Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Chicken Casserole

I have a love-hate relationship with breakfast casserole.

With the right recipe, it is delicious!  The combination of sausage or ham with sharp cheddar and Swiss cheeses is tasty.  Sometimes I throw in some pepper jack for a kick, or top it with diced tomatoes fresh from the garden.  It is substantial enough for breakfast or dinner, and the leftovers are great for lunches, too.  It's a winner for serving to guests.  All it lacks are realistic expectations.

Too-high expectations are the bane of my existence.

You see, the instructions for breakfast casserole wrap up with a baking time of 35-40 minutes.  Ha!  I've learned the hard way that that cooking time is not even close.  The first time I got burned--or, rather, not even close to burned, as you'll see--by those instructions was years ago at an overnight gathering with the women from church.  We made our breakfast casseroles at night, stuck them in the oven in the morning, and than had to push breakfast for 40 people back about an hour as we patiently waited for our food to finish cooking.  It was inconvenient, but we were having so much fun together, that we didn't much notice our hungry tummies.

That casserole was so yummy that I forgot about the increased time in the oven, and I decided to make it again for a brunch where I served ten, and again on Christmas morning for my family of seven, and yet again for my mock trial team of 15.  Each time, I opened the oven after 35-40 minutes, only to find an uncooked egg mixture.  I guess I'm a slow learner--or just a hopeful optimist--because it took multiple late breakfasts before I was frustrated enough to remember that this recipe takes about 75 minutes to bake until the eggs aren't runny.  Yep, twice as long as expected.

Last week, Pinterest came to my rescue with a new-and-improved version of my favorite breakfast...or so I thought.  It looks good, right?  And do you see that title?  Crock Pot Breakfast Casserole!  The combination of two of my favorite things!  I love my slow cookers.  I love that I can assemble everything hours before mealtime, while I still have energy, and then it's all cooked to tender perfection when I'm hungry.

Our family's Sunday brunch seemed like a good time to premiere this new slow cooker recipe.  Sunday brunch has become a favorite tradition this year.  Everyone wants to sleep in as long as possible on Sunday, but even the most sleep-deprived teens will wake before noon at the wafting scents of bacon or dark-chocolate brew.  When I come home from my morning church meetings to find my husband donning an apron and scrambling eggs, it absolutely melts my heart.  We all sit down to enjoy each other's company, catching up on our week and laughing together.  Dinners are good, but sitting around a table with my whole family, everyone in PJs with no place to be in a hurry--well, it's a little piece of heaven on Sunday.

The evening previous to this fateful Sunday, Kent and I assembled the casserole.  As I gathered ingredients, he layered them in:
     1 bag frozen hash browns = $1.48
     1 bag diced ham (substituted for
        bacon because it's easier) = $2.38
     1 onion, diced = $0.30
     8 oz. shredded cheddar = $1.83
     Red and green peppers = priceless
        (These were from my garden.
        After caring for them all summer,
        I had high hopes for their use.)
     12 eggs = $0.87
     1 c. milk = $0.11  (But I had to buy the whole gallon, so $1.80.)

I list the prices because I'm that bitter about being fooled by this recipe.  For those of you living on the East or West coast, you probably don't believe those prices.  I know.  I bought groceries while on vacation in LA this summer, and I must say that for people living in an agricultural state, you all are paying way too much for food.  For those of you living in Utah who don't believe those prices, you really should shop at Winco.  Oh, and have I mentioned before that I do bookkeeping for a living?  The total cost of this recipe was $ tax!  So $7.18.  Does that not sound outrageous to you?  Then consider my time and Kent's time.  It was probably ten minutes each in prep time PLUS the backbreaking sum-total minutes of turning on the drip irrigation to my garden all summer and picking two peppers off the plant.  We're easily talking a value of $10 for this meal.  Does that still not sound outrageous to you?  Yeah, I was hoping those numbers would more impressively build my case.  Oh well.

However, the greatest loss stemmed from my expectations for a lovely, hot, Sunday breakfast with my family--and you can't put a price on that!

I came home from my meeting and was a little surprised to not to be welcomed by the warm smells of food upon entering.  I took a serving spoon to the slow cooker, where the casserole had been cooking on warm (as per the directions) for 12 hours (four hours longer than the directions, because I know breakfast casseroles take extra time).  I was greeted by a layer of melted cheese floating on a mass of eggy vegetables.  Bleh!  Foiled again!!  Surprisingly, I was only disappointed, not angry.  I think I've finally learned my lesson.  Breakfast Casserole, to you I say, "Fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice (or more like half a dozen times over the past eight years), shame on me."

But I was not giving up!  I removed the lid, turned the cooker to high, and started boiling some quinoa for a different Pinterest recipe that hasn't let me down yet: Five Ingredient Quinoa Superfood Breakfast Bowl.  (Yes, the name is longer than the ingredient list.)

Two-and-a-half hours later, the breakfast casserole was finally cooked and ready to eat...right as we were leaving for church.  "Well, at least tomorrow's breakfast is ready," I thought, as I turned the Crock Pot dial back to warm and replaced the lid.  Wrong again!  The next morning, my kiddos expectantly dug in, bringing bowls of casserole with them to wolf down on the ride to school.  After the carpool, I parked the van in the garage and looked around at the half-eaten servings that were still with me.  Weird.  But not so weird once I scooped up my own serving.  It smelled right.  It was warm.  And then my lowered expectations came crashing down completely.  It did not taste great.  I think it was the peppers, which I had so lovingly sacrificed for this disappointing recipe, that ruined the taste.  I shook on some hot sauce, but even Tapatio couldn't save this casserole.  Halfway through my plate, I looked deep into a forkful of potatoes and eggs and thought, "This casserole is not bringing me joy.  In fact, it's making me more sad with every bite."  I put my fork down and walked away to mourn.

Have you reached this point of my too-long saga of the breakfast casserole to wonder why the title of this post is "Chicken Casserole"?  That's not a typo.  Here comes the answer.

After another 24 hours of the slow cooker warming this breakfast disaster, I realized that I had reached the end of my mourning period, and was ready to say goodbye.  As you may have guessed by my recipe calculations, I am a person who abhors food waste.  I couldn't just dump this creation in the trash.  Fortunately, I have a visiting teacher (a church friend who is assigned to visit monthly, watch over me and my family, and help as needed) who I knew would not balk at my plea for assistance.  Or rather, the assistance of her small livestock.  I sent her a text, and she said to come on over.  63 hours after assembling the wonderful ingredients, I lovingly boxed up the mess and delivered it to Dovie for the culinary enjoyment of her chickens.

Luckily, chickens are not very discerning.  They gobbled it up.  (Is gobbling reserved strictly for turkeys?)  Regardless, they consumed those potatoes and eggs, which will help them make more eggs, and that is pretty cool in a circle-of-life sort of way.
For the daring among you, here is the recipe for the first breakfast casserole that broke my heart, though we are now reconciled.  The flavors are right, but the cook time is way off.  I've thought about trying these ingredients in a slow cooker, but I don't have 60 hours to kill on this recipe again.

Breakfast Casserole - Proceed With Patience
24 oz hash browns
1/2 c melted butter
seasoned salt
Press into 9x13 pan.  Bake 20 min at 350 degrees.  (This cook time is correct.)

1 c chopped ham
1 1/2 c. Swiss cheese - grated
1 1/2 c. cheddar cheese - grated
Sprinkle over baked hash browns

6 eggs - beaten
2 c. half & half
Mix together.  Pour over hash browns.
Sprinkle with seasoned salt.

Bake 35-40 minutes for at least an hour at 350 degrees.  Let stand 10 minutes.

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