Monday, March 28, 2016

Breakfast Hash Brown Casserole (enhanced with Bacon)

This week's theme for Monday night dinner is "breakfast foods".

I love American breakfast foods.

Growing up in Germany, breakfast was not my favorite meal.  Unlike today, where the German breakfast includes a variety of toppings for rolls (and is really good), back then it was rare to find sausage or cheese on the breakfast table.  A typical breakfast would be either Muesli (a mixture of oats, fruits and nuts in milk) or - more often - bread or rolls with butter and jam, and if you were lucky, a soft boiled egg. Today's German breakfast still differs from the American in that most German breakfast foods don't require cooking - and that it includes the fresh crunchy rolls that really are to die for.

My mother was obviously familiar with my dislike for anything sweet, so she would actually serve sausage (Aufschnitt) or cheese for breakfast at home, but I remember quite a few instances on vacations where my breakfast choices consisted of a hard-boiled egg, a roll or bread, unsalted butter and a few varieties of jam.  I'd often just put some butter on a roll and salt it for some flavor.  Sometimes I'd put egg slices on the roll, but none of it was very satisfying to me.

When I was 6 or 7 years old, my parents took me on a trip to Great Britain.  This is when I discovered the British breakfast for myself:   Bacon, eggs and the wonderful fried tomato. Not a glass of jam to be found anywhere. I was in heaven!

I don't remember having hash browns in Great Britain, but that visit was a long time ago, so I may have forgotten.  I credit the Americans with introducing me to hash brown potatoes.  I love them, so of course, a hash brown casserole will be my contribution for Monday night's "Breakfast for dinner" dish.  The problem with making a casserole on a weeknight is that it takes about an hour to cook a casserole.  There is no way for me to make that happen between getting home from work and dinner time.

Enter a kitchen helper the Americans introduced me to: The magical Crock Pot.  The Crock Pot was an invention that became popular in the States in the 70s. It should therefore come as no surprise that I had never heard of a slow cooker before I came to the States in the late 80s.  As a matter of fact, when my mother in law introduced me to it I was rather skeptical of the contraption.  It's the same reaction I get from every German who I introduce the idea of a slow cooker to: "You are cooking something all day on low heat?  That can't be safe!" Apparently, it is safe, because generations of Americans have used slow cookers and nobody has died, yet...

As for me, I have not only been converted, I actually love my crock pot, as is evidenced by the fact that I have several slow cookers in assorted sizes.  My contribution to dinner will be a slow cooker egg and bacon hash brown casserole - a dish that combines everything that's great about the American breakfast: Hash browns, bacon, eggs - and cheese - in one handy dandy pot.  What's not to love?

Well.. apparently what was not to love when I cooked the obligatory trial version on Saturday, was the taste of the casserole.  When I followed the recipe pretty much exactly, my children were less than impressed: "These are bland", "These are missing something" was their review. As they were reheating the leftovers on Sunday, my son decided that the dish was OK after all, but he conceded that his sister probably had a superior palate to his.

To improve the dish, my first inclination would be to add something like green peppers or Hatch chiles, and I would still recommend the addition of peppers to someone who likes them as much as I do Unfortunately, my daughter's body does not handle peppers well, so they're out for this dish even though I really like them.

Instead, I decided on a different modification of the recipe based on some of the suggestions I found on the Internet.  First I added ham for extra flavor.  In addition, some people suggested that frying the hash browns prior to adding them to the crock pot would give them some added crunch.  Others suggested to add onion and garlic powder for extra flavor.  In the end, I pre-fried both the green onions and the potatoes in bacon grease, because - why not - and everything is better with bacon!


The modified version was definitely more tasty than the dry run.  Turns out, everything is in fact better with bacon.  The addition of Hatch chilies or green peppers could have added a nice touch and a little extra juiciness.

Also, eggs in the crock pot are sensitive to being cooked too long.  If they're in the crock pot much over 8 hours, they tend to brown quite a bit - even when the crock pot is turned down to the warming setting.

All in all, it was pretty tasty, though. Another potato dish in the books.

In case you're already wondering about next Monday... The theme will be tacos.  That could be interesting.

Breakfast Hash Brown Casserole enhanced with Bacon

32 ounce bag frozen hash browns - fried in bacon grease before adding to the crock pot
12 oz bacon, cooked (in the oven) and coarsely chopped
10 ounces shredded Mexican cheese blend
7 green onions, sliced thin - fried in bacon grease before adding to the crock pot
4 slices of ham, cut into small pieces
12 eggs
1/2 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
onion powder to taste
garlic powder to taste

Cook the bacon in the oven at 400 degree F for 20 minutes. Chop up the bacon. Fry the chopped green onions in bacon grease for a minute.  Fry the frozen hash browns in bacon grease until bowned a bit. Then add all the ingredients, except the eggs and the milk, to the crock pot. Scramble the eggs with the milk and pour over the rest of the ingredients. Set the crock pot to high for 3-4 hours or low for 6-8 hours.

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