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Ground beef and the road to tamale pie

Addie Broyles

The idea for today’s ground beef decision map started a few months ago when I went to my grandmother’s house in North Austin and had her tamale pie.

It’s a recipe she’d printed out from that is now one of our family’s favorite. “Remember to Google this recipe,” I thought to myself, as I devoured an entire plate of cornbread and “hamburger” meat, as ground beef is known occasionally in her house.

Weeks went by, and I still hadn’t made the tamale pie for my own family, but it did get me thinking about all the ways in which we Americans love our ground meats. Some of us have transitioned away from relying solely on ground beef — one co-worker says she only buys ground turkey and chicken but doesn’t let her family in on the secret — but the truth is that if you have a pound of ground anything in your fridge, you have lots of options for what you can do with it.

I decided to sketch out what some of those possiblities might be and how you might decide to make, say, red sauce with meat versus Mexican lasagna. With the help of the ubertalented Rob Villalpando, a graphic artist who specializes in telling stories visually online, we made a fun print map and interactive graphic to walk you through this process, taking into account whether or not you have extra time or ingredients or if you just don’t really feel like tacos or spaghetti.

(If you do feel like making spaghetti, check out this comic book-style recipe for bolognese from Tyler Capps’ new book, “Cooking Comically.”)

While you’re thinking about what you’re going to do with that pound of ground beef in your freezer, consider this tamale pie recipe from my Grandma Mimi. She says she’d actually prefer it with even more cornbread, but I’ll leave that up to you.

Tamale Pie

This is one of my grandma Mimi’s favorite recipes, one she found on and now loves to make for my aunt and uncle in North Austin. It serves a tableful of hungry eaters, but you could cut the recipe in half and bake it in an 8-inch-by-8-inch pan. What you mix with the ground beef (or black beans, if you’d like to make it vegetarian) is up to you, so you could skip the poblano peppers and use bell peppers, or sneak in some extra veggies like thinly sliced carrots and squash. Mimi likes to serve it with sour cream and diced avocados, cilantro and onions on the side.

Cooking spray

2 lb. ground beef

2 cups diced poblano peppers

1 tsp. salt

1 (16-oz.) jar salsa

1/2 tsp. dried oregano

1 tsp. ground dried chipotle pepper

2 (8.5-oz.) boxes dry corn muffin mix

2 eggs

2/3 cup milk, divided

4 oz. shredded Cheddar cheese, divided

4 oz. shredded Monterey Jack cheese, divided

8 oz. frozen corn, thawed

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9-inch-by-13-inch casserole dish with cooking spray.

Cook and stir ground beef in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat until meat starts to brown and release juices, about 5 minutes.

Reduce heat to medium and stir in poblano peppers, salt, salsa, oregano and chipotle powder; cook and stir until seasoned beef is crumbly and no longer pink, about 10 minutes.

Mix one package of corn muffin mix in a large bowl with 1 egg and 1/3 cup of milk. Whisk to combine. In a separate large bowl, mix the second package of corn muffin mix with 1 egg, 1/3 cup of milk and half the Cheddar and Monterey Jack cheeses.

Spread the prepared corn muffin mixture without cheese into the prepared baking dish. Sprinkle corn over the muffin mix, followed by remaining half of the cheeses, then the beef mixture.

Spoon the corn muffin mix with cheese on top of the beef and carefully spread over the top with a fork, leaving about half an inch from the edges of the pan.

Bake in the preheated oven for 50-60 minutes, until golden brown. Serves 8.

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