It's how families bond, children feel special, and friends connect. Something about the sleepy hour of breakfast time puts people in a mellow mood. Politics and religion are dinner party fare. Morning conversations are more along the lines of where to find the best apricots for jam or which trails to hike.
I learned that from the master, my uncle Reg. His energetic pancake productions always lured observers into the kitchen on those sleepy, lazy mornings at their country house in northern California. He made quite a show of it — and my cousin Bonnie and I made the perfect audience. We giggled and gawked at every act he performed, from the operatic tunes he sang off key, to the breaking of the eggs (held high, and broken swiftly with a single blow from his left hand).
From his post at the stove, while beating the egg whites to an exact stage of firmness, he would direct the troops to the proper setting of the table, the heating of the syrup and the melting of the butter. During the act of folding those perfect egg whites into the batter, he would lecture us all on the importance of perfectly executed egg whites.
Thanks to such childhood memories, breakfasts take on a special significance for me under three conditions: summer's in the air; we're gathered at some sort of retreat, be it campground or cabin; a hoard of likeable people are milling about.
Well those conditions merged last weekend for a group of us invited to Margy and Dave Buchanan's Corvallis-area century farm and winery to celebrate the summer solstice. The Friday eve of the solstice had its own charm with plenty of the house wine, Tyee (with good friend Dan Bottom's private label, Chateau Derriere, holding its own), and a outdoor buffet table groaning with pot-luck offerings, which ranged from smoked salmon to grilled albacore and rock fish to brats, along with a decadent array of salads and savory sides.
The morning of the first and longest day of summer unfolded slow and lazy for the 12 who survived the night. Under the fresh summer sky coffee and conversation eventually morphed into breakfast mode as our pal Paul Tate whipped up a batch of buttermilk-laced flapjacks while I quickly cooked up mounds of heavenly scrambled eggs loaded with delights sauteed and staged the previous day. We reached the finish line in perfect harmony, as hungry friends sat down to a hearty-but-simple meal, rounded out and perfected by friend Peg Herring's home-grown and canned peaches and applesauce.
A few tips for making outdoor or cabin breakfasts for a crowd:
- First of all, take a clue from my husband when it comes to bringing along the necessities to pull off cooking breakfast for a group. As self-appointed equipment wrangler — and with years of experience of living with me! — Steve figured out what we'd need to facilitate cooking under rustic conditions: He filled a couple flip-bins with extension cords, portable butane hotplates with extra gas canisters, two electric griddles, plenty of aluminum foil, ziplock baggies, dishwashing soap and towels, sponges, and extra water.
- Additional basic cooking equipment to consider: non-stick skillet, medium to large lightweight pot, portable grate (if cooking over a fire) or portable gas or charcoal grill, tongs and spatulas.
- Extravagant equipment to consider: We love our portable gas burner that uses a small butane cannister. In fact, we love it so much we have accumulated three of them! (See photo) They are relatively inexpensive (we paid $15 for one several years ago at Big Five Sporting Goods, and about $20 for the third one).
- Figure out your menu in advance and measure ingredients ahead of time and pack in ziplock bags. Label each bag accordingly.
- If your cooler is large enough, opt for block ice over cubed; it lasts longer. Or better yet, fill gallon milk jugs or 2 liter soda bottles with water and freeze; they keep the cooler cold and won't create a puddle in the bottom of your cooler.
- Use a separate cooler for drinks so as not to open the food cooler too often.
- For your final camping breakfast, use your leftover meats and vegetables to make omelets.
- Pre-chop ingredients such as onion, peppers etc at home, then pack in ziplock bags. Also consider pre-cooking sausage and bacon, then freezing for a quick breakfast preparation.
- Instead of risking broken eggs, crack them at home and gently place them into a hard-sided re-useable water bottle or quart-sized canning jar. They transport really well this way. You can pour them out one egg at a time (really!) or simply dump the contents into a bowl to whisk for scrambled eggs.
- Have a supply of kitchen equipment/utensils packed and ready to go for spur of the moment outings: decent knives (a chefs knife for chopping; a paring knife; a serrated knife), a nest of bowls, spatula, can opener, wire whisk, grater, sieve or strainer, tongs, disposable lighter, wooden spoons, serving spoon and fork, paper plates, cutting board, kitchen towels (bring enough of them so you don't have to worry about laundering them during your trip), paper towels, quart- and gallon-size zip-lock bags, plastic wrap, heavy-duty foil (can be used for everything from lining baking pans for easy clean up to constructing individual meal pouches to cook over coals, or even as a stand in for a simple grill or a water bowl for your pooch), garbage bags.
- Cook ahead whenever possible. For example, instead of buying expensive precooked bacon, buy 2 or 3 pounds of thick-cut bacon and cook on a cookie sheet in the oven for 15 minutes. Drain on paper towels and freeze or refrigerate. This “almost-cooked” bacon can be quickly reheated in the microwave or in a non-stick skillet and there's no messy bacon grease to deal with! Additionally, pre-shred your cheeses, and pre-cut fresh vegetables into nibble-sized portions.
Jan's Scrambled Eggs with All The Good Stuff
Makes 6 to 7 generous servings. If you want to double the batch, use two skillets. Skillet size: 12- to 14-inch non-stick skillet measuring about 3- to 4-inches deep.
1 dozen large eggs
½ cup milk
2 teaspoons salt
¼ cup butter, divided
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and diced
1 medium red sweet bell pepper, seeded and diced
¾ pound bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces
1½ cups shredded sharp Cheddar (good quality, such as Tillamook)
Crack all of the eggs into a large bowl. Add the milk and salt and whisk until the eggs are thoroughly mixed. Pour the mixture into a 1-quart container with a sturdy lid. Place the lid on the container and refrigerate the eggs (up to 48 hours) until ready to cook.
Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a medium-sized skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onions and saute until they become soft and translucent. Reduce the heat to medium and continue cooking, stirring occasionally to keep the onions from scorching, and cook until the onions become a nice golden brown (don't scorch them). This whole process will take about 20 minutes and can't really be rushed, so just relax. When done, let the onions cool slightly, then scrape them into an appropriate-sized container (such as a recloseable plastic bag). Refrigerate (up to 48 hours ahead) until ready to use.
In the same skillet, add the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter and heat the pan over medium-high heat. Add the peppers and saute until they become soft. Reduce the heat to medium and continue cooking until the peppers become lightly browned around the edges. This whole process will take about 15 minutes. When done, let the peppers cool slightly, then scrape them into an appropriate-sized container (such as a recloseable plastic bag). Refrigerate (up to 48 hours ahead) until ready to use.
Note: Don't store the onions and peppers together. The onions tend to absorb too much of the pepper flavor, much to the detriment of the onion's sweet and rich flavor.
For the bacon, heat a large skillet over medium-high heat and add about half of the bacon pieces. Saute, stirring and turning the pieces (with tongs or a fork) so they brown evenly. Remove the browned pieces with a slotted spoon to a paper-towel lined plate and gently slide the skillet off the burner. Leave the accumulated bacon fat in the skillet. Now add the second batch of raw bacon in the hot grease and place it back on the burner. Continue to cook as you did for the first batch. When the pieces are evenly browned, remove with a slotted spoon and drain on a fresh layer of paper towels.
Once the bacon has cooled, store it in an appropriate-sized container (such as a recloseable plastic bag). Refrigerate (up to 48 hours ahead) until ready to use.
Obviously, you could cook the vegetables and bacon immediately prior to using them in the scramble, but you have to factor in at least 40 minutes to do so, which is why I like to prep them ahead. Then the entire dish becomes a much less complicated affair.
To create the scramble: Place the cooked onion, pepper, and bacon in a 12- or 14-inch non-stick skillet (preferably one that's 3 to 3½ inches deep). Warm the ingredients over medium-high heat until the mixture is very hot and sizzling. No more butter or oil will be needed because of the residual grease on the vegetables and bacon. Reduce the temperature to medium and pour in the eggs. For a fluffy, rich texture (as opposed to crumbly), use a wide spatula and don't stir too much. Let the mixture set a bit (as if you are making an omelet), then slowly begin scraping up the set eggs from the bottom of the pan in smooth and slow motions with the spatula, sort of flipping them over onto themselves as you do so, tilting the pan to force the uncooked eggs to flow onto the bottom. Then wait a little longer for the eggs to set and then scrape and stir slowly and gently again from the bottom. Once the eggs are about three-fourths cooked through, begin sprinkling on the cheese and folding it in as you are scraping up the eggs from the bottom of the pan and flipping them over.
Serve immediately, either directly from the hot skillet or from a warmed platter.
Reggie's Light As A Cloud Buttermilk Flapjacks
Makes 18 5-inch flapjacks
2 large eggs, separated
2 cups buttermilk (additional buttermilk or regular milk, if needed)
2 cups flour
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
¼ cup melted butter
Beat the egg whites until they hold firm peaks; set aside. Whisk together the egg yolks and the buttermilk until well blended; set aside. In a separate bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Stir the buttermilk mixture into the flour mixture, then stir in the melted butter. If the batter seems too thick at this point for the style of flapjack you like (thick to thin), add a splash of buttermilk or regular milk.
Just before cooking the flapjacks, gently fold in the egg whites, making sure to leave the whites quite lumpy.
Heat the griddle to about 375 degrees, or use Paul and Reg's trick: flick water from your fingertips across the surface; when it skitters and evaporates quickly, the griddle is hot enough.
Lightly grease the griddle. Ladle the batter onto the hot griddle and cook on one side until large blistery bubbles have formed on the surface. Gently flip and cook the other side until nicely browned. Serve with melted butter and hot syrup.
Spicy Honey-Glazed Bacon
1 pound thick-cut bacon
2 tablespoons honey
¼ teaspoon ground coriander
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Line 2 rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper. Arrange the bacon slices on the paper in a single layer. In a small microwaveable container (such as a 1-cup Pyrex glass measuring cup, combine the honey, coriander, and cayenne. Microwave on high just until the honey becomes hot and runny (about 10 to 20 seconds).
Brush the spiced honey on the top side of the bacon and bake for 10 minutes, or until the bacon is almost completely browned. Sprinkle with the sesame seeds and bake for an additional 5 to 10 minutes more, depending on the thickness and fattiness of the bacon. When completely cooked, the bacon should be sizzling and browned. Transfer the bacon to paper towels, glazed side up, to cool. Serve right away, or gently reheat in foil over a campfire, or on a portable burner in a non-stick skillet (glazed side up).
Makes 8 to 9 Burritos.
Make your egg and potato scramble in the comfort of your own kitchen, prepare the burritos, then wrap each one in foil before you hit the road. Warm them up over the campfire. No fuss or muss.
2 yellow onions, peeled and chopped
6 Yukon gold potatoes, cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
16 large eggs
½ cup milk
1 tablespoon butter or canola oil
Additional salt and pepper
1 pound bulk sausage, crumbled and browned
2 cups good quality shredded sharp Cheddar cheese
8-9 flour tortillas
About 1 cup salsa
Arrange the onions and potatoes on a baking sheet and drizzle with the olive oil, then toss to coat the vegetables. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and roast in a 425 degree oven until the potatoes are soft and golden brown. Remove from oven and set aside.
Crack the eggs into a large bowl and whisk in the milk and about 1 teaspoon of salt. In a large skillet (12- to 14-inches in diameter), heat the butter or oil over medium heat, then pour in the eggs. For a fluffy, rich texture (as opposed to crumbly), use a wide spatula and don't stir too much. Let the mixture set a bit (as if you are making an omelet), then slowly begin scraping up the set eggs from the bottom of the pan in smooth and slow motions with the spatula, sort of flipping them over onto themselves as you do so, tilting the pan to force the uncooked eggs to flow onto the bottom. Then wait a little longer for the eggs to set and then scrape and stir slowly and gently again from the bottom.
Remove from heat, then gently fold in the cooked sausage, potato and onion mixture, and shredded cheese.
Arrange a portion of the egg mixture down the middle of each tortilla, then roll up. Wrap each rolled tortilla in a large square of tin foil. Keep the burritos chilled until ready to reheat on the fire.
To reheat at the campsite, place a grate over your campfire and place the foil-wrapped burritos around the edges where the temperature will be less intense. Turn the burritos every now and then for even heating. You may need to use tongs for turning!
Omelette in a baggie
I shared this idea a few months ago, but it bears repeating now that we're in vacation mode. It's a forehead-slapping cool way to construct multiple omelettes for a crowd. And very fun for kids! Figure out how many eggs you'll need to feed the number of folks you're feeding an omelette. Break the eggs into a bowl and add an appropriate-sized splash of milk or cream, salt, and pepper. Whisk thoroughly.
Provide separate bowls of omelette additives, such as diced bacon and/or ham, chopped onions and sweet bell peppers, shredded cheese, sliced mushrooms and black olives.
Fill a large pot about two-thirds full with water and bring to a boil.
Now for the construction: hand each person a quart-sized zip-lock bag. To each bag, they ladle in some of the whisked eggs, then appropriate amounts of whatever omelette extras they like, so each person constructs a very individual and customized omelette. Make sure everyone's bag is thoroughly sealed (I've tested this with the new “zipper” style of recloseable bags and they don't leak). Drop the bags into the boiling water, cover the pot, and cook 7 to 9 minutes. As the eggs cook they puff a bit and stay quite tender. And the cooked eggs don't stick to the bag, so you don't need oil or butter.
Jan Roberts-Dominguez is a Corvallis food writer, artist, and author of “Oregon Hazelnut Country, the Food, the Drink, the Spirit,” and four other cookbooks. Readers can contact her by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or obtain additional recipes and food tips on her blog at www.janrd.com.
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