I got mildly chastised a few weeks ago. One of my friends wanted to know when I was going to do another column on cooking. I know I had said I was going to try and write about cooking once a month, but then so many things happened that I got off course.

I admit I like to cook. When I go into a store that has a variety of products for sale, I head to the housewares section first. I have a weakness for kitchen gadgets-so much so that my new rule is if I don’t have a place to store it, I can’t buy it.

Once of the best tools I ever bought was a KitchenAide mixer. Yes it’s pricey, with the least expensive one costing over $100. But it’s a powerful gadget, made even better because you can add accessories to it to make it do more than just mix cake batter. One of the reasons I chose to buy it and spend the money is that for the past 30 years, I have avoided buying ground beef. Instead, I grind it myself.

Now before you pooh-pooh the idea, hear me out. It was about 30 years ago that a TV station did a report on “What is in your ground beef?” They analyzed ground beef from several supermarkets and found dead fly parts and I can’t remember what else in the ground beef. I was living on the far North Side at the time and my local store was one of the ones profiled. Needless to say, my stomach churned at the thought.

Most grocery stores today no longer grind their own beef. Instead, they purchase it already ground from beef slaughterhouses. But rather than solving the problem, the problem now has gotten worse. When the local stores grind their own beef, you have insect parts in it. Now we also have to contend with E-coli bacteria. In the past, when there was a problem with food, we could trace it to a local store. Now that the meat is being mass-produced in one location and shipped all over the country under who knows how many names, we don’t hear about the problems until it’s too late. To date, Topps has recalled over 21 million-yes, million-pounds of frozen hamburger patties. A spokesperson for Topps admits that most of the product that is being recalled has probably already been eaten. Health authorities report that at least 25 people have become ill.

How difficult is it to grind your own beef? Well, it’s not difficult at all. If you have a food processor, you can use it to chop up beef for hamburger. Or you can invest in a food grinder for under $50. Grinding my own beef adds 10 to 15 minutes to my food preparation time, but I know what’s in the ground beef I serve my family. I can control the amount of fat in the beef as well as the type of meat. I prefer to use the most inexpensive cuts like chuck roasts or pot roasts.

I also own a vacuum sealer. So when I find those roasts on sale, I grind all the beef at once and freeze it in airtight bags in amounts that are best for chili, spaghetti or taco meat. I have never tried making my own sausages, but I did have a chicken sausage awhile back that was fantastic. The man who made it grinds his own chicken and added lots of hot peppers to it. I want to experiment making those types of sausages because they were perfect on the grill.

Anyway, here’s a recipe for Tamale Pie:

1½ pounds ground beef

1 large onion – chopped

1 large bell pepper – chopped

4 cloves garlic – chopped

1 can stewed tomatoes

1 package frozen corn

1 package taco seasoning

1 box Jiffy Mix

Sauté ground beef with chopped onions, peppers and garlic until beef has lost most of the pink color. Add in the can of stewed tomatoes, the package of corn, and taco seasoning mix. Cook until the mixture bubbles. Pour into a 9 x 12 casserole dish.

Next, prepare the Jiffy Mix according to directions. Drop spoonfuls of the batter on top of the ground beef mixture. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes or until corn bread is done. The mixture will spread while baking to form a crust.

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