes, or until golden brown. Serve warm. Makes 10 servings.

When it comes to pie, coconut is a classic recipe. The use of refrigerated pie crust makes it easy. This recipe is from Classic Southern Desserts from the editors of Southern Living (Oxmoor House, $ 29.95).

Coconut pie

1/2 package (15 ounces) refrigerated pie crusts

1 cup sugar, divided

1/4 cup cornstarch

2 cups half-and-half

4 egg yolks

3 tablespoons butter

1 cup sweetened flaked coconut, plus more for toasting for garnish

21/2 teaspoons vanilla extract, divided

2 cups whipping cream

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Fit 1 pie crust into 9-inch pie plate according to package directions; fold edges under and crimp. Prick bottom and sides of pie crust with fork. Bake at 425 degrees for 12 to 15 minutes or until lightly browned. Let cool on a wire rack.

Combine 1/2 cup sugar and cornstarch in a heavy saucepan. Whisk together half-and-half and egg yolks. Gradually whisk egg mixture into sugar mixture; bring to a boil over medium heat, whisking constantly. Boil 1 minute; remove from heat.

Stir in butter, 1 cup coconut and 1 teaspoon vanilla. Place plastic wrap directly on warm custard to prevent a film from forming; let stand 30 minutes. Spoon custard mixture into pie crust, cover and chill 30 minutes or until set.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place 3 tablespoons coconut in a single layer in a shallow pan; bake 5 to 6 minutes or until toasted, stirring occasionally. Cool completely, about 15 minutes.

Beat whipping cream at high speed with an electric mixer until foamy; gradually add 1⁄3 cup sugar and remaining 11/2 teaspoons vanilla, beating until soft peaks form. Spread or pipe whipped cream over pie filling. Sprinkle with toasted coconut. Store in refrigerator. Makes 8 servings.