Tuesday, November 8, 2011

A Classic Casserole - Tamale Pie

Cookbooks provide a great snap-shot into the kinds of foods and preparations that were in vogue throughout the years. I am particularly partial to the general cookbooks put out in the late 40's through the mid 60's. Better Homes & Gardens, Betty Crocker, Pillsbury, Good Housekeeping, Joy of Cooking, and Meta Given's Modern Family Cookbook, to name a few, are wonderful examples of how America liked to eat. There were no "nutrition facts" given for each recipe, but the front of the book usually dedicated some room to talking about the importance of good nutrition, vitamins and minerals, and eating a balanced diet.

While some of today's recipes are more conscious of the fat and calories, the cookbooks of yesterday put the emphasis on taste and presentation - and why not?!? When you look across the offerings in these old books, there are a number of recipes that are offered in each volume - although not exactly identical - but with generally the same idea. Tamale pie is one such example.

Tamale pie is a variation on a hamburger casserole. I often thought of it as a south of the border cousin to a Shepard's pie, but rather than having mashed potatoes as the top crust the tamale pie calls for cornbread. The dish couples the meat and a starch and provides an "all in one" opportunity for the busy cook who doesn't have time to make three separate things.

With the proliferation of Mexican cuisine, this dish (some recipes dating back 60+ years) must have seemed downright exotic.What I love about this dish is that it can be easily updated to today's taste for food that has a bigger kick then they were used to in the 1952 Betty Crocker test kitchen. As good today as it was back then, this is an easy one to make and it adapts beautifully to countless variations. A good "cold weather" dish, this is a perfect time of year to bring a tamale pie to your table!

Tamale Pie

1/2 pound ground beef chuck
1/2 pound ground pork (you could use all beef if you prefer, but I like the mix)
1 medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
(you could add a half cup of green peppers here or a little jalapeno pepper, if you like)
salt and pepper to taste
2-8oz cans tomato sauce
1 cup frozen, canned or fresh corn
12 black olives, chopped (could use green if you prefer)
1 TBSP chili powder
1/2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp sugar
1 egg, beaten
3/4 cup cornmeal
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 TBSP all purpose flour
1 TBSP sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/3 cup milk

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Put meat in skillet and begin to brown over medium high heat. Add diced onion and minced garlic to the meat as it browns so the vegetables get soft. Add salt and pepper to taste. Once meat is browned, reduce heat to medium and add two cans of tomato sauce, corn and chopped olives. Add chili powder, cumin and sugar. Let simmer for about 10-15 minutes.

In the meantime, prepare your cornbread topping. In a bowl, beat egg. Add cornmeal, baking powder, flour, sugar, salt and milk and combine.  Set aside. Grease a 2qt casserole dish. Put in meat mixture and even out the top with spoon or spatula. Spread corn topping over meat mixture in casserole dish - it should be completely covered. Put in 425 degree oven for 15 - 20 minutes, until topping is golden brown on top. Remove and let stand for five minutes. Serve with shredded cheese, sour cream, salsa or other toppings you like. Enjoy!

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