Family Secrets

Sometimes the best meals in life come from family and familial events. It’s not that the food itself was the best. It could be quite plain and rather ordinary, really, but it’s the fond memories tied to the dish or meal that make it extraordinary. When my brother and I were kids, family gatherings in the Summer months revolved around Taco Salad (the kind with Fritos and Catalina dressing), Mississippi Mud Pie, and lots of Dr. Pepper!

The meal itself wasn’t groundbreaking, culinarily-speaking, but to this day Memorial Day/Fourth of July/Labor Day just feels a little “off” without these childhood picnic table favorites. One year, the cousins even got together over a holiday to recreate this meal on our own. It was great fun marinating in nostalgia. We were able to mentally and emotionally revisit our youth in that one afternoon by simply throwing together a unsophisticated meal of frugal ingredients. It was the easiest time machine ever and I believe we all grew a little bit younger that day.

Recently, I was reminiscing about another childhood favorite (Frito Chili Pie) after my SIL texted me and told me about how she and her daughters recently made the Gaines Family Chili from Joanna Gaines’ first volume of her Magnolia Table cookbook. It’s not just that it’s super simple… oh no wait. It is that it’s super simple and that’s what’s great about it. You don’t need a ton of time and ingredients to make something good that has the power to attach itself to time and memories. You don’t need a ton of time and ingredients to make your own time machine. I knew this chili would soon be on the menu in my house too. It’s just so fitting that this particular recipe was handed down to Joanna from the Gaines side when Chip & Jo were married.

Fritos are pretty much a staple in Texas. They just go so well with many things, but they go particularly with chili. However, we mustn’t forget that another thing that is a slam dunk with chili is cornbread. Gaines accompanies this simple chili with Jalapeño Cornbread (also from the first volume of her Magnolia Table cookbook)! Pretty much everyone has had one or the other with their chili. The big question is whether you prefer Fritos or cornbread with your chili. In the words of Joey Tribbiani, “Put your hands together!” With this dish you can have your Fritos and eat your cornbread too! No need to choose!

Yes, my friends. This dish combines the two and I am so here for it! I grew up on Frito chili pie, but I have a soft spot for cornbread baked in a cast iron. Lodge Cast Iron makes these adorable 10-Ounce Square Cast Iron Mini Servers. After I saw them featured on their Facebook page, I knew they would be a welcome addition to my little collection. They were featured with individual macaroni and cheese servings and I’m sure that would be amazing too… and I totally intend to do that in the near future, but this time I filled these little cast irons with that rich and fluffy cornbread batter.

What the chili provides in simplicity, the cornbread makes up in moderate complexity. The chili is a quick 5 ingredients, so I would recommend starting with the cornbread first if that’s the route your choose. I’m definitely not upset about the mildly more complicated nature of her cornbread though. Jalapeño cornbread is a delicious alternative to your usual chili and cornbread! It’s definitely not spicy like you would think, but you can make it spicy if you prefer. I definitely opted for chopped pickled jalapeños and pimientos stirred in mine. It created a very “eye-ppealing” side for the simple, yet enticing chili. On my second attempt, I swapped the heavy cream, the peppers, and the pimientos for shredded pepper jack cheese and I can truthfully say it wasn’t as satisfying nor as flavorful.

Despite a warm spring evening, The Mr and I thoroughly enjoyed this meal. It was homey and filling without feeling too heavy. The chili was tasty to be sure, if a little plain, but the cornbread was the real star. It was the ideal accessory to the chili. It was abstract, light, and just a little bit on the lush side owing to the heavy cream. It bore the perfect delicate, golden crust owing to this little trick I learned years ago in my twenties.

Growing up, the cornbread always stuck to the cast iron so I always thought that’s just the way it was. The trick is to drop a tablespoon or two of real butter into the pan and pop it into the preheated oven for 2min. Pull it out and pour your cornbread batter directly onto the pool of melted butter in the skillet, allowing it to happily sizzle and bubble. Bake as instructed and you will have a perfect crust and no sticking on your cornbread every single time.

So which side of the fence are you on? Chili or cornbread? Sound off in the comments below!

Currently Reading: Food & Wine Dinner Made Simple Magazine

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