Tuesday was the last night in a week long freeze that had the whole family (and much of the Northeast) cooped up in the house. It’s too cold to play outside and too cold to take the twins out at all. The one time I did venture out for anything more than a grocery run or a trip to Ama and Papa’s house was a disaster. That’s when I discovered the hard way that it was so cold that even the baby wipes I keep in the car were frozen. Trust me when I say that you are very happy you were not with us at that moment.
When it’s this cold we all crave comfort food. To me comfort food equals casseroles. My love for casseroles has many reasons. I love that the effort in making them is front loaded so that you have time to clean up the kitchen while the casserole bakes, and I love that you can easily hide lots of veggies in them which makes them kid-friendly as well as mom-friendly. But I mostly love casseroles because they are warm and comforting; that’s a good thing when you are as cold as a penguin with male-pattern baldness.
Of course, I also love casseroles because many of them fall into the category of “retro” food. Most of us grew up familiar with all sorts of casseroles, and many of us have had more than our fare share of bad casseroles. Very few things are as bad as a casserole thrown together with canned soup, frozen overcooked veggies and huge tough boneless, skinless chicken breasts. I don’t think that casseroles deserve their lazy housewife image. Many good casseroles take lots of attention, skill and quality ingredients to turn out just right. Cassoulet is certainly not a simple weeknight meal, and even a good macaroni and cheese requires that the cook know just the right blend of cheeses, milk, pasta and other ingredients to provide a finished product bursting with the right blend of cheese and creaminess.
This casserole checks all my boxes. It’s warm, I’ve hidden in a decent amount of veggies, it’s full of cheese, chili and yummy cornbread. It’s my take on the classic Tex-Mex casserole; tamale pie.
Tamale pie recipes vary all over the place. They are in theory a meat filling with a cornbread topping. Unlike last week’s recipe, I’m not terribly concerned with being authentic here. I just like something that tastes good, stretches the chili out across more meals and warms me up.
This basic recipe is wonderful just as is it, but it’s also has all sorts of potential for adding new things to it. If you really want to warm up, switch out the peppers for hotter ones: use pasillas, a serrano or even a little chipotles for a smokey flavor. Adding beans to the chili here would not be frowned on, and you could chop up any sort of veggie you want it. You can do what you want with this casserole, but I’m a big fan of simple. It’s cheesy, it’s warm, it’s good. So, enjoy!
Beef Chili Tamale Pie
This is a simple casserole which combines the classic flavors of chili, cheese and cornbread. Because it is easily warmed up in the microwave, it can be made ahead of time.
1 cup corn meal
1-1 pound package frozen corn, thawed
1 cup buttermilk
3 tablespoons vegetable oil or bacon drippings
1 tablespoon sugar
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
8 oz Co-Jack, Monterrey Jack or Cheddar cheese, shredded and divided in three parts
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
Vegetable and Chili Sauce
2 teaspoons olive oil
1/2 onion, chopped fine
1 small red bell pepper, seeded and chopped fine
1 poblano or pasilla pepper, seeded and chopped fine
1 small tomatoes, seeded and diced
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups Texas Beef Chili without beans
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Heat olive oil in a large cast-iron pan over medium heat. When the oil begins to shimmer, add the peppers, onion, tomatoes and salt and cook until all the vegetables are very soft and beginning to brown around the edges, about 10 minutes.
While the vegetables are cooking pulse the corn in a food processor several times until it is chopped, but not pureed.
In a bowl, combine the corn meal, sugar, garlic, salt and baking powder in a medium bowl. In another bowl combine the corn, buttermilk, garlic, eggs and oil. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and fold in 1/3 of the cheese.
Use a blender or food processor to blend the vegetables up into a smooth paste.
Return to skillet and add chili. Bring mixture up to a simmer then remove from the heat.
Spread 1/3 of the shredded cheese over the chili.
Then evenly spread the cornbread batter over the top.
Mix the chili powder with the last 1/3 of the shredded cheese and sprinkle over the top of the cornbread batter.
Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until the top of the casserole is evenly brown and the center of the casserole springs back when lightly touched.