Cookbook author Ken Haedrich has been making this spicy, Mexican-style chili baked under a thin cornbread crust for 20 years. Baked in a casserole of generous dimensions so the cornbread layer comes out no more than half as thick as the filling. A gratin dish that's about 13 inches long is perfect. In a hurry? Substitute your favorite packet of taco seasoning for the spice mix here.
Lightly oil a shallow, 3-quart casserole dish. Combine the spice mix ingredients in a small bowl.
Brown the ground beef in a large nonstick skillet, breaking it up with a wooden spoon. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the browned meat to the casserole dish. Drain all but about 3 tablespoons of the fat from the skillet.
Put the pan back on the heat and sauté the onion and bell pepper for 7 to 8 minutes. Add the garlic and the spice mix, stirring all the while, then stir in the corn and tomatoes. Cover the pan and bring the mixture to a gentle boil, stirring occasionally. Stir the vegetables into the meat and level the mixture with the back of the spoon.
Heat the oven to 400º. Sift the cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt into a medium mixing bowl. Whisk the egg, milk, and oil in a separate bowl. Add the dry mixture to the eggs and whisk until evenly blended. Pour the batter over the filling and spread it evenly with a spoon.
Bake the Mexicali Pie for 22 minutes or until the topping is golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Makes 8 to 10 servings.