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Brunch for a bunch

Baked oatmeal cups

Baked oatmeal cups

When the Guy and I tied the knot last March, we want to keep things very simple, and make sure the focus was on celebrating our love with our friends and family. We were also budget-conscious, since we there are many other things we’d like to invest our money in that will last longer than one day–like say, the bearded dragon the Kiddo wants for a pet. Cooking for loved ones is one of those simple joys that I take great pleasure in, so the result of our decision to keep things simple, focused on friends and family, and low-cost was that I essentially “catered” most of the wedding weekend.

I did a lot of planning and cooking ahead, making meals that could be prepared in part or entirely in advance and then frozen, so I got the experience of sharing home-cooked meals with my family while not spending every waking minute in the kitchen. The rehearsal dinner involved stuffed chicken breasts that were prepared and frozen a week in advance, then baked that night, with a simple side of pasta. We had a simple luncheon after the ceremony, which was a mix of prepared deli trays and salads, alongside homemade salads and dessert that were made in advance, with no prep needed the day of. Side note: we didn’t have wedding cake until our reception six months later but our dessert–cookie pudding cups–was pure awesomeness (a post on that is in the works)!

My challenge, though, was brunch. I very much liked the idea of having a brunch with both our families the morning after the ceremony. We pondered going out to a restaurant for this, but the small mountain town where we were wed had limited places to accommodate a group our size. At the same time, the beautiful vacation home we stayed in was the perfect venue for a relaxed brunch that would allow us all to chat and socialize more easily than we could at a restaurant. I knew the day of the wedding would be full of excitement, but also long and tiring, so if we did a homemade brunch, I had to find a way to make it simple and fuss-free.

Knowing it would be difficult to get both of our large families together at one time, I treated the affair like a continental buffet–kind of like the free breakfast you get at hotel, but much tastier. There were about 10 of us who had been staying at the mountain house for four or five days, and we’d done a little stocking up on groceries at the beginning of our stay, s0 we still had a good bit of food to go through before checking out, including fresh fruit, yogurt, bagels, toast, Nutella, cereal, juice and milk. That gave me a nice start on a buffet (and a good way to get rid of leftovers). To fill out my buffet, I planned a couple homemade dishes to mix in that could be mostly be prepared ahead of time. Turns out, it was muffin tins to the rescue.

Not long after my world changed because I learned I could bake bacon, I came across an easy way to make eggs and bacon for a crowd, with a little more help from my oven plus some muffin tins. Here’s the idea–instead of frying a batch of bacon and individually frying up eggs for everyone (read: spending your morning in front of a hot stove spitting grease), you wrap a piece of bacon around the inside edge of each cup in a muffin tin, then crack a single egg into the middle and bake the whole batch at once. So you’ve got about 10 minutes of prep, then you pop them in the oven and have time to spend with your guests. A couple of tips to make it work:

  • Coat the muffin pan well with non-stick spray first.
  • Pre-cook the bacon a bit to make sure it’s done by the time the eggs are. I recommend baking the bacon!
  • Bacon freezes well, so you can do the pre-cooking part days, even a couple weeks in advance, freeze it, then leave it in the fridge overnight before your event to thaw. I pre-cooked and froze two pounds of bacon before the wedding (some for brunch and some to may my new M-I-L’s famous chicken salad). I drained the grease on paper towels, then wrapped fresh paper towels around the bacon accordion style to keep the slices from getting stuck together, and put the whole package in a freezer bag.
  • Sprinkle a little salt and pepper on top of your eggs, and feel free to throw a few shreds of cheese on there too, if you’d like.
  • Bake at 350 degrees for 8 minutes for a runny yolk, 10 minutes for soft yolk and 14 minutes for a hard yolk.
Baked egg and bacon cups
They look a little like bacon and egg sushi, but they’re delicious!
The muffin cup eggs added some nice protein to the menu. For some healthy grains, I turned to baked oatmeal cups, also conveniently made in muffin tins. I have tried several different variations of this recipe, and have tweaked them to come up with the version below. These freeze very nicely, so again, they’re perfect to make in advance. To freeze, arrange in a single layer in gallon-sized freezer bags. Put them out to thaw the night before and, if you’d like them warm, 10-15 seconds in the microwave will do nicely. Just don’t be a dimwit like I was the first time I made them and use foil liners for the muffin tray, since you’ll have to take them out to zap them in the microwave. Besides being great to serve a group of hungry brunchers, they are perfect on-the-go healthy breakfast treats. They’re low in fat and sugar (actually there’s no processed white sugar at all–just the natural sugars in the fruit and honey), and the kids at our family brunch gobbled these up.
Baked oatmeal cups
Baked Oatmeal Cups
  •  5 cups rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup ground flax seed
  • 2 tablespoons cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 mashed bananas
  • 2 cups applesauce
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 3 1/2 cup skim or low-fat milk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon butter extract
  • Optional mix-ins (raisins, dried cranberries, chopped dried apples, chopped nuts and white chocolates chips are all good options)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a large mixing bowl, blend first five dry ingredients. In a medium bowl, blend next seven wet ingredients. Pour wet mixture into oat mixture and stir until well blended. Stir in any desired mix-ins. Spray muffin cups with nonstick spray or use muffin cup liners. Spoon batter into muffin cups until nearly full. This baked oatmeal rises very little, so you will fill the cups much fuller than you would when baking muffins.

Baked oatmeal cups

Bake for 25-30 minutes until edges begin to brown. Recipe makes about two dozen oatmeal cups, and can be easily halved. I always like to make a bunch, because they freeze so well and the Guy tends to devour them.

Baked oatmeal cups

This recipe has a lot of flexibility for tweaking and ingredient substitutions, so be creative. Ingredients such as the flax seed and butter extract can be omitted and you’ll still have a tasty treat. You can also easily substitute soy milk or almond milk for the skim milk, and you can vary the sweetener, replacing the honey with brown sugar, agave syrup or a small amount of white sugar (this recipe does not need a lot of added sweetness). And while I avoid artificial sweeteners, you can also use Stevia or Splenda if you’d like.

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