Cornbread + Jalapenos + Ground Beef = an affordable one pan twist on tamales.

Skillet Tamale

Cornbread + Jalapenos + Ground Beef = an affordable one pan twist on tamales. Want to skip the bits about my mom and just get to the grub? Just jump to the recipe.

If my mom hadn’t been my mom, she would have made a fantastic audio book narrator.

It’s not because she made great voices. She didn’t. She wasn’t that kind of woman. Monster voices, princess voices, and Southern drawls were much too colloquial for my mom – for the lady who taught “yes please” and “no thank you” with a hand so deft you might think the 10 Commandments were one short. 

It’s because her voice had a steady cadence, a rhythm that ebbed and flowed with each sentence. Her tone was soft and deep, like a chair you sink into after a long day. She knew when to pause.

When to stop. When to close the book and ask, “What do you think?”

Reading with her was like stepping into your imagination with grownup gloves. My mom didn’t believe in treating anyone like a child. She still doesn’t.

Baby voices and lowered expectations didn’t exist. I was taught to see a future bigger than myself and to fight like the bejesus for it. Being small wasn’t an option. Laying down wasn’t a choice.

Trying to act like a grownup at seven wasn’t without its challenges. Undoubtedly, when you’re seven going on 40, it can be difficult to make friends. I spent a lot of my early days as an outsider, an easy target – the girl at whom you mooed because her last name included “Cow” and laughed because she was tall and awkward and didn’t know talking politics at the lunch table was boring.

While I dreaded school, the kids, and the teasing, mom carved out pockets where we were invincible. We’d escape together into stories. Her voice guided me into Annemarie’s hidden room in Number the Stars. It took me to Laura’s farm in Little House on the Prairie. We stepped into factories and labor unions. We dove into slavery, the underground railroad, and the great depression.

From car seats and park benches to the kitchen table and the family room couch, we went on grand adventures.

I’ll always be a little off. I’ll always have bit of that awkward girl in the corner mojo. And, I’ll always have a steady cadence telling me to grab hold of the future I want, to stand up tall, and hold on even when I think I can’t.


Skillet Tamale

Adapted from The Complete America Test Kitchen TV Show Cookbook


We didn’t have a lot of money when I was a girl, but that fact never fazed my mom. We ate coupon dinner and affordable recipes. She bought meat in bulk and froze it in single servings. Looking back, I know our budget was small, but mom made life big with warm hearty meals – meals very similar to this one.

This recipe is adapted from one of my go-to resources, The Complete America Test Kitchen TV Show Cookbook. I’ve made some changes and additions, such as corn. You can definitely use fresh corn if you have it, but when it’s not in season, this browning technique is a fantastic way to replace the canned taste with a nutty flavor. I also upped the spice factor by adding jalapenos and doubling the chili powder. If heat’s not your thing, feel free to cut back.


4 TBS vegetable oil
1 can corn, drained
1 large onion, chopped
2 jalapenos, seeded and chopped
4 TBS chili powder
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound lean ground beef
1 (15-ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 cup cheddar cheese, shredded

Cornbread Topping
¾ cup flour
¾ cup yellow cornmeal
3 TBS sugar
¾ tsp salt
¾ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp baking soda
¾ cup buttermilk
1 large egg
3 TBS unsalted butter, melted and cooled.


Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Heat 2 TBS vegetable oil in a large, oven-safe skillet. Add corn and let sit until corn starts popping. Stir and allow to pop again.

Remove corn from skillet and set aside.

Return pan to heat. Add remaining 2 TBS vegetable oil. Heat until shimmering. Add onion, jalapenos, chili powder, and salt. Cook until onion and jalapenos have softened (roughly 5 minutes). Add garlic and cook until fragrant (about 30 seconds.) Remove onion mixture from pan and set aside.

Add ground beef to pan. Brown, breaking up with a spoon. Drain excess fat.

Add black beans, tomatoes, corn, and onions. Bring to a simmer and allow to cook for 5 – 10 minutes.

While pan is simmering, whisk flour, cornmeal, sugar, salt, baking powder, and baking soda in a medium bowl.

In a separate bowl, whisk buttermilk, egg, and butter. Add liquids to dry ingredients and stir until just combined.

Add cheddar cheese to skillet and stir to combine. Dollop cornbread topping evenly over skillet. Place skillet in oven and bake until the cornbread is cooked through (10 – 15 minutes).

Using potholders, remove skillet from oven and serve.




2 Replies to “Skillet Tamale”

  1. Congrats on turning 31! That is a milestone in deed! Just want you to know I love the accounting of your Mom! You have described her to a T and no matter who she is with she is that ‘steady voice’ that knows just when to pause, put a question out there, listen and be a wonderful friend! I am so grateful we have reconnected after all these years! You are blessed to have a terrific MOM!

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