Monday, August 11, 2014

Cornbread Taco Casserole - a Fiesta of Flavors

I have been trying to get this recipe out for days, and one thing or another has seemed to prevent me getting it here. First off, when I created it last week, it was a spur-of-the-moment thing. I created it late in the day, tired after standing in the kitchen all day doing other things like making bread, pesto, cake, etc. I was hot and tired. I "knew" I had a Cornbread Taco Casserole recipe somewhere, one I'd made nearly 20 years ago. Do you think I could find it? Of course not. I just didn't know what to do with the hamburger I had thawed. I thought, "I don't need a recipe. How hard could a taco casserole be?"

I thought about what ingredients would be good here: onion and garlic of course. I had fresh thyme in a vase on the windowsill, so I could use that. My husband dislikes meat sauces that are runny, so I would thicken it slightly with flour, though cornstarch would work too. Tomatoes or tomato product of some sort. I had some Tostitos Salsa in the fridge, so I used some of that. Chili Powder would also be a must. I thought corn and kidney beans would be good. I love green chiles in a can, so I would certainly use those.

For the cornbread part, I wanted it to be on top of the casserole. It was already quite late in the day, so I opted for a box of Jiffy Corn Muffin Mix. At some point I do want to make this with my own cornbread recipe, but that was just not the day for it. Then, CHEESE! Oh boy, I had no shredded cheese. Drat. I thought about that and wondered if there was any in the freezer. Sure enough, there was some shredded cheese, a Mexican Blend. It was a bit old, but I wasn't using that much. Perfect.

Cornbread Taco Casserole, too brown
When I got all the taco casserole ingredients together, it made a lot! I used 2 pounds of hamburger meat, and with everything else going in, it completely filled my large skillet. I would suggest the possibility of using a large pot instead of a skillet, especially if one does not own a really large skillet. The casserole part is already cooked through by the time it goes in the oven, so all the oven accomplishes is baking the cornbread topping.

Okay, so I mentioned how tired I was from all the cooking & baking I had done that day? I had just pulled out a batch of bread from the oven shortly before the casserole was to go in. I had planned to set the oven at 375. Actually, anything I bake that is not covered, I set the oven to Convect Bake. On Convection, the temperature needs to be set 25 degrees lower than the recommended temperature to offset the faster baking and browning time. Meaning, I needed to set the Convection Bake temperature to 350 degrees. What, exactly, I was thinking when I set the oven temperature to 475 on Convection Bake, is beyond me. Obviously, I was not thinking at all by that time. When making a recipe for the first time, I set the timer for a certain amount of time as a baseline, but then check carefully to make sure everything is baking properly, adjusting the time as needed. I set the timer for 25 minutes, figuring it would probably be done at about 25, but it was a large casserole, so it was uncertain.

I checked once at about 15 minutes, noting that though not yet browned on top, it was certainly bubbling very furiously. It still did not occur to me that the temperature was ridiculously high. At 23 minutes, I checked again. This time I noticed that the top of the cornbread was now a definite mahogany color. Oops! I pulled it out and went to shut off the oven, finally noticing the temperature I had set. Good heavens. Still, while the top was very dark, it was not actually burnt. We ate the casserole and it was absolutely delicious, browned top notwithstanding. My husband particularly loved it. We polished it off in about 3 days, and I asked him if it would be okay to make it again, since I wanted to get photos of a better looking outcome! He said I could make it 3 times in a row if I wanted, he liked it that much! Alrighty then!

I made the casserole for the second time on Saturday for dinner. I had not spent the whole day in the kitchen. I was well rested. I baked it at the temperature I originally planned and it baked perfectly in the same amount of time as the last one, but this time without over-browning the top. The flavors were the same. I used Chi Chi's Salsa this time. I had bought a new bag of Mexican Blend shredded cheese, so it melted much more nicely. 

Cornbread Taco Casserole; perfectly golden top
In all, it is a really wonderful dinner, ready to eat in right about an hour. Have the meat thawed and cooking while chopping the onion and garlic. Then open all the cans and have them ready. Chop at the meat to make it into small bits. Add in the ingredients as they are needed. The whole thing comes together quickly. Mixing up the Jiffy Cornbread Mix takes seconds. Sprinkle the cheese on top and bake and dinner is served.

Cornbread Taco Casserole

makes one (very full) 9 x 13-inch casserole; 
Cornbread Taco Casserole

6 large or 12 small servings

2 pounds ground beef
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
2 - 3 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves

1 1/2 tablespoons chili powder
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup water
2 cups Chunky Salsa of choice
1 small can tomato paste
2 (4-ounce) cans diced green chiles
1 can whole kernel corn (no salt added), drained
1 can dark red kidney beans, drained and rinsed

1 box Jiffy Corn Muffin Mix
(1 egg + 1/3 cup milk)
1 1/4 cup shredded Mexican Blend Cheese

Preheat the oven to 375 (350 on Convection Bake). Spray a 13 x 9-inch oven safe casserole with cooking spray and set aside. 

In a very large skillet, or a wide soup pot, heat the oil and begin browning the meat over medium to medium high heat. While the meat is cooking, chop the onions, mince the garlic, chop the bell pepper and strip the leaves from the thyme stems. Get out the flour, chili powder and salt. Check the meat and break it up periodically so it browns evenly. Open the cans of tomato paste, diced green chilies, corn and kidney beans. Drain the corn. Rinse the kidney beans in a colander under copious quantities of running water. Measure out the salsa.
finishing in pan      |    Cornbread batter spooned on   |   sprinkled with cheese      |           just baked        |        served     

Once the liquid in the pan is almost evaporated, add in the onion, garlic and bell pepper and continue to toss and cook for about 5 minutes more. Sprinkle in the chili powder, salt and thyme leaves, stirring to combine.

Remove the pan from the heat and add in the flour, stirring until no longer visible. Add in the water, the salsa and the tomato paste and stir carefully, until completely combined. Return the pan to the heat. Stir in the diced green chilies, corn and kidney beans. Once bubbling, very carefully pour or spoon the mixture into the prepared casserole dish.

In a bowl, mix together the Jiffy Corn Muffin Mix, the milk and egg. Drop the mixture from a large spoon evenly all over the surface. About 12 little piles of the mixture works well. Sprinkle the surface evenly with the shredded cheese. Bake the casserole for 20 to 25 minutes, until the casserole is bubbling and the cornbread top is golden.  

Serve with sour cream and sliced avocado, if desired. 

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.