"We seldom get into trouble when we speak softly. It is only when we raise our voices that the sparks fly and tiny molehills become great mountains of contention."
- - Gordon B. Hinckley
February 11, 2014
Cowboy Dinner
by Melanie Gunnell

Editor's note: An inconvenient New Year's resolution caused us to look for a new food editor this year, after Joni Hilton abandoned her food blog to concentrate on being the YouTube Mom. (Look for her tips at YouTube Mom Joni Hilton. Today we welcome Mel Gunnell, who assures us she will never abandon her passion for food.

Just the name of this meal conjures up extreme nostalgia for my college days. My roommates and I, eager to put our cooking skills to the test on our own, rotated dinner nights. There were some successes. And some not-so-successes.

This quick, easy, filling and delicious meal made the taste cut and appeared very, very often at our humble college table. Frequent enough that it took me a few years to want to make it again after I had graduated from college.

Eventually, I got the craving for it again and started playing around with the recipe. I'm happy to report that the five hungry boys in my family love this meal just as much as the four hungry girls did nearly 15 years ago.

I've recreated it to incorporate a homemade cornbread layer (which I promise is hardly more work than using a boxed mix) and to make the beef layer a bit heartier with the addition of beans. The result is a classic, comforting rustic take on shepherd's pie. Nothing against the mashed potater casserole, but I'll take this cheesy, beefy cornbread version any day of the week.

Cowboy Dinner

Yield: Serves 6-8

Beef Mixture:

  • 2 pounds lean ground beef
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 cup frozen corn kernels
  • 1 1/2 cups salsa (jarred or homemade)
  • 1 can (15 ounce) black, pinto or white beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

Cornbread Topping:

  • ½ cup cornmeal
  • 1 ½ cup flour
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup oil
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 ¼ cup milk


1. Preheat the oven to 375. Lightly grease a 9X13-inch pan and set aside.

2. In a large 12-inch skillet, brown the ground beef and onion, adding the salt and pepper, over medium-high heat until the beef is no longer pink. Drain the grease from the pan. Stir in the corn, salsa, and beans. Pour the beef mixture into the prepared 9X13-inch baking pan and set aside.

3. For the cornbread, combine the cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl. Make a well in the center and add the oil, beaten eggs and milk. Whisk together until just moistened and no dry spots remain.

4. Sprinkle the cheese over the beef mixture and pour the cornbread batter over the cheese and beef mixture. Gently spread the cornbread to the edges of the pan, evening it out over the top of the casserole.

5. Bake for 40-45 minutes until the edges are bubbly and a toothpick inserted into the center of the cornbread comes out clean or with a few moist crumbs. Let the casserole stand for 10 minutes before serving.

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About Melanie Gunnell

Melanie Gunnell is a food-loving, chocolate-obsessed mom who has a desperate need to share her favorite tried-and-true recipes with the world. In a past life she graduated from Brigham Young University with a degree in public health, but for the past ten years, stay-at-home motherhood has been her job along with blogging-from-home for the past five.

She resides in the brilliantly cold tundra of Northern Minnesota with her husband and their brood of five children: four boys and one tiny, bossy girl. Dark chocolate (particularly the act of shoving chocolate chips in her mouth whilst hiding in the pantry) is her coping skill of choice for both the never-ending winters and the never-ending wrestling matches in her front room.


Calling(s): Primary pianist, CTR 6/7 Primary teacher, Activity Day leader

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