What’s Cooking in Kelli’s Kitchen -- Wild West Staples

  • 2022-10-23, 12:46 PM
  • Kelli Kelly
What’s Cooking in Kelli’s Kitchen -- Wild West Staples

If you all haven’t figured it out, I enjoy doing a lot of things that most people think are kind of strange and wonky. For example, I get irrationally excited about strategic planning. Throw some Objectives and Key Results my way and I am happier than a pig in… well, you know. So, I am happy to report that I am writing today's column from the annual Nevada State Small Business Development Center retreat where we are setting priorities for the next three years. Woo-hoo.

Since the retreat is taking place in Virginia City, I decided that I would use location as inspiration for our recipes this week. Virginia City is an amazing and unique place. There is so much history squeezed into such a small and hilly hamlet. I rode on the historic V&T railroad and saw the specters of countless mines. I drank a beer at the oldest continually operating saloon in Nevada. And I argued vehemently that, despite assertions by the VC Chamber of Commerce, Mark Twain is not a separate entity from Samuel Clemens, so it is disingenuous to claim that he was “born” in Virginia City.

The theme of our gathering is tied directly to the “Wild West.” When I think of the west and of western history, I think about dishes that can be prepared from staple ingredients over (or in) a fire. Staple ingredients are important because they can store without refrigeration, ship easily over long distances, and provide reasonable nutrition. Two essential staple ingredients that can be converted with relative simplicity into a delicious and nutritious meal headline this week’s recipes.


Cowboy Beans



1 pound dried pinto beans

1/2 yellow onion, peeled

2 cloves garlic, peeled


3 ounces beef jerky, diced

1/2 cup brewed coffee

2 tablespoons molasses

2 tablespoons prepared mustard

1 tablespoon chili powder

Salt and black pepper



  • In a large pot, cover the beans with 1 inch of water and bring to a boil. Turn the heat to low and simmer for 15 minutes, uncovered. drain the beans and rinse.
  • Preheat the oven to 250°F, return the beans to the pot, and add the onion and garlic. Cover with water by 1 inch and bring to a boil. Remove the pot from the burner, cover the pot, and bake in the oven for 1 hour.
  • Remove the pot from the oven and stir in the beef jerky, coffee, molasses, mustard, and chili powder. Return the pot to the oven, turn up the oven temperature to 350°F, and continue to cook, uncovered, until the beans are tender, and the liquid is reduced and thickened, 1 1/2 hours to 2 1/2 hours, depending on the age of the beans. (If the beans are tough and don’t soften within this time frame, you may need to add a bit more water to the pot to keep the beans from becoming too dry.) The final consistency should be like a slightly soupy pot of baked beans.
  • Once the beans are done, add salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately.


Cast Iron Cornbread



1 1/4 cups coarsely ground cornmeal

3/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoon kosher salt

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/3 cup whole milk

1 cup buttermilk

2 eggs, lightly beaten

8 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted



  • Preheat the oven to 425°F and place a 9-inch cast iron skillet inside to heat while you make the batter.
  • In a large bowl, whisk together the cornmeal, flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, and baking soda. Whisk in the milk, buttermilk, and eggs. Whisk in almost all of the melted butter, reserving about 1 tablespoon for the skillet later on.
  • Carefully remove the hot skillet from the oven. Reduce oven temperature to 375°F. Coat the bottom and sides of the hot skillet with the remaining butter. Pour the batter into the skillet and place it in the center of the oven. Bake until the center is firm, and a cake tester or toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 20 to 25 minutes. Allow to cool for 10 to 15 minutes and serve.



Kelli Kelly



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