Recipe: Cast Iron Breakfast Hashbrowns

I’ve eaten breakfast in many places around the world, and its fair to say that anywhere you wake up to a meal that place probaby has it’s own style of morning eats that defines it as a culture.

At home, I tend to spread a little jam on some toasted slices of sourdough bread and munch on that while I sip my fresh brewed coffee.

But I wouldn’t exactly call my toast a ”Canadian Style” breakfast.

I’ve long had an affinity for breakfast as a meal. In my previous job my boss liked to host Friday morning meetings at the local greasy spoon diner with a plate of runny-yolk eggs. Our running crew is affectionately named the “Breakfast Run Club” because we often meet outside a breakfast place for a run followed by a morning meal. I’ll be the first to wake while camping specifically to get a start on a hearty skillet-fried breakfast. And lacking a better option for another meal of the day, I’m happy to repeat breakfast for lunch, dinner, supper, or even an evening snack.

But what defines a ”Canadian Breakfast” is tough to say.

The local fast food chain A&W, famous for their root beer and hamburgers, jumped with both feet into the breakfast market about a decade or so ago and differentiated themselves from the ‘egg on a muffin’ chains by serving a fresh, plated, ”Canadian” breakfast, probably based off of any of those greasy spoon places I mentioned previously. I’ve indulged more times than I care to admit, and it’s probably as close as I can come to appropriately pinning down a breakfast that defines the country culturally.

What’s on that plate?

A pair of eggs (any style), two slices of toast, some crispy bacon strips, a duo of breakfast sausages, a pair of fresh tomato slices, and a patty of hashbrown.

Any of those items listed are foods I’d claim a confident level of skill to make… except one.

The hashbrown, as much as it’s just fried potato is finicky to get right at 7am.

the ingredients

1 or 2 medium potatoes, grated
half a small onion, chopped or grated
1 egg
15ml vegetable oil
salt and pepper to taste

the make

The grated potato needs to be washed (to rinse out a lot of the starch) in cold water and then patted dry on a towel. The egg and oil need to be beaten lightly together. Then all the ingredients can be mixed in a bowl until a thick and even potato slurry of a sort is ready to cook.

On a hot cast iron grill, I like to use my large flat top plancha, spread the mixture into a large flat slab, no thicker than a pancake.

When the edges of the beast start to brown and crisp, you can portion it into more managable chunks with the edge of your metal spatula, then flip and grill the other side until both sides are crisp and the interior is cooked to your desired doneness.

The result is kind of fried mat of potato. It’s not much of anything like the industrially shaped discs of deep fried starch madness that one would get at a local fast food place, but it’s very much like the hash served at some of my favourite greasy spoons.

Tho as much as I can cook eggs to nearly any style and have master techniques for near-perfect bacon (and shouldn’t even need to mention the almost flawless sourdough loaves I’ve been baking lately) the perfect hashbrown is still not quite on my list of confident culinary skills. I suppose if I want to be a Canadian breakfast master, I’d better fix that.

Garden Irrigation Project, Part One

It’s a Flourishing Friday and for the next few months I’m going to use these end-of-the-workweek-days to post something about my efforts to be a productive vegetable gardener. Y’know… vegetables that I can perhaps later cook into a delicious cast iron grilled meal.

Yet, it’s still deep in the cool spring and though I got a wee start on the growing season last weekend by tilling my small veggie plot and plunking my spuds in the thawed ground, there’s not more much to be done in the way of planting seeds and nursery-grown seedlings until the weather warms up a bit more.

In the meantime I decided to invest in and install a homebrew irrigation system to prepare my gardening efforts for a more productive (literally) season.

The idea of automated irrigation systems isn’t new and in fact there are all sorts of ready-to-install setups that can be ordered online. I found some bits — including tubes, brackets, nozzles, connectors, and even an electronic timer — and worked out the measures to not only set up a misting spray for the garden box, but there should also be enough to divert a line to where my wife likes to hang her flower baskets each year.

Setting to work, and even as my grass struggles to come back to life for the spring, I split the sod open and did the first step: burying some three-quarter inch PEX tubing six inches below the soil.

Sorry about the imperial measures! Plumbing kit around here still hasn’t gone metric.

This tube will ultimately act as a protective sleeve through which I will snake the smaller one-quarter inch irrigation hose (ordered and due to arrive this weekend) to traverse it safely below the ground to reach the garden plot (where the plants will be growing) to the house (where the water supply is emerging). This way the tubes and water will run safely below the ground where it won’t be stepped on or mowed over (or chewed up by the dog when she’s bored.)

I’ve spent sixteen summers tending this particular garden patch and over the years I’ve made various enhancements. I’ve routinely enriched the soil. I’ve improved the drainage. I’ve added a four square meter (slightly raised) box that I dug a meter deep into the foundational clay layer upon which the neighbourhood is built to give a proper soil bed for carrots and parsnips and the like. I’ve even put up some low fencing. And through all that I’ve rotated crops and managed weeds and tilled and pruned and managed the small bit of dirt in my little backyard in the middle of the Canadian prairies.

But water has always been a challenge. Consistent, timely watering shouldn’t be this hard, particularly those last two summers while I was working from home. Somehow it just never works in my agenda’s favour. The day gets ahead of me. The sun gets too hot. The evening gets too busy. The excuses roll off my back with ease and indifference by mid-summer. The garden and those veggies ultimately pay the price.

My new irrigation system, at least the way I’ve planned it out, will make sure that at least a couple times per day the most delicate of the plants get a good misting and enough moisture to carry them through the hotter months. An automated timer at the faucet will trigger at set times in the morning and in the evening, the cooler hours of the day when evaporation is lowest, to water the lettuce, parsnips, tomatoes, carrots, and beets, keeping the soil moist and optimizing growth. Rather than me finding twenty minutes each morning to clamber out there before work, drag a hose across the yard, soak every spot, and hope I remember to repeat that night and again every day for the four months, a forty dollar gadget will take on that job for me.

Yesterday evening I trenched that bit of PEX pipe under the sod where the little automated watering hose will hide safely below ground carrying the fresh water to my delicate yet-to-be-planted veggies. Later this weekend, I’ll add in the water tubes and set up the nozzles.

If it all works out, I’m really hoping this could be a very productive gardening summer.

And if nothing else, I can sip my coffee with my pajamas still on and watch the garden water itself for once. Even that sounds great to me.

This Spuds for You

May is planting season around here, the month usually starting by ensuring the root veggies are in the ground and ending by poking hundreds of more delicate seeds into the soil.

The weather cooperated long enough for me to till the recently-thawed layer of topsoil in the corner of my yard which I keep open for an annual vegetable garden.

… and then to plant a small bag of seed potatoes, neatly covered up with dirt and marked with a makeshift stake in the ground nearby.

A local gardening guru was recently a guest on the CBC morning radio show and he was discussing a strange topic to which the answer was, in fact, potatoes.

As it turns out there is a strong community of home gardeners who think deeply about things like caloric yield and nutritional output per square meter of soil. In the event of an “end of the world” type scenario, maximizing how much food one can grow in a small plot of land is something that enough folks have given enough thought to that aforementioned guru used it as the topic of his weekly radio segment.

His calculations showed potatoes were the winner, being both one of the most reliable and highly producing plant that can occupy your backyard in the event of cataclysmic events of the kind that wipe out the global supply chain, but leave you enough time to become a backyard subsistence farmer.

A similar calculation played out in the science fiction novel (and later film) The Martian where explorer astronaut Mark Watney finds himself left behind and stranded on Mars after a mission failure and hasty evacuation, and needs to use his botany skills to stay alive long enough for a rescue attempt some months (or years?) away. The science-driven narrative turns to the humble spud, the only fresh food sent along on the space voyage and intended as a happy holiday dinner on another planet, as the means by which meticulously calculated cultivation keeps the astronaut alive long enough for the plot to proceed.

I planted nine hills of potatoes yesterday which by late summer should yield enough tubers for a couple plates of fries and a few roasted dishes alongside maybe a campfire steak or two.

And ideally that’s all I’ll need them for.

Stir Fried Campfire

It had been far too many months since I had found myself with a good day to build a small campfire in the backyard. But Saturdays, even chilly ones in mid-Spring, can sometimes avail themselves of enough freedom and opportunity to reignite something interesting, sometimes literally.

My plan to have winter fires outdoors this past cold season was met by a couple struggles with weather, timing and general distraction. I lit up the pit a few times while there was snow on the ground, but by choices of days were never ideal and I spent multiple hours outside in the dwindling light of dusk trying thaw the ice from the bottom and sides of my fire pit for long enough to sustain a flame of anything worthy of the name.

So with the snow consistently melted and the remaining autumn leaf litter cleared, I dusted off everything — pit, grill plates, benches and tools — late yesterday afternoon and burned a couple hours worth of wood to both get rid of the winter remains and kick-start another season of backyard cookouts.

I not only slow-grilled a pair of thick pork chops for nearly an hour, roasting them slowly over the coals and smoke, turning them into deliciously flavored hunks of savory meat, but I also attempted a simple stir fry: rice.

Basic white rice finds itself in our home cooked meal rotation often enough that we usually have a cup or two of day-old rice in the fridge. My wife was planning on simply microwaving our leftovers to accompany the chops, but I suggested instead that we fry up some rice over the already-to-cook fire.

Some scrambled egg, a few finely chopped veggies in butter, a heap of left-over cold rice, and some soy sauce, all step-wise added to my twelve inch cast iron pan, and sizzled up to a toasty brown with the smoke and the flame licking around the outside.

It was delicious and nutty and savoury, and the perfect side to go along with two caramel-toned smoked pork chops that followed the bowl of stir fried rice through the backdoor and to the kitchen table.

Sometimes I wonder what the neighbours must be thinking, but I guess if they could smell my outdoor cooking they’re probably mostly jealous.