We are finally free to start traveling again! After over a year of COVID isolation, families and friends are being reunited. We can vacation again! Not that I had any issues with stay-cations, but I have missed having family gatherings. Gaining popularity as folks are planning their summer vacations and get-togethers are vacation home rentals, like VRBO and Airbnb. I love the freedom that these short-term rentals offer, especially having a kitchen!
Cooking in someone else’s kitchen is both fun & challenging. While there are always ample table settings and drinkware, you never can be sure of what you will encounter for pots, pans, utensils, tools, and appliances. This is where the philosophy of Impress, Not Stress comes into play. Choosing “flexible” recipes is key to feeding a crowd when you aren’t totally sure of the kitchen’s capabilities. The same holds true with your ingredients and groceries. One of the convenience factors in vacation rentals is having access to basic condiments and spices. While it’s very appreciated, it always a surprise, good and bad, what’s in the pantry. Suppose you’re not the one doing the grocery shopping. In that case, you may also be surprised at what the interpretation of the grocery list. I prefer to do the shopping myself, so I know exactly what I have to work. However, it doesn’t always work that way! Once again, flexibility is the key to relaxed meals.
I had the opportunity to put my money where my mouth is at a recent family gathering. It was for a long over-due baptism. There were 12 of us (3 families) sharing one large home for the weekend. Several of our meals were either out or grab-your-own, but we did have a couple of group meals. I was responsible for Saturday brunch. I chose one of my favorite crowd-feeding breakfast casseroles with a Mexican flare.
It is appropriately called Mexican Breakfast Casserole. It’s not authentic Mexican, but it does incorporate the flavor. Featuring sausage, eggs, hash browns, and cheese includes everything you need for a hearty breakfast/brunch. The challenges presented themselves in the all-important mise-en-place (organizing your ingredients and tools) step. The taco seasoning packet, bought specifically for this recipe, was used by another cook the previous night.
Hey, it happens! This could be a cause for stress — as what is a Mexican casserole without taco spice, but it wasn’t. I don’t believe in stressing in the kitchen (I have plenty of other opportunities in my life to stress out, the kitchen is off-limits to rising blood pressure situations). Instead, I made my own taco seasoning. It’s only a few spices, and luckily they are all everyday pantry items. As long as you have Internet access, any substitute you need can be found on Google! My recipe is included below.
I learned, through Google, that there are 2 tablespoons of taco seasoning in a packet. My homemade recipe was a little more than 2 tablespoons, so I divided it in half. I used the first half to mix with the thawed hash browns. Again, this is the importance of mise-en-place and reading the recipe ahead of time. Frozen hash browns won’t work. The hash browns need to be thawed. It’s best to put them in the refrigerator directly from the grocery store if you’re going to make this within a day or two. Otherwise, move the bag from the freezer to the fridge the night before. I was given a 30 oz bag. The original recipe specified a 20 oz bag. No worries, it’s a casserole – more hash browns aren’t going to make a difference. I threw the whole bag in a bowl with half the taco seasoning and mixed well.
The seasoned hash browns are packed down in a 9×13 baking pan coated with non-stick spray. There was no 9×13 pan in this kitchen. Breathe! A 3-quart baking dish (or dutch oven) is equivalent to a 9×13 pan – it’s just a different shape. I found a 3-quart Pyrex dish, and I was in business. I did find non-stick spray in the pantry to coat the baking dish. However, if it wasn’t available, a light coat of oil or butter would have sufficed. Never stress, improvise.
In a perfect world, ground sausage (the kind packed in a roll, like Jimmy Dean) is cooked up with an onion in a large skillet or frying pan. There was no ground sausage in the fridge of my weekend world, but there was a pound of pre-cooked, brown & serve turkey sausage. As I mentioned, when someone else is doing the shopping, you may not get what you expect! No problem. After a few minutes on the counter at room temp, the frozen sausage was soft enough to chop into small pieces.
Not finding a large frying pan was the next challenge. As the sausage was pre-cooked, it just needed to be heated and browned. A medium/small skillet worked. The grocery surprises also included green onions instead of yellow or white onions. While unexpected, sliced green onions worked well and had an extra bonus of being a colorful topping.
In the same bowl used for the hash browns, crack and whisk together the 12 eggs until combined. Add the cheese, milk, salt, pepper, and remaining taco seasoning and stir until well mixed. Add in the sausage & onions. Pour over the hash browns in the baking pan or dish and bake, uncovered, in a preheated oven at 350°F for 45 minutes. The eggs should be set in the center. Remove and let stand for 10-15 minutes.
While the casserole is resting, you may want to set out a few toppings like sour cream, guacamole, salsa, hot sauce, shredded cheese, and sliced green onions. Serve the casserole with some fresh fruit, and you have a colorful, flavorful, and filling brunch for a bunch. Have fun making this easy and flexible dish!
Mexican Breakfast CasseroleCourse: Breakfast, BrunchCuisine: AmericanDifficulty: Easy
This delicious breakfast casserole with a Mexican flare features sausage, eggs, hash browns, and cheese with salsa and taco seasoning. It’s an easy way to feed a hungry crowd!
1 bag (20-30 oz) frozen shredded hash brown potatoes – thawed
1 package taco seasoning mix (or 2 tablespoons homemade taco seasoning)
1 lb ground breakfast sausage
1 medium onion, chopped (1/2 cup)
2 cups shredded Cheddar cheese (8 oz)
¼ cup milk
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground pepper
1½ cups (from 16-oz jar) medium salsa
Sour Cream and Salsa – optional topping
- Heat oven to 350°F. Spray 13x9x2-inch (3-quart) baking dish with cooking spray. Place hash brown potatoes and 1 tablespoon of the taco seasoning mix in large bowl; toss to coat potatoes evenly. Pat in baking dish.
- Spray 10-inch skillet with cooking spray. Cook breakfast sausage and onion over medium-high heat 5 to 7 minutes, stirring occasionally, until thoroughly cooked; drain.
- Meanwhile, beat eggs, cheese, milk, salt, pepper and remaining taco seasoning mix in same bowl with whisk until well mixed. Stir in sausage mixture and salsa. Carefully pour over hash browns in baking dish.
- Bake uncovered about 45 minutes or until eggs are set in center. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.
- Make your own taco seasoning by combining 1 tablespoon chili powder, 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder, 1/4 teaspoon onion powder, 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano, 1/2 teaspoon paprika, 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin, 1 teaspoon sea salt , 1 teaspoon black pepper
- Super Easy Guacamole: Combine 1 avocado, ¼ cup salsa, 1 teaspoon lemon or lime juice and salt, to taste