Saturday, January 25, 2014

Going Slow-Cooker Crazy: Overnight Breakfast Casserole

If you've been following this blog for a bit, you know that I'm not really a "bag of this, can of that, package of those, dump-stir-bake" kind of cook.  I'm not above the occasional convenience food--especially for nostalgia's sake, but usually, if I can make something from scratch (and often save a buck), I will.

When my Dad mentioned bringing this Slow Cooker Breakfast Casserole for Christmas breakfast, I was intrigued.  However, I had already planned to make a similar dish, so I turned it down.  Okay, and I'll admit, I was probably trying to be a show-off entertainer for the holiday and didn't want something I hadn't tried to turn-out bad on Christmas morning.  Call me a food snob.  :-)

But it didn't move far from my mind.  I had gotten a brand-new Slow Cooker for Christmas and I've been itching to find atypical recipes for it, meaning not soup, stews, braises, chili, etc.  This recipe fit the bill.  So when we needed breakfast for a work event, I suggested letting the company pick-up the grocery tab and me doing the work.

The recipe calls for cooking it 6-8 hours on low, which, if you're sleep-loving person like me, is disconcerting.  What if it's done at the 6-hour mark and I'm still fast asleep?  I hate overcooked eggs, which seemed nearly impossible with this dish even at 6 hours.  Nonetheless, I picked-up all the items, sautéed, whisked, dumped, and stirred and set the timer as directed.

I happened to get up for a bathroom break at around the 5 hour mark and it seemed almost done.  I hemmed and hawed about resetting the timer to end it early, but reading in the recipe that "the sides should brown," I stuck it out and went to bed.  It looked kind of gummy at that point and the sides were pulling away like modeling clay (go cheese!).

This is what I woke-up to (as well as the strong odor of muddled breakfasty goodness).

Browned and bubbly, as advertised.  I turned the pot off and trucked it to work.  The guys loved it and ate most of the pot.  The store-bought muffins did not get eaten that day.  There you go.

Some thoughts on the recipe:
  • This recipe makes a TON.  I calculated about 5 pounds of food going into the pot (sausage, cheese, eggs, potatoes) and it came within an inch or two of the top of a 6-quart pot and then cooked-down a few inches.  For a family meal, you might want to halve it, though it might cook in less time so that might be an experiment for the daytime and serve it for dinner.
  • The "browning" is really more like "burnt cheese edges," which isn't necessarily a bad thing.  If you don't like browned cheese, back the time off an hour or two.  Obviously, you'll need a cooker with a timer and keep-warm setting.
  • The recipe calls for salting each potato layer on top of the salt in the eggs.  Plus, some frozen hash browns already contain salt and cheese is salty.  I'd recommend backing-off on the salt wherever you can.
  • If you're looking for a perfectly layered strata, this is not that dish.  Everything bakes into a big solid mass that you can scoop or cut out in chunks and because of the overnight cooking, the flavors muddle together.  Again, not a bad thing, just set your expectations accordingly.
  • There's already plenty of fat and calories in this, but a nice hollandaise sauce would brighten it up a bit.  Maybe some crusty toast.  Why not?
  • I'm amazed that this thing never stuck to the sides.  In fact, it left less residue in the crock than a whole chicken does.  Probably has to do with the greased pot and the amount of fat in the cheese.
  • If you make the recipe as directed, expect the ingredients to set you back about $16, which isn't bad if you're feeding a crowd.
Overall, I'd make it again.

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