Friday, December 22, 2006

No Mas Sugarplums

Is it possible to be all holiday-ed out even before The Holiday arrives?

Sadly, the Queen admits to already being a bit weary of Seasonal Cheer. Treats laden with any combination of chocolate, butter, sugar, cinnamon, or nuts have begun to make her groan. Tiny appetizers involving soft cheese or creamy dips are left untouched. And thank you, but no, I don’t care for any eggnog.

In addition to appetite fatigue, I’ll confess that my reservoir of scintillating small talk is running dangerously low. Unless you want to hear about my undecorated tree or the high jinks of The Rodent you’d be better off chatting with the person wearing the reindeer pin.

I’m blaming a lot of my Scrooge-like behavior on stress. Most of us have pretty full plates, right? (Admittedly, when it comes to pie, that can be a good thing.) But around this time of year things begin to get messy. Those plates start overflowing with added responsibilities: shopping, decorating, gift-wrapping, baking. Being merry? Maybe. Finding peace? Not even a remote possibility.

According to a recent study, a majority of people in industrialized nations experience stress on a daily basis, and those stressful feelings are intensified during the holidays.

No kidding.

The interesting news, however, is that Mexicans have somehow escaped this devilish pressure. According to the poll, more than half of them “rarely or never experience stress in their daily lives.”

I suspect it has something to do with tamales.


You may know, of course, that these cornhusk-clad delicacies are a traditional Christmas treat in Latin America. You may know that tamales are old news, really, dating back to the pre-Columbian Americas. You may know that tamales are delicious and fortifying -- and not at all easy to make. But I hope that you'll someday find out that constructing tamales can be a collaborative social event that brings a bit of fiesta to the task of food preparation. And to that, the Queen says Ole.

So dear Reader, while I freely admit that I can’t do a lot about the big things that bring so much stress to The Season, I can try to make a little difference. And my small rebellion starts here -- with this Tamale Pie.


A fragrant and spicy chili that’s laden with tender chunks of beef, corn, and beans, the pie is topped with a lid of crumbly cornbread. Nary a spoonful of butter and nothing cloying about it. Better yet, I can even offer a time-saving shortcut for those so inclined (and who isn’t at this time of year?)

Tamale pie pairs nicely with something light and refreshing – a tangy cucumber salad, perhaps – and makes a fine antidote to the platters of chubby food that’s put in front of us all month long. Uncap a Corona with it and you’ll feel your blood pressure drop with every bite.


Wishing you and yours a Feliz Navidad!

Tamale Pie

Adapted from Sara Moulton, Sara’s Secrets

For Chili:
4 T. oil
2 pounds boneless beef chuck or rump, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 large onion, chopped
2 large fresh jalapeno chiles, seeded and finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 t. salt
3 T. chili powder
2 t. cumin
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes in puree
1 (10-ounce) box frozen corn
1 1/2 cups water
1 (15 to 16-ounce) can pinto or black beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup chopped pimiento-stuffed green olives

For Topping:
1 c. flour
1 c. yellow cornmeal
¾ c. grated sharp cheddar cheese
1 ½ T. sugar
2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
1 medium fresh jalapeno chile, seeded and finely chopped
3/4 cup milk
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 large egg, lightly beaten

Alternate Topping:
1 box high-quality Cornbread Mix (Trader Joe’s makes a good one)
¾ c. grated sharp cheddar cheese

Make chili: Heat 3 tablespoons oil in a 5 to 6-quart heavy pot over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking, then brown beef in 4 batches, stirring occasionally, about 4 minutes per batch, transferring with a slotted spoon to a bowl. Add remaining tablespoon oil to pot and cook onion and jalapenos over moderately high heat, stirring, until onion is softened, about 4 minutes. Reduce heat to moderate, then add garlic, salt, chili powder, and cumin and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Return beef to pot with any juices that have accumulated in bowl and stir in tomatoes, corn, and water. Simmer chili, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until meat is very tender, 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours. Remove from heat and stir in beans, olives, and salt, to taste.


Transfer chili to a shallow 3 quart baking dish.

Make topping: Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Whisk together flour, cornmeal, cheese, sugar, baking powder, salt, cumin, and jalapeno in a large bowl. Whisk together milk, butter, and egg in a small bowl, then stir into flour mixture until just combined. (Or prepare cornbread mix according to package directions and stir in cheese.) Drop batter by large spoonfuls over chili, and bake in middle of oven 10 minutes. Reduce temperature to 350 degrees F and bake pie until topping is cooked through, about 30 minutes more.


At 12:50 PM, Blogger bakerymaiden said...

The Queen has reminded me of masa in my freezer. Muchisimas Gracias, mi Reina!


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